Sunday, February 26, 2012

A letter to my friends with infertility

Dear friend,


If you are reading this letter, and you struggle with infertility -- I just want to let you know how sorry I am. I know that your pain often goes unnoticed. Your grief invalidated. And your loss trivialized.


I also want to say, "Welcome." My blog is about pregnacy loss -- and for those of you who are struggling with infertility, you might not be dealing with the loss of your baby -- but you are dealing with the loss of motherhood. And that is a very valid pregnancy loss indeed.


I want you to know that I don't totally understand infertility, and all that it brings to life.


 I do not know the ups and downs each month of trying, waiting, being devastated, then mustering up the strength to try one more time.


I do not understand what it's like to have insensitive, ignorant (but well-meaning) people ask when it will be "my turn." I have not had people tell me to adopt, just so I could get pregnant. I have not had acquaintances tell me I'm trying too hard or wanting it too much. No one has ever told me just to "relax and it will happen."


I have not had to deal with years of struggling with friends' pregnancy announcements, birth announcements, subsequent pregnancy announcements, and on and on.


I do not know what it's like to have an empty nursery in my house.


I do not understand what it feels like to wonder if you will ever be a mother. I have not had to look infertility straight in the eye, and just give in because no amount of fighting would ever win me a victory . . . the victory of a sweet baby in my arms.


I have not had to give myself shots, undergo surgery, or face years of tests without a baby to show for it.


I have not had to face the guilt of not being able to provide a son or daughter for my husband . . . or a grandchild for my parents.


I do not know what it's like to face a suffering that is so silent, while at the same time, so consuming.


I have not faced the deep, deep loneliness of dealing with infertility.


As much as I cannot relate, I also feel that there are shadows of your suffering that I have been given just glimpses of . . .


I have felt distrust in my body, and anger when I felt it did not -- or could not -- support a healthy pregnancy.


With Madelyn, I felt as though my body worked against me -- and against her. In many ways, I felt like it did all it could to reject my baby.


At 12 weeks, I hemorrhaged. It was my birthday, and Father's Day. We were sent home from the E.R. with a 50/50 chance that we would lose her. She hung on.


Starting at 28 weeks, I had threatened premature labor and was put on bed rest several times throughout my pregnancy.


Beginning pretty much from the moment of conception (at least that's what it felt like), I had "all-day sickness." It was like having a case of the flu for 9 full months. Taking vitamins made me sicker. I couldn't ever focus on eating well for two. I could only focus on "What can I ingest that won't immediately come back up?"


And in the end, I had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome -- both of which could have resulted in either mine, or Madelyn's, deaths. During my labor, her heart rate dropped for 8 minutes. After that, we had a c-section.


Two years later, I believed I was pregnant, but refused to take a test. I was still too traumatized from my experience with Madelyn to even think about getting pregnant. Right about the time I thought, "well, I should take a test" -- I began what I dubbed "the period from hell." I really believe we lost a baby then, but there is no medical way for me to know for sure.


I went to counseling following that "miscarriage." I felt a lot of depression and anxiety stemming in part from distrust in my body.


After gaining back some confidence -- believing that my next pregnancy truly would be different -- we had an ectopic pregnancy. There is no medical explanation for why this happened to us. Losing Olivia has made me doubt whether my body was ever really meant for pregnancy. And I have felt much guilt that I could not provide a safe place for her to grow.


Deciding to try again is a very hard decision for us to make. (Although, I know that many of you would give all four limbs just to be able to make that choice for yourself. So I know our situation is not the same.)


I know what it's like to desperately want to be pregnant with your baby -- but not be pregnant.


Some of you have lost babies -- others haven't yet conceived. But I know at least for me how desperate I felt once we lost the baby to be pregnant again.


We have to wait on my body to heal. And we have to wait to pay for Olivia and save up before we can think of trying again.


My wait is short-term. And I know that that is different than what you might be facing. But I do know what it feels like to want something SO MUCH -- only for God to say, "No. Not this time."


I know what it's like to feel like adoption might be the only choice you have to expand your family.


Ryan and I are now licensed for foster care. We still have not received a call for a child. But I often wonder if I'm even ready anymore.


Many people think adoption is easy: "This baby wasn't wanted. You want a baby. Put the two and two together -- and BAM! You have a family!"


It's not that easy. Foster care isn't easy. Adoption isn't easy. Nothing about creating a family is easy. I'm not saying it's not worth it -- or that we still won't pursue adoption. I just know what it's like to face foster care/adoption and think it's your only alternative. And grieve because it's not the same as having your own child.


I know, in part, what it's like to struggle to be on Facebook, to be jealous of others, to struggle to trust God's plan, to struggle to be around other pregnant women/babies, and to wish desperately that my situation were different.


Some days, I actually accept my loss. And then I attend an event where the talk is about babies. Or I see a pregnant woman. Or I watch a commercial with a newborn baby. Or I hear the announcement from a friend that she is expecting. Or . . Or . . . Or.


There seems to be a billion reminders out there about what we don't have. And that's hard to deal with, plain and simple. And when you do deal with your pain, sometimes there's collateral damage. Sometimes a friend is hurt when you aren't able to attend her shower. Perhaps another friend can't understand why you grow silent when your girlfriends get together and the subject of babies arises. Maybe you feel people are tired of you "raining" on their parade.


I know I'm relatively new to this experience, but I can say that it is a constant struggle. I struggle to face those reminders, and chose over and over again to praise God, and say, "Your will be done."

