Monday, February 24, 2014

10 Things to Help Bereaved Expectant Mamas

I wrote this post as part of the  Love Letters for the Mom Pregnant Again After Loss series on the blog Stillborn and Still Breathing.

Dear Bereaved Expectant Mama,

You are SO BRAVE. You have faced the very worst fears of any parent and you have SURVIVED. You may be ragged and teary and exhausted and heartbroken, but you SURVIVED. And then you did a very BRAVE thing: you got pregnant again. There is not much more serious than procreation after babyloss. And you did it. You let hope lead the way. You faced your fears and you took a chance and now here you are, pregnant again. And it is TERRIFYING. Because you KNOW. You KNOW what it is like to hear that your dear, sweet little baby has no heartbeat, or has a condition that is incompatible with life, or will not survive. You know things no parent no should know. You have experienced so much that no one should have to experience. It is TOO MUCH to bear, really, and yet, you are bearing it. You are doing what mothers have done since mothers were invented: you are getting on with it and getting things done. 

These next 9 months will not be easy, but you CAN do it. You can get through to the other side of pregnancy. It will be hard. There is so much time to get through, and you will be missing your lost baby and you will remember that pregnancy and you will wonder if you can possibly make it through another. What can help you? Here's a list of what helped me:

1) Make a list of milestones: break up the waiting. On my list was hearing the heartbeat, dates for genetic screening, various ultrasounds, viability, surpassing the 22 week mark when my daughter died, dates for glucose testing. What are your milestones? Write them down, cross them off. One friend made a paper chain to count down the days until her due date. I thought that was genius.

2) Find a community: maybe it is an in-person support group, maybe it's online. Two excellent resources are Glow in the Woods, especially the TTC/pregnancy/birth after loss threads, and SPALS, subsequent pregnancy after loss. I found it really helped me to read other people's stories, and eventually to share my pregnancy in an online forum and express all my fears. It helped to walk the path with others. Each birth on our board helped light the way, helped bring me hope.

3) Positive self-talk: talk to yourself, talk to the baby. In my case, some of this was more like pleading, "please little baby, be OK!". But it helped, it really did.

4) Remember that you are STRONG, that you have already SURVIVED the unimaginable. I can remember hearing about lost babies before I was a parent. I thought, "if that happened to me, I don't know what I'd do. I wouldn't survive." But you do survive. You struggle, you are miserable, you are lost, but you SURVIVE. You will survive this pregnancy, too. 

5) Assemble your team of caregivers: mine consisted of a OB who was especially caring and attentive and experienced in high risk pregnancies, an acupuncturist, and a therapist who specializes in babyloss and reproductive issues. What care do you need? Who are your healers? Find them and keep regular appointments. 

6) Make a nest and give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do there to take your mind off of the fear and anxiety. Watch TV and movies, but beware, everything you watch will have a pregnancy subplot. You will not be able to escape fully from the topic, it will sneak into every show you watch. But watching things will help time pass.

7) Walk. I walked hundreds of miles during my pregnancy. I listened to music, I talked to myself. I sang. I cried. I tried to envision a living baby. I've read that exercise is an effective anti-depressant and I believe it. 

8) Put yourself first. This is much easier said than done, but be kind and gentle to yourself. You are doing an AMAZING thing that requires a lot of STRENGTH. So rest when you need it, scream when you need to, say no when you need to. Care for YOU.

9) Prepare for your baby, or, don't prepare. Only you will know what feels right. Some people can set up the whole nursery, need to do that. Some can't do a thing until the baby is born. Do what feels right to you. 

10) Be open to joy. It will not be as easy to find the joy in a pregnancy after loss. The whole endeavor seemed fraught with peril to me. I really struggled to be happy and to enjoy it as I went through it. But try to be open to those moments. They do come, and you DESERVE them. You are a RESILIENT Mama. You are doing a REMARKABLE thing.

You WILL make it through. Time will pass. And hopefully, at the end, you will give birth to a live, screaming baby. And every moment of fear and doubt will have been worth it. You will not be miraculously healed from your grieving, but you will be relieved. You will also be consumed by fulfilling all the needs this new little life has. You will be ragged and teary and exhausted and still heartbroken, but you will be very, very busy. The busyness will keep some of the grief at bay and time will pass. It will not heal all your wounds, but you will get better and better at walking this path. This is a path that many have walked before you, and many will walk after you. It is not the universal mothering experience, but as long as there have been mothers, there have been some on this road. Good luck to you, BRAVE, STRONG Mama. My heart is with you as you await that screaming cry.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

What Can Happen

You can lose it all, in the blink of an eye. You’re zooming along, ticking things off your lists, feeling pretty good about getting things done and then, slam! The sound of your child falling, or the sound of the phone ringing, or the screech of tires. You hear a clear sound that signals the end of your life as you knew it, and the beginning of a terrifying new reality.

