Saturday, November 28, 2009

We were so full of hope

Sometimes it's hard to think back to our (Matt's and mine) first Christmas together.  I was pregnant with Cora.  It was our only Christmas with her.  As I decorated my tree, I thought of how I would have to babyproof the tree the next year.  I thought of how wonderful it would be to get baby's first ornament, fill a stocking for her, take her to get pictures with Santa.  Thinking back on how I felt that Christmas hurts because it's so different now.  But she's not forgotten.  She's always part of our Christmas.

This was an ornament we were given that Christmas.  My mother was so excited for her first grandchild and it showed.

This is Cora's stocking.  I put a gift to the family in it so it's not empty.  This year I'm going to write her a letter to put in it too.  I meant to last year, but never got around to it.

And lately there's a Christmas song that just strikes me a little bit differently:

"Blue Christmas" by Elvis

I'll have a Blue Christmas without you
I'll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won't be the same dear, if you're not here with me

And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That's when those blue memories start calling
You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white
But I'll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas

(Instrumental Break)

You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white,
But I'll have a blue, blue Christmas

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Perfect memories.

I have moments, just a few, that I can remember perfectly.  That perfect recall is both a curse and a blessing.  I can perfectly recall that moment in my doctor's office, looking at the ultrasound of my baby's still heart.  I can remember the look on my doctor's face, one tear on his cheek.  Funny how such small details stand out.  I remember the physical pain.  The term "broken heart" doesn't even begin to cover it.

But I can also remember the day I got my positive pregnancy test with her.  The elation, the hope, the joy.  The sheer shock and disbelief.

I remember sitting in the bathtub about a month before she was born.  The water was probably hotter than it should have been, but my back hurt so very badly.  She was so active, and I was just watching my stomach in awe, amazed that there was a little person that I was giving life to.  It was one of the few moments of my pregnancy that I was not anxiously awaiting the end of my pregnancy, but was perfectly content to be right there...right then.  It was just her and me and nothing else in the world mattered.

But the memories of the few hours we got to hold her are so unclear.  I can't remember her smell, or how she felt in my arms...I look at the pictures and it sometimes feels like the woman in the pictures is someone else, not me.  I wish that have those memories back, and have something else fade with time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The extra one

I recently bought a little package of wooden ornaments that came with markers to color.  I thought it would be sweet if Erin got to be involved in her ornament this year.  The package came with three.  So I let Erin choose hers, and then chose one for Patrick.  Erin got to color hers, and Matt colored Patrick's and I colored the extra one.

Matt asked "So, who is the extra one for?"

It made me sad because I'm supposed to have three kids.  There isn't supposed to be an extra one!  And the extra one was an angel too.  So the whole time I was coloring it I was thinking about what it would have been like if Cora had been there to color one too.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Cora's ornament

I found this at Target the other day and loved it so much I just had to buy it.  I realized I'd never really bought and ornament to represent Cora really (well, not one I was completely happy with). It says "Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but openings our loved ones shine through to let us know they are happy."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The tears I didn't know to cry

Cora is my first baby, and she always will be.

But when it comes to practical parenting experience, the place of "first" goes to Erin, and that makes things a little complicated emotionally.

When I lost Cora, I was devastated, as any woman in my place would be.  I cried many many many tears.  But all those tears were for what I had imagined I had lost.  It wasn't until Erin was born that the weight of my loss hit me, and the sheer reality of it is something I'm continuing to discover.

It wasn't until Erin was born that I realized I was missing out on those sweet bonding moments you get when you're nursing baby and you both just stare into each other's eyes.  I realized I had lost sleepy grins, and yes, even screaming-for-hours nights.  I didn't know what it was like to watch a baby learn to use their body, and then discover that they HAVE said body.  I didn't know the excitement of watching a piece of you grow and develop.  I didn't know that my baby would teach me to appreciate all the things I know how to do by watching them learn.

