My first Christmas with a living child

This Christmas was so very much better than the last five, because I actually had one of my children with me. It’s still just over 11 weeks until he’s due to be born, but I have him. There’s a contentment to that, which I haven’t felt in a very long time. I’m starting to believe I actually do get to keep this kid.

Five years ago, in 2010, I was still in the midst of my second miscarriage that year, and hadn’t learned yet that not telling people was going to actually drive me crazy. That left me silently buried in intense grief and so very alone. Every Christmas since then, and honestly, even now, I have resented that I don’t have my kids. I have found it to be true for me that I didn’t just lose babies, I lost every age they would ever be. Josh would be 4 and a half, Caroline would be 4, Anastasia would be 3 and Gregory would be 15 months. I will never stop knowing those numbers as they go up for the rest of my life.

But there’s hope too, if this pregnancy keeps going as well as it has been, Sticks will be born a maximum of 3 months and 2 days from now.

I have just agreed to have a shower before he’s born, which I didn’t expect I was going to be willing to do. I was afraid of having things that would just be painful to know about if we lost him. We’ll probably have the nursery painted by then anyway, so how much more could presents hurt? It’s a co-ed shower with The Dad’s family, which is very large, but pretty lovely. I think I’ll be ok.

Now, it is time to rest from all the festivity.

Caroline’s loss date yesterday

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of the day we found out Caroline had died and I was given Cytotec for reasons that were never really explained to me. They also didn’t tell me how much it was going to hurt and that there would be contractions randomly over the next two weeks. It didn’t make for a good Christmas.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been 5 years. A very, very difficult and interminably long 5 years that have gone by in a flash.

I’m almost 27 weeks pregnant with a baby that we might get to actually keep. Everything is going well so far, but I don’t know if I’ll ever stop worrying that it will suddenly stop being okay. We call him Sticks, which I suggested because in my favorite movie, Willow, Madmartigan calls the baby Sticks and The Dad accepted it because we hope the baby sticks.

Otherwise, I’m doing really well with the emotions of pregnancy after loss. I feel very connected to this kiddo. I love the way he dances when there’s music, and he seems to especially like Journey’s “Girl Can’t Help It”, and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. I love how much he kicks when The Dad is talking. He has a silly thing where it seems like he’s trying to get out by pushing about an inch and a half below and to the left of my belly button. I tell him that’s not how to get out, but that I won’t tell him where the exit is because it’s too early.

Surprising no one, I’m finding that having a living child doesn’t make the grief go away. It does do a lot for the deep aching emptiness of having lost all of my children, and the intense longing for physical motherhood, though.

I have a couple painful complications going on, but neither is actually a risk for the baby, so I don’t mind so much. A different muscle in my abdominal wall started having issues as soon as the second trimester started, that can’t really be treated because that’s not safe for the baby. I’ve been doing physical therapy, which mostly made it worse, but since I got a support belt, it’s been better. A little over 2 weeks ago, I started having diastasis symphysis pubis. It’s when the relaxin hormone that’s supposed to loosen ligaments, so the pelvic bones can make space for the baby to come out, is too high and the bones become misaligned and hurt when you move. My physical therapist put it back together pretty well, and now I have a different support belt to hold the bones in place. I have to wear it pretty much all of the time until a month after the birth, and then just during the day for 5 more months. It’s not too bad though. I’ve said for at least 4 years that I’d give multiple limbs for a baby and this way it isn’t permanent.

The next thing to try

Tomorrow we meet with a counselor, actually a PhD psychologist, to learn all about the emotional aspects of building our family with donor sperm.

My therapist, who specializes in baby loss, infertility and parenthood after, reminded me last summer during the IVF to consider donor sperm as a possible back-up, so I wasn’t pinning all my hopes on the IVF. I didn’t want to do it, I did pin all of my hopes on the IVF working, and I was devastated when it didn’t. The massive amount of pain from the extra blood that had hemorrhaged into my abdomen didn’t help.

I have been trying to come to terms with this idea since then. I didn’t want to give up on having a child that was genetically related to my husband (The Dad). There is so much about him that I admire and treasure and hope he passes on to our kids, and I wasn’t willing to let that go. I would have been much more able to give up on passing on my DNA to our kids. That’s mostly because of what my mom has always called “defective brain genes”, the hereditary Persistent Depressive Disorder I get from her.

The Dad was much more willing to move towards donated sperm. He is very logical and patient. He knows that he will be the dad, he knows how incredibly influential environment is for people, and he knows that experiencing, and especially watching me experience a fifth miscarriage would be extremely painful for him.

Last fall we met with my therapist’s clinic partner to talk about being ok with it. She had her children through egg donation and help us through a lot of the conversation. But I still wasn’t convinced. It just seemed like giving up on full genetic siblings for the children we had lost, which seemed like a betrayal.

