Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Letter to My Children



My sweet babies,

Yes, I know that technically none of you are really babies anymore. I'm now the proud mama of a toddler and two preteens...and a precious little one who I never got to meet. No, none of you are babies, but I'm your mama, and you will always be MY babies

So many people look forward to the New Year and new beginnings -- and really, I do too. But at the same time, it makes me a little sad. I'm not ready to say good bye to this moment -- where we are right now. I want to pause and savor this time we have together while you are still "little" for a bit longer.

My loves, we have made so many great memories together (and oh how I wish that I was able to make those memories with all four of you, but as much as I wish it,  I can't change it). I know we have a lifetime of memories to make, and I'm looking forward to it.

My sweet babies, since I'm feeling sentimental today, I'm writing to share some memories with you. These are some of your "firsts" and what they have meant to me. You won't remember these, but now you'll always know, and one day, when you have your children of your own, you'll understand why these are some of my greatest treasures.

You won't remember the way I cried tears of joy and relief when I heard you cry for the first time.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how when the doctor held you up and I got to gaze at your sweet face for the first time,  I was overcome with so many emotions I couldn't speak.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember the first time the nurse gently placed you in my arms.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how I held you close, inhaled your scent, kissed your sweet face, and softly whispered, "Hello, my love,  I am your mommy, and I'm so glad you're finally here."

But I will never forget.

You won't remember the first time you laughed...and I mean REALLY laughed. Those big belly laughs shook your whole body.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how the sound of your laughter was contagious and that I laughed right along with you -- so hard I cried.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember the first time you stood up all by yourself in the middle of a room and took your first shaky steps.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how I cheered for you and clapped.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how my eyes stung with happy tears to see you take those first steps.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how proud you were that you were "big" now too.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember the first time you got hurt.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how hard you cried.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how you ran to me for comfort.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how I held you tight and kissed you and made you smile.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how you snuggled against me and fell asleep -- finally content.

But I will never forget.

You won't remember how I held you while you slept and listened to your peaceful breaths.

But I will never forget.

And, my loves, until you have babies of your own, you'll never know how much I hurt that day...all because you hurt. It broke my heart.

Until you have babies of your own, you won't understand how much I dreaded the day when my love and comfort alone wouldn't be enough to dry your tears and make you happy again.

My babies, we have celebrated so many firsts together, and as you can see,  there are many firsts that you can't possibly remember.

I know that I am celebrating "firsts" for the last time as my youngest baby starts his journey into toddlerhood -- at least until, many, many years from now, when you have babies of your own and celebrate your own firsts.

My loves, I want each of you to know how proud I am to be your mama. YOU are the best parts of me.

Even though you make me crazy sometimes, I love you like only a mom can love a child --fiercely and unconditionally. There is no sacrifice that I wouldn't make for you.

The only regret I'll ever have is that I was not able to live these moments with all four of you, but I am so thankful for each of these experiences because all of you have molded me into the mama that I am. I am looking forward to all the new memories and the new firsts we will experience together.

I love you.

Mom



* Read my PALS Original piece "Celebrating 'Firsts' for the Last Time" that inspired this letter.



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Learning to Live with the "Buts" and "What Ifs"

It's finally here.   The day I've dreaded for what feels like an eternity.   Today should be the day that my son (or daughter) turns one, but instead I have a ten month old.

When I say it like that,  I feel guilty.  It's like I'm being selfish or ungrateful for the amazing little miracle who came into our lives so quickly after his big brother was lost.  I feel so blessed to have my rainbow for a son.  I am so lucky, and I know it.

I have a handsome, sweet, smart little boy who I adore and love unconditionally.   I can't imagine my life without him.  I can't remember my life before him.   He has healed my broken heart in so many ways. He makes me smile and laugh when I thought I could never be happy again.

BUT.

And that BUT makes me feel so guilty.  That BUT is constantly hanging over my head.

BUT he's not the son who died.

BUT regardless of how healing he's been, he can never fill the baby-sized hole in my heart that is still raw.

BUT I just want all of my babies.

BUT the math would never allow it.

And right behind the BUTs are the WHAT IFs.

WHAT IF my baby had not died?

WHAT IF my third pregnancy hadn't ended in miscarriage?

WHAT IF Baby Number Three had been born?

