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Once upon a time – before I got pregnant with Lauren – I was a great dreamer. I had big, detailed cinematic dreams that went through dramatic acts and story arcs. I was often the heroine, which was awesome, because I was a lucid dreamer. I totally knew I was dreaming, and I could control it as I pleased. I gave myself super-powers if I needed them. When things weren’t going my way, I stopped everything and changed it so that everything would be how I wanted it to be. If something happened that I didn’t want to happen, I could start it all over again and do it the way I wanted to do it.
I loved sleeping because I loved dreaming because I had such power in my dreams.
That changed when I fell pregnant with Lauren. Lots of pregnant women have vivid dreams, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Sometimes they dream of their unborn child. That didn’t happen with me. I dreamed very rarely while pregnant, and they were rarely the cinematic dreams I used to have. They were snapshots or flashes of images or odd, short scenes. I had no control; I could not rewind, I could not pause or stop.
I never dreamed of Lauren. Once or twice, I dreamed of a pregnant me. None of the dreams I had were particularly bad, but they weren’t the type of dreams I was used to. I was a bystander, a spectator. Nothing more.
After Lauren died, the dreams changed again. The cinematic dreams did return, but I no longer had any control over them. I was part of the story, a character but not an author. Things happened to me, and if I didn’t like them, there was nothing I could do about it.
Most of the dreams I remember in the six months after Lauren died were not good dreams. I dreamt often of losing Geordie, in one way or another. That was natural, I suppose; I had lost my daughter, so of course I feared losing my husband. Geordie took these in stride and reassured me after all of them. Eventually, they tapered off. Since moving to Texas,I’d had a few, but only a few.
This week, I had another, the first in several months. It was not the first vivid dream of this pregnancy. I’ve already had quite a few, but this one affected me the most. It was the first one of the pregnancy that threatened a loss of Geordie. I doubt very much I’ll ever get used to such dreams.
I don’t really have any point or direction for this. I wanted to write something for today, and this was what came to mind. I have found that pregnancy is not conducive to writing for me. It’s a block. It’s hard to think about anything but being pregnant, especially in the first trimester. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to keep to my regular posting schedule. I’m going to make special effort to post on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays, but I’m not sure of anything beyond that. Hopefully, my mind will be a little more focused once I’m out of the first trimester!
Now that Geordie and I are actively trying to conceive, I’m thinking more about what kind of birth I want to have and where I want to have it. I’m thinking about this because it’s what other – normal – women think about when they’re having babies. I’m thinking about it because I want to ignore the fact that I will not be having a normal pregnancy, even if there is nothing wrong with me or the baby or anything else.
My daughter was stillborn. That automatically puts me in the “high risk” category. Even though I had no problems with the three glucose tests I took. Even though I never had signs of pre-eclampsia. Even though everything was going perfectly until Lauren’s heart stopped beating. Obviously, something went wrong. Unfortunately, nobody knows what or why.
I understand why I would be considered high risk, I do. The last thing I want is to lose another baby. Nobody would want that. But it frustrates me that it means that I might not be able to make the decisions during pregnancy or delivery. Again.
See, in Japan, birth plans are pretty much unheard of. The doctor is in charge; what the woman wants doesn’t always come first. In fact, depending on the doctor, it doesn’t even factor in. My first doctor in Japan was awesome, but very Westernized. He had his own clinic and, being unaffiliated with a hospital, was free to allow his patients to make their own decisions. It wasn’t until later, after we’d moved and were looking for a new doctor, that we understood how incredibly progressive he was. We rejected a couple of nearby hospitals because they did not allow fathers (or any non-medical personnel) into the delivery room. We only heard of one clinic that offered pain relief during delivery, and they were no longer accepting anyone around my due date. Although I had a birth plan in mind, I didn’t bother to write it up, much less present it to my doctor at the hospital we eventually picked. We didn’t see the point. Nobody ever asked my opinion about anything or my preference. It was always, “This is what we are going to do.” And they only did that because we asked them. The first part of my induction with Lauren went terribly because I was never told what was happening. If not for Geordie’s presence, I would never have known what was going on.
That’s just the way it was. Given the circumstances, there was nothing to be done about it. But I believe that, even if I had been giving birth to a live baby, I wouldn’t have had much say in the matter. I almost believe they gave me a little more leeway – because I’m American, or because my daughter was dead, I can’t say. In the end, my doctor did the best he could, and I liked the staff well enough. Except for that midwife. I still think unpleasant thoughts about her.
The plain and ugly truth is that – according to “studies” – a woman who has had a stillbirth has a higher risk of having another one. How much higher is the risk? Twofold to tenfold, according to one. That seems like a pretty big range, right? If the risk of stillbirth is 0.4% for a first-time pregnancy, then it could be anywhere from 0.8-4% for subsequent pregnancies. It all depends on the cause.
So what if the cause was unknown? Lauren’s cord and placenta were fine and healthy. No knots or kinks – which is important, because cord accidents apparently can recur. The same thing with placental abruptions; those also have a possibility of recurrence. Bad news for mothers who have had those problems – but what about me?
