Talking About Owen, part 2

(Background: I started losing ridiculous amounts of hair unevenly around my head at the beginning of August. I wasn’t happy with the woman who cut my hair previously, so I tried someone new. Postpartum hair loss is a thing, I swear.)

 

Her: So…were you going for an asymmetrical look?

Me: Ah, no. It’s just, I had a baby, and now all my hair is falling out. But it isn’t falling out evenly, so the entire bottom layer on that side fell out, which means it’s like an inch shorter than the the other side. Also there’s a weird spot on the top. I know it looks ridiculous. I didn’t try to make it look that way, I really didn’t.

Her: No, no, it looks fine! I just wanted to know if that’s what you were going for so I’d know how to cut it.

**general hair chatter**

Her: So, how old is your baby?

Me: Um, actually, he passed away soon after he was born.

Her: *shoulder squeeze* I’m so sorry. What was his name?

Me: Owen. His name was Owen.

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Baby Loss Before and After

I’m inspired by Meghan at Expecting the Unexpected today. Some of you may have seen the series of photos that seem to have gotten popular lately of women before and after having their babies. The first photo is usually a maternity photo with a big, pregnant belly, and the second photo is the same as the first, but re-staged with the baby where the belly was months prior. To most people, these pictures are adorable. Brutal honesty: I resent the hell out of these pictures. I don’t ever seek them out, but they pop up in my newsfeed on facebook or in random places around the internet from time to time. Sometimes I wonder if feeling bitter at these types of things is something I should work on, but that’s an issue for my therapist and future me to work on.

ANYWAY!

Meghan made her own set of before and after photos as a baby loss mama and issued a challenge of sorts for others to do the same. I had maternity photos taken while I was pregnant, but I was so darn excited about this that I used a cell phone picture Zach took during the Georgia snowpocalypse and recreated it when I got home from work last night, so forgive the cell phoney quality. I may recreate my maternity photos later on because I think it would be neat to have ones with Zach included, especially the ones where he’s holding Owen’s little dinosaur shoes on my belly.

29ish weeks pregnant

29ish weeks pregnant

Five months post Owen

Five months post Owen

Putting on my old maternity clothes was not as emotional as I thought it would be, but looking at that old picture was. During all of this snow, I remember talking to Owen about it–how fun snow in Georgia is, how it shuts the whole city down. I wrote his name in the snow and took a picture, thinking that if he lived I could show him he had gotten to enjoy the snow in-utero and if he died, well…I had proof that we had always included him, always loved him.

I loved recreating this picture. While I haven’t seen very many of the slide shows Meghan linked to on her blog yesterday, I had assumed that some of them included empty-armed mothers like us. Surely, there was some acknowledgement that there are women who carry their children but don’t bring them home. Apparently, there wasn’t, so here’s to us.

 

 

Talking About Owen

Someone asked me how my baby was doing last week. Naturally, it got awkward. I don’t remember meeting this person while pregnant, but apparently she had been training with a coworker of mine and had spent a day at my old office back in December. We spoke for a few minutes back then but I can recall literally none of this interaction. It’s not surprising. In December, I was going back and forth between various specialists trying to get answers about what was wrong with my baby and whether it was lethal, debilitating, or only slightly disabling. To put it mildly, my mind was elsewhere. When I met this woman again yesterday, she kept trying to jog my memory. “You were about to leave for an appointment. It was a really busy day. It was just a few days before Christmas. You were wearing a red shirt.” Nope, sorry, I replied. I usually have a very good memory for names and faces, but I couldn’t remember her. I apologized and just asked her to remind me of her name and position. She did, and I thought we would proceed with our business. But no. Of course.

“So how’s your baby doing?” Very upbeat. It would have been uncomfortable enough if it were just the two of us, but we were in a group of people who also didn’t know I recently lost a son. I hesitated, knowing I was about to drop a bomb and she had no idea. I spoke very quickly, “he died very soon after he was born.” She apologized appropriately. I thanked her. I could feel everyone looking in my direction. Pity, curiosity, confusion–all of it directed right at me. What I really wanted to say was that I had a son whose name was Owen, that he lived for a few glorious hours and then he died, that he was magnificent, but what I did was direct my attention back to work. No one acted inappropriately, but I know talking about Owen usually makes other people uncomfortable, so I moved on quickly with what we were originally doing.

To make it clear, I love talking about Owen to almost anyone. Love it, love it, love it. I can tell you about his feisty personality, his chubby little cheeks, his brown (!) eyes, his fluffy hair, his extra pinky fingers…anything, really. Ask me anything. I will talk about my baby like any other mother. I don’t even mind talking about his death, although that’s a much more intimate conversation. At the same time, not everyone is prepared to receive the news of a dead baby. I’ve had to tell unsuspecting people that my baby died before–medical providers, other coworkers, patients (not often)–but it is usually one on one, and I am usually prepared for it. I have typically readied myself to do the hand-holding required (it’s okay, we knew he was sick, yes I’m fine/it’s fine/we’re all fine, and so on).

