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Her.

Over the weekend, Poppy and I attended a Birth Without Fear conference. It was an inspiring day, filled with so many inspirational women and moving moments. But the one that has stuck with me was unexpected.

I first saw her early in the day, when I went to the talk about loss. The speaker was a doula who lost a baby at 34 weeks and, as you might expect, the audience was filled with women who had tear-streaked cheeks and tissues balled up in their fists. The one who sat in front of me wept openly and there was something about her that told me her pain was new. Raw. She had long hair, a full face, a striped shirt, and a swollen belly. A belly that held life, or death, or at least did not so long ago.

I never did speak to this woman. Her vulnerability makes my heart look at her as a girl, but no. She was a woman. Probably around my age. I don’t know her story. She won one of the giveaways and asked if it had any baby stuff in it. I heard her say, “I can’t do baby stuff right now.” I can only assume that she lost a baby very recently, or was in the process of losing one, or was going to lose one that wasn’t compatible with life outside her womb. Or something. I don’t know. But I felt drawn to her.

Our paths crossed many times in the day. I held my Poppy tight against me and watched her quietly, felt the sadness that radiated from her, and thought of Teddy Graham. I ached for her, and ached to reach out and provide some meaningful words of comfort and support, but I felt lost. I may have three children, but I still relate to loss mamas and infertile women more than anyone else. I am not so far removed from the pain and trauma caused by those experiences. And yet, I also am painfully aware how lucky I am and I know — I so very much know — that my loss cannot possibly compare to the loss of someone who loses a baby much farther into her pregnancy. They’re the same thing. And they aren’t. So I feel in limbo. Like I don’t quite fit in anywhere. And when I saw that woman on Saturday, I yearned to provide comfort, but I was holding my perfect baby and felt tongue-tied and idiotic, so I said and did nothing.

When the conference was over, I found a window seat on which to sit and feed Poppy before we made the drive home. And as I sat there in the warm sunlight and thought about the day, the woman with the round belly walked by, carrying her prize basket of non-baby items, quietly leaving the conference alone. She glanced my way ever so briefly and I gave her a small smile, but I don’t even know if she noticed, if she saw that I saw her. Her pain. Her loss. Her baby.

I wish I would have chased after her then and asked to hug her. I wish I would have expressed how sorry I was for her pain and given her an opportunity to talk about her baby. But instead I watched her go and thought of how heavy her heart must be in that moment, but also how strong and courageous she must be in order to attend that conference, a place full of bumps and babies, with such a heavy heart. And to do it alone, no less. As she turned the corner, I said a silent prayer for her, because that was all there was left to do.

And now I remember why I make such an effort to do things that are important to me, despite how fearful I am. Because I hate the feeling of regret. I feel haunted by this woman and her loss, haunted by the fact that I didn’t do something when I felt called to do it. That I said nothing when I was in a position to do so. And I don’t know if it what I would have said or done would have been the right thing to say or do; I just know that I should have acted. I expect better of myself.

And so next time — if there’s ever a next time — I will. I will do better. I will be better. I will continue to try to live a life that doesn’t have room for regret and to connect with other women heart-t0-heart even when I feel my attempts are lacking, insignificant, or pointless.  Doing something is better, I am reminded, than doing nothing. I didn’t expect that to be my takeaway from the BWF conference, but alas…it is what is. Unexpected lessons in unexpected places.

To the One Who Isn’t Here

Dear Baby-of-Long-Ago,

Sometimes I feel you. Not so much in the ethereal, mystical, magical way of smelling the random scent of lavender or feeling a gentle breeze blow through a room with closed windows and knowing it’s you. That’s only happened once or twice, when seeing a rainbow or a butterfly in the most unexpected places, and even then I don’t know if it was you or my hoping it was you. I’m not sure the dead come back to us like that, or if they leave us whom they love alone so that we can move on in peace.

So it’s not you I feel precisely, but the absence of you. The ever-constant, gentle (and sometimes less-gentle, more raw, stinging, pinching, punching, painful) knowing you are not here. You are not, and never will be again, here. In this very place. With me. With us. Your family.

I go about my day just as I did before your short stay here on earth, except now I have two living little ones to look after, and I am more tired, busy, and cranky and happy all at once. I don’t light your candle every night anymore or cry for you every day. And yet, your not-here-ness is here, drifting silently and invisibly around me, humming in my ear like a mosquito at times, fluttering through my thoughts like a hummingbird at others, and rattling me like an earthquake when things go really badly. These days I feel free, mostly, and yet I am still somehow never quite free of you. Which is okay, because your memory doesn’t hurt me all the time now, and on most days there is a sweet nostalgia in thinking of you, the baby who has stayed a baby to me, the baby who never got to grow up and forever remains as small and precious as a tadpole.

