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Saturday, May 6, 2017

International Bereaved Mother's Day

"How many kids do you have?" This is a common question. In my particular line of work, it's asked of me several times a day. I never ask this question. I used to. Just like I used to do a lot of things. But I don't ask this one because its answer is difficult for some, and I know that now.

I always answer truthfully. Four. I have 4 children. I answer that way, because for me there is no other way to answer. But that's not true for all bereaved mothers. This is a commonly asked question on grief forums. "When someone asks how many children you have, what do you say?" For me, there really is only one answer, but to many, the potential follow up questions make this answer more difficult. Inevitably, this question is followed by one asking ages or if you have boys or girls. I have a standard answer for that too. My oldest son is 13, I have 12 and 9 year old daughters, and my youngest son would be 7 this year, but he passed away at 2 1/2. Too much information? Maybe. For some, certainly. But for me, this works. This is my truth. And if I'm not honest about this, I'm not being true to myself. If I want to go into more detail,  I do. And those days that I can't,  I don't.  But I ALWAYS have four children. 

Four. I parent them all. My teenager gives me his best attention on car rides when it's just the two of us. He flips his hair to the side incessantly, and his stomach is currently a bottomless pit. He's discovering what it means to learn what kind of person he wants to be. We have countless discussions about the importance of being a good person, and what traits will serve him well later in life. 

My 12 year old daughter is a ball of sarcasm and wit. She also has a beautiful, giving heart. She's anxious as she grows and changes and asks questions about life and what her body is going through at almost a constant rate. She's inquisitive, and thoughtful. She makes me pull my hair out, and she has me watching in awe most days as she discovers yet another activity in which she's interested. 

My 9 year old....she's broken. Her best friend died and changed her middle child status.  She's often confused and lonely. She has beautiful blue eyes and a smile that's incredibly contagious. She's loveable and reads constantly. She's my baking buddy, and my cuddler. I try to be a safe place for her to land when the pain becomes more than her little 9 year old heart can bear.

And there's my baby. I parent him, too. And let me tell you, there is nothing on this earth harder than parenting a child you had to give back. I wonder daily what he's up to. Is he taller? Does he still have my curls? Did he take up baseball like his brother or is he an actor like his sister? Who are his friends? Did he learn to ride a bike? I want to know what size shoe he wears, and if he knows how to tie them yet. 

See, when you lose a child, you don't just lose them in that moment. You don't just miss out on that time in his life. You lose him every single day, over and over again. You lose his milestones and your dreams for him. You lose his giggles, and his scraped knees. You lose his finger paintings, and his dandelion bouquets.  You lose little pieces of yourself, slowly. Each day more is chipped away as you try to find ways to function. People can see the functioning part, but they can't always see the pieces that fall away. But it's happening. Every day is something new, and it's a sentence that lasts a lifetime. 

Tomorrow is International Bereaved Mother's Day. If you know a mother who parents a child she can no longer hold, let her know you're thinking of her. Give her that day. She'll be chipping away the pieces she loses that day, just like any other, and a kind word from you could go a long way. Acknowledgement of our children and our continued quest to parent them means more than anything. 

Four. I have four...

Friday, April 21, 2017

"I Rocked A Baby Today"

I do a lot of things in my line of work. And yes,  one of the things I do is rock babies...

-I rocked a baby today because she didn't understand the convulsions that her little body experienced as someone else's heroin addiction coursed through her.

-I rocked a baby today, though I had no time to do so,  because his mother decided that she didn't want him, and he didn't ask to be born into a world that would immediately reject him. 

-I rocked a baby today because just hours earlier I watched as two nursery nurses used their incredible knowledge and unparalleled skill to breathe life back into her when she was born without breath. 

-I rocked a baby today because he was born silent, and because the pain and devastation of looking at her dead child is too much for his mother in this moment. 

-I rocked a baby today because mine were the hands that pulled her from her mother's arms as life circumstances have deemed her an unfit mother. 

-I rocked a baby today, simply because I can, and because no matter how many times it goes right, no matter how many times it's "just part of my job", no matter how many "birth"days I witness, I will never lose sight of the beauty and the privilege of being present in that moment. 

