Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Identity Crisis


There’s a song in A Chorus Line that has a verse that goes: “Who am I anyway? Am I my resume? This is a photo of a person I don’t know.” I’m relating to that line a lot these days. I know I’m not the person I was before losing Vivienne, and I’m struggling to figure out who this new person is. I have to say, I just don’t feel like myself anymore.

I don’t react to things like I normally would. I expected that I’d have more patience with people, but I find the opposite to be true. I have little to no patience for trivial things. I react quickly and more strongly than I would have before. I’m quick to judge that something isn’t worth worrying about and how, in the grand scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter. I know that probably seems like a positive—don’t sweat the small stuff, right? Problem is that when you lose a child, the rest is all small stuff.

I’ve always been an introvert, but I’m now on the extreme end of that scale (this blog representing an effort to move away from that). I don’t like being around large groups of people, and I sometimes struggle with what to talk to people about. My grief and loss are always on my mind, but there’s really only so much that can be said about them. And while they consume my life, I know that they don’t consume the lives of others. It’s one of the things I’m working hardest on—being a better listener and recognizing that everyone has their struggles.

I used to be a relatively optimistic person. I always had faith that things would work out the way they were supposed to. Now that optimism is tempered with the knowledge that bad things happen. Really bad things. When people tell me that “everything will be OK” or “you’ll have another baby” I always respond with “well, we’ll see.” I don’t have the same belief that everything just works out.

I find that I’m never really present in the moment with what’s happening around me.  So much feels like an out of body experience, and I always feel like I’m watching my life happen from afar. It’s when I’m most aware that I don’t know who I am anymore. As I watch myself react and respond, I can’t help but think “who is this person?”

I don’t know how I’ll work through this identity crisis and figure out who the new me is. I’m determined to make the new me a better person than the old me. I know that it’s one of the greatest ways I can honor Vivienne, which has become a driving force in my life. I hope that this new me becomes more familiar to me over the coming months. It will be nice one day to look in the mirror and recognize the face looking back at me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Memories


When you lose a loved one, you generally have a lot of memories to help you through the grief. I can remember losing my Dad. I was so sad that he was gone, but I could still hear his voice, see his face, and sometimes even say things just like he would. I have countless memories of my Dad that help me feel close to him, remember him, and carry him with me.

I don’t have the same for Vivienne. The memories I have are few, and many of them play more like post-traumatic flashbacks rather than warm touching memories. I wish more than I could say that I had a sweet beautiful memory of the first time I held my daughter. Instead, I have a flashback of holding her tiny body, not sure if she was still breathing or not, crying harder than I’ve ever cried in my life.

I’m guessing that anyone who has been through a traumatic experience knows the flashbacks I’m describing. My memories of Vivienne’s birth and the short time we had with her play like an old black and white movie in my head. Not a continuous movie, but one that stops and starts and plays in clips. The sound is like an echo. There’s a hollow and terrifying feeling to every single one of them.

There are some memories that are more vivid than others. Standing in the bathroom at the hospital while my water broke—even I can see the terror on my face. Answering the doctor when she asked if I understood what was happening. Looking into my husband’s face and counting “1-2-3” over and over again as he kept me from hyperventilating from panic. After her birth, the shock set in, and the memories fade.

I have no recollection of calling my Mother to tell her the news. I know that I did, but I have no idea when I called, what I said, or what she said. I don’t remember the doctor who delivered my daughter, and I can’t remember what the nurse who cared for me all night looks like. I don’t remember how long I got to hold my daughter, although it doesn’t really matter since no amount of time would have been enough.

My memories of Vivienne’s short time with us are a blur. I do remember trying to take mental pictures of every part of her, so I wouldn’t forget her face, her hands, her toes. I give thanks every day that we have pictures of her, because my memory is a fog from that night, and those mental pictures I tried so hard to snap have fallen under the haze of shock and complete despair.

I do try to focus on the memories I have of Vivienne, which are few. I remember her Dad reading her Curious George stories. I remember how shy she was at the 20 week ultrasound, causing it to last hours before she finally showed the doctor her face. She burrowed deep back around my spine, and all of the poking and prodding made her burrow deeper, making that picture of her face a difficult one to get. I remember how cookies or bad music could really get her moving. I remember how she was born with her tongue sticking out.

As far as happy memories go, those are pretty much all I have. It adds an extra layer of sadness to miss someone you love so deeply and not have memories to carry you through. And to know that most of those memories are clouded in trauma, not happiness, makes the burden even heavier to carry.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A little understanding


In the days and weeks after Vivienne’s death, we got a lot of offers for “anything you need.” At the time, I couldn’t articulate what I needed. Now, with tomorrow being 5 months since she died, I think I’m finally figuring it out. What I need is understanding.