There is something unique and uniquely painful about losing a barely-there baby. It does not take long for people to feel justified in forgetting. And they start to expect you to forget, too. And with time, you do. Not entirely and not forever, but there are minutes and then hours and then maybe even days when you don’t think of your loss and what was and what could have been, and you start feeling guilty for that. I feel guilty for that and find myself grasping at moments, trying to prove I haven’t moved on, haven’t betrayed you, because that somehow means I’m the mom I want to be. The one you deserve.

But the truth is, no matter how often or how little you cross my thoughts, I will never move on, not fully. There is a part of me, the old, pre-miscarriage me, who lives with you in the past. And unlike everyone around me who doesn’t remember anything about you and your time here unless I forcefully bring it to their attention, you are always on my mind during the “remembering days” — the anniversaries of the day when I learned of your conception, and of your goneness, and of course I couldn’t forget your due date if I tried.  But your memory comes to me at other times, too. I am reminded of your absence most when I watch your sisters for too long. They bring me such joy. Across years, I have seen their personalities evolve and unfold. I held them in their immediate, wet, oh-so-real newness and, with awe and some heartache, watched as they have each grown into a bigger, more independent, strikingly beautiful version of those babies they once were. And now there is another baby on the way and, God willing, I will get to experience that with him too. But for you, I have none of that. I did not just lose a baby, but years and years of feeling your soft weight enfolded in my arms in a hug, and watching your eyes widen under the same long lashes as you discover the world around you, and seeing all the ways you change and stay the same as decades tick by. You never got your chance to become anything and it makes me sad for you and sad for me because there is so much more than a kidney bean-sized embryo that I lost.

I often think of you as the Baby-Who-Almost-Was, but even when I do, I know there is no truth in that name. Because there is no “almost” about the place you had here. You were. You existed. And in my past, and my memories, and the empty space in my heart that no amount of babies or love can fill, you still do. You were. You are. In some ways, even if it’s only in the hole that you left behind, you still live amongst us.

So you’re not forgotten. I don’t always remember, but I can’t forget. I won’t and I don’t want to. There’s not much I can give you now with me here and you in some not-here place, with me solid and alive and you a wisp-of-smoke ghost in my life, but I can promise you that I love you still and I won’t forget you and I won’t try to. You are still, and forever, mine.

And maybe that’s the best way to be.

With big love,

Your Mama

December 6th

Today is December 6th. St. Nicholas Day. The day we fill our children’s shoes with an ornament to hang on the tree and a special treat, as is tradition in our home.

It is also the one-year anniversary of my unfulfilled due date.

Today, or yesterday or tomorrow or some day nearby, Teddy Graham could have been one year old.

Unfathomable.

Enough time has passed, with plenty of unexpected events in between, that I can no longer imagine the alternative to what I have right now. I cannot imagine living a life with a one-year-old and three-year-old. I cannot imagine what might have been, what Teddy might have looked like, or how he might have been similar to or very different from his big sister. I cannot imagine living a life without the grief from a miscarriage, the pain from enduring another year of the uncertainty of infertility, and the utter relief and gratitude that came from bringing Skittle safely into this world.

Life is so different from what it could have been, and I am glad for that, and sad for it.

Certainly, this year’s December 6th is easier than last year‘s. In 2012, I greeted this day with what I thought was peace and healing, and ended it in tears. It was a hard day. But I have Skittle now and we are not actively TTC and I really do feel peace. And I really do feel the wounds healing.

I have my rainbow baby finally. The baby who came after. After so many tears. After so much sorrow. After Teddy Graham. But the heart is an amazing thing. It’s capacity to love is incredible. And there will always be a corner of it reserved for Teddy.

So this morning, I shed a few tears. Today, I will remember. Tonight, I will light his candle. And then I will move forward again. Never forgetting the baby who never made it into my arms, but continuing to heal and to celebrate the babies I do get to hold.

Reflections at 1 Month

Today, my Skittle is one month old. It was one month ago that I screamed for an epidural that came too late. One month ago that I pushed a beautiful, 8-pound squishy ball of baby from my womb and into this world. One month ago that another dream came true. How is that even possible? As a mother, I am always reminded how quickly time does indeed pass. How fleeting every moment is.

