Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Great Plan


Seems like everyone believes there is some plan for my life. Either that God has a plan for me or that they hold this belief that things will “work out.” I don’t know what to believe right now, but I do know this—if this is all part of some great plan, I hate this plan.

It feels a bit sacrilegious to say that I hate God’s plan for me. Maybe someday, I’ll be able to see things more clearly, but right now, I can’t. It’s hard for me to believe that God’s plan for me involves so much pain. I know that part of having faith is believing in a greater plan—that while things might not work out the way we want them to, God is wiser and knows what we need more than we do. I just can’t understand how what I’m going through represents any “God knows best” knowledge. How can this pain represent something that I don’t know that I need?

Then there are the “it will work out” comments. I know that they come from a good place—people want to make me feel better and feel like they are helping. But, we really don’t know that things will work out, do we? No one knows what the future holds. And if there are any people out there who can see the future, and can tell me with confidence that things will work out, I really wish you’d warned me about what was going to happen with Vivienne.

It’s becoming harder and harder for me to respond to the “it will work out comments.” Sometimes, I wonder what that even means. Most of the time, it means that people are trying to tell me that I’ll have another baby. I usually respond with “we’ll see,” which is not the optimistic and hopeful response that people want. But the harsh fact is that I don’t know if I’ll have another baby. I actually have very little control over that outcome.

I need to be honest about why these comments are so hard for me. Very few people know about this, but if I’m going to share on this blog, then I have to be honest. We’ve been pregnant since we lost Vivienne, and miscarried. Twice. Both losses were early and devastating. Each loss makes the hope a little harder to find. And when people keep telling me that things will work out, and I’ll have another baby, the forced smile gets harder and harder to plaster on.

I try to be hopeful and believe that there is a purpose to everything that is happening to us, but with each blow, that gets harder and harder to do. I do hope that someday, I can look back at this time and realize these horrible moments got me to the place I am supposed to be. But, I also recognize that there is nothing that can happen in my life that will make losing Vivienne an acceptable sacrifice. While hindsight might give me the gift of some perspective about everything, I’d still rather have my daughter alive and with me. And I don’t think that will ever change.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Out of Control


I’m a pretty Type A person. I like to be organized and to feel in control. I make lists and cross things off to feel accomplished. I don’t like to lose things or forget them. I am almost never late for anything. Everything goes on my calendar—work, personal, and fun plans (I actually have 3 calendars).  For the past 6 and a half months, I have never felt more out of control of my life.

Pregnancy was a huge test for me in my ability to control anything, but I seized control of as much as I could. I read books, and I researched everything I should and could do to ensure a healthy pregnancy. I went to my doctor’s appointments like clockwork with a list of questions for her to answer. I actually went into my very first doctor’s appointment at 8 weeks with a list of questions that started with fetal monitoring and c-sections. The nurses laughed at me for how long I had before I'd need those answers, but I wanted to be prepared. Deep down inside, I know this came from trying to control the uncontrollable. I wanted to feel like I had a hand in a positive outcome.

Any illusion of control that I had was taken away on August 19th. I don’t feel like I can control much of anything anymore, which is really hard for me to deal with. I can read and research all I want, but at the end of the day, my entire life feels very much out of my hands. I cannot control my sadness, or sometimes any of my emotions. I can’t control whether I get another shot to have a living child or not.

My husband and I have talked about how this is maybe one of the lessons that we’re supposed to take from losing Vivienne—that we’ll never have the kind of control over things that we’d like. But, what am I supposed to do with that lesson? Just put everything out for the fates or God to decide and wait for the outcome to happen? That feels a lot like letting someone else live my life.

So how do you let go and still feel like you’re taking charge of your life? How do I release control and not feel like I’m just letting life happen to me? I know that there’s got to be a happy medium in there somewhere, but hard as I try, this control freak just can’t find it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Power of Prayer?


I’m thinking a lot about prayer—what we pray for, how prayers get answered, and how to pray. Before Vivienne, I would pray a lot. They weren’t always the traditional prayers that I think of in church. A lot of the time, they were more conversations that I had with God—talking about things I needed help with or things I hoped for. Since her death, it’s been hard for me to pray. Oftentimes, I wonder if anyone is really listening and what the point is.