WHAT IF I  had a one year old today?

Would he be healthy?  Or would I be sitting in a hospital room while he struggled to live... hooked up to machines or recovering from endless surgeries due to a congenital defect or chromosomal abnormality?

And those WHAT IFs lead me to think the scariest WHAT IF of all.  One so awful, that it makes me feel physically ill just to think it, let alone write it here where others can see my dark thoughts.

Here goes....please be gentle with your judgment.

WHAT IF other people were right?  You know the ones.  The well-meaning people who uttered those awful trite phrases that were meant to bring me comfort when my baby died.  Those phrases that just added to my pain.

WHAT IF "it's for the best"?

WHAT IF "everything happens for a reason"?

WHAT IF they were right?

Because if that baby had lived,  I would not have my precious rainbow, my Optimus. That thought terrifies me.   I can't imagine my life without him.  He brings us so much joy.

Does that mean that one baby was lost so that another could exist?  That my miscarriage really was "a blessing in disguise" as others told me?   Did my body choose one baby over another?

As soon as these morbid thoughts enter my head, I feel so sick and so guilty.  My head and my heart start to pound.

I just want all my babies.

Living with the "buts" and the "what ifs" is hard.

BUT.

I can't change what happened.   None of us can.  All I can do is move forward.  Love.   Live.  Remember.  Grieve.

The pain will always be there for the baby who died.  I'll always wonder what life could have been if the Storm had never stolen him from us.

BUT like the Ying and the Yang, I know that with the pain, there is happiness too.  There is happiness for the Sunshines in my life and happiness for the Rainbow that followed my Storm.  There is happiness for the life I have with my beautiful family.

 My pain and happiness will always coexist.  Maybe one day I'll get used to it.

Today I'm going to light a candle for my baby and wish him a happy first birthday.   I'm going to read him "I'll Love You Forever," the very same copy I have read with all his siblings.

I'm going to wish that he was here with us. I'm going to remember him and wish that things were different.

I'm going to hope that somewhere out there, a reality exists where all of my children are with me.   I'm going to hope that in this alternate reality, it's possible for me to have a one year old and a ten month old.

I'm going to hope that instead of lighting a candle in memory of my baby, we are lighting one on his birthday cake and watching him smash cake all over his high chair and face, his hair sticky with icing. He'll squeal out in happiness when his older siblings sing happy birthday, and he'll try to grab the noise makers they blow at him, giggling at the sounds they make.  And he and his baby brother (by only two months) will happily play with the gift boxes and try to eat the wrapping paper, completely oblivious to the gifts.

Today,  I should have a one year old, but instead I have a ten month old...and I desperately wish I had them both to hold.

Happy birthday, Little One.  I love you.   Always.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Back to the Beginning...Again

A year ago,  I woke up pregnant.
That was my first thought of the morning.  I'm pregnant!   I'd known less than a week, and it consumed my thoughts in from the moment my eyes popped open until the moment I fell to sleep.

On this morning that thought was quickly followed by foreboding.  The night before I'd found the telltale sign that every pregnant woman dreads, a tiny drop of blood that turned into several spots a couple of hours later. 
But am I STILL pregnant?    I wondered.
I'd woken up several times during that long night.   Each time,  I'd roll over on my left side and pray.  Please God, please let my baby be ok.

I tried to rationalize my fear away.   It's no big deal.  Just your uterus stretching. Completely normal...exactly what happened with my daughter, and she was fine!

Still the worry and anxiety were eating at me.   I prayed,  I rationalized, I bargained.  I made all kinds of promises to God.   If this baby is ok, I PROMISE I'll be a better person.  I'll be more patient,  I'll be more understanding,  I'll be a better listener.    I'll be a better mom, partner, daughter, friend, neighbor.  I won't yell at other drivers in traffic,  regardless what they do.

Along with prayers and thoughts of rationalization and bargaining that crowded my brain, two emotions crept in.   Sadness and anger.  Why is this happening to me? What kind of sick joke is this? Why ME?

For years, I'd suffered from secondary infertility, and now after a bad bout of the stomach flu, I was pregnant and I hadn't even tried.   I was 36 years old, and I'd made peace when I was 30 that my childbearing days were over.  Yet here I was, unexpectedly pregnant, something I didn't think was possible.  It was supposed to be time of happiness.   Instead,  I was terrified my baby was dying, and I couldn't do anything about it.  It was a cruel twist of fate.  An unexpected future was gone as quickly as it was first imagined.

