Happily Sad

Today, my Facebook has been full of sad things.  Like, chock full.  People just won’t stop posting things that make me misty-eyed.

I don’t know what makes today special, but I have been a blubbering mess all day.  I was a bit weepy and sad from the start.  First it was this, a thoroughly heartbreaking story about a woman losing her baby during labour despite the best efforts of her nurses and doctors, and how the loss heavily touched everyone present.  Then it was hearing about a woman who lost her 4-year old daughter to an ongoing battle with cancer.

Then, the icing on the cake, was this – the story of a family’s tragic loss of their three children in a car accident, and their subsequent pregnancy that ‘replaced’ all three of their children – two girls and one boy – via triplets.

This article rubbed me the wrong way by suggesting that new children can ever replace lost ones, and I wanted to badly to post as much.  I started typing a furious rebuttal.  Then I started rereading what I was thinking about posting, and one of my sentences hit me like a tonne of bricks:

Nothing I do will ever bring Brock back.

I felt like I was crushed under the weight of a sledgehammer made of grief.  I started bawling.  I went and pulled out Brock’s things, hugged his urn, crawled into bed, and cried some more.

And you know what the most unusual thing about this episode was?  Even while I was crying, I was relieved.  Almost happy, even.

It had been at least a month since I’d cried for Brock.  I have been so distracted and preoccupied with life – expecting again, getting through school work, and everything else that has been going on – that I just felt so distanced from him and what had happened.  Some days I feel like it was just some terrible dream, and it takes touching my stretch marks or looking through his things to convince myself, yes, it really did happen.  I had a positively adorable son, and, because of totally preposterous circumstances, he’s not here with me.  It’s messed up, and I found myself frequently feeling bad about how little his loss seemed to touch me on some days.

Crying for him felt good in a way I can’t really explain.  I think there’s two main reasons for it: one was that it came about organically, in my own time and in my own way.  I have tried to ‘plan’ grief in the past, to try and keep it from getting to me at inconvenient times, and it doesn’t work that way (I’ve ranted about this in the past).  Secondly, it just felt right.  It was cathartic and dealt with a lot of pent-up emotion that I didn’t realize I had until it was coming out.  I feel refreshed now, like a terrible weight has been lifted from my chest.  My emotional state has been reset, and now I can move forward with things – for a little while, anyway – without feeling that I’m doing something wrong by not being extremely sad.  (I know, I know – a strange concept to try to wrap your head around, isn’t it?)

I’ve begun to feel an odd attachment to the grieving process.  It’s a part of life now, something that is second nature to me.  Grieving my son appropriately is one of the only ways that I feel close to him, and, as awfully depressing as that is, I have to try to find the peace that I can in the fact that grieving is a healthy process, and anything that helps me to honour Brock’s memory is a good thing.  I would much, much sooner have him here with me, but since that is not an option that’s available to me, the best I can do is continue to love him, even though it’s at such a great distance.  If that means crying about the unfairness of it all once in a while, so be it.

I don’t think I ever anticipated being in a world where I could find comfort in overwhelming sadness.  Grief is a complicated beast.

Advertisements

Nesting After Infant Loss

Yesterday, my husband and I did something preposterously bold: we painted our future nursery.

Neither of us woke up yesterday with this in mind.  However, we both had the day off with few plans to fill it, and my husband brought it up as a logical idea for passing some of the time and getting ahead.  The to-be-nursery is presently mostly empty, but soon to be filled with boxes and bins seeking temporary storage, and he reasoned that it would be easier to do now, with nothing in it, than it would be later on.  We had the time, and a local home improvement store had a great deal on paint.  What did we have to lose?

So, we went out, bought paint, and painted.  I conceded only on the condition that we pick a colour that was relatively neutral so that, if it ended up not being needed as a nursery, it still wouldn’t scream ‘baby’.  Based on the theme we have been tossing around, he wanted blue, but I wanted grey; we eventually agreed on a slate grey that was blue enough to please him and grey enough to please me.  Everybody wins.

So, there you have it: at 10 weeks pregnant, I’ve already started nesting.  It’s a strange feeling, especially so early, but it’s what’s right for me, and that’s really all that I can act on.  I am brave enough to hope that I get to bring this baby home to this room, and, in truth, it’s only fair to him or her that I acknowledge and honour this hope – they deserve it.  It wouldn’t be fair to let my fear of loss interfere with how well I get set up for this new baby.  Also, I think Brock would like it better this way, too.  He’d want us look to the future with hope, not dwell on the past.  He would want us to make sure that his kid brother or sister was happily and fully received, just the way we had planned for him.

