Appearances Are Deceiving: A Story of Loss and Hope

Appearances Are Deceiving: A Story of Loss and Hope

Miscarriage, pregnancy loss and infant loss are hidden pains with hidden scars. For the most part, people don’t discuss them openly because it’s uncomfortable and awkward and for some, shameful (although it never should be). But that doesn’t mean the pain doesn’t exist.

I appreciate the month of October not only for the beauty of the fall colors, but also because it’s given so many women the strength to say out loud that they have experienced loss and it’s given so many women hope in knowing they are not alone.

Author's Series: Writing Through the Grief of Miscarriage and a Mother’s Illness

We're so excited to introduce something new to our blog: The Author's Series. Each month, we'll be sharing a story from an author who has written about their experiences in motherhood. Their stories are vastly different, yet all share the common thread of motherhood. We hope that you enjoy seeing this journey through their eyes...and keep your eyes on our social media for some fun giveaways!

Un-Extraordinary Loss

Un-Extraordinary Loss

One of the main reasons I haven't shared my story up to this point is a sense of shame. I felt foolish grieving a baby I had only known about for two weeks. Had I been pregnant when my mother was young there is a possibility I wouldn't even had taken a test and would have assumed I was just really late. But the fact is, I was pregnant in 2012 and I had spent two weeks loving the child inside of me. I share my story for all the mamas out there like me.

Why You Won’t See Me Cry on the First Day of School

Why You Won’t See Me Cry on the First Day of School

 So, while I am sad that I might not clearly remember what it feels like to have a chubby toddler hand in mine or a ginormous preschooler hug on her first day of school...my hope is that in their place I will experience my fingers entwined with that of a woman’s as we prepare for her wedding, or the tight hug of a young adult as we drop her off for her first year at a university.

The Silent Mother: A Mother's Day Tribute.

The Silent Mother: A Mother's Day Tribute.

You are not forgotten. You are not weak or less of a woman. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are remembered and honored. YOU have the toughest job in the world, for to contain such love with no child to pour that love upon…yes…that is the toughest job in the world. This Mother’s Day, I celebrate you.

My Long and Winding Road to Motherhood

My Long and Winding Road to Motherhood

Time seemed to stand still. Maybe it was because I was unconscious, but three hours later we were on the road home with 14 fertilized eggs incubating in a dish. 

Joziah's Story

Joziah's Story

"They wheeled us to the back of the delivery ward away from everyone else and 1 hour later, our quiet, beautiful baby boy came into the world. I don’t remember much due to the medicine, but I’ll never forget pushing. A beautiful nurse, Beth, took our baby and prayed over him and cleaned him. We eventually held him, but I don’t know how long after he was born that we did this. Time was not important anymore. Nothing was. In the following days, we held Joziah, cried over him, took pictures of him, questioned why over and over and made funeral arrangements. Leaving the hospital was the worst. It was a feeling of deep sorrow, failure, shame, guilt which all sat on my lap instead of a baby to go home."

The story of a miscarriage

This is a repost of a story shared several years ago by one of our community members.  We are sharing again today on National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.  The Motherhood Collective Grief Support Group meets every second and fourth Tuesday of the month and all are welcomed with open arms.  

At the Motherhood Collective, we recognize that not all pregnancy stories have happy endings.  We're committed to supporting women through their childbearing years and while we understand the pain of labor and empathize with that 2 am feeding, sometimes the grief of motherhood is far greater.  Stories about infertility, miscarriage and child loss are stories of motherhood, too.  We are thankful for those of you willing to share your personal experiences, especially the painful ones.  It's our hope that stories like these will help mothers connect with and support one another.  Thank you, Laura, for agreeing to tell your story.  --TMC --

On July 2nd, we had an appointment scheduled for a first sonogram for our second baby. Due to circumstances beyond our control, I had to cancel that appointment. On Friday June 29th, our unborn baby went to be with the Lord.This is our story.

