Holding Our Angel

Loving After Loss


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Invisible

This weekend we went to the mall to let Artie run around. He loves the playground at the mall, there’s things for him to climb and buttons that sound like howler monkeys (the playground is jungle themed). He was the only kid for about 10 minutes, and then a family with two kids joined us. The oldest was 4-5 and the youngest a few months younger than Artie.

The older kid was super excited to play and run around, but Artie was feeling pretty shy. So he just watched the older kid play, and the older kid tried to get Artie to chase him a couple times. It was pretty cute.

Then the mom told her son, “Give the little boy some space. That child is not used to having a big brother crowd him.”

A knife to my heart. She obviously didn’t know about Theo and meant no harm, but it hurt so much to hear. Yes, Artie is not used to having a big brother. But not for the reason she’s assuming. These reminders that Theo is invisible to 99% of the world just suck so much.

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Trip down memory lane

I was going through my photos of Artie on my iPad and somehow pressed something and ended up in photos from 2015. The year I was pregnant with Theo. The year Theo was born and died.

It’s incredible how differently I felt when looking at pictures of Artie and pictures of me pregnant with Theo. With Artie, I felt a happy nostalgia. I giggled, remembering what happened when I took the photo, a happy longing to go back to that moment. I thought about how tiny he was, and how cute he was (and still is!).

But the pictures of my pregnancy with Theo… there was a heaviness I can’t describe. A hopelessness even. I knew what was coming, and knew it wouldn’t end well, and knew of all the pain and suffering ahead of me. It’s so hard to enjoy those photos. I look happy, but I don’t feel happy when I see those photos. I feel a small bit of happiness, but mostly it’s pain and regret and fear and anger and so much more. A more desperate longing to go back to that time, to either warn us or to give Theo a chance at survival. I wanted to look away from a lot of these photos.

I don’t always feel this way when looking at photos from my “Theo time”. Sometimes, I even enjoy looking at these photos! But I think it was the flipping between photos of Artie and photos of Theo that made it so hard.


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Identity

My old identity died with Theo. In seconds, the things I used to care about mattered no more. I couldn’t watch some of the same shows or movies, listen to a lot of the music I liked, and for a long time I pretty much exclusively read books on child loss and grief and trauma. I had no energy for the hobbies I once loved, or it hurt to do them (like cooking- even though Theo wouldn’t have been eating the same as us for awhile, it just sucked to be cooking for two). I had to put what little energy I had into just surviving, especially when I was pregnant with Artie, so I had no time for hobbies and interests.

When you have a physical illness or injury, you spend a lot of time on getting better. My grief was the same. It became my whole identity. That’s what I needed for a long time, but not anymore. Grief and child loss will always be a part of me, but at least for now, it doesn’t feel like the majority of me.

Becoming a stay at home mom compounded this loss of identity. My last day of work was March 24, 2017. I officially quit my job in August, 2017. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve worked outside the home. Not interacting with the outside world the way I used to was hard. Still is. I’m no longer up to date on all the changes in financial laws at the state and federal levels, and I feel pretty rusty at the analysis I used to do. Honestly, sometimes I feel stupider (SAHMs aren’t stupid, *I* feel stupid) because I’m not constantly in numbers and spreadsheets. Though I’m SO glad I left my job (not only because I got to spend more with artie but also because it ended up being great for my mental health), I didn’t realize how much working was a part of my identity.

And here I am now…trying to figure out what I like, who I am. I’ve been reading more non-loss books, trying new hobbies. I found a mystery series I like, it’s written from the perspective of a dog and is entertaining and lighthearted. I’m reading parenting books which still feels weird. I’m liking crafts a lot more than I used to. I’m still not very good at them, but I’m enjoying the process of creating. I’m planning a special cross stitch project of my pregnancy with Theo. I’m terrible at needle crafts so it probably won’t be pretty. Lol.

I’m also trying to figure out what to do about work. Again. Do I want to stay home with Artie a little longer? Do I want to put him in early preschool/daycare* this year and work part time? And I have ZERO idea what I want to do for work. Do I want to look for a job similar to the one I left? Do I want to something else? I have no idea! Lol.

*i also have no idea what the difference between early preschool (for 2-3 year olds) and daycare is. But I hear other moms talking about starting their 2 year olds in early preschool and I figure I should look into it. Is it bad that right now I think it’s just regular daycare with a fancy name so they can charge more?