 

I read an article recently about this subject – nesting after loss, and all the fear and mixed feelings that comes with it.  I am sure that, as I get further into it and put more and more effort into it, I’m just going to get more and more anxious that I will be doing all of this work again for nothing, and it’ll end in me needing to pack up a bunch of baby clothes and toys all over again.  It’s a lot more fun (and healthier), however, to hope for the best, and it’s what is fair to your future child.  Read the article I’m talking about here.

 

A picture says a thousand words: a rant about a pantry

If you were to look at the photos I took on my phone between May and November of 2014, you would , knowing my backstory, watch a terribly depressing story unfold.  At the time, the photos were innocent and fun, almost all of them heralding the inevitable arrival of our son.  Of course, at the time, we didn’t know what was going to await us at the end of this journey.

There are weekly bump photos from 17 weeks onward (when I first started to notice his presence), pictures of the progress on our son’s nursery-to-be, and lots of photos of our adorable baby shower and the 10 or so people who showed up and made it a great time.  Later, there are a number of photos to follow of our temporary bedroom setup, just waiting for our baby to arrive and, inevitably, get his various bodily fluids all over it.  There’s a brand new, newly assembled glider and ottoman with a boomerang nursing pillow ready for use.  His clothes were all washed, folded, and neatly sorted away in his dresser for later use.  Washcloths and receiving blankets all sit on the dresser top at easy access.

This was the last photo I took before I found out Brock had died.  On the 19th of October, after my bad NST, we joined my MIL for dinner and she had a customized message written on a cake to show she shared our distress over the situation and to try and lighten the mood (the grammar is a bit odd, but you get the point):

IMG_20141019_184555

There are no more photos until 11 days later, when I took this picture.

IMG_20141030_205833

Yep, a pantry.  Specifically, it was a photo of the pantry at our new residence, that we’d moved into 5 days prior (yes, we moved two days after our son’s birth).  I took this picture to text to my brother (who had the other half of the pantry that was not half so tidy) and show him how neat and organized I’d managed to make it.  Seems innocent enough, doesn’t it?

And yet, for reasons that are hard to explain, I hate this photo with a passion and I don’t know why I continue to keep it.  I don’t like to use the word ‘hate’ because hate is a very strong word, but it’s the only word adequate for my feelings about this picture.  It reminds me of some of the darkest moments of my life for various reasons.

This photo reminds me, every time I see it, that my son died five days before it was taken.  Three days later, I would be standing around at his visitation with what felt like hundreds of sets of eyes on me, people who felt badly for me but just had no idea what to say or do to lessen the pain.  I think I felt as confused and lost as they did.

This photo reminds me of all the weird, irrational ways I tried to deal with the feelings and emotions surrounding my loss.  Why did I think that meticulously sorting and facing all of my dry and canned goods was going to make me feel better?  I spent the next several months inwardly panicking, trying to fill the hole left by Brock with things and obligations.

Deep down, exacerbating the issue, is the fact that I feel like this photo should not exist at all.  In all probability, I feel that my son should have lived – and, if he had, things would have turned out a lot differently than they have thus far.  I wouldn’t be blogging about the loss of a child because I’d have him here with me.

In reality, on the 30th of October, the pantry should have been the furthest thing from my mind.  I should have haphazardly thrown all our food into the pantry and then rushed away again, because I would have had a plethora of things to do in the short reprieve I had while Brock was asleep somewhere else in the house.

When I look at this photo, I see and feel all of those things: me, badly coping with a loss that made no sense, in the only way I knew how at the time.  I would have much, much rather had a messy pantry, no photo to document the beginning stages of the insanity to follow, and a very young newborn taking up all my free time.  Instead of this one photo, I had expected that my phone would be drowning in badly framed, poorly lit photos of my baby by then.

Instead, I have a picture of a pantry.

Think Twice, Speak Once

The cat is now out of the bag for quite a few people: most family, and a lot of friends, now know that we’re expecting our second ‘rainbow’ baby in October 2015.  The problem is, the exchanges surrounding this information coming about are, very possibly, even more awkward than talking about Brock’s death.

