Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Survival in my new reality

I had a really interesting conversation today.  It stemmed from a discussion about how the guy who bullied me mercilessly in elementary and middle school is a contestant on a reality show.  It's not a show I've ever watched, or even care about.  It's just really strange to see our entire freakin' town cheering this guy on when he made my life a living hell for years because I had a funny accent and didn't really know how to make friends.  I'm still not all that great at making friends, but that's really neither here nor there.

Anyway, the point of the conversation was that we have all probably forgotten about millions of good and wonderful little moments from years past, but we always manage to hang on to the rotten ones.  I can remember exactly how humiliated I felt the day that Mr. Reality Show kicked me in the face during music class, bloodying my nose and breaking my glasses.  I remember sitting on the playground trying with every molecule in my body not to cry because he told all the kids in our class not to play with me because I wasn't cool, which was the kiss of death in the 5th grade.  I remember how devastated I was when he grabbed onto my waist-length hair with a handful of chewed gum, partially because I was embarrassed about looking stupid in front of the other kids, and partially because the nurse had to cut off eight inches of my hair to get rid of it.  How many happy memories have I forgotten, only to hang on to my worst ones?

My theory is that the horrible memories stick out so prominently because, for the most part, I haven't had all that many.  I had the one bully.  I got turned down by two guys for dates in my life (and you can bet I remember every second of those events, as well).  Overall, I've had a pretty blessed life, really.

Which is why I kinda hate myself right now.  I've always been more of an optimist, looked more for the joy in life than the sorrow.  Probably because like so many other people, I suffer from depression.  I spend so much time on the down swing that I try like hell to always find the good in things when I can.  But that's just not where I am right now.

I'll be honest - for years, I could barely look at pregnant women.  I wanted that so badly, and for whatever reason, it just wasn't happening for me.  I couldn't believe that so many people who weren't as ready as I thought I was - as educated, as well-off financially, as desperate for a child, as (in my mind) fit to be a mother - were having babies left and right, and I had nothing.

And then I was pregnant.  And I could feel something other than horrible, horrible jealousy when I saw someone with their kids, or someone who was pregnant.  Because I was finally getting what I so desperately wanted.  And then Matthew died.

Now, when I hear someone talking about their impending new arrival, it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to say "Don't count on it."  Because it's horrible and bitter and that's just not who I want to be.  But right now, that's the first thing I think.  Don't count on it.  Don't talk about stockpiling diapers and having a nursery set up and ready because it is a pain that I can't even begin to describe when you have to pack it all away.  Don't bother trying to plan your life with your baby, because it makes it that much harder to pick up the pieces after your life is shattered.

The reality is that most of those women will not go through what I went through.  They will get to leave the hospital with their babies in carseats, not in urns.  They will spend their nights sleepless from hungry infants, not from soul-crushing grief.  They will dry their children's tears, not their own.  And I will never know why Matthew died or why I don't get to be a mommy right now.  That's the reality.  But it doesn't have to define me.  I survived being bullied in my childhood.  I will survive this, too.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Changes and reality

One month tomorrow.

I can't even process how much my life has changed in that time.  I was prepared for changes, but not for anything like what's happened.  Going to the store is an ordeal for me.  Spending time with people outside of my family is so emotionally and mentally exhausting to me that I'd honestly rather just not leave the house.

I found a charity online that does free photo retouching for stillborn babies, so I brought the one professional picture we have of Matthew to the place here in town that is affiliated with them.  I really wanted the hospital to call Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep to do Matthew's pictures - and I didn't realize until the picture arrived that it was a different service.  NILMDTS specializes in bereavement pictures, and the service that did ours takes pictures of all the babies that are born at that particular hospital.  The picture I got was beautiful, but I would have liked different shots.  Specifically one of me and the Other Half and our son.  It would have been nice to have a family picture when we had the chance.

Anyway, the picture came back yesterday.  I don't know how I feel about it.  It is amazing.  Beautiful.  Perfect.  He looks like an angel.  But in a way, seeing it makes it harder.  Seeing him in that picture was like looking into an alternate reality.  One where my precious boy lived.