June 29th was weathered by the Eastern half of the country as the heatwave gave birth to a giant freak windstorm: the derecho. Ninety mile per hour gusts swept through the narrow passages between our 1920s row house. Our daughter, Joanna was asleep before the storm hit, but woke up when the power went out. Our little family waited through 40 minutes of strong winds and frequent lighting and thunder. The winds died down, the lightning danced over the mountain and the power remained off. I held my sweaty baby and sang show tunes to try and lull her back to sleep. My back and stomach were cramping, but my face kept smiling. After all efforts to sing failed, I made her 4oz of a midnight snack and she was eternally grateful. She conked out a few moments later.

When I earned my freedom, I went to the bathroom in the dark.

There was blood.

I checked again with a flashlight.

More blood. Like a period. But more. “Your will be done. Your will be done..” I chant like a monk. It brings an eerie calm to know that all things work for the good of those who love Him, even if 'things' involve losing a pregnancy at 12 weeks.

Do we go to the hospital? Do we wait it out? Who do we call? How do we even get phone numbers?

We have no internet to google "heavy bleeding during pregnancy". We have no internet to look up phone numbers of local doctors. We have limited light to find paperwork that may have a phone number of the hospital. We have no power to control our outcome.

We called our dear friends, Derek and Michelle, to watch our sleeping babe so we can go to the Emergency Room. The city is in darkness. The hospital is running on auxiliary power and only the vital machines are running. No vending machines, bathroom lights or television to distract from our thoughts.

12:30: We arrive, check-in, and they tell me they’ll get me back to triage as soon as possible.

1:00: Nurse Betty took my vitals and told us, “Usually you’d be back there by now, but tonight is kind of a disaster. The power outage caused a lot of car accidents and we don’t have any beds. Even the beds in the hall are filled. We’ll get you back there as soon as we can, Sweetie.”

2:00: Guy with a tree branch between his toes comes in cussing. Sits near the overweight mother and daughter and adjacent to a homeless gentleman.

2:45: I’m taken in the back to have an ultrasound. The nurse first tries on my stomach but my bladder is too full and I have too much gas to get a clear picture. She also says I have a tilted uterus. Thanks. So I pee and we try a transvaginal ultrasound. She quietly wiggles the wand to get snapshots of all of my important innards. I can tell when she finds the baby. It’s not moving. She goes to the screen where it shows the heartbeat. It’s a straight line; no heartbeat. She says nothing as she goes to the next screen.

4:15: I’m wheeled into a hallway.

4:30: Vitals are taken by another nice nurse who assures us that we will be seen soon.

5:13: Started hating the doctor and his stupid face.

5:15: "Where the hell is his stupid face."

5:35: Doctor comes in, confirming that there is no heartbeat. He said the baby was smaller than 12 weeks, so it likely stopped thriving around 10 or 11 weeks. He gives me drugs, sets up an appointment for another ultrasound and says he wishes us luck in the future. His face isn't nearly as stupid as I presumed.

6:00: The 3rd nice nurse returns with ginger ale and drugs. She genuinely asks "How are you feeling". I love her. She sends us on our way.

 

 

We arrive home in the sunlight at around 6:30 after weaving around tree branches once more. Traffic lights are still out, but the birds are chirping and the heat has not yet begun its terrible reign upon our powerless heads. It’s a gorgeous morning. We thank Michelle and Derek profusely for watching Joanna for us in our emergency. I’m still in shock and can’t really accept their “I’m so sorrys”. I’m still in the logical stages of the news; emotions haven't hit yet.Although I was only 12(ish) weeks along, I could feel that he was a boy – I just knew it. We were calling him Buddy because he would be joining us for Christmas.

 

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Aftershock

[June 30] Jonathan moved Joanna’s pack n play to the living room to watch her from the couch with his eyes closed. She thankfully entertained herself while Jonathan snored.