I know what it's like to pay for a baby you don't bring home. And having finances play a part in holding you back from expanding your family.


There are few things more frustrating than feeling like finances are holding you back -- but at the same time, you are so overcome with grief and hurt it is difficult to work harder, or start a business, or move your finances forward.



I have had people say all the wrong things that hurts so much. I know what it's like to sometimes just want to hole up to protect yourself.



I have to admit that, at one time, I was the pregnant person that people dealing with loss kind of hate. If not hate, at least resent. Or maybe, just feel jealous toward.


I got pregnant quickly, without really trying. Without WANTING to be pregnant. And I did spend quite a bit of the next 9 months complaining -- often loudly -- about my struggles in pregnancy. I did not know that my pregnancy really had any effect on others. I did not know that my complaints might have caused pain for anyone.


Most of my complaints were valid. I was miserable for 9 months. But -- if I had known that they caused pain, I think I would have chosen more carefully who I complained to.


I also was the person to say all the wrong things to someone struggling with infertility. They were spoken with the right heart -- but were still all the wrong words.


On behalf of those of us who do not know your pain, please forgive us for our ignorance. For the times we say the wrong things at the wrong time. For dismissing your pain.


And please have grace with us, even as our situations might look so much different than what you are going through.


I hope that on this blog, you will feel welcome to share about your loss, your pain and your story.



From a fellow friend on this devastating journey,


Rachel

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gratitude

Dear God,

Today, I caught myself feeling anxious, stressed . . . and well, grumpy.

I don't believe that's how you want me to feel or act. Especially when those feelings are over insignificant things like feeling frustrated with potty training, Madelyn being uncooperative, etc.

I need a change in perspective. A new attitude. A new heart.

Lord, I ask that you please change my heart, and forgive me for giving in to fears and anxiety, when that is not your plan for me. Please give me a gracious, calm and caring spirit -- especially in relation to Madelyn.

Today, instead of being grumpy -- I want to be grateful.

Thank you for . . .

  • The health and wellbeing of my family.
  • The knowledge that you are in control of all things, and that I can trust you.
  • A naping girl.
  • The fact that I even have difficult days with Madelyn. Having difficult days means that I actually have days with her -- and that in itself is the greatest blessing, even when it's hard.
  • The delicious coffee I'm drinking right now.
  • A business to run, and the people on my team. Thank you for their lives and the work they put into Arbonne. Thank you for the encouragement they give me. Thank you for what you will accomplish in and through each of them.
  • A loving, understanding husband.
  • Your provision.
  • Our minivan.
  • Your Spirit that leads us, heals us, reminds us when we are not following your plan, and guides us back to you.
  • Friends that have been so supportive during this time.
  • Church and small group.
  • Your promises in your word.
  • Hope.
  • Freedom from fear.
  • Victory in you.
  • Life.
Father, as I continue through my day, please remind me of your word. Help me to trust deeply in you, have a firm foundation, and live out the rest of my day in glory to you. May you be pleased with the work of my hands -- but more important, with the attitude of my heart.

Love always,

Your daughter

From positive to negative, Part 1: All of the damage, none of the joy.




From Positive to Negative: What to expect after pregnancy loss.

Part 1: 
All of the damage, none of the joy.


Hope deferred makes the heart sick . . .
 (Proverbs 13:12)
A positive pregnancy test doesn't just tell you that you have some new, crazy hormone in your body that is causing a ridiculous amount of nausea, weepiness, and an altered personality.

That positive pregnancy test is a promise.

A promise that, in your near future, you will hold a baby in your arms. Not just any baby.

Your baby.




When that promise is broken through miscarriage, stillbirth, or ectopic pregnancy, it's not just your pregnancy status that changes -- you change. Sometimes, those changes feel scary and are unexpected. Sometimes they are temporary. Sometimes they are permanent.

And each one can leave you reeling, wondering when -- or if -- you will ever feel "normal" again.

Two months out from my loss, I can tell you I continue to evolve week after week, day after day, and sometimes, hour after hour.

I have felt absolute despair that I would never find a reason to smile or laugh. I've had hope that a day will come that won't be consumed by my loss -- and at the same time, feel terrified for the day  that I would forget my baby. I have struggled with feelings of utter worthlessness. I have questioned God, my faith, my family, and everything I normally hold near and dear.

If you have lost a baby during pregnancy, you can probably relate. There is nothing natural about losing a pregnancy, nothing normal about losing a baby. And your body, your heart and your soul know this and will react very tangibly to your loss.

In this series of posts, I hope to expose what happens physically when you lose a baby, what you might experience emotionally, and helpful ways you can try to piece your life back to a "new normal."

Part 1: All of the damage, none of the joy.

First, a disclaimer. I'm not a medical professional. (And I do want to stress that it is important you find a trusted OB/GYN or midwife during your pregnancy loss experience.) I'm just a girl who went through an ectopic pregnancy and likes to read lots of books. Lately, those books have been on pregnancy loss. I've also been talking to lots of people about their pregnancy loss experience.

I've used those resources to try to capture a list of what to expect following a loss. This is not an exhaustive list. Everybody reacts in a way that is unique to them and their situation. And your experience will depend, in part, on how far along you were in your pregnancy.

But this list is for those of you who have never been through a loss, and wonder what the "big deal" really is. And it's for those of you who have experienced a loss, and wonder if anxiety attacks, crazy cycles and insomnia are all normal. (And the answer is, yes.)