As a loss Mom, I know what this is like. I have heard the doctor tell me my child no longer had a heartbeat. I birthed my stillborn daughter. I held her close and memorized her. I long for her. It’s been 19 months since we lost her. We have a rainbow baby, he’s now 8 months old. 8 months! We also have an almost 4-year old. Time flies. Lists get made and things get crossed off. Life chugs along. The grief is woven into the fabric of daily life.

I woke this morning at 4:30am, got dressed, nursed the baby in his sleep, and snuck out of the house to drive to Boston to catch a plane to Newark, heading for Nashville for a work meeting. I’ve been a regular traveler in my career, but have slowed it way down since having kids. This was my first trip since our 8-month old was born. It was to be my first night away from him.

After pumping some milk at the sink in the women’s bathroom in Newark (glamour!), I took a work call and then called my husband to check in and see how things were going. He sounded breathless, agitated, scared, “you’re going to hate me, ” he said. He said it again and again. Then he launched into a story about how our baby fell off the table, in his car seat, unbuckled, and fell onto the floor. Our baby fell off the table onto the floor. He hit his head. He was bleeding and at the emergency room. “Tell me he is ok,” I said. “TELL ME HE IS OK”.  “They think he’s ok,” my husband said. My baby fell off the table and hit his head and he is bleeding but they think he’s OK.

And so I went to the ticket counter and booked a ticket home. No meeting in Nashville for me. When your child is hurt, the only place you really want to be is by his side. All I could think is that he needs his mama. In my gut, I felt that he was going to be OK, but I couldn’t wait to find out, and I couldn’t fly further away.  I needed to get home asap.

Probably any parent would respond this way. Probably you don’t have to be a loss parent to be the kind of parent who takes no chances with your child’s health. I really try to not be an alarmist. But here is a moment when it is all crystal clear. Your priorities are visible, and you see the true fragility of life before you. You know what can happen, and so you go home. You skip the meeting, you spend the afternoon consoling your husband, “it was an accident…”, rocking your baby, kissing your almost 4-year old, and feeling extraordinarily grateful. You know what can happen, but this time, it was OK. Thank you, world, thank you, spirits, thank you, luck, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Poem After Visiting Friends Who Have an Infant Daughter

Feb 2, 2014

I wrote this poem after we visited friends on a trip to CA. They have 3 living children. We have 3 children, too, 2 living, 1 dead. 

It's a perfect moment
Raining outside, but we're warm inside
Sweet Honey singing sweet songs
One boy asleep with Gramma
One boy asleep in the middle of the bed
Pillows protect him from rolling off in either direction
We check
Check again
Make sure his chest rises and falls
Make sure he hasn't mastered a roll over
Make sure he is alive

My husband finishes some work
I chart our afternoon
Exploring San Francisco
We rest

We recover from this morning
Spent with dear friends
Spent listening to squeals of children
3 boys wrestling on a trampoline
It can't have been a good idea,
But boy was it fun
2 babes in arms, our boy, their girl
Laughter, comparing notes on preschool, sleep habits, tv rules
Staying far away from the difference between raising boys and girls
They will know what that's like, be able to compare
We will not
They will know how it feels to hold a daughter, living, in their arms
We will not
We will not know how it is different
We will only know the pain of missing out on this
The pain of missing you

I had prepared myself
My husband,Caught up in the morning's chaos and being late, had not
We got in the car to go home and he was so sad
Holding their little girl made it all very real again
What we lost
What we should have but do not
Our little girl

Conversation with our almost 4-year old in the car on the way home
They have 3 kids and we have 3 kids
We have 3 kids but one is dead
We will answer this question
Do this sorry math
Over and over
Your big brother, trying to make sense of things
Just stating the truth about our family in a public setting
Makes others squeamish
Shocks them
Makes them sad
But he doesn't notice, not yet
And so, in the obstetrician's office, at the birthday party, at day care, out to dinner, while exiting the airplane, at the playground
He states these facts about our family
2 babies
1 big boy
1 dead
We are honest
We are matter of fact
We clasp hands, out of sight, squeeze
Say yes, that's right
We wish it was different
If only it was different