The Bittersweet Moments We Cherish

Today is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Remembrance Day, and this year, as last year, is a bittersweet day of remembrance for me.

Those of you who’ve followed my blog over the past few years know our story, but for those who don’t, here it is.

The hubs and I started trying for a baby in June of 2010, but never saw the “two pink lines” we hoped for until a full year had passed.

Joy is an understatement of what we felt.

We shared with a select few friends and family members, and started making our plans for a nursery, for names, for baby furniture, and everything else that goes with it.

Then, it ended.

On August 4, 2011, my early missed miscarriage was confirmed by an ultrasound. My body had not recognized that our baby had died in utero, so we opted to have a D&C procedure. I remember asking my husband the night before if we should request another ultrasound, just to be sure. But in the end, we knew it would be useless and would just confirm what we already  knew.

Our prayed for, hoped for baby was now an angel.

It took several months for me to even begin feeling like myself again, but so much had changed. I was a mother, but I would never be able to hold my first baby. I would never know the color of that baby’s eyes or hair, or hear that baby’s laughs or cries. I would never watch that baby learn to roll, crawl, stand, and walk, and never pace the floors at night when that baby couldn’t sleep for teething, sickness, or because it was Tuesday.

We went on to undergo round after round of fertility treatments, but to no avail. We were losing hope, and each year when March 4th rolled around – the date our first angel would have been born, would have celebrated a birthday – my heart broke all over again. On the outside, few people knew how much we were hurting, but the truth of our loss was always there – in the panted and recarpeted bedroom that should have been the nursery, in the one early ultrasound picture that, once upon a time, confirmed for me that our baby had a heartbeat, and was now hidden away to prevent further pain.

In March 2013, two pink lines again appeared. We dared to be joyful again, but it wasn’t to last. In fact, it lasted only a week before the numbers from my blood draws confirmed it.

This second baby was also an angel.

In some ways, this second pregnancy was less real, because I never reached the point of feeling exhausted or nauseous, as I had during my first pregnancy. We started talking about our options. We decided to apply to begin the process to adopt. At the same time, we continued a few rounds of fertility treatments, both medical and homeopathic, as well as tests to try and determine why I couldn’t get pregnant, or if I did, why I couldn’t hold the pregnancy.

There were no answers. Just empty arms.

We’d finally given up on having a biological child. We were accepted into a home study program for domestic infant adoption, and were a week away from beginning.

And then…

Two pink lines.

We were actually at my in-laws for Thanksgiving when we learned of our third pregnancy. I was terrified, certain this one, too, would end in miscarriage. My doctor put me on a medical regimen to prevent miscarriage, which included the use of progesterone supplements, hormone shots, baby aspirin, and injections of a blood thinner. My lower abdomen was a patchwork of bruises from the daily injections, but it was also a reminder that we were doing all we could to hold onto this baby.

Nausea set in. It wasn’t just morning sickness. It was all-day sickness. If I was awake, I was on the verge of puking. I was exhausted. My sense of smell went crazy, and I could barely eat for weeks, let alone cook anything for myself or my husband. We didn’t travel at Christmas to visit family like we normally did, for fear of being too far from my doctor. I had ultrasounds and blood draws every two weeks, and my doctor promised that, if it made me feel better, I could have ultrasounds done in between just to see my baby.

We made it to the end of the first trimester. The “morning” sickness ebbed away. My belly began to become a bump.

I felt the flutters, then the little kicks, that told us Babycakes was there.

Alive.

Growing.

Safe.

I never let go of the fear of losing her, even to the very moment she was born by c-section, following 12 hours of labor, on August 14, 2014. In the back of my mind, shadowing my entire pregnancy, was the knowledge that I’d hoped twice before, and lost twice before.

Even as I labored at the hospital to bring Babycakes into the world, I thought of my angel babies.

The first, who would have been a two-and-almost-a-half year old toddler, overjoyed at the prospect of a baby sister.

And the second, whose brief time with me imprinted on my heart but is even more bittersweet because, without that loss, there would be no Babycakes.

The first time I held Babycakes, the first time I nursed her, I felt the aching, missing weight of the two babies I never got to hold, and never will in this lifetime.

The first time Babycakes cried out in the night, I remembered the two babies whose cries I never got to hear or comfort.

The first time Babycakes looked at me and recognized me, smiled at me, laughed at me, I heard the voices of the babies whose voices I will never hear and whose smiles I will never see.