Bracing myself, I took that short trip to the bathroom,  hoping for a good sign.  Instead, I found a steady trickle of blood, and I knew.  My body was rejecting my baby.  The womb that was supposed to nurture my child had decided to abort him.   Spontaneous abortion... it was such an ugly term.  My body had failed me.  I was a biological failure.

I'm not going to go into all the emotions I felt in that moment.  If you've experienced loss,  you already know.  If you're one of the lucky ones,  the 3 of 4 who haven't experienced it, nothing I can say will make you understand.   I was devastated.  It felt like I died...part of me DID die. 

The next few days were a blur.  My doctor confirmed what I already knew.  I was no longer pregnant.   My partner tried to distract me with movies,  wine, conversation - not even he knew how much I was hurting.   All I remember is the pain, the grief, and the tears.  The hollow feeling that part of me was missing.  As much as the physical pain of miscarriage hurt,  it didn't compare to my heartache. Contractions, heartbreak, and tears defined me. 

The following day, after a few hours of contractions,  I passed our baby.  As I looked down at that tiny perfect sac and embryo, I felt my heart shatter and I knew I'd never be the same person again.  I was grieving for an unknown, unattainable future.  My baby died before he ever had a chance to live.   Nothing about this was fair.

At first I didn't tell many people about my miscarriage.   After all, it's not something we're supposed to talk about, right?   We shouldn't even mention we're pregnant until it's "safe," but a loss mom will tell you there's no such thing as a safe time in pregnancy.   

Why is the subject of loss tabboo?   Dead babies make for uncomfortable conversations.  It goes against the natural order of life.  Children are supposed to outlive parents,  so as a society,  we try to ignore it when the opposite happens.

It took months to open up about my loss.  Most people were sympathetic, and phrases that I'd always thought were trite like "I'm sorry" and "I'm thinking of you" suddenly meant a lot.   Some of the things people said to make me feel better had the opposite affect.   Their words stung.  I hated hearing things like "It's for the best.  What if he'd been born severly disabled?"  Or my personal favorite, "It's better that it happened now before you got too attached."  I already loved my baby.   Why couldn't they understand that?

Still, it was someone I loved who suffered a loss at the same time who hurt me the most without even realizing it.   Instead of mourning together,  she pushed me away, lost deep in her own grief.  "You weren't even trying," she accused me,  "My loss is more devastating."  Those words crushed me.   My heart hurt so much I couldn't breathe.   Until then,  I never knew that some babies mattered more than others.   It felt like a baby's death could be turned into a competition and made me physically ill.  I don't know if I'll ever forget how I felt at that moment.   My pain and grief were amplified until I felt like my broken heart would split me completely in two.

It was clear to me that I was the only one who would ever love and mourn this baby the way he deserved.  He was worthy of so much more.  It wasn't fair the way his life ended before it ever began.  It didn't feel like anyone else cared.  Life went on.  It didn't crash to a stop like it should have.   I vowed to myself that he WOULD matter.  His life and death would matter to someone besides me and my family.

It was a lonely time, but I found solace with others who had experienced loss.   It helped me find a way to cope with my grief.   Somehow seeing what these women had experienced and survived made me hopeful that I'd be ok, and slowly I did start to feel more like myself again.  I'd find myself humming a song or laughing out loud at a funny thought.   It was followed by crippling guilt.  How could I be happy when my baby was dead?   But for a brief moment, at least, I felt normal.

These periods of time grew, and my guilt lessened.  After all, I had two sunshine babies who deserved a mom who wasn't crippled by grief.  I should live for them, and I should live for the baby who never had a chance to experience life. 

Slowly, normalcy crept back into my life, but just as it was returned, my world spun out of control again.  For three days, I woke up sick and exhausted.  I'd drag myself out of bed only to vomit several times before I could begin my day.  

I did the math, and I was late.   There was NO way I was pregnant again.  I refused to be pregnant.  I couldn't be.

For almost a week,  I tried to ignore the obvious, but the not knowing started to wear on me.   One night I was home alone, and my curiosity won out.  I peed on a stick, and when it came out positive, I sat down on the bathroom floor and cried.

