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On March 9, 2010 our son Anderson was born still. These are the words I have for him, to him, and about him.
I have had a heavy heart all day and, true, it may be in part because of the hormones. But I know how hormones feel- fleeting, intense, and then my brain calms down and I can kind of laugh at myself. I haven’t done much laughing today. It’s been a really lonely time for me lately. I don’t talk much about this pregnancy or about the baby, I guess out of self preservation. I don’t feel like running out to buy baby clothes or planning a baby shower. I don’t feel connected to the baby, to myself, or to anyone else.
Grief is a very lonely process, it’s a lonely place to be. Although people have wanted, so badly, to help me through it, there hasn’t been anything anyone could do. My time alone at the cemetery has been just that- time alone. No one I know could understand how I have felt or how I feel now. Shortly after I found out that I was pregnant, I went to talk to Anderson, alone at the cemetery late in the evening, just as the sun was setting. I poured my tears onto the grave and I told him all the heaviness I was carrying. ”My second baby was supposed to be you… it is you.” I tried so hard to put into words the heartache I felt, the loneliness. ”Sometimes,” I told him, “I wonder if you aren’t just the luckiest little boy in the whole world. You never had to deal with any of the heartaches of living life. A lot of people wish later in their lives that they’d never been born and you kind of got to have that wish come true. I’ve never been sad for you, I’ve always been sad for me. You’re not missing much, I’m the one that’s missing out.” I’ve always wanted to feel something when I talk to him at the cemetery, but I never have. I’ve never felt anything except the distinct feeling that a) I am alone and b) I am talking to myself. So I went home.
Cambria and I had a rough day. She cried a lot and so did I. She is very perceptive, she always has been, and she was mirroring my sadness I’m sure. The tiniest thing sent her over the edge. Through her sobs she cried, “I don’t love you anymore!” and “I thought you were my best friend!” and I wanted to (and a few times I did) pick her up in my arms and hug away that sadness. She can’t handle the idea of me being mad at her and I could tell that she was in a lonely place, too. There was nothing either of us could do to help the other. I was hurting because of a lot of different things happening in my life right now and she was hurting for me and because she misinterpreted my sadness as anger toward her. There wasn’t a lot of snuggling today.
I am overwhelmed with this pregnancy, with work, with parenting, with the house, with grief, with finances, with hormones, and with the feeling of loneliness and isolation. I know it will pass. I know this stage in my life will be over before I know it. And mostly, my days aren’t terrible anymore. But today … it just was. I love Cambria more than anything in the world, it’s just biologically how it happens, she trumps all. And I love Anderson and I do already love this third baby. And of course I love Cody, what would I be without him? But even with all that love, sometimes my heart just breaks. It still breaks.
In my unquenchable curiosity for why I still grieve this loss, I went searching for medical journals that have done studies on the psychological effects of stillbirth on women and families. The findings are not surprising for the most part, women who held their stillborn baby were less likely to experience regret than women who did not. So on and so forth. The interesting thing, however, was that women who experienced a third trimester stillbirth and who held their baby and went through the rituals of photographing the baby and/or dressing the baby, they reported less anxiety and depression. However, those women when they became pregnant again, the women who held and photographed their babies were inclined to higher levels of anxiety and depression than women who had not held their babies at all. If I hadn’t held Anderson then I may have, for a short term during a subsequent pregnancy, experienced lower levels of anxiety. However, the long term effects for women who did not hold their babies were significantly worse. They struggled with anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, guilt, and regret.
One study stated that the difficult thing about a stillbirth is that it is a death that most of society ignores or avoids discussing. It isn’t a loss that people feel comfortable talking about and in doing so, women who have experienced the loss feel alienated, devalued, and invalidated in their grief. Family and friends (especially in the past) chose to ignore the loss and focused on the “moving on” and “trying again” part of living rather than acknowledging the loss and helping the mother through her grief. In some ways I relate to that in other ways I don’t. I was lucky enough to have a large number of friends and family send their condolences, lend a shoulder to cry on, and give us open doors to discuss our heartache with them. Letters, cards, flowers, they poured in. Facebook messages, voicemails, texts, I did, for awhile, feel like the whole world wanted me to know that I was loved. But there have been times when I’ve felt very alone in my loss. I’ve grown to despise the term “stillborn” because I think people are too comfortable with that word. When people ask me how many children I have and I very calmly answer, “I have a daughter and I had a son, but he was stillborn” I get a very different reaction than when I say, “I have a daughter and I had a son, but he died.” I receive more sympathy and sometimes horror when I say that my son “died” as opposed to my son being “stillborn”. Although, to me they are the same thing. He was my son and yes, he was stillborn, but this translates into I had a son who died. If then people ask “Oh, my, how did he die?” and I answer, “he was stillborn” they almost always relax and say, “Ohhhh, I see.” as if that makes it better. Maybe they’re thinking that I had a toddler who died and that would, to them, be worse than my unborn son? I don’t know. So it is true that I don’t have to tell them any of that, but my other option is leaving him out altogether. They would say, ‘how many children do you have?” I would say, “I have a daughter.” True, but I had a son, I did. I had a full term pregnancy with a baby boy who just happened to not make it out alive. It feels wrong to say “I have a daughter” and leave it at that. It’s a question I will never be able to answer easily.