What finally did it for me was something an OBGYN said to me. I only saw her because I needed urgent appointments and couldn’t get one with my regular one. I had some crazy pelvic pain, (which is being successfully treated as related to the crazy upper left quadrant abdominal pain I’d been having) and some strange bleeding from cycle day 23 to 28 last cycle (which appears to have been weird and undiagnosable, but nothing to worry about).

So I saw this doctor, and she said, “You’re 33 and you want to have 2 kids, it’s time to start trying something different.” I told her my issue with it, and she said it didn’t have to be the end of the line for trying to conceive with The Dad’s sperm. If we had one with a donor, and tried again naturally after, a loss would probably be less traumatic. It would no longer be all of my children. I wouldn’t be a generally-unacknowledged mother. I know I wouldn’t have as hard of a time pulling myself out from under when the most important person in the world needed me.

Technically one of my brothers is a half-brother and one is originally a half-brother, but adopted as a full brother, and they’re my brothers. I never mention the half-brother part, except on those rare instances that I’m explaining why I just mentioned my brother’s dad. There’s no reason it should be any different for my children.

We have already decided that this will not be a secret. If we do successfully have a child this way, we want him or her to know their history without shame. There are medical reasons he or she should know about it. Finding out later in life is often traumatic, and we don’t want that.

Our children are ours, they are loved, and we want them to know that.

P.S. This OBGYN, who I’m 90% sure I’m switching to, said something else that has made a difference. I said I wasn’t sure my antidepressants were doing enough because I was still so sad. She said that I had been going through a lot of stuff that just sucked, and it was reasonable to be sad about that. I liked that. Not the fact that it’s true, but the validation.

Thoughts from Mother’s Day, and I’m making progress

I wrote this on Mother’s Day, and thought I posted it, but it didn’t post:

It is a day to honor mothers. Most years, I only notice honoring of women who have given birth to children who are still here. This year, maybe because I was vocal on facebook about my motherhood status, I have seen more acknowledgement of mothers whose motherhood doesn’t look like the regular, expected kind. It feels validating, and that’s nice.

I was anticipating a very difficult day, since my only children are gone. Therefore, it was a difficult week. I cried and moped quite a bit.

I also had hoped to find out this week that I was pregnant, but once again, I found the opposite. It hasn’t been that many months this go-round, but it being the sixth time trying to get pregnant, with no births and four deaths, every month of failure, of delay, is another reminder of what I do not have. Of what I don’t know if I will ever have. My child; to hold, to raise, to see grow, who will call me mom.

Meanwhile, my therapy is going really well. I’m learning to be mindful in everyday life. To pay attention to my emotions, where they come from and what they are urging me to do. To decide to act in ways that are more effective. I’m learning a lot of different ways to tolerate distress without hiding myself in the basement zoning out in front of the TV, or eating way too much, or both. The ways are mainly distracting myself until it gets better.

Most importantly, the skill I’ve learned from my Dialectical Behavior Therapy is what’s called Radical Acceptance. I had read a little about it pretty soon after I started DBT, and I was certain it was never going to happen. I mean, just accept that all my babies were dead and pretend it’s fine? NO.

It’s way more nuanced than that. It is complete acceptance, but not saying it’s ok, or that I like it. It is the acknowledgement that the things that have happened are my reality, and they cannot be changed. My being angry and bitter that my children are gone was never going to bring them back. There is no way to get them back. My anger only served to cause me suffering. So, it started to seem like maybe it wasn’t the best thing to keep in my head.

I feel so much lighter. The world is not as dark and terrible as it was. A lot of things still suck, but a lot of things are good, and it’s ok to enjoy them. It’s not a betrayal of my children. I will always believe that the last five years would have been happier if I had gotten to keep them with me, even one of them, but nothing can ever change what has happened and what is, I can only change how long I let it keep me from living a life worth living.

It’s better

Since I last posted, I have spent a lot of time moping and letting scary thoughts swirl around in my head. I felt terrible. I felt like I weighed 400 pounds and every movement was a chore. I ate three boxes of store-bought gluten free cookies. I watched a ton of television and hardly payed attention to any of it. I called in sick on Tuesday with a cold that was barely there and may have just been allergies, because I couldn’t get out of bed.

But also since last Tuesday, I have gotten a promotion. It’s mostly just a title change and more hours, but now I get a 401K and vacation. I’ve found assisted living for my Pa, and handed the reins of that horse back over to my dad when my parents came back from Alaska. I was elected Vice President of Education for my Toastmasters Club. I’m in charge of scheduling all meeting roles and making people do their speeches, and I’m second in command of the club., starting July 1st.

So, I seem to have been quite successful at hiding this deep dark depression I’ve been in. Now to climb the rest of the way out.