Your postpartum body. As someone who has had a live child, I can tell you that postpartum brain and postpartum body are not fun to deal with. But at least with Madelyn, I had a baby at the end of it. With a pregnancy loss, you have all of the damage and none of the joy.

You may experience excess baby weight that you will have to work hard to lose. You may lose hair. (My hair came out in clumps in the shower after my daughter, Madelyn, was born). Depending on how far along you were, your skin can take up to a year to go back to pre-pregnancy state. You might retain fluid, get constipated and have a hard time peeing. (Or, you just might pee a little bit every time you laugh, cough or even so much as blink your eyes). You might have hot flashes and night sweats just like you are in menopause.

Your belly might still be swollen. I've read it can take up to 6 weeks for your uterus to return to it's normal size. Because of swelling from my surgery, I had to break out maternity clothes only after my loss. Looking more pregnant after my loss than I did while I was actually pregnant felt like a cruel joke.

Stretch marks and scars (if you had surgery) are a constant physical reminder to your loss that don't go away. (But both do fade over time.)

Mommy brain. We all joke about it when we're pregnant: "The bigger my belly gets, the smaller my brain is." We can't remember simple things like, "Now why did I walk into this room?" after brainlessly wandering in (and out) of that room three times in a row. Then there's the inability to finish sentences, remember names, or talk of anything but baby.

The bad news is, that mommy brain can continue for weeks after you've lost your baby.

I remember going back to my work, and forgetting things I was supposed to bring, saying all the wrong things, and forgetting people's names. And this was three weeks out. Often our very deep feelings of grief can exacerbate mommy brain. It's hard to know where grief begins and postpartum brain ends.

Still feeling pregnant. As the hCG hormone drops in your system (which can take weeks), you might actually still feel pregnant after your baby is gone. For over a week after my surgery, I struggled with morning sickness -- even more so than when I was actually pregnant!

You might also feel pregnant because you are in denial. Sometimes, I look at my belly and wonder why it's so flat. This isn't what a 16-week bump should look like, I think. And then I remember, I'm not 16 weeks. God hit the stop button at 7. And that's as far as I'll ever get with my baby. Your brain is super powerful, and can make you feel baby kicks that aren't there, get sick when you aren't pregnant, and have mood swings just like before you lost the baby.

Late and irregular cycles. After the pregnancy loss, it will often take weeks for your cycle to resume. When it does, the duration and intensity of your cycle might change, and it may take time -- even months -- to normalize.

(Just an important note -- when you miscarry or lose the baby, the associated blood is not considered a period. When your doctor tells you to wait a few cycles before trying again, you do not count the time of bleeding during your loss as a cycle.)

Your body might not register the loss of your baby. Or your body might recognize the loss, but is unable to pass everything on its own. When my body recognized that the baby wasn't viable, it did try to miscarry. It shed my uterine lining in what appeared to be a miscarriage. However, my baby was in my fallopian tube, not in the uterus. My body's attempts to "resolve" this pregnancy were incomplete. After my tube ruptured, I needed emergency surgery to remove the baby, the blood I lost, and my placenta.

You might need a D & C, or medicine to help get things started or finished. I will let a licensed medical professional give you advice on these procedures -- just be aware that you may need outside help. Each intervention comes with its own risks and side effects that, physically and emotionally, will add one more layer to get through in your healing.

Your body might let the baby go naturally. Pregnancy loss is the passage of a child leaving your womb in a condition in which the child cannot live. Often, that comes with lots of blood, and lots of pain. It can happen over hours, days or weeks. Your cervix will need to open. For women who lose the baby very, very early, it may feel like it is just a really bad period.

For those further along (as in, at least 6 weeks gestation and on), the pain can be anywhere from uncomfortable to excruciating. Many people do not understand that women who miscarry babies still labor and deliver, even if they are technically "miscarrying."

There is often a lot of blood and a lot of pain involved.

We all know how there is nothing that gets a woman to talk like bringing up delivery stories. I feel that women who miscarry have that same need to talk through their experience. Passing a baby is very physcial, and can be a painful and traumatic experience.

Sex . . . What sex? Some people have a change in sex drive after a loss. I know I did. I researched this, and came across many reasons: You might associate sex with conceiving a baby. You might be struggling to be vulnerable with your spouse. Your hormones might be causing vaginal dryness, making sex uncomfortable. You might be upset at using contraception.

I don't think I ever put together why I didn't want to have sex. Maybe "mommy brain" was keeping me from thinking of my issue in a cerebral way. Whatever the reason(s), I didn't care if I had sex ever again. EVER. In fact, if it didn't take sex to make another baby . . . my husband might have been very unlucky indeed!

In time, I did warm up to the idea again -- but only with much prayer and much patience from my husband.

Just a note -- many doctors do recommend waiting the normal 6 weeks before resuming sex after losing a baby. Discuss with your doctor when it is safe for you to resume having sex.

Postpartum depression and grief. Postpartum depression is a hard one because many of the symptoms are considered normal in grief. According to one source, here are the symptoms of postpartum depression:
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feeling withdrawn or unconnected
  • Lack of pleasure or interest in most or all activities
  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of energy
  • Problems doing tasks at home or work
  • Significant anxiety
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Trouble sleeping
From what I have read, it is normal to want to die to go be with your baby. What you need to be alarmed about is if you actually start making a plan. If you find yourself planning your death, please get help. You can call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

While symptoms of grief and postpartum depression overlap, please be aware that some depression is caused by chemical imbalances in your brain. Those imbalances are going to make your grief that much harder to walk through. Please discuss with your doctor and/or counselor to see if you might benefit from anti-depressants to address these imbalances.