And that hasn't ended.  Since Erin is the "first" there are all the new things she's still doing that I didn't know to mourn when I lost Cora.  I watch Erin watch her favorite movies, and try to say hard words and learn to count, and try to climb on playground equipment, and I miss Cora.

I hope Erin never feels overshadowed by this.  I hope that I am celebrating Erin enough for her to know that I am so proud of every little thing she does.

But it's not until Erin does something new that I discover something more I need to shed tears for for Cora.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A work in progress

I remember vividly one day watching my father paint a ceramic statuette.  It was probably one of his Father Christmases, as he collects them.  I don't remember really.  I do remember at one point he put a rather garish color on, and I asked "Dad, why did you do that?  It's ugly!"

His response? "Brittanie, don't ever judge a work in progress.  You can't see what the artist sees.  It takes a lot of steps and sometimes you don't understand what's going on, and sometimes it seems like it's going to be ugly.  But I see what it's going to become.  It'll be beautiful, just be patient and watch."

He was right.  He later put an antiquing stain over it, and the color that was previously much too bright to fit suddenly blended beautifully.  I hadn't understood that it had to be garish to be able to show through the stain.

It wasn't until several months after I lost Cora that I realized I was doing the same thing with the way my life was going. I said over and over in my prayers, "Father, why did you do that!? It's ugly!"  It was then that I had a picture in the back of my mind of a Sculptor working a block of stone.  I'd heard the metaphor of God as a sculptor before, but always in clay, molding.  It felt so much more like my experience to see in that mental picture a block of stone.  A stone sculptor works with a hammer and chisel.  With each stroke, a piece of the stone is cut off and discarded.  It seems so much more painful, from the stone's perspective.  I had in my mind a picture of the way that my life was going to go. I had a picture in my mind of what the Sculptor was doing.  And the granite had this beautiful grain, and I was so excited to see that grain in the end sculpture.

And I was horrified when He chiseled it out.

"Brittanie, don't ever judge a work in progress.  You can't see what the Artist sees.  It takes a lot of steps and sometimes you don't understand what's going on, and sometimes it seems like it's going to be ugly.  But I see what it's going to become.  It'll be beautiful, just be patient and watch."

Do I see what the Artist sees?  No.  Sometimes I still don't understand why someone so precious and beautiful couldn't stay in the end product of my life.  I see my life as it is.  But He sees my life as it will be.  He has a picture in His mind of what I am becoming and sometimes I don't understand.  Sometimes it's very painful.  But if I am patient, I will see the beauty of the end product eventually.  I just have to wait a little while.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cora's songs

A fellow angel mother Courtney described it as "listening with the ears of a grieving mother."  It's interesting that I totally hear songs differently now.  I noticed it first with a Josh Groban song (To Where You Are). I've loved that song since it first came out, but when I first heard it, I understood it as a man grieving for a dead lover.  It was sad, no doubt.  But shortly after I lost Cora I was over at a friend's house, and she had that CD on.  The words struck me to the core because they fit so very perfectly.

Since then I have compiled a list of "Cora songs," which is why I have a playlist on this blog even though playlists on blogs irritate me (I usually have something else going on so I have to scramble to find the list to pause it).  I wanted to share my songs with you.  Some of them are obviously about the death of a child, some are just being apart from someone you love.  All of them speak the words of my soul.  So please, if you have a moment, listen to a song or two.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cora's scrapbook

So, I started scrapbooking when I was 13 years old and Pebbles in my Pocket opened in Orem, UT.  So I've been scrapping for half my life now.  I love to scrapbook.  So you can imagine how very excited I was when I got pregnant.  I started buying baby papers and embellishments right away.  I got baby scrapbook supplies from my mother and my sister for Christmas.

I hate that it's so thin.  The only reason it's as thick as it is is because I put all the cards we received in the book. It's good to look back on how very loved we are and how much support we had.  It's good to remember how many people were awaiting Cora's arrival too.  While most of them have moved on and probably don't have her shadow in every thought, it's beautiful to go back and see how loved she was.

