It’s really been almost three and a half years by this point, but I never got around to writing when it was Christian’s birthday this April. I suppose that says something.
Between year 2 and year 3, I had Ramona. There was so much anxiety while I was pregnant with her! It was emotional and often overwhelming and really, really difficult to believe that things would turn out okay. Delivery was very traumatic for me, and then I got to worry about SIDS for a few months. But at the same time I healed. Ramona wrapped my heart in sunshine. And eventually I felt that just as we didn’t deserve to have Christian die, we didn’t deserve (still don’t!) a baby so pleasant and happy and cheerful as Ramona. She is incredible, and she’s helped me feel joy. Lots of joy.
Let’s see what I can remember about Doubleplusgood Day. In the weeks leading up to it, I wasn’t thinking much about Christian being gone – I was basking in Ramona’s golden glow. I had vague plans for a good deed to do to celebrate Christian’s birthday, and of course we had cookies at our house for anyone who wanted to stop by. The actual day of his birthday was pretty lousy, though, despite how much it seemed like it wouldn’t be hard for me. It was a Sunday, and we were (of course) running late for church. I was in a bad mood because I hate being late and because when it comes down to it, I’d rather be partying with Christian instead of talking about honoring him and remembering him. So that still sucks. When we got to church, there were no seats left! We’ve been late before, but there’s always somewhere to sit. It kind of pushed me over the edge. Fortunately, some people had remembered that it was Christian’s birthday, and despite my bad mood it was so, so nice to have people say something.
I had hoped that we’d have lots of friends drop by to tell us about their good deed. For me, that represents love for my family. I was surprised and a little hurt that only one family came by, but it made their visit extra meaningful. Before they came I took a grief nap (just made that up, it’s not a thing) and Jarom took Evan and June to the cemetery. By bedtime, I had gotten texts from a handful of people about their good deed. I had built it up in my head that I’d be hearing throughout the day how people helped celebrate Christian, and it was hard to spend the day feeling a little forgotten.
To be fair, Doubleplusgood Day was an anomaly. Most of year 3 was spent in anticipation of, and then delighting in, Ramona. I still have some feelings of guilt about how happy she makes me – like it’s somehow disloyal to Christian. (I know that isn’t rational.) I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in heavy grief, and I’m sure no one else wants me to, but it feels like my joy means I don’t miss Christian anymore. (I know, not rational and not true.) The guilt is lessening, though, and maybe by year 4 I will have found a balance between the lifelong sadness of Christian’s death and the joy of actually living my life and loving my family that’s here with me.
I’ve put off writing this for the past week and a half, because I’m not sure how things are going. Life is confusing and wonderful and terrifying and hilarious and sad. So, pretty normal.
Christian’s second birthday was, I’m happy to say, not looming ahead like his first birthday seemed to. It’s mainly due to the fact that a week before his birthday this year, we got to have an ultrasound of our [so far] healthy baby girl, and the good news – the excitement of looking at baby clothes, the optimism, the hope for the future – really mellowed out the sense of loss over Christian. It was really, really nice to feel like good things will still happen in my life, maybe happen soon.
Unfortunately, some of my excitement was – whether consciously or not – an attempt to ignore my ongoing grief. I’ll never stop being sad that Christian died. I will enjoy my life, but I don’t think there’s going to come a day (though maybe I’m wrong) when I think, I’m so glad this is my lot in life. Grief manifests itself far less frequently now, but it has still taken up permanent residence in my heart. Sometimes it sneaks up on me, like when I’ve spent a week or two being happy about a baby girl and then suddenly the next day is what should be my two-year-old’s birthday party.
We asked friends and family to do a good deed in Christian’s honor again for Doubleplusgood Day. My brilliant idea was to take cookies (the delicious orange chocolate chip kind!) to the labor & delivery nurses at the hospital where Christian was born. To be honest, I do NOT remember the nurses fondly, but I’m willing to concede that I was not my best self that day. So I made cookies, put them in a pretty box, wrote a nice note, and headed down to Payson with Evan in tow.
Yeah, it didn’t occur to me until I stepped off the elevator onto the labor & delivery floor that this was all a terrible idea. Have you ever experienced intense anxiety? For me it always feels like prickles – actual physical ones – all over my skin, and I want to run and hide or stop existing or curl up into a ball. I don’t know what I was thinking! Somehow I forced myself to walk over to the nurses’ station, and although I’m rarely emotional in front of people, I did get really teary. All the moms on the floor were going to have live, healthy babies that day, babies they got to take home and watch grow. And being back in that part of the hospital did not bring back very pleasant memories. Dead babies aside, the day Christian was born was really an awful day – no sleep, no food, maybe needing an emergency C-section, headaches, barfing, machines beeping constantly… the overwhelming emotion of knowing my baby was about to die, on top of all those things, made for a lousy day.