Mood swings. Surviving the loss of your baby can feel like riding an emotional roller coaster without a seat belt. You might feel up one moment, down the next . . . and all you can do is hang on for the ride and hope that the next bend won't be your demise.

I'll be discussing much more about the emotional aspect of pregnancy loss in Part 2 of this series. But our physical experience very much informs our emotions, and those emotions can change day-to-day . . . moment-by-moment.

You might start to feel better one day . . . then crash the next. Or, one moment feel very accepting of your situation, only to see a commercial for diapers and lose it. Feeling out of control emotionally is very normal. Give yourself grace as much as you can as you try to survive this crazy ride.

Let's talk boobs. After having Madelyn, milk production hurt. My boobs were engorged, and it was NOT fun. Making milk is hard enough when you have a baby to suck it out. I don't even want to think of how hard it is to lactate with no nursing baby on the other end.

Since I had an early loss, I did not have to suffer through milk production and engorged breasts. I can imagine that it is very painful, emotionally and physically. There are additional complications such as mastitis that can arise.

A friend of mine has shared that if you do have a stillbirth, or late miscarriage, your doctor can prescribe medicine that will prohibit lactation.


However, she also shared that some women have found pumping their milk to donate to others therapeutic. Allowing lactation and pumping can actually help minimize postpartum depression, and can help your uterus to shrink more quickly.


Lactaction is pretty complex. But if you have never lactated before, a simplified way is to know that demand increases supply. Pumping tells your body there is an increased demand, and you will produce more milk. However, if you do lactate and don't release the milk, you can come down with mastitis, a very painful infection in your breast.

Again, this is another issue where it's important to talk through all your options with your doctor to come up with the best plan for your health and comfort.

One more note on boobs -- even if you don't produce milk, you may notice that your boobs actually get smaller than they were pre-pregnancy. Most people believe that your boobs shrink as a result of breastfeeding -- but the truth is, it is the pregnancy itself  that causes your breasts to get smaller.

You might have trouble sleeping. Or trouble staying awake. My insomnia began the day we found out something was wrong with our pregnancy. For someone who has a history of a sleeping disorder that minics narcolepsy -- this is really a feat.

I am still struggling with insomnia. (I am writing this post at 3:30 a.m. . . . and it's pretty normal these days to stay up till 4.) I have found melatonin to help, when I'm willing to take it. Sometimes I WANT to stay up because it's my only time to process my feelings (and write) without the distractions of a 3-year-old.

I also had times, though, when I didn't want to get out of bed, and wanted to sleep the day away. Sleep changes -- whether sleeping too much or too little -- is normal, although it can be frustrating. My counselor strongly urges me to do the best I can to get 8 hours of sleep. She reminds me that I will grieve, and just function in life much better, if I am giving my mind and body the rest it needs.


You may experience changes in your appetite. You might want to eat more, especially if you know you are an "emotional eater." You might do what I do in depression and lose your appetite completely.

If your appetite is affecting you physically -- you are gaining too much weight, or losing too much weight -- please check in with your doctor.


As we go through the physical changes of losing our baby, it is important that we take care of ourselves as best as we can. If you can't take care of yourself, allow someone else to help -- whether that's having others bring you meals, hiring a sitter (or family member) to watch the kids so you can nap, or finding a helpful doctor or counselor that can walk alongside you.

When you lost your baby, what physical aspect was hardest to deal with? What surprised you the most?


A few links I found helpful:

http://pregnancyloss.info/

http://www.babyzone.com/pregnancy/labor_birth/photos_postpartum-body/3

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004481/

Breaking 11 years of silence: A story of miscarriage at 13 weeks

I am honored today to share the story of a friend who suffered a miscarriage at 13 weeks. She went through her unplanned pregnancy and miscarriage alone. Completely alone. After 11 years, she is breaking the silence and is now talking about her precious baby and the loss that rocked her world.

We all have such different experiences in our loss. Her story shows the side that is so often overlooked. What happens when a pregnancy isn't planned, and lost? What does life look life after a loss when you suffer alone?

I want to be sure to protect this momma's heart -- so if you want to comment, please keep your comments full of love.

-- Rachel


When I moved to a new state at the beginning of my junior year of high school, I fell in love with a boy. For years, I hoped he would notice me. When he finally did . . . I knew he was the one. I was young, unmarried and thought I was invincible; the thought of getting pregnant never crossed my mind.
I actually got pregnant on the night that I lost my virginity. I was on birth control, but had strep throat and was on antibiotics, thus rendering my birth control inactive. It took me quite a while to realize I was pregnant. I just wasn't paying attention to the fact that I had missed a period or two, and because I was taking birth control, I never thought I would get pregnant.


Once I realized what was happening and took a pregnancy test, I was getting ready to go back to college for my junior year. I went to the doctor and it was confirmed, but the doctor said that I might have done some damage by continuing to take my birth control while pregnant. I immediately stopped and knew that, no matter what, I was going to keep the baby. I already loved that little one growing inside of me.

I went back to college and didn't tell anyone. Not my family, not my friends and not the father. I was just going to travel home for my doctor’s appointments and figure out how to tell my family after I started really showing.


Around 13 weeks, I started cramping really bad. I went to the health center at my school and they recommended an OB/GYN in Charlotte. I went and they did an ultrasound, but the baby's heartbeat was slightly slower than normal. They said there could be many contributing factors. They scheduled me for another ultrasound a few days later to check the heartbeat and everything again.


