Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Although no definite cause of death was identified, the overall findings are suspicious for an umbilical cord accident.
I seem to be oscillating between the following reactions:
a) A CORD ACCIDENT!!! A FUCKING CORD ACCIDENT!!! YOU FUCKING NEGLIGENT DOCTORS!!! I went to the hospital reporting decreased fetal movement and you left me sitting in waiting rooms for EIGHT hours, without so much as monitoring my baby, and when you did finally pay attention to me you wasted precious time hypothesizing over all sorts of random causes for her lack of movement, completely ignoring the most obvious, and all the while my baby was suffocating to death!!! I TRUSTED YOU!!! I TRUSTED YOU WITH THAT WHICH WAS MOST PRECIOUS TO ME. I did everything right and YOU, YOU WHO WERE SUPPOSED TO SAVE HER LIFE, YOU LET HER DIE.
b) a cord accident. Phew! Totally random. Not likely to recur. I feel lighter. My body didn't fail her. I didn't fail her. I'm ready to try again.
I have yet to let my mind wonder back to the full events of that fateful day, but one moment is now replaying over and over in my mind. I am sitting with Tim in the waiting room of the High Risk Specialist's office in the hospital. It's warm and dimly lit. The grime on the windows is filtering the sunlight and there are spiders on the glass. The 1970s vinyl chair is making my ass numb. My eyes are fixed on the grungy linoleum floor, but I am distinctly aware of the birth announcements covering the wall to my left - precious little newborn faces staring at me while I advert my gaze. And then, THUMP, she kicked. A single, HARD kick. "She moved", I say. I smile at Tim. "She moved!". I poke her. I will her to move again. She's still. I put my hand on my belly and burn the memory of that kick into my mind, just in case. Then I look at the wall, at all the precious little faces. I imagine her picture on the wall.
She kicked in her struggle for life. She was dying, slowly. She was still alive. If only...
We have a meeting at the hospital on Thursday to review the report with the doctors. I think it will be the last time I see THOSE doctors at THAT hospital.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines due as:
1 : owed or owing as a debt
2 a : owed or owing as a natural or moral right
b : according to accepted notions or procedures
3 a : satisfying or capable of satisfying a need, obligation, or duty...
5: having reached the date at which payment is required
6 : required or expected in the prescribed, normal, or logical course of events.
Today, Isla was due.
Today, I laboured over this:
Loving and missing you little one. xoxoxo
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Earlier tonight Tim and I somehow randomly discovered that my sister-in-law, Tim's eldest brother's wife, had deleted us both from Facebook. In my bereaved mother craziness, I jumped straight to the conclusion that her reason for doing so must be that she was pregnant. So hoping to put my worried mind at ease, Tim called his middle brother to ask about whether he knew anything. He didn't, but Tim's call prompted his middle brother to call his eldest brother, and within the hour, Tim's eldest brother was on the phone confirming, yes indeed, his wife is pregnant.
Not like just pregnant, but 12 weeks pregnant. His brother swore they were not keeping it a secret just from us, and that they had not told anyone in the family yet. Leaves me curious as to why his wife would have already deleted us from Facebook, but whatever, that's all irrelevant.
Isla was born 13 weeks ago yesterday, which by my calculations means this baby was conceived sometime approximately 2-3 weeks following her death. I would never expect anyone else to put their family planning on hold, and I don't know the circumstances surrounding this little one's conception, but since this is my place to be honest, it fucking hurts that they would allow themselves to become knocked up so soon after their niece died. Not sure when it wouldn't hurt, but somehow I feel that if they conceived in August and not July, I would feel a bit better about this.
News of a pregnancy in the family was going to feel like fucking searing hot metal stakes being driven through my heart no matter when it was delivered, and who was pregnant, but I'm having a particularly hard time with this SIL and BIL being pregnant because they have yet to call, send a card, do anything to acknowledge Isla's death.
We had one email exchange that I initiated when I asked for copies of Tim's baby photos which were in her possession, but literally, that is the only communication I have had with this SIL in 13 weeks. They live half-way across the country, so I understood when they did not attend Isla's funeral, and okay, its hard to pick up the phone to call not knowing what to say after someone's baby has died, but come on, your fucking niece is dead and you can't even send a card, some flowers, something, anything!!
I have been trying very hard to gain perspective on my grief anger, to recognize I'm just angry because my baby died, and to not unknowingly place that anger on friends and family members. But I have to tell you, tonight I lost my shit. Like screaming, banging my head against the mattress, smashing my hands against the wall, pacing for hours, lost my shit. And I'm still just so fucking angry. Yes, much of it is jealousy and just general anger at the universe that they will in all likelihood go on to have a healthy baby and my sweet perfect baby is dead.
But I'm also genuinely angry at these people for doing fuck-all to acknowledge my baby who died, and then calling us tonight expecting us to share in their good news. Apparently they do know our phone numbers and how to dial after all.
I mean come on, they so obviously don't give a rats ass about my baby, so why should I care about theirs, right? But part of the problem is I do. Rational, sane (and I like to think kind, compassionate and loving) Melissa cares. I actually love this little niece or nephew quite a lot already. I'm actually terrified that my SIL who is a teacher does not know the dangers of Parvovirus, and that it will kill another baby in our clan. I would be devastated for everyone if another such loss was to occur. But perhaps much more than that, I'm am terrified that nothing will harm this baby, and he or she will be born alive and then what?!
I never cared much about having the first born grandchild. Our decision to have a baby when we did, had nothing to do with that, and in many ways I wished that one of Tim's brothers would hurry up and have a baby to pave the way for us. But since we did have the first born, and she died, I am now terrified that she is going to be forgotten. That all of the love and affection and attention that was rightfully hers is going to be poured into this new little one, and once that baby is born, alive, and can be held and cooed over, Isla will be nothing more than a distant memory to the rest of the family.
What do I do when someone congratulates my MIL and FIL in front of me on the birth of their "first grandchild"? What do I say when this little once grows up stakes his/her claim to that place in the family? It's not that I care that my SIL and BIL will have a child before we do, its that I wanted to go first again so I could make sure that "first" spot was always held for Isla. It's rightfully hers. If the next baby born into the family was also born to us, I could tell my child all about Isla, and how she was first born, and Grandma and Grandpa's first grandchild. But now, now what do I do!!!
Just knowing these things will be said and done even when we are not present is upsetting. I want the whole entire family to recognize Isla, and I fear, for good reason, that they can't and they won't.
I wish it were as simple as telling my in-laws how I feel, and asking them to acknowledge her place in the family, but its not. Especially when its my MIL who has so forcefully insisted that we "get over" Isla already, and who said, with anger, "Isla was just a late miscarriage". These aren't people who want to understand. These aren't people who I can turn to for support and acknowledgment. In fact, I've tried. I've reached out. I've sent emails explaining my hurts, and flat out begging for support and recognition for Isla. My emails have gone unanswered.
And my SIL and BIL have pretty much made it clear, they really don't care. Maybe now that they are pregnant they will gain some perspective on exactly what it is we lost, but I'm not holding my breath for any additional compassion and understanding from them. I mean seriously, the first time you call me after my baby dies is to call me and tell me you are pregnant?!! And deleting me from Facebook with no explanation, that's not cool, that hurts.
I already feel like Isla matters so little to anyone other than Tim and I, and my mom, that with this new pregnancy she really won't matter to her paternal relatives at all. And that, that makes me soooo angry. Like screaming, banging my head against the mattress, smashing my hands against the wall, angry. I want to stand up and scream, and not just scream in general, scream at these people for what they have already done and for what I fear they will continue to do to the sacred memory of my sweet perfect baby. She deserves so much more than this. She deserves for her aunts and uncles and grandma and grandpa to love her, to honour her, to remember her always.
I don't know what to do with all this anger. Poor Tim. This is his family and so I cannot just rant and rave to him anymore about just how fucking angry I am.
