Questions to ponder...

This is a repost of a blog musing from 2008... something I think could rouse thoughts and opinions for anyone in this community. 

How it is possible to be up to your neck in self-pity and still have compassion for the relative heartbreak of anyone else?

Sometimes here I start to feel like a traitor, an imposter, a cruel, wretch of a person hiding in the skin of an empathetic, supportive, listening ear. Truth be told, I just can't think of anything worse than a dead baby. So when somebody is starting in on their own worst day, it can be so hard not to let the caustic, dripping words leak out of the corner my mouth, unintentionally.

A good friend was sharing with me, a month or so back, about a friend whose baby suffered an injury during the birth that required her arm to be amputated after the birth. "Can you imagine?" she said to me, "Your beautiful baby, losing an arm?" I could not imagine. I did try to imagine the awful pain for those parents, pictured my Liam or Aoife, seemingly perfect, off to the operating room to become un-perfect. Truly, truly, in my heart of hearts, I felt an enormous surge of pity for them, imagining the horror of the experience, the aftermath, the pain of having a child with one arm when everyone else's child has two. But still, as I was imagining this, and feeling their pain, I also thought these words, "Can you imagine giving birth and the baby ends up being dead?" Ummm... yeah. This is where I feel like a jerk. Because I do think those people drew a short straw, too. It's just that to me, it doesn't seem short relative to mine. If I could have Charlotte back, minus the left arm, I'd take her.

But I've worked, truly hard, to really understand that each person's worst day is truly their worst day. I believe this, truly. But it's THEIR worst day, not mine. And if their worst day happened to me, after having had MY worst day? It's possible it might roll off my back. Kate's post was in reference to birth trauma, and people mourning the loss of the birth they'd imagined. True, and valid. I can see myself in those shoes, had I been given those shoes to walk in. But here's what it's like for me. I was having lunch with an old friend the other day, and told her of Liam's flip between 8 and 10 cm, and the cesarean that ensued.

"I'm sorry," she said. I looked at her pretty hard. "Don't be," I said. Truly, I meant this, it almost seemed comical to me that she was pitying me for having had a cesarean. But this is true for so many people, that they really do need a condolance, because they've lost an opportunity they felt was theirs to have had. What I had was not a loss, but a gain: I had a breathing, living child. The way he came out literally (and there truly is no exaggeration or denial here) did not faze me. If anything, it was a dream come true. For that year before, I had spent so many hours daydreaming about how they might have saved Charlotte if only they had been there to save her. Now here they were, performing the heroic rescue I had imagined. The birth cry was all I needed. I did not care how I got there.

And then there are my childless friends, still working through love crises of their own, who have related the loss of a lover to the loss of a child. For this, I must really bite into a leather strap, because love does not equal love, and I just can't say anything more on this, except to try to remember that this is what they know.

So I'm working on this. I feel as if I've come 150% in this field, because I don't resent people anymore for grieving things that I myself would not grieve. But I do, without apologies, often feel that my worst day was, well, worse than their worst day.

(and that's me, 4 years out. Does it feel different? Yeah, I think now I've probably come about 300%, but I still sometimes feel like a jerk)

 

Ingrid Haiku

by Autumn Gordon

Autumn wrote these haiku about her firstborn daughter Ingrid Elizabeth, who died from complications of prematurity in the winter of 2013. Thank you so much, Autumn, for sharing them with us. 

