Loss, the Holidays, and the “Right” Thing to Say

I have written on this topic before and focused on phrases to avoid. But as I was having a conversation with an aunt during Thanksgiving about a dear friend of hers who had recently lost a grandchild, it prompted new thoughts and feelings. This will be that family’s first holidays since his passing and my aunt wanted to reach out and say “the right thing.” As humans, we worry about saying the right thing, and often we avoid sharing our feelings for fear of being wrong. We feel moved to share words as profound as the loss itself. Often times we get wrapped up in this need that we don’t truly speak what is on our mind or we fall back on the trite, pithy condolences, which can come across false and empty. The simplest of phrases can actually go a long way.

I am thinking of you during this difficult time. – Loss of any kind is isolating. We feel alone and devastated in our grief. Having someone make contact can often help heal some of the widest cracks. It says that you are with me in this dark time. And maybe opens doors to further communication.

I wish _______ were here. – There is nothing more profound than this statement, especially during the holidays when the focus is togetherness. Missing that person becomes especially sharp. Having someone tell you they are missing that person too helps carry that burden of grief.

I am here for you. – This phrase only works if you are willing to listen and not offer advice or those trite phrases I mentioned before. Or even better just sit and let that person cry and give them space.

Most of all – show up, reach out. Don’t skip saying something for fear of saying the wrong thing. Speak from your heart.

Infertile AF Immersion Experience

2 months ago today, I embarked on a trip whose impact I struggle to put into words. I traveled to Phoenix, AZ a state and city I had never visited before. This in itself was not daunting, I have traveled alone many times before. I am good at getting around a new city. However, I was going to have several hours to kill before being able to check into the most amazing rental house. Time is my enemy. It allows me to think of all the horrible things that can go wrong. But I decided to set myself some tasks. So I found a massage therapist and received an amazing massage with cupping. This took up 90 minutes of my several hours. I spent the rest of my time at Starbucks. I did manage to drag my luggage into an art store and purchased a journal to record all of my thoughts and observations from the weekend. During my time at Starbucks, my anxiety skyrocketed. I was able to worry about meeting 9 women who I only knew through social media. My biggest concern was whether I was truly infertile. We haven’t even done IVF before we stopped. Would the others judge me for not having taken that step? On top of that I was just nervous in general. I struggle with new people because I don’t enjoy small talk. It makes me awkward and far too frequently I overshare and get too personal. Would they think I was annoying and avoid me the rest of the trip? When Tia sent the text message and said that we were welcome to come to the house, I hopped an Uber and tried to banish the feelings and focused on feeling confident. This did nothing to slow my outrageous heart rate, sweaty palms, and near tears. Then I walked into the house. Lindsay, Danielle, and Tia wrapped me in a hug and helped me get settled in. And I did overshare in the first 5 minutes of meeting all 3 but Danielle assured me that she did the same thing and we bonded over the fact. The first night we created name signs like we would at camp. We showcased who we are and had to choose a word to define what we wanted to get out of the weekend. My word was ‘Purpose’. I am in the middle of an identity crisis. I don’t know how to be me without striving to become a mother. I was worried that I have no other purpose in life, that I have nothing else to offer or achieve. Then we set our intentions with some guided meditation and shared our stories of infertility and loss. The second day we had the opportunity to spend 1 on 1 time with Tia and Lindsay, the Infertile AF founders. Tia challenged me to come up with a goal and work on small steps towards it. Lindsay challenged me to find alternative ways to mother. The rest of the day I spent with the rest of the women. I shared some of my darkest fears and deepest pain. I have not felt as accepted and seen in a group as I did in those few days. Our third day, we headed to Sedona. We did some sightseeing and hiked a short trail that ended on a rock that was pretty high to the bottom. I am incredibly afraid of heights but I stood up and felt the wind whip around me and felt so free. Lindsay pushed me to scoot down and sit on the edge and take in the valley and surrounding mountains. Tears sprang to my eyes as we sat silently. I vowed to do hard things and work towards healing my heart. Our last morning was so bittersweet. I didn’t want to leave. I am always anxious to get home. But not this time. I didn’t want to leave my AZ babes! I made more steps forward with those kick ass women in 3 days than I had in the last 3 years. Since I have been home, I have continued my work. I have been practicing gratitude, which was always a struggle. I took a Photoshop course, to get back into my photography. I confronted my boss when a difficult work situation arose. I climbed a mountain for a second time in Arizona and wasn’t scared of the height at all. I am taking an online yoga class and am working on my health again. I am trying to look at the holidays in a more positive manner. I know I still have many more steps forward to make but I feel more at peace with who I am and the life I am living. Lindsay, Tia, Carrie, Lacey, Loren, Courtney, Jill, Tiffany, and Danielle I love you and I am so thankful for you embracing me and my weirdness and pain!

