Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Different Kind of Homebirth - a loss story

Trigger Warning: This post is the birth story of a baby miscarried in the second trimester, and the opening up of the mother on what it is like to go through that and moving forward from there. PHOTO AT END (B&W) Sensitive readers or readers who have lost may wish to skip reading further.

When talking about homebirth, you usually hear one of two things: horror stories from those who are not fans, or glowing descriptions of how wonderful it is to birth your child surrounded by the people and things that comfort you most. And, having had two such experiences, I agree with those who say that homebirth is wonderful. To eat or drink what you want, to have your choice of position and room in the house, to have a waterbirth if you wish, or to birth on your bed, favorite rug, sofa, middle of the room, bathroom, wherever you wish, then to rest all snuggled up to your baby in your own bed with your husband and whoever you choose with you while you feel the surge of oxytocin flood you while you bond and someone else cleans you up and any mess... it is amazing!

But the probably more common homebirth is one we don't often think of because we use a different word for it. We call it miscarriage, stillbirth, or loss. I would imagine many more women have had this kind of birth at home than women who have chosen the other. In my experience, it is the most valuable time to be home and to have that level of support from family and a loving midwife. Yet we hear little of it. Why? Because it is sad. Because there is no surge of oxytocin, no cute cooing baby to hold, no happy family snuggled in the bed. Because those who have been there in that place of pain usually have a hard time talking about it, and before the internet, they had to relate their story face to face or over the phone, retelling it over and over, if they were to share. And that is a lot harder. But here I am, with a blog, an open heart, and a wish to demystify the pain and process of a loss. I think I can manage to write this down once, versus telling it face to face repeatedly. I hope it will help someone who may go through a loss in the future or who may be trying to support a friend through a loss.

Here is my story.


It seemed like a normal pregnancy for a while, I had morning nausea, food aversions, a few cravings, a growing belly, fatigue, and I heard the heartbeat at 12 weeks, which is right about when I started feeling movements. That movement actually was earlier than either of my other two boys, and it proved a valuable sign in the future. About 13.5 weeks, I got one of those terrible stomach viruses that hits you hard but is over in less than a day, though you take longer to rebuild because you were totally depleted. After that, the motions decreased.

I was just thinking I had felt him again now and then, when we had the 16 week visit. I had mentioned the decreased movement, and they sort of raised their eyebrows. I also said I thought I had felt him since, but couldn't be 100% what movements were his, things felt different than the early movements did. Everything had grown.

Then we checked for the heartbeat on the doppler. While my midwife thought maybe she had heard a beat or two and a splash from motion, there was nothing definitive to be heard. I went to the bathroom to see if that shifted him. Still nothing. They didn't say it was over, we weren't sure, but their faces were grim. I tried to make light, but I knew what was a possibility. I knew it was rare to lose a baby after hearing the heartbeat at 12 weeks. Rare to lose them in the second trimester, but possible.

I solicited prayers from a small group of friends. My midwife offered to let me come in whenever to try again, but I decided to wait until the ultrasound at 18 weeks. Two weeks of wondering with a definitive answer was what I felt up to, I wasn't sure I wanted to try the doppler again.

The day before the ultrasound, it happened.


I call it birth because it had resembled my other births in several ways. Miscarriage seems to not quite convey how it feels. This is a copy of my side of a conversation with a friend about his birth, touched up for typos. Not everyone will have it happen quickly like me. Not everyone will escape total confirmation and the waiting game that starts. Not everyone has it be uncomplicated for them. But this is how it happened for me.

