Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Domestic Enemies of the Grieving Mom

Two years ago today, a little boy died named Jack Donaldson. He was swept away in a flood not far from where I live. I didn't know him or his family. But that day, when it started raining hard and then harder, I felt something that might best be described as foreboding  There was just... a great disturbance in the force.

Then I found out what happened. That this precious boy was dead. It might sound stupid but I've not been the same since. It was like a wake up call - THIS CAN HAPPEN. Your child could die. There will be no rhyme or reason and going back in time five minutes to change everything. It will be like a dream you can never wake up from. You can read all about it here on his moms's beautifully written blog An Inch of Gray. Be warned, it is very sad, haunting and incredibly well-written. It may change you, too. 

The whole purpose of the Domestic Enemies series is to rant a little, but mostly to try and see things from a different perspective. I want to be one of the people who gets it. When I received this post from a reader last week, I was grateful - because that's exactly what she is trying to tell us. I didn't edit a single word. She needed to get this out and I needed to read it - so here it is. 

On this day I honor Jack and his family. This feels awkward, because I don't them. But I'm doing it anyway because his death had such an impact on so many. Here are The Domestic Enemies of the Grieving Mom... May it help us be there for someone we love if we ever find we have to.


I am the Mama of two children here on earth and two angels in heaven.  My son (5) is a study in perpetual motion and will henceforth be known as the Energizer Bunny.  My daughter (2 1/2) is my Diva Buddha baby.

I have to tell you a little of my story so that you will understand my rant.  In May of 2012, to my utter surprise since my baby had just turned one, I found out I was pregnant.  I would say it was the biggest shock of my life, but that distinction is reserved for the moment that I found out that I was actually pregnant with TWINS.  I was hysterical.  My husband had to literally put me in bed for the day, laughing at me while I was racked with the sob-sobs. (Ladies, this one is a keeper!)  This twin pregnancy meant four children aged four and under. (My mother-in-law (who is a salty broad and that is why I lurve her) made me swear that I would not start wearing prairie dresses and curl my bangs a-la Michelle Duggar.  I was like, "Whatever. That woman ROCKS.") We wrapped our heads around our ridiculous fertility and fell in love with the buns in our oven.

Fast forward to the 24th week of my pregnancy when I was rushed by ambulance to UCSF, screaming in pain until blood vessels burst in my eyes.  I was diagnosed with severe Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. TTTS occurs in a small percentage of identical twin pregnancies.  The twins had formed a shared blood supply because they shared a placenta.  They were passing nutrients and waste to each other instead of back through my system to be processed.  This made the amniotic fluid in my belly build up because it was not being disposed of correctly. 

 (My belly was so big that, after I had surgery to remove the aforementioned excess amniotic fluid, my surgeon shared this gem: "We took out almost five liters. That is truly impressive!" Oh goodie.)

Severe TTTS has a 60%-100% mortality rate for the babies because there are severe fluctuations in blood pressure between the twins. There are also size discrepancies between them. (More about TTTS at the bottom.) I spent the better part of four weeks in and out of the hospital trying to save my babies.  After two procedures our small twin, Therese Casey, passed away.  I was pregnant with her sister, Amelia Rose, for three more weeks.  Then Amelia passed away on October 9th 2012.  I delivered my stillborn twins that night.  This is the most excruciating, searing, and crippling experience that I have ever had.

I would like share with you some stuff that is not so fun for a grieving mom to have to deal with.  And I also have some positive suggestions about how you can support a family going through a miscarriage or loss of a baby or child.  

(*Disclaimer=  Grief is different in every situation and for every person.  There is no use comparing your grief to anyone else's.  The  death of a spouse, a parent, or an eight year old child is going to be different for everyone.  This is a contest that no one wants to win.  Hell, this is a contest no one even wants to enter.)

Before this I did not know that babies could die.  I mean, I knew, but that didn't happen in the 21st century in one of the most advanced countries in the world.  That only happened in "The Oregon Trail" computer game when you got diphtheria, right??? BABIES DON'T DIE ANYMORE, RIGHT?  Unfortunately they do.  
When I was in the hospital we were showered with love, prayers, food, gifts, phone calls, flowers... you name it.  This continued after we lost Therese and I was still pregnant with Amelia.  There was so much hope.  So much love.  So many prayers.  So much... food.  I would open my front door and find whole dinners on my porch. It was amazing and I felt incredibly supported.

