Wednesday, January 28, 2015

for kia

I remember exactly where I was when I heard about Kallie Mae.  It was January 22nd, and I was at my friend Kerri's house, after work.  I had stopped by to wish her son, the birthday boy, a very happy birthday.  He had turned six that day.  It was supposed to be a happy day!  But something was bugging me, and I needed to confront Ker about it.

 Our mutual friend Sarah (who, in full disclosure, was her friend first, but over the years has become very dear to me) had been posting cryptic Facebook statuses all week.  Things like, "If you pray, please pray," and "Asking God for a miracle!" and "I'm praying so hard, and I don't even know what I'm asking for!  Please keep my family in your prayers."

I had asked Kerri several times throughout the week what was going on, and she was vague.  Super vague. MEGA vague. Finally we were face-to-face and I demanded, "Ker, please tell me what's going on Sarah. I'm worried sick."

Kerri hesitated.  I could tell she didn't want to tell me, but couldn't figure out why.  Finally she said it.  

" know Kia, Sarah's sister-in-law?  Well...she had her baby.  But...things aren't good. I didn't want to tell you, because...." She didn't have to explain.  She didn't want to tell me because I was in the thick of first trimester pregnancy.  Hardly anyone knew.  That "dangerous" time where you don't want to be too public because "something might happen."  You don't want to get too attached to the idea of pregnancy.  Not yet.  Not until that magical point after 12 weeks where you can breathe easy.  Because everything is fine when you're out of the first trimester, right?

If only.

Kerri went on to tell me the details.  I'm not going to share Kallie's birth story here on my blog because, well frankly it's not my story to tell.  That's Kia's.  But I will say that Kallie was born on January 17th, and then passed away on January 22nd.  She lived on this Earth for five precious days.

I remember so clearly everything about that day.  I remember what I was wearing.  I remember exactly where I was sitting when Kerri told me.  I don't know why I remember those details so clearly.  Maybe because it was the last time I could say, "that poor Mama...I can't imagine what she's feeling right now," and truly mean it.

I didn't know what that felt like.  I could guess, I could TRY to put myself in her shoes...but the truth is, you absolutely have no idea what its like to lose a child until you've experienced it yourself.  You just don't.  And that's okay.  Because the last thing I'd ever want is for MORE people to know this feeling. Especially not people I know and love.

Back then I didn't know Kia that well.  I knew she was married to the twin brother of Sarah's husband.  And I knew she was a Redskins fan.  Other than that, she was "Sarah's sister-in-law" in my head.

But that night after I went home, I couldn't stop thinking about her.  Admittedly, I was a little hyper emotional, with the new pregnancy hormones I was battling, but this just STAYED with me.  I had trouble sleeping because I kept thinking over and over again how distraught her and her husband must be.  I thought about Sarah and her family and how excited they were for this new addition to the family.  I just remember asking God, WHY are these things allowed to happen?  Only three weeks prior, a good mama friend of mine had lost her twin nieces at 20 weeks gestation.  I didn't get it.  I thought about my friend Debi who's daughter Sydney was born, full term, but stillborn just a little over a year prior.  I thought once you were past the scary first trimester you were safe?  It just didn't make sense.  My thoughts were as disjointed as this paragraph.  Spinning through my head all night.

I'm not sure why I remember that night in such detail.  Maybe it was because I was pregnant, and it was easy to feel empathetic to a fellow mommy.  Or maybe it was because it was the last time I experienced that side of the fence.

Three months later I felt it for myself.  When Reece died, I could no longer say, "I can't imagine how that mama feels."  In fact I knew EXACTLY how she felt.  As the world around me crumbled I processed my own loss, so much became clear to me.  I regretted so many things that I had said previously to mom friends of mine who had lost babies during their pregnancies.  I wished I could go back in time and say the only thing that REALLY mattered: "I am so so sorry this happened to you.  I don't even have the words, just know my heart aches for you."  I thought about Kia, and wanted to reach out to her, but didn't want to burden her with my loss when I was sure she was still navigating her own.

Fortunately I didn't have to think about that for too long, because she reached out to me just three days later.

Hi Nas...

I know we have never met in person but my heart breaks for you to hear about the loss of your precious baby boy. As you may know my husband and I lost our daughter Kallie this past January. The pain is still very raw and we are trying our best to work through our grief, but I wanted to reach out to you. I know there are a lot of people that love and care for you that may not understand the depth of your loss, may not know what to say, or may not say the right things. I'm not saying I have all the answers but do have a truly empathetic ear to listen. I have a friend that also lost a baby girl and she has been such a great help through all of this. I have found that there really are no words that will ease your pain, and losing a child can be very lonely and isolating. Know that I am here if and whenever you are ready. These next few weeks will be a whirlwind of emotions so please don't feel obligated to respond until you are ready. For now my advice would be to lean on your friends and family through this terrible time. Communicate exactly what you need...whether it's cooking, cleaning, or grocery shopping. Cry whenever you feel you need to. It's normal to feel angry or resentful or question your faith or be angry at God. Don't let anyone tell you how or how long to grieve. Know your limitations...if you feel like you're incapable of doing something speak up and have someone else do it for you. Our loved ones may not have words but they are willing to take some of the burden from us. I have such a high regard for Kerri and Sean and of course my sister Sarah and I consider any friend of theirs a friend of mine. Again...feel free to respond whenever you're ready...I know from my own experience it can be tough to look at Facebook during such a difficult time. Please know that in the meantime you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. Even for me some days it is hard to believe...But we will get through this...