Pregnancy after loss is an extremely tricky beast, especially in situations like mine.  I didn’t simply miscarry – if I had, my nerves would likely lessen when I passed into the ‘safe’ zone, because I would still have that lingering sense of naivety – the sense that, if you make it to 12 weeks, the odds are, all at once, overwhelmingly in your favour.  Since I lost my son so late in the pregnancy (when I was actually several days overdue), not only am I going to worry every single day of the pregnancy, because I know that these things absolutely can and do happen (even late in the game), but I am only going to get more and more anxious as I get closer to the point where I lost Brock.  I feel like the longer I have this baby inside of me, the more time I’m giving my body an opportunity to let me down again.  I feel like a ticking time bomb, and I’m sure I’m going to be practically begging to get this baby out by the time I hit full term at 37 weeks.

Understandably, without explaining all of this, it’s a difficult concept for people who haven’t lost babies to grasp.  Probably not helping the issue is the fact that most people don’t know the exact reason why we lost Brock in the first place.  Therefore, the reactions and commentary I’ve gotten about the whole thing have been… mixed, to put it plainly.

And this is why I’m here today: if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are trying to help someone through a pregnancy after a loss, regardless of how early or late their loss was, here’s a few suggestions on how to NOT make the same mistakes that some of my family and peers have.

 

Things you should (or shouldn’t) say to someone expecting after a loss

When they say: “We’re pregnant again.”

DON’T say: “Congratulations… I think.”

Thanks, I think.

I get this surprisingly frequently, and it stings a bit every time.  It just sounds insincere and flighty.

 

DO say: “Wow, congratulations!  That’s so exciting.  How are you feeling about it?”

In my case,  I think I have been getting the poor response so often because it’s quite soon after Brock, so people are assuming that we’re not in this situation by choice.  Come on, ladies and gentlemen, give us the benefit of the doubt!  We’re grown-ass adults.  We know where babies come from, and if we weren’t ready in at least some sense, we wouldn’t have let it happen.

The best thing you can do is acknowledge that our feelings about the situation are mixed. We are excited, but we are also anxious.  If we’re telling you about this, especially before it’s necessary to do so, odds are very high that we are doing it because we’re looking for support and positive thoughts.  If you can communicate to us that you understand this is a conflicting time for us and also make it clear that you are here to support us through this, that’s a huge win.

 

When they say: “I’m very nervous this time around.”

DON’T say: “Don’t worry about it.  Just enjoy the experience.”

Sure, I will get right on that.  How silly of me to be nervous about the outcome.

 

DO say: “I don’t blame you.  I’ll be thinking of you/praying for you/sending you positive vibes.”

Please oh please, don’t negate the severity of our previous loss(es) and try to pass it off like it never happened.  People seem totally unable to wrap their head around the concept that I am most likely never going to enjoy pregnancy again.  I have been pregnant twice; one is ongoing, and the other ended in tragedy.  My success rate is 0% right now.  How could I sit back and calmly expect everything to work out when it has only ended poorly for me right now?

Instead, just tell us that you’re really hoping that we will have the best outcome possible this time.  Just support us in whatever capacity you can and don’t invalidate our feelings, even if you don’t fully understand them – that’s all we ask.

 

And here’s the big one…

DO NOT, for any reason, say: “It’s going to be okay” or “Everything will be fine”

Are you [insert deity of choice here]?  No?  Are you omnipotent?  Can you time-travel or see the future?

You cannot possibly know this, because nobody anywhere can ever know this for sure.  We have already played games of long odds and lost.  While the chances of the same thing happening again are remarkably slim, they’re still not non-existent, so when you say “It’s going to be fine” it’s, frankly, insulting.  This comes back to the invalidating-our-feelings thing.  You do not have the knowledge or right to tell a bereaved parent how they should feel.  Besides, how crappy are you going to feel if you end up being wrong?

 

DO say, at any time: “I am here for you.”

Aww, you’re such a good friend.  We’re going to remember that you were supportive and understanding, and we love you for it.  After all the crappy (but well-meaning) things that other people have said, we’re glad that we know we can rely on you, at the least, to take good care of us.  HUGS!

 

And there’s my rant for the week.  Even if you have suffered a loss of your own, remember that we are all different, and we all process these types of things differently.  Don’t push your own feelings or opinions on others or make light of their situation: just be there for them.