I'm so fucking angry I don't recognize myself. Things have come out of my mouth that rational, sane me would never normally think, let alone say. I'm like an out of control crazy woman. I'm feeling vengeful. I feel like calling up my SIL and telling her that I don't give two fucking cents about their baby because they so obviously didn't give two cents about mine. I feel like refusing to ever acknowledge this child when he or she is born, just to prove how hurtful it is to have a baby and have it go unnoticed by immediate family members. I feel like telling my MIL that she should not be happy about this pregnancy yet, because according to her own logic, at this stage this baby is "nothing more than a ball of cells", so what the fuck is there to celebrate! I feel like calling my FIL and telling him its a good thing he did not waste his airmiles flying here for Isla's funeral because that would have been such a waste when he can now use them to attend the birth of his other first grandchild.
Obviously, I can't and won't do any of the above. I feel sick just thinking that way, it is so far from who I really am and how I really feel. But as soon as I stop thinking like that, I feel hurt again that these people have failed to support us and acknowledge our loss, their own loss, my baby, and that hurt just cycles right back into this blind rage kinda anger. I feel helplessly caught in this cycle of thoughts right now and I don't how to help myself out.
Like seriously. This is toxic. Really toxic. I don't like it. Not one bit. I would much rather be sitting here thinking happy or even just neutral thoughts about this baby. Only I don't know how to keep my thoughts positive and not so dark, and mean, I'm really not a mean person.
It's hurt and fear. I can acknowledge it as such, but I can't turn it off. I feel so helpless because I know I cannot control the actions of others, and the only thing in the world I really have control over are my thoughts and feelings, and the way I react to them. I'm not reacting well and I feel like my feelings have control over me at the moment and not the other way around. I just wish there could be even one outward sign from these relatives that this baby, once born alive, is not more important than poor little dead Isla. That she mattered and still matters just as much. I wish I could make them do the little things it is I want (need?) them to do. But I can't, and without some acknowledgment from them, I can't figure out how to not be so bloody angry.
At this very moment, it feels like someone is taking a spoon to my insides, scraping and scooping them out like you do pumpkin guts before carving. I literally feel gutted. The thoughts im my head are also swirling around wildly. It's now after 7:00 a.m. I have an important professional meeting this afternoon. I need some sleep!!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
During today's session we were focused mainly on Tim, but when it came to me, we discussed the fact that I've got the blahs. I know I do. Very little interests me these days. Truthfully, I spend most of my days in the house, alone, surfing the internet - reading blogs, cruising Facebook, Googling random stuff. I do little 0f much else. Sometimes the TV is on for background noise, but I usually can't pay much attention to it. I take note of the tumble weeds of dog hair on the floor, the dishes in the sink, the laundry piling up and it starts to get to me (me, obsessive, compulsive clean freak) but then I just feel so blah about it all that I can't seem to do anything about it.
Often I feel a little stir crazy spending so many hours in the house, alone, doing nothing, that I think when Tim gets home in the evenings, I want to do something. But, then when I try to think of what to do, I just feel more blah. Walk the dogs. Blah. Go the movies, blah. Out for dinner, blah. So, the two of us just end up sitting together in the house. Tim watches TV, while I carry on surfing the internet.
Even when I drag myself out of the house, everything seems so blah. For example, I went to the mall today and bought some clothes for Tim and a dress for the wedding we are attending on Saturday. Usually I am so enamored by fall fashions that I get an overwhelming rush of excitement just thinking of the mall this time of year - cable knit sweaters, suede boots, wool suits, jewel toned blouses. But, not today. Nope, today the mall just made me feel, you guessed it, blah.
So, what do the blahs mean? Am I depressed? Sure sounds like it, right? But, my grief counsellor believes I'm not suffering from postpartum or any other form of clinical depression, just grief (another reason why I pay her so much - she isn't trying to label or medicate me). Apparently my blahs are the result of me shutting out the feelings associated with my grief. Rather than my denied feelings creating anxiety as they did before, now my feelings are overwhelming me to the point where I am not feeling much of anything at all. Blah.
She recommended that Tim and I both start privately journaling. Just thinking about what I would write in a journal forced me to acknowledge all the repressed feelings I am holding inside right now - sadness, anger, despair, sadness, more sadness, longing, jealousy, despair, lots of despair, a little more anger, and that longing, that powerful, powerful sense of longing. Oy! It's definitely all still in there.
So, now here I am, home again, alone and on the internet, and I'm thinking. I'm thinking about what it is I have been trying to do lately. I'm thinking about all the comments I have made on other blogs recently about trying to hang on to hope, trying to find the light, trying to see the roses. I think I have been trying a little too hard. At the end of the day, I want to heal. I want to experience joy again. I want to dance and sing and smile. I think I want it so badly, I have been rushing it a little. I have been trying to force it. And, it isn't working.
So, today I am reminding myself that I need to go through it. Head up, straight through it, and feel it each step of the way. Deep breathes. Feel it. The weight of my loss. The grief. Its so bloody hurtful to feel. I thought I was doing it. I really did. I thought I was living in it. Feeling it. Not denying it. But, our grief counsellor is so right. I haven't been allowing myself to feel. I was trying to skip to the finish line without running the race.
Maybe a finish line is a bad analogy. There is no end to grief. I will never "get over" Isla. The best I can hope for is to get to a place where Isla's death is a part of who I am, where I can feel joy along with the residual pain.
I think a better analogy is to think of death as a wound and grief as the healing. The death of a loved one, particularly a child, is an emotional wound, but thinking of it on a physical level, grief is like stitching up the wound. The scar will always be there, and sometimes it will get irritated and sore again, but the wound itself has closed, healed. Right now, only a few stitches have been laid, so rather than being stitched up my wound has scabbed over. And underneath the scab, I've got a huge gaping bloody wound and its throbbing. Only sometimes I can't feel the throbbing because my body's pain defences have kicked in and made me numb. I can continue to live like this, with a scab instead of stitches, but whenever I move, I am at risk of the scab tearing off, and when it does, I will feel the searing pain again. Much better to stitch the wound up properly, right? The catch - there is no anesthesia for these stitches. I've got to feel each one being laid.
The goal of our grief counselling is to teach Tim and I how to feel, but also how turn off our feelings so we can function with our grief. I'll be listening closely next week.
Monday, September 21, 2009
I have been asked a few times when telling Isla's story whether she was full term. I HATE that question. I always defensively respond by saying she was past the point of viability, and explaining that she quite possibly could have lived outside of me without any long term health complications. I wish I did not have to feel so defensive, but I also wish people understood the depths of my loss and knew not to ask such insensitive questions.
The past 12 weeks feel like an eternity. I feel like I have aged 12 years. I'm old, worn out. It is hard to imagine that I could still be pregnant with Isla now, and could be for several more weeks. Hard to imagine her living inside of me all this time. I can't help but wonder how she might look if she arrived today. How much would she weigh? How long would she be? How much longer would those long feet of hers be? How much bigger those big hands? How much more hair would she have? Would her little face look the same?
Isla was so incredibly perfect, it is hard to believe that she needed another 12 weeks or more of growing to be ready for the world. She was of course tiny, but she was big, very big, for her gestational age. She weighed 810 g, when the maximum range of "normal" birth weights at 25 weeks is only 759 g. She was also very long - 13 inches, when the average length at 25 weeks is only 9. It makes me proud to think of how big she was. How big, and and how seemingly strong and healthy. Like I did a good job of growing her right up to the point of her death.
We were given the preliminary autopsy report last week. Despite that the report was completed on July 7th, we did not receive a copy until last Thursday, when it was faxed to us because my OB decided it was not worth having us come in to discuss the results because the report said very little. Why did I have to wait almost 3 months to receive it then? And why, now, I am still having to wait another three months or more for the final report? So frustrating.
While the preliminary report said little, it did indicate she had pericardial and pleural effusions and ascites (collectively hydrops), suggesting that it was most likely an infection and not a placental abruption that killed her. Poor Isla. Poor big, strong, otherwise healthy Isla. Dead, gone, because of some infection.
