End of the Fourth Trimester

Owen would be three months old today. I thought about that this morning as I wrote 07/01/14 on a form for a patient. It wasn’t my first thought when I woke up this morning like it has been for his one and two month birthdays. I felt guilty when I realized that I hadn’t acknowledged his day upon awakening. (For clarification, he would also be 13 weeks old.)

Today was also my first day in a new position at work. I got a promotion, and I’m now working exclusively with teens and also supervising some other allied health professionals. It hasn’t escaped my notice that, on my dead baby’s 3 month birthday, I am doing something that I absolutely never would have had he lived. I’m happy about the new job. I love the work, and it’s closer to home. But I wanted to be getting back from maternity leave today, not advancing in my career. Hell, I would’ve been happy to be sitting in a hospital teaching Owen how to eat without a feeding tube today. I’m happy, I am, but what I wouldn’t give to be happy for so many other reasons.

I met Zach for lunch (another perk of my new job), and on the way back to my office I started bobbing my head to that happy Pharrell song. If you sat next to me at a red light, I wouldn’t look like a grieving mother.

I don’t know what to make of myself in this new (old) life. Sometimes I almost forget. Is that okay to say? Am I really allowed to put it on paper that sometimes I almost forget I had a baby and he died? I will absolutely never, ever forget Owen. But sometimes I forget how sad I am. Sometimes the grief sits so far beneath the surface that I can bob my head like a fool while I’m driving around town.

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It Happened

I’ve been dreading patients’ questions about my baby the whole time I’ve been back at work. It’s pretty common that patients ask me about my personal life, which I can understand because I am aware of the most intimate details of their lives. I figured it would happen with one of the teen patients I see. Because they have regular, frequent appointments and I am the only nurse many of them have seen, they tend to feel comfortable asking me very personal questions (again, also probably because we talk very openly about things that are very personal for them). I was surprised today when it happened with a regular, adult reproductive health patient. I had seen her last year for her annual exam, but I wasn’t pregnant at the time. She had asked then if I had any children, to which I jokingly responded that my animals were the closest thing I had to kids. At this year’s annual, I was talking to her about preconception health and her plan for kids when she said “You don’t have any kids if I remember correctly, right?” Gah. I froze. It would have been really easy to say no. I don’t have kids. But I did have a baby, and I didn’t want him to go unrecognized. I knew telling the truth would risk making her ill at ease for a visit that is already uncomfortable for most women, but there was no way I was going to be able to pretend that I hadn’t experienced the greatest joy and greatest tragedy of my life. I told her I had a son who died as an infant, but no, I didn’t have any other children. It actually wasn’t all that awkward! She was slightly taken aback but simply told me she was sorry. I thanked her, and we got back to her visit.

I’m glad that milestone of bereaved parenthood is over. It wasn’t exactly the situation I was dreading-someone asking about my baby or talking to me about new motherhood, but it’s good preparation. I’m sure it will happen again, and I hope that it will go as well. I’m happy that the first time happened with someone who knew the right things to say and reacted remarkably well.

Forward steps, everyday.

Work

I went back to work last week. I truly thought it would be an easy transition. I’d been on leave for 7 weeks, and I was getting kind of bored. People kept asking me how I felt about going back, and while I definitely wouldn’t have been okay 4 weeks after our loss, I thought 7 weeks was good. It certainly seemed like I should be fine enough to get through a work day by then.

My first day back was fine. My coworkers were all very welcoming and happy to see me, which was nice. It was good to know that I can’t just drop out of life without affecting other people. The week went really well, and it seemed like things were going to be  okay. I had worried that it would be hard to make it through a day living my life as normal without Owen, but it seemed to be working out. I left work on Friday feeling pretty optimistic…and then Saturday hit. I don’t know what happened, but I was irritable or sleeping all day. I fought with Zach about stupid things, and five minutes after getting annoyed about something, I couldn’t even remember what was bothering me. I was just mad without reason a lot of the day. Zach asked if I thought work had been harder than I thought it would be. I said no, but then I just started crying and didn’t stop for an hour. Clearly, the transition had not been as smooth as I thought.

When Zach went back to work, he told me in the first few weeks that it was hard to grieve and work at the same time. Pretty much, either one of those things takes up the majority of your emotional energy, so he could only do one. I thought I would be able to handle both because I had spent more time out of work, but I was quite wrong. Zach’s experience was true for me as well. Without any emotional energy to invest in remembering and loving Owen, I just bottled it all up and then exploded on the first day I didn’t have to devote to work. I was a wreck for the most of Saturday and the majority of Sunday morning. I was able to get myself together for socializing on Sunday and Monday (I was off for Memorial day), but it was hard because this new grief experience was so fresh. I’m back at work again this week, and I’m much more aware of how difficult it is. I spend my drive in the morning remembering Owen and storing up as much love as I can for the day, and then I spend my drive home grieving. It sounds awful, I’m sure, but it’s really not all that bad. It’s natural and right to miss Owen so much. I think a lot of my outburst on the weekend was related to not feeling any of those things, so I’m trying to find small moments in my work day where I can devote my energy to my son and my sadness.

One of my biggest concerns was seeing patients again. To give some ambiguous background (since this is the internet, and I’d like to keep my job), I do a lot of work with teenagers now, and I see the same kids on a fairly regular basis. A bunch of my patients had seen me when I was pregnant, and of course I didn’t tell them what was going on, so if we discussed my pregnancy at all, it was limited to questions about when I was due, what I was having, and if I was coming back after the baby was born. So, I was worried what I would say when I saw some of my more regular patients who had shown an interest in my pregnancy. I’ve been back a week, and I still haven’t seen anyone who remembers that I was pregnant. I imagine that as the summer progresses, I’m bound to see more kids who do remember and will be curious. When they ask about Owen, I still don’t know what I’ll say. Fortunately, they’re teenagers, and by nature they don’t really attend to the needs of anyone else. I imagine that if I do tell them that I had my baby and he died, they’ll feel bad for me for a moment and then we’ll move on. I don’t really know if I want to be that vulnerable with my patients, but I don’t know what else to say. I don’t want to lie about Owen. I’ll have to think about this, and maybe I’ll come up with something or maybe I’ll just say whatever feels right in the moment.