One year ago today at 8:38 p.m., you silently entered this world. Your dad and I wished so much that the doctors were wrong, that you would let out a cry when you were born. Sadly, that was not the case. The nurses cleaned you up and bundled you tightly. Your daddy held you first. Such a beautiful little girl you were. It was almost hard to believe your dad and I created such a perfect little baby.
The last two days have been spent reliving the events of last year. What I was doing before my world was turned upside down. We talked about the evening of the 27th; we were cooking dinner and set the smoke detector off. Chris had asked me if Quinn kicked at how loud it was and I said no and continued on with cooking dinner. How sad that interaction makes me now. Our little girl was gone and it would take a couple more hours for the realization to hit and the panic to set in. I think of the doctor telling us that there was no heartbeat, I can sometimes still hear the sound of us crying in my head. The calls I made in the wee hours to my friends, leaving tearful voicemails explaining what had happened. Sometimes these memories are so vivid it seems like they happened yesterday and sometimes it is hard to believe that it all happened to us. Chris and I have said it was almost like an out of body experience.
We looked through Quinn’s memory box tonight. It has been awhile since we did that. The blankets still smell like her. Looking at her little things, all the memories we have of her short time with us brought a wave of intense emotion. It brought me right back to how I felt in those early days, the raw grief. Her ultrasound pictures, the DVD of her anatomy scan, footprints, her dress and hat. Everything we have fits neatly into the cardboard memory box that the hospital gave us.
I want to thank the people who have reached out to us today, sending cards, flowers, texts, and their love. Friends who released balloons by the ocean or made donations in Quinn’s honor. All of these gestures mean so much to us. It lets us know our sweet girl has not been forgotten, that she is loved not only by us, but by so many others. Any bereaved parent would echo these words: we just want people to remember that her little life mattered. She was a person, one who I carried for 8 ½ months. She is our first child, our first daughter.
So here we are, one year later, not the same people we once were. We love you sweet girl and we miss you dearly. We hope you continue to keep an eye on us and your sister. When we look at her, we can’t help but feel you with us.
This blog post was written back in early May, just prior to us finding out the news that Holly was pregnant again. I was in a pretty dark place at the time, and we decided not to publish this post. Looking back on it, many of the underlying themes are still present in our lives and we figured what the hell – let’s post it. I’ve offered some updated thoughts in bold.
As I sit here in the waiting room of the hemotologist, waiting for my wife to been seen by the doctor in another attempt to try and find an answer as to why my daughter died suddenly other than “fluke” or “bad luck,” I had some free time to put some thoughts down regarding pet peeves. Maybe it is the place in life I’m in, maybe it is spending Friday afternoon waiting for the inevitable “no reason” answer, but this post will come off more preachy and whiney than intended. My apologies.
Ever since everything happened back in late January with Quinn, both my wife and I have been searching for answers. “Why” seems to begin most sentences. “Why did this happen to Quinn?” “Why did this happen to us?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The day I went back to work, I rode the elevator up to my floor with my boss, who is a very quiet, intelligent person. He asked how I was doing and I replied, “We are hanging in there. Right now, we just want answers.” His reply has stuck with me to this day. He simply showed a soft, knowing smile and said, “You’ll never get all the answers.”
At the time, his answer hurt a little, as I was not in a place to fully grasp his reply. But in the days that have passed, we did find out some answers – but deeper questions remain. Now that we have an underlying cause as to why Quinn was taken from us, we can’t help but turn to the deeper questions – the ones my boss knew we’d never get the answers to – the “why did God (or whatever you believe in) let this happen,” and “why us?”
Since January, my wife and I have made significant progress towards moving forward through our grief. There are good days and bad days, and not a day (probably even hour) goes by without thinking about Quinn and what should have been. (As we have come to accept, grief is not linear.) Through our journey, we have dealt with almost every cliché imaginable and we have dealt with the judgment of others and a generalized lack of empathy for our healing process. An often said cliché that makes me wince is the “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Is this really the God you want to believe in – that he allows terrible things to happen because you can handle it? Yet another cliché we’ve heard one too many times is “When you have another child, it will all be better” (umm, are we going back in time to bring Quinn back?) Unless and until that happens, it won’t all be better. Ironic that I had no clue what was in store for us. This cliché has only be amplified since we found out we were pregnant. My thoughts on this haven’t changed at all. For those holding their breath thinking that I will go back to being the person I was before Quinn died now that we have a second child on the way – spoiler alert – it’s not happening. Speaking of, Holly pointed out to me the other day that we live life in a world of “ifs” while the rest of our friends and family live in a world of “whens.” Everyone around us talks of “when this baby gets here” and we always say “if this baby gets here.”
