Capture Your Grief, Day 3 – In Honor

I have loved words for as long as I can remember knowing any. As a toddler, I talked the ear off any adult unfortunate enough to capture my interest. Unfortunate because toddlers are notoriously bad at reading the social queues which may indicate that a person is not interested in conversation. If we shared a space, chances are, I was talking.

As a teenager, I journaled and wrote music. I have a storage bin filled with composition notebooks from my youth. Each one thick with taped-down clippings, pages covered in prose, poems and lyrics. I wrote and wrote, and talked and talked.

However, I have always spoken and written for no other reason than my own enjoyment. This blog is different though, and the public speaking that I now do is, too. I started this blog after losing Clara, because I knew that writing would be therapeutic. I knew that it would allow me to explore my feelings and I hoped it would help me to bring closure to my pain. There is another reason, though, that you and I are here. I started this blog because I wanted to honor Clara. I started this blog because I wanted to honor all parents who have lost a pregnancy or a child. I started this blog because I wanted to honor all mothers who have experienced postpartum mood disorders. I started this blog because I wanted to honor the pain, and the journey towards growth that follows. I started this blog because I wanted to create a space where we could talk about these messy things; grief, loss, anxiety, depression, without forgetting that we are on a path of growing from them. We are growing despite them. I created this place because grief is isolating. Anxiety is isolating. Depression… isolating. Hell, parenting itself can be pretty damn isolating! I created this blog so that no one would have to feel alone.

So, my dear friend, I created this blog to honor you.

This is our space.

I see you.

Thank you for being here.

Thank you for walking with me, on this journey back to growth.

I Didn’t Make The Muffins

This past weekend, I asked my husband if he’d like for me to make him some banana nut muffins to eat for breakfast throughout the week. He replied in the affirmative, accepting my offer of baked goods for breakfasts, like any sane man would. This was not a strange offer, since I spend a large portion of my free time happily puttering away in the kitchen, and it is an one that I extend frequently. I hate to let overripe bananas go to waste, and so whenever we have at least 3, I always try to turn out a loaf of bread or tray of muffins.

What made this offer one to note is this – I didn’t make the muffins.

This may seem like no big deal to you, if you do not know me intimately. However, those who know me well know that I do all the things. I am not boasting. If anything, this is one of my biggest flaws. I do all the things with such passion and intensity that I have forgotten how to stop doing things. For goodness sake, I learned to knit so that when I was sitting still, I would still be doing. It is a blessing, on occasion, this knack for getting things done. But trust me when I tell you that it is, more often than not, a curse. I am driven by an invisible force to DO. No satisfaction is quite like the one I get from crossing an item off of my to-do list. Sometimes… it is better than sex. See, I told you, it is a flaw!

Fault or asset, it is who I am. For now, at least. Living with my word of 2015, Linger, did help me to somewhat balance this need to always be doing, but it did not level the scales entirely. I am still doing, and enjoying it, much more than any human should.

This weekend however, I did not make the muffins. On Sunday, knowing that I had not yet delivered the muffins, I declared that, if he didn’t mind, I’d make them on Monday night. …I didn’t make the muffins on Monday night. Nor on Tuesday. Not on Wednesday. I do not plan to make the muffins tonight, either. My husband has been seemingly unaffected by it. He could not care less, or he at least has the good grace to imply that this is so. He has been eating cereal for breakfast each morning, with nary a word about the missing muffins. The promised muffins. The muffins of disappointment.

Before you laugh and say that I am far too hard on myself, let me explain to you why I didn’t make the muffins.

I didn’t make the muffins because I just can’t.  I didn’t make the muffins because so far I have spent 2 evenings this week crying. One just a bit, quietly and to myself, the other a full on sob-fest to my husband. I didn’t make the muffins because I am tired. Not just long-day-at-work tired. I am tired in my soul. I didn’t make the muffins because the inside of my mind has felt the way a salad must, after being run through a spinner. I didn’t make the muffins because… Grief.

I’m not disappointed in myself for not making the muffins. I am not beating myself up about it. Instead, I am reminded. These days, months after our loss, the grief is not so visible as it once was. It is not so obvious to outsiders, and sometimes not even to myself. It manifests quietly and in the strangest of ways. Sometimes I feel like I might be okay. Like, really okay. Until the grief sneaks back in and there are muffins that seem like mountains which I just cannot climb. I am reminded of the place where the pain still lives.

