Holding Our Angel

Loving After Loss


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Breathing

Sometimes, just breathing is an accomplishment.

Officially diagnosed with PPD (who’s surprised? Bueller?) and I’m on medications. It will take a few weeks for the meds to take full effect. Kenny is very relieved I’m finally on meds, I think he was starting to feel a little helpless in dealing with my emotions. Can’t say I blame him too much for that, my emotions have been rather intense lately.

Artie wouldn’t take a bottle the last time we tried, so I’m still exclusively breastfeeding. We’re trying a bottle again next week. I think he’ll take it, as I finally got him to accept a pacifier earlier this week (I think it was this week, I have a terrible sense of time right now). I’m really looking forward to Artie using a bottle. I’ll no longer feel trapped at home, like I can’t go too far away in case Artie gets hungry. I do bring him out with me sometimes, but there’s not a lot of places that have convenient nursing areas. The mall and baby stores are just about it. Which really surprised me, considering this is California. 

Artie has been having some reflux. Mostly I feel awful that my baby is in pain and he can’t sleep, though sometimes I feel frustrated at him when we have difficulty putting him to bed. And then the guilt sets in, because I know how much worse it can be and I feel like I should just be grateful he’s alive (which I am!). And then my anxiety kicks in, as I start to imagine Artie dying. Imagine isn’t really the right word though, it’s more like I’m forced to watch a movie of him dying. I can see it happening before me, and I’m helpless to do anything.

A couple of weeks ago, Artie began smiling at us–and not just when he poops. He has such a beautiful smile, I love it. He smiles the most in the mornings, when he gets up for the day. But, like everything else, soon I start to think about how I never got that with Theo. I bet he would have a beautiful smile too, but I can’t say for sure and that kills me.

I think this is what I feel most guilty about–these thoughts of what I’m missing with Theo after everything Artie does. I don’t want to be constantly comparing my kids, and I really don’t want Artie to feel like he’s living in Theo’s shadow. Or that he has to “fix” our grief or be responsible for our happiness. But how can I make sure he doesn’t feel any of that when I’m constantly comparing them?

I found something I think I would like to do with Theo’s clothes. I’m thinking of having a quilt made out of them. I’ve been searching Pinterest for ideas, and I’ve found a few patterns I like. I am so not crafty though–and especially not good at sewing. I think I’m going to see if someone local would be willing to make the quilt for me (for pay of course). I do have some time to find someone-Artie won’t outgrown Theo’s clothes for a few more months at least. Though I’m still unsure how I feel about Artie wearing Theo’s clothes, I at least want that option, hence why I want to wait. 

Artie and I are now officially on Kenny’s insurance (my insurance used to be through my job but it’s considerably cheaper to have the three of us on Kenny’s than to keep us separated now), and Artie saw his new pediatrician today. I was filling out the new patient forms and they asked about siblings. So I wrote Theo’s name and then deceased in paraenthesis right next to it. Though I obviously write that Theo is dead here many times, writing it out in the “real world” was different. I wanted to scratch it out, or more like stab the paper with my pen. I was bracing myself for this part of the form and it was still sucky. 

I’m not sure if I like this pediatrician though. She was very friendly and seems very smart, but I felt rushed through our appointment. Maybe I just got used to getting extra time and attention during my pregnancy, and need to get used to a doctor who is treating us as normal. I don’t know. I wish kenny had been able to come, so I could bounce my impressions off his.  Artie is getting his shots in a couple of weeks, so I’ll see how that appointment goes. 


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Purging

Christmas weekend I started “KonMari’ing”  the house. If you aren’t familiar with Marie Kondo, she wrote “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up”. Her method of decluttering is pretty simple: go category by category and only keep what “sparks joy”.

I got a good start by getting rid of 3 bags of clothes and accessories (which included some of Kenny’s clothes) that weekend. The decluttering has come and gone in waves since then. Not long ago I did the pantry and tossed a bunch of expired food, and this week I did the rest of the kitchen. While going through all of my kitchen stuff (I have a lot), I found some baby related things: the Kiinde BreastFeeding Starter Kit, Kiinde Foodii Start Kit, Baby Bullet, and some sippy cups. These were all shoved in a cabinet we don’t use.