So I didn’t stay long at the hospital. One of the nurses came and gave me a hug, they congratulated me on my upcoming baby, they were all sympathetic and nice. But I wanted to cry because despite their compassion, they had no idea what it’s like. (I don’t want them to! I wish no one did, including me.) It reminded me of one of my favorite, heartbreaking moments from Christian’s birthday: when we were just about ready to go home, the bereavement volunteer (the one who put together our amazing, priceless box of keepsakes) was finishing up. She’d been there for hours and hours. She tucked the last few items into the box and turned to me. I was sitting in the rocking chair, holding Christian, who had died probably about 3 hours before. She said, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I shook my head. I don’t remember if I looked at her, but I definitely heard the emotion in her voice as she said, “You just want him back?” I definitely started crying again then. She understood. She knew the agony I was going through, and would go through. And she wished desperately she could help.
(I should toss in a disclaimer here that it’s currently 3:30am, I’m still up because I have to finish a project for Jarom, and I am not only sleep-deprived but caffeinated and hormonal. It’s ok if you are sad because I’m sobbing – quietly – thinking about that moment.)
Anyway, I had a friend put together a floral arrangement for us to take to Christian’s grave, but when Evan and I left Payson it was about to rain. Then I had to go pick up June (who had been crazy wild fussy and was really making it hard to grieve), and by the time we all made it home, I was emotionally spent. When Jarom got home from work he sent me to bed. I cried big tears and let that anguish engulf me until I fell asleep.
That being said, Year 2 is so much better than Year 1. I didn’t feel (quite as much) like I needed to force Doubleplusgood Day on people. Christian is my son; it’s ok if other people are too busy or uninterested or whatever to remember his birthday. The world will go on. I was touched by the acts of service done in his memory, where last year I just really hated having to “celebrate” that way.
Next year, I hope, will be even better.
I’ve mentally composed this post several times as I try falling asleep the past few weeks, but now I can’t remember what I was going to say. Trust me, it was eloquent, witty, and just the right amount of heartbreaking. You would have loved it.
Instead…I’ll be making this up as I go along, and it won’t be nearly as eloquent, funny, or appropriately heartbreaking.
I would absolutely say that sitting here at Year 1.5 feels wonderfully, unbelievably different – and better – than being at 6 months or a year after Christian’s birth/death. In a lot of ways, I’ve come a long way in healing. Of course, in a lot of ways, I also feel irreparably broken.
Things that have gotten easier:
- holding (some, not all) babies. I even held a one-day-old baby this summer!
- getting through my days, weeks, and months without wanting to stop existing. I was really depressed for the first few months, and I’m so glad to not feel that way anymore.
- making birth announcements for friends.
- talking about Christian to strangers. The first time I told someone that my baby had died, I barely made it through a sentence without wanting to run away and cry.
- thinking about having another baby. There will be at least 2 years between Christian and whoever comes next, and I do appreciate that he’ll have his own space.
Things that are still hard:
- going to church. There are SO MANY babies and pregnant women.
- hearing pregnant women complain. I know pregnancy can be miserable – but from my perspective, I would give anything to have a healthy baby safe inside, even if it meant being on bed rest or giving up sweets (seriously) or whatever.
- seeing baby clothes at the store. This had gotten way easier until my recent “Wait, what? I’m pregnant? Wait, what? I’m not anymore?” Now it feels like I was so close…
- rare moments when I think about how old Christian would be and what he’d be doing. One of my friends was due at the same time as me, and sometimes I realize that Christian would be toddling around with her little girl, he would have had his first birthday, I’d be chasing after him and getting frustrated about teething and naps and dirty diapers.
- family milestones, like Evan starting school or a nephew getting baptized. These are things I will never see Christian do. I don’t know if this sense of loss will stick around for the rest of my life, but it’s certainly here now.
- baby showers. I tried one a few weeks ago, and made it all the way until gifts were opened. I took off because…baby clothes. They’re so tiny, but they’re still so much bigger than Christian was.
But, even with the list of things that are still hard, overall my life is so much better than it was last year. Or six months ago. I don’t spend every day feeling awful. When I drive Jarom to work, I drive past the hospital where I got the news that Tiny Baby would die. When I drive Evan to school, I drive past the mortuary. So there are lots of daily reminders, but they don’t make me feel heartbroken (usually).
