75%

I’m doing just fine 95% of the time.  Well I guess technically it would be 75% of the time–the 8 days between the monthiversary of Zoe’s birth and her death are nearly impossible to get through.  And it usually takes me about half of the day on the 14th of the month to even realize why I’m such a shitty mood.  I may not consciously be aware of the date (as a stay at home mom I can barely tell you what day of the week it is, let alone the date!), but my subconscious certainly knows and my mood is absolutely horrendous.  For those 8 days I’m short tempered, sad, irritable and don’t want to talk.  So in other words a complete joy to be around.  Although then again I don’t know how much of that is different from every other day of my entire life…seriously how anyone puts up with me is a mystery.

I think part of the problem is that I am doing so well the other 3 weeks of the month.  I feel like I’m healing and getting better…and then the 14th through 22nd rolls around and I’m right back to where I started.  I know that’s not true; I’ve made a ton of progress.  But it just feels like any progress that it seems I’ve made is completely wiped clean on the 23rd.  I have to start from scratch again.  And I think that’s why those days are so rough; it feels like the other 22 days of the month are just a lie.

Now that I’m over the hump for the month of May things are going well again.  We’re still anxiously awaiting the autopsy results.  The coroner’s office told me 60-90 days is typical for infants and we officially passed the 90 day mark on Sunday.  I’m going to give it the rest of the week and then call on Tuesday.  I don’t want to be a hassle but I really would like some answers.  Even if the answer is “Sorry, we need another month for more results to come back”.

We’re going home this weekend for Zoe’s tree planting.  I can’t remember if I mentioned this before or not, but Jeff had the absolutely brilliant idea to plant Zoe’s ashes at the bottom of an oak tree on my dad’s property.  Then she can grow and thrive like she was unable to as a baby and we have somewhere to visit her.  Not that I need a place to go, but you know what I mean.  So on Saturday we’ll have our tree planting “ceremony” (for lack of a better word) with immediate family.  We’re also going to release butterflies.  I know it’s super cliche, but I don’t care.  We’re going to have a photographer come out and capture the moment for us.  I think it will be nice.  I’m actually really looking forward to it.

Someone recently posted on the local army wives page that their daughter (who passed away from the flu when she was 9 months) would have been turning 3 on such-and-such date.  She was looking for a little girl with the same birthday who was also turning 3 to send a gift to.  I absolutely adore that idea.  I think it would be great to give back to someone in need and to celebrate Zoe’s birthday in a positive way.  There was a ton of feedback on the post and a few people mentioned how they write a letter to their deceased child, put it in a balloon and release it on his/her birthday every year.  That’s another tradition that I want to incorporate.

Honestly I don’t really have much to say.  I just felt the need to write a post when I’m feeling good–not in a pit of despair like every other time.  To let people know that we’re doing just fine.  Slowly but surely.  Surviving.

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Advice for those who have lost a baby and to their friends and family. In a nutshell: hugs.

I had a perfect baby girl, Zoe, on February 14, 2016.  Although she fought as hard as she could in the NICU for 8 days, she was unable to make it.

I just learned that a friend from the past, M, lost his newborn baby.  I don’t know any of the details beyond Nora was born early, was in the NICU, and passed away a few short days later.  He’s not a big Facebook person, so although we’re FB friends I don’t really know anything about the situation.  Back in the day (over 10 years ago…I can’t believe it!) I used to buy alcohol for one of the guys I worked with, J, and all of his friends.  M was a friend of J and we all hung out pretty frequently back then.  Since M was more of a friend-of-a-friend I lost touch with him over the years.  I think the last time I saw him was when J got married about 4 years ago.  He was (and I’m sure still is) the absolute sweetest guy ever.  Someone who doesn’t deserve to experience what he is experiencing.  Although honestly, I wouldn’t wish the death of a child on anyone, not even my worst enemy.  Well, if I had enemies.  I’m not the type of person who makes enemies.  But regardless, it’s something no one should ever go through.

J contacted me yesterday to let me know what happened.  He apologized, saying that he’s sorry to say anything, he doesn’t want to make me sad with thoughts of Zoe, but wanted to know if I had any advice for him as M’s friend.  And to let me know that he shared my blog with M.  Please, if anyone finds themselves in a situation where a friend has lost a child, don’t hesitate to do exactly what J did.  The main reasons I write everything down are to help me work through things and to keep all of my friends aware of where I am emotionally since I don’t like to talk about it.  But also to possibly help anyone else out there who is experiencing something similar.  To let them know that they’re not alone.  And that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  That there will come a day when you can breathe again, where every moment of every day isn’t consumed by what you’ve lost.  I’m not there yet, but I am getting there.  Please feel free to share my blog with anyone who needs it.  If there’s the possibility of any good coming out of this situation then I want to utilize it.

And never be afraid to bring up Zoe.  Especially in a scenario like this.  I don’t need a point blank question to make me think of her; she’s always in my thoughts somewhere.   And although thinking of her makes me sad, it’s a wistful kind of sad, not a devastating loss anymore.

I’ve been thinking a lot since I learned of the passing of Nora.  About what I can say to people who have been thrown into this god awful situation and to those who are friends with them.  Because I remember thinking how bad I felt for our friends and family through the worst of it.  I could only imagine how helpless they felt.

This is based solely on what made me feel “better”.  Everyone experiences grief differently and I can only speak for myself.

To the bereaved:

  1. Exercise.  Not for those endorphins, not for your health, not to lose weight (although all of those are obviously bonuses), but to get out of your head.  Those 45 minutes a day where I put on headphones, blast upbeat music and workout so hard that I can’t think about anything at all except taking my next ragged breath are a life saver.  10 weeks later I still need that time every day.  A guaranteed time that Zoe will not cross my mind.  45 minutes where my brain empties out.  45 minutes of freedom.  I never feel better (or more like I’m going to keel over, haha) than when I climb down off of that elliptical or bicycle or put down my weights.  Sometimes that feeling will be enough to get me through the rest of the day; sometimes it fades within minutes.  But it doesn’t matter how long it lasts; the important thing is I have that time.
  2. Get help.  I never did this and I wish I had.  Sometimes I consider doing it when we get to Leavenworth.  There are support groups, both in-person and online.  These groups are catered specifically towards late-term miscarriages, stillborn and neonatal deaths.  There are counselors who specialize in grief, even some specifically in childhood grief.  Reach out and find help.
  3. Talk to each other.  This is another one that I still struggle with.  Jeff and I are fortunate–we have a very strong marriage.  But it’s easy to see how this can tear a couple apart, even the strongest ones.  Even though he’s the only other person who knows what it feels like to lose Zoe, I still have a difficult time talking to him about it.  I think because he’s the only person who completely understands.  So find a way to communicate.  Go to couples counseling (which we almost did when I was at my worst).  Write in a blog/journal and let your partner read it.  Any way you can think of to let him/her in on your feelings.  You need each other.
  4. Let someone spread the news at work and with friends and family.  I can’t imagine how much more difficult all of this would have been pre-Facebook.  I hated putting that on there but it sure was an easy way to make sure that all of those acquaintances that you never really talk to find out what happened.  It’s certainly easier to write it down on FB than it would be to pick up the phone and call people.  And it helps to avoid the awkwardness when someone doesn’t know.  Jeff learned firsthand what a huge mistake it was when he asked his boss to not tell people at work.  A few days after Zoe’s death he went in just to pick up some paperwork and figure out his leave time.  One of the guys he worked with came up, clapped him on the back and exclaimed, “Congratulations man!  How are mom and baby?  Anyone getting any sleep?”.  Tears are coming to my eyes just thinking about how awful that had to have been for him.  And it made his coworker feel like a complete jackass when Jeff had to inform him that Zoe died.  There was no need to feel that way–he had no idea.  Who could’ve guessed?  The only way for him to find out is if someone tells him.  As much as we don’t want people talking behind our backs, this is one scenario where it’s better than the alternative.  Unfortunately when I returned to the gym and story time and various other places, there wasn’t anyone to do that for me.  Believe me, I contemplated asking the regular front desk lady at the YMCA to put up a flier for me, explaining that “the pregnant chick who was always working out had her baby but she died”.  It certainly would have made things easier for me.  Just last week I had another random person come up to me and say, “Hey, aren’t you the one who was pregnant?  You’re looking really great!” (which was a bit weird since it came from a 65 year old man.  He wasn’t gross about it, but it was still a bit uncomfortable.  I  could tell he regretted his choice of words after they came out, haha).
  5. Accept hugs from strangers.  By stranger I really mean more like people you know, but don’t really know.  Dear God, please don’t go up to random people in the grocery store and say, “Can I have a hug?”.  Like I’m going to mention here in a minute in the friends and family section, hugs are amazing.  Hugs are almost a cure all.  Especially when people don’t ruin them with words.  The first time I went back to the gym and the front desk lady asked me all about the baby I burst into tears.  She asked me if I wanted a hug and I told her no.  As I continued to stand there and sob she told me she didn’t care, she was giving me one anyway.  And man was it hard to let go of her once it started.  That hug was exactly what I needed at that moment in time.  And sure, every time I check into the gym and see her I feel awkward remembering that hug from a relative stranger, but I don’t care.  Nothing could have felt better at the time.  I didn’t want to say yes, but I wanted one so badly.  So just say yes.  It’s the right answer.
  6. Grief really is like waves. Those experts weren’t kidding about that. One minute I’m fine, the next sobbing for no apparent reason. It’s all consuming. It’s powerful. Let it consume you. Have a breakdown. Don’t fight it. It’s inevitable and the sooner you come to terms with that and succumb, the sooner you’ll be able to start to heal. This is another one I’m still working on.
  7. Whatever you’re feeling is the right way to feel. Sometimes you’ll be okay–that’s okay (better than okay–that’s wonderful). Sometimes you’ll be a hot mess–also okay. Sometimes you’ll be angry, depressed, inconsolable, ecstatic, a zombie. Those emotions and thousands of more are all okay. Everyone grieves differently. There’s no timeline, no right or wrong way to do it. Go easy on yourself–the last thing you need is to feel guilty that you’re not “getting over it” fast enough or too fast. Do what you need to do.
  8. You’re going to regress. You’ll have some really good moments in the beginning…and then some good hours…some good days…eventually good months in a row. But it will hit you like a brick, seemingly out of nowhere. The first time I stumbled backwards I was devastated. I thought I was better; the grief had subsided. And it does–but not permanently. And just because you are back to being a hot mess doesn’t mean that stage is going to last either. Allow yourself to have a meltdown.
  9. Don’t actually steal a baby. Hand-in-hand with having to tell people your baby died is seeing other babies and pregnant women in public. Nothing will prepare you for that and it doesn’t get any easier. Leave if you need to. Ask to hold the baby if you think that will help. I never had the courage for the last one but I wish I had. You will now understand why some people steal babies. Empathize with them, but don’t actually do it! Grieving parents can get away with a lot, but I’m pretty sure that one is still frowned upon…
  10. It will eventually be bearable. There’s no timeline, no end date, but it will happen eventually. You’ll never get over it, it will never be okay, but someday you’ll be able to function like a normal person. Hold onto that thought. Don’t rush it; you’ll get there when you get there. But know that you will get there eventually.

To the friends and family:

  1. Be there.  It doesn’t have to be physically, although that’s definitely the best way.  As much as I dreaded going home for Zoe’s memorial, it actually ended up being so much better than I thought.  I was with my people.  Just sitting around with my friends and family, the people who care about me the most in the world besides Jeff, was such a relief.  To just talk about things.  To just have company.  Although I absolutely love everything that everyone sent us–the statues, the books, the jewelry, the flowers, the thing that meant the most to me was that J drove 3 hours to come to Zoe’s memorial, stayed the 2 hours he had a sitter for, and then turned around and drove the 3 hours back.  I had assumed that he wouldn’t be able to make it (which I would have completely understood.  Things are complicated now with jobs and kids.  I still feel awful that I wasn’t able to make it to Noelle’s mom’s or dad’s funeral because of life, even though I know she understands).  That’s friendship.
  2. Check in.  Like I said, it doesn’t have to be in-person.  The texts and FB messages just asking how I was every few days–those were just as important.  Although there were times that I didn’t answer and times when I felt annoyed and overwhelmed by them, I needed them.  I can’t talk about my feelings on my own–I need to be asked.  Even though I still don’t like talking one-on-one with people about it, I’d much rather keep everyone updated through my blog, just knowing that people were thinking of me was helpful.  I’ll never bring up my feelings on my own, and even though there’s a good chance that I still won’t be honest when asked point blank, there is still a chance I’ll talk.  Give me the option.  And don’t just do it the first couple of days, the first couple of weeks.  Keep on checking in.  Sure, it’s “easier” as time goes on, but there are still bad moments, bad hours, bad days.  And the more time that passes the less people ask.  Be one of those people that sticks around.
  3. Less is more.  There is absolutely nothing that you can say to make it better.  I know that, you know that, everyone knows that.  So don’t try.  Offer a simple “I am so sorry for your loss.  I am thinking/praying about you and your family.”  Leave it at that.  Don’t try to fill the silences, don’t drone on and on how she’s in a better place, how now at least you have a guardian angel, how at least she isn’t in any pain any more.  Let me say all of those things if I want to, and then agree.  And honestly a hug goes a long way.  A hug says it all.  Those are the times when I would lose it around people–when I was being hugged.  Opt for hugs, not words.
  4. Ask about the baby.  My emotions aren’t the only thing I have a difficult time bringing up on my own.  I won’t talk about Zoe unless asked.  I know it’s dumb, especially with family and my closest friends, but I feel like nobody wants to listen to me drone on and on about my dead baby.  It’s depressing.  But if you ask me about her then I feel perfectly justified talking about her.  And I want to talk about her.  I want to talk about what she’d be doing at almost 3 months old.  About what it was like sitting by her bedside.  About the songs we sang, the books we read, the nurses and doctors who took care of her.  How much she weighed, her birth story, why we chose the name we did.  She’s a part of my life and I don’t want to pretend she isn’t.  Zoe changed who I am more than J or C ever will.  Jeff pointed out that talking about her is all we have left of her–of course we want to be able to do it.
  5. Opt for a donation over flowers.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved having all of the flowers.  I debated even saying anything because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or make anyone think for a single second that we didn’t appreciate and love all of the flowers.  But it was the people who made a donation in Zoe’s name to a cause related to her death that I truly treasured.  We had some people give to the Ronald McDonald house after I raved about them and what a difference they made in our lives during that week.  We had some donations go to the American Heart Association since Zoe’s problem has yet to be diagnosed, but was related to her heart.  Even if there wasn’t a cause or an organization that made a difference in the grieving couples’ lives, there are still places to consider.  If they were amazed by the hospital staff like we were, donate to the hospital.  There are organizations out there that help families that can’t afford it to bury their babies (had we opted to bury Zoe instead of having her cremated it would have been an outrageous expense).  Grief support groups.  Organizations that provide grieving families with “gifts” that I’m sure could use the money.  Just find something reputable.
  6. Show that there’s still good in the world.  One of the biggest things that has stuck in my mind through all of this is a gift from a random stranger.  There was an envelope in my mail a few weeks back addressed to me with a return address I didn’t recognize.  I opened it up to reveal a bracelet and a card.  The card said simply “Nicole:  Just a little note to let you know that people (some you have never met) are praying for you, baby Zoe and your family!” and was signed by a name I’d never heard before.  The bracelet is beautiful–it’s comprised of silver and amethyst (Zoe’s birthstone) beads and has a butterfly on one side.  Most importantly, however, it also included a typed note explaining that 20 percent of the proceeds from the bracelet are donated directly to a charity that assists families who can’t afford to bury their newborn children.  The fact that some stranger would not only send me a note and buy a bracelet that not only honors Zoe’s memory but also gives to a charity that helps families in similar situations hit me hard.  It was what I needed.  So if you ever hear of a friend of a friend or read in the paper a story about a premature death, consider doing something like that for a stranger in need.  So simple and yet it meant the world to me.
  7. Share.  J did the exact thing he should have done.  He passed along my blog to M and his wife.  He told me what happened so I can also reach out myself.  Please, if you ever have a friend in this situation (knock on wood that you never do), please do what he did.  The couple may not read it, may not talk to me, and that’s perfectly understandable and more than fine.  But they may want to.  Give them that option.  I remember a few weeks after Zoe’s death I was having a really hard time.  I went online to look through some support groups to see if that would help.  It ended up having the exact opposite effect:  I was reading all of these stories about people who 3, 6, 9 months later were still unable to get out of bed.  Who were still completely consumed by their grief.  Who had made zero progress in healing.  I was devastated.  I couldn’t do that for 3 more months.  Hell, I couldn’t do it for 3 more weeks.  Jeff’s cousin and his wife had a stillborn boy, Titus, a few years back.  She had reached out to me a few times, letting me know that she knew what I was going through and was there if I ever needed to talk.  I never took her up on it until that afternoon.  I messaged her and told her what I had read and that I needed to know how long it took her to start healing.  That I needed to know that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  That some day I was going to be okay.  And I didn’t need to hear that from friends and family who had no idea what it is like to lose a baby.  I needed to hear it from someone who had been there.  I needed to know that it was going to be okay.  So even if the couple you know doesn’t read my blog immediately or ever get in contact with me, at least it’s there if they need it.