Then Amelia passed away and my babies were both stillborn.  You could have heard crickets.  (Except for my immediate family and friends. They planned the girls' funeral, gave us their own burial plots, lent us places to stay when we just could not face going home, and so much more.)  But other people, like co-workers and acquaintances, had NO idea what to say or do.  They were absolutely horrified by what had happened to us.  I have come to realize that they too were shocked by the reality that babies sometimes die.  They were afraid that they were going to cry and upset me.  Well guess what? I had been crying for weeks and I didn't think I would ever stop.  I know it is awkward and so hard to witness, but just be with us.  Sit with us.  Let us babble our hurt to you.  It helps.  It is the only thing that helps sometimes.


There is no straightforward path through grief.  I can be okay for weeks at a time and then I hear about a friend of a friend who is pregnant with twins.  I feel like I've been punched in the gut and start a downward spiral.

When I was discharged from UCSF for the final time a social worker met with me and explained that the hospital would be following up with me for a year.  I laughed in her face and told her that I didn't think it was humanly possible to do this for a year.  She looked at me with the saddest, most understanding eyes and said, "I know. Maternal grief is different. You will need help working through it."

Well, it has almost been a year and I am starting to get the "Aren't you over that yet?"  Like talking about my babies is starting to become inconvenient.  Let me tell you, it is never over.  Never.  There are times when I feel like I have shattered into a thousand pieces and I will never be whole again.  I am missing an Amelia and Therese shaped space in my soul.  I wonder what they would look like.  I think about how old they would be.  I wonder what their personalities would have been like.  There are moments  when the only peace I can find is at their little grave. I miss them with a fierceness that takes my breath away and makes my chest ache.

P.S. Also, please stop asking when I'm going to have another baby.  See above.


Any anniversary that has to do with my babies is hard.  The anniversary of the date I found out I was pregnant.  The date I found out I was carrying twins, the date I went into the hospital... this list has many dates on it. (The 9th of every month always seems to sneak up and kick my hiney… Every. Dang. Time.)  If I am spacey, or pissy, or weepy please be patient.  Ask me what I'm thinking.  Let me share a few of my thoughts with you.  Just be there for me. My friends dragged me around invited me everywhere with them when I was having a hard time.  They were all, “If you spend any more time alone we will not be able to vouch for your sanity.  You are coming with us and you are going to enjoy it. Now get in the damn car.  You’re welcome.” (I’m looking at you, Elise.)

(*Pro Tip- This is what real friends looks like.)


Another super fun side effect that comes and goes with my ups and downs is spaciness.  (Dude, I am not making this up.)  There are times when I amaze myself with my blondness.  This happens because any and all energy or brain power I possess is being used to deal with what has happened and the cluster that has followed.  Yes, I am slow.  Yes, I do realize that I am being slow, thank you so much for giving into the urge to point it out. And, no, there is not a blessed thing I can do  about it.  I just wait for bedtime, collapse, and pray that my brain will shut the hell up long enough for me to fall asleep.  Because, after all, tomorrow is... will be… a better?... dammmmit... different... day... Or something like that.  I really can't remember right now. Ask Scarlet.  

This leads me to my next point…


We will lose our schmidt at some point(s), and we would really appreciate it if you cut us some slack.

Case in point: This last weekend was a celebration of our family's September birthdays, including mine.  My baby Therese passed away hours after my birthday last year.  Her death marked the beginning of the end of my pregnancy.   I had been dreading my birthday for 364 days because I knew it was going to suuuuuck.  But even I was surprised at how spectacularly I went down in flames at my own damn birthday party.  
Story Time. I knew it was going to be rough so I took some of the anti-anxiety medication that I had been given after the twins' delivery.  Evidently that stuff is potent because I went to the party and left my filter at home.  I (allegedly) told some family members all about themselves.  I cringe when someone brings up that night.  Luckily I have an understanding family with a wicked sense of humor. (I am told that I was hilarious. I wouldn't know. It's all a bit fuzzy.)

