Patience

I’m still pregnant, which is crazy. After all the worry and energy we spent and all the precautions we took to keep her in, now she’s not coming out even though there’s nothing left holding her in. For those who don’t know, for 22 weeks of my pregnancy, a 5-inch piece of thread was holding my cervix closed. That may be more than you wanted to know about my cervix, but my TMI threshold is pretty high now. At one point, I was dilated above the stitch with almost no cervical length left below it, which is to say that piece of thread is probably the reason I stayed pregnant through the 2nd trimester. That and bed rest, which I was on for 16 weeks.

But now I’m off bed rest, and the piece of thread has been removed, and we were fully prepared (well, as fully prepared as first-time parents can be) to have a baby three weeks ago, but here I am, due date coming up in 2 days, still pregnant. I realized yesterday that even though my due date was still a few weeks away, I had it in my mind that we were going to have a baby when the stitch came out. So now, even though we still haven’t reached the due date, I feel like I’m overdue. Just acknowledging that helps me to calm down, but this waiting is HARD.

The end of pregnancy is a weird, sweet, invigorating, terrifying, anxiety-ridden, exciting time. I guess like any time of transition in life, it’s like being stuck between two worlds, wanting to be in both for different reasons, but not really feeling like you fit in either. As I sit here watching my belly warp and gyrate, I know I’m already a mom. I haven’t seen her face or felt her little fingers wrap around mine yet, but the living, fluid-breathing child inside me is my daughter. She is her own person already, living off of my resources at the moment, but very much not me. She has her own body and personality and future. But as I sit here watching my belly dance, I am also aware of how quiet it is, how alone I am in my living room, and how, in a very short time, that will not be the case again for a while.

Since I went off bed rest, Will and I have gone on as many dates as possible, knowing an evening out, just the two of us, will be a much rarer occurrence soon. We’re trying to enjoy our last days before Baby as much as possible, but at the same time, we’re getting impatient for her arrival. Part of it is the lack of control. We have no idea when labor will start, and that is driving us a little crazy. Part of it is the excitement and relief that everything is ready in time. Now that we have the nursery set up, we don’t know why she wouldn’t want to come. Doesn’t she know we’ve prepared things for her? And part of it is that pregnancy is hard, and even though we know having a baby will also be hard, we both want me to be able to go for long walks again and sleep without 8,000 pillows in the bed with me.

We’re longing for some normalcy even though we know it will look VERY different from before. We’re ready to be out of this temporary state of pregnancy and get started on the new normal of being a family of three. We want to establish routines again, like meal-planning and exercise. We want to establish new routines, like play dates, library outings, feeding schedules, and bedtime. We want, after so much difficulty, heartache, worry, and fear, to get down to the business of being parents.

But we have to wait, and that’s hard. Living in the moment is hard, especially when the moment is always tense and uncertain. Was that a contraction? Was it a real contraction or just Braxton Hicks? How long ago was the last one? Are they becoming regular? Did my water break, or am I just lying in a pool of my own sweat? Is she moving? She’s not moving. I’ll have a snack, and oh there she goes. She’s fine. I’m fine. We’re fine. Everything is fine. I hope everything is ok in there. I hope she comes out safely. I hope I can do this. What if I can’t do this? Stay in there as long as you want. I’m not ready for labor yet. No, I’ll be fine. I was literally made to do this. Ok I’m ready.

But still waiting.

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.

Here we are.

Through most of my adolescent and adult life, I’ve had, here and there, what I thought were stressful situations, difficulties, pain, self-doubt, and general hardship. And while I will always believe that folks are entitled to their feelings, I can also look back on my 24-year-old self and say, “That? That’s nothing.” When I think of all the tears shed by teenage me over boys who didn’t like me, clothes that didn’t fit, friends who acted weird, and stupid decisions I’d made, I want to laugh. I don’t, though, because those were practice problems. They were warm-ups – the slow, clumsy progression of scooting to crawling to pulling up to toddling to walking to running with full muscle control – preparing me for the past year of my life. It’s been hard, to say the least.