Like I said, this is just what helped me.  Some people may not want to talk about their babies.  Some people may have no problem discussing their feelings.  Some people may “get over” it easier or take longer.  Just be there for them.  Be willing to listen, any time, any place.  No need for advice, for words of wisdom, for gifts, for anything except you.  That’s all you can do.

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Regression.

I’m back to thinking about Zoe constantly.  For awhile I was doing pretty well.  Right before Florida I felt like I was in a groove.  My whole life wasn’t revolving around the thought “What should I be doing right now?”.  It was no longer my first thought when I woke up or my last thought before going to bed.  My new normal was starting to become just normal.

But ever since I got back I feel myself going more and more backwards.  The days are getting more difficult, not easier.  I’m obsessing over the “What if?” again.  I’m crying off and on all day.  I’m having difficulties sleeping, especially falling asleep.  And each day I’m feeling a little bit worse, thinking a little bit more.

I think there are a few reasons for my regression.  First, Zoe would have been two months old last week, which also means the two month anniversary of her death is almost here.  Two months…she would now be out of that infant/alien/zombie phase and starting to be more alert.  She’d be turning into a baby now.  We would be seeing her first intentional smile soon, if we hadn’t already.  She’d be doing more than just sleeping, eating and crying (but not much more).  She’d be learning how to hold up her head all on her own.  She’d start making noises other than just cries.  She’d start to get a little bit of a personality.  Which (and I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here) we’ll never see.

Second, I’m starting to prepare for the PCS, which means getting rid of shit.  Although I thankfully already went through J’s and C’s old stuff, weeding out everything I don’t want anymore, now I need to do something with the piles of clothes and toys.  Zoe never would have worn the clothing in these piles because the intention was always to get rid of it, but that doesn’t stop each and every teeny tiny baby girl outfit from tugging at my heartstrings as I decide if it’s doomed to the garbage, off to Goodwill or still in nice enough condition to sell.

Third, I just finished rereading Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner.  I started it at the beach and finally got around to finishing it yesterday.  I don’t know how, but I completely forgot that she has a baby who is born prematurely and spends the first few weeks in the NICU.  I’ve read that book at least 10 times before, I know how it ends.  And even though she’s pregnant for the majority of it, never once did the thought cross my mind that it was going to end with her having a baby.  After I finished it all I could think was how unfair it is that she got to come home with a baby and I didn’t.  Jealous of a fictional character now, terrific.

And then yesterday I plugged my camera into my computer to transfer the pictures from C’s birthday.  I don’t know how, but two pictures of Zoe popped up.  I’ve dumped my camera at least once since her death but for some reason those pictures stayed on there, not emerging until yesterday.  The first one was one that Jeff took of Zoe and I the morning she was born.  He took it when the nurse brought her over to me about ten minutes after her birth, the first time we got to even see her.  Right before I gave her one quick kiss before they whisked her off to the NICU.  Before we knew anything was seriously wrong.  When we had no idea that was our only chance to see our precious baby girl without a bunch of tubes and wires.  Our only chance to hold her–although we weren’t given that option.   Never again will I let anyone take away my baby without at least getting a chance to hold him or her.  Never.

But honestly I think the main reason why I’m going backwards (besides just the obvious “grief goes in waves” answer) is because I don’t know if I ever grieved “properly”.  Yeah yeah yeah, I know that everyone deals with grief differently.  But I’m afraid that I never fully allowed myself to mourn.  To feel the pain completely.  I think I’m avoiding it.  Pushing it to the back burner, convincing myself that I’m just fine.  That the situation isn’t right, it isn’t okay, but it is what it is and life goes on.  I realized the other day that although I’ve experienced the denial, bargaining and depression phases of grief, I’ve never felt anger.  Unfairness, sure.  Jealously, absolutely.  But nothing even remotely near anger.  Not at Zoe for being unable to pull through.  Not at the doctors, who I know without a doubt did absolutely everything they possibly could.  Not the irrational anger at friends/family/strangers.  Not even at God because she was born defective.  Not at Jeff and I for deciding to give up hope and stop wishing for a miracle by removing all medical intervention.  Not at myself because I know there isn’t anything I did wrong.

But maybe that’s what I’m waiting for.  The autopsy results.  The results that I’m sure are going to come back that she was born with some rare genetic disorder that caused her capillaries, veins and heart to work against one another.  Maybe once I hear a medical professional tell me without a doubt that my baby was born broken and there wasn’t a single thing anyone in the world could have done to fix her, maybe then I’ll break once and for all.  Or maybe those results will come back and say that she developed improperly in the womb and they don’t know why and I’ll start to blame myself and the anger will kick in once and for all.  Or maybe they’ll say, well it turns out her condition was reversible and if we would’ve figured out what it was in time she could’ve healed.  And then I can rage at the doctors who didn’t catch it in time, who didn’t fix her like they should have.  At Jeff and myself for not giving it more time.