Wishing you Peace and Strength...

Kallie's Mommie, 

I read this over and over and over again.  At least a dozen times.  Maybe more.  I was desperate for the guidance and advice from a fellow mom who had "been there."  There are tons of babyloss blogs out here on the internet, but in those early days I couldn't even look for them.  I couldn't put myself out there, because searching for help, searching for those like me, would mean that I've admitted that my son was dead, and I was no longer pregnant.  I couldn't think about that in those early days.  I could barely function.  Navigating society outside of my home felt like walking onto a foreign planet.  There were triggers everywhere, too much stimulus, too many memories of my old life---which had just been a week ago!--to be able to go out with any bit of success.  I did better when I stayed home, talking to the people that loved me, crying a TON, and reading messages of support from my family and friends, and from fellow mothers like Kia.

I don't know if I've ever expressed to Kia just how much it meant to me that she reached out that day.

I don't know if I've ever explained to her just how alone I felt, even though I was SURROUNDED by well intentioned friends and family.

I don't think I've ever really thanked her for being brave enough to reach out...because here's the thing, I KNOW Kia now, and while she talks openly about Kallie and Kallie's presence is evident when you are around Kia, she has not yet been ready to tell Kallie's story to the rest of the world.  It's still too overwhelming.  And she might never be ready.  And that's okay, because that might need to remain something sacred between her and her family.  But suffice it to say, that for Kia to reach out to me, so lovingly and kind in the manner that she did, was tremendous.  For me and for her.

Thank you, Kia.  From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

Last weekend I got to see Kia.  We met at Sarah's, with Kerri, and the kids, to celebrate Sean's 7th birthday, and Kallie's 1st birthday.  It was just our small group, and I knew it would be an emotional day, but I had no idea how HEALING it would be.

Within minutes of walking in the door, I had to hug Kia, and we just couldn't let each other go.  It felt like meeting a long lost family member, because that's exactly what she is to me now.  I was expecting it to be emotional, but I wasn't expecting that.  We have exchanged many Facebook messages when we're having "our moments," and have leaned on one another when those bad days come, and the bear roars louder than we handle.  She is very very dear to me.

The first thing that immediately strikes you about Kia, is that Kallie's presence is everywhere.  From her license plate ("KALLIE") to her necklace (Kallie's name and hand print) to her "Team Kallie" bracelet from the Race for Every Child she participated in, to the way she talks about Kallie.  It is obvious that she has an incredibly strong bond with her daughter that goes beyond this life.  You feel that baby girl with you when you are with Kia.  It's stunning, actually.

The second thing you notice about Kia is that she is a natural mother.  From the way she interacted with the kids who were there, laughing and playing, but disciplining when necessary, it is clear that Kia is meant to be a mother.  There is no doubt.  I believe wholeheartedly that she will have the opportunity to be a mother to a baby here on earth.  I know it.  I feel it in my soul.  Because it's who she is.  She is a mother, through and through.

I don't know if that's a quality that she had before last year, or if that is something that came from having Kallie, but regardless its obvious and apparent.  She is a wonderful mother.

Throughout the day we laughed, ate, told stories, drank, danced around the house, ate and drank (see a pattern?) and of course, there were tears.  But the beautiful thing is, for ONCE I wasn't the only one explaining how it feels from this side.  Kia and I could practically finish one another sentences when it came to describing how this loss feels.  It was awesome.  And we were with women who have been two of our biggest supporters and cheerleaders during this entire process.  Being able to talk openly about our children and about our experience as being moms to angel babies without it feeling "weird" or like we're bringing everyone else down was such a GIFT!  And we were so happy. 

I had originally only intended to stay a few hours, but as the hours passed, we stayed.  And before we knew it, it was midnight.  Ten hours had passed!  And I left feeling like it wasn't enough time.  

It was a great day.  A wonderful birthday celebration for an awesome little boy, and a beautiful baby girl.

I am committed to helping Kia honor Kallie's memory in whatever way possible.  So it's highly likely that their names will reappear on this blog in the future.  While my method of honoring my son is to share my Anchors for Reece, Kia has expressed interest in doing a Five Day Project, a kindness project of sorts, in honor of the five precious days Kallie spent here on Earth.

I will help her with this project in any way that she needs.

Kia, in your words: We are still here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

taming the beast

Over the past eight months I've been reading up on grief.  I've read books, articles, blog posts, scholarly articles, you name it, I've read it.  And I still don't fully understand this painful process.

Grief is such a strange beast. I've always known that it's different for everyone and everyone processes loss differently, but I will admit I was completely blindsided and unprepared on how to manage my grief over losing Reece last year.

I've lost members of my family.  Great grandparents and grandparents that I was very close to, who lived long and happy lives.  Their lives were not without difficulty, but for the most part, they led long lives that we'd all be lucky to have.  Prosperous, with family and friends, and well into the senior years, passing on surrounded by loved ones.  When those deaths happened I of course felt a severe sense of loss.  People who had been constants in my life were no longer there.  There was a void.  An empty spot that my whole life had been occupied by these specific people.