About 1/5 of Lynchburg is doing fine, with power, AC, water, and only a few leaves scattered across their lawns. When the traffic lights get dark, you can see lawns with debris, broken tree trunks, and smashed cars. Strange winds. We decide that our powerless home isn’t safe for our baby so we pack our things, dump our trash, wrangle the cat, and head north to my parents’ house.

Jonathan’s grandmother called me. She said that God knew our baby wasn't well enough for this world so He took him to Heaven. I started crying and she apologized for making me upset - I was crying at the beautiful image of God taking care of my sweet baby.

We arrived at my childhood home and my mom watched Joanna while Jonathan and I had some quiet time to process. It was the first time we'd been able to just sit in an air-conditioned room with no 'next step' to plan. We sat and talked about what happened. We talked about that it may be God's will that Joanna be a role model and older sister to her sibling instead of an Irish twin. We talked about how we didn't want to push down the sadness but rather use it to remember him. We talked about the nice nurses. We talked about what movies we wanted to see. We just talked. It was so nice to just talk.

I think the hardest thing is that I’m going to miss imagining what he'd be like.

10-25% of pregnancies end in a miscarriage [according to the American Pregnancy Organization], yet few women talk about their experiences. I didn't want to be silent about our loss. If anything I want those 10-25% to know they aren't alone.

We're placed into communities for a reason: to be with each other. We're here to help, hug, humble, and grow with together.

If you’d like to read more or know of someone that would benefit from hearing our story, please share this link: http://www.housebrokenmom.blogspot.com/search/label/miscarriage

Café Recap: Accepting Your Birth

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Our panelists: Erin Baird (CNM), Lauren Barnes, Kerri Bond, Kirstin Magnuson (Marriage and Family Therapist) and our moderator, Erica Wolfe. Birth is transformative. We meet women every day who could describe their births from thirty years ago in vivid detail. Part of our mission here at The Motherhood Collective is to transform the culture of fear surrounding birth, we strive to encourage women to educate themselves and create a supportive environment for birth. But the truth is, we all must enter birth with open hands. The stories we would write for ourselves are not always the stories that make us the strongest mothers for our children.

And friends, while birth is transformative -- it is truly only the beginning.

Kerri's birth experience started with a normal pregnancy, but was scheduled for an induction due to high blood pressure. She planned for a natural birth and expected everything to go quickly and smoothly. After several days with no progress, she eventually had an epidural and was sent to the OR due to cord prolapse. Erin delivered her baby and rode with her to the ER holding the cord the whole time. Erin explains that for the cord to be delivered first is very rare, and once the cord is delivered it cannot be put back. At only a few centimeters dilated the cord will be compressed by contractions and the baby's head during labor, which cuts off the baby's access to the placenta in the hours before birth. At nine centimeters the cord can sometimes be delivered with the head, but earlier in labor (such as Kerri's situation) this is not an option.

Erin has had many birth experiences (four), ranging from emergency vacuum to a natural birth. As an educated midwife she had expectations for her births and her abilities that were not met. When birth does not go the way we planned, it can be a difficult thing to come to terms with. Kirstin is inclined to listen to these stories without making suggestions- just being a safe and supportive person for them to tell their story to can be helpful. At six week appointments, Erin makes it a point to debrief with her patients to help them process their birth experience. Feelings of failure and depression are not uncommon and should be talked about and handled professionally in order to overcome them.

Sometimes we get so caught up on the negative aspects of our birth experience that we forget the positives; the times we were strong and the things that went right can get buried under the things we are unhappy about. One audience member found peace in writing the very worst of her birth experience down in the back of a notebook. She could be honest and not hold back, as opposed to when she talked about it with others. Talking with others that have had a hard time accepting their birth can also help by putting things in perspective and moving the feelings of anger into something more productive.

