Elizabeth Petrucelli

Author, Blogger, Educator

Category: grief (page 1 of 6)

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?

What Does it Mean to Bring a Baby “Earthside” and Why it’s Offensive

EarthsideIt’s a term I am hearing more and more. I have used the term in the past but now, I can no longer use the term. It’s offensive! It makes my stomach turn each time I hear it and it’s now considered a trigger. Earthside…or as most often used: “Bringing Baby Earthside.”

A trite term used to describe birthing a baby, the term earthside is offensive to mothers. There are birthing coloring books called Bringing Baby Earthside, a fantastic tool for pregnant women to help relieve stress and focus on the positive aspects of birth but needs a new name; blogs written about the earthside baby such as this one from Birth Without FearPinterest pages dedicated to bringing babies earthside and even Etsy shops with onesies stating “Finally Earthside”. Babies are being welcomed “Earthside” in birth story after birth story.

No definition exists yet on what bringing a baby earthside means. Thank God and I sincerely hope this never becomes a definable term. This phrase needs to disappear as quickly as it came in the typical fad fashion. From Oxford Dictionary, earthside is defined as “on or from the planet earth.”

Unless a religion or belief states otherwise, while a woman is pregnant, her baby is actually on earth. I suppose if the pregnant woman is in space, the baby wouldn’t be on planet earth but where the baby is, so is the mother. The womb is not some intergalactic, off-the-planet place where babies form through stars into human beings and use hyperdrive to perfectly time their birth on this earth [insert sarcasm].

While human creation is a miracle and some might consider it supernatural, it’s not intergalactic. There is plenty of science that supports perfect timing for sperm meeting the egg, creating a pregnancy or forming life, which develops into a human being, and is born via a human being; all of which allegedly takes place on planet Earth. So if we are welcoming baby earthside, where has this baby been the last nine months or so?

Welcoming a baby earthside discounts the pregnancy experience as something it’s not. If the baby is not on this earth, as bringing baby earthside suggests, then how does the mother bond with her baby? If the baby in her womb is not earthside, does she have to help the baby in any way? What obligation does the mother have to the baby who is not earthside? Does the baby even exist? Is there a ball of stars within the mothers womb, bouncing around in there?

In my childbirth education classes, my students are told they are parents from the moment they became pregnant. One could possibly state that they became parents even before pregnancy because they have made decisions for the baby before that baby was even conceived. Oftentimes, my students are a bit confused to be called parents so early in their pregnancy.

But what are they if they are not parents? We call them mother and father in classes and that’s the definition of a parent. So as a mother and father of an unborn child they are responsible for caring for that child. If that child dies, they are still a mother and father.

So they are parents, of little humans, on earth, who have not yet been born. On earth is a key phrase here. They are already earthside. Let’s side-step for a moment.

For mothers enduring pregnancy loss, the term earthside takes on a different meaning. This pregnancy loss blog shares a story where the mother writes to the baby she will never meet earthside. While her baby was already “earthside” within her womb, she is using the term earthside to describe the physical form she will never hold on earth. I feel the same way. I will never hold Gus or Ruby “earthside.”

Her pregnancy loss happened very early and she describes how her loss “flowed from her.” No baby to hold, touch, or see, just blood washing her tiny baby out of her. She is a Christian and will not meet her baby on this earth. But in her blog, she shares her ambivalence with her grief and her struggles with the right to grieve. She has every right to grieve her loss. She loved this baby from the moment she suspected she was pregnant. She dreamed of this baby and imagined a new life with this baby in it. She is worthy of her grief but society doesn’t think so and she mentions this as one reason she did not share her loss with others.

Isn’t it enough for loss parents to have to prove to society the legitimacy of their loss without now having to prove their baby/child was “earthside?” If the baby isn’t really here on earth during the pregnancy, then why would a woman have the right to grieve if the baby didn’t really “exist?” Could using the term earthside damage a woman’s right to grieve? A baby’s whole existence is defined through birthing them alive. If a baby is not birthed alive, society questions their existence and mothers are confused and shameful in their grief.

Why must we define birth as coming earthside?

If a mother on earth is pregnant, the baby within her womb is on earth. The baby is already earthside. The baby doesn’t magically become earthside at birth; to say otherwise discounts the miraculous and earthly experience of conception, development, and birth. To say otherwise, minimizes the experiences of pregnancy loss because the baby never took a breath “earthside.” To say earthside at birth, turns the pregnancy experience into something galactic or alien.

Women should feel connected to their unborn, they should revel in the divine or mystical creation of new life and birth. When a woman discovers she is pregnant, she should shout from the rooftops: WELCOME EARTHSIDE! And when the baby is born she should rejoice, welcome her baby into her loving arms and into the tenderness of her nourishing bosom.

There is no need to define birthing a baby as bringing a baby earthside because the baby already was earthside. A simple “Welcome Baby” is sufficient.

But maybe, just maybe we are also using earthside as a euphemism. A way to describe birth without saying the word birth because to do so, would present the experience of birth as it is currently represented: fear-based, messy, and exhausting. Bringing a baby earthside certainly sounds more pleasant. Sign me up for bringing a baby earthside but “birthing a baby?” Eeewww.

