Grief

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, had to deliver him, 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.

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Swaddle

We took a childbirth class before we had Evan, and I’m positive they showed us how to swaddle a baby tightly in a blanket. But guess what? I am the worst at swaddling. Ever.

Really, Jarom has always been the one to swaddle our babies. By the time we got around to June, I had to buy one of those velcro swaddle-sack things, because I just couldn’t figure out how to [properly] swaddle her.

So in the hospital with Christian, they gave him to me with this nice ready-to-swaddle blanket . . . and Jarom and I laughed through our tears as I handed swaddling duty over yet again.

Some things never change.

Christian was born at 25 weeks and weighed 1 lb 13.5 oz. He was 12.5 inches long. Tiny!

Christian was born at 25 weeks and weighed 1 lb 13.5 oz. He was 12.5 inches long. Tiny!


Down

This sucks. The end.


Unhelpful

I know you mean well. And I don’t want to demean your intentions or offend you – but, at the same time, I don’t want to spend effort making sure you don’t feel bad. So please politely note these things that aren’t helpful for me to hear.

At least you have two healthy kids. It’s precisely because I already have two kids I adore that I wanted to have another one. I know what I’m missing out on by not getting to see Christian grow up. Plus, although Evan understands that I’m sad, it doesn’t stop him (or June) from needing me to be involved in everyday life. Most days I feel like shouting, “If you ask me to get out of bed to make you ANOTHER peanut butter sandwich I am going to SCREAM!” (And peanut butter sandwiches are pretty easy, guys.) Having two kids means I have to put my grief on hold a lot of the time.

Isn’t it a miracle that any babies are born healthy? Imagine that someone lost their husband in a car accident. Would you tell them, “When you think about how dangerous cars are, it’s amazing that most people aren’t killed in car accidents!” Of course not, because hopefully you’d recognize how NOT COMFORTING that statement is. It feels like rubbing it in my face to tell me I should just be grateful for the miracle of life. It didn’t work out this time – and that sucks.

Do you think you’ll have another? When? Again with the husband-died-in-a-car-accident comparison – can you imagine asking that person if they’d considered getting remarried? And how soon? I think the mentality is that one baby could replace another. Not even a little bit.

He was just too perfect to stay here. I don’t care. I want him back.

God must have needed him more. I don’t care. I want him back.

Now you have an angel watching over you. I don’t care. I want him back.

You’ll get over it eventually. Not a chance. I doubt I’ll always experience the loss the same way, but it will always be a part of my life.

I suppose now I should tell you some helpful things to say . . . how about:

I’m so sorry. Me too.

I wish I could make it better. Me too.

I’m so glad you got to hold him. Me too.

I’m trying to get used to the emotional ups and downs. Tuesday was horrible and I cried almost all day; Wednesday was great; today has been both good and bad. I’m tired and grouchy and lonely and so sad. I don’t want to deal with Evan and June – which makes me feel guilty for being a bad mom, which makes me (irrationally) think maybe that’s why I lost my baby. Then I’m so drained that I can’t deal with Evan and June, leading to more guilt and sadness until I shut down.

This is exhausting. And so much harder than I could have ever prepared for.

P.S. I should point out, before you go overboard and start buying anything you find with a dragonfly on it, that I started yesterday’s post by saying I’m picky.


Dragonflies

Those of you who know me well know that I’m a little . . . picky about design. It took me months to pick out a new door, and I did our own graduation announcements because the traditional options were too traditional. Our piano, tv console, and couches all have matching mid-century modern lines (and I’m looking at add a coffee table in the living room). I don’t care for things that are cutesy, frilly, pastel, or the like.

But I have a thing for dragonflies now.

When we were in the hospital, the bereavement counselor (Amy) brought several different outfits for us to choose from to dress Christian in. She also had little hats. The hat I picked just had a small ribbon across the bottom that said “It’s a boy!” – the others all had little animals or sports-related images. The “It’s a boy!” hat turned out to be too small, so Amy put a different hat on him. It had a dragonfly button on it. I didn’t notice at first, but she also put a tiny bracelet on his wrist – and it also had a dragonfly.

For some reason, the fact that we didn’t actively choose the matching dragonflies made it meaningful, maybe because it seems like it just fell into place. We kept the bracelet and the hat along with the other mementos in our box, and I had the thought a few days after Christian’s day that we could incorporate a dragonfly into his headstone. The design we had already chosen (which, again, was much more cutesy than I would usually care for) had two butterflies on it, so we had the monument company swap them out for dragonflies.

We also have some silver dragonflies for our wall that we bought several years ago, when I was expecting June[bug]. We’ll put them up in the living room as a nice reminder. I’m trying not to go overboard now – a dragonfly brooch for me? Cuff links for Jarom? A necklace for June? A tie for Evan? Just small things that we could wear to remember.

