A Baby Brother for Isaac – Max Sanford Immel

On September 15, 2017, at 3:43 AM, we welcomed Max Sanford Immel into our family.   He made his appearance a whole three weeks early, weighing in at 7 lbs 12 oz and 19 inches long.

He came home wearing a tribute to his big brother, Isaac.  Since elephants have always been Isaac’s “thing” it seemed only right that he’d be looking out for little Max.  IMG_3556.jpg

We’ll never stop missing Isaac or wondering what he’d be like today.  We’ll never forget our precious moments with him.  However, having our living, breathing rainbow baby home safely has most certainly brought joy, happiness and hope back into our lives.

Max, you are perfect.  Mommy and daddy can’t wait to see the boy and man you grow up to be and to tell you about your big brother, Isaac, who would have loved you oh so much.Rainbow Baby

An Ode to The Nurses of Speare Memorial Hospital – Part 2 (only a year late)

SpeareThings have been quiet on here – and by quiet I mean SILENT for almost a year.  I have felt guilty about this knowing that I owed this specific post to the amazing crew at Speare Memorial Hospital (for whom I have an even higher level of love and respect now more than ever).  I know I don’t have to give any explanations, but I hit a wall last fall.  Not a day has passed that I haven’t thought about missed memories with Isaac, how deeply I miss and love Isaac, Speare, and everything that happened last year.  However, there came a time in life after loss Isaac where I needed to find a way forward – to develop routines and traditions that didn’t constantly send me back to July of last summer.  This post continued to plague me over the last year.  I couldn’t get it just right, so I avoided it entirely.  It’s been sitting (substantially in the form you find it below) in my drafts since last year.

As I said in Part I, my experience with the nurses at Speare Memorial Hospital was amazing.  I wanted to take some time to recognize a few more of the incredible women who helped me, my husband and my family through what I hope will turn out to be the most difficult hospital stay of my life.  So, without further ado, here is Part 2.

I think that anyone who has ever had a hospital stay can relate to this sense of impending doom that you feel when it comes time for shift change.  When you like your nurse as much as we did, you end up scared of who will replace him/her for the next 12 hours.  Saturday morning was the first point in my stay at which I was coherent enough to be aware of the changing shifts.  When Meghan gently exited our room with our baby, Isaac, and did not return, I realized that I had no idea who would pop in next.  We had been through hell and back at that point, and I remember thinking that, with my luck, we’d be in for a difficult nurse.  I was wrong, and I am so glad that Laurel came through next.

Laurel

Laurel was the perfect dose of emotional support, structure/practical support and cold hard facts.  Aside from being emotionally wrecked that morning, I realized that I had been in my hospital bed for a few days without showering or even brushing my teeth.  I had cut my hair a week before ending up in the hospital thinking it would be perfect ponytail length by the time we were supposed to deliver Isaac in September.  Having remained untamed for a few days straight, my crazy curls had become a horrifying snarled halo.  I realize that this was not a fashion show.  No one cared what I looked like, but I desperately needed to feel human again.  I was still on full bedrest, but Laurel sensed my discomfort and immediately endeavored to get me cleaned up.  She even managed to get the bulk of my hair into a ponytail holder.  For that alone, she should be considered a miracle worker.  She cleaned me up, changed my linens and made me as comfortable as I possibly could be after three days of not getting out of the bed.  She made me feel human.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I like to thoroughly research everything.  I like facts and statistics and I can always come up with more questions to ask.  I knew that Preeclampsia was a dangerous pregnancy-induced condition and of the general signs that I had overlooked, but I did not know much beyond that.  Honestly, the day and a half leading up to the morning we met Laurel was so foggy that I, personally, did not even know with any certainty that I had Preeclampsia.  I had no idea that I’d had HELLP Syndrome (or what that was).  Needless to say, even in my magnesium-induced stupor, I had A LOT of questions.  Fortunately, Laurel was training to be a Nurse Practitioner and had both endless patience and answers to my constant questions.  Her knowledge brought a feeling of safety to my upturned world and began painting a picture of what had happened.