Two days later, I woke up cramping and bleeding heavily. I had never felt/seen anything like it. I didn't want to tell my suite-mate, so I got dressed and walked (very slowly) across campus. By the time I got to the health center, I was in bad shape. They called an ambulance and they took me to the ER.
When I got there, they did an ultrasound and there was no heartbeat. They sedated me, and did another ultrasound a few hours later. The doctor confirmed that there wasn't any hope, but that I needed to have a D&C procedure.


I had surgery and was released the next day. I remember being “foggy.” I’m not sure that I truly understood what was going on. I had just lost my precious baby. But because I hadn’t told anyone, I had to go on with my life as if nothing had happened.
I was pretty sick for the week or two after . . . I had a lot of bleeding and cramping and felt so empty, but I just couldn't bring myself to talk about it with anyone. It was almost surreal. I felt like I was walking through a life that wasn’t my own. I just didn’t tell anyone. In fact, I didn't tell anyone for many years.


I just started opening up about it over the last year, but still don't talk about it much. I went through it completely alone and felt like I had no one to turn to. I lied to so many people for so many years! People were concerned about me and couldn't understand why I cried all the time, so I tried to put on a brave front and go on with my life.


It has been almost 11 years and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my child. There are times that I dream about her. While I have lived a good life since that day, I can’t say that the emptiness has ever gone away. Maybe it won’t ever go away. Someday, I hope to blessed with children, but for now, I know that she is looking down on me. Mommy Loves You!


A word to others:
To those who have a friend who has lost a baby, let them talk about it as much or as little as they need to. There are days that I long to talk about her and days that I don't.




Thank you so much, friend, for being so brave in sharing your story. Thank you for sharing your precious baby's story -- I know you miss her so much.






I feel like every pregnancy loss story is so important and deserves to be told. If you would like to share your story, please email me at renyeart@gmail.com. We can post your story anonymously.


My goal in sharing stories on this blog is:


1) To honor our beloved babies and keep their memory alive.
2) To validate and honor the grief of the moms who have lost their little one.
3) To be a resource to women who are hoping to find someone, somewhere out there, who can relate to their feelings of loss. I hope this blog will be that resource.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How am I doing?

I get asked how I am doing a lot.

I remember a few weeks after my loss, I was asked causally by a client how I was. I casually said, "I'm doing good." And then, I kinda freaked out.

Did I just say, GOOD? Is that true? Am I good? If I am good, does that mean I'm over it? Is it OK to be good, or is it not OK? What does good mean, anyway?

Needless to say, I don't really remember the next 5 minutes of our conversation because I was just trying to figure out if I really was "good."

I have since created code words for how I am doing . . .

"Good" means today isn't bad.
"Fair" means today is bad, but I'm working through it.
"I'm alive" means that today is really, really bad and I'm really struggling.

I would imagine if you just read my blog, you would think that every day is an "I'm alive" kind of day.

And some days, it is. And those are the days I typically write on my blog.

But not every day is hard. Some days are fair. Some days are good.

Some days I am full of praise in my soul for my Savior. Some days I drink in everything about Maddy and savor her life. Some days I almost forget about my recent loss. Some days I can appreciate even the little things -- making alphabet pancakes with my daughter, the warm familiarity of my hand wrapped up by my husband's, and the comfort of a good cup of coffee shared with a friend.

Every day, though, I do think of Olivia. Some days, it feels like every other thought. Some days, I remember her for a few moments, and move on. Some days, the pain is overwhelming. Other days, it feels like a slight bruise that I only notice if somthing or someone "bumps" it.

Usually, I can only answer for how I am doing in the moment. Because every moment really is different.

So, that's how I am doing.

How are you?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nightmare

It is night. I curl up beside my husband. But I am alone.

I squeeze my eyes shut. Sleep will not come.

But the dream will.

It is just a dream. It is everything but a dream.

It happens so quickly. It happens so slowly.

It is night.

Maddy and I are on a boat. For no reason, she falls.

Falls.

Falls.

The dark, hungry waters consume her.

She is gone. But I know she's still there.

She is terrified. She is drowning. She is dying.

I cannot jump in the water. I would never find her.

I am helpless.

I am alone.

My eyes fly open. Heart pounds. Hands sweat.

It is just dream. It is everything but a dream.


 I am curled up beside my husband. But I am alone.



A child grew in me. My baby girl.

Precious baby.

She was not alone. And neither was I.

Until.

Until my body rejected her.

A flood of blood consumed her. My blood.

Precious baby.

Drowning. Dying.

Alone.

And finally. . .

Gone.

I cannot stop the flow. I cannot help her. I will never find her.

I am helpless.

It is not a dream. It is everything but a dream.
It is Life.

It is Death.



It is night. I curl up beside my husband. But I am alone.

I am alone.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Grief in a vacuum

1vac·u·um

b: a state of isolation from outside influences
<people who live in a vacuum…so that the world outside them is of no moment  — W. S. Maugham>



As a business owner, a wife and a mom, I tend to juggle a lot. But there have been times that I have wished I could just live life in a vaccuum . . . 

Last April, I keenly remember wishing I could put life on hold for just a bit while I operated my business. Or maybe I wanted to put my business on hold while I operated my life.

I was juggling my normal schedule -- 2 full days of proofing at the advertising agency, 3 full days of being a stay-at-home mom, working to finish a promotion, laundry, cooking, cleaning, singing on the worship team -- you name it.

