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Together as a Family, Part I

Together as a Family, Part I

This is the first post in a five-part series about loss, healing and motherhood. Our story comes from Shannon, a photographer and mother in Brisbane, AU. Shannon’s story sent shivers down my spine when I first read it. It also put tears in my eyes. With three miscarriages and one healthy, full-term pregnancy, it is a story that can break your heart and fill it at the same time. We hope you enjoy Shannon’s words as we share them over the course of this week.

Here, she details the experience of her first two miscarriages and how family and friends supported herself and her husband Jeremy through them; check back tomorrow to hear how she lived through the roller-coaster ride of her third pregnancy.

“I want to start this birth story well before the contractions began.

In May, 2010, I married the love of my life, Jeremy. In early June, we conceived a baby. In late June I had the first of three miscarriages. Even now I find it hard to comprehend that this is my reality – that this actually happened to us.

We found out very early on that I was pregnant and I then lost that baby at five and a half weeks. Early days, but that week and a half was more than enough time to imagine our lives changing, to imagine this tiny speck growing into a child. Our child. So, when I realised what was happening, I felt profound sadness at the loss of this life I’d already daydreamed of, but also the knowledge that I would never again experience the pure excitement and joy of seeing those two lines on a stick. I knew my joy would now also be tinged with anxiety and fear.

In the eight years we had been together, Jeremy and I had a number of heart-to-heart discussions about whether we wanted children. I’ve always known I did, and knew Jeremy was going to be an amazing father. Jeremy had given it much thought and consideration and decided that he did want a child, but still had fears as to whether it was the right decision for the life he had imagined. One small positive to come from this miscarriage was that the grief he felt over the loss confirmed his decision and he felt sure that becoming a father was really what he wanted.

I researched on the internet and found out just how often miscarriage is thought to happen, how ‘common’ it is. I spoke to friends and many of them have had to deal with a loss as well. I was consoled by the fact that everyone I knew who had had a miscarriage went on to have a healthy baby the next time. 
I found numerous support forums, but it was challenging to find positive stories of loss. So many times people told their stories in forums, but never reported back with positive news of successful pregnancies. Or worse, there were sad stories of miscarriages happening again and again. Eventually, I made myself stop looking for information via google. It wasn’t doing my state of mind any favours.

With all of our subsequent pregnancies, we have shared the news very early on with close family and friends. We understand that most people wait until after 12 weeks, but for us, the fact that our loved ones knew what we were going through helped greatly. It was much easier to let people know what was happening, as it happened, rather than having to say “I was pregnant, but now I’m not”. Friends dropped around with flowers and meals, and just knowing that people were thinking of us and sending positive thoughts our way really did make a difference.

Our next pregnancy came after two months of trying. We were cautiously excited. We knew that the chances of another loss were slightly increased. I tried so hard to remain calm but every trip to the toilet was tinged with fear of what I might find. I practised deep breathing and positive affirmations. Then, one day at around seven weeks, I found a tiny amount of spotting.

I got in to see my doctor that day, who said that normally she wouldn’t recommend any testing at this stage as spotting can be completely normal, but since this had happened before, she would send me for a scan to set my mind at ease. The scan showed that the yolk sack had developed, but there was no baby inside.

They called it a blighted ovum. We were told that having two miscarriages was just bad luck.

I remember being surprised that my body wasn’t able to hold onto these babies. I had always thought of my body as being made to do this (and had reasoned that the hips I was given were made for child-bearing!). I felt like my body was letting me down.

I also felt guilt. I had to resist the urge to apologise to Jeremy for not being able to do this. For not being able to keep his babies alive. I knew he didn’t blame me but it was so easy for me to internalise and place blame on what I had done – I was not relaxed enough, I over-exerted myself, I must have done something wrong – even though I knew on some level, and had been told repeatedly, that there was nothing I could have done differently.”

38weeks  copy

Shannon is a Brisbane-based family photographer specializing in unique, natural portraits. Her work can be seen at langbecker.com.au.

I Am Strong {Story of Preterm Birth & Loss}

I Am Strong {Story of Preterm Birth & Loss}

I am strong.

I am strong because I moved at 5 months pregnant from Germany, back to the States, for my husband’s job. I am strong because after arriving to Colorado I was excited to finally have a home again and welcomed the sight of my air mattress on the floor. I am strong because when I woke up and saw my mucous plug at 23 weeks pregnant, I remained calm and we went to the hospital.

The nurses reassured me that women lose their plugs and that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but still they would monitor me. No contractions for 30 minutes, but upon an exam I was 3cm with a foot presenting. I was rushed to another hospital all the while trying to remain calm and I felt my first contraction.

Denial was no longer an option.

I am strong because when I got to the hospital and my husband and two year old walked into the room I smiled and told them it was going to be OK. The doctor walked in and said I was 7cm and if my daughter had a chance of survival (23w4d), I would need an emergency c-section. I agreed and suddenly I was alone in the room, frightened, and having contractions one on top of another.

I am strong because I stared into the eyes of a masked stranger and begged for help. I am strong because I gave birth to a beautiful little girl whose grace and strength are far beyond my ability. She fought for a week before the pain was too much and her little body couldn’t take it anymore. I am strong because I said ‘enough’ and let her body do what it needed…free from machines.

I held her for nine minutes as my heart simultaneously healed and shattered.

I am strong because I will always remember her in my arms and the smile that spread across her face as her soul passed from here to there. She would have been 8 years old on January 17th.

And I am strong for sharing this. {Michelle}

loss michelle

Gabrielle

For loss support, pleas visit stillbirthday.com.

