Sunday, May 3, 2015

Infertility and Loss

Two weeks ago, it was Infertility Awareness week. I was so wrapped up in fundraising for March for Babies that I didn’t have a chance to write anything about it. Today is International Bereaved Mother’s Day. These 2 topics are inextricably linked for me. And this year, I realize that, because we now have a living child, there are probably people who think neither apply to me any more. How I wish that were true.

The fact of the matter remains, I am still a bereaved Mother, and I still struggle with infertility. Both of these roles color my life and have made me who I am, in both good ways and bad.

Let’s start with the bereaved mother part. I recognize that many people think I should be “fixed” by now. It’s been nearly 4 years, and we now have a daughter to hold in our arms.  It’s hard to make people understand that grieving for Vivienne will last a lifetime. There will never be a day that I don’t miss her, wonder what she’d be like, and just generally feel cheated that I don’t get to see her grow up and be a big sister to Eleanor. This does not mean that I spend every day in sadness and tears. But it does mean that it’s always there – sometimes under the surface and sometimes right in my face. Sometimes, the thought of her makes me smile, and sometimes it makes me cry.  No matter what happens, though, she is still my daughter, and I am still her mother. I’m incredibly grateful for Eleanor and love her more than I can say, but she does not take the place of her sister. There is a quote I go to often: Before you tell a grieving parent to be grateful for the children they have, think about which one of yours you could live without.  Bereaved parents like myself can simultaneously appreciate the children they have and mourn the children they lost. I guess broken hearts can handle more complicated emotions than we give them credit for.

Now the Infertility part. Since Eleanor entered our lives, I’ve done a lot of thinking on this one. Mostly because this seems to affect my parenting more than I expected. I can honestly say that I look at my daughter with complete wonder multiple times a day. I know that all parents will say their children are miracles (and they are), but what it took to get this girl here – miracles on top of miracles.

But I also carry a lot of baggage from our struggles. It is still extremely difficult for me to be around pregnancy talk. It’s not very complicated – when it comes to pregnancy, I feel like a failure. It’s something that many people fall into accidentally, and some even plan for it and have everything go exactly as they planned. I have never had a normal pregnancy, and I never will. And I will grieve for a long time over not getting to carry another child and not being able to give Eleanor a living sibling.
I worry every day that I will lose another daughter. I suppose this is to be expected when you know all of the things that can go wrong, but I find that infertility colors this fear too. Every time a door closed to us in our efforts to expand our family, I felt like the universe was telling me that I did not deserve to be a mother. Because I did not carry her, I somehow feel that I cheated the system, and the universe will correct for that, some way, some how. I worked harder to become a parent than I have at anything else in my life. And I work extremely hard to be a good parent to my children, and it’s partially because I feel the need to prove to the universe that it was wrong – some crazy cosmic agreement that if I do a good enough job, I’ll get to keep her.

Every year, as these “holidays” of sorts come around, I say how I wish I didn’t know about them. And this year, I say the same thing. Despite the joy and love that a rainbow has brought into our lives, I am, and will be for the rest of my life, the face of infertility and a bereaved Mom. It’s the hand I was dealt, and I’m playing it the best I can. But it never goes away.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Very Different Birthday

Today, our oldest daughter turns 3. There will be no party. No blowing out the candles. No gifts for her to open. We’ve been through this day before, so you’d think we’d know what to expect. But this year is different.

This year, we have her baby sister in our arms. There is no doubt that she has brought joy and light to our lives that we desperately needed.  You couldn’t find a child that is more wanted than Ellie – we certainly had to work hard and take unexpected paths to get her here. And we love her more than words can say.

But (you knew there would be a but), her arrival has raised some very complicated emotions. Ones that I’ve been struggling with since she arrived. And Vivienne’s birthday emphasizes them much more strongly.

I recognize that most of the people around us want us to be “fixed” and fully expect that having Ellie means that we are completely healed from Vivienne. After all, one child easily replaces another, right? When you have a living child, then have another, you don’t stop loving and parenting your oldest, and it’s the same even when the oldest isn’t here. I still grieve Vivienne even as I celebrate Ellie.