I thought about finding a rug to go under our someday-coffee table, but there are definitely NOT dragonfly rugs I like – with this exception (in many colors!). Of course, the website doesn’t list a price, which I’m pretty sure means I can’t afford it.

P1010011


Beautiful and Perfect

Mika has already given a thorough explanation of the events surrounding Christian’s short life.  All the same, no two people experience the same event the same way, so I thought I would do my best to tell my experiences.

Wednesday started early for us.  Mika and I were up by 4 AM in order to get to the hospital by 5 AM.  Both of us dragged our feet.  I spent a little extra time shaving; Mika seemed to spend a little extra time packing a bag for the hospital.  It is hard to be motivated to go to an appointment for your baby to die.

On the way to the hospital, Mika kept saying, “I don’t want to go.”  I kept thinking of ways that I could make that happen.  We could run away.  Maybe we could freeze time; that way he could stay alive and safe.  Maybe we could just not show up to the hospital.  Deep down inside, however, I knew that Wednesday, April 24, 2013 would be the day that Christian would be born, and the day that he would die.

We arrived at the hospital only a little late, and slowly made our way through the hospital. It seemed that we had to stop every few steps as Mika cried.  I felt I had to be firm and immovable, that I couldn’t cry.  That façade was stripped away when we were brought into the labor and delivery room.  The nurse got through her own explanation of what would happen that day while she choked back tears, and then Mika and I sat and sobbed for minutes.

Nothing much happened until Mika’s doctor showed up to insert a catheter and inflate a balloon to help dilate the cervix.  I held Mika’s hand, and I could tell that the process of painful for her.  Mostly I was fine, and we even shared a laugh as we waited for the pharmacy to send up the right supplies.

That all changed when the bleeding started.  I would like to think I am not a squeamish person.  I was present through the births of our first two children without feeling queasy or lightheaded.  This time, I could tell something was wrong.  The doctor was a little more direct with the nurses, and the nurses moved with more urgency .  For a while, it looked like we would need an emergency c-section to save Mika.  At that moment, with the blood, the panic, and the sudden realization that I might lose Tiny Baby and Mika all in the same day, I wondered if it were possible to throw up, pass out, and run away at the same time.

After a few tense minutes, Mika stabilized, and for the next several hours, things progressed as well as we could hope.  We were able to continually hear Christian’s heartbeat in the monitor, and it became a comforting background sound.  Mika received an epidural and seemed to be in relative comfort.  We met with the hospital grievance counselor (who was very impressed with all the planning Mika had done in advance), and  we talked with family and waited.

The next panic came shortly after 7 P.M.; a nurse came in to readjust the monitor because she was no longer getting a consistent heartbeat from Tiny Baby.  They had come in several other times throughout the day to do the same thing, so I was not initially worried.  However, the first nurse could not find the heartbeat.  She called in another nurse.  Both nurses worked in conjunction trying to locate a heartbeat, but could not find one.  After ten minutes, the two nurses began to shoot each other worried looks.  After fifteen, one nurse looked at the other and gave a terse shake of her head and then avoided eye contact with Mika and I.

Again, I broke down.  I had grown so accustomed to the sound of Christian’s heartbeat that I had just assumed that he would be born alive.  Though we had been warned of the likelihood that he would not survive birth, I had not mentally prepared myself for the possibility that I would not only be robbed of the chance of raise my son, but that I would not even get a chance to see him alive.

It was at 7:45 P.M. that Mika announced, “Um, something is happening!!” and I saw Christian.  The reason they could not find the heartbeat was that Christian was already nearly here.  Tears changed from sorrow to relief in an instant.  I told Mika that our Tiny Baby was almost here, and that it would be OK.  One great push later, and Christian was born at 7:47 P.M.

Instead of the usual cacophony of crying that issues from a newborn, Christian let out a little peep and then gasped for a breath of air.  He looked beautiful and perfect.  Because of his condition (in addition to being so early), I was fully expecting Christian to look squished and deformed.  At that moment, with him being born alive, he was the most beautiful newborn I had ever seen.  I reached out to my son, and put my finger in his hand.  His fingers wrapped around my hand and I broke down in tears again.  Tears of love, tears of gratitude, tears of sadness.

Mika held our Tiny Baby, and together we loved him.  All of the pain and misery of the last few weeks seemed to melt away as we held our son.  Here was something innocent, pure, and divine.  Here was the newest member of our family.  As we held him, I felt that bond of parental love towards this little life only minutes old become galvanized.  I gave him a name and a blessing, as is the custom in our church.  I helped to clean him off and clothe him.  Eventually, I felt him grow cooler, and heard his heartbeat grow increasingly softer leading up to 9:14 P.M when his little heart stopped.

