When Smiles Happen

I smiled today. And probably laughed too. It made me realize that I’ve written a lot here of the pain and sadness of miscarriage, but perhaps not enough about what happens as we’ve move through the grief (notice I didn’t say past, as I’m not sure we’ll ever truly be past it).

Each loss brought on its own bout of sadness and emotion. And as one loss became two became three, these bouts became deeper, longer, harsher. By the time we got to four, it was the sheer magnitude of losing our baby at 16 weeks 6 days, combined without the pent up emotion and shock of having been down this road three times before, that put this loss into a category of its own. Those first days, weeks, months, it was hard to imagine that we’d ever laugh again. Ever make a joke. Or even crack a smile. It reminds me — on a much different level, mind you — of Carrie in the Sex and the City movie. “Will I ever laugh again?” she asks Miranda. “Yes, when something is really funny,” she replied. And while it didn’t take someone pooping their pants to cause that first smile, it did happen.

I don’t remember exactly when, or what it was. But what I do remember is feeling guilty. How dare I smile or laugh, or *gasp* have a good time when my baby died? How could I be so inconsiderate to her life, or lack of life? What would others think about me being happy again? During those early days, that feeling would make me feel even worse (didn’t know THAT was possible) and I’d spiral back down to a bad place. In my mind, by enjoying myself and getting back to life, albeit a changed life, I wasn’t properly honoring their memory. And so I was a bad person. A very bad person. Which equaled a bad mom. And when I felt like I really didn’t even have the chance to truly be a mom,* feeling like a bad one, is not a good thing.

But the thing is, it kept happening. I’d find myself smiling. And then I’d laugh again, or do something I enjoyed doing. And then we’d do a little more. I guess at some point it dawned on me that just because I’m moving forward, it didn’t mean that I was moving on (I guarantee you that Double A and my therapist had a little something to do with that realization). Our babies’ memories will be with us always. No matter where we go or what we do. Sure, there will always be a little sting for all that we missed out on with each of them, but they will always be a part of us. A part of our family.

We realized that laughing, smiling and enjoying life again was actually a way to honor the babies. It’s also a way of helping others, to show that we survived the devastation and pain, and we’re still here. Life does, in fact, go on. Smiles do happen. And it isn’t only when something really funny happens (although it doesn’t hurt).

* I know I AM a mom. What I meant here is that I never had the opportunity to truly bond, interact and experience all of the things that those who have living children have experienced.


Another Day in the PTSD Life

I had to go back to the hospital last week, the hospital where we lost our baby. Only this time it was to sit with my mom while my dad had some tests done. I guess I had been back once before, for the 2-week post MC check-up with my doctor, but this time it was eerily similar to that dreadful April day. The skies were cloudy and gray like they were early on that Sunday morning where we sped down the highway and through the side streets. Only this time, there was a damp chill from the winter wind whipping through me. Only this time, I just wanted to throw up, not curl up and wither away. And while I wanted to be there to support my parents, I dreaded it for fear of the emotions and memories it would bring back. It made me realize how many triggers and reminders surround me every day. Some of them are obvious like this, and others randomly hit me.

There’s the bathroom stall at work. It was probably about 3 or 4 weeks after the loss that I was back at work — at least physically. I was still bleeding, but on this particular day, it was as if someone had flipped a switch to full throttle. And as I stood up in my office, I felt a gush that panicked me both for fear of what the f*ck was going on, and how the hell am I going to make it to the bathroom?!? After grabbing a coat to wrap around me and the quickest tight-legged run I’ve ever done in my life through a student-filled hallway, I made it to the bathroom, but not without the casualty of soaked jeans and a mess on the floor of the bathroom stall. To this day, each time I go into that bathroom, I’m reminded of that horrible time, even for a brief moment.

The Great Chicago Blizzard of 2011

The Great Chicago Blizzard of 2011 (my poor car!)

There was watching the news coverage of the anniversary of last year’s Chicago blizzard. You see, I was still pregnant at that point, and the night of the big storm, I started bleeding again. And in spite of a call to the doctor, it wasn’t like we could go anywhere because of the snow. In fact, while I was on the late-night call with the doc, Double A was outside with neighbors trying to help a Chicago cop whose car was stuck on our street. The next morning, our neighbors were out in full force, digging out the back parking lot and cars. And inside I sat, feeling bad for not being able to help and wondering what was going on with my body, with our baby. Of course when we were able to get to the doc, the ultrasound showed a strong heartbeat and dancing baby and things were “fine.” Seeing the news footage from a year ago brought me right back to that time, the feelings of panic and then those of hope and relief that we felt. Little did I know that was just the start of the roller coaster ride.

Then there was Super Bowl, er, Big Game. You see, every year, Double A and I have a party where the focus is just as much on the food (I make a damn good chili, if I do say so myself) and commercials, as it is the game itself. At last year’s party, we were early into the pregnancy and none of our friends knew. I remember not wanting to let people in on our big secret, and walking around holding a beer bottle or having one near me for the illusion that it was mine. And it worked. So this year as we started making preparations for Chili Bowl 2012, I was reminded of last year and our little secret and the happiness we felt at the time. This may explain why I went WAY overboard on cooking, making chili, chicken wings, hummus, bean dip and cream cheese and salsa wraps (note to self: next year buy everything but the chili).

The worst one of all though, is our bedroom. For it was in our bed that I was feeling pains that I thought were bad gas, but were actually contractions. It was from our bed that I got up, where my water broke, messing the bedroom carpet as I hurried to the bathroom yelling to Double A to call the doctor. And while the mess on the carpet is long cleaned up and gone, I sometimes wake up and relive the entire morning over and over again. Especially on Sunday mornings, a day and time I used to love. There are times where I think we should move and get away from the reminders and memories. But I love our home, and part of me thinks that would be just running away from it, not solving it (only part of me though…).

I’m sure there are other memory triggers that I’m leaving out, and that there are more lurking right around the corner. It is almost like a game, where I damn well better be playing good defense. So the challenge is, what to do when that PTSD strikes? For me, I mostly turn to music (Wilco’s Either Way is a good one, even if I don’t believe everything has its plan), or if possible, exercise or cooking (which probably doesn’t always help my body). Sometimes I just cry, or try to talk about it, or now, write about it. And other times, I try to bury it deep and force myself to not think about it and focus elsewhere. The truth is, that works for a little while, but it always creeps back up. It’s made me realize that while I don’t like to be in that space, sometimes I need to just be (which is ridiculously hard for me to “be” without thinking or judging). To feel what I’m feeling and only then be able to move forward.

I’m sure there are many other ways to handle this, and so my question to you is, how do you deal with PTSD? What advice or tips would you give other women and men dealing with the mental aftermath of miscarriage? We are a community, and just remember your one tip may be just the thing someone else needed.