Thursday, August 30, 2012

What is Normal Like?

In the months after Vivienne died, it would cause me a lot of pain to hear people talk about their pregnancies and children. It still does, but lately, I find a new phenomenon happening. When people talk about it, I start to wonder what it’s like. I don’t wonder what they are actually experiencing, it’s more that I wonder what it feels like to experience it as the majority does, and not as someone who has lost a child.

I wonder what it’s like to get a positive pregnancy test and be hopeful and make plans. I had that with Vivienne. I’ll never have it again. If I’m lucky enough to get a positive pregnancy test, I will wonder if it’s  another miscarriage or ectopic, and I’ll be too scared to hope that maybe, just maybe, this is a baby we’ll get to keep. 

I wonder what it’s like as you progress with a pregnancy to be out and about, wearing your cute maternity clothes, and doing things largely in the same manner as before getting pregnant. I only got a little past halfway there with Vivienne, and I have maternity clothes I’ve never worn. If I can get pregnant again, I will likely spend a portion of that time on bedrest, and you can be assured that I will spend the entire experience feeling like I’m made of glass. 

I wonder what it’s like to go through pregnancy and plan for bringing a baby home, not thinking for one second that there is a chance you won’t get to do that. As I hope for the possibility of getting pregnant again, I actually think about things like not having a baby shower or decorating a room until the baby is actually here and healthy. We’d started those plans for Vivienne and never got to finish them. And now I wonder if I could ever do that before the baby arrived.

I was meeting with a vendor the other day at work. It was the first time I’d met her, and she didn’t know my story. As we talked about a project, she said she wasn’t around when that happened because she was still home with the baby. I have to admit, I was distracted after that. My mind immediately went to “I wonder what that’s like.” I wondered what it was like to go through a pregnancy, have a baby, take your maternity leave, return to work and be able to talk about your child without making people uncomfortable. What is that normal like? And I realized that I’ll never have that normal. I may go on to have another child, but I’ll never have that normal experience that it seems so many others get to have.

I’m trying to convince myself that having a normal pregnancy experience doesn’t matter – it’s bringing home a healthy living child that is most important. Of course I recognize that. And I know that a healthy living child makes it all worth it. But, I have to admit that I find myself mourning the experience that I’ll never get to have. I hope more than you’ll ever know that I’ll get to have another child, and that I’ll get to raise that child. But my path to getting to that point is nowhere near the normal experience, and it never will be. And that makes me sad.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The First Birthday

It has taken me a few days to absorb what Sunday meant. I can give the rundown of the days leading up to Vivienne’s birthday, and even the events of the day, but I’m guessing when people ask “how was it?” they aren’t looking for the sequence of events. There are a lot of complicated emotions associated with her birthday, and I’m still learning about all of them.
It was a hard day, a peaceful day, a day of meaning, a day of sadness, a proud day, a disappointing day, a day of reflection, a day of avoidance, a day of love, a full day, and an empty day. It’s just easier to say it was, and still is, complicated.
The days leading up to her birthday were hard, among the hardest I’ve had since the weeks after we lost her. I cried A LOT, I felt really lost, and I had a few complete and total breakdowns. You are forced to remember everything that led you to this life-changing day. I felt like I hadn’t made any progress in my grief. I was right back in the worst of it.
The day of her birthday was, in some sense, easier than the days before. It helped to be surrounded by family and to know we had so much support out there – it’s like you could feel people praying for you and thinking about you. The biggest help was that we could focus on her. We get very few opportunities to be traditional parents and to do things for our daughter, but Sunday was a day we could do that. And it was also a day when everyone would say her name. I can’t tell you how much I love to hear someone say it. Then she is real to everyone else, not just to her Dad and me.
Her birthday started at church, where a new Christ candle (which is lit at baptisms and other special occasions) was dedicated in Vivienne’s name (generously purchased, without our knowledge, by our families). Yes, I cried, but I was also a pretty proud mother to have a permanent testament to the life of my daughter sitting in front of me. After church, our families came to our home for lunch, cake, and a balloon release.
We had an opportunity as a family to talk about Vivienne, which doesn’t happen very often. This was a time for everyone to say how much they missed her. There were many tears, which was hard. Seeing my Mom cry is something that will never be easy for me. And seeing my nieces cry is even harder. But, it was a necessary part of grieving Vivienne for all of us, and helped me realize that her Dad and I aren’t the only ones who are missing her terribly.
The balloon release was a hopeful moment. We each wrote messages to Vivienne on the balloons and sent them to her in heaven. Two of the balloons, one of which belonged to my niece, got stuck in a tree. She was visibly bothered at the thought that her balloon wouldn’t make it to her cousin, and fortunately, Vivienne sent some breezes that freed the balloon to continue on to her.
Probably the event most representative of her birthday was her birthday cake. First, it came with an indicator of how different Vivienne’s birthday was from most other first birthdays. Turns out, when you order a cake that says “happy 1st birthday,” the bakery assumes you have a child celebrating and gives you an extra “smash” cake for free. This small cake sat on our counter constantly reminding us that it wasn’t a “normal” first birthday.  A nice gesture from the bakery, but a kick in the gut for us. And then there was the moment of lighting her birthday candle and singing to her. No one was sure if we should sing “Happy Birthday” but I started us along. And there we were, singing this happy celebratory song through tears. I think that best sums up our day.
After everyone left, Gordon and I settled in to read all of the thoughtful messages we received for her birthday. All of the photos of candles, meaningful images, and acts of kindness provided some healing for us that day. On Sunday, Vivienne’s life had meaning to people outside of our family. She mattered. That meant everything to us.
As the day wore on, I stared at the clock, waiting for the minute she was born. From 9:42 until 9:50, the span of her time here on earth, we sat in near silence.
As I’ve talked to people throughout this week, I keep getting asked if I feel any better now that we have passed her first birthday. I have to say, I just feel different – no better, no worse. A big thing that I’m recognizing right now is acceptance. I am finally accepting that this is not a bad dream that I will wake up from. This is my life. I know that must sound strange that it could take an entire year to finally accept that this is not a nightmare. All I can say is that it’s amazing how much the mind will cling to hope, but eventually, reality does take over. And this is my reality. There is a new sadness that comes with accepting that this can’t be undone, she’ll never be back with us, and we will always recognize her birthday without her.
And that is my daughter’s first birthday. A combination of celebrating her and what she has meant to us, sadness at missing her more (even though I thought that wasn’t possible), and finally coming to terms with the fact that I will not wake up from this nightmare. Complicated, very complicated.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The New Normal . . . So Far

