Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving: No Thank You

I am having a really difficult time dealing with Thanksgiving approaching.   Halloween was tough, as I had imagined for months the costumes she'd be old enough to wear when that holiday rolled around, but it was nothing like what I am experiencing now.   As Thursday creeps closer, I want nothing more than to hide away.   I want to pull the covers over my head, snuggle in, and stay safe from the cold, harsh world.   

Maybe it's because I keep thinking about how on Thursday, I should be snapping my daughter into her highchair at my parents' house with an extra large bib secure around her chest.   How it would be her first time tasting stuffing and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.  How I should be watching her slap her food around with glee, smearing her cheeks with a thankful feast.   

Maybe it's because I know that Thanksgiving is the doorway to the holiday season.  The threshold to a festive time that doesn't seem festive anymore at all.  It's just the beginning.   Commercials of families smiling and laughing around Christmas trees.   Advertisements for toys.  Bright and cheery songs, twinkling lights, joyful laughter.   Despite the rainbow in my belly, I don't feel joyful.  I don't feel thankful.   I feel cheated.   And not, "hey you rolled the dice twice when you were supposed to roll it once" cheated - but "hey, you stole everything near and dear to me, including the clothes off my back while you beat me with a stick" cheated.  

What I have already begun to hear from people are sentiments like "Be thankful that you still have your family and friends."   "You and Mike are healthy."   "Be happy you are pregnant again."   While I understand that those are attempts to help me feel more secure in my life, they don't help me at all. They are all true - and they are all good things - but they don't bring her back.  They don't fill the void she left behind.   I will never see Kenley eat pumpkin pie.   I will never see her unwrap Christmas presents.   Instead of ringing in the new year as a newly made family, Mike and I will count down to midnight without her.  This year and every year.   

It's the "every year" that really gets me.   The fact that this is just the beginning.  This is the first holiday season of the rest of my life where she will not be here.  That's a hard reality to come to grips with.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am not really going to bother to struggle to find things to be thankful for.  I have had 9 months to realize the wonderful people in my life.  Loss is the one thing that really makes you stop and reevaluate your life and your relationships.   I don't need the last Thursday in November to remind me to do that.  I do that every day.   No, this Thanksgiving, I will do what I have done on all the hard days before this one.   I will wake up.  I will get dressed.  And I will get through it.  I will get through Thursday and every day left of this miserable year with as much dignity and grace as I can muster.  

And if, sometimes, I have to pull the covers over my head, so be it.    

Friday, November 22, 2013

I'm not Fixed

I have this fear that this pregnancy will make people think that everything is all better.   That I am "fixed."   I have this fear that people are thinking to themselves, "Well, now that she is pregnant again, she can stop being sad." "Thank goodness she can stop thinking about her loss and focus on the future."   I don't know if it is a valid fear or not.   I really don't know what is going on in other people's heads.  Heck, I rarely even know what's going on in mine.   But, just to clarify, nothing is fixed.  Nothing is suddenly better because I am pregnant.   I don't miss her any less.  I don't think about her any less.  

 I actually think about her more now.   Pregnancy is really all I have to connect with Kenley.  The nausea, the exhaustion, the poking out of the belly, the pops and wiggles that will soon become full-blown jabs and jolts. A little over a year ago, I was experiencing these physical changes with Kenley.   And now, I am starting again with Bean.  Every moment, I worry about Bean in there - and I think back to last year when I was carrying my little ninja, which makes me feel empty and full at the same time.   I am happy I have this second chance with Bean, while also being angry I have to even have a second chance.   Why didn't I get to keep my first chance?   I love, love, love both of my children, so it is so difficult to rejoice in one at the expense of the other.   To be happy for Bean reminds me of why I am pregnant now, and why I don't have a baby in my arms.  To wish I had Kenley seems like a slap in the face to Bean.  I still don't know how to reconcile this.   How do you handle loving your children equally when the life of one is the direct result of the death of the other?    

