Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Knocked Back Down

I know we have a lot of people out there praying and hoping for us. All of your encouragement and hope for us means so much. I have been dreaming of the day when I can share good news with all of you. Today is not that day. A couple of weeks ago, we found out we were expecting again. Today, we found out that I am going to miscarry.

It’s been a roller coaster couple of weeks. From the highs of thinking that maybe, just maybe, this time will be different to following levels that weren’t quite doing what the doctors wanted them to do to warnings and worries from the doctors that we could be dealing with an ectopic pregnancy again.

I cannot begin to tell you how terrifying it is to hear those words. Ectopic pregnancy. I’ve done a lot of reading on this one, having gone through this in February, then hearing the dreaded words again in the last couple of weeks. For those who don’t know, ectopic pregnancies are very dangerous and also very difficult to pinpoint. You are left, while waiting to see how things develop, on high alert for symptoms that a tube has ruptured, and you’re bleeding internally. If a tube ruptures, it can compromise your chances of having another baby or even kill you. It is emotionally and physically exhausting to hyper-analyze every symptom you feel and wonder whether this is the one that should send you to the ER. Each pain wondering whether it was sharp enough, painful enough to warrant a call to the doctor.

When this happened to us in February, we didn’t have to torture ourselves for very long. My levels indicated earlier on that the pregnancy would not be viable, and under the advice of our doctor, we proceeded with a drug called methotrexate. Methotrexate is a cancer drug which stops rapidly growing cells from developing. I had to go to the local cancer center, to their infusion center, and sit in a chemotherapy chair while I waited for 2 shots that would end our dreams of parenthood once again. They never did find out if the embryo implanted in the wrong place, but it was a “better safe than sorry” situation.

This time, our torture was much longer. We began receiving the “watch for the warning signs” speech more than a week ago. Every minute of the day, I tormented myself over every pang and pain. There was still a chance that the pregnancy could be viable, and we wanted to give this baby every chance. Today, we learned that the embryo may have implanted on my ovary, which could be very dangerous. Fortunately (and I use that term VERY loosely), my levels are going down, and my body seems to be taking care of this one on its own. It’s not likely that I’ll have to get another injection of a cancer drug. And this is what passes for “good news” in our house these days.

So here we are. 4 pregnancies. 4 losses. After each one, it gets harder and harder to pick ourselves back up, dust off, and think about whether we want to roll the dice again. It certainly seems like the deck is stacked against us. I’m having a hard time picking myself up off the floor this time. And I have to wonder how many times we’ll get knocked down with such brutal force. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guilt, Failures, and (eventually) Forgiveness

It’s been over 10 months, and I have to admit, I thought I would be working towards a better place by now. In some ways, I am. But in other ways, the guilt and feelings of failure are still pretty strong – it doesn’t take much to bring them back in full force.

I still to this day, and probably will to some extent for the rest of my life, feel guilt for the things I could/would/should have done. I still feel deep in my heart that I could have stopped it, that there is something I could have done or said to the doctors to stop the labor so she could stay inside and develop more. I still kick myself for what I didn’t know – about symptoms I should have recognized and questions I should have asked. It was my job to protect her, and I failed.

In failing Vivienne, I failed so many people, including my family and friends. My counselor would stop me right now to tell me to remind myself that my body failed them, not me. But, my body is mine, and even though I can’t completely control it, I am ultimately responsible for it. When my body succeeds in doing something great (like my 3 day walks), I take credit for that. When it fails, I take ownership of that too.

Let’s face it, having a baby is a miracle that most people consider to be easy. The majority of the population doesn’t have difficulty getting pregnant (I do), the majority of the population doesn’t have any difficulty carrying a pregnancy (I do), and the majority of the population has trauma free deliveries (not me). It’s a difficult position to be in to struggle with something that goes so easily for others. When you fail at multiple things that other people consider to be easy, the self esteem takes a beating. It’s a constant battle not to think of myself as a failure.

I think part of it is evolution. Women are designed for this purpose – to carry and produce offspring. Whether you want children or not, it is a big part of how we are defined, by scientists and by society. To fail at something that is so fundamental to your being, that is ingrained into your DNA and how your body is designed, is unlike any failure I’ve ever known. It is harder than I can say to try and pick yourself back up from that level of failure.

I try to not let these feelings of guilt and failure eat away at me. But there are times when those feelings are stronger than any logic to counter them. And I know I will wrestle with those feelings for the rest of my life. I’ve heard people mention needing to forgive ourselves for the things we think we did wrong or the failures we’ve had.  I’m trying. I’m hopeful that with more time, I’ll find that place of forgiveness. That I’ll be able to forgive myself for what I didn’t know and didn’t do. That I’ll be able to forgive myself for failing Vivienne and my family so horribly. That the feelings of knowing I did everything I knew to do will outweigh the guilt of not having done enough.

It’s hard to find that kind of forgiveness for myself. If someone did something of this magnitude to me, I wouldn’t want to let them off the hook easily. Forgiving myself is another part of losing a child that may take a lifetime to accomplish.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Father's Day

A couple of days ago, it was Father’s Day. I wanted to write a post about it, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wasn’t really sure why, and it took me some time to realize that Father’s Day was a lot more complicated this year.