Bringing a baby earthside is just a substitute for the unpleasant thoughts of “birth.” Instead of empowering women to birth, maybe if we just change the word “birth” to the word “earthside,” women will all of a sudden feel confident and comfortable with the experience and their fear will magically disappear?! [sarcasm] As an educator, I suppose I no longer need to teach about the experience of birth but about how to bring a baby “earthside” where there is no pain and your baby is transformed out of your womb, down a rainbow and onto your chest [more sarcasm].

This is no different than storks bringing babies to hopeful mothers. It’s a myth that is perpetuated as a distraction from what birth really is: a transformation which might be uncomfortable and/or painful but it is a transformation nonetheless.

Let’s stop using the term earthside. It’s distracting, it’s offensive, it’s a myth. Women birth babies. We have since time began. Babies aren’t dropped off by storks, they don’t come earthside (they were already on Earth); babies emerge from our wombs, through our vagina or in some cases, via surgical birth. We can’t change that no matter what term we use.

BL and AL – Do you use these terms?

BL and AL. What do these letters mean? What are their significance? I was going through my Facebook “Memories” today and noticed I was using these terms. I know I haven’t shared what they mean yet but I know many of you will know what they mean. As I scrolled through the memories for today, I was looking at the dates. Pictures and messages I posted on March 7th since 2009 were displayed and as I studied the pictures, I wanted to know…was this “before loss” or “after loss?” BL or AL?

I have had two miscarriages now so sometimes when calculating it gets a bit more complicated but I couldn’t help wondering, was the picture I was looking at before or after? I studied my face, the faces of the others in the pictures, wondered if I was happy then or could comprehend how my life was going to change or contemplating how far I have come, where was I on the grief journey or had it started yet? I sifted through maybe 15 photos before I realized I was placing them into categories, BL and AL.

Then I wondered, how many others do this? I am sure many of you do. What is the significance for you? What do you wonder when you look back at pictures or memories? Would you stop yourself from becoming pregnant if you knew? If you could warn yourself, would you? If you could change something, what would it be?

Here is a picture I absolutely love of myself. It’s a “before loss” picture.

Elizabeth Petrucelli 1

I had just quit my job and was about to being the police academy. I wanted short hair so I cut most of mine off. It was a happy time before my life was turned upside down. Little did I know that just nine months later, I would be mourning the loss of my second child…a daughter. If I could go back and tell myself something, would I prepare myself for the loss?

Here is a picture of me after two losses.

Elizabeth Petrucelli 2

This is a different angle and lighting but is anything different? I am obviously older. I can tell you that in this picture, I am about four months post loss (of Gus) and I had chopped off all my hair. I hated my hair. I don’t recommend chopping off your hair within the first few days (or even weeks) after a loss.

Let me show you. Here I am with long hair.

Elizabeth Petrucelli 4

Here I am after the hair stylist didn’t listen and cut off too much. I had explicitly told her my bang should be at my chin. They aren’t even close! This was two days after we discovered Gus was dead and he was still within my womb here.

Elizabeth Petrucelli 3

So the moral of the story is, don’t get your hair cut so quickly after loss. But I digress.

Do you find that you say this was before loss or after loss? What feelings does that bring up for you? I know for me, I do feel sad. I wish I could tell myself what is about to happen and how to prepare. I would want to go back and share as much as I could, telling myself that I will survive. I wouldn’t take the experience back. I wouldn’t stop the loss from happening (assuming I had that kind of power).

The loss of Gus and Ruby are a part of me. They don’t define me, but they are a big part of who I am and why I do what I do. I wouldn’t be able to do it as well if I hadn’t experienced their losses. So what is it for you?

Comparing Loss Serves No One

“Comparing Loss Serves No One” was originally published on December 2, 2015 at Doula Spot.

October 15th Miscarriage VigilRecently in a group, bereaved mothers were comparing the pain they experienced based on the age of their baby. One woman shared she had miscarriages so her pain could not be nearly as painful as a friend who had lost a baby at full term and the friend who lost her baby at full term could not possibly be in as much pain as the person who lost their baby at 2 weeks old. Even with those comparisons, another mother stated that the pain of losing her 24 week gestation child could not be as painful as someone who lost their living child.

The common denominator here is grief, the grief one experiences from a loss; however, there is a societal perception of the pain and grief one might experience based on the longer a person is alive, the more grief that one might experience. Here are some examples of what I have heard or seen regarding grief and pregnancy loss.

Women are told:

They should have nothing to grieve for the baby lost early (before she had a chance to love it).

The baby wasn’t born alive so why is she sad?

It is belittling to mothers who have lost living children for women to grieve a baby who never lived (the perception being that a baby in the womb is not living).

A miscarriage is not the same as losing a child.  

Then there are other comparisons:

A mother who birthed her stillborn baby through her vagina will experience more grief than a mother who had a c-section (as if she was somehow “spared” by not having to deliver vaginally).

These are comments and comparisons I have heard but what purpose do they serve?

Society allows and accepts a family’s grief for a baby or child who passes within the first year of life and beyond because there is a physical body with which they can see, touch, smell, and hear. We also see acceptance and validation for the grief within our own federal guidelines of FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act); however, there is no time allowed to grieve the loss of a baby not born alive. This gives society the perception that born alive = worthy.