But I do get to scrap things for her every once and a while.  She has a birthday page for every one of her 3 birthdays so far.  Actually, she got two this year because I made a layout for what we did as a family (naming a star in her honor, and family portraits on her birthday with the star puppy wearing her name bracelet), my friend Aubrey and her family went to Jenny Lake to take Cora flowers for me.  I can't express how much it means to me that they would do that.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the latest page for Cora's scrapbook.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cora's nursery

I decided I really liked the Secret Garden questions from August, so I'm going to answer them too.

If you created a bedroom for your baby tell us what it was like. Cora's nursery was our second bedroom.  I was doing a sort of Noah's Ark/animals theme.  Since I was in an apartment, I couldn't do any painting or anything so I bought 2 pastel yellow king sized sheets, cut them into strips and sewed them into a panel that I pinned onto one wall so there was a yellow accent wall.  I bought a collage framed and filled it with pictures of animals that we had taken at the San Diego Zoo and Yellowstone. Her crib had a Noah's Ark bedspread.

Did you have it ready for them before they were born? Yes I set up it all up with a friend when I was around 32 weeks pregnant.  I was so excited about it.

If so how did you cope coming home to it without your baby? It was hard to come home to an empty nursery.  My computer was in there too, as well as all my scrapbooking stuff, so before she was born I had spent a LOT of time in there.  So when I got home, I remember I went in there and just felt so...lost.  So empty.

Did you pack it all away? I couldn't bear to pack it all away.  It seemed like it would make the loss so much more final.

What is your baby's room now? We've since moved from that apartment, so that room is no longer ours.  I eventually got to the point where I just shut the door and pretended that room didn't exist, so it because a storage place for everything that was homeless.

If you are trying to conceive again, or are pregnant again how do you feel about setting up another room before your baby is born? It was really hard for me to set up another room for a baby.  Actually, we moved just a week after Erin was born, so I didn't really have to do it for her (because we moved to a smaller apartment, and only had one bedroom).  As it was, she stayed in a bassinet for 5 months because I couldn't bear to set up the crib again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maternal guilt

Why do we do this to ourselves?  This is something I feel often and have come to realize is very common with other babyloss mamas.  We were supposed to protect our babies and we failed.  Regardless of all the circumstances beyond our control, we feel that.  It's not my fault.  I wanted her and I loved her so much.  I would have done anything.  But that didn't matter.

I feel so guilty that I was so miserable during my pregnancy.  So guilty that I didn't enjoy her more while she was here.  I was so focused on just not being pregnant anymore that I didn't appreciate what I had when I had it.  The Saturday before she died (she died Sunday night) a few friends of mine threw me a surprise baby shower.  One friend asked how I was feeling, and I answered "I almost don't care about the baby, I just don't want to be pregnant anymore."

3 days later I wasn't pregnant anymore.

This haunts me.  I remind myself that OF COURSE I cared about my baby, OF COURSE I wanted more than anything for her to come home with me.  But I still said it.  It still hurts.  I can hear myself saying that over and over in the back of my mind.

I wish more than anything I hadn't said it.  Not because I think things would have been different if I hadn't, but because I wouldn't have this monumental knot of guilt that I carry around with me to add to the grief.  I would have stayed pregnant for another 100 years if it meant I could have brought her home with me.  But I was so sick, and my moment of weakness came out.

I hope she knows how very much I loved her.  How even though I was so physically miserable I was so ecstatic to be her mother.  She brought me so much happiness in her short time, and I really wish I had dwelt on that instead of how physically uncomfortable I was.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Secret Garden

Where are you at in your grief?  Has it been years or just weeks since you lost your baby? How are you feeling?  How do you hope you will feel in the future? Have you found any peace at all?

It's been 3 1/2 years since I lost my Cora.  I've had two healthy babies since.  So where am I at?  I'm at the point where everyone thinks that I should be "done" grieving.  I get people saying "But you've had two healthy babies since right?  You should focus on them and be grateful for them."

