Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pregnancy Loss Resource: Grieving Together

Hello dear readers! It's been a while since I published a post and even longer since I posted regularly, but since this blog does get regular hits from women (and probably men) looking for miscarriage resources and support and companionship, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share - and giveaway! - an incredible new miscarriage resource. I received a free copy of the book to review, but my admiration is 100% authentic.

In the five years since my first miscarriage, I've often thought of the books I wish had been written about miscarriage. I've really yearned for miscarriage books specifically from the Catholic perspective and there aren't many out there. I've wished for books about pregnancy after loss, ones specifically about recurrent miscarriage, and books that connected the Saints and their wisdom to pregnancy loss. However, one of the books I never thought about that (I didn't realize) I needed was one written by a married couple: Grieving Together: A Couple's Journey through Miscarriage.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of this book is not that it discusses marriage (though that too is novel), but that it includes a male author, a father's voice. Men are usually completely left out of the topic of miscarriage all together, something I quickly realized after my first loss. Written by Laura Kelly Fanucci and Franco David Fanucci, a couple who experienced infertility, miscarriage, and infant death together, Grieving Together finally addresses this deficit (and so much more).

One of the things I appreciate most about this book is that, though less than 200 pages, it covers a wide range of aspects of miscarriage, including not only grieving as a couple, but also the answers to many of the practical and spiritual questions about loss, for example: What is physical recovery like? What can you do to support a friend who lost a baby? Are miscarried babies in heaven? And it also has an excellent section on pregnancy after loss, satisfying my desire for a book on that topic.

I can't recommend this book enough for any Catholic couple who has lost a baby to miscarriage (and much of the book is relevant to any Christian couple). I could go on and on about the merits of this book, but I'll just leave you with this final praise, the email message I sent to author Laura Fanucci while reading my copy: "Laura, thank you so much for this book. It’s been almost 4 years and two healthy pregnancies and babies since my last (my fourth) miscarriage but for some reason the past month has been really hard. This been has helped heal some of the hurt I didn’t realize was still there. On two occasions, I’ve also come to bed to see my husband had snagged my copy off my nightstand and was reading it."

Grieving Together was released earlier this month and is available from Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can also read more from Laura Fanucci at her lovely blog, Mothering Spirit. Excerpts of the book have also been turned into a free e-book, "How To Support Parents Who Have Lost a Child", a wonderful resource in itself.

If you would like to win this book for yourself or to give to a friend who has experienced miscarriage, please comment below with why you would want to win this book/what you are most interested in reading about in it. Please make sure to include an email address so I can contact you if you win. A winner will be randomly chosen on Dec. 6 (the Feast of St. Nicholas) so I can ship it to you in time for Christmas, since the holidays can be a particularly difficult time after losing a baby (even years later, Christmas is difficult for me without all my children here). God bless you and good luck!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Cecilia's Birth Story

I haven't written in almost 11 months since I announced the birth of my sweet baby girl. Well, she's quickly coming up on her first birthday so I thought I should probably finally post her birth story which I wrote MONTHS ago but had been waiting to fact check with David. Well, here it is! I may start writing again a bit more (like, maybe once every few months, don't expect much) now that my baby is a bit older and our foster son has left (guess I never shared that whole story...we had a sweet 1 year old foster son with us for a few months). But no promises.

On Saturday, August 12, I was four days past my due date. Since my first two babies had been born eight and ten days past their due dates, I was hopeful that maybe I would go into labor that day but not particularly expectant. My parents came in the morning to pick up Lucia and Davey for a day at the zoo so David and I decided to make the best of our day without kids. We leisurely got ready, then headed to Longmont to go to my favorite thrift store.