Don’t Wait to Be the Parent You Want to Be, Do it Now

Don’t Wait to Be the Parent You Want to Be, Do it Now

This started as a FB update and just took off, so I put it into a blog post.

me and a editedGoing to share a raw moment with you. Last night I was looking for a picture and you know how that goes…you end up sitting for an hour or two looking through old pictures, even after you’ve found the one you needed. My children were all 3-5 years younger than they are now. The phrase ‘it goes so fast’ has never had more meaning. Also, with the age of social media we are blessed to connect and get support. That also means sharing and supporting hardships and heart break. I pondered on all this last night and today.

Hubby came home and played with the children while I made dinner…happily. I thought on the last 2 years of PPD, sometimes so dark and deep. Suffering silently, then openly. Doing what I could each day so my babies did not suffer, but only I did. They were loved, taken care of, kissed, cuddled. But the connection to my brain, my memories…well, it’s a blur. As I cooked spaghetti and hamburgers (hey, we have a picky crowd!), I thought on how grateful I am the PPD is lifting and floating away from my soul, my life…and how after the last 24 hours it has no place in my life anymore. Nope, it doesn’t.

I sat down at a large dinner table with my husband and 5 children and talked to them about The Progressive Parent family’s loss. For 20 minutes I taught them about how in this world, our problems are valid, but there is also perspective. They listened on with tears and understanding in their eyes.

I told them how much I cared about them. I told my oldest I adore her love for animals and reading and to please always share that with me. My son, I told to keep talking to me about Ninjago…every single detail, because I care and want to know. (I plan on sitting down and watching that dang show with him.) I told my 5 year old I loved playing tic-tac-toe with her today and can’t wait to play and cook with her tomorrow. I told my 3 year old she is the best cuddler and I love watching movies with her. I kissed my almost 2 year old.

dad and baby

I then told them how much I love their father. That we are not perfect. We argue, but we say sorry and forgive one another. How hard we are working to show them how much we love each other. I told them there is no one else in this world that has loved and supported me like their father has. They need to know that.

I asked my whole family if we could focus on what we have this week. Instead of fighting who sits where at the dinner table, can my oldest realize how much her younger sisters admire her, because in almost every picture of them together, you can see the admiration in the youngers’ eyes for their big sister.  Instead of complaining over sharing chips, can my oldest son just share with his siblings and be grateful he can.

admiration 1 edit

It was a raw and beautiful moment for my family.

mini blog post pic edited

We then finished dinner while talking about how silly 3rd graders are for wanting to ‘date’. Ugh, this world! At least my kids agree it’s ridiculous.

After dinner, we sat around the table with hot chocolate and laughed, mostly at how awesome and funny Mini is. He was cracking us up with his macho face and thumbs up.

Teeth brushed, everyone in the family room, read scriptures and we all got on our knees and prayed as a family. I write this with tears in my eyes because no amount of PPD, money problems, fighting with friends, or other issues have the right to take away precious moments from me, with my children.

My point is moms and dads, when we are frustrated or tired, take inventory and then ask yourself, ‘What memories am I making for my child TODAY‘? What will I wish I would have done if I did not have this time with them anymore? If it was taken away with no notice? Would I listen to them more? Care about what they care about more? Color with them more? Not care about the noise and messes? AND DO THAT NOW while you can. While we can. We love our babies. Life can be hard. Perspective.

donuts edited

Ianto’s life story {born still, but still born}

Ianto’s life story {born still, but still born}

Thank you to Tenielle and Scott for allowing us to share Ianto’s life story and the precious memories you have of him

TRIGGER WARNING: This is a story of loss and stillbirth, with pictures.

In February 2010, my world collapsed around me as I found out my baby, nicknamed “Smudge”, had died inside me at 32 weeks gestation. This is Ianto’s life story. This is the story of how I became a mother.

Exactly a month before my wedding, I took a pregnancy test. It had been sitting in my underwear drawer for a few weeks, and to be honest I only did it because I was bored while my husband Scott was at work. I’d had no pregnancy symptoms other than the lack of a period, but they’re fairly irregular anyway. I was astounded when that little line went pink – I didn’t even have to wait the three minutes suggested on the box! I walked around the flat for what seemed a lifetime, staring at the stick. I eventually called Scott, and asked if he was sitting down. He was, and I blurted it out – “Uh… I’m pregnant.” He was silent for a few seconds, then choked out “Oh my god.” When he got home a few hours later, we stared at each other a few seconds, then burst into tears simultaneously and hugged each other.

Around a week later, I ended up in the emergency department at the hospital that would become so familiar with immense cramping on one side. They thought the pregnancy might be ectopic so they scheduled me in for an ultrasound the next day. That turned out well – not ectopic, and again, someone was surprised by how strong our baby was! The radiologist said it was the earliest he’d ever been able to pick up a heartbeat. We nicknamed the baby “Smudge” after what he (or she) looked like on that ultrasound.

For the rest of my pregnancy, everything went so well. I didn’t have a hint of morning sickness, and everything breezed through. Smudge was developing a great little personality in my tummy. We weren’t finding out the sex, so we chose to say “she” to keep from using the word “it.” I had had a feeling from the beginning that we were having a boy, but we’d always imagined having a girl first so we stayed blissfully ignorant of the little boy growing inside.

Scan at 13 weeks
13weeks

“She” loved AC/DC, always kicking along with the beat when I would play their music. “She” hated Robbie Williams, to my sadness, because she’d stay still or kick me in the ribs when he would play. One day, while Scott had his head on my belly listening to her, “she” kicked him hard in the face. Smudge wasn’t much of a kicker, so we relished the times we would get a flurry of movement

There were bad times as well – the last ultrasound where he was alive is forever etched in my memory as an especially horrible experience. We were supposed to have video of it, but they sprung a $70 fee on us when we asked. Plus it had to be rescheduled because I didn’t have a copy of my referral – the referral that had been faxed to them and I could see clearly on the desk! I also had a bit of a fainting spell early on, easily remedied by boosting my fluids via a drip (inserted rather incompetently, but it worked eventually.)