I don’t know. I do know that I follow the blogs of at least two ladies who have given birth to healthy second babies after the unexplained stillbirths of their first children. I also know that I’ve heard the stories of at least two ladies who had two unexplained stillbirths before delivering a healthy baby. I don’t know where that puts me. All I know is that I’m terrified of losing another baby. I will do whatever it takes to be able to bring home a healthy baby.
But I also want to have some say in my pre-natal care. I love the idea of giving birth in a birth center, not a hospital. I just don’t know if that’s an option for me.
Tomorrow, Geordie and I are going to an open house at a birth center run by midwives. The woman who spoke to me on the phone warned me that I might be “risked-out” because of Lauren’s death. But she also said that they needed more information to make that decision. And she also said that, if I am risked-out, they might be able to offer some suggestions on where to turn to find the care I’m looking for.
So, I’m worried but hopeful, which is probably something I should get used to. It’s likely to be my most consistent feeling during pregnancy #2.
You may have noticed that I do a lot of baking, but that I don’t seem to bake a lot of cookies. In fact, in the past sixteen months, I’ve baked a very limited amount of cookies, and they were all for Christmas or other celebrations. I haven’t really been able to bring myself to bake cookies for anything other than special occasions. It’s a little strange, because I used to bake cookies all the time.
No, actually, it’s not that strange. I have very good reasons for not baking cookies, and it’s only recently that I’ve thought about dealing with my anti-cookie mentality. You see, in addition to not baking them, I don’t eat them much either. But that’s mainly because the only cookies I’ll buy are Girl Scout cookies. And of those, I stick to the Thin Mints. I don’t see much point in buying cookies that I can make better. Except, I’m not making them, am I?
Here’s why: my daughter died.
A lot of my issues go back to that, don’t they? It seems like the perfect hang-up, doesn’t it? But I’ll tell you, this goes beyond mere grief. It goes beyond just feeling bad about not having my daughter with me.
As I said before, I used to bake cookies a lot. I even baked them when I lived in Japan, even though all I had was a tiny convection oven that allowed me to cook about a half-dozen cookies at once. It was okay, because I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed sharing American-style cookies with my students and co-workers. I even made cookies while I was pregnant. It gave me something to do. And while I was baking, I would daydream about the cookies I would bake with my growing child. I thought about all the family recipes I would share with her, about how I would teach her to enjoy cooking and baking, about passing along family traditions and lessons about eating healthy.
I did what so many mothers do: I daydreamed about my child and the experiences we would share. I had so much I wanted to do with her.
The Friday after what turned out to be our final pre-natal check-up, I became increasingly concerned about Lauren’s well-being. I’ve written of this, so many times, and it still hurts me to think of it. I remember those terror-filled days, those hours I spent confused and unsure and powerless, as vividly as though I lived them yesterday. That weekend was the worst of my life, three days of anguish, knowing that something was wrong but not wanting to believe it, not knowing what to do about it.
To keep my mind off my fears, I tried to distract myself by making peanut butter cookies. The process went slowly, much slower than ever. I had to stop periodically to grab tissues and cry out my frustrations. I tried to convince myself that making cookies would lift my spirits; I told myself that these were the last cookies I would make without my daughter as a helper. I imagined the nostalgic role peanut butter cookies would play in my life, the cookies I made before Lauren’s arrival. I imagined that she would be especially fond of these cookies.
I baked a dozen of them before I gave up, turned off the oven, stuck the rest of the batter in our tiny fridge, and crawled into bed to cry myself to sleep. The batter remained untouched all the rest of the weekend and on into the week. It was still sitting in the fridge while I was giving birth to my dead daughter, and it was still in the fridge when we came home with empty arms. My mother threw it away; I couldn’t even bear to touch the bowl.
Since then, I haven’t been able to look at a peanut butter cookie without feeling that hitch in my chest, that scratching my nose that is the warning sign of uncontrollable crying. I doubt very much I will ever eat one again. I certainly have no desire to.
Even now, nearly sixteen months later, I find if difficult to enjoy baking cookies. I manage at Christmas because they’re familiar traditions, and in the context of the holidays, they’re comforting in a way. But the making of them is not always enjoyable. The cupcakes I bake have no connection to Lauren when she was alive – they are monuments of my grief for her, separate from her memory – but cookies are like little mementos, reminders of what I had in my grasp, only to have it taken when I wanted it most.
Two weeks ago, I tried making lemon sugar cookies, and they failed miserably. They were not the soft and puffy cookies I had hoped for (and that were pictured along with the recipe); they were flat and crispy, quickly toughening up into a hard-to-chew disc of disappointment. Rather a fitting metaphor, I thought.
In another two weeks, the Tuesday with Dorie assignment will be cookies. I haven’t decided if I’m going to make them or not. Part of me wants to skip them, to not put myself through the trouble of it all. But another part of me wants to try them, to not give up on cookies yet. After all, these will be something I’ve not done before – like the cupcakes, they would be part of the healing process. That might make them worth the effort. Healing is part of grief. I know I will have to make cookies again sooner or later; I cannot live a life of avoidance, especially when it’s something as simple as a cookie.
Ah, but that’s just it. For me, there’s no such thing as a “simple cookie” any longer. And maybe not for a long time.
We’ll just have to wait and see.