In late January a few things happened in quick succession: I read this interview with the wife of singer Brandon Flowers; a friend told me she’d been taking anti-depressants to help with postpartum depression and that her life was vastly improved because of it; I got incredibly stressed, as usual, when Jarom and I went out of town overnight. And because of those things, I suddenly realized that my we-need-to-leave-the-house-and-everything-is-awful outbursts weren’t normal. Trying to convince Evan to put shoes on, getting our stuff together, even just the idea that we had to be somewhere at a certain time – it made me unbelievably stressed and frazzled. My reaction to the stress and frazzlement was anger. Lots of anger. Lots of shouting. I admit, also some childish tantrums on my part that involved throwing shoes or diapers or whatever happened to be handy. Anyway, it occurred to me that such behavior wasn’t quite normal. I self-diagnosed it as anxiety, bravely made an appointment with a doctor, described my symptoms, and got medication.
I also worked really, really hard on recognizing situations where I was likely to get anxious, and on exercising patience in those situations. And things got better. My follow-up appointment was the week after we found out Christian wouldn’t live, so in discussing it with the doctor, we decided to increase the dosage of my medication to help with whatever extra mental and emotional issues might arise. (I had conveniently been put on Zoloft, which treats both anxiety and depression.)
Earlier this week, I noticed I needed a refill and did nothing about it. I can’t explain why. All it would take is a quick trip to the pharmacy or, if I really wanted to avoid human interaction, an automated phone call and sending Jarom to the pharmacy. But I didn’t do either of those. It wasn’t exactly a conscious choice; when I woke up one morning and was out of pills, I went about my day and actually had a fantastic day. The next day was amazing, too. I was feeling great about life.
And then I used some iffy logic to conclude that my two really good days were good because I hadn’t taken anti-depressants. On some level I congratulated myself for having “cured” my anxiety and for being able to enjoy life, despite losing a baby, without the help of medication. By the third night I was feeling a familiar tension building up when it was time to put the kids in bed, but I reasoned that bedtime is a stressful time anyway and I was still okay without the Zoloft.
I mentioned to Jarom that I had run out, and he gave me countless opportunities to go get a refill. He offered to pick it up himself. He asked me why I kept saying no. But I never had an answer, at least not that I wanted to articulate. You see, deep down, I felt like needing medication meant I was crazy, and if I could get through things without medication, then I wouldn’t be crazy anymore. I don’t want to be crazy. Who does?
After dinner tonight I was showing strong signs of anxiety and stress and not-doing-okay-ness. I laid in bed with the blanket over my head and wished I could stop existing. I thought about sharp objects and car crashes and pill overdoses. I realized what I was thinking – and that I couldn’t leave Jarom with the expense of another funeral. Not that I couldn’t leave Jarom and Evan and June without me, without a wife and mother, but that making Jarom pay for another funeral was unfair.
Then I really realized what I was thinking. I went and took a scalding hot shower and cried and sobbed and prayed and pleaded. Why did my baby have to die? Why me? Why did this have to happen? Why do I have to be crazy without medication? Why do other people get to have normal brains and healthy babies? Why did my baby die? Why why why why why?
When the water stopped hurting I got out, dried off, got dressed and went to the pharmacy without saying anything to Jarom. I got a refill on my anti-depressants because I think I need it. I know I need it. I need help.
Things that are still hard:
Seeing pictures of others’ newborns.
Finding out that friends are expecting.
Passing by baby clothes at the store.
Explaining to Evan, again, that Christian isn’t coming to our house. Ever.
Briefly thinking I’ll get a diet coke to make Tiny Baby wiggle and then remembering . . . that doesn’t happen anymore. I’m not pregnant. My baby died.
Suddenly feeling sad and knowing I may have moments like this for quite a while.
Moving on with life.