For me, it’s been a sad holiday for years now. My Dad died on July 13, 1999. I remember that it was about a month after Father’s Day, and as was typical for me, I was late in getting his Father’s Day card to him. I never got to give it to him and instead had to put it in his casket to be buried with him. I’ll always wish I’d given him that last card, and so the holiday has represented sadness and regret ever since.

This year, I felt differently about it. I still miss him, still wonder what he’d think of my life today, and I still regret not giving him his last Father’s Day card in time. But this year, I felt some measure of relief, which was a strange feeling. It gives me comfort to know that my Dad went ahead so that he could greet Vivienne, hold her hand, and tell her about our family. It was this weird feeling of not exactly being happy that he’s gone, but being happy that there was someone with her who I was so close with. When I was pregnant with Vivienne, it made me so sad to think about how my Dad would never get to meet her. Now, it gives me so much comfort to know that she’s with him. It changed my perspective on Father’s Day this year. I miss them both like crazy, but it gives me some peace to know they have each other.

This year was also the first Father’s Day for my husband. I know the world doesn’t see us as parents in the traditional sense, and that comes down harder on the Dads than the Moms. If you only knew how much he does to guard and defend his daughter’s memory, you could see what an amazing Dad he is. But that’s hard for people outside of our little world to see. So he’s left, much like I was, to find ways to celebrate a holiday that doesn’t feel like it’s meant for him.

I know it was a hard day for him. I did what I could, but I also know that I can’t give him the one thing he wants on that day – to hold his baby girl. I think it was just as hard watching him on Sunday and wanting to make it better as it was living through Mother’s Day myself.

It was a complicated day. Comfort in knowing that my Dad is with my daughter. Sadness that this isn’t a happy celebration for my husband. And regret for so much that I wish could be different.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Meaningless Milestones

Over the past few months, my life has been a series of “one year ago today. . .” It never ceases to amaze me how much can change in the course of a year—how a life can go from hopeful anticipation to I’m-not-sure-how-to-go-on in just 12 months.

Right now, I’m remembering the first trimester mark. A year ago, it was a very big deal. Today, I recognize it for the meaningless milestone that it was. The statistics will tell you it’s a major one—if you’ve heard a heartbeat and made it past week 12, you have less than a 3% chance of losing your child. But who really knows whether they fall on the good or bad side of those odds?

One year ago this week, we moved into the 2nd trimester. This was the time we started telling everyone the good news. We were still worried, of course—that’s what we do. We were worried that there would be something wrong with the baby—that we’d get bad news from our screens and anatomy checks. It never occurred to us to be worried that we’d lose her because we’d passed that magical milestone of the first trimester.

It’s hard for me to remember that happy time. Not in the sense that it’s difficult for me to think about, more that I can’t remember what it felt like. I cannot summon those happy memories in my brain—it’s like August 19th erased them. I can remember telling people that we were expecting, and I can see their happy faces, excitement, and tears. But I can’t remember the excitement that I felt. I look back on that person (and let’s face it, that’s a different person than I am today) with a bit of pity—look at how excited she is, and she has no idea that the rug will be pulled out from under her in the cruelest way possible.

My husband and I did our reading and our research, and we knew the odds. We planned nothing until we moved into the 2nd trimester. We knew that the risk of miscarriage in the 1st trimester was high, especially considering my age. One year ago this week, we moved into planning mode. We discussed how we’d rearrange the house to accommodate a nursery. We tossed around names for boys and girls. We started picking out colors for the nursery and researching car seats, strollers, and cribs. This meaningless milestone pushed us to make plans that we’d never get to live out.

I have to admit, I hold my breath (figuratively, of course) when I hear that someone is pregnant. I see their excitement and hope. I even hear women talk about moving into the 2nd trimester as being out of the “danger zone.” I know I felt that way once. I also know how foolish I feel now for thinking it then. I’ve come to recognize that pregnancy, all of pregnancy, is a miracle. It’s not just those first 12 weeks, it’s the entire 40. There are no guarantees in this life, and no assurance that passing some meaningless milestone means it’s smooth sailing for the rest of the time.

I don’t want this post to be about the boogie man—that you should always worry about what lurks behind the corner. It’s more that I want people to appreciate these miracles and recognize their good fortune in them. I’ve seen so many people take the end of the first trimester as a foregone conclusion that they’ll get to bring a baby home. Those last 28 weeks are just as much of a miracle as the first 12. Trust me, you don’t want to assume anything based on a meaningless milestone.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A marriage in loss

Today is our anniversary. Four years ago today, we had our first official date. Two years ago today, we were married. It feels like we’ve put a lifetime into these 2 years. Our marriage has been tested more than most, and we’re still fighting for it every single day. We all recognize that marriage is hard work. But let me tell you, marriage after you’ve lost a child is really hard work.

There is a harsh statistic about marriage after loss. I don’t know the source, but I’ve read it in enough places that I have to put some stock into it. 80% of marriages do not survive the loss of a child. I’m sure that seems like a very high number (it did to us), but I can see how it would be true. Losing a child makes you question everything about yourself and everything you’ve ever held true. When you and your partner are both questioning everything at the same time, you can see how a marriage could be hurt in the process.