Every activity we do with Ellie brings me happiness. But with every activity, there is an undercurrent of sadness. When we took our first walk, gave the first bath, saw the first smile, did the first midnight feeding, our first thoughts are about how happy we are that she is here to do these things with. And our second thoughts are how sad we are that we never got to do any of these with Vivienne. It’s always there – the sadness behind the smile. And it will be there for every first and many seconds, thirds, fourths. . .

And this all leads to one big realization that I had after Ellie was born. If Vivienne had lived, she wouldn’t be here. I have 2 children, but there is no path I could have taken in this life to have them both with me. If Vivienne had lived, there would be no Ellie. And because Ellie lives, there is no Vivienne. I was given no choice for which child I would get to keep, which I suppose is a good thing. I love them both too much to choose which one to raise. But it breaks my heart to think that my life path has that fork in the road. My life took the road to Ellie, and Vivienne is on a different path. It’s a very complicated thought process to work through for a Mom. I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile this thought – I can only hope that one day, I’ll just accept it.

I was also so busy leading up to Vivienne’s birthday (a one month old requires a lot of time) that I didn’t give her the time that she deserves. I know all too well about this Mommy guilt, but you don’t know guilt until you feel like you’re choosing one of your children over the other.

Typically, the week build up to Vivienne’s birthday is an emotional time for me. This year, I didn’t feel it. Last night, I had the first inklings of “OK, here we are. Another birthday without her.” I was just sitting and watching TV and felt an emptiness. It’s a feeling I’m familiar with, and there is both a comfort and unease in it. And the tears finally showed up this morning as I fed Ellie her morning bottle. As I talked to her, I told her that today was her big sister’s birthday. And I just started to cry and couldn’t stop. Maybe I’d been holding in the tears and didn’t know it.

And so here we are again. Gifts for a 3 year old that go to charity instead of our daughter. Singing “Happy birthday” through tears and wondering who should blow out the candles. Wondering who she would be at 3 years old and what she would be like. But this year, we add Ellie to our traditions – telling her all about her big sister and guardian angel. And thinking about a life with a 3 year old and 1month old that can never be.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Thank You

Over the past 2 and ½ years since we lost Vivienne, I’ve made many friends and found many resources in the loss community. On my Facebook newsfeed, there are posts from friends and pictures of everyone’s children, with articles and commentary about infertility and infant loss interspersed throughout. It makes for an interesting daily read on the world.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been encountering a lot of stories about people being told that their grief is wrong, unhealthy, or even worse, a sign of mental illness. Every time I see one of these stories, I feel a sense of shock. How could anyone look at a grieving parent, at any point over their lifetime, and tell them that they shouldn’t remember their child? I can’t imagine anyone ever saying that.

And then I realize, the reason I can’t imagine it is that no one has ever said this to me. Having heard so many friends talk about it and after reading so many articles, I spent a while waiting for someone to tell me it was time to move on. But, no one ever did. Even after pouring out the most vulnerable and sensitive parts of my soul in this blog, I still never heard the words “you have to let go and move on.” Not once.

Generally speaking, the responses I have received to this blog have been positive. People tell me how it helps them feel understood (even on topics other than losing a child) and how they appreciate me writing so they can understand what we’re going through. There is a large contingent who have never said anything to me about it, and that’s OK. Maybe they are the ones who think it’s time for me to “get over it” and “move on” but at least they have the courtesy not to actually say that directly to me.

So, I guess what I’m actually trying to do here is to say thank you. Thank you for reading, for trying to understand, and for your positive and supportive comments. I feel lucky to be surrounded by people who don’t question how I travel the road I was forced onto. You probably think it’s nothing, but I have many friends who would disagree.

I don’t know where our journey will take us. I don’t know if I’ll keep writing in this blog or not. It’s not that this part of my life is over – remembering and grieving for my daughter is something I’ll do for the rest of my life. But it felt like a thank you needed to be said to those of you who have read and provided comments and notes of love and support over the past few years. Who knows where we go from here, but I do know that no matter what, we have a crew of wonderful people supporting us and rooting for us. And you’ll never know how much we appreciate that.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

This Christmas

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Over the past few months, I’ve had a few different blog posts floating around in my head, but I never took the time to sit down and write them. This one, I knew I had to get out. I waited until Christmas was largely over – partly because I needed to see how this latest Christmas would play out, and partly because I knew that people wouldn’t want to read my sad thoughts when there is so much merry to be had. It’s the extra dose of grief that parents missing a child get to carry at the holidays.

