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.

Two boys

I think the bubble of pregnancy-related fear I’ve been wrapped in since losing you is becoming slightly more transparent.

I used to spend hours every week reading up on loss stories. Grasping to the reality I could lose your brother so hard it incorporated itself into my flesh and became part of who I was, woven into my personal narrative and explored to every limit. All I knew of pregnancy came from you. Pregnancy = terror, loss, pain, unemployment, sadness, suffering.

As I sit here typing, your brother kicks me so hard other parts of my body not directly touching my belly jiggle. It’s like he’s saying, “Relax, ma, I’m here, and here, and here. Tee hee hee!”

My mom recently bought me two little statues. Two baby boys, placed sitting next to each other. These are my two sons. Henry and Coming Soon. They look so similar. They spent the entirety of both their lives so far inside me.

Today, I closed a blog post on pregnancy loss that I was in the middle of reading. I felt very strongly that I didn’t need to finish this poor woman’s story. I felt like I removed the umbrella from over my head to see that it had stopped raining. The sky is far from blue. Thunderclouds threaten along the horizon, ready to dump the storm of the century on my weak head so that I can sit there, sobbing into the downpour, lamenting that I knew all along that this was going to happen. But it’s not happening right now.

These kicks to my ribs make me smile, and if I look back to childhood singsongs, smiles are like human manifested sunbeams. (Ugh, yep, I went there. Can I have some crackers for this cheese?)

So, with a little over two months to go, I sit here, watching my belly do its own rhumba while a tiny dancer grows inside. And I let go of the fear that has the tendency of overtaking my life. And I look for positive things to read up on for pregnancy. Reinforce those brain pathways instead of constantly strengthening the easier jumbly road of frenzied panic.

Still insensitive after all this time

“Is your grieving finished?” my massage therapist asked me yesterday. Ummm, no? What kind of question is that? I danced around it, trying to explain that my grief is just part of who I am. I celebrate my current pregnancy – I had to give myself permission to feel joy, but simultaneous is the sadness I carry called Henry.

He’s everywhere, and with me always. I wear a small blue moonstone necklace with his ashes inside on a gold chain that also has a tiny pair of baby feet dangling next to him. I put it on every morning from where it rests on my nightstand on a heart-shaped crystal. I say good morning to my baby every day, and goodnight every night. My firstborn. (firstBORN – born born born. Get it?!). My Henry.We’re never, ever apart.

There’s nothing cute about it. I’ve heard every rendition, twist and turn to try to transform my experience with my son into an imaginary picturesque scenario involving fluffy white-winged angels. Frankly, if you do this, you’ve seen too many Disney movies and need to get off the fairy-rollercoaster.

NO, it’s not wonderful there’s an angel waiting for me in “heaven,” – do I even believe in heaven? Where is it?

A beloved friend of mine recently and tragically lost her baby. It hasn’t been a full 72 hours and she’s already been ambushed with ridiculous, insensitive, STUPID shit, like the fluffy angel conspiracy, and worse. I’m appalled by what she’s been subjected to. Especially – – ->

“It’s not a big deal.”

If you said this to a loss mom or dad, ever, fuck right off and eat a bag of shit. No, it’s just her fucking BABY she lost. Her hopes, her dreams, all the anticipation. All the love and preparation it takes to bring a new life to the world. All the attempts to spark this life into existence. The planning, the charting, the changes in diet and life habits. All the physical and hormonal changes. The months of being sick as a dog thanks to first trimester blues. The strands of hope and wishes she clung to while waiting to hear either good or heartbreaking news when she recently was sicker than usual and had to rush herself to the nearest hospital. The earth-shattering news she received when the doctors told her the life inside her stopped. The news she had to share with her daughter that no, in fact, you aren’t getting a new brother or sister for now. The awful feeling that you’re a terrible mother for not being able to keep your baby alive. The feeling that you want to die, too, just so you can meet your dead child, who grew inside you, whose feet you’ll never hear slapping on the linoleum, whose hair you’ll never brush, whose laughter and cries you’ll never hear, whose birthday (which is also their death day) you will celebrate every year to honour their cherished place in your life.

Nah, not a big deal. Have an ice-cream cone, take a bath and move on. It’s just like any other day. Not even as sad as losing a pet, or chipping a manicured fingernail.

Losing a baby IS a big deal. It’s life’s BIGGEST deal. I’d love to know, those out there who have had the gall to say this to a grieving parent, what you define as a big deal. Oprah losing weight? Getting a parking ticket? Spam? A bad hair day?

We move through a scorching fire, and you bloody idiots who say things like “it’s not a big deal” on the other side have absolutely no idea what it’s like. If you’re going to diminish our pain, our devastation, our shattered lives, it might give you more satisfaction to go to an orphanage with your kids and point your finger and laugh at the children and infants inside who have lost their parents. That’s no big deal either, right? They can just get adopted and move on. It would be just as tactful, just as helpful, and just as meaningful to them as it is to us who have had our children die inside of us.

