This blog is small glimpses into my heart and soul - attempts to be transparent with friends, and sometimes, to myself. This is my safe place, where I can come and be purely Ness.

Family: If you found your way here, please do me a favor and don't poke through my closets, ok?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Miscarried? (Crap, What Do I Say?) - Consolation in the Face of Uncommon Grief

Nobody is an expert at grief. We always feel bad when we don't know what to say or do in the face of someone else's loss, but it's normal to feel awkward and hesitant. Nothing can fix the situation, and some things can make it worse. We don't want to hurt the already hurting person. This all becomes compounded when dealing with a miscarriage. There is an extra level of mystery and confusion surrounding miscarriages, and for many, it's just more foreign. Almost everyone has experienced the death of someone they know and love, but fewer have personal experience with the death of someone who wasn't even born yet. People often feel even more clueless as to how to support and comfort in the face of this unfamiliar tragedy.
Having recently been through this for the fourth time (awesome), I'm beginning to get a better and better idea of what I want and don't want from other people, of what is helpful and what is not. I know that this list wouldn't be the same for everyone, but hopefully it will give some guidance to someone who is stumbling through this unknown. So, a few of my do's and don't's for dealing with someone who has had a miscarriage:

  1. Do send a card, flowers, or food as you feel led. This shows that you acknowledge it as a real loss, not just an unfortunate incident.
  2. Do say, "I'm sorry you lost your baby. Is there anything I can do?" There generally isn't, but is shows you care and want to be supportive.
  3. Don't say it if you don't mean it. Can I really call you to help clean my house because I don't have the energy?
  4. Do feel free to show interest, but don't pry. If I want to share details with you, I will.
  5. Do remember that the pain doesn't stop after the first day. Grief is a long process. I'm not going to be over this tomorrow, or a week from now. One of the most helpful things for me has been my sister who, for the first little while, calls me everyday just to say, "How are you?" It shows me that she cares, she's thinking of me, and she wants to help. It gives me an opportunity to talk if I want to, but the freedom to move on to other subjects if I want that.
  6. Unless you are close to me, please don't ask me how I'm feeling. First of all, I don't know if you are asking about me physically or emotionally. Don't make me guess. Secondly - if it's how I'm feeling physically, your question makes it seem like I was simply ill or have a physical problem, not that I'm grieving my baby's death. If there are physical symptoms I'm going through, I'm not likely to share that intimate information with you if we are not close. If your question is how I'm feeling emotionally, would you actually ask that of anyone else going through grief? They are likely to shoot you an, "Are you stupid?" look.  Pick a grief emotion and I've felt it - sad, angry, bitter, numb, betrayed, overwhelmed, guilty, alone, etc. Again, unless we are "share all our secrets" kind of close, I'm not likely going to want to share the intimate details of these emotions with you either.
  7. Don't tell me about Susie, or Jane, or your three cousins, or whoever it is that you know that also had a miscarriage, or six, or trouble getting pregnant, or whatever their story is. It's so not helpful on so many levels. 
  8. Do tell me your story, if you've been there. It is helpful to simply hear, "I had a miscarriage (or six). I've been where you are." It feels a just a little bit less lonely, and a little bit more understood. Also, a simple statement like that leaves the door open for me to ask about your story, without having it forced on me if I'm not ready.
  9. Don't hint at understanding. "I know that it's hard." Do you mean you know loss is hard, or that you know personally that miscarriage is hard? Please just say it straight out. If you are trying to share, but I'm not sure, you haven't really shared anything. 
  10.  During my miscarriages, the only people who know are generally family. Afterwards, I don't care anymore who knows. It's my grief and it just might be public. For some people, the whole situation is a very private thing. Unless you are very sure that it's ok, don't share your friend's story with anyone else.
  11. Don't ask questions about what I did or didn't do before or during pregnancy. You may simply be trying to help find an explanation and hope for next time, but I'm already wondering if there was something I could have done to change the outcome. Even without a specific reason, a mother is likely to be feeling that she somehow failed her child. I always feel like I've let them, and my husband, down by not being able to hold on to them and support their life.
  12. Don't make comments such as, "At least... you have your son... you can try again... it was early..." Those things may be true, and yes, my son is a comfort to me, but these statements just belittle the loss. This was a baby, they were my baby, and I want them.
  13. Don't tell me that God had a reason for having this happen. I believe in God. I believe that no life begins or ends without his knowledge. I don't believe that God purposely ends my babies' lives. There is no reason good enough to justify the death of my children. Crap happens because we live in a crap world. I do believe that God can and does take that crap and bring something good out of it - nothing good enough to balance out the loss, but some small redemptive measure. Like, maybe after this, my fourth miscarriage, as I'm able to be more aware of what is helpful and what is not, and I'm prompted to write this post, someone will read this and be better able to support and bring a tiny measure of comfort to a friend going through their own miscarriage. Nowhere near worth being justification for losing my baby, but a tiny good thing that could come out of their very short life.
 Overall, what I want is to have it acknowledged. Acknowledge that I had a baby. Acknowledge that it died. Acknowledge that I'm grieving. Acknowledge that I will be grieving for a while. Don't ignore it. Don't try to make smaller than what it is. Don't make it common. This is my grief and it will be what it will be.

