That One Night

The kids have been in Arizona since Tuesday. At the time we planned for my parents to take them for a few days, it seemed like it would be a welcomed reprieve: late in pregnancy, days without early-morning wake-up calls, no swimming lessons or taekwondo, quiet evenings. Since they left mid-morning on the 4th of July, it gave me the rest of the day to myself.

It was then that I started to become unbalanced by the quiet. I lay in bed, hoping to sleep, but instead I started to shake. No interruptions allowed me to become lost in my “what-if” scenarios.  It felt like a ghost of the days after losing Nelle and Iris, when I could not even get out of bed. I realized that the kids have kept me tethered, in their never-ending demands for attention. The moments in which I can focus solely on my anxiety are only in between a myriad of activity. Without them, it was too much on “me.”

Ger slept, and I am glad that he has been able to sleep. I was finally able to crash and sleep soundly one night, only to be deeply disturbed by a dream. In it, the baby failed a non-stress test and I was being sent to the hospital immediately for delivery. I called Ger and his phone kept ringing; I couldn’t get through. I woke in a quicksand panic of feeling alone.

We had planned a single night getaway to downtown Chicago since no kids are around. We never did any kind of “babymoon” before Theo or Quentin arrived, but this time we had the opportunity so we took it. Boutique hotel, nice dinner. An evening of recognizing the good things in our lives: Ger’s upcoming birthday next week, selling our condo, and the end of this pregnancy. The restaurant even brought a cake with a candle for Ger’s birthday, making it feel like even more of a celebration.

While we were eating, I pointed out to Ger that pregnancy is 280 days, total. I have 31 days left, which is more than 10%. When looking at it that way, it still feels like a lot. And my pregnancy will be shortened by 2 weeks! He pointed out that we are counting down in days though, not weeks. Every day means chiseling away at what is left.

As we drove home this morning, I became distracted by not feeling much movement. All of the previous day’s celebration and normalcy melted away into my fear. I didn’t say anything to Ger though; there would be no point until I could get home and lie quietly and focus on kick counts. Of course, everything was fine once I was able to complete that exercise.

Thankful for the night away, a night to devote to just us. Now back to the endless attention to the remaining days of pregnancy.

What Could Go Right

Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being positive about what could go right.

Easier said than done.

Ger finally told me that he feels positive about the outcome of this pregnancy.  27 weeks, pretty good place to be.  I asked him if he thinks I will make it all the way to full term (because I don’t think I will) and he said yes, he does.

We seem to be clinging to each other more than ever as we head into these remaining 12 weeks.  More time spent talking, even if it isn’t about anything related to pregnancy or what has happened over the past few years.  More time spent being kind to each other.  Time and effort spent on other people was often a daunting task when I was often trying (and failing) to hold myself together, plus with an added task of taking care of the kids.  We could support each other in those heavy, dark, obvious moments but on a daily basis it was merely survival.  Now, breathing more easily, it feels like preparation: strengthening ourselves to become parents of a newborn again.  Or maybe strengthening ourselves in case we face another loss.  I always have to consider both outcomes; I’m incapable of not thinking that way.

After we tuck the kids in, we have been spending time just sitting and talking.  This was a habit we had many, many years ago, pre-kids.  Even when we had newborns, we would still sit and talk, with the baby between us on our bed, trying hard to keep that baby awake until 9:00 pm or 10:00 pm in hopes that would lend itself to a better stretch of sleep.  We fell away from that habit as the kids grew older and evenings (for me) turned into Bath and Netflix.  The other night, we talked from 7:30 until 8:30, at which point I said “Bedtime.”  He protested, asking for another 30 minutes together, to which I replied “Sorry, but from 7:30 – 9:30 is the only time I get to myself all day.  I gave you an hour.  Now I need an hour to myself to unwind.”  I felt a little guilty at telling him to go elsewhere and find something else to do (he goes to bed much later than me), but at the same time I need to take care of myself as much as I take care of my marriage and I need some time alone to decompress, write, or watch Netflix.

Even when we talk about the baby, I have noticed that we never say the name out loud.  With Theo and Quentin, we began calling them by their names as soon as we knew the gender and had finalized their names.  It made their presence real.  I remember about two weeks before my due date, Ger wanted to change Theo’s middle name to something else, and I said “We can’t.  That’s his name; we can’t change his name!”  This time, we have not yet formed that attachment of name to baby; still not making that connection of bringing a baby home.  I can now picture going into labor, going to the hospital, delivering via c-section.  Those events play out in my head.  But I still cannot picture bringing the baby home.

