Friday, June 28, 2013

A Journey With No Destination

I told my husband today that I am tired.  I am tired of feeling sad, I am tired of missing my twins, I am tired of trying to hold myself together.  He reminded me that this journey really sucks because there is no end to it.  As time goes on yes, I will continue to feel better.  My heart will be lighter and the pain with be less intense.  I won't have to try so hard and I will cry less tears.  But the truth is that I will never stop missing Penelope and James.

Relatively speaking, I am not that far from my loss.  It has been 10 months since their death and on some days it feels like a lifetime away.  But it has not even been one year yet.  I look forward to years from now when I can look back and remember the good.  I can remember how amazing it was to carry twins for 22 weeks and feel them kicking inside me.  I can remember how much James and Penelope changed me for the better.  How they taught me to truly love and appreciate life.  They were a gift.  But right now, today, it is hard to see that gift.  It is a gift wrapped in layer after layer after layer of pain, tears, sorrow, and guilt.  It is a gift I have just begun to unwrap.

This week marked the arrival of a new baby into our family.  My sister in law gave birth to a baby girl.  I am incredibly happy for them and so excited to meet my new niece.  But this baby's arrival comes with mixed emotions for me.  It is a reminder that my last birth experience ended in death.  I want to go to the hospital and visit.  I want to hold this brand new life in my arms and breath in the sweet smell of newborn baby.  I know that I am not yet strong enough.  I will meet my niece in a few weeks when things have settled down.  I feel terrible that I can't pull it together enough to be there, I want to be okay.

I don't know when I will feel more joy than sorrow.  I don't know if it will change if and when I have another baby.  I don't know if I am forever jaded by my experience.   I hope not.  I have always loved babies, so much that I chose caring for them as my career until I became a stay at home mom.  Until then I will be as strong as I can be.  Babies are everywhere and they are so adorable that it's impossible to dislike them.  I will continue on my journey through grief, my journey with no destination.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Girl Who Made Me a Mom; Gwenevere

As I begin to write the story of Gwenevere's birth I realize that it has been two and a half years since she miraculously arrived into this world.  Some of the details are fuzzy, and as I was hardly watching the clock I'm sure the times are off.  But the story of how I became a mother is one worth telling.

One month before our first wedding anniversary Micah and I decided that we were ready to start trying to conceive.  After two failed months I was due for my annual OB appointment.  They first ran a pregnancy test to make sure I was in fact not pregnant.  I joked with the nurse not to believe the results because it was April Fools Day.  She came back and told me the test was negative, a fact I already knew as I had taken a test that morning.  The appointment went as expected and I left with the anticipation that the next time I was back in that office I may be expecting a baby.  A week went by and I started to feel kind of crappy.  I was bloated, cramping and having light spotting.  Because my cramps were very severe on one side I started to freak out that I could be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.  I went back to the Doctor who began our appointment with another pregnancy test which I again knew would be negative because I had again taken one that morning.  She popped back in the room several minutes later with a smile on her face saying that is was positive.  Holy Shit.  We did an ultrasound to rule out ectopic pregnancy and I got some blood drawn for who knows what.  I left the office that day a pregnant woman.

I found out the news at 3pm and I knew Micah would be home from work by 5.  So I ran over to Petsmart to have collars made for all three of our pets announcing the pregnancy.  This is a family tradition as Micah proposed to me using Winston, my cat with a collar asking "Will you marry me".  So cute right?  Anyway, I got the collars made and brought them home.  I put each collar on the appropriate animal and waited for Micah's arrival home.  He came home and of course I had to suggest a pet tag treasure hunt of sorts, buy the time he got to Olive and her collar said "A Fuerst Baby Is On The Way",  he got the picture.  We were elated!

By the time our next OB appointment rolled around we realized that we weren't happy with that practice.  It was suggested to us by my Mom that we check out a Midwife that actually delivers at a hospital.  It sounded perfect.  We started asking around and we heard nothing but rave reviews about Sameerah.  We called her office and crossed our fingers that she would be taking new patients.  What luck, we were in!  Our first appointment with her was amazing.  She was so incredibly calm and easygoing that we couldn't help but relax.  We asked her a million questions which she answered knowledgeably and with short but adequate answers.  We felt comfortable with her.  I particularly loved that I would see her for every appointment and it didn't matter who was on call when I went into labor, she would be there.  We were sold and we became a Midwife family.

