Triggers, Loud and Soft

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Last week, I attended a Share meeting.  I found myself the “furthest out” in the room: the most time had passed since my loss.  Now heading toward three years ago this September since Nelle was born.  I was that voice from the “other side”: somehow survived.  The days are not awful.  The moments come and go, but are not constant.

We talked about continuing to honor our babies, especially for those in the room coming up on due dates, or one year since their losses.  I mentioned that I have a box for Nelle and Iris, identical to the boxes I have for my living children.  In it, I place the programs from the Walk to Remember or the Angel Garden Blessing – events that we attend to honor them.  Or thank you cards from charities where I donate in their honor.  Those are the mementos of their lives, lovingly gathered.

Toward the end of the evening, we heard screaming.  It was bloodcurdling and had all the markers of coming from a movie – likely in the conference room next to us.  It was so distracting that I joked aloud, dully “Is someone being killed?”

Then there was the unmistakable sound of a baby crying.  We had been listening to a woman in labor, from a birthing class being held in another conference room.  The moderators of our group were incredibly apologetic: the birthing class is not supposed to occur at the same time as our group, since it would be such a trigger for the parents in attendance.  A scheduling snafu or something must have occurred.

I looked around, many of the faces in the group taut and anguished from the sound.  Several were only a few weeks or months out from their losses.  I remembered at my first meeting running into a pregnant woman in the bathroom and how much I hated her in that moment.  I still flinched when I heard the sound of a baby crying, but I can imagine what that trigger must have been for others.

As Ger works with his therapist on his anxiety, he has been realizing some triggers of his own – things from his childhood that provoke an intense response.  I told him that I understand: I know how difficult triggers can be.  He wanted to know when they will go away and I replied that they won’t.  They won’t ever go away.  They will not be as loud, but they may come more unexpectedly.  You will be hit in an idle moment and suddenly find yourself thrown back into that moment of trauma.

But you will learn to manage.  Your responses will not be as unexpected.  I used to sob in my car, sometimes so much that I could barely catch my breath.  Or I would blink furiously in a public place and need to excuse myself.  I couldn’t look at pregnant women, or babies.  I would stammer over my response to “how many children do you have?” and hate myself later.  Now – I can anticipate a bit better.  Navigate situations, or avoid if I need to.  Prepare my response to that seemingly innocuous question.

It was not an easy process.  It took years, a lot of the hard work coming from my therapist.  When I would tell her about triggers, she would have me go through the scene again and think about how I responded and how it differed from how I would have liked to respond.  When I anticipated a difficult situation, she would have me rehearse my responses.  I wasn’t stifling my emotions, but rather learning to control in a way that I was comfortable with.

But those first months… months and months… into that first year and beyond.  Where every trigger was new and every reaction was strong.  It was a drain, a constant barrage on my physical and emotional being.

If only there were a way to quiet the noise.  To put up a barrier while working through the darkest moments of new grief, to at least prevent the most insufferable jabs from the outside world.  Like the sound of a baby crying.

A New Permanence

I got my first tattoo five months after losing Iris.  Eight days before her due date.  I wanted to carry an acknowledgment of all of my children.  After perusing photos online of various tributes from parents, I found one and it was perfect: birth dates, done in a square formation and typewriter font, in the upper part of my back.  It was simple and I could show or hide it as I pleased.  I used a tattoo artist that a friend recommended, at a little hole-in-the-wall shop several suburbs away. Continue reading

Planning a Party

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Photo by Katya Austin on Unsplash

After learning that I was pregnant with Nelle, I created a “secret board” on Pinterest called Baby Girl.  I added photos of nursery designs, parenting ninja moves I wanted to try “this time around,” baby gear I knew I would need – a wide assortment associated with the excitement of planning for a baby.  Included in my collection were ideas for a first birthday party. Continue reading

What I Had Tucked Away

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For over 20 years, my family gathered every 4th of July for a croquet tournament.  The exact number of years is unknown, but I have photos going back to my grade school days.  My family lived tucked at the end of a coulee in southwestern Wisconsin, with my aunt and uncle living up the coulee, and another aunt, uncle, and cousins across the street.  My uncle’s side of the family were also nearby so on the 4th, rain or shine, we gathered to play croquet.  The winning team took home a “trophy” – an odd, metallic art sculpture.  And in addition to potluck, my uncle would roast an entire pig in an enormous pit. Continue reading

When Anxiety Strikes Again

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Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

When I was in sixth grade, I suffered from hives that covered my entire body.  They lasted for six months, unforgiving red circles that itched.  I saw doctors, I missed school – no one could figure out what was going on.  Finally, the pediatrician said “Let’s run a culture for strep throat – sometimes it can present with hives.”  Culture was positive.  A course of antibiotics later and the hives were gone. Continue reading