The Certificate

Baby Boy’s adoption was finalized a couple of weeks ago. All in all, it was pretty much a non-event for me. Sure I was glad to have all of the post-placement visits behind us, and to not have to call to let our agency know if we were taking our son across state lines to visit my in-laws. But did you catch that? Our son. In our minds and hearts, he was our son from the moment we met him. Actually, pretty much from the moment we got the call that we had been chosen. We did raise a glass with our families to acknowledge the day, but more just to celebrate him. And I didn’t think much about it after that. Until today.

Today I opened up a letter from our adoption attorney, forwarding Baby Boy’s amended birth certificate. There it was, our son’s name, along with our names listed on this official document. Only it wasn’t just a birth certificate, this was a Certificate of Live Birth. This was the first time we had seen this. The first time our names appeared alongside of our living child with whom we have living in our home. At first I smiled as I read through all of the familiar information. And then I lost it. Big, ugly sobs came out of me as I both rejoiced in, and mourned the meaning behind the paper I was holding. How could something make me so happy and so sad at the same time? The immense gratitude for BB, not to mention his birthparents, and the deafening sorrow of the 6 years and 7 babies that came before.

My first instinct was to run up to BB’s room to pick him up out of the sleep he had just fallen into, and squeeze, kiss and take in his every inch. But instead, I decided I should call Double A who was on his way to an interview. Everything’s OK I told him before the sobbing returned. I was just coherent enough for him to hear me, and hysterical enough for him to understand.

You know, these past few years, I have become pretty adept at knowing what is going to trigger me. But I hadn’t expected this one.

Warriors and Smurfs

I recently had the honor of sharing our story in public. First, to a pregnancy loss support group, then at a memorial service, where Double A joined me. In both instances, brave women, and some men, shared their stories of joy, heartbreak and loss.

Each person, each story, and the baby(ies) they represented reminded me of the strength within each of us who have walked this path. I’m not sure about you, but sometimes in day-to-day life, I forget. No, I don’t forget about our babies, or everything we went through. I forget everything that it took—and takes—to get me here to this moment. Perhaps I block it out, I mean, who wants to remember those days? At the same time, I need to recognize that determination and courage.

One of the women in the support group analogized survivors of baby loss as Warriors. It’s perfect isn’t it? For some, just getting pregnant is a huge feat. Then, if/when we finally get pregnant, there’s the worry over if we’ll stay that way. And if you’ve been through loss before, there’s the constant battle of trying to be positive in the day-to-day, with the ever-present fear that something bad will happen. If that something bad does happen, we have to figure out how to make it through. To understand the not understandable. To breathe. To fight. To even hope.

In contrast, I have a friend who refers to the women are blissfully ignorant on the pregnancy/infertility/loss front, as Smurfs. You know whom I’m talking about. The ones who decide they’re going to get pregnant at a certain time because it is convenient for their lifestyle…and then do. The ones who don’t realize that not everyone who decides they want a baby gets pregnant quickly—or at all. Or that even if pregnancy is achieved, that it’s not a given that the pregnancy will result in a healthy, living baby. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish ill will on them. I’m not looking to be the first green Smurf. On some levels, I wish I were one of the tiny blue creatures. I look good in blue. I just wish that they realized just how incredibly lucky they are to don those little white hats of innocence.

Warriors are fighters. Warriors are survivors. Warriors are resilient. Did you see the CBS Sunday Morning story about The Science of Resilience? When it came on, Double A turned to me and said, “That’s us.” Sure, we sometimes dwell about what happened, why and the what-ifs. But, time and time again, we realize that we have found something inside of each of us—inside of both of us—to keep going, trying and moving forward. It is because of that resilience that we are able to survive and function in daily life. It is because of that resilience that we are somehow still able to hope. And it is because of that fight that we continued to push forward, not give up, and modify our expectations to explore alternative avenues to family.

That said, even resilient Warriors have their moments. Sometimes we need help. And sometimes we feel defeated. But Warriors fight. I always knew I was a fighter. I just didn’t know how strong I was, or where that strength could take me.

How do you recognize and honor your Warrior spirit?

The Pain of Remembering. The Guilt of Forgetting.