While I’ve stated before that I’m not a religious person (some might use the Catholic term “Chreaster”), I was raised Catholic and spent 12 years of my life in Catholic education. I’ve always believed in free will but with a romanticized version of a preferred path being out there with signs leading you to it. I never fully believed in the Catholic mentality (something about telling a priest I swore and broke some rules but would be forgiven after 5 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Marys and 5 Glory Bes never struck a chord with me). However, since Quinn died, I’ve developed a new pet peeve regarding religion – the people who think everything that is good is “God’s will.” (Following this post, my boss suggested I read William P. Young’s The Shack. While my own viewpoints have changed dramatically from B.Q. to A.Q., I am still unsure what I believe in. I would echo my boss’ recommendation and suggest anyone struggling with loss or religion should pick up a copy and read it with an open mind.)
Also, the need for people to share their good fortunes on social media bothers me to no end. If I never see another #blessed, it will be too soon. Do the people who hashtag “blessed” even understand what they are insinuating? Oh, you’re blessed by God for getting a job, for passing the bar, for getting a raise, for _____ (insert trivial shit here). What am I? What is my wife? #unblessed I guess.
Again, I’m not super religious (still haven’t been to church since Quinn died) but I don’t remember the Beatitude that stated “blessed are those who share their good fortunes on social media, for their statuses will be liked and shared.” One I do remember is “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The people that feel the need to share their good news on social media and who live and die by the “likes” or “retweets” wouldn’t be able to understand why someone else like myself isn’t overjoyed with their good fortunes.
I stopped writing here – thinking there was no way I would ever post this I never concluded the original post, so I have the renewed opportunity to conclude it with the benefit of hindsight. As we enter the holiday season and the inevitable “what are you thankful for” question gets asked this Thanksgiving, I know that my answer is an easy one. I’m thankful for my wife. Even after this post, some would use the #blessed if they were in my shoes. While I am very fortunate that my path crossed Holly’s, I think she’ll be ok if I stop at simply saying I’m fortunate to have married her and thankful that I get to spend my life with her. Also, for the many out there who are experiencing their family’s “firsts” this holiday season, try to be empathetic and understanding for those like Holly and myself who are also experiencing our “firsts.” It will be our first thanksgiving without Quinn and our first Christmas without her. While we do have some hope on the horizon, it doesn’t take away the emptiness we have in our hearts for what we are missing. Happy Thanksgiving and holiday season to everyone out there, especially the #unblessed.
My friend Amanda sent me this link this morning and it is so perfectly written, I had to share. It speaks to the juxtaposition of being grateful and grieving, especially around the holidays, but this applies to daily life too.
Fall is winding down here, the holidays are fast approaching. Life events are happening all around. I will start with an update on baby C. Her growth ultrasound in the beginning of October went well. She was in the 80th percentile for her gestational age, in large part to her abdomen that was measuring a week and 6 days ahead of everything else. We have another growth ultrasound tomorrow morning. I have begun going to the doctors every 2 weeks now as I am 2 days shy of 30 weeks. Non-stress tests will start at 32 weeks. I started to bring up delivery timing at my last appointment and got shut down pretty quickly. The MFM I see is pretty set in their ways with the 39 week induction. They said the generally won’t induce before that and, if they do, they will require an amniocentesis. I will ask about it at every appointment until we can hopefully agree to a middle ground. Daily kick counts are in full swing, but let’s be honest, it’s not one 2 hour kick count per day (like the PA at my office naively told me is all I need to achieve). I am hyper-acutely aware all day everyday about kicks. My anxiety has been ramping up for sure, as I am approaching the time when I lost Quinn and it is weighing heavily on Chris and I. We are hopeful, but we are scared, which is something that I feel should be pretty easy to understand. I have had people tell me that more frequent appointments, more frequent testing, and making it past the point that I was with Quinn will provide me relief. To an outsider, that may make sense, but it is in fact false when speaking to someone who has experienced a stillbirth. We will be on high alert up until the moment we hear her cry, which we are so hopeful we get to hear.
Baby C had a name picked out originally. From about 15 weeks to 26 weeks she was going to be Charlotte. The more we talked about her name the more we weren’t quite sold on it so we went back to the drawing board. We have settled on a name now but we decided to keep it our little secret. We think it will be perfect for her and it goes with Aubrey as her middle name.