I have spent much of the last month reflecting upon our journey to get here. I have not taken any of what I have for granted, have not wished for anything else but exactly what I have. I have cherished and treasured every gassy smile, every midnight cuddle, every dreamy giggle, every tiny baby sneeze, every time Skittle rests her soft head of hair against my chest and drifts off into a sleep full of whimpers and sighs.

And yet, it can be so bittersweet.

I’m lucky in that pregnancy usually doesn’t take much of a physical toll on me. But emotionally? It’s hard. I know you all understand when I say that I live in constant fear for nine-plus months.  Every day of every month of my pregnancy is spent white-knuckling it, gritting my teeth, just trying to make it safely to the end. And yet, in many ways, I love it. The excitement, the wonder, the joy, the preparations. The baby kicks, the ultrasounds, the growth of my belly. The new ways I find to love and respect my body. The hopes, the dreams, all the photographs of our future that unfold in my head and heart. I love that. All of it. And now, I miss it.

There is a saying I stumbled upon not long ago:

“If I had my life to live over, instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside of me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.” (Erma Bombeck)

And while I did not spend one moment of my pregnancy wishing it away, I do understand what is being said here. Pregnancy, and every little baby, is a miracle. I feel something magical happening inside of me when I’m expecting. Every moment of those nine months feels miraculous.

And of course, every day with Skittle alive and well and smiling at me in my arms is a miracle of its own…but it’s a different kind of miracle. And I become very melancholy when I realize that, every morning, Skittle and Cupcake wake up one day older. They are getting bigger and, with each second that passes, I am drifting farther and farther away from the tiny, miraculous way their lives began.

There is still pregnancy paraphernalia dotted around our house: Two boxes of maternity clothes awaiting their transfer to storage. A body pillow in the corner of our bedroom. My pregnancy scrapbook, four pages away from completion. Maternity photos that I’ve displayed like artwork around our house. The protein bars and shakes that I stocked up on to combat preeclampsia. As I look at it all, I feel pensive. I let out a little sigh. I try to shake the sadness. Sad because those pregnancy days are hard, but they’re beautiful too. And now they’re over. And as an infertile, there is no guarantee that I will ever experience them again. With each pregnancy, I have to wonder if it’s the last. I’m not ready to be done. There are more siblings I want for my daughters. More babies I want to birth. We will try again, in a year or so. But a part of me always has to be prepared to accept that I am allowed only a limited number of miracles and perhaps this pregnancy was my last one. It makes the end harder.

And there’s something else.

I have learned that grief is a windy road with lots of pit stops, u-turns, and dead ends and, unexpectedly, our Teddy Graham has been on my mind more over these last four weeks than he has since the early days of my pregnancy. I have cried for him a handful of times. I can’t say for sure why that is. Maybe it’s the hormones. But having Skittle here in flesh and blood has reminded me of all that I missed out on with Teddy. I get to hold Skittle and watch her grow and change and learn and explore. But Teddy never got that chance. A whole life of possibilities was lost in my miscarriage. This is not something new I’ve learned just recently, but the thought has become vividly raw since Skittle’s birth.

Of course, I would never wish for things to have happened differently now that I have my precious Skittle. As I conceived Skittle just one month (almost to the day) after my unfulfilled Teddy Graham due date, it technically would have been possible for Teddy and Skittle to coexist…but the likelihood of it is next to none. Not only because of irregular (i.e. nonexistent) menstrual cycles being my norm, but because the chances of my letting Honey put his dingdong into my hoo ha only a month after the theoretical delivery of TG would be less than zero. Less. Than. Zero. And yet, if things could be different — if, somehow, I could be holding both Teddy and Skittle today — that’s what I would choose.

I miss Teddy now more than (almost) ever.

But I am not sorry that I ever conceived him, or carried him, or loved him. In fact, it is because of him that I am able to love Skittle so thoroughly. Surely, I would have loved her with all that I had regardless of who or what came before her. But I know and understand and have more now than I would have without infertility and loss. The depths of my love, the intensity of my relief, the strength of my gratitude and joy, is all because of the journey I took to get here, and more specifically, all because of what I lost along the way.