My pregnancy with Gwenevere was fairly uneventful.  My belly slowly grew bigger each month as my heartburn grew in intensity.  I loved resting my hands on my belly and feeling this growing baby moving around inside of me.  I had the typical 1st trimester nausea as well as extreme fatigue all throughout the nine months.  Every appointment we went to we got to hear her little heart beat and at 20 weeks we got find out we were having a girl.  Which was information we received by cutting open a bright pink gender reveal cake.  As I grew bigger so did my discomfort, but mostly I felt joy.  I felt like a walking miracle.  

Micah and I took birth classes as many couple do.  Because we had the goal of an intervention free birthing experience we took a natural childbirth class from an amazing teacher.  Throughout those six weeks I learned more about labor and delivery than I thought was possible.  Birthing positions, breathing techniques, how to cope with pain, how many medical interventions are routinely offered at a hospital and how to say no.  Plus so many other things that are just too graphic to go into.  Not only did we feel prepared after completing the classes, we also had made several friends that we are still friends with today.  We had also decided that we wanted to hire a Doula to help us through the unknown terrain of childbirth.  We met with only one woman, but she seemed perfect.  She agreed to be on call for our big day. I didn't know what my labor and delivery would play out to be, but I knew I was armed with information and ready for anything they could through at us, well, anything except for what they did throw at us.

Monday morning, November 29th I was 38 weeks and 5 days pregnant.  I went to work as usual.  I went to the bathroom and noticed I was bleeding.  I mildly freaked out and decided it was best if I went to the hospital.  Micah met me there and we checked in.  They checked baby's heart rate and it looked good.  They checked me and I was slightly dialated, 1-2 centimeters.  Then they sent me home and told me to come back if labor started.   The next day I started to have contractions.  Not very intense or frequent, but painful.  By 3pm I called Micah and told him to come home, I was going to need some help.  By early evening the pain was getting intense and I wasn't sure how much longer we should wait before going to the hospital so we decided to just go and get everything checked out.  They hooked me up to an IV, a heart monitor for baby and a contraction monitor for me.  Within an hour I was unable to lay in bed.  I was pacing the floor in almost constant pain.  It didn't really seem to feel like the contractions that I had heard about, I though you got breaks.  I was crying when the nurse finally came back in to check on us.  She looked over my contraction monitor and over the past hour and said I hadn't had a single contraction.  She instructed me to give a urine sample, maybe it was just a bladder infection.  I did as I was told.  We waited another 2 hours before the lab results came back inconclusive.  The nurse was confident that because I wasn't registering any contractions and I was barely dilated that I was clearly not in labor.  After over three hours in the hospital and never even being seen by a Doctor or Midwife I was sent home and told to take a Tylenol PM for pain.

We got home and I did as I was told.  I actually fell asleep on the couch at 11pm with Micah.  About fifteen minutes later I suggested we try to go to bed.  I laid in bed for about 2 minutes before I realized the pain was too much.  I quietly got into the shower and let Micah sleep.  I stayed in the shower for over an hour and the pain was so much better.  As soon as I got out the intensity cranked right back up to a 10.  I woke Micah up and he paced around the house with me for a while.  When I collapsed to the kitchen floor on my hand and knees howling like a "wild animal" in Micah's words, he made the executive decision that we were going back to the hospital and not leaving until we had a baby in our arms.

By the time we left is was almost 2 a.m. so the the roads were pretty empty.  Still in the panic of getting his howling wife to the hospital on time Micah missed the turn and had to pull a u-turn.  Once there we quickly got checked in again.  This time I could barely walk or sit or lay down.  As I changed into my hospital gown I felt a gush as my amniotic sac broke all over the floor.  I honestly didn't care at all.  The nurse practically had to threaten me to lay down on the table to get the monitors back on me.  There on the screen was my baby's heartbeat and one contraction after another after another after another.  They were right on top of each other.  She went to check how far dialated I was and she quickly popped up and called for the Midwife.  Gwenevere was already crowning.  They moved me to a delivery room where I asked for pain meds over and over.  I didn't want an epidural, just a little something to take the edge off.  When Sameerah, our Midwife arrived the nurse told her I had been asking for pain relief.  She just looked at me and said "It's time, you can do this".

Right around this time which was about 3:30 in the morning my Mom showed up as well as our Doula.  At this point it was just me getting through the contractions.  Micah fed me ice chips and my Mom held a cool towel on my forehead.  I suddenly began to feel a strong urge to push.  I had heard about this urge to push but it was much more than I had anticipated.  I remember it being like vomiting.  When you have a strong urge to vomit, you can't really stop it, it already happening.  That's what pushing was like.  My Doula set up a mirror so that I could actually see Gwenevere being born.  We each push I saw her dark head of hair coming closer into this world.  After about 40 minutes of pushing she was out.