After browsing around for a while, we headed to a nice restaurant for lunch where I got a very spicy meal and then we had chocolate fondue for dessert. The place wasn’t busy so the (male) bartender came over to chat with us and mentioned it looked like I was past my due date. I was impressed by his insightful comment, since I’ve never been able to tell the difference in pregnant women close to going into labor, but also encouraged by it because it was similar to comments made by my midwife and her assistant a few days before. She thought I would have the baby by the end of the weekend. The lunch was a perfect date for the two of us, a little last alone time before the new baby.
We headed home after our meal and took a nap, truly soaking in our day alone. When we woke up, I remember commenting how it would be the perfect day to go into labor since I was well fed and well rested.

My parents brought the kids home around 5:00 and I took them to the backyard to play while I cleaned out the chicken coop and pulled weeds in the garden. While I was out there I started to feel a little “off”. No real contractions, but maybe a slight bit of cramping in my lower abdomen. I told David that something might be happening, but continued in the garden until I started feeling actual contractions right around 6:00. They were really light but I decided that since I hadn’t really had any Braxton Hicks this pregnancy this was probably the beginning of labor.

I called my parents right away to tell them to pick up the kids. Since my labor with Davey was less than an hour, I didn’t want to wait even though I expected it to be longer this time. My one real anxiety about this labor was not whether the midwife would arrive in time (that was David’s main concern) but whether my parents would pick up my kids in time because I really worried about them being there. Lucia is a very sensitive little girl who cries anytime I am hurt or upset, and I didn’t want to be distracted by trying to comfort her or feeling like I had to hide my discomfort. My mom arrived shortly afterward for the kids, commenting that as anxious as she had been all week for me to go into labor, this was the one day she would have been ok waiting because she and my dad were so tired from the zoo that day.

While we were waiting for my mom to come, I sent a text to my midwife Lynnette to let her know that I was having mild contractions and most likely in early labor. She immediately asked if we wanted her to come right away, knowing how quick the last labor was and how nervous we were about the quick timing, but I told her we would time the contractions first and let her know. David downloaded a contraction timing app on his phone and after a few contractions noted that they were about 4 minutes apart but still very mild in strength. After the kids left, I sat down and my contractions spaced out considerably, about 12 minutes apart. When I got back up and was walking around, preparing our bed for the birth, getting towels ready, etc., they went back to four minutes apart. They were getting slightly stronger so we decided to ask my midwife to come, since she had a 40 minute drive. I sat and knitted most of the time while we waited for her and my contractions again immediately spaced out but then started to get closer together while we waited for her.

When Lynnette and her assistant, Tatia, arrived, we talked for a few minutes and she listened to the baby’s heart. David and I then took a walk to our parish church just down the street from our house in order to keep contractions coming. I had to stop several times on the way there and back during contractions so they were getting stronger, but still not so bad that I couldn’t talk through them. We had hoped to be able to go into the church to pray, but just as we were getting there, people were leaving and the door locked behind them. If we had only gotten there two minutes earlier, we could have walked in as they were leaving. The perpetual adoration chapel which is opened 24/7 was also closed due to repairs, so we settled for visiting the Marian statue out front. I asked David to take my picture there – my last pregnant picture! – and then we walked back home.

We decided to go into the basement to watch an episode of The Amazing Race. David and I love The Amazing Race. It’s our special show together. We didn’t start watching it until a few years ago so for the past year, we have slowly been working through watching all the seasons from the beginning. We usually watch an episode or two a week together at night after the kids go to bed, although we had been watching much more than during the end of my pregnancy, an episode or two almost every night. So it was my first choice of something to do to distract myself while I was able to. We watched a full episode and during that time the contractions got steadily stronger. We started another episode but stopped only about 10 minutes in because the contractions were so strong that I had to stand and hold onto David to get through them. I could no longer concentrate and said that we should go back upstairs because I thought if we waited much longer, I wouldn’t be able to move.