It’s been a year. I’ve been writing for 9 months about this “new normal” of mine, and trying to figure out what it is. The short answer is that I don’t know yet. I’m still very much a work in progress. I’ve learned a lot over the past year, but I know that I’m still nowhere near level ground. It will likely take a lifetime to figure out my new normal, but here is what I can say it is so far.

My new normal is:

Being able to cry, hard, in a split second. It doesn’t take much to take me there, and I’ve learned that I can cry freely in front of anyone (friends, coworkers, strangers, even my boss).

Spending large amounts of time focusing on just breathing. Breathing is often a very conscious act for me.

Extreme introversion. I’ve never been terribly social or out-going, and I’ve only gotten more introverted over the last year. Part of it is that I recognize who really matters, and part of it is self-protection.

Recognizing that there are 4 types of people in my life:
·                            People that truly understand
·                            People that genuinely try to understand and actually empathize
·                            People that pretend to try to understand, but judge instead
·                            People who just don’t care
I’m learning to emphasize the first 2 and get rid of the latter 2.

Getting advice from anyone and everyone. Everyone has an opinion about how to manage my grief, how to cope with infertility, and what I need to do now. In the end, only my opinion counts for me.

Coping with changed friendships. I’ve had many close friendships change over the past year – some got stronger, some just changed, and some went away. There is more loss that comes with loss than most people recognize.

Living broken, but living. (Sarah, that one’s for you!)

A stronger, but changed faith. I've had my bouts of serious anger and questioning with God over the past year, and I know I'm not done. But today, I can say that my faith is stronger, but different in many ways from the faith I had before.

Experiencing multiple contrasting moods in a 5 second span – happy changes to guilt which changes to sadness which changes to bitterness in seconds flat.

Knowing what it’s like to miss someone so much that it physically hurts to the very core of your soul.

Feeling such bitterness and jealousy when I see or hear of someone who is pregnant or a small baby. I hate this ugly side of grief, but I can’t deny that it’s part of my normal now.

A stab in the heart every time someone asks “do you have any children?” And the moment where my heart stops as I know what will come next when I answer the question openly.

Balancing between not wanting people to forget my daughter, but not being defined solely by my loss. It is an impossible tightrope to walk.

Being able to count on 1 hand the people I really need in life and knowing they’ll be there in a hot second if I needed them.

Knowing that when life gets bad, there’s only 1 person I want to see, and fortunately, I married him.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Letter

Dear Vivienne,
Today is your first birthday. I don’t know how they do birthdays in heaven, but I hope you’re having an amazing party. I can see you there with your Grandpa, Aunt Ruth, and all of your great-grandparents. Your brothers and sisters are helping you celebrate too. And I’m sure you have some playmates, who I know through their parents, to get in on the party. I don’t know if they do birthdays like this in heaven, but it’s how I imagine it for you.