I almost closed the cabinet and moved on, but I decided to organize it. I moved some of the Kiinde Breastfeeding kit to our bedroom, where I will hypothetically be nursing or pumping most of the time. This kit comes with a rack to store breastmilk in the freezer, so I moved that to the freezer. Doing that required me to make room for where the hypothetical breastmilk will be stored in the freezer, so I moved a bunch of food around.

Now I’m realizing I kind of got ahead of myself, making room in the freezer for breastmilk is assuming a lot and a little over the top considering I’m not in the third tri yet. Even for a non-loss mom, that’s over preparing. Lol. There’s no guarantee I’ll be able to breastfeed/pump (I have no issue with using formula–whatever keeps the kid alive!).

Decluttering has felt great though. I think it’s more about control than nesting. Decluttering and organizing the house gives me some sense of much needed control in an otherwise very chaotic period of my life. I’m slowly learning there is very little in life I have complete control over, and trusting God with everything has been tough. But clutter is one of the few things that is completely in my control, and there’s been a surprising peace that has come from ditching things. Maybe it’s because those were possessions from our B.T. (before Theo) life and it feels good to shed that life a little. And I’ve noticed that the more cluttered and disorganized the house is, the more anxiety I feel.

 

I told Kenny last night I love “our bubble”. I like the little world we’ve built, it’s the outside world I don’t like. I’m finding myself more and more content by myself or just with Kenny. I’m not withdrawing myself from people, but I appreciate the moments by ourselves more than ever.


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Self-Care

Self-care has been difficult while dealing with everything.

When I was pregnant with Theo, I was very healthy. I exercised regularly until 38 weeks, modifying the exercises the farther along I got of course. But I stayed moving for the majority of the pregnancy and was proud of myself (and I’ll admit–a little smug!). Once I hit 38 weeks, I went on leave and decided to enjoy my last weeks as a couch potato. Lol. And overall, I ate pretty healthy with Theo. I would say I ate healthy about 75-80% of the time, though I certainly used the pregnancy to justify the larger bowl of ice cream. I wanted to give Theo the best start at life.

And then he died.

After he died, I focused a lot on being healthier. I started exercising as soon as I could after the c-section, and I ate as healthy as I could. I got rid of a bunch of crap in our lives to make us and our home healthier. This was probably mostly a way to feel in control more than anything else.

But as soon as I got pregnant again, my whole attitude shifted. All of a sudden I couldn’t motivate myself to workout or eat healthy. I just didn’t (and still don’t) see the point. Thousands of women are on drugs, smoking, or drinking during their pregnancies and their babies live. I’m not denying the health problems associated with those habits, but the babies live. It just feels so pointless to do everything right when the baby still dies in the end. It didn’t help that until I was 10 weeks along, my doctor recommended I not workout due to a complication (that has since resolved) they found. That lost momentum had a big affect.

But self-care goes beyond physical health.

I’ve been focusing more on mental health lately. Even more than a year out, and there’s still only so much energy I have and sometimes I have to ration it. Mental health is a higher priority than physical right now, though I have noticed a correlation between better physical health and better mental health for me. Still, I’m giving myself a pass on the missed workouts and crappy eating because that’s just not what it important to me right now.

So I’ve been focusing on what makes me feel good mentally/emotionally. Like new makeup or clothes, giving myself permission to feel whatever I need to feel, or venting here. There will be some big changes to our lives in 2017. I hope for the better, but honestly I’m preparing myself for the worst. Some of these changes Kenny and I are in control of, some we are at life’s mercy.


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Weird Feelings

I have a friend who faded out of my life after Theo died. I received a card from her, signed only with her name, and that was the first and last time I heard from her after Theo. I was hurt, but honestly I soon forgot as everyone else in our life stepped up for us in amazing ways. The few times I’ve thought of her over the last year, I figured she would come back into my life when she was ready. Our friendship may never be the same, but as I’m slowly learning, that’s ok. I need to accept people where they are, and not be disappointed in where I want them to be.