The events of a year ago are playing heavily on my mind. It started yesterday when I was sitting at my desk, where it was like I was watching myself in a movie that I didn’t want to see. The strange, but not intense pains that made me feel like all was not right, but not exactly wrong. The call with the nurse. The writing down how often these pokes were coming to see if there was a pattern (there wasn’t). And the birds. The ominous black birds that appeared on the tree outside my office window. Of course these are likely the same birds that were there every day, but I remember so clearly thinking there was something eery about them this time.

The replay continued: The body-doubling pain that forced me into a wheelchair as we arrived at the hospital. The red-headed nurse softly, yet forcefully telling me it wasn’t my fault. The look and the voice of the doctor telling us it didn’t look good. The arrival of my parents. The laying awake all night. The pleading for a way to save both or at least one our babies. The arrival of Double A’s parents. The pain. The screaming. The silence.

Step by step, minute by minute, I have been reliving October 9, 2012. It is hard to believe that it has been a year. And it is hard to believe that it happened at all. But at the same time, I feel just how real this is. And so today I find myself somewhere between grateful and awful.

I remind myself it’s just a day, and it only has the power I give it. At the same time, there is an under-riding guilt within me. While I can picture and feel every moment, I have trouble remembering Benjamin and Sarah’s faces clearly. Sure I can remember holding them both in my arms, on my chest and against my knees so I could take them in. I remember kissing them, talking to them, and telling them of our love for them. I remember her nose and his lips. I just can’t put all of the pieces together. My memory is even worse when it comes to Baby K. What kind of mother doesn’t remember what her children look like?

There are pictures that exist of Benjamin and Sarah, but they remain at the hospital in our therapist’s care. I want to look at them, yet can’t quite bring myself to do so as I’m not sure if my partial memory is better than an unstaged picture (to my knowledge it wasn’t taken by a photographer similar to what Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep offers). While there’s added guilt that we said no when asked if we wanted photos, I try to remind myself now that we made the best decision we could at the time.

Then there’s the guilt that we haven’t been back to the cemetery since their funeral. Actually, this is only partial guilt, as Double A and I both believe that while the cemetery may be where their bodies reside, their souls and presence remain with us all of the time. I think there’s more guilt around the fact that we have yet to pick a marker for them. That this somehow prevents the rest of the world of knowing of their existence. I want that acknowledgement for them, and fear that a year later, even those who know of their existence will, or have, forgotten.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I also feel a tremendous sense of pride and gratefulness today. This past year has shown me yet another level of strength, determination and courage in both Double A and me. Levels we weren’t sure we had within us. We are survivors, and we survive together. That’s no little feat when studies have shown that’s not always the case.

I’m thankful for being able to share here, to connect with others who have, or are, walking similar paths. To learn, and find inspiration from each of you, and hope that by sharing we will all feel less ashamed and alone, and more empowered.

And I’m incredibly grateful for BB. His presence takes nothing away from our other children’s existence, rather magnifies all that we wanted for each of them. We are able to give to him all of the love, hope and dreams that has been building in our hearts and minds. Our experiences have shaped, guided and determined our parenting style, and enabled us to truly appreciate him, and what it means to parent a child (successes and challenges included).

It with these mixed, and conflicting emotions that we live. Today, and every day. Only today we are going to have cupcakes as a way to honor Benjamin and Sarah’s birth. While on some levels it seems odd since their birth was also their death, it is important to me that we find some way to celebrate them and carry on their brief legacy.

What guilt are you holding on to? How do you balance that by honoring your child(ren)?

Please Don’t Ask That

“Do you have kids?” It was the dreaded question, and it wasn’t even being asked of me this time. I was in a business group setting, and as each person went around the room introducing themselves, that was the question that was posed again and again. It seems harmless, and to many, it probably is harmless. But I couldn’t help but wonder if there was anyone else in this room who had walked in shoes like mine. This seemingly unassuming question is so painful for many of us to answer.

As a baby loss Mom, this is one of many questions that make me cringe. Another one is, “Is this your first?” Both are questions I hear a lot now, especially when I’m out with Baby Boy. I struggle with how to answer the question in a way that feels genuine to my family, yet won’t alienate (read: freak out) the person I’m talking to.

My general rule is: if I don’t know the person, and will probably not see them again, I tend to say a quick yes and move on. Yet in my mind—and especially in my heart—I don’t move on. I feel like I’m not being fair to Baby K, Benjamin and Sarah, and the others. And not being fair to myself or Double A. But what do I say that covers all of this?

