Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Dealing with "We'll never"

I know I have mentioned before how often grief catches me off guard. Last week I was ready for the anniversary of Leah's diagnosis, and the day ended up being livable. It was not a particularly good day, and I was pretty exhausted by the end of it, but my sadness was not overwhelming that day. Yesterday, Memorial Day, was a whole different story. Memorial Day is for remembering the soldiers who have fallen, so I was thinking about so many sons and daughters gone, seeing all the pictures of rows of headstones, hearing Taps, and these triggered a very deep sorrow. I cried more yesterday than I have in a long time.

The other thing that has been plaguing me of late is the phrase "we'll never." Recently a friend of ours posted some pictures on Facebook of she and her daughter having tea at the Drake. As I browsed the album, I found myself saying,"I need a daughter." I actually said this out loud. Immediately, I thought, "I had a daughter. I will never take her to tea." And I cried.

Mourning things you will never do feels strange. After all, I'm not grieving the loss of anything tangible, or of anything I ever actually did. I'm grieving my future without Leah. Jeff and I will age, but she will not. We will move, and leave her behind. We will buy a house, get a backyard, and she will never play in it. Leah and I will never have tea at the Drake. And so I cry.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

One Year Ago

Today marks one year since Leah's initial diagnosis. One year ago, Jeff and I got up early to make it to the first ultrasound appointment of the morning. Jeff wanted to be there, of course, but he also had to think about work. We were so excited to find out whether we were having a boy or a girl. We spent the whole walk to the hospital talking about who was right about the sex, and what we would name the baby, and how we would announce all of the new information to our family and friends. We had so many plans.

Although it became apparent very soon after the ultrasound began that something was not right, the gravity of the situation didn't hit me until we left the office, with no answers and lots of false reassurances. As we entered into the elevator to leave I began to sob uncontrollably. Perhaps "hysterically" would be a more accurate description. I cried, wracked with fear and anxiety, all the way home.

Even as I lay in bed that day, waiting for our second ultrasound and begging God to spare my baby, I had a very clear sense that healing was not his plan for us. My prayers changed. I began to ask for time, for experiences, for bonding. He answered those prayers.

Although I know that it has been a year since we began this journey, in many ways it feels like it has been a much shorter period of time. I think it seems closer because I can so clearly recollect my feelings on that day. The helplessness, the despair, the longing still feel so fresh. Losing Leah has made a deep imprint on my soul.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Please Pray

Please pray extra hard for us. We are really having issues with our adoption agency. During today's conversations, our contact accidentally mentioned the name of the little boy that turned out not to be ours, which we had not previously been told. It turned out to be the name my parents had been calling him during prayer, and that Jeff and I had picked up. It was heartbreaking for me to read that the name we had chosen actually was his name. There is no reason that I should have found out this information, and I don't understand why we are continuously being exposed to extra heartache.

This week marks the anniversary of Leah's diagnosis. It was going to be hard enough anyway, and now we have these additional difficulties to deal with.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Blessing of Time

After having some time to reflect on the stories that were shared at the conference we went to a few weeks back, I have been struck by what a difference having time to prepare and adjust made in our experience, and what a gift that time was to us.

Don't get me wrong, receiving a diagnosis at 20 weeks and continuing the pregnancy is difficult. You have all the discomforts of a pregnancy, and later labor and delivery, with the knowledge that the reward for your pain will be fleeting and followed by intense suffering. You live in uncertainty about your health and the continuing health of your baby. Every aspect of your pregnancy that you might unabashedly celebrate in other circumstances, like kicks and turns, become bittersweet when you know those little signs of life will soon cease. Small things like going to the doctor's office, seeing healthy pregnant women or newborn babies, having to buy maternity clothes, or being questioned about your pregnancy become huge emotional chores. However, after seeing the fallout from a sudden and unexpected loss, I am really thankful that we had warning.

We had plenty of time to create a birth plan for Leah. This process was very empowering, as it gave us the opportunity to communicate our choices for how we would spend our time with Leah, and it facilitated our planning of that time. We had time to adjust to the idea of seeing our baby with anomalies, and learned of the benefits of holding her and spending time with her. We had the opportunity to arrange for a photographer, pick out an outfit, make blankets, and begin to think about her burial. Most importantly, we were able to have some family members come out for her birth, and stay at the hospital to support us and to advocate for our wishes.

Because we were prepared, our experience was incredible. We were able to focus on our Leah, and make memories with her.

Parents who are blindsided by infant loss usually don't have this experience. Grief and shock prevent them from advocating for themselves. They may not be able to make the decision to hold or see their baby, and since not all doctors will advocate strongly for this (despite the proven benefits of doing so) they can end up with deep regrets. Similarly they might turn down photographs, or only have a few snapshots taken by the hospital. Worst of all, without someone there to guard their interests, precious mementos may not be collected, might be lost, or worse, might be thrown out. After listening to some horrible, heart-wrenching stories about things that happened to some of these families, I am convinced that all parents who suffer a sudden perinatal loss need time and an advocate to assist them in navigating their decisions, and to gently push them to reconsider choices, such as not wanting to see or hold their baby, that statistics show parents overwhelmingly regret.