Now for a song. This song is from Spring Awakening, a musical. I would try to set the scene for you, but it isn’t really relevant. I just love this song and I wanted to share it.
“Can’t help the itch to touch, to kiss, to hold him once again, now to close his eyes, never open them…
All the talks you never had, the Saturdays you never spent, all the grown-up places you never went…”
It’s not about a baby dying, it’s about a teen boy, but still… it strikes a chord for me.
Thanks for reading, always.
I was pregnant when the air was bitter cold and it snowed in Dallas that year. Cambria was so small, her black Dora The Explorer coat enveloped her entirely. I tried to avoid buying a maternity coat, they were so expensive and I would only wear it for a few months. But finally, my stomach was too big, and I had to buy one. It was gray and black, it went down to my knees, large ruffles at the bottom, I loved it. Cambria had spilled some milk on the front of my coat, but the tag read ‘DRY CLEAN ONLY’ and it was the only coat that fit, so I didn’t bother taking it.
I discovered Mumford & Sons while wearing that coat. I wore that coat to the Vaughn Christmas party that year. My son grew inside that coat, I did, too. I stretched my seat belt over the big buttons and underneath my pregnant stomach. I did Christmas shopping in that coat. We wore that coat together, Andy and I, it was ours.
March came and went and took my son with it. April, May. In June I decided to take the coat to the Dry Cleaner. I dropped it off and it’s been there ever since. It had been so expensive, I wore that coat all winter, and I couldn’t bring myself to go one block away to pick it up. Until today. I decided to get out of the house for awhile and wander around the thrift store beside the Cleaner’s. The only parking space I could find was in front of the Cleaner’s. I looked at the door propped open, the hundreds of garments hanging in clear bags on a rack that resembled a theme park ride, and I knew it was unlikely that my coat was still in there. I took a deep breath and decided to ask.
The place was empty except for the same Asian man who had taken my coat when I dropped it off a year ago. There was no Air Conditioning in the place, the only movement in the air came from a large fan in the corner. I stepped up to the counter and the man walked from his desk to meet me. ”Hi, um, I dropped a coat off here a long time ago… I doubt that you still have it, I just thought I’d check.” He smiled politely “How long ago? Ten years?” I laughed awkwardly, “No, maybe a year?” His eyebrows raised, “Oh, I have it then. I haven’t given anything away in years. At least five years.” I didn’t expect it to be there, I was surprised, and relieved. His eyes went to his computer screen, “Last name?” ”Hatton,” I said, “I mean, Curry. I guess it’s under Curry.” He pivoted on his heels and slapped the red button on the rack and set the clothing in motion. And there it was, my coat. He slapped the button again, pulled the coat down and hung it on a shepherd’s hook beside me. I smiled, I starred at the coat, reached underneath the plastic and touched it. I paid the fee and left.
Of course the milk was washed away from the front of the coat and it looked just as beautiful as the day I bought it. It’s sitting in my kitchen, draped over a chair. It’s July. But I think I’ll wear it again when it gets cold. I don’t care that it’s a maternity coat, I’m just happy it wasn’t lost forever. For awhile I thought I never wanted to see it again, but now that I have it, I don’t ever want to lose it again.
Whenever I talk to people about losing Anderson, I find myself saying “I know I’ll never get over it, not really, but…” and right now, that irritates me. All I want, right now, is to get over it. I’m actually kind of pissed off that this is going to be something I carry with me for the rest of my life. I hate that there are things in my life now that I will never “get over”. A bad breakup, a fender bender, auditioning and not getting the part, these are things I can get over- things I have gotten over. But losing my son, it isn’t possible. I used to say “I don’t ever want to get over it”. Partly because the heartache felt like I was honoring him somehow and maybe also because I know that a lot of other people will be able to get over it but I, his mother, should never.