I had no reason to suspect that the coworker I mentioned above had any idea that I had ever been pregnant or had a baby, so I was completely taken aback. She was very nice, and she didn’t do anything wrong. There are just some days I don’t feel like carrying the burden of comforting someone else while I’m having to tell them something that pains me, so I was probably a little cold or standoffish. I felt bad at first, and then I felt irrationally angry. This woman did nothing inappropriate and said all the right things (aside from being a little insistent that I remember her), but just…it is not my responsibility to help anyone else deal with this or figure out what to say! I was anticipating the need to comfort her the moment she asked about my baby, so I got my hackles up preemptively and reacted before she even had a chance to show me how she would have really responded beyond “I’m sorry.”

That’s when I realized my anger is my fault. I have always assumed I bear the responsibility for comforting the other person in these conversations, and I resent it almost every time. I hate hearing myself say “It’s okay, we knew he was sick” because it is not okay at all ever. Sometimes I don’t talk about Owen when I want to because I’m worried it will make other people ill at ease, which truly sucks…but no one has ever asked me not to. I pretty much stopped referencing Owen on social media after he died because I didn’t want to be attention-grabby, which actually sounds kind of absurd now that I’ve typed it. So after today, no more. My baby died. And since I have to live that reality every day, I think I should get to live it as I want to, not in reaction to how (I think) other people perceive it.

An Epic Cat Story

Writing about baby loss and the implications of genetic disease can get a little heavy. In an effort to lighten things up around here and remind myself that we still have other interesting things happening in our lives, here’s a long and crazy story about our cat:

One year ago this week, Zach and I moved from Atlanta to Athens (don’t stalk me, internet). We were newly pregnant, starting new jobs, and looking forward to our Athens life. Since we could afford it this time around, we hired movers. It was fantastic! We rented a U-Haul, and the movers showed up to our house bright and early in the morning, ready to move all of our stuff for us. By mid-morning, the move was going great, and I drove over to Little Five for coffee and bagels for our crew. There was an unreasonable amount of traffic and other goings-on for Saturday morning, so I didn’t answer my phone as I drove. It had wrung about three times, so I picked it up as soon as I pulled into the parking lot of the coffee shop, wondering why on earth I was so popular. Turns out all the calls were from Zach. Sure that something was wrong, I called him back immediately. I was right. He sounded frantic and told me that our littlest cat Dot had been near the front of the house when one of the movers scared her. She became frightened and ran straight out the open front door, across two of our neighbors’ yards. He went after her, but hadn’t found her. She had been gone for about 20 minutes, give or take, and he was still exploring the yards around our house for our tiny kitten.

Here’s a little relevant background on Dot. We had found her in a warehouse parking lot in southwest Atlanta about a year prior. Zach was part of a makerspace, and I was picking him up since we only had one car at the time. I was there early one night with Krystal cheeseburgers (we weren’t vegan then, obvs) to keep me company. As I was waiting, I saw a tiny little cat darting between cars. This was no place for a kitten! The parking lot was busy, and I was worried she was going to get hit. I stepped out and called to her. She seemed interested but wouldn’t let me get near her. I ripped up my cheeseburgers and made a line to myself. She came close, but she was still too far away for me to grab her. Zach found me when his meeting finished, and we worked together to lure her to us without success for about an hour. I hated to leave, but nothing was working, so we left her a supply of water and what remained of the cheeseburgers. I was sure we’d never see her again. But we were meant to have this cat! I was picking Zach up two nights later and again arrived early with cheeseburgers (Wendy’s this time; side note: I’m embarrassed by my then-diet and would like to assert that I eat tons of veggies now and don’t even eat meat anymore.). Dot stuck her head out from underneath the car right next to me and I climbed out of my car to sit across from her. I offered her pieces of my cheeseburger, and this time she came to my lap! She purred and let me scratch her and seemed generally happy to see me. Zach came out about that time, and I motioned for him to get in the car and be ready for me to hand this little cat over. He hopped in the passenger seat and made sure all doors and windows were closed except mine. I slowly stood, letting Dot rub my legs the whole time. When she seemed least suspicious, I bent down, scratched her head, and picked her up by her scruff. She didn’t go limp like most kittens. I got her into the car, but she jumped all over Zach, angry and confused. I grabbed an old sweater from the backseat, and we wrapped her up and headed for home. She was full of fleas, completely malnourished and dehydrated, and in dire need of a bath, but she was safe. We cleaned her up, rehabilitated her, and she’s been a happy part of our family ever since.

Dot's first night home.

Dot’s first night home.

All cleaned up and ready to be a house cat.

All cleaned up and ready to be a house cat.