I know this sounds weird, but I love – love – love meeting other parents who’ve had a baby die. They feel like instant kindred spirits. Maybe it’s just nice to talk to someone about Christian, and about their baby, without the awkward “I’m so sorry for bringing that up, I don’t know what to say, let’s talk about something else” moment. I like talking about Christian. Actually, I love talking about Christian. I can’t see him or hold him or watch him grow; I can only talk about him. So I do, maybe too much. But I really appreciate being able to talk about him with someone who understands, from experience, how wonderful it feels to talk about him.
Was that eloquent? Heartbreaking? I didn’t get much wittiness in there, sorry. Maybe at Year 2!
In my mind, my pregnancy with Christian (and, really, my life as a whole) is cleanly divided into two parts – “Before the Ultrasound” and “After the Ultrasound.”
Everything before was normal. Hopeful. Innocent. And, from my perspective now, naïve. Even the morning of the ultrasound, I remember getting ready for the day, trying to deal with an Evan breakdown, going about life without any idea I was about to get such horrible news. My concern was really just whether we’d have a boy or a girl – Jarom and I couldn’t agree on a boy’s name. The ultrasound was a way of settling that question, not raising more heartbreaking ones.
About two weeks Before the Ultrasound, I was at a bridal shower. I had just transitioned to maternity shirts, but only because I had one I really loved. I was barely showing a tiny, tiny bit. Someone commented on it at the bridal shower – “You don’t look pregnant at all!” I cheerfully agreed. I hadn’t been sick at all, I had very few pregnancy-related complaints, it was nice to be pregnant without feeling like it.
For the past year and a half (it’s really been that long since Christian was born!), I’ve felt a mixture of disgust and pity when I think about the seemingly foolish optimism I had Before the Ultrasound. At the time, there wasn’t any reason not to be optimistic – yes, I knew women who’d had miscarriages, and a few women who had “lost the baby” during pregnancy, but those are friend-of-a-friend and I-read-this-really-sad-blog stories. Not things I thought of as real possibilities. Not things that could or would happen in my own life. But with the disturbing perspective of grief, every part of my life Before the Ultrasound took on a “Why were you so cheerful?” cast. In really dark moments After the Ultrasound, I hated my Before the Ultrasound self. She had no right to be happy.
A little over two weeks ago, I started having a weird pain in my side. Very early in the morning the next day (a Tuesday) I took a pregnancy test to ease my mind about the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy causing the pain. I knew the test would be negative, but it wasn’t – which fed my fear about an ectopic pregnancy. I went into the OB office that afternoon; no indication of implantation outside of the uterus. So I began to very cautiously hope that things would be ok. The nurse sent me in for a blood test to check my hcg level. For the next few hours, I thought I’d be able to enjoy pregnancy until I got closer to the 20-week ultrasound (at which point I would become overwhelmed with the fear of another fatal birth defect).
But when the nurse called with my hcg results, she said they were so low that I was either barely pregnant or I was going to miscarry. Come back in on Friday, she said, and we’ll be able to see if the levels have gone up significantly (yay, pregnancy!) or down (boo, miscarriage).
Wednesday I tried to distract myself. I watched for signs of an impending miscarriage. I tried distracting myself some more. And I assumed the worst. But Thursday, when nothing bad had happened yet, I very consciously allowed myself to feel excited. I figured out my due date. I thought about baby clothes. I let my heart be light.
Unfortunately, Friday came with bad news. My hcg level had gone up only a few points, when it should have more than doubled. I was told over the phone that “This is not what we’d see with a healthy, growing baby.”
And, of course, the world crashed down around me. Not to the extent it did with Christian’s diagnosis and death, but with an added note of “You should have known better than to hope. You DID know better.”
But since then…I’ve actually started to regret not having been more optimistic. Tuesday to Friday was not a long time, and I only let myself be happy for one day. I was suddenly jealous of Before the Ultrasound Mika, who had 20 weeks of optimism and innocence. Yes, I knew that there were (and still are, with any future pregnancies I may have) lot of things that can go wrong. Miscarriages happen. Fatal birth defects happen. Inexplicable stillbirths happen. Tragedies during childbirth happen. But optimism feels so much better than pessimism (or, perhaps, even realism). Letting my heart be light felt so good. So refreshing. I’ve been weighed down by fear for so long that hope was a blessing.
Instead of being disgusted with my Before the Ultrasound innocence, I’m uplifted. Instead of hating my brief Thursday excitement, I’m motivated to be optimistic about the future. I’d much rather do that and crash later than spend months or years in despair.
What are you optimistic about?
Do you remember the part in Finding Nemo where Marlin is trying to leave Dory behind? He attempts to explain tactfully why he doesn’t want her to come with him anymore. “I can’t afford any more delays and you’re one of those fish that causes delays. Sometimes it’s a good thing. There’s a whole group of fish. They’re . . . delay fish.” And after Dory worries that he doesn’t like her, he says, “It’s because I like you I don’t want to be with you. It’s a . . . complicated emotion.”
