Monthly Archives: October 2013

Please Hold the Cole Slaw

October 7, 2013

Back when wet nurses were still a thing, those who hired wet nurses looked for women who had recently lost a baby or whose infant had died in childbirth. While their hearts felt the loss, their breasts did not. And for me, Madge and Dorcas had been ready to go for months.

And now for a biology lesson for those of you who may need it. It takes a few days before your milk comes in. So even if there’s no baby, there’s still milk. And breastfeeding works on a positive feedback loop. The more you nurse, the more milk you create. That’s why a woman whose child was stillborn was the ideal wet nurse candidate; she was producing milk but had no infant to feed.

But if you’re trying to stop this process… Well, there are a couple of things you can do. You can take Sudafed. But since my blood pressure was still elevated, we wanted to avoid that. (Plus Sudafed will dry up everything in your head at the same time. And since I wasn’t in need of an antihistamine, that sounded rather unpleasant.) Or there’s always good, old-fashioned green cabbage leaves.

That’s right. Green cabbage leaves. Fresh from the fridge. Applied externally. Green cabbage leaves are actually recommended to soothe discomfort for nursing mothers, too. Just don’t leave them on for too long because then your milk will start to dry up. But since that was the goal in my case, my mom and I just kept putting fresh leaves on when the old ones had wilted.

Yes, I said wilted. Over the course of four days, I wilted four heads of cabbage. With my boobs. Some girls stuff their bras with tissues; I stuffed mine with cabbage.

And trying to get the cabbage leaves tucked into my bra was particularly awkward. At first. And then I remembered I was wearing a nursing bra… But it was still a two-person job. My mom would hold the leaves in place while I rehooked the cup.

And, yes, the leaves were cold and stiff, but they felt so good. And they worked. Within three weeks, I was back into my pre-pregnancy bras.

There is one drawback, though. I used to like cabbage. It’s particularly lovely to wrap a wedge of cabbage in foil and put it on the grill. Or at least it used to be. And I never minded the smell of cabbage. Sure, it has a distinct aroma, but it wasn’t so bad. Well, it wasn’t until I started to smell that way. And then there was the thought that I might leak… Breast milk and green cabbage. It will be a good long while before I want cole slaw again. My mom concurs.


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It’s Not Like I Survived the Fire Swamp

October 6, 2013

There’s one comment I keep hearing from people that’s starting to annoy me. And part of the reason it’s annoying is that I know it is well-intentioned. I understand where people are coming from when they say it. But it’s simply not true.

I am not brave.

There. I said it. I’m not. I have done nothing that is brave. There is nothing brave about getting out of bed every morning. It may take strength. And some days it takes a lot more strength than other days. But it is not a brave action.

Now, yes, I do understand where my friends are coming from when they tell me how brave I am. They think I’m incredibly brave to write about what’s happened to me. I’m so brave to share what I’ve written with the world.

But to me, there is nothing brave about this. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done for as long as I’ve known how to write. And I’m speaking literally here. I’ve been a writer since I learned how to put pen to paper… or rather pencil to paper. I’ll put it in A Chorus Line terms: God, I’m a writer; a writer writes. (For those of you who don’t know the quote I’m paraphrasing: “God, I’m a dancer; a dancer dances”, which is also true of my life.)

If anything, sharing a blog post is the opposite of bravery. It means I don’t have to talk to people individually. I don’t have to keep repeating the story of what happened. If I wanted to, I could hide away in a hole and Not See Anyone.

Please don’t tell me I’m brave for sharing my grief with the world. Writing is how I process things. My blog is how I’ve chosen to share this entire journey with you. The story may be special, but the act is not.

I may be strong, but I am not brave.


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To B or Not to B

October 5, 2013

As you know, my relationship with the Church is complicated. I was quite content to be a lapsed Catholic, and then the College of Cardinals had to go and elect a Jesuit to be Pope. A Jesuit! I mean, really! And then Francis goes about his papacy like he’s some kind of, well, Jesuit! He makes it hard to be a lapsed Catholic. (Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like he’s gotten me to start going to church again. But he’s really complicated things for me.)