I got my haircut a couple weeks ago. My hair was long, very long. I sat down in the chair and the heavyset girl with a pretty face smiled and said, “What can we do ya for today?” I pulled my hair down out of it’s bohemian style braid and shouted over the bumping music, “It’s too hot. I just… need it gone-” she interrupted “But you want to keep the length, right?” She took my hair in her hands and laid it flat on my back, admiring the length. I looked at myself in the mirror, paused a moment, and bravely said, “No. Not really. I guess not.” She smiled, “OK then,” she said, “how short are we talkin’?” The sickly-thin girl cutting hair beside us was swiveling in her high heels, dancing to the loud music, laughing and flirting with her male client. I wanted to cry, but I wanted the hair gone. I didn’t know the answer to that question. I hadn’t had my hair cut since I was pregnant with Anderson, it felt connected to him. I almost felt that the length was a testament to my love for him, it signified a time in my life that I consider sacred. Part of my identity was wrapped up in my hair, at least, part of my identity as his mother. ”Short,” I answered, “you decide. Just make it short.” She explained her plans to keep it shoulder length, but she wanted to give it some volume, so she’d add some subtle layers. I didn’t care really, I just wanted her to get started. She braided my hair in a long braid and cut it off above the rubber band. She tossed the heavy, damaged hair onto the table in front of the mirror and I already felt a change.
During small talk I told her that I have a daughter. She asked the question that everyone asks, “Is she your only child?” I have changed my answer to this question a million times, never really knowing what to say. I cleared my throat, it felt wrong to talk about this in a place with such loud music and laughter. I spoke loudly, but I couldn’t shout it, “I had a son, but… he died.” The smile melted off of her pretty face and I regretted mentioning it, immediately. ”Oh, I’m… sorry.” The moment was awkward, but I almost didn’t care, why should I feel bad for her? I said, “I guess that’s why I need this haircut, it’s been a year and… I need a change.” She smiled sympathetically and said, “Got it.”
So now my hair is shoulder length. It’s a lot healthier and cooler. I don’t hate it. I look in the mirror now and I see a different version of myself and it actually does help. I don’t have to carry a full head of tangled hair around the rest of my life just because my son died. These are lessons I am learning slowly. Yeah, I’ll never get over it and yeah, that sucks but little by little, I can let go of pieces of the loss and the heartache. I can laugh really hard and really loud and I can have short hair… I can do all of those things and still be a testament of my love for both my children. I think I’m the only person who believes that I should hurt forever.
The memory of the loss is seeming more distant lately. I don’t dwell on the memory of the pain like I used to or obsess over the tragedy. But still, the thoughts find me. The memory of the day will pass through my mind in a series of images. I will remember the white sound on the heart monitor or hearing later how Cody retreated to a nearby bathroom to vomit while I was wheeled away. It exists, now, as fragments of memories and regrets. Why didn’t the doctors wait until Cody was with me to give me the news? Why didn’t I ask more questions? Why did I look away from Andy for even a moment while he was in the room with us?
Sometimes there is a trigger. For example, I will be driving on Garland Road and I’ll stop at the same light we stopped at on our way to the hospital. I had looked out the passenger window, breathing through the contractions, and I saw a family friend in the car beside us. I laughed and rolled the window down, told him we were headed to the hospital to have the baby, and he smiled as we drove off. I’ll sit, now, at that red light and remember the color of his truck, the wide smile he gave us. It feels like an echo in my head. And then, in the instant the light turns green, I will be snapped back to reality. And I don’t lose it, I don’t cry, I hardly feel anything.
But other times, the memories come without warning. When I allow myself to be idle, no book in my hands, no phone to play with, only a quiet room. The fragments will find me in those moments and drift slowly through my mind without warning, never settling, just passing. And sometimes, even now, I will wake in the night with a heaviness in my chest. But I will find sleep again, now I do.
On Mother’s Day this year I went to work and when I came home, before bed, I gave myself permission to take all of Andy’s things out of the single drawer I’ve collected them in and hold them in my hands. This is something sacred I rarely do, I’ve only done it maybe five times. The outfit he wore in the pictures that are still stained with blood, the blanket I held him in, the hat he wore, pictures of him glued into a small scrapbook my mother made for me. I pulled these items out, one by one and held them, put them to my face, let them touch my skin. I sat on the bed with his things and cried quietly. I held the blanket and I so badly wanted to go back and hold him one more time and I wanted to remember the feel of his forehead on my lips, the weight of his body in my arms, but I couldn’t conjure the image. I decided to hold the blanket in one hand and look at the picture of him wrapped in the blanket in the other hand. I pulled the scrapbook out and flipped through to find the photos of him wrapped in the blanket. As I flipped through the photos, my heart began to race, the crying became more hysterical, and I realized that the blanket in my hand did not match the blanket in the photos. I felt cheated, angry, confused. All this time, the sacredness with which I treated that blanket was a waste! He had probably never even touched that blanket. The one thing that I thought we had both touched at the same time, his skin and mine, was a fraud.
