Elizabeth Petrucelli

Author, Blogger, Educator

How to Support Miscarriage or Stillbirth – A Doula’s Guide

Were you just told your client’s baby has died?

I get calls from doulas often telling me they just learned their clients baby died and they are heading in to support them. This makes me so happy because in the past, doulas have abandoned these clients for many reasons. Here is a quick guide on how to support your client.

The good thing is, supporting a family through the labor of miscarriage or stillbirth is not that different then supporting them through a live birth. The physical process is relatively the same so many of the skills you have will cross over. Use that knowledge. Below are some key points to focus on when supporting pregnancy loss.

  • Be compassionate
    • Do not bring your bias into this space. What is hard for you to see or hear does not mean the family doesn’t want to see or hold their baby.
  • Refer if you can’t do this
  • Create a sacred space
    • Bring out the mama bear in you. Protect them from hurt (having a separate room so they don’t hear the heartrate monitor in the next room or babies crying).
  • Separate the act of saying goodbye from saying hello
    • Many times staff are focused on the sadness of saying goodbye but there is also a hello. They are about to see the baby they have been longing for. Help them say hello. Focus on fingers or toes if other parts are hard to view.
  • Encourage
    • Skin to skin
    • Holding and photographs
    • Footprints and hand moulds
    • Bathing, diapering, and dressing
    • Reading a book to baby or dancing with baby (daddy/daughter dance)
  • It’s okay to cry
    • Crying is fine but do not cry hard. The family will stop grieving to support you. Do not take away from their grief.
  • Be there at discharge
    • Bring a teddy bear for them to hold. Empty arms hurt. Sometimes taking them a back way is more helpful. Check the hall for cheerful families and new babies. Try not to go by the nursery.
  • Help them say goodbye
    • Encourage a memorial service or funeral. A water ceremony might also be an option for them. Know their religious preferences and be knowledgeable about burial rites.
  • Follow-up
    • A postpartum visit is important. Bring food when you visit. They are going through the postpartum period (even if this was a miscarriage). Check on their physical changes as well as mental changes. Do not confuse grief with postpartum depression. Review their support system and encourage meals to be brought and tasks to be completed by others.
  • Remember their baby
    • Mark your calendar for one year from the date of loss with the baby’s name (if they had one) and send them a card. We are sometimes scared to make them think about their deceased child but they are already thinking about them. The first anniversary is very important. You are not hurting them by remembering.
  • Don’t forget self-care
    • Many doulas leave on a high, even though you are supporting a pregnancy loss. You will likely crash. The next 3 days tend to be the most difficult. Rest and lost of self-care during this time to renew yourself and be the best person you can be for your family. Let them know you will be going through some tough moments.

This isn’t an all encompassing list. It’s a start. You can do this. I know you are questioning yourself but you have so much in you that you can bring to this space. You know how to do this even though you don’t think you are the right person. This family needs you. Go…be there for them. You got this!

Letting Go

Exclusively Pumping Milk

It’s that odd place for me again. The time where I want to be done but it hurts to be done. It’s time to wean. It should come easily right? I mean, she’s almost two. In fact, she will be two in just a few weeks and here I am, crying over the fact that I am weaning.

Here’s the non-typical part. I didn’t get to breastfeed her. Sure, we started out breastfeeding well but then I was hospitalized for postpartum preeclampsia and she was on a bottle with breastmilk for days. I could have tried to get her to latch on again. She was only a week old but she already preferred feeding from the bottle by that point and pumping milk had been so easy for me, we didn’t push it.

Baby Girl would latch on occasionally. I have some pictures and video of her doing so. She wouldn’t completely stop until she was about four months old and I cherished those moments. They were blissful.

I had no idea the challenges we were going to face in regards to her eating solid foods. In reality, I probably would have stopped providing breastmilk for her months ago, perhaps even a year ago, if she hadn’t struggled for so long to eat solid food. She still isn’t eating solid foods well but we are finally at a place where we can wean her from breastmilk to see how she does.

Last fall, I was desperate to stop pumping. I was struggling with PMDD and wanted to try medications and supplements but I couldn’t. Well, I could, but I didn’t want to expose her to any of those medications or supplements. I know that many women take antidepressants and for some it works but there was nothing that proved they would work for me and I did not want to risk exposing her brain to the chemical changes from the medications. She will have enough challenges as it is.

So I suffered. My family suffered. I struggled in ways I won’t share here but they were not good ways. I was angry at people and short-tempered. I remember a time in Biblical School where my table-mate was opening a wrapper so she could have a snack and I just wanted to jump up and start screaming at her. Instead, I quickly left the room but it was infuriating and the sound of the wrapper was like fingers running down a chalkboard (silly that kids these days don’t know what that sounds like).

