Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Hard Questions

*This post includes "too much information" however it is necessary to understand how the conversation came up in the first place.  You have been warned.

Landy had a vasectomy last week.
The day before the surgery we told the boys that he would be home for a couple of days.  Of course they had questions and so we explained it as openly and honestly as we could. It went something like: "Daddy and I have decided that we are not going to have anymore children and so daddy is having a very minor surgery that will ensure that we cannot get pregnant anymore."  Even typing this I get uncomfortable. I braced myself for questions about how babies are made from our younger Middlest or inquires about anatomy from the older Middlest. I waited for some grossed out remark from the Oldest - but there was nothing. Naturally I breathed a sigh of relief and believed that the discussion was done; maybe not believed as much as hoped.

It was the older Middlest that came to me with something that he had been contemplating since we told him about the surgery.
"Mom, do you think you would have had our Baby if Flynn had not died?" He is such an introspective kid and highly sensitive too.  I wanted to be honest although I wasn't really sure what the honest answer was.  These are hard questions to answer, they involve the "what ifs" and we can get lost in them if we are not mindful.  I wanted to respond to him but it was something that I avoided answering for myself;  I did not want it to be our daughter's story (unless someday that is the story she chooses for herself) - that she existed because Flynn didn't. So I held my breath for a second and then decided not to let my anxiety shape his understanding of our family so I asked him what he thought.
"I think that you would have had her too, we are all your family." Yep and thank goodness for that!

A couple of days following the surgery when I was alone in the car with our younger Middlest he asked me, "so daddy cannot have anymore babies?" to which I replied "no daddy and I will not have anymore babies." It was quiet for a minute and then thoughtfully and quite seriously he said "good because I did not want to have one hundred more babies." Me Neither!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Running For Flynn

As adults we add layers to the death and dying experience. That statement is not meant to be negative or positive, it is just my experience.  When someone we love dies, as adults, we will likely go over the details on a continuous loop in our minds hoping to make sense of the death or find the meaning in the specifics. Young children don't tend to have this inclination - not in my experience.  In fact, children will develop an understanding of death in its simplicity (unless guided to do otherwise) - that death means that the body and mind stop working - the heart stops beating, the lungs stop breathing, there is no hunger or feelings of pain. The body is no longer alive.

When our children have wanted to know or understand about their brother, that is what we have started with - he died and biologically that meant his body stopped working and he is not alive.  We have talked about and showed them pictures of him in our arms and we have taken them to the cemetery where he is buried. When they have asked how he died we have explained as simplistically and age appropriately as possible: he was born before his body was ready, he was too little and so he died.  When I reflect on how we have handled their understanding that they had an infant brother who died, I think we did very well, they are well adjusted children.
But there are nuances to death - the layers. The hows, whats and whys that we add as our children grow and reach developmental ages that have them asking more questions and wanting more details.  With our oldest we were so keenly aware as he transitioned into a new understanding of death and asked more refined questions that we remained vigilant of the messages he received.  Conversely, as his brothers have grown we have made assumptions of their understanding and maybe even believed that they would develop this awareness through the narrative that exists in our family - the hows, whats and whys.  I can admit when I am wrong and this time I was wrong.
For the past two years we have come face to face with the holes in the two middle boy's narrative about their brother.  It started with our older middlest and the day he had the Terry Fox Run at school.  He came home excited and eager to tell us how well the run had gone and then he showed us the badge he had created in remembrance for that day:
To him death was death. His brother had died and so had Terry Fox. He was running because Terry Fox had died and so with that logic, he was running for a brother who died.  We told him how meaningful that was and then we told him how the details were a little different - people do die with cancer but that was not how Flynn died. The Terry Fox Run was to support cancer research and so we typically run for people impacted by the disease.  He shrugged his shoulders and said he still was glad he ran for Flynn.  I felt like we handled it in an age appropriate and considerate manner but I will admit it was an uncomfortable conversation (it is hard to not create meaning around the details) and I was not wanting the school to have the wrong story of our son's death but also did not know how to correct it.
I left it alone hoping that armed with this new information our son would change the narrative at school and perceptions (if there were any) would be corrected. Wrong Again.
This year our younger middlest came home from the Terry Fox Run and guess what his badge said:
I know I have awesome children and although their story is skewed and needs some adjusting (at home and at school) it warms my heart to know how much Flynn means to this family.  Now to make some calls to the school.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Thank You on Our 18th Wedding Anniversay

To My Beloved,
Happy Anniversary. Here we are celebrating 18 years of marriage and 20 years in a partnership of commitment and love. On this momentous day I am reminded that I have had you in my life more years then I was without you. It is a pivotal point and it encourages a shift in perspective. When I reflect on the past 20 years, the overwhelming feeling that emerges for me is gratefulness and I wanted to take the opportunity to express it. So here it goes:

Thank you for creating space in our marriage for me to explore, evolve and grow; from the girl you met to the woman I am today.