Onto the heavier stuff. As I said, the holidays are fast approaching, and all around us people are experiencing life changing events. I received this week’s Refuge in Grief newsletter from Megan Devine which couldn’t be more appropriately timed. “The pain of your loss simply needs to be tended to; it can’t be fixed. Suffering is different. Suffering is all the extra added stuff that gets heaped onto your pain: family politics, social stressors, holiday stressors, as well as physical challenges that decrease your capacity to tend and withstand your pain.” She goes on to say, “Reducing your suffering while tending your pain is, in my opinion, is the real work of grief.” Megan, I couldn’t agree more. I wish I could shout those statements from the rooftops, or rent an airplane and fly it over the country. If only we could get the outside world to better grasp this concept. Chris and I have spent the majority of the last 9.5 months explaining and justifying what we are experiencing. We feel as though we have to explain ourselves because there is so little understanding. I keep reminding people that we are doing the best we can.
We are taking baby steps, but unfortunately it takes several baby steps to get to where many think we should already be. As I wrote before, grief isn’t linear and we anticipate the holidays, which would have been Quinn’s first, to be especially hard. We ask that this holiday season, if someone you know is suffering, be kind to them. Help them tend to their grief, try not to increase their suffering with expectations that they may not be able to meet, and always remember, we are all doing the best that we can.
She speaks so much to how I’m feeling right now
11,387 – This is the number of kicks I logged on my kick counting app… And this was only from June 26 through July 27. I’m pretty sure I started logging kicks prior to June 26. (I deleted my history several times as I tried to graph kick patterns, which never really worked…)
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Chris and I were discussing whether or not we wanted to watch the new show This Is Us last night. I have been on the fence about it because, while I have heard good things about the first episode, I found myself wondering if they would address their loss at all in the rest of the series. As any stillbirth or infant loss family knows, there is so much more to the “journey” than what happens in that moment.
We titled our blog “Chasing our Butterfly” with the subtitle, “breaking the silence of stillbirth.” I have made it my mission to be open and honest about the path that we walk. Prior to the day we lost Quinn, the thought of her dying prior to birth never crossed my mind. Even as we frantically drove to the hospital that January night, I thought to myself, she is in distress. I am probably going to have an emergency C-section. I really should’ve brought a bag with me. Nothing in life prepares you to have to ask if your baby has a heartbeat and then hearing the response, “I’m so sorry there isn’t one.”
In the months since Quinn has been gone, many people around me have shared their own loss stories that you would have never known about. While some choose to be private about it, others suffer silently, because as a society, we are terrible at handling grieving people. We throw out clichés or useless platitudes. We tell people they are in a better place or that they were saved from some sort of suffering. I recognize that it is often difficult for outsiders to place themselves in the shoes of someone who has lost a child, but think for one minute how much comfort you would find in those words if it happened to you. And then you get to that time; the time when you start to get the feeling that people are tired of hearing about it. The time when you sense the outside world feels as though you should be over it already. As though there is a finite time frame for you to process grief.
Which brings me to the concept of grief. Grief is complex, and not as easily defined by the 7 stages as some would like. Grief is not linear. There will always be triggers, and you never know when a trigger may appear. You never know what may trigger you. The other night, I lay in bed watching TV and a commercial came on with a little boy singing twinkle, twinkle little star. The words “how I wonder what you are” got me. I wonder what Quinn would be all the time. Would she have been a little sass pot like I was as a kid? (Who I am kidding, Chris was a pistol as a child too so we all know she would’ve been). My heart hurt because I wished we could have more time with her, more pictures with her, more everything.
I am notoriously blunt. I have been all my life. Many times I know my bluntness makes people uncomfortable, but here’s the reality of the situation, you’re uncomfortable for 5 minutes, I don’t have that luxury. My hope is that in your 5 minutes of discomfort that you can peer into someone else’s life and gain some empathy. You never know what someone is going through unless it is talked about. As Chris has said, this is us, take it or leave it. We are different people now. That’s not to say that 8 months later we haven’t regained some semblance of our previous selves. We laugh and enjoy ourselves without feeling guilty like we did in the beginning. We watch our shows and treat our dog, Mocha, like a diva. We aren’t outwardly sad all the time, but that doesn’t change what has happened. This is what real life is. Our therapist has told us to be open, to communicate, and to protect our hearts. We do that the best we can.
So for the moment, I am content not watching This Is Us, as I have a front row ticket to our own show. But it is my hope that maybe the show will shed some light on stillbirth and help mainstream America better understand life after loss.
There’s been a lot of thoughts and happenings lately so I thought I’d just put it all together in one rundown. Things are going well so far with baby C. I will be 23 weeks on Tuesday and will start having my growth ultrasounds in October. At my last appointment, the PA laid out how the next few weeks will go for me and how my antenatal testing will go. She also gave me the “if this then that” scenarios which I greatly appreciated. Baby C has been kicking me since 15 weeks but they are getting stronger and more consistent. I have to tell myself sometimes that it is still early and I can’t do kick counts until 28 weeks. That doesn’t stop me from wondering at times when the last time was that she kicked and sitting quietly until I feel her again. . . but I’m working on it (it has gotten better as time has gone on I will say that.)