There are many things I am grateful for.  I am grateful for Mika’s and my parents being there throughout the long and painful day.  I am grateful for the financial assistance from friends and family.  I am grateful, above all, that Christian was born alive and that I was able to participate in his short life.  Despite all of this, I find myself trying to fill a void in my life left by my beautiful son.


Christian

Tuesday morning, I dropped the kids off with a friend and went to the city cemetery office. The woman there was really polite and sympathetic as I chose a burial plot. The cemetery we’re using has an infant section with an angel statue, so I picked a plot near the center right by some benches. And it was relatively easy to think of the purchase as a to-do list item until she printed out the paperwork that showed Tiny Baby’s name on the map of the cemetery.

I sobbed on the way home. The day was hard from there on out.

In the afternoon, I went down to the OB’s office to start the induction process. I cried in the waiting room; a lady sitting near me moved over to ask if I was okay. I said no and kept crying. When I explained what was happening, she cried with me.

Dr. L told me I needed to sign a form that I was voluntarily terminating my pregnancy. Because of the way Utah law is written, Tiny Baby’s birth was considered to be roughly equal to an abortion. After I signed the form and Dr. L went to get the laminaria (fun fact: ultra compressed dried seaweed can be used to prepare for induction of labor), I sat sobbing in the exam room. I kept crying while Dr. L and the nurse inserted the laminaria – it meant things were really happening. I couldn’t undo it, and even if I had decided to wait longer, the outcome would be the same. I’d still lose my baby. Dr. L gave me a prescription for Percocet for the cramping that went with the laminaria and for Cytotec to take during the night. He said not to eat after dinner, since labor always comes with the possibility of throwing up.

Jarom and I got home about the same time and packed up the kids’ things. We took the kids to Krista’s and she fed us dinner – which was delicious and I wish I’d had room to eat more of, as we’ll see later. We even had Oreos and milk before we went to Jarom’s parents’ house. His dad gave us each a blessing in preparation for the ordeal we’d go through the next day. Then we headed back to pick up my prescriptions and get some sleep, since we were told to be at the hospital at 5am.

I wasn’t sure if I could take my ZzzQuil with the Percocet, so I skipped the sleeping medicine. Between that and the level of anxiety/dread I was at . . . I couldn’t sleep. All night. Which was not a great start to the day.

As we were getting ready, Jarom and I decided to put on some shark temporary tattoos that Evan had gotten from my cousin Jennifer. We wanted to keep some reminder of how quirky and fun our life really is.

Once we got to the hospital, it was hard to go up to the labor & delivery ward. I stopped a few times along the way and cried in the hallway just before we got to the nurses’ station. They took us to a room at the far end of the floor, as far as we could be from other patients and at the opposite end as the nursery. As soon as we got into the room we sat down on the couch and sobbed. The nurse was obviously emotional too as she gave me a hospital gown and told me to take as long as I needed to change.

Between then and 7, the only things that happened were: getting stabbed 5 times in an effort to get a single IV in (to provide calories to give me energy, as I wasn’t allowed to eat), and having both my parents and Jarom’s parents arrive.

Eventually they gave me another dose of Cytotec and Dr. W came by to see how things were going. At 10am, he inserted a catheter balloon to force dilation. I started bleeding a lot – Jarom said he was scared he would lose me and Tiny Baby. The doctor had the nurse run and get the anesthesiologist to give me an epidural because he was worried I’d need an emergency C-section. Fortunately, after getting the epidural, the bleeding stopped. Downside: I was now not allowed anything to drink. Around this time, the calorie IV ran out and it took the pharmacy 4 hours to get a new one up. Keep in mind I hadn’t eaten since the night before, I’d lost a bit of blood, and I’d been up for well over 24 hours. Every time I tried to doze, some machine in the room would start beeping or a nurse would come to ask if I needed anything. I was tired, hungry, stressed, emotional, and grouchy.

So I cried, which made my head hurt. It already hurt from the lack of sleep and food, plus the uncomfortable hospital pillow (why didn’t I think to bring my own?!). My dad gave me a head and neck massage that gave me enough relief to take a nap – although it sounds like I only dozed for 15 or 20 minutes. I did wake up feeling much less grouchy, though.

When the nurse checked me around 4pm, she said I was dilated to 4 cm and they could start Pitocin at 5 (there was a required timeframe between the Cytotec and Pitocin to avoid overstimulation of the uterus). I was watching the clock closely and was devastated when she came back at 4:30 to tell me she had miscalculated the timeframe, and I’d actually have to wait until 6 for the Pitocin. By that point we’d been at the hospital for almost 12 hours.

Somewhere in there I was given the green light to have clear liquids again, but after only a few sips I threw up. Lame.

