Friday, January 30, 2015

Loss, Part 4: That Day

The night before Asher's birth I barely slept. I was wide awake and frantically doing laundry, cleaning the house, and working on the rainbow blanket with yarn a friend had given to me to knit for
Asher's rainbow blanket in progress
our rainbow baby. My goal was to use the yarn for a blanket for our couch for the whole family to share, instead of the baby clothes it'd originally been intended for. Eventually my body gave out and I collapsed in bed at 3am with the alarm set for three hours later.
   When the alarm went off I leaped out of bed, somehow full of energy, and picked up where I'd left off, making everyone breakfast, packing snacks, writing allergy and care information for the toddler whom we were leaving for only the second time ever, and baking muffins for everyone but myself because I needed to fast from midnight the night before. The Type-A in me went insane, keeping my hands busy so my mind could not think. Every time I stopped moving my mind immediately thought, "And today I will be unpregnant." I don't know why I thought that, but it is the exact phrase that kept entering my mind.
   We dropped the kids off and headed to the hospital, arriving exactly on time and checking in quickly. Within minutes I was separated from my husband and taken back to pre-op for the IVs, the gown, and the whole works. It took forever, and yet it was a blur. The questions, the idle conversation avoiding why I was actually there, the sweet nurse Latasha talking to me about my kids, my church, why we moved here, and more. I kept remarkably cool until the anesthesiologist came in to introduce himself. He shook my hand, told me his name(which I cannot for the life of me remember), then looked at my chart then looked at me, took my hand, and with the saddest, most genuine eyes said, "You're having a D&E? Oh, I am so sorry. How far along are you?" That was the crack in my huge wall of denial and I barely choked out, "14 weeks." He continued explaining how things would work, that I'd see him next in the operating room, and how everything would happen, then asked if I had any questions. I just shook my head. After that the huge stack of paperwork and signature consents began. Phrases like, "Life-saving measures," "Blood transfusions," and "Organ donation," floated in front of me and it had no impact on me. Nothing phased me until I got to the last paper, the one that needed my check at 'yes' or 'no' and signature confirmation for whether we wanted our baby's remains to be "respectfully disposed of" or to be returned to the hospital for burial in The Garden of Angels, a service we would be notified of and invited to. All I could do was choke out that I wanted my husband, and Latasha nodded and hurried from the room to get him. When she returned with him she said she would give us some time, and closed the door behind her. I handed the paper to my husband, watched him read it, and for the first time in all of this watched my strong man collapse in sobs, shaking as he gripped the side of my bed and tears rolled down his face. The very thought of disposing of our baby's body- literally throwing him away- broke us down to our very lowest.
   After that, there was no keeping it together. Dr. M came in and talked us through the procedure, best case scenarios, etc, others were milling in and out, checking papers, collecting blood from my IV line, introducing themselves and explaining their roles, and I heard almost none of it. I nodded and looked at my husband for almost everything, clutching his arm with one hand, and in the other a wad of tissues I occasionally wiped my nose with in an attempt to- Oh I don't know. Just because not letting snot run down my face seemed like something I should do, but I really didn't care. Soon the student anesthesiologist came back, held up a small syringe and explained that it would make the ride to the OR "more tolerable." I nodded and stared at my husband. Within 30 seconds the room was spinning and he appeared to be swaying side to side. I don't remember much after that. I remember the bed moving, my husband suddenly being gone from my side, and beginning to whimper as we went through double doors and soon my arms were being strapped down, my hand still clutching a wad of boogery tissues. The anesthesiologist put a mask on my face and said, "This is just oxygen," and my immediate thought was, 'This oxygen fracking stinks.'
   My next moment of coherency was hearing a woman's voice say, "You can wake up now, Megan. It's all over." I don't know what happened, but in that instant everything clicked: he was gone. I was unpregnant. I immediately began to wail, loud, uncontrollable sobs, and scream so loud I could feel my chest vibrate with the hot air being forced out, "I WANT MY BABY! I WANT MY BABY! I WANT MY BABY!" I couldn't stop. I didn't try to stop. I felt like I was outside my body just listening to myself scream over and over and over again. I never opened my eyes, but I was aware of several women around me, some moving, some just standing and stroking my face and my arms, saying with choked-up voices, "I know, honey. I'm so sorry. I know." After what seemed like an hour but may very well have been thirty seconds, someone asked for something-ml's of something or other, then shortly after I felt calm. I still cried, but I was suddenly aware that I somehow felt less like screaming. I just laid still, refusing to open my eyes, just crying quietly, apologizing to the nurses for being disruptive, and telling them how much I love ALL my kids, including my four at home. The nurse replied that I was perfect, that no one cared how loud I'd been, that it was all okay, and she knew I loved ALL my children so-so much and was an incredible mama.
    After what seemed like ten minutes(but according to my husband was an hour and a half) I was moved to another room where I was dressed in my clothes I'd worn in, and the nurse talked gently to me about support groups, post partum depression, and before bringing my husband in she said in a tear-filled voice, "Really, really, it's okay to feel this way and it's okay to need help. I'm not saying this as a nurse, I'm saying this as a mom who's been there."
   The rest of the day was kind of a blur. There was pain, there were tears, there was emotionally-void conversation with friends when we picked up our children to bring them home. There was sleep, more tears, there was a meal- the first in 18 hours- and snuggles with my kids. There were questions about Asher that I don't remember how I answered, and there were hours spent laying in bed beside my husband, weeping until the bed shook so much it woke him up, so he pulled me close and we snuggled until he was back asleep and I was back out of bed, unable to quiet my mind. So I started to write. All of this. While it's fresh in my mind, while I can remember the details and pour out my heart in a place where it might help some one some day, or maybe it will just be my own memoirs that I come back and read on his birthday, January 29th, every year, to relive the joys and struggles of his short life, and cherish ever day of the 14 weeks we had with our boy, our Asher Joel.
   God gave me his name in a dream before he was even conceived. When I told the name to my husband he said, "Oh yeah, that's a nice name," not fully expecting we'd even have another baby to consider naming. When we found out we were pregnant he said, "Yeah, I still like it." Asher is a Hebrew name that means "Blessed and Happy." We are so blessed and happy to have our Asher, no matter the pain we have endured during his life and and death. He is a blessing to have in our hearts and we are happy to have had him for that snippet of time. Joel is Hebrew and means "YAHWEH is God." This is of utmost truth. YAHWEH IS God. He is the Almighty. He is the same God that has kept us every moment of our lives. He is the God who has saved us from ourselves. He is the God who gave us each and every one of our children, including our very early miscarriage in December 2013, and our Asher. He is the same God regardless of the struggle in our lives. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is God.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Still I will praise the name of the Lord. -Job 1:21b

