Thursday, June 25, 2015

They Say, "You'll just know"

Amidst the usual parent chatter about children there are a few questions that always make my heart sink a little.  "How many kids do you have?", and "Are you going to have any more?".  Those are questions that I always find myself stuttering awkwardly to answer.  I still don't have a go to answer for how many kids I have.  It depends on the person and the situation.  If you're just meeting me in a casual social setting and I may never see you again you will probably get my easy answer of two children.  If I suspect that we will continue to run into each other in social settings and I'm prepared for the awkward conversation that will follow you will get my real answer of two living children.  If I'm particularily brave that day I might expand on my answer and say four children, two living and two that died at birth.  But sometimes just getting those words out is too difficult. 

As for the question of "Are you going to have any more?", that's a lot harder for me.  The real, 100% honest answer is no.  I am not going to have anymore children.  And just typing those words onto the computer screen brings tears to my eyes.  While I am so incredibly thankful to have my two amazing girls my heart breaks a little to know that we are done.  I am not done.  I don't think I will ever be done.  But emotionally and physically I am spent.  I have heard many Moms talk about how they knew they were done having kids.  I have often heard the words, "When you are done having kids, you just know".  It's like there is a sense of completion.  Like that first, second, third or tenth child is it.  You're family is complete.  I don't think I will ever have that sense of completion.  My family will always have a huge gaping hole with two children missing.  And I know in my heart that no number of living children will fill that hole.

Having Victoria has done so much healing for my heart. But, she has not filled the hole.  That's not why we chose to have another child.  The loss of Penelope and James left a hole that cannot be filled.  Not by another child, or another four children.  All we can do is heal and try to find peace, and I find myself doing that every day. 

We are approaching the third anniversary of James and Penelope's birth and death.  So much has changed in those three years.  Our family has gone from one child, to three children, to one child, to two children.  It's been an emotional roller coaster.  While I will always miss my twins, I love our family as it is today.  My marriage has been put through the wringer and we have come out stronger than ever.  We have seen each other at our weakest point, and helped build each other back up again.  Our oldest daughter has experienced death and loss as no child should have to.  She has a unique perspective on life and death and I love hearing her talk about her ideas of how her brother and sister live on in the universe.  She has become a big sister to Victoria and taken on that role with full force.  She is Victoria's favorite person and loves to make her smile and giggle.  And our sweet rainbow baby Victoria has brought with her so much joy and light to our lives.  She has been far from an easy baby.  With colic and reflux she has kept us on our toes.  Many sleepless nights and tears, from her and me.  But everyday, through all of the frustration, I have felt nothing but thankful for her.  When Penelope and James were born there was just silence.  Their little bodies struggled to breathe with their tiny lungs, but they were to tiny to cry.  So even though dealing with a fussy baby has it's moments, every time she cries I am reminded of how healthy and strong she is.  For that I am grateful.

So my family is complete.  Although it will never really feel that way.  We are a family of six and we will stay that way.  If I keep waiting for that moment when "I just know" that I'm done, I will wait forever.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dear Mama of Twins

Dear Mama of Twins,
I see you around, here and there.  You have your two beautiful babies in tow.  You make it look so effortless, so wonderful.  You may have both babies in car seats or one in a sling.  You have only been a Mom to these two babies for a matter of months, but you have it figured out.  Or at least you appear to. 
I see you walk in and I feel my heart sink.  It's not your fault, or your babies fault.  It is the fault of my life circumstances.  You see, I am a Mama of twins as well.  But you will never see them.  I carried them for 22 weeks and 5 days and in a moment they were gone.  I had that same moment that you probably had when you found out you were carrying not one baby but two.  That holy crap, excited, scared and totally shocked moment.  My belly, like yours, grew at a rapid rate.  I started scrambling to figure out how our family was going to make room for two new lives.  But those two new lives were over in less than an hour.
Every time I see you I want to talk to you.  I want to tell you so much.  I want you to know that those babies of yours should never be taken for granted, not even for a second.  I want to tell you that you are so lucky.  But I know that while you love those babies with all of your heart, there are hard times too.  There are times when there is twice as much crying and dirty diapers and you just don't have enough hands.  I know that caring for two babies is hard, emotionally and physically and sometimes you feel like it's just too much.  I know your pregnancy wasn't easy.  Well, at least not compared to singleton pregnancy.  I'm sure carrying around the weight of two babies was more than uncomfortable.  I'm sure that the balancing act that is your life now is sometimes overwhelming. I just wish I could somehow convey to you how lucky you are without diminishing your challenges. 

