The Oak

I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes in just this year alone. Since this time last year: my stepdad died, I gained a new position, got pregnant with my first, lost my first, suffered months of severe depression, got pregnant with my second, new position was lost due to funding, lost my second, found out I have a genetic mutation, and struggled with the late twenties feeling that I’m failing.

There’s been so much death this year that it blows my mind. Before, Death was someone I’d only seen a glimpse of as older family members passed. Now? We’re frenimies. He’s at my house often, but I hate seeing Him so much. At this point I feel as though the sole reason for my pregnancies is to give Death baby after baby for some twisted reason. Being around Death so much has the unexpected side effect of making me feel ancient. Some days I feel so old that I’m surprised when I look down and see a still young and healthy body. I feel like I have accomplished nothing. I’m 27 and though I’ve held a couple of different positions, have no career. I’ve been pregnant twice and have no baby to hold. I feel unmoored in life and don’t know what my purpose is. I’m a teacher without students; a mother without children.

Then I think…27 is is an infant in the grand scheme of life. There’s a young oak tree in our backyard, only a year older than me. It’s small and you can tell it’s a young one. The other trees, tulip poplars and pines, planted at the same time are all big and look like they’ve been here forever. But the oak is slower to grow. It won’t even produce a large amount of acorns until it’s 50 years old. I look at that tree and think that, maybe, the human life is more like an oak tree’s. That tree is a little bent from surviving a major ice storm and some branches are missing from rain storms, but it’s still here. It’s still growing. Just like the oak, parts of me are forever changed from the storms I’ve weathered. But I’m still here, I’m still growing.

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No one told me this

I will forever be grateful to all of the women (and a few men) who told me their stories of loss both in the wake of Sayre’s and Aurora’s deaths. However, there were some things no one prepared me for. In the wake of Sayre’s death was I was so consumed with depression of the feeling of wanting Death to take me too, that I only really had time to think about surviving. Aurora’s death has been easier for me to cope with for several reasons (great care providers, a support network of fierce loss mamas, just to name a few), so imagine my surprise when I started having some weird mental things. nothing as awful as after Sayre, but just bitterness and a lot of hatred toward women with multiple children. Whenever I see women who have multiple children and are pregnant agin, I get so angry and think “they haven’t earned those children”. In my mind now, you shouldn’t get kids unless you’ve had to go through losing one. Every time I have this thought, I immediately feel like a complete and total horrible human. But I know it’s the grief talking, not really myself. Grief has a way of being able to sound exactly like you when it says horrible things, making you worry you’re becoming one of those people no one will ever like or love.

Another thing no one prepared me for has been the postpartum hair loss and hormonal acne. I thought you only got these things if you actually got to have your baby. Boy, was I wrong. No one told me I’d loose massive amounts of hair and that my face would turn into a battle zone of deep, painful pimples. The hair loss was the most surprising thing and there’s nothing you can do about it. I can run my hand through my hair and come away with a handful of stray hairs and I can tell just from handling it that my hair has thinned out. When I take a shower, it’s almost scary to see all of the hair that accumulates in the bottom of the tub. The hormonal acne, at least, has a fix. I decided to be proactive and fight it before it got bad this time. I researched dermatologist recommended skincare routines by watching some Youtube channels run by dermatologists. They all recommended CeraVe cleanser (Equate is the same formula and cheaper so I got that), a salicylic acid cleanser for the morning (Equate is what I got because it has 2% SA is was recommended by one of the derms I watch), CeraVe morning and night moisturizers, and a retinoid called Differin. After a week of using this routine I could already see a change in my skin. The big pimples I had on my chin were going down in size and weren’t painful anymore and I wasn’t getting new pimples. I’ve been using these products for almost three weeks now and I’m very happy with how they’re managing my acne. I’m really glad I didn’t wait for it to get out of hand like last time before I took action.

 

The shattering

This story of loss has been so different from my first. When Sayre died, I was completely and totally blind sighted. I was a sweet summer child and had the blind happiness and faith that only a first pregnancy can have. I knew miscarriage was statically common, but I knew plenty of women who’d had multiple children and never had one. Then there was no heartbeat and my world collapsed. I spiraled into months of severe depression and a lack of desire to live. I had reckless behaviors because I’d promised my mom, dad, and husband I wouldn’t kill myself. But that didn’t mean the universe couldn’t do it for me, so I begged it to end my life so I wouldn’t have to. I cried every day. Mention of babies or pregnancy triggered me into days long depressive episodes. I’d go from sleeping all the time to not sleeping.

Then I found out I was pregnant again.

I sank down on to the bathroom floor when I saw the faint double line on the pregnancy test and sobbed. I was so happy and relieved. I’d gotten it in my head that I couldn’t get pregnant again. Yet here I was. I enjoyed the first few days of my new pregnancy with a sort of contented bliss. Then I had my first appointment and the anxiety and stress took over. I worried every second of every day that baby would die too. I would say “if the baby comes”, “if I get to be pregnant that long”, and things like that.

