Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Grief: A Year in the Life

A year and a month ago on June 18 marked my first blog post. I started simple with a few posts that told our story and Hudson's birth. Finding the healing through writing everything I could recounting my pregnancy and then those hours as the tragedy unfolded. From there, I started sharing my soul a bit more through my grief and essentially documenting my journey.

July of last year is when the darkness of our loss was beginning, as we approached his due date. The original due date was today, July 18, but as we progressed further into the pregnancy, he was measuring a few days ahead and our file read July 15. Somewhere between those days is when we expected to welcome him into the world and into our lives.

Max and I just got back from an incredible babymoon to Germany and Austria. It was to conquer fear, celebrate the anticipation of our rainbow Hadley, the restoration of hope and healing to our hearts, and have some special time together doing what we love. On that trip, I had several moments of reflection. I realized how just a year ago, the darkness was infringing around me and that was the beginning of my grief struggle with "the uglies."

Every grief journey is different. Over the past few months, I've sat face to face with Mothers of Loss newer in their journey. I completely identify with the struggles of feeling like some of the deep pain will never end, not understanding how just last week, or heck, how just yesterday I was "okay" and today I can hardly function. Or today a newborn triggered me but yesterday I could be in the same room as one. The hardship of feeling the weight of society's "grief timeframe" on my shoulders and feeling like I'm going through life inappropriately adds extra stress. There were times that felt so isolating and I desperately wanted to feel differently, but I couldn't. It wasn't time yet, I had to cycle through.

Having patience with yourself to go through that cycle is excruciating and exhausting.

You want to just snap your fingers and not care about whatever the trigger is that is making you sad or angry. Each person does the best they can with their inner and outer struggles for an undisclosed amount of time because it varies. As I've said before, the loss of a child is a forever kind of thing, therefore, so is the grief that accompanies it.

This post is my reflection on a year in the life of my grief, one I've been working on since May but have had to stop and come back to several times. Today is the second milestone anniversary of Hudson's due date and I didn't anticipate it to be difficult. I thought I had come to peace with his birthday and heaven day on May 27, that July 18 wouldn't register to me anymore as a loss milestone. However, that's not the case. I found myself in tears this morning thinking that by this time, we would certainly have a one year old - whether we could have saved him last May somehow or had he come when he was supposed to without the cord accident. Today felt right to share.

This may be spot on for others, it may differ substantially, but if you are on your journey know you aren't alone, wherever you are.

Month 1 - June:

A sad fog. I've said this before but I was experiencing a false acceptance of our new reality and what it meant. I cried every day and I was very sad, but at that time it was just sadness. There were even some moments of normalcy because I was still getting used to the new reality, I almost had to ease into this new life that I wasn't pregnancy anymore and my child who I had carried for 8 months was not here with us, nor would he ever be. The weight of what was to come and how ordinary things would be so painful, had not hit. I was still positive, I gave grace to others, I assured myself and the outside world that we would be okay. I swore to myself that my joy for others would not be robbed. We saw a grief counselor and I felt like I was doing this "grief thing" well, we would be fine with time, we were strong.

I had no idea what lay ahead.


Month 2 - July:

I would say the first part of July was still a bit in the sad fog, still trying to outwardly express strength and that we would be okay, but the anger was brewing. As we approached the week of his due date, I found myself constantly thinking would he be here now or would we still be waiting? I searched for peace but anger kept encroaching. The anger at that time was toward the situation only. I was angry our baby was gone, that he was taken from us, that he wouldn't be joining our family as we had joyfully anticipated. As soon as July 18 passed, I was in full anger mode, with jealousy simmering below the surface. In counseling we were made to feel completely normal and justified, so I thought we were just going through all the motions we needed to for healing, and we didn't really need the sessions anymore.

Month 3 - August: 

I started to become a walking guilt-ridden-anger storm. Much of this month was spent feeling guilty because our baby should have been there at this point. We would have delivered in July and we would have been adjusting to life as new parents. Everything we did in the month of August became the thought that we wouldn't be doing this if Hudson were here. I didn't want to celebrate my birthday but then decided I needed the distraction so I did what lifts me out of everything and I planned a last minute something to help what was happening in my head and heart, then had an emotional breakdown because I wouldn't have done it otherwise.

The "shadow babies" (a term in the loss world of babies of the women you were pregnant with) started coming and the anger was redirected from the situation to actual people and into resentment. I felt guilty again for resenting them because in no way was it their fault or was there any logical reason to feel that way towards them, it's just where I was in my process. There was a jealousy rising as a third musketeer to the anger and resentment. I was jealous they got to have a textbook birth experience, that they got to welcome a child into the world and experience all the joy that surrounds it, that they got to leave the hospital with their baby and take them home. I was jealous of all the pictures that suddenly seemed to be all over my social media feed of new babies and their happy parents. That joy for others that I had been afraid to lose, had promised myself wouldn't go away, well it was gone. 

