August 16, 2014

What to expect when you are not expecting

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There are so many things to expect when you are not expecting.

I don't mean those who just aren't pregnant or don't have or want kids, I mean those of us who WERE expecting and now, unexpectedly, we aren't.

There isn't a manual that comes with a life like this.  While most life situations happen to most people, so there are tons of ideas or support out there for most of those things, this particular life event isn't quite so "popular".  Those who do go through it rarely talk about it.  I have found wonderful support online, but for the number of parents that go through this, not nearly enough of us talk about it or share our stories.  I can't even describe what it's like to feel so lost in those early days, but I wish I could for all of those mommas out there that find themselves in this situation.  This post is for them.

I can try to describe it, but I'm sure I won't do it justice.  I wasn't prepared going into this, no one can be really.  But if I can help someone, anyone, be prepared a little more then part of my purpose in this whole mess has been filled.

As I said in my last post, I wasn't prepared to say goodbye to my baby.  I didn't expect to have to make decisions on cremation or burial or funeral homes or whether or not to hold my stillborn Jackson, or whether to dress him or bathe him or ask for a death certificate.  All of these things are completely up to the mom and dad, but everything happened so fast that our decisions were quick and rash and more emotional than they should be.  I think that as part of prenatal care there needs to be a discussion about this so that moms know...moms can expect what may happen if the unexpected happens.  After all, pregnancy loss affects 1 in 4 women.  Our hospital here in town says out of the 1000 babies that are born there per year, 20 of those sweet babies are born still, like Jackson or even further along in weeks.  It happens.  It's a tough discussion to have when moms-to-be are so happy and excited and hopeful, but when loss sucks to be unprepared.  I know.  I wish someone had told me what to expect way ahead of time.

I wasn't expecting that while becoming an unwilling member of the "stillbirth" club (or loss club or miscarriage club, whatever you want to name it) now I have to deal with being completely kicked out of the pregnancy club.  And the recognized mom club.  And the baby club.  My membership to all of these has been revoked.  And while this is usually just me feeling this way because I am self-conscious about my loss, and of how the world works, sometimes I feel this way because of others too.  I wish I could just disappear sometimes when people unknowingly mention something pregnancy or baby related that reminds me I no longer belong.  I feel pings of pain, I feel pings of jealousy, and I feel pings of pity.

Ugh the pity.  I wasn't expecting the pity.  Sometimes I can feel it coming off people around me in waves.  It's not something that can be avoided when you lose a baby because it's one of the saddest things on Earth that can happen.  But it's something we all have to get used to.  We have to let others pity us.  Sometimes its more like empathy - but empathy is hard when you lose a baby.  No one wants to think about being in our shoes, it's way too painful.  Hence, the pity.  People in the world just feel incredibly sorry for moms like me.

I didn't expect the other extreme either, others completely ignoring the fact that I have gone through the worse thing in my entire life.  Like Jackson was never even here.  It's hard to expect balance...between the pity and the ignorance.  It's hard to figure out which extreme I like more.  I like neither.

I wasn't expecting the physical "I had a baby but don't have a baby" problems.  Mother nature is kind of a you-know-what with this.  Just because I didn't bring a baby home doesn't mean my milk magically went away.  Yeah.  That happened.  And the postpartum depression?  It joined with the my-baby-died depression and it stinks.  I didn't expect that Jackson's "phantom" kicks would continue on for weeks, a cruel reminder of what I had, and so sadly lost.  I hadn't expected the physical separation from him to be so tough.  When I was in the hospital, all I wanted to do was go home.  Even now, that I've been home all summer, I'd given anything to be back in the hospital with him in my belly, no matter what state he was in.  It's like losing a limb.  No, it's worse than that.  It's like losing your heart, and soul, and yourself all at once.  I hadn't expected to feel that life had ended, that I will forever be a completely different person altogether.

I had no way of expecting the uncomfortable feeling that my presence may make others feel uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, I am a living, walking reminder that crappy things can happen to people.  I'm not sure that people like to be around me because of that.  Who wants to be around someone who is proof that babies die?  I am afraid that people have been or may be so scared by the intensity of my pain and grief that it makes them unable stand being around me.  They may feel they have to say something to make it better or to do something to make it better.  I have to learn how to let people know that unfortunately, there is no making it better.  It just is what it is, the baby is gone, and I have to live with it.  Physically and mentally and emotionally and socially live with it, and then get through it and learn to live around it.

