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. 

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