Why optimism is bad – but also better than pessimism

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?

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Just like Finding Nemo

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.


Health insurance (or lack thereof)

Be warned: this story, although full of twists and turns, does not have a nice resolution at the end. It has no resolution (yet).

In early February, Jarom’s work had someone come in to help employees through the process of buying health insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace. Jarom selected a plan that is actually much better than what we had through his company. Yay! Better insurance starting March 1!

Except wait. There was an error in Jarom’s application, so he called the Marketplace folks immediately after finishing the application and asked what to do. He was told that they would delete the application, and he should start a new one online, which he did that same day (February 7).

Hey guess what? Instead of deleting the first, incorrect application, they sent it on to Arches, our selected insurance network. But they didn’t send the second application. The folks at Arches told Jarom it would probably just be a few days until the got the correct information. Unfortunately, they still hadn’t gotten it by March 1, which meant we didn’t have health insurance for the month.

Jarom called the Marketplace again on March 5 and was told that they would escalate our file to a caseworker, and it would take 30 days to complete an investigation into what went wrong and why. (At this point I had already stopped caring why things had been messed up – I just wanted coverage!)

Over the next month and a half Jarom checked in every week with our newly-assigned caseworker at Arches to see if she’d gotten the second application yet. Still no, still no. Whenever he called the Marketplace, he was told that it would be “2-3 days” until a caseworker could review our file and get back to us. Eventually I took pity on Jarom, who was having to use his breaks at work to make these frustrating calls, and I said I would take care of it. And I would get us insurance. I would do it!

Yeah . . . that didn’t work out. I called on April 21 when the kids were playing a neighbor’s house. After an hour on hold, I finally got a real person to whom I had to explain the drama we’d encountered. She tsked and agreed it was so frustrating, she’d get it taken care of right away. By the end of a half-hour conversation with her, she read me what was on her screen: “Congratulations. Your application has been completed. Your insurance is effective today, April 21, 2014.” I felt triumphant! I sure showed Jarom. It just took patience, right?

Of course, Jarom was right, I didn’t actually solve anything. I kept calling our caseworker at Arches, but she never received our information. I desperately needed a refill on my Zoloft; she told me to go ahead and see my doctor, and we could fill out paperwork later to reimburse what I paid out-of-pocket. By May 5, still nothing useful had been accomplished.

So I called the Marketplace yet again. This time I was transferred 3 times, having to explain my situation each time, until I wound up in the “fix it” department. The woman I spoke with freaked out about the April 21 effective date. She couldn’t get over it – “The start date should always, always, always be on the first of the month!” she kept saying. It turned out that the lady who had, I thought, fixed our application so that it would be effective had actually cancelled application #2 and started #3, which was the April 21 one. Freaking-out lady swore that this was the problem: whether a glitch in the system or an error by the previous employee, this mid-month start date was preventing things from working smoothly.

Her first suggestion was to escalate our file. Yeah, been there, done that. And despite the “30 day” timeline Jarom had been given, it had been 60 days since the original escalation, with no communication whatsoever from any caseworker. So instead freaking-out lady cancelled that and started application #4, which would be effective June 1. I expressed quite strongly that I did not want yet another application, there was obviously some other problem preventing our information from ever being sent over to Arches, and I didn’t want to spend another month without insurance. Solution: petition a caseworker to alter the June 1 start date to May 1, but that would take a few weeks . . . and by that point May would be over . . . and I wouldn’t have actually had any insurance during May. I told her again that I had no interest in dealing with petitions and escalations, I just wanted insurance. Soon.

“Our system is all automated, so there shouldn’t be any errors,” she told me. “I know it’s hard to believe something good could happen after what you’ve been through, but there’s no reason this application won’t work.” Ha! Your automated system has failed me, lady. But she was adamant. Come June 1, I’d have insurance.

Aaaaaand Arches still hasn’t gotten our information. Although the last time I spoke with our caseworker there, she said she saw 3 applications for us, but not the most recent one. WHAT? Suddenly applications 2 and 3 have made their way over – and unfortunately, they’ve both been cancelled by “helpful” Marketplace employees. I’m waiting to hear back from Arches about when those applications came through – because if application #3 got there before I talked to freaking-out lady, and the Arches caseworker just didn’t let me know, then maybe I have someone to blame. Rather than just an “automated system.”

There are about 10 days left until we supposedly have health insurance. What do you think the chances are we’ll actually get it?


Maybe I said that wrong

Although I felt miserable when I wrote my earlier post and was pitying myself a lot, the response I’ve gotten was not at all what I expected. People apologized – and now I feel guilty for making anyone feel bad.

Yes, it’s hard for me – sometimes – to not be asked how I’m doing or to see generous offers of help for other families who have obvious struggles. But most of the time, I feel pretty great. When those miserable moments come, I do get caught up in a negative mindset and it seems like the world is conspiring against me.

I’ve posted about things that are helpful and unhelpful to say to a grieving parent, and to me specifically. It was pointed out to me that this might suggest that there is a right way to help, and that you can mess up. No one wants to say the wrong thing, so people often stay silent.

