Monday, August 19, 2013

Calm After a Storm

This was written by Heather Thompson and submitted to Share for the July/August newsletter. 

Mine may not be a gracious or popular viewpoint, but after all the songs of Christmas left me feeling like “peace to the world” or “heavenly peace” was being forced down my throat amidst feeling the least serenity of my life, I settled down after the turn of the year on a mission of what it would mean for me to find freedom from even a small part of my emotional turmoil. This was the first holiday season after my daughter, Makenna, died September 1, 2012. Having to experience all those family-oriented holidays starting with Halloween through the New Year within four months of her death added extra stress to an already stressful season for me. Grief in our extended family has been “complicated”, so there were many emotional barbs to navigate through over the holidays that did not allow for harmony between us, in addition to my own absence of inner peace in missing Makenna terribly. I spent time alone; I spent a lot of time hugging her holiday dress. Sometimes I hugged her ashes. And my mother had an angel that held her picture as the tree topper at my parents’ house where we spent the Christmas holidays. We tried to incorporate Makenna’s memory in the ways we could, but her father and I were acutely and painfully aware she was not physically there.

Once we came back home, I was given the opportunity to re-center and revisit my never-ending battle for tranquility with respect to Makenna’s death. My first step was changing my employment status to build in time I needed to pursue pregnancy and infant loss causes. I made a decision to end the familial hostilities that had been weighing heavy on my heart. I started a scrapbook of Makenna’s life. I made small gifts of companionship for some loss moms that are remote penpals and friends. I also followed up on very important letter I had written to the hospital where Makenna was born. In this letter, I explained how I had come to Labor and Delivery the night before Makenna had been found with no heartbeat. I elaborated on how, since that time, I have found the more “could” have been done, but how more is not “required” (by ACOG) to be done, so I realized that I had no recourse. However, that was not what my email was about. My email was about how, after the hospital and my caregivers had failed us so that night in L&D, after Makenna was born, and during our stay at the hospital that they also had not informed us of the Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth (CBRS) being available in our state. I was missing information that not only validated us as a family and verified my daughter’s existence, but that also would have made my battle to not lose my short-term disability and maternity leave benefits much less traumatic, if not non-existent. Since I had no legal documentation, my employer had considered my status as having had “a medical procedure” rather than the birth of a child.
I had not heard back from the hospital in six weeks and needless to say was not very happy about it. I contacted them again, and this time my email was followed by a return phone call. And two emails. I ended up speaking to a risk manager who told me that the hospital had not been aware of the law. Now I must tell you, this hospital is part of a large hospital system in the Washington, DC metro area that takes pride in winning “best in the region” types of awards. Despite being this caliber of hospital and this law being in effect in our state for years, the hospital staff had never made themselves aware. So, she let me know that they were convening a hospital system-wide obstetric panel to address providing this information to families experiencing stillbirth. I asked to attend the meeting. I also raised some additional changes that I would like to see from the hospital with respect to patients reporting decreased fetal movement and families experiencing stillbirth. I am waiting to receive her call next week.

Some would say finding peace is to be or become quiet, but I found peace in not staying quiet. I know the process has just begun to affect this change to provide information on CBRSes to families that have been affected by stillbirth. But the beginning of that dialogue brought me more peace than I have found thus far in my grief journey. I hope we all can find peace through winning those battles, those small victories. I hope you can find calm after the storm, in your way, and if even only for a moment.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Castles in the Sand

This was written and submitted by Chloe McGuire. 

Just a few weeks before my son died, my husband and I took a vacation to a resort in Puerto Rico. It was supposed to be our “last hurrah” before our lives totally changed and became consumed with being parents.

It was an amazing trip, one we will never forget. We had honeymooned at this same resort only two years before, and it was the perfect destination for our last vacation as a couple. Well, we thought it w
as our last vacation as a couple anyway.

