Sunday, September 30, 2012

You Survive Because You Have To

My pregnancy with Gwenevere was uneventful.  I was lucky.  From five weeks to fourteen weeks I suffered from all day sickness, a sign of a healthy pregnancy.  I worried from time to time about a pregnancy loss, but never let my mind dwell on the thought.  At 10 weeks I saw my physician for a routine appointment and she asked how far along I was.  I told her I was only 10 weeks.  She asked if I wanted her to try and find a heartbeat via Doppler.  I hesitated for a moment, I had anticipated Micah being present for that moment but I said yes.  She got out the Doppler and within a minute she found a strong heartbeat.  I called Micah and he could hear our baby’s heartbeat over the phone.  It was a magical moment.
I remember throughout my pregnancy with her I enjoyed everything.  I loved our prenatal appointments with our midwife and getting to hear our baby’s heartbeat.  I loved buying baby things and decorating her nursery.  I loved my growing belly and feeling all of her movements.  I loved the right to complain about all of the discomforts that come along with being a pregnant lady.  I loved the moment we found out we were having a baby girl by cutting into a pink cake.  I loved taking natural child birth classes and planning the drug free arrival of our daughter into the world.  I loved the anticipation of becoming a parent with my husband.   My perfect pregnancy ended on December 1st, 2010 at 4:49am with the delivery of a perfect baby girl, Gwenevere Cate Fuerst; 8lbs. 1oz. 20.5 inches.
Ten months after the birth of Gwenevere I found out we were pregnant again.  I was elated!  It was a little sooner that we had originally planned on having another child, but I couldn’t wait to become a parent again.  This pregnancy however was very different for me.  I had a loss of appetite, but I had no nausea.  I didn’t feel pregnant.  I had anxiety all the time that something was wrong.  I kept saying to Micah that it was either twins or I was going to miscarry.  I just knew it was different.  To calm my nerves my midwife offered me an early ultrasound.  At seven weeks we got to see our little Poppy (as we referred to him/her).  Poppy had strong heartbeat, but was only measuring at 5 weeks.  Our midwife told us not to worry because it is common to be off on dates.  Micah’s mind was put at ease, mine was not.  I reluctantly told our family and a few friends that we were pregnant.  We bought Gwenevere a “Big Sister” onesie and everyone was so excited.  I was not excited, just anxious.
The weekend before Gwenevere’s 1st birthday we threw a party for her.  We invited a few friends and family.  It was a wonderful party and Gwenevere had a great time.  Once all of the guests left I went to the bathroom and noticed some bleeding.  My stomach sank.  I tried to stay calm, reminding myself that spotting can be perfectly normal in the first trimester.  The next morning it got worse.  I called our midwife and she suggested going to the E.R. to get checked out.  We dropped our daughter off with friends and went to the hospital.  It was there that we discovered that our Poppy no longer had a heartbeat.  It looked as though our baby had died several weeks ago.  I cried knowing that my worst fears had come true.  I was angry.  I felt that my body had failed me and my baby.  I tried to comfort myself that something was wrong with our baby and that Poppy wasn’t meant to be.  I had a D & C later that week, two days before my daughter’s first birthday.
After my miscarriage I felt devastated.  I wanted that baby.  I didn’t think I could find the strength to get through the loss.  It didn’t seem fair.  The OB that did my operation recommended waiting at least 3 months before trying to conceive again.  I wanted to be pregnant again.  I also wanted to never again experience the loss of a baby.  Four and a half months after my miscarriage I learned that I was again pregnant.  I was struck with excitement and fear, but mostly fear. 
This third pregnancy was so much different than both of my previous pregnancies.  I was so sick I could barely lift my head from the bathroom floor.  I was exhausted beyond belief.  At 7 weeks we had our first ultrasound to confirm dates and viability. I will never forget what the ultrasound tech said when I asked if everything looked okay.  “Well, there are two!”.  Twins, I couldn’t believe it.  It gave me twice as much to worry about and twice as much to look forward to.  The first trimester was challenging to say the least.  I had to care for my daughter at home while curled up in the fetal position and dry heaving.  I worried every minute about every tiny ache or pain that I had.  I remember lying in bed one night feeling light cramps with my heart racing.  I was sure that I was miscarrying. 
Although the first 13 weeks went by at a snail’s pace I made it through.  Each week that went by I felt more and more confident that we were actually going to have two healthy babies.  At 18 weeks we had our anatomy scan.  Not only did we discover that we were going to have a son and daughter but most importantly both of them looked perfectly healthy!  I was elated.  Even though everything looked perfect I never let go of the anxiety.  When I would wake up in the morning I would check to make sure my water hadn’t broken prematurely.  I avoided heavy lifting, even having Gwenevere climb stairs to get into her crib.  I ate healthy and drank a gallon of water a day to help prevent preterm labor.  I knew that a multiple pregnancy was high risk and I wanted to reduce my risk as much as possible.
Despite my efforts I did go into preterm labor.  At 22 weeks and 5 days I went into labor and delivered my son and daughter.  Nine days too soon for any medical intervention.  I had to watch them die and know that there was nothing that could be done to save their lives.  The worst part was seeing how perfect and healthy they looked. 
My point is this; at the time of my pregnancy with Gwenevere I never would have thought I could handle a miscarriage.  The thought of losing a pregnancy was too much to bear.  I knew it happened to many women and they got through it, but I just couldn’t imagine the pain.  When my miscarriage happened I got through it.  As each day passed it got better and I survived.  Not long after my miscarriage someone very close to me had a 2nd trimester pregnancy loss.  I couldn’t imagine the pain.  I knew how much it hurt to lose my baby at 10 weeks and I couldn’t begin to comprehend her loss.  By that time you are feeling your baby move, setting up the nursery, picking names and planning for that child.  Then, three months later the unthinkable happened to me.  The event that I never thought I was strong enough to survive happened.  My babies were taken from me and I was left to try to go on with my life.  I am still here, I survived.  Not because I am strong, because I had no choice. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Doing the Work