If there was just one thing I could tell you it would be to always be grateful and love those babies with all of your heart.  Please don't think that I am calling you ungrateful.  I am sure that you are grateful for your babies every day.  And know that I don't mean you shouldn't complain.  Life is hard and raising children is one of life's biggest challenges. But in those moments when everyone is crying, the laundry is piling up, dinner needs to be cooked and you haven't had a moment to yourself all day just try to see all that you have.  After coming home from the hospital without my son and daughter there were many heartbreaking moments.  But one of the hardest things was the quiet moments.  Those moments were sometimes too much to handle.  

I now have a baby, as well as my four year old daughter.  My laundry is piling up, my older daughter goes through the house each day like a tornado and my baby has colic.  It's hard, emotionally and physically exhausting.  Some days I want to cry, some days I do.  But in the back of mind is always gratitude.  I have to stop at times and just remember how incredibly lucky I am to have my two living children.  I know what it's like to come home with empty arms and to have my arms full is truly a gift.  

So if there is anything that you take away from this I hope that it is love and appreciation for your babies.  Please give them one extra kiss every day.  Please tell them "I love you" just one more time.  Please give them an extra minute of snuggles at night.  Please be gentle on yourself and know that you are being the best Mom you can be and that twins are not easy.  Please don't feel guilty that you have your babies and I don't.  That is not your burden.  Just know that while your arms are incredibly full right now, so is your heart and that is something to truly be grateful for.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

One Day at a Time

Throughout my pregnancy with Victoria I had a mantra that helped get me though "One day at a time".  When I was only 10 weeks along and I was puking all the time and terrified to see blood every time I went to the bathroom I would remind my self that I could get through today.  When I was 22 weeks, the same week that I gave birth to Penelope and James, and I started to have contractions I reminded myself that I could get through today.  Often, even thinking of the next day, let alone the weeks and months ahead of me was just too overwhelming.  At times I would find myself in a panic and I would have to go back to my mantra,  one day at a time.

It never really occurred to me that my mantra would also help me while parenting my rainbow baby.  I just assumed that once she was born alive and healthy my anxiety would melt away and I would be a blissful parent.  Almost 5 months in I have discovered that this is not the case.  Some days are great.  Victoria is no longer a needy newborn.  Although she is by far fussier than Gwenevere ever was and wants to nurse more often than not, we are getting into our groove.  I can put her down for short periods of time.  Gwenevere is pretty understanding of me needing to share my attention between her and her sister.  And two and a half years following the death of James and Penelope my grief has taken a back seat.  However, there are still the hard days.  The days where I feel my anxiety creeping up.  The days when Victoria is crying, Gwenevere is whining and I am doubting that I could have ever managed twins and a two year old if I had the chance.

Parenting a baby after loss can be emotionally overwhelming.  I am so incredibly in love with my daughter and I am so thankful that she is here with me.  I know that I appreciate her so much more than I would if I had never gone through infant loss.  But I also feel a longing for my twins.  I look at Victoria and I can't help but wonder what her brother and sister would have been like.  Would they have had her blond hair and dark eyes, or Gwenevere's dark hair and blue eyes.  James already had a full head of dark hair when he was born.  Every new thing that she does I grieve a little that James and Penelope will never get to reach that milestone.  I also know that had Penelope and James lived, Victoria would not be here.  It is a hard concept to grasp.  I love all of my children and I could never choose who I would rather have with me.  Of course I love Victoria and I am glad she is part of our family, it feels like she always belonged.  But I also wish that my twins could be with us.  Our family feels incomplete without them. 