23 weeks pregnant
22weeks

February 26th, 2010. That Day. That Awful Day, that will never ever leave me alone.

At about five a.m., I drove Scott to work. As was my habit, I went back to my mum’s place instead of home because I didn’t want to be at home alone. I was tailgated by some idiot all the way up the longest stretch of road. White Nissan. When I got to Mum’s I posted an angry Facebook status about it, then went to sleep on the couch because no-one else was up yet. Curled up holding my growing belly.

Eleven o’clock. I wake up. Youngest brother is at school. Mum and oldest brother clattering around the kitchen, tv on in the lounge. I think about how much I love my family. Hug my belly, realise I’m 32 weeks today. Get up, grab a drink. Bloody hell it’s hot today. 42 degrees, Mum tells me. Nah, I don’t feel like another drink. Not thirsty. Mum says my car should be back from the mechanic this afternoon. She and brother leave to pick it up, come back with the car they left in. Not ready yet. I’m pissed off, he’s had the car since August. A few days after I found out I was pregnant.

Noon. Having a great belly laugh with mum and brother. I wonder if I’m hurting the baby with all this laughter? Or maybe I’ll feel some kicking soon, the baby kicks more when I’m happy. Don’t give a thought to how I haven’t felt her kick today, she’s never been much of a kicker anyway.

Half past noon. Hate to love and leave, but I have to pick up Scott. We’ll come back here for dinner. I’ll get him to grab me lunch from work.

One forty-five. Send Scott an SMS – “can you bring me some food? Just my normal meal, but a frappe as well as the Coke.” Geez I’m thirsty now. Should’ve brought a water bottle. Two fifteen. Where’s Scott? Open the car door to get some more air flowing in the car. Ugh, still too hot! Close door, send Scott another message asking where he is. I’m pissed off now, dying of thirst. Should’ve brought a drink… Put my head down, feeling groggy…

Wake up to Scott shaking me. I’ve passed out, he says. Gotta get in the passenger seat so he can drive us home. I stumble over, feet feeling heavy. Fall into the seat, lay it back and open the window. Feeling groggy again…

Wake up briefly around ten minutes later, wonder when we started moving. The cooler air feels nice on my face. I sink back into darkness. Wake up out the front of Mum and Dad’s, Scott shaking me. We go inside, I need to lay down. Lay on oldest brother’s bed, Mum gets a wet flannel for my head. Black. Wake up – I frantically ask “is the baby okay?” As my world fades again to black… “Is the baby…” Black again. “Tenielle, do you want to go to hospital? Maybe you should take her to hospital…”

Flannel is wet and cold again. Somehow get to the car, to the hospital… “I’m 32 weeks today, I fainted in the car and I’ve been groggy since.” “Go up to the Maternity ward, they’ll get you in for a check.”

Sitting. Haven’t fainted again since we got here. Woman in labour is let through to the birth rooms after waiting with us for a few minutes. I’m going to be doing that soon. Do you think if there’s anything wrong I’ll have to have the baby today? I’m somewhat excited by the thought. She’d have to be in special care a while, but what if I get to meet my baby tonight? Wow…

Finally called through. Bed 20. Drink this water, give us a urine sample in this jug, we’ll be back soon. Wee in the jug, leave it in the bathroom because I don’t know what to do with it. Fiddle with the radio. Whoops, I didn’t mean to break the dial off! Lay on the bed, have some water. Chat with Scott. He’s on my left. “I’m feeling much better since I got here, that’s a good sign, right?”

Midwife enters the room. I tell her what happened, apparently I passed out and kept asking about the baby. No, haven’t felt any movement today, but I have a perpetually sleepy baby in there. I never really feel much so I’m used to going a few days without feeling anything. Maybe Wednesday was the last time I felt anything?

My favourite part of every appointment – “Let’s just listen to bub’s heart, shall we?” …crackle crackle… More gel… Crackle crackle…. “Hmm, might be in an odd position. I’ll just go grab the portable imaging screen.”

Alone in the room. I dab the flannel on my forehead. I look calm, but I don’t look to my left. What if…? No. Don’t be silly. Midwife comes back. Black and White flash on the screen, hey I can see the baby’s head! Aww how cute… There’s the chest… Tiny flicker, disappears right away. She presses harder, trying to find that flicker again. “Are you sure that’s the chest?” I’m properly worried now. A doctor comes in. She tries… We explain about the flicker… She can’t find it either. “This is old equipment, I’ll just go get the newer one.”

Alone again. Scott makes a small whimpering sound next to me. My chest feels like an elephant is on it. I’m not sure I’ve breathed in the past few minutes. But… We saw that flicker, the baby’s okay, right? Maybe we were right and it has to be born early. Doctor comes back with two midwives and the new machine. More gel on my belly. Wait for the machine to boot up. Everyone chatters nervously, we did see that flicker. Just have to find it again. Machine’s ready. Wand goes on my tummy… Five minutes pass, everyone holds their breath.

Finally… “I’m so sorry. There doesn’t seem to be a heartbeat.” More things are said, it’s arranged that we’ll go down to Radiology on the big machine. But that’s pretty much just to get the official report. Everyone leaves the room. Scott and I are alone again.

The door closes and instantly I choke on the breath I’ve held for the past few minutes. “Scott…” I look left. He’s crying silently. Says nothing, just embraces me and stares blankly at the machine’s black screen. I still have gel on my stomach, going everywhere all over us. What’s happened? What? Smudge… What just happened?

Sitting in a wheelchair now. There’s a baby crying in the room ahead. My world has turned black, but that woman’s life was just given a rainbow. I can see the colours if I close my eyes. I still have some hope I’ll get to hear mine cry. Surely that doctor didn’t know what she was doing. The person in Radiology will. Clunk, clunk, out of the birth suite… The guy pushing my wheelchair is happily chatting away. I hide my tears. Scott’s gone to call work, tell them he won’t be in tomorrow.

