Mixed Emotions Birthday

Yesterday was Ella’s first birthday. It passed fairly quietly with no real attention drawn to it. I didn’t want people to say “happy birthday” because happy is entirely the wrong word, and I knew that any sympathy given would only make me sadder. And we are so, so tired of being sad.

So we spent some time decluttering the guest room that will become baby #2’s nursery, we watched a few episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I made plans with my family to work on some projects for the baby’s room, my husband played a video game while I wrote a thank-you note and played with my new fancy planner, I looked at Facebook, I looked at Pinterest, I cried a few times because I just couldn’t not, we watched a movie, my sister brought us lasagna, and eventually we went to bed.

I wonder if we should have done more, if we should have released some butterflies or lit a candle or done something meaningful. I wonder if we should have eaten cake or bought her a card or done something celebratory. I wonder if I should feel guilty for not doing any of those things. But I don’t feel guilty. I’m not ready to be meaningful or celebratory yet. It’s been a year (and a doozy of a year at that), and I’m stuck between emotions. I’m not as inconsolable as I was, and I even have a lot of joyful, happy moments, but I can’t yet bring myself to celebrate her too-short life. Maybe in the future we’ll have a family day or a remembrance day, but this year, I just needed to get through it.

And since I don’t believe in “shoulds” when it comes to things like this, I’m going to let my feelings be what they are and that’s that.

Maybe next year, we’ll get to do a cake smash and sing to a toddler. Maybe next year we’ll have a party and invite all our family and friends. Maybe next year I’ll make a big deal out of a first birthday and post pictures on Facebook. But all of that will be for my second daughter. I don’t know how Ella’s second birthday will go. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Innocence Lost

I know too much now.

Pregnancy used to be this mysterious, magical thing that happened to people, and in some ways, it still is. But I will never be able to think of it again in the same way. When people get pregnant on TV shows, all I can think is, “Nope. That’s wrong. That’s totally unrealistic.” And when people look at a positive pregnancy test and say, “We’re gonna have a baby,” I just cringe. I heard a story about a lady who had her nursery fully decorated and ready when she was only 7 weeks pregnant, and I said, “I REALLY hope she brings home a baby because she obviously does not know that losing it is a possibility.”

I know that reality all too well. I was talking to a friend yesterday about the experience of loss in general. A friend of hers was murdered two years ago, so she knows what it’s like to lose someone suddenly, unimaginably. I mentioned the Thestrals from Harry Potter – the horse-like creatures that could only be seen by those who had been touched by death – and I said I really appreciate J.K. Rowling for making those things up because they’re something I can totally understand. Once you’ve experienced a profound loss, you’re just different somehow. You may not see creatures that others can’t see, but you truly do have a different kind of sight.

I know what it’s like to hold a baby for the first and last time. I know the empty feeling that comes in the days and weeks afterward when you should still be carrying life, but you’re not. I know the fight you have when you need hope more than anything, but having it feels like a betrayal of your loss. I know the special combination of excitement and terror you feel from the moment the next pregnancy test is positive. I know how slowly the time seems to pass when every day counts.

I see pregnancy much differently now. I know what’s happening at every week and what the major milestones are. Someone (I can’t remember who, so if it was you, don’t be embarrassed) recently was surprised to learn that pregnant women think in terms of weeks. I said I was 24 weeks pregnant, and they were like, “How many months is that?” Maybe some women think in months. I don’t know. When you think in days, it’s hard to imagine thinking in months. I’m 25 weeks and 4 days today, and I have to think in days because my baby’s chances of survival literally improve with each passing day. If she were born today, she’d have a 2-3% advantage over yesterday. I don’t know if it’s healthy to think this way, but it seems to help me get through each day, so I do what I have to do. Like I said, I know too much.

I know how the cervix works. I’ll give you a demo if you bring me an empty toilet paper roll. If you give me an empty toilet paper roll and a pair of scissors, I’ll show you how cervical incompetence works. If you give me an empty toilet paper roll, a pair of scissors, and some yarn, I’ll show you what a cerclage is and what it does. But if you are pregnant now or hoping to get pregnant in the future, it might be better if you didn’t know because the fact of the matter is that it’s quite rare, and you probably won’t have to deal with it, so there’s no need for me to scare you.