Some days are better. Some days are even great. But some days, I cannot make the muffins.

To any of you out there who just cannot make the muffins – I see you, and it’s okay.

Peace and Love to you, friends.

December Reflections, Day 29 – Home

I was born in Oklahoma, and I have made my grown-up home in Illinois. However, between the very formative ages of 2 and 19, I lived in Texas and so I will always consider Texas to be “home”. In about 6 years, I will have lived in IL for as long as I lived in Texas, though I am not sure it will ever feel the same way. I can still picture the wildflowers in my mind. Highway medians and grassy slopes painted in orange and purple. I can feel the August heat on my skin. I remember the way it feels to dip your feet in a Texas lake, when it has been warmed day and night by the summer sun. Quite different than the frigid (but beautiful) gargantuan lake that I am nearest to these days. My love for Texas is a purely geographical one however, since I stick out like a political sore thumb in my very much “red” home state.

In fact, if we lived in Texas, our experience with Clara would have been even more difficult, something hard to imagine. This is because Texas is one of several states which currently bans abortion after 20 weeks. The thought here is that, by 20 weeks, a woman should have already “decided” to have her baby or not. *deep breath* This line of thinking is so wildly misguided that it makes my head spin. I’m not going to break down all the reasons that I believe a woman has a right to choose, today at least, and instead I will focus on what happened to me. 

I decided to have my baby. I decided to have my baby before I was even pregnant, because my baby was an on-purpose baby. My baby was very much wanted. I went to the doctor appointments, watched the ultrasounds with bated breath and even bought a home fetal heart monitor because I was just so excited about this baby. At around 20 weeks, a woman with a routine pregnancy will undergo her anatomy scan. This scan is done specifically around the 20 week mark because that is the best and earliest time to check for very important anatomical development milestones and defects. It is also at this ultrasound where a woman usually finds out whether or not her baby is a boy or a girl, if she chooses to find out. We had our 20 week ultrasound right on time and were delighted to discover that we were having a girl. Our first daughter. We had exactly 3 days to dream about what it would be like to have a little girl, before we got the call. They found something and we needed to do a follow up, more detailed, ultrasound. Sick with fear and panic, I immediately called the high risk OB to schedule, but was unable to do so right away because well, insurance in America (we can get into this another time, I just don’t have it in me today). So, I had to wait for a bunch of yahoos who don’t know me from Joe to unwrap my future from all the red tape that they had wound around it, before I could even schedule the appointment for the follow up ultrasound. I think it took 2 days. On the 3rd day, approved referral in hand, I called the high risk OB that we’d been sent to, and scheduled ourselves for the following Monday (which was the earliest they could get me in – ugh). This would be a total of 6 days after the phone call, 9 days after the initial anatomy scan. I was now 21 weeks pregnant. In case you aren’t paying attention to the dates, that’s already too late for a Texan to receive an abortion, and I hadn’t even gotten my diagnosis yet. At the high risk OB appointment, we received the devastating Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele diagnosis, which you have probably already read about. If not, you can read that story here.

Now that we had a diagnosis, we had to learn. We had to soul search. It took us several days of crying, reading, talking and calling the doctor with questions before we landed on the decision that was best for our daughter, and our family. From there, it was going to take us another week or so to get our surgical abortion approved by insurance and scheduled. Unable to bear the torture any longer, we decided to schedule our procedure without waiting for insurance, and hoped that they would cover the claim later (they did, since our diagnosis was considered a lethal fetal anomaly). Even without waiting for insurance, we had to wait 4 days before we could get an appointment at the clinic, to begin the 3 day procedure. With no laziness or procrastination on our part, it took us 2 weeks from the initial anatomy scan where an anomaly was found to Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele diagnosis, to our eventual abortion. I was 22 weeks pregnant.