Arrive at Radiology. So quiet. So alone. The wheelchair man turns the tv on for me. I’m vaguely aware of movement on the screen, but nothing else.What’s happened to my baby? My Smudge? I still think there was a mistake. Scott comes back. We enter the radiology room, the same one we first saw Smudge in, this gives me hope. I smile at the woman doing the scan, tell her the doctor thought there was no heartbeat but they need to be sure. More gel, more hard pressing on my tummy. We see the spine… “There’s where the baby’s heartbeat should be…” Her voice trails off as silent tears run down my face. Her face is wet as well. Should be. Fuck. It’s real. The baby has no heartbeat. Fuck!

Sitting in the wheelchair again, Scott’s gone to tell work what’s happening. I told him not to call my parents yet, tell them in person when you go pick stuff up. I look at the tv, the winter Olympics. Ice skating. That woman’s mum died the other day. She cries. I cry. Wheelchair man comes back, takes me to the birth suite again. It’s almost ten o’clock. My baby… I’m back in the room. Scott comes back in. His eyes are red. I’ve been told we’re going to room 19 now. I pack up our stuff. Remember the wee jug in the toilet. Tip it down the toilet, leave the jug on the floor. They didn’t check it.

Set up in room 19. This one has a tv. It takes ten minutes to work out how to turn it on. We’re not talking about what’s happened. Someone comes and says the report hasn’t come up from Radiology. They don’t want to induce without the report, do I want to go home and come back tomorrow? No way. You’re inducing me tonight. We argue – who fucking argues something like this? – and I win. They’ll be back soon to induce me. Scott leaves to pick stuff up from Mum’s. I tell him to say it as gently as possible. Alone again… More tears fall. It’s almost midnight. Everything gets too much for me after a while, so I lay down and nap. At some point Scott returns and watches me sleep.

They come and talk with Scott, telling him they would induce me but they don’t think they should. They wake me to get my consent, which I give, and they leave again. I lay on the bed and cry silently, staring up at the ceiling. Thirty two weeks. No heartbeat. What’s the date? I have to remember the date… The day my Smudge… Died. My baby is dead. Every time the realisation hits me for the next few weeks, I sit and howl with pain.

Saturday 27th February 2010 – They put the gel in around midnight, and again at 6am when I hadn’t dilated at all. In the early hours of the morning, I sneakily turned my phone on and updated my Facebook status thanking those who had already heard and sent their love. I had a few visitors over the day – my parents and brothers, Scott’s dad (who I didn’t want to see) and aunty… There was a bunch of flowers from the rest of Scott’s family in Queensland, a few small gifts from various family members. I napped on and off, watching TV in between, and waited for the gel to start working. They put more in at 1:30pm, and this time told me I wasn’t to use the toilet for an hour. I wasn’t even allowed to raise my bed for half an hour. No wonder the first two lots of gel hadn’t worked – I’d been to the loo within minutes of them being put in! I was a bit angry at that. I started having mild cramps around 11:30pm. They were so bad I gave in and asked for a bit of pain relief – funnily enough, I had a pethedine injection before I let them give me Panadeine and a sleeping tablet. They worked, and I slept for the longest I had since Friday.

Sunday 28th February 2010 – At 3am I woke up, the cramps getting worse. At 3:45am, after extremely regular “cramps” I finally admit I’m in labour and try some warm water for relief. At 4am, I asked for another peth injection. This one knocked me out a little, but didn’t take the pain away. It was coming at 5-minute intervals and getting worse. They came and checked my dilation (finally!) at 7:30, and I was fully effaced but only 3-4cm. I told them to call my mum in. Throughout all this I was in and out of the shower, aiming the hot water at my round belly and my lower back alternately. I wished I had two jets for it to be constant on both areas. At some point I gave up and sat/lay on the bed.

8:30am – The pain was amazing! I was grunting through what I now knew were contractions, and rolling towards Scott with each. The first time I did it, he thought I was falling off the bed, so he started pushing me back. Big mistake. I grunted at him that I needed to “grab onto you, you idiot!” and he understood – Do Not Mess With A Labouring Woman. The midwife and anesthesiologist came in (I’d consented to a morphine drip and had a cannula in already) and they started doing their thing. The drip was explained to me, so I pushed that damn button every time I could. It didn’t work straight away so the gas was given to me as well. That worked a treat – I still felt the pain, but it was okay. I think I moved up the bed at some point and handed Scott the gas tube, because with one of my contractions I was yelling at him that this time I wasn’t reaching for him, I was reaching for “THAT!!” Between contractions, I told him that I was never having any more kids – I couldn’t do this again (I was half talking about going through labour, half saying I couldn’t deal with the possibility of losing another child). In a moment of clarity, I asked Scott whether he thought I was possibly in transition. “Nah, you wouldn’t be asking if you were” he said… Ha! How wrong he was.

8:45am – My mum still wasn’t in the hospital. The midwives gave me the choice – did I want my waters broken now, or when she arrived? I wanted them done now – this would still take hours, right? (Turns out that’s why mum wasn’t there, she thought the same thing and had a shower before she left) Another contraction and I was pushing. The waters were visible from the outside so they pushed back on them and waited for the contraction to subside. Mum came in as they nicked the membranes. There was a tiny squirt of water. Another contraction and urge to push. POP! One of the midwives almost got hit in the face. Scott told me later that it looked like someone had burst a water balloon between my legs. Another contraction, another push… I needed a poo. That contraction felt as though it lasted forever, but I yelled I needed a poo. Everyone around me told me it was okay to go on the bed, which confused me – didn’t they know I was just telling them so they could clean it up when I was done? I know what happens in labour, I’m not embarrassed…

8:52am – It wasn’t a poo. Two pushes after my waters were broken, my Smudge had been born. No-one had been expecting him, so he came out onto the bed. They asked one final time – was I sure I wanted to hold the baby? I got angry and snapped that I did – Smudge was put on my chest and I cuddled “her” while they got the cord sorted. That pain was almost worse than the labour – it was a very short cord, so it felt like I was trying to pull myself inside out. Scott was asked if he wanted to cut it, he did, and relief again. I nuzzled my baby, finally able to bring “her” to my face. I was still contracting slightly and was annoyed that they were distracting me from the cuddles, so I agreed to the injection to help get the placenta out. I couldn’t even tell you where they stuck it in, I was just entranced by this little baby in front of me. The placenta came out, and was the most disgusting feeling ever – so slimy! If I could choose a favourite part and a worst part of birth, I would choose pushing and birthing the placenta respectively.

