Touched up pictures

We only  have five pictures of Sidney.  No photographers from Now I Lay Me Down to sleep came –it was the middle of the night, and we found out Sidney had died when I was already in labor.  At that point, I barely knew the concept of stillborn, had not found other mothers who blogged about their experiences, or web sites advising mothers to take pictures, to hold their babies, to spend time with them.  Instead, I was in shock (and also the ‘normal’ intense pain of labor).  I held Sidney, I kissed him, but I did not examine every aspect of his perfect body.  I did not hold his hands, open his eyes, get to know the physical presence of the little boy who had been inside of me for nine months.  Through another group, I found out about a web site that will fix photos of dead babies–change the colors a bit, or take out medical equipment, so I thought that I would look into it. The two pics they fixed came back today, and I am disappointed.  I don’t know what I was expecting–but I have come to realize that my slightly discolored baby is now how I know Sidney.  Changing colors won’t make him be alive, won’t give me a whole new batch of pictures to stare at.  I have included one of the pictures here, and it looks so unnatural to me, he looks so made up.  He still does not look like a living, breathing baby, but instead like a dead baby wearing make-up.  And that seems even more wrong somehow, like I am dishonoring him by not accepting him in the form that I was able to meet him.  I don’t know.  Yet, it seems like society is more willing to digest a baby in that form, than acknowledge that my discolored dead baby is all I have.  (Does anyone know how to make pictures into black and white?–maybe that would be a better option)

My heartbreak continues as the fall season begins.  My  husband went to back to school night because I could not bear to do it–instead I stayed home with Eli.  I did not want to bring in a picture of our family to describe to Eli’s teacher, to talk with other parents and hear about their multiple children.  There is no picture that can be hanging on Eli’s classroom wall that adequately captures our family.  And that breaks me.  Sidney_makeup

Bears, heroes and Aug. 22

Yesterday, we got a weighted bear that weighs the same amount as Sidney did when he was born.  He came wearing pajamas, size newborn.  I hadn’t decided what I was going to do with the bear when Eli saw him and asked about him.  I said that he was a special bear that weighed the same amount as baby Sidney had, and that he was just a toy.  I asked Eli if he wanted the bear to sleep in my room or his room.  Eli said his room.  This did not altogether surprise me, but Eli’s need to care for the bear did.  He immediately took him, and said, “his diaper is dirty.  He needs a new diaper.  Can you please help me change him?”  So we went upstairs, put him on Eli’s changing table, took off his pajamas and diapered him.  Then Eli carefully put his pajamas on.  For the rest of the evening, Eli carefully carried him everywhere with him.  He told me that he would keep him safe when he was scared, and asked what would happen to the bear when he was at school.  I said I would watch him, and he said, “don’t you have to do work?” (Eli thinks I have been doing work during the day which is really only true if we categorize grieving as work). I said that I could take breaks if the bear needed me.  As the night progressed, and then again this morning, we also proceeded to give the bear a bottle, to have detailed discussions about the fragility of bears versus babies, to hold the bear on my old nursing pillow, and to a do a number of additional diaper changes.  And it hurt so f-ing much.  I don’t want to watch Eli be a big brother to a bear.  I don’t want to change the diaper of a bear.  I want Sidney here.  And it’s also making me realize how much Eli has an unmet need to nurture a little brother, that he was excited to get to do all of these things, and that he is missing them.  I have been grieving Eli not getting to actively brother a baby, but I didn’t realize that he was also grieving the same thing, that he still thought about the earlier conversations we’d had about babies and big brothers and all the help I would need.   And my heart hurts.  But I guess it’s good that Eli is getting a chance to express himself.

