18 December 2016

In which I discuss the hard things...

It's been 6 weeks since we buried our Israel Blaine.  Millions of thoughts and emotions have gone through my mind over the past 6 weeks.  I have been overcome with grief, buoyed up by so many, and moved on to living what seems to be a perfectly normal life.  I spent 2-3 weeks at home, eating chocolate, and facing the new reality.  But, I've got 5 children, and they have lessons to learn, classes to be at, and lives to live. And so I've picked myself up, and carried on. And, I'm doing just fine.  I really am.  I can carry on normal conversations. I can laugh at jokes. I can host dinner guests. I can even talk about the baby without crying.  But every once in a while something hits me and I realize that I am still sad.

The thing about having delivering a baby at 20 weeks is that the baby is just on that cusp "real".  If delivered before 20 weeks, a mother would have to go to the ER, not Labour and Delivery.  The baby would be considered a "product of conception," not a baby, at all.  There would be no blanket to wrap him in, there would be no need to arrange for his body.  The loss would be considered a miscarriage rather than a stillbirth.

But, once you hit that magical 20 week mark, you enter a new realm.  The hospital staff handled us so delicately.  They wrapped his body up in knits lovingly created by a wonderful knitter. The nurse by my side kept saying, "Oh, I'm so sorry.  Sweet baby, poor sweet baby."  They took pictures of Israel for us to take home to remember him.  They filled a little bag with tiny mementos.  They brought in a social worker, and the funeral home offered their services for free.

In the real world, the line isn't drawn so clearly.  Most people have been totally wonderful, and I'm surprised by how many people have either experienced a similar loss, or someone close to them has.  There are also those who don't understand the loss.  But, what is clear, is that no matter what gestational age my baby was, I did, with complete certainty, have a baby, and lose a son.  My body doesn't know that he was only 20 weeks along.  My breasts still filled with milk, ready to nourish him.  My hair still began to fall out in fistfuls.  I still bled for weeks, a constant reminder of what I lost. But, in one terrible morning I went from a glowing pregnant woman, to not.  And, despite what I was feeling within my body, it only took a few days for me to look completely normal, too.  For this, my fifth pregnancy, I had finally bought new maternity clothes.  Just two weeks before the baby died I bought a whole new wardrobe.  And, just two days after he died, I packed it all away and brought out my "pre-pregnancy" clothes.

And so I carry on, driving to the back of the parking lot, past the "Parking for Parent With Child" spots, because I am definitely not with child, turning off the radio whenever there is a song that makes my heart weep, clinging to any opportunity I get to hold another newborn, which breaks my heart a little, but also ads just a portion of healing balm to it at the same time.

And, I'm trying to make something good of it, as well. I've started a knitting project: #20setsin20weeks.  Having had a hand knit blanket and hat for our sweet Israel meant so very much to me. Never in a million years could I have imagined that I would need such tiny knits, but because of the sweet generosity of an anonymous knitter, I was able to bury Israel in those.  It was such a tender mercy to me.  I have started knitting blankets and hats to donate back to the hospital for other families going through the same thing, with the hope that they will provide the same comfort that the knits Israel was given brought to me.  Today I finished my sixth set, and intend on knitting 14 more - 20 in total: one for each week he grew inside me. The days are definitely getting easier, and with each blanket that I knit, I feel just a little more put together, as though the stitches in the blanket are somehow mending my broken heart.

18 November 2016

Stillness - Israel Blaine's Stillbirth Story

There are very few moments of stillness in my life. With 5 kids, a certain level of constant commotion is inevitable.  This past week, however, the idea of stillness has broken my heart, questioned my faith, and reminded me of the power of motherhood.

This forgotten little corner of the internet has been only my means of documenting the very most important moments in our family's life over the past few years: the births of babies and the adoption of our daughter.  We have been hit with a sorrow that I have found difficult to process, and in order to process, I need to write things out.  So here I am, writing a story I never imagined I would ever have to write, months earlier than the very opposite tale I had planned on telling will now never be told. This story won't be eloquent or beautiful, but it is real, and it needs to be told.

This summer we got pregnant with our 6th baby.  We were ecstatic.  However, with a history of early miscarriage, we were also cautious.  I've birthed 4 babies, and I've had a miscarriage before each successful pregnancy.  All 4 of those miscarriages happened before I reached 8 weeks pregnant though. So, when I hit 8 weeks, and I was still dry heaving into the toilet, I allowed myself to start planning for our March baby.  When we went in to see our midwife at 13 weeks, and heard our little one's heartbeat, I was certain we were in the clear. We had, for once, avoided a miscarriage, and we were going to have a baby without going through that heartbreak.

So we announced.  Facebook. Instagram. Even my professional pages got the message.

Yay! I continued to be sick until 16 weeks.  I got big, fast. I bought new maternity clothes. I bought new baby carriers.  I wondered where in the world was I going to fit another dresser in our tiny house for this new member of the family.  I took exactly 3 pictures of me pregnant.

Then the unthinkable happened.  Most miscarriages happen early on.  They usually happen behind the closed door of a private bathroom. My 5th miscarriage started out that way.  It ended with me in the hospital, having gone through labour, delivering my fifth baby boy, stillborn.

