Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Those of us who've been down in that hole

I'm wiped out, exhausted...had another night of insomnia. Everyone got out late this a.m.

This time it's stress. Funny thing about grief and the things we don't want to talk about. It comes out anyway. Maybe not as tears, or public renting of clothes, but it comes out. After 8 1/2 years of this you'd think I'd know it when it sneaks up on me. But I never do....

I've wasted time in therapy and in blogging not talking about the stuff that really hurts down deep. I'm so stuck, so unable to write, to say things out loud, to even make the damn video that I have shot footage for (yes, literally I had everything ready weeks ago, but I just can't do the final bit, *sigh*), that instead I have insomnia, I have fights with my husband, I'm afraid to go back to my own clinic and really try to have another baby.

Because to me, TTC=failure, and pregnancy=dead babies, not live ones. I had another huge session with my therapist last Monday and I discovered that I can only talk about my daughters and my infertility in a very professional public voice, devoid of true emotion, devoid of any real self-examination. This helps when I'm making speeches or talking to professionals about medical care for the bereaved. But it's really really unhelpful to me as a person trying to heal.

That brings me to my last bunch of blogposts. I have seen some wonderful kind things in the last 8 1/2 years since my son died, and some truly horrible ones. Some people who have healed well, and some who haven't, at all. Some parents, who in fact, have never ever been okay again. There seems to be a lot of confusion out here in blogland about the helpful and unhelpful ways to handle grief, but really there isn't any confusion among grief counsellors, among long time grieving mothers, among hospice and bereavement workers.

And that is not the same as telling someone how they "should" feel, or judging the quality of their grief, neither of which I would ever do, really....It's more like that West Wing quote I love so much, (indulge me here, I feel a need to type it out again)

"This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and he shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.
Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in a hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.
Then a friend walks by, “Hey Joe it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”
The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”– Leo to Josh on The West Wing about sharing his problems at AA.

In AA as in many support groups they tell you to you need to really self-examine your life and all the incidents that led up to the problems in your life. Well, grief is no different. Grief is about looking at the reality, not the imaginary fantasy, but the raw, unvarnished truth. We can't rewrite it "nicer" or "easier" at least not until we've seen the ugly parts first. And we can't deny it.

Oh, I know...that's telling someone how to grieve...except it's's me saying that there and helpful and unhelpful ways of grieving. And I will be here for you, my friends, while you struggle with both kinds. But, make no mistake, I will be sad for you, I will try to suggest ways you can deal with you grief that might make you feel better. You don't have to listen to me, or read me, you can delete my comments, ignore my emails, IT'S OKAY. I'll still be here caring about you all....

The unhelpful stuff---the head of my support group, a bereaved mother herself, has some pretty horrific stories of what has happened to parents who don't face the reality of their loss. In her 20+ years she has seen divorces, suicides, debilitating depression, alcoholism, drugs, both legal and illegal, job losses, women literally walking down the halls of hospitals trying to find their babies---one was convinced the hospital had stolen her child, because she had never seen him after he was stillborn, and thank god the damn hospital had kept some pictures to show her, to prove he had died, otherwise, it would have even been worse. The women you hear about who have severe extreme PPD, they quite often have suffered previous losses, unacknowledged grief, that wells up years later after their new living child is born. They've found parents wandering through graveyards, unable to leave, parents who ended up in the psych ward of local hospitals.

Or the sadder less dramatic alternative, bereaved parents leading lives of silent depression. Never truly enjoying their living children or their marriages.

Facing reality can take many many forms, and we've talked about them here and on other blogs, like getting kind and decent treatment during a loss, from the medical system and friends and family, getting to see your child and hold them, getting pictures and mementoes, getting to say goodbye in some meaningful way. Saying a name out loud, having other people use your child's name. Finding out a reason why, a real reason. Being able to talk about it all with people you love, in a natural normal way.

Many people can't do this right away, but sooner or later they need to do some parts of it, somehow. The part I'm stuck on, isn't Matthew, and it isn't even the miscarriages of my daughters, so much as it is the nightmare of my daughter's remains being delivered to my home two years ago.

I saw her body, but it wasn't nice. It was awful, the worst possible way. I completely froze and lost it....I couldn't tell a soul. I told my support group, my husband, my therapist, and you my blogreaders. I've told policy people and others, pretending it was an unnamed client it happened to....but never under my own name. If I had delivered her in the hospital and seen here there, in one piece, all clean and wrapped up in a blanket, it would've been so different. It would've been healing.

Make no mistake....I know this has been an unhelpful way for me to grieve and deal with it. It's the recent cause of my headaches, my insomnia, and other issues over the last two years. I'm trying to undo the nightmare with some EMDR work, and some writing. I must succeed. I will not be okay until I deal with the trauma of this.

I will still be down in the hole.