There was a particular day in December where I had a panic attack and had no one to reach out to. I tried. BELIEVE ME! I had never felt that way before and I was not in a good place at all. I called my therapist but she wasn’t available. She had left town for the holidays. Since I had only seen her once, I didn’t have much of a relationship with her. They couldn’t refer me to another therapist because they don’t manage “crises” and they don’t prescribe medication; which I felt I needed.

They told me to call her personal phone number but I couldn’t find it. I was in panic mode and I couldn’t even remember if she had given it to me. I reached out to a friend but even she couldn’t help me get the therapists number. She was on vacation herself. I even called my doctor.

They couldn’t help. This was a doctor that I was seeing privately for PMDD but alas, they needed me to come in to the clinic, which was an hour away, at 3:30pm and I needed to get my kids from school. It was impossible to ensure I made it before they closed for the holiday. And of course, they said they can’t treat over the phone and there was no one that would talk with me. If I felt it was an emergency, I should go to the hospital.

I didn’t. It was awful and in those moments, I saw exactly the mental health crisis that exists and why people kill themselves AND how easy it is for them to fall through the cracks. No one knows how to manage someone in a mental health crisis.

After some time away, I felt better and as my hormones have begun to regulate postpartum, my PMDD seems to be getting better and more manageable and I am looking forward to trying supplements to keep it at bay; which is why I was looking forward to weaning…until now.

I am ready. At least I feel like I am. Every time I hook myself up to the pump, I dread it and I hate those 15 minutes or so. I am tired of the bottles, the constant clean up, the entire counter space dedicated to cleaning and drying the pump parts and bottles, and replacing the pump parts. I especially can’t stand the noise of the pump, dragging it places with me, and the way it hurts during different times of my cycle.

But, here I am, crying because I am ready, yet not ready. I am not ready to stop giving my daughter something only I can. I am not ready to stop giving her that nourishment, the only nourishment she craves and truly enjoys. The nourishment that has sustained her. I have been that person. I grew her in my womb; nourishing her there and protecting her, and then nourishing her outside the womb through my milk. Sometimes, that was the only thing she could consume.

It’s been a slow process. Last week, I started shortening the length of pumping time and today, well…I haven’t pumped yet. And I feel it. I can feel the aching in my breasts. Breasts that long to have the milk expelled yet won’t find that relief. Breasts that will no longer nourish another child. Not only will I no longer nourish my child with my milk, I won’t be donating the excess to another baby. This is it. This is the last. This is the end.

Maybe that’s what is making this hard? I thought Timmy was last. I pumped for him for 27 months. I don’t remember what weaning was like. I think there was more joy in it then this time. 23 months is enough. I know it is and I am ready to move out of this pumping phase but it’s hard to let go.

Where do I find joy in this? I am having a hard time finding the joy in it today.

I Still Miss You

Nine years ago on Palm Sunday, I prayed a rosary for you with your daddy in the pews following Mass. We had never really prayed together before and certainly not at the church.

As we prayed, I felt that the prayers would lead to nothing. I was desperately trying to save you and it was likely the last ditch effort/appeal to pray to our Blessed Mother for you to stay within my womb and grow. Nine years ago!

Today is Palm Sunday, and as I adorn myself in red to symbolize Christ’s Passion, I can think only of the blood that poured out of my womb during your loss. We are friends with the people who sit in the spot where we prayed for you. We use to sit in that spot every Sunday until they began sitting there. It was a reminder, as if somehow, we were close to you.

This was probably the first Palm Sunday where I didn’t “think” of you before and during Mass. Obviously, I am thinking about you now and all that took place. I prayed for the bleeding to stop on Palm Sunday and it did. The next day, Monday, was blood free but Tuesday, well…Tuesday would change my life. Tuesday, April 14th, and it all changed.

Today is April 14th, so nine years ago, on April 14th, I felt your presence leave my body. I still wasn’t bleeding but you died. You died near 4pm that day. I distinctly remember it. I was in my kitchen and I felt a warmness come over me and your spirit flowed throughout my body, up through my head, and out. It was so distinct and I just knew you left me.

I called a friend immediately exclaiming you were gone and what had just transpired. She was hopeful. She told me I was probably wrong and just anxious but I knew. I knew with every fiber of my being you were gone, so I after I talked with my friend, I called the doctor.

I needed confirmation. I called and asked to push up my ultrasound that was scheduled for April 16th. They offered for me to come in the next day, Wednesday. I didn’t sleep all night. I was on the internet researching miscarriage and the next day, I went in.

The odd thing was, Joey was home that morning. He was six years old and wasn’t feeling well so he went with us to our appointment. While there, he began throwing up. I remember looking at the ultrasound screen briefly as they tried to find your heartbeat, knowing they wouldn’t. I felt sick.

He was there when the doctor told us you were dead. I don’t think he was sick, I think he knew what was happening. The nurses watched him for us so we could mourn. I wanted to have you removed immediately but they wouldn’t. We would have to wait.