We actually had Laurel as our nurse for two days, the day immediately following Isaac’s birth and the day after when I was ultimately discharged.  When Laurel arrived that last morning, I was pretty darn cranky.  My arms throbbed wherever there were IV lines, and something had gone amiss with my catheter (TMI perhaps, but when you have Preeclampsia/HELLP Syndrome and are on full bed rest, you get a catheter until you finish with the Magnesium IV drip).  I wanted the IVs out, my catheter out and I desperately wanted to be discharged. Laurel showed up and was supposed to immediately go into a shift change meeting where the last shift briefs the new shift.  At this point, I was so dreadfully uncomfortable that waiting out the meeting was completely impossible for me.  Laurel left her meeting to come remove the IVs and catheter.  She then patiently got me out of bed and to the restroom for a pretty horrifying bathroom experience and, FINALLY, a shower.  I remember bargaining with her.  I knew she had her meeting to get back to and I felt so bad, but I was also pretty desperate.  I told her she could leave me sitting in the bathroom and promised I would not move.  Somehow I negotiated my way into the shower and again promised I wouldn’t move.  It was perhaps the most I have ever needed a shower in my entire life, and I am so glad she did not make me wait a moment longer.  As promised, I remained sitting in the shower until her meeting ended.

Somehow, Laurel was also juggling things behind the scenes.  I know she worked with our doctor and my father to arrange for terribly difficult but necessary things, like a funeral home and autopsy.  She made sure that our baby boy would be treated with the utmost care and respect.  She answered my father’s questions.  She brought us the remembrance box with the only mementos of our son we will ever have.  She helped us by taking my husband’s and my bracelets from our honeymoon in Thailand and tying them to our baby boy’s wrist so that he would always have something of ours with him.  She even gave my family tips on where to find decent food in the area.  She was everything that we all needed.

Finally, I feel that I have to share my favorite mental image of Laurel.  Thanks to Preeclampsia, I needed my blood pressure checked pretty frequently.  Laurel would regularly check my blood pressure an make the funniest scrunched up face when she would see my less than ideal blood pressure readings.  I still think of that face every time I get a blood pressure check.

Amy

Amy was perhaps the biggest character that we encountered at Speare, but she was not actually my nurse.  She was the other nurse on shift with Laurel (and perhaps at some other times).  To this day, I imagine that Amy is the kind of nurse who could do her job in the middle of winter, in an isolated log cabin, with no electricity or medical supplies.  The woman has chutzpah in the most flattering way possible.  She has this traditional New England tough charm that you only get in that part of the country.  I have no doubt that Amy did a thousand things for us while we were at Speare, but I have to share the story of the “Amy Maneuver”.

As a brief and incomplete introduction to the biological part of things, when a woman gives birth there are a thousand tiny little changes triggered in the mother’s body.  When there is not a squirmy little baby involved postpartum, certain signals that help in recovery go missing.  For example, the uterus has just had the stretch of a lifetime and needs to contract back into a tight little ball really quickly to stop bleeding in the mother.  In a normal experience, the process of breastfeeding a baby provides a hormonal signal that makes the uterus contract.

After Isaac, my uterus was missing the memo to contract.  Thanks to the magnesium drip and a relatively traumatic birth experience, I already felt like I had been hit by a car, and to make things more fun, Laurel had to poke at my uterus regularly.  During one such check, she found that my uterus had softened back up again.  She paused and then told me she was going to grab Amy, who was “brutal but effective.”  Amy came in and proceeded to dig her impressively strong fist into my abdomen before twisting like her life depended on it.  Warren reacted by telling me to breathe, which would typically make sense.  You’re supposed to breathe through the pain – right?  Yet in this one instance, there wasn’t a chance in hell I could have gotten even a gasp of air.  Amy turned to Warren with the most serious expression on her face and said, “Telling your wife to breathe right now would be like me grabbing you by your *man bits*, pulling, twisting and then telling you to breathe.”  I never thought I’d look back fondly on a memory from such a tragically terrible experience, but this memory still makes me smile.

All I know is that if there is an apocalypse, I want Amy on my team.  She is one badass lady (pardon the language, but I speak the truth).

Brenda

Brenda was our nurse on our final evening at Speare.  She was soothing and gentle and tolerated me at my most emotional and miserable points.  She’s the one who brought Isaac in for us to say a final heartbreaking goodbye.  She’s the one who had to push the bassinet out of the room as I wailed helplessly from my bed.  I remember being so impressed by the knowing look in her eye as she comforted me and knew exactly what to say.  She didn’t lie about the difficult road ahead or act like this was something I would get over eventually.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Brenda was a loss mom herself.  If memory serves, she had lost both of her adult sons in a single car accident.  My heart still aches at the thought of what she must have gone through.  I think it is magical that she continues to help new mothers despite the fact that it must constantly remind her of what she herself has lost.  As I mentioned before, I see a grief therapist who specializes in baby loss.  Brenda was really my first calm, but firm, introduction to my life as a loss mother.  Though I hardly knew her, she will forever remain a role model for the type of person I want to be.

