Tuesdays

As I lied in bed this past Tuesday night thinking about everything that had transpired over the last few weeks, a thought floated through my mind. I used the love Tuesdays at 10:00 PM. How ironic. You see, Tuesdays at 10:00 PM for the last few years, at least during the Autumn months, was a time for relaxation and diversion. My husband and I used to be infatuated with a television show that would come on at that time. We would remind each other throughout the day and count down the hours until our favorite show was on. We would cuddle up on the couch and let our problems dissolve back into the recesses of our minds as we watched fictional relationships develop or fall apart on screen. How trivial.

Fast forward to Autumn 2015.

There is no relaxation or diversion on Tuesdays at 10:00 PM. There is no such thing as even attempting to push thoughts away. My mind attacks me with visions that I can’t escape throughout the day. Replaying over and over again what transpired on Tuesday, November 3rd. No matter how I try to attempt to concentrate on other things, my mind always drifts back to the events of that day. Hour by hour, climaxing at 10:09 PM when the pain is the worst and not ebbing until the wee hours of the morning.

Sure, there are things, smells, memories throughout the week that are triggers, but Tuesdays are the worst. I don’t doubt that eventually Tuesdays will be just another day in the week that ends in “Y”, but being that it has only been two weeks, the wounds are still fresh. And every time I feel like I have a little more of a handle on my emotions, Tuesday comes along and my mind rips open the scab that has started to develop and that wound bleeds anew. It’s only been two Tuesdays, but boy, they’re agonizing.

Why Tuesdays? You’re probably asking yourself that question if you’ve been interested enough to read this far.

I delivered her stillborn body on a Tuesday.

Her name is Harper. I don’t usually share the names of my children on the internet and instead use their initials, but her name deserves to be known. Her name was Harper Eve. Is Harper Eve. I have to believe that even though she died, she is still here. That the energy and presence that we feel in the house is hers. That she somehow exists on a different plane somewhere and is safe. And happy. And not in pain. Those were the things that I wasn’t able to give her. My body failed her. I failed her.

Don’t. Please don’t. I can imagine the pity in your eyes and the platitudes on the edge of your lips. I share this story not for either of those things. Or for reassurances that it wasn’t my fault. We don’t know all of that yet, and even if the results of the multitude of tests returns inconclusive results, I will always be the person who failed her.

My precious baby died and I am sharing her story because it matters to me. I thought about writing this post sooner but my heart couldn’t manage it. I thought perhaps I’d wait until after the holidays, but that seemed to be too long a time to wait, because I should put all my memories on (virtual) paper while it’s still fresh in my mind. I’m cringing inwardly as I write though, because I don’t know if I will want there to be a day when the memories are dull or tarnished. It seems futile to hope that one day I could recall the memories without feeling that knot in my stomach or the weight on my chest, but I would prefer the pain than to forget. I won’t ever allow myself to forget. Perhaps I’m writing then to bear witness to her life, to pass on her story as a legacy, to ensure she’s not forgotten by others. That would be the noblest of my reasons. Perhaps I’m also writing because I’m selfish and weak. Because writing is somehow cathartic. Because it somehow allows me to release some of my pain into the ether instead of carrying as much of it with me. Because somehow, maybe, just maybe, that aching void in my chest might feel a little less empty if I share.

Her name is Harper Eve and she died on October 31, 2015. She was delivered on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 at 10:09 PM. She weighed 2 pounds, 9 ounces and was 15 inches long.

This is her story. It’s a very personal story so if you are one of the many who are adverse to my over-sharing, if you are squeamish or are offended by foul language, if you aren’t prepared for or don’t care to hear my innermost thoughts, please stop here.

I didn’t censor myself. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

———————-

My husband and I both have siblings. I have one and he has three. We were virtually only children though considering the 8-year and 10-year age gaps between the two of us and our closest sibling in age. That experience weighed heavily on our decision to have a big family with children whose age gaps would be, hopefully, 3 years or less apart. We were successful in reaching that goal. Our first two are 18 months apart and our second and third are 13 months apart. After the birth of our third child, we went from wanting two or three children, to wanting four or five children. My husband would occasionally worry that we wouldn’t have enough room in the house or that finances would be tight when they became teenagers and their appetites would triple our grocery budget, but ultimately he loved the idea of a house full of kids as much as I did. His best attributes are on full display when he interacts with our children.