For about two weeks, I was in a severe funk. I’d like to think I could call it something more serious than a funk, given recent events, but I don’t know that it went so far as depression. I barely ate; I seldom left the house or talked to anyone; I avoided the internet; I wanted nothing more than to pause existence so I could just sleep. The worst part was that when I was sad, it didn’t seem like it was specifically because of Christian – I was just sad, and I felt like I ought to be able to point to a certain memory or feeling of loss or regret about the future. Something. Instead, it was just a pervasive I-feel-lousy and I-wish-I-could-stop-existing.
Jarom had promised several people that he’d look after me and make sure I ate, even when I didn’t want to. He brought me donuts (probably the only thing that prevented me from starving) and tried to find that elusive line between obnoxiously nagging and lovingly helping. But I had no interest in food. I couldn’t think of anything that sounded good, and on top of that, I think I wanted to be hungry and miserable and wallowing in sadness. Is that allowed?
While I was avoiding the internet, I spent a lot of time outside doing yardwork. I discovered that I love pulling weeds. I also discovered that if you spend hours outside doing physical labor, and you haven’t eaten all day, you don’t feel so great – physically. But emotionally, being outdoors was wonderful. Our big chestnut tree blossomed recently and the flowers are beautiful and fragrant. It was a small but helpful reminder that there were still things to enjoy.
About one week into my funk, I was asked to make some baby shower invitations for a friend. Because of the tight schedule I didn’t have time to do more than one draft, so there’s a lot I would change if I had a chance to work on the design a little more – but the wonderful thing was that I got my paints out and experimented. I sketched. I made something. And then I left the house to go pick up the prints. A few nights later, as I was falling asleep, I realized that I was thinking about my favorite foods, about chopping the ingredients and cooking, about projects I wanted to do, about what I’d change on the invitations I had just finished. It made me feel . . . happy.
Since then I’ve been doing fairly well. I mowed the lawn yesterday. I designed baby announcements for a friend (and they are amazing – I’ll show you soon!). I held an 8-month-old baby on Sunday and actually enjoyed it. I reread one of my favorite books. I fully expect that I’ll have moments of sadness, because I did just lose one of my children – but those moments are becoming less frequent, and I’m having more times where I smile, laugh, and do things I love.
That being said, I still really appreciate when people let me know they’re thinking of me. Although my world hasn’t ended, it has changed drastically, and it’s nice when others are aware of me. Keep sending love, folks.
Too bad June is definitely no longer potty trained, Evan is back to his belligerent attitude with the added bonus of violence (tonight he gave June a nosebleed by swinging a book at her face), and we have too much stuff, making our house a mess in every sense. I’m a mess, too. It’s extra hard to deal with little kids when I just want to continue a cycle of cry-sleep-cry. Send help before we finish our descent into total chaos!
I know there are a lot of new people reading the blog, so I thought I’d give you a chance to ask any questions you have about Christian or the delivery or how we made arrangements – anything you might be wondering about, including how I’m coping (or not coping). Even if you’re a total stranger, go ahead. Any question is fair game as long as it’s respectful (so nothing like “How dare you [fill in the blank]?”), and I’ll reply to your questions in the comments. I may also do a separate post with the questions and answers, if I feel like it.
I’m happy to say that the past few days have been incomparably better than Friday was. I expected Mother’s Day to be hard, and it was sad to have that particular reminder of my lost child, but we took flowers to Christian’s grave and I didn’t struggle with emotion while we were there. I was glad to be able to visit (it was my first time back since the burial), and I felt comforted knowing we can go back often. I also started keeping a journal of letters to Christian, which I think will be helpful for me to express my thoughts and feelings a little more intimately than I do here.
We were also able to pick up the pictures from Christian’s birth. Just days ago I think they would have been too hard for me to look at, but because of how much better I’ve felt, I really enjoyed getting them. These were taken by Heather Ellis, who worked with us as part of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
I don’t think I knew what grief was until today. I’m not sure what changed; maybe it was reading last night about a mom who just lost her baby, maybe it’s the shock of the past few weeks wearing off, maybe it’s hormone readjustment. Whatever it was, today has been painful. Compared to what I’ve experienced in the past two months, this hurt more than anything else. I had no clue this was coming or was even possible – how could I possibly feel worse than I did when I found out my baby would die, or than when he actually did?