 

I don’t know how to close this post in any way, but to say THANK YOU a thousand times over to these women.  Speare Memorial Hospital has a world-class team of nurses hidden away in the middle of nowhere, and I will never ever forget what they did for me, Warren, Isaac and my whole family.

 

This Is Us

I know I still haven’t posted Part 2 of my thoughts on the nurses at Speare Memorial Hospital.  There are just so many feelings involved when I work on that story and I can only do so much at a time.  I also just want it to be as good as these ladies deserve – so, be patient.  I also have a post in the works about our trip back to New Hampshire (where we were when we lost Isaac) and the plaque with Isaac’s name that now hangs in Labor and Delivery at Speare.  There is a lot to catch up on, but I want to do it all justice and decided not to rush something out just for the sake of posting something on a blog with an extremely limited audience.

 

This Is Us - Season Pilot

Today, I wanted to talk about the new NBC show, This Is Us I am certainly late to the party on this one, as every loss mommy blog I follow has already offered up some valuable commentary on this show that takes our experiences into the limelight.  For those of you who have not yet seen the show and plan to, SPOILER ALERT. Go watch and then come back to this post (or not).  When we lost Isaac, I didn’t think I was connected to anyone else who had lost a child in the last trimester of pregnancy.  I was wrong, and people came out of the woodwork with painful stories.  I was wrong because people don’t tend to talk about this horrible possibility.  The subject matter seems to have become taboo at some point in the history of motherhood and pregnancy.

This Is Us directly addresses stillbirth, and it seems to be a major part of the show’s premise.  Mandy Moore’s character, who interestingly is also named Rebecca, loses one of her triplets during childbirth.  She and her husband ultimately end up adopting a third baby, who was abandoned in the hospital the same day that the baby was lost.  The doctor who delivers the babies is perfectly played by Gerald McRaney.  As Milo Ventimiglia (the husband) sits in the hallway, heartbroken and concerned about the stability of his wife, the doctor delivers a touching pep talk.  He shares that his wife lost a baby at the end of pregnancy and how it affected them and then drops a line that loss mommies everywhere now love:

I like to think that one day you’ll be an old man like me talkin’ a young man’s ear off explainin’ to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. If you can do that, then maybe you will still be taking three babies home from this hospital, just maybe not the way you planned.

It’s a great line that definitely speaks to women like me, who have lost a baby.  Losing a child is certainly the sourest lemon that life has to offer, and while we can’t just move on and go back to life as we planned (what I imagine would be perfectly blended lemonade in this analogy) we can do our best and turn that sour lemon into something resembling lemonade.  I think that “something resembling lemonade” means the best life we can given the circumstances – it’s our new normal.

Look – I think This Is Us is a great show, and I love the speech that the doctor gives, but I’m just not as convinced as some others that this is a fair portrayal of what it is like to lose a baby.  I realize that, in this case, two babies survive, and I honestly do not know if that somehow makes it easier to cope.  However, as good a story as it makes, I can’t see someone being able to take a different baby home and move on with life as effectively as these characters do.  Sure, there is a plot line where Mandy Moore struggles with the “replacement baby,” but that plot line is neatly wrapped up when she acknowledges that the baby is not the baby she lost and gives him his own name.  The show misses out on so much of what people experience when they lose a baby.  They don’t show the spontaneous tears that plague you for weeks after the loss (and beyond) and they don’t show waking up in a panic from nightmares about a child you will never know.  They don’t show agonizing over what to do with your child’s remains or how hard it is to find the right urn.  They don’t show the desire to memorialize your baby’s life in any way you can.  They don’t show the endless “what ifs” that inevitably plague you.  I know these parents are being distracted by three newborn babies, but I just think the show misses out on the chance to really dig into the emotional part of losing a baby.

I am so glad that this show has at least chosen to address stillbirth as a potential outcome of pregnancy, I only wish that it did a little more to show the world what that experience is actually like.  I hope that this ends up being a good first step.  Perhaps the world isn’t ready to see all the brutal details of baby loss on primetime television, and maybe this is just an initial introduction.  I also hope that this doesn’t end up trivializing something that, for those who experience it, is the most difficult thing that we will ever face.

An Ode to The Nurses of Speare Memorial Hospital – Part 1

From the moment I found out that I was pregnant, I had a lot of ideas about what Isaac’s birth would be like.  I was scared about all of the different birth scenarios that ran through my head, but none of those scenarios involved giving birth to Isaac, stillborn,  in a 25-bed hospital in Plymouth, New Hampshire at 32 weeks gestation.  We had chosen Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  For the sake of comparison, Chester County has 245 beds, a level 3 NICU (the highest level of care available for sick babies) and a brand new maternity ward.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with a small hospital, but I am saying that Speare was the exact opposite of what we had planned.