But then a dear friend of mine was getting married.

I was not only a bridesmaid in her April wedding, I also hosted out-of-town guests, was in charge of arranging all the flowers, did the bride's makeup, helped set up and tear down for the wedding, ironed the wedding dress 
(S-C-A-R-Y), and helped arrange and serve food for the reception. 

It was beautiful!

And exhausting.


After trying to balance everything that month, I wished I could just operate life in a vacuum. I would do really well at Arbonne -- if that's all I had to do. I'd be an awesome bridesmaid/flower arranger/makeup artist/friend -- if that's all I had to do. I'd make an excellent wife and mom -- if that's all I had to do.

But life doesn't operate in a vacuum.

That's what makes life beautiful.

That's also what makes it messy.

Lately, I've found myself wishing I could just grieve in a vacuum.

I have a history of depression and anxiety. I have used, and weaned myself off of, medicine for both issues. Last year, when I felt the cool shadow of depression darken my soul, I chose to enter counseling so I could address the root of my depression and not just treat the symptoms.

After almost a full year of counseling, I felt so much better -- that is, until I had my ectopic pregnancy and lost my baby.

Grief awakened the demons of depression and anxiety, and they preyed upon me at whim. (I am not claiming spiritual warfare -- nor am I precluding it -- but no other descriptor fits my feelings. At times I truly felt possessed by my overwhelming feelings).

In one last effort to address my depression without medication, my counselor suggested I take a week off. She instructed me to get rid of all outside distractors as much as possible, listen to my feelings, and do whatever the heck I felt like doing (within reason, of course) in order to express my grief and deal with the emotions it brought.


Enter -- the vacuum.

A week off? Sounds awesome. Except I'm kinda a workaholic -- or, as I like to think of it -- I'm productive. And I don't know HOW to take a week off.

Clearly I still had responsibilities. My daughter still needed diapers changed. (Ick.)  And we still had to eat. Besides taking care of the input -- and output -- and general hygiene, the rest was really filler: stuff I could delegate to my husband, or put off for a week.

I usually cannot relax unless it is in a clean room -- so you can imagine my dilemma. Relax -- but don't clean. Sounded counter-intuitive to me.

It took me 4 days of trying to NOT work -- all the while, thinking of what must be done and combatting the associated guilt -- before I was finally able to relax.


7 days off = 4 days of doing what I wanted and feeling miserable about it + 3 days of doing what I wanted and feeling good about it.

Did it completely heal me? No. Might I still need to consider medicine? Maybe.

But I learned some pretty valuable lessons about myself in the process.

I learned that I can let go of some of the pressure I put on myself, and still be valuable (and productive!). I learned about some really unhealthy thought habits I had formed.

I learned that I am still very, very sad for the daughter I will never know this side of heaven.

I learned that I was hiding behind a busy schedule, behind a smile, behind a facade that I was all OK because the grief and sadness felt just too scary to handle. I learned that I have to fuel my soul, and not just make myself push harder while on "empty." I learned that I really need to take care of myself so I can be a good example to Maddy.

Enter -- life outside of the vacuum.

So, the vacuum is over and done with. I have found myself wondering, "Now what?"  How do I deal with the mess of grieving while juggling everything else?





And grieving while doing life is really messy.



The other day, I went on a playdate that had all of the makings for being an amazing time for me and Maddy. Valentine's Day, delicious cookies to decorate, cute elephant valentines to make and pass out, and an amazing hostess I love very much . . . All good, right?



Except I wasn't planning on everyone attending being either 1) Pregnant. 2) Have a newborn with them. 3) A practicing midwife. Or 4) Nursing. 

One lady came late -- bless her -- that did not seem interested at all in having another baby.

But still, for 2 hours the talk was about babies, nursing, babies, birth stories, babies, gift registries, B-A-B-I-E-S.

So, how exactly do I handle this when everything in me wants to run away and burst into tears? How do I act polite and courteous to these people who I don't even know, while everything about them at that time brings pain to me?

And it's not just hard when I'm around babies or pregnant people. My grief can be triggered at the most obnoxious times.

What about when I get blurry-eyed as I walk past the vitamin aisle, remembering that this is where I got my prenatals? Who cries at the vitamin aisle?

What about crying while getting my favorite coffee because I am so sad I can drink it without having to worry about protecting a baby in me? Pretty awkward for everyone else, right? Really, is coffee something to get THAT worked up about?

What about when a close friend is pregnant, and I love them with all my heart, and I am so HAPPY for their growing baby, but I am so SAD for my loss, that I don't even know how to act without hurting their feelings?

How am I supposed to react when my dad starts counting his grandchildren -- and Olivia doesn't make the list?

What about going on Facebook and feeling jarred every time an ultrasound photo is posted, or a BOY/GIRL announcement is made, or a newborn photo is proudly displayed? I often will myself to "like" their status, even when the truth is, it was really hard for me to see.

What about dealing with the hundred billion reminders out there of the baby I lost, all while trying desperately to not offend or hurt everyone around me, and still, somehow, care for myself at the same time?

I still don't know how to juggle it all.

But I'm starting to think I need to tell my counselor that I need another week in the vacuum . . .

. . . just for good measure.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Offering grace when others can't relate.

I would never, never wish the loss of a baby on anyone. However, I have been thinking lately that it would be nice if someone could borrow my pain, just for a day.

