Thursday, October 15, 2015

national pregnancy & infant loss remembrance day

a few days ago, we drove past our very-pregnant neighbour's house, and she was outside with her daughter S, who is the same age as L.
"Mommy," he said, with that This Is An Urgent Why Question upper-register voice of his, "is S going to have a baby?" 
i explained that yes, her mommy has a baby growing inside her body, and that very soon S will have a little sister.  now, we'd just come back from a playdate at the park with one of his school friends, who also has a little sister.   L was very quiet in that special preschooler way that indicates Big Thoughts Are In My Head Right Now.  i looked in the rear-view mirror.  his brow was furrowed, and he looked worried. 
"L, your face looks worried.  are you having a big feeling right now?" i asked.
a little voice said "yes."
"Sweets, are you wondering if you are suddenly going to have a little sister too?"
he burst out in relief "YESSSSSS!!"
i'm glad we were driving, so he couldn't see my face.  part of me was laughing merrily, and part of me went very, very still.
"Oh L, it's ok.  don't worry.  that won't happen." i explained.
"It's not?!"
"No, honey, getting a little brother or sister usually involves a big decision made by the mommy and daddy, and then it takes a long time for a baby to grow inside its mommy's body.  so you get plenty of warning if you're going to get a little brother or sister.  it doesn't happen suddenly.  the mommies and daddies tell their kids way before it happens."
"Did B (another friend) know about his little sister before she came?"
"Yes, he did."
"Ok."  L was quiet for awhile, again with that Big Thoughts look. "Um, Mommy?"
"Yes, Sweets?"
(Quietly) "Is there a baby growing inside your body RIGHT NOW?"
my breath caught.  "Oh, no, my love, no. there is not. not anymore."
"Why?"

i swallowed hard.  "Babies can't grow inside Mommy's body anymore."
"But WHY?"
"Oh love, i don't know. i just don't know."
He was quiet again.  "Can we listen to the elephant song please?"
i gratefully turned on the kids' music CD and made it as loud as was safe, so he wouldn't notice me crying.

today is October 15th, National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, or in our home, Tummymuffin Day.  (click links for more information, if you are unfamiliar with this -- it is observed worldwide, with candles lit from 7:00-8:00pm local time.)  tonight will be somewhat different -- we will be remembering our four lost children, instead of three.
you see, it's been less than a month since i had to say goodbye to Tummymuffin V.  yes, as i was writing that last post about closing and latching the gate on more kids -- i was, unbeknownst to me, already pregnant.  and then just as we were joyfully adjusting to this new reality, it was all over.  everything went back to being the same.  and nothing will ever be the same again.

as L grows older, and becomes more aware of other kids having brothers and sisters, our decision to Talk About the children we lost becomes more complex.  he knows that he had brothers and sisters that "no one got to meet," but as he starts to better understand that most people only talk about or know about siblings that are alive, there will inevitably be questions -- not just from him, but from others who won't understand why a little kid would be talking about babies that were never born. 
the reason is exactly why this day exists, first brought into being in America by Congressional decree (and then spreading internationally; most recently Australia passed a resolution to recognize it) -- because the lives of these never-met babies, even if they were so short as to have never been born, massively impact the lives of their families and friends.  my son's life is irrevocably shaped by the three before him, and now also by the one after. 

pregnancy and infant loss -- and especially the accompanying grief and sorrow -- is not at all a comfortable topic of conversation, but it is imperative that our society becomes more accepting and adept at Talking About It.  while every loss is unique, and especially every parent's response to it is also, they must be given the right to make a choice of how to respond in their own way.  and too many of them have felt that silence and secrecy is their only option.  it is incredibly hard to speak openly about this, and it takes practice with those you love and trust. 
if you have lost a child in pregnancy or early infancy, please know that you are far from alone. many of the links to the right will take you to places that have wonderful resources for coping with the grief, finding support, and talking openly about your loss.  you can also feel free to email me (my information is under the "About" tab at the top of the page).  talk to your partner about where you are in your journey; too often even in our house, i am surprised by where my husband is, or he is blindsided by how fresh the pain feels for me sometimes.  being open, at least in your family relationships, is a good start.