Trauma

The human body is incredibly fragile. Even impact with another human can cause trauma, in the form of broken limbs, strained ligaments, deep bruises. We can survive major traumas like car accidents but our bodies are never the same. And our fellow humans don’t expect us to be the same. The same can’t be said for mental or emotional trauma. We are diagnosed with disorders and depressions, being labeled as broken. But in reality we have suffered trauma and should be expected to go through therapy and rehabilitation. As a mother who has lost her child, I will never be the same. I have suffered a trauma. I have been in therapy. I have sought different outlets for my grief. But I should never be made to feel as though there is something wrong with me for feeling the way I do after this loss. The same can be said for our infertility. This is a trauma. I have been unable to have a second baby, even with medical assistance. I have lost part of myself and entered a realm I never imagined. But I am expected to be the same as I used to be. I will never regain that innocent, naive woman. But I can heal. I can go to therapy. I can find a group of supportive people who help to lift me up. I can attend summits and immersion experiences and learn to be the new me. I will always struggle with pieces of this trauma, but so would any one with a shattered leg or damaged organs. Our expectations of others should not be for them to cover up and be happy and move on. We should allow them space to heal and live their new version of life.

Halloween

Today is one of those days. It doesn’t have any real significance in Lincoln’s life but it holds a lot of memories of planning for the future. Kyle and I love Halloween. We have enjoyed dressing up together over the years. We have been our favorite movies characters, pieces from Clue, pirates, and even G.I.Joe. I had it all planned out to add Lincoln into our costumes. His first Halloween, we were going to go as Jack Skellington, Sally and Lincoln would be our Oogie Boogie Man. He would have looked so cute dressed in a little potato sack. This year would have been the best so far because I think he would have been excited to pick his costume. We may have gone trick-or-treating for the first time. At least to a few places we know. It’s days like today when I miss him the most. Because the truth is, we didn’t just lose our baby. We lost his toddler hood, we lost him as a teenager, and all of the other stages.

Currently

We did a walk this weekend for Lincoln. I raised almost $1,000 for stillbirth research in the hopes that this may save even one baby, one family from ever going through this. Completing this walk made me think about a lot of things. As I checked in, the volunteer asked if I was Lincoln’s mom. No one has ever asked me that before. It felt so good, I almost cried. I met up with 3 other moms who I have connected with on this journey. It always feels so bittersweet to be with people who get it. We talked about our babes as though they were with us. And there was no awkwardness or pity that can accompany those conversations. I also realized I haven’t written about Lincoln in a while. We became so occupied with trying to move forward. It’s not that I forgot about him or stopped thinking about him, because believe me, I think about him every day. It is still as though a piece of me were missing. And this is true because a part of me died when I heard those words. “There is no heart beat”. Someone told me the other day that there is a reason for everything. I used to believe that too. And maybe there is. But that reason will never be good enough for me. I have tried to become a voice for stillbirth families and infant loss sufferers, as well as for those who have battled through infertility but would I trade that for my beautiful 2 and a half year old? Hell yes I would. I ache to hold him and wonder what our sweet Linc would be doing. Would he be talking? Would he be potty trained? Would we be thinking about preschool soon? What would I be like as a mom? Would Lincoln have a sibling or would we have struggled to try again either way? I try to focus on the good things in my life, but one doesn’t cancel the other. Because they are my 2 sides. I can’t be who I am now without both good and bad. Since we came to the end of our infertility journey and have started to focus on other ways to be parents, I am trying to understand this new me. I am trying to find purpose if we end up without living children. This is a hard vision for me. I know that if it is our route, I will mourn that dream for the rest of my life. But as I said to my mom the other day, if all I get out of life is Kyle, then I am a damn lucky woman. I can’t tell you all how much we have always appreciated your support as we have navigated each new challenge and there may be more to come. But I do hope that we can count on you all to support us, whatever decisions we make.

