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Thursday, November 26, 2009

To the Newly Knocked Down


To my friends overseas: you may or may not know that today is Thanksgiving Day over here in les Etats Unis. Ahhh, Thanksgiving: day to gather around a large dead bird on a plate, carve off its flesh, and cram forkfuls of it into our mouths! A day of reconvening lovingly with family and friends, interspersed with hiding in a dark corner room and writing blog posts instead (although what kind of anti-social loser would do that?)! A day, in theory, to be consciously grateful for what we have (like each other) and don't have (like bubonic plague).

Yet for some, it's hard day too. There's something about these supposedly joyful and festive days that can be oddly depressing, particularly if the things you do have only serve as reminders of what you don't have. It sort of reminds me of that statistic that suicide rates in freezing-arse cold countries tend to skyrocket during the warm summer months. I wonder if it's because you think to yourself: The sun is shining and I'm supposed to be happy right now, dammit! But I'm not. So I suck. Has anyone seen my gun lately?

Family holidays: likewise.

This Thanksgiving (yes, even I should be helping my mother-in-law stir the pot of creamed onions right now, but as your Dead Baby Momma advice giver, I felt it my duty to sneak away for a moment), I sense this strange, cosmic presence of the Newly Knocked-Down Mommas out there, hovering nearby. Perhaps it's because lately, I've gotten an inordinate number e-mails and hellos from people with losses as recent as this year, or this month, or even this week. I don't know if KuKd is a seasonal disorder or what, but it sure feels that way as of late.

At any rate, I felt compelled to reach out to those mommas whose Thanksgiving days - or whose other holidays coming up - aren't as joyful as they could have been, or would have been, or should have been. If only that much-anticipated thing had happened, that particular human being were here and alive on earth as originally intended. Holidays would feel different this year, closer to how they look the Hallmark commercials.

Here we go.

* * *

Dear Newly Knocked Down Mommas and Daddas:

Which do you want first: the good news or the bad news?

Let's start with the bad: holidays like this one are going to just plain suck for a while. Somebody will be missing from the table - and that's a fact you can't avoid noticing, no matter how lovely the food and conversation otherwise is. You'll sense that missing person more acutely than others will, and that's not fun. It's sort of like Big Bird imagining his friend Snuffaluffagus - a friend that nobody else can see - except that in your case, you're imagining...a ghost, a lack, an absence.

Furthermore, it's unlikely that anyone will want to explicily mention the baby that isn't there, even if you happen to desperately want to talk about him or her. You may find yourself feeling hurt or frustrated by this fact.

Keep in mind that other people's trauma is beyond the conversational comfort zone of most people, especially on a supposedly joyful holiday occasion. Think about it: you've probably been on the flip side before, sidled up next to a person whose mother or father or grandparent or pet cat just died. How comfortable would you feel saying, "Can you pass the salt, please? Oh, and I'm sorry your grandmother died such a horrible and drawn-out death filled pain. The biscuits are delicious, by the way!" That said, most people - with occasional exceptions - are fully aware of that missing person at the table and saddened in their own way, because your loss is theirs too. Baby-death is a blow to the entire community. There just aren't any clear-cut rules for how to talk about it.

And now, the good news:

1) Escape'em or face'em: this year especially, you have a carte blanch to do whatever in fuck's name you feel like doing when it comes to the holidays. Never mind the traditions, never mind what others think is best for you, never mind what your family wants. They'll deal with whatever you decide to do. You're in survival mode right now, as you should be - so confer with your partner if you have one, and come up with a plan to do the least hurtful, most awesome thing this holiday season. You just got screwed beyond belief, so pamper yourself! You can do what this Dead-Baby-Momma did just four months after KuKdx2: cancel all the family holiday plans and take off to Ecuador with a hunk-o-husband and an overstuffed backpack. Or, if family is what you need, do it. Follow your gut instinct.

2) Things get better. They really do. Have faith in yourself to uncover coping mechanisms you never knew you had, to find your own ways to balance grieving with healing. News flash: they happen at the same time, without you even knowing it! So even as you sit at the holiday dinner table feeling like a big ball of shit, that shit-feeling is part of your healing journey. Aside from your own powerful psyche and soul, the simple passage of time is another one of nature's greatest healers. If you happen to be a Newly Knocked-Downer, you haven't much time under your belt to soothe the rawness and help scar tissue form. But as time goes by, your loss will get folded deeper inside of you, and next year's holidays will be easier than this year's. Just by being here on this blog, reading these words, you are in the presence of lots and lots of ladies - and gentlemen - who get it, and who can attest to the truth if these statements. Things will get better.