It’s a tough one to deliver on, because I know that people who have not walked this path cannot truly understand what it’s like. They can’t understand what it feels like to have all of your hopes and dreams crushed in a matter of hours. What it’s like to go through every part of giving birth knowing you won’t have a baby to take home when it’s done. What it’s like to wonder if there will ever be a time when you feel normal again. What it’s like to spend time with your daughter by sitting with her ashes and looking at the only pictures you will ever have. It’s hard to ask for people to understand what losing a child is like, and I don’t expect that kind of understanding.

The understanding that I need is to recognize that my daughter is real and that she matters. That just because I didn’t carry her full term, and she lived no longer than 8 minutes that she’s somehow less of a person. She cannot be replaced, in my heart or with another child.

The understanding that I need is that my grief is powerful, and that grieving is something that I need to do. I know that grief and sadness are uncomfortable for a lot of people. It’s something we’re supposed to help people out of, not sit with them while they’re in it. When someone is sad, it’s our job to cheer them up and let them know that everything will be OK. But here, that’s just not the case.

The understanding that I need is that I will grieve, in one way or another, for the rest of my life.  This doesn’t mean that I won’t laugh, have good times, or enjoy life. But, there will always be something missing from my life because my daughter isn’t here with me. I know that with time, the grief will change. It won’t always be the sharp and constant pain that I’ve felt these last few months. But it will always be with me because she is a part of me.

The understanding that I need most of all is to know that what I’m feeling is OK. It’s not a process with clear and consistent instructions for how to get through, and it’s not a linear path. Some days, I’ll move forward, some I’ll move backward, and some days, I may not move at all. There will be a day where I feel I’ve made a lot of progress in working through my grief, and the next day might feel like August 19th all over again. There isn’t a “right way” to get through losing a child. For me, there’s only my way.

I’ve had some amazingly supportive people around me over the last 5 months. And the one consistent theme about their support is that it’s just support, not judgment and not attempts to fix things. No words of “it’s time to move on” or “you need to focus on something else” or “everything will be OK.” Just words of “I’m sorry” or “I’m here for you” and even “this sucks.” And I want to say thank you to those people. Thank you for taking this journey with me and supporting me through it. I know it isn’t easy, but I also know that I can’t do it alone.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Parallel Universe


I had a friend in graduate school who used to talk about this girl he liked. He’d always say “in some other universe, we have a smoking hot relationship.” I don’t know why, but this keeps popping into my head these days. It has me thinking (hoping, maybe) that there is some parallel universe where things worked out differently.

I like to think that there’s another world out there where my husband and I are home enjoying time with our newborn daughter right now. I’m sure we’re complaining about the lack of sleep or the crying and changing of diapers. But, I hope we’re appreciating how special it is and are grateful for what we have.

I have this vision of walking through my house, holding my baby girl and singing to her. Visions of watching her Dad hold her and rock her to sleep. All play like dreams in my head, but so strong that I kind of hope they are a window into another world. It’s weird—in these visions, I can see us so clearly, but I can’t see her. She’s always swaddled in a blanket or blocked by a person so I can’t see her face. It’s like another reminder of getting so close to what could have been. And then the vision slips away.

I hope these parallel universe parents understand how lucky they are. Getting to hold that baby girl is something I got to do for such a short period of time, but now the emptiness is so strong. They’ll get to watch her take her first steps, teach her how to ride a bike, and send her off to her first day of school. They know what color her eyes are and what her laugh sounds like. They’ll know her favorite foods and the signs that she’s tired or hungry. They get to hug and kiss her and celebrate her birthdays and Christmas with her. They’re the luckiest parents in the world, because I have no doubt that she’s an amazing kid.

And then it hits me. Even though there may be this parallel world where we get to raise Vivienne, I don’t get to be in that world. I’m in this one. The one where we mourn not getting to do all of those things with her. The one where her loss is so much bigger than I can explain. The one where I cry tears of sadness rather than tears of joy. The one where I have to try and make sense of it all. Even though I want to be in that other world, I have to be in this one, and I have to figure out how to make my way through it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Year, Fresh Start?


I can’t tell you how many times in the last couple of weeks I’ve heard “you must be happy to have 2011 behind you!” (or some variation on that theme) And while it’s true that I am happy to start a new year, it doesn’t quite mean the fresh start that I know everyone hopes for.

2011 was a year of the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s the year I found out I was pregnant, and the only time I got to spend here with my daughter. I spent much of the year so hopeful about what the future held and how our family would change by the end of it. It’s also, as you all know, the year that I lost her. It’s not only that I lost her, but all of the hope that she represented for our family.

But, the passing of the calendar to 2012 does not quite put the past in the past like we’d like. No date on the calendar will tell me when my grieving will be easier to bear or when it’s time to move on (whatever that means). There is no magic bullet that a new year can provide.

