Holding Our Angel

Loving After Loss


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Baby Shower

Kenny’s coworkers (at his full-time job) really wanted to throw us a baby shower, and Kenny really wanted to have one with them, so we ended up having a small baby shower at his work. I thought it would be just his department (about 6 people), but way more people showed up to it and we were both surprised by how many people showed up. It was very sweet, his work has been very supportive of us since Theo died. I was able to attend the shower, and it was nice to meet so many of his coworkers I hadn’t before.

We got a few gifts, all clothes, which I am grateful for. We have all the baby stuff we need for Steam Bun, so we’ve been telling people to just get us clothes for Steam Bun. I’m so conflicted over Theo’s clothes and whether I want to see Steam Bun wearing them. I go back and forth, and I know there’s no right answer, I’ll just have to take that moment by moment. So having more clothes for Steam Bun is going to come in handy.

Though as I was cutting the tags off everything and tossing them in the laundry basket, it occurred to me that soon, way too soon, there will be a point where I don’t have the option of using “hand-me-downs” for Steam Bun. We only have so many clothes that were brought for/given to Theo, and they only go up to about 1 yr old in sizes. At some point in the very near future, Steam Bun will outgrow all of the clothes originally belonging to Theo, and we’ll have no choice but to buy new clothes for him. Same goes for toys, now that I think about it, and everything else he’ll need past infancy. The “hand-me-downs” we have now for Steam Bun are all baby things, and we’ll never have the hand-me-downs from when Theo was a toddler, pre-teen, etc.

What a crappy realization to have.

So I’ve been very vague with people about my due date and when the repeat c-section (RCS) is scheduled. I’ve been vague about when we want people to visit. I did this because I wanted to avoid making plans and having to answer everyone’s questions on this, and my vagueness has been successful so far. But as we near the end, it’s obvious that I now have to tell people what I want in regards to this. Damn.

Kenny pointed this out to me, that if I don’t express my desires in regards to visitors, etc. clearly, I’m likely to be frustrated at people because they won’t know what I want them to do. I really hate it when he’s right. 😉 So I spent some time today texting and calling people to clarify when I want them to visit and what I will need from them. Everyone took it really well, which I mostly knew they would. I don’t want visitors at the hospital, and a lot of people wanted to visit us in the hospital, so having to tell them no was hard for me. I was so hesitant to clarify my wishes in this area because I hate disappointing people, and I already feel like I let so many people down with Theo dying and my grief. I feel like my grief is a burden on people for many, many reasons, which just sucks.

So, as a way for me to practice expressing my wishes for the delivery and visitors, I’m going to go over my plan here. I’ve already told this to most of the people who will be visiting us those first couple of weeks, but goodness knows I need practice in saying this.

We will let family and close friends know when he’s here, but we will not be having any visitors in the hospital. We’ll be telling them when I am expected to be discharged so they can arrange to visit us after we are home. It’s important to both Kenny and myself that we have the days in the hospital to ourselves, and we’ll probably keep our phones off for most of the stay. Kenny and I both are expecting those first few days to be rather emotional, and we want to deal with that in private before everyone sees Steam Bun. Once we’re home, people can come visit us whenever they want and they’re welcome to stay during the day as long as they want, as long as they leave at night and sleep somewhere else. Kenny and I want to make sure we have some privacy at home too and a chance to relax once all the visitors leave for the night.

Ugh, it was much harder for me to make these plans and vocalize my wishes than I expected. If Steam Bun doesn’t live… it’s just more we have to undo and disappoint people all over again. I really hate all of this.


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Dinner Triggers

After we removed Theo from life support and left the hospital in San Francisco, we grabbed dinner at Denny’s as it was close to the hospital and freeway.

I haven’t been in a Denny’s since. I wasn’t consciously avoiding the restaurant chain , I just don’t eat there very much. But the other night I was craving breakfast food for dinner, did not feel like cooking, and iHop and Denny’s are the only restaurants in our area serving breakfast at dinner time.

So we drove to a Denny’s as it is closer to our house, and I couldn’t get out of the car. It didn’t occur to me before we got there that we ate at a Denny’s the day Theo died. I immediately remembered that last time at a Denny’s, and I couldn’t stop reliving the hours leading up to dinner.

After my freak out in the car, we went to an iHop. I still really wanted breakfast for dinner.

I will probably never eat at a Denny’s again.