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Three

The days leading up to Theo’s third birthday were so rough. We have Artie in a few activities, and while it’s always a little difficult seeing the kids Theo’s age, this past week was harder than normal. Seeing where Theo should be, wondering what his personality would be like… The buildup to his birthday is always tougher for me than his actual birthday.

I replay that week in 2015. My labor. The c-section. The silence of his birth.

Time has been going so fast lately, it doesn’t feel like it’s been 3 years. I think a part of me never expected his third birthday to come, it felt like a lifetime away when he died. And now his birth and death feel like a lifetime ago.

A part of me dreads his birthday, and I feel so guilty for that. I want this day to be so different than what it is. I’m no where near accepting that his birthday won’t ever be what it should have been. You shouldn’t dread your child’s birthday. The anniversary of his death is always much easier on me than his birthday. Maybe because I never expect his death date to be a good day?

I wonder how else our lives would be different had Theo lived. Who would have come into our lives? Would I still be working? His death affected every part of our lives.

we miss you Theo. We love you. We did everything we could to save you and I’m sorry it wasn’t enough. Happy birthday love. 💛


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Smoke

California is currently experiencing the worst wildlife in its history. Over 70 have been killed, an entire city has been destroyed, hundreds are unaccounted for…. it’s devastating and heartbreaking. If you’re interested in helping the fire victims, please consider donating money (or gift cards) to organizations instead of supplies. NVCF and GG are great options to consider.

Kenny, Artie and I are very lucky. We know only a couple in the affected areas and they are safe. Our home is safe, and we are not close enough to the fires to have to worry about evacuation (knock on wood).

The smoke is awful. I’m not trying to make light of the situation, things could be so much worse for us. Our air quality has been awful, and our city has advised everyone to stay indoors and wear masks when outside. The three of us are healthy and have no asthma/respiratory issues, and the smoke’s been bothering us a lot. I imagine it’s much worse for people who are sick.

So we’ve been mostly indoors for the last week. I don’t mind it, I’m grateful I have a home to protect us, but Artie is getting a little stir crazy. He wants to go outside and go to his usual things, but isn’t old enough to fully understand why he can’t.

The other day we were running around the house before bed since we couldn’t play outside. He has a lot of energy, and I was trying to wear him out before bedtime. So we’re running through the house, and it hits me like a ton of bricks. Theo should be running with us. Artie’s laughter should be mixed with Theo’s. I should be watching two little boys running after each other. I should be hearing Theo’s footsteps as he runs with Artie.

Suddenly the house felt so empty.


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Again

There should be a stage of grief called “broken record”, because I’m pretty sure I’m in that place. I’m in a weird limbo of where I still need to discuss these feelings, even though they’re the same ones I’ve had for awhile. Still new enough to grief, but also far enough down this path that not everything is new.

So the holidays are approaching. Again. I’m both dreading them and looking forward to them. I’ll always dread them a little. Not just because Theo’s birthday is between thanksgiving and Christmas (though that definitely doesn’t help). But because every year there are more reminders of what I should have. And the longer that passes, the older he should be and the more I know what he’s missing. And what I’m missing.

We went to our church’s Trunk-or-Treat for the first time. We haven’t been to this church lately (we’ve been “church shopping” for a few reasons) and wow there were a lot of people there. That shouldn’t surprise me given the size of the church. There were so many siblings, so many kids who looked to be about 3 years old… every time I looked around there was a mini stab to my heart. Artie had fun, but he was just slightly too young to really enjoy everything. I haven’t done anything for Halloween since my mom died (she died on Halloween, 2008), and it felt weird celebrating Halloween this year. Not just because of my mom, but also Theo.

I’m so undecided about what to do for Christmas. Kenny’s family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so we either spend it with my family or just us. (On a slightly unrelated note, we’re thinking about taking a long trip to Taiwan in the next year or two, more on that later.) I want to spend it with my family and see Artie enjoy big family Christmases, but at the same time I want something small and quiet for Christmas. I loved Christmas last year, but it was so emotional for me and I just couldn’t get the time I needed to myself to process some things. And there are certain traditions I want to start for just us.

Figuring out how to do holidays after loss sucks.

Theo’s third birthday is approaching. I have no idea what we’re going to do. I’ll be honest, part of me wants to put Artie in daycare for the day so I can just spend the day in bed being useless. Sometimes I don’t know where the strength to parent Artie comes from when I’m dealing with all of this. I hate that part of me dreads Theo’s birthday, and I don’t know what to do to change that.

