Monday, February 28, 2011
Today feels like some sort of intersection.
First, upon waking, it is the two year anniversary of one friend's baby loss. Here, I mourn for another.
Then, upon some strange realization, I am exactly the gestation (27 weeks, 5 days) of another friend's baby loss (and the two know each other). Here, I hold myself up to another's pain: I feel vulnerable, and simultaneously mourn for her.
Then, I got a card in the mail that my sweet, old, lovely friend from college whose baby died a year ago this month has had a new baby, a beautiful, sweet, living son. I wept opening the card. It was the most beautiful surprise. Joy, joy, joy. I am so thrilled. I feel the joy of possibility.
At lunchtime I spent 72 minutes on the phone with a woman who was interviewing me for a community service award for my loss support program. I feel so empowered, so proud.
I had a few minutes to play Uno with my blossoming, precocious son who is home with a cough, when the school nurse called to alert me that a classmate of his, unvaccinated, had been attending school unknowingly with pertussis for the past month. When she saw Liam was out with a cough she wanted to alert me, to have me take him to the doctor to be checked out. While he has been vaccinated, there is still some risk-- and while it's easily treatable for him, it's a much greater risk for Fiona and also, go figure and OF COURSE, for women in their third trimester of pregnancy. Vulnerability floods me, fear as well.
This sent me reeling; although I was not able to find anything to conclusively truly freak me out about what might happen to the baby should I become infected (and trust me, I did not look too hard) I still had an hour or two of harboring some recurrent feelings that I have about what I see as a public vs. private debate, and others see as a government and health care conspiracy: vaccinations. Here I have vaccinated my children for the better health of society (not to mention their own), and somebody else who chooses for her own personal convictions (to which she is entitled) not to vaccinate hers has put my child (moreso my baby) at risk. It causes me to heave a sigh, to know that it's all out of my control no matter what I choose. Please do not enter into this debate with me in a comment. It is not a conversation I wish to have, having studied public health and medical sociology I have made what I truly feel is an educated choice. (and by this I don't mean to imply that others have made uneducated choices, but just that I am past the debating stage). Here I only wish to express the frustration I feel at having been put at some sort of risk, and the irony that I feel that it seems sometimes that with pregnancy and me when something can go wrong, it will. (I hadn't mentioned the exposure to Cocksackie at about 8 or 9 weeks, another one of those moments, which only just preceded the Rh sensitivity scare).
So find me the part of my day that Charlotte didn't impact, will you?
I often say that she's just everywhere in my life, everywhere, and it's really true. With every breath I draw, she's changing the taste of the air I breathe. Just as her loss has changed the children I've birthed, the career I've chosen, has changed it all.
As a last aside, I have had a kickass boys name brewing for a few years now, just waiting for a recipient. But the girl's name is evading me.
Who do you see as the baby sister of Charlotte, Liam, Aoife, and Fiona? What rings beautifully in your ear? I am so very weary of reading baby name books. I've tried asking the baby, but she doesn't answer. (Maybe she's a boy, offended at my suggestions)
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
I go to the midwife, cooperatively, once a month right now. I love these midwives, truly, and while my relationships with them feel a little strange at times because I have a semi-professional relationship with them, an almost personal friendship with them, and I'm also their patient, I wouldn't transfer my care for the world.
But still, basically, when it comes down to it, I don't like going.
I don't like going in, and having to talk about this. I just want to slip under the radar, the lady with the strangely swollen abdomen, and just be admitted every few weeks for ultrasound monitoring and non stress tests towards the end. I don't want to sit and talk.
Do you have any questions? Is there anything we can do for you?
Save the baby, I want to say. Figure this out, and save the baby.
I have done this so many times before. I don't have any questions about pregnancy and birth. I am pregnant, and I will be until I deliver. When I deliver, the labor will play out as it plays out, and I will endure what occurs and at the end, regardless of circumstance, there will be a baby. I will take what comes. But there isn't a question about this that somebody could answer until the day it's happening.