I was then asked pretty much the stupidest question I’ve ever been asked – Did I want to know the sex of the baby? Of course I did. I told Scott to tell me, and after a few seconds of trying to compose himself, he told me Smudge was a boy. Ianto. We’d agreed on both boy and girl names long ago, so we didn’t even discuss it. I felt something moving on my arm, and I realised the cannula had come out. It would emerge that it hadn’t been put in properly to begin with, so I hadn’t had any morphine at all! I’d done it with just gas (which in my original birth plan had been the most I’d been willing to have re: pain relief). I noticed the TV was still on, and quickly told someone to turn it off – there was a Johnson’s baby wash ad on. So not what I needed to see when I was coming to terms with the fact my baby was gone. Gone, but right in front of me – how strange.

Ianto

It was both the longest and shortest day of my life. I spent all day staring at my little baby boy. My son. My angel. My sweet, soft boy. He has my nose. Everyone said he looked like Scott, but I couldn’t see it until they were together – exactly the same face, only Ianto had my nose. He had a bath, his foot and hand prints were taken. One of the most heartbreaking parts of the first day was the tiny little differences to a live birth – like they didn’t need to hold him to weigh him, they just placed him on the scales and left him there while they took the information down. Unlike pretty much everyone in my immediate family, he had some hair when he was born. We cut some off and put it in the memory book the hospital had given us. We dressed him together.

footandhand

One of the things that really got to Scott was how Ianto’s head was “clicky” – like any baby, his skull hasn’t fused, so the bones were clicking together each time his head moved. Heaps more visitors that day – my family. My dad had come in at the same time as my mum, when he came into the room he just broke down. This huge strong man, just sobbing his guts out. He couldn’t stay more than a minute or two. I told him it was okay, I could understand. I got a few more bunches of flowers. Midwives and nurses from all over the hospital came to speak to me, either for medical reasons or to give me some emotional support. Scott and I kept cuddling our son, only leaving him when my brothers came in (they couldn’t bring themselves to come into the room and see Ianto) and when I needed the toilet or a shower. The weekend social worker came in to talk to us. I ended up sleeping with him in my bed that night. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him. I still can’t, after I’ve already been without him for three years.

Monday 1st March 2010 – Another long day. Not long after I moved Ianto to his little plastic cot so I could have a shower and change my pad, it all started again – more visitors, more people coming to talk to me and support us… And I was asked when I wanted to go home. I said as late as possible and the time was set. I was going home at 7 that night, far too early for my liking. I spent the entire day in tears, aside from here and there watching TV and staring at my boy. I kept stroking his face – his soft skin. I redressed him, making sure his shirt was nice and snug. He had a new hat, a white one that was knitted for a prem baby. It was still too big for him so I fixed it as best I could to get it snug on his head. The whole day was a blur again. I spent a lot of the day taking photos of Ianto, trying to get every last detail – his nose that he got from me, his ears and lips from Scott. His nose had started to leak a little bit of fluid, so I cleaned that up. I kept fussing over him, straightening his clothes, making sure he was comfortable…

6:30pm – A knock at the door. My heart froze as I thought it was someone coming to take him away before we left. It was just the lady bringing my dinner in. I held Ianto as I ate. I don’t think I put him down the whole time I was in the room. I couldn’t. I was so fearful they would take him without me noticing.

7:05pm – My heart froze again when I looked at the clock and saw it was past seven. It meant they were coming soon. I started bawling again. They came in, talked to us a while, we got a few more photos, and… The hardest part of my life thus far. I had to leave. I kissed him a million more times, took a few deep breaths, and somehow got the strength to leave the room. Leave my baby behind while I went back to my mum and dad’s.

I thought this would be the last time I held him, before we left the hospital.
I didn’t know the funeral parlour would be kind enough to let us take him out of his casket for a very final hug.
Goodbye

I cried the entire way there, and was just dead inside. I couldn’t go in for a while. There was a funny moment though, which I’m attributing to Ianto’s obvious cheeky side – as I left the hospital, my pants suddenly fell down under my bathrobe. Again, I’m sure people thought I was mad because I went from hysterical crying to hysterical laughing in two seconds flat. Late last year I went back to the hospital and stared at the spot my pants fell down. Yet again I’m sure the people around me thought I was mad, as I laughed and cried in harmony again.

Ianto’s story doesn’t end there. It never will end as long as I’m alive to remember him. In the week following his death and birth, I discovered a charity now known as Heartfelt. Heartfelt take professional photos of stillborn babies (as well as premature babies and terminally ill children) free of charge. I was too late to get them to come to the hospital to take Ianto’s photos, but they were kind enough to send someone out to his funeral. I will always cherish the memories we have, and photos are a big part of that. I have pledged to give a percentage of my profits from my doula business, Iris Birth Services, to Heartfelt for as long as I can, out of immense gratitude. The following photos are all by Jessie Broome, a Heartfelt photographer:

Tiny feet
HRIanto3

Tiny hands
HFIanto2

At the funeral
HFIanto


Ianto became a big brother in March 2011. His sister’s story will follow.

