Thursday, March 26, 2009

What Happened... Part 2

My mom came to visit at the end of November. It was pretty unusual for her to come all the way across the country just because, but she did. I took some days off and on my first day off Mom came with me to the maternity ward at the hospital to meet with the nurse. It was really unusual to have her with me for something like this - I left home almost 20 years ago, and my Mom was never the type to hold my hand, even when I was young. It meant a lot to me that she came with me to sit and chat with the nurse.

While she was here, we decided to drive across the border to do some shopping - discount outlet shopping for her, stuff I still needed on the "baby list" for me. Instead of doing the trip all in one day, we stayed overnight in Niagara Falls so we could drive back the next morning.

Niagara Falls on a cold, rainy, dark day in late November is kind of depressing. And empty. There might have been three other cars in the parking lot where we stayed. The restaurant where we ate was empty except for us. We actually drove down to the Falls in the rain to see the "Christmas Illuminations" and laughed at how daft they were.

When we checked into the hotel, I went on up to the room and Mom stayed to check her email on the computer in the lobby. The woman behind the desk asked Mom how far along I was, and mentioned that her own daughter had been pregnant for a year. I laughed at that when Mom came back to the room and told me - "What, is she gestating an elephant?" But it turns out the daughter had lost her baby very late in the game and had become pregnant again very quickly. I remember saying to Mom, "Stop, don't tell me anymore, I don't want to think about that."

(As an aside, a month or so before this, my husband and I went to the local hospital to drop off my registration form for prenatal classes. It was the hospital where I'd be delivering, but I'd never been in there before. Inexplicably, I started to panic and cry as soon as I got inside. Is it possible that, deep down, we know?)

Before my Mom flew home, she commented that my belly was growing so fast, almost in front of her eyes. I looked term, and I still had two months to go. Or so I thought anyway.

On December 11, a Thursday night, I went with my husband to his staff Christmas dinner. I was huge, I was cranky. My belly was sore, I was exhausted, my ankles were swollen. I vaguely remember thinking it was strange that "Rufus" (which is what we were calling Bronwyn before we knew she was a girl) didn't move that much after dinner.

Friday, December 12 was a really busy day at work. As usual, I rushed through my day, trying to be two or three places at once and doing two or three things at the same time. Worry was creeping into the edges of my mind - Rufus wasn't moving much, even after lunch, a juice and a jiggle. I spent about 20 minutes that afternoon online, reading that babies moved less as they got bigger, and I tried to settle my mind with that idea.

I went home, so glad it was a Friday night and I had the weekend in front of me. We made supper, and I willed Rufus to give me some kicks. I lay on the couch and drank some juice, jiggled my belly, but not much was happening. Now I was worried. I called the health service on the phone, and the nurse said to go to the hospital if I was worried. I was.

It was a bitterly cold night, it must have been around 9:00 or 9:30. I went upstairs and changed into some jeans, grabbed my health card, but on my winter coat, and we went. The hospital is only a 10-15 min walk, but it was freezing so we jumped into a cab. I got confused about where he should drop us off, and we went to the wrong door. The driver was a nice guy, he called us back in and took us around the hospital to the right door. I think he saw on my face that I was on the edge of tears.

I went straight to the maternity area and there was no one around. I rang the bell, and a nurse way down the hall stuck her head out. I feel like I ran down to her, but I guess I didn't. As soon as I said "I don't think the baby is moving", I started to cry.

They lay me down on a bed in the triage area and put a monitor on my belly. Rufus' heart was beating strong, but there were strange dips. On the ultrasound, the baby was sluggish - not moving much even when poked and prodded with the ultrasound wand. The resident was lovely and tried to keep me calm, but went to get another doctor. The nurse put an IV in, in case I was dehydrated, or the baby was. The doctor explained they were going to give me a steroid to speed up the baby's lung development, in case I had to deliver early. I remember looking at my husband and saying "We might have this baby for Christmas. We don't even have the nursery ready yet."

They decided I was staying overnight. They moved me into a room, and I stayed up all night listening to the monitor, watching the read-out, and holding my breath when the dips happened. Once in awhile someone came in to ask if I'd felt the baby move. I didn't think I had - if she had moved, it was hard to tell. I knew it wasn't supposed to be that hard to tell.