Loss, Part 3: Telling the Kids and a Twist

We've had to give our kids bad news before. We've had to give them hard news before. We've discussed death, and we've gone through loss with them, but never like this. Never this close. Never with this much understanding.
   When we left the Women's Center after that dreadful appointment, we buckled the kids in the car, closed the door, and hugged each other, then my husband said, "When do we tell them?" We decided we'd wait until we got home. Thankfully the drive was less than five minutes, and five minutes after that we called them all to the couch in the living room, ultrasound picture in-hand, and said it the only way I could: Our baby had died. The shock in my oldest two children's faces was heart-wrenching. I tried keeping my voice strong in an attempt to be comforting- to be steady and give them assurance, but I just could not. I let the tears flow as I held my oldest who immediately began to sob, and reminded them of all the loved ones close to us who had gone to Heaven before our baby- how Uncle Gabriel, Uncle Jimmy, Great-Grandpa B., Great-Grandpa C., Great-Grandma Edith, and Baby Caleb were there waiting for him, and they would help Jesus take good care of him until we got there ourselves. We confirmed to them that he was a brother, and reminded them of the boy name we'd chosen, asking if they still liked Asher Joel for his name. They did. 
   My oldest, my tender-hearted 8-year-old girl clutched me and cried freely. My second, my sweet, compassionate 6-year-old big boy put his hands over his face, determined not to cry, shoved his face into the corner of the couch cushions and shook, pushing away the hands of anyone who tried to comfort him. Our almost-2-year-old watched it all, frozen in place with a terrified look on his face, taking it all in as four of the six of us cried together. Our 4-year-old got the point, but still seemed a bit confused. "If he's a girl when he's born can we call him Asher Rosie instead?" My husband and I laughed through our tears and told her he was for sure a boy, so no Rosie. She was bummed, but the brief laughter seemed to assure our toddler that we were okay, and he leaped into my arms, clutched my shirt and stared into my face for several minutes like he was trying to comprehend what was going on. 
   Eventually our tears died down and we dispersed to eat some lunch and make more phone calls, but much of the rest of the day was quiet, with lots of snuggle, or in the case of my oldest son, he sat in a laundry basket in the corner of the living room, hugging his knees to his chest, refusing to speak and pushing away any touch. The rest of that day and during the days to follow I tried very hard to find a balance of showing that it was okay to be sad, it was okay to cry, it was okay to talk about our feelings and about Asher, while still not being a hysterical mess and frightening the kids. There were lots of awkward conversations, like when we went out for breakfast one morning and our sweet four-year-old rushed up to the hostess and excitedly exclaimed as she had done to everyone for two months already, "Guess what! We're having a new baby! It's in my mama's belly!" But that time she immediately caught herself and followed it up with, "Oh, but he died. We'll see him in Heaven, though! We just have to finish livin' on Earth first." I felt so bad for the hostess as her eyes widened and she looked from our daughter to myself, my obviously pregnant belly, and my husband, then turned and rushed us to our table. I'm not sure how we should have responded there, but we just kind of changed the subject and said, "Oh, wow, look at the big fireplace!" I felt genuinely bad for the hostess but totally unprepared to handle the situation any other way. 
   Possibly the hardest conversation to have with the kids in all things was the night before Asher was born. The three big kids had gone to our pastor's home for a few hours while my husband, our toddler and I went to another appointment. This was the 'deciding the next step' appointment. We had another ultrasound, expecting to see how things had progressed, if a natural birth was likely or even starting, and what our options were if "medical completion" seemed necessary. I was still very much sick- nauseous constantly and vomiting several times during that week of waiting. It was torturous to be so sick, and I spent several mornings bent over the garbage disposal heaving while trying to make breakfast, sobbing at the cruelty of being so sick and knowing my baby was dead. The only way I had ever been able to deal with Hyperemesis in the past was by repeating to myself hourly that it meant my hormone levels were high and my baby was healthy- but how does one cope when her body is violently ill and her heart is shattered to pieces because her baby is dead? She sobs into the sink and cries out to God out the window in front of her, "Why, God? What is the point?!" That's how. When we went to our appointment I told my midwife while we waited for Joan to come in and do the ultrasound about the symptoms I was still having, and she was puzzled. It made as little sense to her as it did to me. 