On the night Vivienne died, Gordon and I made a promise to each other that we were getting through this together. Marriages break up over far less than the loss of a child, and I can’t lie—we were both scared. We’d just lost our precious daughter, and the thought of losing each other was more than we could bear.  We both committed to each other that night that we were willing to fight for it.

I know we’re early in this journey, but I’m proud to say that Gordon and I still believe our marriage is worth fighting for. It’s not always perfect. Yes, we fight. No, we aren’t always in the same stage of our grief. But, we’re doing this together, and we support each other in every way we can.

I really can’t imagine having anyone but him by my side through this. It took us some time to figure out how to let the other grieve, and we’re still learning. But the key is that we try to understand where the other is and what he/she needs. It wasn’t easy—we each have our own way of approaching problems that doesn’t always work for the other. But, we’re learning. He has learned that this is something that can’t be fixed. And I know that was hard for him to accept. He holds me and lets me cry and doesn’t try to offer solutions because he knows there aren’t any. I let him get angry because I know that’s what he needs. And we talk about Vivienne all of the time. We are united in our desire to honor our daughter’s life and make her proud.

We’ve really learned how important communication is in a marriage. We knew it before, and I think it’s the key that’s held us together. I know how he feels because he tells me, and vice versa. No guessing, just lots of talking. We have had to work on our patience with each other. Sometimes, it’s hard to articulate how we’re feeling, and it comes out in other ways. We are learning to be patient as the other navigates through this pain, which hasn’t been easy for either of us.

I’ve heard stories of some loss Dads who don’t like to talk about the child they lost. They want to be strong, they want to move on, they want to push the pain away. Gordon has never done that. He still tries to be strong for me, which I can’t lie, sometimes I need. But, he still shares his pain, how much he misses Vivienne, and how hard it is to work though this. I know that I’m never alone in my grief or in missing Vivienne.

I would never wish the loss of a child on anyone. But for anyone that has to go through this, I hope they have a partner like my husband to help them through. I don’t know what I’d do if he wasn’t there to hold me up, wipe my tears, and hug me tight. He has made all of the difference in making the unimaginable survivable. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

It's not supposed to be so complicated

A little over a month after Vivienne died, I got the question I dreaded being asked. It’s so simple, and people ask it all of the time because who would ever consider that it would feel painful. “Do you have any kids?” I’m sure many of you have been asked this question and not thought twice about it. For me, it’s a dagger through the heart.

The first time I got the question, I hadn’t really prepared myself for how to answer it. It had only been a few weeks, and I was at the point where I was still telling the story to people who knew we were pregnant, and generally avoiding meeting anyone new, outside of loss groups. It came from someone I worked with previously who I hadn’t seen since I’d been pregnant. The question was innocent enough, and I managed to stammer through a response. Actually, we just lost our daughter, I responded. He said how sorry he was, and I said that I was still figuring out how to answer that question. That was met with “you answer that question with no, I don’t have any children.” I was immediately incensed at that response and told him, in no uncertain terms, that answer wouldn’t be true and it’s not how I answer the question. Things got awkward, and he walked away.

Based on that interaction, I came up with my scripted response, so I’d be ready the next time I was asked. I was so confident that I’d be prepared for it. It happened a couple of weeks ago (clearly I don’t meet new people that often). I was getting my hair cut, and my stylist (I go to a new one pretty much every time it gets cut) asked if we had any children. So much for preparation—I immediately felt uncomfortable and not sure what to do. I went to my script—we have a daughter who would be 9 months old, but she died shortly after she was born. Cue the discomfort, but I was glad I said it. I’ve promised myself that I’ll never deny Vivienne, no matter how uncomfortable it makes other people. As others have told me, they’re uncomfortable for about 5 minutes, and I live with it my whole life.

Cut to earlier this week. I’m preparing to change jobs—same company, just a different role. I was talking with someone who was gathering information for the announcement that would go out. I gave them all of the work details, then they said they wanted to include some personal details. I wasn’t sure what they wanted, so I just sat silent on the phone, knowing what was likely coming.

Are you married?

Me: Yes, my husband and I will celebrate our 2nd anniversary next week.

Awkward silence, as I knew what was likely coming next. After several seconds of me not going into the kids/no kids discussion. . .

Any pets?

Me: Yes, we have a cat.

More awkward silence and I decide that’s enough.

Me: We have a daughter. She passed away.

This was followed by I’m sorry and asking what happened. When I finished explaining, he said “I don’t think we’ll put that in.”

And there it is. If she were alive, the announcement would say “Tracey, her husband Gordon, and daughter Vivienne.” But, she’s gone, and what should be a simple statement about children becomes a lot more complicated, so it just gets left out. I understand not including her in the announcement. I don’t like it, but I understand it. I’ve never denied my daughter, and I never will, but I do understand that it’s easier for others to do so. But anyone who asks should be prepared for the complicated answer because I’ll never say I don’t have children.

It's such a simple question, with no simple answers.