Heartfelt is a volunteer organisation of professional photographers from all over Australia and the parts of the UK, dedicated to giving the gift of photographic memories to families that have experienced stillbirths, premature births, or have children with serious and terminal illnesses.  Heartfelt is dedicated to providing this gift to families in a caring, compassionate manner. All services are provided free of charge. Currently servicing Australia-wide, and the Essex area of the UK. 

Patiently Waiting in Labor & Using a Sling to Help Gravity {Birth After Loss}

Patiently Waiting in Labor & Using a Sling to Help Gravity {Birth After Loss}

I had the privilege of being at my best friend’s birth of her 5th child and the 2nd daughter she had hoped for. Her midwives were also my midwives and have become dear friends. It was amazing to be on the other side of labor with them as we supported my friend. Her midwives have been with her through 5 births and a miscarriage.

birth after loss

Labor began in the wee hours on a Sunday and we all gathered before dawn. Baby needed more time, though, and labor stalled. All of us left after a few hours to let her relax and see if labor would begin again. It did that night! This picture was taken shortly after her midwife arrived at 11:00 p.m. She was checking in on her progress and offering her strength and wisdom. She has an amazing gift to know exactly the right thing to say at the time mom’s need it most.

My friend used the sling she had made (it’s hanging from the ceiling) to hold her weight while she let gravity help her bring her baby down. It was an amazing birth to witness — very instinctual, very peaceful, very trusting. {Miranda with the Nanny Photographer}

From One Loss Mom to Another

From One Loss Mom to Another

By Liz Paparella

Mama,

You and I have never met, yet we share a bond stronger than most, the bond of grief. I delivered my perfect 8 pound baby girl three years ago. But, she did not cry. She never took a breath. She was supposed to breathe….

Maybe you are like me, or maybe your baby died, tiny inside your womb. Maybe you put your sweet-smelling baby down for a nap and he never woke up. I don’t know your story, but I know that when a mother loses her baby, nothing is ever the same again. You are forced to the ground in grief. The world is darkened, and time becomes wrong, too fast, and yet too slow. A piece of your heart is gone, and yet you must keep breathing. How can this be right?! The world should have stopped…

In three years I have learned a lot, felt a lot, and grieved a lot.

Mama, as woman we are strong. I know right now you feel as weak as a whisper- but know this- you are strong. Because as a mother you love your child, and to love something that will one day be separate from you, that one day you will lose, takes strength.  You will get to the other side of this, but the other side looks nothing like the life you had before. I don’t know everything, I don’t even know very much, but what I do know is we are all stumbling along in this grief journey. There is no straight path, no right path, no safe path. I want to share with you some of the advice I have, but first I want to say something…

I am so, so very sorry for the loss of your sweet baby. Nothing I or anyone can say will fix this pain. Nothing will replace your child. And for that I am truly and deeply sorry. But, hopefully I can help you navigate somewhat.

Hunker Down

In these first days and weeks your world has been completely flipped upside down. To have a baby die makes the sky red, 2+2=5, and time stops. Nothing is right. Now is the time to hunker down. I got down on my knees and cried out to God. I spent hours upon hours reading my Bible and praying, weeping to God. I let Him carry me. I don’t know what your faith is, or if you believe anything at all, but my advice is the same. You need to hunker down with those who can carry you and those who can love. Be that God, your partner, your other children, your mother, your sisters, your best friend….who can you run to? Who can you hold tight? That is what you do. You love on those who are here for you to love. Because you cannot hold your baby, you hold them instead. Time is moving so very slow use this as a gift to love.

Connect

Please do not isolate your self. You need to talk with others who have walked this before you. You need to read their stories. Find blogs, read books, join a grief group. All of these things have helped me, and other woman I know very very much. You are not alone.  Here are some resources to get you started:

http://www.stillbirthday.com/

http://facesofloss.com/

http://www.stirrup-queens.com/a-whole-lot-of-blogging-brought-to-you-sorted-and-filed/loss-room/

http://www.glowinthewoods.com/

Create/Express

Your grief will come out. It must be expressed. If you do not find healthy ways to pour your pain out it will consume you, and those you love. There are many directions you can take with this. Some women journal, or write letters to their baby, some woman blog, some paint or sculpt, some knit.

Babies take up some much time and energy from their mothers in that first year, and when your baby dies that does not change. You have all this God-given energy that was supposed to be for mothering your child. Now you must find a way to use this. You can still mother your child, but it will look very different from what you imagined when you found yourself expecting.

One of my first art pieces after my daughter’s death.

Please see  still life 365 for some ideas on creatively expressing your grief.

Yes, You are Normal. No, You are Not Crazy.

You will find yourself asking over and over, “Is this normal to feel this way?” and “Am I crazy?”

There are a million thoughts you will think and a million shades of feeling you will move through.

Yes, it is normal.

No, you are not crazy.

I know you need someone who has been there to reassure you here. Someone who has not lost a baby has no business telling you otherwise. It is perfectly fine to have joyful moments. It is OK to smile. It is OK to not stop crying. It is OK to be angry. It is OK to pursue litigation. It is OK to not. It is OK to obsessively research statistics and research papers pertaining to the way your baby died. It is OK to request an autopsy. It is OK to not. Is is OK to have a funeral for your baby. It is OK to cremate your baby. It is OK to bury your baby. It is OK to visit his/her grave every day, and it is OK to never visit. It is OK to try again. It is OK not to. IT IS OK TO TALK ABOUT YOUR BABY. It is OK to go to therapy, and it OK not to.

***One note here: if you are having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming others you should seek help. It is OK to ask for help!

Find Ways to Include Your Baby in Your Life

Your baby will always be your child. It doesn’t matter if you were barely pregnant, or you raised him/her for months. This is your child. You are a mother. It is OK and right to include your baby in your family. Talk about your baby with your partner, children, family. Find a way to celebrate his/her birthday. A miscarriage or still birth is still a birthday. Some mamas have birthday parties, some release balloons, some light candles.