I come into every holiday season with a healthy dose of apprehension. I never know what the holidays will be like. Will this be the year when I can find some joy in Christmas again? Or will it be weeks of survival mode, trying to survive and make it to January?

Our first Christmas without Vivienne was incredibly painful. She was supposed to be born on December 22nd, and so the holidays came with a fresh round of loss for us. I wanted no part of Christmas that year, and I spent most of it in tears trying to figure out how I was even supposed to go on living.

Our second Christmas, I tried. I did the decorations, I went back to church, back to the holiday parties, and I tried to find the Christmas spirit. We developed our new traditions – putting the ornaments on Vivienne’s tree, picking out toys to donate in her memory, lighting a candle for her at the Christmas dinners. There were fragments of joy, but it was still a sad holiday season.

This year, I tried again. I did the decorations, I went to church and the holiday parties, did our Vivienne traditions, and even watched a holiday movie or 2. And at every step, her absence stood right beside me, never failing to make me recognize who was missing. Her absence was a presence throughout the Christmas season.

As we decorated the tree, I stood there and looked at it, knowing that there should be a 2 year old beside us helping to hang the ornaments.

As we went to pick out toys for Toys for Tots, I wondered what types of toys she would like and had to acknowledge that I would never get to buy her one.

As I looked at Facebook each day, I was reminded that we’d never hear her Christmas list, get a picture of her screaming on Santa’s lap, or hear any “out of the mouths of babes” funny quotes from her.

As my husband baked the Christmas cookies, I saw the absence of little hands ready to decorate the sugar cookies and “help” make the cookies.

As I sat in church on Christmas Eve, I watched children run up for the children’s sermon. Seeing all of the little girls in their special Christmas dresses just reminded me that I’d never pick out a special outfit for Vivienne, dress her up, and take her to church on Christmas Eve.

And as I watched my family open their presents on Christmas morning, I wondered whether this is the year she’d be into Christmas. Would she have a Christmas list, understand Santa, and get really excited about her presents? We’ll never know.

This is my reality. This is my Christmas. For each year that we celebrate, there will be a baby who doesn’t turn a year older. She will never sit on Santa’s lap. She will never decorate the tree, and she will never open a present.  Each year, I will recognize that my family will always be incomplete. This year, we miss having our 2 year old. Next year, we'll miss our 3 year old. And so it will go year after year.

I’m guessing that each year, I will find a little more joy in Christmas. But each year will also contain countless reminders of who is missing the whole way through. I recently read something that called it the “undercurrent of sadness” which feels about right. We may be smiling, celebrating, and singing “Joy to the world!” but there is an undercurrent of sadness to all of it. An incomplete family. A full season of thinking about what could be this year, but isn’t.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Crisis of Faith

Holding on to my faith over the past 2 years has been a constant battle for me. When Vivienne died, it forced me to re-evaluate the belief system that I’d been raised with. I had to find a way not to be angry with God. I had to find a way to still believe. I have to believe that I will see my daughter again someday. Some days, that’s the only thought that gets me out of bed and keeps me going.

And then we lost 3 more children. And I fought again to keep my belief that God is good, and I needed to believe.

And then we lost any ability to conceive a child naturally, followed by losing the ability for me to carry a child all together. And I fought again to not blame God. To focus on the idea that eventually, the randomness of the universe would have to turn in our favor. It has been a hard fought battle to keep my faith through all that we’ve been through. And I’m starting to lose the battle.

Over the past 5 months, I have changed jobs (a transition that has been more difficult than I expected), we bought a new house (with issues and expenses that were not disclosed or uncovered during inspection, costing us more money than we anticipated), we still own our previous house (that despite many showings, overwhelmingly positive feedback and a price reduction that is basically giving it away, defies all convention and will not sell), and we continue to pursue surrogacy, despite a failed attempt on our first try (a difficult, time consuming, terrifying and very expensive proposition).

Earlier last week, I hit my breaking point. I was completely overwhelmed by all that we have on our plate. I did not know what to do or where to turn. And so I did something I have not done in a long time. I prayed. As I decided to do this, I heard the sayings people have often said to me. Let go and let God. Give it over to God. And so I did, and I prayed. It was a simple prayer, but delivered in the most desperate tone.

God, I have more than I can handle, and I need Your help.