Cody came into the room and I was shrieking, “It’s not the right blanket! It’s not the right blanket!” He laid with me, grieved the new loss next to me, and helped me eventually fall asleep. I woke throughout the night crying. I felt like I had experienced the loss of my son all over again. The wound was fresh, my eyes puffy with crying again, my chest full of that familiar ache. I didn’t know how to process it, I couldn’t process it again.
The next day I asked my parents to send me any pictures they had of Anderson, hoping to find the blanket somewhere in them. My friend Annie came to the house and I cried. I cried and cried and cried. She hugged me and listened as I explained the awful realization that the blanket wasn’t the blanket I held him in. I’d had a dream about Annie the night before in my fit of anxiety and sadness. I dreamt that Andy’s nursery had been complete when we came home from the hospital without him. His blue crib from IKEA was set up against the wall, empty. Annie led me into the room, lowered the crib railing and told me to get inside. She told me it was OK. I laid in the crib. I told her about the dream and we cried together.
That was the last time I felt the sadness at that level of intensity. My son was gone and the blanket was gone with him. Both of them are somewhere that I am not. This is something I accept calmly, not wishing to dwell. My heart hurts for the people who have hurt with me. I feel that I have made tremendous strides and it’s only because of all the people who loved me through it. Cody, holding me and saying “I know I can’t say anything to make you feel better, but I love you.” My heart hurts because I know how it feels to sit back and want, very badly, to help someone who is hurting and how helpless it can make you feel.
And, I admit, Lua, our beautiful stray dog who has snuggled her way into our home and our hearts, has been a huge help to us. Her eyes always on me, she follows me from room to room. She puts her weight on me when I’m sad, covers me like a blanket. She lies at my feet, or on my lap and I feel needed, loved, safe.
My thoughts don’t seem coherent or cohesive, so I’m going to stop here. I just had to get those things off my chest.
NPR asked for parents to submit an essay explaining how becoming a parent has or has not changed them. They asked if there was a defining moment that changed you. In 500 words or less, this is the best I could do to answer that question:
Parenting, for me, is synonymous with anxiety. Before I knew the gender of my daughter, before she was bigger than my fist, I felt a weight in my heart, so afraid for my abilities (or lack thereof) to be her mother. Meeting my daughter after 27 hours of labor was the most fascinating moment of my life. I tried to reconcile the fact that the movements I had felt from the inside for all those months had been caused by the tiny girl in my arms. And, before we left the hospital, anxiety took hold.
I was given, by some divine and unexpected turn in my destiny, an opportunity to shape a human being. It was my job to give her a name, breastfeed her, educate her, and lead her into the world. I was shaken and frightened. I had seen people do it wrong, and I felt the eyes of the world watching me, waiting for me to fail.
Every event caused me to stress. Six months into her life, I quit breastfeeding. My first big failure. Before she was a year old, she fell off the bed and got a bump on her head. How had I allowed that to happen? She began sleeping with us because training her to sleep on her own was too difficult. Urinary tract infections, colds, weight loss, every time she accidentally scratched herself, every fever, I saw myself failing.
When my daughter was 2-years-old I became pregnant again. After spending time with other young mothers I realized that my daughter was OK. And, to my delight, very intelligent. I hadn’t done any irreparable damage! We were excited to give our daughter a little brother. We bought the furniture, we gave him a name, we prepared our daughter for the change. My anxiety had turned into excitement, I was coming into my own. Four days before my due date, the contractions began and by the end of that same day, we’d had our baby boy, still born. The devastation poured over me like cement- something inside of me had shifted in a way that would never correct itself.
My anxiety is still there, but different; the questions have changed. Could I survive if my daughter died, too? How many children do I have: one or two? Did I truly appreciate my daughter before the loss of my son? Does she know that I love her? I search for the answers to these questions daily. At the end of the day when she’s tucked into her bed, my heart swells with love. Losing my son broke me open and I saw the depth of my love as a mother. Having my daughter and then experiencing the death of my son both served to change me in ways difficult to describe. When my daughter was born I wondered if my love was good enough and when my son died, I saw that it was all I had to give so, yes, it was entirely good enough.
I have an ache in my heart that I can’t seem to place. I feel that I have searched the depths of it over the past year and I can usually identify the different pangs. Whether it be an ache for Andy, an ache for things and people lost or gone, or just a sleep deprived sadness that defies specific classification, I can usually, at least, give it a name. But tonight, I cannot. A customer at work came to me today and pointed at my stomach and said, “Oh! Are you working on a little one there?” It had been a long time since anyone had mistaken my extra weight for a baby and it caught me off guard. My face turned a hot red and I smiled sheepishly, sucked it in, and said “No, no I’m not.” She was unapologetic and smiled as she took her books from the counter and said, “Well, have a nice day, sweetie!” My heart pounded in my ears and I couldn’t figure out exactly what I felt. That “are you pregnant” question is one I have fielded many times and I thought it had lost it’s power over the years. But, suddenly, I saw that it hadn’t.