Even though I knew to keep my hopes cautious, it hit me blindside

Bob had not gone to work yet

So much of the bad was a blessing in this

I woke a little before six
in a generic horrible lower pain. I had no idea if it was gas, my uterus, my ligaments, a horrid UTI...

went to the bathroom, and only pee came out
no blood, no poo, no gas, and no pain relief

I went and lay down. After a little while, I couldn’t handle the pain quietly and was groaning
and got Bob's attention
I had him put his warm hand over where it hurt, and it regulated into contractions
about every two minutes

they were bad enough I had to moan through them, and felt like a cross between normal transition contractions and sharp afterpains
I knew then to contact my midwife, it was either premature labor, or what it was. She texted me back, and then called right after she did, telling me to go to the ER for an ultrasound and it may be the worse
as soon as I got off the phone with her, I started shaking uncontrollably between each contraction, so I couldn’t really get ready for a few contractions

after I thought about how I was going to get out of that bed, I decided to get up while shaking and head to the bathroom. I felt moisture descend, and had just started to bleed on my underwear as I got to the toilet

I saw it as soon as I sat, and knew, and cried. and my tears pushed him out

he literally slipped out

after sobbing uncontrollably for a couple minutes, my senses returned, and I had Bob get a towel and get him out of there before I freaked out

so I held his body on a towel between my knees while Bob called out of work and called the midwife over to help me with the afterbirth

the contractions eased for a bit as that all went on, which was good

and I kept waiting for the placenta or my midwife, whichever happened first

and I talked to his body, and cried

and Bob leaned his head on me, and prayed

and then he took care of the kids who were then waking up

and because the placenta was taking a while and the midwife was stuck in traffic a bit, I cut the cord so I could lay him down and try to shift around to help the placenta and work with the contractions that had started again

by the time the midwife came, I had hit a calm spot, but those didn’t last long that day

I was getting really tired, but the thing I thought was the placenta coming out was just a clot and she helped that out. she gave me Anjelica to try to help the placenta detach, too

after the clot came out, I started feeling a little dizzy, so she helped me to the bed

the contractions kept going
finally we were both wondering why it was taking so long, because I have never really had detachment issues

she reached to check


and it had detached but was small enough it got in a place where it rested on my pelvis and all she had to do was scoop it out

after that the contractions eased and I was able to get cleaned up and rest and I had her give me ibuprofen to ease afterpains

those didn’t last long, and I didn’t need more than one dose

but I did feel a phantom baby kick, which really was like a sock in the gut

the next time I went to the bathroom, I passed two huge ugly clots, and after that my bleeding has been fine like, period, or less

even with sitting a lot and not just laying down

because laying down was getting irksome

and lonely

I've been at peace that he passed since seeing his little body but I ache really hard thinking about the 180 this whole year has taken for me

I am totally crying for me

he is ok and I thank God for that hope

that I only have to hurt for those of us here

if this life was all I had, this would suck so much more

so... that is what happened and where I am at

I never had to leave my home

I didn’t have to sit and wait for it

I just had to take it when it hit me

~I wrote this February 6th, two days after he was born.~  

I could see his body, and he was a boy. I looked him over, and the only thing wrong I could see that waiting to be born wouldn't necessarily account for was some excessive looking fluid on the crown of his head and around his neck. He was a sort of tan flesh color, not disturbingly decomposed looking, but actually almost perfect excepting what the wait may have done to his skin and a little bloating to his belly. His head was moulded a bit from coming out. He was beautiful in a way. About 4" crown to rump length (so he lasted past the stomach virus, to about 15 weeks). Tiny perfect man bits, distinctive fingers and toes, head the size of a key lime, lengthening legs, a mouth that opened when I moved him around in the towel when I shifted... he was fascinating. But he was gone, I was just looking at his body. I named him Enoch, because he is with God now, and is not here.

This terrible day would have been so much harder without my midwife there. When she arrived, we hugged, cried, had quiet spaces, talked, shared stories and names of our lost babies, talked about future ramifications, and took care that I was doing ok. It was nice to have someone knowledgeable there who was also my friend, so healthwise I felt safe, and heartwise I had a confidante. Of all my births, this one really seemed the one I needed her most. All those good things a midwife does in a happy healthy birth are even more helpful when you have a loss. I was glad to be cared for by someone I knew and trusted. I even joked with her as she cleaned me up afterward and helped me settle into bed that she was one of few people I would ever let clean up my bum, a dubious privilege, but telling of how comfortable I am with her that it didn't feel as awkward as such a thing might. She also took photos on my phone for me, which I am grateful for.