That conflict aside, Kenley is my first born.  She will always be a part of me.  I will always love and miss her.  Being pregnant again does not take away the hurt of her loss.   I can have a hundred more children, and I will always ache for her.  I will always choke back tears when I think of never holding her again.  I will always have to catch my breath when I look at the few pictures I have of her beautiful face.  Those things will never be "fixed."   Not by another pregnancy.  Not with time.  Nothing will ever make this better.  

I just wanted to put that out there.   I love Kenley.  I love Bean.  I am happy for my second child.  I still miss my first.  I am not fixed, and I won't really ever be.   I am learning to navigate around the holes in my heart, but those holes will always be there.  When Bean comes, my heart will swell in the places where Bean fits, but they won't close the gaps where Kenley is not. The thing with rainbows is you can't have them without the rain.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Tightrope

The wind is cold and biting so high above the earth.  The tightrope walker steadies herself against the chilly rush.   She bends and flexes her toes inside her leather shoes, curling her aching feet around the bundle of wires.   As her hands begin to sweat, she grips the pole a little tighter, it's heaviness spread out on either side of her weary body.  She is exhausted, having to balance for this long.  The canyon below her sprawls out from a dark and jagged crevice in dusty orange fingers, and the other side is so far away she can't even see it.   As she steps forward, her balance shifts too far to one side.  She pitches and wobbles, her heart jumping into her throat in a panic before she centers herself.  Careful.  Steady.  She takes a deep breath in, her knuckles white and her knees screaming for rest.  But there will be no rest.   There is no stopping and there is no going back.   She can only go forward.  One foot in front of the other.  One step at a time, she will cross this canyon, balancing everything she is with everything she has.   That's the key - balance.   She has to keep herself in line.  From her own posture to the position of her feet on the wire to the steadiness of the pole in her hands - it all contributes to keeping her from plummeting into the darkness below.  And it requires her complete and utter attention at all times.  The average bystander does not realize the amount of concentration it takes to stay balanced - or the amount of balance it takes to stay upright.  To her credit, she makes it look so easy.   She is graceful and poised, keeping the chaos of her racing thoughts hidden beneath her collected demeanor.  But underneath, she is terrified.  Not necessarily of falling, but of tipping.  Of giving too much attention to one side and not the other.  It is in that moment of tipping - that moment before the fall - that the terror is real.  It's not the fall itself, but the reason for it that is so upsetting.   The knowledge that she allowed herself to lean too far to one side.  That she allowed the other side to be neglected.  If she falls, it will be because she was unable to maintain equality.  If she falls, she is a failure.   She braces against the wind as it bites through the thin material of her leotard.  She takes a step.  And another.  And another.   Forward and balanced, she continues her journey across the canyon.  Head high.  Heart steady.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Try Not to Stress

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!  (deep breath!)  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! 

"Try not to stress" is a well-meaning phrase used by well-meaning people.  I understand the sentiment and the point of the advice, I really do.  It's just not going to happen.    

Don't get me wrong, I try.   I use meditation apps to help myself relax.   I take deep breaths and time-outs when I recognize I am winding myself up. I think about positive things as much as possible - like the next time I'll see the Bean on an ultrasound, happy and healthy, or picturing myself holding a crying baby in the delivery room in April.  Every day, I make the effort to keep myself centered and calm.   I am managing my stress - but I am still stressing.     

There is no way not to.  That's just plain and simple reality.  Pregnancy after loss is stressful, chock full of worry every step of the way.   Kenley was a healthy, normal pregnancy until the very end.  Everything was fine, and then suddenly nothing was.  She was there one minute and then gone the next.  My brain has now been conditioned to this experience.  36 weeks is a long time to wait, especially when doing something as complicated as making a baby.  Anything can happen between now and the time I can bring this one home.

I know people just want to help.  They want to be positive and supportive.  They tell me things like, "Don't worry, everything will be fine."   Or, "I know things will work out."   I can't fault them for trying - and I truly am very glad to have such caring people around me.   