So here I am, happy lapsed Catholic, driving around with a bumper sticker that proclaims “Ordain Catholic Women or Stop Baptizing Them”, and this pope comes along who starts acting like he actually cares about those groups the Church has traditionally not treated all that well, and I have to ask myself how I feel about inaugurating my child into the Church. Before I got pregnant, it was quite simple. I’d have some sort of non-traditional, non-religious naming ceremony. (I’m still Catholic; I love ritual.) But then my parents were talking about giving me Saturday evenings off. They’d take the baby to church with them, and I’d be able to do wild and crazy things like read a book in the bath. And I could see where that would lead: my child would be asking why he or she couldn’t receive communion. And to me, Catholicism is as much a culture as it is a religion. But having a baptism when I don’t go to church and don’t plan to start anytime soon seems disingenuous.

I went back and forth on the question of baptizing my child for a long time before my mom finally proposed a solution. Anyone can perform a baptism. Why not just do something small at home? And that was exactly right. We planned to visit my brother and his family when the baby was about a month old. We’d pack my christening gown and have a small home ceremony with just the family.

Obviously, the plan turned out not to be an option.

That Friday, Heather and my mom dressed Sofia in our christening gown. With Heather and Nicki as witnesses, I held Sofia as my dad baptized her and my mom blessed her. She was baptized as Sofia Bernice (because my grandmother, my dad’s mother, pronounced it with the accent on the first syllable) and blessed as Sofia Bernice (because my great-aunt Berny, my mom’s aunt, pronounced it with the accent on the second syllable). And we all cried.

And while it wasn’t the baptism that I had planned for her, it was still right. It was about family and love. And wisdom.

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October 4, 2013

We’ve been slowly working our way through the sympathy cards. And, yes, we’ve been picking through them. There are some people whose cards we know will be more difficult to read than others. But then there are the cards that have no return address or were delivered via Courtney or brought to the memorial service. These latter cards have my name on them, and unless I can recognize the handwriting, no other distinguishing characteristics. And even though we’ve tried to limit the number of cards we know will be difficult to read each time we sit down to open a few more… Well… Let’s just say, we’ve been wrong… On multiple occasions.

In addition to emails from friends (and friends of friends) to let me know that they, too, have suffered the heartbreak of stillbirth and are available to talk when I’m ready, we’ve opened cards we expected to be innocuous only to discover that this friend, too, once lost a baby. Or we’ve opened a card only to find a two-page letter inside. (And I confess that we’ve replaced both card and letter in the envelope and returned it to the pile to be read later.)

But it was the mail from Blue Cross that got me yesterday. There were two envelopes. The first was the EOB for my hospital stay. The second was clearly not an EOB, but I had no idea what the enclosed paperwork would entail. It was the document showing that Sofia’s insurance benefits began on September 13, 2013, and were terminated on September 14, 2013. Cheryl, our benefits specialist, had taken care of this for me. I knew that there was something insurance related for which she needed a copy of the certificate of stillbirth, but I didn’t really know why. I knew she’d said she’d take care of it, but I didn’t know what “it” was. Not until I opened that envelope. And I couldn’t be more grateful to Cheryl for doing this so that I didn’t even have to think about it.

I haven’t opened this card yet, but there was another completely unexpected piece of mail when my mom checked my box this morning. It was from the YWCA. A card. I’d been hoping to secure a daycare slot there. My mom left the director a voicemail explaining what had happened and that I therefore no longer needed to set up a site tour. Pretty sure that’s who the card is from based on the handwritten name above the return address.

I am, to say the least, overwhelmed. If I ever forget how much people care, how great the capacity is for people to love, I just need to go back and look at all of the cards, emails, Facebook posts. While in the hospital, I talked about whether or not I’d need to find a support group. I don’t need to. My support group is finding me.

P.S. As I was writing this, my mom got a call from Morrison’s to let us know that my pendant should be in this afternoon. I’ve been carrying Sofia’s ashes back and forth between my place and my parents’ each day. Until today. Today I gave her a kiss and left her sitting on my dresser. Whether this was prescience or coincidence I leave to the universe to decide. I’m just glad that I’ll have a small physical reminder of her to carry with me always.

P.P.S. Yes, I am still carrying her receiving blanket back and forth. Don’t plan on stopping that anytime soon!

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To Top It Off

October 3, 2013

Yesterday was the Topping Off Ceremony for the new med school building. I hadn’t originally planned to go. Because most employees would have to be at work yesterday (crazy, I know), there was a party at our current location (and where our clinics will continue to be) back on 9/18. Originally, I was going to go to that. You know, show off the baby, eat some amazing barbecue, sign the beam, and call it a day. But there was no way I was ready to make an appearance at work on 9/18.