We’ll be celebrating you here too. There will be cake and balloons, and your Dad and I will blow out your candles. It probably won’t be as happy as your birthday party in heaven because we’ll be missing you so much, but it will be filled with as much love as possible.

I can’t believe it’s been a year since we’ve seen you. Bringing you into the world is the happiest and saddest moment of my life. We were so excited to have you join our family. We just couldn’t imagine that we’d have to say hello and goodbye to you all at once.

I hope that you know how very much you are loved. Even as a tiny baby, you have had more impact on our lives than anyone. You remind us every day how precious and fragile life is. Even though it’s supposed to be the other way around, you are teaching us every single day how to be better people.

I know it must be hard to see your parents in so much pain. We’re trying so hard to be strong and to honor you in every way we can. But there is no denying how much we miss you, and how very much we wish that things had turned out differently.

I wish there was more that we could have done to keep you safe. I wish the doctors would have understood the urgency and done more to give you more time. Even a year later, I find myself still wishing for a miracle. I wish I could turn back time and do a thousand things differently. If I could, I’m not sure I could ever find a way to let you go.

I know you’re always with us and looking out for us. I love every single sign that you send me to let me know you’re there. I hope you keep sending them, because they help when I’m missing you so much. I also hope we get to visit more in my dreams. I love to see your smiling face and to hear your giggle, even if it’s only for a moment.

I hope you know what a special girl you are, not just to your family but to many people. Your story has touched so many. You live on through kindness being passed from person to person. You are a message to all of us to cherish those we love and to do everything we can to make the world a kinder, more caring place. You are all love.

I have to go and set up a party for you, my precious baby girl. I hope that you enjoy your party in heaven, and that you can see everyone honoring you today through acts of kindness.

We will always carry you with us in our hearts. Never forget how much you are missed and loved. Right up to the moon and back.

Happy Birthday Vivienne! I love you and miss you, today and always.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to the Beginning

Yesterday was my birthday. This Sunday is Vivienne’s. I’ve been saying since last year that my birthday would be cancelled this year. It’s not because of any vanity I have about turning 40. It just doesn’t feel like an occasion to celebrate. My focus is firmly on Vivienne’s birthday on Sunday and figuring out how I will survive this next milestone.

I’ve written before about how the build up to milestones is more difficult than the actual event. That has been true for me with nearly every one. I was prepared for it with her birthday, and I thought I was managing it OK, or at least as well as I could. Today, it is hitting me with full force, and I feel like I’m back at the beginning.

I got to be distracted by my birthday with a whirlwind of travel and meetings. In my mind, I thought it was working out great because I could act like my birthday just wasn’t happening. I couldn’t be on Facebook for all of the lovely birthday messages. My coworkers knew not to make any announcements or have cake at the meeting, because it wasn’t what I wanted. So, I was able to go through the day with little acknowledgement of my birthday and have it exactly as I wanted. I even managed to make it home in time to have dinner with my husband, which was pretty much the only thing I wanted to do in acknowledgement of my birthday.

This morning, I realized that all this did was distract me from what was really on my mind. Now that my birthday has passed, I have no more distractions. There is nothing powerful enough to pull my attention away from what I have been dancing around for weeks. The time is almost here, and right now, you’d think by looking at me that it happened yesterday.

I’ve often said that one of my most used crying spots is my car. There is something about being alone with my thoughts that just makes it the place I cry most often. I often talk to her in the car, but I was getting better about the crying lately. This morning, as I started my drive to work, and seemingly out of nowhere, I started crying, and I couldn’t stop. As I pulled into the parking lot at work, I tried as hard as I could to pull myself together so I could get to my office, and I couldn’t even manage that (fortunately, I come into work really early, and there’s no one to see me cry my way into the office). As I sat in my office, it was all I could think about. And the tears just kept coming. People came to ask me questions, and I would look up at them with bloodshot eyes, telling them I’m having a hard day. It felt just like my first days back at work.

In every way, I feel very much back at square one right now. Much like the early days, I don’t know how I’m going to manage the next few days. I’m not sure how I’ll get myself out of bed tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop the tears. And I don’t know how anything will ever feel OK again.

I’m back to my old routine that I exercised faithfully in the weeks after Vivienne died. I sit in my office with the door closed for the day, and turn my computer away from the door so no one can see me cry. I move as many meetings as I can, so I don’t have to show my puffy eyes. I go to the cafeteria and grab my lunch early, so I don’t have to be faced with the pregnant women or people asking questions. I race home so that I can be with the only person I want to be with when this happens. And tonight, I will go and cry freely with my tribe at my support group. I’ve figured out how to navigate through it, but I’m still not sure I know how to survive it.

