Thursday, September 22, 2016

Grief Reading

I've been reading a lot. I started with a book the hospital sent home with us. It had a somber title like, "Empty Cradle: How to Survive the Death of Your Baby" or something equally sad like that. But it was pretty good. It had lots of quotes from other moms who have lost their babies which was comforting to feel less alone. When we came home and everything was a blur of numbness, disbelief and depression, knowing other women had been through this and survived and sounded just as distraught as I was made me feel slightly more normal. 

These two books are also being read pretty quickly. One was a recommendation from a friend and another from our counselor. They're both so good in different ways. I'd recommend them both to anyone who has ever grieved or wants to support someone grieving or is currently grieving. 

I really tried to rotate this picture, but it just didn't work. Sorry! 

I'm  learning that grief is a horribly messy process. And incredibly unpredictable and ever changing. I have no idea how I'm going to feel on any given day or what is going to be a trigger for anger or tears. I often think I know what I need and then it doesn't go well. Or I find myself confused about how I feel. 

So when I read this section from "When People Grieve" I breathed a sigh of relief. It's really hard for me to know what to do when I'm not given clear instructions. If you know me you know I just want to get an "A" in everything. And it turns out that there's no possible way to get an A in grieving. There are no instructions and no right or wrong way to grieve. And even if you're doing it "right" or "normal" (which doesn't exist), it still completely sucks. There's no way to bypass the pain and the loss and the doubts. 

I kind of thought that if I did all the recommended "baby loss helpful activities" (hold and take pictures of your baby, name the baby, get counseling, join support groups, go for walks, etc.) that somehow that would help the grief to go away and for me to be "normal" again. I've discovered there's no such thing. 

But I will say that reading sections like this make me feel normal. I can take a deep breath knowing I'm not alone and I'm not the only confusing person. I'm not the only one feeling confused and angry and not understanding what I need or want. And I'm not the only person to confuse friends and family right along with myself. 

So to all of you who read this and support us in the midst of us not being good at responding or knowing what to say or ask for or even appropriately thank you, please know we want to do all of those things. So, thank you. We couldn't do this without your love and support. Please be gracious and patient with us as we have no idea what we are doing. 



Monday, September 12, 2016

Emmanuel

Miriam was born and died just 17 days ago. That's not very long. Even when compared to her much too short life. Cards and notes of sympathy and support have continued to come in and mean so much to us. We read each and every one. Whether written on paper on in a Facebook message or email. I look forward to the mail coming every day. But not for the reason I first thought I did. I originally thought I would find hope from the messages. Maybe someone could convince me that eventually everything would be "ok" and that it wouldn't always feel so heartbreaking and sad. But, it turns out that cards written focused on hope and "God's plan" seem confusing, unsettling, and out of place. They make my heart feel uncomfortable and feel unsafe to read. I read them twice to see if I'm missing something, but the truth is that those messages hurt. Even when I thought they would be what I wanted to hear, those messages make me feel ignored. Like my pain doesn't matter. Like Miriam's life doesn't matter. 

Ecclesiastes says there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance. But, those times aren't supposed to happen simultaneously. We are in a period of grieving. Ok, so to be honest, when we are with our kids we do dance and laugh. It's impossible not to do those things when we are being strong for our kids. But, when it's just me and Dave? Just weeping. Just grieving. Just asking, "Why God? Why would you give us such joy just to end in death?" Just questions. And anger. I understand that people want to offer us hope. To encourage us to be strong. And to tell us of "God's plan" for our lives. Because they want to make us feel better. But it doesn't work that way.


We don't need cheerleaders. It's not time to brush ourselves off and solider on. The temptation to do that is actually pretty strong as we are infertility veterans who are more accustomed to bad news and being tough and celebratory around pregnant women and babies even when it hurts. It's tempting to go back to that mentality of being a fighter. Of stuffing our sad emotions and hurts down so deep that we don't acknowledge them anymore. And to be honest, that sometimes feels like it might just be the easier road out of this mess of grief.

But right now we need to grieve. Our hearts, and souls and bodies need to be able to fall apart and weep. We need people to sit with us in our pain and acknowledge how deep it goes. What I didn't expect were the loud tears that flowed after reading the card sent from the staff at our fertility clinic. I don't know whether it was a nurse or an office worker, but she wrote, "I just can't imagine the pain you're going through" I don't even know her, but she sat with me. She acknowledged the sadness and grief.