I’m also overwhelmed, again, at all the newborns and pregnancies around me. Three very close friends, who have been amazing support to me the last few years, are pregnant or just had a newborn and to say it’s been hard would be an understatement. From buying gifts (I still feel like buying baby gifts before the baby is here is jinxing it), to attempting to go to baby showers (spoiler: I broke down in my car and couldn’t attend any of them), to dealing with birthdays hitting a spot. One boy is 17 months younger than Artie, which is the same age difference between Theo and Artie. And another boy is due within days of Theo’s birthdate. This….is hitting me hard.


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Lots of thoughts

Artie is a climbing machine. Our laundry room is right off the playroom, and one day I was doing the laundry and I hear him start giggling like crazy. So I peek out, and he had moved a little stool in front of his kitchen, climbed on top of it, and had started climbing up his kitchen. Impressive, but scary for me. Lol. He’s trying to climb out of (and into) his crib, but is fortunately a little too short for that. Whew!

A few weeks back Artie was diagnosed with a cashew allergy. We’re lucky that cashews are the only nut he is allergic to. He has almond products on a regular basis, and walnuts and pecans semi regularly. And peanuts and coconut products on an almost daily basis. Neither of those last two are tree nuts, but they often get lumped in with nut allergies.

I’m frustrated by his allergy. As soon as I was able to relax about his diet, I have something new food related to worry about. I don’t want to pass my anxieties onto him but this one is really testing me. I want him to have a good relationship with food and enjoy healthy foods, and I worry he’ll pick up on my anxieties around what he eats and internalize that somehow. Maybe I’m worrying about nothing (probably) but that’s what I’m worrying about. And, of course, the fact that cashews could kill him.

After the diagnosis, I went through our fridge and pantry and took out everything that had cashews in it. There were only a few items–some vegan nut cheeses, mixed nuts, and a dressing. We gave those things to Kenny’s coworkers. (Ok, I may have eaten the nut cheeses myself. For lunch. It was delicious and I don’t regret it. Lol.) I found several things that don’t contain nuts but were manufactured in a facility where nuts are used. Those I set aside. I’m still not sure how strict we have to be about cross contamination with him. And I don’t want to find out the hard way, but it would be nice if we didn’t have to worry about that with him. (And I’m probably jinxing myself by just saying that. Oh well.) For now, I’m using those things in Kenny’s lunches and keeping them away from Artie.

It’s taking me longer than I would like to get in the habit of checking food labels for cashews. At restaurants Kenny and I are both very good about remembering to check, but it slips my mind so much at the grocery store. Why? Why is my brain forgetting to do this?

We recently returned from our vacation. We went to Mt. Hood for a friend’s wedding, and then spent a few days in Portland. It was my friend’s first time meeting Artie, and she was so excited to meet him. I loved how excited she and her family were about Artie, but I was also so sad they couldn’t meet Theo. She and her family were the ones who came up with the idea for Theo’s tree. They’re a big part of my boys’ lives and I’m glad they got to meet Artie.

Portland was a lot of fun, and I was so excited about having so many vegan options to try. Artie had a lot of fun exploring too, it was so cute to watch him explore a new city. We saw a restaurant called Theo’s so of course that one is my favorite. ❤️ We didn’t eat there though, unfortunately we only found it on our way to dinner with another friend on our last night in Portland. On our last morning in Portland, the fire alarm in the hotel went off at 5 am. It ended up being a false alarm thankfully, but everyone still had to evacuate. I was impressed by how everyone reacted to the alarm–as we were walking out, everyone remained calm, people were helping others down the stairs, etc. Nice to see people being so kind to each other.

Lately I’ve been missing Theo so much more than usual. So many of my friends are going on to have multiple living children and it’s giving me all the feels. Of course, I’m so happy for them and I never want them to go through a(nother) loss*, I’m just having a bunch of weird feelings over Artie being our only living child. And while we aren’t 100% decided, we’re pretty sure we don’t want more children. So that’s adding to my feelings.

I’m mourning the relationship Artie and Theo should have. And I probably will be for a long time. Brothers close in age, probably a huge handful now, but later on best friends. But Artie doesn’t get that, and I feel guilty about not giving him a shot at having a living sibling. I try to think about the benefits of only having one living child, but then I feel guilty because it feels like I’m saying there is a “good” side to having lost Theo.

