The Elephant

My older brother asked me yesterday, "If you had one wish, what would it be?" He said that he thought of this question and had been asking random friends and family. I never did answer him. I felt it was one wish, my only wish will always be to have my son here with me instead of only having pictures, a memory box, and an urn. And now onto the meat of the matter...

It wasn't until I made my first voyage home (well, a 3.5 hour drive anyway) that I realized just how isolated I had truly been. With my mom and my husband, Peanut was always talked about. But that bubble of comfort didn't extend much further than my home.

I decided that I wanted something, a change. What I really wanted was to have Owen to take care of, but as always apparent, that is impossible. So, what I needed to do try to find a new normal for myself. My husband wants to know that I am progressing in my grief before we go for Baby Cao #2. That is understandable. I feel that I cannot give myself fully to our future children until I grieve for Peanut. I told him that I will always mourn Peanut. There will never be a day that I do not think of him, but that I will be able to go about my day-to-day as usual. So, a step in the right direction is to try to find some work. I started to apply for a few jobs here and there and got some calls for interviews. I felt that at this point it was okay for my mom to leave this bubble I had created for us and return to her life.

I was excited to see my family for the first time in at least 2 months. Though, the closer it got to us leaving, the more anxious I became. I realized that this would be my first visit home since losing Peanut. The last trip home was for my baby shower. I remember some people telling me, "Next time we see you, you'll have the baby with you." It's amazing how wrong we can be sometimes. It wasn't a baby I brought with me, but an elephant. The whole week I was there, I felt as if I was being followed by this huge elephant. When people looked at me, they didn't see me, but this huge elephant behind me. "Poor sad" is the sort of thing I imagined people that knew what happened thought when they saw me. Of course they were happy to see me, we're a very close family, but it's impossible to look at someone whose suffered something so horrible without that horrible thing running through your mind.

It hurt so much that no one mentioned Peanut or asked about him when they saw me. I only got those, "How are you?" or "How have you been doing?" sort of questions with the inflection that told me they were referring to the loss of my son. It made me almost angry that there was this sorrow around me and people never mentioned him. As if not mentioning him made it better? He is always on my mind, and it makes me happy to talk about my pregnancy and to talk about Peanut because he was real. Not mentioning him or what happened does nothing. So, I decided if people were not going to initiate conversation about him, I would. In conversation, I would talk about when I was pregnant or in the hospital. That would start the questions and I would tell my story. I say his name as often as I can. It lets people know it's okay to ask questions.

My first attempt at a "job" was a temporary assignment - 3 days stuffing envelopes. I woke up and started to get ready. While doing my hair, I started to have an anxiety attack. I just couldn't do it. I don't know what I was afraid of, but I was afraid. I e-mailed the girl at the staffing agency and told her what happened to me that morning and she was very understanding. She said she suffers from them all the time and for me not to worry.

A few weeks later I received another assignment close to where my husband works. We carpooled and I worked 4 whole days without a problem. They even asked me to return the following week. It's just data entry, but it is perfect for me right now. I have to focus on the typing, so my mind is unable to wander away. I listen to music and just type, type, type all day long. A certain song may come on that reminds me of Peanut either because of the lyrics or because it is a song I would sing to him. I remember while cleaning the house or driving, I would have one hand on my belly and sing like I was at the Grammy's! I so looked forward to singing to Peanut while breastfeeding or while rocking him to sleep. I had imagined it so many times. I sang to him a little while I held him at the hospital, but it wasn't the same. I'll still sing those songs, and my performances are always dedicated to Peanut - my biggest fan.

p.s. i apologize if this one seems like rambling...


The Line

A line has been drawn. There is the Before and the After. I can see the Before, I look back on it fondly, but without the same naivety as when it was my present. I remember being so happy, so blissfully unaware of just how wrong things could go, how truly horrible they could get. I now live in the After, and things are very different here. Pregnancy has lost the sparkle it once had for me. Now, it is something I feel I must endure rather than something to be cherished. But what I wouldn't give to start that journey again; to see that little “+” and know that it can happen again, it can be different, and we can be OK.