When I was pregnant with Vivienne, I prayed harder than I ever have in my life. Just about every day, I got on my knees (which was not the norm for me) and prayed for her to be healthy. I was always scared that something would happen to her, and so I prayed. The prayer generally went the same “nothing else matters if she isn’t healthy.” When I had other things to pray about, I would even prioritize them for God—the others are nice to have, but a healthy baby was always the most important.

I have to admit that I feel kind of foolish about those prayers. I’ve even had the feeling that maybe I wasn’t specific enough for God—I prayed for a healthy baby, but I didn’t pray for a healthy LIVING baby. How ridiculous is it to feel that God caught me in a technicality?

The last prayer I said for quite some time came on the night Vivienne died. After all of the medical trauma was done, and Gordon went home to get us fresh clothes and toothbrushes (we hadn’t planned on being there for the night), I laid in my hospital bed and had my chat with God. I told Him that I could not pretend to understand why this was happening, but I needed my daughter to be safe. So I asked Him to welcome her into Heaven and to take good care of her until I could see her again.

After that, it would be a while before I attempted to pray again. I had lots of conversations with God, but they were more in anger and frustration than in prayer. I yelled and I screamed, but I didn’t pray. Every time I would think of something to pray about, the first thought in my mind was always the same—what’s the point?

Recently, there was a bunch of news around Gisele Bundchen and her requests for prayers for the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl. It’s what made me cheer for the Giants, because if I thought for even a second that God answered prayers like that and not my prayers for a healthy baby, I really wasn’t sure how I would react. I have to wonder how God chooses which prayers to grant, and which get the “sorry, it’s just not your day” response. I know He can’t grant them all, but healthy baby vs. dead baby feels like one that should get attention.

I’m trying really hard to pray these days, but I pray very differently than I used to. I no longer ask God for things, because I can’t believe that He has complete control over everything anymore. I pray for strength most of the time—asking God to help me be strong to survive the loss of Vivienne. But I don’t pray for another baby, for God to save someone who is sick, or for God to grant me any blessings. Maybe it’s wrong to think that God can’t control it all. But I can’t come up with any other explanation for why my prayers for a healthy baby went unanswered.

I tell a lot of people that I pray for them, and I do. But I can’t always pray for what they ask me to pray for. Most of my prayers now are that God be with the people suffering and give them strength. I now believe that this is what God can do for us—give us what we need to get through the situation we are faced with, because He can’t always fix it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Acceptance

In a few days, Vivienne will have been gone for 6 months. Considering that I was blessed enough to carry her for 22 weeks and 1 day, this time marks that we’ve been without her longer than we had her with us. As I look back on the last 6 months, I know that I’ve learned a lot, but that I also still have a lot to learn. What I’m working on the most these days is acceptance.

I’ve accepted that she’s gone. I’m certainly not walking around in denial that my daughter isn’t really dead. Although, I do have to admit there are still moments where it all feels like a bad dream, and I wonder whether I was ever really pregnant. But most days, I am fully aware that she is gone and never coming back.

What I need to accept is that things are different. It will probably always be difficult for me to be around pregnant women, to see newborn babies, and to see any little girls who would be about Vivienne’s age. I need to accept that there is a bitterness that comes with losing a child—the envy of other’s happy ever after—that may never fully go away. I need to stop making myself feel bad for not being able to bask in the glow of other people’s happy baby times. I don’t deny them their happiness, but I also don’t have to torture myself with it. It feels selfish, which I guess it is. Accepting that survival tactics are OK, even if they are inherently selfish, is actually harder than it sounds.

I’m learning to accept that missing her is part of loving her. Those days where I miss her so much that I don’t know how to move forward shows the depth of my love for her. Attempting to shut that down or turn it off would be equivalent to stopping my heart. I miss her every second of every day because I love her every second of every day. And it will be that way for the rest of my life.

The acceptance that I’m working on most of all is that, for better or for worse, this is my life. This is the hand I was dealt, and I need to live with that. Accepting that my family will never be whole, that I will never see my daughter grow up, and that I will be a loss Mommy for the rest of my life is harder than I can describe. This acceptance is going to take some time, and I guess I should accept that I might never fully get there.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Early Days


I was pretty much a hermit in the early days after Vivienne’s death, and I didn’t start this blog until a few months after losing her. I haven’t told a lot of people what those early days were like. I feel a bit of an obligation for people to understand those days—mostly because in all likelihood, you will know someone who will have a loss (1 in 4 do, an unfortunate statistic). And maybe understanding what those days are like will help you to bring comfort to a friend some day.