But as time passed my thoughts of them were mostly happy and not sad. I could tell stories of them without tearing up.  I was appreciative for the time that I had with them.  That there were no regrets, no stones left unturned.  Memories were happy instead of sad.  How could I be sad that both Sadira and I got to make memories with them for years, late into their lives? 

Conversely I've lost friends and family members too soon.  The sudden deaths of my Aunt Gabby when I was 13, and my friend Kelly when I was 18, shook my entire world.  I was left saying, "how did this happen?  I just saw her last week?  I just talked to her yesterday?"  The grief took awhile to set in.  Because shock just stayed there on the surface for so long in the beginning.

Over time I had to play a more active role in the grief process in order to reach some peace about these sudden deaths.  It felt unfair.  Like I was robbed.  Robbed of having them in my life, robbed of making more memories with them, and for the first time I realized that no one is guaranteed a nice long life.  Anything can happen to anyone at anytime.  Life is precious and fleeting.

I had to play a more active role in the grief process.

When Reece was born and then died, it took awhile for grief to even set in. It took awhile to even process that I had "a loss."  And then when I did, the feelings that I experienced were SO foreign and new to me.  I remember saying, "this can't be grief, I know what that feels like.  This is some other other feeling.  I can't even explain it.  There is no word to adequately describe this feeling.  This feels unnatural."

I've had several friends lose parents over the past few years.  And while, thank God, I have not experienced that, I realize that they have made similar statements.  That the loss of their parent was so much more overwhelming than they could imagine.  The grief was much more monumental than they expected or were prepared to deal with.

I can only say that grieving Reece was a similar process, but different.  It took so long to even be able to explain my feelings because they were so foreign to me. For the longest time I would simply say that grieving Reece was just such a sudden about face. A quick reversal of direction. You are planning for something happy.  Excited about meeting this sweet, new, little addition to your family and then BOOM.  Instead of a little bundle of joy that brings happiness and sweetness to the family, you are handed a broken heart ravaged in grief. 

It felt like the most unfair thing in the world.

I couldn't explain this.  It's partly why I had to take such a long hiatus from blogging.  I couldn't put my emotions into adequate words.  And for someone like me, that's scary.

And then one day while talking with one of my best friends, I came up with my analogy. It went a little something like this:

Just imagine you're going about your life as normal.  Work, school, fun with friends, taking care of your family.  And then you wake up one day and begin your normal routine, just like any other day.  You get up.  You brush your teeth.  You start to get dressed. You come downstairs to make breakfast and BAM.  There it is.

There is a bear in your living room.

Yes, you read that correctly.  A bear.

And I'm not talking about a cute, cuddly, little teddy bear.  Think about the most scary, intimidating beast you can possibly think of.  This is a giant, rabid, snarling, growling, grizzly bear. Towering over you.  Staring at you menacingly.  Growling at you in your own home.  You want to run, but you're frozen.  You don't even know how you are going to walk past it to get to your phone and call for help.  You don't know if it's going to try to eat you in the process.  You're scared for your safety.  You're scared for your life.  How can this be fixed?  How did this happen?

Your mind races with questions.  How did this bear get in here?  What am I supposed to do?  Who do I call to fix it? How do I get rid of this?  Someone, quickly, HELP!

When you finally are able to move out of your frozen-in-shock position, you manage to maneuver around the giant bear.  You're trembling and scared because it's paws are huge and can take you out with one swipe.  It's teeth are huge and intimidating.  But somehow you manage to sneak around it, physically unscathed. You frantically start calling for help on your phone.

But when you reach the people you think will be able to fix it, they all say the same thing:

"Oh my gosh.  What a horrible ordeal.  I wish there was something we could do to help you."

"I'm so sorry you are dealing with this. But there is nothing we can do to change this."

"Unfortunately sometimes bears just show with no good reason.  Sometimes these things just happen."

"I have no idea why this bear chose your home, I'm so so sorry. But you are just going to have to learn how to live with this."

"Sadly moving far far away will not change things.  We cannot tranquilize it, it'll wake up eventually.  We can't kill it, that's inhumane.  Apparently this bear chose you for a reason.  If you try to run away to a different home, it will unfortunately just follow you."

It seems crazy, right?  Surely someone can do SOMETHING.  Surely there was a REASON this happened.  SURELY, right?  How could this possibly happen unprovoked?  I did everything I could to avoid a bear taking over my home! 

And it becomes quickly apparent, that everyone you reach out to WANTS to help you.  They want to take this bear away for you.  But they can't. No one can. The bear is here for good.

So for the first week, you're just in a daze.  How are you supposed to sleep when there's a monster living downstairs?  You are scared for your other family members.  How are you to protect your 7 year old daughter from this beast?  You can't pretend it's not there. Something has obviously changed in your home.  Somehow you find a way to explain.  She is just as scared of it as you are.

Every day you tiptoe through your home. You're afraid to leave because you don't know if it will follow you and show up, but you don't want to sit there in it's presence because it's SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF YOU.