So, here is the list of things that you can do to help a mom grieving the loss of a little:

* Be there.  People seem to want to respect your space and not intrude. This is what I came up with: If you changed our diapers, cheered at our graduation, danced at our wedding, or partied at our house please reach out.  If you celebrated with us during the good times please support us during the bad times. Send a note or an email.  Visit or call. You don't have to know what to say ahead of time.  Don't worry about saying or doing the wrong thing.  Just be there for us.  Sit and cry with us.  Grief is debilitating and isolating.  Your family, your friends, and your faith are the only things that can counter it.

* Let us talk about our children who have passed away.  We love hearing and saying their names.  It is our way of honoring them. This is one of the few things we can do for them now.

* Cut us some slack.  I am writing this at 2:42 am on a Tuesday  Wednesday morning.  When I am having a hard time sleep is not my friend.  I toss and turn in bed for hours.  I relive what happened.  I cry. I rock back and forth with grief and anxiety.  Days after nights like tonight are not pretty.  (Neither am I.)  Be kind.

What does this look like a year later?  Well, this has rocked me to my core.  I no longer have a comfort zone because the worst thing in the world has happened to me.  And if that can happen, then all bad things are possible.  Hello anxiety! To counter this I have had a crap-ton quite a bit of therapy.  I am blessed with good friends, a crazy supportive family, an amazing husband, and two munchkins who give sticky kisses and think that I am the best thing ever.  I can finally see the end of this spiral that has derailed my life for the past year.  Yes, I am still so sad and angry about what happened.  I miss my babies something fierce.  I think about them dozens of times a day.  I also have hope and faith that a.) I will see them again and b.) I have a lot of living left to do. I can help people learn about maternal grief and TTTS.  Also, my husband and I happen to make beautiful babies and I want more.


I would like to acknowledge and thank some of the people who supported and carried us through this time:

To Mommyland: Thank you for listening. You are a ridiculously funny group of women who tell it like it is. I have spent quite a few of my sleepless nights reading your brilliance. It is an honor to share my story because I know that you will learn from my experience and use it to help each other. And that is just awesome.

To the doctors, nurses, therapists, orderlies, and support staff in the hospital: You knelt on the floor besides us as we wept bitter tears and you gave my girls and me girls the best care possible. I will be indebted forever to you for your knowledge, skill, and compassion; especially Michelle, Dr. Feldstein, Dr. Bianco, Dr. Horn, Dr. Obedin-Maliver, and most especially Dr. Rand.

To Father Paul and Father Hogan: Thank you for your counsel and comfort and for baptizing and burying my girls.

To my mother in law, who never even asked if we needed help.  She just showed up and took my two children for the better part of six weeks.

To friends who made the aforementioned dinners, sent flowers, called, and everything else: You have made me feel loved and cherished. You rock.

To Papa, Col, Monica, Aunty Puppy, Aunty Sue, Gramma, Grammy, Anti, Teri, Kristina, and Anna:  You are my tribe and are an amazing group of women. (You too, Papa)  Thank you for always being there for me.  Always.

To Elise: I love navigating the crazy road of motherhood with you in the seat beside me.  You are one badass mama and it is an honor to be your partner in crime.

To Mom & Beezie:  (Who drove an hour each way to spend every damn day in the hospital with me. The whole day.  And always brought food.) I have no words.  You have pulled me kicking and screaming through this past year of my Calvary.  I don't deserve you but I'm keeping you anyways.  I love you.

To my husband, my  Energizer Bunny & my Diva Buddha Baby- You have been my reason to live.

And to Therese and Amelia:  It will be the most beautiful moment of my existence when I am able to hold you in my arms and kiss your faces.  Until I see you again, Mama loves you.  (P.S. Sorry about your initials... T&A... Really?  Cracks me up.)

More about TTTS

* If you are pregnant with twins, find out immediately if you are carrying identical or fraternal twins.  If fraternal, breathe easy, you are cool.  If you are carrying identical twins, find out as soon as you can if they share a placenta (monochorionic) or if they each have their own placenta (dichorionic).  TTTS only happens in monochorionic pregnancies.  EARLY INTERVENTION IS CRITICAL. This is a rare but deadly pregnancy complication and your OB may not be aware of it. (Unfortunately mine wasn't.) Educate yourself and be an advocate for your babies.  

(c)Herding Turtles 2009 - 2013

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