But I can't just forget that she is my baby.  And her siblings don't replace her.

This holiday season has already been harder than I expected.  It's my fourth without Cora, you'd think I'd be used to it by now.  But Erin is now getting in to the holidays, she is starting to know what's going on, and it's been hitting me so hard that Cora would be a year older.  This year she would have been able to choose what she wanted to dress up as.  She would have understood what trick-or-treating really was.  This year, she'd be asking for things for Christmas.  She'd be excited about Santa.  This year I'm grieving for being able to share the holidays with her rather than "doing them to her."

I do believe I have found peace in it.  I still miss her so very much, but it's not the stabbing, knifing, take-your-breath-away kind most of the time.  I know I will get to see her again, and most of the time I feel like I can wait.

The only thing I hope for the future is that she won't be forgotten.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How do you mother a child who isn't here?

I have had people ask why I talk about Cora so much, and ask my angel mother friends. Why do we focus so much on the child we don't have?

The answer, for me at least, is simple. You can see Erin and Patrick. I walk into the store and nobody has to ask if they're my children. I can hold them, and kiss them, and love them. I do not have to remind anyone that they are here.

I never got to be a mother to Cora in a real, tangible way. I never got to feed her, or put her to sleep, or calm her down and wipe away tears. I never got to see her face light up when I walk into the room, or see her reach her hands out for me.

The only thing I can do to be her mother is to talk about her. So I do.

Our culture is one that does not know at all how to handle grief. It's socially unacceptable to be grieving. It's a "private" matter that nobody wants to see. Nobody wants to know about it if it's painful. And it's even more so if that grief is centered on a child that died before birth. There is a cultural trend to brush off these babies as somehow "less" than others. It's hurtful and it's frustrating, since Cora is every bit as real to me as Erin and Patrick. I didn't love either of them any more after they were born and screaming than I did the day before. If I were to lose either of them now (takes my breath away to even think it), I don't think I'd be any more devastated than I was at that moment when I saw Cora's heart so still.

So talking about Cora doesn't mean I am somehow depriving my other children of attention that they should have. It doesn't even mean that I'm not allowing myself to be happy. I laugh, I love. I am investing everything I can in my living children. I am also investing everything I can in my angel child too, because I am still her mother, and need to mother her in some way.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cora's Story

I was more than ecstatic when the pregnancy test came up positive. I'd wanted my own baby since my youngest brother was born when I was seven. I had been sick for two weeks already, and but all tests until then had been negative. And my period was 2 days late. So I decided that when I took Matt to work that day (at Wally World), I'd pick up a test. I tested at the bathroom there in the store, since I wanted to tell Matt the results before anyone else, and I couldn't call him while he was working. So I tested before I left, so I could tell him in person.

And then I called my mother on the way home. I was so excited.

Like I said, I had already been sick for 2 weeks before I even tested positive for pregnancy. It only got worse from there. At 10 weeks I ended up going to the emergency room because I had been throwing up once and hour for a full 24 hours and had started throwing up blood. They gave me an IV of fluid with anti emetics in it. 4 days later I would have my first OB appointment, and I was to have an ultrasound. I was terrified because I had been so sick that they would find that the baby hadn't survived and that my body just hadn't realized it yet.

But she was not only alive but perfect. They told me my due date was May 14th...Mother's Day. It couldn't have been more perfect. And then I was put on oral nausea medication because I was still very very very sick. Unfortunately it never did go away for the entire course of my pregnancy.

In January, at about 23 weeks, we had our "big" ultrasound. I was so excited. I wanted to know the gender so badly. I had myself convinced the baby was a boy because I always thought I'd have a boy first. But at about 13 weeks I started having strong feelings it was in fact a girl. Would she be my Cora Rei? I couldn't wait, but still had a feeling of dread. What would I do if the technician told me that something was wrong? What if the baby didn't have kidneys? ((I have no idea why, but this thought seriously did go through my head))

But the baby was perfect. And sitting with the rump down in my pelvis and the cord between the legs so that the technician could not for anything see the gender. And the baby wouldn't move for anything (well, little arm and leg movements, but not the big shift in position we needed).