Our midwife handed me our messy, slippery little miracle and I immediately began to cry tears of joy.  I had never felt such a joyful moment in my life. I was holding in my hands a child that my husband and I had created.  I tried to reach down and kiss her, but she was still attached to the umbilical cord.  Sameerah offered for Micah to cut it and he proudly did.  I laid her on my chest and I just wanted to stay in that moment forever.  I looked into Micah's tearful eyes and said "Thank you".  To which he responded, "You did all of the hard work, thank you".

In the end my birth plan didn't quite pan out as I had hoped it would.  I never got to practice my breathing techniques, or relaxation methods, or different positions.  I never even really knew I was in labor until it was almost over.  But what really matters is that I had a healthy baby.  She is my first child and I am thankful for her every minute of every day. If Gwenevere learns nothing else from me, I hope she knows that she is loved, every fiber of her being is loved, every moment of every day.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Story of "Poppy"; A Quiet Grief

When James and Penelope died, I wanted to shout it to the world.  All of our friends and family knew that we were pregnant with twins and when they were gone it seemed appropriate that everyone knew.  The day that we got home from the hospital I put a post on facebook and I hoped that the word would spread.  I had no interest in making phone calls to everyone we knew to announce their death.  I also desperately wanted to avoid an awkward conversation with someone that hadn't yet heard that our children had died.  My family was very helpful in telling friends and family the news.  My pregnancy had been out there, and so was my loss.
My first pregnancy loss was very different.  I was pregnant and then not pregnant, and most people never even knew.  I have heard of women sensing that they are pregnant long before a pregnancy test could confirm, I always took this to be hogwash.  How could someone sense a pregnancy the size of a poppy seed?  Well, on my 31st birthday I experienced this for myself.  Without going into details about the conception, I will just say that I lay in bed the night that it happened knowing I was pregnant.  It seemed crazy to me, but the next morning I went to the pharmacy and got my prenatal vitamin prescription refilled and bought a pregnancy test to be taken in a few weeks.  I stopped drinking alcohol and continued my life as a pregnant woman.  I had already calculated the baby's due date in my head and I would joke with Micah about our little June bug on the way.

The first day that I could I took the pregnancy test and sure enough it was positive.  Micah was at work so I sent him a picture of the plus sign and told him we would talk when he got home.  At this time our daughter Gwenevere was 10 months old.  We had never planned having children that close together, but we were excited at the prospect of another baby.  When Micah got home that evening we looked in my "What to Expect..." book to read about the progress of our baby.  By our calculations I was 4 weeks along and our baby had a heart the size of a poppy seed.  From that moment on we lovingly referred to our baby as Poppy.

As the weeks went on I was surprised that I wasn't experiencing the same symptoms I had with my first pregnancy.  I didn't have pregnancy sickness or fatigue, I actually felt pretty good.  The lack of symptoms started to worry me, then the worry turned into panic.  At seven weeks we had our first Midwife appointment.  I told her about my worry and she said we could do a quick ultrasound to make sure everything looked on track.  We got to see Poppy right there on the screen, wiggling around like a little tadpole.  The ultrasound tech did some measurements and found the heartbeat which we got to hear.  They told us our baby was measuring at 5 weeks and that our calculations must have been a bit off.  I tried to explain that we were not wrong, I knew the day it happened.  The Midwife said it is common to be off by a week of two.  We left our appointment with Micah feeling assured that we were on track to have a healthy baby.  I still felt unsure.  The baby was measuring small, and from what I did research on, the heartbeat was slow for what it should have been.  I went right back to feeling like I was carrying a failing pregnancy.

As I got closer the the end of the 1st trimester I began to gain some confidence that maybe Poppy would be okay.  I started to plan ahead and actually get excited about welcoming a new baby into our family.  When I was 10 weeks along we had Gwenevere's 1st birthday party.  It was a great day with our families and friends celebrating with us.  We had the party at my parents house and when it was time to go Micah packed up the car with gifts and I went to the bathroom one last time before heading home.  I noticed some spotting and my heart sank.  I didn't say anything, I just got in the car and drove home wondering to myself if this was the end.