And then I had a dream about her a few nights ago. The majority of my dreams are crazy–think Inception type crazy–but this dream was different. It felt so realistic, and when I woke up, it took me a minute to realize it was a dream. Kenny and I were fixing cars in a large mechanic garage (this is not the realistic part–my knowledge of car repair is limited to knowing AAA’s number. Lol), when she and her husband came in. After we exchanged pleasantries, she asked me how I am really doing. And I went off on her. I spent like 10 minutes telling her how much she hurt me and how angry I was.

I then woke up.

I was truly surprised by this dream, over the past year I had no anger toward her. Hurt, yes, but nothing to the extent I had in my dream. Or at least, that’s what I thought. My dream made me pause and think that maybe there are some things I haven’t dealt with yet.

Fast forward to tonight. Kenny is getting ready to go to the grocery store and I start freaking out. I have this overwhelming feeling that he will die. I tell him to be careful, drive safe, that I love him and I want him to come back. I repeat this for about 5 minutes. He asks if he should stay. I say no, because rationally I know I can’t let my anxiety interfere with necessities like grocery shopping. He leaves.

While he is gone, the friend from the dream calls me. I stare at my phone in shock, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t answer right away because I immediately thought of my dream–was my dream warning me that the next time I would talk to her I would go off on her if I don’t deal with some things? And then I thought–if my dream came true, does this mean Kenny really will die tonight? So I didn’t answer, because I needed the phone to be free in case I got that dreaded call.

I started pacing around the living room, fretting about Kenny. I wanted to call or text him, but I didn’t want to distract him if he was driving. And then 7 minutes after the call from that friend, Kenny came home, safe and sound. I’ve never had a bigger sigh of relief.

I’ve heard many say the anticipating of certain dates (like the first birthday) are often worse than the day itself, and I’ve found that to be true for me so far too. I think these last few days before his birthday are really fucking with my head and increasing my anxiety. I’ve been sleeping more lately. This morning I slept in until almost 10 am, which is super unusual for me.

Fuller House season 2 aires on Netflix on December 9th. I turn on Netflix yesterday to distract myself with Friends, and I see their countdown to when Fuller House 2 will air. And all I can think is–now I know exactly how much time until Theo dies.

I have a dentist appointment tomorrow. I have to get some work done on a single tooth. My last cleaning was in September, and when the dentist told me I needed this work but that it had to wait until I was at least in the second tri, I freaked. I don’t like doing anything that isn’t safe to do for the entire pregnancy. But my dentist lost a child to development issues as well, so we had a good talk and my perinatologist signed off on this work and the meds she will use. My dentist even said I could try the procedure without medication, which I’m tempted to take her up on. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow.


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Let’s talk about last night…

**Heads up, current pregnancy is mentioned in this post, though not the main topic. Also, some mini-rants up ahead.**

Last night our church held a memorial/grief workshop for those who have lost loved ones. About 50 people attended, which is actually a very small gathering for my church.

When we arrived, we got a paper ornament and wrote Theo’s name on it. We got dessert and then sat down. Someone asked us who we were there for, and we said our son. After offering their condolences (which is appreciated!), this person asked if we had any other children. No, we said. And she then said “Don’t worry, I know it will happen for you”.

First mini-rant:

I realize this person meant well. And other than this statement, she was so sweet and I’m glad we met. But this is a meaningless platitude. Please don’t say this to a parent who has lost a child! Actually, you really shouldn’t say this to anyone because the truth is you DON’T know. No matter what your gut feeling says or how much you “just feel it”, you can’t predict the future and you have no idea if someone will have (additional) children.