When grief is compared or challenged based on the gestation/age of a baby, it can make women feel they are not worthy to grieve for their baby not born alive; whether they were born in the first trimester or later. It can make women feel ashamed about their very real feelings. Not all women will feel grief from a miscarriage and while that’s okay, it’s not helpful for one woman who was not hurt by her miscarriage to say to another woman “What’s the big deal?” It’s a big deal to her and she deserves support.

Women should be allowed to grieve without shame just as they would grieve for the loss of their parents. Although I have seen people make others feel shameful for grieving the death of their aged parents (because they lived a long life, their death was expected).  Does a woman who just married her boyfriend of six months have the right to grieve? After all, she didn’t know him that long and if the basis for grief is length of time together (as some people have suggested), then she shouldn’t grieve nearly as much as a woman who lost her husband of 15 years. When approached from this angle, it doesn’t make much sense to associate time together with how much grief should be expected or experienced.

MiscarriageValidation that the grief is real and that they are worthy to grieve starts with us (society); sharing our stories of loss, and encouraging society to recognize that the grief from miscarriage exists. For many women, the moment they see the positive test they begin imagining all they will do with their future child. All those hopes and dream disappear in a fleeting moment, a flicker on an ultrasound that diminished too quickly, a kick or punch which faded away, a breath that emptied too soon. All are worthy of grief and mourning.

Shaming the grief experience by comparing grief experienced from pregnancy loss further silences this common experience and forces many women to hide. I remember feeling shame. It manifested in feeling foolish for grieving something I never had (a living baby); feeling silly for grieving a baby I couldn’t hold or see in their full form. I saw my baby on the ultrasound and I saw my baby’s heartbeat so I knew she was real but she was not real to many others. I also felt shame when I was excited to be pregnant and had a new life within me, though a fragile one, and announced it to the world only to have to tell everyone that the baby died.

Many women continue to feel more shame when they choose to hide their pregnancies until much later. Just because a woman doesn’t announce her pregnancy early, does not mean she is living in shame but some do. I have a friend who has already told me that should she become pregnant again, she will not announce until later…much later.

She does not want to have to tell people her baby didn’t make it, like last time. Months after her miscarriage, she is still asked about her pregnancy or what happened which adds to her silent pain; a pain that she carries but doesn’t allow the world to see. Her ‘status’ updates are make believe; pretending nothing ever happened. She buries her pain deep within her but still knowing how far along she would be.

Even I didn’t realize that she had the same thoughts as I do. We would have been pregnant together. We would have been due within one month of each other. I would be 38 weeks with a very ripe belly. My breasts would be preparing to nourish the child within me. I would be making frozen meals and completing the final tasks to bring home a new baby.

I would most likely be sharing with her all the things I have been doing to help her prepare as well; hoping she didn’t make a mistake or forget something I may have. We would be talking about names. And after our babies were home, we would be sharing milestones. Instead, we share death. We share our experiences of miscarriage which were very different yet the same; her entry into the silent club of pregnancy loss and my mentorship of having been through it…twice.

We do not know what is inside of someone else’s mind. We do not know what their experience of pain is. We cannot possibly comprehend someone’s grief based on society’s opinion, our personal opinions, our personal experiences, the experiences of others, etc. The pain and grief a person carries is their own. They may not fully share that pain with you either. Even if we know they had a loss, they may still remain silent which in turn, makes us feel they are “okay.” They might be okay or they might be deeply struggling.

When we know someone has experienced pregnancy loss, the most we can do is offer support. There are many ways to do that. Books and websites are dedicated to supporting families through loss. What we cannot do though, is much for the internal grief they will inevitably experience. We cannot speed up the grief journey; we can only walk with them through it.

Accompany one another with mercy. – Pope Francis

The length of someone’s life, the size of their body, the condition they are in, and the circumstances surrounding their death do not make grief more or less worthy. Grief is grief and is a person’s own journey. Please support them and others through any grief they are experiencing. Most of us have no idea if one experience hurts more than another experience. Can we stop comparing and just support?

Miscarriage

How to Prepare for Your Miscarriage

miscarriage in ultrasound roomYou’ve just been told that your baby/pregnancy isn’t viable, that there is no longer a heartbeat, or that you will be miscarrying; so what do you do now? Chances are, you were sent home with medication to induce the miscarriage or told to just go home and wait it out but do you really know all that you need to prepare for? Probably not.

Here is some practical information on how to prepare for your miscarriage. This is information you would likely never hear from your care provider.

Step 1. Before you leave the doctors office, ask for the following (if you have already left, you can call them or send someone back to their office).

  • A list of warning signs.
  • Induction medication instructions, warning signs, and how long it may take to work.
  • A miscarriage kit (strainer, gloves, saline solution, container for remains/baby).
  • Pain medication (prescription in hand or actual pills).
  • A sleep aid (if you feel you will need it).

Step 2. Prepare your home by setting up the bathroom for the delivery process. Purchase a miscarriage kit. If you don’t have time to purchase a kit, use the information below to prepare.

  • Have the strainer in the toilet (for every use)
  • A container to place the baby/remains.
  • Saline solution (for preserving and viewing the baby).
  • Gloves on hand in case you feel like you need them (it’s okay to touch the baby/remains without gloves).
  • Towels/wash clothes for cleaning up.