But, I am still going to stress.   I am still going to worry.   It is going to be a constant struggle every day.   A struggle where half of my brain ticks off a list of all the things I should be worrying about while the other half counteracts those reasons with soothing thoughts of peace and hope.   I worry.  I hope.  I worry.  I hope.   It's exhausting.   I'm working with my grief counselor on ways to work through this anxiety in a healthy manner, but that's really all I can through it.   I can't make it go away.  I can't make it less than what it is.  I can just deal with it as it comes and do my best to keep my head above the water.  

So, if you're talking to me about my pregnancy, and you happen to let slip "Try not to stress", you'll see me take a deep breath and close my eyes.   I know you mean well - and I'll try - but the only thing that will truly keep me from being stressed is buckling my baby into their car seat to make that first drive home.   And even then, I'm sure I'll find something to worry about.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Voice

If you're a regular reader, you know I have shared a little bit about my past struggles with self confidence and depression.  I battled a serious darkness in my teenage years that spread to my early twenties.  From around the age of 10 or 12, I can remember thinking I wasn't as good as everyone else.  I wasn't as pretty or as smart.  My clothes didn't fit right.  My hair didn't lay right.   I always kind of felt like I was on the outskirts.   I had friends who liked me, but I still felt like an outsider even among them.   As I got into my teen years, the twilight that loomed over my self-esteem settled into complete darkness.  One I couldn't really see any way out of.   

Through the darkness, I would hear a voice.  One that would whisper and hiss.  One that would spit words at me that cut like a knife.   "You're not good enough", she would say.  "You'll never be good enough."   "You're horrible.  You're disgusting.  You don't deserve happiness."   Any time I started to even think about trying to be a normal person, there she was.  Screaming at me.  Telling me how terrible I was.  Telling me how nothing would ever work out for me.  How I was destined to live a life of misery  - because I deserved it.   

And I believed her.  For years. When friends would shake it on the dance floor, I would hang in the corner because she told me I'd just look stupid if I tried to fit in.   When boys tried to smile at me in the hallway, I'd turn and look around for the prettier girl who must be behind me.  Surely, it's not me they're looking at.  The Voice was very clear about the value I should place on myself - which was none.   And for a long time, I didn't.   She had convinced me that I was sub-par, and so that's how I treated myself.

But then, the years of darkness began to take their toll.  I began to crave the light.   "You don't deserve the light," she'd tell me.  "The light is not for you." Only then did I begin to question her.   Of course I deserve the light!   I am a person.   I have worth.  I have value.   I began to rebel against her.  Little by little, step by step.   When she would hiss into my ear how fat I was, I refused to listen.   "I'm not fat!  I'm curvy!"   When she would tell me how I would never find happiness, I told her to shove it.   She didn't give up, but then neither did I.   It took me years - from about 18 years old till about 26 - of fighting tooth and nail, but I defeated her.   She didn't disappear, but she retreated back into the shadows, her tail between her legs.   Every now and then, she'd try to pipe up with more of her nonsense, but I shut her down immediately.   I've lived Voice free for a while now.  And it has been wonderful.   Finally, living the life I knew I always deserved.  The life I fought for.  My life run on my decisions - not the orders from a twisted sense of self.

But, she's come back.  When Kenley died, the Voice slithered back into my ear, hissing "It's all your fault."   "Everyone will forget about her".  "You deserved this!".   Even though I was weak from grief, I readied for battle against her.   I was not going to let her take over again.   I did a pretty good job keeping her at bay - until I got pregnant again.   And now, she's louder than ever.   She tells me over and over that this baby won't make it.  She tells me I don't deserve a child - that I'll never have one.  With every body twinge,  every moment I'm not nauseous, every second of every day, she's there.  In the back of my head.  Her sinister smile revealing a mouth of dripping fangs.  She will not rest until I am broken.   