It’s seems as though Micah and I have gone to great lengths to do everything “right” in our grieving process.  The moment our babies were born we held them each in our arms.  We bonded with them as much as we could in the short time frame we had.  We had pictures taken of us holding our beloved children in our arms since we would never again have that opportunity.  I look at those pictures often.  The weekend following James and Penelope’s birth and death we held a memorial service at our church to mourn their loss with our family and friends.  We are reading books and visiting websites about dealing with infant loss.  We have recently started counseling to help us cope with this great loss.  We have attended a support group for parents going through similar loss.  We talk often to each other and others about our feelings.  We openly share our grief.  As our counselor told us we are “doing the work”.  So why is this still so hard?
I know that this isn’t supposed to be easy.  I know that grief takes time and we are still only in the beginning stages.  I know that losing a child, or in our case two children is a loss like no other.  I know that we are forever changed.  I know all of these things to be true but I hoped it would be different somehow.  I hoped that by seeking out all of the appropriate channels and facing our loss head on we would somehow be exempt from the typical crappyness that is grief. 
Part me is ready to move past this stage.  The constant tears and breakdowns are exhausting.  I find it challenging to get through the day, let alone care for my toddler and be present for her.  I am tired of crying, tired of talking about it, tired of the emptiness.  Another part of me relishes the pain.  It exists because of James and Penelope.  It is really all that I have left of them.  Each tear that falls is in their honor.  I don’t want to “move on”.  It seems disrespectful to want to escape the sadness.
Eventually I will get through this.  We are doing the work and it sucks, but I know it is necessary.   I look forward to the day I can tell the story of Penelope and James without crying.  I will find other ways to honor them.  I may never know why my body went into labor at almost 23 weeks, forcing them into this world too soon.  However, I know that they came into our lives for a reason.  They reminded me of how fragile life is.  They taught me how to have a new level of appreciation and love for Gwenevere.  I love her so much more, which I never thought was possible.  I am amazed by here mere existence as well as in everything she does.  I am thankful that I have been given the opportunity to be a mother to three children.  Even if I only got to meet two of my children briefly, they will always be my son & daughter and they will always be loved. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Line of Grief

