Still born

My goodness, it’s been a while. Let’s catch up a bit.

Right now, I’m sitting on my bed while my family hangs out/be crazy/clean up after dinner. I’m supposed to be working on a 20-page term paper on governance and fair trade coffee, because I am a grad student now out of Athabasca University (yaaay!). I was so cripplingly bored and antsy after we moved across the country that I dove in about two years ago. It’s great, but I also have to do the self-discipline thing and actually find the bits of motivation needed, like some buried chocolate in a crappy chocolate chip muffin that is mostly just dry cake, to get things done. Why is this challenging? Well, because I have two bambinos now.

They are everything, but it’s also important for me to not just identify as a mommy. I’m not a mom, I’m their mom, uniquely for them. I’m also a bunch of other things. Another thing I am today is reflective on what Henry means to me after I gave birth to two living children, now 3.5 years old, and 8 months old.

I find myself feeling guilty whenever I lose patience with my toddler, because I should be savouring every second. Also, I do a lot of self-admonishion for feeling that guilt, because momming is fucking hard and challenging, and when there are two of them? At the same time? Fuuuuuuuuuuck, man. Sometimes, my face doesn’t even look like me. My eyes are glaze-y, my nose looks chunkier, I have this big ‘ol mom belly that’s kinda dangly and wiggly, but, I’m strong as fuck. Which is why I was prepared for what life threw at me today.

This morning, a beloved friend was asking me for advice of the worst kind. What should she do for her friend who delivered a still born baby last night? A lot of my answer can be found in this very blog, but basically, there’s nothing you can do. Our friend (or not friend? Or, really doesn’t matter how you relate because too bad) time will chip away at the raw, blistering pain at a life event that just cannot make sense. One thing hit me hard and stayed with me throughout the day — that she couldn’t believe she had to leave the hospital without her baby.

She could not leave the hospital with her baby.

Let that sink in.

I had to do that, too. If you’ve never done that, then you have not walked through the dark valley of hell that is walled with flames, spikes, crying, silent babies, and the oncoming onslaught of offensive images that is other people leaving the hospital with their babies. This woman, who my friend knows, is going through this right now.

The worst thing that can happen to a parent is going on so close to me, and it all comes flooding back, as if I’m also just leaving the hospital, in a fog, just trying to cope. My body compensated by developing a years-long facial tic that makes me feel like I can’t blink hard enough, almost like my body wants to shield my eyes from the pain my waking self is living.

Life is so fickle sometimes. Some babies live, some die, and the only thing separating you from those horrible moments is the time between now and then. It doesn’t matter that I have two amazing, healthy children. They don’t erase Henry, they don’t replace Henry. Henry was and always will be the first, and will always be the great mystery of my life, and my greatest loss. My two living kids bounce along in a joyful raft around the island of my loss, and more and more, that island gets sprinkles of the confetti that is the happiness from my two kids. It’s all still there, but the look is changing. I still wear my locket, and always will. but I don’t feel compelled to tell people who compliment me on it that it’s full of my baby’s ashes. He’s gone, but he was still born, just like my friend’s child. The only advice I can really give for her is, hold on tight, this is going to hurt. But you’ll surface again, so take your time.

The third year, and, why do I grieve so publicly?

Today is Henry’s third birthday. I held my son, Corin, while standing in front of Henry’s photos, and we sang happy birthday to him. It was a teary moment, followed by a big smile when Corin wanted to next sing happy birthday to Thomas the Train Engine.

Henry never lived outside my womb. We have no way of knowing his temperament, hair colour, food preferences, or what his favourite toys would have been. If he lived, I assume he’d be a rambunctious toddler, tearing it up much like his almost two-year-old brother. So I have etched out an existence for him on the outside. My bedroom has a Henry corner with two photos and his framed, miniscule footprints. I have a statue of an angel cradling a baby, where I hang the locket necklace that holds some of his ashes, and an urn I made to hold the his tiny bag of ashes. I have a tattoo of an aster – September’s birth flower – on my right rib cage.  And I talk about him, and write about him very openly for all the world to see.

Part of me has always been uncomfortable of the notion that my public grief exposé might be to simply get attention. I can’t deny that it’s one of the factors in writing a blog about Henry. But there’s a few reasons I’ve always been so forthright:

1- Writing helps transform me from a troll (not the mean-commenting Internet troll, but one of those gnarly, smelly ones that live under bridges) to a functioning human being. It helps me understand the world with greater clarity, therefore, it helps me deconstruct angles of my grief that might fester and pus.

2- I felt more encouraged to keep writing after receiving messages that my story was helping people cope with a loss they never felt free to explore. That’s some powerful shit.

3- Grief is a living thing that needs its own space, and I learned it’s best to be honest with your feelings and give them their space. Or risk being the bad kind of crazy, or the weird type of dysfunctional person who pretends they’re stronger than the pain.