Step 3. Prepare emotionally.

  • Talk with others who may have miscarried.
  • Share your feelings with your partner and ask him how he is feeling/doing.
  • Books are an excellent way to learn what others have felt and they can help validate your own feelings. It’s Not ‘Just’ a Heavy Period; The Miscarriage Handbook or The Miscarriage App, can be very helpful.
  • Join an online support group and ask others about their experiences.

Step 4. Have someone with you. You should not miscarry or deliver your baby at home alone.

  • Your partner or husband should be with you. If they are not available, a friend or other family member should be with you.
  • Hire a professional such as a bereavement doula, loss doula, or perinatal loss specialist who can mentor you through this process.
  • Ask if you can be induced and deliver in the hospital. For miscarriages beyond 10 weeks, this can be a very viable option. I recommend that all my clients deliver in a hospital when they are between 14 – 20 weeks.

Step 5. Consider testing. Doctors speculate that miscarriages are caused by genetic abnormalities but with so few women testing (only 13% of stillborn babies receive an autopsy), we just don’t know for sure if there is something you can do to prevent a miscarriage.

  • Ask your doctor about the Anora Miscarriage test kit by Natera. This is a test on your baby’s remains and may give you some answers such as sex of the baby and the baby’s condition/chromosomes. For baby’s between 16-20 weeks an autopsy may also be performed.
  • Ask your doctor to run blood tests on you which may reveal conditions like MTHFR and other antibody/antigen issues which could cause miscarriage.
  • In a future pregnancy, consider progesterone testing to ensure your progesterone is at the optimal level for carrying a baby. This test should be done as soon as you become pregnant and monitored during the first trimester.

Step 6. Decide the final resting place for the baby/remains. You have many options available to you.

  • Flushing (accidental or purposeful) is one option. If you feel guilt over flushing or would like to honor your baby, you can perform a water ceremony for miscarriage which can help to release some of the guilt and/or honor your baby.
  • Burial (at home, at a cemetery, or other location). Be sure to check the local laws on home burial or burial at any other location other than a cemetery, you do not want to break local ordinances and laws. Burial at home is not usually recommended in the event that you might move. Some families choose to bury a tiny baby in a pot and plant a tree which is portable in the event of moving. Many cemetery’s offer communal burial or plots for miscarried babies and many are free. Be sure to inquire.
  • Cremation. You will need to work with a mortuary or crematory for cremation if you are not utilizing the hospital cremation process. Please note that most hospitals cremate all biohazard together and that includes the baby/remains. You will also not receive any ashes back with hospital cremation/disposal. Many mortuaries and crematories will conduct the cremation free of charge. You might even be able to include special blankets or notes during that process. Be sure to inquire. With very early babies (13 weeks and earlier), you may not receive any ashes back.

Step 7. Create memories. Yes, there are ways to create memories, even for early miscarriages.

Memory Box for Miscarriage - Erika Zane Photography

  • Pictures can be taken of your very tiny baby either professionally or with your phone.
  • Smells and scents can help you remember. Lavender is a very common scent used to help relax but it can also be used to help you remember. You may not think you will want to remember this experience but many women do.
  • Name your baby. This can be very beneficial in validating your baby’s existence. It’s not something everyone does but many women enjoy naming their baby, even if they call their baby “peanut” or Baby (insert last name).
  • Miscarriage AnnouncementMementos don’t have to be elaborate. If you have a larger baby, you can try capturing handprints/footprints but with smaller babies, you will need be a bit more creative. Examples of mementos are sympathy cards, hospital admission bracelet (from you), remembrance jewelry, breastmilk pendant (if your milk came in), cord keepsake, blanket (with or without baby’s name on it), plant a tree, plant flowers, make a donation to a charity,  etc.
  • Create a miscarriage announcement.
  • Attend annual events such as a candlelight vigil or remembrance walk. You can find local vigils and events here.

Step 8. Move forward.

  • Understand that moving forward is not moving on. It will take time for you to feel like you can move, let alone move forward. Take your time moving forward.
  • Seek a support group or one-on-one mentoring/counseling.
  • You will likely never return to “normal” but will learn a new normal.
  • There is no timeline on grief. Some people move through grief quickly and some move through grief more slowly. There is no right or wrong.
  • Purchase a recovery kit.
  • Grief is not depression.
Photo Credit: Dravas Photography

Photo Credit: Dravas Photography

Having a miscarriage is not easy, even if you might not have wanted the baby. It is emotionally and physically draining yet we are led to believe that this is an easy experience and it’s “no big deal.” Many women are confused when they are hurting yet are not treated as if this is a hurtful event. With the information above, women will understand how to prepare for your miscarriage. They will feel empowered and validated and will know they have options.

On this day, May 11

Memory Box for Miscarriage - Erika Zane PhotographyLast year, he was born on May 11. Silent and still on the ultrasound just days before, we knew his birth was inevitable. It was devastating. Our 4th and thought-to-be last child, gone so quickly. We were so excited to be pregnant with him, naturally and at our age. It was a miracle. But he was not to be. He was not to live on this earth, just a saint in heaven.

