one year

I can’t quite believe it’s been a whole year. I remember it like yesterday, but I also feel like some time has passed now. It’s still hard to wrap my head around any of it though. Not a day goes by on which I don’t miss them.

I keep thinking about how much they changed me, but it’s a difficult question. Because while I think that a lot of how I am at the core is still the same, losing A & C has certainly reshuffled my priorities. And in part I simply haven’t figured it out yet.

We didn’t really know what to do with this day. Cake kind of seems weird without them here to enjoy it. I didn’t want to do anything with others as my own feelings are complicated enough – maybe I just wanted to be “allowed” to cry whenever I had to.
Initially I had thought about going to the beach where we scattered their ashes, but H is terrified we could get into an accident and something might happen to Strawberry Baby, and I’m not all that comfortable driving anymore anyway, so we stayed and just went to the water here.
I feel kind of bad about not doing much for them today. We’re planning to go to said beach once Strawberry Baby is here. She has been kicking me reassuringly all day long, sweet girl. I wonder if she knows or feels that her mom is having a rough day.

I’ll leave you with another picture of our precious firstborns. And an extra picture of C – by the time the professional photographer came, it had been over 30h since she was born, and time was starting to wear on her little body. But she was a truly beautiful baby. They’re both very much loved and very much missed.

C both of them

Today

Today a year ago, I lost my mucus plug in the morning. I freaked out, but the nurse tried to convince me that I needn’t come in (and perhaps they couldn’t have done anything anyway). A couple hours later, C’s water broke. Our poor little girl was all curled up on the ultrasound. It was heartbreaking – and the slim prospects of survival they were giving us for either of our twins didn’t make it any better. It was one of the worst days of my life.

This morning (my time zone), my brother’ girlfriend delivered their daughter, overdue and 9.5lbs, but healthy and alive. She is my dad’s first* living grandchild, and I wonder how he feels about it. He’s not one to talk about emotions but was clearly devastated by the loss of A&C. I’m happy for them, really, but I wonder how I’d have taken this without Strawberry Baby kicking me reassuringly.

* My MIL wrote an email about this baby being my dad’s first grandchild. H was very offended.

unexpected firsts

It was the night before my husband’s birthday – and instead of toasting to a better year, I was trying to comfort a man heartbroken by the fact that his two little daughters were not with us. Maybe I should have thought of it, but I did not see this coming. He explained that this should have been his first birthday with A & C, and while I’m sure the little girl now growing in my belly softened the pain a little, it was still raw and fresh.

Less than 24 hours later, I sat in a movie theater browsing through a big chain’s registry starter gift. Somewhat surprised that this is really me.

And then the movie began, taking me completely by surprise with a scene of a dying mother saying goodbye to her child and the grandparent that would take care of him. And I thought, I’ve been in the position of the child losing his/her mother, and in the position of the parent losing their daughter(s). It’s a bit much pain to take in all at once.
(Fortunately I haven’t been in the dying mother position, and I hope I won’t for very, very many years to come.)

so close and yet so far

Every time I write a post that doesn’t explicitly mention A & C, it hurts. It makes me feel bad. Even though I know you know I haven’t forgotten them.

In a way, reaching these milestones with Strawberry Baby has been like losing them all over again. I have apologized again and again for not being able to carry them this far. I’m sure they know though.

Most of the time, I’m okay, but sometimes an unexpected wave of grief hits. Like when I read this nurse’s perspective of a stillbirth and am taken right back to when we lost them, or perhaps when I realized we had lost them. And I am reminded that my concerns about first-world problems like maternity leave will get sorted out, somehow. And a kick from Strawberry Baby is one of the most reassuring feelings imaginable.

6 months, and almost 10 weeks

This is the most compact description of where I am. Yesterday was the half-year anniversary of the birth and death of A & C, and tomorrow I will be 10 weeks pregnant with Strawberry Baby.

Going through all the documents for taxes was painful. I have everything from last year in one big pile (not recommended), and re-encountering the hospital and cremation documents I shed more tears than I have in a while.