* * *

My confession: this Thanksgiving, for me, is filled with hope and...well...thankfulness. Let me admit that outright. I write this post from the hopefully-not-perceived-as-smug position of someone who's had time - two years and three months, to be exact - to get to a better, more psychologically sound place than were I was during the holiday season of 2007. I have my brooding, melancholy moments, of course; but at the same time, I'm thankful for so much. I could list the things I'm thankful for here, but they're just the usual cliche things that everybody else is thankful for. Stillbirth has changed all of us - me, Kevin, our families. Now there's a new ball of baby-hope growing in my torso, casting a sheen of glowing anticipation on everything us all. But even before that ball of baby-hope formed, I was already in an infinitely better place than I was a year ago, two years ago - simply due to the passage of time, and the human mental power to heal.

You can take that as a stomach-punch, which is precisely what I did for a year or so after Zach's death: screw you for being farther along that healing track than I am, for being in that more peaceful place that I can hardly even see through the fog of my own hellish misery!

Or you can take it as reassurance that, like I said, things get better.

* * *

In short, enjoy your holidays this year, or hate them. Both emotions are useful in their own way, and necessary parts of the grieving and living process. Your challenge is to be forgiving of others around you, forgiving of cruel facts you can't control, and faithful in yourself to do what's right for you. And if you can't make up your mind, ask that man of yours (or woman of yours) to take the lead and book you both tickets to a kick-arse spa retreat. Pack lots of Kleenex and baby memorabilia for your sad moments, sexy undies for your sex moments, a notebook for your thoughtful moments, and a cell phone for those moments when you're craving Mom or Dad's voice.

Hey all you KuKd veterans - c'mon, am I right or am I right? And any other Thanksgiving words of wisdom you can offer to our more recent forced-inductees into the warped world of baby death?


bir said...

Great post! If I get time I am going to link this one from my blog!

Hope you ate an extra share of Thanksgiving yummies for me down under!


Tina said...

Great advice Monica. It has always helped me to know that things do get easier, even if I didn't believe it at the time. Hope you are having a great Thanksgiving! xx

Hope's Mama said...

happy thanksgiving from yet another reader down under. still don't understand why all the fuss over a turkey! no one really likes turkey do they?!?!
oh yeah, and great post. but that always goes without saying.

Amy said...

Thank you. This was definitely a sad Thanksgiving for me. Levi was mentioned, but I could tell most were uncomfortable. I wish he was here with me. He would be turning 7 months in a few short days. Thanks for letting me know it does get better.

myskytimes said...

Monica, that's a beautiful post. I am KUKD x2 and also 2 years, 3 months along. And, yes: It DOES get better. Even if it doesn't feel like at times....

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody!

AnxiousMummyto3 said...

Hey Monica a totally beautiful post, I love how respectful you are of others who are hurting and don't sugar coat it. I think you captured both sides of this really well. Take care xx Rosie

Sprudeln said...

The reminder that it does get better is spot on. Thanks.

Amy said...

This is a great post. I remember through a foggy cloud of grief our first Thanksgiving after Liam. It was terrible. I walked the dogs through the neighborhood crying because this was a day for family and my family was torn apart by death. We ended up going to a neighbors house for dinner, but I can't even remember eating. It is all a painful blur.

The next year, 2008, was better. We decided to eat real turkey after 12 years of being Veggie! This gave us something to focus on and be excited about. We cooked and ate and felt better than the year before.

This year, 2009, was really a nice time. The kitchen was a disaster of dishes and wonderful aromas. I laughed, DH laughed, we drank ate and felt merry.
Like you, we too have an advantage over some in that our adoption plans are giving us Hope and light. The holidays may have been darker and more difficult for us without that buey to keep us lifted.
It does get better but that first set of holidays is something to simply survive.

Great advice for the newly knocked down.

Karen said...

Great post, Monica. I'm Canadian so our Thanksgiving was last month and I survived, making turkey for the rest of the family to enjoy while I choked some down. It's nice to hear it will get better. It really is. Happy Thanksgiving to you and the other US knocked down mums. I am going out to a school fundraising trivia night Saturday night. Our first big night out for me and my man. Just found out (and I've done all the trivia questions and am head judge) that a teacher who had her baby the day after our George was born - who laboured outside the hospital room I was in while my boys held their dead baby brother in fact (they met my boys outside and happily asked, "what did your mother have???? and my children didn't answer) - will be there with her baby boy. Oh. God. I can't cry there. But how can I not cry when I see this little boy who is nearly to the day as old as my son should be???? But I have to. Your post is so timely and while I'm not facing a turkey-laden table, it's helped me in this moment. (((Hugs)))

therootofallevel said...

i seriously have a crush on you…

thank you for your post. i needed to read something like this, because i had a shitty fucking thanksgiving this year.

KuKd Chick said...