My grief makes me feel like I’m two people; a Jekyll and Hyde situation. I long to be the person I was before…there’s that word again, “before”. I remember myself very well, and I feel like some of me is still here, but some of me is gone. It left so abruptly, I’m still adjusting to its absence. This new normal, this journey of grief is in the driver’s seat for now and I’m just along for the ride. I want to do things I used to do, but there’s grief saying, “Whoa, hold your horses. You’re not ready for that just yet.” How can I not be overjoyed for the birth of my best friend’s baby? How can I not be there at the hospital with her? How can I not want to see, hold, smell, and kiss that new little one? Easy. It makes me feel like to worst, most horrible person in the world for not wanting to do those things, but lucky for me she’s the most wonderful person and is so understanding when it comes to Peanut and my grief. She knows that when I’m ready, I’ll be there to meet my new “niece”.
I feel like I wear a mask sometimes. I put on a smile, make small talk, but all the while I am on the edge of bursting into tears. Crying comes so easily now; I hate that. It makes my face flush, my nose run, and my eyes puffy…how attractive. On bad days, the smallest thing can make me cry and then all the feelings of losing Peanut come rushing in, as if to say, “oh you’re crying, here, let us make it worse…” On good days, it’s a little easier, but those tears are still there. I sometimes wonder how I've gotten this far. There are mornings I wake up and it's almost like I have to remind myself that it wasn't a dream. Peanut is gone and I have to get up anyway...have to learn to live life without him. Sometimes I'll be so caught up doing something that the pain and heartache fade a little, enough that when I stop what I'm doing it rushes back and all that hurt floods my heart and I'm almost overwhelmed. Yet another thing I have to get used to.
I started a new job, and wanted to put a picture of my son somewhere on my desk. I put it somewhere I didn’t think people would see, but a couple of them did. Their eyes lit up as they cooed and asked, “oh, is that your baby? How old is he?” My heart stopped; I knew it would happen eventually, I just wasn’t ready. To the first person that asked, I answered “yes, and he WOULD be about four months old.” It was a woman so she knew immediately what that “WOULD” meant. She apologized and walked away. To the man that asked, I said the same thing, only he didn’t get the “WOULD” part, so I just let it be. After that, I moved his picture. Not because I’m ashamed, I’ll never be ashamed to talk about Peanut, but because I’m just not ready to introduce him to everyone yet. I don’t think they know me well enough; almost like they don’t “deserve” to know him yet. Yeah, I like that.


The Homecoming

I must admit I wasn't all that excited to come home. It wasn't a home anymore. To me, home was going to be where the three of us lived and made memories. I had already played so many of them in my head throughout my pregnancy, it was as if Peanut was already here. But leaving the hospital with only flowers made it very clear that he was not, and he never would be.
That's the thing that gets me - he was so real and alive to me, not just in my belly, but in my heart. I had played out the first years of his life in my head, dreamed about them and debated over such things with my husband as his head rested on my belly, talking to Peanut. We would "argue" over what instrument he would play - cello or piano, what sport he would be in - soccer or swimming (though soccer was a given), what his favorite band would be - Foo Fighters or Linkin Park. All these things happened even before he was here, so it is hard to just turn them off. He was my son...IS my son. It's easy for people that aren't me or my husband not to think about him on a daily basis. People that would only have seen him when we went to visit can go on with their lives and not blink twice. To them, it may just have been a sad thing that happened. Anyone dying is sad, but a baby dying...that's almost taboo. But for me, it is something I think about constantly. Everywhere I go, everything I do makes me think, 'I shouldn't be here alone, he should be here with me.' or 'I shouldn't be here, I should be at home with my little boy.' But I digress...

What made it easier to come home was that we weren't alone. My mom and mother-in-law had stayed to help while my husband returned to work. My best friend and some of her family came to visit a few days after I got home. We went out to lunch and laughed. They love Owen as much as my husband and me and talk about him still. It is such a beautiful thing to have others acknowledge your child, especially when they are lost. My father and brother visited for a few days and that was amazing. I am such a daddy's girl. We have our own sense of humor and are like two peas in a pod. I loved having people visit because, for a time, I was distracted from the reality. And my reality was so sad, I couldn't stand it. I am such a happy person, ask anyone. My goal was pretty much to make people laugh. If I could make a living doing it, I'd be a stand-up comedian. But now, everything was so bleak, and I hated it. I wanted things to go back to how they were before, only to realize how impossible that truly is.

I was numb to everything. I would just sit and stare at nothing. Everything had lost meaning. What was the point, I thought. Nothing I did now mattered. Nothing I did, good or bad, would bring my son back, so what was the point? I must admit that a part of me went insane, a very microscopic part, but part of me nonetheless. The first few days, I thought, once I have suffered enough, I'll wake up from this nightmare and be able to appreciate him that much more. That maybe that was the test, how much could I bear? How much could I suffer until I said 'no more'. See what I mean? Nuts, right?