If you've been through pregnancy loss of any kind, feel free to add your own thoughts, tips, experiences.

Friday, November 19, 2010


They all think
I'm doing fine
Handling well this grief of mine
But they don't know
Cause I don't show
Collapsing to the floor at times
The silent screams
The bitter cries
The heart inside me tries to hide

They can't see
What it means to me
Another loss that tried to be
It's old hat
She's used to that
It must have lost intensity
Don't understand
There's no old hand
No such familiarity

Each time is fresh
Each wound is new
Pain that I have not been through
I try to walk
But I can't stand
Crouching, clenching empty hands
Betrayed again
Can't make it stop

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Journey Through Baby Sleepland

My Bug is 28 months old and he sleeps with me. We are co-sleeping bed-sharers. (gasp!)
This is not info we share with a lot of people. On the odd time that it gets brought up, it's not unusual to get strange looks or disapproval masked in disbelief. When he was younger, I received a lecture from a concerned friend on how it was dangerous to his development to have him in the room with us. He would never learn to be independent, and trying to teach him to sleep on his own would be a nightmare. Her extreme concern was frustrating and flustering, leaving me with lame replies and half formed sentences. But, trust me, I know what I'm doing.
Before Bug's birth, we prepared for him as any couple would expecting their first child. We painted his room, arranged clothing on the shelves, picked out a tiny first outfit, stocked diapers, and bought a crib. All dark wood and shine, Boy set it up in Bug's room, and I made it up with an organic cotton mattress cover and cute blue sheets. The room was ready. Saying that, we weren't entirely sure when Bug would start to use it. I assumed we would, but I knew there was no way I would be ready for him to be down the hall from me for at least several months. We borrowed a cradle from neighbors and it set it up in our room so that he would be close by. I needed to be able to see him and hear him, to know that he was safe and ok through the night, and at the very beginning he was in our bed, but in his own little spot between us, away from blankets and pillows.
The first night we had Bug at home I began to get an indication that this sleep thing wasn't going to be anywhere near as smooth as I thought it would. I knew newborns woke frequently and needed to nurse often, but I wasn't prepared for him to cry every twenty minutes. It felt like as soon as I put him down, he would cry.  I just fed him. Was he really hungry again? Wasn't he comfortable? Was he hurting? I couldn't figure it out.  After a night or two, it finally occurred to me - this tiny person was used to being completely surround by me every second of day, how could I expect him to suddenly be ok with with not touching me at all? That's when he moved into my arms. Things improved a bit from there, but he continued to wake fairly frequently - anywhere from 30-60 minutes. I wish so much that I had known how to nurse lying down then. It would have made my life so much easier, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. I read one description/diagram, but it just didn't make any sense to me. So, I was getting out of bed at every wake, to sit in the lactation consultant recommend, hard-backed kitchen chair, strap on my (needed in a hard-backed chair) breast-feeding pillow, and nurse my baby. I can't remember how many times I fell asleep sitting there.
As things improved, we brought over the cradle and started trying to get him to sleep in it. I'd nursed him to sleep and slowly lower him into the cradle. Oh, the maneuvers we tried making that transition. Keeping my hand on him until he had settled, not unlatching him until I absolutely had to, even putting a heating pad under his blanket to try to make him think he was still getting Mama's body heat.* He slowly learned to occasionally stay asleep through the move, but his sleep got worse. He went back to waking every twenty minutes, and then it was ten, and then five. He would seem asleep and content, but a few minutes later he would be crying. Ahh! What was wrong with my baby? I asked family and friends for advice to no avail. Finally, a doula we knew suggested that we just bring him back into bed with us and try again later.  I felt so frustrated and discouraged, but it seemed like the only option. So, he came back to bed with us. No more waking after five minutes.