When we received Leah's diagnosis at our 20 week ultrasound, the doctor immediately offered us our choices, but never advised us to take time to think or to consult with a social worker or counselor. His best plan was to have "our problem" (known to us as Leah) "taken care of" the next day. It shocked us that he pushed us to terminate Leah, to quickly resolve our medical situation, without even giving us even a few minutes to talk it over. My health was not at risk, we had four full weeks to obtain a traditional abortion under Illinois law (after 24 weeks they send you to Kansas), and because Leah's diagnosis had a 100% fatality rate, we would be allowed to deliver her early at any time. At that early stage of gestation Leah had very little chance of surviving labor. Yet he still wanted us to act the next day.

The insistence on immediate action (when none was medically required) that we encountered in our experience, and observed in the experience of those with unexpected stillbirths, seems at odds with the goal of providing optimal mental, emotional, and physical care. It treats the body at the expense of the mind and spirit. It allows no time for your heart and head to process the experience. Our bodies are more than bags of organs, muscles, bones and blood. We should receive treatment with this taken into account.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Square One

Well, things are not going very well with our adoption. The referrals Isaac was working on (what we thought was a back-up plan) turned out not to be for us. The long and the short of it is that Isaac is back at square one, searching for a baby. This may or may not mean a big delay. We are disappointed and more than a little frustrated, but this is pretty typical when you adopt. We had hoped for a smooth process, but easy is not our lot in life.

Please pray that God would place the baby he has for us in Isaac's path quickly. Pray that the necessary gathering of paperwork and medical testing would go quickly and smoothly. Pray that God would open the doors that need to be opened for this to happen for us. Pray for our patience and peace. We appreciate your participation in our journey. We couldn't do this without your love and support.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


I am strange when it comes to marking memories with material objects. When my parents got rid of the ugly 70's couch in our living room I insisted on cutting a piece of the fabric and placing it in my baby book because it was the couch of my childhood. When the city cut down the tree in front of our house because the roots were tearing up the sidewalk, I sawed off a branch and insisted on keeping it in my closet. I have saved some of the most ridiculous things over the years, because of my need to capture the past in tangible form. Some might say I have always been a historian.

The farther I get from the actual experience of holding Leah, of loving Leah, of losing Leah, the more I need reminders that it was real. She happened. I know she happened. But I want proof. I developed a voracious need for documentation. Yet even though I longed to curate Leah's life, I also felt like I couldn't because I knew that the act of organization would reveal how little I have to remember her by.

Thus, I have a long to-do list that I do not have the energy for. I really want to finish Leah's scrapbook, but I truly despise scrapbooking. Jeff will end up doing it, under my artistic direction, but he has very little time at home and rarely feels like scrapbooking. I have a quilt I want to hang, a frame I need to choose a picture for, a bunch of blog posts specifically aimed at helping other parents that I need to write, cards to sort and organize, and some things to print for the scrapbook. Generally I am a motivated person who thrives on deadlines and to-do lists and suffers without them (i.e. my no deadline, never ending dissertation), but this list has been difficult to tackle. I recently did scratch off one item: picking out pictures for my regular photo album.

We had many pictures from Leah's birth, funeral service, and wake that we had not printed. We didn't print many of the birth pictures because I looked tired and gross, and Leah's color looks bad in the pictures. It seemed unnecessary to print some of the pictures from her funeral since they are mostly of the backs of people's heads. At the time that we first got them we just did not want many of them. Yet after months of looking at the same pictures over and over again, you start to want something new, something more. Finally printing out those pictures gave me what I crave, although I have put off placing them in the album to drag out the experience a little. I know that when I'm done, I'm done. There are no more pictures. There will be no new memories. That hurts.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Where We're At

This week has been rough, but not nearly as hard as I would have expected it to be. We feel disappointing by the loss of our referral, but we feel truly comforted by the knowledge that the baby will be raised by his family. Compared to what we have been through with losing Leah, losing a referral is akin to stubbing our left toe after having our right leg torn off. The pain and its aftermath just don't compare.

It has been difficult to let go of the dream of what raising that baby would be like, and I think when we get our actual referral it might be hard not to compare it to the one we lost. That concerns me, especially since Isaac apparently has been working on a back-up plan for sometime and may be able to get us another referral in the next few weeks (although I am NOT holding my breath).

This loss has confirmed our instinct that international adoption would be less emotionally harrowing during the referral process than domestic adoption. It is nice that the loss of this referral has nothing to do with me, or someone's judgment about the kind of parents Jeff and I might be, or the kind of life that we will provide a child (which would be GOOD, if I do say so myself). I actually appreciate how impersonal this aspect of the process is. During the application and homestudy process you get poked and prodded and judged enough, and I'm sure we will feel the same way once we get to court, but in the meantime it is great to feel like we are being evaluated on a test we already passed.

Last Sunday I was talking with some friends about how difficult it is to put your heart on the line repeatedly, and how loss issues have complicated the process of our adoption. Our bodies rejected our bid to raise a child. We have now gone through two "referrals" that have not worked out, both of which appeared to be "perfect," "best-case-scenario" situations for us. We don't understand why God has allowed us to go through the seemingly unnecessary pain of losing these adoption possibilities, when we would have been perfectly content if they had never been offered to us. Still, we rest in the assurance that His plan for us will herald His glory. God blessed us abundantly with Leah, and we continue to hope that He will bless us with another child through adoption. We just wish we could see the end of this journey.