That’s what today represents for me. It’s Augustus’s (AKA Gus) anniversary. Today doesn’t feel much different, other than I know how I was last year and all I was enduring physically and emotionally. I think today feels mostly normal because Gus is in my life every day. The entire family talks about him and shares about him.  His candle sits on our table next to Ruby’s and his memory box (which you see to the left) is in our dining room.

Facebook has a timeline memory feature that can be so very cruel when it reminds you of events such as miscarriage, stillbirth or any loss really. When you least expect it, a memory appears. On May 11, 2015, I didn’t post anything about delivering Gus. I was very quiet about that particular day. So I imagine tomorrow my memory reminder will show information about our loss.

I was specifically quiet on Facebook that day. I needed one more day of the world thinking I was pregnant. One more day of me feeling like I was pregnant even though my body had birthed already our baby. So instead of a sad memory appearing in my Facebook Memory Timeline, I saw a post from May 11, 2011.

It was a simple post:

I actually helped save a life today and the person is extremely thankful. I feel amazed to be a part of his life.

It was a chilly morning that day; cloudy and rainy. I was managing the security department at my local hospital that day when I received a call there was a “crazy man” rolling around in the grass in the front of the hospital. Me and another officer went out looking for him. I ran out without a coat, as did my partner. Neither of us could find him and if I recall, my partner returned to the building to get his coat.

I found a man inside a car near the grass. He was hanging out his door but trying to start the car. He was wet and looked disheveled. I asked him if he needed help and he said he was trying to start his car but his speech was slurred. He didn’t look like he felt alright so I asked him to get out of his car and come in to be checked out.

He complied fairly easily but he seemed confused. As he stood up, I realized he was wearing only one slipper. He was also a very large man. Most likely 280lbs and about 6’5″. This was not a man I wanted to fight with but that was what was about to happen.

As I talked with him, he kept walking away. He would stumble as he walked towards the grass. I kept asking him questions but his speech was jumbling and he wasn’t making much sense. When I placed my hand on his elbow to try to direct him, he pulled away and then turned towards me and got in my face. He became aggressive. I contacted dispatch to call 911.

As I attempted to hold him off from hurting me, my partner arrived…just in time. He himself was big and burly and could stand up to him. We both were holding him back and trying to get him to calm down and just talk to us. Finally, I yelled at him, “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?”

He looked blankly at me. He stopped fighting and just looked off in the distance as if he was scared because he could not form the words. I then called 911 and told them to send rescue. This man was having a medical issue. He was not drunk, he just couldn’t be. Something else was going on with him.

As I hung up, I could hear sirens. The police quickly arrived and helped us to get him under control and into custody. The ambulance arrived and assisted him into the truck and drove him to the emergency room. When he arrived, his blood sugar was 22 and it was dropping. Due to the cold temperature, his body was burning off more and more sugar and he was close to having a seizure or entering into a coma.

The hospital administered sugar and instantly this man came back to life. He was such a gentleman and apologized. He explained that he had just seen his doctor and was heading back to his house in the mountains but when he got into his car, he blacked out. He didn’t remember any of what had taken place. He was grateful we found him. He was admitted to the hospital for over a month and I visited him nearly every day I worked. He was such a pleasure and I wished him the best.

I hope he is still alive and well today. I know he had many medical issues that needed to be addressed. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Just like I remember Gus’s birth like it was yesterday. With Gus, the medical staff treated me kindly and were so empathetic to my situation. My husband was there and was so loving and supportive. It was a sad day but we made the best of it.

So today, I want to remember the life I helped save instead of feeling sad about Gus. I feel sad about Gus often, wishing he was here yet accepting that he is not and that I was chosen to carry him…even if for a short while.

If you have experienced a pregnancy loss and had talked about your pregnancy on Facebook, maybe even announced a pregnancy on Facebook, I recommend turning off Facebook memories. I researched “How to turn off Facebook Memories” and found the answer. Visit your newsfeed or “home page.” On the left side of the screen, scroll down to “Apps.” It will be the section under “Friends” but before “Interests,” at least that’s how it was on my screen.

You will find something called “On this day.” Click on that and you can make changes or turn off the notifications. I hope this helps and alleviates some of the cruel reminders that Facebook will notify you of.

Depression

I have shared before the grief and depression are two very different things. In that post, I shared that antidepressants cannot “fix” grief because grief is not a chemical imbalance. Grief is someone we all experience in one way or another and it is something we must experience in order to move forward. Grief sucks, no doubt. It’s not easy to move through grief. We want it to go away so we can get back to “normal,” but there will never be the same “normal again.

Recently, a friend posted that she was upset with a friend who committed suicide. She shared an article about this person and how she felt it was selfish of her to kill herself. She shared that this person was loved so deeply and she couldn’t understand why her friend didn’t know or couldn’t see the love that others had for her. Depression sucks.

Grief can move into depression. Watching for those signs is important. I know that I moved into depression and most of that came from the fear during my pregnancy after a loss and becoming a new mother after 10 years with just my one child. That child was fully independent, leaving me with time for myself (which is ever-so-important as an introvert) and we were enjoying the life that comes with an older child. We knew that bringing a new baby into this mix could be cause for concern regarding my mental health and we did what we could to ensure I would be okay but alas, I still fell into a depression.