At the time, it was horrible waiting. I was offered nothing for my anxiety and inability to sleep. I just had to suffer. I couldn’t live with a dead baby inside me. It was horrific. There was just something strange about having a corpse in my womb. It seemed like no one cared and no one understood.

A corpse…was in my womb!

I can’t believe it’s been nine years. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if you had survived. I am sorry that I didn’t try harder. I don’t know if it would have changed the outcome but there was more I could do. I know now but it’s too late. I will continue to pray for you and I hope to be reunited with you in the end.

My love…Ruby Josephine.

Don’t Talk About the Baby – Review

It’s a crowdfunded movie that I financially supported. I anxiously awaited the release of the movie after several years of spreading the word about this much needed movie. My hope was that it would break the stigma and silence on pregnancy loss. I was thoroughly disappointed and completed shocked with what I saw in this movie.

It started out well (for the most part). The woman who shares about her daughter was moving. She brought me to tears with her story and I could relate on many levels with her and I was in awe over her mothers intuition. She opens the movie but her full story begins mid-way.  You will see her throughout the movie. I seriously just wanted to hug her.

The first portion of the movie addresses miscarriage. Families share stories of miscarriage and I was so glad they shared about blighted ovum and chemical pregnancy, two forms of loss so often overlooked. The female doctor who speaks is very well versed and I felt she was an excellent resource and empathetic as well as compassionate to her patients.

But that beginning portion began to become concerning for me. They discuss IVF; which to the secular world is fine but as a Catholic, this really bothered me. At no time was faith brought into this and while that wasn’t the point of the movie, religion was not a topic discussed yet is a primary force in the majority of families. In fact, MANY of them wore crucifixes or crosses. These were obviously chosen individually for the interviews.

While IVF was discussed as an option, the way it was presented was almost like an advertisement. The IVF message: The best way to achieve a genetically perfect child, especially for older couples is to utilize IVF. This is my paraphrasing, not the movie but what they didn’t talk about were the losses in each of those IVF trials. The babies who are genetically imperfect that are killed (discarded) in the process. I felt the male doctor really pushed for IVF and gave very little information about the real statistics on IVF.

It lines his pocket financially but the parents lose financially, emotionally, and physically and can leave them in utter despair if they aren’t lucky enough to conceive and carry to full term. The movie did nothing to touch on the fact that IVF increases the risk of stillbirth. This movie is about stillbirth so shouldn’t that have been addressed if you are putting this out there? I suppose IVF can help with creating a genetically perfect child to reduce the risk of miscarriage due to chromosomal abnormalities but then the family is left with a higher risk of stillbirth. I felt like this part of the movie could have been left out. Why discuss IVF at all unless we are talking stillbirth??

IVF is not the only option for older couples or couples struggling with infertility. And before anyone begins to crucify me as ‘not understanding infertility,’ I implore you to read my blogs. I suffered with infertility for over 20 years. It took 3.5 years to conceive my son and 10 years to conceive another living child (Ruby came after 6 years of infertility treatments). I could completely relate to those who had experienced pregnancy loss and those struggling with infertility although I have living children so not all aspects were the same.

I know a movie can’t possibly cover all the pieces of loss, types of loss, and be completely inclusive especially when we bring religion into it but the inclusivity this movie attempted to achieve, deviated onto a path I cannot support. It feels sinful and had I known where this movie was about to go, I would have never supported it.

Abortion. The movie segue’s into abortion. First and foremost, abortion IS a loss. While there are women who utilize abortion as birth control and have no problem with this nor feel any loss from it, there are many women who choose abortion because they believe it’s their best option to reduce either the suffering of their child, their own suffering, or to save their own life.

The woman in the movie described her abortion as medically necessary. The doctors presented her with “your child is suffering inside of you” and your child will gasp for breath, be in pain, and suffer if he is born alive. This mother, like any mother, would never want suffering for her child. Not once though, did the doctors explain the suffering her son would experience from the medication they injected into his heart to stop it.

If this child was born alive, the doctors could have reduced his suffering by giving him medication. But honestly, gasping for air doesn’t always necessitate suffering. I watched my grandfather-in-law die and I have watched multiple babies die. While gasping is uncomfortable for us to watch, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is suffering. But I digress.

I felt this mother was presented with little choice but to follow the doctors recommendation to abort. No where did they offer her comfort care for her very loved child. No where did they offer her support to carry him to term. No where did they offer her any choice but to end her son’s life because he “had no brain function outside her body.” THIS, is where the movie could have helped the medical community and parents enduring fatal diagnosis. Instead of helping a family through that fatal diagnosis, they want to end the life early. Why did they have to normalize abortion instead of carrying to term? Maybe the movie addressed it? I stopped the movie at this point (I did watch the rest the next day).

I feel sick that I supported this movie financially and I was blindsided by it. Had I known they would include such a story, I wouldn’t have opened my check book.

