October 30, 2010

So, we lost our baby. Just one week before seven months, I went in for a regular prenatal appointment. After a family baby shower my sister-in-law threw for us and a day of setting up the nursery, with all her little cloth diapers and toys and clothes in place, a spot for every tiny sock, for every copy of Goodnight Moon, for every little hooded towel. I went in for a regular prenatal appointment and they discovered her heart, once so strong and fast, had stopped beating.

As I lay on the table, with the ultrasound technician whispering how sorry she was, I realized my whole future was gone. The best gift I'd ever been given, the one I'd wanted more than anything since I was a child myself, had been taken from me with no good reason, and with no explanation of why.

The midwife gave me a mug of tea and gently explained that I'd have to give birth to her, that day or the next. I waited for my husband to arrive, as he had to go back through the security gate at Logan with the news that his daughter was gone, take a shuttle to get to his car and drive up 95 to get to the birth center. He sobbed on my shoulder while I told him how sorry I was. It was the second time I'd ever seen him cry. The first was at our wedding when I sang to him, the song was At Last.

At last, my love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song

At last, the skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clover
The night I looked at you

I found a dream that I could cling to
A dream that I could call my own
I found a thrill to rest my cheek to
A thrill that I had never known

You smiled, you smiled
And the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine, at last

We gave birth to her in the hospital, surrounded by midwives and nurses, wonderful women who had been there, who were there, who called in to check on us after their shifts were over, who wrote us personal notes and cards after we left. Our experience at the hospital was like being wrapped up in a safe cocoon. I thought it would be its own brand of hell, but it was the most special time of my life, it was the closest I ever got to my daughter. We held her, we named her, and way too soon, we let her go.

Since those days at the hospital, I've been in a bit of a fog. I see a therapist. She suggested, and I agree, that the fog is subconsciously self-induced, as a way of distancing myself from life, so that I can observe what's going on around me and consciously choose what to apply meaning to, and what to let float away. I spend my days knitting, baking, cooking, or just lying on the couch looking at the television. Some days I feel like myself. I can laugh and joke and spend time with others. Some days all I can really do is just stare blankly. Really, these times of myself and not-myself don't take up entire days, they occur in shorter periods of time. I'll be fine for a few hours, then suddenly be sobbing so hard I can't hold myself up, which will last for five minutes, then I'll be done, I'll stand and continue doing whatever it was I was doing. Or I'll be completely unable of getting out of bed, off the couch, of moving at all, and my husband will suggest we go outside and sit on the swing, and that suggestion will be all I need to pop up, get myself a mug of coffee and step outside to breathe some fresh air.

We go to a particular beach, a very small beach, with lots of sea glass. We collect it. Since our honeymoon, we've collected sea glass while at the beach. While pregnant, we decided it would be a tradition, a family activity we would do with our kids. We found that while we were on a great sea glass beach on PEI when we started, once we got back home it was very difficult to find any at all on the beaches of New England. We looked, we may have found one or two pieces of white, but nothing much, and no colors. My biggest goal in my sea glass collecting life was to find a blue piece. It had been over a year of looking and I'd never found one. White, obviously, green, sure, even yellow, red and black, but not one blue piece, ever. The day after we came home from the hospital, after giving birth to our Ellie, we went to this new beach for the first time, and found piece after piece of sea glass. White, light green, dark green, medium green, and even some very light blue. Not the blue I was looking for, just barely tinted white-blue, but it was still very pretty. We filled our pockets and took in the sunshine, breathed the sea air. We walked through the little coastal town and bought some coffee, looked at the little shops that were mostly closed down for the season. We bought some fudge. It was my first moment of peace, being there on that beach.

I didn't find much peace, except at that beach. It's our beach. I needed to go back every couple of days. I smiled at our beach. It was at that beach that I found myself answering my cell phone for the first time. I'd just been letting the calls go to voicemail, but without even thinking, one day at the beach I just answered.

We decided to have her little body cremated, and to scatter her ashes. We felt that was the best way to honor a life that never got to live. To scatter her remains somewhere beautiful, so she could experience some part of this world. We were discussing where to put her while we were walking down our beach. The thought occurred to me to go there very early in the morning, and share her with the world at sunrise, right there on our beach. My husband liked the idea. Immediately after I made the suggestion, I looked down and there was a piece of dark blue sea glass. We found many more that day, piece after piece of beautiful blue sea glass.

Blue and green, those are Ellie's colors. And that beach has become Ellie's beach. We went there yesterday after not going for two weeks. I missed that beach, I really needed to go back. I didn't get enough. I think we'll go tomorrow morning. Just after high tide.