So, three years on, and I can still cry like I lost Henry yesterday. Time does, and doesn’t, heal, but writing about my journey helps make it bearable.

Thanks for reading.

Dealing with being called a first-time mom

It’s difficult being referred to as a first-time mom when I’m anywhere with Corin. I try to stick with the truth – that he’s the second – but with so many of the fumbles that come with FTM-isms, I relent and don’t correct people when they throw that box over my head.

What I mean mostly is the buying of useless baby-things that experienced moms know to avoid. The clip-on-holds-the-spoon-for-kiddo ‘convenience’ thing that really just ends up being a whip/chew toy, for example. That’s $5 wasted that could have bought more useful chocolate.

I just roll with it. Being called a FTM with those types of things. It’s not always fun to stand there and awkwardly correct well-intended acquaintances that my first son doesn’t walk this earth. And let’s not get in to the step-son I have been raising for the past eight years. When he plopped down into my life, he was four, potty trained, all teethed, and etc. So, in a very long thought-line of self-assurance and justifying, yes, in some cases, I am very much a first-time mom. There, I said it.

Two years ago

Two years ago on September 28 (two days from the date of this post), life was a never-ending swath of grey. Inundated with tears. Enveloped in a cocoon. Burnt to a crisp. No one allowed in, no way of going out. I lost my first child. My beautiful Henry.

If I take a look and open that door, the hurt is still a vibrant shade of angry-orange. I think about Henry every day. I will never heal. Forget what they say about time as the great healer. You just get used to a hurt this big. It muscles its way in to your life and you just live with it. You don’t get over it. It’s always there.

I look at Corin, my almost 11-month old son – my second child – and am taken away with how healthy he is, and I can’t get over how lucky I am. Every day is a gift. And I always wonder if Henry would have looked like him.

Hey, hacker!

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written. Maybe it’s a good thing. I’m not living in the sea of sadness that was once so consuming I didn’t think there’d be a way out. Though Henry is still a part of my daily life. That’s not going to change. It never has. Hence, nothing new to write about, I guess!

I’m prompted to write today because someone other than myself has tried to access this WordPress account and change the password. And I ask… really?!?!?! Who are you, other than someone having a laugh, or some sick individual, would want to break in to the vault of the pain of losing my first born child? These words are the tracks of sorrow, anguish, and loss. Don’t fuck with it, you jackass. Don’t touch. Go away.

Still your mom

Your brother is fascinated by the necklace I wear every day in remembrance of you. Today, he ripped the small blue moonstone locket clear off its golden chain. Normally, he reaches and plays with it while nursing. When I take it off at night, his arm waggles near my heart, looking for you. He inspires awe in me, and makes me think of you constantly.

Would you have had the same smooth, round head? The same deep blue eyes? The same translucent strawberry platinum blonde hair? The same squawking manner when hungry or can’t reach a toy?

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend. The second Mother’s Day without you. Does time fly! The holiday will forever be bittersweet. There is the deep gratitude I have for your brother. The feeling that lets me hold him and drink him in that much more intently. The feeling that’s always present of how absolutely blessed I am to have him. If not for you, we wouldn’t have him. But looming until the day I see you again are the What Ifs.

You will always be my firstborn. You are already fading from people’s awareness. But never from mine. Never. I will always be Mother to you. I will always have my present children and another. And I love you and miss you always. Thank you for making me a mother. I’m proud to be yours.

Henry’s impact in 2013

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. Henry has been gone far longer than his all too brief life with me. It brings me some measure of comfort to see how many other people met him over the past year.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,500 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sitting around the tree decorated with beautiful ornaments, old and new, I glimpse the one I gave your grandparents last year in memory of you. A carved wooden angel holding a baby. Cradled in ephemeral arms in a place I can’t reach you. Just another reminder you’re gone, and this is my second Christmas without you.

With your brother here now, it’s hard to imagine I gave birth to you in the same way he was brought into the world. I held you, my firstborn. It’s hard to believe you were flesh and bone, and that you left us so quickly. Your life was a brief whirlwind that tossled our lives and left us with the aftermath of your absence. Losing you stings badly, and I’m left wondering what this Christmas would have been like with you here instead.

I only have my imagination to gauge what our memories would have felt like. A bouncing baby Henry, dressed in the clothes Corin wears now, sleeping in the bed your brother has claimed. Your shadows dancing on the wall, your eyes gazing up at the ceiling fan. Your cries on the change table, your coos and burps on my shoulder. Your body I hover over dozens of times per day to check, again, that you’re alright. In a way, Henry, you gave us Corin by ceding your spot in our family. But you will always have a placeholder in my heart that is unreachable by anyone alive today. No one but you can be my first child.

Do I have to wipe the grit from my knees from the times I collapse, literally or figuratively, at how unfair life is, that you would not be here with us, and worst of all, that others might not remember you and how important you are to me? My one Christmas wish is that you know how much I love you, Henry, and that I would carve and paint myself like that angel in the tree if it means I would get to hold you.