When we discussed having a fourth child, we honestly thought getting pregnant would be as easy as it was with our second and third, despite the fact that I was still nursing my youngest. Believe me, I understand the mechanics of nursing and ovulation. I exhausted my resources online, through books and various acquaintances who were tandem nursing their children. I was sure that I was capable of getting pregnant at the time, it just wasn’t happening. Six months of tracking, ovulation tests and negative pregnancy tests. I realize that six months is nothing in the scheme of things. After all, we had tried for over a year and half for our first pregnancy, but I was irritated nonetheless. I was getting more and more frustrated every twenty-some odd days.

Then one sunny morning right after Mother’s Day, I got a positive result. I was as incredulous as I was ecstatic. My husband spent the better part of an hour reeling that it had finally happened. When we decided to tell the kids, we dubbed her “Nugget”. According to my tracking, I was about 5 weeks along at the time.

My husband and I had educated ourselves in between the last pregnancy and this one. I had forced asked my husband to sit through several documentaries with me regarding medical interventions during labor and delivery. I had read books and relayed information about natural ways to support a healthy pregnancy, and otherwise filled my noggin with as much information as I could about the various ways to support an unmedicated birth.

A home birth made my husband anxious. Despite being an otherwise healthy pregnancy, our second child was born premature due to an abnormality in my placenta that was found at 31 weeks. I had a less than 1% chance of being diagnosed with this condition. And I had a less than 1% chance of having the tumor be the size that it was. Keep those statistics in your mind for later. At 32 weeks and 3 days, I was induced and my son spent nearly a month in the NICU. He was healthy, but he needed time to grow. Despite my reassurances that our son’s complication had been caught ahead of time and that we would receive the same quality of care with a midwife, my husband was concerned about the possibility of a cord issue during delivery or other spontaneous issues that would could require hospital staff to intervene. I understood and agreed with him however was adamant that we look into alternatives to a traditional hospital birth. I had done that 3 times already, each time induced for one reason or another and I was determined to go into labor on my own this time. I was going to birth my child without medical intervention unless absolutely necessary. No Pitocin, no IVs, no constant hovering and no being stuck in a hospital bed unable to move around. I also wanted to be able to go home when I wanted. I wanted to be with my kids. It was one of the reasons I had wanted to birth at home, but if that wasn’t a possibility, I could at least attempt to find some alternative where I could be home with them as soon as possible.

We compromised on a birthing center. It is run by midwives, but affiliated with an OBGYN and literally down the road from the hospital. They have all the equipment necessary to stabilize the baby should something occur and be able to transfer to the NICU within minutes. That satisfied my husband’s need for safety. The birthing center has comfortable sized rooms with large monstrous soaking tubs, complete with light therapy and jets. They diffuse the same essential oils that I do at home. I could have a water birth if I wanted. They would monitor me, but there were no IVs and no medical interventions to speed up labor or otherwise alter the natural pace of birth unless it was absolutely necessary. Perfect. I asked about whether my previous preterm labor would be an issue and they assured me, as did my previous OBGYN, that the condition is a sort of “fluke” wherein they are unaware of the cause and I had the same less than 1% chance of it occurring again. Ok good. Oh, and how soon can I discharge myself after delivery? 4 hours provided I was doing well. Fantastic! Where do I sign up?

Short of some first trimester fatigue and some occasional bouts of light-headedness, the pregnancy went as smoothly as one could hope. I had had similar symptoms with my previous pregnancies so I wasn’t the least bit concerned. My midwives reassured me that I was doing well and spent as much or more time with me than my previous OBGYNs did.

Summer came and went and by September I was preparing our homeschool calendar and planning for a trip to see my family up north in October.   The second week of October, we made the 10 hour drive to see my family in Washington D.C. and spent a week gorging on the ethnic food we don’t have here and visiting the museums that my husband and I had only toured as children. We headed home the following weekend and started preparing for Halloween. Our kids had all wanted to be pirates.

On Halloween night, we piled the kids out onto the sidewalk amidst a crowd of costumes in varying degrees of spookiness. There were super heroes and villains, pirates and princesses and the ever-present Frozen costumes. We started down the sidewalk, the kids carrying their buckets and swords, my husband and I donning pirate hats alongside them. We traipsed around the neighborhood for just about an hour before deciding to head home and dig into the booty the kids had collected. In hindsight, I should have known that night that something was wrong. Harper was always an evening kicker. She wasn’t kicking that night. I had just assumed that with all the walking that we had been doing that I had lulled her to sleep. I vaguely recalled her moving that morning so I thought nothing of it.