Is that why my heart hurts tonight? Because someone made a snide remark about weight I wish I could lose? Was it her flippant attitude about it all? Or was it the answer I had to give? No, no I am not “working on a little one”. Do I wish to be pregnant? I mean, I know I do, but am I sad because I had to say “No”? I don’t think so.
I continued about my work day and shook off the woman’s remark. I was proud of the work I did tonight, I felt accomplished. I drove home and I found myself sighing. My mind was racing with thoughts of sadness. I thought about friends who I missed, family who I have a sadness for, and about the hot summer ahead of us. I came home and the house was dark. Cody was laying on the couch with the lights off and Cambria was watching TV in her room with her lights off. The mood in the house made my sadness feel even heavier. Cody patted the couch beside him and I curled up next to him in the dark. Lua found my hand dangling off the couch and stood beneath it, suggesting politely, that I pet her. Cody kissed my neck and I closed my eyes. I didn’t cry or vent or say a word and he didn’t ask.
Cambria hugged me and kissed me, Lua climbed on me and playfully licked my face. My sadness lifted a little and I still can’t say that I can specify why I feel so blue. I am, of course, missing my son. I am hating my body, the house is still a mess, the weather is suffocating, and while I had a good day at work I still feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I need to do in the next month. I don’t have a vacation planned anytime soon and I don’t see a break ahead. It’s not a crying-on-the-floor-desperately-sobbing sadness. It’s just a slow sigh, a yawn, and an irritating ache in my heart.
I thought I knew all the places of my heart, I thought I had explored it endlessly, but today I realize that there are still quiet, hidden places that ache. They appear to be untouchable, intricate, and delicate. I have to treat them as such and I just remind myself what my therapist told me when we first started visiting her, there is no rule in grieving that you have to give everything a name. You can just hurt for the sake of hurting and you don’t have to analyze it or label it, just feel it and get through it. That’s the best you can do sometimes and expecting anything more from yourself is harsh. So tonight I can just let my heart ache without explaining it away, but it doesn’t make it more bearable. But… nothing makes it more bearable, does it?
I never, in my adult life, would have considered myself a “dog person” or even a “pet person” of any variety. I had pets as a child: dogs, cats, guinea pig, hamsters, fish, and I was always around animals on my grandparent’s farm. However, when I decided to get a pet of my own, I realized that I didn’t really enjoy it. I even began to wonder, how can anyone enjoy this? In fact, I would have, for a long time, considered myself quite the opposite of a “pet person”. Why would you want the extra chore? The extra cost? Why would you want to clean up after an animal in your house? It all seemed like too much work to me. I had tried owning a dog and despite my best efforts, I could not house train her. I cried some tears over admitting the fact that I couldn’t handle that dog and I vowed to never own a dog again because I was an unfit owner. I despise when people get pet after pet only to find out that it’s too much work and they end up surrendering them time and again. I didn’t want to be that person. So when we surrendered our previous dog, I cried my tears silently on the way home, and I didn’t think I should ever own another animal. I felt like a criminal and I still have a lot of regrets about that dog.
One Sunday Cody and I worked our regular shift at work while Cambria stayed with our family friend, Jalane. After work we went to our counseling session as usual and when we left I saw that I had a text from Jalane requesting that we pick up Cambria when we are done because her car wouldn’t start. This has never happened before. Sure, no problem, we headed to her house. It was raining fiercely and the storm was predicted to get worse. The rain was cold and driving and the sky was ominously black. When we parked the car on the street, Cody said, “There’s a dog right outside my door… a pretty big one.” I tried to lean over to see, but it was too dark and the rain was too heavy. I said, “Oh, be careful. I’m not getting out.” I was afraid the dog might attack. Cody got out of the car and began to walk up the driveway to retrieve Cambria. The dog followed Cody, her tail wagging. Cody reached down in the rain and began to pet her. Jalane brought Cambria out into the rain and I jumped out of the car to get her. Cody continued to pet the dog and I put Cambria in the car.
The dog ran across the street and took cover on a neighbor’s porch. We started to get back in the car and the neighbor shouted, “hey! Is this your dog?” Jalane shouted back and told him that no, it wasn’t our dog. The dog came running back to Cody and stood by his side. Cody looked at me and I knew what he was thinking: we cannot leave this dog in the rain. I knew it, too, but I was hesitant. We discussed it with Jalane for a moment and I sighed and said, “Fine, let’s go.” How could I say no? The wet, excited dog jumped into my lap and Cambria was squealing and laughing in the back seat saying, “Funny doggy!” We took her home.
