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?