I wrote the following on October 15, 2017. 109 days after losing him. At the time, I didn’t expect to share it with anyone. Of course, I did not intend to get a positive pregnancy test exactly 19 days later, either, but here we are. I’m full of surprises! Here is Rowan Alexander’s birth story, and my personal plea to you to reach out to the people in your life who have lost a pregnancy. Even if we’re unable to respond in the moment, we see you and we remember. We remember who showed up for us when the world went gray and cold, and it means Everything.
Editor’s Note: Your device is working fine; there are actually no GIFs in this post.
October 15, 2017
I keep waiting for it to get easier.
It feels like every month, every season, brings a fresh reason to grieve. In the spring, it was the still-pregnant bellies. In the summer, it was the women “ready to pop.” Come autumn, it’s the squishy newborns, and a fresh round of pregnancy announcements. It’s me passing on my maternity clothes, and telling my husband we really ought to have a garage sale, to get rid of the baby stuff. Now it’s October, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. In November, it will be my own “On This Day” reminders that twist the knife afresh. And so it goes.
So, I guess this has gotten about as “easy” as it’s ever going to get.
I’d like to say I’ve moved on, that I’ve found some peace, some meaning in the sadness. The fact is, none of that is true.
I still cry, more than you probably expect. I am still angry. I am just now, many months later, beginning to process the medical trauma I experienced. My heart and my arms ache for someone who will never be there. This feels like a good time to say, please don’t remind me to be grateful for the babies I have brought safely earth-side. Trust me, I am grateful. I am more grateful for them now than I was before we lost our last baby. They are the three most incredible blessings I can imagine, even on the hardest days.
The trouble is, my mother’s heart has always seen four. Always. Even when I was psychotic with sleep-deprivation and postpartum mood disorders after #2, four was the number that echoed in my incredulous heart and mind. Four…not three. Four.
Obviously, this was not meant to be. God/The Universe/whatever you call the divine order of things, has decreed three. I have been boxed up and moved to the “Done” pile, without my consent. Not only pregnancy and birth, but nursing…the chapters of my life that have been by far the happiest ones, all doors slammed shut. I weaned my baby (because breastfeeding while pregnant is torture and anyone who tells you differently is sitting on a nursery glider of lies), thinking another was coming, that I had a whole other go-round coming up. I can’t take it back. Something that had been a part of my identity (and happily, joyfully so) for eight years–something that, more to the point, I was NOT READY to let go of–was taken. I did not get to say goodbye to any of it, on my own terms.
After three relatively joyful, peaceful home births, attended exclusively by women I counted as friends, my last birth was in a hospital, surrounded mostly by an ever-changing parade of strangers with solemn faces and tight-lipped I’m-so-sorries. I was in the quarantine room, which is overly large with double entry doors and extra soundproofing, so that I couldn’t hear the new babies cry, and the laboring women couldn’t hear me, either. There will be no do-over, no redeeming moment, no matter how much I might want one. Once again, the decision is not mine.
We will never know why our perfectly healthy boy–whose heartbeat we had already picked up, loud and strong on the doppler, weeks before–died. The odds were all in his favor. Since there was nothing wrong with him, I assume, and I will always assume, it was my fault. I had been going to an acupuncturist for the express purpose of keeping him alive (after 3 previous early losses that year, I was taking no chances). He stayed alive until I stopped going, complacent after hearing that beautiful whoosh whoosh whoosh on the doppler.
“Stay away from the news and get off of social media,” the acupuncturist told me in November, “because your body can’t take the stress.” I didn’t listen. So now I pick twice as many fights with strangers on the internet because why not. I basically lived on Girl Scout cookies during his final weeks–so I Google things like “high blood sugar and miscarriage” in the middle of the night. And then I pick more internet fights.
Rowan’s birth was the only time I got to feel my water break (every other time had been in the water). He was my only “land birth.” I call his birth, a birth, because even though I was still a few weeks away from being technically considered a stillbirth, he was a tiny, perfect person. And I birthed him. I held him in my hand. I examined all his tiny fingers and toes, and marveled at the construction of his perfect little spine. They had tiny clothes for him, but they were just a little too big, so he stayed naked for his whole time on this side of heaven, and I hated that for him. This time, the skin-to-skin I typically do after my babies’ births was hollow and useless, and it took a sledgehammer to what was already a broken heart.
I often find myself wishing none of this “bonding” had happened, and they’d been able to do the D&C we’d agreed upon, before my water broke and my choices, again, were taken from me. I could have gone to sleep and woken up with everything over and done. Instead, I had a miniature stillbirth that I relive with frightening regularity.
However, I’m sure I’d feel miserable about how a D&C would have gone down, too. As I said to one of the nurses when she asked me if I wanted x or y (I don’t remember which terrible choice it was; there were a million terrible choices to be made that day), you’re asking me what flavor dipping sauce I want for my shit sandwich. I don’t care. I don’t want this fucking sandwich, and there’s nothing you can say or do to make it go down any easier.
So now what? Sometimes I laugh about how glad I am to never have to deal with morning sickness, pelvic pain, or alcohol abstention again. Other times, I’d give damn near anything to experience any of those things again, even for a day. My toddler draws on the wall or smears poop on the floor and I’m like, you know what, three kids is good. Then I go to bed that same night and weep because, it was supposed to be four. I’m at my fighting weight, but I’m too resentful of how I got there to celebrate it very well. Alcohol abstention? Haha, nope.
I go through feelings faster than kleenex.
If you wrote me a note or brought me a meal during that time and had to settle for my husband’s thanks instead of mine, please know that I value you deeply. It’s just that, every time I start to type something to you, I fall apart. For those of you wondering why I have ghosted you during your pregnancy or babymoon, I (heart) your pics in silence because I’m not quite ready to say anything without dissolving into a messy puddle of ugly-cry. But I want you to know that somewhere, under my grief, I am so happy for you and wishing you the very best.
Ultrasound pictures are particularly trying. The last maternity ultrasounds I had, the last I will ever have, I stared at my baby, willing him to move, even knowing already that he was gone. Still, I looked for that comforting flicker that would never come, even at the second ultrasound, when I knew for a fact he had passed. No matter how hard I stared at the screen, I could not will that sacred space to stir.
And in a way, that’s how I feel. A piece of my heart stopped beating that day, too. It won’t start back up again; it was cremated with my boy and now lies somewhere as dust on the Superstition Mountains. I am a different person now, no question. I care more deeply for the things that matter, and I have far less fucks to give about the things that don’t (like swearing). I don’t know what the future holds for us. They say it’s hard to put something into a closed fist, so I’m working on opening up and seeing what the future holds. I’m trying to let go.
I’m trying to let go.
My surprise rainbow girl was born in the same hospital, 18 months later, to the day. She was born in the room next door to the quarantined delivery room. Yes, she is a blessing beyond our wildest dreams. Yes, the burden of grief has gotten lighter.
But no, he is not replaced. The grief is not undone. When you see someone celebrating a “rainbow baby” and you want to roll your eyes at the overblown symbolism, remember that they have weathered a storm that shook their house to its foundation. Stealing moments of joy in the aftermath of grief is a complicated process, and we are all just doing the best we can to get through the day.
Back to my regularly scheduled blogging shenanigans tomorrow. Today belongs to the footprints on my heart.