While I am enraged by the injustice of it all, and of course wondering when and how she contracted an infection and what I could have done differently to prevent it, I am also somewhat relieved to know that it was likely not a placental problem that caused her death. If it was an abruption, after having one I would have a ten fold risk of having another and there is little, if anything, that can be done to prevent it. I also have spent much time concerned that it was an abruption and agonizing over whether I did too much walk or lifting in the days before her death to cause it. And, thanks to reading books about the importance of pre-conception care, I have also spent time fussing over the things I did before I knew I was pregnant with Isla that may have resulted in the growth of an unhealthy placenta.
With the final report we will hopefully learn exactly what type of infection she may have contracted. I am hoping it was something fluke, like Parvovirus B19 (Fifths disease/slap cheek), and not something reoccurring like Group B Strep. I don't think I will ever not feel absolutely terrified to be pregnant again, and well, like all of us babylost bloggers, I now know of five million other ways in which babies can die, but I am hoping if it is some fluke infection that killed her, the rational side of my brain will be able to reason that it likely will not happen again and that one day I may actually have a living, breathing child in my arms. A child who will hopefully grow inside of me for 37 weeks (and not a moment longer because it would be cruel for any doctor to expect me to last the full 40 or longer).
Thirty seven weeks ago tomorrow, January 6th, 2009, I started my period. At the time it was heartbreaking because my period was a painful reminder of the loss of Peanut. Yet thirty seven weeks ago I was also naive and full of unabated hope (well...almost unabated). I'm wiser now. Much wiser. Nevertheless, while my hope has certainly waned, it still exists.
Thirty seven weeks. Not so long. Less than a year. It's strange how 37 weeks can feel like an eternity. I guess that's what happens when you learn that 37 weeks is sometimes 12 weeks longer than a lifetime.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
On Monday on our local classic rock station there was a top 50 countdown of Beatles tracks. Despite feeling particularly bereft and frustrated and anxious, in hopes of lifting my spirits, I kept radio tuned into the station as I drove to pick up flowers to bring to cemetery. While I think the song was written about homosexuality, the lyrics of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" resonated with how I have been feeling lately:
Here I stand head in hand
Turn my face to the wall
If she's gone I can't go on
Feelin' two-foot small
Everywhere people stare
Each and every day
I can see them laugh at me
And I hear them say
Hey you've got to hide your love away
Hey you've got to hide your love away
How could I even try
I can never win
Hearing them, seeing them
In the state I'm in
How could she say to me
Love will find a way
Gather round all you clowns
Let me hear you say
Hey you've got to hide your love away
Hey you've got to hide your love away
In our North American society, grief is socially unacceptable. When a loved one dies, not matter the relation, we are told to "be strong", "keep busy", "smile, she would want you to". It seems as though once a funeral has been held and the casket closed, society expects us to have closure on the passing of our loved ones and for grieving to end.
Its particularly shocking that here in Canada, where employment and human rights are (relatively) ably enforced, that the Employment Standards Act provides that an employee is entitled to only three days bereavement leave when an immediate family member dies, including a child.
Last September while honeymooning in Greece, Tim and I ferried from Athens to Santorini. There was a mix-up with our travel provider and rather than on a direct sail, we ended up on an island hopper. Enjoying the sunshine on the bow deck, we did not mind one bit. As we approached each port, we would stand at the deck rail, camera in hand, trying to take in as much as we could of each of the tiny islands we stopped at.
I believe it was in Naxos when a casket was unloaded. I heard the wailing before the ship was even docked. Twenty or so mourners, all adorned in their mourning clothes, stood waiting for the casket to be rolled out. The women sobbed loudly, and one woman, who I presume was the deceased's mother, wailed. She wailed with such fervor that the boat's engines did little to drown out her cries and pleas. She threw her arms in the air, let out noises I had never heard before, and allowed the others to catch her when her knees buckled.
Tim and I, and our fellow travelers, watched from the boat as a priest splashed the casket with Holey water, and then as the men picked up the casket and the mourners all paraded away together, carrying their dead, praying, sobbing, dressed in their mourning clothes.
How sad I thought, and then how dramatic?! I asked Tim if he thought the emotion was real or whether it was forced, like some sort of show. I wondered if the mother felt obliged to carry on that way, and whether if in Greek society, the bereaved would be judged if they did not make such a production out of the death of a loved one.
I do not wonder such things anymore. I now understand that those noises were primal screams, and on tiny Greek Islands, it is okay to let them out. The mourning clothes are like the "My Baby Died" t-shirt I wish I could wear so people would understand my tear stained cheeks, puffy eyes, short temper and inability to make social niceties. Now I wonder, how long it is socially acceptable to wear mourning clothes in Greece?
Here in North America, we are given a few minutes or so to scream and wail when the news is delivered, a few days or so to cry openly, and, at best, a few weeks or so to finish up the business of feeling sad and to get on with our lives. After ten weeks, my grief has already outlasted others tolerance of it.
I've posted before about the lack of support Tim and I have received from our friends and family members. Knowing I have real world readers, I have been hesitant to get into much detail for fear of offending anyone. It is not that I actually care if any of my real world readers are offended, because quite frankly, this is not about them right now, but I am loath to create any conflict or drama that will just make the situation worse for Tim and I. But...at this point I do not know if it can get any worse, and this is my space for sharing and growing and healing, so here goes...
A certain family member, lets call her M, has been relentless in her pursuit to force us to "get over" Isla. She has been not so subtly suggesting we should be "back to normal" for at least six weeks now. She made it clear to both Tim and I that after four weeks, her expectation was that we should be back to work full-time. When she learned that Tim was gradually returning to full-time hours, she advised me that she had decided that an appointment would be scheduled for Tim and I with the family doctor to get anti-depressants because it was, "enough now".
In the initial days following Isla's death, Tim and I made a conscious decision to face our grief head on in order to heal, and that we would not deny ourselves the opportunity to mourn the loss of our daughter because we understood that grief could not be avoided, and suppressing our emotions would only delay inevitably feeling them. We also decided we needed to balance grieving and living. And, truthfully, I think we have been doing a really good job.
When M began suggesting it was time that we started to feel better just a little over a week after Isla's death, Tim and I tried to explain to her that grieving was healthy and necessary and that without grieving, we risked long-term emotional health problems. We also tried repeatedly to explain how profound this loss is to us, despite the fact that Isla was not born alive and we did not have an opportunity to bond with her outside of my body. She did not get it. So we tried again. And again. And again. And again, to no avail.
With each passing week M has become more insistent that we should no longer be grieving and more forceful in her attempts to make us feel and behave the way she wants us to. It has escalated to the point where, on Sunday night, she advised Tim that he required psychiatric help because he should no longer be feeling sad and that Isla was "just a late miscarriage" and we should be over it by now (wrong on so many levels, I know).
At first I tried to be patient and to rationalize that her instinct is to fix things for us, to take away our pain. I'm sure that is a big factor in what is happening here. But, I've decided it is more than just that. She is the ultimate by-product of our grief denying North American society - emotionally stinted as a result of her own unresolved grief and seeking to perpetrate the same denial of grief that has been imposed on her.
We do not talk about death, and particularly baby death, and more particularly stillbirth, so there is little reference for what a "normal" length and pattern of grieving is. We deny the bereaved the opportunity to express the emotions associated with grief. We encourage grief avoidance patterns by rewarding the bereaved for "being strong". And, perhaps most concerning, we label those who still have the ability to express their grief despite these social pressures, as being "overly emotional" or "crazy".
M genuinely believes that ten short weeks after the death of our daughter, Tim and I are suffering from some sort of pathological mental health problem, because we are not "over it" and "back to normal" yet. I have discovered that no matter how often I try to explain to her that our grief, and the feelings associated with it, are normal and to be expected, and that regardless of Isla's gestation, Tim and I are grieving the loss of a child, our child, a real baby, she just cannot get it.
So, alas, I have given up; thrown in the towel (or in this case the tear soaked, snotty Kleenex), and built a thicker emotional wall between myself and M.
I'm not angry anymore. Disappointed maybe, but not angry. Her own social conditioning has left her struggling so much with her own repressed grief from other losses and the loss of Isla, that she is incapable of feeling her own emotions, let alone understanding ours. And you what? While she may not be offering Tim and I the support we so desperately need, she is teaching us a lot about grief and its important healing value.