Parenting my rainbow baby has been more emotionally complex then I imagined it would be.  Most days are good.  But some days are hard.  Some days I just want to cry, still.  Grief has a funny way of showing up randomly when you least expect it.  On those days that it feels like I will never stop missing my twins I try to go back to my pregnancy mantra.  Once day at a time.  Lately the good days outnumber the bad.  I often find myself with tears of happiness welling up in my eyes while playing with my girls.  At times I can't believe how lucky I am to have two wonderful daughters and an amazing husband too.  So on the days that I am overwhelmed I can remind myself that I can get through the day.  Tomorrow is a new day.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Between Two Worlds

During my pregnancy with my first daughter I was about as joyful as a pregnant woman can be.  I had some nausea, heartburn and general discomfort, but I was so thrilled to be carrying a tiny life inside of me that it didn't really matter.  I bought dozens of adorable baby outfits, decorated the nursery and planned to bring home our beautiful baby. Towards the end of my pregnancy my husband and I decided to enroll in childbirth classes.  We were hoping to have a natural, drug free birth and we figured that talking classes geared towards this would be our best bet.  We started our childbirth classes about two months before my due date.

I remember the first class well.  We walked into the room with several other expecting couples.  All told, there were six pregnant Mom's in the class.  I looked around the room and felt the same excitement I had for myself with all of these other first time parents.  We were all just weeks away from experiencing a true miracle!  After a few weeks of class one of the other couples suggested getting together for dinner before class the next week.  We agreed on Olive Garden, because pregnant ladies and unlimited bread sticks are a winning combination.  My husband and I walked in and the hostess looked down at my large belly and smiled at us, she knew right where we were headed, to the table with all the other Preggos.  We sat and chatted with the other expecting couples.  It was wonderful to be able to share all of the same feelings of excitement and nervousness. Even after our birth classes ended we stayed in touch with several of the families.  Our children have had many play dates together and the parents have become good friends.  It has been wonderful to have these new friends that we share so much in common with.

Now with Victoria everything is different.  I am no longer the naive excited Mom that I used to be. I have since become involved in the baby loss community.  I have made new friends with other baby loss Moms.  We share something in common as well, but it is grief.  Once I became pregnant with Victoria I found myself feeling a disconnect from this community.  Once I started showing I stopped attending the support group that I run with another Mom and let her take over.  I remembered all too well coming to the support group one month when I was fresh in my grief and seeing a pregnant Mom in the room.  She was a loss Mom as well, but just being around a woman full of new life was too much for me.  I went home that night and cried.  I couldn't bear being that trigger for another Mom. I felt like I no longer belonged, although I was still grieving.  I wanted to jump back into the "regular" Mom community.  I considered taking a childbirth class series again since it had been almost four years since I had given birth at full term.  But the thought of sitting in a room full of parents that were full of joy was just too much for me.  I also felt a disconnect from those parents.  The instructor that taught our first classes was kind enough to come over to our house for a private refresher course.

Since Victoria's birth I have attended several Mom groups for breastfeeding support.  Every time I go I have a mini panic attack.  Will someone ask me how many children I have?  How will I explain without upsetting the other person while still acknowledging my twins.  What if I am triggered?  What if I start crying?  So far I have been fine.  I want to connect with these other Moms.  We share so much in common.  But I can't help but feel like an outsider.  When Moms start complaining about the day to day trials of caring for a baby I have a hard time relating.  Of course I understand the challenges, I face them every day.  The constant feeding, attention, crying, sleepless nights.  It's hard, I get it.  I just feel so thankful for all of that.  I have been wanting that again desperately for the past three years.

So now I find myself in the awkward place.  I am a baby loss Mom and I am a Mom of living children.  I am lucky enough that most of my friends have stuck with me through all of this.  I need the support more than ever to continue navigating through these new challenges.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Dreams

It has been two years and four months since the birth and death of Penelope and James.  In that time I have not once had a dream about them.  I have longed to see them in my dreams, since that is the only place that they still exist.  Last night it finally happened.  It was weird, nonsensical and disjointed as dreams often are.  But they were there.  I held them in my arms, kissed them, took pictures of them and told them how much I loved them.  They got to be held by their big sister, something they never experienced in real life.  They looked nothing like what they actually looked like, but it didn't matter, it was still them.