My husband was also awesome. At the beginning, he was there with me continuously, as soon as I woke him. Shortly after I delivered Enoch, the boys woke up, and he then tended to them, getting them breakfast, and keeping them from me so I could have peace and they didn't get exposed to too much. But he did keep coming to check on me, even periodically after the midwife came. He explained things to our 4 year old son as best you can for that age, and then we asked if he wanted to see the baby. He did, so we showed him the baby, and I think that was a good thing. He then knew more concretely what had happened to the baby in mama's belly, and it gave him a gentle exposure to death. We talked him through it, and he seems not harmed in the least by knowing.
After this, I lay on my bed pretty much all that day as my husband called people and I shared a little online. I had that one dose of ibuprofen and a warm rice pack for some afterpains, which thankfully did not last long this time. I was tired and needed to rest, but I was too busy processing what happened. It was all so fast that I needed to. Eventually I had thought enough and we had made all the connections we had intended, and I was able to turn my mind off enough to nap. That day, I alternated tears, peace, and even occasional laughs. I'm a person that would probably find something to laugh at on my deathbed if it were funny. I have a tendency to hold off processing negative emotions while encouraging happy ones to have free range. This time I knew it was so serious, I needed to let myself feel EVERYTHING. And I did feel everything. Highs, lows, sadness, gratitude, fear, hope, humor, pretty much everything but anger. I somehow did not feel that, perhaps because the hope I have of seeing my son in heaven, and the knowledge usually a late miscarriage is a sign something was wrong with the baby's body that is prohibitive of life or health.
The kindness of friends started that very day, and continued. Kind words on my Facebook were so very helpful to me. A meal, groceries, and flowers were brought, touching me and really helping. I was surprisingly hungry, despite being sad. I guess having been sick so much that month and the effects of pregnancy on my appetite left me ready to eat when it was all over.
The Next Few Days-  
I was wondering how the bleeding would be. It was rough the first couple times up, passing horrifying large clots that first time or two, then it slowed remarkably fast for me, and by the end of the week, I was hardly bleeding at all. I mistakenly thought I was going to get back to normal super fast. A few days of increased activity about a week after, and stress from being mom to two very energetic little boys while recovering got to me, and I started into the cycle of spotting and stopping.  The rice bag proved my friend once or twice again for varying discomforts. A little over two weeks out the spotting seemed to stop, but I know it could  possibly come back again if I overdo it. Or I could have menstruation return in the next couple weeks possibly. Not too excited at that prospect.  
Emotionally, I was all over the place a couple of days, then I started getting to where I would only cry maybe once in a day at some trigger. A trigger that surprised me was looking for some jewelry to remember him by on Etsy. None of it seemed appropos for my situation. If it was appropriate to my stage of loss, it creeped me out. The blue and pink loss emblem and jewelry inspired by it made me sad because I was far enough along I DID know the gender of my baby. I cried for about an hour looking at that stuff, then went to bed and removed myself from the trigger.  
I continued to reach out online, and I am glad I did. The private messages and conversations I had were incredibly encouraging. I got to know people better. I made a new friend from an intimate group I was in. I had dozens of comforting comments to read on my posts and blogs.  
More food, cards, and gifts came, which was wonderful. I'm really grateful to my friends and church family for how supported I have been through this.  
I read some Psalms. I looked at my flowers. I indulged in chocolate. I snuggled the two boys I felt so incredibly blessed to have, healthy and living, right next to me. I pulled closer to my husband. I let my feelings and thoughts range, trying to comprehend it all. I started putting things into a Word document early on while things were fresh. I am glad I did, it was actually helpful and will help me make him a nice memory book. I knit him a sleep sack about the size of an iPod cozy to lay him to rest in out of some beautiful blue handspun I had left over from knitting his brother some baby bootees. I really wanted to knit something for him, and this was the only thing he would ever wear, so I tried to make it something special. I also wrote a poem for him, which is in the previous blog post to this.

