the birth of a child

Religion or faith isn’t something I write much about. It is a very personal matter to me, between me and God. But in these days, when my religion celebrates the birth of a very special child, I struggle.

The birth of our daughters was special. I wouldn’t want to miss it for anything. But of course it is also fraught with sad memories, with the mourning of their loss.

I admire those of you that find strength in God after such a loss. For now, I seem to find myself on the other side. Lost. H brought it up first, saying that he didn’t know if he could go to church for Christmas, after praying so hard that our babies would make it. After praying that, after we’d lost C, there would be a way to save A. After not feeling heard.

the non-scientific part

  • When my boss asked about my due date, I confidently told her “End of October”. She gave me a “this can’t be right” look, I realized what I said and quickly corrected it. But since that day I hadn’t been able to shake the fear that these babies may come in October, way too early.
  • H dreamt I was screaming about an hour before C was actually born.
  • When we left the hospital without our babies, we called a cab as to avoid the hour-long ride on public transportation. Ten minutes later, an automated call tells me they cannot find us a cab (?!). We decide to walk to the metro station after all, just missing one train, and then the next because we stand too far off the spot where it actually stops – it’s not like I could just run over before the door closes. The next train, finally. After about half the ride, a young mother boards with her little girl in the stroller. A sweet and quiet and content toddler. Later, in preparation for getting off, mom turns the stroller so that the girl can see us. She looks at us, intently. Then she starts to wave and smile a little. At that point I lose it, begin to sob and bury my head in H’s shoulder. He keeps looking at the girl until they get off, and later tells me she was quite confused by my sadness.
  • Later that night we go outside for a few minutes, to take a look at our babies’ constellations. Suddenly I see a shooting star, brighter than any I’ve seen in years. Actually I hadn’t seen any shooting star in years. H was sad because he missed it. The next night we went outside again, and both saw not one, but two shooting stars. Right between the A and C constellations.

Honestly, if anyone told me this, I’m not sure I’d believe it.

it’s complicated

Glow in the Woods had a post about trust in our bodies after babyloss. Like so many others, I’ve had ups and downs. Infertility is a major down – it’s hard to accept not being able to get pregnant “naturally”, even though given my history it wasn’t all that surprising.

But for some reason I thought I’d be good at pregnancy. I even thought, after completing our family, I could be a surrogate for friends in case they turned out to need this. That’s how convinced I was my body could do this.

We transferred two embryos, and both implanted. I’m so thankful for this. It gave me some confidence in my body back. Then there were the bleeding episodes – scary, but fortunately the babies were always fine. We made it into the second trimester, the supposedly safe zone.

I had this weird pelvic pressure, for weeks. The first doctor thought it wasn’t a concern. And then it was almost too late. I’m trying not to dwell on the what-ifs, but sometimes it is hard to resist… what if I had insisted on being checked earlier? Would there have been any way to keep the babies inside, C’s amniotic sac intact for longer?

The extra post-partum bleeding didn’t help, though I don’t think it hurt my relationship with my body much, either. The thing is, I think my body fairly reliably tells me when something is wrong. The pain I had before my endometriosis was discovered, the pelvic pressure that may have had to do with the shortening cervix… It knows, my body. It may not be able to perform all those tasks I’d want it to, but it tells me when things are off. And I am amazed that it can produce eggs that make such beautiful babies together with H’s sperm. And carry them for quite a while. I hope I’ll learn to listen to it even more, and I hope that my doctors will listen, and that they will actually be able to do something in case things start to slide.

But of course we first need to get there. I was so proud when it started making cervical mucus again (yes, proud may seem an odd feeling, but it is what it is), and glad when my period returned. On Monday I had a saline sonogram to check my uterine cavity for anything from scars to polyps that might be detrimental to implantation. They found a tiny thing, in fact, they’re not sure it’s anything at all – we’re still waiting for my main RE’s verdict. And while I didn’t have the painful cramps I had after my last saline sonogram, I started bleeding yesterday. More today, like a period. Of course I don’t even know if this has anything to do with the procedure, or if my body is simply still trying to get back on track. It’s just not exactly helping my confidence. And yet, after reading Suzanne’s post, I feel like I should be grateful that everything is most-likely-okay. And I am. I’d just have it rather all be great, for all of us.