Here are my thoughts after finishing the movie.

I realized this morning that by writing what I have, I am alienating the grief of those who chose to abort their baby. I needed to sit with that statement for a while because alienation is not ever something I would want for those families. I think they feel it enough from the community despite the acceptance of abortion. I am upset that the woman in the video was manipulated by medical staff into thinking that her only option was abortion. I listed other options above. Difficult options. It’s not easy to carry a baby inside you that you know will die inside or at birth but I believe that’s what we should promote. Why?

Because I have had so many mothers who chose abortion for their terminally ill babies who carry immense guilt that they chose the date of death instead of allowing the inevitable process. Many regret the time they lost by choosing abortion. They struggled on choosing the date of the abortion because they didn’t want to become more attached but they didn’t realize how attached they already were. Does every woman or family fall into this? No, but hearing the stories of those who do is gut-wrenching.

I did not want to support a film that would normalize abortion. I am ashamed and this is my public confession. I didn’t know that Ann Zamudio would bring the normalization of abortion into the film “Don’t Talk About the Baby,” and I can tell you that there are more people upset by this than are coming out to say so. But as a Catholic, I can’t keep quiet about it because I don’t want to bring scandal. I didn’t know and I wouldn’t have supported it if I did.

I know many will not agree with me and that’s okay. You are also entitled to your opinion. I won’t berate you, don’t berate me. This is not my judgment against you. I have not stated anything about judgment. This is my opinion. If you are struggling with the words I wrote here, I ask you to explore why. I won’t open comments on this post either because this is very controversial but if you want to engage in open, non-hateful dialogue, you can contact me through the page.

I finished the movie this morning hoping that it would get better, but it didn’t. One of the professionals, kept saying “fetus.” STOP it already. The movie wasn’t called “Don’t Talk About the Fetus.” It made me sick every time she tried to dehumanize the baby by calling it a fetus. I lost all respect for her.

I think the movie is important. It helps shed the light on the stigma of pregnancy loss. It shares the shame associated with it and the silence as well as why there is silence. There are some good resources shared as well and the bereavement doula featured has excellent ideas. Boy, do I wish those ideas would come to fruition all over! She was spot on but I am sure I felt that way because those are the same things I have been screaming for the past 8 years.

Boy, 8 years. That hit me writing that. Ruby would be 8 next month. I can’t believe it.

While I disagree with some of what was presented in this movie, it’s not enough for me to say I wouldn’t recommend it. What I DO want people to know is that the directors placed abortion in here and not all loss mothers can or will relate to that specific topic. In addition, I know many have and will find it offensive. Proceed with caution when watching “Don’t Talk About the Baby.”

As a side note, I thought “Return to Zero” was much better.

New book announcement

I have been contemplating for quite sometime, turning my bereavement ministry over to my faith. At last year’s October 15th Candlelight Vigil and Remembrance Event, I really felt a draw to make Dragonflies For Ruby a Catholic ministry. I have supported people of many different faiths and spirituality and I would never turn anyone away regardless of their faith but I have a desire to really focus on the Catholic side of supporting Catholic women and families through miscarriage, stillbirth, and child loss.

Catholics are pro-life. I am pro-life yet there is a problem in the Church. Women experiencing miscarriage and stillbirth are given very little support from their priests, pastors, and bishops as they navigate their loss. I was very fortunate to have a priest educate me on the importance of my baby’s life (no matter how short) and celebrating that life. His name is Father John Paul Leyba (formerly the parochial vicar at Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Parish and now Pastor at St. Frances Cabrini in Littleton).

I wrote about him in my book, All That is Seen and Unseen; A Journey Through a First Trimester Miscarriage, even placing my personal conversations and letter to him in the book. Father John Paul encouraged me to pray about the sex of my baby, name my baby, and celebrate. When we lost Gus, my Pastor, Monsignor Ed Buelt at Our Lady of Loreto, encouraged us to have a commendation ceremony. It was so beautiful and healing to have this and I want more Catholic’s to know about this option.

But even more so, I would like to share these resources with many Catholic women and help them navigate their miscarriage, knowing the teachings of the Church so I have started a fourth book! It is tentatively titled, The Catholic’s Guide to Miscarriage. The book will contain scripture verses and information from the Catechism as well information that’s out there on how to handle miscarriage according to the Catholic faith. Of course it will have the medical aspects of miscarriage in it but it’s a guide and hopefully will serve as a wonderful resource for Catholics and clergy.

So stay tuned! I am hoping to release the book before the end of the year but I will be seeking endorsement from the Archbishop of Denver so it may take longer. Prayers that the book comes along easily and receives Catholic endorsement and prayers for Dragonflies For Ruby as we make the transition to a Catholic faith-based organization!