I am writing another book on my pregnancy after a loss and the fear and guilt I felt after he was born. It was such a weird place to be. Wanting him to survive, loving him as much as I could yet remaining distant because I just knew…he would die too. Nine months into his life is when I began to accept that he was staying and I might be able to enjoy him and raise him but the damage had been done and now that he is approaching three, I think that we are finally starting to repair our relationship between mother and son (assuming it’s repairable). You will have to read the book if you want to explore what I am talking about.

But I had to share my response to my friends’s post. If you have never lived in depression, you likely will have never felt or experienced what I shared. And of course, your depression will be different from mine just like your grief experience is different than mine. Let me give you a bit of background on when this came into my life. I assure you, I am no longer in this dark place. So much has changed but I was hit rather hard with several life changing events and with the unresolved depression, I was in a place that shocked me to my core and this experience brought me to seek help.

depressionTo the person living in the depression, it’s nearly impossible to break from those chains. Feelings of worthlessness are hard to combat even when people on the outside say wonderful things. It’s so internal, it’s not broken into easily. She is right, it’s like a white noise inside. A near constant state of emotional pain where everything in your mind is telling you “no one cares,” “you are a piece of crap,” “you’re not worthy.” The emotional pain turns into a physical pain.

Anxiety can also come when you are fighting what your mind is telling you. “I am good,” “I am worthy.” and then another attack comes from someone you trusted and the mind overcomes you and you don’t even realize you are so deep in depression until one day, you stand at the top of a bridge and think about jumping. Headfirst…so you will do it right. Headfirst, hoping you won’t feel any pain as you take that last breath. The cars are driving by you and they have no idea what you are contemplating but you are very aware. You know you stopped on this bridge because there is lots of traffic and where you will land will bring a passerby quickly. You feel every car that is passing you by and inside, you are desperately hoping someone will notice you and ask a question. It will stop you…but they don’t, so that means you are worthless. Because not a single car honks, stops, or notices. Somehow, you just keep walking…

Antidepressants for Pregnancy Loss

Antidepressants are being prescribed by obstetricians to women who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth. Several of my clients have left the hospital with a prescription for an antidepressant and a few have questioned why. I have been scolded for my stance on this and told that prescribing antidepressants is very productive and should be a standard of care for all women.

I realize this can be a controversial topic and by no means is this post meant to offend women who were prescribed and took an antidepressant following their miscarriage or stillbirth. Many of my clients take antidepressants and some feel better doing so. This post is meant to bring awareness to why this may not be the best idea and why prescribing antidepressants for pregnancy loss should not be a standard of care.

When talking with some of my peers, some believe that women need an antidepressant for grief, that the loss of a baby requires medication. But why? Why would an antidepressant be needed for something that is considered normal? It’s a stigma and one that needs to be broken.

Let’s talk about what an antidepressant does. Antidepressants affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. Basically, the brain chemicals may be out of balances and an antidepressant can assist with balancing those chemicals. It changes the mood in the person but grief is not a chemical imbalance. Grief is a reaction, most commonly occurring from the death of a loved one. So if grief is not a chemical imbalance, why prescribe a medication that modifies the chemicals in the brain? Grief symptoms can mimic depression but this is where the psychotherapist or psychiatrist comes in.

  1. Are antidepressants appropriate for grief alone?

    I did some research on this topic to include talking to local therapists who specialize in pregnancy loss. Antidepressants should be utilized in conjunction with psychotherapy and should only be prescribed for depressive reactions to bereavement. This article at GLOWM states, “When medications are required, there is often prior major depression, serious personality disorder, or a history of trauma rather than solely a severe reaction to perinatal loss.” 1DSM-V states that ordinary grief is not a disorder and does not require professional treatment (therapy). 2 “Furthermore, contrary to insistent cries of alarm by some, “treatment” of post-bereavement depression need not involve antidepressant medication, except in the most severe cases.” So even the DSM-V does not believe that grief alone should be treated with antidepressants. The DSM-V allows access to treatment options even with a recent loss but that does not mean everyone should be treated with therapy or antidepressants. In fact, the article at GLOWM by Leon, I., states “The majority of couples appear to adapt within two years without psychotherapy, indicating that recommending extended counseling for all couples experiencing perinatal loss is unwarranted183 and may be detrimental based on findings challenging the universal benefits of grief counseling.70, 87

  2. Should the  obstetrician prescribe antidepressants for pregnancy loss?

    The consensus among some local psychotherapists who specialize in treating patients experiencing pregnancy loss is NO. Psychiatrist should manage and monitor a patients antidepressants as they are the experts or rather, the specialty for mental health, not the obstetrician. A patient who is prescribed an antidepressant for grief alone may not be monitored appropriately and according to the articles above, patients should be receiving psychotherapy when they are taking antidepressants. This is because antidepressants alone cannot “fix” the grief or depression. Antidepressants and therapy should be used together.

So the question remains, how should grief for pregnancy loss be treated? With compassion and empathy. The grief journey is one that needs to be experienced in order to get through it. It should not be suppressed. We know that grief is normal and it is even healthy. The family enduring the grief should find a supportive and empathetic bond, free from the boundaries that society places on how long they feel the family should grieve.