We got home and I continued to spot throughout the evening.  I called our Midwife and she assured me that as long as it was light spotting it was normal in the 1st trimester, if it got worse I could go to the E.R.  By the next day it seemed worse so we decided to go to the hospital to get checked out.  We dropped Gwenevere off with friends and drove to the emergency room.  At this point I was pretty sure that Poppy was gone, I just needed confirmation.  I was assured by both a nurse and a doctor that bleeding is very common in the 1st trimester and it wasn't necessarily a sign of miscarriage.  After quite a long wait, we were wheeled down to the ultrasound room.  Before the tech started she informed us that she wouldn't be able to tell us anything, we would have to wait to speak to the doctor.  After several minutes of her looking around she turned on the sound to listen for a heartbeat.  I will never forget the loudest silence I had ever heard.  She finished up and started to wheel us back.  She put her hand on my shoulder and said "I'm so sorry, I wasn't able to find a heartbeat.  I just didn't want you to have to wait for the bad news".  I nodded my head and began to cry.

The next day was Monday and we went to our Midwife's practice.  We met with an O.B. to discuss our options.  We could either wait and let my body continue to miscarry, or we could schedule a D & C and they could run some tests to see if anything detectable went wrong.  I couldn't imagine dragging out this physical and emotionally painful process any longer so we scheduled surgery for the next day.  I had already called into work that day and I called back to take the next day off as well.  We called our family members that we had originally shared our pregnancy news with to tell them the bad news.

I went back to work the day following my surgery, it was December 1st, Gwenevere's 1st birthday.  I told my co-workers that I had had a "women's issue" and that I had to have a small procedure so I wasn't able to lift any of the children for the next few days.  I wanted to come in crying, to let everyone know how badly I was hurting.  But I didn't, I kept it to myself.  I'm sure some people speculated, but I never talked about it.

Looking back I know I did what I felt was best at the time.  I just wish I could have been braver.  I wish I could have talked about it openly.  Although Poppy had only existed for a short time, it was a real loss to me.  I had made plans for that baby, I wanted that baby.  I still wonder from time to time what Poppy would have been like.  He or she would be just over a year old now.  If Poppy would have survived we never would have had Penelope and James.  Life would be different.  I still grieve that loss, and I think there will always be a place in my heart for Poppy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Summer of Gwenevere

Summer is my favorite time of year.  I love the sunshine, the heat, the sound of children laughing and playing, summer rain.  I love fireflies at dusk, iced tea, flowers, crickets chirping at night, the smell of sunscreen on my skin.  I love everything about this time of year.

I remember last summer very clearly.  I was just coming out of severe pregnancy sickness and beginning to have that 2nd trimester energy burst.  I had big plans last summer for Gwenevere and I.  After all, it was my first summer being a stay at home Mom and my last summer with only one child.  I often referred to it as "The Summer of Gwenevere".  I felt a little sad that it would be the last time that Gwenevere would have me all to herself.  I knew that by the time the next summer rolled around I would be crazy busy caring for my twins and I would have less time for her.  I was also excited to see her in the role of big sister.

Despite the massive heat wave that seemed to last for months, we spent most of our time outdoors.  We went through bottles of sunscreen and spent most of our time barefoot in the grass, playing in the sprinkler, or decorating our driveway with sidewalk chalk.  We would visit our neighborhood playground and make occasional trips to the local splash pad and zoo.  Then exhausted from play we would both take long afternoon naps in the cool air conditioned house.  As soon as nap time was over we would head back outside until Micah got home from work.  It was a perfect summer, everything I hoped it would be.

Our perfect summer came to a screeching halt one Sunday afternoon.  I went into labor at 22 weeks and 5 days.  Our son and daughter were born that evening and died shortly after.  The next day we came home with empty arms and heavy hearts.  Although it was only mid-August, summer was over.  No more park or sprinkler, no more playing in the yard for hours.  Our family temporarily became reclusive.  We didn't leave the house unless we had to.  Our television was permanently turned on.  We locked summer out to begin our long grieving process.  I know during this time I was not a great mother to my living child.  I was just there.  Summer blurred into Fall, then Winter and Spring. 

Now Summer is here again and I find myself once again in a "Summer of Gwenevere".  She is my only living child and I am so full of love for her.  We have already gone through one bottle of sunscreen and our driveway looks more decorated everyday.  We are frequent visitors of the park and zoo.  I look forward to everyday that I get to spend with her and I love planning our activities.  While I would give anything to have James and Penelope here with us, I know I can't.  So I am choosing to be thankful for another wonderful season with my amazing toddler.  I am so lucky to be her Mom and I am grateful everyday for the time that I get to spend with her.