From the moment they wheeled me into Speare, I spent my entire stay in one room.  I actually didn’t get out of my bed a single time from the moment I first laid down on Thursday until Sunday morning.  I didn’t realize that I had not moved rooms at all until my husband and family told me.

The most surprising thing about this tiny hospital in New England was the nursing care I received.  It may sound cliché to say that nurses don’t get enough credit, but this experience showed me that it is undeniably true.  They could not possibly be getting enough credit.  The nurses at Speare were incredible.  I can’t imagine I would have received quite such personalized care had I been at a bigger hospital.  I had several nurses, but each one of them provided exactly what I needed at some crucial point in time.  They were so amazing that I’ve decided I need to share some of these stories and thank them.  I’ll start at the beginning.  For the sake of anyone reading this, I am going to split this into two parts.  Yes – these women were that amazing.

Kathy
When I arrived at the hospital I was in denial.  I think that deep down I knew Isaac was gone hours before being told as much.  I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it for another few hours (maybe I still can’t wrap my head around it).  I had called Speare’s Labor & Delivery Department on my way in and spoke to a nurse, Kathy.  She was expecting me when I arrived, quickly got me changed and set to work looking for Isaac’s heartbeat.  She kept me calm, repeatedly reminding me not to panic.  She could find no heartbeat and the first doctor came in for his own attempt.  Fast forward a bit, the doctor has just said, “I don’t see any cardiac activity.”  My husband and I are crying and confused, and, eventually, I have to send my husband to call my parents to have them come to the hospital.  I remember laying there in shock and repeating over and over, “I knew it.”  Kathy swooped in quickly with her unfogettable barbie pink glasses and comforted me.  She reminded me that despite any fears I had previously, I couldn’t possibly have known something like this would happen.  She told me how sorry she was and held on to me as I cried.  I know there was much more to our story that I can’t remember.  Shock will do that to you.  The last time I saw Kathy was at the end of her shift.  She told me I was about to get a new doctor.  She knew I wasn’t particularly comfortable with our first doctor and the last thing I remember was her telling me I was getting a new doctor and she thought I might like him more.  It provided a glimmer of hope to my otherwise bleak outlook.  I didn’t realize I wasn’t going to see her again.  I never got to thank her for her kindness at the most heartbreaking moment of my life.  Kathy, you are a gem.  Thank you so much.

Janice
Things happened quickly after we found out Isaac was gone.  I didn’t realize what was wrong with me (Preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome), but I was immediately put on an IV bolus of Magnesium that had me really uncomfortable and sick.  That was followed by something to reduce my anxiety and some pain medication.  I was totally out of it and drifted in and out of consciousness for the 12 hours or so of Janice’s shift.  I remember Janice, but the bulk of what I know about her comes from my family.  I know she let my parents and three younger sisters stay in the room with my husband even though it was certainly more people than I was supposed to have there.  She knew I needed them.

Days later, I learned that I cracked jokes throughout the hospital stay.  At some point, someone in the room said some now unknown thing.  It doesn’t matter what it was, but it must have been about food.  As I prepared to blurt out one of my go to lines of the summer in response, Janice beat me to it and said, “The snozzberries taste like snozzberries.”  It was exactly what I had been about to say.  She even nailed the voice. I still can’t believe that of all the funny lines to drop, she dropped my favorite one.  It’s like she was in my head.  I also have a vague recollection of her telling me not to fight her as she repeatedly tried to check my reflexes.  I know Janice sat at the little table at the end of my bed and kept an eye on my vitals as the hours slowly passed.  Janice is another nurse I don’t remember leaving at the end of her shift.  So – thank you, Janice.  Thank you for putting up with my large and loud family, and for knowing that I needed them there.  Thank you for keeping a sense of humor on the longest day of my life.  Finally, I swear I wasn’t trying to fight you as you checked my reflexes.