There is no timeline on grief. It changes and morphs. Families will learn to live with the pain but it may never disappear; their child will never be replaced by another child and they will not forget. Friends and family can be extremely helpful on the grief journey by providing support (meals, childcare, taking care of chores, etc) and not imposing their beliefs on the family. Helping the family know what to expect is also important and this can be achieved by hiring a bereavement doula or loss doula.

Am I saying that antidepressants should never be prescribed following pregnancy loss? Absolutely not. For grief alone, the consensus is that antidepressants should not be prescribed at time of discharge. Without proper follow-up and monitoring, there is no way to know if the medication needs to be adjusted or stopped altogether. If the obstetrician believes that there is an underlying condition or mental health disorder which requires an antidepressant, the patient should be referred to a psychiatrist and begin therapy. Referral to the proper medical profession is imperative.

 

 

Erich Fromm

REFERENCES

1. Leon, I, Glob. libr. women’s med., (ISSN: 1756-2228) 2008; DOI 10.3843/GLOWM.10418

2. Pies, R.W., Bereavement and the DSM-V, One Last Time., December 11, 2012

Miscarriage Series – The Due Date

Last night we couldn’t sleep. Hubby and I stayed up most of the night watching episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. We needed something restful and something to pass the time. Sleep was just not finding us. We both felt that we couldn’t sleep because we were “laboring.” Our due date was tomorrow. The due date our entire family was looking forward to. A due date, that would come and go with no reward. There would be no crying baby.

I had been cranky most of the day. The week leading up to today was filled with an emotional roller coaster. I learned of many friends who had become pregnant which furthered my grief. Learning about some pregnancies, felt like a stab into my heart. Then there were the ill wishes for some of these announcements. It was such an icky feeling and I know I shouldn’t feel that way, but I did.

Teaching students over the last few months has also been hard. So many of them were due on the same day and I had to stand there, seeing them with their glorious bellies filled with living babies they would birth. They were carrying life and all I could carry was death. My womb being silent since May. I was relieved that with my last classes they were all due in January or February. I no longer had to be reminded of what I had lost.

When we finally decided to lay in bed, I cried. I was on the verge of a breakdown when hubby finally nestled in bed next to me. I was wearing an old shirt. A shirt that he gave me and I have worn for the past 18 years. A shirt that is nearly falling apart but I love it because wore that shirt during all four of my pregnancies. I remember hubby took a picture of me in that shirt just a few days before I gave birth to my first child. The shirt is so large, it could accommodate my full-term belly.

Pregnant

I asked hubby to rub my back to help me fall asleep. As he did, he said, “I need to buy you a new shirt.” Then I wept. Through my tears I said, “But I love this shirt.” He was unprepared for my cries. He rubbed my back harder and said, “It’s okay. Why are you crying?”

I couldn’t form the words.

I knew that if I had continued, he would most likely figure it out. So I was silent, except for my cries. All I could think about was how I would not be bringing home a baby tomorrow. I imagined the co-sleeping being attached to my bed and lovingly watching my sleeping baby. It was too painful knowing I would likely never experience that again.

 It took hours for me to finally find sleep only to be awakened early. We were going to visit Gus’s grave for the first time today. The entire family managed to make it in the car in time to get Joey to school. After dropping Joey off, I asked to stop by the store. I wanted to pick up a few things we could leave at Gus’s grave. My stomach was also very upset. It was gurgling and I was having intestinal cramps. I assumed it was my body, being in “labor.”

At the store, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was hoping to find a few blue carnations and a small plastic truck. I settled on a small balloon that said, “It’s a Boy!” and found a metal police tow truck. I knew Timmy would want it but I also knew that when I explained that this was Gus’s truck, he would be fine with leaving it.

When we arrived at Mt. Olivet, we found the grave site easily. I had been there many times before but never to visit my own child. I was comforted to see that there were other names on the grave marker.

Augustus Jude Petrucelli

Timmy played with Gus’s truck and balloon. I snapped a few pictures. We even grabbed tissue paper and a crayon to capture his marker.

Augustus Jude Petrucelli

Hubby cried. I was surprised I didn’t. Maybe it was because I had been there so many times? Maybe it was because I cried so hard last night? Or maybe, I was just apathetic to the situation? I just held him. It was all I could do.

Timmy was a good distraction. He ran around the graves checking out the toys and balloons around all the other graves. The other graves looked so beautiful as well. We looked at some of the other names on the markers and noticed a few that we remembered at the candlelight vigil this year. I took comfort in that as well.

It’s hard to believe his due date is here. It’s even harder to believe that he is not here with us. This would be his first Christmas. I would wear him. I promised him that I would wear him more than I wore Timmy. I promised him that he would be within arm’s reach every night, that I wouldn’t let him cry-it-out, that I would respond to him quickly, nourish him with my breasts, and adore having him as my final child.

Now I am left with an empty womb. A womb that will likely never carry another child; breasts that will likely never nourish another child, and a home that will likely never be filled with the happy squeals from my tiny infant. Silence returns. Of course, the house is not silent. It is filled with the laughter of a toddler and conversation with his older brother but in a sense, it is devoid of the presence we were expecting.

We love you Augustus. We gave you a strong name. We know we will see you again. I pray for it. I pray to see you in my dreams. I beg you to show me your face in my dreams.