I’ve been tossing this anger around inside me for the last few days. I can’t believe people we consider friends and family can be this insensitive after all this time. I’m not glossing it over this time with “of course your are well-intended.” No. Use your evolved, higher-thinking brain to etch out just an extra second of compassion. Forget your discomfort, and look at the person before you. Understand their pain. Understand that you don’t understand, and for the love of all things breathing, DON’T say something so searing, so unfathomable and insulting as “it’s not a big deal.”

We’re grieving still – there’s no expiry date. We’ll miss our children until the day we die. How dare you assume it isn’t a big deal, or that it’s something we eventually get over?

When friends lose their babies

On this side of the fence, the grass is crinkly, brown and dead. It’s spread out over a vast space in irregular,  ugly little patches. The flowers are wilted if there were any in the first place. It’s raining, and tall, gloomy trees cast ominous shadows over everything. Surrounding you are deep, dark caves. It’s not pretty, but it’s safe. Nothing can hurt us here because we’ve already experienced the worst scares and the worst pain life can dish out.

(The chorus of this song doesn’t fit well here: “What kind of paradise am I looking for? I’ve got everything I want, but still I want more.” Fuck that. We want our babies. But the rest of the song is very fitting.)

We don’t climb over the fence from happy expectation to the field of bereavement by choice. We’re catapulted and find ourselves in an unknown land, disoriented, with sparks of well-meaning encouragement flung at us from people standing in a sunny field who have a very detached, vague concept, but can’t see where we’re standing and what’s surrounding us. (I try to dodge these sparks, because they mean nothing, unless they’re gently handed to me from people not in a rush to make me feel better, and are there to actually understand and comfort.)

There’s thousands upon thousands of us standing in places like this. And when our friends join us, it’s not a happy occasion. It makes us tear up the dead grass, fling it at the sky, and fill the air with cries of “WHY? WHY THEM? WHY NOW? WHY THIS WAY?”

It’s ridiculous, impossible, and unfathomable how many pregnancies fail. Twenty-five per cent of them, actually. I guaran-frigging-tee you know a good handful of people who have lost a baby, an infant, or can’t conceive. They may not let you know about it, but the next time you’re with a group of people, look around you, and just assume (without saying anything, of course), that 25% of those  present have had life, dreams, desires and hope ripped from them, tragically.

When a friend joins this side of the fence because they had to say goodbye to their precious, perfect and enormously loved child, no matter what stage of development they were in, it takes everything in me not to fling myself to them and smother them with the things that helped me inch forward in the days following my own loss. But that would be really a really dumb thing to do. Grief is a slow drip, and it’s not my job to gather the evidence of pain to show I understand. I’d be a fool to do that. Only they understand what they’re going through. I went through my own loss, and only I know what that was like. Now is a time to listen and listen and listen and love. That’s all.

Image courtesy of wallpaperstock.net

Image courtesy of wallpaperstock.net

…but I’ve GIVEN birth before!

I’m so thrilled to be at a healthy place with this pregnancy. It’s going well. He’s healthy. He kicks and punches and kicks some more. Pregnancy and birth pop up all the time when I’m with friends, family, acquaintances. People share their birth stories. It’s what they do.

Ladies – I’VE GIVEN BIRTH BEFORE!!!! Just because my son is dead and I didn’t get to bring him home doesn’t mean I’m not a mother. But I’ve given birth. I’ve had contractions. My water broke. A baby came out of my birth canal.

I know it’s hard to remember, because you don’t see my son, because he’s dead. But I HAVE given birth.

It’s hard for a loss mom to hear your birth stories and not feel like she can contribute. You might say, “Well you need to feel what it’s like at 8,9 months,” (said by one family member recently. Punch you in the face, very much). You might just look at me with sad puppy dog eyes. You might feel bad for not realizing that what you’re saying is hard for me to hear. You might not realize I’m not a newbie, and feel like my experience giving birth is less valid than yours.

It sucks.

I have given birth. We have given birth. I’m just like you. I have a birth story, and it’s a lot harder than yours, no matter what ways you were split, no matter whether your epidural took effect or not. No matter how much you bled, pooped, screamed at your husband. You got to take your baby home.

The due date

It’s coming. In six days. When Henry was supposed to be born.

I’m observing myself.

How do I feel? Am I okay? How should I feel?

And there aren’t any roadmaps here. It’s desolate, and hard to see three feet in front of my face. I don’t know what’s there. I don’t know how to prepare myself.

There could be smooth road, or there could be a giant pothole, like a swimming pool, and if I’m not careful, I could drown in it, or at least wallow for a while.

My non-pregnant self is desperately scaling the walls. She wants to have a baby in her, this womb of mine. It was supposed to have a baby in it, but genetics had a say about that and took away motherhood after we thought we were in the clear.

And now the due date approaches. It’s going to come quickly. Fiercely. Ruthlessly. For this son of mine who was already born. A due date for a dead baby who already has a birthday.

There’s no logic for this. Babies aren’t supposed to be dead. They’re supposed to pass milestones and make friends and learn and grow and laugh and cry and change and be hugged and loved and taught. They’re not supposed to be dead. But mine is. The Grim Reaper was beside me the whole time. Waiting to collect what was his. And now he has Henry, and I’ll never get to hold him again. Aside from his ashes, worn around my neck, close to my heart.