And this has me thinking about the need for this space, lost baby momma blogland. This is our own little society where our grief, and all the emotions associated with it, are socially acceptable and support is unconditional. While I am so grateful for this space, I am also saddened that it is necessary. What does it say about our society, and our friendships and our families, when we, bereaved parents, must conceal our grief in the real world and turn to people whom we have never met for the unconditional support we so desperately need.
Hide your grief away. The message is everywhere. It is in the lack of cards and phone calls from people who really should acknowledge the death of your baby. Its in the the phone calls and visits that stop after a couple of weeks. Its in the gentle and not so gentle prodding for us to "get back to normal".
Hide your grief away, to me, feels a lot like hide your LOVE away, and, as a mother, I find this impossible. I think this is where so much of my frustration and anger has been coming from. I'm back to the early days of wanting to stand on the front lawn in my pajamas screaming, "ISLA MICHAELA JOHNSTON, ISLA MICHAELA JOHNSTON, ISLA MICHAELA JOHNSTON". Now I won't of course, because well, not only would that likely land me in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital, I would embarrass myself. Such behaviour is socially unacceptable here in North America (well perhaps wearing your pjs on the front lawn screaming is socially unacceptable everywhere).
But, what if it were just okay for me to grieve? To talk about the death of my baby? To stop pretending I am okay and she never existed? To dawn mourning clothes and cry in public? Would I still feel the need to shout her name? Maybe. But at least then it would be easier to do so, right?
And, maybe then, if grieving were socially acceptable, my family and friends would stop talking about how I need to hide my grief away, so they could listen and actually hear me saying her name. And, maybe then, if more people in my real world were listening and hearing her name, I would not feel the need to scream her name at all. And maybe then, my love for her would be validated and I could get on with the business of healing from the pain her death has caused.
Until then (and since I the neighbours are outside right now and my pjs do not even match, making my trip to the psychiatric ward all the more shameful, and well, I am Canadian after all, and you know how polite we are) I guess I will just have to keep screaming her name and professing my love for her here.
ISLA MICHAELA JOHNSTON!!!!!
It is a beautiful name isn't it? Just in case some of you do not know how to pronounce it, it is Eye-lah, like the actress Isla Fischer, not Iz-la.
And, I LOVE her, so very, very, very much.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
There are no words right now, so I will just say his name, Jet. xoxo
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I smell her.
Her sweet new baby smell, and not the odour of the morgue which has saturated all the garments in her memory box thanks to the medical examiner performing her autopsy prior to the photographer from Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep arriving to take some final photos.
I smelled her for the first time the night I arrived home from the hospital. As I was climbing into bed, that sweet smell filled the room. I actually thought it was coming from her little hospital gowns in the memory box that was then sitting on a dresser in the bedroom, so I got up to smell the box. Nope. The smell was not coming from there, or anywhere else in the room.
As I laid in bed I inhaled deeply. Mmm. That smell, sweetness. It did not fade. I smelled her again the night before her funeral, when Tim and I were both so anxious about facing the reality that the following morning we would be with her little body again, in a coffin, and that we would have to bury that little body, never to see or hold it again.
Then she came to me one day at work. Again, just to make sure the smell was not coming from somewhere "real", I moved around my office smelling books and files. Nope. The smell was just around me as I sat at my desk.
Two nights ago, Tim was already sound asleep in bed when I crawled in after 1:00 a.m. As I snuggled up behind him, there she was. That sweet smell. It was as if she had been sleeping in bed with her daddy, and once I crawled in she was safely nestled between the two of us. I whispered "I love yous" to the air, and peacefully fell asleep.
Again last night, as Tim and I crawled into bed she was there. I asked Tim if he could smell her, but he couldn't. Hmm...maybe I am going crazy, I thought, but no matter how deeply I inhaled the smell would not fade. I silently mouthed many "I love yous" to the air and again drifted peacefully off to sleep.
A figment of my imagination? Maybe. But, had you have asked me before Isla's death if I believed in the presence of spirits around us, my answer would have definitively been yes.
The loss of my daughter has, however, forced me to reconsider all the beliefs I previously held. I think I have become somewhat of an agnostic. I still believe in God, but I certainly do not believe that Heaven is an actual place, separate from earth and the universe, where all our loved ones hang out in forms resembling the bodies they inhabited during their time in this life. This means I can not take comfort in believing that when I die, I too will go to Heaven and my baby girl, in infant form, will be there waiting for me in His arms.
I previously believed in reincarnation, and that souls visited earth many times over, in different forms, at different times, to learn many different lessons. This belief now frightens me, for I fear that when it is my time to go back to the spiritual world, the spirit of sweet Isla will be here on earth, in another body, and we may never have the opportunity to meet and embrace in the same realm. I also can't rationalize why little Isla's spirit would come to earth for such a brief time. What lesson she was here to learn? Unless of course she was here to teach us something. But that takes me back to the belief that everything happens for a reason, a belief I strongly held before and which now just makes me angry. If this has happened to us for some reason, than I am angry at the Big Guy pulling the strings. It leads to a bunch of whys. Why us? Why Isla? Why, why, why! Anger towards God is just not an emotion I ever want to feel.
So, for now I guess I believe that Isla's death was just an act of nature. An accident. Sometimes people just die for no reason other than their bodies have failed them. And, once people die, their spirits or souls go somewhere, and sometimes those spirits are around us, here on earth, and they can show themselves to us. I am comfortable with this belief right now. I have no one to be angry with and it makes me happy because then I can believe that sweet smell really is my baby girl, and that she is close to me. She is coming to me in my darkest hours, perhaps to ease my pain and to let me know she is okay; or perhaps because she needs to be closer to us, her mommy and daddy, to feel our love. Her visits have given me the opportunity to tell her I love her. Something I unfortunately never actually said out loud to her the day she died, and so desperately regret.
In a beautiful post dedicated to her sweet baby girl Georgina, Catherine W (http://betweenthesnowandthehugeroses.blogspot.com/) recently posted a clip of Nick Cave's Into My Arms, a song I had never heard before. I think the beautiful lyrics to this song are so fitting today, the one year anniversary of Georgina's passing:
Into my arms, O Lord, into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord, into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord, into my arms
Thinking of Catherine and her family, and remembering baby Georgina today.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Mirne and Craig's first child, baby girl Freyja, was born still at 28 weeks in July, 2006. No answers as to why. Little baby Freyja just slipped away. Sometimes babies just die.
Trying again after losing a baby is TERRIFYING. This I know. I believe it is even more terrifying when you have no answers as to why your baby died. This is why I sit anxiously awaiting Isla's autopsy results and praying we will have answers, and that whatever killed my sweet baby girl is preventable, and history will not repeat itself.
With no answers and no guarantees, Mirne and Craig had the strength to keep going and the courage to try again. Ten months later, oh joy! Another pregnancy. Baby boy Kees was born in February, 2008. Full-term. Healthy. I can only imagine the sigh of relief his parents felt the day that sweet baby boy came into the world. The bliss when they brought him home.
Only for Mirne and Craig that bliss was short lived. At 7 weeks, sweet baby Kees caught a virus. A run of the mill cold/flu virus that "should" have gone to his lungs. But with no sniffles or warning, and against the odds, the virus stopped his heart. Another precious little life cut short.
This is the part I cannot imagine. How must it have felt for Mirne and Craig to lose their second child? How must it still feel? It is just so incredibly unfair.
That is one thing losing a baby teaches you, life is just not fair. I thought I understood this before losing Isla, but I didn't really. The other thing losing a baby teaches you is that there really are no guarantees in life, and that no matter how much sorrow you have suffered, you are never immune to more. People try to reassure me now that one day I will have another baby. Really?!How do they know?
But there is always hope, right? After loss, the desire to have a child, a child who lives, is so incredibly strong. To me, it feels like all that love I felt the moment I laid eyes on Isla is sort of restlessly trapped inside of me, waiting to be poured into another little somebody. Of course that love will always be with Isla. My love for HER will never fade. I pour it into her photos, her little keepsakes, her flowers at the cemetery. But its not enough. There is still so much love inside of me, brimming over, waiting for another little person who I can hold and nurse, and just parent for a lifetime.