There has been a lot of talk about superheroes in our house lately.  Eli is very interested in them, and in fighting ‘bad guys,’ despite our active efforts to avoid this type of language (for example, we really try to emphasize good and bad behaviors rather than good and bad people, but despite this, Eli has recently become obsessed with ‘bad guys.’) My husband and I also started watching the show Heroes on Netflix recently, which I have been enjoying.  I never watched it when it was on actual TV.  But this has made me think a lot about how I want there to be a bad guy, or a clear evil that can be defeated, but that with this, there isn’t.  There is no one to ‘defeat’, or even really to be angry at, beyond people saying insensitive or inconsiderate things.  And that makes this so much harder.  There is no cheerleader that we can save that will then allow us to save the world.  We just have to keep living with this hole in our hearts, knowing that that hole can never get filled, never heal, will always be there.

The seasons are starting to shift, and with that also comes a new melancholia, a sense that time is moving on without me, and especially without Sidney.  Children are going back to school, and soon, I will also go back to campus, although what that will look like is still unclear to me.  We have to fill out a detailed information sheet about Eli for his preschool, and I remember filling it out last year, in such a different place, excited because my husband and I were finally on the same page to try for a second child, excited and nervous that Eli would be going to school for the first time.  And now it just breaks me, because it is another sign that time continues to move.  It is one thing for me to feel in a limbo state, because it doesn’t seem like there is such a big difference between 33.5, 34, 34.5, etc. but six months in the life of Eli is a lot.  He has changed so much since last year.  And he continues to change as I grieve, as I’m broken, and his whole experience as a three-year old will be clouded by that.

We have also reached a point where I every moment I have I will think, well last year at this time, Sidney was inside of me.  Aug. 22.  2015.  That was the date of my last menstrual period before Sidney.  It might seem strange to remember that, but it is seared into my mind because I so longed to be pregnant, and then of course, when I was, I had to report that date at initial doctors appointments.  I get that objectively speaking Sidney didn’t really exist at this point last year, but his egg, and my body sheltering it, had already started the journey that would be our limited time together.  I miss him so much, and I want him here.  Since Thursday, I have felt like there was a claw slowly tightening its grip on my heart, tightening, tightening, tightening, making it harder and harder to breathe as my aching heart struggles to survive.

As the fall starts, I feel a pressure to do more, to have the seasonal change mark some shift in my grieving process.  And objectively speaking, I will have to do more, including the dreaded return to campus. I am also working on accepting where I am, not judging, not putting time limits or expectations on myself.  But I’ve never been very good at that.   So my fellow loss mamas, or other readers, how is the shifting season affecting you?  Do you feel movement in your grieving process?

It has been sixteen weeks, my little Sidney, sixteen weeks since I found out you were gone. I love you always and forever.

Prayer flag

We did make a very small, basic prayer flag.  Here is a picture from before we put it on the back deck, where we will only keep it a day or two due to the humidity and storms.   Next year, maybe I will do something a little nicer.  Even though it doesn’t say this in words, the message is: ‘Forever in our hearts.’  I have to believe that if Sidney were to get the message, he would get it from pictures as much as from words, and really from the strength of our love for him.

A bit about the project: http://carlymarieprojectheal.com/blogWP_20160819_002

Sad and tired

I am just so sad today.  So tired of doing this.  I am tired of not having Sidney here, of having to get through each day without him.  Yesterday, I volunteered with the art program I have been helping out at at a summer camp.  Almost right away, I noticed that one of the counselors there had her baby boy with her–he looked to be about 9 months old, so older than Sidney would have been.  But my arms started aching for him. I thought about how just four months ago, I would have confidently gone up to the mom, and known how to introduce myself, how to talk to her, proud of my growing belly with Sidney inside.  And now my identity is baby loss mom, and I don’t want that identity. And thinking about how this is who I am now really upset me. I held it together for a while, but then towards the end of the day, when we were cleaning up, she brought him into the art room, and everyone started oohing and aahing.  Then the baby started crying.  And then I started crying.  I asked the volunteer coordinator if I could leave, saying it was hard for me to be around the baby, and then ran out the door.  On the way home, the air pressure light for my tires came on in my car, and I just fully lost it, crying hysterically until I got home.  My husband put more air in my tires, but I probably should get them checked, to see if one has a slow leak.  But it was too much.  Today, I went back to the camp, prepared to see the baby, but still so so sad.  And I feel old, surrounded by volunteers who are all in college or high school.

