The Chosen Ones: Getting The Call (Pregnancy After Loss Support)

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We’re over at Pregnancy After Loss Support today talking about the day we got the call that C’s birthparents had chosen us:

“We were deeply invested in the situation, and at the same time, completely separated. We didn’t have doctor appointments to go to. We didn’t get to see ultrasound scans and pictures. I didn’t get to feel the baby moving. We relied on conversations and hope.”

You can check out the full post here.

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Holding onto Hope: The Cubs, World Series and Pregnancy After Loss

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I’m over at Pregnancy After Loss Support today talking about the importance of holding onto hope.

“Chicago Cubs baseball is in my blood, and it has always been the one thing I have been blindly optimistic about. That is, until we started trying for a family.”

You can check out the post here.

To the Person I’ve Become after Baby Loss

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“I can’t believe it’s been…”

Double A and I say this often as each anniversary nears. Today, that year is four. Four years since we said hello and goodbye to our Sarah and Benjamin. And even as time continues to pass by, it stands still. In the days surrounding the anniversary, emotions are all over the board. The events of October 8 and 9, 2012 replay like a horror movie marathon I can’t turn off. From the first unknown pains of labor to being wheeled from the hospital, forever leaving our babies behind. From the funeral and the days that followed, I can feel, hear and smell each moment. It’s a part of my story now, and even though it is a painful part, I keep it close, as it is a way of staying connected to their story. It’s part of how I stay connected to them.

I think back to the me that I was in the days leading up to then, and I feel sorry for her. I have this tremendous sadness for the woman I was then, because she has no clue what’s about to happen. And while our previous five losses had obviously made me familiar with intense grief and sadness, the enormity of losing the twins changed me forever.

That said, I look to the woman I am today—in spite of, and because of our experiences—and I’m incredibly proud and grateful for who I have become. I am a mother, a wife, and a friend. I am determined, resilient and strong. I speak the words some cannot, and say things others don’t want to hear. I’m an advocate and a survivor.

My story didn’t end that day.

 

Changing the Conversation on Grief and Baby Loss

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“They should be over it by now.”

This was the unsolicited advice a friend of the family told another family member not long after we lost Baby K. Not only did I find this to be insensitive at the time (I still do), but even more so because this person is a therapist. Yes, a therapist.

The thing is, when you lose a child, you never “get over it.” Hell, when you lose anyone, you never truly get over it. There will always be a part of your heart and your soul that’s missing. But there’s a difference between living with baby loss and living baby loss. As bereaved moms, dads, siblings, grandparents and so on, we will always carry the heartbreak of not having all of our children with us, and all of the missed memories. And yet life doesn’t stop. So we learn to live in this new normal, which means some days functioning, and some days collapsing in grief. That’s OK. What’s not OK is feeling like you have to do it alone.

Perhaps the notion of getting over it, comes from the “acceptance” stage in the five stages of grief. People like to put things into neat packages. They like a beginning, middle and end. But grief doesn’t work like that. There’s a difference in getting to the point of acceptance that something happened, and pushing that situation forever out of mind. Why do we give people permission to grieve, but put expectations on it for what’s acceptable? Grief looks different for everyone. It doesn’t have an expiration date. Grief flows in and out of existence at the most expected—and unexpected—moments. And although there may be stages, it isn’t a straight line, nor is it a one-way street. Isn’t it possible that the best way to help people work through their grief is to allow them to do so in a fluid way?

•••

A couple of weeks after losing Baby K, I was back to work physically, but mentally elsewhere. I had just gotten off of the phone with our new therapist to set up our first appointment when I started hemorrhaging from what we later found to be the result of an incomplete post-delivery D&C. My coworker took me to the Emergency Room while a terrified Double A rushed to meet me. When we were finally taken from the ER to the main hospital to be checked out, a 7-month plus pregnant doctor came in to evaluate me.

A 7-month pregnant doctor came in to help the woman who had just lost her daughter at 17 weeks. 

How does this happen? Sure, I realize that it is a busy hospital where they see a variety of patients of all ailments, and that the first doctor available takes the next case. But at the same time, how could someone not think about the emotional ramifications of sending a clearly visible pregnant doctor in to help a bereaved mom?

This needs to change. Conversations must be had.

Support for bereaved parents varies across the board. Part of this stems from the hush-hush nature of baby loss. The guilt and the shame, and the notion that we shouldn’t talk about it. And part of it comes from the rushed nature of many of today’s medical appointments. It’s time to take a step back and reevaluate the processes. It’s not only about empowering the moms and dads, but educating the doctors. It’s about teaching bedside manner, and understanding that bedside manner needs to extend from the doctors to the nurses to the front office, and everyone in between.