I can only hope that this past year hasn’t been preparing me for something worse that’s about to come. Dear God, can we please have a break from this level of hard for a while? I hope so.

Hope has been more important than ever since late January, when we found out we were pregnant again. And yes, I say we are pregnant. I used to be opposed to it because obviously I’m the one carrying the baby, but Will is the one who carries me. He’s the one who works a full day, comes home tired, and still makes sure I’m fed, the kitchen is clean, the laundry is done, and the house isn’t a health hazard. My body is the one hosting our daughter, but we are definitely in this together.

We are pregnant. And it’s the most terrifying thing we’ve ever faced.

I’ve been wanting to start blogging again for a long time now, but I had no idea where to start. There are so many things swirling around in my head and my heart on the subject, and it’s just occurred to me that I could brainstorm them here and then just tackle one at a time, adding as I go.

  • hope
  • help
  • fear
  • bed rest
  • insufficiency
  • sufficiency
  • mindfulness
  • boredom
  • friends
  • strangers
  • pregnancy
  • waiting
  • finding
  • reading

We’ll start with those. Stay tuned.

When Advent Hurts

We went to a Christmas Eve service at my mother-in-law’s church the other night. Why they had a Christmas Eve service 10 days early, I do not know, but that is beside the point. The point is that I broke down crying while trying to sing “Joy to the World” because I just don’t feel all that joyful.

When we found out I was pregnant, before we got the official due date from the doctor, we estimated that we’d be expecting a baby on Christmas Eve. I loved the thought of expecting our own baby as we also anticipated the celebration of the birth of Christ. I thought about how special Advent would be this year, how much more meaningful. I looked forward to the lessons I would learn and the ways I would be able to identify with Mary. I was excited about experiencing Advent in a deeper way because of my own state of expecting.

But instead of singing Mary’s song of rejoicing, I find myself identifying more with the Psalmist: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” Instead of feeling like joy has come to the world, I feel like I’m still longing and pleading for it.

Maybe “Joy to the World” is just not my song this year. Maybe this year, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is the one for me. I’ve always liked it, but this year, I understand it more. Mourn, lonely, hell, gloomy, shadows, dark, death, misery – these are things I get. There are also things I want – Emmanuel (God with us), wisdom, knowledge, freedom, victory, cheer, strength, mercy, peace.

I guess in a very sad, unexpected way, I am experiencing Advent in a deeper way. It’s just not the way I wanted. So I listen to this version of it on repeat and try to think that maybe we all go through cycles of painful longing and joyful receiving all the time, and it’s just unfortunate that my own personal Advent isn’t lining up with the one on the church calendar.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

I’m supposed to write today about my favorite and least favorite kinds of exercise, but I’m honestly not really feeling up to trying to make it interesting. I like walking, dancing, yoga, and Pilates. I kind of hate everything else. The end.

What’s really on my mind is that today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and while I am having a really hard week, several friends’ due dates are either here or coming soon. These are the friends I was pregnant with. Even though I was a bit behind them, we were all in it together. Now we’re not.

Now I’m in a different kind of club – one people don’t like to talk or hear about, one that people apologize for accidentally reminding you you’re in, one you wish no one ever had to be in at all. But lots and lots of people are.

I promise you, if you know any women, you probably know at least one who’s lost a baby. If you know women currently of childbearing age, you probably know someone who has lost a baby this year. When we lost Ella, at least half a dozen women sent me private messages telling me that they too had recently experienced a miscarriage. If any of your loved ones have shared their heartbreak with you, please reach out to them this week. They are likely already thinking about the baby they don’t have in their arms or wombs; you won’t be reminding them of it. You will only be giving them the love and encouragement they desperately need.

Healthy Start

I could go back as far as high school to start this story, but I won’t. I’ll just go back to when I was pregnant with a tee-tiny bit of back story. Like a lot of women, I have always struggled with my weight. Looking back at high school pictures, I can see now that I was reasonably thin, but I did not believe that at the time. After high school, things just got worse, and although I’ve tried now and then to lose weight, I just seem to keep putting it on. I didn’t even lose a pound when I was training for the half marathon I did in New Orleans.