The other day, Quentin brought home a project from school: three flowers, formed from pieces of construction paper.  He told me that the flowers are “You, Daddy, and the BABY!”  He sees a new addition, so easily.

Uprooted

No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.
-John O’Donohue

I have written thousands of words about how my losses have affected me. About the work I have done to try to heal myself, as much as possible. I’ve written about self-loathing, therapy, yoga, friends, and coping – or lack thereof. I have written very little about the impacts on my marriage.

Loss is a very individual experience. Loss of a spouse/partner, friend, parent… all are so shaped by relationships. Parents are in it together. A dual connection. They came together to raise a child, and losing a child is losing a piece of themselves, a piece from each of them.

In those first few hours and days, we clung fiercely to each other. The second time, I had already been admitted and was lying in the hospital bed when Ger arrived from work. As he entered the room, he ran over to my side, buried his head in my shoulder, and we cried. The hours that followed dragged in the worst way imaginable. Like watching a wreck, in slow motion. Somehow, Ger managed to sleep in the 24 hours that followed. I both envied and resented him.

He held my hand, his forehead resting against mine, for the worst moments.

We walked through the next few days in a daze. We had two other kids to care for. He had to go back to work after a week, while I remained holed up in bed, or on the couch, curtains drawn and blocking out sunlight. He kept our family moving until I finally unearthed myself from the freshness of grief and became functional. The first session of therapy, we attended together, but after that, I went alone. We’ve gone together a few other times, but irregularly, whereas I go every Wednesday like clockwork.

I knew, early, that people grieve differently. I was still openly crying during the day whereas he kept going through the motions. I did not blame him for being in a different place. We openly acknowledged that the physical aspect alone made it much different for me. We moved in and out of spaces of grief, often out of sync with each other. In October of this year, we attended a walk for pregnancy and infant loss. It was a new round of sadness for me, and I was irritated with his stoic manner. Later, he told me that he was profoundly affected by the event: that was why he was distant. Out of sync.

Making a decision to have another baby immediately after losing Nelle was an easy one. It seemed that the joy of another pregnancy could offset some of the pain. Making a decision after losing two babies? Much harder. There seems to be no “right” answer. Our discussions were circular. How much more hurt can we handle?

How to we “be”? We talked recently that we are two broken people; cannot ever be the same. We can’t go back to the days before September 3rd. There have been many times when we have had to prop each other up. I’m down, he’s down. Usually not concurrently. We can be there for each other. But so, so changed. We are now that couple, the one that has lost children. We carry that every time, every single time, someone asks us how many children we have.

Sometimes we are like the basted egg I had for breakfast. Carefully constructed with a thin film holding it together, but one prod and the contents come spilling out.

Carry On, Warrior

“Worry talk is a ritual worth keeping.  Because if we empty our hearts every night, they won’t get too heavy or cluttered.  Our hearts will stay light and open with lots of room for good new things to come.”  -Glennon Doyle Melton, from Carry On, Warrior

Ger said to me last week “I’m worried about you.”

I paused, and then replied “Have I done anything that causes you to worry?  Because I thought I had been doing really well lately.”

He acknowledged that it was a valid question.  The source of his worry was that there have been a lot of triggers in my life lately that have caused me to break down, if only momentarily.  The weight was likely building.

That.  And today is my Due Date with Iris.

We both saw it looming.  Last week was acknowledging that she would have been born, as a c-section scheduled prior to my due date.  But today was The Day.  I passed my Due Date with Nelle in January in a flurry of tears, but also pregnant at the time – so I could be overwhelmed with both sorrow and joy.  Not this time.  It is profoundly silent.

I asked Ger if he was ok.  Did I need to be worried about him.  He replied, “On this, I am your shadow – where you go, I go.”  He follows my lead on how we should be handling the various dimensions of this chapter of our lives.

The pain was as fresh as the day after we lost her.  The day that we lost her was cradled in shock and disbelief; pain set in the next day.  I cried until I choked on air and vomited.  My dreams were disturbed and I dreamt I was spinning and falling, waking up in the middle of the night dizzy.