Maybe I’m romanticizing my experience. And again, I could blame it on the hormones. But truly, I think it’s my way of coping. I need there to be a reason for all of the pain I endured. I need to believe that our Teddy was only ever meant to be with us a short time and that, in the end, everything worked out in the most beautiful, perfect way for all of us. Because to think that there woulda/coulda/shoulda been another beautiful, whole, perfect little soul here with us… To think that someone is missing from our lives and forever will be… To think that my child died… That, if things had gone a different way, Skittle would never have come to be… It is almost too much to bear. So I hate that Teddy Graham had to be a sacrificial lamb. I wish there could have been a different, and yet similar, ending. But I am thankful for the sacrifice nevertheless. I have to be…for how else do I make sense of it all?

So yeah…I’ve done a lot of thinking these last few weeks. Thinking and reflecting and crying and sighing. And I’m not sorry for what I’ve gone through. I can say that now that I’ve made it to the other side (a year ago, I would have sung a different tune). In fact, there’s been beauty in the sadness of it. And there’s a certain sense of loss and grief in knowing it has come to an end. I have finished one journey. I am starting another.

So I am now able to appreciate all of the ups and downs of trying to build a family. I have perspective. I can see that the greatness of my struggle has made me a better mother and, hopefully, a better person. And yet, as I look ahead, I am so afraid of going through all of this again. I think I’ve made it very clear to all of you: I am ever so grateful for my two healthy, beautiful girls. But I know our family is not complete. We are not done trying. It’s not over yet. And who knows what we will encounter on the next journey? This one was harder than the last. Will the next one only be harder than this? It is frightening to think of all the horrible possibilities that could lie in wait for us. I am thankful for what my infertility and miscarriage has given me, but good God, I’d rather not go through it a third time.

But I guess that’s another post for another day for another blog for another year.

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Remembering…

Today, I remember.

I remember April 19, 2012 when I started to bleed at just 7 weeks 1 day pregnant.

I remember the sight of the dark red blood on my fingers, an image I see in my nightmares to this day.

I remember my sweet Teddy Graham, whom I knew was gone before an ultrasound ever confirmed it.

Today, I remember the ultrasound, the black space, the firm line the sonographer’s mouth made as she stared at the screen.

I remember the simple text I sent to my sister, a friend, and my mother: “No heartbeat” and the ding, ding, ding as my cell was flooded with texts in response.

I remember the tears that went on and on, that came and kept coming long after I lost all the energy to wipe them away.

I remember the days that followed, how they zipped by and dragged by at once, all a blur of grief and unbelief.

I remember the dissolution of my new relationship with my sister, how it unraveled like a poorly-made sweater, coming further undone with each insensitive or critical comment she made as I mourned my way through the summer.

Today, I remember those who were there for me when I needed them the most, and those who were not there when I was at my most vulnerable.

I remember the fear and the despair and the rage that engulfed me when I let it.

I remember how I was broken and how this blog — and all of you — picked me up and put me back together again, just like Humpty.

I remember that today is not about the baby growing inside of me right now, but about the Baby Who Almost Was, the baby who was but now isn’t and never will be again, and yet will somehow live in my heart forever.

Not a Turning Point

I had thought that passing my due date on Dec 6 would be a turning point in the grieving process and my journey of healing. That it would be like a flipped switch and, suddenly, things would be easier and I wouldn’t miss Teddy Graham so much. I had heard of that happening and it made sense to me. Everything before the due date is so fresh and only leading up to the day when a baby should have arrived. Everything thereafter is an unknown, something you hardly had a chance to dream or plan for.

But this has not been so for me. December 6th was not a turning point, a flipped switch, a pressed button, nothing like that. If anything, I feel as if I have taken three steps back in my healing. Many days since my due date, I have cried. Cried for the Baby Who Almost Was. By now, no matter how overdue the doctor would have let me go, Teddy surely would have been in my arms. Our lives would be so different here in the Dash home. Christmas would have been so different. Because I have been there before, at this exact same time of year, it is easy for me to imagine. I know what we are missing. And I still seem to be grieving it.

Which has made me wonder, at what point do I move on? I have always said that, while I will and have moved forward, I will not ever move on, leaving behind the child I lost, because that child is still my child, even if he is not here. In response, I have had people tell me that’s unfair to the daughter I have and to any children that I go on to birth in the future. Just three weeks after my loss, I had people (including friends who have miscarried themselves) telling me I needed to get on with my life. I wonder what they would say now, all these months later? Have I crossed a line into pathetic-ness, the woman who never recovers from the loss of a tiny baby that she hardly knew?