She ran right into the house and shook the rain off. Within moments we saw that she was scratching and crying. I saw fleas jumping all over her and my heart began to ache for her discomfort. ”Cody,” I said, “she has fleas really, really bad.” Without hesitation, Cody took her to the bathroom to give her a bath. I put Cambria to bed and then helped Cody dry the dog. The fleas were still jumping and the dog was scratching and crying. Cody said, “I’m going to go buy some flea spray, I’ll be back.” This was when and how I accidentally fell in love with her. Cambria was sleeping, Cody was gone, and I was trapped in the bathroom with a distressed, wet, sad dog.
At first I was frightened. What if she attacked me? What if she made a mess? And the chewing, gnawing, and scratching was only getting worse. She cried and cried. I reached out and put my hands on her wet fur. I began to pet her slowly. She calmed a little, scratching less. I began to pet faster and more vigorously. She sat down, closed her eyes and stopped scratching all together. My arms started to ache from all the petting, but if I stopped, she would begin to cry again. So I continued. She relaxed, her muscles relaxed, and she sighed. I nearly gasped out loud when I realized “I am falling in love!” I texted Cody and said, “I think I love her” and he said, “that makes me happy”.
Cody came home with the spray and we sprayed her and rubbed it into her fur. The fleas began jumping off of her in amazing amounts and she sat still as we picked them off of her one by one. We washed the fleas down the sink as we caught them and then discovered two ticks behind her ear. Cody got the tweezers and began tugging at the ticks while I continued to pet her and talk to her. He would tug and she would whine a little, but she never moved during any of this. After a very long time, we had removed every flea and tick we could find. With a huge sigh of relief, the dog laid down on the bathroom floor and relaxed. Cody and I looked at each other and we knew we were both smitten with this dog. We noticed the scars all over her body and her long, untrimmed nails. We let her out of the bathroom and she went into the kitchen and slept. Within a few minutes she was snoring. I felt like she was telling us, “thank you, I have been scratching at those fleas my whole life, I am so tired.”
We went to bed and I felt wired and confused. I had really, truly fallen in love with this dog in just a matter of hours. We had found her, rescued her from the storm, treated her for her fleas and ticks, and I felt really, really good about that. She wholeheartedly appreciated our hard work and showed us absolutely no hostility. She needed us, but I was already feeling like we needed her. All of our friends were telling us that we should keep her. When I woke up the next morning she was still asleep in the same place we had left her. I let her into the back yard where she did her business and when we came in I gave her some food. I went to work and by the time I went to lunch I had made an appointment with a vet and Cody and I had decided on the name Lua. I was happy just thinking about her and the help we had provided. I found myself telling the story over and over to anyone who would listen. I can’t even describe the feeling… it was like discovering that you had this talent you never knew you had. The gratitude that Lua showed us immediately astounded me and filled my heart with love for her.
The veterinarian told us that Lua was heart worm positive, had entropion (an uncomfortable eye condition), had a lump on her stomach that needs to be removed, and identified bed sores on her legs from spending most of her life in a cage. They vaccinated her, gave us a tag with her information on it, and trimmed her nails. Lua seemed entirely unaffected by the whole thing. She didn’t attack or fight or even seem to mind at all. The vet and technicians all praised us for rescuing her from the streets and began to discuss her heart worm treatments.
We brought Lua home and I spent the week discussing her heart worm treatments with friends who had dogs. I got some phone numbers of some highly recommended, more affordable vets, and made some phone calls. We took Lua to Allen Veterinary Hospital and she spent the night and began her treatments. This morning I cleaned out the back of my car and went to pick her up. I paid the fee, got her medication and they told me they would get Lua for me. A lady at the desk told me how much she loved Lua and how sweet she is. I swelled with pride, yup, that’s my girl! A moment later, Lua came out of the back and I was shocked at how excited I was to see her. She was pulling on the leash to get to me, her body was shaking, and she looked distressed. A lump developed in my throat and I thought oh, my gosh, I am going to cry over a dog. The woman handed the leash to me and all the dogs in the room began barking at Lua who was running around me frantically.
Lua pulled me to the exit and I held onto the leash as tightly as I could. I shouted over my shoulder, “Thank you!” and we ran through the parking lot to my car. I was shrieking, “Lua, stop! Slow down!” We got to my car and Lua found a nearby patch of grass and excitedly peed. I laughed and praised her. She effortlessly jumped into the back of my car on the blankets I had laid down for her. She was panting and shaking. I began to pet her. ”It’s OK, Lua, it’s OK. Calm down. Shhhhhh. Hey, hey, it’s OK. I know, I know. You had a rough night, didn’t you?” She whimpered, but her breathing began to slow down. I stood in the parking lot with her, in the heat, and pet her all over until she relaxed a little. She looked sad, frightened, and confused. I leaned in and kissed her on the face. I hugged her and told her how much I missed her while she was gone.