My midwife and the ultrasound tech moth cried with me when we found there was no heartbeat. I kept saying “no” over and over, believing if I said it enough that my baby’s heart would start beating and they’d be fine. But that didn’t happen. I scratched my thighs because I was numb and needed to feel something as I cried and sat staring at the floor. I’d failed yet again. My baby was dead. My husband stopped me and it was like he put a stopper in the dam wall. I cried that night and the next day, but I moved didn’t dwell like last time.

This time around, I had far better care. My midwife is amazing and treated me with respect and compassion at my checkup. I had a panic attack in the waiting area from seeing so many pregnant women and babies. The nurses saw me and called me back, shaking and barely holding in tears because I couldn’t breathe. My midwife scheduled my blood tests for the first appointment of the day next time so I wouldn’t have to see/be around other women very long. She let me ask as many questions as I wanted. Didn’t call me dramatic or obsessive because I cried. She called my baby a baby. As I was scheduling my blood test appointment, she hugged me and told me how I could make it and to live one day at a time. Not to lose hope. My mom was blown away by the difference between this office and the last. Mom was there for both check-ups and told me how amazed she was with the level of compassionate care I received. We went and had lunch and laughed, and I even had a margarita. No screaming, no crying, nothing like that. I was, seemingly, okay.

Then the night before last hit. I was completely fine, enjoying a glass of rosè on the couch with a movie and popcorn while my husband was at work. Then I started crying. I had the urge to see my babies, so I went to our bedroom and knelt in front of the desk where we keep their pictures in frames. I sobbed. Huge, heart wrenching sobs from somewhere o hadn’t let myself feel. I kept saying “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” over and over, and “I loved you so much”. I held onto the edge of the desk as sob after sob wracked my body and I struggled to stay upright. I felt like I was atoning for killing my babies. And that’s how I see it; I believe I killed my babies. Somewhere deep within myself believes that, even though I know I didn’t. I cried until I collapsed in the floor. I made myself get up, wash my face, and take some CBD oil. I felt drained, like I’d run an emotional marathon.

I’ve cried on and off since. I’ve been so afraid to feel because I didn’t want to spiral like last time. I don’t want to feel like dying again. But, I realized, that in and of itself is more self-preservation than I’ve had since Sayre died. And it’s all for me. Not just because I’m pregnant or trying to get pregnant…I truly have the desire to live for the sake of living again. I still struggle with feelings of self-loathing and hatred toward my body, but at least I don’t want to die anymore. That’s a victory that I’ll gladly take.

Grating

Every post I see about people going on vacation, getting promotions, and especially announcing pregnancies/births grates on me. I feel the sensation of it digging into my raw nerves and scraping away until I’m bleeding. I always want to say “How fun! I’m going to the midwife to get blood work done to find out why my babies keep dying” or “Cool! I’m getting the chromosomal analysis results back from my second miscarriage today” and other things along those lines. But no one wants to hear that. Everyone says they’re “here” for me, but where exactly is “here” to them? Because I don’t see anyone with me. Everyone asks how I’m doing, but no one wants to hear that I hate my body for killing my babies and I hate everyone who has a living child. No one wants to hear that I feel as though all of my sweetness left me when my last baby did and all I feel is anger and bitterness now. How I’m so angry some of who I thought were my closest friends didn’t even bother to so much as text when we lost this baby. Every time I see a vacation picture or something else fun, I’m so angry. How dare anyone have fun when my world has stopped? I have nightmares about the midwife saying it’s something wrong with my eggs, uterus, or body in general and I’ll never have a living child. I have nightmares that I lose baby after baby. But whenever anyone asks how I am I smile and say fine before changing the subject. No one wants to hear any of that.

I Understand Now

I understand the woman who tried to steal June’s daughter in The Handmaid’s Tale now. Her baby was stillborn and her mind broke, couldn’t fathom leaving the hospital with empty arms. When I hear a baby, especially a newborn, cry in public my first instinct is to go to it. Hold it. Put it to my breast to nurse. But I can’t. That’s not my baby. My babies are dead. I look down and at my empty arms and still tender breasts and reality shocks me back. I keep walking through the grocery, park, store, etc. Arrive home only to stare at the empty crib and stuffed animals in the never used nursery. My mind can’t understand how I’ve been pregnant twice for a total of five months and have no baby to show for it. I understand that woman now. She’s who I could’ve been without compassionate care, family, friends, my therapist, and students all helping me piece my mind back together again. So when you see a woman staring at your crying baby in a public place, she might not be judging you. She might just be missing the baby or babies she had to watch Death take.

