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Black Hole of Grief

Black Hole of Grief

Two months after our daughter died, I walked into my first support group for bereaved parents.  I remember thinking that all the people there looked so normal.  I’m not sure what I expected, but at the time, I believed that having your baby die happened to “Other People”.  Not people who looked like me.  I have not idea how I expected the other bereaved parents to look, but different…

As I listened to the others tell their heart breaking stories, I remember thinking: “This is NOT going to be me.  I’m not going to be sitting in this meeting 5 years from now still crying about my dead child.”  I was going to approach this grief thing just as I had the rest of my life.  Give me a book to read.  Send me to a therapist.  Tell me the steps that I needed to take.  I’d follow every piece of advice and I would get OVER this horrible pain…quickly.

I was so naive and so judgmental back then.  At first, I would comfort myself that THEIR pain was bigger than my pain.  It was the only explanation that I could find that years after their babies’ deaths they were still devastated.  As time went on and I continued to attend the support group, I revised my original hypothesis.  No, MY pain was definitely bigger than their pain.

It took me a very long time to come to the realization that there was more than enough pain to go around and that we all had more pain and sadness than we could bear.  It was only by banding together and sharing our pain that we made life more bearable.

After eight years of attending the group every month, I began facilitating that same group.  I began to introduce myself to newly bereaved parents as “the long view”.  Today, my daughter would have been 23 years old.  I am still the long view.

Here are a few of the hard learned lessons that I have learned:

  1. I have very little control over the events of my life, but I do control the grace and dignity with which I respond to those events.
  2. I have to grow my dead child just as I grow my live children.  My dead child still has birthdays, milestones and anniversaries.
  3. The pain of having a child die never goes away.  We learn to live with it and we learn to cope. We rediscover hope.Grief Renewed
  4. I am still her parent.  As her parent, I will never stop loving her and I will never forget her.

Time does not automatically heal all.  I had to put in the hard work.  I had to cry.  I had to rant.  I had to learn that life is not always fair and that I am not entitled to a pain-free, perfect life.  As time went on, my family and I round a new normal. We found hope.  We found the courage to have another baby.  We found the strength to move forward.

I learned to carry my daughter in my heart rather than in my arms.  I learned how to look for the gifts that she gave to me if only I would open my eyes to acknowledge them.

My life has been so unbelievably enriched by the experience.  Of course, I’d prefer that my baby had lived, but all in all, I’m happy.  I have hope.  I am a survivor. I am strong and capable.  And, I’d like to believe that my daughter has taught me how to live in grace and dignity and perhaps to be a little less judgmental.  After 23 years, I am your long view.

 

 

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Parents and Caregivers have many ways to combat their concerns for SIDS

Safe Sleep Baby

Safe Sleep Baby

(Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and sleep related infant deaths.  As research progresses and we get nearer to finding the mechanical cause of sudden death in apparently healthy babies, we have identified many behaviors that parents and caregivers can use that dramatically reduce the likelihood of a sleep related infant death.

Patents can now feel empowered rather than frightened.  Remember to keep your babies safety first.

 

AAP   Recommendations

1: Back to sleep for every sleep2: Use a firm sleep surface

3: Room sharing without bed-sharing

4: No soft objects, loose bedding in crib

5: Prenatal care for pregnant women

6: Avoid smoke exposure

7: Avoid alcohol and illicit drug use

8: Breastfeeding

9: Pacifiers

10: Avoid overheating

11: Immunizations12: Avoid commercial devices marketed for SIDS reduction

13: No home cardiorespiratory monitors for SIDS reduction

14: Tummy time for awake infant

15: Endorsement of recommendations by providers, nurses, child care

16: Media and manufacturers follow safe sleep guidelines

17: National campaign on reducing all sleep related deaths, focus on minorities

18: Research and surveillance

21 years ago, my 4 month old daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly.  It rocked my world and I continue to feel the aftershocks of that day. Before you roll your eyes and think, “It’s been 21 years, get over it!”  Allow me to say that I live a blessed life and I’m very happy.  I believe that is owed in large part to my daughter’s death.

I have been thinking for months that I needed to find a way to mark this huge milestone.  21 years old means that my baby is no longer my baby but an adult.  A woman.  Sigh.  I missed so much. But, as I was ruminating about all that has happened in the last 21 years, I realized that the best way for me to honor my daughter’s short life would be to thank all the people who played such a huge role in helping me to heal and smile again. 