In our family, we include Aquila in all our family portraits by having one of our children hold her bear. It was a bear the funeral staff gave me. It just became ‘her’ bear.

My kids after the birth of my rainbow baby– see the bear? That is Aquila’s  bear…

Some other families I know hold a picture of their baby , or a name plate in their family photos. Sometimes it is a flower.

Some mothers talk to their babies when they are alone. This is totally OK! Look for signs from your baby. Many, many mamas will see little things, signs that remind them of their baby and warm their hearts. Be open to that.

Stargazer Lilies are Aquila’s flower.

It Is OK To Weed

Let me warn you, if you have not experienced this yet, some people will say and do hurtful things. Right there, while your struggling just to breathe and stumble along, someone you love dearly will kick you in the teeth. I do not know a single grieving mama who has not had to deal with this.

Personally I had a dear friend who was my daily phone buddy for years completely drop off the face of the planet the day I told her my baby died. She wasn’t the only one.

Know this: some people cannot handle grief, even yours. Lucky them, they don’t have to handle anything…they can just avoid you. Ouch. Here you are forced to live a nightmare, and this person who should be there to talk with you and hold your hand, has vanished.

And people will say the wrong thing. They may say things like, “It was God’s will” or “you can have another baby!” They might say, “God needed another flower in His garden.”

I know how badly these words hurt. The only thing they should be saying is, “I am so sorry for your loss”. Try not to be too angry. At least they are trying and not being silent.

But worst of all, there are the nasty comments. If you are public about your loss there will be complete strangers judging your grief. They will judge your mental health. But that won’t hurt nearly as bad as if it comes from someone close. I had some very nasty words written to me from my sister in law which hurt like being stabbed.— and here is where I say , “It is ok to weed in your life”.

Ypur life is a garden and when grieving, weeds will choke the very life from you. You do not have the energy to deal with people who try to hurt you when you are already hurting so bad. You do not have the energy to try to make people care who have disappeared. It is OK to let these people go. Focus on those who love you. Focus on your baby. Do not give them your pain. They do not deserve it.

There is an old saying , “In times of adversity, the cream rises to the top”.

You will find new friends, and old bonds will strengthen. Some bonds will deteriorate and some will shatter. Remember, you are not the same woman you were. You are on a new path.

***I hope some of my advice helps you navigate these stormy waters. Three years out I still deeply miss my baby, but I can say that I am healing. You will smile again.

And I want to telly you that your baby did matter. Your baby is still your baby and you are still a mother. Death cannot take that away. You are a mother in love- and death has no power over love.

Liz Paparella, Mother to 8 , including my daughter Aquila, in heaven.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum – {More than Morning Sickness}

Hyperemesis Gravidarum – {More than Morning Sickness}

With the recent news that the beloved Duchess Kate was hospitalized recently in relation to HG (Hyperemesis Gravidarum), I saw both an out pouring of love, and more often, ridicule. First – why on earth would we malign a soon-to-be mother for getting medical help? That in itself is mind boggling. Second – the absolute disregard of any information given on the subject was astounding to me. Having suffered from HG myself, I was sadly not surprised to see the general public basically laugh at this poor woman and tell her “suck it up”.

I wanted to help get the word out. HG has been hidden for years and is not well understood in the medical community. But real women – from myself to a future Queen of England – suffer from this horrific condition. Sharing my story is not always easy, as people are fast to dismiss or believe that I am exaggerating – but here it is.

My husband and I were over the moon about finally conceiving our first child. We immediately began to talk names and look at baby clothes. Our families were excited, our friends were overjoyed. Everything was rosy. Around 7 weeks I started to vomit a bit and have a lot of nausea. Par for the course in early pregnancy. We went to our first appointment and had an ultrasound (I was having pain that suggested an ectopic). Everything seemed normal and average.

Then a week later I began to vomit more…and more…and more. Within days of this new trend I was vomiting more than 15 times a day, and dry heaving constantly. The nausea was so horrible that literally just turning my head could trigger heaving. Nothing stayed down – no water, Gatorade, crackers, juice, rice, ginger, NOTHING. I began to feel weak and could not stand long enough to shower.

I called in sick to work several days in a row and got co-workers to cover some shifts. I called the OB office (where I was receiving care until we got insurance to cover our midwife) and was told that “as long as I could keep down a cup of water a day, I was okay.” They also gave me phenergan over the phone though I informed them that it did not work for me (from previous experience). They would not prescribe anything else in place of phenergan.

I spoke to family and friends and was assured that this was normal and a sign of a healthy pregnancy. No one seemed to understand that I was not exaggerating my vomiting episodes. My husband helped as much as he could, but he had to work since I was missing work.

My job (which I loved and had just started a few months prior) began to comment on how much I was missing, and that when I did drag myself to work that I was “in the bathroom too much”. There were other pregnant women in my area after all, and they were fine. After about three weeks of this they suggested I take FMLA (family medical leave – unpaid) so that I did not lose my job. I was given 30 days in which to “get better and rest”.

Only a few days after this I began to vomit blood. My esophagus was so torn and ragged from the acid (which by this point was all I was vomiting up) that it was like a big wound. I decided that this was NOT “normal” and that I had to go to the emergency room. My husband came home and we loaded up to go downtown.

Hours later, I was seen. They let a student paramedic do my IVs…he blew three veins before they got someone experienced in my cubicle. The nurses ignored my husband and myself, and I sat with empty IV bags for long periods (I ended up needing 3 1/2 bags). I was informed that my blood work showed I was almost at organ failure level, especially my potassium. No one offered to check on my baby. We were not admitted, even after 5 hours in our little ER bed. I was told I should have gone to the Women’s hospital instead.