When the mother is allowed to mourn

I have been quiet for a while. That’s what happens when you get busy raising three beautiful children. I got lost in that life and while I haven’t forgotten the two little saints I have in heaven, I haven’t been here to talk about them or share about loss in ways I used to.

Courtesy of Seattle Times

Today though, we are hearing about Tahlequah, the Orca whale who delivered a stillborn calf. I read the story about two weeks ago and watched the video but it was so incredibly painful. It was so painful to watch this mother mourn over her dead baby. It was also beautiful. This is what mourning is. She will let go of the physical body of her baby when she is ready.

But we, as humans, aren’t given this opportunity. And here, the world watches and waits. They mourn with this whale and they empathize with her. They want to see how long she carries this calf and they see all the other whales carrying this calf FOR the mother. Yet I am saddened that we, as humans, can’t give each other the same empathy and compassion.

Why is it that we can empathize with this whale but not with our neighbor?

It actually makes me angry to see how society is reacting to this whale and her mourning because women have their dead babies ripped from their arms, thrown in boxes and told they “don’t want to see their dead baby” every day! Sure, some hospitals allow time to grieve, a few hours, maybe even a day or so but then the mother is pressured to turn over her baby. She isn’t allowed to let go of the physical form of her baby when she is ready (that’s extremely rare).

Human families aren’t given all their options for processing their losses. They are told to move on, move past it, forget, this isn’t a big deal, it’s better not to look, you will forget faster if you don’t, etc. I have seen this countless times in full term stillbirth but much more in miscarriage (mostly because it happens more often).

Society doesn’t value human life. If we did, we would mourn with these families. We would carry them, we would even carry their dead baby for them (without judgment) if that’s what it required. But that’s not what we do. A few days, maybe a few weeks are given to mourn the loss of something so great and then they must move on.

Look, this whale mother is carrying around the physical form of her dead baby. This is just the beginning of processing the loss. Once she let’s go of that physical form, her journey continues. It’s not over for her and it’s definitely not over for humans when their dead baby enters the ground. What society is witnessing is a view that they would see in humans IF we were given the same opportunity, to let go of the physical form of our babies when we are ready, no matter what that looks like; and yes, that may mean taking our dead baby home and laying them in their crib (read Ghost Belly).

But if we did that, it’s seen as crazy. Society would tell you to seek mental health care or that the mother needs to be put in a psychiatric ward. Some doctors would medicate the woman or family for wanting or doing such a thing. You see, we aren’t allowed to grieve the way our whole body feels they need to grieve. Sometimes it takes a while to let go of that physical form. Not everyone is the same. I have seen mothers hold their little ones for an hour or so and then hand their baby over to the funeral home and it was fine. They were ready but I have also seen others who were given merely a few hours and told they HAD to give up their baby.

This is incorrect and completely wrong.

The nurse was uncomfortable, society was uncomfortable, but there was no real reason. Heck, I have seen nurses blatantly lie about why the mother needed to “turn over the baby.” “You’re holding up a room for a living baby to be born,” “the funeral home won’t come back another day,” “the autopsy can’t be performed after two hours,” “you’re baby will start bleeding,” and more.

I have also witnessed a mother hold her baby and keep her baby for days! A great hospital and great staff helped this mother and kept her baby in a state where she could hold and love on her dead baby until she was ready to let go of the physical form of her baby. I remember this mother distinctly saying, “It’s time. I want to remember her looking like this and not much different.” It didn’t make it easy to let go of her physical form but she was ready.

This is what we must provide families. We MUST give them all the time they need and desire with their babies. We must allow them to tread through the water, pushing their lifeless one, until they are ready. What hospital wants to support that? Do they want to spend the money on the mechanisms needed to provide such care (like the Cuddle Cot?) Or a special room, in a designated area to provide the care the family needs? It’s a RARE hospital to do that, but they do exist!

Mothers deserve to mourn their loss in the way they need to, for as long as they need to. It’s a lifetime of grief. Mothers who have experienced the loss of their child (through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, toddler loss, child loss, adult child loss), will ALWAYS carry them. For now, we must carry them in our hearts.

Ovulation – The Perfect Design

As you can see, it’s been months since I wrote. Life with three living children has certainly made me busy. It’s a blast though and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My last post was in December where I shared a bit about grieving our last child. It wasn’t about grieving a child we lost but grieving in the sense that we will never have another child…well, that we plan.

Our “last child” wasn’t planned at all. She was conceived unexpectedly and in the way that we had wished would have happened for all our children in the early days of our marriage. Surprise blessings are wonderful; although we hadn’t expected or planned for one in our 40’s. Pregnancy in your 40’s is vastly different in many ways, at least, that’s how my experience has been.

I have blogged before about ovulation. God has designed fertility as a powerful and amazing gift; one that secular society tends to damper and suspend through the emergence of birth control, contraception, and abortion. I truly wonder how wonderful it would be if women were to embrace their fertility by not suppressing the innate organization of their body’s design and giving their bodies the power to bloom. This does not mean that babies will be pouring out of homes. That’s not what I mean here .