Babycakes has been the most amazing, unexpected blessing. She is a gift, a miracle, a joy we never thought we’d knew. At times I feel guilty when she has to be left to cry in her crib because I have to use the bathroom, or I feel like I’m being ungrateful when my frustration over her lack of uninterrupted night sleep has me drained, frustrated, and failing as a parent. I end up holding her and crying as she nurses back to oblivion, whispering how sorry I am for not being perfect, and feeling in my heart that I will always be trying to make up, with her, for the things I will never get to do with my two angel babies.

I still cry for my angel babies, the first who would be three and a half, the other not quite two years old. I hope someday I’ll be able to explain to Babycakes about them, how someday we will all be together again.

I still wish for them.

I hope they know how much I still love them.

A Twinkle to Keep

Once upon a time, two little angel babies were resting on the cloud where they had so lovingly been placed by the Lord, looking down at Earth at the man and woman who had once hoped to keep them when they were just little Twinkles. One of the angels of the Lord came to fetch them, for the Son wished to speak with them.

When the angel babies were settled on Jesus’ lap, he gathered them very close. “I know you remember with great love and wistfulness the man and woman for whom you once were chosen,” he said softly. “You know from your watchful vigil over them that they have thought about you and loved you, especially the woman, every day since you left them.”

The angel babies nodded and snuggled against the Son’s shoulders. “Sometimes it seemed like they had forgotten us,” the older angel baby said. “But they haven’t. We wish we could have stayed with them.”

“I know,” Jesus said, “and so does my Father. But now, you have a chance to help the Lord choose another Twinkle to send to the man and woman.”

The angel babies looked at each other. “But what if that Twinkle can’t stay with them either?” they asked.

Jesus kissed the tops of their heads. “It is always a chance that is taken. And they have given up hope of ever receiving a Twinkle to keep. But perhaps this time will be different.”

Then, the Son brought the angel babies to the Father, who was waiting with the beautiful box from which he selected Twinkles for loving families on Earth. Even though the box was still closed, they could hear the peals of bell-like laughter from within. When the Lord saw the little angel babies, He smiled, His love and joy shining brighter than the noonday sun.

“Come forward, my dear children,” said the Lord, “for I have a very important task for you.” Then he beckoned the angel babies forward, opened the box, and let them peer inside.

Golden light filled the heavens, and at the Father’s urging, the two angel babies looked at all the little Twinkles. They wanted to find the perfect Twinkle to send to the man and woman, because they knew how important it was. At last, they chose one and pointed it out to the Father and the Son.

“A good choice,” Jesus said with a smile.

The Lord reached into the box and drew out the little Twinkle. An angel who had been waiting nearby came forward and took the Twinkle. “Remember,” the Lord said. “This Twinkle is precious and must be delivered safely. It is unexpected and will be all the more loved because of it.”

After receiving these instructions, the angel left Heaven and went to the man and woman to deliver the Twinkle, seeing it comfortable within the woman’s womb. The angel babies, meanwhile, returned to their cloud to watch over the man, woman, and Twinkle. For nine months they watched over the little family as the Twinkle grew. They saw how the man and woman worried, how they hardly dared to pray that this Twinkle might be the one they could keep. Now and then, they were called to sit with the Son and talk about how the Twinkle was doing.

At last, the day came when the Twinkle was ready to enter the world. The angel babies watched over the man and woman as the time grew near, and they knew the other angels and saints in Heaven were also watching and praying. They even heard the prayers of the woman, and the thoughts she had, even while trying to bring the Twinkle into the world, of the two angel babies she would not meet until she, too, came to Heaven.

Finally, the Twinkle came into the world and let out a cry. The woman’s heart and soul rejoiced, and she thanked the Lord for the beautiful baby He had bestowed upon her and the man.

Angel Lullabies

A year ago, I broke my silence about a very difficult event in my life, an event I still struggle to incorporate into my day to day being. I am one of the “one in four” women who have suffered a miscarriage. In fact, I have suffered two miscarriages, the second of which occurred this past March about a week after finding out about my pregnancy. If everything had gone as it should, I would be about six weeks away from welcoming my second baby into the world while wrangling an 18 month old. But unfortunately, things did not go as they should.

It has been incredibly difficult. Recurrent miscarriage is a medical condition and is considered a form of infertility. After a battery of tests and infertility treatments, there’s no concrete reasons that point to why it’s so hard for me to conceive and why I cannot hold a pregnancy if I do conceive. In the meantime, I struggle to put on a smile when friends share the happy news about their own babies-on-the-way. My joy for them is always a little dimmed by the knowledge that I will never hold my own babies. At least not in this world.