The importance of finding the right support is key, whether you’ve recently lost your child, are still struggling to find your new normal, or pregnant again after loss. For us, finding the right therapist, one who understood pregnancy loss from personal experience, was what helped pull Double A and me through. I credit Aviva and The Blossom Method for the fact that we’re standing here today. She gave us time to grieve, but not wallow. She listened and asked questions, and gave us the questions and tools to empower us to advocate for ourselves. She was our biggest cheerleader when we couldn’t find cheer. In fact, I believe so strongly in their capabilities, and the notion of changing the conversation, that I’ve been doing community outreach for them to get in front of doctors to raise awareness, and make sure others can get the help they need and deserve.

I talk about my experiences in loss as a way to continue to process the grief, and to honor Baby K, Sarah, Benjamin and the four we never met. Each of us affected by baby loss—whether directly or indirectly—has a voice. And it doesn’t matter if we use our voice on a big stage, or to quietly encourage those around us, together, we can change this conversation.

Be happy. Be healthy. Be yourself.

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The last time I was at the cemetery, I was a deranged wild woman. We were there for my uncle’s funeral, and I wanted to see Baby K and Sarah and Benjamin. It was warm for February, and much of the snow had thawed, but there was still a relatively thick layer of ice covering their headstones. Out of nowhere, I started using my heel as an ice pick, digging at the ice, and kicking away the water, switching from one leg to the next. My parents and sister stood speechless for a moment watching me until they tried to dissuade me from breaking my foot or worse. They grabbed snow brushes from the cars to help, but I shooed them away, not wanting the scrapers to scratch the markers. I kept going until I was able to break away the ice. There was nothing I could do about the pool of water.

I’m not sure what came over me. Perhaps it was maternal instinct, but I couldn’t have that layer of ice suffocating my babies. I realize how silly that sounds, and even knew it then. I mean, how could they suffocate, when they’re already dead? But at the time, it seemed like something I had to do to protect them. Like the only thing I could do. It was a reminder that the swell of overwhelming grief can still pop up at any given moment.

Skip to today, just over a month later, and a completely different visit. I’m off this week as I transition out of one job into the next, and since it was a beautiful 70+ degree rare March day in Chicago, I decided to stop by. Now, I have never been to the cemetery by myself. And I didn’t even tell Double A that I was going. I just had to go, which is strange because while I know their bodies are there, I don’t feel like they are. I got a little panicky when I arrived as I couldn’t find their gravesite, but my fears calmed as soon as I did.

It was so peaceful at the cemetery today in spite of the many funeral services I could see all around. The winds had calmed and the warmth of the sun between the clouds beat down. I took time at each of their headstones to clear off the dirt, leaves and grime of a long Chicago winter. I gathered rocks, two sets of four, one from each Double A, C, J and me to place on the two headstones. And I talked to them through tears. Only this time, the tears were a bit more controlled. I said hello to my Papa and my cousin who are both near by, and thanked them for watching over my babies. And then I walked over to find what I call the inspiration marker:

Be healthy. Be happy. Be yourself.

Doesn’t that just sum up living a good life? Ever since I found it last year, I’ve wanted to take a picture, but it felt wrong to do so. I’m not even sure to whom it belongs, as it is on a little bronze plaque, no more than 18 inches wide and 2 inches tall. There are other markers near it, but nothing that connects it. I like to think that someone wanted to remind their family of what is important, and I’m grateful to have come upon it. Its proximity to Baby K, Sarah and Benjamin brings a great comfort to me when I need it most.

Going to the cemetery today brought to me a sense of peace and calm interspersed with the grief and sadness. It brings my past and my present together, and serves as a reminder of what we’ve been through and just how far we’ve come. There is no letting go of the past, nor would I want to. There’s only trying to do the best I can every day (which varies greatly from moment to moment) and not judging myself for what happens in between. I’m not sure who to thank for the inspiration, but I certainly appreciate it being out there.

Pregnancy After Loss Support: Doing what’s Breast

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I’m over at Pregnancy After Loss Support today with some tips and thoughts on breastfeeding after pregnancy loss.

“I’m not going to lie to you. I am NOT a fan of breastfeeding. In fact, at several points along the way, I’ve downright hated it. And while there have been times where I didn’t mind it, I never loved it, or felt the bliss that most people talk about.”

You can check out the full post here. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and what tips you would add.

*Photo credit