I believe Mirne and Craig's hearts must also brimming over with love. Love so strong that despite all their pain and sorrow, Mirne and Craig had the strength to continue to go on living and the courage to try a third time to bring home a baby, who hopefully will outlive Mirne and Craig. SO STRONG and SO COURAGEOUS, and just so loving.
Tomorrow (which is almost today in Amsterdam), Mirne and Craig's third child, another baby boy, is scheduled to arrive. I can't imagine the mixed emotions Mirne and Craig must be feeling right now. Above all else, I imagine they feel hope and of course love, but I also understand they must be feeling a great deal of fear and trepidation. It is so sad that it must be this way for them. Please send your thoughts and prayers to Mirne and Craig, and Freyja and Kees, and baby boy today. I pray that this baby boy lives to a ripe old age, with his heart beating strong, filled to the brim with his parents love!
In other matters, Mirne nominated me for an Honest Scrap Award. Yay!! Thanks Mirne. I'm so new to blogging, this is quite an honour.
The award is about bloggers who post from their heart, who write from the depths of their soul. In order to accept the award I must nominate seven fellow bloggers as recipients, and then list ten honest and interesting things about myself.
So, my nominees (in no particular order) are:
Catherine W at Between the Snow and Huge Roses
Carol at the Happy Sad Mamma
Molly at the Unlucky Lottery
Jaime at Missing Sydney
Laura at Moments of Pause
Barbara at Burble
OM at Overeducated Mommy.
Now, 10 honest and interesting things about myself...hmm..
1) my first name is Melissa. Not so interesting, particularly if you were born in the late 70s as I was and were one of three Melissas in your grade! But I realized when Mirne nominated me she only knew me as Isla's Mommy, so I thought some of you may be interested in knowing my real name.
2) as a child, and an only and lonely one , I felt deprived that I did not having any pets. Well, I had pets - I had a hamster, a cat, a rabbit, some gold fish, and a turtle, but I didn't have any of them long enough before they died or were given away by my mother to ever form that special human-animal bond. So, I now operate a tiny petting zoo. I have two cats: Essex and Indigo (Indie); and two dogs: a golden retriever named Mickey and a chocolate lab named Finnigan.
3) Essex's full name is Essex Cleopatra. Essex for my university residence, and Cleopatra because, well, it just suits her. She's the only other living lady in our house.
4) Finnigan was named before we met him or were even certain we would get another dog . After seeing a picture of cute brown puppy for sale online (who I decided looked like a Finnigan) and spontaneously visiting the breeder only to find out that puppy had already been sold to another family, Tim and I started sorta seriously contemplating getting a puppy. We visited several litters of golden retrievers and as irresistible as golden puppies are, none them felt right. I then decided I really wanted a brown dog to name Finnigan. We eventually visited a Labrador breeder, and there he was, in the middle of the box of pups, my Finnigan. His name really suits him. His nickname is "Goon".
5) I have several best friends, one of whom I have known since I was two. She is the keeper of my early childhood secrets, a true soul mate, and despite all she knows about me, I can't share this blog with her. She doesn't know it exists. I'm not sure why.
6) I used to treat myself to regular pedicures and now I don't ever want to change the nail polish that is on my toes. I had my last pedicure while I was still pregnant with Isla, about 9 weeks ago, and I wore the polish through my labour and delivery. Despite that the polish is starting to chip and my toe nails are long (gross, right?) I am hesitant to take the polish off. I think I will need to wear this colour forever. I should go find a bottle of this colour for sale somewhere before I start stabbing Tim with my toe nails in bed!
7) the raspberry colour font on the headings on this blog was chosen to match my toenails. It is a colour that will always remind me with Isla. I have this feeling she would like it.
8) the pink and white damask background of this blog was also chosen for Isla. I hadn't purchased much for her before she was born, but I did purchase beautiful crib bedding with a pink and white damask pattern. I had plans to stencil a pale pink damask pattern on one wall of her nursery, with a horizontal stripe and large monogram (IMJ) in chocolate brown in the centre of the wall, over her crib.
9) I desperately want to be a mother to another daughter, natural or adopted, and I hope she loves dolls! I still get the same rush of excitement and wonder as I did as a child when I visit the doll aisle in Toys R Us.
10) I have a shooting star tattooed on my left hip, with the words "Carpe Diem" written underneath. I was 21 years old when I got this tattoo. At the time I believed I had control over my destiny, and if I made a wish (the shooting star) all I had to do was seize the day (carpe diem) to make it come true. I want to keep making wishes and seizing each day, even though I know control is mostly just an illusion.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Now I'm actually starting to wonder if I prayed hard enough or was deserving enough. I know, I know...stop it...
But seriously? I can hear the "miracle" baby stories now. Dad was praying and then, just like that, he heard a cry. The Lord answered his prayers. His son is alive.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
How do I describe in words how I have been feeling recently? Sure, I'm grieving. But I don't think that one little five letter word - grief - adequately describes all of the emotions I have been feeling, the depths of those emotions. I've actually perused the dictionary looking for a words that could adequately describe these feelings in a way that others who have not experienced the loss of a baby could understand. There really are no words to describe how this feels. I think any attempt to describe this to those untouched by such an experience is futile. And well, I've done enough reading recently to know that you, my online baby loss mama friends, get it, so I don't need to explain myself.
I am so grateful for my ever expanding network of friends from across the world, who, having never met me in person, have offered me so much love, understanding and support. I really do feel this outpouring of love for all of you and your babies. I weep for your sweet little ones almost as much as I weep for my own. I want to turn back the hands of time for all of us, to raise the dead, or at least find some other magical cure to erase your pain and my own. I want to hug you all through cyberspace and I can feel you want to hug me to.
I understand that no one in my "real" world can offer me that same understanding and support. But seriously, is it too much to ask for a little extra compassion? an attempt to understand what Tim and I are going through? or at least to remember that while you may have already moved on and forgotten Isla, or somehow otherwise internalized her death, we're still thinking about her, yearning for her 24 hours a day?!
Tim and I have received much love and support from a few close friends and family members. If any of you are reading, I won't list names for fear of missing someone or offending others, but I hope those of you who I am referring to, know who you are - those of you who still email and call regularly to check up on us, who sent such beautifully written, thoughtful cards, who don't mind spending time with us despite that we are now quite boring. I love you and thank you.
But then there are the other people. I can forgive and understand most of the people who have simply disappeared. Who know Isla has died but who have not called, emailed, said a word. It's okay. I'm really bad at those things too. I've probably missed the death of one of their loved ones. Seriously, no hard feelings.
I can also forgive many of the people who have called or written and said things we have found unhelpful and at times hurtful. Things like "it was God's will" or "you can always have another baby". I get it. They felt they wanted to say something and just didn't know what to say. It's awkward. It's okay, they meant well. I appreciate that these people have reached out to us.
But recently, a few things have happened or been said that have sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Again, I won't name, names. Although it may be obvious from what I am about to write, who I am referring to. If you are reading and offended, I apologize, and I hope you can forgive me for expressing my feelings, just as I have forgiven you. But, I need to get this off my chest.
There are a few very close friends and relatives who are currently pregnant who feel compelled to use Facebook to advertise how happy they are. I understand that these people are just excited about their own blissful state of affairs and want to celebrate (I myself changed my status once or twice back when I naively believed Isla was a sure thing). I also know that nothing that has been written, was written with the intention of hurting me. But seriously, is it to much to ask of my closest friends and relatives (all people who celebrated our wedding with us just 11 months ago and with whom there was much excited discussion about Isla being the same age as their babies), to think about us and refrain from advertising about their still to be born babies on Facebook?! This bothers me on so many levels. First of all, it hurts, badly hurts, that these friends and relatives could be so insensitive to what Tim and I are going through that they could not stop and think before changing their status that we may read it, and feel hurt by it. Secondly, it breaks my heart that these people are seemingly so unaffected by the loss of Isla. A much anticipated playmate for their babies. A cousin. I get that life goes on, and I do not expect anyone to feel her loss in the same way Tim and I have felt it, but I just wish Isla was important enough to these people that they would still be remembering HER and not posting such things out of respect for HER and their own loss of HER. Thirdly, it really bothers me that these people are still so naive as to believe that their babies are such a sure thing that they can publicly advertise in the way they have. Actually, having stillbirth hit so close to home, I think its quite smug. I never want these people to be on this side, the dark side of pregnancy, to really understand how smug it is. But I do wish that they had been affected enough by our experience that they would maybe think twice before so publicly counting their chicken before its hatched.