Now, I may take some heat for the following, but it's part of my story. My husband and his family are Chinese, a culture very different from my own Hispanic background. Now, neither of us adhere to many traditions, but his family is still very much in touch with tradition. When my mother-in-law told me to "get rid of everything, pictures and all" and that she would buy everything for us next time, I was dumbfounded. Here I was, two days out from the most horrific thing that will probably ever happen to me with only these things to remember Peanut, and she's telling me to get rid of them?! I didn't say anything but 'ok, ok' because of the language barrier, but this was far from over.

That night, before going to bed, I told my husband what his mom had said to me. He said she had told him too. I asked what he thought, but before he could answer, I vented. This is the gist of what I said: I have been very accommodating to his family and their traditions, but this is our family...our son. These are Peanut's things and I refuse to get rid of them. He agreed, but said I needed to understand that Peanut never knew these things, never touched them. Everything that was "his" (the blanket and clothes he was using) was cremated with him. I told him I did understand, but like I said, part of me went crazy. That small, crazy part of me felt that Peanut may come back (I have since come to my senses) and he would be sad to know that we had gotten rid of his things.

My mom stayed for six weeks, to the dismay of some. She was exactly what I needed to help me get through this. Having gone through multiple losses herself, she knew exactly how to comfort me. It's an odd thing - everyone suffers some type of loss in their lifetime, but losing a child is all it's own. It is easy to comfort someone who has lost a grandparent, parent or sibling, but something gets lost in the translation when comforting someone whose just lost their child. It is something that unless you have gone through it yourself, it is hard to understand. It is something I wish no one ever had to go through. She would stay home and just watch TV with me, or when I would get claustrophobic, we would venture out into the world. I can never thank her enough for dropping her life and coming to be with me.

It has been almost three months, and I am still very new to this "grieving the loss of a child", but I feel I am doing well. I have managed to donate some of the furniture in the nursery. We didn't want to sell them, making money off of our son didn't seem right. So we donated them. They were hand-me-down gifts from family and my husband decided that since my family was so generous at Peanut's baby shower, we can afford to buy Baby Cao #2 new furniture. However, the things that were once for Peanut, would now be his gifts to his brother or sister. Cute, huh? When he says things like that, it lets me know that I have chosen the right man to walk through life with. It shows me how much he truly loves Peanut, just as much as me, if not more being that he was a boy (fathers and their sons, you know?).

The Delivery

They told me I would have to deliver Peanut. All I could think was, 'You're kidding right? Please tell me you're joking.' How cruel is that?! Labor and delivery is hard enough, but to go through all that and then have to leave empty handed?! No way, Jose! They can't make me do that. They cannot make me deliver this baby. Women have elective C-Sections all the time, and I will be one of them. We left the hospital and returned home, though it certainly didn't feel like a home then.

We called our parents. "Oh Melly No!" was the first thing my mom said. Those words haunt me. I could hear the despair in her voice as she tried to comfort me. I could hear my husband's mom screaming and bawling as he told her. She and my mom would come together, along with my older brother. They would make the drive through the night to get to us. My oldest brother and his family (wife and three kids) would arrive the following day, and so would a few of my cousins, but there was no hurry. No rush because we all knew what was going to happen the next day.

A stabbing pain ached inside of me as we put away all the baby things that had filled our house. The car seat that was so ready to take him home was unbuckled and put away. The bouncer, playpen and bassinet that would hold him so lovingly were taken apart. The clothes, burp cloths, and bibs were folded and put away. Everything that was him was no more. The only thing left was my big belly; and even with that I felt so empty. And the phones just kept ringing! To have to repeat it over and over, I felt as though I would go mad. As we laid in bed that night, all I could do was replay the events that led us here in my mind. It didn't help, I know that. But what else was I supposed to do?

I arrived at the hospital the next morning and was taken to the same room as the night before. I hate that room. I was still sure that I could convince them to allow me to have a C-Section. I was sure I could not deliver this baby and not take him home with me. I refused to do that. But it didn't matter; their minds were made up. They were sure I would deliver him, but I was certain I was not strong enough. The medicine was started that would induce my labor and as the pangs began, I was made very comfortable. I drifted in and out of sleep; people shuffled in and out of the room. There were times of laughter, hard to believe I know. My family and I would joke and remember happier times. More often, there was silence. A heavy sadness hung in the air and filled those silences whenever possible. We could go back, but the silence always brought us to the present.

Then it was time. I must admit that for the hour or so that it took to bring my son into this world, I did not once think about him being dead. I just thought about what I needed to do to get him here. I concentrated on the pushing and relaxed in between contractions. My husband was a very good coach. Well, except for the one moment when his phone began to ring and he tried to answer it. But other than that, I couldn't have asked for a better birthing partner. I didn't yell, either. I just focused on the breathing, not the pain. I honestly did better than I thought I would. So they were right; at 7:23pm Owen Henry was born...stillborn, yes, but BORN! I broke down after the last push. I cried heavily and loud and without concern for how it looked. My baby, my poor little boy.