It’s a conversation I’ve often had with my baby loss Mom friends. One answers with “Two in heaven.” Others answer, “We have/had another daughter, but she died.” While not easy answers, clean and understandable. But why ask this at all? And what about when it’s not so easy to understand? Or that many people would consider only babies who were born to be “actual” children. It’s all so complicated that often I don’t want to get into it. Sometimes I say, “Not exactly, but he’s the first we were able to bring home,” and leave it at that.

What I don’t understand is, why is it common knowledge that you don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant, but you can ask if she has kids? Or how about if she wants kids, and when is she going to have kids? Can these questions be reshaped as to not be so offensive? Do they need to be asked at all? The more we talk about miscarriage, still birth, baby loss and infertility, the more we will be able to inform and educate the greater community that questions like these are loaded and hurtful.

What are your dreaded questions? How do you respond?

(Not) Alone in the Crowd

There’s a great feeling of loneliness that goes along with miscarriage and baby loss. With each loss, I’d look around and see pregnant women and babies everywhere. Of course I was (am) hypersensitive to that, but there they were nonetheless. And it made me feel as though I was the only one going through this. The only one struggling for a family, struggling to breathe. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The secrecy that shrouds miscarriage and stillbirths makes it seem like a private club where you have to know the password to enter, yet nobody speaks that password out loud, and the outside world is barely aware of the commonality of club members.

It became clear early on that most people don’t talk about it. Some because they don’t want to deal, some who are afraid, and others who are ashamed. Quite often we don’t speak about it because we think that our family and friends won’t understand, and truthfully, they may not. And yet it is this secrecy that perpetuates the loneliness for us as individuals and as a community.

With each loss, I became more comfortable talking about it—my experiences, my feelings and shattered hopes—to anyone who would listen, and likely sometimes to those who didn’t ask. I was amazed by how many people admitted to having a similar experience, or knew someone who did, but just don’t speak about it. Sadly, the stats around miscarriage and baby loss are so high, we truly are everywhere. Yet we don’t know who “we” are.

Sometimes it comes out naturally. Like when I was at last month’s BlogHer ’13 conference. Of the 10 people at our lunch table, seven us had experienced loss. Of course, that was partially because I had surrounded myself with other ALI bloggers, but others joined us and once they heard our stories, they shared theirs.

This really hit home at recent event I attended at The Blossom Method which featured baby loss survivor Sara Connell telling her story about her losses, and how her mom then became her surrogate (yes, you read that correctly, and you can read the whole story). But I digress. There were about 15-20 people there, mostly women and a couple of men, listening intently and knowingly shaking their heads. During the Q&A portion one person after the next revealed their story. Their struggle. The couple next to me just lost twins. So did another couple behind me. Another lost their baby late term. And so on.

Now I know that this particular event targeted women and men within the loss arena, but it made me realize that until people started talking, no one knows each others story. Sure you begin to see the telltale signs, something that Mel over at Stirrup-Queens pinpointed perfectly in relation to infertility in general. I find that when I’m in groups of people, I wonder if anyone has been where I’ve been. Maybe that’s a sick after-effect of going through everything I’ve been through, but really I wonder because I want to talk to them, and let them know “me too.”

It’s true that you never know someone else’s back-story until they start talking. I’m guilty of looking at someone with their big, round pregnant belly or beautiful baby and thinking how lucky they are to have such a perfect life. But in reality, who knows what it took to get them to this point. The more we start talking about our experiences, not only amongst others who are in the know, but the outside world, the less lonely each of us will feel.

What do you do to feel less alone?

The Blossom Method: You Never Know

Editor’s Note:
My participation in The Blossom Method’s You Never Know campaign is voluntary and I have not received any financial compensation. I’m participating because I believe in what they do, and Double A and I have both benefited from working with them throughout our journey. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

About The Blossom Method:
The Blossom Method is a therapy practice offering support, community, comfort and hope to women and couples experiencing issues related 
infertility, pregnancy loss, genetic complications, pelvic disorders, NICU preemies and postpartum depression. They can be reached at 312.854.0061 or via email.