The kindnesses bestowed upon me can never be repaid but I want those who prayed for me, cried with me, sat with me, bullied me and held me up to know that I not only remember Becky, but I remember them too.  For a long time, Wednesdays were the worst day of the week since that was the weekday that my daughter died.  It was the hardest day to go to work and pretend to be Okay.  But, I remember coming home every Wednesday night from work and finding a note on my door from a neighbor. The note read: “Dinner is ready and hot.  Give me a call so I can bring it over.”  Those dinners meant much more than a hot meal for my family.  Those dinners, at first so unexpected, showed me that someone knew, even before I did how emotionally draining those anniversary Wednesdays could be.

I remember my sister who had an infant of her own and who came over several times a day, every day.  She handed me her baby to breastfeed (just a little) before she breastfed her own baby in order to try to slowly ease my way out of breastfeeding.  After 4 months of breastfeeding, there was no easy way to stop the copious flow of milk.  My sore breasts were just an outward sign of my pain.  Yet, my sister’s generosity in sharing her darling dark haired baby girl not only eased my sore breasts, but eased my aching arms as well. 

I remember my co-worker who went to lunch with me every day and endured my overwhelming sadness.  I remember my neighbors who sat with me for hours and hours in the backyard just passing the time of day, sitting quietly or talking about mundane daily life.  I felt included and surrounded by love.

I remember a boss who made it possible for my husband and me to take our surviving daughter to Disney World.  We needed a little time for this family of four to figure out how to be a family of three again but with the unexpected expenses of a funeral there would have been no extra money for an extravagant trip. 

I remember a stranger whom I had never previously met calling me every day to check on me because she too was a mother who had a baby die.  She understood the isolation of deep grief.

I remember my large family whose distress kept the family tom-toms beating for months strategizing on how they could best help.  Never intrusive, but always loving, they looked for ways big and small to ease our never-ending sadness.  I remember coming home from work and finding my laundry sorted.  What a relief!  I could go to work every day.  I could manage a staff but I couldn’t sort my own laundry.  It just seemed like too many decisions.  So while I was away, a little elf would sneak into my house and sort my laundry.  That kindness said to me: “We believe you’re capable, but we’ll just give you a little hand.”  What a gift.

I remember my 4 year old daughter sitting next to me in her own rocking chair while I cried.  She would pat my leg and chatter to me.  She was so full of questions.  She challenged me to stay in the present instead of drifting back to the past where my other baby girl was.  She reminded me that she too needed a mommy.

I remember several years later a friend who wrote me a check for hundreds of dollars so that I could go back to school to become a bereavement facilitator and run support groups for other families who had  also experienced the death of a child.

I remember all the nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters who made time every year to commemorate Becky’s death anniversary by gathering at her tree.  They wrote messages of love on balloons that we hoped would reach from our hearts to her heart and we watched both the children and the tree grow up together.

I remember my parents’ heart-break that they could not fix this giant boo-boo for me and make the pain all go away.  I remember my father’s anger at the belief that it should have been him – the senior family member rather than his granddaughter.    I remember years later when their son (my brother) died watching them with gentle strength and abiding faith withstand the pain of losing a child with great dignity.

I remember my husband holding me in his arms at night and crying with me.  I remember him telling me that we could survive this – and we did!  

There are many other stories of kindness.  Too numerous to mention but no less touching and appreciated.

Thank you.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  I can never express how much each kindness lifted me up and helped me to believe that one day it would be better.  No one who has not experienced it can adequately describe how difficult a transition it is from carrying your baby in your arms to carry her in your heart.  Yet, we were surrounded by love, compassion and empathy.  It’s been a long journey.  I remember so many kindnesses. Kindnesses that didn’t stop after a few months or even a few years but continued on even until today – 21 year years later.  Very few people are so blessed.

I remember.

 

I was reading an article from Australia where a coroner was making an impassioned  plea for parents to stop bed sharing with their infants.  This coroner had handled a number of recent infant deaths.  In all his cases the infants had been sleeping in the same bed with the parents on the night that the baby died.  The coroner ruled these deaths accidental suffocation.  He was pleading with the parents in Australia to stop putting their infants, especially those less than 6 months old in the adult bed with the parents.  His recommendation was to place the baby in a crib near the parent’s bed so that the baby could still be easily tended but keep baby in his or her own safe sleep space.