And then I had a difficult conversation with my boss, about how much I am getting done lately and how that isn’t exactly enough. She was trying to acknowledge that the last months have been really hard on us, but still. And I think she probably has a point, but still. It has barely been half a year. And half a year is extremely short to “recover” from such a loss, and at the same time extremely long when you miss your babies every single day. It reminded me of how hard it had been to go back to work, how that was so completely the opposite experience of what I thought going back to work after having a baby would be like. Half of my colleagues never even acknowledged that anything had happened at all, and once they find out I’m pregnant again they’ll probably think everything is fine now. The conversation also brought back more basic considerations, although not necessarily of the sort I’d want to discuss with someone who is childfree by choice. I had always thought that, if I ever had to decide between my career and my family, I would pick my family. And then, when we were finally on the way to building said family, due to some cruel twist we lost our daughters. I felt like the choice was taken away from me, at least temporarily. I don’t want any other choices taken. Plus, more simply: only very few experiments can reach a magnitude that does not pale against “my babies died”. Everything else just seems so much less important, still, at least on bad days. I’m not sure that is ever going to change. (Of course bringing food on the table and getting rent paid still are kind of important.)

Yet, given all that happened last year, we feel so blessed to be where we are. 9w6d, or maybe 10w1d, depending on who’s measurements you take, pregnant with our little Strawberry. Everyone keeps commenting how perfect everything looks. The nurse who did our “graduation” ultrasound at the RE was very gentle after I told her of the spotting I’d had, and the fact that my cervix felt sore for a week (!) afterwards. In part because of my already-sensitive cervix, and in part because my insurance thinks that 3 suppositories per day are too much to cover, we decided to keep me on IM progesterone until 12 weeks (usually my clinic switches to suppositories for the last 3-4 weeks).

Less than a week after that, I saw my MFM/OB. He’s a very sweet guy and was so happy to see me pregnant again, it was really touching. The nurses first needed to “close” my previous pregnancy in the computer system, which I thought was odd – the clinic and the hospital where I delivered are affiliated with the same university, you’d think they could communicate that bit. Both nurses also vaguely remembered me but couldn’t quite place me. When I explained that I’d had a stillbirth last year, the first, younger nurse just said “so that’s what it was”. The second, older nurse still seemed a bit confused, but looking through my records she saw that I’d had twins and remembered, and came over to give me a hug. It confirms my experience that more experienced practitioners have found ways to deal with such terrible situations – perhaps, sadly, because they’ve seen it often enough, and thought about what to say.

All the exams and scans went well, the MFM pointed out the spine and arms and legs and other body parts I could not exactly recognize, but was glad to hear were developing as they should. Pictures in the usual location. Now they will start requesting 17-hydroxyprogesterone shots for me, which have been shown to reduce the chances of pPROM and cervical shortening in at-risk patients, and start transvaginal cervical length measurements at 14 weeks. But before that, we have the NT scan. Doing yoga on the artificial grass gym rooftop today, I encountered a ladybug. It reminded me that there had been one of his distant cousins crawling over me on the way to the NT scan with A & C, only to reappear in my hair after the scan. I’ll take it as a good sign.

balloons and ashes

One of H’s cousins went through a similar loss as ours, pPROM at 18 weeks and then the birth of her tiny daughter two weeks or so later. When we met over Christmas, one of the things she said that stayed with me was that she found it so terrible having to leave the baby in the hospital, instead of taking it home to bury it in the garden.*

We don’t have a garden, but that moment of having to leave the room with my babies to never see them again on this earth was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. We had a wonderful nurse that did everything she could to make it a little easier for us, but of course, it was still hard.

We had decided relatively quickly to have the girls cremated. The social worker had given us a list of mortuaries. Calling them was hard, especially since the receptionist at the first place asked why I was calling after I had given him a summary of the situation. But at the next place I got a lovely woman on the phone, who immediately expressed her condolences and gave me what seemed like a reasonable quote, but said that she’d talk with her supervisor to see if they could do it for less. Ten minutes later, she called me back to tell me they could cremate our daughters for 250$.**

I initially dreaded not just the call but also the visit and the paperwork, and halfheartedly considered asking friends to do it for us. But I’ve come to realize that this was one of the few things we were actually able to do as A & C’s parents. We won’t ever get to write notes as for why they didn’t go to school last Monday, but, hard as it was, we got to arrange their cremation. Because we are their parents.

They really tried to make the paperwork as easy as possible for us. Getting all the names correct was important – after all, these were among the few official documents we’d ever get with their names in print. H and I have different last names, and the girls have his. “Usually the babies are under the mom’s name”, she said. Do you know what’s wrong with this sentence? “Usually”. There shouldn’t be anything usual about this.

A week or so later, I went back to pick up the ashes. With the nomad scientist life, finding a suitable permanent place for them seemed difficult. We decided to scatter their ashes at sea – we both love the sea, and after a while they will be “close to” us in all sorts of places across the world. I sobbed when I got into the car. I didn’t want to scatter my children’s ashes, I wanted them here with me, alive. H repeatedly said we didn’t have to go. Once I had calmed down, we drove down the coast and found a bay between two banks of fog. The water felt like it was freezing cold. We stayed to say goodbye, and then to watch a beautiful sunset.