The whole idea of being at an appointment feels different. I don't bring my husband to appointments, we don't look forward to hearing the heartbeat together in anxious, joyful anticipation of our baby's birth. Likewise, we aren't gathered around, white knuckled, with the sole focus being whether or not this will work out. Instead, we stumble around, distracted and incredibly busy with the hands-on work of parenting three small children, and we have adopted the total and complete avoidance strategy. I'm 26 weeks pregnant and we have almost not talked about names AT ALL. Like perhaps the topic has come up maybe less than five times at a time when most people have pored over books and tossed around hundreds of ideas.
But do I love this little baby?
Oh, I do, I do. It's just how I'm getting through this time. And us moms like me, we just do what we do, and I've learned through time not to question how I'm enduring any particular stress. I just see what's happening, and I accept it. My strange, slightly awkward avoidance strategy this time might make me feel a little guilty for now, but I also know with complete clarity and certainty that when this baby is born he or she will instantly become an equal to the four who came before.
Perhaps that is the only sure thing right now.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
When Charlotte died, I had already given up my job. I was a teacher of K/1 students, and I had worked up until April holidays, bright faced and excited. The children and their parents had given me a party with a big cake and a book for the baby they'd made themselves. In class, at book times they would gather close, their hands on my belly to feel her kick. I was the spritely, loving kindergarten teacher and they were the only children I had, at the time, and so our love affair was real and whole. I was afraid that when I left for my maternity leave, I would miss them terribly. I actually worried about this. The woman who had been my assistant for the previous two years was to step into my shoes, for the remainder of that school year and for the next. I had stated I would only take the year off as an insurance policy to myself. Because you never know, I thought. I could always quit later.
I was eight days late, so had three weeks at home thinking about them at school, with the other teacher. The day she died, my friend Megan called my principal to tell him the news. That night, the principal of the school called every single family in the entire school that very night to tell them what had happened. He later told me he did not want rumors flying, so it felt important to him that everyone hear the correct news from the source. They held a meeting in the gym the next morning with a midwife present for parents to process what had happened, and then the teachers all had meetings with their students to answer questions. Each class made me cards, and wrote me letters. They sent flowers, and plants, and food.
About a month later, through my grief stricken haze, panic set in: I had nothing to go back to. Would I sit in the house all fall, thinking about the baby I was supposed to be parenting? The school I had come from had already proven they could take care of me in my grief, so I called the head and asked him for something, anything, to keep me busy the following year. He offered me the position of being the classroom assistant in the 1/2. Same kids as last year, 1st grade math and reading which I could do in my sleep, and before or after school commitments. I agreed in a hurry, and then had 3 more months to sit and wallow in my aloneness.
I was terrified and extremely resentful when it was time to go back. It will be good for you to have something, my mother, and sister, and friends said. I wanted to slap them. How could they know how little I desired anything to take my mind off of my daughter, my grief? But I did go back, reluctantly, creeping in the back door with a photo of Charlotte which I shared, through tears, at the opening staff meeting. It had been 16 weeks since her death.
But when the students returned, with their refreshing honesty and truthful nature, I was relieved. Here were innocent children, unafraid of death, offering themselves, their love, and their questions. One boy walked in the door, met my eye, and said, "We heard your baby came out dead." Then he wrapped his arms around me, around my flat, flabby belly, and pressed his face into me and hugged me for a long time. You can't beat truth like that.
The children gave me something to do, people to care about, and I loved it. It was incredibly freeing to have hours of the day that weren't so excruciatingly painful that I could hardly breathe. The children saw me for exactly who I was, their kind, loving teacher who was very sad because her baby died. They loved to come over and sit on my lap and open my locket to see her little photograph. "Oh, she's so cute!" they would exclaim earnestly, unlike the adults whose hands would clasp over their mouths as they turned away with tears in their eyes. The children offered the most refreshing perspective, that death just was, and that sad as I was, I could carry on while I was sad, a photo of my adorably cute daughter slung around my neck. It was grief as it should be, just naked truth. There was no urgency that I leave the sadness behind in their minds. After a month or so I was so glad to have this respite from my silent home, although I never would have admitted it to my mother.