I've written about my profession before, but today I write to highlight a very specific area. I am an OB nurse. I'm a "rocking babies" nurse.  I write this because while in the elevator, during a rare break in my day, a fellow RN looked at my scrubs, recognized that I worked in OB, and said with pride in her voice, 

"I have 16 patients today!" 

I replied, "I'm sorry that you feel overworked. I know the hospital as a whole is at capacity right now. I hope your day turns out ok."

She then looked at my uniform again and said, "Yeah...wanna trade? You take my 16 patients, and I'll 'rock babies, or whatever'."

So, today I write to let my fellow OB nurses know that I see you. I know and understand the depths of your dedication and your compassion. I see that you have earned every bit of that RN that you proudly display behind your name. I know that your knowledge and skill goes far beyond what's taught in the classroom. I know that although your experiences seem to others to be full of "baby rocking bliss", that each day that you work has the potential to tear at your soul. 

Do not underestimate your ability to make a lasting impact in the lives of your patients. Do not let the uneducated comments of other people, specifically other nurses, undermine the work that you do. While empowering your patient to do one of the hardest things she'll ever do in her life, don't forget to encourage yourself along the way. Don't forget to tell a coworker that you're here for her when something doesn't go as planned. 

We always have the opportunity to encourage one another in practice. Consequently,  we also have the option to tear each other down. Choose to encourage. That's what REAL nurses do. It's not in the uniform, or the stethoscope, or in the number of patients. It's the act of getting back to why we decided to "rock babies" in the first place. We wanted to make a difference in the health and life of another person. If that means that today I rock a baby...so be it. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Today hurts, And Tomorrow Will Too

It hurts. It burns. My life without you. It's wrong. It's disconnected. It's gray. It's not like the picture I had in my head. Today I burn with the pain of your absence. Today I look for any reminder at all that you were here. That I did indeed touch you and hold you, that I laughed with you and felt the weight of your body in my arms.

I don't understand who I've become sometimes. When you were here I knew who I was. I knew my role. I recognized my emotions and my reactions to every day life. That woman made sense to me. She believed the things I understood to be true. She reacted to certain situations in a way that is recognizable to other humans. This new woman, this mother without her child is so very different. She looks different to everyone, but how can she look so different to me? She IS me. And yet...she can't be.

I'm not the same mother. I'm not the same nurse. I'm not the same friend. I can't be where others are in certain situations. My responses to "tragedy" and "death" do not match the faces of those around me. My feelings about prayer don't quite make sense to most. I don't know how to fit. I couldn't even if I tried.

The day you left, I should have gone with you. And that scares most people. They don't understand that fully. "You have so much to live for here." "But we would miss you." "What about your other children?" They don't understand me. But I don't understand them. It's not a desire to die. It's a desire to be somewhere that I understand. When you die, you aren't supposed to be here anymore. And yet, I am. I'm still breathing. I don't always understand how that's possible. I remember my breath stopping, my heart stopping. I remember that moment with more clarity than any I've experienced before or since. And my nurse brain says that that moment should have been it.

But then there was that next moment. The one that I heard myself breathe again. I hated that breath. I despised that next heartbeat with every fiber of my being. At times, I still do. It beats differently now. I can hear the reluctance in its efforts sometimes.

I don't understand the days that are functional. I feel like I'm pretending until I can get back to you. And yet, some parts are so genuine that I feel immense guilt at my ability to truly enjoy a moment, no matter how brief, without you here.

Even this moment, full of painful rambling is an attempt to be closer to you. To connect with the incredible pain that makes me KNOW that you were here, that you were, are, and always will be a part of me. The most painful, the most beautiful, the most real part of me that I will experience in this particular lifetime. Some days I want to wear a sign around my neck that says, "I may look functional, but I'm broken. Please don't forget the broken part of me. Please love that part too." It's my favorite part most days, actually because it's the one I understand. When no one else can understand me without you, I can connect to my own brokenness and feel you.

Until I see you again, I am reduced to pictures and videos. You are here physically only via superhero momentos, the clothes still hanging in your closet, and the handprints that I can only trace with a longing finger. That's not enough, and yet it has to be.