At the end of August, we went on our Healing Trip and it came at the right time. I came back feeling refreshed, more at peace and incredibly thankful for the relationship I have with my husband. I felt like I was on the upswing of the grief battle and the ugliness and dark days were over. I could get to a better place now, I beat grief. After all, it had been three months, it was time.

I was wrong.

Month 4 - September:

A probable chemical pregnancy occurred to start this month and everything I came out of feeling from our Healing Trip was undone. A chemical pregnancy is defined as a very early miscarriage. We cannot be completely sure, but that was what the nurse said was probably happening. In our June follow up appointment, our doctor had told us we probably wouldn't feel normal or back on track again until we conceived. We started trying again in July, as soon as we got the go-ahead, though I can say now our hearts were nowhere near ready.

We weren't trying to replace our son, we were just trying to fix ourselves and be on the way to welcoming a baby again. To get back on the course we had been on before the unwelcomed detour. Therefore, the answer was to get pregnant again and we thought the pain would ease because we'd have new hope for a new life. We had no problem conceiving Hudson, so this started a very painful experience that lasted for eight months.

September began the strong longing for the life I so desperately wanted but was taken from us so suddenly and without warning. A life as "mom" that I saw people having all around me and had a hard time accepting that though we were all on that pregnancy journey together, they had that as their reality but we didn't get that as ours. I was really immersed in the fog again and the withdrawal was starting. Being around expecting mothers was a trigger for me and something I protected myself from as much as possible. Most of their bumps had exceeded the size that mine had and it made me sad that I hadn't gotten to that point. It was hard to be around pregnant women because naturally conversation steered toward all things baby. It was too hard to hear about. Unless they were my comfort zone of inner circle friends, and not pregnant or had a baby, I became completely withdrawn from others as a way to protect myself. In a way I was wanting to protect others too from my triggers and emotions. I didn't want to show them, more so, I didn't want to feel them so I thought hiding away from the situations and people that could bring those on was the best solution. The truth is, I felt them anyway.

Let me expand on the emotions that were bubbling up in August and by September were fully developed. In no way does a parent of loss ever want someone else to experience the same type of tragedy that they have. We just wish that without having to go through our tragedy, the outside non-grieving world could truly understand the pain we are feeling and walk with us through it, however long that takes. Grieving parents endure a lot of loss. They lose their precious child, they lose friendships when people can't show up anymore for them as they fight their toughest emotional battles, they lose a sense of the people/person they used to be. When people who you lean on as support stop showing up for you, it makes you want to retract the grace you are extending. And that's what happened to me.

By the end of September, I was losing my grace for others.

Month 5 - October:

I started to recognize my depression and this is where the tug-of-war became most intense. It was around this time I felt judged for having a difficult time in my grief, people didn't understand why I was still struggling so much at this point and more so, why certain things were really hard for me like pregnancy announcements, babies and pregnant women - these were my emotional triggers. Society was telling me I should have dealt with my grief and be "okay" by now, it made me feel ashamed.

All I wanted to do was sleep, whether I could or not. I wanted the quiet, the darkness and the solitude. I had this intense feeling of failure. I hated the way I felt, I hated the way I looked, I really hated myself because in my mind, some how I failed Hudson and because of that, I felt like I had failed my husband. I felt like I had caused him this pain and because I couldn't pull out of it, I was ruining his life and already had because our son died in my body. Therefore, it was somehow my fault because I didn't know anything was wrong. I didn't have the strength to see past that self-loathing or have the energy to make a change. I didn't have the energy to help myself. The desire to want to make a change didn't overpower the feelings of wanting to do nothing - yet. This is when I should have gone back to grief counseling. This is when I really had things to start working through, but I didn't have that will or the want to do that for myself at this time, I thought I could fight it on my own not realizing how badly I was losing that inner struggle.

Even though I thought I had made peace with Hudson's passing and there was nothing we could have done differently, I still felt like I failed him as a mother. I didn't feel worthy of my husband, I didn't feel worthy of those who were kind enough to look past the ugly exterior I was giving off when I couldn't hide it anymore, I didn't feel worthy of any of the good that was in our life. I wanted to be sad all the time because that's where I felt closest to my son. Being around other Mothers of Loss were helpful to me and I started channeling my grief energy into distractions that would give Hudson's life purpose and meaning. I started connecting with the other Loss Moms more because it was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, something I had never been aware of before but every day that month it weighed on me and with them I didn't feel alone or judged.