Micah and I were recently asked when we would be ready to handle a family get together.  With all sincerity they wanted a date.  Like we have a time line of our grief.  They hoped we could look at our calendar and point to a date in the near future and say "Okay, it looks like November 16th works for us".  I wish I could give such an answer.  I wish I could forecast when we will be ready to have a normal family event without breaking down.  The real answer is I don't know.
I honestly can't imagine a time that I can suppress the sadness, anxiety, jealousy, and fear that come along with being in a social setting.  Right now it takes all the strength I have to get through a trip to the grocery store.  Just this week I sobbed at the park after seeing a happy pregnant mom.  I can't stand all the people around us getting on with their lives.  Going about their normal days completely oblivious to the pain that surrounds us every day.  
Some days are better than others.  Some days I only cry a little bit.  Some days I can focus on the positive aspects of my life.  I can enjoy my daughter and be thankful for what I have.  Other days it feels like I am stuck in despair.  I wallow in my sadness and let the tears flow.  I allow myself to experience all of the anger and depression.  The dark moments come and go.  I remind myself of what my Mom told me, "You will never get over this, but you will get through it".  I am getting through it.
When will I be ready to handle big events?  I don't know.  Maybe in three months, maybe in a year.  I know that with time I will heal.  I know that James and Penelope are a part of me and someday I will talk about them without crying.  I know that many families have gone through this same grief.  I know that I will find peace.  I also know that I have yet to come to that place.
Our son and daughter were due to arrive into this world right around Thanksgiving.  When I was pregnant I would often imagine our future.  Two newborn babies at Christmas time, two chubby six month old babies come summer time and a wonderful big sister through it all.  This year we will get through Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I will shop for friends and family and relish in the joy of watching our daughter open gifts and spend time with loved ones.  But I know there will be a big empty hole. 
There is no timeline for grief.  Every loss is different and every person goes through it in their own way.  I know Micah and I will go through different phases at different times.  The hardest part is that there is no goal to look forward to.  There is no "I am over it" place that we will reach.  But we will get through it, together and alone.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Our Birth Story

The day before we had our twins was a normal Saturday.  We took our one and half year old daughter Gwenevere to the Potter Park Zoo with my parents and we all had a wonderful time.  Gwenevere especially enjoyed seeing the Chuckwalla as well as the Meer Cats and Peacocks.  I had to take breaks often as I was experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions.  I wasn't concerned since I had experienced frequent Braxton Hicks throughout my pregnancy with Gwenenvere. That night after we had tucked our daughter into bed Micah and I sat on the couch and he rested his hand on my belly.  We both felt Penelope wiggling around up high near my rib cage and James gave us a big kick down low on my left side.  That night after I fell asleep I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I noticed some mild cramping.  I wasn't too concerned and I fell back asleep.

The following morning I woke up and still felt cramps.  I didn't think it could be anything too serious but I wanted to call my Doctor just in case.  I called the on call OB as it was a Sunday and waited on the couch for a call back while Micah and Gwenevere played outside.  The Doctor called me back within a half hour and instructed me to go to the hospital to get checked out.  My mouth went dry and my stomach dropped.  I hoped nothing was really wrong, but I felt scared.  I got dressed and called for Micah and Gwenevere to get ready, we were going to the hospital.  On the way to the hospital the car was silent except for some singing and chatting in the back seat from our daughter. 

Once we arrived at Sparrow Hospital they got us checked in and put us in a triage room.  The nurse came in and after several minutes of searching was able to find both babies' heartbeats.  I didn't know that this would be the last time I would ever hear that beautiful sound.  They hooked me up to a monitor and we waited.  Micah and Gwenevere sat in a chair and watched TV while Gwenevere snacked on some Pirate Booty.  She began to get restless so Micah took her out to run around.  One of the Resident Doctors came in to to check me.  She began the exam and quickly stopped.  She calmly explained to me that one of the babies' amniotic sacs had prolapsed and was bulging out past my cervix.  She said that she wasn't sure why it was happening but she explained that we did nothing that our twins would be born in the next few days.  She also explained that because I was only 22 weeks and 5 days pregnant they would certainly not survive.  They tilted my bed so that my feet were above my head in hopes that the sac would go back inside the cervix.  Micah and Gwenevere came back in our room and I began to sob while trying to explain to Micah what was going on.  He again left the room to contact my parents so they could pick up Gwenevere.

My family all came to the hospital.  My Mom, Dad and sister Anna were all there.  My Dad took Gwenevere home with him and my Mom and Anna stayed with Micah and me.  They decided to do an ultrasound to check on our twins and also to get a better idea as to what was going on.  Before I was wheeled down they gave me a medication to hopefully stop any contractions.  By the time the ultrasound tech was ready for us my contractions had begun to get more intense and more frequent.  She had me roll onto my back and all throughout the ultrasound my contractions were coming faster and stronger, about every 2-3 minutes.  I could barely bring myself to look at the ultrasound screen.  I knew our babies were strong and healthy, but not strong enough to survive being born.  When the tech was done they wheeled me back upstairs to our triage room.  