PS: WordPress says this was my 100th post. The title seems fitting.

compound

Sometimes I’d like to blog about the normal things. How I decided that I was too lazy for turkey this year*, but planned to make two pies from this book, Salted Caramel Apple and Malted Chocolate Pecan Pie. Mostly for no other good reason that that I enjoy baking. Except then my husband declared he doesn’t like pecans, nor salted caramel. Deb to the rescue, and I had a “regular” apple pie recipe. (He did eat a piece of the pecan pie later – turns out things are different if there’s chocolate involved.)

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But this year, that is just the preface. We took the pecan pie to a Thanksgiving dinner organized by some friends of ours. Mostly geeks that play a card game together, and so somehow I didn’t expect any pregnancy announcements, but of course there was one. “Announcement” may be the wrong term, she looked about 7 months pregnant, if not further along. Not sure how H didn’t know about it. We’re happy for them, of course, but also just so sad.

It was a nice afternoon overall, and for a while it was good to do normal things with other people. After a few hours though the sadness resurfaced and I mainly wanted to go home. I suppose this is where I’m at right now – company for a little while may be nice, but then I need a break. Grief is hard work, and it has so many different faces and aspects I’m only beginning to discover.

We’re still so fresh out of this loss. We miss these little girls, their sweet little faces, the personalities we never got to know. While we hope that we’ll be blessed with raising their siblings one day, we will always miss A & C.

Yet any thought of their siblings comes with the fear that something might go wrong again. That my body might fail them, too. I haven’t gotten around to writing about the appointment with the specialist, but basically there is a chance that my cervix will struggle even in a singleton pregnancy.

And of course I’d first need to get there. I am actually quite hopeful on this issue, yet it’s hard to ignore the nagging fear. What if this was our lucky round? I do hope there will be more, and longer lasting ones. For an encouraging start, my period has returned (an event that isn’t commonly celebrated in the IF world). I’m glad my body seems to be getting back on track.


* keep in mind that we didn’t grow up here, so it’s not as much of a big deal as it may seem

Thanksgiving

It goes without saying that I would so much rather be writing this post being 27 weeks pregnant, feeling my girls kick and dreaming up the nursery. But even with everything that happened over the last weeks, there are a number of things I’m very grateful for. A selection, in no particular order:

  • Getting pregnant on our first IVF. It gives me hope that this can happen again, and that we may one day be lucky enough to bring a baby home.
  • A & C, and the 5 months I had with them. I loved them so much, every minute of it.
  • My husband, and how we are supporting each other through this loss, growing closer and more focused on the important things in our life.
  • The wonderful hospital staff that helped us through these though times, encouraging us to hold and kiss our precious babies.
  • Caring friends and family members who support us, who don’t shy away.
  • You. All of you. For reading, commenting, understanding, sitting with me in these difficult days. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

of mothers and daughters

My mom died seven years ago today.

Long before we even started trying, I was sad my children wouldn’t get to meet her. She was a wonderful mom and would have been a great grandma. Perhaps, somewhere in the back of my mind, I worried I might leave my children too soon, like she had to leave me, leave us. But the thought that they might meet her first didn’t occur to me until it was almost too late.

the aftermath: the precious little time we had

After giving birth we stayed in the delivery room for a few more hours. Nurse M came in regularly to massage my uterus and check my bleeding. Other than that we were left alone to hold and admire and cry over our lifeless daughters.

When we went to another room where we’d stay the night, a couple with their newborn baby crossed our way. A cruel reminder of what we’d just lost, times two.