I am once again about to ovulate. Something that my body suppressed for 20+ years and has only become more and more normal as I have aged. It’s odd. It’s a cruel joke of sorts but I understand it’s God’s design and plan for me. Maybe because I am finally in a place to allow God’s will instead of forcing my will, has He allowed me true fertility. It’s amazing but difficult.

The practice of Natural Family Planning (NOT the Rhythm Method) is a challenge. As Catholic’s it is a sin to contracept, it is a sin to kill our babies through abortion, and it is a sin to create life outside the womb. Oh how I longed for many years for a baby and wished I could have stepped outside my religious faith and demand a child. But we knew that God’s ultimate blessing and gift on a marriage is a child and we prayed that he would bless our marriage.

This is hard for many to grasp and accept. I have had my share of struggles with this as well. 22+ years of infertility (3.5 years to conceive our first and 6 years to conceive the 2nd whom died). I have experienced threatened ectopic pregnancy where I needed to chose abortion or removal of a Fallopian tub, a very sick baby in my womb with the potential to make me very sick and die, to having to say yes to a new life when I was clearly not prepared to accept her and had been contemplating abortion should I ever fall pregnant again.

Before you judge, I am not perfect. I am a sinner. I have contracepted. I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words so I am far from perfect and I contemplate sterilization often. And yes, I certainly felt like I would seriously abort any future baby and then suddenly was faced with the decision. I would love to have sex with my husband any time we felt like it without the worry of creating new life. But that’s not how He created us and I know that’s confusing for secular society. I certainly feel like an outcast.

So here I am, I know I have the power within me to create life this weekend and I am fighting the natural and spiritual pull. Ah, how powerful God’s perfect design is!! I have baby fever. I am exhausted and I yell at my kids too much these days but here I am longing to create a new life and have a new baby in my arms. Yet the thing is, I know that if I wait just four days, that longing and desire will dissipate.

I wonder if women who suppress ovulation through the use of birth control pills still feel this urge? I know that not only am I feeling the urge, my husband is as well because our bodies are complementary to each other. His hormones work in conjunction with mine and men are more attracted to women during the fertile period. This has been studied numerous times so it seems that women on birth control don’t have these fluctuations and may actually be “less attractive.”

I digress.

It’s been a while since I wrote and I have had so many thoughts to share but I have writers block I suppose. It might just be a lack of time. I certainly would like to share about my near death experiences last year. Many of you don’t know I was very sick in December and was in complete organ failure. It was scary but I had complete faith that God would heal me and I was.

For now, I need to get through these next four days, without “taking advantage” of my husband. Another child could kill me on many levels but it’s so interesting that ovulation creates changes within the body in order to “pressure,” not only the woman but the man in her life.

Ovulation is perfectly designed.

Oh, and if you want to read more about God’s intricate design and plan, read what Archbishop Aquila just wrote on Humanae Vitae.

Grieving Your Last Child

I thought I was done having children. I really did. After Gus died in 2015, we had decided that he would be our last. He was supposed to be our last anyway. He was supposed to be the child that brought three children to our kitchen table. I grieved his death but I grieved so much more. I had been down this path of grief once before but this wasn’t grief due to the death of a baby. It was the loss of not having any more children.

After our first was born in 2003, we tried for years to become pregnant again. We wanted to add another child to our family and I struggled immensely with the inability to become pregnant. After five years of trying (tests, acupuncture, chiropractic care, Mayan abdominal massage, supplements, teas, fertility enhancing drugs, and thousands of dollars spent), I gave up hope and began to grieve that I would no longer have anymore children.

This was such a different kind of grief. I literally had to change my focus in life from wanting to become pregnant and have a baby to raising the child I had as a single child and working on my career. Just as I had, I became pregnant. Just as I was about to begin my police career, I found myself expecting a child. Switching gears again was so difficult and I wasn’t happy about the pregnancy at first. I share this in depth story in my book All That is Seen and Unseen; A Journey Through a First Trimester Miscarriage.

Somehow after we lost Ruby, my body became fertile and I now had a hole new journey on my hands. Practicing NFP according to the teachings of the Catholic Church in order to space my children and/or prevent further children. Let me take a moment here to explain that NFP is not another form of birth control. To properly use NFP, a couple must discern each and every cycle whether or not to give in to desires and potentially create life. Sex is designed by God to be both unitive and procreative (there are a few other reasons such as purity as well). A couple must give everything to each other and that includes their fertility. To remove either of those pieces, is to sin.

But this post isn’t about NFP or the Catholic teaching. It’s about grief specific to no longer being procreative. It’s about all I feel like I am losing out on and things I will miss. It’s about learning to let go of future children, even though right now, my family feels complete.