In a few minutes, our landlord is coming over with an appraiser because he wants to get his loan re-financed.  The last time he was here, I was in early labor.  My husband included him on the email saying what happened, and he never wrote back, never mentioned anything.  We only heard from him because he wants to come by.  And I don’t want to see him.  To see someone I saw so close to Sidney’s death, when I was in pain from my contractions, excited, trying to  lay down for a little while labor progressed. And angry that he never even said something as basic as ‘my condolences’ or ‘there are no words’.  I may try to take a walk when he is here, but it hot, and he is never on time and I don’t like feeling like I have to hide.  But I also don’t want to deal with him, to be visible.  I don’t want to be visible at all.  People who know what happened know we want another child. And they will wonder if I am pregnant, but really I am just fat. I don’t want people watching me.  I don’t want people speculating about me.  Even friends, judging, commenting on my progress through grief, telling me I seem to be doing better, or sometimes saying they are worried about my sadness.  I don’t want to be watched.  I want to be understood, embraced, and carried.

In the past, when I’ve been anxious or overwhelmed, the weekend can be a break from it, a time I don’t think about whatever it is I am worrying over, and just enjoy time with my family.  But there is no break from this.  Grieving happens 24 hours a day.  I even wake-up sometimes with aching shoulders, neck and jaw (which is where I carry my tension), tensing up even in my sleep.  Because Sidney is gone.  There is no break from that.  And it is absolute torture.

Privileged

In contrast to many of my posts, today I wanted to write a little bit about privilege.  I want to be clear that there is nothing privileged about having a stillborn baby.  It is a horrendous earth-shattering event of which the horrors cannot adequately be captured by words. But in the 15 weeks since Sidney died, I have also been thinking about ways in which i am privileged, and notions of privilege more generally.

-I am able to engage in practices of self-care because I have the time and the money to do so, both of which are privileges.  I can talk to a therapist, get acupuncture, eat healthy foods (or at least afford to if I were to want to), and even get the very occasional massage.  Even with all of this self-care, I still wonder how I am going to get through each day.  But there are many who can’t afford these things, who cannot access the help they need even if they want to.

-We were able to afford to bury our son.  Some people cannot afford a casket or tombstone, were they to want to choose this option.  Along the same lines, we could afford an autopsy. Again, some families turn down autopsies because of financial reasons.

-I have a flexible work schedule for the next few months.  I think most of my readers are US-based, but for those of you who are not, parental leave in this country is basically non-existent, even in the case of live babies.  Add a dead baby into the mix and you are legally entitled to very little.  My husband’s boss also said he could take as much time off as he needed, and not to worry.  He was able to be home with me for three weeks.

-I have a supportive partner (I am not implying you have to have a partner to be privileged here.  However, if you do have one, it’s better that s/he be a supportive one. 🙂 ) While it continues to be hard for us to figure out how to navigate our grief, my husband has actively tried to make space for me to engage in the self-care practices listed above. He also took care of everything those first few weeks, making funeral arrangements and telling our parents, Eli, and friends that Sidney had died.

-Despite our lack of established community here, we had meals brought or sent for over 30 days.  And a few people continue to check in to take walks or see how I am doing.

-Eli!

A few weeks after Sidney died, I had a horrendous thought, that I am even debating typing for public viewing, that’s how fucked up it was.   I thought to myself, “Well, people in Syria and other parts of the world have to deal with so much more, sometimes trauma after trauma, and they survive.” Now here is where the fucked up thought comes in.  Then I thought, “Yeah, but they expect it, and have a whole community experiencing it.  I didn’t expect anything like this.  No one in my world did, so it’s that much harder.” How fucked up is that.  I know that 1) grief should not be compared and 2) who am I kidding?  That I even had that thought is a key example of privilege, that I had a reasonable expectation that my kids would outlive me.  Living surrounded by more wide-scale horror does not make it okay, does not make the pain better.

