The Right to Grow

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.
Anaïs Nin

As the days diminish, now down to thirteen, it is a constant back-and-forth between “everything will be fine” and “something terrible will happen.” I spent Friday and part of Saturday in good spirits, mentally thinking ahead to the checklist of things that we need to do once the baby is born, things that I refuse to do in advance. By Saturday afternoon, I was hit with “Something will go wrong. Something has been missed. Or what if there is an unrelated complication?” I was back to a place of not being able to picture bringing this baby home. That it will continue to be just four of us. That all of the expanded space I have allowed in my heart will remain empty. Continue reading

Eight

Raising kids is stamped with firsts. First steps, first words, first day of school, first time driving a car, first date.  There were many other firsts in the year following baby loss.  First Christmas without my babies.  First time a close friend had a baby.  First time I attended a support group meeting for parents that have lost babies.  Continue reading

Going Alone

So many of my appointments are solo visits.  I waver back and forth between wanting Ger there, and thinking “I should be able to do this alone. If this were a normal pregnancy, I would be able to go alone.”  In the back of my mind, I still have an inkling of blame, where I feel like this is my cross to bear: my body that failed, therefore I need to take on all of the burden of the pregnancy, and not make it harder for him.

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I Must Have Changed

`Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.

…Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’ -from Alice in Wonderland

I was sitting in the sunroom this morning, surrounded by both kids. They were coloring and I was reading an article that had been sent to me, about a woman who had a stillborn baby at nearly full term. Her morning had been average, but she noticed the baby wasn’t moving.  After eating a slice of pie and drinking her coffee, she lay down to do kick counts. Nothing. She called her midwife and went to the hospital, where she was told that her son had no heartbeat.  

Every day, that is my biggest fear. That Baby Three’s heartbeat will just stop, like my two babies before.  After reading this article, I was immediately shaky.  Even though I had felt movement all morning, I went upstairs to do kick counts. A few minutes crept by. Nothing.  I pressed firmly on my side. Nothing. I was trembling at this point and considered dragging out my heart rate monitor but then felt the firm kick back against my hand.  It didn’t take long for me to get to ten.  By the time I sat up, I was nauseous from the idea that something had happened.  I drove the kids to camp, came home and had a meeting, and did another round of kick counts, just to be sure.

Tonight was the Angel Garden Annual Blessing and Butterfly Release at the hospital, to honor all babies that have been lost.  This morning, someone gave me some homemade potpourri and as she listed off the components, the first one she said was “Iris.”  Then I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and the first photo that popped up was a butterfly.  Rather than be saddened by these signs, I found them comforting.

We walked into the Wings of Hope Angel Garden and I found myself immediately choked up. Even now, still, all of these months later.  I wrote down their names on a slip of paper to be read aloud and the four of us sat on a bench. Familiar faces started to trickle in, the other parents that I have met through SHARE.  Theo rested his head on my shoulder and told me that he felt very sad.  It was hard for me to reply, not wanting to completely break down before the ceremony even started, but I said that it was ok to be sad, and that everyone here was sad.  I wanted to say “Other kids get birthday parties or school plays or soccer games. This is what we do for the babies we lost.”  I wanted to say that to him, but I didn’t manage to get the words out. A few times he buried his face in his hands. 

The names were read and the butterflies were released.  All of the kids present ran forward and squealed as the butterflies flew upward.  Many of the butterflies landed on the kids and I was able to get a photo of Theo and Quentin each with a butterfly in hand. It felt like my two boys holding my two girls.

A woman I know asked me “How are you doing, today?”  I greatly appreciated “today” because it varies day by day.  Today has been the entire gamut between the kick counts this morning, so much anticipation around the upcoming delivery, and then the blessing tonight. But at that exact moment she asked me, I was fine and responded as such.  Theo proceeded to inform her of every fact he knew about butterflies, including that butterflies are like a “sped up form of evolution.”  Last year, I couldn’t bring myself to attend this event, or almost anything associated with SHARE.  Tonight, I was able to stand there. My own evolution. 