Augustus Jude Petrucelli

Naivety vs. Faith in Pregnancy After Loss

Photo credit: Mike Hansen

Photo credit: Mike Hansen

I had an immense amount of faith during my pregnancy with G. When G was stillborn, I lost all that faith. I couldn’t understand why this happened and more importantly, why this happened to us. We were devout Catholics. We prayed for this baby. How could God have taken this baby? So when we became pregnant after G, I struggled with my faith. I couldn’t deal with the feeling that I had no control and attempted to control what I could (within reason). When L was born, I thought my faith might return but it didn’t come back quite like I expected. Am I changed forever? A.M.

What is the difference between naivety and faith? Did A have faith or was she living in the world of naivety which nearly every pregnant woman who hasn’t experienced loss live in? I have blogged about the loss of innocence before and this post really isn’t that different except I am using different words; Faith and Naivety.

Let’s define both.

Faith – Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

Naivety – Innocence or unsophistication.

actually had both faith and naivety. Her first pregnancy was full of innocence. Innocence that bad things don’t happen to babies. Babies don’t die. Faith that babies don’t die, that her trust in God will bring her a living, breathing baby. There are both aspects here but something happens when we lose a child or experience great loss. We lose the ability to channel that faith and the innocence is complete gone.

A may struggle to have complete faith again. This is not a lack of trust in God but a lack of trust/confidence that her Divine Father will provide her a living child. Her Father will provide but what will the provision be?

A will likely never enter another pregnancy naive or with that innocence that all will turn out well.

Channeling our faith with subsequent pregnancies can be difficult but we must try. If we don’t have faith in God, if we are spiritual but not religious, if we carry no spiritual beliefs at all, then have have faith in the child within your womb. They are there, present in this moment and we must carry some faith in that living being will continue to grow and be born alive.

Faith does not equal control, nor does faith equal religion/spirituality. Even though faith is most often associated with religion/spirituality, please don’t think that this post could not relate to you or your experiences. It is a belief, a trust, and faith that we will have a living child following our pregnancy.

But let’s return to A for a moment. To answer her question, she is likely changed forever. Most of us who are touched by pregnancy loss are changed forever in much the same way people are changed after losing a child of any age. We look back, we worry, we wonder, we protect, we question, we are cautious.

I experienced something similar as A. I became extremely faithful during my pregnancy with Ruby. Because I felt like I would lose Ruby at any moment, I thought that prayer could save her. I somehow believed that a lack of prayer could result in her being taken from me so I prayed more than I ever had in my life. It was my “control” and if I didn’t pray enough or the right way or even the right prayers, I was not worthy and my baby would be taken.

So when Ruby passed, I was not only devastated but found myself feeling unworthy of God’s love. I prayed, but he took her anyway. I was not “good” enough. I was His daughter who didn’t try hard enough. I wasn’t faithful enough to Him so He would allow her to stay with me and be born alive.

But that’s not what faith is about. Even if we remove the religious/spiritual aspect of faith, merely having it, does not mean that what we believe in, hope for, trust in, will happen. Does that mean we should no longer have faith? No, but it’s definitely more difficult to have faith when faith had been crushed in the past.

So how do we gain that faith back when we journeying through pregnancy after loss? How do we love again? How do we have hope again. Ah, those words.

Photo Credit: Flickr (Andreanna Moya Photographer)

Photo Credit: Flickr (Andreanna Moya Photographer)

We start small. We have to come to an understanding that we don’t have control over much of our pregnancy and how our baby develops. We embrace the things we do have control over (choosing a doctor, choosing a place for delivery, choosing a way to monitor our baby, choosing how many ultrasounds, choosing which diagnostic testing), and we bond anyway. That bonding is oh so very hard but we must try to bond anyway.

It will not hurt less if we don’t bond for we are already bonded. It’s hard to lower that wall of vulnerability, of opening our heart to such hurt if our baby dies anyway but we must try. We must try to show our baby, this new baby, all our love no matter how scared we are and how hurt we are.

I know it’s easier said than done. I have been there. I walked that journey and lost another. But I left that loss journey with better coping and more love for my child than I could have ever imagined. One of the ways I encouraged bonding was I committed to writing a note to my baby every day. I wrote whatever came to mind. I didn’t think too much about it.

I decided I would write the note to my baby on a white erase board. I then took a picture of the note on the board which ended up being our son’s memory book. This is an easy project but you must commit to it. This made me think each day about my baby and what I would want to share with them. It was perfect and if I were ever to become pregnant again, I would do this again.

There are other ways to bond, such as taking a bath, listening to music, taking a walk, getting a massage, etc but when you do these things you commit to thinking about your baby, talking to your baby (even if only in your head), sending vibes/energy to your baby, positive thoughts, etc. It’s not easy and the first few times might feel awkward and forced. This is okay. Just keep trying.

You may not ever feel normal again during pregnancy after a loss. You may not ever return to the innocence that you made it to a “safe zone” and you will bring home a living baby. You may not ever fully have the faith and trust in the pregnancy process but have faith in your child. Have faith that the child within your womb is yours and is meant to be there no matter how long or short that time is. You were chosen to carry your child. That is honorable.

– Breaking the silence of First Trimester Miscarriage
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