Saturday, October 30, 2010

Parenting and the fear of loss

As I approach my miscarriage-iversary date (10 weeks into my first pregnancy, and I am nine weeks into this one), my thoughts turn, again and again, to potential loss. I passed the six-week mark, which is when I began bleeding with my first pregnancy, but I have a sort of superstitious certainty that if I get past the 10-week mark, which is when the full-on Robert Reid Her First Born oil paintinghemorrhaging and cramping began, that I will be safe. That this pregnancy cannot be touched. That all will be well.

Only, I know from my second pregnancy, the pregnancy with Mikko, and his subsequent three years on earth, that this is not the case at all.

Not because anything untoward has happened, but because of continued awareness that something could. There is no time, ever, when a parent can sit back, relieved, and know that all danger is past. There are reminders everywhere.

I have entered a phase where my morning sickness mysteriously disappears in the morning, leading me to wonder if my pregnancy hormones have plummeted, heralding a miscarriage to come. The queasiness returns in the afternoons and evenings, when I am both miserable and relieved.

I speak with a friend, who tells me of her unexpected and unexplained miscarriage at 13 weeks. A full 3 weeks past my meaningless all-is-well date.

I read an article in Mothering about an accidental stillbirth — one I had passed over while pregnant with Mikko, when just the first paragraph terrified me. I make myself go back and read it after he is born, to acknowledge the frailty that is life and birth.

I read online of babies and children lost, some in the womb, some in birth, some as infants, toddlers, others as nearly full-grown teens. I grieve for these people, most of whom I don't know, and I try not to let them know of my presence beyond some first whispered words of condolence, because I fear my interest might be seen as ghoulish. But I want to assure them here, anonymously, it is not. I do not know what they are going through, but I know it is not a case of I-am-blessed-and-you-are-not. There is no fair. There is no protective curtain to keep me on the safe side and them on the grieving side. We are all in this together, and I mourn with them for these losses that affect us all.

I remember there was a man at our former church who died of a brain tumor at 36. He left behind a wife and two young children, and I forgot the exact ages of his children and wanted to find out, to know the enormity of the loss and to pray for the family. I typed his name into Google to search for his obituary. All I could find was a relentless list of all the people who had died on the same day he had — some sort of log done by an official record-keeping office. Beside each name was an age, and my eye was drawn to one male name with the age 15 years in parentheses after it.

I copied and pasted that name and found his CaringBridge site. This young man had been diagnosed with cancer four months previously and, now, like that, was gone.

I was really mad. I mean, how mean is that? To have raised your child to 15 years, and you're thinking, We're past the worst. We're past the uncertainty of pregnancy, the potential traumas of birth, the tender infancy, the illness- and accident-prone toddler years. To have gotten all the way to 15 must have seemed like a triumph for his parents — and then cancer takes him in four months.

Just today, it occurs to me. The 36-year-old man's parents? Must be thinking the same thing.

Once you're a parent, until you die, you can never fully exhale.

This post is not meant to be morose — no, I guess it is. Sorry about that, I guess. I think death is shuffled away in our culture, sterilized and glossed over, and we're not meant to think of how, sometimes, children die. If you want to see something heartbreaking yet also, somehow, more real than we are about death despite its superficial artificiality, check out Victorian death photography. There was a time when people knew for certain that life was fragile, that there was a good chance not all of your siblings would make it to adulthood.

Since we're so close to Halloween, let's think of this as a sort of Day of the Dead post, where we're allowed to celebrate and think about those who have left us while acknowledging that our hold over our own lives and those of our loved ones is tenuous.

For now, I'm going to appreciate this baby in me, even if our time together is fleeting (and I suspect it will be as long and lush as I hope), and I'm going to appreciate my loves who surround me much as I surround the little one inside.

To those who are grieving, I send you my deepest wishes for time to mourn, and time to heal. To those who are blissfully unaware of danger, I envy you even if I can't understand you. And to me, I say, Peace. Make peace with death. How else can I let go and live?

Painting is Her First Born, by Robert Reid, 1888.

16 comments:

Kelly Hogaboom said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you.

Luschka @Diary of a First Child said...

Lauren, this post made me cry so much. Like you I know so many stories of loss, from early pregnancy, still birth to 11 and 13 year olds, through to old men. All we can do is make peace with death and know that, or at least believe that it is not the end.

When I was pregnant with Kyra I read something that I thought was so corny, but since having her, have fully and truly understood and agreed with: being a mother is like setting your heart free to run around outside your chest, unaware of how you feel until it becomes a mother's heart itself.

Big hugs to you, and I pray for a beautiful pregnancy further.

proudgrits11 said...

You're right, we do gloss over it. And the secrecy only makes it worse. It's ok even to say, "I just don't get it." At least then we don't pretend like it's not so terribly, terribly hard.
I lost a pregnancy very early, just six weeks along, but it was a terrible blow. It made me question EVERYthing and was a major turning point in my life, especially my spiritual life. I have come a long way since then and am grateful for that journey. We got what we call our "redemption baby" out of it, too, and sometimes, when I start pondering these hard questions, I eventually get to the conclusion that I can't predict the future....there are no guarantees....so I will enjoy my sons, my family, my LIFE, as much as I can today, and in this very moment. I just kissed the top of my baby's head, in fact, instead of shooing him away so I could type! :)
I remember being relieved to get past my miscarriage point, too. Every day after that was easier. I will tell you that my first birth was a home-to-hospital emergency transfer, I had terrible tearing, etc. etc....and my second birth was AMAZING, 100% by the book and could not have been better. God loves to redeem!! I am so very grateful for that.
I pray peace and protection for you in your pregnancy journey. I hope God can help heal your hurt, too.
Thank you for sharing!!

heathermhs said...