Due to the way a fetus develops, an anatomy scan cannot be performed with reliability much earlier than 20 weeks (some doctors will give this a 1 week swing on either side). When states put restrictions on abortion at or before the 20 week mark, they do not discourage women from ending unwanted pregnancies. Instead, they add hurdles and burdens to women ending a pregnancy for medical reasons. If we lived in Texas, we would have needed to travel out of state for our procedure. I am sure I don’t need to break down how awful that would have been emotionally, not to mention it is not ideal/medically advisable for a woman to travel and be unable to return immediately home after an outpatient surgical procedure.

In my current home state of Illinois, abortions are banned after 24 weeks. This is not much better than Texas, to be honest, but it was enough for us to be able to stay in state (though we did have to drive almost an hour there and back, 3 days in a row).

Today was going to be a simple post, an ode to the big skies and wildflowers of Texas, but as I wrote, I realized that I had bigger things to say about my beloved Lone Star State. I understand that abortion is a touchy issue. I do not expect us all to agree. However, what I hope is that people will listen, and understand that there are more reasons for abortion than just unwanted pregnancy (though I firmly believe that bodily autonomy makes that an okay reason, too). There are many assumptions about abortion, and about the kind of women who have them.

Assumption is a dangerous thing.

 

December Reflections, Day 19 – I Said Goodbye to…

Clara. It should be no surprise that I would choose her for today’s prompt. Today’s picture is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote to her, a couple of weeks after we said goodbye. However, in saying goodbye to Clara, I ended up saying hello to a lot of things too.

I said hello to a new perspective on abortion and pregnancy loss, a perspective which has empowered me to be a stronger woman. A fire has been lit within me, driving me to search for ways that I can be of support to other women, to other moms, who may be struggling with grief from a loss, or with postpartum mood disorders.

I said hello to a new chapter in my marriage. The experience of losing Clara could have ruined a marriage. I really believe that to be true. It is the kind of thing that, were there any cracks to begin with, could split a marriage right open. Thankfully, this experience has only drawn my husband and I closer. We’ve leveled up, so to say (uh oh, gamer nerd core has been exposed!). We have been able to lean on each other throughout this experience. We have taken extra care to listen and hear each other, and I am grateful every day for this amazing man that I get to spend the rest of my life with.

I said hello to a new level of gratitude. Gratitude is something my mother was really good at teaching me. For almost as long as I can remember, my mother taught me to be grateful. As such, “attitude of gratitude” is a phrase that can often be heard around my home. It is an important quality that I hope to instill in my own children. Grateful as I was to begin with, there is nothing like loss to deepen your appreciation for what you already have. Saying goodbye to Clara has opened a new well of thankfulness within me. It sounds strange to say, but in some ways, I am thankful for this experience, as terrible as it has been. I recognize the personal growth and spiritual development that I have undergone as a result of going through it. But it isn’t just me, my husband, my parents, my in-laws, my children, and many more people, have been affected and have grown from this terrible loss.

In just 22 weeks of gestation, Clara taught some very important lessons to a great deal of people. So, we said goodbye to Clara in 2015, but because of her, we said hello to a lot of wonderful things, too. Plus, it’s not really goodbye, only see you later.

Thank you, sweet girl. Mommy loves you so, so much.

December Reflections, Day 13 – A is for…

A is for… Align with Source!  This piece is a Lisa Loudin original (full disclosure: my Bonus Mom is the artist… Yes, I have super cool parents!), and it hangs in our library. The library is the room formerly known as the nursery, formerly known as my oldest son’s room. In preparation for Clara’s birth, my oldest son had moved into another (larger) room in our house. In fact, we finished moving him the weekend before our SB diagnosis. On that fateful day, the nursery was empty, save for a new white crib which leaned, still disassembled, against one wall.

After our diagnosis, the empty room was painful to look at. After we decided that the right choice was to say goodbye to her now, rather than later, the empty room was a torment. After the procedure, when my womb was empty but my breasts were full, aching with nourishment for a baby that I no longer had, the empty room was unbearable. It had to change.

And so, instead of our daughter, The Library was born. I won’t get into a big spiritual rant, not today at least (I make no promises for the future), but I do believe very strongly in the importance of connecting with the Source. Make of that what you will, but I think that statement can be applied across virtually all belief systems. Would you like to connect more closely with God? Great! That applies here. Are you attracted to the idea of exploring your own divine purpose and ability to manifest the kind of life experience that you dream of? AWESOME! That applies here, too. What it boils down to is this – when you are connected to the Source (whatever your “Source” is), things happen. I recommend checking out the teachings of Dr. Wayne Dyer. It’s a great place to start.