  1. As a stranger, you have NO idea what killed my son. None. You don’t know if it was a car accident, a genetic condition, SIDS, cord accident, etc, etc. You just don’t know. And for many people (like Kenny and I), what killed their child may have an impact on if they want/can have more children. Theo’s condition is very likely just a random mutation, but if the doctors thought it was more likely hereditary, Kenny and I would have had to make some tough decisions regarding future biological children.
  2. As a stranger, you have NO idea what my or Kenny’s physical health or fertility is like. You don’t know if we are dealing with an infertility diagnosis, or if we are not able to get pregnant due to other health issues. I know at least one woman who had to have a hysterectomy due to life-threatening complications during childbirth. I know at least one couple who experienced infertility. I know at least one couple who had unrelated medical issues after their child died. You don’t know because these aren’t things that you can see, so don’t pretend that you do.
  3. It is a huge assumption to make that someone wants more kids. If Kenny and I had decided we were done after Theo died, that we weren’t willing to have more children, there would have been nothing wrong with that. It is such a hugely personal decision to make, how many children you have in general, and having children after loss is really fucking hard. Saying you “know” we will have more kids is inappropriate, because you are essentially saying it is not ok to not want more kids. And that’s not true.
  4. This statement just reeks of the idea that having a living child somehow makes the other child dying ok. It doesn’t. Having a living child who was born before the one who died doesn’t make your loss any less. It doesn’t mean you aren’t grieving as much because you have a living child. And the same goes for having a living child after the one who died. Your love for your children are mutually exclusive of each other! I am not going to love/miss Theo any less if Steam Bun lives; just like if Theo was alive, I would not love him any less just because we had more children.
  5. Let’s assume we are physically able to have more kids and want more. And we are successful, and get pregnant again. You don’t know that this child will live. You can’t predict the future, you can’t tell me you know this child will live. I know at least one couple who has lost all of their children. It happens. It is indescribably awful, but it happens. (Personally, I’m ok with people having hope Steam Bun will live. Saying things like “I will pray Steam Bun is healthy and outlives you”, “I hope everything goes well”, etc. is totally fine with me. For me, these statements are different because they acknowledge things might not go as we want, but still have hope they will.)
  6. And, it bugs me how talk of my dead son turned to talk of future children. It felt like Theo was being overlooked, like he isn’t good enough to be acknowledge because he’s dead. He is his own person. He is my son, and he is worthy of being talked about for his sake and not the hypothetical future children. There are so few ways I can talk about Theo compared to how I can talk about him if he was alive, and it hurt so much that at a memorial for the dead, Theo was brushed aside like that. You wouldn’t tell someone who lost their dad “Well, maybe your mom will remarry and give you a new dad!”.

Ok, first rant over. Continuing with the evening…

Once everyone was seated, the event began. A woman who leads grief workshops at our church spoke, and I was really impressed by her talk. I will be looking into her workshops. She talked about how important it is to let yourself feel everything you are feeling. That all of your emotions, even the “bad” ones, are normal and healthy, and denying that you are feeling them or shoving them aside will only hurt you more than help you. But she also mentioned how important it is to not let the bitterness, resentment, anger, etc. swallow you and consume you. That, as Christians, we must hold onto the hope God gives us. I loved her talk because it is hard, for me at least, to balance that hope God gives me with the awfulness of our situation. It often feels like acknowledging these less-than-happy emotions means I am denying God, but that is not true. And remembering the hope I have in Heaven sometimes feels like I am denying how hard it is to live without your child, but that’s not true either.

Then we sang a few Christmas songs. These were hard to hear, and I kind of wish they had picked more generic worship songs to sing instead.

Then another woman spoke, this time about her personal experience with grief. Her 5 year old son died 23 years ago, and she talked about how her grief has changed through the years. I really enjoyed her talk too, though I’ve been really struggling with the fact that her son died 23 years ago. It hit me while she was talking that this isn’t a temporary thing I’m going through. And I’ve known that this entire time, that Theo won’t come back and we’ll always be grieving, but hearing her talk about grief 23 years later…. it hit me hard. It forced the knowledge that this is truly lifelong to come right to the front and confront me.

