Landmines and Surprises

I was told to expect certain experiences or encounters to be painful – like when a friend announces a pregnancy, seeing a little girl that would be my daughter’s age had she lived, witnessing baptisms at church, seeing baby girl clothes, running into people who knew I was pregnant but didn’t know she died… to prepare the answer for “Did you have the baby?!?”  But other, perhaps less obvious things, have surprised me:

Landmines

  • Seeing minivans was devastating.  We had gone car shopping for minivans to accommodate our growing family.
  • Interacting with anyone that had 3 or more children.  Their family size was like a taunting, blinking red light in my face:  I have 3 children–your 3rd child died.
  • The first time I wore a jacket that I specifically remembered ‘storing for the season’ because it wasn’t going to fit around my bump in the winter.  Putting on that perfect-fitting jacket broke my heart.   No bump.  No baby.
  • Putting away maternity clothes. I couldn’t bear to see them in my dresser but I couldn’t bear to make any decision about what to do with them – any decision about that felt like an answer to the HUGE question that we weren’t prepared to answer yet, “Will we try to have another baby?”  I needed to understand that keeping the clothes was not an answer to that question.  Putting them in a box was just a postponement, not a decision.
  • Having my son’s kindergarten reading assignments be about The Baby and other baby-related books.
  • I witnessed a car accident that threatened my own personal safety.  My mind catapulted into the delivery room when my water was breaking and I was yelling in panic, pain, and confusion — I thought Tinsley was being born and no one was there to ‘catch her.’  I learned that current panic-inducing events would confuse my body and mind and I’d re-live the trauma of her birth.  Deep breathing and concentrating on my actual surroundings helps bring me back to reality.
  • Friends.  People who I thought would be comforting or more attentive that weren’t have really bothered me. For now, I’m focusing on the people that have surprised me in a good way — and not worry about the long-lasting impact of Tinsley’s death on the existing friendships that have disappointed me.
  • Hearing about a baby’s birth in random, unexpected situations.  As I was waiting for my car to get its oil changed, an attendant was going around proudly showing pictures of his newborn girl to his colleagues.  It was right around the time of Tinsley’s due date.
  • Dress shopping.  I went to a formal shop to find a dress for an upcoming gala.  While I was there a bunch of moms and daughters arrived to shop for prom dresses.  And it made me realize I would never shop for a dress with Tinsley.
  • Hearing the standard voice message of my OB’s office when I had to make my postpartum appointment.  I literally threw up.
  • Seeing my empty uterus on the ultrasound screen at 8 weeks postpartum visit (OB was worried by random bleeding and wanted to check that pieces of the placenta hadn’t remained).  How could my uterus have collapsed so quickly?  My beautiful child was just living there.