Another friend wrote that she wished she could wear sackcloth and ashes and be a wailing woman with and for us. That image brought comfort to my soul. A visualization of others weeping with us. One friend wrote (electronically!) that what we went through was "unfathomly tragic and that she was so shocked and heartbroken" for us. Those words gave me permission to take a deep breath of both sadness and hope. She was in the ashes without even being with us in person. She didn't tell us to hope or trust or be positive. She just grieved and acknowledged the pain and that gave me more hope and a sense of community than so much else. 

These voices are not the only ones that have been a balm to our souls when we have hit our lowest, but they are the ones that come to mind in this moment. It gives my soul such support and compassion to hear of others feeling sad for us. And grieving with us. I'm remembering how I felt this way about infertility too. Those who acknowledged my pain and the unfairness of it became safe places to release and cry. 

Where do we go from here? We can't stay in the grieving place forever. And we won't. There will always be great sadness about the missing member of our family. No one and nothing can ever take her place. She should still be here with us and she's not. My heart can't even comprehend the loss we have endured even writing it out now seems like a fresh wound. 

But, I'm told those wounds will eventually turn to scars and that God will bind up our broken hearts and carry us out of this season of mourning. But, that comes with time. Not overnight. We will not wake up one morning and realize that we have found some hope to replace the loss of Miriam. From the stirring of God and God alone our hearts will begin to mend and He will plant a seed of hope in our hearts. And in time, I pray that hope will take root where wasteland is currently widespread. But, not today. And not tomorrow. I've been told that two years is a realistic amount of time to begin to feel normal again. That's not soon.

Until then it's time to embrace the grief. Even as Christians we need permission to grieve. To weep and mourn and know that God is there weeping with us in the darkness. I'm more convinced than ever that He sits with us in our despair and doesn't expect us to hope or trust or be positive when our hearts are breaking. Part of how I know for sure are those mourners He has sent to cry with us. The Body of Christ in human form. Emmanuel. God with us.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ballet

Tonight I went to ballet class. Not exactly what you’d think a woman should do 13 days after giving birth to a stillborn baby, but I needed to do it. During the hardest parts of our infertility journey ballet gave me something positive to do for my body. It allowed me to feel like my body wasn’t my enemy even when it didn’t look or move like I wanted to it to. It was such a healing part of our infertility journey and this week my soul gently nudged me to go back.

I almost cried several times during that hour and a half. When I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. The body that was pregnant just 2 short weeks ago, but hadn’t looked like it should have (due to my water breaking and flattening out my stomach) for 3.5 weeks. And now, it’s not a body growing or nursing a baby. It’s just a body that has been wrecked. Carrying a soul in need of much grieving and healing.

On the way home I thought about that first ballet class I went to the last time my body seemed to be failing me. I realized it was five years ago. Five years. Five years is not a short amount of time. It’s a long time to grieve and wrestle with God, your heart, and your body.

Of course, there has been a whole lot of joy in the past 5 years. There have been many days, and weeks, and months that infertility was on the back burner for me. After bringing home each of our kids I have thanked God for our infertility. And the truth is that I still do. Without it our home wouldn’t have these two little miracle people sleeping right across the hall from us.

But it sure is hard to feel like I’m back where I started, only in a deeper kind of grief than I knew before. When we decided to do IVF this year, we both had an “open hand” mentality. I have never lost the desire to be pregnant and give birth to a baby, or to have a biological child. But I knew, so deep down that it would be ok if I didn't and knew the chances weren't entirely in our favor either. Infertility was not my best-friend, but it was no longer my enemy. It became a companion I had gotten used to. It followed me some places, like baby showers and hospitals to welcome friends’ newborns, but it left me alone while I rocked my own kids to sleep when they were sick, when I made them breakfast and took the buddy to school, or when we celebrated birthdays.

But, the moment we go the call that I was pregnant, pregnancy became a reality. I knew I needed to be prepared for loss as miscarriage is not uncommon, so I was determined to take it one day at a time and appreciate every day of pregnancy as I had it. It was a dream I had been forced to let go of for years and here it was. Such a gift. A treasure. Every ultrasound was miraculous. I loved seeing Dave’s face the first time we saw the hearbeat flicker on the screen or heard the sound of the heartbeat. But, I still felt uneasy. Until 18 weeks.

Right at 18 weeks I had some spotting and cramping. We were so worried and I cried pretty openly in the waiting room while we waited for an ultrasound as I imagined there being no heartbeat. The moment we saw that flicker again I burst into tears of relief. We then found out that our baby was a girl! This made it all feel real. We saw her wiggling around on the screen. We saw all her parts. Her spine, her heart (all 4 chambers!), her wiggly hands and feet. They measured her arm bones and leg bones and we saw those cute hands up by her head. She became real to me that day. So real. I saw her and all those beautiful parts. I was really having a baby.