We spent almost 24h in that room, and yet I cannot say much about what we did. Cry. Hold our babies. Hold each other. Cry some more. It was the first time I saw my husband sob like this. He was completely devastated, shaking, unable to stop crying. I tried to comfort him, it hurt me to see him hurt. It took a while – days at least – for both of us to learn that we need to allow each other to cry, to grieve, to let this acute sadness out. Maybe it also just took a while to be comfortable with so much raw emotion – with my own feelings, there’s no way out, but feeling so utterly helpless in the face of his grief, shortly after feeling just as helpless because I couldn’t save my babies, was hard. We’ve both learned to be together through the sadness now, to be with the other but not try to stop the tears.

Both nurse M and the doctor who delivered our babies came to say goodbye at the end of their shift. I’m so grateful they took the time to talk to us again, to show us some extra kindness that we needed so much. The doctor also encouraged us to try again when we were ready, going over some basic options and encouraging us to talk to an MFM. Perhaps for some people this might seem inappropriate, but while we’ll always miss A & C we were still longing for a living child as much as before, if not more.

In addition to their little hats, the hospital had given us two tiny blankets. As they had always been together inside me, we kept them in the same blanket. But then we saw that the second one had stars on them, so after taking the footprints we wrapped them in this one (see picture below).

They had also given us a memory box with some material to take footprints. The nurse for the evening was supposed to help us take them. Unfortunately she was clearly uncomfortable with the fact that our babies were dead – the only negative experience we made in the hospital, everyone else was kind and supportive and going out of their way to help us. She wanted to take the babies to another room to do this. Um, no. I ended up doing the footprints myself, though she was helpful with some of the technical aspects, like how to prepare the material and how to make a flat surface. And then I think all the involved parties were glad when another (lovely) nurse was in charge of us for the night.

We had one more difficult task ahead before we could go to sleep: we needed to inform our families. Each of us wrote a few words to parents and siblings, attached some of the photos of our girls and us, and hit “send”. We’d both so have loved to send a different announcement…

The night itself was okay. I declined the repeated offer for pain medication – not that I was trying to be tough, I just didn’t feel more than mild cramps. H slept on a convertible armchair for a few hours, then crept into my bed. It was good to be close, and reaffirmed our desire to go home the next day. L&D is not an easy place to be when you’ve just lost your babies, although we were lucky and only heard a few newborns cry, and didn’t see any other than the one at the beginning of this post.

One question that seemed to be surprisingly difficult to answer was whether we’d get birth certificates for the girls or not. We hadn’t decided on names when they were born, and in part decided to think of some just in case we’d need them for the papers. Looking back, I think it was the right choice for us – it feels more personal to talk about A and C rather than Twin A and Twin B. But I can see that for other parents, not having names may be easier.
Our social worker eventually found out that we wouldn’t get birth certificates, though we could ask the state to send us certificates of fetal demise (and doesn’t “birth certificate” sound a million times better?). She, the social worker, had actually been meeting with us since we got to the hospital, I just haven’t written about her because we didn’t “click”; H found her downright annoying. But she did supply us with a lot of helpful material, from a leaflet with the sad title “What to do when you’re not going to breastfeed” to a list of mortuaries in the area, and advice which tend to charge less than others. We also got two little booklets, on pregnancy and infant loss and on grieving as parents, but I’m a little ashamed to admit we haven’t read them yet… we’ve just been exhausted.

The hospital also offered to send a professional photographer to take pictures of our babies, and of us as a family. I believe this photographer offers to visit all families with new babies, but while most would need to pay for the pictures, babylost parents get them as a gift. I showered and got dressed first, which made me feel a bit better, at least physically. She was kind and calm and took some pictures of A & C with far better light and quality than my phone ever could, and then some of the four of us together. They are heartbreaking and treasured.

The midwife in charge didn’t have any concerns in letting me go home, so we hugged and cradled our daughters a few more times but slowly started to pack up our belongings. It was hard to leave them, even though there was nothing we could do for them. The lovely nurse we had during the day, who had supplied me with extra maternity pads as I obviously hadn’t stocked up on them, hugged us and said “Take your time. I’ll stay with the babies.”