Breastfeeding is Best for Baby

This article was quickly responded to by a group of breastfeeding advocates.  The argument made by the advocates was “It’s not THAT dangerous”.  Holy smokes!  My head almost blew off.  Really, it’s not THAT dangerous!  Is that the best argument that you can make in response to numerous babies dying?  How many babies have to die before it’s considered “that dangerous”?As a mother who successfully, exclusively breastfed 3 babies, I am strongly in favor of breastfeeding as the best food for baby.  As a working mother, I completely understand how exhausting and  challenging it can be to breastfeed.  It takes real commitment. There is no question that it’s hard work.  Rewarding, but hard work.  As a parent, I get to make all the decisions for my baby.  As a parent, my primary responsibility is to keep my baby safe.  All else is secondary.

How many babies have to die before breastfeeding advocates rate bed sharing as dangerous enough?  I have heard from many parents who have successfully raised their babies through infancy while sleeping together.  They say, “It’s not dangerous.  I did it and my children are fine.”  That makes you lucky.  Not right.  It feels like these parents believe that they are somehow better, smarter, richer….something more than those poor parents who had a baby die.  Those unfortunate parents must be overweight, drug addicted, alcoholics.  Something must be WRONG with them.

Is it possible that we are putting the comfort of the mother ahead of the health and safety of the baby?  Remember, this is not a situation where the consequences for being wrong are minor.  The consequences for being wrong is your babies life!  I cannot figure out why any parent would risk their infants life when there is an inexpensive, simple alternative – a crib in the parent’s bedroom.

There are some pediatricians and anthropologists who argue that bed sharing with your baby is essential to bonding.  Baby must be alive to bond.  They quote lots of statistics about how mothers and babies have slept together from millennium.  Mothers, you have to understand that sometimes through evolution some behaviors are no longer necessary.  We no longer sleep in caves where we have to use our bodies to provide heat for our babies and keep them safe from maurading animals.  Our beds are now soft surfaces filled with more soft items like pillows, duvets, comforters and pillow toppers and more.  Don’t let talk of “co-sleeping” confuse you into thinking that bed sharing is safe.  The research is clear that room sharing is safe.  Bed sharing is not.

There are many barriers for some mothers to surmount in order to successfully breastfeed.  Room sharing is not one of them.

I’ve been trying to work.  I’ve been trying to sleep.  I’ve been trying to clean the house and cook for my family.  I’ve not been very successful at any of those things.  In my mind I keep hearing “It’s been 21 years.”

Tears well up in my eyes, but don’t fall.  I’ve gotten really good at redirecting my mind, but soon, I hear “It’s been 21 years” again.  21 year years ago this week, my 2nd daughter was born.  What a gift from God!  How deliriously happy we all were to welcome our second daughter into our family.  Our oldest was 3 ½ years old –just the perfect age to be a big sister.  She was so ready to be a big sister.  She had talked to my belly for months and attended class at the hospital so that she knew exactly how to help Mommy with her new baby sister.  When Mommy would sit down to breast feed, oldest sister would sit down right next to me and put her baby under her shirt too.  We sang, we read, we counted toes and we laughed.  Second girls are so easy.  As a mother, I felt comfortable knowing what to do. I felt bliss.

When my oldest was a baby, she smiled with her whole body.  She would wiggle and squirm into a full mouth grin.  Not my second girl.  She was a quiet smiler.  She was serene.  This lovely baby was so easy.  Just a quiet smile, like she knew a secret.  She had a beautiful smile.  As a mother, I felt so at ease with her because she was so comfortable, undemanding and easy going.

My 2nd Daughter

I went back to work and took my two girls to childcare.  My oldest turned four years old and our family was busy and happy.  Then, when my second daughter was 4 months and 4 days old, she went to sleep at my childcare provider’s home and never woke up.  I got the dreadful phone call at work. “Come quick!  I need you now!” said the voice of my provider.  I dropped that phone and ran.  The days and months after were filled with tears, sadness and gut wrenching pain.

I learned my most important life lesson that Fall day.  I learned that I cannot control the events in my life, but I can control the grace and dignity with which I respond to life.  I chose to make my second daughter’s short life mean something positive.  I chose to honor her in everything that I do.

