Worth It

Waiting 20 months to see those two pinks lines. To feel that joy and fear all at once. To know she was on her way. To hope that I would hold her one day.

“Morning” sickness for 17 weeks. Waking up and needing to eat immediately so I wouldn’t feel sick all day. Sucking on peppermint candy sticks to keep my stomach settled after lunch. Wrapping up all, warm and cozy, with a box of Goldfish crackers every night at 8 p.m. because it was the only thing I could keep down.

Exhaustion. Nearly falling asleep at my desk each day after lunch. In bed by 9 p.m. because I couldn’t keep my eyes open for a second longer.

Tailbone pain that lasted from around 16 weeks until…well, I still have it on bad days. At first it was so bad I could hardly sit and once I was sitting, I couldn’t get back up. A literal pain the in behind.

Carpal tunnel when I woke in the mornings. Fingers curled in tight, hard to open. Wrists that ached throughout the day, typing away at work, trying to find the right position to cause the least pain.

12 hours of induced labor knowing I wouldn’t hear her cry. Nurse her. Take her home.

And even so, it was worth it. To hold Joanna. To kiss her and count her toes. To sing to her. To rock her. To stroke her cheeks. To hold her hand.

Totally. Worth. It.

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When Days Are Harder

I think as a loss mom, I expect every day to be hard. Getting out of bed without a baby to take care of is hard. Coming home to a quiet house where your baby should be a happy, giggling 4.5-month-old is hard. Seeing your friends go through pregnancy and have healthy babies when your baby died is hard.

But what I don’t expect are days when things really should be only routinely difficult, yet they turn out to be extremely, surprisingly hard. Miserably, in fact.

On Friday I went to the ob-gyn for my annual check-up. I figured I should go, since the appointment would be fully covered by my insurance as preventive care and I would need the testing completed if we decide to re-visit the reproductive endocrinologist (where the exam would not be covered).

I knew it would be hard visiting the office, it always is. But of course on this particular day, there was a waiting room full of moms-to-be. All of those pregnant bellies, probably most unsuspecting of what could happen, happy to be there and getting to hear their babies’ heartbeats. Not only was the room full, but my doctor was running 20 minutes late. So there I was…sitting for a half hour wishing I were there to hear my baby’s heartbeat too.

When the nurse finally called me back, she recognized me from all of my prenatal appointments.

“Oh, hi! How are you? How’s the baby?” she asked me.

Ummm. The baby? Isn’t that the purpose of a chart? So that you can see before you meet with a patient what is going on with them? This was my third visit to the office since Joanna passed and certainly my file had that note in it.

I wanted to respond kindly to the nurse, but I was so immediately angered by her question that I said, “I guess you didn’t look at my chart – she was stillborn in December.”

She apologized and then I said, “To answer your question, I suppose she is doing much better than either of us.” I mean, Heaven is a better place to be, even if I wish she were here with me instead.

That was maybe a bit snarky, and I might have felt a little bad. But seriously. We shouldn’t have to go through things like this… Haven’t we been through enough?

To top off the harder-than-usual day, one of the lullabies I sang for J was playing as I waited for the doctor in the exam room. I don’t know how I had the strength to get through the experience and the rest of the day without crying, but I did.

When days are harder than I expect them to be, I usually want to close myself up in my room and cry or sleep or at least just be alone. When days are harder than usual, I often find myself wishing I could go back in time – that I could figure out the moment things started to go wrong and change them. When days are harder than I’ve planned for, I try to round up the strength to push through, to tell my story, to live for Joanna, to go on even when it feels impossible.

I’m thankful that those harder days come less often.


Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have strength. -Napoleon Bonaparte

Holding on to Hope

I said to my friend today that, “Hope is like a double edged sword. You know? It carries you through a lot of tough stuff, but at the same time, when you hold it that closely it really hurts later on.”

I think this is applicable to many areas in life.

Let’s talk relationships. You want to get married or want your marriage to work. You’re holding on to hope that you can make it work, that things will get better, that you’ve finally found the one…or whatever your situation may be. That hope can pull you through the tough times, through waiting for the right person to come along. But when the relationship doesn’t work out, and you’ve held hope so closely, your heart is broken.