I’ll leave you with one of the last pictures we took of A & C, with the toys I had bought for them. They underline how tiny our daughters were – the trunk and tail are made to be grabbed by a baby’s hand. But, being so colorful, the toys also add a cheerful element to the photo. It gives me hope, somehow. This is the background picture on my phone, and most of the time I smile when I see it, see them.

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long distance

Our plan for Christmas was to stay here and wait for the babies to be born. Even with a late February due date, a transatlantic flight did not seem like a good idea for this time. Now that everything turned out so differently from what we hoped, we’re back to the question of to stay or to go – or to go somewhere else entirely. And it is not easy.

After A and C were born, both H’s parents and my dad offered to come. We declined. We felt that we’d need time for just the two of us. Our apartment is small. Given the distance they’d stay for at least 2 weeks*, and that just seemed more than what we could handle.

But of course they need to grieve as well, and they want to comfort us. We’ve been talking and emailing, which I think has helped everyone, at least most of the time**.

We’ve thought about flying over for Christmas. It might help us process the experience some more, it might help them, and perhaps we could begin the new year with hope for new things to come. Not that we’ll ever forget A & C, but we would like to be hopeful again.

But then there is the high potential for more insensitive comments. On my side of the family, Christmas is a difficult time to begin with – our family cohesion has really suffered after my mom’s death, one of my siblings isn’t even coming home any more because of a quarrel with my dad’s wife, and this whole situation doesn’t lead to happiness under the tree.

We’ve thought about going to Hawaii instead. We certainly need a vacation, and one for just the two of us. But somehow this doesn’t feel right either. We worry we might not be able to enjoy it, between the loss of A & C and neglecting our families back in our home country. Plus, it’s much harder to look over other people’s big baby bellies in a bikini than it is when they’re underneath thick winter coats…

We could just stay here, of course. That would be a very lonely and sad Christmas. Which somehow feels the most appropriate – but it probably isn’t helpful when thinking about healing, about becoming hopeful again.

Now we actually bought flights – on somewhat inconvenient dates, but those were the least outrageous prices. When we made the decision we figured we’d be sad wherever we were, so we might as well try and make our families a bit happier. Yet, booking these flights released much more raw sadness than I expected – on the last trip (less than two months ago!) we were so confident that the next one would be with our babies. It is so hard to face the reality that this won’t be the case. And as soon as we had bought the tickets we doubted it had been the right decision. And we’re still in that undecided spot. Haven’t even told our families about the tickets. We don’t want to go, we don’t want to stay… the one thing we would want is, sadly, impossible.


* I imagine my dad might actually just stay for a few days, but the inviting one party and not the other would have led to jealousy and other complicated feelings that we didn’t want, either.
** MIL, who is devastated by our loss, has made a number of really insensitive comments – apparently it is not obvious that someone else’s pregnancy announcement is not what we need in the week after our babies’ death.

birth story part three: everything’s different

Thank you all so much for helping me through this storm. I’d love to invite you lovely people over for coffee. The kind where we can say everything, but don’t need to say anything. Because you understand.

It’s been four weeks since our girls came and went. I still cannot believe it.

When the doctor said that she hoped I’d deliver before the next morning, I had gotten a bit scared. How long could this take? The birth of C had been so easy, most of it must have happened in my sleep, and given her tiny size it hadn’t even been painful. Now, I was waiting for the drugs to work, with no idea of what would happen and when. There was no monitoring, other than nurse M coming in to check on me every now and then. They didn’t want to rush anything as long as I was stable and not bleeding. They even let me drink and eat, and I seized the chance as I was still as hungry as ever in this twin pregnancy, and I thought I’d need lots of energy to make it through the day. The doctor had said that the placenta “sticking” to the uterus was something they were concerned about, apparently this happened more frequently in (very) preterm deliveries*.