Anyways, since losing Clara, I’ve had several moments of feeling very, very connected to Source. I suspect that may be normal whenever we lose someone dear to us. I think that through Clara’s journey back, I was very near to Source, and I felt that closeness. In those connected moments, I felt more at peace than at any other time. I felt more sure of myself, and of the future. I felt comforted. Having this reminder hanging in the library is one way that I honor the room that should have been Clara’s, while also nudging myself to keep chasing that divine high.

Stay open, keep listening, never stop sending out love. Align, align, align.

Peace and love to you all.

December Reflections, Day 12 – The Best Decision of 2015

Well friends, I had something planned for today. “Had” being the operative word. The Day 12 December Reflections prompt, The Best Decision of 2015, is a perfect opening for me to talk about something hard, but important. Unfortunately, I’m not ready yet.  That’s the truth. I just won’t do it justice. Someday, I hope to have the words.

I will say this much – I know what my best decision of 2015 was, though I’m not sure “best” is the right word for it… Hardest, horrible, painful, soul wrenching. These all sound better. But the word that truly fits it best, is right. In 2015, I had to make a decision that was not easy, but it was right, and I am grateful to live in a time and place where that choice is possible.

 

What to Expect, When it’s Not What You Expected

If there is one thing you can expect when you are having a baby, it’s that everyone will have some bit of advice for you. Parents and the childless alike will have some witty remark or tip given in earnest. Some will simply chuckle as they reassure you that “you’ll never sleep again!” By the way, I’ve decided that people who are amused by the impending sleep deprivation of expectant parents, reveal themselves to be rather sadistic. Don’t you think?

Anyways, while your newly identified sadistic friends are giggling, another acquaintance will provide you with a list of “must-have” items. Should you choose to not purchase that cherry scented butt wipe warmer, your children will obviously grow up to be criminals. If this is your first child, it can be difficult to distinguish the helpful advice from the nonsense (Pro-tip: most of it is nonsense). But, even if you are expecting your second, third or, god help you, fourth child or beyond, you will continue to receive similar “advice” from honest well-wishers and know-it-alls alike.

The thing is, no one really knows what you should expect, when you’re expecting. More often than not, the things you experience as a parent are not what you expected. Sometimes they’re beautiful little surprises, like the first time your child says “I love you”, or a sweet drawing of the family, brought home from school. They are wonders that you never could have prepared for, like the immense love that you never realized yourself capable of feeling. Unfortunately, sometimes things are not so wonderful. The stomach bug comes to mind, or a twisted ankle during a baseball game. Sometimes it’s Postpartum Anxiety. A devastating prenatal diagnosis. An abortion.

So, what do you do, when it’s not what you expected? For mothers and fathers alike, one of the most important things that you can do is find someone to talk to. A licensed therapist, preferably one that specializes in the mental health of postpartum women or in that of parents, can be especially helpful. It can be scary to admit to yourself that things aren’t what you expected, and even scarier to speak that truth aloud to a therapist. You aren’t alone, though. It took me 2 1/2 years before I sought therapy to deal with Postpartum Anxiety after the birth of my son. 2 1/2 years of being afraid. 2 1/2 years of insomnia and panic attacks. 2 1/2 years of knowing that this was not what I expected.

That’s why, when I lost my daughter at 22 weeks pregnant, I did not hesitate to call my therapist. I did not expect to get a lethal fetal anomaly diagnosis. I did not expect to choose a surgical abortion over putting my family through the tragedy of carrying my daughter to term, only to watch her die shortly after birth. What I did expect though, through previous experience, was that therapy would be an invaluable tool towards healing.

So, though I try my best to not give unsolicited advice to expectant parents, were I to share anything, it would be this – you won’t enjoy every moment, and that’s okay. However, I hope that you will enjoy most moments, more than you ever dreamed possible, so soak them up as best you can. That, and find a good therapist.