They scrubbed him up and tried to get him dressed. The clothes we had brought for him didn't fit - they were too small! My boy was a large 7lbs 2 oz, and 19 inches. The newborn onesie didn't fit, but thankfully the hospital staff has a little nightgown on hand. Everyone that was there with us got to hold him. It was beautiful. He was so perfect. Even more reason why I couldn't understand why he wouldn't be going home. He had so much black hair and looked exactly like his daddy. I'm not complaining, I knew I was in there too, but I was so happy to look at him and see my husband. To see this beautiful little person we created together made my heart happy.

For what it was, our hospital experience was wonderful. The staff was so comforting and accommodating. They gave us a "treasure box" to keep little momentous in that my niece and nephews would soon fill with pictures for him. They arranged for a photographer from "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep", an organization that does a small photo session for bereaved parents, to come and take photos of Peanut. Everything was done slowly so as not to overwhelm us, and I'm very thankful to them. We left the hospital two days later, empty handed.


The Beginning

I had it easy until a few months ago. I had and continue to have very loving and supportive family and friends. College - easy peasy lemon squeazy. I fell in love and married my best friend. That's right, I'm one of those people. About 6 months later, I found out I was pregnant. I couldn't believe it. It's one of those things where you're shocked, excited, and scared all at the same time. I had daydreamed about how I would tell my husband we were going to be parents, but it didn't happen like my dreams at all. I simply handed him "the stick" and together we just stared at it. Our lives were going to change in the most phenomenal of ways...only, not in the way we hoped.

My pregnancy was beautiful - aside from the nausea, sciatic pain, and a couple of other side effects you need not know. Being the person I am, I opted for a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) as opposed to your run of the mill Obstetrician (OB). I wanted a low invasive, natural birth experience. The hubby and I even took the Bradley Method birthing classes along with the other courses we chose to take to prepare ourselves for our little peanut. That's what we called the baby. Our first office visit (around 6-8 weeks) we got to meet our little one and the first thing out of my husband's mouth was, "that's it? it's a little peanut." And the name stuck. Later, we found out it was a boy, but it didn't matter - he was still Peanut.

Weeks turned to months and then it was all about waiting...waiting...and more waiting. I had a couple of false labor scares, but was sent home to allow labor to come on its own. Fickle thing, labor, especially if it's your first time. Every pang, every cramp, I would think, "this is it!" But it wasn't.

This is where our story takes a dark turn. I only warn you because I remember it vividly and I still cringe.

This particular morning (I was right at 39 weeks), Peanut was not all that active. He had a habit of snoozing through the weekends so I didn't think much of it. Though, as the day progressed and I still had not felt my little "wombmate", I thought maybe we should call the CNM. She advised that we come in since I had done the standard "sugar rush" to try and agitate him. I drank orange juice in the morning as became the custom throughout my pregnancy. At lunch, I had soda and still nothing. Upon arrival, the nurse was having trouble locating Peanut's heartbeat. This too was normal, since he would always wiggle away from the heartbeat monitors and sonograms. Only this time, no wiggling...there was just silence. So the CNM decided to get the sonogram machine out and just have a look. After what seemed like an eternity, she excused herself. I couldn't hold in the tears anymore. I must admit that I knew even before we left the house that we would not be bringing Peanut home, but I stayed optimistic so I wouldn't worry my husband. But now, it was certain. The nurse said, "We're going to take you to another room." When she too excused herself, I looked at my husband and said, "They're doing that so we won't make a scene." And I was right. We were taken to private delivery room (the one I would eventually deliver Peanut in) and were followed by the CNM, a nurse, and a doctor. The sonogram machine was turned on again, to make sure I guess, and then I heard the words no pregnant woman wants to hear.

"I'm sorry, but there's no heartbeat. Do you know what that means?" I nodded, though not hard enough I suppose because the CNM repeated, "There's no heartbeat, do you know what that means?" I managed to force out a quiet 'yes'. They left us alone for a while, to absorb the news. We sat, our hands on my belly, crying. My husband kept saying, "I'm so sorry Peanut. I'm sorry." I still don't know what he meant, but I never asked. Me, I kept saying, "We were so close, why didn't he just come? We were so close." I still think that from time to time. "What do we do now? Where do we go from here?" I kept asking...not my husband, maybe God.