In other events, I went to Buy Buy Baby earlier today. I wanted a new crib sheet that was all navy and I was in the area so I figured I would just pop in and buy it in person instead of online. There weren’t a lot of people in the store fortunately, so I was in and out pretty quick. I was wearing this necklace, which I bought in honor of Theo. The cashier commented on the necklace, saying it was very beautiful. But there was something about how she said it… I think she got the meaning behind the necklace, that it was to honor a loss. It was a sweet moment. I almost exclusively wear my Theo jewelry, and I love when people comment on them (even if they don’t know the meaning). It’s like they are saying hi to my little boy.

I’ve been mostly napping this week. I haven’t been sleeping well at night, partly because of pregnancy and partly because allergies have me so stuffed up I can barely breathe through my nose. Apparently our area is one of the worst in the country for allergies, and this year is bad for me. Stupid rain, making everything bloom. Haven’t accomplished much on my maternity to-do list this week, but there’s a small part of me that reminds me I may have plenty of time after Steam Bun’s birth to work on the list. Ugh.


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Body Image and Loss

I’ve been thinking about this for months, but I’ve been so hesitant to write about it. And even when I started to write, I had to do it very slowly and over time. This hits a very vulnerable and raw spot, and for a lot of reasons I’ve taken some steps back in being completely open about things. But… this is something I haven’t really addressed before and decided it was time.

After Theo died, my confidence and trust in my body was destroyed, and I felt so worthless as a woman and a mom. I hated my body and myself for what it did to Theo.

I think it is a special type of hell when your baby dies inside you or because he didn’t develop correctly. Knowing my body had one job, and it couldn’t even do that shook me to my core. It really made me question what I was capable of, and how else my body would fail me, and when it would happen. I wondered what else would be ripped away from me because my body failed. Would I still be physically capable of doing what I love, still enjoying life if I couldn’t trust my body and health to be there for me? Suddenly I was anxious about things I was never worried about before. I felt fine my entire pregnancy, and yet Theo was so sick, so how could I trust what my body was telling me now?

Though I know rationally I did everything right and I didn’t chose this or have any control on how Theo’s genes formed, I felt like my body killed my son. And I hated my body, myself, for that. How could my body betray me like this? How could I have not known something was wrong? How much of a mess could my body be that it killed my son despite me doing everything right, when there are so many women who do stupid shit while pregnant and their children live?

On really bad days, when my anxiety or PTSD is at its strongest, it’s so easy to take one little thing that goes wrong (like forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning) and have that end with “Why did you think you could do this, you couldn’t even make a healthy baby?”. My “rationale” in these moments is pretty simple: a women’s body is made to produce health babies->my body couldn’t do that-> therefore I can’t do anything right.

Then to have my milk come in was a slap in the face. It was just another way my body couldn’t get it together–it created a baby that couldn’t live but was too stupid to recognize that and so my milk came in despite there not being a baby that needed it. I pumped for a short while after Theo died, and that was helpful at first but quickly turned not helpful so I stopped cold turkey. Which you’re not supposed to do, and I’m glad I didn’t get an infection or anything, but I did find it cruelly ironic that I didn’t get an infection. Like again, here’s my body not doing what it’s supposed to do, even though this time it strangely worked in my favor. It’s weird, and I have weird feelings over this, and I realize it sounds very strange to be complaining about not getting an infection.

There is so much emphasis on having kids in our culture, and tying a woman’s worth to her children. And because my body failed in that regard, failed to produce a healthy baby, I felt like I wasn’t worth much as a woman and a mom. It’s hard to fight against the constant images of pregnancy and babies that are everywhere. It’s in TV shows, movies, commercials, books, and the small talk people make. The #momlife and “Mom life is the best life” sayings that are plastered on coffee mugs and bumper stickers. The picture-perfect Pinterest lifestyle. The jokes about wanting to get rid of your kids. None of these versions of motherhood include the bereaved mother and the children who are no longer on Earth. It’s no wonder I felt worthless–almost everywhere I turned I was being told, directly or indirectly, that I didn’t count as a mom and my son didn’t count. And this exacerbated my hatred for my body because I viewed my body as the cause of my son’s death.

When people kept silent about Theo, it only reinforced my lack of worth and hatred of my body. Because I KNOW they would have talked to me about him if he had lived. They would have asked for pictures and for me to tell his birth story and they would ask me about so many other things. But some people kept silent instead. They treated me as if I was the carrier of some disease that could be caught–like their child(ren) would die because they knew me. They ignored my motherhood, pretending as if Theo was non-existent because it made them uncomfortable. All I heard in their silence was that only the pretty, happy parts of life were worth acknowledging, and the biggest part of me (the most important part of me) didn’t meet those requirements anymore. Theo is perfect in so many ways, but he wasn’t good enough for them. And that crushed me and made me feel even more worthless, because I had failed my son and it was because of me that he wasn’t good enough.