Meghan
Gosh – where to begin.  Meghan and her pink scrubs had me for my most intense moments in the hospital.  She was there with me my second night in the hospital when I suspect I was the most difficult, but she never lost her cool.  She had me for five terrifying hours of epidural free labor.*  She had me as I refused to breathe through contractions and as my BP skyrocketed into the 200s.  I can’t imagine I was particularly charming after finding out my son had died before I ever met him and 24 hours of labor.  I vaguely remember cervix checks and being intensely frustrated when I found out I hadn’t progressed much at all.  Then things escalated . . . quickly.  I went from 3cm to 10cm dilated in less than an hour.  I guess I didn’t realize that the doctor wasn’t at the hospital anymore, but he was not.  Things had been moving very slowly and it was really late.  Despite the doctor’s absence, at some point, it became clear that Isaac was on his way whether we were ready or not.  I said that I felt like I needed to push and I know Meghan told me not to.  I couldn’t have stopped myself even if I had wanted to.  Meghan delivered Isaac at 12:06 AM.  The doctor arrived at some point soon after.  I know she cleaned Isaac off and let me hold him, despite my ongoing inability to remain conscious.  I know she took pictures of my husband, Isaac and I.  They aren’t the pictures of his birth I had imagined, but considering the circumstances, I love them.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up at dawn.  I was comfortable and didn’t realize what had happened at first.  Meghan came in at some point and gently explained that she had our son in the nursery.  She brought him to me as my husband lay sleeping and I had the only moments alone with my son that I will ever have.  When it became too much for me, she woke my husband.  We spent some time alone and at some point she gently took him away.  I never saw her again after that and was initially disappointed.  I found out a few days later that Meghan had been exhausted (rightfully so) and, at the end of her shift, had gone home and passed out.  Then she woke up and called in tears.  She was so upset that she hadn’t said goodbye to us.  I’ll never forget Meghan or how grateful I am for her.  She delivered our son under scary and unusual circumstances without ever skipping a beat, and that’s remarkable.  I needed to be kept calm, and that’s exactly what she did. Thank you, Meghan.  You handled an incredible difficult situation with such patience, compassion, and composure.  I can’t imagine a way that it could have been done any better.

*I didn’t want to change my own recollection of things, but my husband has pointed out that Meghan was also my nurse during my first night at the hospital.  My father has also told me that he remembers Meghan having quiet and peaceful conversations with me to manage my anxiety and confusion.  I clearly do not remember either of those things, but am grateful all the same.

There is more to come on the amazing nurses at Speare, but I do want to recognize that I can’t cover every single nurse that helped me during my hospital stay.  I know a lot of patient nurses and technicians made their way in and out of our room.  Heck – there was even a lovely nurse who got down on the ground next to my bed to take blood from my fingertips when my veins refused to cooperate.  I can’t remember each and every one of these amazing people.  However, I am endlessly grateful for all of their help.

Feeling Blue

I know I’ve been quiet the last two weeks.  I  realize that I don’t owe anyone any explanations, but I’ve been in a funk recently. I think it started last Tuesday.  We started telling close friends that we were pregnant with Isaac a bit after the 12-week mark.  On a cold day, we cuddled up on the couch with our 12-week ultrasound images and Facetimed our friends down in North Carolina.  With one particular set of friends, just after we showed them our pictures, they responded with their own.  They were expecting too and just two weeks behind us.  A bunch of our North Carolina friends ended up expecting Fall babies, but no one was due quite so close to Isaac.

Last Tuesday, our friends gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  I saw it on Facebook while I was laying in bed, and, at first, I was okay.  I was happy for them.  Then I started to worry about telling my husband.  Should I tell him?  I had recently told him that another friend of ours was pregnant, and he had told me that he didn’t want to know that.  I ended up waking him up to tell him.  Moments later, I was crying.  I am so happy for them.  It just hurts so much to see what we are missing out on.

The next day was even more difficult.  I woke up in a bad place and things just kept going wrong.  I had to challenge a contractor on the project I am managing, and I stressed for most of the day over how to do it. A package I was excited to receive that day got delayed.  Then the MFM we were supposed to meet with Friday called to say they couldn’t see us Friday and needed to reschedule even though my husband had reworked his whole week to be home Friday.  Then at the end of the day, in response to my questions, the contractor quit.  Every last one of those things ended up being resolved just fine, but I was a wreck on Wednesday.

We ended up getting to meet with the MFM on Thursday.  It went well.  They have a plan, part of which is getting my arthritis under control before attempting another pregnancy.  It seems there is some link between autoimmune diseases and preeclampsia.  They even got us an appointment with a rheumatologist in the same hospital for this week (I had tried independently and was told they couldn’t see me until next year).  I actually left the hospital smiling, because I felt so much hope.  Then, I saw another baby boy had been born to a sweet girl that I went to high school with.  I didn’t have any immediate reaction.  However, then I started thinking more about our new doctors and how seriously they take our care.  It made me realize how NOT seriously our care was taken during my pregnancy with Isaac.  Isaac deserved this care just as much as our future baby does, but he did not get it.