According to the medical examiners office, the results take 2-3 months for infants.  Which means we should have the final answer anytime between right now and four more weeks.  Just please, let there be a definitive answer.  And let it be a freak occurrence, not something Jeff or I passed on to her.  Something that we could pass on to another child.

Until then I’ll be in limbo.  Not knowing how the next day, next hour, next minute will make me feel.

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It was the best of times, the worst of times.

I had the best but worst time during my 5 days in Florida.  It was absolutely amazing to see my friends again.  I only get to see Noelle once a year (although now it’ll be twice since I’m going to up my annual vacation to two times a year…Jeff’s thrilled, haha) and I haven’t gotten to actually hang out with one of my other friends who was there in a long time.  It was fantastic to be with them again, making new memories, laughing nonstop and getting caught up on everything that has happened in the last year.  Even though we don’t get to see each other very often it feels like it was just yesterday since we all hung out together.  There’s no awkwardness, no hesitation, no searching for things to talk about.  It’s easy.  It’s true friendship at its best.

But I was unprepared for the downtime.  The constant thinking.  The not being able to get out of my head.  I never realized just how much my brain never stops running at home–what are we having for dinner?  When do I need to start getting it ready?  Oh crap, I forgot to get salt from the grocery store.  When’s the best time to go to the gym?  Can I fit a walk in for Roman this morning?  Does J need leggings or panty hose under her dress?  Shit, it’s 8:03, we need to leave for the bus stop.  C needs a diaper change.  I need to clean the bathrooms.  Dammit, I didn’t pull the meat out of the freezer.  Whoops, I forgot to make Roman’s food.  Shit, it’s 400, we need to get J from the bus.  Oh my God could doing homework with her be any more torturous?  How do people homeschool?  Is it bath time yet?  When’s Jeff getting home?  And the moments when my brain isn’t running a mile a minute then I’m working on a craft or zoned out in front of the TV late at night (and by “late at night” I mean 830).  But there was nothing to think about on vacation.  No big to-dos, no stressors, no nothing…which is normally exactly what I need.  Not this time.

I knew from the moment I stepped on the airplane that it wasn’t such a good idea. I missed my kids already. And no offense to my family, but that never happens. It might sound awful, but I don’t miss my kids the four days that I’m gone. I love them with all my heart, but I always need that time away. I revel in it. Refuel. But that’s not the case anymore. I don’t feel overprotective of them like I read happens to a lot of moms after the death of a child, but it turns out that I don’t want to be away from them. I don’t want to miss a single thing. And a trip without them was the worst possible idea.

I don’t want to make it sound like I had an awful time–the complete opposite of that. Those times when we were all together, talking and laughing, catching up, making memories, were the best times ever. It was just those down times.  Sitting in my lounge chair by the pool trying to read I just felt guilty.  Guilty for willingly being away from my kids when I would never get a chance to spend any more time with my third baby.  Guilty for wanting to stop thinking about that and just read.  Guilty for sitting by the pool in the Florida sun, trying to be carefree.  Guilty for being on a vacation, no matter how much I earned this one.  Although honestly I don’t think guilty is the right word. I don’t know what exactly I was feeling…it just didn’t feel right. Or good.  So instead of spending the entire day reading like we normally do, Amanda and I sat on the edge of the pool, our feet dangling in the water to keep cool (while it was snowing back home, hahaha), talking and people watching.  And as long as we were talking, I was okay.  Fortunately there are never many lulls in the conversation when we’re together.

The last day was the worst.  We went to the beach and I forgot my book.  Although honestly I don’t know how much of a difference it would have made if I had had it.  From the moment I woke up I didn’t feel right and that feeling stuck with me all day–through my workout, through all of our conversations.  The feelings had returned full force and were extremely hard to shake. Once again I can’t even express what I was feeling.  It definitely wasn’t guilt.  It was more than just sadness.  I was in my head and I wanted–needed–to get out of it.  And you know, that probably wasn’t the healthiest thing to do.  I let myself dwell on everything for as long as possible that morning, but it probably still wasn’t enough.  I probably should’ve let myself cry.  I was surrounded by my closest friends; I should’ve talked to them about it.  But I just couldn’t.  That night after we got back and were all laying in bed it took me 20 minutes to open my mouth and ask Noelle, the one who had lost both of her parents recently, if she has a hard time talking about her feelings.  Twenty minutes to work up the courage to say something to someone who is not only one of my best friends, but who is also going through something very similar.  I just can’t talk about it.  It seems pointless.  No one can say or do anything to make it better.  I know that and they know that so I feel like that makes them feel helpless and I don’t want to do that to them.  Stupid, I know…but that knowledge still doesn’t help me talk about it.  No one knows how I’m feeling (even though the rational part of me knows that’s not true. Sure, no one knows exactly how I’m feeling, but grief is grief.  Which was evidenced by the fact that Noelle knew exactly what I was taking about before I even finished saying it and felt the exactly same way).  It was such a huge relief to hear Noelle feels the same way about it that I do. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make me more comfortable talking about my feelings. It doesn’t make me feel better about the situation. It doesn’t make it any easier.

I think another reason it was so hard is because I was doing so well the previous weeks.  I was able to think about Zoe without crying.  I wasn’t having bad days, just bad moments.  And even the bad moments were fewer and farther (further?) between.  Although I knew that I wasn’t healed, I really thought I was starting to get over it.  You’d think I would have learned my lesson after the last time I felt that way and then was completely bowled over by something simple.  Even though I know that grief comes in waves and that I’ll never be completely safe from the depression, I’m still shocked every time it catches me off guard.

I also confirmed a suspicion on that trip:  I need to stay away from alcohol.  I’ve never been a big drinker to begin with–I’m more of a binge drinker, haha.  I only drink with my friends and only with the purpose of getting completely hammered.  If we’re not all getting wasted together then I just stick to water while everyone else enjoys their beer and wine.  I don’t like the taste of it and let’s face it–if i’m going to have the extra calories I’d rather eat a piece of cake, haha.  Honestly I can’t remember the last time that I was drunk…sometime before I was pregnant with C.  I had a feeling that drinking would only make all of my feelings worse, and I was right.  One of the nights when we all went out to dinner I ordered a strawberry margarita.  By the time the glass was empty I just wanted to crawl under the table and cry.  And it had actually been a really good day up until that point; unsurprisingly the alcohol pulled my depression right up to the surface although it was buried way down deep.  At least now I know for sure.

I love my girls.  I’m thrilled that we crashed Christy’s trip at the last minute and I don’t regret going.  When we’re all together, gossiping, laughing and making fun of Amanda, I don’t want to be anywhere else or with anyone else in the world.  It was just hard.  Really really hard.  Unexpectedly hard.  I think it was too soon.  Although still difficult as hell, I don’t think it would’ve been as hard a few months down the road.  After I’ve healed just a little bit more.  But it was another milestone to add to the list, another box to check.  First vacation post-Zoe without the family:  check.  Which means that the next time it rolls around it’s going to be just a little bit easier.

Breathe.

I’m sitting in the airport at my gate waiting for my plane to finally board (an hour and a half later than originally scheduled, what a surprise), having a minor panic attack. My heart is racing, my hands are shaking and my breath is coming out staggered. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be going to Florida. There shouldn’t be an annual trip to Florida to visit Noelle this year. I should have a seven week old. I should be sleep deprived. The last thing I should be doing is boarding a plane. And I shouldn’t be going on a child-free vacation. It shouldn’t be possible.