Changes

I thought when Kyle said that we were moving to Indiana, I would be elated. And at first, I was. However, all of the changes that have come from the move have been very difficult and have caused me a lot more stress than I could have predicted. I have mentioned before how difficult new situations are for me dealing with my grief and our treatments. The move has brought that about in so many ways.

We no longer have a “home.” We are living in a transitional location. And it is small. We no longer have our own space. Poor Kyle can’t even shower without me barging in to use the bathroom.

I have lost my one consistent adult companion, Moises. Making the decision to end his suffering was one of the most difficult I have ever made. He has been by my side since I was 21. I catch myself wondering where he is when I am in the apartment. When dropping food in the kitchen, I think he will get it and then I realize he won’t. We had him cremated and he is now in a small box that I keep next to Lincoln.

I started a new job. I love my office and my position. But this means new people and deciding how much/when/if to tell our story. It took me almost a year in my last position to talk about Lincoln. It was nice to not be pitied or have awkward conversations. I could just be Heather, not loss mom Heather, not infertile Heather.

Additionally this new job, has brought a lot of firsts. First time working downtown, which means parking is more difficult, travel can be stressful, I walk to and from work a lot in the rain. I am not looking forward to winter.

We are still on a break from treatment. This has its own issues, as I feel there is a time bomb ticking inside my body. Right now though, we have only agreed to meet with a new doctor to push for more testing. I am hoping to find an answer. After that we will see.

One of the most difficult things is missing Ohio. I miss the family we created there. I miss walking to Heather’s and spending an evening on her deck or gathering around the fire at Sam and Blaine’s. I miss Chad and Diana’s humor at work. I miss our home, the first one Kyle and I created together.

Most of these things seem small, but add them up and it is a lot to handle. My anxiety is through the roof and I had a mild panic attack this week. I was able to run through some grounding exercises to help bring me down. But that sense of agitation and apprehension is my ever present companion again. I keep waiting for one of the balls to drop.

Packing and Lincoln’s Day

We packed away Lincoln’s things this past weekend. It was the hardest room for me to tackle. I loved this room, the colorful prints on the wall, the theme of our favorite books. Everything was clean and fresh. The clothes in the drawers even had a hint of baby laundry soap after all this time. I remembered that weekend 2 years ago, when I threw my new clothes with the wash with his, thinking I would smell like his clothes and it would lend to us bonding. And how I cried about that a few days after he was born. I smelled like a baby, but he wasn’t there. I found the breast pads that I wore for almost 4 weeks because I had nowhere else for the milk to go. I remember standing in the bathroom crying as the shower warmed up and the milk leaked down my body. In reality it only took about an hour to put all his clothes and toys in tubs to be saved for another baby. Not very long, like his not very long life. This room, in this house will always be his room. Someone else may live here but I will always picture the quiet grey walls and beautiful dark wood crib. Lincoln never slept here but it will still be his. Part of me is relieved. We will move into a new house and hopefully create a room for another little person. These things that I packed up can just become baby things we have. He turns 2 today. He would no longer be my baby and these things would be set aside with the hope of a sibling either way. I am sure his personality would be larger than his head, and that is saying something. My grief has softer edges than it used to but it still knocks me off my feet from time to time. Especially on milestone days like today. What would he look like? Would he have taken after me or Kyle? Would he be smart and silly? I still think about that day and even though he came into this world without a sound, he made a huge impact on it. I want this day to always be a special day. So I am off to enjoy the nice weather at one of the Metro Parks. Happy birthday beautiful boy!