I let go, and I asked God to have mercy on us. I said this prayer for several days, and yesterday something happened.

My beloved cat, Oliver, who comforted me at the lowest points of my life died. It was completely out of nowhere – he was not sick, showed no signs of being in any pain, and was his normal self when I left for work. Yesterday afternoon, Gordon called me to tell me that he died. We don’t know what happened (our theory is either a stroke, he choked, or some combination of the 2), but it all happened in about 5 minutes. He was gone, and I am shattered.

I told God that I had more than I could handle, and I needed help. And instead, I got more pain. I hadn’t prayed for anything specific – just to have some stress taken off my plate. And instead, I got more. It’s like I can hear Him laughing “you thought you had more than you could handle? Well, how about this.”

At every bad news that we got, I fought against the idea that God was doing this to me, that I was being punished. I told myself that the universe is random, and sometimes, people have to play a bad hand. I told myself that eventually, the randomness of the universe would turn in our favor. But now, I have to admit, that I’m not so sure about that. I’m not so sure anymore that God is kind and loving. I asked for help, and I got the rug pulled out from under me yet again.

People often say to me that God will never give you more than you can handle. What complete and total BS. Do not mistake the fact that I am still surviving what we have been handed over the past 2 years as me handling anything. I feel broken on more days than not. God has given me more than I can handle over and over again. And when I cried uncle and said I could take no more, I got more anyway.

I don’t know how to reconcile this latest loss. I’m losing the will to fight for my faith anymore. I can’t quite figure out what I’m fighting for. In the end. I think all I’m really fighting for is the idea that I’ll see my children in heaven. And that’s what keeps me hanging on to faith. And wrestling with the idea that maybe God is doing all of this to us after all makes me feel like my ultimate punishment will be that I will not get to spend eternity with them. Wouldn’t that be quite the last laugh at my expense? 

This thought of never getting to see my children again cuts me to the core of my soul. It’s the thought that keeps me hanging on, but it’s also the thing that can make me curl up into a ball and cry so hard I can’t breath. The idea that I’ll never see my children again makes me wonder what the point is of anything.

And what am I supposed to do with that thought? Let Go and let God? I’ve seen where that gets me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Running Out

When I started thinking about writing this post, the title of this one was “Running out of Options.” But as it started to come together, I realized that I’m running out of so much more than options. I’m running out of time. I’m running out of steam. I’m running out of heart to break. And I’m running out of hope.

We learned in the spring that I’d be unable to carry another child. While it was a big blow to absorb, we did what we’d done so many times before. We pulled ourselves up and tried to figure out what our other options were. We knew how much we wanted a child to raise, and with that as the goal, we went to the next way to get it.

And so we began the process for surrogacy. My simply amazing sister had offered to be our surrogate a while ago, and we were in a position where we needed to take her up on that offer. It’s not an easy, simple, fast, or cheap process. It involved multiple medical tests and clearances for her, the sign off of a psychologist for all of us, and the involvement of 2 separate attorneys drawing up legal contracts to formalize the agreement. It wasn’t easy, but it gave us so much hope that we’d finally get the good news we’d been waiting for.

Friday the 13th was to be that good news day. We’d done the transfer 2 weeks prior and waited. But good news isn’t exactly our thing, and so we received the bad news on Friday. The test was negative. To say that we were devastated again is a complete understatement.

Each time, we’re left to wonder again why this keeps happening to us. God knows we’re trying everything in our power to have another child. We’ve gone well beyond what most people have to do. We’ve saved and spent more money than we care to acknowledge and endured more physical and emotional pain than most people have in a lifetime. And here we are, still with our empty and painfully quiet house.

As we’ve spent the weekend absorbing the bad news and discussing our options, it becomes painfully obvious that we are running out of ways to add to our family. We have to wonder how many more rounds of bad news we can take before our hearts actually stop from being broken 1 too many times. We wonder what lengths we’ll actually need to go to for having another child, or whether it’s just not in the cards for us, and we’re chasing a dream that will never be.