  1. I love that quote from the West Wing too. I'm glad you reminded me of it. I'm going to have to remember that.

    You raise an interesting point. In our age of political correctness, of never wanting to deny anyone any feeling they care to indulge in, it is easy to lose the courage to say that yes, there are some truths that tend to hold true, the majority of the time for the majority of people. It really is kind of crazy to say that there is no wrong way to grieve. I'm sorry, but if I were still living as a recluse, refusing to appear at my son's school, never answering the telephone.... over three years after my loss... I think *someone* should tell me there is something wrong with that! I would hope they would!

    But, as you point it, equally dangerous can be the person who denies themselves the ability to grieve at all. Or, the person who puts a time limit on it. I agree, those things almost always come back to haunt us. And, in my opinion, I think that it can be easier to deal with the re-appearance of grief (and it does re-appear) if you understand that it is a natural part of grieving and in fact, life. Be Prepared is a good motto for grieving too!

    I'm not sure I understand the details of your experience with your daughter's remains. But I am so sorry that this continues to haunt you. So how are you going to deal with the trauma? What will you do differently?

  2. If you look under pregnancy #7's label, you'll see the story. Writing this blogpost is one way to start, but also using EMDR therapy. I can't explain it really, you have to see it believe it, but it's pretty powerful as a method of working on trauma, literally facing the awfulness, feeling it very intensely then following it where it leads you, hopefully to viewing the incident less intensely and painfully, more like a gentle old memory than a painful sharp wound.

    Does that make sense? I'm open to other ways...this is just a current one I'm trying.

  3. I did EMDR after Gabrielle, she too was in a bad state, that was hard to see, then they took her away and I never saw her again, I gave birth and went home with empty arms.

    That haunts, her messed up body by mother nature haunts, therapy is good, strong will is good, time is a healer, but memories stay, whatever you do.

    I'm so sorry you feel like this still.

    But I agree with you, that dealing with it is healthier then not, especially in the long run, however much its hurts.

    Big caring hugs from me.


  4. Something else came to mind:

    For a long time after my father's death, I felt haunted by his appearance at the end. He was such a shell of the man I knew. And it was horrifying to see such a dignified man have such an undignified death. But, over time, I have been able to train my thoughts on all of my memories of him alive. I have been able to fixate on the image of him I prefer.

    That must be part of what makes this image of your daughter so unrelenting, and traumatic. There is no other image for you to turn to. You can't focus your imagination on happier memories and allow this one to fade into the backdrop. I am so sorry... it must be so hard.

    I don't know much about EMDR, but I will be praying it helps lead you to the healing, and peace of mind, you need.

  5. The social worker who sent me the foot-prints of my daughter told me that when her remains were to be returned from the path lab, she would take some pictures to send me.

    I have mixed feelings about the results, which did not turn out because she was so small (gest. <16wks). In some ways I'm glad they didn't turn out. I know how a D&C works. I know what it does to a fetus of that size. However, I know I much I cherish the foot and handprints.

    I just don't know if my perception would be able to override the reality. As it is now, I have in my mind's eye that she was perfect.

  6. Funny thing about grief and the things we don't want to talk about.

    I just don't think this falls under the category of grief. Yes, there may be some elements of grief in it, but this is more of a post-traumatic reaction (with good cause, I would say). Your talking about it in a removed fashion sounds like a perfectly normal way to lessen the all-consuming nature of the trauma. As with any post-traumatic will talk about it when it is the right time for you.

    I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I think your story is VERY important. You are the reason hospitals should realize the impact their behaviors have on the people they serve. People like you are the reason we even have healing practices these days (seeing the baby, holding the baby, etc). The people who did this to you should be held accountable. As I often tell my friend who is a may just be another day at work to you, but it is a lifetime memory for the mother of a lost baby.

  7. I'm not really disagreeing with anything you've said, but, then where do people like me fit in?

    I really did not want to see or hold my daughter. I didn't want a vivid memory of her dead body. My son had died in utero, so I really really did not want to see or hold him.

    Similarly, I don't want any pictures or momentos. Well, actually, I kept one thing that reminds me of them, but I don't want any others, especially pictures.

    I like having their names be my secret and it hurts me to hear someone else say them. But I do want my family to acknowledge that they existed.

    So, where does that leave me?

  8. Catherine,

    You are kind of right in that is is related to trauma, but that trauma is blocking me from dealing fully with my it may be both I think.

    And Niobe,
    I'm not saying you have to do anything...just that all those mementoes and pictures should be gathered on your behalf so that if you ever change your mind, you can see them. So that you have options, the kind I was denied. Plus, something to remember is that this is really recent for you. Expressions of grief change over time.
    And finally, expressing yourself on your blog, writing about your twins, is a LOT, and probably very helpful to you. For all my blah blah blah, I don't write specifically about my daughters. There are lots of different ways of doing it, this is what you can do right now.
    Maybe later you'll do something else? And hopefully not the destructive unhelpful kind of choices....