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, and there are dozens of resources out there for parents who have experienced miscarriage or infant loss, as well as family and friends of those individuals who wish to provide support. (Unfortunately, the excellent site I shared last year, I Am The Face, seems to have been hacked and is no longer accessible.) There are also many ways you can remember and recognize your baby, including today’s “Wave of Light”, wherein you light a candle at 7pm in your local time zone and let it remain lit for an hour.

I encourage anyone who has experienced a loss to find information, find support, and be open about your grief. We do not need to grieve alone, and we shouldn’t be forced to grieve in silence.

After I lost my first baby in August 2011, I wrote the following poem as a way to help me cope. After losing my second baby in March of this year, I revised the poem to reflect the two angels waiting for me in Heaven. I know not everyone has the same religious beliefs or faith that I have, but I hope this may give comfort to others as it has given me.

 

~*~*~

Angel Lullabies

Blessed Mary, take my babies,
hold them if they cry,
and kiss them as they fall asleep
to angel lullabies.


String the stars above the cradles
where you lay them down at night
so I can find my angel babies
among that Heavenly light.


Mary, tell my babies dear
how much I miss them so.
I know your love will be as mine,
the only love they’ll know.


Tell my babies all about me,
and about their father too,
so when we come to Heaven’s gates
they’ll know to lead us through.


Sweet Mary, tell my angels
I’ll think of them each day;
No matter who comes into my life,
my love for them won’t fade away.


Teach my babies to spread their wings
and bravely soar the skies,
and please tuck them in at night
with angel lullabies.

Virgin Mary

I’m not sure what the original source of the image is, what it’s title is or who the artist is. And I’ve been searching. If anyone knows, please let me know so I can give proper attribution!

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day

I try not to bog down this blog with, you know, overly personal stuff.  But there are some things I need to say today.

“A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven’t. Most don’t mention it, and they go on from day to day as if it hadn’t happened, so people imagine a woman in this situation never really knew or loved what she had.

But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she’ll know.”

― Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  This day of remembrance was first observed in 1988, when President Reagan designated the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and Congress proclaimed October 15th as the official Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day in 2006.

I know what you’re thinking.  Isn’t this also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, LGBT History Month, and a whole host of other cultural, health, history, and other observances?  Well, you’re right.  Every month of the year is set aside for a variety of observances.  But why is pregnancy and infant loss awareness so critical?

Think about it.  How often do people express grief and offer support for those who have lost a loved one to cancer, other long term illnesses, or other tragic, more sudden losses?  You can probably think of at least five people you know who have mourned the loss of a family member or friend in the past year.  But how many people do you know who mourn the loss of an infant, or suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth?

How many?

Probably more than you think.

A 2004 National Vital Statistics report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) presented the statistics that, in 2000, a little over 15% of pregnancies in the United States ended in miscarriages or stillbirths, and about 27.5 thousand of the approximately four million live births in 2003 ended in the death of an infant under the age of one.

Those numbers a little too vague for you?

Well, how about this:  one out of every four women in the US will experience the loss of a baby at some point in their lives.

That number strikes a little harder, doesn’t it? Now think back to when I asked you how many women you know who have suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.

I think miscarriages, especially early miscarriages that occur in the first trimester of a pregnancy, comprise the losses that are “invisible” to the rest of the world.  Often, early miscarriages happen before the news of the pregnancy is shared with the world at large. Many people may not even know a woman is pregnant when she experiences an early miscarriage.  And because there was no visual “proof” that there was ever a baby, people either ignore or simply don’t recognize the grief.

But it’s real.  It’s very, very real.  And it needs to be acknowledged.

Many women are reluctant to share their grief for many reasons.  Unfortunately, it’s often well-meaning but poorly timed or worded comments that make matters worse.  Even if the following statements are logical or true, even if the grieving mother thinks or says these things herself, they don’t help:

“There must have been something wrong.”

“You can always try again.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“There’s always adoption.”

“Maybe you aren’t meant to have children.”

Now, at this point, you’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this, how I know anything about this at all.

Well, it’s because I heard many of those well-intended statements last August, after I experienced an early term missed miscarriage.

That’s right. I am the one in four.

My husband and I had tried for exactly a year to conceive, and we were beyond ecstatic when we finally saw those two pink lines on the home pregnancy test.  We started window shopping for cribs and curtains, ordered new carpet for what would become our nursery and picked out paint samples.  I turned into a total mushball anytime I passed the baby clothing section at a department store.

I did everything right.  I took prenatal vitamins, watched my diet, kept up moderate exercise, tried to get enough sleep each night.  I avoided foods on the “do not eat” list, tried to stay away from places where I could be exposed to second hand smoke.

And I was in love with my baby.