Was and is Ingrid
Oh Love! My Lovely, In Love
Over the moon with you, sweet

Skin shades of red
Strong legs splayed all akimbo
Swaddled face, nose, lips: perfect

Watching from outside
You squirm or sleep in twilight
In and out you breathe

A longing arm in
To touch the universe, you
What wonder I see

Today, I hold you
Your body against my heart
That is where you dwell

Navigating the Everyday

By Lindsey Rothschild

Going in for a coffee at a local cafe, I was relieved to see that the counter person was a stranger. Then the woman entered who had served me breakfast on a different day, a day when I was pregnant, ravenous and picky about food. I had ordered a huge breakfast and talked to her about being pregnant. Today, I saw her and sunk down in a high-backed armchair. Would she ask how the pregnancy is going? Would she look at me perplexed and ask me, "weren't you pregnant?" or would she figure she didn't remember the timing quite right and ask me "what did you have?" I couldn't bear any of that. Then I went to our CSA to pickup our farm share. I hid my body from the owner of the farm who always has her baby slung to her hip. Wouldn't she wonder where my belly went? Then I dodged all the mom's w/ babes picking up their shares. They used to make me happy. "Soon, I'll be like them," I used to think. Then I thought I recognized a man from the Support Group, so I smiled and said, hi. I'm not really sure if it was him or not. I need to get my haircut but can't face my hairdresser... guess I'll find a new one.

My neighbor across the street from my new home came over to introduce herself. She was friendly, beautiful and pregnant. I was panicky and cagey. Had another neighbor told her about our loss? Would she acknowledge it? She didn't. How do I not acknowledge it? When meeting someone new, it seems like a critical piece of information as to who I am... why I'm sad and distant and have a tendency to stare off into space. But, she's pregnant with rosy cheeks and optimism; it seemed too cruel to stand in front of her as living proof that pregnancies don't always end with a a baby. So, I smiled, a close-mouthed, polite smile and said it was nice to meet her. That's all.

Tell me about him

A beautiful post by Sara Barry, mother to Henry, who should be seven years old now. Sara is always full of sage words, and I'm so glad she decided to contribute this month. 

Tell me about him

Even now, nearly seven years after my son Henry died, I struggle through December. 

Last year over coffee in that ever dark month, my friend Beth looked at me across the table and said, “I wish I could do something, but I know I can’t. Can you tell me about him?”

I paused, because nobody asks that question. Perhaps the last time anybody asked me that question was when Carol sent a note from Empty Arms after my first meeting, giving me a space to talk about grief but also to tell about Henry himself—his “eyelashes and toes.” 

Usually people ask, “What happened?” 

I don’t blame them. It would be the question on my mind too if somebody told me their baby died. It’s a fair question but not an easy one. It makes me tell the hardest part of the story instead of the good parts.

I don’t get to talk about how we would lie on the couch together while our breaths settled into rhythm, both of us getting calmer and more peaceful, how his oxygen monitor showed me his oxygenation going up, his heart rate settling down.

I don’t get to remember how he wailed through is first bath or loved to suck his thumb. 

I don’t get to tell how he stared at the faces of people who held him or how he startled to his grandfather’s whistle. 

I don’t get to talk about how his smile flashed across his face like a cardinal across a winter landscape, lifting me up each time. 

Instead I talk about him being taken away to the NICU and about Down syndrome and heart defects. I tell about surgery and tense ambulance rides and how he almost died in October. I talk about how he got better, got home, got sick again. I remember racing to the hospital in a snowstorm as his breath deteriorated, how my husband got so sick he had to leave, how Henry coded more than once that last night. I’ll tell you how the machines started beeping and people came running, how I sang to him, and how he died on December 17. 

If you ask, “What happened?” I’ll tell you.  

I absolutely need spaces to tell that story and talk about grief. I need to tell and retell those hard parts. But I need to talk about love and hope and dreams too. 

“Can you tell me about him?” I needed the chance to talk about my son, and I didn’t even know it. I smiled and cried, and told her about my baby boy and his smile. 

Can you tell me about your baby? Your love? your dreams?

A Father to a Son

Ryan Tyree, dad of Dylan Marshall, born still on May 18, 2011, writes, "here's one from the days when the flames were all around me".

These words alone deserve a posting, how accurately they describe the oppressive heat of grief that threatens to suffocate a person in the early weeks and months.  They gain power, however, when paired with the poem below. Thanks, Ryan, for sharing. 