Once we were back in triage the on call OB had arrived and started discussing all of our options with us.  He kept saying "If you were just two weeks further along we could...", it was so painful to hear that if only this had happened a couple of weeks later we might be in a different boat.  We knew that at 22 weeks they had a zero chance of survival and wanted to do everything we could to stop labor.  They told me that they would do what they could but that labor is like a snowball rolling down a hill, sometimes it gets too far along to stop. The OB offered trying an IV of Magnesium Sulfate which had some potential risks to me, but I didn't care.  I told them to start it right away.  They moved us all to a Labor and Delivery room and started me on the Magnesium Sulfate.  Within several minutes my contractions slowed and seemed to stop.  For about an hour we once again had hope that our precious babies might make it.  After a little more than an hour I felt a mild contractions, then another.  Suddenly labor picked right back up where it had left off.  Strong contractions every 2 minutes and I was feeling an urge to push.  I said to Micah and the Doctor that I knew our babies were coming.  They stopped the IV and tilted my bed back to a normal position.  I held Micah's hand and my sister's hand to help get through the contractions, but I didn't want to deal with the physical pain anymore.  I asked for an epidural and shortly after the Anesthesiologist was in our room.  She had me sign a form and then administered my epidural.

Not long after I got the epidural I felt strong pressure.  I reached down and I could feel something coming out.  It was our son still in his amniotic sac.  We called for the Doctors and they helped me deliver our son. He was born at 7:05pm and he weighed 1lb. 4oz.  The Doctor asked what his name was.  Micah and I hadn't decided on a name yet, but we had liked James as it is Micah's middle name.  We quickly agreed that our son's name was James.  He was handed to me wrapped in a blanket.  He was moving around and I could see him opening and closing his tiny hands.  I held him close to me and told him over and over how much I loved him.  Micah and I both kissed his warm soft cheeks and we cried our tears onto him.  I couldn't believe how beautiful he was, he even had a full head of dark hair.  Even at just 22 weeks he was one of the cutest babies I had ever seen.  After a while of holding him I passed James over to Micah and he sat and held him.  Several minutes later James died in Micah's arms.  Soon after it was time to deliver our daughter. She was born at 7:40 pm and weighed just over 1lb.  She was a little smaller than James, but she looked just as beautiful and perfect.  Unlike her brother she didn't have any hair, just a bald little head.  I got to hold her right away.  Micah and I decided to name her Penelope.  She gently wiggled in my arms and we told her how much we loved her.  I savored every moment with her and I couldn't believe how much I loved her already.   I kept telling her how sorry I was.  After a while I passed her to Micah and he held her and whispered loving words to her as she died in his arms.

Looking back on James and Penelope's birthday I am thankful for many things.  I am thankful that my Mom, Dad & Sister got to witness the birth of our beautiful son and daughter.  I am thankful that we got to hold them and tell them how much we loved them.  I am thankful that James and Penelope died in the loving arms of the Dad, I can't imagine a warmer or safer place to die.  I am thankful that their death was peaceful.  I am thankful that even though it was only for a short time, we got to meet them.  There are so many things I wish I could change.  I wish I was still pregnant.  I wish we were painting their nursery instead of packing away baby items.  I wish Gwenevere could have met her brother and sister.  I wish they could all grow up together.  Every day I try to remember to good things, the things that I am thankful for instead of the things that I can't change.

Our Dearest Penelope & James

Our Dearest Penelope & James,
We loved you from the moment we knew of your existence.  With each day that passed our love for you grew.  We looked forward to seeing you wiggling around on the ultrasound screen at the Doctor’s office and hearing your little hearts beat was music to our ears. As you got bigger feeling your kicks and punches through your Mom’s stomach was amazing.  We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be blessed with two babies.
The time you spend in our lives was short, but the impact you had on our hearts was immense.  The moment you were born you were placed in the loving arms of your mother.  We whispered to you how much we loved you and kissed your sweet faces.  You left this world in the loving arms of your father.   If you experienced nothing else in your short life, we hope you felt our intense love for you.
We mourn your death.  We are saddened that we don’t get to watch you grow up and get to know you. We also mourn for our family.  Gwenevere will never have the joy of playing with her little brother and sister.  Our parents have lost two of their precious grandchildren.  Our siblings have lost a niece and a nephew.  So many lives have been touched.  You have so many special people that love you.
In these past days we think of you often.  Your sweet spirits have touched us in a way that we will never forget.  We love you now and always, you are our daughter and son and no amount of days passing will ever change that.  Our dearest James & Penelope, know that you are loved.
Mom & Dad