Friday, August 22, 2014

Grief is like an addiction

I never thought the question "How are you doing?" could ever make me feel so perplexed. It is the hardest question to answer these days. However, a lot of people do often wonder and ask, "How are you doing?"

I was toying with the complexity of this question early on after Max passed away and the difficulty I have answering it because I generally feel emotions of two different people. I feel emotions of sadness, anger, grief while still feeling happy, talkative, and celebrating my silver linings. My outward display of grief can be somewhat turned on and off but it is still always there. I honestly feel comparable to person who is struggling with addiction sometimes. (Let me explain).

Shortly after Max's death I came across a blog post from another mom of loss while dealing with this tough question. There she described herself as a "high-functioning bereaved mother". 

That was it! I finally had a handle on how to describe myself and begin to answer the question of,  "How are you doing?" She explained how she can make dinner, go grocery shopping, take her children to soccer practice just like anyone else yet always had this nagging grief along for the ride, ready to ignite and bring her right back to the toughest moments of her life. There isn't always a physical display of grief while going through the motions of life after loss. There also isn't a big sticker across your forehead the says "I lost my baby" but someday's it sure feels like it.

Living as a bereaved mother is like living as a high-functioning __________ (<--insert unattractive issue here: alcoholic, drug addict, etc. ---in my case a bereaved mother). I am living as a high-functioning bereaved mother. 

I strive everyday to look and feel like a normal person, when I know I'm not. Loss like an addiction can be something that I feel I need to hide yet very exposed with regardless. When I am out in public, spending time with my boy's, or working out I often ignore my grief. I push it way down into the depths of my being to at least try and "enjoy" something again. I don't want my grief to take over my life like an addiction can. I want to be a normal person (<---whatever the hell that even means) for just a little while. I am still a mom to two boys here on Earth and have a wonderfully supportive husband; I do need to more forward. Regardless of my struggles, this world keeps turning.

Yet, at the end of the day or at least at some point everyday, my grief bubbles up and takes over for a bit. I can't "escape" and when it hits me again like a sucker punch to the face, a very welcome sucker punch....oddly just like alcohol might to an alcoholic, I'm soothed and relieved swimming in grief for a little while. I try to resist as much as I can to go back to a very painful place but "giving-in" for a bit does make me feel comfortable. I can be me when I cry or look at pictures of my little boy. The relief comes when I don't have to hold it in and don't have to hide my loss. 

Addiction like grief functions in a very similar way. Just as some people are addicted to alcohol as their relief from pain, I welcome my grief as a relief from my pain. Also, addiction like grief can be ignored, you can pretend it isn't there and even lie about it when someone asks about it. But at the end of the day, you give in to your addiction (for me, I give into my grief) and for a while there is that temporary sense of relief. 

Now, I hope that this comparison does not make you worried that I am headed down the wrong path to healing every-time my grief bubbles up. I am not. I really am healing. Slowly, but surely. I do enjoy taking care of my boys, cooking dinner, and having a glass of wine with my husband. This part is definitely not a facade. And my grief does not always feel as raw or painful. Do I still cry and long for my sweet Max? Yes! But a lot of days I can sigh and smile at the adorable face in the photograph. I can be thankful for meeting him and my days of feeling completely broken are getting father apart. The pull between functioning and living is finding a more happy medium in my life. Some days I feel like I am functioning while other days I feel like I am living again.

Grief and addiction can morph into a more positive being. But just like any recovered addict would still call themselves an "addict for life", I will always be grieving for life.

It's a tug of war process with grief and like an addiction it is extremely personal and hard to understand for others around me. I never have been an addict of anything but dealing with my grief has given me a better perspective and understanding of hardships and struggles that others deal with too. Having this parallel comparison has allowed me to forgive myself more for not always feeling comfortable to "move on" and forgiving others for their struggles as well.

My grief has definitely made me a more kind and gentler person and made my work with families dealing with hardship much personal and understandable. One of my goals with this blog and with my grief in general is to always be open to talk about infant loss and the struggles of loosing a child. I have never had a problem openly admitting that some days still aren't good for me and that when you ask me "how are you doing?" I can be honest that the answer may not always be "good".

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

God will Provide

It's been very hard to imagine what good could come after Max's death.  Even harder, was what I would even accept as "good" after Max passed away. I didn't ever feel entitled to "good" things happening after Max's death but I was hoping to catch a bit of a break. 

I have been working at a temporary position since May at Lifetime Fitness in Chanhassen with the intention of leaving at the end of August to stay home for the 6 weeks or so before Max arrived. Well obviously things were not going to work out that way but I still had the looming end of a temporary position hanging over my head. I prayed and hoped that God would provide some sort of a direction for me since Max's passing. 