I took it easy today.  It was harder than it has been in the past, but I knew that I needed to take a step away for my own sanity.  Lying in bed in a dark room all day seemed like a sure way to feel worse, so I put up an out-of-office reply and made plans.  Ger and I went to Home Depot and bought some plants.  Went to downtown Geneva and walked around.  Had a lunch date.  Came home exhausted and ready for a real nap.  Hopefully yoga later, if I can take care of myself enough to hydrate in the next few hours.

As I was preparing to go out, I was frantically looking for the lotus flower necklace that a friend sent to me after we lost Nelle.  It was so thoughtful and delicate, yet hurt so much to see at the time.  I set it aside, knowing that when I was ready, I would wear it.  Today, I was ready, and could not remember where I had tucked it away.  I wouldn’t let us leave the house until I found it.  Finally, located it: in the box that holds all of the things that remind me of my girls.  I put it on.

I found a stone heart while we were walking through the shops of Geneva.  I bought it so that I can wrap my hand around the smooth, cool stone whenever I need it.

This day will come to a close, and for everyone else, it is an ordinary day.  A due date means little when you’re not having a baby.  The outside world does not know it is my due date.  No one is asking if I am uncomfortable or telling me to “hang in there.”  Even the dates on my back, the day she was born, has nothing to do with the day she was due.

This day will come to a close, and I will have to carry on tomorrow.

Betrayal

Over the past several months, people have said things to me in the realm of “you’re so strong” or “you are handling this so well” or “you have inspired me.”  Most of the time I feel undeserving, bandaged together by medication and therapy, hardly like I am handling this “on my own.”  Lately, I have felt particularly undeserving.  I have been using retail therapy to counteract depression, mostly since February, and finally acknowledged that I needed to stop.

Many years ago, as a couple, we accumulated some credit card debt.  I’m not proud of it, but I am proud of the fact that we worked very, very hard to pay it off: including moving into a smaller apartment.  We paid off everything before buying our house, and I have been diligently monitoring our money ever since.  Anyone who knows me knows the extent of my oversight.

After losing Nelle in September, I went on a small “I don’t care” kick.  A lot of it was related to pregnancy weight – I had quite a bit to lose, did not want to wear maternity clothes.  So I bought things that made me feel comfortable.  Then I was pregnant again and I stopped.  Then I lost Iris.  And went on another “I don’t care” spree.

I didn’t even feel guilty.  I knew exactly what I was doing.  In my head, I justified it because I should have been paying for child care for a baby, and I wasn’t.  It was like “finding money” in our budget.  I accumulated no debt, but I spent money that was not “mine” – it belonged to our household, and was not allocated to my personal spending.  That’s not the way we operate as a couple.

The only guilt I had came from knowing I was deceiving Ger and that he had no idea.  It came to the forefront when he started working from home, therefore present when deliveries came from my online orders.  He made an offhand comment when three packages arrived in one day from Zulily and I knew I had to tell him.

So I told him about my betrayal.  He was disappointed.  But we agreed that we are both flawed in different ways, and this is my flaw.  I then talked to my therapist about it.  I also equated an increase in spending with attempting to wean myself from anti-depressants.  She said that compared to what I could have done, this was relatively harmless, and praised me for acknowledging the problem and wanting to fix it.  I felt like she was too easy on me.  I almost needed someone to yell at me – to make me feel bad for what I had done.

I told Ger I was done with spending, but it wasn’t true.  Some Memorial Day sales got me.  I told him;  And then decided on a self-imposed spending hiatus for the entire month of June.  Other than Starbucks and going out with my friends for dinner, no “stuff” will come into the house.  I included buying anything for the house, or anything for the kids – so that I cannot substitute one type of shopping for another.  I am hoping that will break me of the habit.

In preparation, I am working on a substitute: painting.  I really enjoyed painting the other evening at a wine-and-paint event, even though I’ve never really painted.  My aunt is an artist and I was inspired at her house.  So as my last “purchase” – from my own personal spending allowance, I bought canvas, primary color paints, and brushes.  They arrived from Amazon before we returned from our trip.  I also got a sketchbook.  I want this to be the new point of focus of my energy, instead of admiring a new pair of yoga pants, or turning to a more destructive outlet.  Maybe at the end of my 30-day hiatus, I will have some art to show for it.