I can now say from experience that I know this feeling won’t last forever. Eventually, I will feel better, and someday, I will laugh again. But as I sit here feeling almost exactly as I did in the days immediately after losing Vivienne, I am finding it very hard to believe. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Case of the Should-Have's

This past Sunday, many of our friends (my husband included) participated in the Cleveland Triathalon. The event benefitted United Cerebral Palsy, and we have friends who have a daughter with CP who organize relay teams to participate and raise money for UCP in her honor. We are always happy to donate and participate to honor how hard they work to get the best for their daughter.

This year, this family, who has been incredibly supportive to Gordon and me, asked if they could also race in memory of Vivienne. We were so touched by the gesture (and I still cry when I think about it). We all wore our Team Payton shirts, and on the sleeve of each one were Vivienne’s initials and a rainbow. It was a means of support to us that I will never forget.

The triathalon was a moving event – so many parents who have worked so hard to make the best possible futures for their children, and so many children who worked so hard to be able to walk across that finish line. You couldn’t watch and not shed a tear. It was a really emotional day, on so many levels.

I found myself thinking during much of the event that this day was supposed to be so different. At the tri last year, I was pregnant with Vivienne, just 2 weeks away from unexpectedly giving birth. This year, I should have been there with my daughter. And then I would think to my 3 losses earlier this year. With our first, I should have been there 8 months pregnant. With our second, I should have been there 7 months pregnant. And with our latest, I should have been there secretly knowing I was pregnant and about to pass the meaningless milestone of the first trimester mark. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. There are countless ways that this day should have been different.

As with most women my age, I have a lot of friends with young children and a lot of pregnant friends. As a person who struggles with infertility and multiple losses, I am almost always in a situation that makes me uncomfortable and sad. Generally, it’s no one’s fault. I can’t ask people to hide or not talk about their children. I can’t ask them to deny they’re pregnant. And I can’t help that it’s always painful for me to be around.

At Sunday’s triathalon, many of our friends were there with strollers and children in tow. Several remarked how we looked like the “stroller brigade.” I stood to the side, feeling bitter that I was denied my membership in this group. I should have been there with a stroller too, keeping my daughter entertained, and both of us cheering on her Dad. Instead, I have to stand there and choke back the tears so that no one sees how it’s tearing me up inside. I know that these are benign comments – no one means to upset me or hurt me. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

There were also the pregnant friends. I need to preface this by saying that I know they are grateful for what they have. I also know that pregnancy isn’t all sunshine and roses. I also have to say that it is incredibly difficult for me to hear women complain about pregnancy. Every time I hear it, all I can think is how I would cut off my right arm to feel nauseous and uncomfortable or to not be able to drink because I’m pregnant. That’s where I should be right now, but I’m not.

So Sunday was a very emotional day. Having friends that are so supportive that they are willing to share a day dedicated to their daughter with our daughter. Watching the pride on the faces of children with CP walk across the finish line. Remembering where we were on this day a year ago. And the serious case of the should-have’s that I walked away with. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It should have been so different.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Two Weeks

It’s now 2 weeks until Vivienne’s birthday. Two weeks until we mark the day when our lives changed forever. I feel conflicted because I want that day to get here quickly, because then I won’t want to think about where I was a year ago. At the same time, I don’t want that day to come because right now, I can sit here and think about how a year ago I was happy. A year ago, I was hopeful. A year ago, it felt like our best times were still ahead of us.

Today marks the last ultrasound we had with Vivienne. It was the big 20 week ultrasound. Generally, it would be the time when parents find out if it’s a boy or a girl, but we already knew that. All we wanted to hear was that she was healthy. She was stubborn in that ultrasound, but she was healthy. She refused to show her face to the doctor, and he wouldn’t let us go until she did. She burrowed deep back around my spine and would not come out or turn around no matter how much I lay on my side or poked at her. After a little walk, she finally showed her face. The doctor proclaimed her perfect. We went on our way thinking we had passed all of the tests. We were halfway there.

That last ultrasound makes me smile, because it’s one of the few events where we got a peek at Vivienne’s personality. We wondered whether she would be shy (which she’d get honestly from her mother) or really stubborn (which she’d get honestly from both of her parents). We got to see a glimpse of who she would be. This tiny little person who we loved (and still love) beyond words, and who we will never get to know in this lifetime. We’ll never know what her personality would be. All that we have are these little clues she left us while we had her.

