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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.
Today, I was reading a post on the forum at Glow in the Woods, about how someone was now 23 weeks from when she lost her baby at 23 weeks, and she felt that she was under pressure from people to “finally be over it.” It seemed to her that, now that she had reached the amount of weeks her child had been alive, people thought that her grieving process should be coming to an end. That should she be returning to “normal.”
Which made me wonder – is there an expiration date on grief?
I don’t think so. How is it even possible to say that grief runs a course, that it has an end in sight? Whoever you’re grieving for will always be gone. You’re not going to reach a milestone and think, “Well, that seems about enough grieving. Time to stop feeling bad!”
By the standard applied above, I should have stopped grieving for Lauren long ago, nine months ago, really. How does that even make sense? What does it mean that I spent fifteen minutes or so this afternoon weeping for no other reason than that I realized she would be eighteen months old this week? That I’m weak? That I’m holding on to something that I should have let go months ago? How else am I supposed to feel, at this point in time when my daughter would be reaching a milestone? How does anyone feel when they reach the birthday of a lost loved one or an anniversary date that they’re celebrating alone?
Is this something that only happens to the babylost, this idea that grief has an expiration date? After a a year or so, is someone who lost their spouse or a parent supposed to magically start feeling the loss less? Do people really think a time stamp can be put on something as as personal as grief?
That’s the problem, I think. Grief cuts people differently. For some, it’s a wound that goes on hurting for years, healing little by little, with relapses and weak moments. No, I don’t cry every day over my lost daughter, but that doesn’t mean I miss her any less. It just means that I’ve learned to deal with it better. And every so often, I slide back down that slippery slope and find myself mired in tears and anger and guilt, all those charming hallmarks of early grief. It’s a struggle to deal with daily life sometimes, even on my best days.
I know what grief has done to me. It has made me unreliable, fragile. I have days when I feel that I could break apart at any moment, that I have only the barest thread of self-awareness connecting me to sanity. Just because I know it doesn’t mean that I can fix it completely. I can mend the rifts, but I know that there is a chance that they will break in the future. I know it, and I accept it, but I still live in fear of it. Nothing is for certain any more, nothing except that paradoxical knowledge.
Six months is way too early to expect someone to get over grief to the point where they can adjust back to “normal” life. I don’t care who they lost, whether it was a parent or a spouse or an adult child or “just a miscarriage.” I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “just a miscarriage.” It’s a loss, and that’s all that matters.
I get that it’s not easy for people to understand if they haven’t been through it themselves. I do. They don’t have to understand. They just have to be patient. They just have to be supportive. They just have to be gentle. And we, the babylost and the grievers, we have to tell them. We have to tell them when we’re hurting, because how else will they know? We have to stand up for ourselves, because grief is subjective. We don’t walk the path of grief with an end in site. No, grief walks with us. It is our companion now, and sometimes it does drive us in certain directions, but sometimes we learn to live with it. Because it will always be there with us, no matter how far we walk, no matter for how long.
Grief fades, but it doesn’t die. If it did, so would our memories of the one we’ve lost. So would our love. To stop grieving is to stop caring. It may grow smaller and less painful, but there is no expiration date on grief. Nor should there be.
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.