and for those of you who love someone who has had a loss -- or especially if they're revealing this part of themselves to you for the first time -- simply be present.  let them tell their story without judgment or any "fix-it" responses.*  give a hug and an "i'm sorry."  or if you already know of someone mourning a loss/losses, perhaps use this day to send a quick text or email to say "i remember with you."  don't worry that you might be reminding them of something painful; they are most likely all too aware of it on a regular basis.

keep talking. keep listening. keep loving.  thank you to all of you who have done all of this for me on my journey.  i promise to do the same.

 *you can find posts about helping someone who's had a loss under the "advice and resources" tab at the top.



Friday, August 28, 2015

my another

-->that's the giant exhalation of breath that i just released. 
i've been struggling for awhile with what to continue writing about here regarding my personal journey, mainly because i had no real conclusions.  that's a problem; this blog has always been about life in process.  at the same time, because it dealt with what i now think of as one of the more publicly asked-about intensely private decisions ("so when are you going to have another one?"), i wanted just a little more clarity about what constitutes a "complete family." and how that definition can either continue to be a carefully-constructed faux reality, or an acceptance of the actual story.
get to the point, i hear you saying.  ok, well, even choosing the verb for how to say this is awkward: we've chosen? decided? accepted? come to an understanding? embraced?
fine, then.  we have, in our own ways, and together, (fill in the verb from above list here) that L will most likely be our only living child.

looking back on the pendulum swing of a journey that got me here, i know that it started with the blueprint i always had for "family:" 2 bio parents, 2 bio children.  this is what i lived; this is what my husband lived.   i never questioned my personal idea of "family" -- while i am very familiar with all the permutations of other people's families, my family was four people.  and thus, i think, i absorbed that this number is what would make our family complete. 
i remember driving home from one of L's earliest post-birth checkups, his impossibly tiny, freshly-hatched infant body asleep in the back, and me with my body still healing from the birth and milk newly come in, saying to my husband, "so...i guess we're going to start trying again as soon as possible?".  one of the nurses had made a passing comment about how ideally a new mother needs a solid year to heal/adjust to motherhood/go back to being an unpregnant body before another pregnancy, and my first reaction was mentally screaming "I DON'T HAVE THAT KIND OF TIME, LADY!"  i was looking down the barrel of 40, coming out of three miscarriages and years of infertility, and i thought: we gotta get going on this next kid.
despite exclusively breastfeeding my ridiculously hungry baby, my cycle came back when he was just 4 months old.  my OB/GYN, whom i love, called it "a particularly adventurous egg."  then, 28 days later, i had another period. and then, another 28 days...another period.  inwardly, i rejoiced.  this obviously meant my reproductive bits were back online, and we were ready to have another baby! 
only those 28 days kept coming and going, like clockwork.  they didn't stop.  at first, i was too sleep-deprived and overwhelmed by new mommyhood to really care too much; it was only after L's 1st birthday that i started to worry.  no, actually, it wasn't worry.  it was more like the slow decay of of a bouquet of cut flowers: my hope was wilting, being replaced by the "oh no, here we go again" dread.

secondary infertility is defined as when you can't conceive or carry to term in a given period of time following the birth of your biological child without assisted reproductive techniques or fertility meds.  it is a very real and common thing, and it's talked about even less than the "silent corrosion" that is primary infertility.  even medical professionals are known to downplay it, along with well-meaning friends and family ("just keep trying!"  "relax!").  the problem is, the toxic emotional cocktail of sadness, anger, frustration, despair, self-blame, etc. that usually accompanies infertility now comes in a big tall highball glass of guilt and criticism.  having an existing child (or children) means you have their welfare to consider, and other people (and maybe even your own internal voices) can be astonishingly vocal about the perceived selfishness of wanting to increase your family.  the emotional duality of being grateful for your child while still mourning the ones you didn't have, i have found, extends not just to babies lost in pregnancy, but also babies not conceived.  both situations mean facing and grieving the lost future that you hoped for that will not come to pass.