Then it ended.  After experiencing some unexpected bleeding at the nine week mark, an ultrasound showed that my baby had died in utero around six and a half weeks into my pregnancy.  There is no word in the English language – maybe in any language – to accurately describe how devastated I was.  And what was worse, I couldn’t talk about it to hardly any one.  And I actually felt like I wasn’t allowed to talk about it, like it wasn’t a real loss.

I reached a particularly low point just before Christmas 2011.  My school year felt out of control; my emotions were running rampant, we were experiencing further frustrations because we were unable to conceive again, and I just didn’t want to be at work.  I loved my students, loved seeing them every day, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I felt like I wasn’t doing any of my students any good, and I could not stop thinking, “February 17th was supposed to be my last day of work for the year.”  Plus, we were closing in on the one-year anniversary of my maternal grandfather’s passing; I had been extremely close to him, and his death rocked my family.

A very wise, very compassionate coworker, to whom I had confided the news of my loss, said something really liberating to me.  I had finally broken down that afternoon in December.  She sat down next to me and said, “You have suffered two huge losses, and your grief is profound.  It’s okay for you to be sad.”

Suddenly, after that, I felt like I could talk about my miscarriage.  I didn’t hire a skywriter or rent a billboard.  But when people asked, “So when are you having kids?” I could say, “Well, we had a loss in August, but we’re still trying.”

I don’t go into detail. But it’s freeing – empowering – to be able to tell people. And it seemed like all these women I knew were coming out of the woodwork to share that they, too, had suffered miscarriages.  This experience I felt so alone in had been shared by so many of my friends and family!  And because I had the courage to say something about my loss, I found an unexpected support system.

A year and some change later, we’re still trying to conceive and have now moved into the realm of treatments for unexplained infertility.  And it’s hard.  It’s frustrating.  And there are days I think I’ll never be blessed again.  I’m a mother without her baby.  But I’m trying not to lose hope, trying to remember there are options and avenues out there for our family.  But it doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my first baby, the one I never got to meet.

There are probably people out there, maybe even reading this right now, who would shake their heads about my sharing something so personal and private.  Well, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?  If we women who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy are guilted into keeping silent, are made to feel that we’re not allowed to say anything about our grief, how is that going to help us heal?  It only helps those people avoid hearing about a topic that makes them uncomfortable.

So that’s my story.  The short version, anyway.  You can find more information about the movement to recognize Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day at I Am The Face (especially take a look at their Myth Vs. Truth page).

And as for Barbara Kingsolver’s question about knowing how old my baby is?

Seven months, one week, and four days old.

And not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about my angel baby.

 

 

A Picture of You

A Picture of You


I do not have a picture of you
So there are many things I wonder.
Are you sugar and spice
Or puppy dog tails?
How fine is your hair?
Is it dark or light?
Do you have my changeable hazel eyes,
Or his beautiful blues?
Does your smile mirror mine?
How tiny are your ears?
Did you get his dimples
Or my widow’s peak?
It’s silly, but I pray you have his nose,
Not mine.

I cannot have a picture of you,
But there are many things I know for sure.
You are a rosy-cheeked cherub.
You have ten perfect fingers
And ten perfect toes.
Your laughter rings with the joy of angels,
And your tears would wring my heart.
You would know my voice,
And his,
And would reach for us with your chubby arms
Because you know we love you.
When you sleep, you are a doll.
When you’re awake, you are all the things
We dreamed of.

There will be no picture of you,
Not today, nor throughout the years.
We will never know the things you’ll love,
The accomplishments you’ll reach.
Will you love music,
Or sports,
Or both?
When you color, do you think your work
Equal to that of Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh?
(And will you find our walls the perfect canvas?)
What shapes will you make
When you help me make biscottis?
How will your eyes sparkle
The first time you realize how beautiful
Our Christmas tree is?
Will you be afraid of Santa?
Are you as fond of sweets as I am?
You come by it honestly if you do –
Just ask your great-grampas.
What subjects will hook you in school?
Would you be bored when I drag you
To forts and battlefields,
Or will you find it as interesting as I do?
Will you help him plant tomatoes and beans
And flowers in the garden?
Will you want your own pair of binoculars
So you can watch the birds at the feeders with him?
He likes to fish – would you have wanted to learn?
Will you struggle for every passing grade
Or will you be at the top of your graduating class?
What ambitions will you hold?
Whatever you do, I would love you and be proud,
And always do my best to guide you.

The questions about things I know
And the things I’ll never know,
Would have been answered today
And every day after.
But I’ll never have a picture of you
Except the one in my heart.
But maybe that’s the truest picture
I could ever have of you.