I remember saying to Matt, "Oh she's totally a girl, and obviously a redhead too! She's too stubborn not to be a redhead!" I'd wanted and dreamed of a little redheaded girl all my life, and was convinced that she really was, though I had no way of knowing. 3 weeks later at my next OB appointment, my doctor snuck me in to the older machine and "took a quick peek." The baby had not only turned head down, but had spread-eagled as well. Sure enough, we were having a baby girl!

Everything went well from there. The last week of April I was having some fairly significant pain, so at my appointment on the 26th (Wed.) I had my doctor check me. I was 1.5cm dilated and he could feel her head, but she "bounced back up" when he touched her. But he was convinced I'd be going into labor before my appointment the next week. On Friday I started having cervical pains worse than I'd ever had in my life. I thought I was going to go into labor that night but didn't. I didn't on Saturday either. On Sunday morning (Apr. 30) when I woke up it was obvious that Cora had dropped. My hips hurt a lot but I wasn't really having any contractions or anything. I had to work that evening, and went, hoping that several hours on my feet would get things going.

While at work I kept feeling like something was wrong, but couldn't pinpoint it. Cora was still moving a bit, so I pushed it away. A coworker came in at one point and asked if I was okay after I had rushed to the bathroom. I had been having a "dripping" sensation all night, and told her I thought I may be leaking amniotic fluid. She offered to finish out my shift for me so that I could go to the hospital, but after fifteen minutes of talking about it I decided that I would go home and go to bed and "see what happened in the morning." I fully expected to wake up in the early morning hours in labor.

I was astounded when I woke up at nearly 11 am. I got up, called my sister and left her a message wishing her a happy birthday and telling her that I wasn't in labor, so her neice probably wouldn't share her birthday. And then I took a shower.

It was in the shower that I realized it. Cora didn't move when I turned my belly to the water. She always became active in warm water. But there was nothing. I started poking my belly an bruised myself, but there was nothing.

I got out of the shower, and told Matt that I thought something was wrong because I couldn't get her to move. He tried to reassure me, but got nervous when I had him listen to my belly for her heartbeat and he couldn't hear anything. I decided to eat/drink something and see if that helped. It didn't. So I called my OB, and they were out to lunch and simply had a message.

We went to do some errands while I waited a torturous hour until my doctor's office opened again. We went into one of the offices at the University to file some paperwork for Matt that needed to be filed. The secretaries asked when I was due and thought it was so exciting that I was so close. "Not much longer now!" one of them said, "Walking around campus should get things started! Maybe you'll have a baby tomorrow!" I just smiled and agreed. I didn't say a word about how deep down I knew I wouldn't get to take her home. I was clinging to the hope that I was wrong.

When I finally got a nurse on the line, I had to argue with her for 15 minutes. YES I had tried all of that to try to get her to "wake up." NO, she hadn't just "slowed down." I could not get her to move at all. Maybe she finally realized my urgency was more than just a freaked out first-time mother. Maybe she could hear in my voice that my hands were shaking and I had tears in my eyes. She told me to come in and they'd check things out.

But I wasn't scheduled and OB offices are perpetually behind schedule, so they couldn't get me back right away. I'm glad that I didn't have to explain to the receptionist why I was there though. She was expecting me, and with a grim smile (I think she was trying to be reassuring but was really worried when I told her, no, there hadn't been any movement yet), told me she'd get me back as soon as possible.

I sat down in one of the only chair that had an empty chair next to it. Next to another waiting patient. I went through the "when are you due? Oh that's so exciting!" litany again. I didn't tell her why I was there, and just let her chatter on about waiting for her big ultrasound. She was so happy, and I could hardly breathe. They called her back just before they did me. I have never been so glad that they had kept their old nearly obsolete ultrasound machine.