But I have also had friends who have lost many babies tell me that grief does have an end, but mourning does not. And years later, even with their rainbow babies tucked into their cribs, they still mourn for the babies gone before. That resonates with me. I think that’s the point I’m at now. I am in the final stage of grief: acceptance. I know Teddy Graham is gone. I know he’s not coming back. I am not disabled by this loss anymore. I can function again. I can laugh, I can mother, I can plan. But I still feel the need to do things to remember TG. I want him to still be a part of this family and for Cupcake to know she has a sibling she never got to meet.

Is that wrong? I don’t know. A little part of me feels ashamed about it. Maybe if I’d had a stillborn, and not a miscarried, child my grief would be more socially acceptable. But then again, maybe not. I do know that the grief I have suffered would be tenfold if I had carried Teddy into the second or third trimester before losing him, but knowing that does not diminish my loss. It does not mean I have not suffered.

So where do I go from here? I guess I continue doing what I have all along: putting one foot in front of the other and searching for ways to bring peace and comfort into our home. Maybe a new year will bring more healing. Maybe my sister’s baby shower or the birth of Cupcake’s and Teddy Graham’s cousin.   Maybe the anniversary of my loss in April.  Maybe it won’t get easier until I have another baby in my belly or, more likely, my arms. But I do assume that, at some point, I will be able to breathe again. I hope that there will come a time when I can stop cringing my way through life, braced for another painful reminder of my loss. But I don’t expect that the pain will ever leave me completely. It’s now part of the fabric of who I am. I’m okay with that. I just hope other people in my life are, too.

Back Home

Well, it’s CD8 and we’re back home…or at least, the place we call “home” but that doesn’t yet actually feel like Home, two years after moving here.

It was a good trip, but not easy. Between the conversation with my sis, Trisha’s sad news, the Clomid I was taking, and my daughter being the Tantrum Queen, I was a bit of an emotional wreck. There were plenty of meltdowns and I’m not proud to say that they weren’t all from Cupcake. Really, I was ready to come home nearly as soon as we got there and, by the time we finally did return last night, I was spent. Physically and emotionally spent in every possible way.

Still, it was nice to spend time with my mama and let our little girl see so many people whom she hadn’t in a year or more. And we went to the wedding of a family friend. A boy whom I have known all his life (him being five years younger than me) finally married his sweetheart of ten years. Weddings always make me cry, not only because it is always so beautiful to see love at its truest, purest, and most innocent (for who knows what all the tough years ahead will bring?), but also because I am reminded of my own wedding, how lucky I am to have married my best friend, and how much harder I want to try to do and be even better for him. I think I love going to weddings exactly for that reason: it breathes new life into our relationship and devotion to each other.

There was one moment at the wedding, though, that really made me ache. As I watched the groom dance with his mother for the Mother/Son dance, and they laughed and looked so at ease, I thought to myself, I will never have that with my Teddy Graham. I have always believed that our TG was a boy and, while I will never really know, I feel a constant loss over losing all possible boyness in my life — even the possibility of ever having a[nother] boy. I will never get to dance with Teddy and I may never get a Mother/Son dance at all. This thought was enough to make the tears fall while I watched the Mother of the Groom dance with her son, and enough to make them continue to fall into the night.

Then yesterday, before hitting the road, we met a friend for lunch. She’s a rather new friend whom I’ve known less than two years and she is expecting her second child. In fact, she is due one week and one day before my own lost due date…an “accident baby” they hadn’t planned on so soon. Ugh. The only thing that gives me any solace is that I know she, too, understands the pain of miscarriage. She had one six months before conceiving her first living child. And when I went through my own loss, she was there through e-mail and text, encouraging, comforting and praying for me. When she asked if we could meet for lunch, I had mixed feelings. I purposely hadn‘t contacted her since arriving in Idaho so that I could avoid having lunch with a pregnant belly at the table. But I’m not good at saying no, and mercifully, it was easier than anticipated. I still knew, as I looked at her swollen tummy, that mine would probably have been around the same size. I still wish it was me, of course. But it didn’t cut me to my core. I didn’t have to escape to the bathroom for a good cry. It was okay. Which gives me hope that maybe, some day, I will be able to handle seeing my sister with such grace and calm as well. Or maybe it will always burn my heart. Maybe the unfairness of it all will never escape me. Maybe.

So that was our short trip. Which felt so long. It was a mix of bitter and sweet. I shed a lot of tears. But the first week of this cycle was gone in a flash and for that, I am grateful. Up next: my birthday. Tomorrow! And then wait-wait-waiting — all ending with a heavy dose of disappointment or a mix of unimaginable joy and fear. And then more waiting beyond that.

Ugh.

My whole life is a series of waits, I’m afraid.