I had a huge project at work that rode on my shoulders and despite the way I felt most of the time, I couldn't let that flop. I had to pull it together and I did for a little bit, but when that depression creeps in, you are pulled back and forth between the high-functioning member of society that you want others to see you for and then the way you feel all the time, which is the opposite. Through the conversations I was having again with others in this Dark Sisterhood, I was feeling understood and finding hope. I didn't feel so alone and could see how some of them had made it back over to the other side of their grief. It channeled a little bit of positivity again, but not enough.

Something also heavily attributing to my depression was that I have a hard time being a "day by day" person. I am constantly looking to what is coming up, planning for the future. The holidays were right around the corner and it made me a mess to think about. The holidays were a time that I had been pregnant the previous year. It was the time we had used to announce Hudson with family and then friends. It was the happiest we had ever been, enveloped in a period of time that brings so much joy to others. And now? Well, I was in my personal version of hell.

The fact that we had conceived in October of the previous year was also doing all kinds of things to my emotional state. Since we had been trying for a few months now, not completely sure if we had miscarried or not, there was an immense amount of emotion surrounding that. My Hudson day was the 27th of each month and within that week is when I'd find out if I was pregnant again or not. Each month it became more and more of an emotional battle.

I was so fixated on my emotions surrounding becoming pregnant again, coupled with Thanksgiving and Christmas, that when the month ended with Halloween, I was shocked at how it sucker-punched my heart and emotions unexpectedly. I shut myself in our room and cried for hours. I had to put my phone outside the room so I wouldn't look at it and see all the precious kiddos of all ages and of either gender in their costumes, or families posing together in costume before trick or treating. It broke my heart that we didn't have Hudson to be in his little cowboy costume with George as his horse. I pulled myself together late in the day to hand out candy to neighborhood kids and the worst was yet to come.

Month 6 - November:

It was now officially the holiday season and I was flailing in my grief. I didn't know how to reign it in or pull out of it, I was almost always succumbing to the darkness of it. I was so inundated with looking ahead to these holidays which derived the greatest pains of not having our son with us. This was the month that I found out we were pregnant the year before so it was a whole different emotional struggle that I was pregnant a year ago, that baby is gone, we don't have our son, and we aren't pregnant again. I was desperately needing hope but couldn't find a way to seek it again. My bitterness was winning, my depression ruled everything, I was completely socially withdrawn, I was having a hard time hiding it from people and pretending to be okay. I clung to my husband. The only thing that made me happy was when I had the energy to work on Hudson's legacy.

I was realizing that I couldn't work through all of these feelings on my own, I had tried and I wasn't succeeding. I will share that Max and I had one of the first come to blows of our marriage the week before Thanksgiving. We were grieving differently and needed a big conversation to figure out how to best help each other. Compromises needed to be made, honest feelings needed to be shared, walls needed to come down. We made a plan for the holidays that gave us both what each other needed and also, allowed us to support one another in the best way possible. In doing that, something in me lifted a bit and I could breath a bit easier.

November 27 was the day after Thanksgiving, the 6 month mark, and it was the wake up call that it had been half a year since we said goodbye to our son. Half a year. I couldn't spend any more time feeling this terrible. I had become very concentrated on becoming pregnant again, every negative test fueled the depression and anger more. After five months of trying, my doctor gave me a prescription for Clomid to help boost my reproductive system and give it the additional push it needed. I thought for sure this would work immediately and we will be pregnant again in no time. I thought maybe this will be our Christmas present and end this terrible year with a new blessing.

Every month seemed to become a little bit worse than the one before it and I finally felt like I had hit rock bottom. I couldn't afford for December to be any worse than November was. The want to take action was finally there as a new month began.

Month 7 - December:

On December 1, I called the psychologist I had seen over the summer as the start to grief counseling. At that time, we were still in the "light" of grief, it was before the darkness set in and I just didn't have anything really to talk about outside of feeling sad, his birth story, and the optimism of being okay again. When "the uglies" started, I thought I could work through them on my own but by doing that, the spiraling continued further. So in December, I started going back to counseling and didn't realize just how much I needed that and how much it would help. I started mindfulness exercises when I felt overwhelmed at work, at home or when I couldn't sleep. I made it through the tough days I was dreading and while they were still hard and brought on anxiety, we made it through and were okay. Christmas was really tough but we had our plan and it was what we needed as a couple and as individuals. We spent the holidays together, just us, in a winter wonderland of Quebec. We were kept busy as needed, we had healing time as needed, we had "us" time as needed. That was the solution that was best for us.