I woke up feeling happy this morning.  I got to see my babies again, even if it was only a dream.  Then as I started trying to explain my dream to my husband I started feeling a lump in my throat.  The realization began to hit that it was just a dream and I will never again be able to hold my precious daughter and son in my arms.  The harsh reality hit me all over again and it was heartbreaking.  Even over two years later it sometimes hits me just as hard as it did that first day.  It literally takes my breath away and uncontrollable tears well up in my eyes.

I know these intense moments of grief will pass as they always do.  I will soon be distracted by life.  Caring for my four year old and newborn daughter, laughing with my husband, Doctor appointments, folding laundry and wrapping Christmas presents.  James and Penelope will once again fade in the dull aching in my heart.  But for now, this morning I grieve.  I cry all the tears I need to cry.  I sit in the anger and bitterness and unfairness that they are gone.

Our Rainbow Baby

I have had mixed feelings about the term "Rainbow Baby" since I first heard it following the loss of my twins.  A Rainbow Baby is a child that is that is conceived following the loss of a pregnancy or infant, the rainbow after the storm.  It is a term that is often thrown around in the Baby Loss Community and now that I was part of that world I was seeing it a lot.  The time I first heard this term I was fresh in my grief from the death of my twins.  I was in the eye of the storm and I honestly couldn't even imagine life ever being happy and beautiful again.  I had given birth to two beautiful babies and watched them slowly fade away before my eyes.  I was surviving, but barely. 

Technically Penelope and James were my rainbow babies.  I had suffered a miscarriage about four months before finding out I was pregnant with twins.  Although I struggled greatly with my pregnancy loss I had great hope for this new pregnancy.  Once I found out I was carrying twins it was like everything was right with the world.  I bought into the whole "everything happens for a reason" and figured that this was all just part of some great plan.  I had lost one baby, but now I was carrying two.  I was able to reason with myself that surely something was wrong with the baby that I lost and these two were healthy and meant to be part of my family.  These were my rainbows, although I wasn't familiar with that terminology yet.  I was optimistic and ready to bring home our twins.

Following the loss of James and Penelope my optimism was gone.  I could no longer believe in those ideas that got my through my first loss.  How could everything happen for a reason?  I could think of no reason great enough to take my two babies away from me.  If this was all part of some great plan it was a plan that I wanted nothing to do with.  It was around this time that I started hearing talk of rainbow babies and feeling unsettled about it.  It felt to me like a rainbow baby was a cure all for the grieving parent and the faster you "caught your rainbow" the better.  It was like a sick race that I didn't want to be a part of.  I wanted my son and daughter and I didn't even want to think about being pregnant again.  Of course, I did understand the strong desire of some parents to get pregnant again quickly.  After losing a baby the ache of empty arms can sometimes be unbearable.  Another thing that didn't settle right with me was the question of what about the parents that never get their rainbow.  What about those that either choose not to try again or are unable to conceive?  What about those parents like me that lose their rainbow?  Are we doomed to live forever in the storm?

As time went by I became more comfortable with the idea of a rainbow baby.  I realized that while many baby loss families strive for a rainbow baby it is not a goal or reality for everyone.  This does not mean that those parents are doomed to be stuck in the storm.  I learned by working through my own grief that many things help heal the pain of pregnancy and infant loss.  Crying, talking, yelling, hugging, remembering, more crying and just allowing your heart to heal.  I knew it wasn't my path to race to a rainbow baby.  I needed time to grieve and heal.  I am so glad I took that time because it was through that process that I was able to realize that I would be okay, even if we never brought home a rainbow baby.  I learned that while there would always be a part of my heart that was broken I could be okay, I could be better than okay.