That last ultrasound is also source of pain for us. Because the doctor had difficulty seeing her face, we don’t have any good pictures from that last ultrasound. At the time, we commented on that making us sad, but we assumed (as we all do) that we would get another chance. We had 20 weeks to go – there would be more ultrasounds, and we would get more pictures. We did get pictures after she was born, but I find myself still wanting better pictures of that last perfect moment. That last moment we would see of her alive and healthy.

These next 2 weeks represent our last perfect days. Planning for Vivienne went into full swing. A baby shower started to come together. We started to do research for the baby registry and made our plans to register for everything she would need. We’d planned to go register on August 20th – I went into labor the day before. We celebrated my birthday – my last birthday before I would have my first child. The last 2 weeks of hopes and dreams before our world completely shattered.

I’m not quite ready to let go of those happy and hopeful feelings of a year ago. But time doesn’t care if I’m ready or not. In 2 weeks, I won’t be able to look back on a year ago and remember a happy time. I will have to do my best to look forward, but somewhere inside, I’ll think about a year ago being the darkest time of my life. I’ll have to acknowledge that a year ago, it really felt possible to die from a broken heart.  A year ago, I did not know how I could possibly survive what had happened to us.

Maybe, on some level, I’ll be able to give myself some credit for how far I’ve come. I’ve spent the better part of the last year forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other and to keep going, even when I didn’t want to. Maybe passing the 1 year mark can be the start of just putting one foot in front of the other without feeling forced. I will never be able to put the past year behind me – it is a part of me and has made me who I am today. My daughter and the loss of my daughter is not something to move past or get over. But I hold out hope that this will mark the time when I can feel myself moving forward with a focus on all that this last year has taught me. I guess time will tell.

Friday, August 3, 2012


After Vivienne died, I would hear stories from other loss Moms who would talk about having dreams with their children. I was so jealous because I wanted a visit from Vivienne in my dreams so badly. I just wanted to feel close to her and feel her presence so much. I didn’t really have these dreams. Another loss Mom once said that maybe our children don’t visit us in our dreams because they know how painful it would be to wake up from it. The roles were reversed and our children were looking out for us and doing what they knew was best for us.

For a long time, I didn’t have any of those dreams that I wanted so badly. Early on, I had 1 strange dream where Gordon and I were living in some Asian country. We couldn’t speak the language, and we didn’t know how to get around. We got lost trying to get home from a bookstore. I took the dream as a metaphor for feeling like strangers in a foreign land in our regular life and for how lost we felt navigating through it. And then I remembered that in our dream we had a daughter. She was an older teenager, probably about 17. She helped us figure out our way home. I never really got a clear picture of her, but I knew she was there. At the time, I wondered if that was as close as I was going to get to Vivienne coming to me in my dreams.

Lately, I’ve had 2 dreams where I really felt like it was her. They are both very brief, but very memorable (and I don’t often remember much from my dreams). The first was a few weeks ago. I was at a doctor’s office or hospital (guess I spend so much time at those places that I now go there in my dreams) finding a seat in the waiting room. It was really crowded, and I couldn’t find a place to sit. I turned around, and a little girl ran up to me and grabbed onto my leg. She turned around and told her Mother (who wasn’t me) – “I want to sit with this lady!” I patted her on the head, and we found a couple of seats. After we sat down, I turned to look at her, and she wasn’t there. There was an adult, a stranger, sitting where she was supposed to be. Just like that, she was gone.

The second dream was more recent, and far more direct. In the dream, I walked downstairs at our house. It was nighttime, and I was in the pajamas I was actually wearing while I slept. As I stood at the bottom of the stairs, I looked into the kitchen. There was a young girl spinning around in circles with her arms stretched out to her sides (like Julie Andrews on that hilltop in the Sound of Music). She was laughing and having fun. She was clearly a spirit/ghost – kind of like you would see in the movies where you can see through her, and there is an aura around her. When she saw me, she stopped and looked at me and smiled. In the dream, we both knew that we could not go to each other. So, we stood and smiled and waved to each other. As she started to disappear, I started to blow her kisses, and she giggled. And then she was gone.

Each dream only lasts for a few seconds, but they are each seared into my brain. It is painful to wake up after seeing her. But, it also gives me some peace. I talk to my daughter in heaven all of the time. Multiple times a day, I look up to the sky to tell her how much I love her and miss her. Sometimes, I say it as a question, “you know how much I love you and miss you, don’t you?” And sometimes, she sends me a sign to let me know that she knows. I think of these dreams as those signs – she never says it, but I know her visits in my dreams are one of the ways she lets me know she loves me and is with me. I hope she keeps sending them, because I’m missing her constantly.