A Father to A Son

 

you should have been there with me

at the graduation proceedings

you couldn't be there with me

at my best man's wedding

you were not there with me

at church this morning

you won't be with me

in VT this summer

 

since you're in a box

a little fucking box

on a shelf

in the room

we prepared

for you

our firstborn

son

 

 

by Ryan Tyree

The Club Nobody Wants to Join

by Lisa Dana Goding

Imagine if you will, an anguish so fierce, you can feel it from 10 feet away. There is quite an awesome amount of uncontrolled power in a grieving woman who has lost a child. It is almost akin to a wild animal.

Women like me who have had premature preterm rupture of membranes (PPROM) have a cute little name we use- PPROM Queens. It kind of lightens up the reality of what happened. It almost sounds like a sorority except no one ever asked to join it.

I have encountered so many wonderful and caring women- for this I am ever so grateful. I have met women who have had almost the exact thing happen to them. I have come to know women who have experienced the many possible things that can sadly cause a pregnancy to end with "fetal demise." I have also met women who had normal pregnancies, only to watch their special babies die days or weeks after birth. No matter when or how it happened, we are bonded together in this surreal space. We are women who all experience that raw feeling- emptiness, dread, longing- and yearning for what might have been. A woman with a dead baby- we sit together behind a curtain. I never even thought I would be part of this club and didn't really care to peak behind the curtain to see what was there.

I think that the whole topic makes people uncomfortable. What do you say to her? What if I say the wrong thing? Maybe I should leave her alone until she is ready- she knows I am here for her. All these concerns have the opposite effect that was intended. In fact, they actually increase the woman's loneliness and isolation. But even with all the support and love in the world, the road is a lonely one that must be travelled alone. I am on that road now and wonder where it will lead.

I have come to realize tonight that the healing process is not a stepwise progression as I had thought it might be- and counted on to be. I imagined each day I would be slowly plugging away, taking one step in front of the other, feeling a little bit better and a little bit better. Then one day in the not too distant future I would be talking about how far I have come.

Rather than that, the process seems to be much more of a spiral. To be sure, there will be times when the hurt is less, when I actually feel happy (or at least calm). And then there be a point when I will circle back to a place of pain and trauma. The spiral, however, doesn't mean I am back at square one. I see it more like a tornado or a coil: I spiral back, but I now find myself in a new place, a slightly changed woman from the last time I was immersed in the grief.

I am so open and ready to hear about how others have coped with this kind of loss. What can I do to get out of my own way so that I don't make Sally Ann's memory something that overwhelmingly pains me? I want to be able to think of her and smile, knowing that she gave me the most special of gifts-hope.

 

This is an excerpt from Lisa's blog, which can be found at www.hotmamabear213.blogspot.com 

Two

by Lindsey Rothschild

Two. On September 5th, ‘drea held 2 acorns in her hand. It was my birthday. We were on a hike. We had a new house at 2 S. Hampshire. The 2 of us hiked up Mt. Tom. My body was rounding. We were happy. On September 22, we went to meet the 2. Wondering, girls or boys or one of each? 2 girls. 2 girls who would never have long hair and frolic across a field on a fall day. Our 2 girls. 2 daughters of 2 mothers.

2 weeks ago we lost our two baby girls, Baby A & Baby B. At 22 weeks

In memory of Flora and Bea Rothschild

November First

As a group facilitator, it is my job to go first. And so, on this first day of November, a month during which the light will fade, I will share my words first. They are words I wrote many years ago, and while I no longer feel the intensity of the emotion I articulated with this piece, the memory of the feeling rushes back in like water coming through a canyon in a flash flood. How easy it is to return to that place, and how grateful I am not to to occupy it. 

I write as myself, Charlotte's mother, Carol. Charlotte was born on May 13, 2003, our firstborn baby girl. She died from a cord accident sometime in my early labor, when I was still at home. She was born later that day, and spent six hours in our arms. Eleven years and four healthy children later, I cherish the memory of Charlotte as the baby who made me a mother. I stand proud and tall, a survivor of something I would never have thought I could endure. I hope my words will inspire you to share something, too. Because we really are some of the bravest ones out there. 