The days of our honeymoon were spent snorkeling, boating, hiking, sightseeing until our feet throbbed, and drinking margaritas and pina coladas. On our second trip, we simply walked on the beach, our fingers entwined, and talked excitedly about the future that awaited us, so full of promise and joy. We scooped up shells by the handfuls, dumped them into our beach bag, then spent warm evenings on our  patio picking through them as the sun set, choosing special shells to place in bowl in our soon-to-be-born son’s nursery. We both grew up near the beach, we both love the beach, and we talked about how our son would grow up with that same love. We envisioned our vacation the next summer, the three of us building sand castles and taking photographs of waves splashing over us. We wondered if he would be frightened by the waves, if he would make funny faces when he was splashed by salt water. We wondered if he would leave the beach hat on that we purchased for him in a souvenir shop one night after dinner or if he would yank it off, giggling, exposing his sweet bald head to the sun’s scorching rays. We were so secure in the future of our family that when we checked out at the end of our glorious vacation, we booked the same room for the same week the next summer, telling the hotel employees that the next time they saw us, we would be pushing a stroller.

How swiftly life changes.

How swiftly dreams and hopes and joys wash away like footprints left too close to the surf.

How swiftly life changes, transforms.

One day, you are walking on the beach, one hand held gently in the hand of your beloved, your other hand resting on the swell of your son who grows within you as warm waters gently splash over your feet. A few days later, your hand is once again held in the hand of your beloved, although not so gently. It is held so tightly it hurts while you scream sounds you never imagined you would scream as you hear those words, “I am so sorry, there is no heartbeat. Your son has died.” 

How swiftly life changes.

How swiftly your dreams of the future wash away, though not like footprints your feet leave on the sand. Footprints on the sand wash away without a trace, leaving a smooth, pristine surface behind with no evidence the footprints ever existed. Dreams of the future aren’t so easily erased. Dreams of the future with your baby are more like footprints left in concrete that slowly hardens, that are there forever. Nothing can wash them away.

After our son’s death and birth, I worried that the beach would be forever tainted for me. I often went into his room and gazed at the crystal clear bowl of shells that I had tied a sandy-colored ribbon around and placed on a shelf the morning we went to the doctor to have our world shattered. Those shells were gathered when we were blissfully happy, and I never was sure if I wanted to throw them away or hold them in my hands.

The months bled into one another, and we eventually remembered the vacation we had scheduled months before, the vacation we planned with our new baby. Just the thought of it took my breath away, but my husband insisted. He convinced me that a trip to the beach would be healing, but all I wanted to do was stay home under the covers. I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be healing to go to the place we had been such a short time ago dreaming about our son and the beautiful vacations we would have over the years. We even imagined that the beach would become so special to our son as he grew that we would continue to vacation there when we were grandparents.

I gave in to my husband’s wishes. He had been so wonderful to me in the months since our son had died, putting his own needs aside to tend to mine, and I felt I owed him this gift. A strange thing happened, and he was right. The flight to the resort was turbulent in more ways than one, and walking into the lobby nearly brought on a panic attack. We settled into our room, the same room we had enjoyed so much the previous year, and I walked onto the deck, the sea breeze blowing my hair away from my face, and I felt a peace unlike anything I had felt since our son’s death. I closed my eyes, breathing the salty air in gulps.

It’s been 5 years since our first son died, and we have since been blessed with another son. Each year, the same week, we return to the resort in Puerto Rico that once held so many of our dreams along with so many of our heartaches. We have made many beautiful memories there with our son, and we envision creating many more over the years. Each year, we take photographs of our feet in the sand and another of the water washing the footprints away. The bowl full of shells sits on a shelf in our family room along with a photograph of a sunset we took on that last trip before our world came crashing down around us.

Some people have told us they can’t understand how we can continue to go to a place that must hold such unhappy memories. But for us, we can’t NOT return there because so much of our lives, our hearts, our very history are connected to that beach.