Babies. I was holding on to hope that I would get pregnant someday. Then I did. Then only a few days later I wasn’t anymore. But I held on…I hoped that it would happen again. With hope we went to the fertility specialist to see if there was an issue. PCOS, they said. And in the midst of testing and hoping, we found out we were pregnant again. So I pulled hope in a little closer and I said this would be it – this would be our take-home baby. And that little one grew and grew, until she didn’t.

My tight grasp cut me like a knife. Broke me in a million pieces. Pieces I am still cleaning up.

I feel like Joanna was our hope, and I had to let go of her. I had to give her back. I had to leave her alone in that hospital. Pretty much the hardest thing I ever did, maybe the hardest thing I’ll ever do. I left the hospital feeling hopeless, and helpless. And empty.

As we grieved, we knew we wanted to have more children. Somehow, little by little hope came back. I reeled it in when I discovered it was there. And here I am, holding so tightly it burns. And with each passing month, my heart is getting tired of holding. With each new pregnancy announcement, my heart is losing its grip. With each nightmare, hope fades a little. The tighter I try to grasp it, the more it hurts.

It carries me through, but it cuts deep. Today, I want to let go. Let hope go. I don’t want the pain.

But I will grasp it tighter. I will pull it closer. If hope is Joanna, if hope is her sisters and brothers, maybe some pain is worth the holding on.

Have You Noticed?

Sometimes, I wonder how observant people are. Do you?

Do you wonder if people notice things as small as: you trimmed your hair a half inch; you lost 3 pounds; you changed your nail color; you wore mascara today?

I wonder if people notice seemingly small things that are actually big: working late at your job not just because it’s the right thing to do (small thing) but because you don’t really want to go home and be alone in your quiet house with your loud thoughts (big thing); you’re clearly angry today (small thing) but this is a 180 from the last six months when you have been so sad (big thing); you’re texting with friends about babies, fertility and their TTC journeys (small thing) but your responses get shorter and have much less enthusiasm every day (big thing).

(I also wonder if Bill will notice the mess I made all over the stove because I didn’t notice dinner was boiling over as I am writing this…)

Somedays, I want to yell at people and say, “Can’t you see this is insensitive? Let’s not talk about it.” But at the same time, I don’t want people to walk on eggshells around me, so I tend to bite my tongue. I’m sure this hurts me more than it would hurt the others if I told them how I was feeling. But again, eggshells. We don’t want that!

Along this journey over the last 26 weeks and three days I have tried not to be angry. I have fought so hard not to be bitter. I think I was succeeding. But three days ago it changed. I don’t really understand why. I’m just being honest here – I’m angry. Maybe even a little bitter.

I’m angry a lot. I’ve noticed it. I wonder if others have… It’s not that I don’t want to talk about babies or to look at them or to see my friends’ kids or pregnancy announcements on Facebook or whatever the conversation may be, it’s just that it’s hard. And just because it’s been six months does not mean that it’s easier than it was before.

It will never be easy.

You know what else I wonder? If the cleaning crew at my office notices that I have ultrasound pictures and that they will never change.

Trying Again

I’m not meaning to be rude, but I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to ask if Bill and I are “trying again” yet. It’s a deeply personal question that now comes with so many emotions tied so tightly to it. On the one hand, if we are not ready, then you’ve probably upset us by asking. On the other, if we are ready for another baby, the question “are you trying again?” doesn’t fit the situation. Of course this is just my take, but I think it’s an angle most people don’t see.

I was reading a few articles and blog posts recently about “trying again” after stillbirth.* When I read those words, it always hits me deep down – it’s not really “trying again.” Every month for 18 months, we tried again and again. And again. Again. And finally conceived last April. Then it all came to a very abrupt end only a week later in miscarriage. Given the all clear by the doctors to “try again” during my next cycle, we did. And then again the next. And the next. And there I was, pregnant, again. This was truly “trying again”, because our first glory baby didn’t “take” or “stick” or whatever you want to call it.

But Joanna did.

She “took” and she “stuck” and she grew.

Joanna, my miracle. Nearly two years of trying again, month after month. One miscarriage. And there, two pink lines. I was so excited. I wrapped up the Disney baby clothes we’d purchased a year before in NYC (an act of hope, that good things were coming our way). I stuffed the pregnancy test in the bottom. I set the bag on the table and waited for Bill to get home from work. As I sat, I doubted. This baby could be gone in a week as well. This baby could make it 8 or 9 weeks and then be gone. What if this baby is not mine to keep?