The initial hours and days were complete shock. There were big decisions that needed to be made, and we were in no shape to make them, but had no choice. We were asked if we wanted to name our daughter, which was an easy one for us. She is still our daughter, and she deserves a name. We were asked if we wanted an autopsy, and we were asked what we wanted to do with her remains. We were given the names of funeral homes. We were not asked if we wanted pictures of her, which in hindsight was the thing we missed. Fortunately, the nurses took pictures of her without our knowledge, so we have those to remember her. But, we don’t have any pictures of us with her, which I know is a big regret for both of us.

We threw away the clothes we wore that night—another reminder that we didn’t need. As we left the hospital, achingly aware of how empty our arms were without our baby, the nurse commented that it was a sunny day, but felt like it should be a rainy one. We went home and shut the curtains—darkness seemed the only appropriate environment. We spent the next few days in a random rotation of crying, sleeping, and feeling numb to the world.

On Sunday, the flowers started to arrive. Over the days after Vivienne’s death, we received countless cards, flowers, and gifts from friends. We joked that our house looked like a funeral home, but it brought us so much comfort to know that people recognized the depth of our loss. We kept every card we received, and pressed a flower from every arrangement to put with Vivienne’s things.

Sunday night, I woke up around 1 am completely overwhelmed by the loss. I was crying so hard that I could not breath, and I wasn’t sure how I would ever survive this. I got up and wrote the words I would say at Vivienne’s memorial service. Then I sat on the couch, rocking back and forth, and crying like a mental patient until my husband came to get me.

That week, we met with the funeral director, signed paperwork to have our daughter cremated, and picked out a box for her remains. We bought a hope chest (ironic) to put all of Vivienne’s things in. It wasn’t an option to give them away, and we could never use them for another baby—those are her things, and they stay with her.

My husband and I made an agreement, as we each worried about the other one falling into a pit they couldn’t climb out of. Our agreement was that we get up every day and take a shower. That was it. Some days, that was harder to do than it sounds.

Gordon and I were inseparable during those weeks. We did everything together, and couldn’t be alone. Our first trip out to the grocery store, we split up to get it done faster. I showed up at the cash register with cupcakes in my hand. He gave me a look, and I said “I saw a pregnant woman, so I grabbed cupcakes.” That was an acceptable answer.

We tried to leave the house once a day, coming up with random errands to run to force ourselves out into fresh air. But do you know what’s everywhere during the day on weekdays? Babies. Lots of them. It seemed like we couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone with a baby, and me feeling like I had a flashing sign over my head that said “my baby died.” Part of me wanted to go up and tell these new Moms to appreciate what they had, but I knew enough to know that this would only make me look crazier.

There are all sorts of the things you never consider in the aftermath of losing a child. Did you know that your milk still comes in? My body delivered a baby, it didn’t know she died. So about a week after Vivienne died, I got a very painful physical reminder that I had no child to parent. That lasted for about a week. Then there are the kicks. Technically, they are spasms in the uterus as it shrinks back to normal size. But what they felt like were Vivienne’s kicks. I thought I was officially losing it that I could still feel her move and kick inside of me.

The mail, email distribution lists, and the nurses at the doctor’s office also don’t know she died. So, the fliers for cord donation, maternity wear, and formula keep coming. To this day, we still get flyers offering coupons on our child’s first photos. I had to physically remove myself from every email distribution list I could (and there’s no box to check for “I don’t want to receive your emails because my baby died.”), and I still get emails from maternity stores. There were trips to the doctor’s office where the nurses would ask “how’s the baby?” because they didn’t read my file in advance. It seemed like the hits just kept on coming one after another.

Two weeks after Vivienne died, we had her memorial service. It was just family at our home, and I think it was perfect. We played music for her, read poems or words we wanted to say, and cried with our family. It gave us some peace to know we had honored our daughter. It’s one of the only “proud parent” moments that we get.

I went back to work 2 weeks after Vivienne died. In hindsight, I can say without hesitation that it was way too soon. At the time, I needed something to do—something to occupy my time and my thoughts. I cried at the office A LOT during those first couple of weeks. I still do sometimes, but I try harder to hide it now than I did before.

I can still remember how raw the pain was in those first few weeks. I know that I have healed a lot over the past 6 months, but I also know that I still have a lot of healing to do. There are days when that time feels so far in the past. And then there are days like today, when I wake up missing her so deeply and profoundly that I don’t know if the tears will stop.  I guess that’s how grief goes—some days, you feel like you’re making real progress. And other days, you feel right back in the midst of it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Say Their Names


There is a quote from Elizabeth Edwards that I think of often.