Now that Victoria is here I have fully embraced her as our rainbow baby.  I know that it was not her birth that healed me, or brought me out of the storm.  I was able to do that hard work on my own.  She is just her own wonderful person.  She is a part of our crazy little family and she doesn't have to carry the weight on her shoulders of fixing anything, she just is.  She is a baby that was wanted. Not because we needed her to get out of the storm, but because we wanted another child.  She is my fourth child and she is amazing.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tears of Joy

It has been 17 days since our family welcomed it's newest member.  Baby Victoria Grace came into this world on November 21st at 5:17 am.  She was pink, crying, covered in vernix, wide eyed and one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  She was immediately placed in my arms, while still attached to me via umbilical cord.  I held her in my arms and immediately began to weep tears of joy.  I looked at Micah and back at Victoria, I couldn't believe she was actually here.

My labor began on Thursday morning around 3:30 am.  I woke up for one of my frequent bathroom trips and noticed a contraction.  I went back to bed, but I couldn't go back to sleep.  I went downstairs, turned on the TV and every ten minutes or so I felt another contraction.  Since around 22 weeks I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions, so I was hesitant to think this could be the real thing.  By the time Micah got up around 6:30 am the contractions seemed to be getting stronger, so he decided to take the day off.  As the day went on I had contractions on and off.  They would get stronger for a while, and then lighten up.  We went to the mall to walk around for awhile, then out to lunch with my Mom where I would periodically sit back and breathe through a contraction.  Finally around 9pm they seemed to be consistently strong and regular, we decided to go the hospital and call our Doula.

When we got to the hospital I was checked into triage and the nurse checked me.  I was dialated to about 4cm.  We walked around the halls for an hour and I got checked again, I was between 4 and 5.  We again walked the halls for another hour, this time with our amazingly helpful doula.  By now my contractions were strong I was started to feel back labor.  I would lean on the hallway handrails, hold Micah's hand and Hattie our Doula would put counter pressure on my back.  By the time I got checked again I was close to 6cm dialated.  I labored for a while longer before our labor and delivery nurse Paige arrived to transfer me to our delivery room.

Once we got settled in our new room I got in the shower and labored there for a while.  Then I came out and not long after my Doctor arrived to check on me.  I was lucky enough to have built a good relationship with my Obstetrician over the past two years.  She was the Doctor that delivered James and Penelope and had seen me for every appointment following their birth and with this pregnancy as well.  She had offered to deliver Victoria even if she was not on call and even gave me her personal cell phone number.  I was still around 6cm and she offered to break my water in hopes of speeding things up.  At this point I had been in labor for over 20 hours and anything to speed things up seemed like a good idea so I agreed.  She broke my water bag and the next contraction was crazy intense.  I couldn't believe how much more painful it was.  After a few more contractions I started crying and telling Micah and my Doula that I couldn't do it anymore, I needed an epidural.  We called the nurse in and she set up an IV for me.  She said once the bag was empty we could start the epidural.  Within about 20 minutes of sitting on the birth ball and doing some deep breathing I was handling the contractions much better and I told her I didn't need it.  Within an hour the contractions were more intense again.  My legs were shaking and once again I asked for an epidural.  This time our nurse Paige suggested checking me first to see if I had progressed.  I was almost 10 cm dialated, I was almost done and I knew I could do it without the epidural.

I got back on the birth ball and a few contractions later I started feeling the urge to push.  I begrudgingly got back into bed and our Doctor was called back in along with a Resident.  Pushing went pretty quickly and after about 20 minutes Victoria came out.  The physical pain of labor and delivery was worse than I had remembered, but the pure euphoria of holding your newborn baby was even better than I had remembered. It had been almost four years since I had given birth to my first daughter and a little over two years since I had given birth to my twins.  All three births were completely different experiences.  I just held her in my arms, crying and telling her how much I loved her. 

Victoria has been home with us for a little over two weeks now and I can't imagine our family without her.  She is just perfect and watching Gwenevere in her big sister role is precious.  Every moment with her is a gift, but it is also bittersweet.  Every moment I have with her is a reminder of what I never got to have with Penelope and James. I am so grateful to have her here, but I can't help feeling sad for my my son and daughter than I never got to bring home.  I am also aware that if my twins had survived we would not have gone on to have another baby and Victoria would not be here.  She is a piece of our family's puzzle and she makes us a little more complete.  But we will always be missing two pieces, James and Penelope.  They will always be loved and missed and they will always be part of our family.