Eventually I stumbled across information that helped me figure out that he had reflux that was greatly worsened by milk in my diet. Cutting out dairy helped, but didn't cure his reflux. We tried raising the head of our bed, but it was no help. Thinking he maybe needed a greater angle, we bought a Tucker sling. Remembering something my sister had done with her babies, we brought that beautiful crib into our room, took off the drop side, and slid it up to the bed.  With the mattress raised and sling installed, we tried to get Bug to sleep there - no go. The angle might have been better for his reflux, but he was not a fan of it otherwise - and trying to get him in and out when he needed to nurse, ugh! It was horrible. The velcro would wake him even more than he was, and attempting to put a sleeping baby back into the sling was ten times worse than the cradle. We gave up quickly.
The sling went out, but the crib stayed. We lifted the head of his mattress for what little help it would give and I relished the bit of extra space it offered, as well as the security of knowing Bug couldn't roll off.  
As he continued to get older, but not sleep any better, I got more frustrated. I kept feeling like I was failing in my job as mother. I couldn't find a way to help him sleep, I couldn't figure out what was wrong with him. I tried everything I could think of - swaddling, an early bedtime, bedtime routine, aroma therapy - everything but cry-it-out. It didn't seem right from the beginning, and as I read more, I knew that it was not an option I would ever try. But, as he grew the pressure was on." It won't hurt him." Yes, it will. "He needs to learn." Not that he doesn't. "He's safe. He's fine." He doesn't know that. But, it was hard to keep the doubt from creeping in. Nothing else I did was helping him to sleep for more than an hour at a time. So many tears were shed over his difficulty with sleep. Mine, not just his. I sat down one day, and thought to myself, "Ok, enough of what the world wants me to do, enough of what everyone else's babies do. If it was just me, no media to tell me how babies should be raised, no other parents to share what they did, no two month olds who are sleeping through the night, just me, alone on an island having to care for my son, what would I do?" "Exactly what I'm doing." I would continue to cater to his needs. Because they were his needs. He wasn't just demanding that we do things his way, or trying to prove who was boss, he was asking for help. He needed me to nurse him to sleep. He needed me to hold him while he slept. He needed me to be there helping him go back to sleep no matter how often he woke. And he needed me to be patient while he developed the ability to do this sleep thing on his own.
I remember the first night that I left him alone in our room. He had eventually gotten to where I could put him down once asleep, and after a while I realized I should try leaving the room. I turned our baby monitor up loud and rushed up to him the second I heard him moving around about his one hour wake up. But, we did it and it was ok!
He was about ten or eleven months old.
I remember the first night he slept for two hours! Amazing!  Maybe he would keep going and start sleeping longer and longer! No such luck, but it was a breakthrough.
He was at least thirteen months old.
I remember his first night hitting three hours.
He was fifteen months old.
He's made it to four hours, but I'm sure I could count on my fingers how many times he's done that. Two months ago, he actually slept for five hours, 45 minutes, and I expect we will see that again, but who knows when.
This is my son. This is who he is. He's beautiful, and smart, and funny, and happy, but he doesn't sleep well.
I've been through many periods of discouragement, days of sleep deprivation, and times doubting my judgment, but despite his tendency to do one step forward and two steps back, despite the fact that he nurses half the night on a semi-regular basis, despite the VERY BAD PATCHES he goes through every three-four months - that I can't decipher, no matter how hard I try - I continue to co-sleep and night nurse. Because - I love my son, and I know this is what is best for him, and what works for our family.

Along the way, I've learned a few things:
  1. Listen to your instincts. They are almost always right.
  2. Newborn babies should not be separated from their mamas.
  3. Your baby's needs won't be the same as their baby's needs.
  4. It's ok to use a swing to help him fall asleep if that's the only thing that will calm his reflux that night. It's a tool.
  5. Only you and your husband are qualified to decide what is best for your family.
  6. Cry-it-out doesn't just feel bad, it is bad. Cons of controlled crying
  7. You will get a lot of unsolicited advice. Ignore all of it. It is almost never any good.
  8. Family beds are nice!
  9. Having a baby that does not do something well does not reflect the quality of your mothering.
  10. Sweet good-morning smiles cover a multitude of night wakings.
Please remember that just like putting a baby in a crib, there are safety guidelines for bed sharing. Family bed safety
*I do not currently recommend anyone using a heating pad on or near their baby. There are far too many dangers in such use.