I got to meet with my new psychiatrist on Wednesday, after a month of waiting. It was so hard to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. Most of the ones in my health care system aren’t accepting new patients. Ones in other systems only accept patients in their system. I finally found this one on the opposite side of the metro area. It was a 35 minute drive there from work. Anyway, she asked a billion questions and asked me how I felt about switching to Wellbutrin from Abilify. They’re both pregnancy category C (risk cannot be ruled out), but Wellbutrin has a longer track record, it’s less expensive (read: not $800), and most importantly, is a great add-on to an SSRI (selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor). She said it might make me anxious at the beginning, but if I could handle it, it would get better. So I started that yesterday. So far, I feel great!

I met with my counselor this morning and I mentioned the Wellbutrin switch to her. She warned me that I might feel like I’m on uppers for a couple weeks, and then level off and feel fine. Some people get scared and think it stopped working, but it’s just leveling out.

She also gave me homework for improving my cognitive distortions.  Catastrophizing: like thinking I should kill myself based on freaking out over seeing someone else with a baby. Magical thinking: there are only a certain number of babies to go ’round, so if she has one, I can’t. I’m tasked with finding these thought before they start spiraling out of control, identifying them as distortions, and fighting them with facts. Fighting them with weak affirmations I don’t believe won’t help. I need actual facts that I do believe.

For today, I asked a question about shipping costs on an e-bay listing for a piece of equipment my boss wants. I got no answer, but the Buy it Now price jumped from $1,000 to $2,600. Of course, my brain went immediately to “They have done this because they don’t like me. It is my fault that this happened.” Instead of actually believing it when my thoughts jumped to “Now we can’t ever have this piece of equipment and we’ll lose the customer and that’s all my fault, so I’ll lose my job,” I said “That doesn’t make any sense.” They have no reason to dislike me, and all other quotes for identical pieces of equipment are $2,500 to $3,000, so it was probably just correcting a mistake.

The real test will be tomorrow. All of my husband’s cousins are coming over for a party. It was planned two months ago and they kind of invited themselves over. Our house is the biggest of the cousins’ houses and centrally located. I will be fine. I will be fine. Nope, I don’t believe in repeating affirmations either.

These people love me and they don’t want me to hurt. No one stole my babies. There is no reason I can’t someday have a baby. Those are facts I believe, most of the time.

Another breakdown

So apparently I can’t handle family gatherings with my in-laws.

You would not believe the rage I feel. I mean, somewhere inside me I know that she didn’t steal my babies. But the rage is as if she did. I can’t stand the sight of her or the baby.

Some women can be happy for other women’s pregnancies, even as they’re sad for not having one of their own, but I can’t. I’ve been extremely upset about this baby since I first knew she existed. Other pregnancies upset me, but this one was so much worse. Maybe it’s because of the way I found out, from her mother, with the flippant “Guess the birth control didn’t work” comment and the fight insisting I celebrate and support this. Maybe it’s how many times the parents have broken up and she’s sworn she’ll never go back. Maybe it’s that neither of them has a steady job. Maybe it’s just that it’s so horribly unfair that they have a baby and I had yet another miscarriage.

After Christmas with the family I cried until I threw up. I left town so I didn’t have to go to a party with them in January after three days of negative pregnancy tests though I was so sure I was pregnant. (Turned out I was, but I didn’t know until 5 days later.) I shouldn’t have gone to this party. I cried for an hour  just thinking about it. I stopped about an hour before we needed to leave, so I thought I could handle it. We agreed that when I was done we would leave the party. Luckily for me, she and the baby were three and a half hours late. But the child of the other accidental pregnancy in the family (same grandparents) was there and that was bad enough.

When I’d had enough torture, I told my husband I was done and he convinced me to stay another half hour. I couldn’t do anything but stare at my phone the whole way home. I started crying when we got home. He tried to make me feel better, but he really wasn’t helping, so I told him to go downstairs and let me cry by myself. I lit a candle for each of our babies. I bawled until I threw up again.

I miss our babies with a visceral pain as if I just lost them. But I’m also as hopeless and lonely as if I’ve lived a lifetime without them, and will live another pile of lifetimes without them.

I started thinking about how badly I want to be with them. That if I knew I could be, I would die. I don’t know why I can’t be sad without going there. I told my counselor in the morning. We made a deal that I would call her if I got worse or the thoughts got scary. I think it’s better. But I really need that psychiatrist appointment next Wednesday.

There’s something seriously wrong with me that wasn’t wrong before Josh and Caroline and Anastasia and Gregory, and I don’t know how to deal with it. I don’t know if it can ever be fixed, or if I will always feel this broken. Even if I do eventually have a baby that lives, will he or she always live in the shadow of dead siblings and their mother’s inability to cope?

Endoscopy

I had it this morning. It was uneventful and found nothing wrong. I have no idea what’s wrong with me.  They did take some biopsies in my small intestine, so we’ll find out next week about those.

It’s supposed to snow 6-12 inches by morning, so my counselor is likely to cancel tomorrow morning’s appointment. I really needed to see her though. I’ve only seen her once since we lost Greg. Once in two months is not enough.

That’s all I’ve got for today.