Mind Over What Matters

I’m on drugs. There. I’ve said it. This isn’t something that’s easy for me to admit to myself, let alone the world of the web. But I am. And I’m talking about it here because I realize if I’m uncomfortable with it, I know (or at least hope) that I’m not alone.

Right after we lost the twins, I had asked my OB to prescribe something for me to take the edge off. I was taking something to sleep, but truthfully, wanted something to make me numb and not feel the pain, anger and overwhelming sadness (even though I knew nothing could really take that away). He rightfully said that he wasn’t comfortable prescribing something that he didn’t know the best dosage and recommended I call my GP or therapist. I talked to my therapist about it, and she recommended someone, but at that time, calling a psychiatrist or even my GP and having to relive everything seemed like a lot of work. Painful work. So I didn’t, and just soldiered on.

Double A and I acknowledged the small victories of every day. Getting out of bed. Showering and getting dressed. Going to work. Getting out of the house on the weekends. Simple things, yet to us, being exposed in the real world, felt like huge accomplishments. In spite of doing this, and putting forth the brave face to others, I was still a puddle inside. Functioning, but not living.

It took me a while (read: 3 months) before I finally realized that I needed the extra help. It was not something that I was happy about, but I knew I needed something to help get me through, to take the edge off, and allow me to carry on. The thing is, I see nothing wrong with medication. Just not for me. To me, it is a sign of my own personal weakness. I should be able to get through this on my own will and determination, right? Wrong.

Let me repeat that, WRONG.

A single loss is painful enough, but multiply that by seven, where each time hope is dangled a little closer to your finger tips only to be yanked away just when you think you can feel it. People say to us all of the time, “I don’t know how you’re doing this. How are you still standing?” And when I think about it…really think about it…it IS a wonder. I guess I go back to my friend S’s saying, what else can we do?

I needed to figure out what else I could do. And the first thing I needed to do was set my ego aside. The first visit to the psychiatrist was torturous. Not only did I have to relive my worst nightmares, but then I had to say it out loud: I can’t do this on my own. Now, I was hardly alone, but all of the support in the world couldn’t have helped me at this point.

Double A came with me to that first visit and held my hand as I filled out the (first of many) postpartum worksheet: Yes, I’m having trouble concentrating. Yes, I’m not sleeping well. No, I’m not having harmful thoughts. And so on. I understand the need for this sheet, and hated filling it out all of the same. The psychiatrist is a kind woman with caring eyes. She listened intently, letting us tell our tale, and was patient as I peppered her with questions about going on meds:

Will I get addicted?I don’t want to be on meds.How long do I have to be on them?I don’t want to be on meds.Will they turn me into a zombie?I don’t want to be on meds.Will others know that I’m on something?Will they numb the pain?Will they make me feel better?How long do I have to be on them?I. Don’t. Want. To. Be. On. Meds.

While I knew there were not going to be any magic answers here, it was important to me to come up with a plan that felt comfortable to me. To know what I’d be taking, what it would—and wouldn’t do, and what the monitoring process would be. This allowed me to feel as though I had some control over what had not been controllable. And perhaps the biggest reminder/reassurance for me, was that I wasn’t going to be on these medications forever. This was a temporary fix to help me better live with the grief as I continued to work through the pain and sadness.

That said, I started on my new pill cocktail in secrecy. Most of my family and friends don’t know (…until now). I was embarrassed. Truthfully, there’s still a part of me that cringes when I think about it. The fact that I’m just now writing about this as I am tapering off of the meds says so. But you know what? It helped me. It helped me a lot. And it did so in a way that I still felt like me. I still had feelings. And sadness. And grief. But I was able to better navigate those feelings.

I’m not trying to advocate for drugs here. But what I am advocating for is to allow yourself to put your ego and/or preconceived notions of what you should or shouldn’t do to survive, aside. To take the advice you’d give a friend, for yourself. To look at doing whatever it takes for the sake of helping you heal yourself. It’s true that nothing can bring our baby(ies) back. But there are ways to bring us back to be able to survive in this new normal in which we live.

Did you have to try something outside of your comfort zone to help bring yourself back from functioning to living?

An Absence Explained. A Light Rekindled.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but not for lack of ideas, thoughts and questions running through my head. The truth is, I’ve wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. So, in going with my new motto, “Stop worrying. Stop over thinking. And just do.” here I go: Double A and I welcomed a son into our lives in early May. A beautiful, healthy and LIVING baby boy. Yes, we were finally able to bring a child home to parent through domestic adoption.