This all hit like a brick. I was just sitting in my seat watching episodes of Nashville and Nurse Jackie thanks to Richmond’s free wifi. Excited to see my best friends. To be away from the kids. To get a much needed vacation, to hit the beach and the pool, to have some downtime. To find a positive in Zoe’s not being here. But I don’t want this. I want to be home, sitting on the couch, feeding Zoe, yelling at C and J to go find something to do. To figure out how I’m getting dinner ready and cleaning the house. I shouldn’t be here.

I know that all of these feelings are going to disappear the moment I see my girls. Once again I’ve been caught off guard.

Sorry if there are errors. No time to proofread…we’re boarding. I just may have to get myself a $10 drink once on board.

Sanity

Today I did something I’ve been avoiding for the last 5 weeks:  organized and uploaded the photos I took in the weeks before I had Zoe through now.  Not that there were many–I’ve taken zero photos of the kids between Zoe’s passing and now (minus Easter).  It just feels wrong to show what’s happening in J’s and C’s lives when Zoe isn’t here to have her life documented.  And I hate looking at the “before” pictures from the last few weeks.  Before everything went to shit.  Back when we were happy and excited and talking about all of the ways our lives were going to change once we had a third kid.  When we went to the Great Wolf Lodge for a weekend as a last hurrah as a family of four (there’s $200 we could’ve saved).  I especially hate looking at photos of me when I was pregnant.  I was searching for a picture on my computer from our trip to Jamaica back in October and was completely caught off guard by my big pregnant belly.  My heart dropped all the way down to my heels and I felt nauseous.  How could I have forgotten that I was pregnant while we were there?  How is it I don’t have anything to show for those 9 months?  The memory of that trip will always be tainted.  How will I be able to scrapbook those memories?  And my sister’s bachelorette/bridal shower?  Her wedding?  This past Christmas?  An entire nine months of memories that I don’t want to acknowledge because I won’t be able to look at a picture of myself from those times and not miss Zoe.  Not that I don’t miss her constantly now, but I’m thinking about a year, two years, ten years down the road when she’s not on my mind constantly.  I don’t want to look at those photos and be caught off guard like I was the other day.  I hate that those nine months of my life and everything we saw and did during that time will always be associated with sad thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about grief a lot lately.  One of my best friends lost her mother three years ago and her dad last year.  Another friend lost her husband last year.  I lost my mother when I was 16.  A thought struck me the other day that has been on my mind constantly since then–that I’m lucky.  I feel like my situation is easier to “get over”.  Especially because Zoe was so young.  We never even brought her home.  So I “just” have to deal with how unfair and wrong it all is that such a small innocent being was taken before she got a chance to live.  And the unanswered questions about her life and what she would’ve been like.  It’s a lot different than trying to survive after losing a spouse or parents.  Someone that you saw and/or talked to every single day, shared every single thing with.  That you would tell the insignificant details of your day.  Go to bed with, call when something happened, share all of your moments with, big or small.  Someone who is so ingrained in your life that you have to relearn how to do everything without them.  Instead of thinking and deal with what “should have been” after the loss of an infant, it’s the “always has been” after the loss of a spouse or best friend or parent.

Or if we had brought her home and she passed away from SIDS or some other awful disease.  If we would’ve had a chance to get used to her presence in the house, to expect to hear her cries and experience sleepless nights and have all of the baby paraphernalia out (which the amount seems to grow less and less with each child.  It’s amazing what is actually a necessity with a baby, haha!).  I would have to get rid of all of the outfits that she wore because I wouldn’t be able to see a future child wearing them.  Just like the shirts Jeff and I were wearing on the day she passed away immediately went into the Goodwill pile after we got home.  For her to be in our lives in a normal baby way, not just only being in the NICU.  That would make everything all the more difficult to come to terms with.

Or, even worse, losing a child.  Not an infant, but a kid C or J’s age.  Or older or younger.  I honestly don’t know if I would be able to get through it if something happened to either one of them tomorrow.  They are both so entrenched in my life, a part of every single thing I do, that their death would be something that I would never truly be able to get over.  It would take me years to function normally.  I can’t even breathe thinking about something like that happening.  I can’t think about something like that happening.  Especially now.

My heart goes out to all of the families that have experienced something similar to what we have.  Especially those who had to go through this not just once but twice or, God forbid, even more times.  And especially to those who lost a child.  That has always been unthinkable to me, but even more so now.  Those are the courageous people.  They’re the ones who deserve our thoughts and prayers and help.  Because there is nothing worse than the death of a child.  Losing J or C is unfathomable.

I hope I’m explaining myself right.  I am not saying in anyway that I’m glad that Zoe died.  Or that I’m happy it was her and not Jordan or Carter or Jeff.  Or that it’s good that we never got the chance to bring her home or watch her grow before this happened to her.  Because I would trade it all for her to have had a week, a month, a year, a decade with us before being taken away.  For her to at least have had a chance at life.  To see what kind of personality she would have, what she would look like.  To make memories with her.  I’m just saying that although the unfairness and wrongness of her death is so much worse than someone who is older, I think I’m able to process the grief and “get over it” (Ha!  As if there’s such a thing.) “easier” than if it was someone I saw and talked to every single day, someone who was already a huge part of my daily life.  I hate that we never got a chance to bring her home, to see her grow, to get to know her…but at the same time it’s a blessing in disguise for my sanity.

But I would trade that sanity for more time with her.  In a heartbeat.

Firsts.

We’re camping. We’re not religious people so Easter obviously isn’t a big deal in our household. Weather permitting, I’d like to make it a family tradition to go camping every Easter weekend. This weekend we’re at a Jellystone in Natural Bridge with plans to hit up some caverns and a drive through safari.

Right now I’m laying in the top bunk next to C, waiting for him to fall asleep. Normally that’s not something I do (lay with him, that is), but not only is this his first time sleeping in the camper since the fall but he’s also still sick. So I figured I’d be a nice mother for once and not traumatize him by leaving him alone in a strange place like I usually do.

Laying next to him with one arm slung over his chest, watching his eyelids slowly drop and then rapidly fly open over and over again, idly thinking of ways to toddler-proof the top bunk so he doesn’t break his neck, tears suddenly started streaming down my cheeks as a thought struck me: this isn’t right. I should be lying up here with a child right now, but not this one. The last time we went camping we hatched out a plan for the following spring/summer:  J would sleep on the pullout couch, C would be in the bottom bunk and I would sleep in the top bunk with Zoe. That way I’d be right there to feed her the eight billion times a night she required while not disturbing everyone else (or at least as little as possible in a camper).

I think subconsciously I knew something wasn’t right. I noticed on the drive out here that I was starting to feel depressed and tired. I just chalked it up to not having slept well for the last week due to two sick children, combined with listening to C cry and whine for the last hour in the car. And then once we got here everything was forgotten as I rushed around trying to get everything unpacked and dinner made before bed. It wasn’t until I stopped moving and my brain started wandering that my subconscious let the rest of me in on its little secret–this is bullshit. Everything is bullshit.

It’s these times that are the hardest. The “first” milestones. The first minute, first hour, first day, first week, first month.  First story time. First time back at the gym. First time seeing someone who knew I was pregnant. And then the firsts I hadn’t considered:  the first drive in a new vehicle and the first camping trip. It makes me wonder how many millions of firsts are going to catch me off guard like this in the future. How I’ll never be prepared for all of them. How it doesn’t matter how well it seems that I’m doing; I’ll never fully be over her death. How it doesn’t matter how many times I repeat “it is what it is” to myself–it still doesn’t make it right. It still hurts. I still don’t want to accept it. I shouldn’t have to accept it. Everything is bullshit.