But as the week progresses, you start, just a little bit, to become accustomed to this bear.  You wake up and remember that it's down there.  You take a deep breath before you go down to face it for the day.  You have to explain to your friends why you just can't see them or have them over right now, "you see, I have this awkward situation right now, that's just really hard for me to explain."  They try their very best to relate.  They are so understanding and kind.  They tell you to take your time and reach out once you've tamed the bear.

But it feels like the bear will never be tamed.

But as time goes on, you fall into a habit.  You learn that you can't walk straight through your living room, you learn to dodge and weave around it.  You discover that if you throw the bear a little snack now and again you can keep it at bay, and it's not QUITE so menacing.

The bear, the terrible, intimidating, terrifying beast that once felt impossible, becomes manageable.  You hate every bit of it, but you deal with it.

You become so apt at dealing with it that you fall into a routine.  You know exactly how to maneuver around it and still continue to be functional throughout your day.  You expertly toss it some meat to keep it quiet when it starts roaring with rage.

You start to feel like you're taming the beast.

For me, this is the best way I can describe what it was like to manage my grief.  I was in a situation that I never in my wildest dreams thought would happen.  I was unprepared.  I was caught completely off guard.  It was scary, and sad, and horrible, and terrifying, and affected not only me, but my family and friends.  It affected my relationships with everyone around me.  It affected whether I left my house or not.  It affected every aspect of my life.

The bear makes you feel like you've been punched in the gut.
The bear sucks the oxygen out of your lungs.
The bear makes hot tears roll down your cheeks, without giving you any notice or warning.

And then one day I had to go back to work.  My maternity leave was up.  It was time to go back to my life before the bear invaded.

I naively thought that going back to work wouldn't be so bad.  I remember feeling as ready as I'd ever be.  I remember friends saying to me, "going back to your routine will be good for you."  "It'll distract you."  "It'll take your mind off of things."

Nothing could take my mind off the fact that I had a giant, beastly, grizzly bear metaphorically living in my home that I could not get rid of. 

But I thought, "yes, maybe it will be good for me.  This is what I need to do."

So I went back to work on June 11th, after losing my son on April 30th. I was super anxious, but feeling hopeful and positive. 

I cannot explain the feelings I experienced driving back to my office.  Pulling into the parking lot and parking my car, I instantly remembered, "the last time I did this, Reece was with me."  I put my bravest face on and went in.

There were many people there who knew what had happened.  People who worked closely with me who just wrapped me in their arms in hugs as soon as I walked in.  There were lots of shared tears. No one asked too many questions, but they were all tremendously supportive.

Then I sat at my desk and tried desperately to focus on my work.  Getting caught up on emails.  Figuring out what I needed to tackle first.  But the bear was always there, lurking in the back of my mind.  I knew it could show up at any time.

Shortly before lunch I walked out of my office and ran into a co-worker I hadn't seen in awhile. His first words were, "Hey! Welcome back! How's the little one?"

How's the little one.

The question still burns in my ears.  He didn't know.  All he knew is that I was pregnant and then I was out on maternity leave. He didn't know Reece had died.  There are hundreds of people in my office. Not everyone knew.  I had to tell him.

"Thank you so much for asking, but our little one passed away.  He was born prematurely."  And then came the tears.  I could tell he felt horrible.  He fumbled through an apology.  "I am so so sorry.  Your family is in prayers."  It was all I could do to say thank you and then disappear back into my office.

Not too much later after that a co-worker and good friend of mine walked by.  She was pregnant and due in October.  She caught my eye and we both started crying.  She came in my office and hugged me for a long time, tears rolling down both of our cheeks, and she whispered into my ear, "I have thought about you every single day since you have been out.  Every. Single. Day." And I knew she had.

It was just so surreal to think that just a few months before we were comparing pregnancy notes and talking about our boys being born within a few weeks of one another.  And now mine was gone, but hers continued to grow.

I never ever ever in a million years would ever want her to have to experience that too, but as I stood in my office, hugging my very pregnant friend, after having just had to explain that my son was dead to someone who was just trying to offer congratulations, the bear was roaring.

I don't remember too much else of that day except for wishing and hoping that it would end as quickly as possible.  I remember writing an email to that same best friend I had used my bear analogy to in the first place.  I told her what had happened and how the day was a million times harder than I had anticipated, and how I was completely unprepared.  I didn't mention the word "bear" but I remember when she wrote back there was just one sentence:

"I am so sorry that the bear followed you to work."

She gets me.

It was clear this bear was here to stay.  I just needed to learn how to deal with it.

And so that is what I have tried to do over the past months.  Learn how to tame this bear that can rear up and scare the shit out of me at any point in the day.  I've learned to try to be proactive.  To outsmart the bear and come up with ways to keep it at bay.

One of them happened last week.

I have a membership to a local massage therapy studio, but I haven't gone in over in a year.  My usual masseuse, Anthony, is amazing, but is not a certified pre-natal therapist.  So when I found out I was pregnant I told him and I switched over to the pre-natal therapist for pre-natal massages.

But then Reece died.  And I haven't gone back since.

I was thinking that I needed to go back. I've been paying for the membership every month and have been racking up unused credits.  Plus, I need to go back because it would a nice treat for me.

But I was afraid.  I was afraid that I would go in and they would say, "so, the last time you were here was last March for a pre-natal massage! How's the baby?"