Now was the time for the slideshow of those who died. As each picture was on the screen, the family of the one who died went up to the front and placed the paper ornament on the tree. They could also say a few words about the one who died. There were three other babies who died, ranging from 2 months to 9 months. When it was our turn, we opted to not say anything about Theo and simply placed the ornament on the tree. The pastor who was running the evening was the same one who did the funeral for Theo, so he spoke a few words on our behalf instead. As we returned to our seats, someone gave us a gift bag of resources.

After everyone had the change to place the ornament/talk, the evening was done. I went back to the tree to take a picture of Theo’s ornament. I spoke with the pastor and he asked me how the pregnancy is doing. Then he said “Oh! I should have told everyone about the pregnancy. **Gets everyone’s attention** Hey everyone! I wanted to let you know Cassie pregnant!” I never told him the pregnancy was a secret or shouldn’t be announced, so I’m not upset he announced it, but I did cringe a little at everyone’s reaction. They cheered and were very happy. As I was walking back to Kenny, I was stopped by a lot of people saying congratulations. My response to each of them was “Thank you. And I’m so sorry for your loss”.

The parents of the 9 month old who died was talking to Kenny when I found him again. The mom is also pregnant and she asked me “Don’t you just hate everyone’s excitement over the pregnancy?” To which I responded enthusiastically “Yes!”. We had a good talk with them and exchanged numbers, and I hope we’ll be able to get together soon.

Kenny and I kept trying to leave at that point, but more people were coming up to us and saying congratulations, that they will be praying, etc. We thanked them and talked with everyone briefly. But one lady said something that really bothered me. She asked if we knew what we were having and we said no. And she responded with: “Oh! I just assumed you are farther along because of how big you already are!”.

Ok, let’s talk about how crappy of a statement this is to say to ANYONE, not just someone who has lost a child.

  1. Let’s begin with the obvious: making statements to complete strangers (or even someone you know, but especially strangers) about what their body looks like is just a very bad idea. It’s like going up to someone you think is pregnant just because they have a few extra pounds on them and say congrats only to find out they aren’t pregnant.
  2. A lot of people have body image issues. You don’t know if the person you’re talking to struggled with an eating disorder, or just feels very crappy about how they look that day. Many women struggle with weight gain during pregnancy even though they know it’s best for the baby. Pregnancy can really screw with your body image, please don’t add to it by commenting on how the woman looks.
  3. When I was pregnant with Theo, I was pretty tiny until the third trimester when all of sudden my stomach grew every single week. People would comment “Oh, you look so small for being X weeks!” and it really messed with my head. Though my doctor was happy with my weight gain and Theo was measuring on track at every ultrasound, it really made me worry that he was too small and wasn’t developing properly (and I know now he wasn’t, but his lung issue had nothing to do with his size or my weight gain). And then in the third trimester when I suddenly starting growing all the time, people commented on how big I was, which made me worry he was getting too big and something would go wrong during the birth. At the time, we all thought my pregnancy was normal and healthy and I thought pregnancy was easy, but these types of comments still managed to worry and upset me.
  4. These fears are magnified 1,000x now that I’m pregnant with Steam Bun. You have no idea how much time I spend worrying if I am too small or too big, if I have too little amniotic fluid or too much. I haven’t taken very many bump pics, but the few I have taken I’ve compared to me at the same point with Theo, seeing if I am bigger or smaller. You have no idea how many times I’ve asked Kenny to look at the bump pics from each pregnancy or to reassure me that I’m not too small or big. You have no idea how many times I ask my doctors to double check my fluid levels during ultrasounds. At one of our appointments, we got sonograms and I spent an hour that night comparing Steam Bun to Theo at the same point. I thought Steam Bun looked too “blobby” for how far along I was, so I immediately emailed my doctor and asked her to review the sonogram and see if Steam Bun looked how s/he should.

This woman’s comment about how big I already look HURT. It added to my already high anxiety over the health of the baby and pregnancy. And it just made me feel very crappy about how I look in general (and made me rethink what I was wearing). Alright, moving along…

We were finally able to leave. Overall, I’m really glad we went and we’ll probably go again next year. The event was good, and I’m glad we got to connect with the other loss parents. It was a sweet way for our church to remember those who have passed during the holidays.