If the doctors had taken us more seriously and paid even half as much attention as they are now, we’d probably be cuddling Isaac instead of figuring out how to keep living after losing a lifetime with our baby boy.  It’s hard to see how easy it is for doctors to help us now when it is too late to save Isaac.

All of this stuff has made be feel a bit uninspired lately.  I’m not excited about my pottery class and I haven’t been able to come up with coherent blog posts.  It’s even resulted in me struggling to write the letters to Isaac in his journal. Times are tough, but I know that’s to be expected.  Hopefully, if I keep plowing forward day by day, things will get a bit more manageable.

You Have A Baby . . . in A Bar

I know that I am prone to depression.  Not just a bit of a funk, but the won’t get out of bed except for in emergencies (like bathroom breaks) type of depression.  Here I am faced with a tragic loss that could send even the strongest of individuals into a downward spiral.  If I do what I feel like doing right now, I know that I could quickly devolve into a pajama-wearing mess sitting in a pile of tissues, who requires some sort of professional intervention.  Recognizing this tendency, I have realized that I need to find things to keep myself busy – things that will get me out of my pajamas and out of the house.  I’ve mentioned previously that for obvious reasons it is EXTREMELY difficult to be around pregnant women and babies.  This means that nowhere was safe.  I go to the movies and a pregnant woman sits down next to me.  Malls are the stuff of nightmares.  The more people, the more likely I am to run into a pregnant woman or a new mom with a baby.

I started with baby steps.  I’d stop at a grocery store on my way home from grief therapy.   I’d go hang out with my mom at their pool next door.   Eventually, I decided I needed to find a baby free way to get out regularly.  A few weeks ago, I was in my old room at my parents’ house when I saw a small bowl I had made at a pottery class as a kid.  I remembered how much I loved and looked forward to that class.  I’ve always enjoyed a good craft or DIY project, so I looked up the place I’d gone to twenty years ago for a class.   Low and behold they had an adult pottery class beginning this past Monday.  My husband and parents encouraged me to sign up and I did.  It’s 3 hours every Monday morning until mid-December.  It seemed like a perfect fit.  It’s an adult class where I can meet people and learn something fun.

I went on Monday.  I was nervous.  Most outings make me nervous.  I knew the class was all levels and that there were likely to be people with loads of experience.  What if I was terrible at this particular craft?  I found the classroom and checked in.  The teacher is extremely nice.  A few minutes later, another student checked in.  We’ll call her “B” and she was instantly extremely nice.  I started to relax a bit as we waited for other students.  An administrator came in and let our teacher know that the afternoon class didn’t have enough people signed up and we would be getting a few extra students.  What happened next is almost funny in retrospect.  The teacher told us that we were waiting for a student who had a newborn baby.  No big deal.  I’d be jealous and keep a reasonable distance.  Nope.  The woman’s sister-in-law had already arrived and let us know that this woman couldn’t rearrange her babysitter and would be bringing the baby to class.  What!?!

I’d love to see what my face looked like at that moment.  I quickly and quietly warned the teacher and B of what I had recently been through.  I said that I would do my best, but that I didn’t know if I could handle three hours around a newborn baby.  Eventually the woman and baby showed up.  I did my best to ignore them.  However, every time the baby cried, I would flinch away from what I was working on.  I couldn’t help but eavesdrop as other artists oohed and ahhed over the precious little baby.  I couldn’t help but be jealous.  I want someone to ooh and ahh over my baby, but people don’t do that for babies who die.

I signed up for that class thinking this class would be a safe zone.  There wouldn’t be babies in a pottery studio.  Apparently, I was wrong.  Nowhere is safe!  Pottery studios are filled with silica dust and paint fumes.  While I don’t mean to sound like I’m passing some unfair judgment, I have no idea why someone would bring an infant into that environment.  To be clear, she didn’t do a whole lot of pottery work.  I’m also shocked that it isn’t a liability for the arts center to have an infant in a space like that.

For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about the scene in Sweet Home Alabama in which Reese Witherspoon’s character responds to an insult from a former classmate by pointing out that she has a baby in a bar.  babyinabar

I guess it’s that this mother had her baby in one of the last places I would expect and a place that I would never have brought my own baby.

I survived the class.  I even enjoyed parts of it (when the baby was out of sight and out of mind).  Fortunately, she isn’t planning to bring the baby in the future.  I went up to her at the end to explain my “situation” and to find out if I should switch classes.  To be honest, one of the hardest parts of the entire ordeal was that this mother didn’t even flinch or show any hint of empathy/sympathy as I told her I’d recently lost my son towards the end of my pregnancy.  I would have thought that a new mother would have some sort of reaction to what I was telling her.  I suppose everyone reacts in their own way to this sort of thing, and I can’t be sure what was going through her head.  Oh well.

