Bubble. It’s a word that after this pandemic is over and life returns to some semblance of normal, I would like to remove from our vocabulary. But, honestly, I have wanted to remove this word from our vocabulary for years now.

child in a bubble - Parenting After Loss: Building a Protective Bubble

Adobe Stock/pal1983

When we first started down the path to parenthood, we were happy, thrilled, excited. But, as months went by and the negative pregnancy tests piled up, it became more difficult. At some point, the desire for a protective bubble for us came up, a bubble away from the world, away from the questions of so when are you two going to have a kid, away from the news of other people getting pregnant, where we could live and figure out how to change this path or even how to manage this path that had become difficult when we expected easy.

The path then became a path that involved fertility tests, diet changes, drugs and hormones that I injected myself with and caused mood swings ranging from crying at the slightest thing to feeling like I was going to jump out of my own skin and everything in between, bloating from shots that caused me to not have clothes that fit or to spend mornings digging through my closet to find what I could manage to put on that fit and that would not lead to suspicious looks or loaded comments as to whether I was pregnant or not.

Again, I wanted a bubble, a place where I could go through these experiences and not have to function in the world.

As the initial procedures failed and as we began to figure out next steps, the dreaded are we doing IVF or not question, the what happens if questions and fears consuming us, it became even more difficult to function as a normal adult human being. I began to create my own little figurative bubble, sharing our struggles with close friends and keeping them close, but shutting out others. I hid updates on social media from some friends who just shared pictures of their babies or pregnancies because it was too hard to see.

Then, we finally got pregnant on our first round of IVF! Immediately, I wanted to surround myself with a literal bubble, to protect myself and this little miracle that was so fought for. I was scared all the time and tried to not do anything that could risk something happening, all while dealing with pregnancy symptoms like the most extreme, constant exhaustion I could have ever imagined. Then, we lost Sweet Pea, not just once, but twice, and again, I wanted that bubble. I wanted the bubble that would protect us emotionally, but I also wanted the bubble that would protect our small family.

Time marched on, and eventually, we got pregnant again via IVF with our daughter Colette. Having had the experience of losing Sweet Pea, the desire for a bubble became a larger desire, not just from us, but from our family. My mom would joke, okay, let’s put you in a bubble to protect that baby. What she and others didn’t know was how much I wanted that bubble, the way to say, okay, nothing can affect my baby. We also lived in the figurative bubble where very few people knew we were pregnant.

When I was 21-weeks pregnant with Colette, our tiny dog, my oldest child so to speak, ran out of the house and I was chasing after him when I fell. Immediately, in addition to worrying about whether our little munchkin was safe from my fall and getting Nemo back in the house, I thought, if I could have just had that bubble. The fall did not seem to do any harm, other than scraping up my legs pretty badly and causing me to cry, thinking I had done something wrong. The next day, I still insisted on seeing my OB and made an appointment. That visit is the visit that would completely change our path and ultimately completely change our lives.

I ended up in the hospital with preeclampsia and just wanted a bubble to protect Colette.

I took the hospital stay as the opportunity to have as close of a bubble experience as possible. Doctors would come in and out all day and each time they came in, I would ask, okay, so what should I be doing. The answer over and over again was exactly what you’re doing, just stay here and cook that baby. But, yet, I kept asking to the point where one OB who was on call for about a week finally said, “You know, I wait outside the door to your room and think what I should respond with saying when you ask that. I thought about saying something like write a best-selling children’s book, but then stopped myself because I also know you would do it.”

The bubble I did create as I made my hospital room the coziest room possible, posting inspiring and funny quotes all over the walls, bringing my own pillow and blanket, and displaying gorgeous flowers that friends and family brought, burst on May 23 when I was taken down to deliver Colette via emergency c-section. I remember thinking this is not how it was supposed to go, it is too early, she’s too small, while also hoping that along with doctors and nurses, we could create a bubble in the NICU to protect her and keep her safe for as long as she needed until we went home.

And that bubble did keep her safe for her short life until the bubble burst on May 31 as they removed her from the incubator that had housed her for nine days, and delivered her to my arms and then my husband’s arms and then ultimately to heaven.  Our bubble was no more and we would never have that same feeling of a bubble ever again.