December Reflections, Day Six – The Best Book of 2015

I am a voracious reader. Well, truthfully, I am a voracious listener. I usually cannot choose between reading and knitting, so I do both, via audiobook. Though I greatly appreciate the multitasking capability that audiobooks have made available to me, I still love the way a real book feels in my hands and so, in between my audiobooks and knitting, I can often be found with my nose buried in a real book. Our home library is a testament to that love.

This year, one hardcover in particular had a huge impact on me. It was just a few days after we said goodbye to Clara, and I decided to pick up a Frank Tallis novel that I’d been trying to read, A Death in Vienna (I do love a good turn of the century mystery). I had actually tried to start reading this book in the clinic, while recovering from my surgical abortion, because I was sick with grief and thought that I could actually read a book while coming out of anesthesia and pain medication. I must have stumbled through the first page half a hundred times while laying on a cot in the recovery room, Legally Blonde playing on a corner-mounted television. It was a frivolous attempt. Grief is funny that way.

Anyway, I began to read the book in earnest a few days later and on the 10th page, I met the apparent love interest of the main character, named – Clara. I’d never read the name before. I had no idea that any of the characters had her name, and we’d decided on that name for our Clara, long before my reading this book. Her name jumped off the page. It felt like a “Hello”. It felt like she was telling me that she was okay, that she loved us. It felt like she understood.

I must have wept for hours.

I thanked her. I felt her hands on my heart and, grateful for her comfort, I wept. I knew in that moment that I would see her again someday, though I’ve got a life to live here first. I think she understands that, and we can wait. We’ve got an eternity of time ahead of us.

Love you, sweet girl.

December Reflections, Day Three – The Best Day in 2015

I struggled with the Day Three prompt yesterday, until I finally fell asleep without having posted anything at all. However, I woke up this morning and knew exactly what I needed to say. So, today you get a double dose, I’ll do yesterday’s prompt now, and be back later with Day Four.

A lot of big things happened in 2015. Milestone things. I turned 30. I got pregnant with my third child, my first daughter. I successfully planted and tended my first vegetable garden. I had my biggest live storytelling experience to date at Failure:Lab. My unborn daughter was diagnosed with Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele and it was determined that she was not likely to survive long after birth. I had an abortion. My anxiety returned.

I had a hard time picking the best day. There were good ones, to be sure. There were long family bike rides. There were lazy summer days, pulling weeds and picking tomatoes with my youngest son. There were baseball games, summer storms and BLTs for lunch. There was one especially fun baking experience that involved beets, chocolate and a sweet, 3 year old sous chef whose main skill in the kitchen is sticking his fingers in everything to get a taste. But if I had to describe 2015 with one word, it would be heavy, and the weight of this year makes it difficult for one day to float up above the rest. Then it hit me, today is the best day of 2015 and when dawn breaks tomorrow and my eyes flutter open to greet the day, tomorrow will be the best day of 2015. Because isn’t that what it’s really all about? Don’t we all just hope that every day will be better than the last?

Every day is better than the last because I am still here, breathing it all in, surrounded by people that I love and making new adventures. I am baking beet cakes and snuggling 3 year old sous chefs. I am cheering at little league baseball games and spreading blankets on the grass for picnics. I am riding my bike, exploring my town from a two-wheeled perspective. I am building snow men and drinking tea and knitting. We are still here, all of us, and it is the best day of 2015 for just that reason.

So glad I got to share the best day of 2015 with you. Shall we do it all again tomorrow? I’ll bring the confetti.

“Cwara”

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyways, that losing Clara has impacted a greater number of people than just myself. My husband, for example, has endured every bit as much emotional pain as I have. Our parents, loving and supportive, empathetic and compassionate people, have hurt along with us. They have done their own grieving. We have borne this loss, together.

The two people who I have been most concerned about though, are my sons. I have, in typical maternal fashion, been very preoccupied with how they are impacted by losing Clara. We have done our best to communicate with each of them. We have left the door open for questions. We have left our hearts open for their hurt. Our oldest son does not seem to be largely affected by the loss, and for that I am so thankful. He is old enough, at 12, to understand that with pregnancy, comes risk, and yet he is young enough, to not necessarily recognize the wound in our hearts, or indeed to feel one in his own.