As I said above, I forgive these people. Some I have felt anger towards, others just more disbelief at the lack of sensitivity, but mostly I am just so hurt. So deeply hurt. Ultimately I guess I have control over whether or not I continue to expose myself to such hurt. I could just stop logging into Facebook, right? But it doesn't really matter whether or not I'm reading. What hurts is knowing these posts have happened. I am being selfish? Self-absorbed? Expecting too much from everyone else? Maybe. But this is how I feel.
There have also recently been a few things said to Tim and I directly that have knocked us down. I fear that by saying too much online that I will do some irreparable damage our already tenuous support system. But what I will say is that members of our family, CLOSE members, the kind on the same branch of the family tree, have begun giving both Tim and I the impression that it is time we start moving on from our grief. That we should be getting back to normal by now. It was actually stated that, "its enough now".
Five weeks ago, five short weeks (or five very long weeks if you were walking in our shoes) our baby girl died. Our daughter. Our child. How the hell are we supposed to feel right now if not grief stricken, utterly devastated, consumed by our sorrow?! WE LOST A CHILD. How much more clearly can we explain this to people? She was not just a fetus. She was not just someone we never met. She was our daughter!
Having to defend our grief to these people is so infuriating. I feel as though by expecting us to move on already these relatives are diminishing our loss, their own loss, and the life of my precious baby girl. Discussing this is actually so emotionally exhausting that I really can't go on. I can't explain it right now, or express my feeling in any coherent manner.
Anyway, this is why I have been so quiet over the past week or so. My emotions are overwhelming, my head spinning, and I just can't find words.
When I started out with this blog I wanted it to be a place both celebrate Isla (precious, beautiful, baby Isla) and share my journey through grief and hopefully towards healing. I'm walking it - this weird twisty, one step forward, two steps back path through what is now my life, my life after Isla. I hope to candidly share both my steps forward and steps back. Only, sometimes the steps back are actually more like backward stumbles to the ground, and I just don't have the energy to put into words my swarming emotions.
To my baby loss mama friends, please keep reading and posting your comments. I love them. And even though I can't always find the energy to comment on your posts, I'm here, reading.
To my real world friends and relatives, if you are reading this, please go easy on us right now. We need you now more than ever.
PS - Isla died on a Tuesday. A few days after my last post I realized it was Wednesday, July 29th when I wrote it. I have been so disoriented that I thought when I was writing it was a Tuesday. It bothered me that I could lose track of time like that. Bothered me more when August 1st came and went I and I didn't even realize I had missed the one month mark of her birth. I'm not really beating myself up about it. In a way its a good thing I am not dwelling on calendar days. But I need to set things straight. Isla Michaela Johnston died around 6:45 p.m. (I didn't think to look at the clock at the exact moment) on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009. She was born at 10:44 p.m. (thankfully my amazing delivery nurse Maya did think to look at the clock at that moment) on July 1st, 2009.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
When Tim and I first started out on this journey, exactly four weeks ago today, when, just around this time, little Isla's heart stopped beating, we vowed to each other that together we would survive this. Many times while I was in labour, while we held Isla, on the morning of her funeral, we held hands and told one another, "we will survive this". And, I know we will.
In time, the despair that is my current reality will pass, and I will move to a new stage of life after Isla where I will have accepted and made peace with her passing. Until then, I know I must continue to move through my grief, feeling and learning each step of the way. This is my fate. I may not have chosen this path for myself, but I cannot change it. So today, I decided to embrace it.
Today I read, or rather devoured, Life Touches Life, a Mother's Story of Stillbirth and Healing by Lorraine Ash. I finished the entire book in one sitting, and I have no doubt I will read it again and again. Through Lorraine's story I was able to reconcile some of my own beliefs regarding heaven and my ability to see and communicate with Isla. I was also able to better understand and forgive many of the seemingly insensitive comments made by others. However, most importantly, this book helped me realize that, while no one other than Tim and I, and my parents, actually "met" Isla, her short life has the potential to touch many others.
Through her brief life in utero and her eternal life, Lorraine's daughter, Victoria, transformed Lorraine into a more gracious, generous and understanding person. Victoria also inspired Lorraine to tell her story, a story which has helped other bereaved parents on their journeys through grief. In this way, Victoria Helen Ash, has profoundly changed the lives of not only her parents, but the lives of thousands of other people.
After I finished reading Lorraine's book, I digested it in a hot bath. As I soaked, I thought about the potential for Isla to change me and her daddy for the better as we continue down this fated path.
After soaking, I logged online and visited Love Reign Over Me (http://www.scarletriver26.blogspot.com/), the blog of a fellow bereaved mother, Carly Dudley. I came across Carly's blog shortly after Isla's funeral and immediately I was drawn to her. After the stillbirth of her son, Christian, Carly began "To Write Their Names in the Sand" (http://namesinthesand.blogspot.com/), and other online initiatives to help other bereaved parents. While I imagine that Carly was a wonderful, generous person before Christian, I have to believe that she is an even more beautiful person because of Christian. Through his mother, Christian's life has touched the lives of so many others.
Today through Carly's blog I discovered "say it with flowers" (http://onlysayitwithflowers.blogspot.com/). Carly's friend Sarah and her brother Richard, started this beautiful project. Sarah and Richard are not bereaved parents, but rather the friends of bereaved parents and the siblings of Rory. I know little about Rory, but from the mission of "say it with flowers", I assume he died as a baby. I also know little about Sarah and Richard, but I assume they are the incredibly generous people they are today in part because of Rory. Through his SIBLINGS, Rory's life is now touching the lives of others. How amazing!!!
I have known since the early hours following Isla's death that Tim and I would be forever changed by her life. Along with vowing to survive, Tim and I have also vowed many times to be better, kinder, people because of our daughter. Over the past four weeks I have seen a tiny transformation in myself. While I have been mostly consumed by my grief, I have found small ways to reach out and help others. No act of kindness has been particularly noble, but Isla has been the driving force behind each one.
But, after today, I can't help but wonder, what will Isla's legacy be? The idea that because of Isla's life, her future siblings may be different people, better people, than they might otherwise be had she not lived, is so inspirational to me.
Part of the great pain that comes with the loss of a child, is the loss of that child's potential - the impact her life may have had on the world. Now I realize Isla may still change the world (in a relative sense), and much of her potential to affect the world lies within me. Her life will not be in vain.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Tim was by my side all day and is currently making my dinner (something he does everyday, and has been doing since we first started dating). I'm pretty sure if it weren't for him my heart would have stopped beating right along with Isla's.
I've been having some unusual cramps and some other somewhat concerning physical symptoms for the past week, and while I have called her office several times, I have avoided an actual visit to my OB simply out of fear. When the cramps started again last night, Tim did not suggest that I go see the doctor today, he told me "we are going". I loved the "we". He didn't say it like a dictator. Rather, he expressed an understanding about my fears to return to the hospital and expressed his own concerns, and promised me he would be right there beside me holding my hand the entire time (which he was). He gave me no option other than to go though. He told me I had to because his babies were going to grow "in there" too, and he needed to make sure everything was okay. How could I argue with that?
So, after about thirty minutes of sobbing and mustering my courage this morning, I got myself ready and together we headed down to the hospital. The drive brought back memories. The parking garage brought back memories. The lobby brought back memories. I started to lose it in the elevator, and when Tim hugged me, I could feel how anxious he was too. Something about watching him grieve or seeing him nervous, forces me back to put my brave face on, and so brave faced I confronted checking in with the receptionist and the waiting room full of pregnant bellies.