If everyone could just feel what we feel after losing a baby, just for a bit, they would be so much more understanding and compassionate to their friends who have experienced pregnancy loss. Considering 1 out of 4 women is in the pregnancy loss club -- that's a lot of woman that could be potentially be helped if their friends "got" their pain and responded appropriately.

As nice as it might be in theory, my wish is completely implausible.

In spite of it's impracticality, I've wondered how many other women have wished their friends could just borrow their pain, just for a day? How often have I been completely unaware of their particular situation, and have said painful words to them out of ignorance?

What about . . .

The woman who is fighting cancer and wishes the world understood what it's like to have to fight for every single day of life. Who longs to be there to watch her children grow, but must plan for her death. Who must give her husband permission to love and marry again if she passes away, but would give everything for the chance to grow old with him.

The woman who was molested as a child and carries with her shame, anger, and loathing for her body. She suffers in silence. She doesn't know anyone that suffered as she did . . . and doesn't know how to cross the chasm of shame to reach out for help or understanding. There never seems to be a socially acceptable time to bring up her history of sexual abuse. What would her friends think?

The woman who who politely listens to us complain how your husband never helps around the house. She wishes she could tell you how lucky you are. She's been enduring emotional abuse for years from her husband, and now has recently discovered he is having an affair. As she grapples with how to confront him, she wishes all she had to talk to him about was taking out the garbage. Everyone on the outside thinks they are the perfect couple -- how would her church and closest friends respond if they knew the truth?

The woman who struggles to hear about our pregancy loss. Our loss means we were once pregnant -- and creating and protecting the beautiful life of a baby will be something that she will never experience. She wishes she could even GET pregnant.  Since she was 5, she dreamed of becoming a mother. Her future should have been full of kids and all the joys and responsibilities they bring. Instead, every day she faces an empty house. The room that was perfect for the nursery when they bought the house all those years ago has since become a graveyard of boxes, old clothes and her husband's tools. Like her body, that room will never be a home to a beautiful, cherished little boy or girl. Her arms and heart are empty. And there is no hope for either her arms or heart to be full again.

Pregnancy loss is a very real pain that changes our life. And of course, we want everyone to understand what we are going through. But the truth is that pregnancy loss is not the ONLY pain. As we long for compassion and understanding, our friends may also be dealing with feelings they wish we could "borrow, just for a day," too.

As hard as it is when I know friends cannot relate to my loss . . . I have to realize there are other circumstances out there that are equally valid and need my compassionate response. Yes, they look and feel different than losing a baby. But that doesn't make them any less real or painful.

I hope that those of us who are now oh-so familiar with feelings of grief, loss, helplessness, anger and pain will be able to reach out with more grace, more compassion, and more understanding to those who cannot relate to our loss. Because, chances are, they might be dealing with their own hurt and pain wrapped tightly in a shroud of silence. And whether they verbalize it our not, they need our words of comfort and understanding, too.

Oh, and before you start to think that I've got this feeling compassion and offering grace thing under control, I just want you to know that I DON'T. I am a work in progress.

When the situation is what I might view as really difficult (i.e., the cancer in my first example), it is easier to feel compassionate. But when I really struggle to relate to a situation that I don't see as particularly something to get upset about, it is hard for me not to compare situations and think, "Well, at least she didn't lose a baby at the end."

I write this post mostly as a reminder to myself because I want to always choose grace, not bitterness.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My story -- Baby O's life and legacy

This post has been the hardest to write.

But my story, and my healing, will not be complete until I visit this place of pain. It is the place where I have treasured the memories of my daughter, however brief and few they are. In this place, Baby O is still alive. She is bringing me hope, and deep joy.

Writing about loss in and of itself is easier for me. But this secret place in my heart is what gives meaning to the loss, pain and grief. Here, grief is no longer just a feeling to discuss, dissect and divulge . . .

Joy makes the grief

Real.

Living.

Breathing.

Consuming.

In the last 3 years of processing Madelyn's birth and pregnancy . . . I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that we would probably never get pregnant again. I WANTED to get pregnant again . . . and I felt inklings of sadness when other people announced pregnancies. I wished I had a reason to wear my maternity clothes again. I wish I had showers.  I thought about how wonderful it would be to share my body with a squirmy little girl or boy. I wanted to breastfeed again. I daydreamed of the ways we would tell people we were pregnant again. Of how I would announce it on FB. I longed for a baby.

But I couldn't give myself permission to do it. How would I handle 9 long months of nausea? How could I care for my family? What if I have to go on bedrest again? If those were the only considerations -- I would've gotten pregnant in a heartbeat.

But then -- there's the whole "I could lose my life" thing. Or I could go 20 weeks, get preeclampsia and HELLP and lose the baby. Could I live with losing a baby? Could I willingly put myself at risk? Put Maddy at risk for growing up without a mother? Put Ryan at risk of losing his wife at a young age?

I was at a stalemate -- and so we chose the adoption route.

Perhaps because I never thought I would see 2 lines on a pregnancy test again, that they brought me so much surprise, hope and JOY the Saturday morning that they appeared and changed my life forever.

I knew it was possible that I could have gotten pregnant when we did, but I didn't think it was likely based on my cycle. I casually told my mom (and only my mom) that we were in the 2-week wait, and that I could potentially be pregnant. She was excited, and I guess, I was a little. But I didn't feel pregnant at all, and like I said, I had given up any hope that I would see those 2 little lines again.