After Colette’s death, I struggled with the idea of a bubble.

I was so tired of living in constant fear and trauma and worry as we had for years on this parenting journey, but I also hated being out in the real world, of wearing the proverbial scarlet letter that branded me as the woman whose daughter died, of getting the sympathetic head tilts whenever they did see me or heard that my daughter had died, and the triggers that now came along with questions I had already hated like do you have children or how many children do you have.

Ultimately, when the real question of what happens now, how do we bring a child home, I just could not find a bubble or the feeling of a bubble big enough for me to feel like I could handle being pregnant again. Going with a gestational carrier felt much safer and much closer to the bubble feeling that I so needed. When we found out she was pregnant, I wanted a bubble for her and worried about whether she was doing everything she could be to create her own.

Then, as I was just starting to get comfortable that G was in fact doing everything she could be doing, Covid hit.  Suddenly, I found myself worried about G’s bubble, both in what I imagined and what the recommendations were for protecting ourselves from this pandemic. When I found out that her part-time job as a server was no longer due to orders to shut down restaurants, I felt a sense of relief. I also worried about our bubble and wanted to close Mark and me off from the rest of the world, to ensure that we would not get sick.

We stayed in our respective protective bubbles throughout the rest of LL Cool T’s pregnancy.

Elliott was born healthy and safe, and it now became our job to keep him that way. Our bubble expanded a little as we allowed grandparents and aunts and uncles to come visit our little, gorgeous miracle. I swayed between wanting to hover and ensure he was safe to wanting to now take a deep breath and think we did it, he’s home and safe. And honestly, that dance between the two has continued on until today. When we put him down at night to sleep and know that he is in fact asleep, we will go downstairs and have time for just the two of us. During that time, I am generally able to do the deep breath and relax, but every night, as I climb the stairs to head to sleep, checking on him one last time before I do, my breath catches just before I make sure he is still breathing and wishing that there was something I could wrap him in to keep him safe.

Now, as Covid continues on, but we are starting to see the briefest peek of light at the end as adults are getting vaccinated, I still very much live in fear and wish there was a way to wrap Elliott up, to put him in that bubble. Yes, adults are getting vaccinated, but currently, there is no vaccine for children under 16 and while some research and testing has begun in older children, there is no idea when a vaccine for someone as young as Elliott will be ready. And that is scary, especially when it is starting to feel like the rest of the world wants to snap their fingers and return to normal and we cannot even begin to conceive a time where we will feel safe enough to do that.

And our bubble does not just involve Covid, it also involves that we have been lucky enough to enclose ourselves in our own little bubble where we don’t have to have tough questions about how many children we have because our self-created bubble only includes people who were there with us when Colette died.

It was a bubble I had not even realized we had created until it was popped the other day.

The snow that has fallen in our area was pretty extreme, even for Chicago, and then as temperatures rose and the snow and ice melted, we noticed we had a leak in our ceiling. It is likely the outcome of all the weather changes on our roof and if that is the case, nothing can be done until everything has melted, but in order to be extra safe, we had a plumbing company come out to take a look. When they got to our house, I happened to be holding Elliott in the same general area but a safe distance away and Elliott fell asleep in my arms. While the guys were talking to us, one of them asked about Elliott and said, “Is this your first?” Wow, that feeling of bubbles bursting hit hard and I honestly was not sure how to react.

Luckily, Mark came up with some sort of answer about Elliott being our second and that we lost our first, but it just highlighted for me that this bubble created to protect us from a pandemic has also protected us from the outside world that sees us with one child and assumes that he is our only child and that it is okay to ask questions or make comments based upon that assumption. And that eventually, that protective bubble will start to burst and we will have to deal with what comes as a result.

So once again, I find myself wishing for that bubble, the thing that protects us from the outside world, cushions us from the physical and emotional blows that the outside world brings us as loss parents, as parents of a non-living child, as parents of a living child born after losses, and as parents in a Covid world. If anyone knows how to build such a thing, please let me know.  In the meantime, we will provide whatever protection we can for our family.

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