I looked up girl names and ordered the few maternity clothes I had been wanting and hadn’t gotten yet. I wasn’t just appreciating every day of being pregnant because it finally seemed possible that we would be bringing home a baby.

12 days later my water broke. 12 days. I won’t even tell you what it was like at the hospital when the doctor confirmed there was no fluid around our baby. That baby we were supposed to bring home. The fear and grief we felt in those moments was so deep. My worst nightmare was happening. I knew to expect a negative pregnancy test. I even knew to expect a miscarriage. I didn’t know to expect this. This deep grief that that wiggly, happy, girl would likely be born before she had a chance to survive.

I will say there was no pleading with God in those 10 days that followed. We felt like we needed open hands as we went through IVF so, as I prayed for a miracle I knew it had to be with open hands. I know what it’s like to beg God for something and for Him to remain totally silent. I spent so much time begging God for a miracle those months following our infertility diagnosis. When we started fertility treatment. When we saw numerous natural people who told us of their 95% success rates with couples with infertility. (Spoiler alert… we were always in that 5% of unsuccessful people). I’ve pleaded with God to save the lives of other children and babies. I watched Dave beg God not to make him play the music for the funeral of one more little girl at our church. Turns out he planned the music for the fourth one in just 14 months- his own daughter’s funeral.

After years spent coming to terms with infertility as my companion and the possibility of biological kids being less of a reality, why would God get us so close only to bring the greatest grief we’ve experienced so far? I’m heartbroken. I’m angry. I’m confused. Why has God spoken to us in quiet, yet seemingly miraculous ways all while not miraculously saving our daughter when He surely could have?  


Five years God. It’s been five years. I’m back at ballet, more heartbroken than ever before.  Back where I started. How do you move me backward and forward at the same time?

"My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest."

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. I told Dave I didn't want to hear "happy birthday" from one person because it was most certainly not a happy day. With the loss of Miriam just 11 days before, there's no way I could feel happy about it being my birthday. 

Despite the fact it didn't feel "happy",  there were some moments of joy and peace. The kids climbed into bed with me and requested tickles. I couldn't not smile when hearing the contagious laughter of my kids. We even went on our first family walk in over a month. I had to keep asking Dave to slow down, because it seemed so hard, but it was nice to be outside for a bit. I also didn't end up going to the loss support group I planned on going to because I found out they don't meet anymore, which turned out fine since Dave managed to convince me to go out to dinner with him while my parents watched the kids. It was a really nice dinner. 

Based on those accounts you would think I would be doing "better." And I will say the grief has slowly been changing. I feel less of the stabbing heartbreak of the week before that required hours of crying at a time along with the feeling that I would never be anything but empty and grief stricken. Now the pain is more settled in my heart than gripping my whole body. But, it's settled deep within and it follows me. I cry whenever I climb into bed, make a phone call, or remember anything from the past 3 weeks. But, I don't cry all day. I suppose that means I'm feeling "better." 

Home feels safe. I feel like I can function at home. Outside the home there is a whole lot of fear and anxiety. I'm not myself and I don't know how to interact with people. I don't know what to say or how to say it. I don't know how to respond to people. We went to the pool on Monday with the kids and I saw a mom I had met just 3 weeks before when I told her we were expecting a baby in January. But, when I saw her Monday fear gripped me. What if she asked me how my pregnancy was going or how I was feeling? I just knew I would burst into tears in front of the dozens of kids and parents playing at the pool. I quickly left and went back home where it was safe again.

I wonder if I'll ever be able to talk about Miriam or being pregnant without bursting into immediate tears. Part of me feels like I've returned to my previous infertile self who avoided anything involving pregnancy and babies (including tv shows) due to the pain it brought. But, I'm not that old self. I'm a woman who carried a baby for 21 weeks and knows the pain of giving birth and losing her. I can't pretend everything is like it was before. I can't pretend this is now normal. Miriam is and was real. She lived and she died and I don't know what what kind of "normal" my life is now supposed to look like. 



Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Beginning of Grief

Today is the first day I have driven a car since the day I drove myself to the birthing center (where I saw the midwives) when I suspected my water broke. Today I drove myself to church to receive condolences for Miriam's passing. Her "passing". I still have a hard time saying death. Or died. But, it's true. My very loved baby died. A nightmare.