I have no beautiful way to wrap up such rambling, because this feeling continues far beyond these few paragraphs. These words will come to an end. The rambling will appear to stop for the moment. But in reality, the hurt and the confusion will continue to beat in time with my reluctant heart.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Random Thoughts from a Labor Nurse

Ok, so this is basically just an "I'm a labor and delivery nurse and these are some things I need to get off my chest" post. :) Let's start with how much I love my job. I mean, I have the absolute honor and privilege of being present at one of the most incredible moments in a person's life. How cool is that?!?! The gift of that is never lost on me. Having said that, there are a few things that might be helpful to those who don't have that privilege every day.

First of all, let's talk gestation. Listen, if you're not at least 38 weeks pregnant, don't even consider saying the words, "I just want this kid out." Here's the deal, most of us know exactly how you feel. We've been there, too. It is incredibly uncomfortable past 36 weeks. Everything is uncomfortable. Sleeping? That doesnt happen anymore. Breathing is difficult, and pretty much every movement brings with it some sort of joint pain (thanks hormones). And we can even sympathize with each of these aches and pains as many of us have indeed been 38, 39, 40 and even 41 (GASP) weeks pregnant. BUT, you know what we've also seen? We've seen babies born too early who, best case scenario, have to stay in the hospital much longer than the average stay so that their lungs can develop more fully, and so that they can start gaining weight. You think you're uncomfortable now? Live in a hospital for even just a week. You'll want to tear your hair out. And that's if things go well! We've also seen babies have to be shipped to another facility to receive the care they need to become strong enough to go home, and this is while mom sits in our hospital until she is deemed OK to be discharged to go be with her baby. Talk about a crappy situation, and one that we don't wish on anyone. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "my baby can come any day" when mom has just barely reached 37 weeks. Any ob nurse worth her salt will tell you that we often see 37 weekers that do WORSE than their younger counterparts. Why? Who knows, but it happens.

Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule and some babies must come before they're due. I get that. I'm not an idiot. I realize that there are some very specific reasons for that and that in those situations, delivery benefits outweigh the risks. But, if you are healthy, and your baby is doing well, let that thing bake as long as it can! It will be worth it in the end. I promise. And while we're on this subject, if you say, "my doctor says I won't make it to my due date" just go ahead and plan on being induced on or after that due date. The truth is that none of us know when a baby is coming. Babies come when they come. Let's leave that timeline up to the big dude, ok?

Alright,  now let's talk about a few myths out there that seem to be accepted as fact.

First, "I lost my mucous plug. My baby is coming." Ummmmm, well, that's not exactly how it works. You need to be in actual labor before we can say that your baby is coming. And the mucous "plug" can shed different parts for several weeks. The truth is that we have all kinds of fun, disgusting substances surrounding that cervix of ours and the closer we get to delivery, the more it comes out. Is it gross? Sure. But does it mean a child is about to wave at you from your vagina? Nope. And just for the record, if you think you've lost your mucous plug, I don't need to see it. I promise I believe you. Please don't bring it to me in the hospital in a plastic container. (Yes...this has happened)

While we're on the subject of yucky substances coming out of places you think they shouldn't,  let's talk about water breaking. It's actually more rare for water to break on its own. The doctor usually has to do that for you during labor. However, it does happen. And this is actually one area where I encourage patients to come in and get it checked out. The truth is, not all water breaking looks like an epic flood. Sometimes it just slowly trickles out. And how are you supposed to know if it's fluid or urine? Honestly,  it's very difficult to know. So, just let us help you figure that out. Even experienced nurses and doctors who are pregnant wonder the same thing at times. And could you have totally just unknowingly pissed yourself? Sure. But why not know for sure? If you're ruptured (water broken) for too long before delivery, you risk infection to your baby. And you know what? If you did, indeed, pee yourself, that's OK too. Any woman who claims not to have done that at least once at the end of pregnancy is just lying.