   When Joan began the ultrasound we immediately noticed a change. Asher was still just as tiny, still did not have a heartbeat, still no blood flow through the umbillical cord, but the placenta was pumping strong, and there was a new image on the screen: a large mass had developed to the side of the placenta, and it was pushing everything out of it's way, making the once ellipse-shaped amniotic sac more of a small 'C' shape, and she immediately went to get the doctor. After his examination and a long discussion it was clear we had one option: Surgical removal of the baby and the mass, and a biopsy of both in order to figure out what was going on. The time was set for the next morning, left to get our children and immediately began making phone calls and putting plans in place. 
   We said nothing to the kids until that evening before bed when we called them together again on the couch. We explained that the next day they'd be going to another friends' house because I needed surgery. Again, that heart-wrenching terror overtook their faces, and we down-played the seriousness, saying my belly was sick and the doctor needed to take out what was making me sick so I could start healing and be healthy again. We just gave them a warning that after the surgery I would probably be pretty sore so they needed to be very gentle with me and help Daddy take care of their little brother who doesn't understand being so gentle yet. That seemed to calm their fears and they began talking about the friends they looked forward to playing with the next day. My husband took that as his queue that the conversation was over so he left to take a shower. I swear, as soon as the water started and the shower curtain closed the kids decided that was when the heavy conversation should start. To wrap up the conversation I asked if they had any questions. My oldest son said, "So does this mean Asher will be born tomorrow?" 
"Yes," I said, "But remember, he died. He is just too-too tiny to live outside my belly so we still will not have a baby to bring home. He will be born into Heaven." My sweet tough guy immediately collapsed, threw himself across my lap and let the sobs shake his body. I held him, stroked his hair, and told him it was okay to be sad. I let my own tears fall and told him, "See? I am sad, too. I am very sad. It's okay to cry and be sad." My oldest stood beside me, her hand on my shoulder, eyes filled with tears and said, "Mama, when Asher is born will they play the cute music for them?" You see, back in November, the day we found out Asher was on his way, my husband had been hospitalized for periorbital cellulitis. While we were visiting him in the hospital one of the days we heard a sweet little lullaby play over the public address system several times, even there three floors away from maternity. When a nurse came in the kids asked her what the cute music had been about. She smiled and said, "That's the song that plays every time a baby is born here." My girl was now worried she would miss the 'cute song' being played for Asher's birth if she was at her friends' house and not at the hospital. "I don't know, honey," I responded. My brain told me it was very unlikely they would play a lullaby for a D&C procedure, but I honestly didn't know for certain. That was when my big girl began to really cry. I did my best to comfort her, and told her about reading in the bible that there are angels in Heaven who play instruments and sing songs, so even if the hospital did not play cute music for Asher's birth, he was being born into Heaven and I was sure the angels would play music for him. I held my kids and cried with them for several minutes, then when their tears subsided and they dispersed I promptly went into the bathroom where my husband was still showering and half-jokingly told him what a jerk he was for missing all the important conversations. I'm always the one who has to talk about penises, vaginas, homelessness and death. I guess that's why they call me Mama.