Really the hardest thing was, and is still, looking forward. I fear getting pregnant again sooner than I feel ready. I fear my fertility being disrupted a long time. I want a short break, but what that is, I don't know. I don't have a medical reason to wait to try again, but I am not so much into trying again as letting what happens happen. I'm in too much danger of overthinking and fear otherwise. We'll see what happens there. I am pretty sure the next pregnancy will be emotionally harder. I'm going to need those hour long midwife appointments.  
Laying Him to Rest-  
We waited until Saturday to lay him to rest (he was born on Monday), so we put him in the freezer in a container with his placenta. In hindsight, I wish we had put him in the fridge and taken care of him sooner. The reason is that the sight of him frozen before he thawed for being buried horrified me. He looked altered, and though he normalized some as he thawed, it was a bit disturbing. I put him in his little sleep sack. I had deeply regretted hardly directly touching his body when I had the chance for fear I would harm it, so I really wanted to do this part myself. I had thought I could possibly take an imprint of his foot, but he was in no shape for that after freezing. I may make a decorative mobile or a tie to close his memory book with a piece of clay the length of his body (maybe with a word on it) and one about the length of his foot instead.  
Before preparing him for burial, we went to a local garden center. For my older boys, I hope to bury their placentas (yes, still in the deep freezer) underneath a fruiting plant or tree a ways so that as it decomposes it enriches the soil. For Enoch, for obvious reasons I did not want a fruiting plant over him. So we decided on a beautiful, hardy, hybrid tea white rose. That trip was enjoyable and beautiful, and the only moment I was sad was seeing a mother with two boys walking beside her and a third in a baby carrier. I wasn't jealous so much as pained by a look at what could have been, and I kept walking. I haven't had that problem since, but I think the first sight was what got me.  
We got back home, ate lunch, and after I rested and my husband and son (the four year old saw Daddy working and wanted to help, he didn't quite know all that was going to happen but I loved that moment) prepared the hole, I prepared Enoch and we went out to bury him. I gently laid him down in the hole, put his placenta a few inches away, and my husband prayed. No other words, but no words felt needed. Then we gently covered him with a few inches of soil, and proceeded to plant the rose. Now his resting place will grow beautiful over time, which makes me happy. The bush was planted next to the 15' lilac in the corner of the yard that gets the sun, so it really will be a lovely spot.  
Moving Forward-  
It is now just over three weeks after as I write this. Since then, I have done a few things to help me move forward.    
I went shopping with my mom for supplies for his memory book. I worked on the word document with pages to print on cardstock for the book, and have printed the ones I have so far.  
I got amethyst beads for a bracelet, and made it. I liked amethyst before, but avoided it because it was the February birthstone and didn't want to confuse people. Silly, I know. But now, since it is his birthstone, I wanted some amethyst even more.  
I also bought a necklace with lyrics from the song "Three Little Birds", which a friend had shared with me to cheer me. It says "Every little thing is gonna be alright".  
I went shopping about a week after with my sister and a couple friends, and got some things to fill in my wardrobe for my now almost normal postpartum body and to make me feel better about the changes to me I wasn not hoping for. That was really fun and therapeutic. I got a sterling silver amethyst ring while there, a small one that doesn't command attention but is pretty and makes me smile, yet remember.  
I had my mom and sister come help me catch up on my housework, which was really behind.  
I got better about my supplements after talking to my midwife. I still forget sometimes, but I am taking my Rainbow Light prenatal petite, some chlorophyll caplets, and Garden of Life's Healthy Blood supplement. That helped me a lot overall, though I am still prone to headaches after stress, exertion, or being awake too long.

I've started planning projects. This break from pregnancy was unwelcome, but if I put it to good use, it will give it some meaning and purpose. I'm planning house organization and storage (we bought and remodeled a house last summer and projects still abound), and planning my garden, and hoping to get ready for chickens. All things I wanted to do anyway, but will hopefully have more ability to accomplish now.