Now, I know my enemy.   I know how to fight her - and fight her I will.  But, there is one big difference from what she has said in the past and some of what she is saying now.   Some of it actually has validity.   The first time she crept into my head, I was not the disgusting person she made me believe I was.   I was a great girl who had not yet discovered how to be great.   I triumphed over her lies because I realized they were just that - lies.   This time, though, it's different.   Not all of what she says are lies.   Not all can be waved off or dismissed as rubbish.   For the last eight months, I have lived in a world where babies die.  I have seen too much to turn a blind eye to this reality.   When she wraps her claws around my heart and tells me my baby isn't going to make it to birth, it sends an unimaginable chill of terror straight through me.  A fear I can't shake.  A fear that refuses to be soothed.   I can rise up against her telling me I am undeserving or unworthy because I know that's not true.   I can steady myself against the blows of guilt and fault because I have been able to work through those lies and accept them as such.  But, I can't do a damn thing with the fear.  It washes over me in waves, knocking me to my knees.   

I am afraid - pure and simple.  I am afraid of losing my baby tomorrow.   Of losing my baby next week, or next month, or the day before my scheduled delivery.   You can reassure me all you want.   You can tell me you have a good feeling about things.  That you are praying for me.   That you know everything will work out.   But, that isn't going to help.  I've lived in a harsh and terrible reality since February - one that won't let me be unafraid no matter what people tell me.   A world where 25% of babies don't make it to birth.  A world where by first baby was one of them.  Why not this one too?   

I'm not telling you this to be negative.   I'm not telling you this so you will boost my confidence with kind words of support.   I'm telling you this because I want you to know that this pregnancy is not the joyous romp in the meadow many pregnancies are.  I want you to know that I am scared out of my mind.  Every day.   And that it takes every bit I have to keep myself from spinning out of control - including the bits that are already ripped to shreds with grief.  All of my energy goes towards silencing The Voice - to reaching towards the sunlight when she tries to plunge me into darkness - to trying (yet failing) to not be afraid.    

All I can really do is take it one day at a time.   Today, my baby is alive.  Today, I am pregnant.   Today, I am one day closer to holding my live child in my arms.   Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  And although The Voice wants to tell me what she thinks about tomorrow - I am doing my very best not to listen.   And it is never easy.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

My Stretched Out Heart

This year has been the worst year of my life.   I know I don't really need to explain why.   When you lose your child, especially so close to birth, you lose your future as well.   You lose every moment you should have had.  Every step they should have taken.  Every milestone they should have reached.  You lose a lifetime of memories you should have been able to make.  All that potential seems so pointlessly wasted.   You think to yourself, "why bother living now?" When everything seems like it's nothing more than a shadow, it's easy to get lost in the darkness.

My future with Kenley was stolen.   That is a fact - an unchangeable fact.  I will always wonder what could have been.   I will always watch her grow in my mind, comparing her to other children (and eventually teenagers and adults) I see.   I will always wonder if her hair would have stayed black or have lightened over time like mine did.   I will always wonder if she would have inherited her father's ability to dance - or my ability to fall down with grace.   Would she have a developed goofy sense of humor?  Would she have loved to climb trees, watch movies, and play house?   Who would she have been?

That not knowing is an ache that never goes away.  Nothing will ever change it.  Nothing will ever make it better.   It will always be a rock in my heart, rolling around in the vast cavern of what will never be.   

But, Kenley left me with more than uncertainty and fear.   She left me with more than sorrow and desperation and pain.   She left me with love.   When something breaks and then is pieced back together, it's never quite the same again.  It's looser.  Wider.  Gaping. Stretched out.   As I have spent these last few months sewing my heart back into its shape, I have noticed it's much bigger than before.   There's more room inside.  Like an old patchwork satchel, saggy and worn.   And while that means more room for fear and anxiety to creep in, there's also more room for joy.  More room for hope.   More room for love.   I have broken but I am not broken.

I have nestled my baby girl inside my heart with tender care.  She will always live within me.  My heart beats with her name.  Kenley.  Kenley.  Kenley.  Kenley.  But it also beats with another name.  A name to yet be made.  The name of a baby yet to be born.   It's still a hard concept to wrap my brain around, but there IS room inside my heart for more than just my little ninja.  There is room enough for a brother or sister still to come.   The brother or sister who WILL come.   In April.