I’m not sure why these memories are coming up so vividly now. Perhaps because we are considering a beach vacation, and the beach, like so many other things, now reminds me of my daughters?

When we left the ER recently, we passed the gift store, and H said he had been hoping so much that the next time he’d be in the hospital he’d be able to go into that store and buy a little present for me and our child. I was already pregnant again, and hopeful that we’ll bring this little one home, but that showed me how hard it is for him. Peering through the window, we considered which of the balloons*** he could get us, come November.


* She had her first child without any problems, and later brought home another daughter after getting a cerclage in the 2nd trimester (by choice, it wasn’t clear what caused the pPROM, but she did get her rainbow baby, which is the most important part).

** I have since heard that some places take care of stillborns for free. It’s not so much about the number for me though. I think any form of supporting parents in this terrible situation is more appreciated than we may be able to express in that moment.

*** I have never had or bought one of these huge colorful printed balloons, but we’re so ready to celebrate that a smiley-flower or a gigantic butterfly seem appropriate. I so hope we’ll get there.

yoga

I’m trying to distract myself from 2ww symptom over-interpretation for a little longer and write about something different… but I’m sure I’ll be back with those symptoms soon. Thanks for all your good wishes!

I began yoga after 1.5 years of trying unassistedly and unsuccessfully. Desperate, frustrated, but not ready to move on to treatments – which I guess was part denial, part finances, part not-readiness of facing the endeavor that ART seems from the outside. I was willing to try anything “natural” and bought Fully Fertile, a book with a holistic approach to fertility that can be taken alone or together with treatments (deep down I assumed we’d probably need these treatments eventually, and was and continue to be annoyed whenever someone suggests they could have fixed this all with their non-invasive method of choice).

At the same time, I was fairly skeptical, and phrases like “disappointment stored in the hips” made me frown. I flat out didn’t believe that yoga would help me release emotions – I was hardly getting any exercise and was simply looking for the physical benefit for my body. In particular, I doubted I’d be in tears at the end of my first practice, which was described as a common experience. How very wrong I was. I cried and cried. Not just about the obvious aspect, our failure to conceive, but I also discovered many unresolved feelings around my mom’s death that I hadn’t even been aware of.

I practiced about twice a week, and although it didn’t get me pregnant, I felt more at peace with the overall situation. And figured out the major reason for some terrible pain I’d been experiencing. After moving halfway across the world, I bought a proper yoga mat (which to me makes a surprising difference), picked up a yoga magazine at the grocery store and started incorporating other, not necessarily fertility-focused poses and sequences. We were also on a much-needed break from trying, so that wasn’t the main focus. Annoyed that I sometimes didn’t manage to squeeze in my twice-weekly practice, I decided that if I tried to practice every day, thinking that even if I missed one here and there I’d still get “enough”. I have been practicing daily ever since.

Once we actually started our IVF cycle I went back to mostly fertility-supporting sequences. And then I got pregnant! Joy! Even before I had searched the web for poses to do and to avoid, and it wasn’t long before I bought some prenatal yoga instructions. When following standard sequences I’d used before, I left out any poses that seemed too challenging and almost all twists, but overall was determined to remain fit. Squats are supposed to be especially good, to open the hips… looking back I worry a bit that these may have contributed to what happened, although it’s impossible to know and perhaps not even that likely. Nevertheless, in any future pregnancy I am lucky enough to experience, I will keep squats and any other poses that put pressure on the pelvis for the second half of the 3rd trimester.

I went back to the mat the day after we came back from the hospital. Probably not what anyone would recommend, but it felt right. I had asked my husband to move the sofa so that I could practice in the space where we had been planning to set up the cribs… I did some gentle stretches and restorative poses and cried and cried. So hard that H heard it while in the shower, and came to comfort me. Poor guy. He should have heard his daughters cry, or even better, giggle, not his wife cry over their loss. I had thought of my babies every time I practiced while pregnant, and I continue to think of them in every practice I do now. There were (are) many more yoga sessions when I paused to cry. In a way it gives me a safe space to reflect my feelings. There’s just me, if I need a break I can take it. Not to say that I don’t cry during other times of the day, or during every practice, but it does help me to know that I have this time and space to release any emotions that may come up.

A few days ago, on one of their due dates, I cried all the way through my warm-up. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but later realized that this reflects how I have been dealing with things lately – I may get sad, but I move forward, through and with the grief.

And during the last days, I have been practicing with that familiar nausea, and even more fears and hopes than before. But that will be the topic of another post.