The next day passed without a hint of what was to come. We went grocery shopping, played with the kids, and otherwise had a pleasant day. I had experienced some morning light-headedness but that was par for the course, at least for me. Some cold water and some time spent horizontally quickly solved that problem. I had a nagging feeling in my gut late in the afternoon that I hadn’t felt Harper move, but since she was an evening kicker, I thought I’d wait until bedtime before I started to panic. Mistake in hindsight #327. By the time we were preparing the kids for bed, I had openly started to worry. I was tapping my belly, lying on my back, drinking juice and shining a flashlight into my belly trying to get her to move. Nothing.

I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me and was having indigestion so I kept hoping that perhaps the rumbling noise of my stomach was making her not want to move. Irrational. I know. While I attempted to soothe my internals, my husband called the after-hours line at the birthing center and the midwife suggested we go to the hospital to have an ultrasound. Just in case. She said that most times the baby was just hiding in a spot and comfortable so it would likely take us no more than 20 minutes.

I said goodnight to the kids and left my husband to put them to bed while I headed off to the hospital. Looking back, I know Fate must have intervened to ensure that my family was by my side for the news. I hadn’t made it 3 miles before my ears started to clog up, my vision blurred with stars and my brow was covered in a cold sweat; a telltale sign I was about to pass out. I pulled over to lie down for a bit and somehow managed to make it back home. Even more concerned now, my husband packed up the kids and drove us the 20 minutes to the hospital, the entire time rubbing his thumb idly across my knuckles. I remember him asking me “Should I be panicking right now? I feel like I really should be panicking right now.”

Stupid me.

“Well, like the midwife said, it’s probably nothing. Right? Worst case scenario, we’ll be induced and Harper will have a NICU stint like G. It’ll be hard but we’ll get through it.”

Famous last words.

“I don’t even want to think about that.”

“Yeah, but we need to be prepared for the worst. You know? I’d rather hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Just in case.”

More idiocy coming out of my mouth.

My midwife had already advised the hospital we were coming so we were promptly buzzed into Labor and Delivery and ushered into a room where I was asked to change into a hospital gown. The staff were bright and pleasant considering it was past 9:00 PM. My kids were surprisingly well-mannered also, though I’m sure the various iPads had something to do with that.

I remember trying not to look at my husband for too long because his face was wracked with worry. He’s normally stoic and I’m the emotional one in the family so when he worries, I panic.

Fake it till you make it. If you worry, it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy and the kids will freak out. Keep it the fuck together woman. Keep it together.

The two nurses stretched the belt of the fetal heartbeat monitor around me and I remember jumping at the shock of the cold ultrasound gel squirted on my belly. I waited anxiously while the two took turns trying to find Harper’s heartbeat. At one point I heard a “thump, thump” but the nurses confirmed that it was my pulse and not hers.

Ok, don’t panic. She’s probably hiding or something. Or something, right? Shit. Prepare for Operation Rescue Harper. Perhaps she’s in distress. Shit. What if it’s the cord. Crap. Ok. That’ll mean an emergency C-Section. Fuck. Shit. Don’t fucking panic. DON’T FUCKING PANIC.

They called for an ultrasound. My husband and I side-glanced at each other, trying to focus more on our kids arguing over which app they wanted to play next instead of facing what could possibly be coming.

A few minutes later, a tall African-American doctor, with a lab coat, scrubs and a surgical cap walked into our room. I don’t recall her name, but I know her lab coat had “Ph.D.” on it. She was slender and pretty with a kind smile. She worked the ultrasound for a minute or two that stretched on for what felt like a decade. I kept looking between her and the broken analog clock on the wall. The seconds hand was jumping.

The doctor gripped my hand and my attention returned to her.

“I’m sorry, but there isn’t a heartbeat.”

*Screech. Halt. All thoughts blank.*

Seconds ticked by. She looked at me with pain in her eyes and the nurses all rushed to my side.

“Do you want us to take the kids outside so you can have a moment?”

I glanced at my husband, red-faced and trying to choke back emotion.

“Yes please.”