Part 4: That Day

Loss, Part 2: Waiting

The first two days after finding out our sweet baby's spirit had gone to be with Jesus were spent processing the fact of the matter. There were waves of tears, numbness, and shutting it out in favor of a fake mask of humor and happiness to cope. There were a lot of discussions between my husband and I- some tearful, some matter-of-fact- and most of all a lot of just holding each other and silently communicating with our closeness. We told the kids(more on that later), we told those closest to us, and after dealing with it for a bit ourselves, we posted to Facebook letting the greater community around us know. And we waited.
   The third day was spent getting punched in the face with the reality of not being able to be Mama to him like I am to my other babies. When I dressed my toddler in his older brother's hand-me-downs I cried knowing I'd never see my tiny baby in that firetruck tee or that colorful cloth diaper. As we buckled kids into car seats to get some groceries I began crying when I saw the empty space in the back where the new baby's seat was meant to go. When we went over further paperwork for the house we're in the process of buying I began to cry as I realized the "boys' room" no longer needed to be the biggest of the upstairs bedrooms, because there would just be two boys instead of three. When I said nighttime prayers with the kids and left out the line, "And thank you for our new baby. Please continue to keep him healthy and strong," my heart felt like it was broken pieces I was about to vomit from my mouth because they hurt too bad to keep inside. I took a shower before bed that night and just sobbed in the hot water, meditating and giving my body permission to let my baby go, then dried off and went to bed begging God to let my baby be born that night while the children were asleep and it was just me and my husband, so we could be peaceful and handle the process together.
   The fourth day was spent in a very dark place. When I woke up and realized I'd slept through the night and awakened pain-free and still pregnant, I had to repeatedly and verbally remind myself, "God did NOT let me down." I've been in the dark place before. It's a place where My spirit is so low and my mind so overwhelmed with depression that I could literally stare at a wall for hours on end, unable to move, unable to care, unable to ANYTHING.
   In my pain that day I did the most heartless thing, and it whipped my head into shape in an instant. All along my husband and I had been keeping very open and raw communication. He'd been more emotionally expressive and vulnerable than any other time in our lives together. It was incredibly healing and bonding for both of us. I kept asking him, "How are YOU feeling? I know people are asking how I am, but I know this is not just about me. He's your baby, too. How are you?" But when I was on the couch at the end of that day in that very dark place, he sent me a text message from the office and said, "Can I do anything for you?" My fingers spewed horrible selfishness in a message that read, "Rewind 4 weeks and change everything." My incredible husband, in all his patience, love, and compassion, responded with, "I really wish I could. Believe me I would. I want my child." I was immediately slapped in the face with my inadvertent selfishness. HIS child. It was his child. I was reminded how badly he was hurting, too. I apologized profusely for my thoughtless words. His honest and incredible response made me sob and love the man more than I ever thought possible: " I understand you're hurting. It hurts me doubly. I lose my child and I can't help my wife with her suffering. It sucks." That's what it took to snap me out of the dark place and help me focus on the good, the beauty in the ashes of this awful situation, like the intense love and selflessness my husband had for me.
   The days after that were a mix of the first three days- waves of anguish and tears, raw questions from my children and equally raw, honest responses, love and comfort from all those around us, new realizations of the layers of our loss, and joy in the little things around us. And more waiting. Most of the friends I spoke to who experienced a similar later trimester loss said they could not bear the thought of carrying their perished child around in their womb, so they'd opted for immediate intervention. For me, to carry my boy with me was a comfort. Though I was well aware his spirit was not there, I was able to sing the sweet songs to him I've sung to each of my babies. I was able to put my hand on my belly over and over and thank him for letting me be his Mama. I was able to fall asleep each night with my hand on my belly, spending "One last night" curled up in bed with my baby. And I was able to do a lot of healing. A lot of talking to God and my husband, working through healing in the waiting for his birth.
   Every day there was a looming feeling of both dread and relief ready to explode whenever the birth process began. It never began.