I kept my brave face on as we met with the doctor. She wasn't too concerned about my physical symptoms, but wanted to schedule an ultrasound just to make certain everything is okay. She advised us that the results of Isla's autopsy were not ready yet, and she had no new information about what happened. She explained that while there was a lot of Isla's blood found in my blood, suggesting a placental abruption, until the autopsy results were received she could not be certain whether the abruption was the cause of her death or whether it occurred subsequently. While she explained all of this, the doctor was her usual cheerful, laid back self. There is something about her demeanour that I found very comforting during my pregnancy, and found discomforting today. Today, she seemed just a little too laid back. I understood that she did not have answers for us yet, but felt that she didn't seem to understand mine and Tim's need to eventually understand exactly what went wrong. Then as we were leaving, with a cheerful smile, she said to us, "I still can't believe you came in early enough for us to watch the whole thing unravel."
The day Isla died I arrived at the hospital at 11 am complaining of decreased fetal movement and after two ultrasounds and over six hours of sitting in waiting rooms, my doctor, a high risk specialist, and a resident sat in an observation room and watched my baby die during a third ultrasound at 6:45 p.m. They were meeting to discuss whether or not to deliver her by emergency cesarean. Isla made the decision for them.
I was shocked by the comment made by my doctor. The way she said it, it almost sounded as though to her it was like witnessing some really neat science experiment watching "the whole thing (my daughter's life) unravel". I'm still trying to figure out what she meant by it. Whatever she meant, I know she didn't intend to be insensitive. After all, this is the doctor who hugged me and cried along with us when the bad news was delivered. But seriously, was it necessary to discuss the "unravelling" of my daughter's life with a cheerful smile?!
I left the appointment feeling crushed. Not only was it emotionally taxing just being there, but now, this doctor, who I still had complete trust in faith in even though my baby died under her watch, left me feeling as though she really did not understand the magnitude of our loss. I'm not sure what I was expecting from her. Sympathy and sensitivity for certain, and perhaps I wanted her to be agonizing a bit over having not been able to save my baby. Maybe she is. I understand that she has to detach in order to do her job properly. It just would have been nice to feel as though the loss of Isla was more to her than just another "cost of doing business."
From the doctor's office we headed over to the hospital lab to have some blood work done. The hospital specializes in women's health, so the waiting room there was also full of pregnant bellies. Despite the bellies, I was holding up okay. A woman came in with her two month old son in a sling. At first I craned my neck to sneak a peak and gave Tim a smile to let him know the little guy's presence actually made me happy, not sad. But then, some eccentric elderly woman spotted the baby, and announced far to loudly "oh there is a baby in there". She proceeded to ask the mother how old the baby was, his gender, etc. Each question asked loud enough for everyone waiting to hear. Before I had time to gain control of myself, I was in tears.
My doctor didn't fully complete the blood requisition form, so when I finally was called in to see the technician she had to ask me a bunch of questions. Question number two, have you been pregnant in the last three months? Yes. I read ahead to question number three - have you had a recent miscarriage or stillbirth. I was bracing myself to also have to answer yes, only the technician didn't ask. Instead, she said, "you're pregnant now, right?". I managed to mumble "stillbirth". She apologized quickly and proceeded to poke me. While she was drawing my blood, another technician came in to ask her about some misplaced paperwork. The technician holding the needle in my arm seemed concerned about the missing documents and was so distracted by the conversation she was having, she was wiggling the needle all about in my arm. After she was done, she started to get up, then sat back down, squeezed my forearm, and said, "I'm really sorry about everything". She seemed sincere, and I was touched she took that moment. But, it was only a moment, and she quickly got up and began fussing over the missing paperwork. I certainly did not expect this woman I never met to do or say more, but again, it felt like to the hospital staff, Isla's death really was just part of the cost of doing business.
I too detach myself from my work (I'm a family law lawyer, but learned to detach in my previous life working as a case worker at the welfare office), so I understand. It was just a bit painful today to feel as though no one at the hospital really cared about me or my baby anymore (the day of Isla's death and in the days proceeding it, before and after I delivered her, the hospital staff were very caring and compassionate).
After the hospital, I kept my brave face on and went into the office for the first time. A bit rattled from the hospital experience, I brought Tim with me. We didn't stay long. Just long enough for me to check my email and voicemail, and speak to a few colleagues. I had a voice message regarding prenatal classes and an Outlook reminder for my 3D ultrasound appointment scheduled for yesterday. I was prepared for the voice mail, but had forgotten about the ultrasound appointment, but my brave face didn't crack. Tim and I then chatted with my colleagues briefly. During the conversation, I think we both felt as though we had to justify the depths of our grief and explain to everyone that she was our daughter - a whole, perfectly formed, beautiful little baby - and she died.
After a quick trip to the cemetery, we were home by late afternoon. I was passed out within minutes of hitting the couch.
I am trying not to have expectations of other people right now, and trying to forgive insensitive remarks and actions. But what is really getting to me today, is this feeling that everyone other than Tim and I (and a very few close friends and family members) have moved on. It's been less than four weeks, and it feels as though Isla's death is old news. Insignificant. Forgotten about. And worse is this feeling that I need to defend our grief and that fact that we haven't moved on. She was our daughter and she died!!! Why do people not understand that? I wonder how differently things would be if she had drawn even a single breath outside of my body. If she had lived for a minute, and hour, a day, would people "get it" then? Would they relate our loss to the loss of their own children? Would they understand? Would they be little more sensitive? Would she matter a little more?
I hate the word "stillbirth". I hate that there is a word for babies who die before they are born. Stillborn babies are still babies, our babies. They were born and they died, just like everyone else has and will do. So why do they need to be distinguished as "stillborn"? It only serves to diminish the lives of precious little ones and the grief of the parents they leave behind.
Today was my first day back in my "real" world (up until today I've been only in the company of family or strangers). It was exhausting and much more difficult than I anticipated it would be.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Having just purchased our first home in April, during my pregnancy I was very stressed about completing my list of home improvements before Isla's arrival . As the weeks passed and my due date approached, I became more and more anxious that we would not have the time nor financial resources to complete my "to do" list before our baby arrived. Aside from preparing the nursery, most of the things I wanted to complete (like changing the colour of the siding on the exterior of the house) really did not need to be done before bringing home baby, but like most naive first time mothers, I wanted the house "perfect" for her arrival.
In recent days, Tim and I have busied ourselves making home improvements. We have contacted painters for estimates, washed the windows inside and out, tended to the garden, etc. While we know Isla won't be coming home, it makes us feel better to do these things. I'm not sure exactly how Tim feels, but in some strange way I feel as though I am still doing these things for her. Perhaps with all the pregnancy hormones still circulating through my body, I'm nesting.
Regardless of why, by keeping busy around the house I had several okay days in a row. I wouldn't say they were "good" days, but I could go for six or eight hours at a time without crying. I could think of my beautiful baby bean without being over come with despair. I could eat without feeling nauseous. And, I wasn't just "okay" during the day while keeping physically busy, in the evenings, while relaxing, I was able to watch movies and concentrate on the plot.
At times I felt a bit guilty for not grieving enough. But I didn't beat myself up too much for how I was feeling, because I knew it was still in there. Like a storm on the horizon, I could feel my grief slowly creeping up on me. I would get butterflies in my belly and cry for a few minutes here and there throughout the day. But, as quickly as the butterflies and tears came, they went. It was as though for those few days I could only handle grieving for a few minutes at a time.
I acknowledged my feelings to Tim several times. I would cry for a few moments in bed at night and he would hold me, and then I would tell him that was all the grieving I could handle at that moment and I would turn on the TV.
But then, last night, the storm hit, and it was a big one.
My mom came into the city yesterday, and the three of us went to the mall to shop for new furniture for the living room. It was the first time Tim and I had been in the mall since losing Isla. There were reminders of my pregnancy and Isla everywhere. I remembered that the last time I was in Crate and Barrel I was five months pregnant, and really starting to show. I remembered shopping for glasses, and proudly rubbing my belly and telling Tim there was no point in spending $10 each for everyday glasses, when soon there would be a child in the house and surely they would get broken. I remembered shopping in Pottery Barn Kids for nursery decor with my friend Andrea who is expecting her third baby four days after Isla's due date. Even the mall bathroom brought back memories. The last time I peed there, Tim was in the car waiting for me, but being pregnant I just couldn't hold it until I got home.