Tuesday is my birthday. I will be 32. I remember feeling sad on my 30th birthday. I had wanted to be nearly done building my family by then. I was on track when I got married at 22. But, at 30 I was waiting for our second child in a longer than anticipated adoption wait. I didn't mind turning 31. I was pretty excited about 32 this year. I was to be almost 23 weeks pregnant with our third child. I felt so lucky and grateful for how life turned out. Turns out the day I turn 32 I will be attending a support group for moms that have experienced infant loss. Definitely not pregnant. Definitely no third child to bring home.

The day before my water broke I totally cleaned out my closet of the clothes that didn't fit me anymore. I figured I would stick with maternity clothes for the rest of pregnancy and post-partum for awhile. The day we came home from the hospital after Miriam's birth and death I cleaned all the maternity clothes from my closet to give back to the loaner or box up to be donated. I still don't fit in my normal clothes, so my closet is pretty empty. It's ok though. It matches me.

I can't believe I didn't like my body when pregnant. I didn't like how big my arms were, or how my body felt unfamiliar and "fat." I would give anything to still be pregnant and uncomfortable in my body. I hate that I didn't appreciate every single aspect of pregnancy while I had it. How foolish I was to think I would have a normal, healthy pregnancy. I should have known.  I'm out of sorts and uncomfortable in this body I wear. This body that failed our precious girl. I can't figure out if I should blame my body or God. Who else is there to blame? I wish she had been sick, so that I would feel more at peace about her passing. But she wasn't sick. She was healthy. My body failed her.

I am a most despised woman. How could God allow this to happen? Isn't pregnancy about life and not death? For everyone else it brings life. For me, just death. The years of infertility felt like my life struggle. It was my biggest fear and I had conquered it. I didn't even know I was supposed to fear birthing a dead baby. If only I knew how easy my years of infertility were compared to losing a child that was so difficult to conceive. Together they are unbearable.

There are at least 5 vases of flowers in our house. All sent with love and beautiful. But I hate them. I want to throw all the vases on the floor in rage. I don't want flowers. I want my baby. Dozens of people say to let them know how they can help. I wish they could help. But no one can help when your baby dies. The only thing I want is HER. But, we don't even have sweet or cherished memories of her to remember her. There is literally no way to remember her smile or her laugh or how her chest moved up and down while she slept. In those moments when we held her she was lifeless. Those hours with her were priceless, but gut wrenching. They are our only memories. I never even got to feel her kick.

What is normal life supposed to be? I thought if we lost her life would go back to "normal" with our two amazing kids. But, there is no normal. There is grieving and there is functioning. And grieving while functioning. Yesterday I functioned pretty well. The buddy told me his favorite band is Earth, Wind, and Fire. I smiled. We met new neighbors. What a normal thing to do. Meet new people. But there were only 4 of us there. There should have been 5.

I remember reading a book about the pain in our lives. How the temptation was to go around it. Over it. Under it. But you can't. You must go through it. I'm in the middle of it. Sitting in the struggle and looking around so tired. How do you get the strength to hack through the forest of grief? Does the forest eventually get thinner so there is less to push through? Does it get normal to live in the middle of the trees of grief? Or do you eventually find yourself in a field instead of a forest? Does that ever happen? Is that heaven?

Today I woke up. I even got dressed. I sat and stared for awhile. Will life always go so slowly? I feel like if I make it to the end of the day there will be relief. There must be, right? But, night comes and I cry. I cry for what could have been. What should have been. I wake in the night panic stricken. How could that past 3 weeks of my life been my reality? They must have been a nightmare, right? Won't I wake up one morning and this will all be a bad dream? How can this be real? How can this be what we're walking through. I check my email and facebook and the mailbox. Maybe there will be hope in one of those places. There are notes of sympathy. There are people checking in. It's a comfort to know we are thought of and prayed for often. Some notes touch our hearts so deeply that I weep out loud. Sometimes just a single tear rolls down my cheek as I am reminded that we are all loved. People offer to help carry our grief. How does that happen? Maybe it's already happening and the path would look even darker without it.

It's dark. I have survived another day. I wash my face and look in the mirror. Is that really my face? Where is the smile? The light? Is that really my skin? My hair? Are those tired eyes really mine? Maybe if I scrub hard enough the pain will go away. Or the skin. Would new skin help? I watch Dave sleep. His hands are by his face. Just like Miriam's always were in her ultrasounds. I wonder if she got that from him. She had his nose. My lips. That's all I know. Would she have laughed like me? Throwing back her head with a deep and hearty laugh that I got from my mom? I wonder when I will laugh like that again.

I weep. I type. I read. I think. I pray. I eat. And pray some more. And cry again. I smile at the kids. Feed them supper and tuck them in. Then, if I am lucky, I will sleep too.