Thank you for wanting the same from me so that you could aspire to the goals and dreams that you had for yourself.

Thank you for  walking beside me, not behind and not in front.

Thank you for turning in when there was anger, hurt and frustration and when it would have been much easier to turn out.

Thank you for being the container and the stability when I could be nothing more then chaos and confusion.

Thank you for trusting me with your vulnerability, your wounds and the scars.

Thank you for challenging me when you knew what I was capable of and saw me holding back. Thank you for being my cheerleader.

Thank you for letting me be wrong so that I could learn how to make it right. Thank you for letting me be right when you knew that I was wrong.

Thank you for being an amazing parent to our children and an example of loyalty, compassion and love where they will build their foundations and launch from.

Thank you for fostering a partnership free of judgement, competition and jealousy.

Thank you for loving me day in and day out for the past 20 years.

Happy Anniversary.
With Love and Gratitude,

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wish You Were Here

As a bereaved parent who has lived without my child for over a decade, coping with grief or navigating bereavement is not a daily experience.  Most of the time my days are as "normal" as a non-bereaved parent - changing diapers and breastfeeding, negotiating with a seven year-old and mediating tween and teenage angst. At times all of this parenting is done with the recognition that I am doing it in the absence of one of my children but it is a brief moment that flashes through that particular moment in motherhood and I continue on.

What I discovered this past April however is that my brevity in daily grief is not the same while on family vacation.  After years of promising it, we finally took the children on a family adventure to Florida and to Walt Disney World. While we watched our boys (the baby still way to young) enjoy the rides, shows and daily dips in the pool; I was reminded moment to moment who we were missing. 

I think vacations have always been a little more difficult for us. This time the intensity of it was palpable and I wondered what was different?  Was it the first time flying as a family that added to some inner anxiety and touched on the grief bringing it to the surface?  Did leaving the country play on some unconscious belief that we were leaving his presence and all representations of him at home? With the birth of our daughter our family was complete, did this new dynamic shift our bereavement and our inability to parent the family that was born to us? I truly do not know what factors contributed to me missing Flynn while we were in the happiest place in the world, but I know that for me all I could think while we were away was "wish you were here."

While grief is mostly cast in the light of sadness, depression or despair there are also moments of light, comfort and joy.  Just as my daily musings were turning to thoughts of sadness at missing Flynn and feeling his absence, there was a moment at the end of the day at Disney that reminded me that if I wanted Flynn's essence to be with us I need only to wish it. My friend took this picture of the baby over my shoulder (the shoulder that has the tattoo of Flynn's butterfly) and when I saw it with the light shining on us, I knew we were not really without him and silently I said "thank you for being here."

Just three days after this picture was taken we sat in our home on what was the thirteenth anniversary of his birth and death and remembered Flynn and the family we have today.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Letting Go of Guilt - Easier said than Done

Mother's Guilt.  It seems that I have been reading articles pertaining to this topic a great deal lately; mostly because they keep crossing my Facebook page having been posted by my girlfriends or a magazine I subscribe to.  While the social worker in me is inclined to call it Parent's Guilt, I am not sure how true that is. Landy often tells me that he does not feel the guilt about his parenting that I seem to flog myself with.  He also tells me that he does not hold himself up to unrealistic expectations about being a father or compare himself to other dads.  So maybe it is a mother's guilt then and this post is my most recent experience with it and the grief that would be it's accomplice.

I have often wondered how grief has impacted mother's guilt, feeling that perhaps there is an added layer of expectation or standards that we as bereaved mothers hold.  After all, we should feel that much more blessed to have what we have and be that much more patient, calm, and understanding with our living children.  If we have an imperfect moment (as defined by us and usually an average moment for most) then we are not truly appreciating what we have and don't have and therefore invalidating the life of the baby or child that has died.  Yep that is pretty much what the guilty cycle of a bereaved mother's brain can look like, especially when vulnerable (emotional, tired, triggered, etc.).

Here is my account of how this amplified guilt played out on my emotional well being this past week ~ the week we anticipated the birth of our daughter.

As part of my pregnancy and on the advice of my Obstetrician, I was going to be induced after I reached 38 weeks gestation.  My doctor made the recommendation, it was not my request and he told me that his concern was for both baby and myself therefore an induction was warranted.  I knew there were a number of reasons for this recommendation, some of which included maternal anxiety, stress on baby and the previous death of Flynn however it was something that I had to reconcile as I idealized my ability to have a "normal" pregnancy.  This would be the first place that my mother's guilt manifested. What is a normal pregnancy and why did I feel the need to push myself (physically and emotionally) to experience that?  I recognize now that I wanted to prove that I could physically carry a baby without any medical concerns and emotionally handle that experience - almost a re-birthing of my pregnancy experience with our Oldest.  That is why I told my doctor early on that I would go to 40 weeks gestation and I would not be induced.  That is after all what "normal" pregnant women do.  He kindly nodded at that time and said "as you wish" but I am sure he knew that the conversation itself was premature.