The local pain – diagonally from my sides towards my vagina – intensified rather quickly. So much that, when H texted me from home to ask if he could have lunch, I told him to rather come back as I wanted him to be there for A’s birth.

H was completely devastated. He’d written me some more texts while on the way – on the shuttle, luckily, driving might not have been safe. I was getting so busy with the physical aspects that I didn’t have the energy to be as miserable. (I’m not sure if this makes sense, but it seems the best way to describe it.)

Soon after he came back I asked the doctor to check me, as instructed, before going to the bathroom. The contractions were getting even stronger, and now they weren’t just local. She thought I was dilated enough to break A’s waters to get things moving faster. This must have been 3-4h after I got the drugs. From what I read later, it usually takes around 15h until delivery with this medication and dose, so either I respond very well to them or my body was on the way to labor already anyway.

Breaking the bag was harder than expected, especially after we had experienced the spontaneous rupture of C’s bag. It was one of those moments where we wondered if we were really doing the right thing…

Contractions picked up another notch once the fluid was out. I asked for some mild pain medication to take off the edge – it was very important to me that I stay conscious for delivery, but it just seemed pointless to endure extra physical pain. The effect was almost instantaneous and made me slightly dizzy. The doctor was sitting on one side of my bed, and a midwife came in and sat down on the other. H was standing next to the bed, holding my hand, sometimes stroking my hair. We hadn’t really talked about birth yet, and he later said that he hadn’t really known what to do, how to help me, but honestly I think he did the best thing he could – being with me, holding my hand.

They told me to “push into the pain”, but I never had the impression I made any progress with this. I was lying on my back at an angle, which gave me back pain, enough to bother me between contractions. Gravity had helped me to deliver C, so I asked to move the bed into more of a sitting position. I put one leg over the doctor’s legs and the other over the midwife’s legs – for a moment I thought this was weird, but mostly I was too busy to care much, and they were trying to do everything they could to help me through this birth and telling me I was doing great, while I still didn’t feel like I was making any progress. But after a couple more pushes, A was there. Her delivery hadn’t taken long after all – I’d say half an hour of pushing, but then, I had no grasp on time at all.

They asked H if he wanted to cut the cord, but he declined. After they’d cut it, nurse M immediately took A, wrapped her into a baby blanket and placed her in my arms. Between taking care of me she also found the time to get little C and place her next to her sister, so that I had both my daughters in my arms. Surprisingly, A was much bigger than C – we didn’t weigh them so I cannot tell you how much, but just seeing the difference was striking. The midwife said she had come out “bum first”, so those two factors might explain why it had been harder and more painful to birth her.

They set up a pitocin drip to help my uterus contract and the placentas deliver, however they came out by themselves before the drip was started, moments after doctor and midwife had left the room. Nurse M told me to not push but it was too late for that. Doctor and midwife quickly came back, examined the placentas and me for tears or other damage, but declared that everything was fine. My uterus was massaged to further contract and reduce bleeding.

For my husband, the moments directly after A’s birth must have been the strangest part of the whole experience: I was, there is no other way to say it, happy. I had just given birth to my baby, wasn’t that amazing? In part I’m sure I was glad the physical pain was over.** He sat next to me, miserable, and probably bewildered. Of course I knew, somewhere in the back of my head, that something was wrong, but the oxytocin was stronger.

Suddenly I felt a jerk. A was trying to breathe. It was heartbreaking all over again.

This happened once or twice more, with minutes in between. I have no idea how she found the energy. It was just so hard to see this, to see how strong she was, to think if only we had been able to buy her more time…

We stayed in the delivery room for a few more hours. A family of four, somehow, saying hello and saying goodbye.


* I don’t know if this had anything to do with me later having to go back twice for a tiny bit of what seemed to be leftover placenta or membranes.
** I’m sure a full-term vaginal birth is much more painful, but this was painful enough.