Another nurse or doctor, I’m not sure which, appeared and handed each kid a teddy bear and my husband stood to escort the kids out and got them settled.

They need to fix that clock. That clock is stuck on 12:39. 12:39. 12:39. 12:39. 

“Can I get you anything?”

The doctor was still grasping my hand but I felt nothing.

“No, thank you.”

What the fuck. This isn’t happening. It ISN’T. WHAT THE FUCK?!? Ok, wait. No. The clock is stuck. I’m going to wake up and this is going to be a really bad dream. This isn’t real. This isn’t real. This isn’t real… Fuck. How the fuck did this happen? Fuck me. 

My mind went through all the memories from my pregnancy, digging into each moment where I didn’t do what I was supposed to. Too many cupcakes. I missed a few doses of my vitamins. I had had severe shoulder pain the week before. I had used camphor and menthol balms on said shoulder. I had eaten my steak a little too rare. I had gone to the chiropractor. I had lifted things heavier than 20 pounds. I hadn’t had enough water daily. I had had a sip of my husband’s wine. I had missed my glucose test appointment a few days before. I had… I had… I had failed her. I had failed her and she had died. My precious baby girl was dead. Gone. For forever. No coming back from it.

“How did this happen?” I murmured.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times we aren’t able to tell why this happens.”

“But I’m in my third trimester. Is it because…” My voice started to rise in panic as I listed all the things I had done wrong.

The doctor shook her head slowly, her eyes sad.

“It’s nothing you did. I promise you it’s nothing you did.”

Fucking liar. 

I wanted to be mad at her for telling me what she had. I wanted to be mad at her for fucking lying to me. But she was kind and compassionate and I couldn’t will myself to feel anything.

My husband walked back into the room, visibly trying to keep his emotions in check, and I lost it. We spent probably 10 minutes embracing each other, mourning the loss of our daughter in each other’s shoulders. I buried my face in his shoulder, sobbing. Him trying to soothe away my “I’m sorry, babe. I’m so sorry…” with light “Shhhs” through his own pain. All of a sudden I pulled away and shook my head at him.

“Nope.” I said. He understood what I meant.

This ISN’T FUCKING HAPPENING. I will WILL it into not happening. Fuck this. Nope. Not happening.

My logical mind was rational enough to ask the appropriate questions when my midwife showed up to console me and offer her sympathies. She was disheveled and looked at me with sorrowful eyes:

“Well, that’s not the way tonight was supposed to go, was it?”

“Nope.” That was going to be my motto for the night.

I vaguely recall the details concerning next steps. I could either stay and deliver immediately, schedule a delivery in a few days or I could wait for my body to go into labor on its own and deliver then.

If I delivered immediately, my husband would be faced with leaving me and taking my children home to sleep and would have to stay home until he could find someone to watch them. My kids were tired and I didn’t want to burden my husband. Ok, that option was out.

If I waited to go into labor it could take up to two to three weeks and I couldn’t bear to carry Harper, knowing she had passed, for that long especially knowing what that would do to her physical body, so that option was out too.

That left scheduling the delivery.

“Will it be a c-section?” I asked.

“No, we’ll induce you.”

Well, been there done that. I thought sarcastically. I had moved on to being morbid. I’ll spare you some of the other thoughts I had.

“Ok well, I need time to get someone here tomorrow, so can we schedule for the following day? Tuesday?”

“Yes…” She went on to explain the technicalities of what would happen and told me that a different midwife would be on call that day.

They called in an ultrasound technician to complete an “official” ultrasound and after a round of final explanations, paperwork and condolences from the staff. We headed home.

We put the kids to bed just as we would any other night, despite it being WAY past their bedtime and both headed downstairs to the couch. I was numb. My husband was emotional.

This is fucked up. I need a fucking drink. Fuck this. Nope. Not thinking about it. Need a fucking drink. Like stat. Ha! How appropriate. Medical jargon popping in my head the night I get home from the hospital after they tell me… Nope. Not thinking about it. Gonna go pour myself a stiff one. I need something to take the edge off.

I’m not a drinker. I don’t avoid drinking but I also don’t drink unless it’s social. So it wasn’t a surprise when my husband told me that between my pouring myself a glass of the hard stuff, and my lack of emotion, I was freaking him out.