 

Differences/Article Roundup

With my last pregnancy, I was extremely lucky to avoid morning sickness almost entirely.  I combated with nausea and vomiting for all of two, maybe three, weeks; it started around week 6 1/2 and was gone completely by week 9.  I only threw up twice, and both times the cause was clearly traced back to my prenatal vitamin, which I promptly changed when I realized it was making the issue worse.

This time around, my symptoms came in a lot slower, and it was one of many things that worried me in my first couple weeks of pregnancy.  I finally began a long fight with nausea, vomiting, and other stomach grievances about a week ago; I’m still managing a lot better than most women do, and I am fully aware of (and appreciate) this, but I am definitely not feeling too great the last few days, and this is the main reason why I haven’t been writing as much as I normally might be.

With that said, I’m actually really happy that I feel awful.  All the gassiness, indigestion, nausea and the complete lack of energy are reassuring to me – they tell me that things are, probably, going well.  I’m trying to resolve to enjoy every little thing along the way this time – good, bad, or anywhere in between.  Our future baby deserves that.

—–

On that note, I have read quite a few good articles in the last week or so that touch on a lot of important topics regarding child loss. The one that I think was the most interesting was this one, which is about a young woman who grew up in the wake of a dead sibling.  It talks about a lot of unique things you might not consider in that kind of situation, like the fact that they will also move forward with their lives wondering what could have been if their sibling(s) before them were also around.  It’s very interesting to see it from another perspective.

Another one is a great catch-all about things that friends and family can do to help their bereaved friends survive a loss.  It has a lot of valuable information and good suggestions, and is quite eloquently worded: you can read it here.  I posted this on my Facebook page as a hint to my friends and family.  I know one person who definitely ‘got’ it, but am not too sure if it worked on anyone else.

This one really spoke to me because it talks about medical professionals making a grievous error because they didn’t trust this poor mother’s word.  She lost her twins to premature labour – while in a hospital, on bed rest – because a faulty machine would not pick up her contractions and, since the machine said everything was fine, they didn’t believe her when she said she was in extreme pain.  It brought me right back to the 19th of October, with my midwife looking at an NST strip, saying “Nothing about this concerns me” and pointing to instances on the tape where Brock had ‘moved’ (in all likelihood, those ticks in the tape were times where the monitor had slipped off my belly, or I’d been moved into a different position to try and get better results).  This article advocates for practitioners to have more faith in their patients and trust a mother’s intuition instead of just taking a test at face value, and about how a doctor’s personal beliefs or preferences can severely impact whether or not someone has a positive outcome in a pregnancy.  These are things that truly need more attention, and she is right to try to bring attention to it.  The circumstances surrounding her loss are simply heartbreaking:

I was already in the high-risk pregnancy ward at a highly rated hospital. I didn’t have any distance to drive, nor traffic to sit in that delayed my treatment. Instead, a machine was believed over the patient.

At the moment, I’m pretty much just trying to get by on a day-to-day basis, humouring a couple of possible future projects, and trying to make some important decisions.  My personal life has been pretty hectic and that, combined with my sickness, is keeping me busy.  On a lot of days, I actually feel somewhat like a normal person, and I have conflicting feelings about that.  I’ll make sure to mention it when I have decided exactly how I feel about it, whenever that happens to be.

Empty Cradle, Broken Heart/A Letter to Bereaved Parents

Shortly after Brock passed away, my aunt-in-law (who works at the hospital where he was born, and assisted with his delivery) handed me a book.  It was kept by the hospital and loaned out to parents after the loss of their child to read and return in their own time.

Called Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, the book was ratty and frayed from years of use and many changes of hands.  A plastic envelope was taped to the inside cover and filled with letters written by other parents who found themselves in temporary, unexpected possession of this book over the years.  In those first few critical days, reading and rereading those letters gave me hope and solidarity.  I realized I was not the only one who had been through this, and that life would, albeit slowly, go on.  I read the book over the following few months, when I felt able, and obtained a lot of helpful information from it:  it’s written with great sensitivity, understanding, and personal recounts from other people in situations like ours, and it covers a wide variety of useful subjects.  It helped me quite a lot and I would certainly recommend it to other bereaved parents.  You can buy a copy on Amazon for as little as $1.00.