This body trust issue has had an interesting effect on pregnancy after loss. Part of me wants my body to prove itself–that it can get something right, to redeem myself. The other part of me says that in no fucking way am I trusting my body with this, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve almost begged my doctors to take Steam Bun early (and in some of those cases, REALLY early). Because at the end of the day, I want him taken out while I know he’s alive because I trust machines and science more than I trust my body. As Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”. And yet, here I am, pregnant again, expecting to get a living child out of this when my history has been the opposite.

Loving myself and self-care after my baby has died is really freaking hard. It is a long, hard road up a steep mountain with lots of obstacles. It often feels like there’s no point in trying to be healthy. After all, if I could do everything right and still have the most important thing ripped away from me, then doing everything right clearly didn’t matter. So what’s to motivate me to keep doing what’s best for myself? Being there for Kenny usually does, but not always. I often felt like I didn’t deserve to be healthy, to take care of myself, because of what happened to Theo. During these periods I would not care about what I ate or if I exercised. It’s a dark, dark hole to be in. These are the moments when I tend to hear “I wish you would be happy”, etc. the most and this only made me feel worse. It felt like I wasn’t worth anyone’s time if I wasn’t happy and smiling and looking on the bright side. It felt like Theo and his life and death, and the effects it had on me, weren’t good enough.

There is another extreme I’ve swung to, and that was to be obsessive about food and exercise. To take control from fate and become invincible. I ate “clean” and exercised a lot for long stretches of time and became obsessive about what was in all the products I used, eating only organic, etc. I exhausted myself trying to be perfect in this way and would beat myself up if I ate junk food. I convinced myself that every “slip up” would result in another child of mine dying. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the epitome of health.

Obviously both extremes are neither healthy nor sustainable, and I have evened out in this regard. I still occasionally have that second bowl of ice cream, but it’s usually vegan, organic, hippie ice cream so that totally balances it out. 😉 The majority of what we eat at home is still organic and I’m still super careful about what products we use (don’t even get me started on BPA and all of the signs in CA that state “there are chemicals here known to the state of CA that cause birth defects”. Ugh, I’m rambling.), but I have a much healthier attitude toward it overall.

There are so many wounds that have to heal after you’ve lost a child, so many issues you have to face. You can’t work on everything at once, so some things get shoved down the list. It doesn’t make these issues any less real or hard to deal with though. I’m slowly rebuilding my body image and trust, but it won’t happen over night.


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At least, But, However

Are words/phrases that need to be banned from all languages.

I was with a friend last night who is going through a hard time, and she was telling me some of the things people have said in an effort to “comfort” her.

I think it speaks to my optimism that despite all the crappy things people have said to me, I was still surprised at what has been said to my friend.

I realize the vast majority of people reading this are those who have lost a child or are a family/friend of mine, which means in both cases these people already know not to say a sentence with at least/but/however in it. But (see what I did there?) just in case…

If someone you know is struggling (not just with child loss, but with anything), do not say the words at least/but/however. Period.

Stop your sentence (or don’t even start it!) before you get to the offending word. There is no “I’m so sorry, but…”. Leave it at “I’m so sorry”. Throw in an “I’ll be thinking of/praying for you” if it’s genuine. Remember that actions speak louder than words. Offering to run an errand or drop off a dinner or help them with something around the house means so much more than a cliche.

No good comes from saying the words at least/but/however. For me, I started to withdraw from people. There are certain people I keep at arm’s length now because it is just easier to deal with than to have my feelings and experiences invalidated. I don’t like pretending everything is ok when it’s not, but it got to the point where pretending to be ok is a thousand times easier than opening myself up to someone only to be cut deeper.


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Seeing a baby

**TW: Living child (not mine)**

I’ve been spending the last few days mostly denying that we are nearing Steam Bun’s birth. Staying busy certainly helps, I’ve been completing surveys online for cash. I wasn’t planning on doing this, but it fills the time and extra cash is never a bad thing. Lol. A couple of the surveys have been on Trump’s administration, and I have thoroughly enjoyed filling those out. 😀

We visited a friend who recently had their second child, a girl. She is their rainbow, their oldest passed away shortly after Theo died. We met them through church, and they are so amazing and sweet. They’ve been very supportive of us, they and their parents both attended Theo’s birthday party. We are so grateful their baby girl is healthy and home safe and sound. I was so anxious for them leading up to her birth (as I am for all of my loss friends expecting another child), so learning she was born alive and well was a huge relief.