We sat on the couch quiet for a while before I admitted that if I didn’t utter the fact aloud I could pretend it didn’t happen. We stayed up for a long time talking that night. He was so incredibly tender with me I thought that alone would be my undoing. He coaxed me into his arms and told me we would get through it together. We mourned for our loss and shared our pain. Together. We talked about how it was a harsh reminder of how we had taken things for granted. The pregnancy for granted. Harper’s life for granted. We talked and cried and embraced each other until finally, in the wee hours of the morning, we fell asleep, completely emotionally and physically drained.

Somewhere in the midst of all of that, I managed to call my mom to ask her to come down and watch the kids so that my husband could be with me during the delivery. Thank God for my mom. She texted me no more than 10 minutes after I had hung up with her with the flight information and informed me she would be taking a cab to our house, and to not worry about picking her up. She’d be there in a few short hours.

The kids woke up the next morning at their usual time and my husband and I took comfort in routine. We weren’t thinking about it until we had to. We decided we weren’t going to tell the kids until after the delivery so we needed to keep upbeat so that they wouldn’t sense something was wrong. Sure enough, the doorbell rang mid-morning.

Game face. I WILL NOT BREAK DOWN. I WILL NOT BREAK DOWN. Game face. You got this. GAME FACE. 

God, if I hadn’t repeated that to myself 10 times before I opened the door. It wasn’t that I needed to pretend in front of my mom. It was that I didn’t want to, no couldn’t break down in front of my kids. I wouldn’t. So as my mom hugged me, I whispered “Happy face. They don’t know, and I don’t want to tell them until after.” She nodded and as only she can do, she changed the subject and diverted the attention to the kids. Perfect.

We talked briefly later in the day about what had happened and what the plan was for the following morning.

I was checked into the hospital by 7:00 AM Tuesday morning, with my first dose of Cytotec by 9:30 AM. I was already 1 cm dilated before any medication though only minimally effaced.

Between 7:00 AM and 9:30 AM I had started researching stillbirths. Statistics, causes, organizations. Ready for it?

Less than 1% of stillbirths occur in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy. Another less than 1% chance. Apparently I’m destined to have rare awful medical things happen to me. Great. When I mentioned it to the midwife who was delivering me, she made a comment about how it broke her heart that we had been through a “less than 1% chance issue” with the chorioangioma and now this.

Good thing I have a cancer policy and a good life insurance plan. Yeah. I was feeling rather morbid that day.

That wasn’t the end of the “rarities” either. Severe shoulder and neck pain are a sign of miscarriage and/or stillbirth. Rare, but a sign. I had had some serious shoulder pain the week prior and had even had an appointment with both the chiropractor and their in-house massage therapist the day before Halloween.

Fuck me. I should have known. I should have at least told someone. Called the midwife. Something. Fuck. Fuck me. I said nothing and now she’s gone.

By 1:30 PM nothing was happening. I had dilated a little more but I wasn’t feeling contractions.  More Cytotec. More reading. More researching. I had already sent my husband home for lunch and to help with getting the kids down so when my teeth started chattering from the chills the Cytotec was giving me, I texted him to request socks and a blanket. The four hospital blankets I had piled on me were doing nothing to keep the goosebumps at bay. When he returned, he mentioned he had missed my message so he had stopped by the store to buy brand new fluffy socks and a new blanket, covered in penguins and polar bears.

I remember idly thinking that it was just past Halloween and felt bad for Thanksgiving that it got by-passed. Stupid brain and its stupid musings.

By 2:30 PM, I had a slight fever to go along with my chills. Splendid. More waiting.

My midwife stopped back in at 5:30 PM to check in on my progress. Five centimeters but I was achy not contracting. Time to up the ante. She conferred with the OBGYN and gave me a double dose of Cytotec.

Well, hello there fever! I was over 103. Freezing but apparently on fire at the same time. And those contractions I hadn’t been feeling earlier hit me like a brick wall.

Damn if I didn’t fall more in love with my husband that day. He was the best coach I have ever had. Attentive but not pushy, reminding me to relax through my contractions. Those bad boys were a doozy. Forget timing them. I barely had time to catch my breath before another whopper squeezed me like a steel trap door.

“Babe, you’re going to probably want to get your epidural soon. Remember, they need to give you that bag of fluid before. She said it’d take about half an hour. Don’t wait too long.”

“Yyyyyep.” My teeth were still chattering. Stupid meds.

“Want me to call for the epidural?”