I feel more vulnerable writing this post than my others, that I will in some way be judged. I would trade my middle-class security away in a heartbeat if it meant that Sidney could have his heartbeat back, if I could have a loving supportive community around me.  That said, I do think there are ways in which it could still be so much worse.

Music, trees and other thoughts

After Sidney was born still, I mostly stopped singing to Eli.  It was too painful.  I had imagined Sidney already getting some comfort from the lullabies, having heard them from my womb–and it was Eli’s bedtime that he was most active, kicking the most, as my two babies rested together.  But last night, he asked me to sing him some songs, and I felt like I couldn’t say no.  Of course, all of the songs that I sing him are sad, and are about time going on.  He asked me to start with the Circle Game.  I sang it to him, and he interrupted me after the line, “We can’t return.  We can only look behind from where we came.” He wanted to know why the person couldn’t go home.  I explained that it wasn’t about going home, but that we couldn’t go back in time, so that I couldn’t be a little girl again, and he couldn’t be a baby again.  And I thought to myself, I can’t go back to my pre-May 3rd life, when everything made sense, and Sidney was alive inside of me.  And of course, the song is about someone getting older, and my precious Sidney will never grow older.  The other song Eli wanted to hear was Cats in the Cradle–of course another tear jerker, about time, and growing older, missing your whole child’s life because you are too busy working.  Eli wanted me to sing this song over and over again, which is what I used to do when I was putting him to sleep.  Really, since the time he was just a few months old, we would sing to him none-stop, sometimes the same songs over and over, and sometimes a mix.  He used to know most of the lyrics to these songs, but that he seems to have forgotten a lot of them made it clear to me how little I have been singing to him over these past 14.5 weeks, and also how time has a really different meaning in the life of a 3.5 year old.  In general, there have been moments when he seems confused about the permanency of Sidney’s death, telling me that he wants the baby to share his room, or talking about what he will do when we bring a baby home.  At least on some level, he gets that Sidney is dead, but I don’t know that he really grasps it.  But as I’ve written before, how can he, when I still have moments when I think that this can’t be real?

I also realized I haven’t really been listening to too much music in general, I think because of its power to evoke emotions.  We had played ‘Lean on me’ a few times in our first weeks home, and I had started crying when I heard ‘Leaving on a jet plane,’ another song I sang to Eli (apparently, I mostly sing sad songs).  So today, when I was driving, I put on the radio to a country station.  I didn’t grow up listening to country music, but after having worked in South Carolina for six weeks one summer, I started listening to it more, connecting to the story lines of many of the songs, and the way the singers really seem to sing about their feelings.  Kenny Chesney’s ‘Save it for a rainy day’ was playing, about heart break, but a different kind, and I thought if only I could actually follow the lines from he song, and tuck away my heartbreak and save it for a rainy day.  “There’ll be plenty of time for what if’s and why’s, and how’d I let you get away, but the lying in bed all stuck in my head, is just gonna have to wait.” For me, grief doesn’t seem to work this way.  I think other people are more able to compartmentalize.  But I can’t.  I just started reading a book called ‘Finding hope when a child dies,’ about how other cultures grieve the loss of a child.  I haven’t gotten beyond the first few pages, but I am interested to see whether other cultures acknowledge their losses more, if they grieve communally, if they express themselves more, and what beliefs they have about what happens to babies who die–I will share as I get further into the book.