Back track. I took the items out of the bag I’d so carefully wrapped them in. Put it all away. Sat on the couch, positive test in hand, begging God for this baby to stay with me. Anxious. Scared. A wreck. Those words don’t quite cut it.

When Bill finally got home from work, there was no gift bag. There wasn’t even a cheer. A smile. Not until I could see his face react. I handed him the test. He looked at me, a little unsure. I said, “We are having a baby,” which came out more like a question than an exclamation. He smiled, calmly, laughed a little, and hugged me.

His smile said, “It’s OK!” And it said, “Be brave, my love.” This baby is going to make it.

And she did. For a while.

About 26 weeks. The best 6.5 months of my life.

But here is the simple truth of stillbirth: when your baby dies, you don’t “try again.”

You knew this baby. You saw this baby’s face. Saw her heart beating. Saw her arms and legs flailing around inside you.

You felt her moving. Kicking. Punching. Rolling. She grew, and you grew with her.

You held her on her birthday. You counted fingers and toes. You stroked her little nose and you cuddled and kissed and rocked her. You sang her special lullaby.

“Trying again” is something you do when you haven’t met your child. When you haven’t held her in your arms. When you haven’t had to decide to cremate your daughter. To have or not have a service or memorial. When you haven’t made a memory box full of sympathy cards.

“Trying again” is for when you haven’t spent the last five months cuddling a stuffed elephant because you need something of hers to fill your aching, empty arms. Not for those who labor and deliver in the same physical pain as any other pregnancy, but in terrible emotional anguish as well. Not for those who enter the hospital full and leave empty. Who go home to empty nurseries. Empty cribs.

“Trying again” is not for those who have to prevent milk from coming in with compression, rather than praying there would be enough to fulfill tiny infant needs.

To me, “try again” is for those who don’t know – the innocent. You’re a mother from conception, but you don’t know what it feels like [what it is, how you’ll miss] holding your baby in your arms.

Joanna is our firstborn and not replaceable by “trying again.” Any other children are siblings; they won’t bring Joana back. They won’t fill the hole that is a permanent part of my heart.

Finally, to me, “trying again” feels like an implication of failure. It’s taken me a long time to work beyond the feelings that I was the failure, so I don’t need this type of language to take me back to where I don’t want to be.

I did not fail. Joanna was perfect. I love her. There is no failure in that.

So, when we do discuss more children, we ask “should we have another baby?” or “are we ready to have baby brother/sister?” – but never “are we ready to try again?”


*Please note: I am not meaning to offend or upset anyone. These are my personal feelings based on my motherhood journey through infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth. Every situation is different. Every pregnancy is different. Each person will feel differently.

For Mother’s Day

In all honesty, I didn’t want to blog about Mother’s Day. I thought about putting something on Facebook, but that didn’t seem quite the right thing for me. I’m not having a bad Mother’s Day, but certainly not the Mother’s Day I was expecting. I was going to blog tomorrow, a reflection on the day, but felt that I couldn’t let the day slip away without doing for myself what I have wanted others to do for me today: acknowledge myself as a mom.

I am a mom. And though I may not get to parent Joanna, I get to love her, forever. She is mine and I will always be her mom. She gave that gift to me and I am so thankful. Though I can’t walk down the hall and scoop her out of her crib and cuddle her, though I will never see her take her first steps, go off to kindergarten, graduate high school, dance at her wedding, I will always have some precious moments with her.

The first time I got morning sickness.

The first time I craved avocado.

The first time I felt her move, and the second and the third, and even the last, because that was special too.

The times we heard her heartbeat and saw her little face.

Those 12 hours of labor, and though she arrived silently, she was mine. She was ours.

She made me a mom. I am proud of that. I am proud of me.

And I am proud of all the other mamas out there.

I am proud of the mamas who have their babies to hold tight. Don’t let go.

I am proud of the mamas-to-be. Be vigilant and cherish your pregnancy.

I am proud of the mamas in waiting. The ones who know deep in their hearts they will have children some day. The ones who have just started trying to have a family, and those who have been waiting, hoping, aching and praying for years. Don’t give up.

I am proud of the mamas of babies who’ve grown and moved away. Especially proud of mine – without her, I could not have been the mom I needed to be for Joanna.