They took my blood pressure though I told the nurse that I was so stressed out it wouldn't be accurate anyway, and she nodded that it was pretty high.

The doctor came in and used the dopplar first, but couldn't find anything.

"Oh, you're making me want to cry!" I said, nearly hysterical. He made a comment that he'd be a miracle worker if he got it with the dopplar every time. I knew that was ridiculous. At 38 weeks, if you don't get a heartbeat on the dopplar it's because there isn't one. He seemed to be going in slow motion as he put the gel on my belly. He was really quiet.

And then he turned to me with tears in his eyes and turned the screen for me to see. "There's her heart, and it isn't beating. I'm so sorry." I have that image seared in my mind. So still.

I didn't have the breath to cry at first, and then it all came out in a rush. I accused him of joking and being so cruel as I watched the tear roll down his cheek. The rest of the day was a blur. He took us to his office to use his phone since our cell phones didn't get reception back there. He scheduled me for an induction the next morning (the soonest I could get in). I couldn't get ahold of my mother. Nobody was answering the phone. I called my best friend, who was in Las Vegas because her father who was fighting cancer had taken a turn for the worst. I was frantic and didn't know what else to do. She called them and then called me back and told me that she couldn't get ahold of them and I should try one more time, and if they didn't pick up again she'd drive by their house.

My mother picked up that time, and couldn't believe what I was saying. I asked for her and my dad to call everyone else and tell them so I wouldn't have to. More phone calls were made, to our bishop, to a local friend, both with instructions to spread the word.

My doctor gave me a prescription for Ambien, since we knew I'd probably be unable to sleep. I felt like my belly had tripled in size and every brush and bump made me want to vomit. We were silent as we drove to Walmart to have my prescription filled. While there we passed the woman I had sat next to in the waiting room. I could see the confusion in her face when she saw my red eyes and tear streaked face. I turned down another aisle to avoid her. I couldn't say it out loud. And definitely not to a stranger. Unfortunately Matt worked there and so we knew everyone who worked there. We spoke to Matt's manager so that he could get the rest of the week off, and got bereavement pay as well. Then we went to my workplace and spoke to my manager. The next day was supposed to be my last day before maternity leave started.

Our bishop came to our apartment and spoke to us. We talked about arrangements for funeral services. We decided on cremation since we were only in Idaho for school and I couldn't bear the thought of burying her there and then moving away. He made calls around to funeral homes in the area.

I woke the next morning after fitful sleep even with the ambien. I took a shower and grabbed my hospital bag. I left the bag I had packed for Cora in my empty nursery. We drove to the hospital in silence. Every step I took walking up to Labor and Delivery was like a stab in the heart. I walked up to the counter and the nurse was holding a new little baby and sweetly asked me how she could help me. When I told her I was there for the 7:30 induction all the color drained from her face and she turned as if to hide the baby in her arms. She offered a very flustered apology as she called to my attending nurse and then nearly ran back into the nursery and shut the door.

I don't remember much about the labor, actually. My friend Shauna told me that I was cheerful, in a wide-eyed, shocked, deer-in-the-headlights kind of way. It took 3 tries to get epidural in, and it was turned up so high that I couldn't feel any sort of thing at all from just below my breasts down. They turned it off when it came time to push. But it took two hours, so by the time she was actually born I could feel everything. It was that point that I finally broke down sobbing, when I realized that all that physical pain was for nothing at all.

The doctor finally decided to "help" with the suction cup because after two hours I wasn't any closer to delivering than when I had started. Her umbilical cord was what was keeping her from being born. It was wrapped so tightly around her neck that it wasn't letting her be born. It was very clear that that was what had taken her life.

After her cut her cord, he placed her still form on my chest. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. My beautiful little girl with red curly hair. The little girl I had dreamed of all my life.

She was perfect in every way.