  9. Niobe- I think it's good that you can share your different perspective, and way of handling your loss. I'm sure you are not alone. I do know someone in my RL whose son was stillborn 2+ years ago. She had some of your same reactions. As far as I know she has no pictures, and no one beyond her immediate family knows his name. The only thing is that I don't know that she has ever had any kind of outlet. I agree with Aurelia, that your blog is a great outlet for you. It's a way to process your grief, as well as to continue to remember and mourn your babies. The woman I know I fear has gone too far the other way. Never speaks of it, won't allow anyone else to, and yet all you have to do is look in her eyes to know she still carries so much pain.

    I just think at some point you have to find an outlet for your grief, and even your pent up love for your lost little ones (and by 'you', I mean the universal 'you' not you specifically).

  10. I can't imagine the horror of seeing your daughter like that. It is unfair, it is wrong and it shouldn't have happened. You will have to pay for someone else's fuck up.

    It is good that you have identified that it is the trauma of this situation that is causing you so much pain and is keeping you from healing.

    If you ever want a sounding board, you are more than welcome to send me an email. I can respond or not - whatever you needed. I will tell you now, I am not easily scared or intimidated by this kind of stuff.

    I hope you get some sleep tonight. It is easier to deal with everything - good and bad once you have had a good night's sleep.

    I wish you sweet dreams, Aurelia.

  11. Aurelia,

    My heart aches for you. Grieve, you have every right to. You have suffered terrible losses. Sending you a hug, and many thoughts that you find peace soon.

  12. I don't think that I have anything useful to say, only that the more you share your grief with others that you trust to "hold you emotionally" (my therapist's phrase), the better.

    I found a quote a couple of weeks ago that I am finding useful in helping me to deal with anger that I carry around from emotional neglect and sexual abuse from my childhood. In case it helps you, too, I thought I would share it:

    "True forgiveness comes when you give up the hope that the past could have been any different."

    Strangely, for me, I didn't write down where I found it. It might have been another blog....

  13. I have been reading your blog and have been moved by your writing. I apologize for the SPAM-like quality of this comment, but I wanted to invite you to submit your blog for listing on the Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss Blog Directory. This is a blog that we are establishing to help the newly (or not so newly) bereaved connect with other bloggers and find helpful resources. The more people who submit their blogs, the better the resource will be.

    I hope you will consider submitting your blog.

    ~ delphi at Eight Million Pieces

  14. So if your still in the hole, I am right there with you. Unlike everyone else, I don't have a fucking clue how to get out, but let's face it, I like the company. Even though, I don't want you to be in the hole too.

  15. I've read and re-rend this entry so many times searching for the right thing to say. And I just can't find it.

    I hope you can find your way out of the hole. I hope that TTC stops equaling failure, and pregnancy stops equaling dead babies. I hope that you can grieve and find yourself again. I hope, my friend, that it stops hurting so much.

  16. A, my heart is breaking for you right now. I can't find any better words than adrienne's: I hope that you can grieve and find a way out of the pain.

  17. I just want you to know that you have been instrumental in allowing myself time to grieve, and for forgiving myself for the ugly thoughts and feelings I've had along the way.

    As you describe your pain, I hope you know that I am out here, holding you dear in my thoughts, and wishing you peace and healing.

  18. Grief is such a breathtaking emotion - it comes in so many forms, and no form is ever wrong.

    The biggest thing I had to learn to overcome from my miscarriages is the fact I would never got to see or hold my babies that were robbed from my life. But, that is my expression of my grief. That is what held me back for so long.

    This post, I hope, will being your freeing of your grief after so long. Being able to write about what really hurts is an amazing first step to moving forward. Wishing you peace as you begin to heal.

  19. Aurelia...sounds to me like a part of you has fragmented or disassociated from yourself...a part that can't believe, doesn't want to believe what happened. And while the rest of you might be functioning in the real world, a part of you is in that "hole" trying to get out to join the rest of you. And all the images you have in your post are "triggers" that can help or hinder the healing. It isn't easy as you well know but I agree with others here that writing about this is an excellent way to put perspective on what happened.

  20. Here you are being very honest in your self examination. Healing doesn't happen overnight, but this post and all the other stuff you are doing is going in the right direction. You are doing a good job.

  21. What a well thought out and touching post. I am adoring the idea of being in a hole and have someone jump in with me because they've been here before and know the way out.

    I have to grieve in my own way in stints because it takes over my life otherwise, but I also know deep in my heart that if I *don't* grieve, I will forever be broken.

    We're all holding hands in this hole. And that in part is something that gives me strength. I hope it gives you strength too.