The pregnancy with my last baby was difficult. Wrought with nausea, exhaustion, anger and irritability (first trimester only), tests, more exhaustion, physical pain, and when the baby was born, I developed a fatal condition (postpartum pre-eclampsia) which I survived, obviously. In addition, postpartum depression was/is alive and well. My age is also a very big concern and was the driving factor in some of the conditions above. Another baby should not be considered. I am not sure I will survive.

So I find myself grieving once again. I don’t want to grieve this. I already had but let’s put it out there.

Here are some of the things I grieve:

Never having sex again during the God-designed, most desirable and pleasurable time of my cycle.
Never again experiencing the excitement and joy from a positive pregnancy test.
Knowing that we created a new life.
Sharing the news that we created a new life.
Feeling the “superpower” of creating new life.
Seeing the new life on an ultrasound (oh, that beating heart!).
Watching my belly expand and nourish a new life.
Reveling in the joy my husband and children have when we are growing new life.
Anticipating the new life’s arrival.
Looking down in the shower to see the massive belly, feeling it, rubbing it, etc.
Loving my body, feeling like a true woman, the essence of femininity.
Feeling the first flutters and then kicks.
Hiccups!
Birth, yes birth. I feel like I finally have this down and the last birth was just fantastic.
Making milk – being the only person providing the nourishment.
Raising the baby

There are things I won’t miss:

Progesterone supplementation (shots or pills)
Test, after test, after test
Anxiety that this baby will die too
The baby jumping on my cervix
The pelvic pain
Not being able to roll over in bed
Doctors appointments
Recovering from birth
Night sweats
Baby Blues
Postpartum Depression

But mostly, it’s really about the fact that I will no longer create life. I am old. I shouldn’t. We shouldn’t. It’s not mentally or physically healthy for us or the family. So I grieve. I grieve for my empty womb. A womb that is just beginning to fill with cobwebs and it will remain that way, for the next 40 years or so of my life. My womb will never hold new life again.

I am not sure if my husband grieves. He might, but I don’t imagine him grieving the fact that he will no longer produce more children. Well…at least we *think* we won’t. Neither of us have done anything like birth control or sterilization in an attempt to prevent creating new life. At this point, we rely on abstinence and THAT SUCKS!

I will process through this grief just like I always have, but the grief resurfaces. There are triggers. The biggest being my bathroom. Anytime I see myself naked in the mirror and long for the big, round belly or anytime I am in the shower and look down to see flab instead of round. That big, round belly means so much. As I said before, it’s the epitome of femininity. Maybe that’s what I will miss the most?

Postpartum Depression – Part 3

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted about my postpartum depression. It’s still here but definitely not as bad. I actually shared with one of my classes that I had postpartum depression because I wanted them to see the “face” of postpartum depression.

When I was going over the postpartum depression section in the last of my four classes with them, I asked them if it looked like I had postpartum depression. They all said no. That’s when I revealed that postpartum depression doesn’t have a “face” and many women are highly functional through it. They all seemed shocked. Probably because I was sharing this highly personal story with them. I certainly didn’t go into details but I wanted them to know that their wives or partners could look this way, go to work, be functional, etc., yet still be suffering silently.

There are some things I have done since I last shared. The first, was getting daily help. While I cannot afford the actual help I need, I am incorporating daily help into my life and paying for the support that I CAN afford. It’s not much, maybe once a week or once every two weeks but it’s helpful nonetheless. In addition, my mother-in-law has offered to come help and I have had a few friends that have come to help.

While this support is detrimental to my health, family and friends aren’t optimal. Here’s why? There is a feeling that I need to entertain them and/or explain the things that need to be done as well as how to do them. The support of the postpartum doula needs no explanation. They just come in and do. We don’t even have to talk. When the postpartum doula asks “When was the last time you took a shower?” It’s followed by, “I will watch/hold the baby while you take all the time you need to shower. Go enjoy it. We will be fine.”

Friends and family have helped with ensuring my family is eating. Many have brought me lunch or dinner for the family. In addition, they ask if I need food before they come over and that ensures I eat. Much of my problem is realizing that I don’t eat regularly and by the time I do eat, I am so famished that it’s causing me problems. If I don’t eat, I am not a good parent. I repeat that when Charlotte is crying and I consider putting off this basic need to attend to her.

I also reordered my supplements, specifically fish oil and Vitamin D3. Both of these are very important to my health and I had run out of them for over a month. Vitamin D3 really helps curb SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I tend to get that in the winter or at least, cabin fever and taking D3 helps tremendously. Plus, I already know that without the supplement, I am deficient in Vitamin D3.

Finally, I had a therapy appointment. This appointment took a while to get to (she wasn’t available when I was in the depths of despair) but it was important and very helpful. It gave me confidence that the things I was doing were truly right for me and also gave me permission to turn some people away who offered help. Now you are asking, “Why would you turn help away?” Here’s the easy answer.