And I am proud of the baby-loss mamas. Whether you’ve lost your baby to miscarriage, stillbirth, or sometime after they were born, you’ll always be a mom. Your arms may be empty, but your heart can still be full in remembering your baby(ies). It may take a while. I’m not there myself. But I know it can happen and I know it will happen.

So, mamas of all types, I hope you were good to yourselves today. I hope your families were good to you, too. No matter where you are in your motherhood journey, you are a mom, you deserve to know it and you deserve to celebrate it.

Happy Mother’s Day!
XOXO,
Carol

P.S. I wasn’t sure I would ever share this picture publicly. It’s a moment of both great joy and great sorrow (and messy hair, but who cares, right?). Because it’s Mother’s Day, and one of the few pictures of my little family, today is the day. Joanna, I am so proud to be your mama, today and every day.

joanna

TTC, BBT, PCOS?!

A year ago today I was pregnant. 6 days earlier I had gotten the first positive pregnancy test of my life. It was the most exciting and wonderful time. 

We had been trying to conceive (TTC) for almost 18 months and couldn’t believe we were finally going to be parents. We had told my parents the day after we found out, because as luck would have it they were with us that same weekend. 

Because it was taking so long to conceive and because I was taking my basal body temperature (BBT) and knew I wasn’t ovulating most months, it was really quite a shock!

That week was sweet and scary. Knowing there was a baby was exciting. But I was also feeling like something was not right. Like I was cramping. Like this baby was not to be born. 

Upon first check of my beta levels, I was definitely pregnant. The second check didn’t look promising and then the bleeding started. 

A year ago tomorrow. No longer pregnant.

That first loss was so hard to handle. Thankfully some of our best friends came to town that weekend and were with us as our hearts were breaking. 

This loss pushed us to see a reproductive endocrinologist (ER) – the fertility doctor. He actually said that everything looked really healthy but did diagnose me with PCOS. This confirmed my suspicions since I already knew I wasn’t ovulating regularly. 

The ER gave us options. Try on our own for a few more months but add metformin to help sustain a pregnancy, use mild fertility drugs to induce ovulation or use mild fertility drugs plus IUI. Because my health insurance didn’t cover any treatment, we opted to add metformin and wait it out a few more months. 

Somehow we conceived Joanna naturally. I wasn’t even a week into starting the metformin. A miracle at just around the two year mark of TTC. 

And now, here we are again. Hoping for miracles as we think about our next TTC journey. Will it take another 18 months to give Joanna a sibling?

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week…so on this first anniversary of my first loss, I just wanted to share a little more of our story. 

A Breath of Fresh Air

Jane Austen once wrote, “Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”

While she was writing of romantic love, I have found a lot of meaning to this quote in the disappointment that is pregnancy loss, that is a mother losing her child.

When we miscarried our first baby, I cried for days. How could we have waited so long for a child and struggled with fertility nearly two years only to be disappointed days later? I was devastated. I was hurting. I felt alone.

But in my time of pain and sorrow, friends who had experienced the same kind of loss were there for me. From my mom, to my sister-in-law, to friends far and wide who had lost one, two, or more pregnancies. Their kind words and encouragement and shared experiences helped to ease the heartache and bring some hope back into my life.

When we miraculously conceived Joanna only 3 months later it seemed like she was going to be our rainbow baby. Flash forward nearly 26 weeks. When a doctor tells you, “There’s no heartbeat,” it literally breaks your heart. I say literally because you feel it inside your chest ripping in two and then it crashes to the pit of your stomach into smaller pieces. Heartbreak really does physically manifest as chest pain, among other things.

I cried every day for months. I still cry most days. But the outpouring of love and support and prayers from our friends and family has been what helps us get by. One day at a time. Or more accurately, one moment at a time.

Over the weekend I had the chance to visit a friend. A dear, sweet friend. It had been a long time since I had seen her; we hadn’t seen each other the whole time I was pregnant. She has not experienced the same kind of loss, but this deep, precious connection that we have had for so many years – it was the balm I needed. Her sweet cards and consistent phone calls and texts have been coming to me on the days I have needed them most. Yet there is no comparison to seeing a dear friend in person when your heart is aching. There is nothing like a familiar hug from one whose heart is as broken as yours, for you. Friendship is, itself, a healer. A ray of light and breath of fresh air in a dark and saddened place. A glimmer of hope when all feels lost.

I praise God in all things, even the most devastating times. And I thank Him daily for the blessing of friendship, the balm of the brokenhearted.