Surprises

  • The rationalizations my brain fabricated to try and soften the painful reality of the loss…”we couldn’t really afford a third child, I wouldn’t have been able to handle three kids, it would have been such a pain to buy a new car, it’s better I didn’t have to buy all those girl clothes, our house wasn’t big enough anyways…”
  • The first few weeks I wanted to caretake for everyone--my husband, children, sister, pregnant colleagues, neighbors, friends, and strangers.  The urge was extreme and I now recognize it was a postpartum instinct that couldn’t be fulfilled the way it was designed — to care for Tinsley.  But the energy had to go somewhere.  It subsided around the time my milk finally stopped–about 3 weeks after her birth.
  • I felt extremely guilty whenever I became impatient with my living children.  “Shouldn’t I only feel gratitude that I have two children that are alive?”  I learned that feeling frustrated with my toddlers didn’t mean I didn’t love and value them more than I value my own life.  They actually do need to put away their trains so we don’t trip over them.
  • My short-term memory.  I literally could not hold onto a single thought for more than a minute.  12 weeks later and I still struggle with this.
  • Word Jumble.  I couldn’t think of the words I wanted to say or the word I would say would be completely different than the one I had intended to say.  See above.
  • I didn’t want to sleep on my stomach again.  I am a ‘tummy sleeper’ but when I’m pregnant obviously I sleep on my side.  When I was physically healed from her birth and could have comfortably slept on my stomach, I didn’t want to.  It was like sleeping on my stomach was just another acknowledgment that Tinsley was gone.
  • I needed contact with a person to fall asleep.  This is the exact opposite of how I was Before.  Before I couldn’t fall asleep unless I completely had my own space.  Now, I need my leg or hand or foot touching someone to fall asleep.
  • Speaking of sleep, I also would wake up in the middle of the night to check on my living children, similar to what I would do when they were infants.
  • The heightened anxiety over my living children’s safety was insane.  Back to cutting grapes in quarters kind of insane.
  • The extreme compulsion to visit Tinsley’s grave every day.  I went out in a snow storm one day to see her.  This lightened up about 10 weeks after she died.  Now I visit her about 2x/week.
  • The anger that came with my first period, which returned 6 weeks to the day that Tinsley died.  I turned 35, which was a number I had in my brain from my early 20s as the scary marker for drop in fertility and increase in birth defects.  I had specifically made family planning decisions around having my babies before I was 35.  Tinsley’s due date was Feb 2 and since my boys came at 37 weeks I thought she would come early… maybe even on my birthday.  I felt RAGE at the cosmic unfairness of giving me this reminder that not only was Tinsley gone but that my eggs were slowly going bad…
  • Figuring out what to put on Tinsley’s gravestone. It felt like an enormous decision that I just kept delaying — that I refused to make.  Like it was the final piece to her death.  At 13 weeks after her death, I still haven’t done it.
  • How excruciating and disorienting the week leading up to Tinsley’s due date was.  I knew it was coming, so why was it so, so hard?
  • I wanted to do girlie things in the weeks after she died.  I think it was an attempt to reclaim the female connection I was hoping to have with my daughter.
  • I put a picture of Tinsley on my desk.  Some moments it would create joy and peace for me — and some moments it would make me burst into tears, especially when I caught glimpses of her resemblance to my younger son.  I eventually found it too upsetting and have put the picture on the shelf behind my desk– so I see her often but I do not stare at her.
  • My older son’s birthday is Feb 17.  The night before I started telling him (like I always have) about the day he was born.  But remembering his labor and delivery, which used to be a joyful memory, made me extremely sad, and the sadness turned into anger. Sad that Tinsley wasn’t here for her brother’s birthday, and angry that she would never have an earthly birthday.  Angry that I would never have a joyful labor and delivery experience with her.  That her birth was her death.  My fellow loss moms said living children’s birthdays can be triggering–I had no idea until I walked into it.  But they also said that one day I will likely be able to remember my sons’ labor and delivery as a joyful experience again.
  • I was filling out a health form for a new primary doctor and under the reproductive health section, it asked for me to check how many Pregnancies, Live Births, Miscarriages, and Abortions I had experienced.  Like, a Stillborn is either so rare they didn’t include it, or what, it doesn’t count?  No, just an admin oversight that cut through me like a knife.
  • A pregnant colleague sent a note that there was a death in her family and she’d be out for a few days.  It sent all of my fear into overdrive.  I had to ask HR to please confirm for me that the death was not her baby.
  • About 13 weeks after she died, people started telling me I “looked better,” seemed to be “doing better,” etc.  They were trying to say something positive, and possibly true — I am learning to integrate her death.  But the word ‘better’ feels terrible.  A) There was nothing wrong with being deep in grief B) I’ll never be better from losing her and C) looking better somehow translated to my forgetting her.  Just triggered me on a number of fronts.
  • I have been more sensitive around the time I’m ovulating.  Like I miss her more somehow or I feel even more disconnected from a piece of myself than I do at other times of the month.
  • I wanted to change something.  Anything.  Everything.  Since major changes aren’t a good idea during grief, but I couldn’t just sit still, I made some more minor changes:
    • I dyed my hair a deeper shade of brownish red.  No one even noticed, but it made me feel good.  I had never dyed my hair before so this was definitely out of character.
    • I tried gel manicures for the first time.
    • I bought new bath mats and a new shower curtain.  This was a little later, after my ‘girlie’ phase.  The mats and curtain were both blue.  I also bought new storage bins that were blue.  I wanted to somehow ‘own’ my actual reality of being a mom to boys.
    • I re-arranged the furniture in the house.
    • I changed the desktop pictures on my computers.
    • I re-arranged photos on the walls.
    • I re-arranged everything on my office desk.
    • I bought new pictures celebrating winter themes for the house– Monet.
    • I bought a painting of Main Street and a couple other items to claim my spot as a local resident.  This became extremely important now that Tinsley is buried here.

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