You THINK this wouldn't happen that often, but let me tell you, it does.  Ask any babyloss parent how often they have to awkwardly explain their story to someone. People who once saw you pregnant and now see that you are not.  A neighbor. The grocery story cashier.  The barista at Starbucks.  Every one of your doctors.  Perfect strangers that you have to explain it to.  It comes up all too often.  And it's so hard to explain because every single time it brings that bear ROARING back.

So last week I marched into the massage studio.  And when the receptionist was free I said, "I'd like to make an appointment this week with Anthony.  But there's something I need you to know, and I would appreciate that you tell him for me as well."  She was confused but she said, "of course, what is it?"

And with a deep breath I said, "well, I haven't been in, in a long long time, and that's because the last time I was here I was pregnant and getting pre-natal massages.  But unfortunately my son was born prematurely in April and passed away.  I haven't seen Anthony in quite awhile, and I would love if you could let him know for me. I'd hate to put him in the awkward position of asking how the baby was doing, or put myself in the sad emotional place of having to explain when I'm here for a relaxing massage."

I got it through the whole thing without crying, and I felt so accomplished.  And then the receptionist gave me her condolences and assured me she would absolutely tell him for me.  Then she looked up at me and said, "this may sound strange, but do you mind if I give you a hug?"

And I replied, "you are absolutely welcome to give me a hug, thank you!"

And then of course we both cried. A whole lot. But it was okay. It was really okay.

So today I went in for my appointment.  And I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a small part of me that was worried that he hadn't gotten the message...but when he called my name to come back for my massage, he simply said, "It's been awhile.  But I'm really glad to see you back here.  We'll take good care of you." And he gave my hand a squeeze.  I knew he knew.  And I was so grateful that I had taken that moment to be brave and speak up earlier in the week.

And my massage was wonderful.

It may seem small and insignificant, but in the long term process of dealing with my grief it was huge.

Because for this week, I was able to tame the beast.

The bear was silent.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

the sisterhood of babyloss

After Sadira was born in November 2007 I saw the world with completely different eyes.  Becoming a parent changed EVERYTHING, and I'm not just talking about sleeping habits.  It changed everything that I never expected it to change.  I reacted differently to the world around me.  Becoming Sadira's mother changed me.

After Reece was born in April 2014 I once again saw the world completely differently.  A naivete that I once possessed was gone.  I realized that in the blink of eye, the most beautiful plans can be shattered.  And everything that you "planned" for can go up in smoke in a matter of minutes.  Life can change so so quickly.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Becoming Reece's mother changed me.

The first example is one that almost every mother can relate to.  Obviously when you are expecting your first child you know, in theory, that your life is going to change very drastically....but you don't actually GET IT until it happens.  And you can't ever really fully explain it to someone else until they, too, experience it themselves.  And then one day after they've had their own child, they look you in the eyes, knowingly, and say, "I understand.. I get it now."

The second example rings true for babyloss moms as well. There is a companionship, a solemn camaraderie that exists among mothers who've lost their children.  There is a look in their eyes, that I've come to recognize in the eyes of my fellow loss moms, and also in my own when I look in the mirror on particularly tough days.  It's a combination of sorrow and strength.  Patience and sad acceptance.  It is something I could not ever understand until I experienced it myself. I GET IT now.

A few weeks after Reece died I realized, "I need to start trying to going back out into the world."  I had immense anxiety following his death, and could only really handle short trips here or there, and certainly not for very long.  Target, which had once been my frequent stomping ground, became treacherous territory.  Around every corner there was a mom with a newborn when I was missing mine.  There was a pregnant women rubbing her belly, when my belly felt horribly hollow.  One false step and I'm walking past the baby aisle, amidst the tiny clothes I had once considered for Reece, and the strollers I had "test driven" just weeks before. 

It was agony.

But two weeks in, I decided to be brave. I had just dropped Sadira off at school and Target had JUST opened for the day. There were hardly any cars in the parking lot.  I could handle this.

I had planned my route through the store before I ever set foot inside.  I only needed four things...and I could quickly find them along the perimeter.  No need to enter the center aisles where there are landmines of all things baby related just waiting to stare me in the face.

I quickly picked up the items I needed and I remember thinking to myself, "this is going to be my cheapest Target trip ever!" since I didn't waste any time ambling up and down the aisles tossing items in my cart with reckless abandon like I usually did.  I was proud of myself for at least this small accomplishment.

Since it was so early there were only a few registers open, and one of them was the express lane.  As I walked up to the lane I noticed that the cashier at the register next to mine was visibly pregnant.  Just when I thought I could escape unscathed, there was another reminder of my loss.  I took a deep breath, "I can do this," I thought to myself.

But as I put my items on the belt, I glanced up at the cashier manning my aisle and realized that she TOO was pregnant. And she was even MORE pregnant that the other cashier.

Of course she was.


Seriously, God?  Why are you making things so tough for me? 

I could feel the knot in my stomach start to tighten up.  I avoided eye contact, avoided all early morning pleasantries, and went straight to work loading up my very few items on the belt.  I pretended to be way too interested in my cellphone.  I didn't look up.  As I did this, I overhead the following conversation:

Other cashier: "So what happened? Were they okay?"