BRAVE

written on January 15, 2008

Is it brave?
Is it brave that I hung onto my husband and watched the nurse take her from me?
People tend to think of this as brave, as a sign of strength, but when I look back on it, it seems like weakness.

It seems like my animal core should have leapt from the bed, tearing at the white curtain, screaming in a low, howling tone, give me my baby back.

I can picture the scene, I am naked, my breasts heavy and swinging, belly that strange, 7-hours-after-birth pouch, blood streaming out of me onto the floor, probably falling in my emotional and physical weakness onto the floor, slipping, screaming, falling to my face and screaming in anguish.

Anguish.

This really could have happened. Should it have happened? How could I just let the other scene happen, where I just sit there, hiding my eyes, not wanting to believe the turn my life has taken?

Maybe it was strength. Maybe it was just not knowing what to do.

I still cannot believe I did it, one way or the other. Nobody should have to do this.

I thought, in the weeks afterwards, when my arms ached and my breasts were bursting and my house was filled with the heaviest, most deafening silence, of mother animals I had seen on television. The mother animals who clung to their dead infants. Stood by them. Refused to leave them. I could recall that once I had thought they were of too little brain to understand that their young were no longer living. I now know that I was of too little brain to understand what those mothers were feeling. I, too, wanted to hold my dead baby forever, perhaps had I not had the societal fear of death woven so deeply into my soul I would have tucked her under my coat and taken her from the hospital, taken her home where she belonged to be with me in her own house for a day or two before the inevitable came.

To sleep with her, to dress her in the clothes that were folded in her drawers, to share her with the family and friends that I was too numb-struck to share her with on the day of her birth.
So instead, I let her go.

The hardest thing I will ever do.

 from Happy-Sad Mama 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

 

 

Summertime

Summer-- this wonderful time when people relax, enjoy each other's company, and celebrate with family. This can be a difficult time for the bereaved. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded with images of families together, enjoying each other's company. If you're newly bereaved, it's likely you had images of yourself during these warm, lazy months-- whether those were images of yourself nine months pregnant, or toting a newborn to Cape Cod, it's hard to shed the knowledge of what we "should" be doing. 

When I was newly bereaved, the times that were most difficult were the very concrete places where I'd planned to take my new baby. On a daily basis, while I knew Charlotte would have been with me, I didn't know exactly what I'd be doing with her. But when the time came to go up to our family cottage in Ontario, I was overwhelmed by how difficult it was to go there without her. This was a place I'd come to every year of my own life, and for the duration of the school year, I had envisioned bringing my own baby there to begin her own lifetime of summers on the lake. When we arrived empty armed, my heart broke all over again.

It had been ten weeks and I somehow didn't expect this new wave of sudden, super intense grief. But looking back it made perfect sense-- I had envisioned this moment a thousand times. Pulling up in the car, cousins and aunts surrounding me as I stepped out, proudly displaying my new baby. Instead, here I was, trying as inconspicuously as possible to sneak into the back door of the cottage without being spotted. I walked onto the front porch, took in the view that was so familiar to me, and broke into a thousand pieces more harshly than I had when I returned to my own home after Charlotte died. 

Here I was. I was no longer in shock. I had no cushion of the disarray and confusion that the first weeks after a baby's death brings. I was simply alone, at my ancestral family home, without my baby. Sometimes, the fact that a loss is not new makes it even harder to bear. 

Not all of you will have moments that you remember or experience that are this stark. But I'm certain that you've all noticed that there are certain times and places that feel harder to exist in without your baby. While all our stories are different, all of us who have experienced the death of a baby know that sometimes a new situation can bring about sudden waves of grief we hadn't anticipated. The waves can rock us for quite some time, and all we can do is cling to the sides of the boat and hope that smoother waters lie ahead. Thank you for being in my boat, because knowing I am not alone does bring me great comfort. 

Carol.