When I was pregnant, the nurses at my OB/GYN practice liked to remind me that I was overweight. As if I hadn’t noticed that I was shopping at the plus-size store. And as if I wasn’t already self-conscious enough with my belly growing and people asking if I was sure I didn’t have two babies in there. Thanks, gals, for the ego boost.

But I wasn’t allowed to try to lose weight at that point.

Then we lost our sweet Ella, and through the kindness and generosity of SO many people, we ate a LOT of not-the-healthiest food in a very short period of time, and I put on another 8 pounds in just 6 weeks, which put me at the most I had ever weighed in my life, including the time I spent pregnant. This was getting serious. I knew that I needed to do something, and I knew I needed help and accountability to do it.

Well toward the end of August, I noticed that a friend from college was going to be leading a health and fitness challenge group for beginners on Facebook. I didn’t really consider myself a true beginner, but I knew I was REALLY out of shape, so I figured I would fit in just fine. We’ve been at it for almost three weeks now, and not only do I fit in just fine, it is HARD.

The exercise is hard, the eating plan is hard, and all of the feelings associated with it are hard. There’s the determination to succeed, the fear of failing, the desire to eat things I shouldn’t eat, the guilt of eating things I shouldn’t have eaten, the thought that I should just give up, and then back around to the determination to succeed. I’ve just come to think about food and exercise in a certain way, and changing my thought patterns is really difficult. But it IS time for me to make these changes, so I’m going to do it.

On a purely mental/emotional level, I need to do this now:

  1. because I need to succeed at something after losing my baby.
  2. because I need to feel like I’m in control of my body after the complete traumatic helplessness of PPROM.
  3. because I need to treat my body well after being so angry at it.
  4. because I still feel so sad so often, but endorphins make you feel so great.
  5. because I need to be proud of myself for something.
  6. because I need to keep myself busy until we are ready/allowed to try to get pregnant again.

So off I go on a frightening, exciting journey. If you can relate to any of this (with or without the pregnancy stuff), you are cordially invited to join me. I hope you will, and if you want, you can tell me that you’re with me, and we’ll keep each other going.

Ella’s Story

I’m sure that some of you are curious about what, exactly, happened in my pregnancy, but you’re not sure if you should ask. Thank you for respecting our privacy by not asking. I don’t mind you knowing, but it is a painful story to tell, so I’m going to do it once right here and now and be done with it.

It was a Saturday morning. We had just eaten a late breakfast and were getting ready to play a video game together. Will was excited because he loves video games, and this was the first time I was going to play with him. I got up to go to the bathroom before we started, and while I was on the toilet, my water broke. I guess I should be glad it happened on the toilet and not on the couch, but it’s impossible to be glad right now about anything that happened that day.

I freaked out, started shaking, and shouted for Will to help me. I couldn’t stop shaking. I told him to get me a pad even though I knew it wouldn’t do much good at all. I asked if he could drive to the hospital because I didn’t want to wait for an ambulance. He said he could do it, so he changed out of his pajamas and I grabbed a towel to sit on in the car. We called the doctor on the way and told him what had happened. He said to meet him at the women’s center at the hospital.

When I walked in, they got my information, and a nurse came out to meet me and take me to a room. She just kept saying, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” I had no idea what was happening, and I think she probably wasn’t allowed to make a diagnosis before the doctor had seen me, but she knew exactly what it was and where it was headed.

The doctor came in, and they brought an ultrasound machine so he could check on the baby. There was no fluid left, and he couldn’t find her heartbeat. He did a full exam and said he could already see pieces of the membrane breaking and coming out. There was nothing to be done at that point but get her out. Her lungs weren’t formed well enough to breathe, so she was completely dependent upon the amniotic fluid. When it was gone, so was she.