We dropped off dinner and some snacks, and a toy for their daughter. We talked about what those first few days with a living child are like, how bonding is going, etc. It’s so nice to have loss friends to talk about these things with. I know I can’t predict what I will feel, but I like talking to/reading blogs of other loss parents and getting as many different perspectives I can. No one has the same experience or handles it the same way, and hearing everyone talk about what it is like for them is very helpful. I feel like I’m going in a little prepared, even though I don’t think I can truly prepare myself for what it will be like.

They asked us if we wanted to hold the baby, and Kenny accepted. Their baby was the first one Kenny has held since Theo, and it was heartbreaking and heartwarming seeing him hold a baby. Because we only saw Theo while he was on machines, we never got to hold like you normally would hold a baby. We only got to hold him on our laps. Seeing Kenny hold a living baby, one that isn’t ours, cut my heart so deep. I couldn’t look at him too long, I really wanted the first time I see Kenny holding a living baby to be him holding one of ours. But he and I grieve very differently and if he felt holding a living baby would help him, then I’m (begrudgingly) glad he did.

I refused, I just couldn’t hold someone else’s baby before I hold a living child of my own. As I expected, they were completely understanding and did not take offense or push me. This was also the longest I’ve been around a baby since Theo died, and it wasn’t as hard as it normally is. It actually wasn’t hard for me at all, I liked being around her even though I wasn’t ready to hold her. I’m pretty sure this has to do with the fact that they’ve lost a child too, so there wasn’t that pressure to coo over the baby and act super excited and happy.


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It’s complicated

I took a short break from blogging because I needed to reevaluate if being so open about grief and child loss was still helping me. I think being honest and real about these topics is so important, but it also has some challenges and I wanted to make sure there were still enough benefits for me. Especially as we near Steam Bun’s birth, I expect there to be so many emotions if he lives. I can’t predict what I’ll feel, but I am prepared to face whatever I am feeling head on. That will make some people uncomfortable, because the truth and life can be uncomfortable, and I needed to make sure I was up for dealing with that.

Kenny and I have gotten very specific in our prayers over Steam Bun. We prayed every day for Theo, always asking God to watch over him and keep him safe. Which, technically God is doing, but so not what we meant (obviously). So now when we pray fro Steam Bun we say things like “Please let Steam Bun continue to develop properly, be born alive and screaming, and be born healthy. Please make sure his worst illness isn’t something over-the-counter medicine can’t fix, and make sure he lives on Earth for at least 60 years, dying only after we die. And make sure we don’t die until we are at least 60 years old, and only if we die together”. I used to also throw in something about not going into premature labor, but I’m not as worried about that now. It’s still hard to trust that God will answer our prayers regarding Steam Bun, and I think I’ll be struggling with that for awhile, even if Steam Bun is born healthy.

So I’m on maternity leave now, at the end of my second week actually. It feels like it has been forever already! I’m already ahead of my schedule in terms of completing projects, apparently I work more quickly than I realize (when I want to, lol). Kenny teaches at a university part-time, so I volunteered to do all of his grading and everything for the rest of the semester. Gives me another project to focus on. Lol.

My first project was to remove the koala decal from the nursery and put up the new decal I bought for Steam Bun. It unbelievably sucked to take down Theo’s decal. I cried for most of that, I felt like I was giving up on Theo in a weird way. And there’s no graceful way of removing a decal that size, so many of the koalas and parts of the tree ripped as I was removing them, which made me feel worse. It’s just awful to have to change your child’s room because they died, even if it is to potentially welcome another one home.

Putting up Steam Bun’s decal (owls in birch trees), was easier on me and fun, but part of me thought, “This is going to be a huge pain in the ass to remove if he doesn’t live”. This actually made me laugh, as I remembered Kenny commenting that the koala decal would be a pain to remove when Theo decided he no longer liked koalas. And it just seemed so morbidly funny to be making almost the same comment, a year and a half apart, and yet the comments be so very different.

Putting together Steam Bun’s nursery has such a different feel than when I did it for Theo. With Theo, there was no doubt he would come home. We were past the “safe point” in the pregnancy and naively thought a healthy baby was a given at that point. We naively believed healthy pregnancies end with a healthy baby, that SIDS and childhood cancer were the only threats we faced. And those were things that happened to “other people”.