over time, the answer to the very common question, "so when will you/are you going to have another one?" has shifted.  it's gone through a lot of permutations, listed here in all their wilting-flower chronology:
"hopefully soon!"
...
"we're 'leaving the gate unlatched' and hoping for the best."
...
"we're so grateful for this one, and we do hope there will be another."
...
"we're trying to be patient -- it was a long journey to have this one and we're grateful just for him."
...
"we didn't even think we could have him, so who knows?"
...
"we don't know if we can or will. we're just grateful to have him."
...
and now, the current one:  "he IS our another one."

the pendulum has reached the other side, and i don't think it's going to swing back.  it shouldn't -- because the resolution of saying goodbye to our previous imagined incarnation of family (2 parents, 2 children) and instead fully, mindfully accepting and rejoicing in our actual family (2 parents, 1 living child), means that we can also move forward in our story being the best family we can be. 

after the first two miscarriages, our wise long-time family therapist told me: you must take your circumstances and choose a direction.  either you can stay defined as the grieving mother with empty arms, or you can be Yourself, and that weeping childless mother is a component of Who You Are.  he reminded me of this during our last visit, when my husband and I went to seek his counsel on this very difficult decision.  we can mourn this piece of our family story, but it is not who we are.  we are not a family with Not Enough Children.  we must be a family with One Child, who is even more than we may have at one time hoped for.  we are a family of three, and that is, for us, abundance.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

i am broken; i am restored (rinse & repeat)

today is Mother's Day again.
i'm actually glad that instead of feeling like i have to acknowledge it, i'm in the mountains with my family, joyfully celebrating the wedding of a dear friend that i've known for almost a quarter-century.  this weekend has been about redemption of the deepest sort, because after the brokenness and betrayal that my friend has experienced in past years, it has been a true miracle to watch him take hold of healing, restoration, and trust again.  it has been a gift to watch him come back to life, and i am grateful to be able to witness it. 
yesterday, as i watched from a distance as they took wedding photographs standing amongst ancient, mossy trees, i saw only gratitude and peace on their faces, not the giddy excitement that usually marks a younger, first-time-around, newlywed couple.  these friends have seen a lot of life, and know better than many the realities of storms and crashing downs and the thick stupor of grief.  i took a deep breath of the sharp clean mountain air and the verdant smell of rain and earth and felt my Redeemer saying to my spirit, "Child: i am there in the restoration, and i am there in the grief.  i have seen all that has gone before and i know of your pain and your joy.  if you want to believe in Me, believe that i am a Healer, and that i am with you in your anger and impatience over wounds that require healing.  i'm letting you see redemption today because you need to see this part of the story."
right now i can hear the sparkling laughter of my child inside our little mountain cabin, and the voice of my husband laughing with him.  i'm thinking of all the wounding and healing and waiting and not-knowing and redemption and impatience and love and life that i have so far known, so much of the most intense parts of all of that wrapped up in this ongoing journey of family-making.  i'm thinking about this article posted by a friend of mine about a Catholic cemetery in New York that has a special section for miscarried and stillborn children -- what has stayed with me is how the women interviewed for the article lost babies 45 or 50 years ago, and had other living children, and yet still ached for the baby or babies they never "got to take home."  i'm thinking about one of them, in her nineties, i think, talking about how people tell you you're "lucky" to have the kids you have - -and you agree -- yet you never stop missing the ones you didn't.  even now, i still fall apart at unexplained, random times over my three Tummymuffins i carried within me, but never got to meet.
today i would rather celebrate the secret mothers -- the ones who are still hoping, still waiting, still grieving.  even the ones who are also, at the same time, fully rejoicing in the miracle of any living children they might have.  just as my newly-married friends know, acknowledging the brokenness allows you to truly revel in the healing -- and just as brokenness is not the end of the story, neither is healing.  while Process may not be poetry, it is Truth.