So now we are home. She is resting here beside me on the couch. She drank endless amounts of water when we arrived and ate a bowl of food. I look at her and I really don’t know how it happened, how I fell in love with her. We were on that street in the rain and she was waiting for us. We didn’t find her, she found us. She found us and, in the face of all this grief and sadness we’ve been carrying, invited us to love her.
Cambria, my sweet Cambria, is 3.5 now and she has become extraordinarily independent. She doesn’t want our help with anything and she rarely wants our affection. She is funny, intelligent, energetic, and beautiful. But she isn’t a baby and she reminds us of that everyday. I don’t want her to be a baby, I’m proud of her spirit and her independence. But, there are times when I want to hold her, to care for her, and she pushes me away. I don’t have a baby to hold and, until now, I didn’t have anything that depended on me for all it’s needs. So Lua came along and she needs me. She needs me to feed her, to take her out, and she loves me unconditionally all the time. If I need affection, she is there to give it to me. She appreciates me and is already so loyal. I sometimes lay my head on her and listen to her breathing and I find myself smiling. I always thought that people loved their dogs, but I think I got it backwards. Dogs love their people and we just return it in kind. I didn’t know that before, I didn’t realize that dogs could radiate love the way Lua does.
So, thank you. Thank you to everyone who donated money for Lua to begin her heart worm treatments. Thank you to everyone who spread the word about Lua and for all the support. Thank you for the vet recommendations, the opinions, and for everyday asking me, “How’s Lua?” Thank you for loving us through all of this grief and for seeing, immediately, how good this dog would be for us if we opened our hearts to it. For everyone who encouraged us to keep her and reminded us that we were doing a really good thing, thank you. I never expected this story of heartache and loss to turn into a story about a dog, but I’m embracing it and loving every minute of life with Lua.
How is it that I can still cry over this loss? It’s been a year since Anderson was stillborn and still, I cry. I keep a drawer near my bed full of little mementos of him. I’ve only opened that drawer a handful of times and only when the need feels exceptionally pressing. I have a little onesie he wore for his pictures, a hat, a blanket, a little heart photo prop. I have the sticker that Cody wore at the hospital, Anderson’s little shoes. It’s all neatly folded and preserved in a Ziploc bag the hospital sent us home with, a small bag of items that fit in my suitcase contained everything that he became to me. I went home with empty arms. I cleared the drawer, I put the items in the drawer and sometimes I glance at them. There is also a small scrapbook my mom put together for me with photos of Andy, his birth weight and other stats. At the end of the scrapbook are photos of Cody and I holding Anderson. Our faces are tired, puffy, solemn and I can hear the silence of those moments when I look at those pictures.
I felt the drawer tug at me today, so I took the scrapbook out and looked through it. I didn’t cry, my heart didn’t pound, I didn’t get a headache or a stomachache. I stood in the room, flipped through the pictures, and felt numb. Cambria called to me from the living room so I carefully placed the scrapbook back in the drawer and went to her. And I tickled her and chased her and felt fine. I felt fine. And then I did not. Cambria went in the living room to watch a cartoon and I cried in the kitchen for a moment. I cried, quite specifically, for Anderson. I wasn’t crying about the house, or money, or any other situation or loss, I was only crying for him. I thought about all the things I missed out on: breastfeeding, diaper changes, first steps, first words, his favorite foods, all his little outfits still with their tags on. All these things I’ve thought of a million times in the last year and I wondered how is it that I still think these things?
I wiped my eyes and joined Cambria in the living room. There wasn’t really any lingering sadness. It felt very much like I’d had my moment and I was ready to move on with the laundry, the dishes, and other daily tasks. It was an odd sensation to be able to accept that I had to do that and to be able to shake it off and move on with my day. Maybe my antidepressants are working? I remember days when a single thought of him would send me into fits of sobbing and sleeping. I remember just last week feeling overwhelmingly angry about our lives and our losses. I shouldn’t have to feel like this. Babies shouldn’t die. I am pissed that people are happy. I am pissed that I am pissed because of course people should be happy. I am pissed that I am not. I am pissed, pissed, pissed. But it didn’t feel that way when I cried this time, it felt less like a devastation and more like a sigh.