My poor husband tried to sleep on a narrow window seat - and over his head I had a long, big view of the city looking west, the sky getting pinker as it became morning, smoke stacks sending steam up into the cold air. It was beautiful, and I was thinking about how we would handle it if this baby died.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What happened... Part 1

Mourning a baby and being pregnant with another one should be the dictionary definition of both "bittersweet" and "frightening." If I spend too much time thinking about Bronwyn and not the newbie, I feel guilty. If I start dwelling on newbie I feel guilty that I'm somehow forgetting Brony.

Although I'm trying not to think about it too much now - especially at night, in bed - I need to write down all I remember about what happened. Someday my memory may get fuzzy, and I already feel guilty about that too.

I found out I was pregnant early in June of 2008. We had been trying for many months, and I was even seeing a naturopath to give my fertility a boost. (That's significant because I'm definitely not a New Age kind of girl. Let's just say I was skeptical.) The breakfast bar in the kitchen was lined up with supplements and tinctures and vitamins. I was getting acupuncture, and I was charting every morning. I had been told for many years I might have trouble getting pregnant, and we wanted it very badly. We were ready.

That spring, I'd roped us both into doing a 50 km bike ride for charity, and on the day of the ride - June 1 - I was embarrassed. I was so slow, and I barely made it across the finish. I was more tired than I could ever remember being. A few days later, I found something to pin that exhaustion on - I was pregnant.

When we saw the two lines on the home pregnancy test we were stunned, thrilled, shocked, scared, elated. I immediately - so like me - started focusing on the finances: how fast we could clear our debt, how much I'd take home during maternity leave, how we could cut our budget. (That seems so silly now, but I look back on it as evidence of the way we were happily planning to completely overhaul our lives for this baby.)

I thought a lot about miscarriage in those early weeks. Part of me thought we had been lucky to get pregnant, but I wouldn't be lucky enough to stay pregnant. Aside from parents, siblings and two close friends, we didn't tell anyone. (Funny, my Dad didn't understand our reluctance to share the news. He was anxious to tell everyone right away.)

But I stayed pregnant, and aside from some early morning sickness, it was pretty uneventful. My boobs grew, my waist got thicker, I bought bigger bras and bigger pants. I read a lot - What to Expect and all that stuff. Every week I'd read to my husband the page on that week - what the baby was doing now, what was going on with me. I obsessed over how much weight I was gaining, I wondered about the reaction I'd get at work, I worried about the changes coming in our lives and yet I looked forward to them at the same time.

In the last few weeks of my first trimester, two women on my team at work announced they were pregnant. This was a big deal - no one on that team had been pregnant in 15 years or something ridiculous like that. I secretly couldn't wait to join them in the prego club. When I finally told my boss, he thought I was about to tell him I was quitting. While I was laying low at work and running to the bathroom every half hour, he thought I'd been making moves to leave.

My husband and I are a happy couple. In fact, my husband is probably the happiest, most optimistic person I know. But the pregnancy was an extra happy time. We joked about the baby all the time - we had a running joke that our giant baby would terrorize our neighbour's little boy, and scare all the other kids away from the playground. We joked about how our kid would be embarassed by us and our nonsense. Even though it ended as it did, I don't think I could wish the pregnancy away. It was probably the happiest we've ever been.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The conclusion... no conclusion

We went back to the hospital yesterday to hear about Bronwyn's autopsy and the results of the other testing. Given that I'm pregnant with Bronwyn's little sister or brother already, I was desperately hoping they'd have an answer for us, hopefully one that sounded like "This is what happened and it's unlikely to happen again."

But there is no definitive answer. No signs of infection, her systems were fine, her heart was strong, no apparent chromosome problems. And yet she's gone. Unexplained hydrops fetalis.

So what about this little one? The doctor says we have every chance of having a normal, boring pregnancy. But having already beat the odds in a tragic way, that's not really good enough for me.

The doctor gave me a copy of the autopsy report. She had blue eyes, just as I imagined she would.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Here's a shocker

I cannot believe this, but I think I'm pregnant. Did a home pregnancy test on Saturday and - what do you know - two lines. We are shocked, thrilled, scared, sad. We haven't even had our meeting with the doctor to review the autopsy results yet.