The passing into a new year was actually harder than I expected. There’s something about a new year that means more distance than a fresh start. The passing of time both helps and hurts. I’m now further away in time from my daughter, which makes me feel further away from her. That distance can be hard to swallow. It’s amazing how you can want to turn back the clock and fast forward to the future all at the same time. I suppose it’s the balance between moving on and letting go, and sometimes the difference between the two is hard to spot.

So to respond to those who wonder, sure, I’m happy to have a new year. But that doesn’t mean the impact of 2011 isn’t still there. I didn’t wake up on January 1st and forget what happened in 2011. It’s a new year, but I still wake up with the same pain and sadness. I am hopeful for 2012, but it doesn’t erase the past. I know that 2012 will bring us many blessings, and we’re ready for them. But it will also be the year that I celebrate my daughter’s first birthday, without her. That’s the thing about time—even though the years change, those same days come back again and again.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Mother's Guilt


I doubt that there is anyone who would ever insinuate that I’m to blame for losing my daughter. Of course I always think that people must think I did something—otherwise, how could they believe it could never happen to them? The guilt over losing a child washes over you often, and sometimes in unexpected ways.

Let me explain that logically I know that I did nothing to cause Vivienne’s death and that there is nothing I could have done to prevent it. But, the heart and the mind often don’t agree, and this is one of those situations where the heart often wins. It is my job as her Mother to protect her, and especially while she was growing inside of my body, it was my job alone.

It’s impossible not to feel as though I’ve failed her. My counselor would always correct me when I said this and tell me that my body failed her, not me. But how do I separate the two? I was carrying a perfect and healthy little girl, and my body forced her out before she was ready, and she died. When your doctor tells you that the loss is a “maternal issue, not a fetal issue” (ouch), it is a constant challenge not to believe I am the one to blame.

I have learned in counseling that when I have these feelings of guilt, I have to counter them with the truth. So each time I start to blame myself for what happened, I repeat to myself “I did everything I knew to do to keep her safe, and I would never have done anything to hurt her.” It’s true, and when I say it enough, I start to believe it again.

I approached pregnancy like I do most things in my life—with lots of research and a mission to do it the “right way” (whatever that is). I read books, I researched online, and I removed every product from my diet and regimen that anyone even thought could do her harm. I changed my face soap and toner because they contained ingredients that could cause miscarriage or low birth weight (and let me tell you, my complexion was not happy with this decision). I gave up caffeine and alcohol months before Vivienne was even a possibility and had 1 sip of a Coke while I was pregnant—that was it. I avoided every food that could cause a problem—no tuna, no soft cheese, no deli meats. I had my meat cooked well done to avoid any possibility of something bad. I took my prenatal vitamins every day, went to see my doctor regularly, ate my fruits and vegetables, and drank my milk (and I HATE milk). I even cut way back on chocolate, which for me is like learning to breathe a new way. So when I say that I did everything I knew to do to keep her safe, I know that I did. But that doesn’t change the outcome.

Even after doing everything I knew to do to keep her safe, I still carry the guilt of the “what if.” What if I had recognized the symptoms as labor and gotten to the doctor or hospital sooner. What if I had been stronger and demanded that the doctors and nurses examine me sooner. What if I had taken it easier and not gone to book club, to work, for that walk and rested instead. What if I had done a thousand things differently and she would be here now.

The grief also comes with guilt. There is guilt that you’re not grieving enough or that you’re grieving too much. When there are moments of normalcy or even laughter, there is guilt over the feeling that I’m not remembering her. I recently had a day where I didn’t cry—my first since Vivienne died. What should be felt as progress instead feels like guilt—that I’ve somehow pushed her aside in my life. It’s not true, but there’s an element that feels like if I don’t think of her and recognize her every second of every day, then I’m not honoring her. She is never far from my thoughts, but when my thoughts focus on other things, I feel bad that she’s not at the center. And when she consumes my thoughts and my grief is so strong, I feel guilt that this is not how she would want me to live and honoring her through sadness isn’t honoring her either.

And there’s guilt when my grief becomes more about me than about her.  Months ago, I made it my personal mission to wake up every morning and ask myself “how will I honor my daughter today?” It can be small things like trying to be more understanding of people and kinder. This helps me put the focus back on Vivienne and off of me. But, there are times every day where all I can see is my own sadness and the piece of our family that isn’t here. When listening to other Mothers complain about midnight feedings or misbehaving children makes me want to scream. Or listening to women complain about the pains of pregnancy makes me want to explode. The bitterness, anger, and jealousy are hard to contain. And when they come out, then I’m not honoring Vivienne, and the guilt piles on again.