Another negative pregnancy test ended that month, on the 7th month mark, and that was a hard lump to swallow but I had possessed a glimmer of something again that I hadn't had in a very long time.


Month 8 - January:

The fog had really lifted a lot. It wasn't completely gone, but it was the best I had felt in a long time. I made it through everything I had been dreading. I was channeling my energy more and more into something positive to help others who would walk this road. I was doing it for Hudson. One Wing Foundation had become a reality and through the closer relationship I was building with another Mother of Loss and the warmth our hard work gave my heart, I was on an upswing. For real this time.

I had created purpose for myself again and a way to feel like Hudson's life mattered. It was never part of a divine plan, it was never the reason for his passing, but it was a blessing extended from tragedy and I was grasping to it with everything I had. We were in our second month of fertility drugs, I was creating healthier habits again, I was coming out from the social withdrawal and starting to feel an inkling more like myself. I was learning to let go of things I couldn't control, working through "the uglies" in counseling and through reflection, letting go of the people in my life who didn't need to be in it. In addition to the counseling, I started fertility acupuncture this month and swear it did positive things for my sleep patterns and anxiety. It was my highest functioning month since our loss and my social and emotional anxiety had begun to get better.

I was seeing progress but it was still a struggle. I still couldn't be around babies that Hudson would be close in age to. They were still too hard for me to see because it flooded me with the emotions of what I was missing. Not just my child at that age, but going through motherhood with that friend. For some, our kids being at the same daycare, or playgroup. Seeing a baby from someone I was pregnant with was a trigger I just couldn't do yet. Many didn't understand that and it was hard, I felt their cold shoulder but I was giving it too. I was struggling through the want to become pregnant again and feeling like everyone else around me was. It was a terrible feeling to not feel joy for those friends but it only intensified my pain. For me, trying to retreat from it and ignore it altogether made it somewhat easier.

Month 9 - February: 

Month three of fertility assistance and it was taking a toll. It doesn't help that fertility drugs can make your emotions a little out of whack. I was learning how to squash "the uglies" when I'd feel them come on but it didn't always prevail. I still struggled through certain things. I was making an active effort into being social again and putting myself in positions that had previously made me run the other way because I was afraid and anxious. I could fully control my triggers in public and release after the fact if needed. I was challenging myself to do more with people and learn how to be okay with my previous triggers, through the pain.

I was channeling positive energy into things that made me happy and that I felt could honor Hudson. I surrounded myself with the people in my life who lifted me up, not those who made me feel guilty for the grief journey.

Though there were some setbacks, for the most part February was a very good month. I was happier, I was experiencing things in ways I had pre-loss, I was in a better "head space" altogether. I wasn't the same person and I was okay with that, but I had come into my post-loss self and accepted it with more self-awareness and confidence.

Then on the last day of the month, leap day, a pregnancy test read positive.

Month 10 - March:

I entered March pregnant which meant I was overjoyed yet scared out of my mind. I lived every day as though I was just holding my breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop, yet there was such a huge weight that was lifted just knowing we had created a new life. It was far enough out from Hudson's passing that I could feel like this is a baby that could be here if Hudson had lived. Though I wanted to be pregnant again so badly from a much earlier point, in the back of my mind, I felt like I needed to get through some significant hurdles of grief and into a better place to go through a pregnancy after loss.

The 10 month mark without Hudson fell on Easter and that hit me a little hard. The start of the day was very tough but as the day went on, my heart felt peace. I was 8 weeks pregnant with new life and we shared with family members that we were expecting again, so it made the message of Easter just that much more meaningful.

Hope was continuing to build and true happiness was experienced again. I was finding Hudson in the joy rather than the sadness.

Month 11 - April:

I was in a great place this month. I was still working through things with my therapist, conquering more situations that had previously felt impossible or too difficult. I was regaining confidence in myself overall. I felt genuinely and truly happy again. Though I carried pain with me, the joy was pure.

There were fears that would sometimes overshadow due to experiencing a first trimester and risks all pregnant women have during that time. We continued to share with extended family, followed by friends throughout the month and our support system of prayer for this new baby was growing. As it grew, I felt more at peace. That power of prayer we had experienced early in our loss was lifting us and doing the same things to our hearts as it had 11 months prior.

I had anxiety over learning the gender, I didn't know what my heart could handle. Before becoming pregnant again I thought for sure I would need this next child to also be a boy, that I wouldn't know how to switch my mindset to a girl. However, once I found out I was pregnant again, those feelings had dissipated and almost immediately, I knew in my heart that this baby was a girl. Though I know our family will never feel complete without a little boy, a little girl is what our hearts need right now to help differentiate the pregnancies and the experiences. To help that this is a new experience, hopefully a different outcome.