So, will I be 57 and still sitting in the kitchen crying specifically for Andy? I wonder. Will I still look at that scrapbook? Will Cambria look back on our time together and think of me playing with her and tickling her or will she think of me hiding in the kitchen crying? Will it always hurt? Will it ever fade into the distance and seem like a bad dream? What will become of all this grief? I also wonder… when the next person in my life dies will I re-grieve this loss all over again? When Anderson died I felt like I grieved for the loss of Cody’s parents and the loss of Andy, all at once. Will more grief bring with it all the old grief? I know, now, that this will be a lifelong process. Improvement, heartache, progress, grief, life and death. There will always be these losses to carry… and there will always be laundry and dishes.
I just wanted to give a quick update on my antidepressant adventures. I know I had mentioned them before, but I hadn’t really told everyone what was going on. I’m telling you all this because while it may seem like a really personal thing to divulge to the general public, I think it’s interesting and it may help some other people. I know a lot of people are embarrassed by the idea of taking medication for depression or even seeking help such as therapy for it. I’ve been really vocal about both of these things because I want people to know that it isn’t something to be ashamed of, it’s a step in a healthy direction. I just want people to know that it’s OK to need help. Everyone needs a little help from time to time.
I was, of course, completely opposed to taking antidepressants, especially within the first year of losing Anderson. I wanted to complete that first year and deal with any feelings that came to the surface with an unaltered mind, I didn’t want to feel better. In fact, the idea of feeling better seemed irreverent and appalling. You expect me to want to feel better when my baby just died? You can go fuck yourself. I needed to feel the pain in all it’s terrible glory and I had to let myself wallow in it for that year. So the one year mark came up and I found myself on a slippery slope into serious depression. The sweating, the shaky hands, the extreme anxiety, terrible thoughts, short temper. At one point, when Cambria was in her room screaming about something, I marched into her room with purpose and smacked her on the mouth. I immediately stepped back and gasped at my own reaction. She grabbed her mouth and the tears streamed down her cheeks. I swooped her up and held her, apologizing and crying. I knew I needed some sort of help. Luckily, toddlers are very forgive-and-forget kind of people.
I was initially prescribed Lexapro, mostly to treat my anxiety. It was a very low dose. I took it for awhile, but realized it was having an adverse affect on me. My temper was still very short, especially with Cody, and I was experiencing a lot of weeping spells. My therapist recommended that I start taking half of my dose and I did. When I did that, nothing really changed, the weeping continued and my anxiety was still operating at a high level. I went back to the doctor and he decided to switch me to Effexor. I’ve been taking that for a little over a week now. I started at 37.5 mg and today is the first day that we’ve doubled that dose. I haven’t noticed a huge difference yet and I’m not really expecting to. As my doctor informed me before we started Lexapro, “There isn’t a drug out there that’s going to take the pain away or make you happy again….” and I know that. But if I can just manage my emotions and reactions, that will be really helpful. However, noticeable differences include, my hands have stopped shaking, I can sleep a little better, and I am not nearly as impatient with Cambria. My temper is still really short, I still find myself crying (or wanting to cry), and I still have a major lack of motivation/energy. I know these things take awhile to work into your system and it’s going to take awhile to find the exact drug and dosage that works for me. But the fact that I can even rationally say that to myself tells me that something must be working already.
I still don’t like the fact that I’m on them. I take my pills and I sometimes feel angry that I’m taking them. I think it goes back to my thought process that I shouldn’t have to be doing any of this. Dealing with the death of my baby, dealing with the death of Cody’s parents, dealing with this house, dealing with my debt, dealing with all this grief and sadness. None of this should be my problem. I should have a baby boy napping in a room in a different house. I should have in-laws to invite over for dinner or babysitting. I should be a happy wife and mother of two. I should have normal 27-year-old problems. I shouldn’t have to go to counseling tonight. These are the problems of someone else, someone older, someone better equipped. These shouldn’t be my problems. In a parallel universe I have the life I should have had. I have my son, my daughter, my husband, my in-laws, my degree, my own clean house and antidepressants would be absurd to consider. I guess, in that universe, everyone’s lives would be perfect. Nothing bad happens in my parallel universe.
But alas, I take the pills, I keep plugging away. I get out of bed, I follow my routine, I roll with the punches. I keep holding out for a better future even though I don’t believe that it’s possible. I wait for the other shoe to drop. I know that the other shoe will drop. But I am grateful for my friends, for having a job that I enjoy, for having a wonderful husband, for having a roof over my head, for having a healthy daughter, for having a supportive family, for having food (and coffee) in my stomach whenever I need it, and for even being able to afford to go to the doctor and seek out help. It reminds me of a line from Garden State, “We may not be as happy as you always dreamed we would be, but for the first time let’s just allow ourselves to be whatever it is we are and that will be better. OK? I think that will be better.” Maybe I need to allow myself to be happy, maybe I need to allow myself to feel better … and maybe it will be better.