My cashier: "No. They weren't. They were too small. I was only 21 weeks."

Other cashier: "Oh my gosh, that's exactly how far along I am! I can't imagine!  Was there nothing that the doctors could do?"

My cashier: "Unfortunately when they're that small, their lungs are just too underdeveloped.  They just needed more time.  Both of the twins passed away, it was horrible."

I stood there, semi-frozen, not really sure that I was over hearing this conversation correctly.  I happened to look up, probably in somewhat of a shock, and caught the eye of my (extremely pregnant) cashier.

She looked embarrassed, as if she just got caught talking about something inappropriate in front of a customer and quickly tried to cover, "I'm sorry about that ma'am, excuse me.  How are you today?" she cheerfully tried to cover.

But I was frozen in place. My stomach was in a knot and I felt the immense wave of sadness start to rise up in my throat.  All I could do was whisper, "what were you ladies just talking about?"

And my cashier, still looking embarrassed, just quietly said, "I was explaining to her about when I lost my twins prematurely. I'm sorry about that, I shouldn't have..."

I cut her off, "I lost my son two weeks ago.  On April 30th.  At 22 weeks."  It just came out of my mouth like a tidal wave, I couldn't stop the words.

And without even a moment of hesitation, my cashier stopped what she was doing, left from behind her register, and wrapped me in a giant hug. And she started to cry, and I started to cry.  And there we were, two total strangers, wrapped in one anothers' arms, slowly rocking back and forth in the aisle.  Her hugely pregnant belly pressed against my empty one.

I remember her softly saying to me in my ear, "I am so so sorry for you loss.  I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but it doesn't.  You don't ever forget.  But you do learn how to deal with it. I promise you, you will get through this, even though it seems impossible.  I will pray for you."

I asked her how long ago her loss was, and she said three years prior.  She said the baby girl that she was pregnant with will be the first child she's had since her twins died prematurely.

I remember looking into her eyes, this woman who I didn't know AT ALL, and feeling so UNDERSTOOD for the first time since Reece had died.  I knew nothing about this woman, except that she was pregnant, her name was Chantal, and she worked at the Canton Target.  I wanted to talk to her longer, I wanted to ask her a million questions.  I wanted her to hug me more, this mama who had been in my shoes.

She bagged up my items and I paid, and when she gave me my change, she squeezed my hand and looked at me in the eyes, with that look that I've come to recognize.  That look of understanding, that can only come from another mother who GETS IT, the way babyloss moms do. With tears still in her eyes she said, "you're going to be okay.  I promise you."  I thanked her, I grabbed my bag and went on my way.

I felt peaceful and understood.  I felt HOPEFUL.

Looking back now I realize just how fragile I was back then.  Only two weeks after Reece died, gosh, I can't believe I was even able to functionally finish that conversation!  It's in these moments of retrospection that I realize just how far I've come.

Flash forward seven months later.   I was once again in Target (surprise surprise), this time with Sadira.  It was a few weeks before Christmas and I was parading her up and down the toy aisles, desperately trying to get a read on what this girl wanted for Christmas.

The Christmas season was in full effect in Target, and the aisles were pretty packed with shoppers.

At one point I could hear a child throwing a tantrum.  She was one aisle over, and it wasn't any bother to me, but I could hear the mom pleading on the phone with someone who I presumed to be her husband, "she's been like this all day, I have absolutely zero patience left, I'm going to need you to take over when we get home, I cannot take it anymore," I could hear her vent to whomever was on the receiving end of the call.  There was more than a hint of desperation in her voice.

Her daughter, probably around two, continue to throw the most epic of tantrums, not for any clear reason, as most children her age tend to do.  Her older brother stood absentmindedly next to the cart, deep in concentration while he played his Nintendo DS.

I happened to walk down their aisle just as the tantrumming two year old decided to throw her snack cup onto the ground.  The cup split open at my feet and Cheerios rolled out all over the floor.  The mother sighed.

I bent down to help her out and started picking up the Cheerios for her.  "Oh, thank you so much," she said, "we are having a really really rough day with this one," she gestured to the little girl.

As a fellow mom I totally get it, so I just responded with, "Trust me, I understand, we've all been there!"

Apparently this women needed to vent a little more, because she just started in, "Gosh, I just don't know if she's getting molars this week, or WHAT....I mean, she took a good nap today, she's just been such a nightmare all day, and I have no patience left..."

At this point, Sadira started pitching in on Operation Pick-Up-The-Cheerios.  Again I knew exactly where this mama was coming from, so I just went along with her, "those two year molars can be such a bear when they come in," I remember saying.  Within a few minutes we had cleaned up all the Cheerios, and Sadira was making silly faces at the little girl who was now enamoured with her and sweetly giggling.  There was no trace of the screaming cereal thrower that had wreaked havoc on the aisle just a few minutes prior.

The mom looked at Sadira and commented to me, "Gosh, what a great little girl you have!  Thank you so much!  She seems like such a great little helper, you must have younger kids at home, huh?"

I wasn't expecting that at all.  I found myself in the frozen stance.  Where I know if I start talking I'll just stammer.  I just needed an extra beat, a few extra moments to think of what to say.