God help us, please don't let them say this is liable to happen again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My friend D

I'm reading Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, a memoir about losing her baby boy - "Pudding" - at term. I've put the book down many times to catch my breath or wipe my eyes because she has just described an emotion, a thought, a memory, an experience that I thought was unique only to me.

There's a beautiful chapter about her friends, and how they reached out to her when Pudding died. She also talks about friends she lost through the experience - people who didn't reach out because they were afraid or uncomfortable, or did it much too late, and she was never able to reconcile with them.

I have known my friend D since 1992, so 17 years. We have lived together, worked together, traveled together. Having left home fairly young, it's safe to say I'm as close to her (closer?) as I am to my biological sisters. She is family I chose.

D is not outwardly a touchy-feely woman. We've never had the kind of friendship where we waltz into one another's place unannounced and help outselves to what's in the fridge, though I have often thought I'd like that. She's a very strong, very independent woman, and I admire her as much as I love her. We have been through a lot.

When Bronwyn died, we had been in hospital a few days. My parents flew from clear across this enormous country, and they were touching down just as we found out Bronwyn was gone. They stayed at our house and spent a sleepless night while I was in labour, and they came to the hospital the next day.

The chaplain at the hospital was a kind, cheery woman - pretty strongly Catholic, I think she said, but used to dealing with all the faiths and lack of faith - and she had planned a naming ceremony and blessing for Bronwyn there in the hospital. My Mom and Dad were there with us, and so was my dear friend D.

The chaplin held our Bronwyn like she was still alive and wriggling, and spoke directly to her in a way that broke my heart and comforted me at the same time. I don't remember much of what was said, but seeing the Chaplin kiss her on the head, seeing Mom and Dad and D kiss her while she was in my arms, is a memory I come back to again and again and again.

In the days and weeks since, I've become more aware that some people don't consider my Bronwyn a "real baby" because she never lived outside of me. That makes me angry, and sometimes it makes me obsess on her "realness" myself. It doesn't help that the whole experience still has a bad dream, surreal quality - like a horrible experience that I only heard about because it happened to someone else.

But one thing comforts me, clears my mind and reassures me that she was, and is, real - D saw her. And touched her, and kissed her.

D has been incredibly kind and caring throughout this whole experience, and I'm sure she will continue to be, but I don't know if she realizes the gift she has given me by actually laying eyes and hands and lips on Bronwyn. Bronwyn will never be known by the world at large, but she was known by my friend D.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My daughter was real

I know there are people who don't think Bronwyn was a "real baby", just like I know people are starting to wonder when I'll "get over it." I fantazise about someone saying that to me directly, so I could beat them.

A number of people, including a VP where I work, have come to me to say they have lost a baby too, and I realize they're referring - in many cases - to an early miscarriage.

I have never had a miscarriage, but I imagine it's incredibly painful and brings about many of the same feelings I'm having now. But I'm angry that people assume the two experiences are the same.

I know my daughter would be more "real" to people if she had lived even a day, an hour, outside of me. For the record, she was 5+ pounds and perfect. She had lots of dark hair, long eyelashes, my nose and chin, and her Dad's mouth. I delivered her at 8:20 in the morning on December 16, 2008, about 24 hours after we found out she was gone. I believe - I know - she died around 4:00 AM on December 15.

I held her while she was still warm. The chaplain held her and blessed her and gave her the name we had picked for her. She was cuddled and cried over by her Mom and her Dad, she was gently kissed by her grandparents. She was just a few weeks away from sleeping in the crib we bought for her, from riding in the fancy stroller bought by her grandparents.

We had already rearranged our life for this little baby, and we were in the home stretch. Or so we thought, anyway. And I think I would scream these facts in the face of anyone who suggested she was not "real." I would want to, anyway.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"What are you doing right now?" Crying.

I try to keep myself steady before I go to bed, or else I toss and turn and cry all night, and the next day at work is even more painful. I also know my tossing and turning, my getting out of bed and blowing my nose and sighing, keeps my husband up too, or gets him tossing and turning.