I hope that anyone reading this who has children knows how incredibly, amazingly lucky they are.  I hope you appreciate every single tantrum, every messy diaper blow-out, every sleepless night.  Because there are those of us who would take it all in a heartbeat if we could.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Moving forward

   I had a baby 15 days ago.  I can say that, I know it's true.  But sometimes, it really feels like a dream.  Probably because I spent most of my pregnancy waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak.  After eight years and two miscarriages, I really thought it would never happen for me.  So pretty much every time I went to the doctor, I honestly expected the doctor wouldn't be able to find a heartbeat.  It surprised me every time I heard it.  Even once my baby got so big that I could watch him moving through my clothes, I still didn't really believe that I was going to get to have a baby.

   But about two weeks before Matthew was born, it started to feel real.  The house was full of baby stuff.  We put together a crib and a stroller and a car seat.  I washed load after load of baby sheets and towels and clothes.  We bought diapers and wipes and a fancy bag to carry them in.  We had a bag packed with one outfit for me, and five outfit options for our little man.  I saw my doctor and had ultrasounds and everything was proceeding on schedule.  I really started to believe that I was finally going to be a mom.

   So when that shoe finally dropped, I was so unprepared.  When the Doppler on my belly didn't find the heartbeat, I couldn't breathe.  When the ultrasound confirmed that my baby was no longer alive, I wanted to die, too.  I felt like a part of my soul had been ripped away.  I was already in labor, so I was allowed to progress toward my eventual delivery.  I labored for about nine hours, pushed for 20 minutes.  I felt the same elation and euphoria that every woman feels once their baby is delivered for about a second, and then the soul-crushing reality sank in.  Some part of me still hoped that there had been a mistake, that I would get to hear that beautiful first cry, but it never came.  My son was dead.

   I brought my infant son home in a four inch square box.  How is that fair?  My son is dead, and Kim Kardashian gets to perpetuate the next generation of exploited Hollywood children.  How is that fair?  Drug addicts and child abusers get to have healthy children, and I don't.  How is that fair?

   The answer is that it isn't fair.  Because life isn't fair.  We are told that all the time, but we always forget.  Life isn't fair.  Bad things happen to good people.  Babies die.  And we have no control over that.  The only thing we can control is how we let these things affect us moving forward.

   My son never took a breath on this earth, but every single pew in the church was occupied at his memorial.  He was loved by so many, even though only a handful of people ever got to see him.  And that love, along with the prayers and well-wishes that accompanied it, is what I can carry forward.  Being angry or bitter won't bring my precious Matthew back.  Nothing will.  And holding on to anger or bitterness will only make me feel worse in the long run.  So I will honor the memory of my son by waking up every morning.  I will allow joy into my heart.  I will laugh when I feel like it, and cry when I feel like it, and I won't feel guilty about either one.  I will miss my son with every fiber of my being, but I will keep moving.  And one sweet day, I will see my beautiful boy again.  And he will be proud of the life I've lived.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Primitive forces

I think anyone that's ever been through childbirth can tell you that it has a very distinct smell.  It's a primal smell.  Of blood and earth and things that are older than recorded memory.  And so it's fitting, somehow, that it is the only smell I will ever associate with my son, Matthew.

Matthew was stillborn on March 26, 2013.  We knew for about nine hours before his actual birth that he was never going to take a breath.  I will never know his favorite color.  I will never know if he prefers bacon and eggs or pancakes for breakfast.  I will never change his diapers or hold his chubby baby fingers when he takes his first steps.  I will not choke back tears while I walk him in to his first day of kindergarten.  I won't see his face flush with embarrassment when I insist on taking a million pictures of him with his date to prom, or excitement and pride when he walks across the stage to accept his diploma. I won't wear beige and cry through his wedding, or hold his first child in my arms.

So I can't feel sad about losing these things, because I never had them to begin with.  What I feel is so much more primal.  It is a grief that has no words.  An all-encompassing, raw wound that stretches across every inch of my body.

Matthew never smelled like a baby - like powder or shampoo or lotion.  He smelled primitive, like blood and earth, like the sweat and tears that poured from my body when I brought him into the world.  His perfect cheeks were cool under my lips when I kissed him, and his long, nimble fingers - so much like his father's - curled so neatly around mine, even if there was no grip behind the motion.  The nurses cleaned him up as much as possible, but his skin and hair were still stained and bore that primal scent.

I held my son for several hours before surrendering him to the hospital to prepare him for a post-mortem examination.  He will be released tomorrow for cremation, and then we will bring him home to Arkansas to lay him to rest.  I will never hold my precious Matthew in my arms again.  I will only hold him in my memory.  And in my mind, in my heart - these primitive forces of undying love and unyielding grief will stay with me forever.