Loss, Part 1: Say Something

My last two posts have been widely-spaced and entirely about a miracle in our lives: Life. The
incredible privilege of GROWING a life, specifically, because we found out the day after Thanksgiving we were given another beautiful life to grow and nurture. This post is about something a bit different in our lives. Loss.
   In Spilling the Tiny Beans I explained our decision to tell people about our new pregnancy immediately upon finding out ourselves. My husband and I both felt compelled to really publicly celebrate every moment of this baby's life from the very first moment we could, and not let taboos or fear affect our joy. Now I know why.
   Around New Years when I was 9 weeks pregnant and battling Hyperemesis, I kept getting a feeling like something wasn't right. It was just a FEELING, nothing more, but it was nagging and I casually mentioned it a few times to my husband. He was sweetly encouraging, reminding me as I well know not to let my anxiety get the best of me. On January 19th, the night before our first check-up of the second trimester with my midwife, I was still ragingly sick with HG around the clock, but had a dream- more of a sense within a dream- and woke up with the distinct knowledge that we would not find a heartbeat that day. My husband was awake when I woke up from the dream, and while I did not tell him why, I tried to talk him out of coming to my appointment that day, telling him it'd just be too stressful to bring all four kids, and our local friends who usually babysit for such things were out of town. He assured me it'd be just fine and he was excited for the appointment because we always hear our babies' heartbeats together for the first time. I reluctantly agreed. Our appointment with the midwife went well, we discussed the HG symptom management, diet, safe natural remedies for things, and briefly discussing things about our past births and the birth coming this summer. I did, however, mention to my midwife my "gloom and doom" feelings the past several weeks, and additionally how it was unnerving to me I could not yet feel the top of my uterus, because I always had been by then in the past. She reassured me and said, "Well lets get the doppler and hear that little baby right now." My children and husband all gathered around the table where I laid, big smiles and eyes wide with anticipation. Nothing. Five more minutes of nothing before Melanie said with a smile, "He must be hiding. Lets go across the hall and get an ultrasound  of that stubborn guy." Across the hall we went, but my heart knew.
   I could immediately tell he was small. Much smaller than he should have been, and there was an unmistakable absence of that beautiful flicker of heartbeat on the screen. "He's so small," was all I could say.
Melanie guarded her facial expression closely as she said to us, "I'm going to get Joan(another midwife). She specializes in ultrasounds and can always get good measurements and angles."
Then she laid the wand down, stepped in front of me, held my hands in hers and quietly said, "I can't say for sure, but he is very small and I didn't see a heartbeat." I fought to keep my face steady but choked on my words as I said, "I know. I had a dream last night. He's gone." She kissed my cheek and quietly left the room.
   Fast forward 45 minutes, and a perinatologist from the other half of the office suite ushered us, Melanie, and our toddler(who would not stay in a birthing class room with our other kids and a nurse to watch a movie we'd happened to bring with us) into another room for a high definition transvaginal ultrasound. He was gentle but stern and matter of fact, showing us our perfectly formed tiny guy, measuring just 9 weeks(how far along I was at New Years), and physiologically all the signs showing he was no longer living. After his job was done he gave us his deepest condolences and left the room, as did my husband who was holding a now screaming toddler who was distraught at being cooped up in the tiny exam room having missed lunch time for this extra-long appointment and closing in on nap time, while I sat and cried with Melanie as she held my hands and hugged me repeatedly, and I asked the rawest questions about every detail my mind could fathom about what was next.
   Because of physical signs showing a natural miscarriage would likely start soon, we decided to take the option they presented to wait a week before intervening. The waiting was rough.

Part 2: The Waiting