I Understand Now

I understand the woman who tried to steal June’s daughter in The Handmaid’s Tale now. Her baby was stillborn and her mind broke, couldn’t fathom leaving the hospital with empty arms. When I hear a baby, especially a newborn, cry in public my first instinct is to go to it. Hold it. Put it to my breast to nurse. But I can’t. That’s not my baby. My babies are dead. I look down and at my empty arms and still tender breasts and reality shocks me back. I keep walking through the grocery, park, store, etc. Arrive home only to stare at the empty crib and stuffed animals in the never used nursery. My mind can’t understand how I’ve been pregnant twice for a total of five months and have no baby to show for it. I understand that woman now. She’s who I could’ve been without compassionate care, family, friends, my therapist, and students all helping me piece my mind back together again. So when you see a woman staring at your crying baby in a public place, she might not be judging you. She might just be missing the baby or babies she had to watch Death take.

My second pregnancy

Because we decided we wouldn’t go public with our second pregnancy until I was in the second trimester, I wrote short entries in my phone’s notes section. We lost that baby at 8 weeks, but I want her remembered and her story shared.

May 17, 2018:

I found out I was pregnant for the second time on Tuesday, May 15th after five positive pregnancy tests. I’d been feeling tired, had a stuffy nose, and had heartburn late one night. I was amazed the tests were positive after feeling like I would never get to be pregnant again. I’m excited, but also so so scared. Scared I’ll lose this one too and be even more broken than before. I analyze every little symptom and wonder if it’s not strong enough and what that means for the baby. I don’t have cramps like I did last time, they’re only light and every so often now. My breasts also aren’t as incredibly tender as the first time. I do feel very dizzy, exhausted, congested, and just slightly off like right before you get a cold. All I want to eat is roast beef and all I want to do is sleep. I got home from school today, showered, ate, then passed out at 5:30 and slept until 10:30. I want to savor every single minute and record it all so I don’t forget. I want this baby to know how incredibly loved it was from the very beginning.

May 19, 2018:

I’m scared all of the time. All I want to do is hold my baby and tell her she is so very loved already. I talk to her every day and watch my belly for any signs of a little bump. I want more symptoms and to feel his life grow inside of me. I want her light to shine bright and to live.

May 21, 2018:

First midwife’s appointment today. Just blood test to confirm pregnancy, but it’s amazing what a different place I’m in from the last time I was in this office. Last time, I was emotionally fragile and bitter that all I saw around me were healthy babies and pregnancies when I’d lost mine. I had a lot of self blame even though there was nothing I could’ve done to save my son. Now, I’m sitting in the same chair just so grateful to be here and to be pregnant. I’m also nervous, but I hunk I’ll be nervous the entire time. Last time I didn’t think anything bad could possibly happen, but now I know differently.

May 22, 2018:

The midwife appointment went well yesterday. I saw Dee this time and her calm and kind nature out this worried mama at ease. She said baby and I seem healthy and that everything is going well so far. The woman in the lab was great and we were chatting about how this baby, due on January 20th, will be an Aquarius and not a Capricorn like me. When she went to insert the needle to take my blood, it hurt some and I was breathing through it. She kept asking if I was okay, and I said yes. Then I looked at her when she was drawing and told her I’m just grateful to be here and be pregnant. And I realized that’s the theme of this pregnancy: grateful. I’m having to learn how to surrender and trust in God and the Universe to lead me down the path meant for me. I keep being reminded of the ancient Chinese story of the mighty oak and the willow tree. A huge storm hit one night. The willow bent with each gust of wind and rain, costing it some branches in the process. The mighty oak refused to bend even a little, even as the winds got harder and harder. The willow urged he oak to bend even a little, bit the oak refused still. When the sun rose, the willow tree was missing a couple of branches but was still standing and okay. The oak, on the other hand, had been uprooted and was laying down in the field. Sometimes surrendering to the storm and bending to forces you can’t control is the wisest choice.

June 4, 2018:

Today is our first ultrasound with this baby and to say I’m a nervous wreck is an understatement. I’m so scared, but I’m trying to remember I have no control over whether or not my baby is alive and well. I’ve done all that I can on my end: sleeping a lot, eating, drinking lots of water, and keeping my stress levels relatively low. Everything else is in the hands of God and the universe. This pregnancy never ceases to amaze me in the way it’s constantly teaching me about surrender and faith. My nature is to control everything, the unknown is scary and control helps ease that fear. With pregnancy, especially this one, I am aware of the fact that I have ZERO control. My mind went wonky after Sayre died. I wanted to die, to go with my son and protect him in the afterlife as I never got the opportunity to in life. I’m scared that this baby will be dead already and that my mind will completely fracture. I’m scared I’ll actually kill myself if it happens again.

Reading these hurts me so deeply. I had so much hope and fear and, despite my best efforts, my worst fears are what came to pass.