Now it’s a weird tug and pull, torn between wanting to prepare and be excited for this baby, but knowing that every additional thing I do is just one more thing I’ll have to undo if he doesn’t live. I think we’ll have to move if Steam Bun doesn’t come home. And preparing for Steam Bun has brought up new aspects of grief I didn’t know before. I mourn the rose-colored glasses I used to have regarding pregnancy, but mostly I mourn what Steam Bun is missing out on. As I change the nursery, I’m keenly aware that it’s not changing how it’s supposed to be changing.

At this point in my alternate life (the one in which Theo lives), we would be debating if we should even bother with buying Steam Bun a crib. After all, both the boys would have to share a room and we would eventually need to buy a bunk bed. Would we try to move Theo to a bunk bed now, and let Steam Bun use his crib? Would we keep Steam Bun in our room for as long as possible, to let Theo keep his crib for as long as possible? Would we use this opportunity to change the theme of the boys’ room to a more typical boy theme, like superheroes or dinosaurs?

I’ll never know the answers to these questions.

Instead of talking about how to prepare Theo for having a younger brother and sharing the spotlight, we talk about the best way to tell a younger sibling their older sibling is dead, and when. We talk about if we think Steam Bun will grieve because he sees us grieving, and if that is healthy or not. Instead of learning to prepare an older sibling for a baby, we talk to loss parents about how they deal with handling their grief while parenting a living child.

Steam Bun will never have the older brother he should have. He won’t have an older brother to torment him, play with him, protect him. I’ll never be able to say “go play with your brother” unless I want Steam Bun to play with Theo bear, or an imaginary Theo. And though it’s normal for kids to have imaginary friends, what if Steam Bun says his imaginary friend is Theo?? I realize I’m getting ahead of myself here, but is it normal for a kid to have their deceased older sibling as their imaginary friend? These are the things I think about.

Last weekend we were hanging out at a friend’s backyard and I got so many mosquito bites. It was a last minute thing and I forgot to put on bug spray, not that it helps me much as I am candy to mosquitos. Every time I get a mosquito bite, the bite welts and I will get hives if I scratch it. I wasn’t sure what I’m allowed to use for the bites while pregnant, so I called my doctor to double check. She also gave me a list of symptoms to watch out for (for West Nile Virus, etc.). I was not at all concerned about the bites until then, and now I’m paranoid. Lol. I’ve managed to resist googling WNV + pregnancy so far, hopefully I can keep holding out.

I had appointments with the fire department this week to have the car seat checked in both of our cars. It’s strange driving around with the car seat base in my car again. The car seat itself is in the closet, and there it will remain until we leave for the hospital. But it’s still strange, opening up the door to the back seat and seeing a car seat base. As I walk past cars, I peer in and see if they have car seats or other signs of kids in the car. I wonder what their family is like–have they lost a child? Was the road to the family they have an easy one? I wonder if people will walk past my car and see the car seat base and think the same thing. (This sounds creepier than it is: I’m not going up to each car and sticking my face against the window. Lol. I just glance in as I am walking by.)

I’ve been meticulously saving the receipts and boxes for everything I’ve bought for Steam Bun. Last time, I threw out all the boxes right away and saved receipts for only the big items or the things I wasn’t sure would work. Now I’m saving receipts for even the nightlight I bought, with all of the boxes piled up in the hall closet.

Grief, pregnancy hormones, and loss brain are a dangerous combination. It’s exhausting dealing with all of this honestly. Though I am not wishing for a preemie, I’ll be so grateful when this pregnancy is over. I think Kenny’s looking forward to it being over too. 😉

Since I know I’m having a c-section this time, I’ve been doing research on c-section recovery. My postpartum care last time was definitely lacking, and that can only be partially blamed on me discharging myself against medical advice from the hospital. At my 4-6 week postpartum appointment, I was cleared for exercising and when I asked what kind of exercises were safe to do all I was told was “go slow”. Fortunately, I soon found a loss mom who is also a personal trainer, and she was able to give me really good information on how to safely return to exercise after a c-section. I’ll also be trying a belly binder this time, which I did not know about after my last c-section.

I’ve been off facebook for a few weeks and it’s been so refreshing! I did sneak on to Kenny’s facebook and immediately regretted it. My anxiety and PTSD were immediately triggered, and this only confirmed facebook is no good for me. There is one thing I miss though, a small facebook group of loss moms that focused on mental and physical health after loss. Having that community for support in dealing with PTSD, body image after loss, etc. was so great and I miss it. The loss community is truly like no other. Maybe I’ll try to start something like that locally after Steam Bun’s birth.

This upcoming week I’ll be working on Steam Bun’s baby book. I’m so conflicted about this one. Ugh.