There’s No Name for Us

I know I’ve slowed down considerably on the posts lately, but I’ve been taking the distraction approach to surviving this week that was supposed to mark Isaac’s much-awaited arrival.  It’s easy to find myself drowning in thoughts of what we should have been doing at any given moment in time.  I still look at my photos of Isaac daily, and I still find ways to talk about him and remember him.  I simply needed to divert my often obsessive mind a bit and be more present.  I’ve been helping my youngest sister get ready for college (while trying not to feel ancient in the process).  I’ve been re-setting up our desk so that I can keep on top of the office construction project I am managing.  I’ve been playing with our puppy and enjoying these lingering summer days to the best of my ability.  You know . . . life.  For some reason, it just keeps chugging forward.

My new reality in this post-Isaac world has had me thinking a lot about something my grief therapist said (sidenote: I will continue to recommend a grief specialist to anyone who loses their child).  At the end of my most recent appointment, she said, “When you lose your parents, you’re an orphan. When you lose your husband you are a widow. When you lose your wife you’re a widower.  But when you lose your child, there is no name for you, because the world can’t contemplate something so terribly out of the natural order.”  I know that the community of parents who have suffered through such a loss have come up with some obvious names.  I’ve seen loss mommies and bereaved parents.  One that makes me cringe a bit is childless parents. I suppose that’s exactly what we are at this point.  I feel like a parent and mother, but there just isn’t a baby to hold and love and nurture.  Regardless, there just isn’t an entry in the dictionary that begins to describe what my husband and I became that terrible day in July.

I guess it makes sense.  Everyone dreads it, but they realize that someday they will lose their parents.  Sadly, one spouse almost always leaves this world before the other.  These are the types of losses that we hear about or see first hand on a routine basis.  No one expects to lose their baby.  No one sees the extra line on the pregnancy test and thinks that they might give birth to a baby that will never cry.  In part, this is because we live in a world that just doesn’t talk about this stuff.  Maybe it’s time that changed.  There are roughly 23,600 stillbirths in the US alone every single year.  That means that 47,200 men and women become a part of this nameless club that we never asked to become a part of.  Maybe we should have a name.

A Difficult Week

Isaac’s due date was September 10, 2016.  I counted down the days, weeks and months until that date on a regular basis from the moment it was given to me at an initial ultrasound. Isaac was still the size of a chocolate chip.  When people would ask me, though, about my due date, I would say, “September 10th, but he’s likely to be induced the week before.”  I was on Lovenox, and to ensure that I would not have any blood thinners in my system when I gave birth our MFM recommended induction at 39 weeks.

Our OB went back and forth on whether or not he would follow that advice throughout my pregnancy, but at my last visit, he finally settled on induction at 39 weeks.  That would have been today.  I can’t help but think about what we would have been doing right now.  In fact, I wrote to Isaac last night about how I dreamed it would be today.  His nursery would have been perfect.  His bassinet would have been set up next to our bed.  We’d be nervous but terribly excited.

For the past week, I had been getting increasingly anxious about this day and the week that will follow.  September 10th will always be the date I counted down to and remember most distinctly, but today is the first time I should have been meeting our baby boy.  Instead, he sits in a painfully small red velvet bag on top of one of our dressers.  He’s been gone 7 weeks today.

There are a lot of things I wish I had planned for today, but I really could not get my act together.  I didn’t know how I would feel when I woke up today.  I don’t know how I will feel when I wake up on September 10th.  I wish I had planned the tree planting for one of these days, but I didn’t.

It’s hard not to reflect back on the whole journey now.  It seems like just yesterday it was January 3rd and I was trying to wake my husband up to tell him I thought I’d had a positive pregnancy test.  For some reason, the first half of this summer feels like a lifetime ago.  I wish I could say that I am feeling hopeful about our future right now, but I admittedly feel defeated.  I should have been introducing our son to the world, but instead I am wondering when, if ever, my husband and I will be able to bring a baby home with us.  Our home feels especially empty today.

Happy could have been birthday, Isaac.

Progress

Going through pregnancy I was always counting down the days until my next pregnancy related doctor’s appointment.  While I always got anxious that something would be wrong at the next appointment, this approach made time pass.  I think this is because it was a goal-oriented approach.  Instead of counting down to the ultimate goal (having a baby), I broke it into mini targets.  Sometimes I only had to make it a few days, but it was never more than 4 weeks at a time.  For some reason, making it to 4 weeks ten times was a lot more manageable than making it to forty weeks once.  Yes – they are both the same thing in the end, but time feels more manageable when broken down into smaller segments.