It is important to remember that trauma is defined by the person who experiences it. Sometimes a patient has a relatively normal birth but still feels traumatized by the experience. We often try so hard to prepare for birth but it is something that is ultimately out of our control. Physical and emotional trauma can both have lasting impacts. Sometimes it isn't until later that we realize that our birth was not ideal; one audience member saw in hindsight with her subsequent births that the care she received for her first birth was really not what it should have been.

More than 25% of women describe their births as traumatic. To identify this in our friends and other mothers, there are signs we can look for. "I didn't do well" (or variations of) is a phrase that Erin hears and knows is not a healthy outlook. Without meeting all of the PTSD symptoms, women can still have a negative or distorted view of their birth. Nightmares, flashbacks, avoiding certain triggers or not talking about the birth, difficulty sleeping, hyper-vigilance, panic attacks and overwhelming stress are all signs that a woman is struggling to deal with her birth experience. If a new mother is not sleeping because she is fixated on her birth (as opposed to the normal newborn sleep struggles), she should find someone to talk to. Talking to a counselor, who is a disconnected person that is not otherwise involved in your life, can help you work through your feelings without judgement. Trouble processing your birth experience can lead to postpartum depression, especially if you do not find a safe outlet for sharing your story.

Mothers are not the only ones traumatized by birth- fathers can also have a difficult time processing their role in the birth. Watching helplessly is not a good feeling and can leave them quite upset by the experience. Checking in with your partner and discussing the birth in the weeks following can be very helpful for both of you. A doula can also be helpful for both partners, as they can keep you both informed and provide support for each of you.

Postpartum depression can present in various ways; anxiety, mania or an obsession with the baby or birth are also unhealthy. It can present as obsessive-compulsive disorder, or euphoria on the other end of the spectrum. Euphoria is often followed by a crash, especially if there was traumatic experience that is being denied. It is important to remember that accepting medication is not a weakness but a step in the direction of normalcy and getting your life back on track.

Sometimes birth challenges come down to simple choices, but sometimes they do not not. When asked, “What advice would you give pregnant women regarding giving birth confidently in the future?” Katie Rohs from PATTCh.org says, “Empower yourself with your own knowledge, and choose a care provider that you trust deeply...Don’t be afraid to seek out different care if your needs aren’t being met.” It is important to recognize that we did not make an incorrect choice that lead us to an unwanted outcome.

Some births go according to plan, and some patients are not as deeply affected when they don't. But if you do have negative feelings about your birth experience or the role you played in the outcome, speak up and find support. The Motherhood Collective (and our Grief and PPMD groups) as well as other local and national resources are available to you.

To the mom of only one child… and for those who wonder why she doesn’t have more…

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Last week I tried to buy a bike rack. I found a good deal on a quality one and had dreams of family bike rides through Lynchburg trails with the summer wind blowing in our faces. All those dreams came crashing down when I realized my husband’s truck hitch wouldn’t fit the rack. Today, I bought another rack, one that fit my trunk and our budget and my expectations for quality. After school, I picked up my son and we took our bikes to a local park to ride our hearts out before a spring thunderstorm was to strike. I’m not sure what makes an 8 year old boy ride through every mud puddle, but he did and the whole backside of him from ankles to head was covered in splatters. It delighted him (and me) as his laughter and whistles competed with the wind.  

A close friend and I recently chatted about the pain of only having one child when our arms ache for more. For me, the years of infertility and the experience of an angel baby has left me a bit dried up and searching for who I truly am, when I was “supposed” to be the mother of a houseful of noisy children, who made Christmas dinners entertaining and left dirty socks in every corner. It doesn’t help that we live in a city where having children is almost a religion and only having one child entices many to ask… “Are you going to give that boy a sister?” Or the pitying looks from those wondering if I’m every going to conceive again. When Ethan was 5 or 6, the questions of when we were having another seemed to fade away. If we lived in a metropolitan area, I’m pretty sure no one would bat an eye at our only having one child. But today, it took me off guard when the owner of our favorite Mexican restaurant asked me that very question. In all fairness to him, we haven’t seen him in years as he runs multiple eateries, but it still surprised me.