Toward the end of the month, anxiety started to succeed the joy. I realized what was coming, some tough milestones were right around the corner and suddenly, they were very consuming and daunting.

Month 12 - May:

In May, I regressed a bit. I was in a much better place to deal with it, but it didn't keep the sadness and anxiety out. I found myself pining for my son. I was distracted a lot, my hormones were all over the place due to the pregnancy, and I was grieving again - hard. There was a lot going on that month to tug at my emotions. I was heartbroken on Mother's Day and I spent most of the day wondering what our life would be like if he were there. I kept thinking about how it had almost been a year and at times it felt every bit of a year but for the most part, it did not at all. I wasn't ready to reach the point of 365 (okay really 366 days, thanks to leap year) without my child. I had some really dark moments again and felt ashamed for feeling right back to that place again after all of the personal grief battles I felt I had worked so hard to conquer. However, I could also realize I was just going through another season of mourning.

Like we did for the holidays, we created a plan for getting through the one year milestone. We escaped somewhere new for us and planned to enjoy that time away together. One Wing Foundation was exploding in preparation for the inaugural events. Hudson's namesake golf tournament was around the corner and what kept me going and happy through the tough times. That was the birthday party we didn't get to have, it was how he was celebrated.

Following the big consecutive milestone days (day we found out he was gone, day we met and said goodbye, his funeral), the One Wing Foundation events occurred the next week in early June. I thought a big grief crash would take place, but it wasn't as bad as I had anticipated. It was more of a feeling of relief because we made it, we survived it, we ended it on a very high note - as high as we could given the circumstances. Anticipating all of the milestone days are much harder than the actual day itself. Yes there is sadness and heartache, but there is also a peace that comes with it as well, as if the one who is gone is embracing you for comfort.

Looking back on that first year of grief, this was my healing journey. It lasted much longer than I would have imagined and yes, there are still battles, but we made it through the darkest of times. Though I was not a version of myself that I liked for most of the year, I feel we've come out of it better people than we were before. Our hearts still ache, they will always ache, for the little boy who isn't here but hope has been restored. I can now say with pride and conviction look how far we've come. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sundried Tomato Pesto Chicken and Veggie Pasta

After our Bavarian Babymoon traveling Germany and Austria for a week and a half, my priorities of things to look forward to when I got home were:
  1. Baby girl's 24 week appointment (which was fantastic - the high risk doc switched from regular sono to 3D unexpectedly and all of a sudden there was her precious face on the screen. Every little feature right there - nose, mouth, cheeks, chin. We didn't do this with Hudson so it was such a special experience. This is another post for another time!)
  2. Georgie pup cuddles
  3. Our bed (and all the pillows!!)
  4. A home-cooked meal (schnitzel, spatzle, bratwurst for Max, goulash, pretzels, potato salad... it was all super tasty but oh.my.lanta.)
Most of the time, nothing tastes better than something fresh from your own kitchen and this meal was exactly that.

One thing I loved about this recipe is that through my half-asleep zombie jet lag, I was able to make a protein and fiber packed meal in less than 20 minutes to fill our bellies before climbing into bed. Therefore, I know the ease of this recipe can resonate amongst other tired out travelers, those exhausted from a long day at work, or the busy parent running the household with too much to do and too little time. This meal is exhaustion-proof! Usually I make my own sundried tomato pesto but I cut corners this time with a pre-made version from the grocery store which really helped shorten the steps and time.

Grocery List:
Yields 2-3 servings
  • 1 tbsp. EVOO
  • 1/2 lb chicken tenders
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Garlic granules
  • 2 cups asparagus spears, chopped
  • 1 cup red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup sundried tomato pesto (I used this La Grande brand from Whole Foods)
  • Linguine pasta noodles (or noodle of choice)
  • Parmigiano reggiano, grated
In a large sauté pan, add the olive oil on medium-high heat. In a small mixing bowl, combine 1/4 of the pesto with the chicken, reserving the rest for the pasta.

In a pot, boil water and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Place the chicken in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes, then flip sides and add the asparagus. Spritz the asparagus and chicken with the lemon juice. Lower the heat to medium and let cook for about 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes and season with the garlic granules. Cover and cook for 8 minutes or until tomatoes are puckered and asparagus is bright green/soft.

Transfer pasta back into a saucepan over medium-low heat and combine with the remaining pesto. As the pesto heats up, the oils will help coat the pasta for a more even consistency.

Plate the pasta, followed by scoops of the chicken and veggie combo, then finally dust with grated parmigiano reggiano and enjoy!