I know WAY too much about remedies for constipation that are safe to use during pregnancy so that you don’t have to push at all to poop. For most pregnant women, this is great info to have in order to avoid hemorrhoids, but for those of us with cervical incompetence, it’s an absolute must. (This one is a little silly, maybe, unless you’ve dealt with it, in which case you know it’s no joke.)

I know what a sunshine baby is, what a rainbow baby is, and what a pot of gold baby is. I know about all the ways to put extra progesterone in your body and the reasons for doing it in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. I wish I didn’t have all this knowledge. I wish I could be one of those moms on the mommy boards complaining about how I wanted a boy, but it’s a girl (because I have nothing else to worry or complain about). I wish I could be thinking right now, “I only have 3 more months to get the nursery ready,” instead of, “If she came right now, she’d be in the hospital for a few months, so we’d have time to throw something together.” I wish I could be blissfully unaware of the survival rates of preemies born at various gestational ages. But I can’t do any of those things. I know too much now.

This whole post feels a bit self-indulgent or whiny or maybe even arrogant to me somehow, but I don’t mean it to be any of those things. I might be complaining a little, but I don’t feel like I’m better than anyone else because I’ve been through something terrible. This is just what it’s like. And the truth is I have much to be thankful for, but that’s another post. This one doesn’t have a tidy bow on top and likely never will. I hope it makes no sense to you at all. I hope you gave up reading halfway through or read the whole thing and thought I should suck it up.

But if you can relate to everything I’ve said here, you aren’t alone. And now you know that I know too.

Blank Page

Any writer will tell you that the scariest, most daunting part of the process is the beginning. The blank page just stares at you, daring you to speak, and speaking makes you vulnerable. I’m convinced this is one reason babies learn to speak the way they do. Before they can say or understand any words, they practice using their voices, and at that point, they’re so darn cute that all the feedback they get is positive. Adults have a much harder time finding and using their voices, unless of course they’re still really cute (like Taylor Swift, who can apparently move mountains with a tumblr post).

I am not Taylor Swift, so this is hard.

I was talking to a friend the other day about why I haven’t been writing while on bed rest. I mean, it’s the perfect time to do it, right? And I thought it was because I just didn’t know where to start, but the real reason is that it’s too scary. Blogging about pregnancy is one thing, but blogging about pregnancy after losing a pregnancy is a lot of processing that I’ve been scared to do. I’ve been on bed rest for almost 6 weeks now, and without really even realizing it, the goal of every day has just been to distract myself and let the time pass. If I stop too long to think about the pregnancy, all the dangers come rushing at me, and when I’m home alone, that is too much for me to handle emotionally. So I’ve watched a LOT of Netflix, and I’ve been eternally grateful for the friends and family who’ve come by for a visit.

But just today, I’m starting to sense a change. On Friday, I’ll be 24 weeks. For most women with normal pregnancies, this is not a particularly special milestone, but for women with a history of 2nd trimester loss, it’s HUGE. At 24 weeks, the baby could possibly survive outside the womb, and at 24 weeks, hospitals will do everything they can to keep a baby alive should she decide to make her debut. Some hospitals will do their darndest at 23 weeks, and a few might attempt to resuscitate a baby at 22, but most won’t do anything before 24 weeks because the baby’s chances of survival are just too low.

I’m in a Facebook group for women with cervical incompetence, and almost every day, someone is celebrating having reached viability. I cannot emphasize enough what a big deal it is, so every day that I inch closer to it is a day with more hope.

And hope is really what transforms a blank page from something dreadful to a something possibly beautiful.

We’ve found ourselves recently starting to use more definitive language when we talk about the baby. We say “when” now instead of “if.” We worry about whether we’ll be good parents. We marvel at the fact that the hospital is going to just let us take her home without any supervision whatsoever. We argue about how we should decorate the nursery. And you know what? I don’t mind worrying or arguing like that because it means we’re turning a corner, and it’s a really nice place to be.