Dr. W came in to talk to us around 6:30 to ask what we wanted to do if there was a problem with the delivery. Of course, under normal circumstances, if the baby isn’t doing well during labor they do a C-section. In my case that would have had increased risks for me as well as the possibility that I’d have to be out completely under and miss everything. Jarom and I decided to just do a vaginal delivery and let things happen how they would, with the exception that any immediate danger to my health would be addressed as needed.

Between then and 7, we had more people arrive at the hospital – the photographer, our bishop and his counselor, and a volunteer bereavement counselor whose infant son died years ago. We didn’t know how much longer labor would last, but wanted to have everyone on hand in case things went quickly.

The absolute worst moment of the day was when the nurse came in to check me and adjust the fetal heartbeat monitor. I’d been told earlier in the day that it was harder to pick up the heartbeat on such a small baby, and the monitor had been readjusted several times already as I shifted around. This time, though, the nurse was moving the monitor all around to try picking up the heartbeat. She called in another nurse to give it a go. Then they got out the Doppler, both of them dancing the instruments over my stomach and feeling my pulse to determine whether they were hearing the baby’s heartbeat or mine. They kept looking at each other solemnly, desperately, and I cried and I cried. We had heard the heartbeat so recently, and we were so close to delivery.

One of them went to call Dr. W. While she was out, the other nurse kept looking for the heartbeat. Suddenly I felt a lot of pressure and told them something was happening. Jarom looked down and said the baby was coming out. The nurse called for help, and the nurse that had gone for Dr. W. barely made it back in to have me push once to get Tiny Baby’s head out. As I did he gave a tiny squeak – Alive! He was born alive!

The doctor came in, the nurses were doing something, I have no idea what was happening during those long seconds when Christian was lying on the bed. Our time was precious and I didn’t understand why no one was doing anything with him. When the nurse asked me if I needed anything, I said, “Yes. I want the baby. Now.” We’d been very specific about wanting to hold him immediately! They quickly wrapped him up in a blanket and gave him to me.

He was tiny. But perfect. My mom ran and got the bishop and his counselor and my dad and father-in-law, and together with them Jarom gave our baby a name (Christian Lawrence Hillery) and a blessing. It was something we really hoped we’d be able to do, and I’m glad we got that chance.

We delayed cord clamping to give Christian some extra oxygen, and I think it made a big difference. Once we were ready Jarom cut the cord, and he and the bereavement counselor washed Christian off. They dressed him in a tiny outfit and hat and gave him back to me. He wrapped his tiny fingers around mine. Christian’s little heart was still beating, so we all took turns holding him – his parents and grandparents. I wanted my parents and in-laws to have that experience, but I also selfishly wanted to keep all of Christian’s time to myself.

We had the nurse check a few times for a heartbeat, which grew more and more faint. But we got almost an hour and a half with him, when our expectation was an hour at most. It was a peaceful hour and a half.

I don’t think I really cried during the actual delivery or when Christian was alive. Once he had passed away, the bereavement counselor did footprints and handprints; I finally got something to eat. After the counselor was done and I had eaten, Jarom and I spent some time alone with Christian. And I bawled. I was so sad to lose him. Everything had gone as well as we could have hoped, given the circumstances, but my baby was still gone. I’d never get to see him grow up, and soon I’d even leave his little body behind, never to hold it again.

So we spent as long as we could with him. Our parents came back in and everyone had as much time as they wanted with Christian. Slowly, I started to feel like I’d be ready to go home soon. The epidural gradually wore off, my body began giving in to exhaustion (both emotional and physical), and I wanted to grieve at home instead of in the hospital.

When we were done, the nurse took Christian, bundled up in his blanket, and I was wheeled downstairs. I cried while Jarom got the car – I was leaving the hospital, leaving my baby behind. And after I got in the car I sobbed. Absolutely heartbroken. There was nothing left I could do, no way to change the past, no new baby to bring home to feed and clothe and grumble about getting up in the night with. It was over.

We came home around 2am to a spotless house. I don’t know how many hours it took, but some dear friends had spent the day cleaning. I gratefully and exhaustedly climbed into my bed and slept until 10.

I woke up feeling . . . okay. The bereavement counselor gave us a beautiful box of mementoes – the hand and footprints, the measuring tape, soap, and lotion they used on Christian, a tiny stuffed animal they took pictures of him with, a lock of his hair, the bracelet he wore, and casts of his feet and hands. We’ll add the outfit he was dressed in as well as the beautiful hand-sewn blanket we wrapped him in.

It was nice to look at the box this morning. And for the most part, today was good. I am so grateful we got to spend time with Christian, that he was born alive and we had family with us. I’m glad he’s part of our family.

But writing this has been hard, feeling again the sting of saying goodbye and of leaving the hospital without him.