As it stands, none of our options are easy, without significant costs, and none are assuring of a happy outcome. We can try surrogacy again with my sister, but that feels like an incredibly selfish choice. The process was not easy on her, and knowing that I’ve given her a glimpse of my world of going through so much for nothing at the end is a feeling I just can’t shake. We can try surrogacy with an agency, but that costs somewhere in the range of $50,000. We can move to adoption, which will run us somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 or more, and if you’ve done any searching on the subject, you’d learn there is no shortage of demand to adopt a baby, and very little supply. There is foster to adopt, which I truly believe is a wonderful idea, but would simply not work for us. The rules of the system are that a member of the biological family has up to 3 years to get their act together and can take a child back. I’ve already lost enough children, I can’t raise a child for 3 years and risk having them taken away. I know enough to say that I would never survive that.

And that’s it. That’s all we have left. Each is expensive, difficult, time consuming, and comes with great risk. But that’s all we have. And you can see how the options are starting to run very thin.

There is a quote that I keep handy that I look at often. “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” I see so many quotes that are along the same lines. Never give up. Stay positive and try again. Keep the faith. But lately, I’ve been forced to ask myself, when is the better choice to stop? To not try again tomorrow. To let go of the hope because it’s never going to happen. Where are the pithy quotes when that is the dilemma?

Let me be clear that I don’t want to give up. I’m not a quitter. But I have to acknowledge that there aren’t many more options for us. And even if we continue with any of the options above, we face the very real possibility that we will never have a child to raise.  At the end of the day, I’m 41, I can’t carry a child, and I’m not made of money. And I’m completely exhausted every minute of every day.

I’m running out of everything. And ultimately, I have only 2 choices. I can stop and try to let go of the most important and desperately wanted dream I’ve ever had. Or I can keep trying until the options are gone, still facing the real possibility that I’ll have to let go of the dream anyway.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Terrible Two's

Today is Vivienne’s 2nd birthday. In so many ways, I’m not really sure what to say about it. To think about what should have been breaks my heart every day, but today, it weighs heavily.

I should have a toddler wreaking havoc on my house. She should be talking and walking. Instead, the silence of her absence screams at me. We moved into a new house recently, and I didn’t have to think about little hands reaching for things they could break or would be dangerous for them. It’s a thought that crossed my mind with every object I put away. I would say to myself over and over again, it’s not supposed to be like this.

What I can’t stop thinking about is that my baby isn’t supposed to be a baby anymore. I can’t help but wonder whether she’s still a baby in heaven or if she is 2 years old. I can’t picture her as a 2 year old. I’ll only ever see her as a baby – the one and only time I got to hold her and soak in everything about her. We are “celebrating” (a word that does not fit, but there isn’t another one that does) her 2nd birthday, and yet she is and will always be a baby to us.

It adds another level of grief to our journey. We will “celebrate” these milestones for our daughter, but she will always stay a baby. On her 5th birthday, I will mourn not sending her off to kindergarten, but also try to reconcile that I cannot picture my 5 year old daughter. She will always be a baby, and each year will be a reminder that she will not grow up to match the number of candles on her cake. I’ll think about where she should be that year, but not be able to generate an image of her in my head. She’ll be a baby until the day I die.

I think of Vivienne every day, and I miss her every minute of the day. Some times, I can smile about the great privilege it is to be her Mother. And some times, she sends me signs that give me a big smile at my thoughtful and amazing daughter. But today, I feel profoundly sad about all that we are missing with her.

Missing her like this is painful to the very core of my being. And on days like today, I have to recognize that there will always be days like this. Days where her absence causes me an emotional and physical pain that I could never describe. And all I can do is tell myself to breathe, put one foot in front of the other, and hope that tomorrow will be easier. But, I live with the knowledge that even though there will be happy days, there will forever be days like today that bring me to my knees.

We do things to honor our daughter, but it’s never enough. We have decided to do a volunteer project for her birthday every year, and we ask our friends and family to do a random act of kindness in Vivienne’s memory on her birthday. While there is some comfort in knowing that good things are being done in her name, I still can’t shake the overwhelming sense of guilt. It’s never enough. Because I can never actually do anything for Vivienne, it will never be enough.

Vivienne’s birthday feels very different for me this year. I’m still sorting through how I’m feeling. I thought it would be easier this year – not easy, by any means, but easier than the first birthday – but it’s equally hard. For some of the same reasons as last year, but with some new reasons added in. But at the end of the day, it is a milestone for our daughter like it is for anyone else’s child. The difference is that it’s a milestone reminding us of what we don’t get to share with her.

I just miss her. So much that I don’t know what to do with myself.