I hate nighttime. When everything else shuts down except my brain, which never stops. Never gives me a moment of peace. It doesn’t matter how good of a day I had; it all turns to shit when it’s time to go to sleep.

I’m not going to let this ruin our weekend. Tomorrow is a new day and it’s going to be a great one. It may not be complete or what it should be, but it is what it is. And we’re going to make it as good as it can be.

Until it’s time to go to sleep tomorrow.

Rambling.

I’m totally rambling in this post.  I really have nothing of substance to say.  I usually start thinking about my posts and what exactly I want to get across days before I actually sit down and write it.  Not so with this one–I actually didn’t even think about it at all until I sat down at the computer and started typing.  And it shows, haha.

One month and 60 minutes ago.  It’s strange because part of me can’t believe it’s been that long, while part of me feels like it was light years ago.  Honestly it kind of feels like none of it was real.  Not that I’m forgetting her but enough time is starting to pass where I’m not constantly thinking “this isn’t how it should be”.  Everything is starting to feel normal again.  And I don’t know how I feel about that.  Not that I want to continue to grieve and think of her at all waking hours, but at the same time I don’t want to forget her.  To forget her brief existence.  I think I’m starting to heal…I just don’t know if I’m ready for that.  It doesn’t seem long enough.

The kids have been sick with some form of the flu for the last four days.  Today I felt very run down, barely able to keep my eyes open, dizzy and with a slightly sore throat.  Honestly though I’m not sure if I’m catching what they have or if I was having some kind of physical reaction to today.  I  felt fine mentally, so maybe it’s my body’s way of coping.  Either that or I’m starting to have a physical reaction to the 55 episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates we’ve watched the last four days.  Somebody shoot me.  Please.  But maybe I feel fine because I’ve been preoccupied with sick kids.  That once J returns to school and it’s just C and I chilling and not zoning out in front of the TV all day all of the thoughts will come back again.

Today I finally got around to calling Decedent Affairs at UVA to get a progress report on the autopsy.  The doctors told us it would take “weeks” to come back and since it’s now been 4 weeks I wanted to know how much longer we had to wait.  Just a ballpark.  Turns out they grossly underestimated the timeline–the guy who answered the phone said it’ll be 60-90 days.  I’d definitely consider that months, not weeks.  I just hope that this isn’t something we have to worry about with future children, especially since we’ve started trying again.  Which the thought of being pregnant all over again makes me nauseous.  I wish we could just fast forward and already have a baby.  Oh wait, that’s because we should already have a baby.

We also bought a car today.  A brand new 2015 Nissan Armada.  Which I’m actually not all that excited about.  I’ve noticed that’s been one of the side effects since Zoe’s death.  I have zero interest in anything.  I can’t get up enough interest in anything to actually care about it.  Although honestly that’s how I felt my entire pregnancy.  And that’s very unlike me–I’m usually ridiculously excited over the smallest stuff.  And the being super pumped about the new car is especially odd.  I’ve been begging Jeff for a large SUV ever since we purchased my stupid Jetta station wagon nearly two years ago.  All I did was bug him about when we can get another car and how that one’s too small and I hate it…blah blah blah.  But I ended up being the holdout on whether or not to purchase this one.  And really I think it’s because it felt wrong.  An 8 seater SUV seems like overkill for the 2 kids we have.  It just doesn’t feel right having this vehicle and not having Zoe.  She was the whole reason we needed a bigger vehicle and now she’s not even here to sit in it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it.  It’s a terrific vehicle.  We got an excellent deal.  I just hope that the depression I feel when I sit in it doesn’t last long.  I don’t even know how exactly to describe or explain what I’m feeling.  All I can say is that it just feels wrong.  And I feel like that’s just a preview of what moving to Leavenworth is going to be like.  That it’s going to be a what-if game.  What if she hadn’t died…  Which house would we be living in instead?  Who would our neighbors be?  How would things be different?   But I guess that’s life now.  No matter what, it will always be “What if?”

Okay I’m done rambling for now.  Peace out home slice.  Yeah, I’m in a really odd mood.

Give me your baby.

Let me preface this post by saying that I wrote the majority of this last Thursday.  This is what kicked off my 3 day depression bender.

I should’ve known it was going to be a bad day when I started tearing up on the drive to the commissary.  As usual I had no idea why; I just randomly felt like crying.  After a quick trip (in and out in 35 minutes…new personal record!) we headed to library for story time.  The first half went great.  And then out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a teeny tiny baby.  I had spoken to the mother four or five weeks ago–at my last story time before having Zoe.  We didn’t chat for long last time but I had remembered the conversation and was keeping an eye out for her because she wasn’t at story time the last two weeks, when everybody else found out about Zoe.  At the time I had only been wondering if she was going to remember that I was pregnant and then I was going to have to go through the whole thing again with her.  Apparently I had completely blocked out the knowledge that she was also very pregnant.  It never even occurred to me that she might have her own teeny tiny baby with her.

She also has toddler, a boy about two months older than C.  Her husband is also stationed at Fort Lee.  She also had a baby girl, a teeny tiny girl with lots of dark hair, just like Zoe’s.  She looked to be about 2 weeks old.  She was wearing a headband with a huge flower on it, just like Zoe would have been wearing that morning.  She was sleeping in a carrier on her mom’s chest, just like Zoe would have been.  Her mom took both of them to the park right next to the library to play after story time, just like we would have done.  She pulled the baby out at one point to breastfeed her on the bench while keeping an eye on her 2 year old, occasionally hollering “Be careful!” and “I’m almost finished and then I can come over!”, just like I would have been doing.  She was me.  She was doing everything exactly the same as I would have been doing that Thursday morning.  Except she has her baby and I don’t.

This time there wasn’t a husband around to watch C while I went outside and cried in the car.  I held it together as best as I could. For the last 15 minutes of story time I kept on needing to stop singing the songs, close my eyes, take a deep breath and swallow the tears.  I tried my hardest to think about something else, anything else, but it wasn’t working.  So instead I concentrated on not losing it.  And I was successful.

People keep on telling me how strong I am for getting through this and for the most part I think it’s a crock of shit.  As I’ve recently learned, 1 in 4 women experience the death of a baby, be it through miscarriage, stillborn or neonatal death.  It doesn’t take a special kind of person to get through this situation; anyone can force themselves to do it, to go on breathing and living.  You just do.  But sitting there in that library, trying my best to avoid looking at that baby girl, trying my best not to cry, trying my best to sing the songs and interact with C and managing to succeed–now that I will give myself props for.  Because I could’ve gotten up and left.  And I could never go back to story time again.  That’s how some people would choose to handle the situation, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  But that’s not who I am.  I’m stronger than that.  I have to be.  Otherwise I’m never going to be able to leave the house.

After C got his stamp we beelined for outside.  I heard the mother tell her son that they were going to look at books, so I knew I would be safe for a little bit at least.  I kept one eye on the library door the entire time, watching for her to come out, waiting to see if she was going to go home or come to the park.  About a half hour later I saw them coming, the boy in the stroller and the baby strapped to her chest (finally, one difference!  I wouldn’t have had C in the stroller).  They were heading for the park.  I panicked, unsure what to do.  Part of me was dreading her coming up and talking to me, but part of me wanted her to.  I wanted to see her baby up close.  See her full head of hair.  Look at her teeny tiny finger nails.  See what color her eyes are.  Hear her cry.  Find out exactly how old she is.  I wanted to tell her what happened and beg her to hold her baby.  To hold her upright in the kangaroo hold.  Smell her intoxicating baby smell.  Hug her.  Cuddle her.  Kiss her soft head.  Do everything that I never got a chance to do with Zoe.