Today, my former adviser and some people who I went to grad school with sent us a tree, with a tag that says ‘In loving memory of Sidney Louis.’  For now, we put it in a potting plant, since we rent the house we are in.  But I like the thought of moving with it, putting it in the ground, and watching our Magnolia tree grow, providing shade and shelter to others in the future.  (Knowing my husband and I, we will probably kill it somehow. I used to have a plant I bought at ikea.  It was one of those plants that basically lives on its own with no maintenance.  He took care of it when I went to Egypt for the summer, and when i came home, it was dead.  He claimed that the hottest day ever had occurred–we will try to avoid this with our Magnolia tree).

I realized how much getting things with Sidney’s name means to me.  Memorials, keepsakes, tokens, anything that indicates he existed.  A fellow baby loss mom took pictures of our children’s names written on stones, and it touched my heart to see the picture flash across my screen.  On a few walks I have taken, I have also carved Sidney’s name with  my keys into some wood, and I have never been someone to do this in the past, never felt a need to ‘tag’ things, to show that I was there.  But Sidney’s written name is one of the only ways I can share him with the world (The camera on my phone broke at the hospital, so I can’t take pictures–pictures on this blog were taken by my husband).

But for the most part, people are silent.   Not only to they not send tokens with Sidney’s name on him, but they don’t contact us at all.  The rational part gets that they don’t know what to say, and that it’s painful, but their silence hurts too.  And it bothers me even more the few people who reach out but then don’t follow through, who ask what they can do, but ignore us when we respond.  Seriously?! I am broken, and I get that you have young children and your own lives but I am struggling here so don’t offer if you don’t mean it. It shouldn’t be on me to follow-up to those families with a preschooler and a baby and said, you know how you said can we visit, and my husband answered yes and gave some dates…well, it’s been three months and we haven’t seen you.  And the woman who keeps asking me to take a walk and then the day we are supposed to walk, canceling because her work day is busy.  Again, rational me gets it, but irrational me would rather just not make plans in the first place.  Don’t they know how hard I have to emotionally prep myself to do anything?

A few other things, in no particular order.

I got a massage today.  It was nice.  The masseuse, who knows what happened, said that my shoulders, neck and chest are among the tightest she’s ever seen, that I am hunching my shoulders as a way to protect my heart.  This makes sense.

We got four new chairs for our dining table.  Eli asked why no one was sitting on the fourth one.

We got invited to dessert at this families’ home–their daughter died 14 years ago, at a few weeks old, and they have a living 13 and 18 year old.  It was nice to be welcomed in, and I like the idea of knowing families/people of different ages.  They said we could stop by whenever we want, leave Eli if we want to go out.  It’s hard to imagine taking them up on this, but I would like to have a community like this.

I saw a friend from grad school who was visiting the area from the Philippines, where he lives and works.  We took a walk in the woods, and it was nice to be around someone who has known me for a while, for nine years.  I don’t think I have realized how much it takes it’s toll to be grieving in an entirely new community, to literally only be around people who we’ve known for a couple of years or less. I know I’ve mentioned my lack of community before, but being around people who know me as more than a baby loss parent, and even more than just a parent, was nice. I also was able to talk about work a little bit without having a panic attack–I didn’t feel so alone when I was walking with a friend in the woods who got it.

I guess that’s it for now.  Here is a picture of the tree (not the best quality–we also couldn’t photograph the memorial tag because it is basically like a mirror and kept reflecting, although it made for a kind of artsy photo with Sidney’s name and our faces reflecting in it.)WP_20160812_001