Well, last week I ate lunch with a good friend and former co-worker who passed on information about a position in Chaska that would be working with the Help Me Grow Program of MN. It was 20 hours a week, a good bump in pay, I couldn't pass up applying for it! I applied and was immediately called for an interview last Friday. To my astonishment and surprise I was offered the position yesterday and accepted!!

It still hasn't really sunk in yet and I still slightly feel unwilling to accept that this type of opportunity would fall in my lap after stressing for the last 2+ months of what lay ahead. 

What I have come to realize though is that God has provided for me these last few months when I felt so stuck. He has provided me with so much support over the last few months to be with my boys (I am only working part-time at Lifetime since Max was born), begin my blogging, and build my faith and trust in Him. I have never felt more connected or strong about my faith until I was faced with the loss of Max and the aftermath. I have often become frustrated, emotional, and depressed over what purposes God had for me but I hadn't lost my faith or trust that eventually some direction and opportunity would come my way. 

This new opportunity has resurrected my understanding of where my passion in my career lies, the need for a good work/life balance, and that my little Max is lifting me up every time I haven't felt able to take another step. Before my interview last week I sat in my car and said a prayer to Max to be with me. Each day for the next few days I saw a butterfly, one that even hung around the outside of our home for hours on Saturday. I feel lucky to know that God will provide for me and my Max is always holding my hand and guiding me through.

So without further adieu, I am so excited to announce that next Wednesday I will begin a new job at the East Creek Family Center in Chaska as the Bilingual Interagency Resource Specialist. I will be working with the Help Me Grow Program of MN by providing central intake for referrals for 3 different western Carver County school districts as well as act as a resource liaison for families that are facing other barriers. I will also provide outreach and all intake services for Latino families in the area. I am so excited to work with families again and continue to use my multi-cultural back ground and bilingual skills daily.

Thank you to everyone who has said a prayer for us, and helped us keep our hopes alive that good things can come again and God would provide....He most definitely has!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Max's Story Part 3: Lot's of people make babies; We made an angel

I have always believed that birth stories are extremely important. They are not a medical procedure or process. Birth is a journey and a transformation. Mom and baby go into birth as one and end as two (or more!). The process of becoming a mother for the 1st, 2nd, or 20th time is such a gift. I still held this belief when I went to give birth to Max. Our transformation would include a sad and different ending than most but it still changed me for the better. I still experienced a transformation of myself and the world I lived in. For me,  I was no longer so naive to the evils on this Earth nor did I take the beauty of it for granted anymore either. I got to experience the gift of holding an angel and seeing God's work first hand.

Our induction with Max was scheduled for June 4th, 2014 at 4pm. Yes, 4pm. Which gave me an entire day to sit and evaluate life before walking into a hospital to say good-bye to my sweet little boy.

The night before the induction I had to pack a hospital bag. I had packed a hospital bag for Labor & Delivery two times before but I couldn't even begin to figure out what to put in it for Max. I packed a few changes of clothes, my Bible, and some toiletries. That was it. No going home outfit, no receiving blanks, no boppy pillow, or nursing bras this time.

 The morning of the 4th, I woke up, sat down at our kitchen table and began to write down some "silver linings" that I had seen throughout my experience up until that point. Tears poured down my face and onto my notebook pages but I kept writing. I was amazed that I came up with 50! 50 silver linings in this horrible experience?! Showing gratitude and thankfulness for being able to have the time I did with my Max was very helpful for my grieving process. I decided to take it with me to the hospital in hopes I could come up with more (and indeed I did!!).

Around lunch time I received a very timely and comforting call from my regular OB. He was the same one who delivered Parker and had provided me with all my prenatal care with Max as well. He was apologetic, reassuring, and I was so grateful to have heard from him.

We headed over to Abbott in the later afternoon. Andrew and I parked in the ramp and I sat hugging him for a few minutes while we both cried. Finally, we had enough courage to get out and go walk-in to the Mother Baby Center. My doula, Katie had already arrived and greeted us at the entrance. Having her there from the very beginning was such a blessing for our experience. We were brought to our room where I immediately noticed that our nurse had written Max's name up on the patient whiteboard. She really cared. She always called Max by his name, as did all the other staff there--definitely a silver lining. She was a wonderful nurse and the perfect, calm, and patient person who I needed to begin our care.

The induction began very slowing and by late evening my mother, Claudia arrived and around 9pm our Pastor, Rob. We cried, we prayed, we even laughed a bit that evening and I even got a decent amount of sleep that night. I was still feeling Max move a lot and was just doing my best to soak in every movement and moment with him.