This is not to say there were not difficult days; and there was a little room high on the third floor of the old house that made up part of the school where I would often take my lunch, alone, and cry. There were stacks of paper there and I would sometimes search for the stub of a pencil and scrawl notes of sadness, of aching pain that was hurting me so deeply. I would feel I couldn't go back down the stairs to rejoin the class after lunch, but when I did, I felt better.
All of this came as a complete surprise, and perhaps the first good surprise in a long time.
I still think fondly of those children, and know that they will always think of me in years to come, their kindergarten teacher whose baby died. They are in 9th and 10th grade now.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
It happened last night, for the first time of this go-round. It was 3:30, and I had just gotten up with Fiona for the (gulp) third time of the night. As I lay down to try to return to sleep, I waited for the thump I liked to feel before drifting back. I have to be honest, when I wake up in the night these days (and with such frequency!) I'm often so exhausted that despite my paranoid brain, I forget to obsess about the baby's well being. But last night I remembered to obsess, and obsess I did. The baby was, quite clearly in retrospect, having a nice, good sleep, just as I should have been having. But I wasn't down with this plan. I wanted that baby up and moving, and I was hell-bent on making him/her do so. I spent maybe 15 minutes doing some quiet breathing, then started poking and prodding. After half an hour I ate a bowl of cereal and downed a glass of OJ.
After 45 minutes I started to panic. I wondered what I should do. Should I call somebody? Should I go somewhere, knowing I'm probably being paranoid? What would I do with the kids? Should I wake up Greg? We haven't even picked out names yet... it feels awful to imagine having to name a dead baby after the fact. And would we still go on our planned trip to Florida in two weeks if the baby was, indeed, gone? Well, I suppose we'd have to, for the kids, and wander around, dazed, watching the waves wash up on the shore, counting grains of sand through our fog of grief.
An hour had passed, and I was beginning to lose hope. I didn't know what to do.
Then the baby woke up, and had a nice long stretch, and wiggled around for a while. I don't know how long, because I fell asleep instantly as soon as I realized I still had an active, vivacious little being in there.
But what I'm left with, reviewing the panic, is this: when I envisioned myself going in to be checked, and imagining the worst outcome, all I could feel was shame. I felt as if I couldn't show my face at the place where I've had my other four babies, where the nurses know me so well that they move flowers to my room before I arrive and leave me post-it stickies welcoming me if they're off shift. I felt I couldn't walk in there, and know exactly where they'd be and what they'd be saying, talking about me in the work room, their heads shaking, not believing it'd happened to me again.
I felt I wouldn't be able to show my face at the support group I've given my heart and soul to; me, the facilitator, the symbol of a life rebuilt, shattered again. How could I look at them in the eye and tell them it would be okay?
And as for everyone else... the school, the friends, the neighbors. I could hear them, talking, the pity flowing. I couldn't bear the thought of being the object of their pity once again, the woman who could not bear a live child most of the time, the woman who must be "just amazing" for having survived this twice. I felt I could not face them again, ever, anyone.
Mostly, second only to the actual fear, I felt like I wanted to be swallowed up into the earth, because I couldn't stand the peripheral pieces that surround grief: the fact of me becoming, once again, the victim. The fact that somebody would have to give me bad news. The fact that I'd have to bear that news to others. The fact that this, like Charlotte's death, would never go away.
And so, now, I go off to read the baby name book. Because the only problem I anticipated last night that I could actually prevent is to pick a name. So I will.