While we were downstairs, Lynnette and Tatia were preparing by getting the supplies ready and then sitting upstairs talking. I appreciated having the option to be alone for a while. When I came upstairs they talked to me briefly about how/what I was feeling and then David and I went into our bedroom alone. I contracted on the bed a while, moaning a bit through the contractions now. At some point, Lynnette realized by my sounds that I was getting close, so they came in. I mostly contracted on my side and then toward the end on my back. I held on tightly to David’s arms and pulled myself into him through contractions while Tatia put pressure on my back.

This went on for a while until I got the urge to push. I was surprised a bit by how painful it all was. A bearable painful, similar to the pain of Lucia’s childbirth that I had mostly forgotten, but a pain that I didn’t really experience during David’s very fleeting labor. I hadn’t intentionally pushed at all with Davey, but I did push several times this time. The bag of waters was intact until the very end, breaking while I was pushing at 10:35. Baby was born at 10:36. It seemed like it took forever to push, but it was only a few minutes. There was a fist by baby’s face which was harder and more painful to push out than just a head alone, but once the arm was out, the rest followed easily. Lynnette caught her and put her on my chest. After the fact, I was a little disappointed David didn’t catch the baby since he had with both Lucia and Davey, but this time I really needed him up with me during those last few pushes.

David and I noticed immediately that this little baby was a girl! Our Cecilia! She was beautiful and looked so much like her sister as a newborn – David commented on that immediately. She cried right away and looked perfect. I just held my baby tight and told her I was her mama and I loved her and I marveled at how tiny and perfect and beautiful she was. My pregnancy has been healthy and happy and generally free from anxiety but there was a moment of relief holding her in my arms, a relief that only comes after having lost a baby.

I held her for a bit in a towel – she wasn’t very bloody but covered in tons of vernix – and then tried to get her to nurse a bit while we were waiting to deliver the placenta, but she wasn’t interested. She cried quite a bit during her first few hours and wouldn’t nurse, which was unusual and concerned me quite a bit and a midwife more than I think she let on, but after several hours, she finally settled and nursed and is as healthy as can be.

It took a bit to deliver my placenta, but it eventually came quicker and easier than in the past. For the
first time, I didn’t tear and need stitches. I actually felt amazingly well right afterward and was delighted to be in my own house able to walk around and take a shower just an hour after birth. My entire recovery was easy and quick. It was in many ways, a very blessed birth and another beautiful step in healing from the continued pain of pregnancy loss.

In the morning, my parents brought the big brother and sister over to meet the new baby. When they arrived they didn't know she had been born but Lucia wanted to bring the card she made for the baby "just in case". Lucia also had told my parents when she woke up that she had a dream that mommy had a baby girl the previous night. It was so sweet introducing the kids and even little Davey seemed to love his baby sister right away.

I didn't pray during Lucia's birth because it was just too all consuming and Davey's had been too fast to think of pretty much anything but I had planned to pray for many intentions during my birth but when the time came, I was in so much pain that I could only focus on one, a couple in our extended family who were longing for a child but having trouble conceiving. I offered up all the pain and doubt and suffering of the birth for them. They are still waiting for a living child, so if you could join me in praying for them, I’d be very grateful.

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Golden Girl

David and I welcomed another sweet little girl to our family on Saturday, August 12 at 10:36 pm. Cecilia Claire was born at home after a 4.5 hour labor. She was our longest, leanest baby at 7 lbs 9 oz and 20.5 inches. She looks almost exactly like her big sister did as a newborn.

Big sister and brother came to meet her the next morning and just adore her. Both Cecilia and I are doing wonderfully and we are all adjusting really well to life as a family of five. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us.

I plan to write her birth story out in the next few days, but for now I wanted to share a bit about her name. She was named for St. Cecilia and my grandmother, Cecilia, who came from a devout Catholic family and was herself named after the Saint. Both my grandmother and grandfather were very surprised and pleased by her name. They wouldn't stop talking about it, which is actually quite touching because they both have severe dementia and have trouble remembering things from minute to minute. It was so lovely that they remembered her name and were able to talk about it at length.

