We took a private refresher class in childbirth preparation last night with Susan Messina (and I just can’t say enough about her—she was absolutely incredible not only in helping us prepare for the physical challenges of another hopefully unmedicated labor but also in helping us begin to prepare for the emotional minefield that the whole experience will be without our sweet little girl).
After we chatted for a bit about our last birth experience, she gave us a worksheet of open-ended sentences to help us start a conversation about our hopes and fears for this birth. The two that hit me the hardest, along with my near-reflexive responses, were these:
“If something was wrong with the baby, I would…” … feel responsible.
“If the baby dies…” … I will feel responsible.
This came on the tail end of a day that I spent going back and forth about whether I should go to labor and delivery to get Jackson checked out. I keep trying to get a solid answer from the OBs about when to be concerned about his movements (or lack thereof) and they’re just all over the place. 10 kicks in 2 hours. Only if he gets off his normal pattern (but no suggestions for me if he has never really settled into a pattern). I had been trying to pay closer attention to any kind of pattern for the last couple of days and in the early part of the week, he had been very active in the mornings, especially during the first hour or two at work, either as I was eating breakfast or right after. Yesterday, I barely felt him move from the time I woke up at 7 until almost 10AM—only a very few slight blips here and there, but nothing like the activity of the several days before. After 10AM, he began to move a little, but still only a very little, even after eating a muffin and drinking a large glass of orange juice and two large glasses of ice water—it seemed to me to be a marked decrease in activity. I went home. I called the OB’s office and asked if I should be concerned. The nurse said for me to call her back if he hadn’t moved at least 6 times in the next three hours. That seemed like very little movement to me (and again, when the hell are we really supposed to be worried, given that every medical professional seems to have a different idea?) but I went with it. I laid down and started counting. Still not a whole lot of activity before 1PM, but I did feel him move at least ten times in about an hour, so I was starting to feel a little better. Then, after 1PM, he started moving a fair amount again and I began to relax.
I began to prepare for our childbirth class. Susan had suggested that we might want to bring some pictures of Hudson with us, so I sat down and started looking through a large collection of our favorite prints that we have yet to put into an album. Predictably, I began to cry, then to sob, as has become common lately when I look at her pictures. My beautiful child. Where did she go?
But it wasn’t until I responded to those open-ended sentences later in the evening that I realized that the afternoon tears, while certainly tears of sorrow and pain as they always are, were also tears of anxiety and sheer exhaustion. I’ve written before about how my role as Hudson’s mother is probably one of the major factors in the persistent guilt I felt for so long after she died, guilt that maybe I had made the wrong decisions given the information that I had in front of me when her fever spiked again in the early morning hours of May 10, guilt that has now receded into more of just a longing to be able to turn the clock back and do it differently in hopes of a different outcome. I’ve also written about how even when I feel like I’ve tackled the guilt monster itself, that sense of feeling responsible somehow, of feeling like I let her down, never seems to fully disappear. And now, during these eternal nine months where this baby’s life exists completely and totally inside my body, the sense of responsibility is profound and overwhelming. I know that there is so much that is not in my control, and I know that I’ve done what I can as far as those things I can control, but none of that changes the fact that I am the only person who can decide when it is time to really be worried. I am the only person who can decide when it is time to go and get things checked out. Last time, with Hudson, I may have made the wrong decision. A different decision might have saved Hudson’s life. Who knows? So now, when only I am in charge of knowing when something seems wrong, when my child’s life could again depend on my decision whether to go in and get checked out, the weight of that responsibility is almost crippling. Last night, when we shared our answers to those questions, I broke down under that enormous and terrifying weight. It almost feels like too much for one person to bear.
One of the moms I met in an online community for pregnancy after loss just recently posted about how much she has been feeling this weight and said she almost just wants to get admitted to the hospital early—she said, “I would just really like to pass over the job to someone else for a while.” I understand this feeling so well. And even more, I am just ready to have Jackson on the outside. Even though I’ve learned the hardest way possible that even after he’s born, there are still so many things out of my control, at least then I will feel like I have more control than I have now (even if it is illusory). At least then, the great weight of taking care of him, of trying to make sure he stays alive, will no longer fall completely on my shoulders.
Eight more weeks. I keep having to remind myself that while I now know far too many women virtually who have suffered devastating late-term pregnancy losses, I only know ONE person in all of my own personal real life that has ever experienced this. People have healthy babies all around me every day. The chances of anything happening to this little boy of mine are extremely slim.
I just have to keep repeating the mantra of so many of my virtual mom-friends: “MOST BABIES LIVE.” But thrumming underneath that mantra, in the back of my mind, is this, a counter-mantra, if you will:
“Yeah, most children live, too, but my child didn’t.”
Eight more weeks.