I cried tears of sadness for my dead baby, and I cried tears of fear for the new baby growing inside me.   I was so afraid my body was going to kill him too.  I cried because I didn't think I was strong enough to survive another loss.   There were no tears of happiness, not then anyway.

Happy tears did not come until the day my Optimus was born and I knew he was alive and healthy.   Honestly, I don't think I really BREATHED during the entire pregnancy.  I was so afraid something would go wrong.   I held my breath in silent anticipation.  Each doctor appointment was torture.   I prayed and hoped for a happy, healthy rainbow,  but I feared that I'd lose him too.   Joyful tears and the ability to breathe only came the first time I heard him cry.

Pregnancy after loss is not an easy journey.  It's full of fear, anxiety,  happiness, and guilt.  Sometimes it's just one of these feelings, and at others, it's all of them at once.  Emotions hit fast, and they hit hard. 

I wish I could tell you the negative feelings go away, but I don't think they ever do.   Once you've experienced loss, it becomes a part of who you are.  And it didn't just affect me,  my fear and anxiety were contagious.   As my due date approached, my kids made plans for our new life, but their statements always started with "if" the baby comes home, not "when."  It was heartbreaking to see their worry and to know that they lived with the knowledge that babies could die.  It could happen anytime and without reason.  Life wasn't fair, and it could be cruel.

The whole time I was pregnant,  I struggled with guilt.  Now that my rainbow is here,  I still struggle.  My pregnancies were close together.   There were only two months between my loss and finding out I was pregnant again.  Anytime I felt sad about my miscarriage,  it made me feel like I was taking my rainbow for granted. 

How do you mourn the loss of one baby when you know that your other baby wouldn't be here if the first had survived?   It's sick logic, but it became a normal part of my life as I struggled to process my feelings.   I mourned my dead baby on his due date even as his brother kicked and jabbed my insides, reminding me that he was alive and would be here soon.  The guilt that I was betraying both of them was strong.  The struggle of finding a way to love both of them without guilt, of wanting both of them, will continue, probably forever.

I mourn the baby I lost on the first anniversary of my miscarriage.  I'm so sad that I never got to hold him or kiss him and that I'll never know if he has my eyes.   Yet,  as I sit here wondering about the baby I never knew, his little brother Optimus is swaddled in my arms, nursing.  I look down and see his sweet face.  His fat baby cheeks are the same ones I had as a baby.  He has his daddy's ears and hairline... and his scowl.  He has the laid-back personality of his sister, and he sucks on his hand, not his thumb to self-soothe, just like his big brother did at his age.  He is a perfect blend of all of us.

I'm so thankful, so blessed to have him.  My heart swells with love every time I look at him.   At times it seems like a dream that he's here and that he's mine.   For the first time in a long time, I feel lucky, but it doesn't make today any easier.  It doesn't make me miss his sibling any less.  And it definitely doesn't make the guilt go away.

I don't know how to explain what I'm feeling.   It's a riddle I haven't solved.   How do I mourn the baby I lost when the only way I could have him here with us means my precious Optimus wouldn't exist?   And how do I go on and enjoy my sweet baby boy without feeling like I'm forgetting,  or worse replacing, his sibling?  The more I try to make sense of it,  the more guilty I feel and more confused I become.  I'm not sure if I'll ever figure out.  

In the meantime,  I'm going to enjoy every moment I have with my sunshines and my rainbow...and I'm going to remember their sibling and wish he was here too.  I'm going to pray the guilt lessens.  If there's one thing I've learned,  it's that life doesn't stop even if you feel like it should.   Life is precious, and we never know what the future holds, so we should remember fondly and live fully. 

A year ago,  I lost my baby, and now I'm holding a rainbow.   Somehow, I survived everything in between.   I didn't think I would, and l couldn't have done it without my family, friends, and those women I met along my journey.

A year ago I vowed to myself that my baby's short life would matter.  He may no longer be here,  but he led me to a strong, courageous group of women in the loss community.   Pregnancy After Loss Support helped me through my emotional journey of pregnancy after loss.   And now, every woman who I help reminds me that my angel is the reason WHY I'm here... and in that way he lives on.  And for that,  he will always matter... to me and everyone.