My grandmother, Cecilia Refugia, with her great granddaughter, Cecilia Claire.
Claire was the middle name we had decided to use had Davey been a girl, but we didn't consider it must this pregnancy until the last week or so. I wasn't particularly sold on any one name, but David like the idea of her initials being CC with Cici being a nickname and her full initials being CCR (like Creedence Clearwater Revival, which I will agree is an awesome band). And, of course, the only reason we considered it at all was because of St. Clare of Assisi (whose feast day was the day BEFORE she was born; I was really hoping she would be born that day as a clear sign she should be Cecilia Claire).

today, 9 days old

Monday, March 13, 2017

May Comes Anyway

May is coming. It always does. There are few things I dread quite like May. May 8th is due date of Francis, the first baby we lost, and in many ways has become the one day that represents all our lost children. Last year, it also happened to fall on Mother's Day which was particularly rough.

I had hoped that this day would get easier over time but it hasn't. In many ways, it's harder now. When we lived in North Carolina, we would go to the cemetery and the beach to mark this day. There is no grave or beach here in Colorado so the day is empty of even the rituals we had created that made it that much more bearable.

Over the years, I've also tried to express to various friends and family members that May 8th is an important day to me that I would like remembered but for some reason, that message never got through. I think perhaps I wasn't as clear as I thought I was about conveying the message. I imagine most simply, unintentionally forgot and for a few others, it's a bit too awkward or painful and so they intentionally forgot. It's ok, that's just how it turned out and I know that no one was intentionally being hurtful. But it does break my heart a little bit when I hear other people say or see bloggers write about how people in their lives remember their little ones on those special days. I want that. I need that. But my day of remembrance is a very solitary day, one I generally reflect on completely alone, without even my husband.

This year I am in lucky in that we will be taking a trip to North Carolina at the end of May and I'll be able to visit Francis's grave then. That will give me something to look forward to when May 8th comes.

I'm currently pregnant for the seventh time so why does the baby we lost in my second pregnancy still bring me so much pain? I've had three losses since then, none that were quite so painful and none that I think about even nearly so often. I've had a living child since then, a beautiful baby boy who is the source of immense joy, and have every reason to anticipate that my current pregnancy will end in another living child. I had a child already when Francis was lost and that little girl continues to be just this beautiful ray of sunshine and hope. So why do I still so deeply mourn my second child, the first baby I lost, my tiny little Francis? The truth is, I don't know. Grief in inexplicable, really.

I wish it wasn't this way. I wish I hadn't spend hours over the last few days crying. I wish Francis was just a memory, a painful memory sure, but something solidly in the past. But he/she is not. I am so grateful for my two living children. I love them so very much. In many ways, our family feels good and whole. But them, suddenly, sometimes it doesn't and I'm keenly aware that someone is missing. The age gap between my two suddenly seems gaping and it's hard not to notice that someone should be filling that gap. Not a hypothetical someone, but a real someone. A child who did exist, if only for a very short time, and whose eternal soul still exists far away from his/her earthly family.

Usually I try to have a point to my posts. I mostly write to be helpful to other people. But sometimes, I write just for me. I don't have anyone in my life who I feel comfortable talking to about things like this and sometimes I feel like I just have to share how I'm feeling with someone, anyone, even strangers on the internet. Grief feels really lonely and the loneliness seems to make it even worse.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Surprised by Peace

I haven't found myself with lots of time to sit and contemplate this pregnancy, but when I have, the word that just seems to encompass it all is peace. That's not to say that this pregnancy has been easy. It's been delightfully without complications, but the first trimester was marked by the worst morning sickness and exhaustion I've experienced and the second trimester has so far been riddled with illness including a horrible bout of the flu. Overall, nothing to truly complain about though in those moments it all seemed dramatically unbearable. Through it all though, there was the underlying peacefulness.