How about this one? "My baby hasn't dropped yet." Girl, that's not real. Ok, can a kid settle lower into the pelvis as birth becomes more imminent, sure. But if you don't look like you're about to literally crap a bowling ball, don't sweat it. If you've had more than one child (multip), that thing can sit in your tonsils until about 2 seconds before delivery and then come flying down like it's being shot out of a cannon. We don't care where that kid is hiding. As long as it's head down and you're in actual labor, we can work with that.

Now let's talk breastmilk. Does everyone breastfeed? No, of course not. And I'm not going home with you, so you can feed that baby any way you'd like! Formula is not poison. However, if you have any interest at all in breastfeeding, I will work with you until we're both exhausted. I believe in it. I respect it. And I do believe it's worth trying. So, there are lots of fears surrounding breastfeeding, including "not having any milk". You have milk. You do. And I can show immediately after birth that this is true. It's not the thin white stuff that you're used to, but it's there. In fact, it's better!! It's thick, liquid gold. The truth is, a good breastfeed lasts about 15-20 minutes and has periods of sucking/swallowing that alternate with periods of rest. The kid just got here! Let's give him a minute to figure out this suck/swallow/breathe thing. He'll get there. Initially he's only going to swallow once per every 9-10 sucks. Why? Because that first (awesome) stuff is colostrum and it is THICK!  So, don't stress if your kid isn't a hoover, the second we hook him up to the trough. Sometimes it takes time. Usually the initial feeding ROCKS, and then they kind of appear to lose interest and want to sleep. But think about what just happened to them. Their heads just got squeezed out of something orginally the size of a grape. Let's maybe be OK with them taking a nap or two...not to mention, that kiddo is fed until that cord is cut and then it will use its own glycogen stores for the next 12 hours or so. All good here. Be patient. We can help.

Also, "I can't breastfeed because my milk hasn't come in." Ok, this isn't a "thing". It takes about 4-5 days for the milk to start changing from colostrum to that thinner substance we're more accustomed to. But that doesn't mean that you don't have milk. In fact, right now you have the good stuff! So again, patience, my friend. We'll get there. (Again, obviously there are exceptions to every rule and breastfeeding isn't always possible or even just not the best fit for everyone).

Now let's move on to epidurals. They're not the devil. They're not a white flag you wave as you "give up" or "give in". They can be totally awesome! And actually beneficial to the labor process for several reasons. Having said that, I love laboring with someone who doesn't want one. It challenges my abilities as a labor nurse and I enjoy that. I just never want people to feel like they've failed if they've gotten one. You're bringing a human life into the world, hopefully to love and care for it in the best way you know how. If that's your intent, you can't fail. So, epidural or no epidural, just be proud of what your incredible womanly body is capable of doing. It's pretty damn amazing either way.

I could wrote an entire book on this subject, but these are just a few of the things I see and hear often.  I do love my job. I truly believe it's what I was born to do, and I'm so grateful for the privilege of getting to fulfill that dream. So whether you're a first time mom or this is your 10th kid, I look forward to meeting you and cultivating that unique relationship that only a patient and nurse can have. Remember there are several tests we can do during that process, including one that let's me know your water broke....just don't ask me to smell your underwear... ;)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I Miss Him

I miss him. My god, I miss him. I miss him so much it hurts. It actually physically burns in my chest. I miss the smell of him, the weight of him in my arms, the softness of that beautifully, crazy hair. Today is not his birthday. It's not the anniversary of the day he left me. It's not significant in any way except that it's a day that he's supposed to be here. I'm his mother and he's supposed to have outlived me. That's how this works, right? I mean, that's what everyone assumes anyway. Well, it's what you assume if you've never lost a child. If you have, you no longer carry the luxury of assumption.

I want him back. I understand that he's taught me many important lessons, none of which I could have learned, had he stayed here with me. He's opened my heart more. He's made me more patient, more kind, more open. And I'm a better person because he lived. But you know what? Despite all of that goodness, the truth is that it's just bullshit that he isn't here. I watched some videos today. Those are like deceptive gifts in beautiful paper, but when opened contain knives. They cut quickly and deeply. But you can't turn away. Because there he is. Right there on the screen. It's his laugh. It's his tilt of the head.