A few days after our abortion, my husband and I were talking with our oldest son, at the top of our staircase, when he expressed in so many words that he felt bad, for not feeling bad. He said “How can I say goodbye to someone I’ve never met?”, and explained that since he never knew her, he did not feel as though he lost her. He is perceptive enough, however, to understand that this is not how we feel, and he worried that it made him “wrong”. We explained that we completely understood why he felt that way and that, truly, there are no wrong ways to feel. There are only different ways, for different people. We don’t want him to hurt, and so we are honestly glad that he does not. In some ways, his removed way of feeling is just what we intended. Indeed, part of our decision to terminate our pregnancy, rather than attempt to bring Clara to term, only to watch her pass away, was heavily influenced by our concern for our sons. Delivering and losing her would have been torture for my husband and I, of course, but I especially could not imagine putting my sons through that pain, not when we already knew the outcome, and not when there was another way. A way to protect them. In every decision, I am a Mother, I am always protecting.

My youngest son’s reaction has been different. It has not been as simple. Of course, three year olds are never simple. We waited to tell our youngest until after the procedure was finished, thinking that it would be easier for him to understand if she was truly gone. We chose our words carefully, not wanting to scare him, and unsure of how much he would be able to understand.  We simply told him that the baby was gone. We explained that there was a problem, and she was not able to be big, strong and healthy like he is, and so she is not coming anymore. He was disappointed… and then he was playing with trucks. I was relieved until, over the next few days, he continued to refer to the empty room as “my baby sister’s room”. It was then that we made the decision to create the Library, and swiftly gave the room a new identity. It took a couple of days, but he eventually seemed to understand that this room was no longer his baby sister’s room, and he began to call it “Our Wibwy”. He stopped talking about her. Stopped asking about her, and I believed that we were done with the topic, until he was old enough to ask more questions, at which point we would happily give more information.

Everything changed this week. Every, single day this week, on the ride home from the train station, he talks about her. He asks about her, and I try to repeat the original explanation with patience and love, but I cannot seem to erase the stiffness from my voice. It hurts to explain it over and over. I am always careful to not say that she died. I am afraid to tell him that. He is smart, creative, and imaginative beyond belief. Just this week, he has introduced us to his imaginary friend, “Johnjadeere” (yes, one word) who works at a movie store which also sells popcorn, shirts and books (and, conveniently, whatever other things our son seems to take interest in at any given moment). I am afraid to introduce him to the idea of death at such a sweet and innocent age, but I am equally as afraid to shield him from the whole truth, the lack of which might confuse and scare him even more. I don’t believe there is a right way to deal with this, and so we continue to stumble through as best we can, trying to answer his questions, trying to give him security and understanding. Trying to ignore the way it hurts to talk about it.

A couple of days ago, we were on one of these interrogative car rides, when my youngest son, for the first time, asked her name. My neck muscles clenched, voice seized in my throat, as I realized that I had never spoken her name to him. He did not know it. “Clara.”, I managed to squeak out, “Your sister’s name, is Clara”.  “Cwara”, came the sweet voice from the back seat. “Yes, Cwara. I miss her”. Stifling sobs, I managed only a weak, “Me too, honey.”, before covering my face, weeping silently the rest of the way, as my husband navigated us back to the safety of our home.

Once home, I took myself to the bedroom, where I could close the door and cry without scaring the boys. Hearing him say her name felt like having my heart ripped out. Foolishly, I had begun to delude myself into thinking that I was done grieving, or at least done with the hardest part of it. On the contrary, I realized that I had simply been willing myself to pretend that it didn’t happen. “How can I say goodbye to someone I’ve never met?” But I did meet her. I knew her in the way that every mother knows the child who shares her body, and she knew me. My heartbeat was the music that lulled her to sleep. I cannot pretend that she never was. There is no wrong way to feel, only different ways, for different people.

What’s more, I realized that I was heartbroken because I think, in his own way, my youngest knew her. He was the first to grow inside my womb. He, too, slept to the sound of my heartbeat. Mentored by his wonderful Big Brother, he was so ready to enter the ranks of Big Brothers. He has so much love to share, this little one.

He was so ready to love her.

“Me too,  honey.”

Me too.