I didn't realize how important it was for me to tell this story until I got a text from a dear friend who has also had a stillborn baby. In her text she said, "Tell me about your sweet little boy."  I've been surrounded by love, lifted up in ways I have so desperately needed, but nobody else has asked me about my baby boy and I didn't realize how desperately I needed that question to be asked. If he had lived everyone would want to know about his birth, his weight, who he looked like, how we named him, and so on.  His death does not negate his existence, and neither does the fact that he was only 20 weeks gestation, because he did live, if only inside of me, and he was loved, and he was wanted, and he will always be missed.  His birth story is the only story I will ever have of his to share.

I woke up, 20 weeks pregnant, with severe cramps.  I'd been having surprisingly strong Braxton Hicks for the day before: strong enough that I had mentioned to my sister that they felt like period cramps, not Braxton Hicks, and complained to Jared that if I had to go through 5 months of them, I would not be a happy momma.  In the middle of the night I found myself lying in bed in such pain that I couldn't lay there any more.  If I had any inclination of what was to come, I would have recognized the signs of early labour. But, in ignorance, I figured a trip to the bathroom would solve it. And so I sat, and one cramp later, the unmistakable feeling of my water breaking, and the toilet filled with blood and mucus.

I walked out of the bathroom, and like I had 4 times before, informed Jared that I was miscarrying, again. The difference was, this time, that I was in labour, and I was 20 weeks along, and my baby was the size of a banana, and I knew I needed to go to the hospital.  We called my parents to come be with the kids while they slept, and drove to the hospital.

At about 3:15 am our midwife met us in triage, and tried to find the heartbeat. There was none.  A doctor came with an ancient ultrasound machine and tried to get a heartbeat. There was none.  I already knew that though. I had felt my water break.  I had seen the blood.  I knew that our baby was gone. All that was left for me to do was let my body do what it had already started doing, and wait until our baby came.  And so we waited.

My contractions got stronger, but not terrible. I asked if I could get an epidural, because, to be honest, I didn't want to feel.  I wanted it all to be over.  I didn't know how intense it would get, and I didn't want to find out.

The doctor checked me along the way, and when I was only 2 cm dilated she said that she could feel my baby's feet coming out.  It wouldn't be long.  I wasn't surprised, because the familiar "pushy" contractions were happening.  They said they would take me to a private room and I could get an epidural if I liked, but just moments later that was no longer necessary.  

At 7:52 am he came.  A sweet, perfect, tiny little boy.  And until that very moment I had no idea the pain I would feel, the sorrow that would rush through me, the heartache that would totally consume me.  I wailed.  I knew there were other moms in triage, preparing to give birth to healthy, beautiful babies, and I felt bad for them having to listen to me, but I couldn't stop myself.  As his lifeless body slid out of me, and the nurses placed him on my stomach, I realized exactly how much I loved him, and wanted him, and needed him.  But he was gone.

They proceeded as if everything were normal.  They clamped his cord. I got to cut it.  They shot me up with oxytocin so I would deliver the placenta (which apparently is often stubborn at such an early stage.)  They wheeled me off to another room where they would clean and weigh him, take his hand and foot prints, and wrap him up in a hand knit blanket and hat.  He was 3.6 oz.  Tiny.  So tiny that even if he had been born alive, he could not have survived.  So tiny that I couldn't tell you who he looked like.  He did have long feet though - just like Eli.

Jared and I spent a few hours with him.  The only few hours we will ever get to spend with him.  We named him quicker than any of our other children: Israel Blaine, and cried over the life he would not live.  We kissed him, and told him how much he was loved.

And then we left.  We gathered our things, and we left the hospital.  We left our baby there, and went home to continue on with our life without him.  We left, with empty arms, and the task of planning his burial on our minds.

Three days later we buried him. We had to pick out a casket, a burial plot, a grave marker.  We had to decide what he would be buried in, and if he should be embalmed.  These are things that I know many parents have had to do, but I never thought I would be one of them. We buried him right across from his cousin, Amelia, who died in 2010. Atticus insisted on helping us carry him from the hearse to the grave.  We let him.

I had no idea. I had no idea what it would feel like.  What it would feel like to go through labour and hold the body of a baby I would not know. I think that many believe that 20 weeks must hardly feel like a baby, no different than losing a pregnancy at 6 or 8 or 12 weeks, which for me were relatively easy. And for some, perhaps that would be true.  I think that many believe that because he never really lived, then he didn't really die, that he was "just" 20 weeks or "just" stillborn.  But the fact is, as I've learned, without experiencing it, without holding that little body, without grieving over the life that would not be lived, without carrying the casket with the baby that you delivered inside it, there is no way to know what that grief feels like.  Israel Blaine was as real to me as any of my other babies.  And he will be loved as long as I live.  And in some ways, I'm afraid to do that. To live. I am afraid to move on.  To not feel the pain that he left behind any more. To forget what his tiny body felt like in my hands.  To forget how much I loved him. I'm afraid that he will be forgotten.  I cry, wondering if his little life matters to anyone else. I wonder if God can love him as much as I would have. I wonder if my body can ever be trusted again. I'm left trying to figure out how to go on with the living without losing the part of me that was him. 
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