So that’s me these days, a walking, living piece of guilt. I’m sure that with time, I will figure out how to reconcile and manage these feelings. I’m also sure that I’ll find new things to feel bad about. I guess that’s part of being a Mom, whether your child is here or not.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why?


I’m not sure there is a question that causes more anguish for a loss parent than “why?” Why my child? Why me? Those are questions with answers that don’t come easy and ones that heavily affect what you believe in.

First, there’s the physical “why?” Why did this happen? I’ve met several parents who don’t get an answer to this question—there is no physical reason why their baby’s heart stopped beating or why labor started so early. Many get a reason, but with no medical guidance on how to prevent it next time—it’s a rare occurrence, and you just take your chances. We were lucky—at least we got answers on the physical “why?”

We had an autopsy done on Vivienne (doesn’t that sound like a fun decision for a parent to make?), which showed she was perfectly healthy—well developed for her gestational age, with no signs of any genetic or physical abnormalities. She had a collapsed lung and a blood clot on her liver, but the doctors felt that was due to the trauma of the delivery (she wasn’t ready to be born yet). Days after her death, we would learn that my placenta showed an infection (chorioamnionitis), which is what caused labor to start. The doctors would eventually tell me that I have an incompetent cervix (oh how the medical community loves women with terms like that), which means that my cervix opens easily, and as Vivienne grew, it opened and allowed an infection to get in. The solution to this in future pregnancies is to get a cerclage, which basically means they will stitch my cervix shut and likely put me on bedrest for part of the pregnancy. As I’ve told my husband several times, if they tell me that I need to stand on my head for 40 weeks to insure a healthy baby, I’ll do it.

So that’s the physical “why?” Now there’s the spiritual why, which is the impossible question to answer. I’ve heard all of the clich├ęs: it’s your body’s way of taking care of something that would have been a problem (not true—Vivienne was perfectly healthy, my body pushed her out before she was ready); God needed another angel (obviously, we didn’t need her enough, so God had to take her); God is testing you (let me tell you that nothing can push you into depression quite like being given the worst test imaginable, then feeling like you are failing it); God never gives you more than you can handle, so you must be really strong (if only I were weaker, then I could still have my child). I know that they are all said in an attempt to help, but when you’ve lost a child, you see how it’s your fault in everything.

I should probably point out that I do believe in God.  I was raised Lutheran by a minister father. God is part of who I am, and I’ve really never thought that He doesn’t exist. I know there a lot of people who believe differently, which I understand. I think no matter your belief system, every parent I’ve met has still struggled with the spiritual and universal why of what’s happened. Mine just happens to be grounded in God.

I started doing some reading on this topic, because it’s something I’m really struggling with and will for some time. My first book is “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold Kushner. His basic premise is that you have to let go of one of 3 things: that God is all powerful, that God is loving and just, or that I’m a good person who deserves good things. Either God isn’t in complete control, He doesn’t deal a fair hand, or I had it coming. What a choice to make.

Rabbi Kushner believes you let go of the first one—that God is not causing bad things to happen, it is the randomness in the universe. Rather than asking God why He’s done this to me, I should ask God to help me through it. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot. I think my fundamental problem with this is that I’m supposed to thank God for all of my blessings and give Him credit for all of the good things, but the bad things don’t fall on Him—those are just random and there’s no one to blame.  Trust me—this is the one of the 3 options that I want to let go. I just haven’t figured out how yet.

The second option is still hard to take. But somehow, it feels the most right. You hear all of the time that life isn’t fair, right? You see people abuse their children, kill them, and abandon them, but here we are waiting with open and loving arms for a child we can’t have. Teenagers get pregnant so often that MTV has multiple shows about it. They don’t know how to care for themselves during pregnancy, let alone for a baby when they have one, but they get problem free pregnancies and healthy babies. It’s certainly the easiest explanation that God isn’t fair and just, but I have a hard time believing that God just rolls the dice on our lives every day, and we get what we get. How do I get up everyday and go about my day thinking it’s controlled by a God who doesn’t believe in fairness and justice?

After losing Vivienne, I spent a good bit of time angry with God. Angry at Him for taking away the person I’d give my life for, angry for having to experience this profound sadness, angry for having to carry this for the rest of my life. My pastor tells me it’s OK to be angry with God, that He can take it. But, the anger leads to fear. The other emotion I’ve felt most strongly with God is the feeling that I’m being punished. I’ve done something terrible and brought on Vivienne’s death. I’m not learning the lesson I’m supposed to see in this, and so the punishments of additional complications layer on. If I can’t blame God, then it must be me. And while I can’t think of anything I could have done that warranted the death of my daughter, it’s a hard one to get around.

So after all of that, I’m still searching for my answer to why. I don’t want to believe in a random universe, I don’t want to blame God, and I don’t want to blame myself. I can only hope that with time, the answers become more clear, or I learn to let go of the question.