One thing I’ve been grateful for is that I haven’t felt much anger. I know it’s a common part of grieving but it’s been nice feeling like everything went well as it could have, I wasn’t angry at God for the way things turned out, I didn’t have many regrets. Today I woke up feeling resentful, toward almost everyone and everything.
My sister-in-law and brother-in-law sent us a package with a book on grief that I picked up tonight, after hours of crying in agony. I was relieved to read from other parents who’d lost their baby that it’s normal to feel crazy, normal to be angry, normal to feel completely bewildered about how I feel, and that things will eventually get better. Someone described it as the emotional pain coming in slivers instead of in overwhelming waves. The book also talked about allowing yourself to grieve, and while I have tried to be honest in my recent posts, I’ve definitely toned my emotions down so as to not be too depressing or hopeless or heartbreaking.
I realized that I want to talk about this, I just don’t know how. If I’m crying I want to be alone, and if I’m with people, I can talk unemotionally – there’s no overlap where I cry in front of people and actually communicate how hard of a time I’m having. Writing, though, I can handle that.
So I made this list while I cried tonight of things I don’t want to say or feel. I’d like to think that “My baby just died” gives me license to be brutally honest, but let me also point out that because I’m grieving, and going through normal postpartum emotional wackiness, my feelings are not all rational. I acknowledge that. There’s my disclaimer that you should not be offended by anything on this list. Look for a post early next week that is much less self-centered and much more grateful. Disclaimer enough?
I don’t want to say these things or feel this way:
I wish I had been the one holding Christian when he died, not my father-in-law.
I wish everyone [my parents and in-laws] did not have their cameras out at the hospital. It seems selfish of them. I got a real photographer so I could have nice pictures, not so everyone could take blurry iPhone pictures.
I wish I’d had time alone with me and Jarom and Christian before Christian died. I couldn’t talk to Christian, I never said anything to him. At all. I never kissed him and I regret it. I didn’t tell him anything.
I wish I had gotten more sleep or been able to eat. I had nothing left to give by the time Christian was born and I feel like I let him down by not being more present.
I wish other people didn’t say that this was their loss too. It’s mine. I was pregnant, I felt Christian move, I had to deliver him, I had to deal with the physical pain of recovery, I made almost all the arrangements.
I wish I didn’t feel so resentful.
I wish my sister-in-law had been able to come to the burial.
I wish I’d hugged Christian tightly. I was afraid of holding him close and then having to let go.
I wish I was brave enough to actually ask for help. I’m so broken, I can’t function, but I have it in my head that everyone else has gone back to normal life and I don’t want to remind them that my baby died. I’m realizing I need to talk but I don’t want to make other people sad. When I cry I am screaming inside, I can’t do this – I need help – I need help – help help help please. But how can anyone help?
I wish I didn’t know so many people who are expecting healthy babies.
I feel guilty for something wishing I’d never decided to have a third baby. Then I wouldn’t have had to bury a son.
I don’t want to die, I just want to have Christian. I don’t want to die because it means leaving Jarom and Evan and June. But then I’d be with Christian.
I wish I’d made sure the photographer got a picture of just me holding Christian. I wish I’d had her take one from my perspective looking down at him in my arms. I’m afraid I’ll only remember that day from someone else’s point of view.
I wish Evan and June understood that I can’t handle them right now. I wish I could handle them. I feel inferior for not being able to keep up.
I wish I’d brought flowers to the burial.
I wish I were still pregnant and trying to talk Jarom into whatever boy’s name I liked at the moment. I wish I were designing birth announcements and debating whether or not to get an epidural and complaining about swollen calves and wondering why on earth I ever wanted to be pregnant.
I wish I knew how to say all this out loud.
I wish Christian hadn’t died.