My last course of action before returning it was to add my own letter to the front.  I originally wrote it quite early, about a month and a half after my loss, but ended up making some hefty revisions when I looked at the letter again later.  I wanted to keep it short and concise, but I also wanted to help other parents avoid making the same mistakes that I, and those around me, had.  My biggest lament so far is that I have not been terribly open about what I want (and need) from others.  Now that it’s been almost 5 months since Brock’s passing, people seem to very rarely bring him up anymore, and I regret that I have not been very vocal about the fact that I don’t want him to be forgotten, still need to talk about him, and I am happy when he is mentioned and talked about, not sad  (I have more articles to post soon that emphasize these ideas).

Here is what I came up with.

 

Dear grieving mothers and fathers,

I am so, so sorry that you are reading this letter. I know all too well that there is nothing I can say or do to lessen your pain, but know that my husband and I are with you, in spirit, during this terrible time.

Our first child, a precious boy named Brock, was stillborn on October 23rd of 2014. His umbilical cord was wrapped twice around his neck so tightly that it had to be cut before he could be fully delivered. On the 19th, he was still alive with a strong heartbeat; by the 21st, he had passed away. I was five days overdue when we found out that he had passed, and I still wonder, every day, if I might not be sitting here with empty arms if things had happened differently. What if I had gone into labour on my due date, or even a couple days past – why wouldn’t my foolish body go into labour on its own? What if I’d been more insistent about being thoroughly examined on the 19th, when I noticed he wasn’t moving? I will never know for sure if more could have been done to save him, but I will always wonder.

I have had some time to assess and deal with my emotions in the previous 4 months, and I have learned a lot along the way. Your grief journey will be a long, hard one, but do your best to have faith and believe that you will make it through. As impossible as this seems, you may even find that you are a better person, in some ways, at the end of all this. Here are a couple of things that I wish I had known at the beginning of my attempts to navigate my grief.

Firstly: there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and everyone grieves differently; handle it however is right for you. Don’t feel as though you need to mourn the loss of your child at specific times or in specific ways. Moreover, don’t think that certain emotions are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Your grief will come and go in the most bizarre ways. Often, you won’t even know what is going to set you off until you’re there. Try not to let yourself get tied up with worrying about how you are feeling (or not feeling): just let it stay in or come out in your own time. Everyone grieves differently.

Next up, I highly suggest that you are open with your friends and family about how you are doing and what you need. From the outside, people seldom understand what we, as bereaved parents, are going through and need to get by. This is especially true later on, when your grief is not so fresh: around two months after our loss, the cards and phone calls stopped coming in, and people collectively seemed to assume that we had ‘gotten over’ our loss. This is not how bereavement works, but it is hard for our loved ones to understand this from their vantage point. Would you know what to do if you were on the other side of the fence?

One of the comments I receive most often is people telling me that they wish they had done (or could do) more, but simply don’t know how to handle the situation. They’re not sure what is welcome and what isn’t, so feel free to guide them in the right direction. Be real and honest about your feelings: make sure people know how they can continue to help you, even months or years after your loss. Refer them to resources (such as books or websites) about loss and grief, or just talk to them about what you need and when you need it.

Lastly: It probably seems impossible to believe right now, but try to take what comfort you can, as well, in the fact that things will eventually get better. Some days, admittedly, will be terrible… but someday, you will find that the good days once again outweigh the bad, and you’ll find ways to cope that are right for you. I find the advice to take it one day at a time to be terribly clichéd, but it’s also quite sound in this case. I also often find strength in trying to be the person that I imagine my son would want me to be. I’d like to believe that he wouldn’t want me to let his loss define me; he’d want me to go on to be the best person that I can be, and to try to find ways to better myself. When I face difficult situations or lack motivation to do things, I often ask myself, “What would Brock want me to do?” and find inspiration in the idea that I am honouring his memory in as much of what I do as I can. It doesn’t make it any more fair that he’s not here with me right now, but I find it important to try and find as much good in a situation as possible, even if it seems like there isn’t any good to be found. It’s never an easy mentality to keep, but it does get easier with time.

Please, take care of yourselves, and of each other. My deepest sympathies are with you, but I also hope you will both come out of this horrible experience as stronger, more resilient people. Despite this awful experience – having to survive one of the worst fates that can befall a parent – you will come out on the other side of this with the ability to love more fiercely, appreciate more deeply, and the strength to overcome any obstacle. It is very likely that some of the worst days of your life – if not the worst ones, period – are now behind you, and you’re now ready for anything else life might throw at you. You are stronger than you know.

Much love,

Sevyn