I thought that after my miscarriages, pregnancy would never be joyful again. And so I've been completely blindsided by the joy that has come this time around. I no longer have the same naivety I did during my first pregnancy. I'm much more aware of all the things that can and might go wrong. I don't take for granted that a positive pregnancy test means a living baby nine months down the road. But unlike my last pregnancy, I don't expect something bad to happen. I'm aware it could happen, but I have hope. I cannot begin to describe just how surprising these feelings are: peace, joy, hope.

There is something incredibly redemptive and healing about this pregnancy. The way it has blessed me is truly humbling. I am so undeserving. I know all too well that many women never get to have an experience like this after infertility or loss. Many never get their living child, yet here I am with my daughter, my beautiful toddler son born after loss, and now this new little one to love and cherish. Nothing I've ever done or could ever do would make me deserving of these blessings.

I came up with the term "golden baby" to describe the baby AFTER a rainbow baby in kind of an offhand way. The rainbow comes after the storm. Well, what comes after the rainbow? Oh, a pot of gold. Golden baby. Ok, that sounds nice. I just wanted a term for it because this pregnancy felt special - not like a pregnancy before loss, but also not like a pregnancy right after loss. But the more I think about it, the term just seems right. This baby is someone special, someone set apart. A child who has healed my heart and soul in amazing ways. A child who was never expected and who has crept into our family as a little someone extra, a little added blessing who will bring with him/her beauty and joy I can't even begin to imagine. My little golden baby. My baby.

How could I not already feel ABUNDANTLY blessed with these two?

18 weeks. And suddenly, I can't hide this little blessing from the world anymore.
(But I'm still wearing my regular pants - can't quite figure out quite how that's possible though!)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Golden Baby

The past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind for our family. About 6 weeks ago, the company David worked for went out of business (again - the second time in 6 months with no other companies to buy them out and save them this time). About a week after that, we became certified as foster parents and 8 days after certification, we got the call to take in two sisters, age 2 and 5.

The day after we brought the girls home, David was offered a job with extensive travel (10-15 days per month is what it's looking like). He had two weeks before starting that job in which he was home full time and helping me adjust to caring for four kids and welcoming the girls into our family. During that time, thee four kids and me all got the flu. Thankfully David didn't get it and was able to care for us all, but it was a tough time. I haven't had the flu in probably 15 years so it just seemed like such terrible timing and really made incorporating the girls into our family that much more difficult.

Last week was David's first week on the job and he was gone Monday-Friday. On Wednesday, we learned that the girls would be leaving us on Friday to live with family. It truly seems like they are going to a great situation with loving, stable family, but after only 3 weeks we did get attached and it was hard to say goodbye, and especially for me to get them packed up and to have to deal with the emotional aspect of saying goodbye to them on my own with David still away. The littlest one called me mama as was already so attached to me so saying goodbye to her was particularly rough.

The first chapter of our experience as foster parents is over and we are grateful we were able to help these girls in their time of need. It was all a bit of an unusual case and we thought we would have the girls here with us for at least six months...and then they weren't. Which in the end is best for them (better for them to gain permanency now) and in many ways for us too. Having a short first placement gave us experience to be able to discern a little more carefully future placements in our home so that we can be the best foster parents possible by making sure the children are the best fit for our family and our family is adequately able to care for the needs of the kids. I definitely feel like fostering is one of those things you can read about and talk about and take trainings for but never really understand until you are doing it. And truly each child and situation is different, but we feel like we understand it a bit better and are a bit more prepared for next time.

This all leads me to perhaps our biggest and most important recent news: I'm expecting! It's seems a bit crazy that two years ago, we were just finding out we were pregnant with Davey shortly after my endometriosis surgery and we had only the teeny tiniest hope that that baby might actually live. That baby did live (and is currently making a mess of my kitchen - the boy loves colanders) and now I am 17 weeks pregnant with his little brother or sister. In many ways, this pregnancy is completely overwhelming. It's been completely normal and healthy, something that really just doesn't seem normal to me. Davey came after four miscarriages, dozens of blood draws, hundreds of injections, and a surgery.  In many ways it felt like we had to work hard for our baby, we had to earn him. (I know that baby's are not truly earned - they are always undeserved blessings. But after my experiences, it just felt like suffering was a necessary part of eventually having a living child.)