If the “help” was something that would cause me anxiety, it’s not really that helpful. The type of help most often offered was someone taking Charlotte for me during the day yet I am working hard to get her on a schedule (which is part of my stress and feeling of being overwhelmed) and then there’s my concern about my baby being in someone else’s car. I have such a hard time with any of my kids not being home or riding around with someone else and I needed to be able to say no to this kind of support. While any help is appreciative, my therapist reminded me that it needs to be the kind of help that would not cause me more stress. I learned some techniques for saying no.

I am continuing on my path to healing and I am doing better. I have also started to recognize areas where I can improve, for instance; as soon as Charlotte naps, I need to have my list of things to do handy and begin them immediately. I know her patter and how long I have (about 20 minutes before she wakes as she is transitioning in her sleep cycle), and how long it will take me to get her back to sleep so I can get a full hour or an hour and a half of her napping. When she gets an hour and a half, she is happier and less needy and if I complete some things on my to-do list, I feel more productive and give myself permission to rest/sit when Charlotte needs to be held.

I hope some of this might help another person struggling through. It’s not perfect but recognizing some key things has really been helpful. Self-care is detrimental and I tend to put off all of my own self-care in order to care for my family but the reality of that means I turn into a horrible wife and mother if I don’t ensure I meet some basic needs.

I am a work in progress.

 

 

 

What Pregnancy is this for you?

I remember when I attended my last pregnancy prenatal yoga class. On the first day, the instructor asked, “What pregnancy is this for you?” She asked all the attendees. She started with “Raise your hand for #1,” then said, “#2?” “#3?” With each number, women would raise their hands but she stopped at #3.

I felt left out. I hadn’t raised my hand yet. She only went to pregnancy #3. So after a few moments, I raised my hand and said, “#5.” The instructor was happily surprised exclaiming, “WOW!! You are amazing! How wonderful that you can get away for self-care.” Then I thought, “Geez, that’s kind of presumptuous.” I responded, “Well, not really.”

She immediately jumped up off the floor and ran over to give me a hug. She embraced me and told me how amazing I was and then I became embarrassed and angry at the same time. She assumed I had four children at home because this was pregnancy #5 for me. I became quiet. I didn’t want to scare any of the other attendees, especially on the first day.

But as the class continued, she kept focusing on me and asking me for advice to share with the class, such as how to manage the schedules of four children. I ignored as much as I could and offered advice where I could. This continued through several classes and it became harder and harder for me to participate, not because I was sad but I was annoyed. Her question, “What pregnancy is this for you?” did not leave any room for explanation and left tons of room for assumption.

This created a conundrum. How do I explain to her at this point that I only have two living children? I thought about talking with her after class but this instructor was not good with time management. She consistently held us over by 20 to 30 minutes each class and I had a family at home to feed. If I really did have four kids at home, I couldn’t understand how she could be so inconsiderate of my time.

I ended up dropping the class. Questions like this make me wonder if I am approaching my questions about pregnancy in my childbirth education classes appropriately. While I don’t ask what pregnancy it is for my students, I have asked if they are first-time moms. It doesn’t really leave an opportunity for babies born early. I have decided that asking the question differently is the way to go.

I could ask, “how many of you have given birth before?” but that would probably confuse women who have had miscarriages as many of them (especially early losses) do not believe they have given birth. “How many of you are first-time moms?” is really no different.

“Is this your first pregnancy?” might offer better availability for an answer but could also be awkward if the family isn’t acknowledging their prior losses. So what DO you ask?

It’s complicated. You have no idea who is in your classroom and I have had several students talk about their stillbirth or losses. In one of my last classes in particular, the mother blurted out that this was not her first pregnancy and that she had lost her son at 20 weeks. She was attending this birthing class at 20 weeks and I think she was attending as an act of bargaining or a way to validating the pregnancy. 20 weeks is very early to attend a birthing class. I suppose it could be useful if there is a concern the next baby would be born early.

Still, “what pregnancy is this for you?” puts mothers enduring pregnancy after a loss in a precarious situation. It’s often anxiety provoking because mothers want to share their deceased children yet do not want to scare or upset a person and if they don’t share then they may feel guilty for not sharing. A seemingly joyful question has turned into an anxiety provoking question.

When I think about it, why even ask? What’s the purpose of asking? Maybe it’s an “ice breaker?” I know I ask in classes because if a woman has given birth before, her experience this time around might be different and we talk about that. I am considering no longer asking the question.  It’s important that all mothers feel comfortable in class and asking “how many children do you have,” or “what pregnancy is this for you?” is not necessary.

So what should we ask? How about, “How are you feeling about this pregnancy?” “What anxieties are you experiencing that we can talk about?” Be prepared for someone to share about their loss and if they do, please don’t blow them off. Recognize what they have said, offer condolences, ask about their baby/child, share if you have had a similar experience, and follow-up. drt5ye

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