But I don’t know this woman.  She obviously didn’t remember me.  I had only seen her one other time before and we spoke for less than 5 minutes.  And like I said in an earlier post, I’ve lost damn near all of my baby weight, so I think that combined with the fact that I don’t have a newborn with me means most people who met me in passing don’t put together that I was about to have a baby last time we spoke.  Having a conversation with her about my baby who died would make her very uncomfortable.  And who knows what she’s like about strangers touching her baby, let alone asking to hold it.  And it’s not like I would be able to keep it together; if I did get a chance to hold her, I’d be bubbling like…well, like a baby.  I can picture it–shaking uncontrollably, the tears streaming down my face, the snot dripping down onto her head.  A new mother’s worst nightmare, even for one as laid back as I am about germs.

And I also couldn’t say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t get ahold of that baby and then run for dear life.  I now understand fully why people steal babies.  All I want is a baby.  More than anything else I have ever wanted.  And while the normal, sane part of me realizes that it wouldn’t be the same, that no baby is going to replace Zoe or help my grief (no matter how much J thinks it will), the grief-stricken mother in me just wants a baby.  Any baby.

We stayed at the park for another half hour after the baby got there.  I couldn’t help but stare at them the entire time.  I went through a wide range of emotions.  Jealousy–why did she get to keep her baby and I had to lose mine?  Longing–look at what I missing.  Bitchiness is the best I can think to call this one–judging her for how she parented, for how she looked (trying to make myself feel better about my situation).  I didn’t want to stay and watch, but at the same time I couldn’t make myself leave.  This was my chance to see a baby Zoe’s size, to close my eyes and pretend that was me at the park, not her.  To watch the baby and see exactly what she was doing and wonder if Zoe would be doing the same thing.  Not only do I now understand why people steal babies, but I also understand why grieving parents watch other people’s kids so closely.  They’re living vicariously through you.

I waited until I heard her tell her son it was time to go before we left.  After I strapped C in his seat I sat in the drivers seat and cried and cried and cried.  Which was even less helpful than usual because C thought this was hysterical.  His bubbles of laughter kept on interrupting my sobbing and I vacillated between laughing and crying.  Once I was finally ready to go I realized that she had parked next to me.  She was putting her son in the car on the side next to C and since the door was open I couldn’t leave.  Not that I was in any condition to drive at that moment anyway–seeing them again had started a whole new bout of tears.  And then I was worried that she was going to see me crying and ask if I was okay.  Which made me cry even harder because no, I was most definitely not okay.  And will never be completely okay again.

All I can hope is that as Zoe would be getting older and older it’ll make identifying children the same age as her more difficult.  That and there are going to be more of them.  Seeing a brand new baby like that in public is pretty rare; people are so paranoid about taking new babies out into the world.  But you can’t go anywhere without seeing a ton of 6 month olds or 2 year olds or 5 year olds, etc.  Especially around an Army post; we breed kids like there’s no tomorrow.  So at some point seeing a child Zoe’s age isn’t going to tear me apart at the seams. At some point I’m going to become immune to it.  The wound won’t be fresh; I won’t think of Zoe every waking moment of every day.  And that terrifies me more than the all-encompassing grief does.


So it’s now today.  I went back to story time; I had never even considered not going.  I was relieved when we showed up and the mother wasn’t there with her teeny tiny baby.  But, just like last week, they showed up about halfway through.  Just like last week, we went outside straight away after story time and they joined everyone else about 30 minutes later.  This time, however, I was able to keep it together.  I debated over and over whether I should go up and talk to her.  It wasn’t until she placed the baby back in the stroller and I thought she was going to leave that I had a moment of pure panic.  I wanted–no, needed–to talk to her.  To know how old her baby is and to see her up close.  Fortunately it turned out she was just laying her down for a nap, not going anyway.

I took a deep breath, drank some water and walked over.  I smiled and asked her how old the baby is (two and a half weeks.  Exactly two weeks older than Zoe).  What her name is (Audrey).  Told her she was absolutely gorgeous.  Asked how Dominic, her two year old, is handling the transition (surprisingly well).  Where she delivered (St. Francis, the same as me).  What OB she used (St Francis Midwives, same as me.  Except she had used the midwives, not the doctors).  If she’s an easy baby (so far so good).  About her delivery.

The whole time I wanted to tell her about Zoe.  To tell her that I had also delivered there; that I had also gone to that doctor’s office.  To tell her my birth story after she finished telling me Audrey’s.  To tell her that I had had a baby girl and she died.  And I missed her.  But how do you do that?  And, even more so, how do you do that to a new mother?  A stranger nonetheless.  This woman doesn’t want to hear my sad depressing story.  And I don’t want to make her feel bad for me.  But at the same time the conversation just seemed so superficial.  I mean, even if Zoe was here and we were talking about all of the things we had in common it would still be superficial.  Sure, I’ll see her at story time next week and the next week, but we’re moving soon.  I’m not looking to make friends right now.  But I felt like I couldn’t be myself.  Like I was lying.  Like I was betraying Zoe.  I just kept hoping and waiting for an opening.  For a moment I thought I had one.  She asked me, “Don’t you have another child?”  I froze.  Was she asking me about Zoe?  And then I remembered that the time I had met her pre-Zoe it was an inservice day and I had J with me at story time.  And then I debated for a split second about mentioning both children.  But I didn’t.  Then we got to talking about the age difference between J and C and her two little ones and the pros and cons.  So then I was hoping she would ask me if we were planning on having any more children.  We even stayed at the park about 15 minutes longer than usual, hoping I could talk somehow work Zoe into the conversation.  But I never did.

I think my obsessive need to talk to this random woman all stemmed from a realization I had last Friday while walking the dog.  I started off thinking about how I can’t wait to move to a place where no one knew that I was pregnant.  Where I don’t have to fear being stopped at the gym or on the street or at the grocery store with the question, “Weren’t you that pregnant lady?  How’s the baby?!”.  And then it hit me–no one’s going to know that I was pregnant.  Which means no one’s going to know that I had a baby named Zoe and she died.  I won’t have any friends to talk about it with in person.  I mean, when’s an appropriate time to tell a new friend that?  How do you even bring it up?  How do you know when a person that you’re talking to is someone that you’re going to hit it off with enough that you’ll still be friends 6 months down the road?  Because I don’t want to share the intimate details of my life with just any random person.  How do I make a friend and not have them already know that vital part of my life, the part that has changed me forever?

So I think today was partially a test run.  To see what would happen.  And sure enough, I walked away from the conversation feeling bad.  A liar.  Hopeless.  I  can sit here and tell myself that there are a number of factors why I didn’t say anything about Zoe–because we’re moving in three months so there’s no point in making new friends now; because she has a brand new baby herself and I don’t want to make her feel guilty/bad for me/plant the seed that something like that could happen to her.  But I know that’s not at all it is.

And I know too that the obsessive need to talk about Zoe will lessen with time.  That a few months, a few years, down the road I won’t feel like I’m lying if I don’t mention Zoe to random people.  That at some point she isn’t going to be the center of my universe, the center of every waking thought, like she is now.  That at some point it will be easier to tell my new friends about her once we’ve gotten to know each other and are a significant part of each others lives.  Like Jeff pointed out, my wrist tattoos are a good segway into that conversation.  It’s just now that it’s hard.  Because she is so important to me right now that I can’t fathom moving to Leavenworth and attempting to make new friends in 3 months who don’t know about her existence.  Who won’t know to ask me how I am–really ask.  And if today’s conversation is any indicator, I’m not going to have the guts to just bring it up out of the blue.