 

A few years ago after we lost our baby, we went through fertility treatments. Physically and emotionally, I knew I was done, one afternoon. Sitting in the waiting room full of eagerly expectant moms with swollen bellies sealed the deal for me. I was done trying. Done with painful procedures. Done with daily temperatures. Done with ovulation kits and intimacy for the point of procreation, and that horrible two week wait after ovulation, wondering if I had conceived that month. Moving on from these lifelong dreams, however, cut me like a knife. Would I ever have a daughter to dress in bows? Would Ethan feel like he was missing out on life without a brother? Had I failed him in some way? Would I grow old one day and live alone in a nursing home with no one to visit me if Ethan lived across the country? How was I going to wrestle with my maternal instincts that seemed to be on overdrive? That wrestling led me to a new career pursuit of becoming a Lactation Consultant. Never in all my years of practicing my nursing career would I have dreamed I would work with breastfeeding babies and mommas. But it fits somehow, like a puzzle piece. This love for babies and nurturing has redemptively turned into a love for educating women and loving on their babies.

 

Yet, There are moments when I see adorable, chubby faced babies in bows, or that picture of a perfect family with parents surrounded by multiple cherubs in a field of grass with the sun casting a warm glow on their little family… that my heart aches. I have cried many tears in the shower over the loss of my baby almost 4 years ago…of the loss of my dreams of how I thought my family would look. Death of dreams demands attention.

 

I inwardly cringe every time I hear someone refer to a newly expectant baby (after the loss of another baby) as a rainbow baby. Perhaps because rainbows do not happen for everyone in that manner. It hasn’t for me… I went for a walk last week at the park and ran into a woman I had cared for at the hospital. Her adorably chunky baby was smiles and sweetness. I knew this woman had wrestled with difficulties in conceiving and had experienced a miscarriage. Some women exude joy in parenting. This momma is one such woman. She loves being a mother and is doing an amazing job. But she was wrestling with whether or not she wanted another child or not. She asked me the pros and cons of having one child, aware of my story.

 

I love that Josh and I have been able to parent Ethan with such individual attention. That my son has his passport and has been able to travel to other countries. He absolutely adores Mexico and wants to go to Europe. That he plays the violin, and I can actively participate in that experience with him. That we can have calm bedtimes and snuggles with him. That he doesn’t have to share our attention with other children at this time in life.  But I ache that he doesn’t have a brother to share a room with and be scolded with for whispers past bedtime. That I am the playmate at times on lazy Saturday afternoons, instead of a brother or sister. My heart is incredibly grateful for the neighborhood kids and the dear friends (who are like brothers to Ethan) who Ethan has shared incredible memories with. Mercies for my heart…

 

When that first bike rack did not work out, I was disappointed. But then another one came across my path a few days later. I chewed on this… This thought that one rack was not better or worse than the other. They were...simply different.  And so it is with my family and every other family with one child, whether by choice or not. We are not better or worse than any other family structure… we are simply different. We are us… and our child is an absolutely precious gift. Perhaps society can begin to accept the variations of families that don’t all look like alike and lay aside any personal judgements and ideas we hold others and ourselves too. And perhaps as mothers we can begin to address that our identities as women supercede being mothers. That who we are is more than the chores of changing diapers and washing dirty laundry. That we have a loving nurturer inside of us. And we can throw that love into raising our families…whether with one child or 20. And we can spread it to others outside our family too… as for me… breastfeeding mothers and their babies. Because we are strong and loving women who need the support of one another and need to extend grace to ourselves and our differences.

 

And speaking of washing dirty laundry… a little boy’s muddy clothing and shoes are asking to be cleaned.

 

Julie Brown, Mother to Ethan, RN, BSN, Breastfeeding Educator, IBCLC candidate

Julie serves as a leader for The Motherhood Grief Group which meets the 2nd & 4th Wednesdays of the Month at 12 noon. Please visit their page for more information.