I didn't expect that by talking about it all, by refusing to stay silent and by sharing his story - I was putting myself in all of these positions.  This is really my own doing, and I know that.  But I also couldn't expect how blaring his story would be in my life almost immediately, like I need to scream it out of me.  I had no choice, I had to write about him.  I had to share him.  So all this talk about pity and making others feel uncomfortable...I'm well aware it's all of my own doing.  I understand why women who have lost babies choose to stay silent sometimes...I just couldn't do it.

What else...

I didn't expect to feel that the world would keep moving even though I wanted it all to stop.

I didn't expect to have to put all the baby clothes and things that were given to me away, to have to "clean out" the nursery in a very different way than I wanted to.  We had to clean out the baby things.  We had to put the crib and all the baby stuff in the attic, it was way too painful to look at after saying goodbye to him.  It all had to go.

I didn't expect to get the daily emails and snail mail from buy buy baby and babies are us and and on the the day that Jackson died.  I had to email them and say, please for the love of God, stop sending me all that stuff.

But you know what?  As bad as all of that is, it's not ALL bad.  Yes, this is an impossible situation and I don't want to be here but there are things that pleasantly surprised me when it comes to dealing with baby loss.

I didn't expect all the support.  So many of our friends and family and even people we haven't talked to in year and people we don't even know have come forward to say they are thinking about us and praying for us or asking us what they can do to help.  Each week I get a text or a card in the mail or a message on Facebook from someone saying that we are on their mind or they are praying for us.  That is amazing!

I didn't expect all the stories...stories of other moms who have dropped in to say that they have dealt with loss too, miscarriages and stillbirths, and neonatal loss and infant loss...and they have survived it.  When you lose a baby, you drink in every drop of anyone's story of loss, because a lot of those stories contain guidance and hope.

I didn't expect how strong I would feel.  Yes, those first few days and maybe even weeks were awful. But coming through a bit of time, I feel strong.  Oh, I am still so weak in so many ways, but the strength is there too.  I have said many times before how surprised I am that this emotional pain doesn't have the power to kill me,  it doesn't.  I am living through it and I feel strong just getting up each day!

I didn't expect how much I would learn about God during this time.  Most of that strength, and the willingness to live, comes from Him.  He has carried us through this and allowed us to grow from it and maybe even touch others with it.  We went from being on Planet My Baby Died, to living on Planet My God Can Get Me Through Anything.  I didn't expect how hard He would work to get us through it.  He is carrying me through, I can feel it.  I can look back like that Footprints poem and see that He has carried me this far.  He won't let me go, He won't let me drown.  Sometimes I can feel Him dragging me through life, forcing me to process and deal and heal.  He refuses to let me fail.

I didn't expect to find HOPE through all of this either.  But I have.  We all have.  Hope pulls me through the day!  I have found the hope helps me battle certain feelings and times when my heart feels that it will explode.  Hope coaches me to find outlets to release my grief.   Hope is helping me face the fact that work starts again next week, and that I can get through it.  Hope helps me get excited that I'll have a lot of things to focus on, other than grief, soon.  Hope tells me I'll be fine working again, even though I am a little nervous about working with a seriously shattered and broken heart.  Hope tells me I'll be better for it.  A better wife, a better friend, a better counselor...

No...I didn't expect to have to say goodbye to my baby, or all the terrible things that goes with dealing with it...but I also didn't expect that even though he isn't here with me, Jackson is making me a better person each day.

So while there are tons of things you can't prepare for in this situation, you can inevitably find your way through it, and you find yourself as you go.  A new you, and hopefully a better you.  I can't allow loss to kill me or my hope or my spirit - my baby (babies) wouldn't want that for me.  Neither does God.  This goes for any situation too - not just baby loss.  This year has been hard for a lot of people I know.  Losing loved ones.  Illnesses.  Financial stresses.  Relationship problems.  Infertility.  Accidents.  Life has to be about finding those silver linings in the hard times.  I've mentioned this before but it helps me thinking that God has faith in me, He knows I can handle this, that I will get through this and live, and that flatters me.  He won't let me go...