I just wanted to say I've been there. My experience heightened my awareness of the what-ifs, for sure. It also reminds me to appreciate every moment I do get. I'm certainly more grateful than ever before, but oh how I remember the stress and pain of the miscarriage-aversaries.

KOR said...

What a sad painting.

The other day my 19 month old fell and bashed his lip on a table- first time I've ever seen him bleed. I kept replaying the scene in my mind- him tripping, the sound of his mouth hitting the table, the stunned look on his face as he rolled over and our eyes met as I ran over, and the blood starting to pour out of his mouth.

I had this weird chill in my body every time I thought about it, which I finally realized was fear. Fear that even when I'm right there, he can hurt himself. It brought me back to that terrified feeling I had when a kid his exact age, from his daycare room, died in his sleep at age one (at home). That shocked me because I had thought we were past SIDS. I thought we were safe.

Like you said, we're never safe, and it's almost too scary to think about. When we are forced to think about it, that reflection is hard, and it hurts, and it hurts to think about the pain others go through. It's easy to ignore it, especially when it makes us realize that it could easily be us. I found that realization important though, because it made me better appreciate what I have. We should always think that way. To complain about your kid being up at night... well, I'm just happy I have a kid, so I try not to complain about the inconveniences of parenting any more because it shows a lack of awareness and perspective.

Anyway, best of luck with this pregnancy. I was pretty much scared every day of my pregnancy up until I knew the baby would be OK even if he was born early.

{mama} said...

What beautiful, well spoken words. I know of the exact Mothering article you speak of. I too read it briefly sometime after my first daughter was born. Later, I printed it off to share with family and friends after we suffered the stillbirth of our second daughter and had not the words of my own to express how I felt.
We also recently, after waiting a year to try again, suffered a miscarriage.
Honestly, one of the things that always made me most upset was that most women seemed to not even consider the possibility of such a loss. Their blatant naïveté made me want to scream. So, as scary as the possibilities may be, thank you for acknowledging them.
I wish you well this pregnancy and beyond but know that if the worst does strike, you are not alone. There is an amazing circle of mother's who are all waiting to hold those women who need nothing but to embrace their own lost one.

{mama} said...

Also, since you mentioned the photography, there is actually a non-profit called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep that will come to a family who has suffered a stillbirth and take lovely photos of the baby and family so they have something to keep always.

cartside said...

Thank you for this post. So true, so important. As a parent, I can never relax, and the knowledge got me through the 11 weeks of my 2nd pregnancy (I started to miscarry my second pregnancy at 11 weeks), knowing that the worry won't stop so best not to overdo the worry at the start (and I carried to term).
We've had a horrid loss in our family that your post brought back too, a father of two (one not born yet), taken from us at 32 without a warning. You can never take life for granted, celebrate what you have and don't forget how fragile we all are.

Amber said...

So far, my parenting has not been touched by loss.

But I am constantly reminded that it could be. And, I suspect, you're right that it will never end. I will always know this, until I am no longer here to know it.

cypress sun said...

somewhere, tucked away, are photos of the brother that died before me. i have always wanted to see them for some sort of completion, but my mother carries a pain i can not bear to touch.

however...because of her reality, her pain (and my own experience with miscarriage) i have learned the ability to stay still, open eyed and fully present in the midst of loss.

Jenny said...

I love this post. I have never suffered this kind of loss; the loss of grandparents, yes, but that's nothing like losing an unborn baby or a child. Every time I get pregnant I hold my breath. I don't know how one handles a miscarriage, or if I ever could. It must be heartbreaking. And I worry about my kids too, of course. I was raised by a worrier and the worst possible outcome is what always seems to jump to mind.

I have had a blog post forming in my head about this and something we discussed in Sunday school recently. I think I'm going to write it. I think it might end up being a good natural parenting post.

gyenyame said...

HM - thank you for this post. I greatly appreciate your posts, the quietly reflective ones perhaps the most.

You made me think about this, and being as how it is my birthday, I am thinking a little more than than I might otherwise.

~with great love

Geeks in Rome said...

this was so beautiful It's true, you never exhale.

So I fight to just enjoy the moments we do have.

Only when I became a mother did my heart start to ache and tears well up uncontrollably after hearing about loss and just seeing a picture of a starving child or a parent mourning...

The greatest love enables you to feel the greatest pain.

Karen Bannan @ NaturalAsPossibleMom said...

I am in the constantly waiting for the shoe to drop camp. (Even thos morning I blogged about how worried I was that my husband, going in for an operation today, might die and leave my girls without getting a chance to say goodbye.)

I also had a very late miscarriage (13 weeks), but even at eight weeks, when I saw the heartbeat, I knew something was wrong. It wasn't fast and bright like Big Girl's was. It was slower and sort of dim-looking to me.

That baby would be turning five this coming January. I still wonder "what if" every once in a while. But now I have Little Girl, who probably wouldn't have been born if I had two under two way back when. Everything happens for a reason, I guess.

That said, send good thoughts to your little baby every single day, and try not to stress about losing him/her. You can't really change anything. You can only send good energy into the murky darkness s/he calls home and wish for the best.

I will be doing just that for you. As the girls on my due date club used to say, Grow, baby, grow!

Best, --KB

Cave Mother said...

I can feel the undercurrent of dread in your post and I can almost taste the nausea of early pregnancy in my mouth. This is how I felt during my first trimester, though I have not yet experienced the loss of a pregnancy. I am sure that pregnancy hormones gave me this constant feeling that something bad was going to happen. But I wish you well for the rest of your pregnancy (and I only read today that you were pregnant).

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