When I reached 32 weeks gestation my emotional well being began to deteriorate. I had been working three jobs, volunteering, coping with an illness in the family in addition to my usual roles of being a mom and partner. Moreover, I was not eliciting as much self care as was warranted for all that I was taking on or working with.  Yet another place that the guilt could be found; all the things that I should be able to do regardless of being in a subsequent pregnancy.  The difficulty with managing the guilt was that it was not only emotionally driven but financially (and there is not much room to say that out loud). It may have made more sense to cut back on work but we had bills to pay and the financial strain of not working may have caused more guilt then pushing through, it is hard to say for sure.  At any rate at 32 weeks into my pregnancy my doctor asked "how are you doing?" ~such a simple question~ and it opened the flood gates. I realized in the moments following that question that I had not even allowed myself to be anything other than "ok."  I was walking around in a holding pattern of professionalism and stoicism even in my everyday life while deep down my emotional self was suffering with the weight of anxiety, fear and guilt that this subsequent pregnancy had brought.  I turned to my doctor and for the first time said out loud "I am not okay" to which he responded "I know and that is okay."

The next six weeks would be a roller coaster of appreciating how I was feeling and working at letting go of the guilt as it arose.  It was a constant process. I would let go of the fact that I was not okay and it would lead me to feelings about medical intervention in pregnancy and trusting my body.  The guilt would then manifest in the reality that as a subsequent pregnancy I did not trust my body, it had let me down in a very profound way in the past.  I held the impact that knowledge had on trying to just be in the present moment and not catastrophize or project into the future some unknown reality.  I would have to let go of the fear and anxiety on a daily basis that this pregnancy could end in tragedy, taking it moment by moment some days.  I quietly apologized to my unborn child for not having more faith in myself and in her.  I struggled with thoughts of my own self worth in relation to having and holding a healthy baby at the end of this pregnancy.  Really, what did my self worth have to do with my ability to carry and deliver a healthy baby?  Nothing and yet it was there. Let go, Let go, Let go.

Then came the week I had been counting down to. The 38th week.  The baby was considered full term and deliverable.  We had done all the early testing to ensure that the dates were correct. We had done ultrasounds and non stress tests to ensure the baby was "ready."  Here it was, time had finally gotten us here and I was struck with enormous guilt ~ so big that it seemed to fill my chest cavity making it hard to breath and constricting every beat of my heart.  This was worsened when my doctor told me at my last appointment that my cervix was not dilated or effaced and we would have to do an additional procedure to help that along. GUILT!  I sat between the suffering of every day believing that this baby would die or that my body would fail her to knowing that I was intervening with my body's natural state to have her here alive.  This could be worsened by well meaning people, people who loved me asking "why are you inducing?" or "why can't you go to term?"  or nursing staff in labour and delivery asking "why are you having a non stress test again?"and "why did your doctor order this test?"  And even if all these questions were free of judgement and based out of simple curiousity all I heard was "Why can't you cope with this?" "What is wrong with you?"

I cried a great deal over the next 24 hours leading up to the beginning of the induction.  I wondered if I should just try to "suck it up" for one more week in the hopes that my body would figure it all out.  I treated my body and mind as though they were separate entities and not part of a whole and it created such a depth to the guilt that it was all that I could feel. "What if......" started every thought I had and tragedy ended all of them.  All of the thoughts were based around my decisions as this babe's mother and all of the societal, cultural and even medical expectations that I believed I had to live up to.  Of course these expectations were based in healthy, normal pregnancies and not applied to the experience of a subsequent pregnancy ~ but as stated I was not holding myself to reality but rather to an idealization of normal. I realized that I needed help and so I reached out to my support network. I talked about my guilt and my fears and my anxiety.  I opened myself up to those that I knew could support me and help me to focus and find the thoughts and realities that were helpful not hindering. I acknowledged the guilt but also found the counterbalance, the successes and the coping mechanisms that existed within me.  Let Go!

On the day of the induction I told myself just two things: "You are worthy of love" and "Only you know what is best for you."  I just repeated this in my head and sometimes out loud. I repeated it through the tears, the fear and the anxiety.  I repeated it when the nurse asked "why are you being induced?" in a tone that even Landy noticed.  Every once and awhile I added "I want my daughter to live with these mantras as a way of being rather then the exceptional thought she has to tell herself," I wanted to be her example and that was motivating. I just kept letting go of the guilt. Labour and delivery was not perfect it was what it needed to be and I am amazed at how freeing that thought has been. It is not riddled with guilt and in fact it does not even exist in the experience.  If at some point the guilt arises, I will have to let go. After all, the guilt is weaved into my existence and has been there from the beginning, however in the past I had let it define me and this time I allowed myself to step out from under it and Let Go.