The one good thing to come out of the trip was the discovery of Zofran. The Zofran did not totally cut the nausea but it made it much more livable and cut down my vomiting to a few times a day, though it was a long time before I could force myself to eat much. The mental damage of so much vomiting was hard to get past. I did not start to “mend” until about 24 weeks, and continued to need the Zofran all the way through pregnancy.

All said and done – I lost over 30lbs in about as many days. I was required to take Zofran every four hours around the clock or I would need a home IV line (I have a huge fear of needles, so I wanted to avoid that if I could). I lost my job, since after the 30 days I was not “better” and my midwife wrote a list of work restrictions that the company could not accommodate. We had to move in with my mother. My son was born “late pre-term” at 37 weeks. Premature birth is a risk of HG. My son was a little peanut as well.

To this day I do not think my family understands what I went through. I don’t think they understand my fears for future pregnancies. But talking to other HG moms, I am not alone. And I was lucky – women die of HG, women lose babies. And almost every HG mom will tell you – you start to lose yourself in the midst of the sickness. You feel alone, so alone. You worry you are killing your baby, and you blame yourself every day.

I was able to speak with other mothers in the BWF Fans Support group about how HG effected their lives.

“After my daughter was born and my midwife looked at my placenta, it was thoroughly calcified and only a very small part of it was providing nutrition to my baby. We are very lucky to have her here with us. HG is emotionally and physically wearing, and I would wish it on no one. I just wish people were more educated about it rather than just tell you to suck it up and deal with morning sickness. Its so much more than that.” – Alyssa

“I was unable to shower by myself, did not have the energy to wash my own hair or body. I had to quit one of my jobs at just 10 weeks pregnant with my son. My husband had to continue working to support us but he felt terrible leaving me home alone every day. I sank further and further into depression and became very anxious that I was starving my baby and that it and I would not live to see the day I held the baby in my arms.” – Jade

“Both my pregnancies I had HG. I was barely able to care for myself or get out of bed most of the pregnancy. I waited 10 years between TTC my sons & stopped at 2, because I can’t care for my kids for 9 months at a time.” – Vee

“My HG nightmare began at 6 weeks. By 10 weeks I had to quit my job because I was in and out of hospital for IV hydration and vomiting blood. Some days I couldn’t even walk across the hall to the bathroom to vomit and I needed to sit on a chair in the shower because I would faint if I stood for more than a minute. By 15 weeks the strain became too much for my partner having to work full time while running our household and nursing me and we had to move in with my parents. People – some of them Doctors – told me mind over matter, take a walk, get some fresh air, have some ginger, eat a cracker. They told me if I really cared about my baby I would just drink some water and I was desperate to do so but knew if I did I would just vomit till my throat bled again. Formerly close friends accused me of being weak, selfish and melodramatic and stopped talking to me. Every day for the first two trimesters I cried wondering if my baby and I could possibly survive this. HG is not morning sickness – HG is a chronic, all consuming, life threatening, misunderstood illness that I would not wish on my worst enemy.” – Johanna

“I was hep-locked for weeks and went twice daily for IV meds and fluids. It is very debilitating. For the first several months I threw up constantly.” – Brittany

Another mother you may know who has suffered from HG is Jessica from The Leaky Boob who wrote a post “celebrating” her new common trait with the Duchess. She has written several posts speaking about her personal journey though HG.

A truly amazing resource (and one I did not find until after I had my son) is Help HER – a hyperemesis awareness and research group. They help fund a research project with UCLA into the genetics of HG. There are forums on this site dedicated to the women, fathers, and families who suffer this illness. Pages of testimony exist on their site, wanting to be heard. They even helped create a day on our calenders to recognize this illness – May 15th is HG Awareness Day.

This blog writer posted some time ago about the “ABCs of HG” – it moved me to tears.

This is NOT something you can ever understand until you have walked that mile. Morning sickness is not the same, and I don’t want to hear about how “bad” it was to vomit a couple times a day over a month or so. I don’t want to hear about only “being able to eat crackers”. I would have given my right hand to keep down crackers most days. These are things I am not supposed to admit in polite conversation – but HG is not a polite illness. It is callous and horrible and takes women and babies from our lives.

This is NOT morning sickness. This is not a pregnant woman being a drama queen or lazy. This is not something a few crackers before getting out of bed can fix. Or ginger. Or what ever else is in the normal bag of tricks for morning sickness – I tried them all. This is a truly debilitating illness in every possible way. I hope that next time the world hears of a mother suffering from HG their advice will not be “suck it up.”

***I have now been through another HG pregnancy, which you can read about here (from my husband’s perspective).

Special Moments Captured {Birth of a Rainbow Baby}

Special Moments Captured {Birth of a Rainbow Baby}

“I wanted to share some photographs from the last home birth I did with you and Birth Without Fear. This is the couple’s first live birth, they had a still birth just over a year and a half ago.

This mommy went through 24 hours of labor, and then everything stopped for just over a week. Her water then broke and she was in labor for 30 hours before their son was born. When the baby arrived, they both broke down crying when he took his first breath. Being the emotional birth lover I am, I cried as well.

Their story is so special, and so beautiful and I am so happy that they were able to bring a healthy 8 pound baby boy into the world absolutely naturally.” ~Hannah Parker with Fresh Love Birth Photography

After 14 Months of TTC {Trying To Conceive}…

After 14 Months of TTC {Trying To Conceive}…

“After 14 months of trying including one miscarriage, we have finally been blessed with our amazing little boy. Bretten Oliver Withey was born 10 days early (my water ruptured at 2am), on 12.5.12 at 2:41pm. He was  7lbs 12oz and 20.5 in long. His daddy arrived at the hospital after being out of state for work just 2 hours before he was born. He is the light of our life and continues to make us fall in love with him everyday.” ~Jessica

trying to conceive pregnancy

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