After a week went by without any sign of a period, I got suspicious. I took a test, and it was negative. I called my mom who was disappointed, and I moved on. Everytime I thought I might be pregnant, I felt dumb because I had no symptoms -- minus a late period.

At work one day, I just was fed up with the wait. It felt like a cruel joke to be 1.5 weeks late but not be pregnant. I told a coworker friend that I was late and that I thought I might be pregnant, but that I had a negative a few days before. She got excited and told me to try again this weekend, and to text her when I found out.

I pretty much forgot about our conversation that day, and thought I'd give it 2 full weeks before testing again. But that night I had the most precious, beautiful dream in the world. I dreamt that I was pregnant, and there was the sweetest little baby in me, all squirmy and everything. I was blissfully happy, with my hand on my swollen stomach feeling my child move and kick with life.

I woke up, and just knew I had to take a pregnancy test right then. I peed on the stick -- and to my shock, 2 lines showed up right away!!  Any idea of a creative way to tell my hubby (or anyone else for that matter) flew out the window. I got my pants up as fast as I could, ran to the office, and said breathlessly . . . "I think you need to see something!" . . . proudly holding out the positive test.

Ryan was much less surprised than I was, but still super happy. We had to get ready to travel for an Arbonne party together, and I was so happy he was going with me cause we had time to talk in the car. He would tell you I pretty much didn't lose the smile on my face the whole 4 hours there.

I called my mom as soon as we got in the car to leave. "Mom, I'm pregnant!!!" At first, I thought I had lost connection, because she was shocked and didn't say anything for what felt like a few minutes. Then she said, "Are you sure? Because you just called the other day to say you weren't pregnant." I said yes, I was sure . . . and she started crying because she was so happy! I cried, too, and I was just so happy inside.

Then I called Sarah. She didn't answer. I called 15 minutes later. She didn't answer. I called 15 minutes later, and she finally answered. "Sorry for calling so much," I gushed. "But I just couldn't wait to tell you . . . you are going to have a new niece or nephew August 4th!" She was excited, and asked when we found out. I explained about my period being late, and she said . . . "What do you mean, your period was late?" I was like, "My period was late. I'm pregnant!" Again -- silence. I asked if she was still there. She was crying and I could just make out that she thought I had been telling her we were going to have a foster child in August. . . not that we were going to have our very own baby! I made her cry in the middle of Walmart. That was the best.

Telling other family members didn't go quite as expected or as hoped -- many of them assumed that the pregnancy wasn't viable due to my lack of symptoms and didn't seem to be as excited. Others were simply afraid. When they heard, "I'm pregnant . . . " they heard, "Me and my baby might die." In the midst of my happiness and joy, it was hard to see others who were unable to celebrate with us. But I do understand where they were coming from.

Ryan and I agreed that I could tell close friends and family -- but I don't think he knows how many "close" friends I have. :) I told all my friends at work, and that was so much fun! I dreamed of how fun it would be for them to see me grow a big belly. I thought about how fun it would be to bring my baby in to show off.

I had just promoted with Arbonne, and everything felt perfect. I was leaving work to stay home with Maddy, and now we had this new little one on the way!

Several times a day, I found myself with my hand on my belly . . . praising God for this most amazing blessing, and thanking Him for this new life growing in me. I already loved that little baby so much. I imagined how she would be with Madelyn, and how they would be best friends. I just knew this pregnancy would be different.

One of the things that surprised me was the instant peace I had about this pregnancy. I used to imagine that if I were pregnant again, I would be consumed by fear and anxiety. Instead, with Baby O, I was full of the most amazing peace I had ever felt.

Maddy was convinced it was a girl. One day, she lifted up my shirt to see my belly (that was still pretty flat) and said, "Mommy. The baby is so cute! She's so cute, mommy!"

She was so cute. I knew she was. I loved how my daughter already loved her sibling . . . even when all she saw was a belly at the time.

Someone close recently wondered if I had regretted telling people our news. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, I wished I would have told everybody. If I hadn't told anyone, I would hardly have ANY memories of my daughter's life. I cling to the memories of celebrating her unexpected yet precious life with friends and family. Besides the picture of the positive test, those memories are all I have of her.

After losing the baby, we chose to name her. It only took a few minutes for me to come up with her name  . . .

Olivia Joy Lewis.

Olivia stems from "Olive". The olive branch is a universal symbol of peace. After the great flood, when God wiped out the world (except those on Noah's ark, of course), hope for a new life came in the form of an olive branch.

Her middle name is Joy because her life brought me more joy inside than I thought I could ever contain.

Olivia was my olive branch. She was the hope that came after a storm. I had despaired that there would never be any other life in me. She gave me that hope. She was (and is) God's gift to me. Peace and Joy are exactly the way I want to remember my daughter.

Perhaps Olivia's legacy won't be her own . . . perhaps her legacy will be that she has given me the courage to have her sisters or brothers.  She has made me stronger. She has made me more compassionate. She has brought me closer to God. She makes me cherish each day with Maddy more. Her little life has already reached hundreds of other women -- and I hope -- has brought them some measure of healing and comfort in Christ.

Baby Olivia,

I miss you more than words could ever express. Thank you for being a fighter. For holding on for as long as you could. I am so sorry that I could not provide a safe place for you to grow. I am so sorry, sweet girl. Thank you for opening my eyes to death, and in that, to the beauty and miracle of life. Thank you for drawing my eyes to Jesus. Thank you for helping me see the beauty and joy to be found in heaven. Thank you for giving me courage.

I love you so much,

Mommy
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