When we arrived home, Quentin proclaimed that he wanted to say what he was thankful for. This has become our evening dinnertime ritual, but was skipped tonight when we grabbed sandwiches before the event. Quentin was thankful for Magic Tree House books. Theo said he was thankful for our babies.  He then looked at me and said “Do you think that all of the babies are together in heaven?”  I was a bit caught off guard, since heaven is not something that we discuss much, but I said “Yes, Theo, we believe that all of the babies are playing together.”  As I tucked them in, Theo asked if we could read a book to honor our babies.  I have several related to loss, and chose Cry, Heart but Never Break.  In it, Death tells a story that Sorrow cannot exist without Delight, and Joy cannot exist without Grief. I explained to Theo that if it was sunny every day, it would be ordinary. But if it rains first and then the sun comes out, then he would appreciate the sun much more. He said “I get it now, Mommy.”

People Who Have Cracked

“When you are feeling down, not good enough, or like a complete failure, remember this…. the light will only shine through people who have cracked.”  -@beachyogagirl (via Instagram)

I debated not going to the SHARE meeting last night, the support group for people who have lost a baby. I’ve attended Sharing HOPE for the past two months, which is geared for parents who are pregnant again after loss, or seriously contemplating.  However, Sharing HOPE had to be cancelled last night due to a scheduling issue, so my only option was SHARE.  I felt like if I went that I would be the elephant in the room, visibly pregnant with no hope of hiding it.  I know how much it hurt me to see other pregnant women, and sometimes people attend the meetings who have had very recent losses.  I did not want to cause anyone pain.  But, it was either that or no meeting, so I put on the most oversized sweater that I could find and headed out into the rain.

Even though I had felt movement all day, in the early evening I began to feel that dread that it wasn’t enough movement.  I had to take the kids to taekwondo right before the meeting, so while waiting for their class to end, I reckoned the seat of my car to do kick counts.  I turned off the engine and music to focus. I wasn’t feeling enough. I know all of the tricks, so I went into Subway and bought an orange juice.  That perked Baby up and I got to 10 kicks. You would think that I would be comforted, but it is never enough. I reasoned that I was headed to the hospital anyway, and if I didn’t feel enough during the meeting, I could do another set of kick counts in the car and go back into the hospital if necessary.

The walk to SHARE is long.  The length of a parking ramp, down the elevator to ground level, through a covered walkway, enter the hospital and turn into the Education Center, down another hallway and up another elevator, and then I got turned around looking for the meeting room.  I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window and realized what a joke the large sweater was as an attempt to cover my pregnancy.

The group was small and the moderator discussed the intermingling of the two groups for the evening.  During introductions, after talking about my two losses, I ended with “And I’m 27 weeks pregnant.”  Some women talked about their fears or anxiety around becoming pregnant again and I said “I hate to be a downer, but it doesn’t get easier.  I live in fear every day.”  There were fears around something happening a second time, and again, I am the poster child for “Yes, something can go wrong, unexpectedly and twice.”

It took me a year to attend a SHARE meeting, and before last night, I had only been to one previously, opting for Sharing HOPE instead.  I remember the emotional hangover that the first meeting gave me last September.  Last night, I felt slightly on the “other side.”  There were people with far more recent losses and for me it has been 15 months since losing Iris.  For those contemplating pregnancy, I went through that roller coaster.  It was a moment to say “Yes, I know what you are going through.  I’m not out of the tunnel yet, but I have traveled a bit further.  It’s not all dark.”

We talked about the importance of the meetings and taking that time for ourselves. The moderator gave a perfect example, given to her by another parent: If our babies were alive, we would be taking time out of our schedules for lessons or PTA meetings.  These two hours of SHARE are the time we can give to our babies, to talk about them.

I left, crying, but that wasn’t really a surprise.  The moderator commented on how far I’ve come, remembering from my first meeting and the parent panel that I did.  I guess that’s what time, a lot of therapy, tens of thousands of written words, and countless tears will do: render me in a place where I don’t completely break down talking about my babies, and even able to offer some words to other parents who are going through the same thing.

I was able to say Nelle’s name aloud last night, haltingly and quietly. I never said Iris’s name.  Partly that the opportunity did not arise in the context of different situations I was talking about, but partly that I didn’t make the effort. It would have been easy to say her name in the introductions, but I didn’t.  Still such a huge mountain for me, to say their names in that kind of setting.  Probably I hold back because just saying their names would cause a huge weight to descend into my chest and overshadow anything else I might have said that evening.