As if making friends wasn’t already difficult enough with each PCS.

It is what it is.

One month.  Zoe should be 1 month old today.  I should be putting her in some cute little pose that I would repeat every month for the next 11 months to show how she’s grown.  Okay, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t actually be doing that today.  I was always at least a week behind in all of the monthly photos of the other kids (J with the dogs and C in a laundry basket) and there’s no reason why this one would be any different.  So I’ll amend that to say that I should be *thinking* about how I need to find a cute pose for Zoe to replicate every month for the next 11 months to show how she’s grown.

And it’s a double whammy kind of day.  Not only should she be celebrating her first month, but in a few short hours it will be exactly 3 weeks since we let her go.

I was fully expecting today to be a barely-able-to-function kind of day.  But it’s not.  I’m actually having a good day.  Not the same type of good day I had pre-Zoe’s death, but a good day comparatively speaking.  The tears I’ve shed have been good tears; healing tears.  Not I-can’t-breathe-I-don’t-want-to-live tears.  I’m thinking about Zoe with a smile.  A sad smile, but a smile nonetheless.  And the universe is really putting me to the test today, to see if I’m actually managing to cope.  I saw not one but two very pregnant women  who already have kids around C’s age today.  One at Romp n Roll, a little gym we go to, and another at B&N while he was playing with the train set (can you say obsessed??  I let the kid play uninterrupted for 45 minutes straight and then when I told him it’s time to go he cried and cried and cried.  And then during the entire 45 min drive home he just kept doing the sign for “more” and then repeating “choo choo…choo choo…” in the most pathetic voice ever).  They both had kids that were within a month of being 2, just like C.  This usually isn’t enough to barely contain my tears or leave (like seeing itty bitty babies Zoe’s age does), but it does bring me down a peg or two since all I can think about how that was me just one short month.  Before.  But not today. Today I was fine.  Today I just smiled and wistfully wished for Zoe, wished for a month ago before it all went to shit.  And then kept on going.

While we were in the mall “Three Little Birds” came on.  I sang the chorus of that song over and over and over again to Zoe on her last day with us.  “Don’t worry ’bout a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright.  Singin don’t worry bout a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright.”  And instead of bursting into tears, I smiled my sad smile again and sang it to C, a few tears sliding down my cheeks.  My Zoe song.  I know I’m reading way too much into it, but I couldn’t help but hope that Zoe sent me that song as a message–because everything little thing is going to be alright.

And then I came home and discovered Zoe’s birth certificate in the mail.  We’ve been awaiting it’s arrival so we can take care of the final thing–getting her enrolled in DEERS so we can then disenroll her.  So our “million dollar baby” (as we liked to joke about in the hospital) can be covered under our insurance.  So we can receive her final gift to us–her life insurance policy. Which we haven’t decided for sure what we’re going to do with yet, but will probably donate it to a charity that helps cure/treat whatever heart condition she ended up having.  Which hopefully the autopsy will be able to answer for us.  But even opening that up and reading “Certificate of Live Birth for Zoe Lee Delp”  and seeing all of the details didn’t send me into a complete tailspin.  More sad thoughts, more sad tears and more sad smiles, but I’m still here.  Still breathing.  Still coping.

I think a lot of my ability to cope with everything today is because of a realization I had on Saturday afternoon.  I was at the park with the kids when another family showed up.  They had 3 kids, all slightly older than my three.  The older girl was probably around 7, the boy about 3 and a little girl probably 1 1/2.  Instead of looking at the carbon copy of what my family should be a year down the road and bursting into tears, I smiled.  I thought, “That’s not going to be us anymore.  And it’s awful and it’s not okay or right, but it is what it is.” And I felt calm and peaceful.  Because it’s the truth.  Someday we’ll have another kid (or, as I casually dropped into conversation with Jeff last night, 2 more children) and although he/she will never replace Zoe and although the age difference will be more than what I wanted this time around and although things will never be the way they should be, it is what it is.  And nothing can change that.  No amount of crying or wishing or hoping or dreaming can change the way things turned out.  Like one of my BFFs oh-so-wisely pointed out to me, I’ll never be the same person I was before.  Just like I wasn’t the same person after Jeff’s deployment as I was before (either time), or after having first J, and then C.  This is my new normal.  It’s not okay and it’s not right, but it is what it is.  It doesn’t explain why it had to happen, why she had to leave this world and not get a chance to live her life, but the why doesn’t matter.  Not really.  And I can either step it up and be here for the kids and husband I’m fortunate enough to still have, or I can fail.  And not only will failing not bring my precious baby girl back, but it will hurt everyone else.  So really there is no choice at all.

That’s not to say that I’m done with the all-consuming grief I experienced last week.  I know that there will still be plenty of times that it will be difficult to function, to think, to breathe.  That I still need to learn to cope with my biggest obstacle:  teeny tiny babies that belong to someone else.  I just hope that those days will be fewer and farther between.  That it won’t be a straight 72 hours of grief, like last week.  That maybe the helpless “I’m drowning” feeling I experienced can be somewhat lessened by my newfound mantra:  it is what it is.

I think another reason why I’m doing okay today is because I had a good weekend.  It certainly seem like it was going to be on Saturday morning, but it ended that way for sure.  I actually managed to talk to Jeff about how I was feeling and (unsuccessfully) coping.  Which was something I hadn’t been able to do the previous three days.  I knew that he wanted me to talk, that he was worried about me, that he knew I was barely holding on.  But I just couldn’t.  I didn’t want to.  But we had a long conversation on Saturday night after the kids went to bed and it helped.  It helped to talk about all of my fears and concerns and grief triggers.  Of course it did.

On Saturday I also started researching grief counseling and infant loss support groups.  I ordered 3 books about neonatal death from Amazon.  I’m determined to get the help I need and try anything and everything to see what works best.  I can’t allow myself to end up in the place I was last week.  Unable to talk, to move, to do anything at all.  To be completely overwhelmed by sadness and loss.

And then yesterday we had a wonderful family day.  It started off by cleaning the house, which although I dread the task itself and usually procrastinate as long as possible, the finished product always makes me feel better.  That and cleaning usually takes my mind off of everything except cursing my family for being such slobs (myself included).  I mean come on J, toothpaste not just in and around the sink, but ground into the bathroom floor.  And on the wall on the opposite side of the sink…how?  HOW?!?!?!  It was a lovely day so we took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, stopping along the way to let the kids play at the playground and chat with some good neighbors.  We drove up to Richmond and spent a few hours at Maymont, a wonderful free park with a petting zoo, wildlife exhibits and beautiful scenery.  Then we went to a car show and checked out some SUV possibilities for the future (which is where I oh-so-casually informed Jeff that we were definitely going to need a large 7-seater since we’ll definitely be having two more children).  We had dinner at a diner and then drove home.  It was just nice to be together.  To be out of the house, but not in a rush.  To move at a slow pace and take our time.  To be outside in the fresh air, the sun shining on us.  Even J’s constant complaining and whining at Maymont that she was hot and tired (seriously we have the laziest child ever) didn’t get on my nerves like it usually does.  Because even though there should be 5 of us, there aren’t.  And even though it’s not how it should be, it can still be nice.  It is what it is.