I want him back here with me. I want to complain about the messes he's making. I want to whine about being hospitalized again. I want to throw a tantrum over having to pack my things yet again only to be fighting a losing battle.

And we fought.

God, we fought so hard. My whole family fought, but sometimes it felt like it was he and I against the world. And I was naive enough at the time to think that if I loved enough and fought enough and PRAYED enough that it would save him. That it would, indeed, BE enough.

It wasn't. He's not here.

He's not here in the way I want him to be. No, I'm not content with him being an angel. I'm not content with him guiding me from some place I can't see. I want him here. I want gooey, sticky, baby kisses and sleepless nights again.

I'm angry and I'm sad. I'm hurt and I'm confused. I'm grieving and I'm broken. And today hurts a little more than yesterday and tomorrow will hurt further still. Because each day I move forward is one day further from that last moment I held him.

I'm surviving, sure. And I'm grateful for so many things in my life, but all of that gets to live alongside this constant pain. This is a forever sentence. I will feel this ache with my last breath.  And there are days that I wonder if that breath could ever come fast enough.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sure Momma, Sure

He was the most agreeable little boy, my Logan. He used to toddle around, literally agreeing with everything I said...."sure, Momma, sure!" His little voice was always so high-pitched and excited. Somewhere along the way, I blinked and that sweet, blonde baby turned 13. His voice is deeper, his jokes are awful, and his cologne is abundant...

He's recently become too cool for some family outings. He still goes, but he brings an ipod to prove his disinterest in happenings around him. So, I wasn't overly surprised when I met my family at the Christmas Tree farm on the day after Thanksgiving and was told by my daughter that Logan was still sitting in the van.

"Logan is being a butt, and won't come out to help us look for the tree..."

So I trudged up the hill to find him, my legs feeling like they weighed 100 pounds each. I was "trying" this time. I have been absent for the holidays the past four years and I was really trying to be present for these few moments while we found a tree. But it's a soul-crushing experience for me. Still, I was trying, so I made my way to the van to drag my tween from his hiding spot.

I looked in the window and saw him hunched around his ipod, hoodie pulled up over his head, intent on some sort of cyber-world domination, no doubt. But then he caught me looking at him and his face just fell. I opened the door and he scooted over as far as he could in the passenger seat and I sat next to him. And then, this child who is too cool, who is taller than me, climbed into my lap, laid his head on my shoulder and sobbed.

I said nothing. I just held him as his shoulders heaved beneath my hands. He doesn't like to talk about it, so we didn't in that moment, but we didn't have to. I knew. My heart was screaming too. Words were unnecessary.

He decided to ride back home with me while Jeff and the girls hauled the tree home in the van. I waited for him to talk if he wanted to, expecting nothing. We rode in silence for awhile and then...

"He should be here, Mom."

"Yes, he should be. And I'm so incredibly sorry that he's not."

"When we were waiting for you to get here, Addi kept saying, 'we have to wait for Mom to get here'...I didn't say anything, but in my head I was screaming, 'SHE'S NOT THE ONLY ONE MISSING!!'"

In that moment, as the tears spilled over, he wasn't just my little boy. He wasn't  my annoying tween. He was a fellow broken heart. He knew grief. He knew it well, and I'd felt alone for entirely too long. So I thanked him. I thanked him for sharing that, for saying what my heart was screaming, for being brave enough to admit to his pain.  And because he'd shared, I did too. I told him that I'm trying. That every day feels like Christmas Tree day for me. And that although I'm eternally grateful for the moments we have as a family, that I forever feel that missing piece...

"Have you noticed that we don't take family pictures anymore? It's not because I don't want them. It's because I can't. My whole family isn't here. And that's hard for some people in our family. It's hard for them to understand why I can't. And that's ok. They can't understand. And I'm glad they can't. It just doesn't change how I feel."

"I can understand that, Mom. It makes sense to me. We don't have to do them."

