Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Surviving Christmas

There’s no getting around it—Christmas is different this year. We’ve gone through some of the motions—put up the Christmas tree and decorations, sent out Christmas cards, and bought the gifts. But, things are different. This year, I’m in survival mode—just trying to make it through the holidays and into 2012. Celebrating isn’t something I’m up for this year.

It’s funny. Everyone says they understand that Christmas won’t be the same this year. But, when I talk about how it’s different, I can see them slowly backing out of the conversation. I guess it’s like I’m infecting other people’s Merry Christmas with my sadness. I realized this at a recent holiday party. Someone asked how I was doing, and I responded with my usual “just trying to survive the holidays this year.” As they nodded at me, the song “Blue Christmas” came on. I commented that this was my theme song this year. And then it happened. First, the pity eyes. Then, the eyes darting around the room looking for any possible exit. Christmas without my daughter is hard enough. But being the sad person in a room full of joy, happy, merry, and bright is a lonely experience.

I can’t listen to Christmas carols, and I’m not watching any holiday movies. In a regular year, my radio would be tuned to the “all Christmas, all the time” station, but I’ve found that each and every song makes me cry this year. For previous Christmases, I’ve parked my behind on my couch to watch Love Actually or The Holiday and wrap presents. This year, I watched House Hunters (generally a Christmas and baby free experience).

This will also be the first year I have not gone to church on Christmas Eve. I have largely worked through my anger with God over what happened. There are still times where I feel I’m being punished for something, but I’m working through that too. I think there will always be a bit of “why me?” that I’ll never understand, and any great cosmic reason for losing my daughter will always escape me. But, my not going to church on Christmas Eve isn’t because I’m angry with God. I just remember the time after losing my Dad when I cried in church every time I went. And those were just regular Sundays. I can’t imagine the sobbing mess I would be if my first journey back to church happened on Christmas Eve. And there I’d go again, letting my sadness invade other people’s happy times.

These old traditions are replaced with new ones. Vivienne’s tree that sits in our living room—soon to be adorned with ornaments given to her by our families. Her stocking hanging over our fireplace that will hold letters that her Dad and I will write to her. Her candle that will travel with us on Christmas, being lit at every celebration so that she is a part of our family Christmas, just as she should be. And her Christmas presents—gifts to charities instead of stuffed animals and toys.

I find myself often saying “this would have been our first Christmas with her.” I always correct myself, and eventually I’ll get it right. This IS our first Christmas with her. Even though she’s not with us, she is everywhere around us. Remembering that is hard to do when the grief is so fresh. That’s all I want for Christmas this year—to feel Vivienne close to us.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

First Post

I never thought I’d be the type of person who blogged. I’m generally a pretty private person, and I don’t usually put all of my thoughts out for the whole world to see. But, I’m realizing that I need to do something to make people understand what’s in my head. And since I can write better than I can speak most days, here goes.

I hate my life. Before anyone goes on with all of the reasons I shouldn’t, let me explain. I want to be clear that I know I have a lot of blessings and so many things to be thankful for that I can’t even list them all here. I am married to a man I love more than I can say who loves me the same. Our marriage is stronger than I ever could have dreamed because of what we’ve gone through. I have a supportive and loving family. I have friends who have stood by me through some very dark times. I have a great job that gives us a comfortable lifestyle. We own a beautiful home and both have our health. Of course I’m thankful for all of those things. But these days, all I can see is 1 thing—my daughter is dead.

I’m sure that’s a statement that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m supposed to say things that make it easier for others to bear—she passed away, we lost her, she’s an angel now, she’s gone to heaven (which I do believe, by the way). But the words I choose don’t change anything about this—my daughter is dead. She’s gone, and she’s never coming back. I wake up to this harsh fact every morning. I live with it every minute of every day. I go to sleep with it every night. And there are many nights when it invades my dreams. I cannot escape it, step away from it, or take a break from it.

As I sit and type this, I can’t help but think about my upcoming due date. I am supposed to be 39 weeks pregnant right now and due to deliver her on Thursday. Instead, on Monday, it will be 4 months since my life changed forever.

August 19th started like any other Friday. I got up, went to work, and left around 1:00 (half day Fridays in the summer). I hadn’t been feeling well that day and was feeling a lot of pressure, but I just figured that our baby girl was getting bigger and pregnancy was getting more uncomfortable. As the afternoon went by, I wasn’t feeling any better, so we called our doctor, who advised us to go to the hospital. “It’s either a urinary tract infection or early labor,” she said. I never thought I’d pray to have a urinary tract infection. We sat in the hospital, waiting for the doctor, and the pain got more intense. I went to the bathroom, where my water broke. They examined me and told me I was fully dilated, and she had descended into the birth canal. The doctor put her hand on my arm and said “do you understand what’s happening?” I said yes, I’m about to have this baby, and there is no way she will survive. They rolled me into another room and told me to start to push.

Our baby girl, Vivienne Grace, was born at 9:42 pm. She did not cry when she was born, and my first question was “is she breathing?” She was. She was 11 and ½ inches long and weighed 14 ounces. She lived for 8 minutes. We held her and said our hellos and goodbyes all at the same time.

The hours and days after that are a blur. In some ways, I long for those days where the shock made me numb to what was happening. Calling funeral homes to make arrangements for her remains, signing paperwork for an autopsy on our child, calling heartbroken grandparents, all the while hoping this was a nightmare, and I would wake up.

Obviously, it wasn’t. So now here I am—doing the best I can to cope with the hardest thing I can imagine. I know that no one knows what to say to me. There are many who think the worst is over, and I should be moving on now. There are many who avoid talking to me or being around me (who wants to hang out with the saddest person they know). I am a walking worst case scenario—experiencing something that most people don’t even want to think about. I knew that losing my daughter would be the hardest thing I would ever experience, but what I didn’t know was how isolating it could feel.

I have found support in expected and unexpected places. My husband has been amazing—by my side through all of it. We agreed the night Vivienne was born and died that we were getting through this together, and we’ve both stuck by that promise. We have gone to counseling and support groups together, and we talk about our daughter and how much we miss her all of the time. Our family understands our pain the best they can. They have done so many things to help us honor our daughter, which means so much to us. I have some friends who have really stepped up to the plate, some who I knew would be there, and some I was surprised to find by my side. And I have been welcomed by so many into the club no one wants to join—my BLP support (Baby Loss Parents). All of those people in support groups and online who understand this pain, who nod their head in agreement when I think I’m saying something crazy, and let me express all of the bitterness, anger, guilt, sadness, terror, and jealousy that comes with this BLP badge.

I know that this will be a journey—one I will be on for the rest of my life. I will never “get over” losing Vivienne. My open wound will heal, but the scar will always be there. I will never be the person I was before August 19th. I am changed by having and losing my daughter. My life is changed. Now I figure out who the new me is and how I get to my new version of “normal.”