*This should go without saying. Not sure why I keep saying it, because OBVIOUSLY I don’t want anyone to experience the death of a child. But my happiness for others doesn’t change the very complicated feelings grief has left me with, and vice versa. I really need to stop adding this disclaimer, but I guess I’m worried people will forget this and assume I can’t be happy for others regarding their children.


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Bittersweet moment

Recently I put Artie down for a nap. he ran around his crib for a few minutes and then started crying. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but then his cry started to sound different than usual. So I went upstairs and his knee was stuck between the crib railings.

Poor guy. I don’t know how he managed to get his knee stuck, his foot and thigh were still in the crib but his knee was in the railings. It took me a couple minutes to get his knee out, and I was so worried that I was going to hurt him more in the process.

But I got it out, and then he wanted to cuddle for a few minutes. I loved him wanting to cuddle, he rarely cuddles anymore. It was so wonderful to know he found safety and comfort in me.

It was a wonderful moment but after he finally went down for a nap, I was so sad. I’ll never get a moment like that with Theo. Where I can hold him, and know that mommy cuddles are making everything right. I’ll never know if Theo was comforted by our presence during those few hours he was alive. I hate that I’ve been robbed of so many moments — both big and small.


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Zoloft and Artie update

I’ve been completely Zoloft free for about a month and thought I would give an update on how it’s gone.

My heart palpitations lasted for a few more days after my last post on Zoloft, but fortunately did go away and I haven’t had any since! So glad for that, they were freaky.

The jolts/shocks I was experiencing lasted longer and didn’t go away until I was completely off Zoloft. But I also haven’t had any jolts since so yay for that!

My trouble sleeping lasted until very recently, my sleeping has only gotten back to normal in the last couple weeks. This was annoying, but I’m finally feeling well-rested again.

The minor symptoms like headaches and muscle pain went away pretty quickly for me. I noticed that each time my dosage was lowered these symptoms would come back for a day or two but would go away again.

But more importantly, my emotions have evened out considerably. I was a little worried that I had jumped the gun on weaning off Zoloft, but I am doing well emotionally. That’s not to say there haven’t been tough moments; there absolutely has, but not because I’m no longer on Zoloft. But this is what I’ve been working toward the last year: of getting to a place where I feel like I can handle these moments with other coping methods.

I just want to say again I’m soooo grateful to have a support system who understands mental health and is supportive of medication. I’m grateful I had access to Zoloft when I needed it. There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and medication, but there shouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with taking medication for your mental well-being. If you’re thinking you may need help, please get it! You deserve it and it is not a sign of weakness to say you need help.

We had Artie’s 15 month appointment today and he now weighs 18 lbs 10 oz! The doctor is now comfortable enough with his weight gain to no longer have us come in for extra weight check appointments. HUGE relief. We still need to focus on high calorie foods but we can relax a little. It’s been a stressful 8 months dealing with his weight.

We signed Artie up for open-play at the kid gym last month and he is so small compared to the other kids! The age group is walking to 3 years, and while there are many kids on the older end, there’s several his age and he is so tiny compared to them. He’s accidentally gotten knocked around by the bigger kids (they weren’t being aggressive, just excited to play) and it’s sooooo hard to not swoop in right away. But I’ve done a pretty good job at hanging back and not making a big deal over his spills, and only get him when he’s crying. He doesn’t seem to notice the falling down so yay for that. I’m glad he hasn’t noticed yet how anxious I am about him exploring and playing.

We finally got him enrolled in swim classes! Ive been trying to sign him up for months, but the classes fill up super quick. On Tuesday the fall schedule was released, so that morning I went to the city’s website to sign him for a class. Half the classes were already filled, and the ones left only had a few available spots each. But he’s signed up! His classes start in October. 😂 It’s an indoor pool.

Last week we went to a baseball game. We were walking around the stadium before the game and decided to check out the kids area they had recently put in. The play area has a set of misters: one half baseball, one giant mitt that you run under, and then an arch you can also run under. While he was still checking out the misters and deciding if he liked them, I saw a rainbow between him and the baseball mister. I’m not a fan of the term rainbow and don’t use it to describe Artie, but I still loved seeing a rainbow by him. It was a sweet moment. I’m glad I got a picture of that. ❤️

He ended up loving the misters, he would put his face right up to them and was running from mister to mister. He was completely soaked when we finally pulled him away and looked like we had tossed him into a pool. Lol.