The morning of June 5th continued from the night before. Again, another wonderful few nurses, a supportive husband, doula, mom, and Pastor. One staff member that came to meet us was a nurse who practiced a lot of natural, homepathic care. She came in with a bright smile on her face and the first thing out of her mouth was, "Please tell me all about Max!" I broke down sobbing again, explaining that someone asking me to talk about my son, who had not even arrived yet was so touching. She put some lavender essential oils throughout our room and gave me a little "massage". I will never forget her amazing compassion and care.

 In the afternoon I elected to get  an epidural after talking with the OB. The reason being that babies born far from full term can cause after birth complications for moms. There was a decent chance that Max's placenta would not deliver and I might need to go to the OR. If it became an emergency and I did not have an epidural I would need general anesthesia. I decided to just go with the epidural. However, I made it clear to everyone in the room and especially the anesthesiologist that I was not in any pain and had done this all naturally before. I had a hard time giving into the epidural because of my amazing natural waterbirth with Parker. I truly enjoy labor but knew Max's situation was different.

I was able to relax more and later that evening the OB told me I would probably deliver later that night. I was soooo nervous. I remember just shaking at the idea of actually delivering Max and that after 24 hours I still wasn't "ready". Andrew and everyone assured me that when Max came, I would be ready.

Everyone ended up finally falling asleep around 11pm that night. Around 2am I awoke with intense pressure. I hit my nurses button and hollered for Andrew. I told him I felt like I had to push. He got my mom, doula, and pastor (he waited outside the room.) The nurse came in and checked me. Max was there. She told me not to push while she called the doctor. The doctor came in and agreed that Max was ready to be delivered.

We decided to leave the lights low, didn't break down the bed, and the OB sat right on the side of the bed. At this point I had been in labor for 32 hours. The moment I began pushing I felt a rush of peace--I desperately needed it. I was finally ready...I was excited to meet my son, Max. A few easy pushes and Max was born. It was very quiet. No crying baby, no hustle and bustle of nurses or doctors. Andrew cut Max's cord, the nurse wrapped him in a blanket, put his hat on and brought him right over to me.

As we expected, Max was stillborn, we don't know when he passed away but there were two things I was very sure of before he was born: 1) I did not want to pick his birthday, and 2) I didn't want to know when he would pass away. Max was born at 2:08am on 6/6/2014. The number 8 being my favorite number and 6 being Andrew's made us both smile. Andrew held Max, my mom, and our Pastor, Rob came right in after delivery to baptize him. While this was all going on our doula captured over 275 pictures.--Another silver lining.

After I held Max for a while the nurses asked if we wanted to take his measurements and get his weight. Max was 1lb. 1oz. and 10 1/2 inches long. He was absolutely perfect. He looked almost exactly like Jack did and had Parker's distinct thin upper lip. For the next few hours I held him, kissed him, and studied every little detail of him. Andrew, Max and I took a nap together for a few hours after everyone left. Max slept with me right on my chest just like our other babies had as well. It was blissful to have those few hours together as a family. I remember talking to Max and just sitting in awe of this beautiful baby. Even though Max had passed away I still felt a very strong presence of him with me and still do everyday.  I was frustrated that there was nothing I could do but felt so comforted to have some time with him. After 10 hours, we decided we were ready to leave and were discharged from the hospital. Max left with he nurse when we left. We all left as a family, just not all together.

22 weeks, 1 day, and 10 hours is all the time I got here with Max on Earth....One day and for the rest of eternity that will be different.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Message from Andrew, a father of loss

A Father’s Agony
Being a father is THE greatest job ever.  I knew there would be ups and there would be downs, but I never fathomed anything to degree I have had to go through.  There is no class to take, advice from anybody, or a book or blog I could’ve read to prepare myself for the day Max was born.  Like my other boys, Max was first held by his daddy.  Max was able to be in my arms and feel the protection I was able to give, to feel the love I have been waiting to provide, to see that my world revolved around my family!  On the day Max was born, I have never felt so helpless.  Being a father means that you will put your family first.  You will ensure the safety and security before your own.  You will do anything to take care of the family so they can have the perfect life.  I strive to make the lives of my family better than my own.  For once in my life, I was not able to make things better.  I was not equipped to rid the evil.  
Not only is being a father the greatest job, it is the most important job I have had and will ever have.  Being a father of boys means that I get to teach them how to be a man, how to play sports, how to treat a lady, how to show respect, understanding the value in hard work and show that it pays off, and how to show emotions…I didn’t get to do that with Max….and as a father…I have felt like I was cheated out of such an important part of my life.  Maxwell Gregory is my son…and although I won’t get to teach him life skills here on earth…I have found that he is teaching me.  He is teaching me patience, love, gratefulness, and the importance of having faith.  I look forward to the day that I get to hold my boy again so I can show him love, patience, gratefulness…and how to throw a ball!  I love you Max…you are always on daddy’s mind and in daddy’s heart!