In moments like this I've found that I usually try to avoid answering, or just casually evade the topic. Try to throw in a quick, "no," and then follow it up with, "hey, what are the hot toy ideas this season?" or "do you know if this store takes manufacturers coupons AND store coupons?" or "do you know where I can find trash bags here?" Anything, ANYTHING to quickly change the topic, and not have to drop the terrible, horrible news that no, I don't have any younger children at home because my son died in April.

But for some reason, despite the excuses my brain was trying to quickly come up with, I found myself saying, "no.  No, I don't have any younger kids at home..." I know I ended that sentence as if there was more to be said, but I just didn't say it.  It was Christmastime, afterall, people don't want to hear about babies dying.

And I looked in the mom's eyes, and something looked familiar.  It looked like the eyes of a babyloss mom.  And before I knew it, I said, "our baby died in April.  He was premature. Born at 22 weeks."

And the women reached out and grabbed my hands.  I was afraid that I was going to make her feel horrible.  I didn't want her to think I was telling her this because she had accidentally vented to me about how difficult her daughter was being.  I was in no way trying to say, "way to go lady, you're complaining about your kid? Well my kid is DEAD, how do you like that?"

That's NOT what I was trying to say.  And that's NOT how I wanted it to come out.  And for a second I worried that I had overshared.  There she goes again, dropping the dead baby bomb in the middle of Target in Christmas.  Way to go, Nas.

But as soon as I looked in her eyes and saw that look, I knew I recognized it.  She WAS a babyloss mom.  As she grabbed my hands she said, "I had two losses before I got pregnant with her," gesturing with her head to her two year old.  "It is so so hard.  And this time of the year is the WORST.  But you'll get through.  The holidays are so so difficult.  It doesn't get easier, but you do learn how to live it.  You'll get through this."

We both teared up, and she hugged me.  Right there in the middle of the toy aisle at Target.  Two perfect strangers, but part of that same babyloss sorority.

Because that time of year WAS so hard, and I was trying so so hard to soldier through it.  Everywhere I turned I seemed to see "Baby's First Christmas" onesies and ornaments that we would never get to use for Reece.  My Facebook newsfeed was filled with babies born in 2014 sitting on Santa's lap with their older siblings.

Reece should've been able to get his picture taken with Santa. Sadira should've been in the picture too, proudly holding her baby brother and smiling for the camera.

But that didn't happen because he died. And this mom GOT IT.  She SO got it.

Here I was just a few minutes earlier trying to help this lady, and before I knew it, she was helping me tenfold.

And just as quickly as we had met, we went back to our respective carts.  I remember saying, "Hang in there, Mama, it's almost bedtime."  And she replied, "you too. Have a Merry Christmas," with a smile.

And just like that we went back to our shopping and went our separate ways, and just like Chantal the cashier, I may never see her again, but she gave me such a gift that day.

I felt peaceful and understood.  I felt HOPEFUL.

I am so thankful for those other mamas who've walked this path before me.  This sisterhood is such a gift during the grief process. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

going before the judge

You know how there are these things in life you have to do, but you really don't want to do them?  Jury duty ranks pretty high on that list for me.  I've been a registered voter since I was 18 years old, so that means I've been in the jury duty selection pot for a good 15 years.  And living in Baltimore City there are plenty of opportunities to get called for duty.

In fact, I think I've been called pretty much once a year, every year, on the dot.

Sometimes I have a valid excuse for not being able to go.  For a few years I was able to milk that whole "I'm a college student and can't miss class" excuse.  Then I was out in the real world and had to suck it up, buttercup, and attend.  And there is NOTHING fun about jury duty.

Last year I was summoned for duty on May 2nd.  I remember getting the summons in the mail and thinking, "jackpot! I'll be excused this year!"  I was mid-way through a rocky pregnancy and had a legitimate reason not to attend. I even had an appointment on April 30th, and my doctor would've gladly written the note to excuse me from duty.

But I never made it to my appointment on April 30th.  Reece was born and died that morning.  

So naturally two days later, the furthest thing from my mind was jury duty, or the fact that I was missing it.

I'm sure at some point I received a letter scolding me for my non-attendance, and directing me on the next steps.  I'm also sure I completely disregarded that letter. That month was a bit of a blur.  At some point over the summer I received another letter, this one a little more reprimanding...I needed to call the Jury Commissioner's Office AT ONCE or there would be major consequences.

Here's the thing.  It's a shitty shitty shitty thing to have your baby die (putting it mildly, obvs).  But all of the "extra" things that you have to take care of, after the fact, are excruciating.  Having to retell the story, that your baby died, to a stranger, over and over and over again, is maddening.

And I'm sure you're thinking, "well, you don't have to do that often, right? Surely there can't be THAT many messups,..." you would unfortunately be sadly mistaken.

Four weeks after Reece died I received a letter in the mail from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene congratulating me on the birth of my baby, but scolding me for not have his state required hearing test completed.

Had to call and tell them my baby died.  

"We are very very sorry for your loss, Ms. Mirjafary."

Yep, so am I.

Two months later I received an ambulance bill for $400.  It was addressed to "Newborn Mirjafary."  Apparently my 0.5 mile ambulance ride from my home to the hospital was covered by insurance, but Reece was considered a separate patient, and his ride was not covered.  They were attempting to charge me for it.