On top of the flood of memories, the mall was crawling with pregnant women. During my pregnancy I discovered that there is this look of acknowledgement that pregnant women give to one another. Yesterday I felt as though I was still looking at other pregnant women that way, but instead of looking back at me the same way, they gave me the look they give to anyone else they notice staring at their bellies - the, "yes, I'm pregnant, isn't that great" look.
After dinner, on our way home, Tim, my mother and I stopped at the cemetery to visit Isla. We weren't planning on stopping, so we didn't bring her any flowers. Fortunately the flowers Tim and I left on Sunday were still in bloom. Normally when I leave the cemetery I feel a sense of peace and closure, but yesterday leaving there I just felt more empty. Perhaps it is because we didn't bring her anything.
Once I got home I watched a series of YouTube videos made in memory of other lost babies. The videos made me cry a few tears. I made a point of showing Tim how beautiful each baby was.
Then, it was time for bed. We shut of the TV and the computer and without any advance warning, the storm hit. I started to cry and I could not stop. I felt as though I was drowning in despair. The tears, the kind from way down inside, just kept spilling over. Tim was right beside me, trying to comfort me, but I felt so alone. My thoughts were scattered, but each one brought more and more pain. I wanted it to stop. I wanted it to be like before where I could turn it off by simply turning on the TV, but I couldn't stop it.
And then, just as quickly as it hit me, the storm engulfed Tim too. We laid in bed for what felt like forever, sobbing, and trying to comfort one another. Nothing we said made either of us feel any better, so we just held hands. Eventually we fell asleep.
When I opened my eyes this morning, I was hoping I would feel better. That I could get up, get dressed, and tackle some more improvements around the house. But, today is not an okay day, its one of the bad days. It's almost 3pm and I'm still in my pajamas. My eyes are still swollen from crying last night (the lid on the right one is so puffy I can feel it when my eye is open), and I can't bring myself to eat.
The synchronicity of grief Tim and I shared last night has passed. As soon as he got up today he walked the dogs, went to the grocery store to buy coffee filters (and beautiful flowers for me - my favourite hydrangeas and some pink lilies to remind us of Isla), and made himself something to eat. I know he is still hurting, but we're in different places today.
Sigh. He is outside installing new exterior light fixtures. I know he wants my help. Today's to do list: 1) eat breakfast 2) put on something other than pajamas 3) wash the tear stains from my cheeks 4) go be "there" for my husband.
Here I go...
Saturday, July 18, 2009
As Tim, my mother and I walked along the main strip in Grand Bend shopping for new flip flops (my mother's way of making us feel better is to take us shopping), we walked passed a young woman, probably about my age, who was visibly pregnant and SMOKING. She made no efforts to conceal her behaviour - she just stood there, right out in public, belly protruding, hacking a butt. She wasn't just taking a drag either, she was smoking an entire cigarette.
When I first spotted her, I felt panicked. My heart began to race, and my stomach started doing somersaults. I pointed her out to Tim, but he couldn't see the cigarette in her hand, so he assumed I was making reference to the woman's overweight friend, who was also smoking. He tried to reassure me that the woman smoking wasn't pregnant, just overweight. This had me confused, because the woman I was referring to was so obviously pregnant. As we approached the two women, I asked Tim if I should say something, but still not understanding which woman I was referring to, Tim tried to calm me down, and again advised me not to worry, because the woman was just overweight, and not pregnant. We hushed ourselves as we walked by. Once we were out of earshot again, I said to Tim, "the woman in the pink, she's pregnant, look, and she's smoking". He then realized where the confusion had come from, and agreed, the woman I was referring to was definitely pregnant.
With confirmation from Tim that I wasn't going crazy, my sense of panic increased. I kept asking him, "do I say something? do I say something? what should I say?". I felt this overwhelming urge to protect that helpless little baby inside from his/her horrible, selfish mother. But then it occured to me, that was probably not the first cigarette that woman had smoked while pregnant and probably wouldn't be the last, and nothing I did or said was going to protect that helpless baby from the harm his/her mother was causing. That was when my panic, turned to rage - rage directed at that baby's mother. I wanted to turn around, walk back towards her, and literally claw at her face with my fingernails and scream. How could any woman fortunate enough to be carrying a child, knowingly do something that could, and likely would, harm her baby? My heart beat sped up even more, my face grew hot, it became difficult to breathe, and I actually held my hands out like little claws, ready to strike. But then, I didn't strike, or say a word, or even turn around. I proceeded into the store where we where headed and began to shop for flip flops.
Certainly it is better that I did not physically attack a pregnant woman standing on the street, but I wonder, had I calmed down and approached her rationally to advise her that babies can and do die, and that she should consider herself very fortunate to still be pregnant, would she have stopped smoking? Somehow, I doubt it. Even if I told her all about Isla, I have a feeling that the next time she had a craving, that woman would have lit up another cigarette. She may have thought about me and my baby girl for a moment, maybe even felt a twinge of guilt, but then she probably would have thought to herself, "so unfortunate, but something like that would never happen to me or my baby."
I was once pregnant and that blissfully naive too. I certainly never smoked or did anything else I thought would harm my baby. In fact, I did all the "right" things, like taking my vitamins and folic acid, eating healthy, and quitting coffee cold turkey. I even stopped using face wash with salicylic acid, because I read that the effects of topical acne medication on unborn babies has yet to be tested. But I did those things to give my baby the best start possible, not because I thought that after surviving the first trimester my baby could die.
So that got me thinking about raising awareness. I have yet to come across any Canadian statistics, but information I have read online indicates that one in every 160 to 200 pregnancies in the United States ends in stillbirth - that's more than ten times the number of babies that die from SIDS. Staggering. What is more staggering is that no one talks about it. My OB never warned me that stillbirth was a possibility. While the last chapter in the so called, "Pregnancy Bible" deals with the "complications of pregnancy" and discusses stillbirth, there was nothing in the chapter on the sixth month that warned me my baby could suddenly die.
Worse yet, when your baby does die, still no one talks about it. I feel this overwhelming societal pressure to pretend like Isla never happened. Despite Tim and I being very open with our grief, we have still heard our share of comments like, "you are young, you will have more children". We know that these things are said with good intentions, so we try not to be too offended, but it just goes to show that our society still does not know how to deal with stillbirth.
I was very pleased today to come across this recent article in the Washington Post on stillbirth - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2009/07/07/ST2009070701006.html?sid=ST2009070701006. I was particularly pleased to read that a Bill aimed at stillbirth data collection and raising awareness and grief support services will be tabled before the U.S. Senate this summer. I still need to do my homework before I can advocate for or against the Bill, and any possible Canadian counterpart, but at least people are starting to talk about the subject.
I hope that this doesn't come across like I want all pregnant woman to be walking around expecting the worst. Like my mom said to me yesterday, "if people really knew what the odds were against delivering a healthy, full-term baby without complications, no one would get pregnant". And, while (if I am fortunate enough to get pregnant again), pregnancy will never again be a time of naive bliss for me, I certainly do not wish my friends to suffer the same anxiety, pessimism, and sense of detachment that I think is in store for me. I do , however, think people need to be more aware.
Be aware that babies can and do die, so DO NOT take your healthy pregnancy, healthy babies, healthy children for granted.
Be aware that stillbirth does happen, and if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Count your kicks, follow your instincts, and don't be embarrassed to call your doctor or proceed to the hospital whenever something doesn't "feel right".
Be aware that thousands of parents out there are have lost their babies and are suffering from a grief so devastating it really cannot be described in words. That grief needs to be legitimized and those parents need support.
So, in my own personal campaign to raise awareness and to celebrate our beautiful baby girl, with Tim's support and encouragement, I have decided to take this blog public and post a link to it on my Facebook page. EEK! I'm still a bit freaked out to be so "out there". Up until now I've been blogging to no one, as I don't think anyone is reading, and not wanting to diminish the death of our baby girl, we have yet to discuss the topic on Facebook for all our "friends" to read, but here goes...