“Nnnnope.”

“Are you still cold?”

“Fffffucking ffffreeeeezzzzing.”

I probably had six blankets in addition to the blanket he brought me and he was trying to rub my arms to keep me warm. I could tell my poor husband was distressed but didn’t know what to do other than sit with me.

“I need to pee.”

Apparently, you’re not supposed to use a gigantic glob of hospital soap because I used some extra foam to wash my hands that time and by the time I went to sit back in bed, I would have bet my last dollar that I had somehow rolled in a poison ivy patch or magically contracted leprosy. My hands felt like they were on fire but were itchy all at once. Between my chattering teeth from the fever, my burning and itching hands, and my bare derriere from the fact that I hadn’t re-tied my gown, I recall chuckling to myself in disbelief. What else was going to happen? Maybe an asteroid would fall through the ceiling, the building would catch on fire, and Santa Claus would come to my rescue on a magical rainbow unicorn. Sure, I was being ridiculous, but if I didn’t attempt to inject some sort of humor into my predicament, I think I might have lost my mind.

By 9:30 PM, I had been dealing with a good couple hours of back to back contractions. Those medically induced contractions were no joke. They had me scrunching my eyes shut, furrowing my eyebrows and using visualization techniques while I tried to breathe through each one. My poor husband kept me calm the entire time. Every time I moved my blanket, I would be freezing again and he would tuck them back up under me. He was my calm during the storm.

“You want to get that epidural now babe?”

“Yep. I’m starting to get really tired. And this fucking hurts.”

I hadn’t wanted to get an epidural at first. And then my morbidity had kicked in and I thought:

She’s not going to be alive for me to worry about all those chemicals going through her body. Fuck it. Penance in pain. At least for as long as I can, then I’ll ask for the epidural before delivery.

I thought I had gone as long as I could. I was ready for that epidural. Well, little did I know I had waited too long. I had gotten my wish after all. The anesthesiologist had just inserted the epidural when I announced to the midwife that I was feeling A LOT of pressure.

“Ouch. Fucking OW.” Yep. That’s me. Saying “OW” while pushing out my child. Classic.

I almost laughed at her when she told me to hold on because they had to take the bed apart to make it a table for delivery.

Yep. Okay, I’ll just clench my glutes real fast and keep this baby from coming out. Sure thing.

“The epidural isn’t working. I waited too long didn’t I?”

The midwife, nurse and my husband all gave me sad looks. They tried giving me an extra needle-full of medication through the line, but nothing. I was feeling everything.

Well, shit. Ok, breathe. This is what I wanted originally, right? Yep, except this fucking hurts. Like a lot. Ok, breathe. Visualize.

I had been visualizing myself swimming toward a sailboat in the sea. It had been really far away at first, but as I got closer and closer to actually delivering her, the sailboat was getting closer and closer. My delusional mind was telling itself that if I just got to that sailboat, if I could just hoist myself over the side of it, I could save her. So I just kept telling myself that I just had to get there to save her. I had to save her…

I remember clenching my teeth.

“Fucking. OW!”

“I know it hurts. Focus right here.” My midwife’s voice was calm but sounded like it was underwater.

With my previous deliveries they had to tell me when to push because I was so numb from the epidural that I didn’t know I was having contractions. This time was different. I knew when to push and when to stop. I know it all happened quickly but I felt like an eternity passed, terrified at what I was actually feeling. I remember saying:

“Holy crap. How do women birth 10-pound babies without an epidural?! This fucking hurts!” I wasn’t screaming but I was definitely annoyed with my pain level at that moment.

The staff chuckled but refocused me on my task. A few pushes later, Harper was “born”. She was breech. Butt first. Then her feet, then her head.

She was perfect. They laid her on my chest and wiped her down, then snuggled her in a blanket for me to cuddle. She had beautiful long fingers, tiny little eyelashes, a shock of dark hair on her head, pink cheeks and pink lips. If I hadn’t known better, I would have said she was sleeping. Sure she was tiny, and her skin was a little loose since she hadn’t plumped up quite yet, but she was perfect. She was perfect and she was mine.