I haven’t been sure on how to say this here. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted to shout it from the rooftops, and in real life, I pretty much have been. But it’s different here. While I know (hope?) that there will be great excitement, with that, also come painful triggers. I’ve been on the other side of these announcements, and while happy for the person, there’s still that giant twinge of ‘why not me?’ So I respectfully share this news here as a thank you for all of the love and support you’ve shown Double A and me, and to continue to shed some light on life, and now parenting, after loss.

While I’m not going to share our son’s full story here, I will share that we got “the call” about six weeks before he was due. We were thrilled, and at the same time, we tried to keep a foot on the ground since we we’ve been down this road to baby before, and had also been through a failed match weeks after we lost the twins. We had the opportunity to have dinner with his birth parents and they are truly a strong, thoughtful and courageous couple. Fast forward, and we were on our way to the hospital when we got the call he was here, and we still had an hour and a half before we arrived. A baby. Our baby? Could this actually, finally be?

After an emotional visit with his birth parents, the social worker escorted us to the nursery. Initial papers were filled out and signed. Bracelets were snapped on, giving us our backstage passes to the show we’ve long had tickets for, but never allowed access to.

The door unlocked and we were ushered in where a nurse stood 12 feet away holding our swaddled son (I’ll be referring to him as Smiley, because he has, and does, since the day we brought him home). We were a mere two minutes of scrubbing away the pain of the last 5-1/2 years from meeting him. This time is blurry for me. I know we were talking to one of the nurses, but what I remember more is the 6 or 7 nursing students standing off to the side whispering, smiling and pointing as they stared, clearly knowing our story. And then after checking that our numbers matched, they introduced us to Smiley.

Tears.Love.Joy.Shock.Amazement.Breathless.Grateful.Sadness.Numb.

It was an unreal moment where I was overcome by emotion. ALL emotions. The happiness of finally getting to this point. The enormity of everything we survived. The potential of all that we’ll be able to see, do and enjoy with Smiley. The pain of knowing that those are the same things we’ll never be able to experience with Baby K, Sarah and Benjamin, and the others we didn’t name. The ache of what his birth parents were going through at this very moment. You name it. I felt it. I soaked up every moment. Every feeling. This was part of our story. Part of his story.

Double A held him first (at my insistence), and then it was my turn. I was overcome looking at this beautiful baby in my arms when PTSD hit for the first time. The last three times I held newborn babies at the hospital, they were beautiful, and yet not breathing. That hit me hard many times over the next 2-1/2 days we spent camped out in the hospital nursery. Double A and I had such an appreciation for Smiley, and his birth parents. We took turns holding him close and telling him how much we loved him, and how many people loved him already—even though most didn’t know he was here. He was bathed in kisses hourly, if not more often.

When it was time to leave the hospital, PTSD hit big for the second time. It wasn’t that we were basically taking him home on loan*, rather it was the wheelchair ride out of the hospital. The last three times I was wheeled out of the hospital, my arms were empty and my heart was aching. It took every ounce of concentration I had to stay present on the positive as I stared at Smiley, repeating his name over and over in my head.

*In Illinois, surrenders cannot be signed until at least 72 hours after delivery. We had him home with us 1-1/2 days before we knew for sure he was staying. Stressful and scary to say the least.

Many people had told me that once we were finally able to parent a child of our own, the pain and suffering we experienced would be replaced by joy and happiness. Others have alluded to the fact that now that Smiley is finally here, that he makes everything better, everything OK. I’ve found that the joy and happiness are there, ten-fold. And so is the pain and suffering. There’s no doubt that a light has been turned back on inside Double A and me, and our families. That light, however bright, does not cast a shadow over our past. In fact, on some levels it highlights it. There are times that I’m overwhelmed by how much I love Smiley and the joy he brings, and at the same time, those same feelings take my breath away of our babies we’ve lost.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of our babies. In fact, we have a shelf in Smiley’s room where we have Baby K, Sarah and Benjamin’s memory boxes containing their footprints, hats and hospital bracelets. The twins’ hats were incorporated into his baby naming ceremony. Just as we have a picture of his birth parents to share with him and talk about, it is important that he also knows of his siblings. They are a part of our lives, and always will be.