Friday, February 4, 2011
So, when I'm at the YMCA, and I see the husband of an old friend who I met when we were both pregnant with our first girl, (and hers lived, of course), and he greets me so nicely even though I don't recognize him at first, and then he says to me that he hears we're going for.... and there is a pause... and he holds up his hand with four fingers upheld, do I feel sorry for him, because I can tell he wavered, and wasn't sure whether to hold up four, or five, or do I feel sorry for myself, because I know he knows it's really five?
Honestly, truly, I'm not sure how I feel.
As a complete aside, those of you fortunate to have living children who attend school should check out www.RaceToNowhere.com. It's an amazing film I had the pleasure to view last weekend, very thought provoking....
Thursday, February 3, 2011
I love this.
At first, there was a squidgen, little nagging thought of, "Not this year! This is the year I need school to let out early, so I can have Greg home when the baby's born!"
That lasted for the first few snow days, but quickly disappeared.
The snow has come, and come, and come. Storm after storm, my children have not had a complete week of school since Christmas and we only have 2 more weeks until winter break. Our longest stretch of school so far has been 3 days.
It is amazing.
Here we are, holed up in this cozy, beautiful home, as the cold, fluffy snow piles up all around. Fiona can't see out the windows anymore because the snow is halfway up the first panes of our windows. The piles behind the driveway almost hide the cars. Anywhere is really a great place for the best snow cave you could hope to dig out. And so I'm enjoying this, loving it, and with two more storms on the horizon.
Who ever made up the hoopla about Summer Vacation, anyway? I'm loving this winter vacation... it's a beautiful thing.
(ask me about this again in late June, when the kids and my husband are making up the days)
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
So I had a scare, a while back, on Halloween.
The phone rang at 8 AM and it was my midwife calling, sounding confused.
Have you had RhoGam lately?, she asked me, and of course I said no, why should I have?
Well, she said hesitantly, I'm looking over your lab results and you're testing positive for the D antigens, so somehow between having Fiona and now you've become Rh sensitized...
She asked me, then, if I knew anything about what that meant.
Yes, of course I do, I said. It means your baby becomes anemic and can get very sick and sometimes dies.
Oh, she said, sounding crestfallen. Of course that's what you know. But that's not what usually happens.
The rest of the conversation matters little, because what she did was to try to reassure me, but that did nothing for what was going on in my head. The only Rh sensitized babies I'd known had ended up in the NICU at 28 weeks, fighting for their lives, and sometimes died. Rattling around in my head were scenarios of babyloss, paired with scenarios of a terribly sick baby in a hospital far away, and me with a 14 month old nursling abandoned at home while I wavered between my mothering responsibilities for my living children and my baby on the cusp. I wondered, given that RhoGam works 99% of the time, how it was that once again I had fallen into this statistically impossible category.
In the end, she told me that the important thing was that in the morning she would find out what my antibody levels actually were, which would give an indication of just what kind of anemia and monitoring we could anticipate. I wondered at that point if she couldn't have just waited to call a basket case like myself until she had this information. The waiting seemed cruel.
For a day I felt certain the baby would die, but it was only a day. The phone rang the next afternoon with a different, equally confused midwife on the other end of the line.
Carol? she said, Somehow when the lab called over your results yesterday they gave a D antigen level from November of 2009, right after you'd gotten your RhoGam shot for Fiona. I looked over the paperwork for last week and you're fine, absolutely fine. There's no D antigen present at all.
My sigh of relief was so huge and all-encompassing that I didn't even think to ask HOW the lab had managed to make such an error, or even to feel irritated that for 28 hours I had been sick to my stomach with worry. I was so thrilled to be fine, just fine, that I simply thanked her and hung up.
And in the meantime, do you know what I discovered? That some people refuse to take RhoGam, because they think that if you follow "good birth practices", it's unnecessary. That the blood won't mix, and you won't get sensitized.
But what if you do, and the baby dies?
Like in the old days, when babies DID used to die from this?
But I suppose that's not a question to ask to somebody who's so privileged and sheltered that they can believe that by going totally all-natural and holistic, they have complete control over their baby's fate.
Damn it, I wish I could be like that.