I have complicated emotions lately.
Everyone is pregnant. Close friends and family, acquaintances, people I vaguely recognize from our neighborhood. And those who aren’t pregnant have just had babies. In the past few weeks I’ve had at least 4 people tell me they’re expecting.
And they’re so excited.
I want to be excited for them.
But a little bit, I’m just heartbroken?
This was all compounded by seeing my not-quite-5-month-old nephew this past weekend. I avoided him at first; then in a moment of “That baby realllllllllly needs help going to sleep” I offered to rock him to sleep to give my father-in-law a break. And holding this little baby, having him snuggle against me clutching his blanket . . . it was awful and wonderful. Extremely awful and extremely wonderful. I will never rock Christian to sleep. I’ll never be frustrated that he’s still awake despite my best efforts to put him down for a nap. I don’t get to see him happily clutch a favorite blanket.
I can’t even hold him. He’s gone.
It seems like it would be nice to have a new baby. One that I could grumble about and cuddle with and be miserably tired with. And I think if I had a baby, not to replace Christian but to help me heal, I might not have such complicated emotions about other people’s babies. Since that isn’t an option, I’m left with conflicting feelings of heartache, jealousy, excitement, guilt, and aloneness.
So if you’ve recently told me you’re expecting, or if you’ve recently had a baby, and I haven’t seemed particularly thrilled – I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be bothered (at least, not so much) by a stranger having a baby – it really is because I like you that I don’t want to be around you sometimes. It’s a complicated emotion.
I am so touched by the many acts of service, big and small, that you did in honor of Christian’s birthday. Here are the good deeds I heard about (if I missed yours, please leave a comment or email me so I can add it to the list):
- Took a loaf of homemade banana bread to a friend in need. -HS
- Put together a bouquet for a sick neighbor. -TH
- Planted flowers for a neighbor. -KH & family
- Cleaned the house in preparation for wife’s social event. -GH
- Took an extra shift so a coworker could go on vacation. -JL
- Made small, cheery flannel blankets to keep other Tiny Babies warm. -CH
- Patiently extricated son from a creek. -JO
- Helped pick up brother’s toys without being asked. -CC (age 5)
- Wore a smile for as much of the day as possible. -CB
- Took extra time to help a coworker deal with a frustrating situation. -JR
- Gave a meal to a homeless man. -DS
- Made a set of 3 bracelets: one for a tiny baby to be buried with, one for the keepsake box, and one for Mom to wear. -KB
- Delivered supplies to local shelter. -RW
- Babysat a neighbor’s kids so neighbor could go see her sister’s family be sealed.
- Visited a friend in need. -KA
- Volunteered at school for a few hours. -JC
- Baked cookies for a new neighbor. -LZ
Yesterday was a strange mixture of sadness and gratitude – sort of like last year. I went to bed overwhelmed, exhausted, and ready for a new day – sort of like last year. But I will say that today has been so much better than a year ago. I have hope for the future. I know I can have a happy life despite my loss, and, most importantly, Christian isn’t gone forever.
Thank you for making our first Doubleplusgood Day so full of love and service!
In preparing for Christian’s birthday, I’ve tried hard to make it a positive experience. I want his birthday to be something that makes the world a better place, even if only briefly – because a year ago today, my world was destroyed. Something good should come out of that.
Last night I went to bed around 6pm. Yes, I was tired, but also I wanted to avoid thinking about today. In a lot of ways I still want to avoid it. While I planned Doubleplusgood Day I was excited – it’s a great way to commemorate Christian and to help me focus outward instead of just pitying myself. But today . . . today I want to curl up in a hole and be left alone. I want to shout that there’s nothing to celebrate because my son died, he’s gone, I haven’t gotten to see him learn to crawl or to wash him down after feeding him pureed carrots or to even hold him more than that one time. These are things I hoped Doubleplusgood Day would overcome, and I would feel so compassionate and charitable toward others that today didn’t hurt.
Taking a step back from my immediate emotions, though, I can see how much my grief has changed over the past year. I feel so much more normal than I could have dared hope! To a large extent, Christian’s death is a part of my life I’ve become accustomed to, and I go about my days in the regular sort of happy-frustrated-lonely-overwhelmed mix of a stay-at-home mom. I no longer experience the agonizing despair of postpartum + grief, my moments of sadness are fewer and further between, and those moments don’t last long. So I cross my fingers that although today might be filled with sad moments or loss and painful memories of last year, there will also be some service, some kind words from friends and family, some happiness. And cookies.