This pregnancy has been effortless (not to say I haven't felt unwell, I had a terribly sick first trimester but there hasn't been any bleeding or other fears about the health of the baby) and I just feel so undeserving. To have to healthy pregnancies and babies in a row seems almost impossible after what I had gone through and just the unworthiness I feel about it all is often so overwhelming. There are so many couples out there still waiting for a baby after infertility or loss. So many of them are so much more deserving than I of a baby. Why has God blessed me with another (living) child while they still wait and suffer? I know there aren't answers to these questions. I know that our baby is completely undeserved by me (what could I ever do to deserve him/her?) and I know that this baby is nothing but a blessing and a gift. And I'm so very, very grateful.

I've been thinking a lot about a pregnancy after a pregnancy after loss. It's not the same as that first pregnancy after loss. But it's not the same as never experiencing a loss at all, either. A baby born after a loss is often called a "rainbow baby" (though I prefer the term penumbra baby), so what is a baby born after a rainbow baby? I couldn't find a term or any discussion of this subsequent baby and pregnancy anywhere, but I've been thinking about our little one as our "golden baby". (You know, for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Ok, probably not as clever as I thought.) I know it's not everyone's experience, but my "pregnancy after loss" with Davey was overshadowed by depression and fear. This pregnancy feels redemptive in many ways. I'm rediscovering the joy of carrying life that filled my first pregnancy with Lucia (and my second pregnancy in which we lost Francis) but that has been completely absent in subsequent pregnancies. I am so grateful for this pregnancy and baby and so looking forward to seeing baby's sweet little face.

Lucia's portrait of the baby in my tummy (whom she calls "Magic Bean") complete with umbilical cord and placenta.
She is thrilled. Davey is oblivious.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

All I Want Is A Happy Ending

When I think of our fertility struggles and our future "family plans", all I want is a happy ending. And I have that right now. After four miscarriages, we've had a beautiful healthy baby boy. There is a completeness there. A sigh of relief. We made it. It's over. We've won. Except this isn't the end. I still have around fifteen years of fertility left. Who knows what will happen in that time?

I am ok with having more miscarriages as long as you tell me that my last pregnancy, whenever that is, is one that ends with a living child in my arms. The birth of a baby provides closure and resolution, a sense of victory and hope. But to end my childbearing years with a loss, to have my last pregnancy be a miscarriage, would leave an open wound. All miscarriages leave scars, of course, but in time and with the birth of a living child, those wounds heal. The scar always remains, the memory persists and there is still pain. But looking into my son's eyes, I'm able to say "everything was worth it" because now I have him. If I hadn't had those miscarriages, if I hadn't persisted through another pregnancy, and another one, and another one, I would have never gotten to the one which gave me my son.

Pregnancies that end in miscarriage have their own value, of course. An eternal soul brought into creation. Suffering that can be united with Christ for a greater purpose. Lessons learned. An opportunity to rely more fully on God in our grief. I pray that someday these things may be enough for me, but in my human selfishness, I struggle to see this as worth the great pain loss brings me.

Of course, no one can guarantee my happy ending. If we continue to be open to life (and we will be) we continue to be open to death. And I have to face the reality that there may not be a happy ending in store for me. Perhaps my last years of fertility will be riddled with miscarriages or perhaps we'll spend years longing for one more child only to suffer a secondary infertility that is never resolved.

How do I move forward? How do I acknowledge the risk of another loss and decide another pregnancy is worth it anyway? I don't know. I just have to have faith that no matter what happens, I'll get through it. God will see me through it.