“If you know someone who has lost a child or lost anybody who's important to them, and you're afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died, they didn't forget they died. You're not reminding them. What you're reminding them of is that you remember that they lived, and that's a great, great gift."

I have a special place in my heart for the people who say Vivienne’s name. Those who talk about her openly and don’t act like she’s a topic to avoid. It seems like most are comfortable talking with me about my grief and my bad days, but saying her name feels like too much. I don’t know why that is, but I just want to say that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Does the mention of my daughter’s name make me tear up and miss her? Sure, but I miss her all of the time, and there are things of much less importance that make me cry. The mention of her name reaffirms her for me. A loss parent is always worried that the world has somehow forgotten their child. The people who say her name remind me that she isn’t forgotten, and that her life, while short, mattered.

I know it must be hard for people to do, because what would they say? I don’t have new firsts to talk about with Vivienne. I’m not watching her first laughs, when she rolled over, and when she’ll start to crawl. I don’t have new things to report about her. I find that the best things that people can say are simple. “I thought of Vivienne today.” “You, Gordon, and Vivienne are in my prayers.” “I hugged my kids a little longer for Vivienne.” It doesn’t have to be a big proclamation—just something small that reminds me that my daughter’s life has meaning, that she was here, and she made a difference for people.

So, I’d like to take a moment to say the names of the children who have made a difference for me. I take lessons from each of their deaths through their parents, and they are all very dear to me. I like to think of them as Vivienne’s playmates in heaven.

Y David     Y Kayla Y Max Y Joy Y Dylan  Y Reese Y Areila   Y
Y Lewicki Angels  Y Elias  Y Cadeau Y Luciole  Y Aspen  Y 
 Y   Addison   Y Lorelai Y Madison  Y Adalyn  Y Michael Y 
  Y  Gavin    Y Angelica    Y Caitlyn Y Hunter  Y Annaya      Y

And of course, my sweet Vivienne, who I still learn from every single day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Innocence Lost


I’ve been thinking a lot lately that I want to go back to college. Not back to take classes, get another degree, or anything, but I want to be 21 again and living the carefree na├»ve life that college provides. I know what you’re thinking—everyone wants to be younger. But it’s not that I want to be younger, I want to be back in a world where everything seemed like an opportunity, and I never thought about the bad things that could happen.

I’ve heard from lots of friends since losing Vivienne, and we always end up with the same conversation—“remember when we thought this would all be so easy?” It covers so much—friends who haven’t found their spouse yet, people struggling with infertility, parents of children with developmental delays or chronic illness, people losing parents, grandparents, and yes, children. There was a time where we thought it would be easy and that things would just come together somehow. But now, some of our innocence is gone—we know that life is hard, that it isn’t fair, and that bad things happen that stay with you for your entire life.

I miss the innocence I had before losing Vivienne. When I was pregnant with her, I was worried, but I could be at least a little carefree about it. I was still able to think about names, plans for after the baby comes, plan a baby shower, and register for baby gifts. Now I know that if I’m lucky enough to get pregnant again, I won’t plan. You know how they say God laughs when we make plans? That’s about how I feel.

I wish I could still find that optimism that I had before. But now, I know so many bad things that can happen (it’s the bad side of support groups—you hear everyone else’s story, and recognize a thousand other things that can go wrong). I know that passing certain milestones like the first trimester or the 32 week mark doesn’t mean you’re safe from tragedy. I know that going into labor with a healthy baby at full term doesn’t mean you’ll get to take a healthy baby home. I know the other side of pregnancy and childbirth. And while I’d like to say that knowledge is power, it really feels more like a punishment.

I have to admit that I get kind of bitter listening to other pregnant women plan for their child’s arrival. It comes with the innocence that I envy—they don’t know that nothing is for certain, and that things will happen that are completely out of their control. I don’t wish what happened to my husband and I on anyone, and I certainly don’t want to be the person telling expectant mothers “don’t be so sure about that” (I’m pretty sure that makes me an evil character in a fairy tale). It’s not that I want to take their carefree innocence away—I just want mine back.

When I started this blog, it was to explain to people what the loss of a child feels like. As I write more posts, I realize that in losing Vivienne, I lost much more than my daughter. In a lot of ways, I lost my hope.