I thanked him again. And again and again. I thanked him for sharing and I thanked him for making me feel less lonely and I thanked him for making the tree process better for me. Without him there, it seemed as though Jeff and I were just taking the girls to get it. Neither of the boys were participating, and somehow that makes breathing easier. So, because of his bravery, and his ability to allow himself to truly feel, he'd saved me. That's how we're doing this. We aren't doing it "right." We aren't always making the best decisions, and we certainly aren't doing anything that makes sense to anyone else. But we're doing it. We're breaking when we need to, and we're saving one another when we can.

He may be taller than me. He may be too cool. But all I saw that day, as he lay in my lap, pouring his heart out was my little blonde baby telling me that what I'm feeling is ok....

"Sure, Momma, sure..."

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Grief That Stole Christmas

Well, here we are...another holiday season. These damn things just keep coming. I go through so many emotions this time of year. I'm currently pissed. And of course, we all know that anger actually comes from a place of hurt. And that it does...grief HURTS. I can't describe the pain of "preparing" for yet another holiday season without my son. He'd be six now. What should I be finding to put under the tree for a six year old? But more specifically, what would MY six year old want this year?

My job is hard right now. It's difficult to hear the excitement of families as they welcome new babies into their homes for the holiday season. It's a gift to witness it, and a pain I can't describe all at the same time. So often I turn to anger during this time of year. It's easier than breaking, because once I do there will be no going back. I have recognized that my anger/hurt/desire to not participate in life right now has been difficult on some of my co-workers. I'm sorry for that, and I wish I could handle this differently, but I can't .

I'm so UNBELIEVABLY tired of living in a world without him. I don't want to do it anymore. That statement freaks people out and usually illicits some sort of side-long, uncertain glance and complete silence. Don't mistake my pain and misery for wanting to end my life. That's not what I want. I just don't want to keep living here. There is a distinct difference between the two. And I'm almost certain that if you've experienced this kind of loss, you'll feel the same. It's not such a difficult concept, really. You know where your children are, right? You know who their friends are, where their interests lie, etc. Even if they don't live in your house, you visit them. And why? Because you miss them, but also because you want to see their living space  You want to see where they lay their head at night. That makes sense. I understand that. I just want the same thing.

The idea of stages of grief often make me laugh. The thought of having "stages" suggests a linear movement, and that just isn't the way this works. There have been times in the last year or so that I've been actually thriving despite the intense pain of grief that never leaves me. I'm grateful for those times, but they can't last forever. Lately, I am feeling the immense pull of debilitating grief. I'm so angry and so incredibly hurt that I can't concentrate on the simplest of tasks. I just can't. It doesn't matter how hard I try to push it down, it cannot be denied. I'm turning inside myself, and I can feel it. My insides hurt. My skin is all that's holding me together, and even that skin feels foreign. While I may carry on a conversation outwardly, inside I am screaming. Constantly.

I recently had a conversation with a fellow broken mother about the agony that is our existence. We were discussing the idea of "gratitude" in terms of life now. She quite correctly pointed out that people who grieve tend to feel some sort of obligation to prove gratitude despite their pain. And it's true. There seems to be some sort of unspoken rule that if we mention our pain, we must also mention our gratitude. That's exhausting. And the truth is, I know very few people who show gratitude for daily life as intensely as that of someone whose heart is irreparably broken. She is grateful. I am grateful. Every. Single. Day. But sometimes I'm also pissed. I have great difficulty with someone describing a grieving mother as someone  who is "doing really well!" It's said with such admiration and excitement sometimes that it honestly makes it difficult for me not to punch them. And it's not because I want anyone to hurt like this. I certainly do not. But, I guess I'm writing to those of us who aren't ok. I'm writing to those of us who are sometimes so angry that we feel as though we could spontaneously combust at any moment. To those whose chests burn like fire at the thought of having to hang stockings and buy gifts for a day that will forever feel empty.

The holidays are here, and so I'll die again, just like last year and much like I anticipate I will do every year until I no longer have to endure it. I ask for patience from those around me, but I definitely don't expect it. I ask for understanding but am fully aware of some people's inability to give it. I am sorry for my inability to listen to Christmas music without feeling anger. I'm sorry for my attitude that is in direct opposition to social norms during this season. But I'm mostly sorry that I have to do this again.