How Loss Taught Me How to Rise
Trigger Warning. This post discusses pregnancy loss.
One, two, three! Ready, set, go! Three little pigs. Third time's a charm! The mother, the father, the holy spirit. Three primary colors. Daenerys Targaryen birthed three dragons. The number three is everywhere.
That’s why I was surprised by my own lack of comprehension when I heard the doctor say that there were three babies developing in my womb. How many? Three? What? How? What is three babies? A month prior, we were falsely under the impression that there were two babies, fraternal twins. It appears that I dropped two eggs and both were fertilized and both attached to my uterine wall. We later learned that one of those eggs split. (Pardon the level of detail, I assume most people reading this understand the reproductive system.) My husband and I watched a dozen videos on how multiples are created because we needed to address what can only be described as utter disbelief. Regardless of what my brain could accept, I was pregnant with triplets. Two identical and one fraternal.
Our doctor promptly sat my husband and I down in his office and reviewed the various risks associated with a triplet pregnancy. The most urgent concern was that the identicals could experience a variety of complications unique to sharing a placenta and that those complications could impact the fraternal triplet. After the initial shock, which my husband and I processed through many Doritos locos tacos from Taco Bell, it set in that we were having three babies and that we would have to prepare our two year old to accept three new siblings. The to do list seemed impossible. How could we prepare ourselves emotionally, financially and physically to care for three babies? How was this pregnancy going to differ from my first? How could I come up with 3 awesome gender neutral names? How are we going to raise four children in New York City? Lucky for my family, I’m a planner. Planning is my safe space, planning grounds me. Nervous? Make a to do list. Overwhelmed? Create a detailed chart of work with tasks, assigned task leaders and due dates. Having trouble visualizing? Create a color coded floor plan and layout. Additionally, I have an amazing husband. He is my partner in all things. We’ve been figuring things out together since our relationship began. We created a plan and bought a minivan. We got this!
The thing about planning is that it is a roadmap for success and doesn't inherently manage expectations. While I knew that we were headed for an unpredictable path with unforeseeable challenges, I was not prepared to lose. We were creating a plan, and no one plans to lose. No one plans how they’re going to lose.
We lost the identicals at 19 weeks.
We went for our appointment on a Friday, and the doctor detected a disproportionate amount of fluid between them. We were asked to promptly schedule an appointment with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and to come in for a follow up appointment on Monday. I called CHOP, set up a consultation for the following week. Identified various hotels we could stay at. Began considering options for where our two-year-old would stay while we were in Philadelphia. It seemed serious, but not urgent. I reminded myself, “We got this!”
I laid down for my sonogram, expecting their condition to be the same, expecting to hear three heartbeats. The greatly anticipated sound every expectant parent listens for. I said to myself, “Their condition is serious, but not urgent.” As soon as that monitor got going, we listened for it; pushing the dread and doubt out of the way, tucking it behind our ears so we can hear. We listened and waited. The identicals no longer had heartbeats. I spent a lot of time planning for the abundance of babies and no time at all planning how to lose babies. How could I plan for that? How could I lose babies? How do I reconcile that my body is two parts coffin and one part at risk incubator? How do I manage the pain? There was no plan or task on the chart of work to help me process that.
We got through the remaining 18 weeks of my pregnancy, through gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, (continued) postpartum preeclampsia, all so we could welcome our one healthy and happy baby. She is phenomenal, even at such a young age, she has a glowing personality. She is always smiling, always reaching out to hug someone, always leaning into love. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. She might be my most valuable lesson in gratitude. Her brothers, the identicals? My most valuable lesson in loss.
Grief is unpredictable. On a good day, I wrap myself in the warmth of their memory, I’m at peace with the fact that they are not in our lives, I can manage the pain of never meeting them. On a bad day, the sight of a happy baby boy - as happy as my baby girl - can send me into a dark and helpless space. At my worst, in the middle of the night, I would feel compelled to check to see if my daughters and husband were still breathing. On any day, being asked the following question will knock the wind out of me: “So? Are you going to try for a boy now?” Each time, I want to yell, “I had two boys, they died! And by the way, gender is a social construct, so neither of us should care how many children I have of any gender!” Okay, maybe that last part is not really relevant, but that’s my point about grief. I don’t think my children’s genders are a huge part of my pregnancy. I hadn't fantasized about raising any specific gender because I just want to raise people. So then why does that question bother me? I think it is because that’s one of the few things that I knew about them. And the thought of replacing them by “trying for a boy” is infuriating.
I struggle with helplessness. That’s why I plan, why I control. I try my best to avoid it. It’s not a feeling I can sit in comfortably. Needless to say, I find grief uncomfortable. My grief forces me to grapple with feelings I tend to mask in confidence and control.
Rising in Grief
You can’t control grief, but you can manage it.
I have learned many lessons through parenting. My deceased children have taught me how to sit with discomfort, how love can transcend guilt, how to love a void. My living children have taught me a lesson in power and resilience. The way my now (almost) four year old loves her baby sister while passionately asserting her own existence is my lesson in power. She’ll let me know when she wants to help me with the baby and when she just wants to play on her own. That kid knows what she wants and will not hesitate to passionately appeal when she feels unheard. The baby has, at every turn exceeded expectations. Even in utero after her brothers passed and she no longer felt the warmth of their heartbeats, she kicked and turned all the time. I like to think my heart beat brought her as much reassurance as her kicks brought me. She fought her way to a full term, healthy delivery, and exceeded weight expectations. She continues to show us her daring spirit, looking to challenge herself with the world around her wherever she can. She reminds me that I rise because I have endured the worst of it. When I feel the doom set in, I rise in the acceptance of the things I cannot control. On good days, I rise in the memory of what I cannot have. For me, rising in grief has become a regular behavior, one I constantly learn from. Some days I rise to support the people that need me. Some days I rise to love myself enough to feel the pain of this loss. Some days I rise to love myself enough to feel gratitude for the amazing life I have worked so hard for. I rise in grief. I rise in love. I rise in discomfort. I rise in gratitude. Over and over again, I rise.
Plot Your Roadmap
Start Small: Grief is something you learn to live with. When you’re in the struggle, it’s important to remember that it won’t always feel like this. Jot down a quick list of what you're grateful for “1. I’m grateful for my support system, music, my spreadsheet skills!” Write down a simple goal for the day for yourself or post it on social media; “Today, I will do one nice thing for myself.”
Breathe: This one always makes me laugh. It seems so simple, but lately, I’ve caught myself remembering to take deep breaths. Taking a moment to be mindful of my breathing has helped me take some control over my body when my mind is getting away from me.
Reach out: Whether it be a professional or a friend with a good ear, it’s important to express your feelings about loss. Grief can be very isolating, but you’re not as lonely as you think. We rise in community. There are so many of us who are here to support.
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