Stuck

I’m writing again.  I didn’t mean to post again just a day after my last post but I’m stuck and I’m really struggling.  I’m hoping that by typing some feelings out, it will help a little.  I am having trouble motivating myself to do anything–since Tuesday I’ve just been feeling so sad, lost, and alone.  Today, I packed Eli’s lunch, emptied the dishwasher and then went to therapy.  I was supposed to walk with a friend, but she cancelled.  I also was going to clean out the sink, do a little work, and maybe try to paint (something I’ve never really done but thought could be a good outlet).  Instead, I have been sitting at home, staring at the computer, and mostly watching Netflix.  For a few hours now.  And that is not how I want to spend the day.  Initially, I had told myself that after therapy, I would go to the gym, and then I said, well, after therapy, I will take a walk, but instead, I watched netflix.  So now, my goal is to leave for a walk by four, which is in just under an hour.  I am not even sure how the day has gone by, what I’ve done.  I feel so alone, so empty, so broken.  I have a book next to my computer that I should be reading, and maybe will read when I finish this post.  It is about the orphan trains, and I hope it will give me some context so that I can start looking into some of the child welfare institutions that were here in Baltimore—and see if Maryland had any similar efforts to get children off of city streets and to the farms, and how that changed with later anti-child labor campaigns.  The other thing I want to do is find another children’s organization to volunteer with so I can start getting to know more children and programs in the city–begin forming the relationships and ideas I need for my research.  But I don’t know where or how to start.  The art program I have been helping with is finishing up for the summer.  I think I may be able to help in the fall, but for now, there is a lull.  Which matched my energy level. It’s like I’m in a fog and everything requires so much effort and a level of energy that I don’t have.  Even changing into exercise clothes feels hard.  My husband just said that some friendly acquaintances of ours are going to try to meet us at the monthly PJ shabbat at Eli’s school.  I had forgotten about that.  I have no interest in going.  It will be hard, and I don’t feel mentally prepared to sit, surrounded by happy families and babies.  Objectively, I know it’s good for me to go, to leave the house, to see people, but I just want to go to sleep.  About a month ago, I made a rule for myself that I couldn’t lie in my bed to work on my computer or read, and I think it’s been an important one for me. Even though I have been sitting at a desk, in front of a computer all day, doing nothing, it still feels better than saying that I stayed in bed all day.  I am also still hormonally imbalanced.  It’s not that I would be happy right now by any means, but some type of hormonal shift has made things seem so much harder.  I wish I understood what my body was doing.  I wish it would regulate itself.  But it hasn’t, and that is also hard.

I wish that I could go to a grief retreat center. It would be set by a lake and surrounded by mountains, and would only be for parents who had lost babies.  We would each be assigned a qualified buddy who would make us a personalized schedule, knowing exactly how much to push us and what to put on the schedule.  It would include things like massages and spa treatments, walks, some more rigorous exercise, therapy, group discussions and activities, healthy but tasty meals, and all sorts of other things.  And this assigned buddy would also add little things into the schedule, like a half hour of work here, or going to a challenging place, or something, and would do it with me.  She would know exactly how much to push, would support me, and I wouldn’t be alone.  And after any challenging thing (well, particularly challenging, cause everything is challenging for me these days), I could meet with my grief support group and we would laugh and talk, or just all be together, because they would get it, and we’d be understood.  Oh, and insurance would cover this, since obviously the world cares so much about supporting people through their grief. And cares about health.  The thing in, I can’t come up with that schedule by myself.  I don’t know what exactly to put on it, and it’s hard and requires a level of effort I don’t have, and even more importantly, a community that would make me feel understood and less alone. And I don’t know how to be that person for myself.  So instead, I am stuck, trying to remind myself that this a moment, and it too shall pass. Except that is what the woman who coordinated the parent-baby group at the hospital used to say  when parents with live babies were struggling.

Tomorrow, I will go to a yoga class at the same studio where I went to prenatal yoga.  I haven’t been there since two days before Sidney died.  I haven’t ever really done yoga other than prenatal yoga–and a brief stint taking a yoga class in Ecuador, which I literally failed, which is a whole other story.  I am afraid I will cry and cry and cry.  But I will go with another baby loss mom who I recently met. So she will understand.  I wouldn’t be going if she hadn’t asked me.  So maybe I have to piece together little bits of my imaginary grief retreat center, and do the best I can.  But it’s so damn hard.