Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Awareness Month

These days it seems like everything has an awareness month.  Every type of cancer, illness, disorder gets it time to shine.  Since 1985 Ocotober has been Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Breast Cancer deserves a month.  It deserves year round awareness.  One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  That's a pretty terrifying statistic.  You have a friend, neighbor, or coworker who has battled breast cancer.  While treatment options have gotten much better over the past 30 years it is still a horrible diagosis.  Many women fight and survive.  Many women fight and sadly lose their battle.  So what is the point of an awareness month?  

Fortunately most breast cancer can be detected early on through screening processes.  Monthly self breast exams and annual mammograms can help detect breast cancer early.  The earlier the cancer is found, the better the chances of treatment being successful.  The other purpose of an awareness month is to simply rally support.  It wasn't that long ago that the word "breast" caused people to blush.  Women had to keep their diagnosis to themselves and suffer in silence.  We have come so far.  Breast cancer awareness is everywhere.  Pink is everywhere.  Pink water bottles, pink ribbons, talk show hosts in pink, football players in pink, breast cancer walks, go pink day.  Women and men that have struggled with breast cancer are finally getting the support that they deserve.  Money is being donated to help fund continued research towards breast cancer.  There is still a long way to go.  Ideally all breast cancer will some day have a cure. 

Because there are only 12 months in a year, many causes have to share the spotlight.  October is also National Liver Cancer Awareness Month and National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.  And while I couldn't even find it on the official list, October is also National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  I think we can all understand why awareness is important for cancer.  Awareness can help raise money for finding a cure.  It can also encourage people to do early screening and know what early symptoms look like and when to go to the doctor.  So why awareness for miscarriage and infant death?

One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage.  One in 160 pregnancies end in stillbirth.  Six babies out of every 1000 born will die before their first birthday.  Parents of these babies are everywhere.  They are your friends, neighbors and coworkers.  Yet, you may not know it.  There is still a stigma associated with pregnancy loss.  It quietly happens all the time, but it is often hushed and swept under the rug.  So many families are left to grieve alone.  

When I had my first miscarriage I was heartbroken.  I was 10 weeks and we had only announced to our immediate family and a few friends.  I knew a couple other Moms that had been through a miscarriage.  But I never thought it would happen to me.  I didn't realize how common pregnancy loss is.  I didn't know what the grieving process was like, because I had never seen it.

I got pregnant again three months later with my twins.  There wasn't a day that went by that I wasn't afraid of losing them.  As time went and I got through the first trimester I started to relax a little.  After their anatomy scan at 18 weeks I started to finally believe that we would be bringing two healthy babies home with us.  I had no idea that I could even go into preterm labor at 22 weeks.  But I did, and they were born too tiny to survive.  

Following their death I couldn't contain my grief.  I was unable to grieve alone, so I reached out.  I started attending a support group for bereaved parents.  I started writing my blog.  I posted pictures of my son and daughter on facebook.  I poured out my grief where ever I could. I was shocked by how many women came forward to tell me about their loss.  I don't blame any of them for keeping quiet about their pregnancy losses.  We live in a society where miscarriage and infant death is taboo.  Nobody is comfortable hearing about it and very few people are talking about it.  I for one, am tired of the silence.  

So as you wear your pink this month in support of breast cancer.  Think about doing something for miscarriage and infant loss awareness as well.  Wear a pink and blue ribbon.  Post something on facebook, or twitter or instagram.  Light a candle for all the grieving parents.  While we are not fighting for a cure, we are fighting for awareness. And if you are one of those grieving parents know that you are not alone.  It may seem like you are, but we are here to listen to you, hug you, support you and help break the silence. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Cherishing Milestones

"I wish they could stay little forever" and "I wish I could just freeze time" are phrases often said by parents.  When you are a parent, time flies.  Sometimes I look at my older daughter, soon to turn five years old and I seriously wonder "How did we get here"?  It really feels like just yesterday I was holding her as a tiny baby in my arms.  Then seemingly overnight she has grown into a walking, talking, silly, wild preschooler. Before I know it she will be taller than me and moving out.  It goes by in a heartbeat.