I didn’t make it to the ultimate goal in this case (that date will hit in about 12 days and I am intensely aware of it looming over me).  Now we find ourselves starting over.  We’re starting over with an unknown timeline.  We don’t know when we could be expecting to have another baby.  No one can promise a certain date at which we will be pregnant again.  We still miss Isaac and we are still coming to terms with our loss and our grief.  However, my husband and I agree that the thing that lets us keep going every day is that we are going to try again.  We have the diapers, the crib, and the cute little outfits along with every other trendy baby gadget.  We just don’t have our baby.  If we wait for our grief to end to start trying again, we will be waiting our entire lives.  Losing Isaac will hurt forever.

So, to pass the time faster, we are already starting the never-ending schedule of doctors’ appointments that will lead up to trying again.  We have a ton of information flowing in about our loss.  In terms of a future pregnancy (both getting pregnant and being pregnant), we have a ton of concerns to manage including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, blood clotting genes, an autoimmune disease, and now Preeclampsia/HELLP Syndrome.  Because we lost Isaac, we need a plan to manage all of this before we even begin trying to get pregnant.   This Thursday we are going to see our fertility specialist.  In a few weeks, when we have our final pathology report from Dartmouth, we’ll hopefully meet with a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist.  Then we’ll find a high-risk OB to help come up with a treatment plan for a future pregnancy.  Once all of that happens, it will be almost time to try again.  I hope.

Truth be told, I am terrified.  I am scared that someone is going to tell me that we have to wait longer than we’re expecting (4 months or so).  I am scared we won’t get pregnant nearly as quickly as we did the first time (first round of treatment).  I am scared that we won’t get pregnant at all.  I am scared that something will go wrong again.  However, I know Isaac would have wanted a sibling – lots of siblings. We want him to have siblings.  Being scared or paralyzed by our grief isn’t going to make that a reality.

Failure

Needless to say, losing Isaac has left my husband and I feeling helpless.  I have been lucky thus far in life.  I have lost just one grandparent and one great uncle that I was especially close to.  Other than those two losses, I haven’t had to deal with the death of anyone particularly close to me.  Both of those men died from illnesses but lived full and happy lives prior to their deaths.  Neither of them was robbed of life’s many joys before leaving us.  I was heartbroken by both losses, but I didn’t feel them nearly so intensely as I do with Isaac.

There are a number of differences that I know make this feel so distinct.  I carried Isaac and he felt like an extension of myself.  He also never got to experience all of the highs and lows that come with life.  He never got to experience anything except my belly.  While I know that Isaac’s death isn’t directly my fault, it does feel like some sort of failure on my part.  I failed to bring Isaac into this world alive, and, as a result, I will never hold him again.  I tried my hardest to do everything right in my pregnancy with Isaac.  I exercised, I ate well and I followed my doctors’ instructions exactly.  We sill lost him.

Other than challenging my doctor when he told me abnormal symptoms were normal, there wasn’t anything else I could have done.  This is a difficult thing to accept for me.  I’m not used to problems that I can’t fix.  I haven’t really encountered issues like this before.  I would do anything in the world to bring Isaac back, but no amount of effort could do that.  Until now, if I put in the effort, I could accomplish just about anything I wanted to.  I’m not saying that I always have put in the effort, but I could always look back and identify certain things I should have done (and generally knew that I should have done) to achieve some desired outcome.  In many cases, I was still able to fix any undesirable outcome.  Grades could almost always be improved, writing could be edited, and I could work harder to accomplish almost anything I wanted.

I have a lot of resentment towards my doctor at the moment.  I keep finding myself wanting to ask why he chose to brush off my concerns and to ignore my elevated blood pressure.  It’s as if knowing why he didn’t think my symptoms were important will somehow make our loss make more sense.  However, it does not ultimately matter.  I could rehash every step of my medical care and interrogate my doctor at length.  It will not change the fact that Isaac is gone.  I do realize how obvious this sounds.  I can’t bring Isaac back.  I can’t go back in time to the moment I so often relive, the moment where I wish I had insisted the doctor recheck my blood pressure.  I cannot fix this problem, this failure.  It’s a pretty terrible feeling.

At some point, I am going to have to figure out how to let go of the “what ifs”, the “could haves”, the “should haves”, and the “would haves”.  I will have to accept that Isaac cannot be brought back.  I will have to let go of the anger I feel towards the doctor.  I’m just not sure when I will be up to that task.