They cleaned me up and that was the moment when that stupid epidural decided to finally find my toes. I had wanted to sit up straight with her but my abdominal muscles were numb from the epidural so I leaned back at an angle with her snuggled in my arms. I sat and talked with her for a long while before the nurses came back to check on me. After about an hour or so, we decided to give her her first, and last, bath. The epidural hadn’t worn off yet so the nurse brought a basin over to the side of the hospital bed so I could watch as she bathed Harper. They weighed and measured her, then took her footprints.

The hospital had put together a memory box for me with a few sweet gowns that had been made and donated by volunteers, a teddy bear and a few other keepsakes. We dressed Harper in one of the gowns and took a few photos together. Her tiny hand was so small it could barely wrap around the tip of my thumb.

My husband was understandably emotional and spent time sitting next to us, but he couldn’t bear to hold her, so I cocooned her against my chest in the polar bear and penguin blanket. I had wanted to sing to her and I knew that would really break my husband so as silly as it was, I had him put his hands over his ears so I could sing my off-key version of “You Are My Sunshine”, changing the last line from the first verse to “I love you more and more each day”. The second verse had tears coursing down my cheeks, but I willed myself to finish because I had to sing to her one full song. I had to.  It would be the only time I would hold her and sing to her. At least during this lifetime.

The three of us sat together afterward, my husband and I just admiring how beautiful she was until I woke with a start, realizing that I had dozed off with her on my chest. I woke up realizing that her little body was starting to shift from being out in the air for as long as it had. I re-wrapped her and snuggled with her for a few more minutes before we decided it was time.

At 2:30 AM, we kissed our daughter goodbye.

This past Monday we brought her cremated remains home, in a small pink and silver cloisonné urn. I realize that it’s only her body and that her spirit is all around us, but it gives me comfort to know she’s here.

The days between the delivery and now have been up and down. Some days I can get a handle on my emotions. We were even able to do a unit study on India and Diwali last week. Then there are other days when I want to crawl into a hole with Harper’s polar bear and penguin blanket and never come back out again. Ever. I get what grief groups refer to as “grief attacks”. A grief attack is a sudden feeling of grief when you least expect it. Like when I was in the car with my mom and realized that the last time I had driven that particular route, I was on my way to find out Harper was gone. When the pain hits, it hits hard. I don’t wish that kind of pain on anyone. It claws you apart from the inside, never giving you a moment of respite. It taunts and torments you when you’re vulnerable. When you think that you’ve somehow managed to tamp it down for a little while, it rears its debilitatingly ugly head and snaps its jaws shut, giving its maw a shake for good measure.

Some days I can get past it, some days I can’t. On those days when I can’t, my husband steps in, or the kids get a movie because I need to retreat, process and regroup. It’s the best I can do right now. Things will eventually get back to routine at some point, but right now I’m giving myself the right to give in to TV, carbs, and sugar. Oh, and lots of reading. Diversion is my method of choice until I can figure out a better tactic.

That brings up the topic of me avoiding everyone. I apologize if my keeping to myself has hurt anyone. I just don’t know how to behave right now. I don’t have the emotional strength to hold myself responsible for being overly hurt or overly enraged when well-meaning folk say well-meaning things that just don’t make me feel right, or worse, when people give me the god-awful pity eyes. I’m in pain and right now I don’t care to be politically correct or diplomatic. I manage it for my family, but for the rest of the world, I am fearful of burning bridges because I’m incapable of seeing past the asinine and idol chit-chat. The platitudes. The social graces that you utter to people because that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s all inconsequential.

So until I can be amiable with the general public again, until I can once again put on my “fake it till you make it” smile, until I can somehow carry on a conversation with a stranger without being constantly reminded of my pain, I will channel my inner recluse. Hopefully my self-imposed hibernation period won’t last too long.

I’ll leave you with two parting thoughts:

One in four pregnancies ends in a prenatal loss, whether miscarriage or stillbirth. It’s actually between 25% and 30%. That’s a staggering number. Hopefully that inspires compassion and empathy for those around you – those who are grieving a loss and putting on their own “fake it till you make it” smile while carrying the pain of an unimaginable loss.

Gratitude. What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you thanked God for today? It’s a quote I stumbled upon but hit me square in the chest. All those times when I had griped about changing a million diapers… All those times I complained about dealing with a crying baby at 2:00 AM… I would gladly trade places with my little girl if I could give her breath with which to cry. Let us take a moment in each day to appreciate and love the people and things that make our lives worth living.

Please say a little prayer for Harper. ❤
Peace and love to you all.
J

 

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