I was talking with another coworker who had a stillborn (she is coming up on the 6 month mark of her loss). I asked her how she was doing with that and told her how hard it was for me. She had said how it is difficult because as time goes on she feels so far away from her daughter. That was such an interesting way of putting it, but I agree with her. Time is such a funny thing. The days go by slowly, but the weeks seem to fly by. You want time to soften your grief but at the same time, you want the memory of your child to stay vivid. You feel like with time, people tire of hearing you talk about your grief or emotions (even if that may not actually be the truth). I am so appreciate the friends and family in our life who have stood by us these last 8 months and supported us. I am also so appreciative of the loss mommas I have met, while I wish none of us knew what this was like, we can support each other on this path.
Speaking of coworkers, some of you may remember the story of my clairvoyant coworker from a few months back. I managed to make it nearly 22 weeks without her knowing that I am pregnant. I probably could have hid it for a few more weeks, but one day at the nurses’ station, two of my coworkers were discussing the size of my abdomen. She turned to me and asked if I was pregnant and I said yes. I was trying to quickly finish up what I was doing and scoot down the hallway, but alas, I couldn’t move fast enough. She goes remember what I told you. I said yes except 1) I was already pregnant when you told me that and 2) it is a girl, not a boy. She stared at me and said oh, hmm. Then asked if I am scared (can we insert an eye roll here). I went back down the hallway and thought the conversation would be left at that. Nope. Later on that day, she walked up to me while I was in a patient’s room and told me how she couldn’t believe she was wrong twice. She said she is right all the time except for with myself and another coworker (that coworker sadly suffered a late first trimester loss). There has to be a reason she was wrong with me twice she said. I finally told I’d really rather not continue to discuss this. She got the hint and left me alone. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Pregnancy after loss is a big experiment in desensitization. You have no choice but to face all the things that you fear. I cried the first few appointments and ultrasounds but have since settled with them. I still hold my breath to hear a heartbeat or see her move when she flashes on the screen but I don’t have quite the emotional reaction I’ve had in the past. With each trimester or milestone, it takes time to acclimate yourself to it. It is definitely a work in progress!
I have been noticeably absent in my writing the last few months, taking some time to seek out different levels of support since losing Quinn. I have been to a couple of different support groups, which, to my surprise, have been helpful for me. I was also lucky to be able to meet up with Alison, Meredith’s mom, for lunch, which was so wonderful. Many loss moms have written about finding your tribe or your support group and I can echo that. It is so incredibly important to have a group of people who understand exactly what you are going through. And by understand, I mean truly understand. Yes, every loss is different, but we can all relate to each other on a level that is only understood if you have experienced the loss of a child. The support that I have received from this community of loss moms is so very much appreciated.
With that being said, it is with cautious optimism that Chris and I are announcing that we are expecting our second child, a little girl, in January. For anyone who knows us, or has read the blog, you know that Quinn was born on January 28. The delivery date is still up for debate, but it will be sometime between January 3-10 barring any complications. I have been managed strictly by maternal fetal medicine in this pregnancy. I am taking a daily baby aspirin despite the fact that I have no clotting disorders, in hopes that we do not have a repeat clotted placenta. Chris and I went to the anatomy ultrasound this morning and will now begin monthly growth ultrasounds to assess baby C’s growth. At 32 weeks, I will start twice weekly non stress tests (I tried to ask for these to be started earlier but it was decided upon that starting them earlier wasn’t in my best interest). Chris and I are hopeful, but scared, as I think anyone would be walking down this pregnancy after loss path.
We want to point out that even though we are pregnant again, this does not erase what happened to Quinn. Being pregnant is also not the magic, fix all button. Our innocence and naivety to pregnancy are gone forever. We are hyper-acutely aware of what the worst possibility is, we lived it. We will always miss Quinn. No matter how many children we have, she will always be our first baby. Our family pictures will forever be missing her. We are appreciative of the love and support we have received thus far, as sharing our news has come with a lot of anxiety. You so want to be excited and plan ahead, but your heart and your head quickly remind you to pull back. Our therapist told us that this baby deserves to be celebrated, just as her big sister was, and we have been working hard on trying to do that.
At one of our first appointments, there was a paper butterfly on the ceiling of the exam room. We took that as a sign that our sweet girl was there with us, watching out for mom and dad and her new baby sister. We love you sweet girl and we love your little sister too…