We sat around a lot, family came and went, the chaplain spoke to us, the nurses patted my arm, and eventually they gave me something to start labor. They told me it would feel like really strong menstrual cramps, but that it wouldn’t be so bad. They asked if I wanted morphine, and I did, so they set up a drip. It did not just feel like strong cramps. It was so bad. But my sweet husband did not leave my side. He sat right next to me and held my hand the whole time.

We knew we wanted to name our baby, so we quickly made some decisions on boy and girl names. It’s amazing how fast and easy it can be to come up with a name. We make such a big deal out of it, but it’s really quite simple. Ella Claire for a girl. It’s what I had always wanted to name a daughter if I ever had one. Ella for my maternal grandmother, who was named after her own maternal grandmother. Claire for my paternal grandmother (and also my middle name until I got married and changed it). We had just taken a silly internet quiz that morning to tell us what we were having, and it was right. We were expecting a girl.

Several hours later, the doctor came in and told me to push. That part didn’t hurt at all. In fact, all the physical pain stopped at that point. Even the next day, I felt like they expected me to be in a lot of pain, but I wasn’t. They gave me a prescription for heavy-duty ibuprofen, but we didn’t even fill it. I was fine. Just empty and devastated.

I had a baby. The doctor told me to push, and out she came. He said, “Your baby has passed. It looks like it’s a girl.” He asked the nurse for the time, and she told him. 9:08 p.m.

This is the story of how Ella Claire McMillian came into the world. She was tiny and perfect. She had ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, all her finger- and toenails, little cheeks and eyes and ears and lips, a little perfect nose. Will said he’d always thought that babies just looked like babies, but that Ella looked like me.

We spent some time alone with her, and then the chaplain came in to pray with us and bless our daughter. Then they took her away and moved me to another room.

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Baby girl,

Your story is one of love. You were conceived in love, anticipated eagerly in love, wanted, hoped for, dreamed of, and prepared for. You were delivered in sorrow, and you are grieved in pain, but only because you were and are so, so very loved. And even though you are gone, your story is not finished because our love for you will never end, and it will never change. Wherever you are, my perfect girl, I am eagerly anticipating the day I get to meet you again.

Love,
Mama

Comfort Food

When we came home from the hospital, Will’s mom went grocery shopping for us. She came back with everything we’d asked for and at least four different kinds of soda. Over the course of the next week, more people brought more soda. We couldn’t fit it all in the refrigerator, so we had a little stash on the floor in the dining area just waiting to go into the fridge when space opened up.

Then there was the food. Delicious, cheesy, carbohydrated goodness filled our refrigerator and our bellies. Also cakes, candy, and cereal. We did get some vegetables, which we ate gladly, and some fresh fruit, which we also ate gladly…after we turned it into cobbler.

We felt guilty about it all for the first few days, but then we decided that feeling guilty about food was not what we needed to be doing at that moment. Our to-do list for the first week after we lost Ella consisted of three things:

  1. Get out of bed every day
  2. Breathe in and out
  3. Feed ourselves

That was all we could do, really, and even then, we relied heavily on the kindness of others to get ourselves fed. And y’all, that food was delicious. If you brought us anything edible, THANK YOU. I ate it all. There was a chocolate cake that disappeared little by little over the course of about a week, and it wasn’t until we were down to the last two pieces that we realized I had eaten literally almost all of it.

Food in general has been very comforting to me since my miscarriage, partly because there were so many things I missed eating when I was pregnant that I can now consume with abandon, partly because sugar and carbs and dairy are delicious and make your brain feel great, and partly because I was touched by the kindness and generosity of all those who provided for us when we could barely get out of bed.

I think there are probably two directions you could go with food after a tragedy. You can eat it all like we did, allowing yourself the grace and freedom to be comforted without worrying about the nutritional value of it. Or you can get very meticulous about your diet, using it as a way to control something when everything feels out of control. I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with either as long as you acknowledge what you are doing with food as part of your grieving process.

But six weeks and eight pounds later, I think it might be time for me to bring the eating phase of my grieving process to an end. And at the risk of using too many 30 Rock gifs (no such thing), I’ll just leave you with this and promise to talk more about food and exercise at a later date.

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