I'm changing, bit by bit. I'm still so very up in the air, I don't know exactly how I'll end up, or who I'll end up, though after 31 years of being me and only three and a half weeks of being The Woman Who Lost Her Child, I'm sure the me in me will win out. That's the thing that keeps occurring to me. I've become one of Those Women. We are That Couple. That couple who lost their baby. My whole life, my biggest fear was exactly this. I've had two nightmares in my life that have stuck with me throughout the years. One was when I was probably around ten years old. I was in a rainforest and found a baby swaddled in big, tropical leaves. She didn't have a family, so I took care of her. She died, and I woke up sobbing. I remember that dream like I had it yesterday. The other was when I was a sophomore in college. There was a little girl who had never known love. She had been mistreated by her parents and all the adults she had ever met. I took her in as my own and vowed to protect her. I was the only one she trusted, but I couldn't protect her from the bad men who were out to kill her. One of the men shot her, and as she died in my arms I was furiously telling her how much I loved her and how much she meant to me. At that moment my focus, all I had to do, my entire purpose in life, was to let this small child know, for certain, that *someone* had loved her in her short life. That she was loved. "You are loved, you are loved," I kept saying, over and over again. She died, I woke up and that dream just knocked me down. I've never had an experience like that before or since. I was pretty much down for the count for a week after that dream. I couldn't figure out why, it was just a dream. I still don't know. But I remember sitting there in my dorm room, surrounded by notes and textbooks, cute outfits, beer cups, all the stuff of a normal college experience, during a time in my life when children were the furthest thing from my mind, *mourning* this little girl from my dream.

I don't think these dreams were prophetic. Nor do I think my baby died because I had these dreams. They were just dreams. But I just can't believe that the thing I have been terrified of since I was a child, at an age when children shouldn't realize how truly against nature it is for a parent to lose a child, when children shouldn't be thinking about loss at all, has actually happened to me in adulthood.

One thing I felt would be of paramount importance as I entered into motherhood would be a particular transition I would have to make. I've been nervous about this for a while now because I wasn't sure I'd have it in me. I knew I'd have to be stronger to be the kind of mother I want to be. I'd have to be able to stand up to people, for myself and for my child. I'd have to be the protective one, instead of the one who needed protection. I've always been kind of a fraidy-cat. I've let people walk all over me, I've failed to stand up for myself, I shrink from confrontation. I'm the type who, if someone started running after me, I'm embarrassed to say only half-jokingly that my reaction would probably be to drop to the ground and go into a fetal position. Not so much a fighter, this one. Slowly, as the years have gone by through my later 20's and early 30's, I've started to be a little stronger in these ways, but I knew I'd have to somehow really Get There as a mom. I wasn't sure how that was going to happen, but I hoped some sort of instinct would kick in.

Something interesting happened the other night. I was in the living room, alone in the house, when I heard what sounded like the front door closing. I waited to hear my husband's voice, but I heard nothing, it wasn't him. The dog's ears were perked and I realized there might actually be someone just outside my house. No one was knocking, but I had distinctly heard a noise. Of course the worst ran through my mind, but instead of my first thoughts being "Where can I hide?" and " Where is the phone?" I found myself thinking, "Okay, time to get into ass-kicking mode" and realized my fists were clenched, and I was walking confidently toward the door. Before I had time to be surprised by that, I noticed a big box had fallen, which had caused the noise. I think, despite the fact that my baby is gone, whatever instincts I would have needed to keep her safe from danger have in fact kicked in. I think part of that also, is a realization that I have been through something so terrible and there is such a white-hot anger living full time inside me, god help anyone who tries to inflict any further pain onto me. (For now we can just ignore the utter stupidity of walking confidently toward a potential threat with nothing but my totally inexperienced fists.)

The problem is that now there's all this momness in me, but I have nowhere to put it.

So, as it happens, I'm changing. But right now I'm looking at that through the fog, and focusing on living the life I have left. Some days I eat because I'm hungry, some days I rely on the routine of a construct such as "mealtime" to remember to eat.

So it goes.


andria said...

Oh, Jenny. I am so sorry.

Gale said...

No words... holding you in my heart tonight.

Bea said...

I'm so sorry. I wish I could offer you a hug.

Macoco said...

I'm so sorry Jenny.

JennaKate said...

Thank you for sharing your experience - I'm so sad and sorry for the loss of your little Ellie. Your words and experience here honor her, and demonstrate how deeply she is loved. Thank you especially for what you wrote about her beach, and comfort and healing you experience there. Sending love your way, and to your family as well.

Steph said...

Jenny, I have recently found my way to your blog. I am so sad to read you have been hurt thru your blog and .... I am moved by your story of Ellie. Many years ago, I worked as a postpartum nurse and saw many things of life and death. I have seen premature babies kept alive with technology and have know older kids that started life that way with many challenges in their current lives. I have known more of you thru Fiber Farm reading and I want to say that it is my sincere hope that your friendships, time spent with animals, laughs, crafts are healing your heart and filling you. Ellie and losing her as you did will always be a part of your own fiber, yet there are many rich and profound joys waiting ahead of you too. You will think of Ellie in them and talk to her. I hope I do not sound trite. I believe things such as this from my own life and having my autistic son in my own journey.

Shilo said...

I happened to find your blog and I felt the need to respond despite the fact that this happened a while ago.

I, too, lost my daughter when I was 7 months pregnant. This happened 10 years ago. I've healed and accepted things for what they are, but sometimes I'm sad. I wish you calm in the times when you're sad. Thinking of you.

SJSiff said...

I came here through Ravelry, so this is obviously after the fact, but I am so sorry you had to go through this. I think you honored Ellie in a very sweet way, with the beach. I hope you are doing okay two years later.