Monday, January 16, 2012

Grief woven through the lens of a subsequent pregnancy

 My, my, how grief is deceptive. As an outsider to the grieving process I would have always thought that a person in my shoes would be doing "so much better," as she nears the finish line of her subsequent pregnancy. I mean, they are almost there-right? Now she can finally have her baby and be back to "normal." She must be so happy that things are finally turning around and settling down.

This has been anything but the truth of the matter. Both my husband and I have noticed how much worse we have gotten in the past few weeks. To us, it honestly might as well be the first few weeks after Caleb died. Things like cooking, cleaning, showering, making the bed, and paying the bills are all becoming impossibly hard again. My mind is on such an overload with this pregnancy that I feel I have no room in there to focus on anything else. My abilities to make decisions are almost nonexistent right now. I cannot process things and everything, even a simple phone call, feels like it might take me all day to accomplish it. My initiative and motivation are at an all time low. Nothing seems worthwhile or important other than Abigail surviving.

I also have noticed my battle with anxiety is at its worst right now.  I can handle being around others in a one on one ratio, any more than that I start to panic on the inside. My counselor compares the anxiety that comes with grief to a sense of everything being out of control. When you have such a sudden loss, your whole world feels out of control and there is nothing you can do about it. So, in order to battle this anxiety, it's important for me to try to regain control of things. Not in a control freak sort of way, more in a "you have to have control of your car if you want it to work properly." So, when there tends to be more than one or two people with me, I get anxious. The conversation could go somewhere I cannot, they could decide against my will to change plans. Grieving people are not flexible. I need plans that are solid and do not fluctuate. This is a far cry from where I was a few months ago when I was finally able to start being a little social again.

Another example of the weirdness of anxiety happened last weekend when Nate and I went to see a movie. As the show began I started to get nervous. I felt "trapped." because I had made a commitment for two hours that required me to be in the same seat. The thoughts started coming "what if Abigial stops moving during this show? How will I tell my husband, I don't want to ruin it for him, but we might need to go to the hospital and wouldn't that ruin everything?" None of these are rational  because you can leave the movie at your own free will. Nonetheless, I had to really concentrate on breathing and not having a panic attack just because I had this unsafe, trapped feeling. Weird, I know but it happens when things feel out of my control and the movie felt "out of control," not on my timeline.

One reason I think the grief is so heavy now, is the fact that everything seems to be Deja vu. The times I remember most vividly with Caleb are from weeks 30-38. That is when I had 5 baby showers given for him, had the most appointments, got the nursery ready, washed his clothes, bottles, blankets. Right now it feels like everything is a flashback. I took out a shirt to wear the other day and its one of those"really big only third trimester shirts." I lost my breathe as I remembered the exact last time I had worn it-the day before he died. It's all these little things that makes grief hard right now. In a sense I feel like I am on the set of a horror movie and I know the ending (stillborn baby) but I cannot get out. I feel like I am headed down the train tracks towards emminit doom again. Like I am the lead in a role I never wanted to play and we are doing round two.

I have learned that grief is closely related to your senses. So it makes sense why the seasons being the same as they were with Caleb are hard. It's basically the same timeline as my pregnancy with him and it threatens to mess with my head so much. Everything seems so much the same. When I tell people when we are due they say things like "oh spring is a great time to have a baby, with the weather getting nicer and they days lighter." And all I can think is "you said the exact same thing when I was pregnant with Caleb." Right now to me, anytime you can have a live baby is a good time. Also, everything is going great with Abigail is terms of the pregnancy, which isn't really reassuring at all. I see random aquantinces out and about and they ask "So, things going well?" And I say yes, but really all I can think is "they went well the last time too until the last 9 hours. Abigail has all the "symptoms," that Caleb had- passes every test and sonogram with flying colors, moves enough for perfect kick counts, measuring right on target for growth. So, yes, things are going well, but that is of no consolation for me. Somehow in our world "well" led to us up planning a funeral instead of bringing our baby boy home. "Well" and "perfectly healthy" left us with no answers as to why our first child died, so who's to say that this time it will be different?

Another thing that has been happening lately is my refusal to do or go certain places. I remember exactly all the events leading up to Caleb's death. I remember what we had for dinner that night, the way I did my hair that morning, what I wore, etc. And all of those things are ruined for me now. So, in my mind as a defense mechanism I don't want to do anything for fear tragedy might strike again and ruin things. For example, I am hesitant to go to my favorite restaurants right now because I really like them and if Abigail should die unexpectantly after going there then that restaurant will be ruined forever. Same with seeing movies, going to social events. I just want to stay inside my home where it is safe. We need a coat hanger for our living room and I don't want to buy one right now because if we do and she dies, then I will forever see that coat hanger and think "we bought that just before she died." So many memories are attached to Caleb's death and they have become land minds for us to navigate through once he was gone. I guess in a way I am trying to avoid having so many should the unthinkable happen again.

The point of this post I suppose is really to let others know that people in a  subsequent pregnancy need lots of extra care. Especially during the part of their pregnancy when their loss occurred. Ask your friend "how are you doing?" and really listen to the answer. It will probably not be a happy one like normal pregnant women, but try to endure that for her sake. Bring the couple a meal, offer to watch their other children (if they have any), send a card to let them know you are praying for them. Do not assume that they are "doing better" just because they are nearing the end of their pregnancy. Like I said, it has been my experience that during this time, the grief is the heaviest. I don't have the luxury of the numbing power I had after he died to keep me from feeling everything. The anxiety of it all is enough to swallow me whole.

Be gentle with your friends during this period, don't push them to do anything outside of their comfort zone. Invite them to things but realize they probably won't come. Nathan and I are so focused on trying to survive one day at a time right now that things like social obligations or get togethers seems unimportant and trivial. Nothing is carefree right now, and every day it seems like a battle for life and death. Sounds dramatic but the reality is I feel like we are waiting to see if Abigail lives or dies. We will know in 5 weeks and 4 days (who's counting right?) what the outcome will be, but for now we have to sit tight. Similar to those parents who are waiting with their sick children in the NICU wondering if they will live or die. Except, ours looks perfectly normal on the outside, like we are just one happy couple awaiting the biggest blessings of our lives.

Please keep praying for us and any others who are in this situation. Also, pray for those who are not pregnant right now but who would give their right arm to have the kind of anxiety and problems we have. I know many women who have had terrible losses of multiple children who are currently waiting to conceive again or adopt. I am so thankful for Abigail and never want to appear like I am not, just wanting people to know how hard this is.

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