I should probably explain about the beam signing. Before laying the last beam (aka topping off the building), they made it available for everyone to sign. Sure, it will be in the building someplace where it won’t be seen, but it’s still kind of cool to have the signatures of all these employees who were part of the med school when it was new. And since I was not going to visit work less than a week after the loss of my daughter, that left the Topping Off Ceremony on 10/2 as my option to sign the beam.

Here was the plan. My parents and I go downtown. We sign the beam. We leave.

The weather was glorious. It was sunny and warm. I keep forgetting to put on sunblock, so I had on sunglasses and my baseball cap. And you know what I learned? Hollywood has been telling the truth all these years. Apparently you can go incognito simply by putting on sunglasses and a baseball cap. My boss noticed my parents before he noticed me. My boss! And I really got the sense that no one else saw or recognized me. And, other than the baseball cap and sunglasses, I was wearing clothes that I regularly wear to work. I wasn’t dressed in some grungy-Saturday-laundry-day outfit.

So my parents and I went downtown. We signed the beam. We chatted with my boss for a few minutes. We left.

I may or may not have been seen by some of my colleagues. If they did see me, they did not acknowledge me. And that’s okay. It took a lot of deep breaths to walk into the group of people milling around waiting for the ceremony proper to start. It was a first step.

Oh, and my dad knew one of the construction workers, so we chatted with him briefly, too, on our way back to the car. I asked if he could tell me which office was mine. (We still don’t know who all is going to have offices in the new building and who will be staying at our old site.) He told me to go and sign my name to the one I want; they’d take care of the rest. So Dr Z, if you’re reading this, we have our pick of offices if we just take a sharpie down to the new building.

P.S. I’ve decided that sunglasses and a baseball cap are my new favorite things. I wonder if people will notice me if I wear them to work the first day I go back…

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26 Hours

October 2, 2013

I had her for 26 hours. I was going to say I held her for that long, but I shared. Tonya talked me into taking a bath while she weighed and measured Sofia and took her footprints.

There were some drops of blood on my belly. They had come from Sofia’s umbilical cord. I hesitated before washing them off. I didn’t want to because they were hers.

My dad went to my place and brought back her baby quilt, a receiving blanket, and my… her… our christening gown. (Yes, it’s the gown my mom made for my christening back when I was three weeks old.) We wrapped her in the receiving blanket and snuggled under the quilt to keep warm.

I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to lose any of those moments with her. She smelled like a baby is supposed to smell, sweet and fresh and new. And her skin was so soft…

I finally said that if I could lie down on my side and snuggle her that way, with my chin gently touching the top of her head, that maybe I would be able to sleep. My dad went home, but my mom stayed with me. She held Sofia when I needed to roll over. She placed Sofia someplace safe when I needed to get up to go to the bathroom. (I wasn’t quite steady enough to walk that far unassisted.) In the middle of the night when I was crying, she snuggled behind me. A mother holding her daughter holding her daughter. But I did sleep. I’m sure I wouldn’t have if I’d given Sofia up that Friday.

Instead I held her. I held her until I knew it was time. 26 hours.


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October 1, 2013

I got to bring Sofia home yesterday. My mom and I had a few items to return to the funeral home. While there, we picked up the thank you cards and guest book. And the small box holding Sofia’s cremains. I held her on my lap as we drove home.

I’m not in denial. Not really. I’m well aware of what happened. How can I forget it when I keep reliving that moment over and over again? But that moment was… is surreal. But then there are things like this, the memorial service, seeing the box containing all that is left of my daughter’s physical presence, which make what happened all too real. And those are the moments that are hard. I would say they were too much to bear, but I keep surviving them.

But most of the truly difficult things are behind me. I’ve only stepped into the nursery once, briefly, to move some knitting out of the living room. And I know that packing up everything there will be hard. But I don’t have to do that until I’m ready.

Small steps. Tomorrow, I start packing up some of my maternity clothes. My underwear is too big. Yes, that includes the bras that I bought from Mastec. Madge and Dorcas are back down to the comparatively small 32G they were before I got pregnant. (It’s frightening how small they look now!) My pants aren’t going to stay up for much longer.

But none of these, my things or Sofia’s, are going away. Not yet. I haven’t decided if I want to try again. I mean, I want to, but do I really want to? It’s far too soon to even consider making that decision, and that’s assuming it’s a decision that biology hasn’t already made for me. For now, we’ll set things aside, create a new normal, breathe, laugh, cry, and just be. I’ll worry about a decision that shouldn’t be made until February once February arrives.

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