Several years later, my husband and I decided to take a leap of faith and have another baby.  We welcomed our third daughter with a terrified ecstasy that can only be experienced by those who have lost deeply.  There is no more loved child in this world than the one that follows.  She is the miracle that brought laughter into our home again.  She helped her big sister to truly be a big sister again.  You may not know it, but it’s really hard to be the big sister when your little sister is in heaven.  They don’t teach that in the hospital class.

Over the last 21 years, there have been plenty of tears, but I have learned to carry my second daughter in my heart and not my arms.  I have honored her life everyday by working with newly bereaved families. I have learned to recognize the many gifts that she has sent to our family.  I have learned that it’s good to laugh. I have learned that I can spend my life being sad, or not.

We planted a tree in her honor and each June, our entire family gathers at the tree to send messages of love to her.  The tree has grown and our family has grown.  The tree, like the family has experienced rain, drought, storms, wind and snow but it has grown tall and flourished. Over the years, we have celebrated many milestones for our second daughter.  I never know what to expect.  In the beginning, her birthdate bore down on me with an unrelenting pressure that brought me to my knees with pain and sorrow.  Other years passed with a smile of remembrance, a story shared and a bit of melancholy.

This year, this 21st year has come with a bone deep weariness, a sadness that cannot be expressed.  I’m feeling like I might not have the strength to do this again.  But then, I remember what a dear friend said: “Just cause you’re in hell doesn’t mean you have to stop and shop.”  So, I’ll just pass on through.  I take a deep breath and I think of all the wonderful gifts that my second daughter has brought to me:  The joy of working with all the bereaved families and helping them to learn to laugh again; The joy that my life has become and the joy that my husband and my two surviving daughters bring to my life every day.

I am stronger than I ever thought possible.  I am a mother.  It’s been 21 years.

Pillow Designed to Prop a Bottle

Bottle Prop Pillow

Bottle Propping has been done by busy parents and caregivers for many year.  Baby bottle holders allow a parent to feed a baby, especially twins or triplets hands free. There are a variety of designs, but generally they are cushy pillows that rest on baby’s chest propping up and stablizing the bottle so that they can drink without the need for holding it. Bottle Props can be used while baby is in a stroller, carrier seat, bouncy seat, crib, or boppy – just about anywhere that baby is placed on his or her back.   Some parents can’t imagine getting through the day without bottle propping but it is generally considered a bad idea.  Products used to prop a bottle are considered unsafe for babies and discouraged by medical professionals and safe sleep experts.

Feeding a baby is an optimal time for bonding.  Holding baby close to your body, looking into the baby’s eyes and being reactive to the baby’s cues are all important.  Bottle propping can cause ear infections, choking, gagging and even death.  Read more about the correct way to hold a baby during bottle feeding.

Bedsharing isn't always pretty

Bedsharing proponents generally fall into one of two camps. The first kind is the “attachment parenting” type of parent that strongly believes that it is in the best interest of the baby to share a sleep space with the parents from birth. These parents will sometimes have a “family bed” where everyone in the family shares the same sleep space. Bonding and the emotional well-being of the baby is often sited as a primary goal for this group.

The second and most common group is the parents that have a crib or bassinet for their baby and plan for precious child to sleep the night through in his or her crib.  Unfortunately, no one informed junior of that plan.  After a night of singing, walking, rocking their darling, wide-eyed, screaming baby – these exhausted, anxious parents bring baby into bed with them because they can’t keep their eyes open one more moment and they have to get to work the next morning.  So in complete desperation they bring baby into bed with them in the frantic hope that they will get just 5 minutes of good sleep before the alarm goes off. This type of bedsharing parent is often referred to as the “Chaotic bedsharer”.

There is a raging debate amongst parents and professionals.  Advocates of bedsharing believe that it is:

  • Natural
  • Historical (It’s been done since the beginning of time.)
  • Facilitates breastfeeding
  • Helps with Bonding
  • Assists baby with healthy emotional development
  • Increases both parental and infant sleep time

Opponents of bedsharing believe that it is dangerous for the infant less than one year of age because it can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation by overlay or by entrapment.

Whatever your belief, I think that we can all agree that neither parent is “evil” because they choose to bedshare.  But, the photo tells a truer picture of a night spent with a baby.  So, regardless of your parenting style, be prepared for a foot in your nose and another foot in your kidneys!  I wish all you parents a pleasant – “Good Night.”

Many thanks to bellyitchblog.com for this great photo!


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