Let me clarify: no matter how inadvertently insensitive your remarks might be, I will be so grateful that you said something. I understand that you mean well. Even if you say something horrible, I’ll be glad you said it. Really, truly. It hurts more to have this entire experience be unacknowledged.

Sometime between the ultrasound and Christian’s death, a woman in my ward stopped by to offer support and a small gift. I hadn’t ever met her before, and I appreciated her reaching out to me. I mentioned this in church recently and was surprised at the number of people who echoed, “I was thinking of you. I just didn’t know what to do or say.”

It was in this context specifically that I felt isolated. Because no one was sure what to do, it seemed like no one did anything. (Exaggeration. I had friends and ward members who were very involved and considerate.) And, to be fair, a large part of my misery may just be that I was not privy to the discussions of “How to help Mika” as I am to the discussions about helping other families. So what I perceive as a group effort and shared concern for others might have applied to me just as much.

Anyway. This is also a rambling, incoherent post.

To summarize: I didn’t mean to make anyone feel like they’ve been a bad friend. Sorry.

Also, saying something to me is always better than saying nothing. I promise.


A brief update on feelings

Feelings are dumb.

This week we’ve started looking for a replacement car, since my sweet-but-ugly Suzuki was totaled in November. I went with Jarom to a dealer on Tuesday. We liked the car we drove, but the dealer wasn’t willing to negotiate price, which was disappointing. On the way home the following feelings happened:

Sad. I really wanted that car!
Grouchy. Car dealer, you are dumb.
Frustrated. I hate car shopping. Jarom is now in charge of finding me a car.
Overwhelmed. Last year our car died and our baby died. Why can’t our lives be full of good things? Why do crappy things happen to us?
Bitter. It sucks that Christian died! It sucks a lot! It’s so stupid!
Sad. My baby died. It’s so sad.
Despair. I just want to eat cookies and cry instead of making dinner. But I also don’t want to be lumpy-shaped and my clothes don’t fit and it’s just not fair that Christian died AND I gained a bunch of weight.

It was not a fun drive home. Yeah, I cried. No, it wasn’t really about the car. Thankfully, Jarom is patient and understanding and nice – and he knows when I just want to be left alone with my misery. Eventually I came out of it (though I didn’t end up eating cookies or making dinner), and stopped having those feelings.

Because feelings are dumb.


Leaves

Do you know what time of year it is? Here, it’s The Week When The Leaves All Fall Off The Chestnut Tree At Once. If you’ve been to our house, you know how enormous the tree is. It has a lot of leaves. And they’re currently all scattered beautifully on our lawn.

Okay, in a way it is beautiful, and I like the idea of just letting them be. Who decided it’s better to have carefully maintained green grass than to let nature go how it goes? I know, I know, social norms dictate that I take care of the landscaping and keep the yard tidy. So I realize that right now, it just looks messy – not carefree and autumn-y.

But aside from the hours of raking involved in getting the lawn cleared, here’s the real reason I’m leaving the leaves: it brings back painful memories.

Last year, the leaves dutifully fell down in the first week of November. Then it snowed, pretty immediately after. I couldn’t really rake when the yard was covered in a few inches of snow. And we left for our Thanksgiving family reunion in Southern California before the snow melted. Once we got back, of course, the snow was gone and our yard looked painfully embarrassingly unkempt. All those leaves!

But by the following week we had sunny weather again, so I got out the rake, bundled up the kids, and spent about 3 hours clearing the leaves.

The problem: it was just a few days after I’d found out I was pregnant. I was more tired than usual, so the fact that I buckled down and raked for hours was noteworthy.

When I think about that afternoon, it feels heartbreakingly naive and innocent. I was excited for a new baby. I was impressed with myself for doing yard work. I had no idea what anguish the coming months would hold.

I thought by this fall, I’d have a baby at home. I’d talk Jarom into raking the leaves because I’d be inside, bouncing a little one or pulling my hair out because the baby just wouldn’t go to sleep.

It seems like I did well in the time between my due date (early August) and the six-month mark of Christian’s death (late October). These days, though, I can’t help but think of what things were like this time last year – so full of hope and excitement. I miss that. I’m sad it ended so tragically. And I don’t want to rake my leaves.


Unfair

On my current list of “Super lame baby-related things”:

Persistent morning sickness-like queasiness that is definitely not caused by pregnancy. Sure feels the same, though, and guess what? I don’t like it for a lot of reasons. Mainly because – oh yes, my baby died.

No Halloween costume for a tiny baby this year.

I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while, but not from waking up to feed a newborn. Nope, it’s because my dumb dog keeps wanting to go eat grass and bugs in the middle of the night. Really, Ender?

This list should probably be qualified by the admission that I’ve been up all night cleaning and baking for June’s birthday, so my mood isn’t the best to begin with. Adding queasiness on top of that has not been fun.

And now, on with life! Those are all my complaints for the moment.