Last night I made a big mistake. I checked Facebook before I went to bed. Facebook has become nothing but a painful reminder of what happened, and a representation of all my angry thoughts. Facebook illustrates very clearly that, yes, EVERYONE has a healthy child but me, and many are currently showing off their "bump" while they grow what will inevitably be yet another healthy baby. They have pregnancy tickers, and coming-home-with-baby photos, and even their profile picture is likely not a photo of them at all, but of their kid or kids.

Within my small group at work, there were three of us pregnant at the same time. This was very unusual - no one had been pregnant in this group for about 15 years. (It's the kind of grind woman flee from before they get pregnant, I suppose. Not exactly a good fit for "family life.") The first was due late in November, the second was due at Christmas, and I was due on February 4. There were three baby pools, plans for three send-offs, three cards to be circulated. We spoke often about getting together with the babies when we were all on maternity leave. One of the women lives just a few streets over, the other not much further away.

But, of course, there were just two babies in the end. The first colleague had a healthy little boy in November. I delivered my beautiful, still daughter on December 16. On Boxing Day, my other colleague had a healthy baby boy. Two little boys on either end, and my dead little girl in the middle.

Of course, last night on Facebook I saw a photo of their little boys together. I knew this photo would be coming down the pipe sometime, but it hit me like a baseball bat in the chest. Two beautiful babies, where I had always imagined three. I started thinking of my little girl, like a ghost between them. And the sobbing started, lasting well into the night.

I need to give up Facebook. I've got no status updates that are fit for public consumption anyway. "What are you doing right now?" Well, I'm calling the hospital to see when the autopsy results will be in. I'm trying to decide when we'll be ready to pick up my daughter's ashes. I'm looking into support groups for bereaved parents. Not sure what my 200 "friends" would make of those.

Where do I send my letter of complaint?

I hate people for assuming I'm OK, and I hate people for assuming I'm not OK. At work, I hate people for overloading me and I hate people who don't give me work for fear I'm not up to it. I hate people for not understanding what I'm going through, and I hate people who assume they do understand.
I wish it was as easy as saying I'm in an "angry phase". I've learned that the whole concept of grief as phases is bullshit. You don't neatly move from one to the other, in a forward kind of way. You feel all the horrible feelings all at once, and then you're numb, and then you're better, and then you're crying on the subway, and then you can't sleep and you feel worried, and then you feel raw, and then you want to punch someone, and then you cry some more. And then, for a moment, you feel better, and then you see a newborn on the street and you want to die.

And every time, every single time, when you find yourself actually moaning and sobbing instead of just leaking tears, you say "It's not fair." Over and over. Who am I complaining to?

Friday, February 27, 2009

It comes out at night

My husband is gnashing his teeth in his sleep. I always thought the word "gnashing" was old-fashioned, and I couldn't imagine anyone doing it. I can now - gnashing and crying, in the middle of the night.

It was been 10 weeks since Bronwyn died, will be 11 weeks on Monday. Feels like just yesterday and a lifetime ago at the same time. My husband is a cheerful, optimistic, enthusiastic guy and I know he tries as hard as possible to keep me "up", but it's taking a toll on him. Obviously at night. We both are digging deep furrows in our foreheads from our constant squinting and frowning, and I have noticed him physically trying to smooth his forehead out with his hands, to press out the tension. I know it doesn't work, because I do it too.

This is a horrible, horrible thought, but I wish I was surrounded by people who had also lost a baby. Not that I would wish this on anyone, ever, but it would be nice to feel understood.

I probably never gave much thought to what this would feel like, except for those panicky moments during pregnancy when someone mentions a stillbirth and you think "OMG, that happens!" But if I did, I would not have imagined that this is the way it goes. That you feel worse as time goes on instead of better. That numbness and shock would be a good thing. That I would become afraid of people and angered by them at the same time. That I would feel guilty for momentarily thinking of anything else but my dead daughter, as if SHE WOULD KNOW.

I am also surprised that I have started to weigh up grief like potatoes on a scale, trying to compare my own against other scenarios. Would it be worse or better if she died shortly after she was born, instead of six weeks before she was due? Would it be worse or better if I didn't know she was sick ahead of time and went to the hospital to find out she was already dead?

I hate my life right now, but I love my husband more than ever. Is that the only good to come out of the bad?