When Zach told me she was gone, I was devastated. Our cats are indoor only. They have claws, but they don’t have any hunting or survival skills. I rushed home. We had joked before that if Dot ever got out we’d never find her because she was a little ninja. When I got home, Zach and I searched high and low for hours. The movers packed up the U-Haul, but we cancelled the actual move to stay en extra night to search for Dot. We turned all the lights off in our house that night and left the door open, hoping she’d wander back in. She didn’t. We commenced with the move the next morning, but made a plan to find our lost kitten.

For the next three weeks, we became pet detectives. I called wildlife trapping experts, a group specializing in finding lost pets, and trap-neuter-return programs learning how to catch skittish animals. We were living and working in Athens, but we drove back to Atlanta every night and sometimes twice a day on weekends. I had taken a week off work for a beach trip that we ended up cancelling so I could use those days to search. It was raining buckets (this was during the monsoon time in Georgia last year). We put out humane traps, positioned wildlife cameras in areas we thought she might be spotted, and set bait everywhere. We left trails of food to our humane traps and sprayed tuna juice in the areas near the traps to lure her in. Our fantastic Atlanta neighbors helped in the search, and we posted big, colored flyers everywhere. We caught every neighborhood stray, countless opossums, a few grumpy raccoons, and even two squirrels and one mouse. There was no sign of Dot anywhere.

We hung these EVERYWHERE.

We hung these EVERYWHERE.

Three weeks and one day after she disappeared, losing hope, we checked our traps to find they were all filled with opossums. Hoping that if we moved them to the other end of the neighborhood they’d leave our traps alone, we loaded them into the back of our car and set off. As we were driving away from our house, we started talking about winding down the Dot hunt. We were so tired and sad, and the constant back and forth to Atlanta was draining our bank account and our energy. Just as we were about to decide to scale our efforts back, I noticed a flash in the woods to our left. I didn’t know what it was for sure, but I told Zach to slow down and put the Prius in electric mode. If it was Dot, I didn’t want to scare her with car sounds. I motioned to the woods and whispered to Zach that I saw something. All of a sudden, a little calico face peeked out! Unsure if it was Dot or another calico, I opened my door and crept around the car. This cat had on Dot’s little pink collar and tags. It was her! I grabbed a bunch of cat food and the cat carrier and moved toward the woods. When I got close to Dot, she hopped back several feet into the brush, but I could still see her. I camped out in the green space on the side of the road after I made a little trail of cat food from her to me. I called her name, talked to her, and made little meows in her direction. She called back to me. Gradually, she started to move toward me. Zach remained with the opossums and after realizing this was going to take a while, left to release them.

I sat with Dot for about 45 minutes before she got anywhere close to me. It was another 20 before I was actually able to touch her. She was hungry, but she was also scared and semi-feral. Zach had returned and was observing from afar so as not to overwhelm her. When I finally couldn’t wait anymore, I went to grab Dot’s scruff as I had the first time we met. She lost her mind. Immediately realizing I was going to lose her, I wrapped her in a bear hug and laid down over her in the mud. Zach saw that I was struggling and came over to open the cat carrier. Dot and I wrestled for a minute or two, during which time she stuck one of her claws through one side of my finger and out the other (it was numb for over a month) and bit down to the bone on my dominant hand (I couldn’t write for several days so my paper charting from this week is atrocious). I never, ever let her go. I knew if I didn’t get her this time, we’d probably never get a chance again. I finally got a good hold on her and got her into the cat carrier Zach was holding open for me. We put her in the car, and she was rescued!

Blood was everywhere. I was worried because I thought Dot was hurt, but then we quickly realized it was my blood. After taking a minute to calm down, I discovered that my hands felt like they were ON FIRE. We stopped by our former neighbor’s house and got some water and first aid for me. It was pretty clear by the bleeding and swelling that I probably needed to go the emergency room. We had no idea what Dot had been exposed to, and I was pregnant. However, I had no intention of going anywhere until Dot was safe in our house. We drove back to Athens and set Dot up in quarantine in our guest bath until she could see a vet, then we headed to the ER. I was fine and only needed to have my wounds thoroughly cleaned along with a course of serious (pregnancy-safe) antibiotics. Over the next few days, Dot returned to her old self. She had a touch of pancreatitis and needed to spend a night in the animal hospital, but other than that was totally fine. I gave her a developmental bath like I used to use for NICU babies, and her fur fluffed right back up. Within a few weeks, it was as if she had never left.

Getting rehydrated to help treat pancreatitis resulted in the most adorable bandage.

Getting rehydrated to help treat pancreatitis resulted in the most adorable bandage.

This is one of my best stories, and I love telling people about. In person is even better because I still have the scar where Dot looped her claw through my finger tip to show off. I love that it makes Zach and I sound like cat-rescuing heroes, even though it also makes us sound kind of obsessed.