I also am writing this, in hopes that it helps me process. Holding in thoughts and feelings sometimes slows healing, and while I have tried to avoid that, writing this has shown me there is so much that I had more or less kept held in myself.

  Advice For Friends of the Grieving-  
My friends have been really good about these, but now having been the receiving end of these, I can share what helps and use this in my own life.  
-Feel them out to see what they need.
-Offer to bring food or clean. Bring food that respects any dietary considerations they have.
-They may need an occasional boost longer than you might think, however minor. As long as seven other people don't have the same idea, a suprise meal or act of service or encouraging word may be helpful.
-Talk to them about normal stuff if you don't know how to talk about grief. They probably are ready for some normal conversation anyway. But if they want to talk about grieving, be a listening ear and judge what to say off of what they are saying.
-Be happy if you are happy, unless you see visible signs of sadness in their face. If they don't look like they need comforted, they may not currently, but will if everyone around them always acts sad. A kind word of sympathy isn't what I am meaning, but more protracted sad behavior. Avoiding happy interaction won't help them heal faster. If they do look sad, by all means comfort them!
-Don't ignore them, especially with extroverts. People need to know they are loved and thought of.
-Don't be too overpowering with sympathy, especially with introverts. People express their feelings differently and cope differently, so while sympathy is needed, keep in mind how you would usually interact with the person.
-Don't say anything stupid. Yes, that sounds funny, but sometimes people who don't know what to say will say something dumb. Things to avoid:
telling them things that could cause miscarriage (it has already happened, about all you will do is sound accusatory or make the mom feel guilty like it might be her fault),
telling them it is better this way (regardless of why it happened or the circumstances of the parents, it is sad and disappointing, and though the baby is in paradise, death is naturally sad and grieving is a process),
that they have other kids so loss isn't as bad (they don't have the baby they lost, who is a totally different child they hoped to know, kids are irreplaceable),
or any advice/nagging about having the next kid/comments about age gaps (different people heal differently and have fertility come back differently, and again, adjusting to the change to the expected family dynamic is hard).

I've come at grief from a Christian perspective, so I know the baby is in a better place, missing temptations, and since I can have more kids, and have had healthy kids in the past, I am not destitute or hopeless. But knowing is not feeling. It may be better this way, the baby had a problem. It doesn't feel better this way. So sometimes a comment meant encouragingly can still hurt to accept. Some things may help some women and hurt others. I have had frank conversations that did not hurt me to have. Reassurances that did sit well. But not every one is the same, and not every phase of grief is the same. Something ok to say two, three, four weeks later may be painful three days later. The level of sympathy shown one week later may be uncomfortable one month later. Like physical wounds, the fresher the wound, the gentler you go, and some people have different pain tolerances. Knowing the person you are talking to helps.    
I hope all I have written has been helpful or informative to someone. I am now going to add some related photos at the bottom of this post, the ring, the moment of my son helping his daddy, the rose, a belly pic/after, the sleep sack, the necklace, and one of him. Some are sweet or happy, some are sad. Only look if you wish.



Friday, February 8, 2013

For Enoch, A Poem

I am sitting here, thinking how to type this. My sweet baby boy has gone ahead of me to his rest. I carried him to 18 weeks, but we think he died around 15 weeks. I woke this morning with the beginning of the poem I wanted to write for him forming and swirling in my head. My poems seem to most often hit me in bed, but it has been a long time since I have written any. This one is for him, my Enoch. I may post more about losing him later on, but here is his poem.

My womb is small and empty,
A hole is in my heart,
For I just wasn't ready
So soon to have to part.

I dreamed of knitted sweaters,
Of snuggles while you nurse,
And many hopes now hopeless,
As I face their reverse.

I know you are now seeing
Hope's everlasting end,
But waiting here behind you,
I yet but slowly mend.

I know I'll someday meet you
After braving best and worst,
But in my heart I whisper,
"I wish I'd known you first."
 Your loving mother, Robyn Story