We are in June (finally!) and after a month of birthdays, anniversaries, reminders, and triggers, I am so glad to have left May behind. But, as I sat to write this blog, I thought over what the last five-plus years have meant to me and what I have learned. I experienced infertility, failure to conceive naturally, need to go through IVF, miscarriage and then a found heartbeat and then another miscarriage, failed IVF cycle, successful IVF cycle, a pregnancy that lasted into the second trimester, a diagnosis of severe preeclampsia and hospitalization, an emergency c-section, birth of my daughter, her nine-day stay in NICU, her death, another failed IVF cycle, a realization of my utter fear of being pregnant, finding and using a gestational carrier, the gestational carrier being pregnant, a global pandemic, my son’s birth, and almost a year of parenting our only living child. So, as I reviewed all of that, I thought what better way to encompass all of it but to talk about the lessons I learned and the lessons I continue to struggle with.
1. It is not my fault that this happened.
Like so many other women, I was raised in this world in which you had to protect yourself, you had to wait to have sex because your body was made to get pregnant regardless of whether you were trying or not. But, then, when you are actively trying to get pregnant and it is not happening, it is hard not to immediately assume that there is something wrong with you or worse, that the obstacles and struggles on your journey signify some sign from the universe that you are not meant to be a mom. I remember continually feeling like, okay, so how many times can I keep doing this and getting the message that it’s not working and yet, continue trying. At what point do I realize there is something bigger than me that is saying this is not what you should do. And for me, who always wanted to be a mom, it started to feel like maybe the message was I was not supposed to be a mom.
Going through losses further exemplifies this inner message. As an intellectual, I wanted a reason, an explanation, something that we could do differently next time to avoid the same thing happening again. I kept thinking of the quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” When I could not get an actual reason why we lost Sweet Pea and Colette, I then went internally and figured it had to be me. I would wake up in the middle of the night after Colette died and run through every single thing of the pregnancy. Okay, what if I had done x, what if I had insisted on y, and yet I could never find that answer. It was only until my therapist called me on it during a session and said, okay, let’s say that you did it differently, who is to say that the outcome would not have been the same or even worse. So, these days, I have to live with the fact that there is no reason for any of it, it is not worth my energy to walk through every step of the journey because I will probably not get an answer in my lifetime.
2. Everyone (and I mean everyone) will have advice for you and you will have to choose whether to listen or to follow.
It still never ceases to amaze me that even people who normally stay out of others’ business, when it comes to getting pregnant, choosing to grow a family, having kids, etc., they have no problem whatsoever in sharing their views and opinions and insisting somehow that you have to follow the same thing. When we were struggling, we got a lot of “oh, you should just adopt” or “go on vacation.” Yet, considering that very good friends of ours have had two adoption matches that have not panned out in the end, adoption does not seem like an “easier” path by any stretch of the imagination. And, go on vacation? Ha! Prior to Covid, Mark and I traveled all the time. Not conceiving was not because we were not traveling, it was just one of those things we had to deal with.
Then, when you go through the journey, the advice becomes almost more aggressive. I have been questioned as to whether we should be talking about Colette with our son Elliott, I have been questioned as to feeding practices, I have been questioned as to how we are approaching Covid guidelines now that they are relaxing the rules as more people are getting vaccinated, I have been told that everything is fine with my son and that I should not worry. All of these things lead me to want to design a sandwich board that I wear that encapsulates our entire journey, “Everything was Fine Until It Wasn’t.”
3. Striving for perfection is unattainable and unnecessary.
I used to have dreams of these perfect family photos, everyone happy and smiling and totally put together, hair completely perfect, outfits specially picked out and hair done and all. But, when no matter what else happens, a part of your family is missing and your picture will always be imperfect, it does not seem to matter if it’s perfect or not.
Some of my favorite pictures of Elliott are those where he is a mess, where the onesie looks like it hasn’t been washed in years, when he has food all over the face, when he was been teething and drooling. And some of my favorite pictures of us as a family come from the let’s snap this photo and move on. I love these takes because it proves that this is real, that our Elliott is alive and healthy and here and we can see him and touch him.
Lessons I Am Still Working On
1. It is not my fault that this happened
You may have looked at this one and thought am I reading the same paragraph I did before. So, first, good eye, and second, you are not losing your mind. I said this was a lesson I learned, but it is also a lesson that I still struggle with. It is hard not to think this is not my fault when Elliott looks up to the sky or seems to stare off at something that we can’t see, but imagine is Colette. It is hard not to think that it is my fault we don’t have a daughter when monumental moments in women’s history happen, like Kamala being sworn in as the first female vice president or when Jacinda Arden, the prime minister of New Zealand, works to ban most assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, within a month of one mass shooting. Mom guilt is real and it is powerful and when it comes to our angel babies, it is even more difficult to separate out the emotions from the reality of the situation. So, I have good days and weeks with this and then I have a struggle. I’ve learned the lesson, but I also still have to relearn it now and then.
2. Not every hiccup means complete and utter disaster
When your journey has more moments of tragedy than of joy, it is hard not to see something simple and snowball it and yourself into a greater experience. It becomes it’s not just a slight cough, it’s something critical, something fatal or life-changing. It becomes wait, this is different, does this mean X? Or Y?
This lesson really became clear to me after dealing with a pediatrician that we have since changed. She had recommended Elliott do physical therapy based on his low muscle ton,e and so he had been doing his sessions for a month or two when we saw her. She seemed fairly satisfied with his progress and so in keeping with the one-parent-only Covid restrictions, I hung up with my husband and got Elliott ready for his shots. The pediatrician then came back in and all of a sudden was talking about how he was not doing well and how concerned she was.
When we left the appointment, I was so glad that Mark had driven because I basically cried the whole way home, thinking that it must mean doom to be in this situation. Now, of course, after a call with a friend who is a physical therapist, talking to a few other moms, and then having another appointment with our physical therapist, I realize that this doctor was not the fit for our family because her hysteria and snowballing just increased my own inner hysteria and tendency to snowball myself. I also have had to learn that not everything is perfect, that even healthy kids will need tweaks and help, and it does not have to be a crisis.
3. It is hard to relate to a lot of other people.
When you have suffered the absolute unimaginable, it is hard to relate to a lot of people. When you have the person in your life that seems to only complain about the burden having kids is and you are struggling to have what that person takes for granted, it becomes so difficult to listen and to not just say, “Hey, at least your kid is alive” (which by the way, I have said on several occasions). It also is difficult when it feels like other people’s focuses are perfection and yet, no matter what you do, your family will always inherently be imperfect because part of your family will never be there.
I struggle with this all the time, finding that I rely on fellow loss moms way more than I ever thought I would, especially considering that three years ago, I did not know any of them. I find that the people in my life who anticipate what could be difficult to hear and either edit themselves or give me a qualifier, like I know that you may feel differently or that this may be triggering etc. are the ones that I want to spend all of my time with.
Suffering loss is beyond tough. Parenting a non-living child is exhausting. Parenting a living child after loss is overwhelming. Parenting a living child in Covid is terrifying. Parenting, after a LONG struggle, is tough. Parenting a non-living child and a living child in a Covid world is unimaginable and we all need to learn from each other just how we do it.