While I understand the sentiment behind wanting your babies to stay babies forever, I don't feel that way.  Yes, I love my children just as they are today.  I love my sweet innocent four year old who is still willing to snuggle on my lap from time to time and who still tells me how much she loves me every day.  I love my adorable 9 month old with her roly poly arms and legs, who I get to rock and snuggle and nurse every day.  I love them just as they are right now and I cherish every moment.  But I really don't wish they would stay like this forever.  I know what it's like to have a baby forever.

The day that James and Penelope were born was the only day that I had with them.  I spent hours holding them.  Staring at them and trying to burn their images into my brain.  Their tiny little bodies will never grow a day older. They will always be my babies.  There will be no first smiles.  No first time crawling or first steps.  No first words and saying "Mama" for the first time. I will never watch them ride the bus off to their first day of kindergarten.  I won't argue with them as teenagers about keeping their rooms clean or doing the dishes.  I won't hold back tears as I drop them off at college.  I won't be there on their wedding day or watch them become parents someday.  They are just my babies and that's all they can be.  Forever frozen in time.

So although it's bitter sweet to watch my living children grow up, I cherish it.  I know that each day that goes by is another day that I am lucky to be their mother.  They will get bigger, and louder, and messier.  Their will come a day that I hear the dreaded words "I hate you Mom".  They won't always want to hug me.  They will grow up.  I and for that I am incredibly thankful.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

The days, weeks and months following the death of James and Penelope are a blur in my mind.  I remember little flashes of time.  Still images of our suddenly broken family.  I look back at pictures and gleam little pieces of what was going one.  I remember puffy eyes, headaches, dying flowers in vases, visitors, sympathy cards in the mailbox, laying on the couch watching Trailer Park Boys, a busy and cheerful toddler running around and a feeling of emptiness.  I remember a strong pull to run away from everything.  Some pictures that I look back at I am flooded with strong memories.  Everything comes rushing back.

 About a week after the twins were born I felt a pull to get away.  I woke up that morning and I just needed to go somewhere.  My breasts were engorged and lumpy from my milk coming in for the babies that I never got to nurse.  My belly was soft and empty.  My head hurt and my eyes were practically swollen shut from crying. Our stale closed up house was feeling like a prison.  I wanted to be somewhere where nobody knew me.  Where I could be a Mom, a wife, a regular person.  Not a bereaved mother.  I came downstairs and announced to Micah that we were going to the beach.  We grabbed a few beach towels and got in the car.  We stopped at CVS on the way to get a shovel and bucket for Gwenenvere to play with.

Once we got there I felt foolish for not planning ahead.  I looked around at all of the other families with their beach umbrellas, coolers and kids running around in bathing suits.  We brought a bucket, shovel and two towels.  Gwenevere was 21 months old and instantly drawn to the shore.  She had on an adorable little ice cream outfit on that was a gift from my Mom.  Initially we tried to keep her out of the water.  But eventually the toddler won and she played in the lake in her clothes.  I rolled up my pants and got in the water knee deep with her.  We ate ice cream, walked up and down the beach and drew pictures in the sand. We took several pictures of our day in our best attempt at being a normal family.  

 The pictures from our beach day are the first pictures we took after we left the hospital.  I look at them now and I see so much.  I see a mother that has just given birth to babies that died.  I see a father trying so hard to keep it together for his wife and child.  I see a carefree toddler that doesn't understand why her parents keep crying.  I see a family that is holding on for dear life.  I see hope that the future will be better.  Hope that the intense pain will lessen.  This picture of Gwenevere and me is special to me.  It is a picture of a big sister and a mother of three.  My tired eyes behind my sunglasses, my necklace with two gold rings given to me by the hospital.  My sweet daughter just wanting to play.  My physically tired and sore body from giving birth a week ago. Me, trying to take a momentary break from grieving to have a picture with my child.  Micah behind the camera, being an incredibly supportive husband and father. Through those blurry days, weeks and months following our loss this day stands out.  It was our family's first steps towards healing.  While it was an attempt for me to try to escape my grief, it served as a much needed break and the beginning of a long journey that still continues. 

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.