Had to call and tell them my baby died. 

"We are very very sorry for your loss, Ms. Mirjafary."

Not as sorry as I am, but thank you.

A month later I received a packet from my insurance company titled, "Welcoming your new addition!"  It contained instructions directing me on how to add my new baby to my insurance.  It seems they were very concerned that I had not yet done so, since they had received claims showing that he had been born but I had not yet taken the appropriate steps to have him covered.

Had to call and tell them my baby died. 

"We are very very sorry for your loss, Ms. Mirjafary."

Yep, seems as if I've heard this before.

The examples could go on and on.  And this is just the "official" stuff.  The things that if you don't correct, you will be billed for, or reprimanded via letter AGAIN.  The things that have dire consequences if you don't handle it.  Which feels impossible after losing a baby, because I mostly felt like I couldn't even handle daily LIFE, let alone all the extra responsibilities that go along with it.

Like jury duty.

So one day back in the summer, I geared myself up for the phone call to the Jury Commissioner's Office.  The kicker is, you have to do these heart wrenching tasks when you're having a "good" day, because if you attempt to do them on a "bad" day, you won't make it through the phone call. I know this from experience.

I called.

"Jury Commissioner's Office," a woman answered.

I started, "Hi there, I'm calling because I missed jury duty back in May.  I had a medical event occur which prohibited me from attending, and I'd like to try to reschedule for a new date"

"Do you have documentation that you were in the hospital?"

"Yes, I do have documentation.  But I wasn't in the hospital on the day I was supposed to serve, I was in the hospital on April thir-"

"Ma'am, you will need documentation that you were unable to attend THAT DAY.  Not the day before, not the day after, THAT DAY," she interrupted.

I felt my cheeks start to flush and the tears burning in my eyes, "but...I need to explain to you, I...I was in the, it was two days before..." I knew I was stammering, but the words just wouldn't come out properly.

"Ma'am you'll need to come before the judge to explain this situation..." then she started to give me more direction but I couldn't follow.  I couldn't even try to follow. I couldn't. Even. Try.

"My baby died on April 30th.  He was born prematurely and died.  So yes, while I wasn't still in the hospital on May 2nd, I couldn't make it jury duty on May 2nd.  I couldn't even make it into a grocery store on May 2nd.  I could barely dress myself on May 2nd.  Is that sufficient?  Do you need documentation of THAT?"

There I said it.

It came out way harsher than I expected.  When I have to explain this to strangers, I usually try to say it softly, drop the news delicately. No one wants to hear about babies dying. It's horrible to hear. People don't want to hear horrible things. It's upsetting. It makes them uncomfortable.

But believe me, it's always more uncomfortable for the person who had to live through the loss.  And while I didn't want to have to drop that bomb on her in quite that fashion, the last thing I needed was to be made to feel like some sort of irresponsible delinquent.

She quickly gave me the number to fax my medical records. She shot me a quick apology.

"I am very very sorry for your loss, Ms. Mirjafary."

Sigh.  Aren't we all.

Flash forward to December.  I received a letter that I needed to come in to the Jury Commissioner's Office on a specific date at a specific time.  Failure to do so could result in a fine, or imprisonment, blah blah blah.  So yesterday, that day came. While Sadira got the day off from school to enjoy the first snow of the season, I had to trek downtown amidst the snowflakes to discuss my fate with the judge.

I had only told a few people about this ahead of time.  I knew they'd be irate on my behalf that I had to go in.  I knew they'd say, "I am so sorry, this is totally not fair that you have to do this," because they did, and they're right, and I agree.  I feel the same way, but it doesn't even remotely compare to the feeling of unfairness I feel that Reece isn't here. That he didn't get to live, and I didn't get to keep my baby.  That's the ultimate unfair, these are just the knife-twisting details.

But the good news was, I felt like I could handle it.  I couldn't say that a few months ago.  Just the thought of having to tell a whole courtroom of strangers that my baby died would've sent me into a panic.  But yesterday, I felt prepared.  Not looking forward to it, by any means, but at least ABLE.  I am able to do this now.  That feels like progress.

So with a deep breath I walked into the court house, through the metal detectors, into the court room.  And waited my turn.  And when it came, I stood before the judge, with a manila envelope that contained my hospital discharge instructions, a bill from the hospital, and Reece's death certificate.  It was everything that I had faxed into them months before and I figured that would be adequate "documentation."

The judge took a look at my file and started shuffling some papers in my file that he had.  He looked up at me, like he was going to speak and then paused, shuffled through my paperwork a bit more, and then gently said, "Ms. Mirjafary, I'd like to offer you a new date."

I was initially caught off guard and wasn't sure how to respond right away, and I guess he saw that, because before I could say anything, he finished his thought, "I'm reading what you faxed over, and I assume you'd rather not have to explain to this entire courtroom, so I'd prefer to simply offer you a new court date.  No fine will be imposed.  Is that alright with you?"

I managed to say, "Yes. Thank you."

That was all I needed.  Just a small shred of compassion on a difficult day.  I collected my papers, accepted my new date, and left the courthouse to spend the rest of the snow day with Sadira.

Compassion. I'm reminded of that quote, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Be kind. Be compassionate. Be hopeful.