Root of All Evil - yes, you did have a shitty fucking Thanksgiving this year. You've got loss piled upon loss. But still, I think, it will get better - after you've had time to heal and process things. Hang in there, dude.

Shaz said...

Yes yes yes!!! You are so right! Even though the "things get better" statement makes the newly KUKD want to scream and tell you to go f*** yourself, they really do get better with time!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks for that, I buried my baby girl on Friday and I imagined that christmas is going to absolutely suck this year, but your post has made me realise I have to seriously consider in advance our christmas plans. I know it'll get better in time, it cant get much worse, long term. thanks again x
Emma in Scotland.

angie said...

Very true. Great post. I imagined that holidays following Lucy's death might be the moment that someone in my family would take to actually acknowledge our loss. Yeah. Huh. It was more like the microscope in which to watch my alienation close up as I sat in the corner surrounded by the stank of depression and grief stress-eating. I say boycott the whole shebang, stay in jammies, order in Chinese food and watch Wes Anderson movies all day.

KuKd Chick said...

Emma in Scotland - ARGH! Terrible, god-awful timing! I'm so sorry about your loss, and that you've had to bury your baby girl just a few days ago. Well, I can only hope this post provided you a teensy bit of solace. Although things get better, there's no denying the present awfulness of what you're going through. Be strong, friend!

(And maybe take Angie's advice: Chinese food and Wes Anderson movies)

(Hey, who's WES ANDERSON? Is he the dude in Princess Bride?)

Sonya said...

Monica, I've missed your writing and appreciate the note you left on my sadly barren blog.

We had our Thanksgiving last month (Canadian) so I've had a few weeks to recover from the joyous event. One where my niece, who has two toddler girls, announced that her and her husband are 'going to try for a boy'. So while they have two beautiful little girls crawling into her husband's 20-something lap, and my husband is sitting there, watching me like I might break down in an emotional pile of bloody jell-o, I get to then listen to the entire family laugh and congratulate them.

Inside I want to ask, what if you can't get pregnant? What if there's a fetus with no heartbeat when you get your ultrasound, or, worse? I was pissed that they could CELEBRATE the idea of having a baby, with no fear, no idea that anything could go 'wrong', I was pissed at their confidence, but now that I look back, I was pissed at my lack of it.

I'm happy that you are pregnant, I'm happy it's all going great, I'm trying to decide if your pregnancy gives me hope that it could happen for me, or that I will actually be the one woman I know who can't deliver a live, breating baby. There's always one, right?

Sissy said...

I should have read this on
Thanksgiving day. Then maybe I would not have cried at the table and had to leave my friend's house when all everyone could talk about was another girl there who was pregnant (yes, most of these people know our situation). I really thought I could handle it, but I had a feeling that the hubs and I should have gone away by ourselved. Turns out I was right. I know things will get better, hopefully before Christmas?

Kris said...

Hugs to all the fellow baby loss Momma's -
I also highly recommend escape for the holidays. We left, left for 4 days, just the two of us, on a completely self indulgent, gluttonous, lethargic, cruise to Mexico. We got to eat too much bad food, drink overpriced alcohol (yes I am in the TWW but, fuck it, I had a glass of wine with dinner. Ok, I am a bad person, whatever) and watch really obnoxious drunk Americans make complete fools of themselves doing the electric slide (several times). Bonus - We met several awesome people who did not know we "suffered a tragedy" so were oblivious to the fact that we were different then we used to be at celebrations. That was the best part, no one around us knew what we were like before, so we did not have to be anything other then what we felt like being. That was more of a relief then I realized. There is quite a bit to be said for being surrounded by strangers sometimes (and alcohol, warm weather and iridescent blue waters).
Monica - I forgot to say that I am very happy for the developing being that resides in your person. I will hold some hope for you, since it is often hard to hold it for yourself as someone else rightly said.

KuKd Chick said...

Sissy - I'm sorry. Yuck. Argh. People don't realize how much it hurts to talk about the pregnant girl at the table. Maybe they learned a lesson. And - I hate to break it to ya - but I'm thinking things might not be much better at Christmas. Maybe a romantic X-mas with your hubby? :-)

Kris - brilliant vacation - I love it. And thanks for harboring hope on behalf of me and mine. :-)

Desiree said...

Thanks for coming to say hi on my blog! I kinda feel like I got a celebrity autograph, although I wish you were 'famous' for something else, you know?

Thank you for such a timely post - because of your blog, your commenters and followers I'm a little over a month out and I'm able to function.

The gut punches still come - I've decided to go to a friend's baby shower and she's naming her daughter what we would have named ours - but now I only wince instead of fall to the floor and cry for days.

It does get better - with each day it gets a teeny tiny little bit better. At least there's that.

Liam's Mommy said...

OH MY GOSH! Thank you so much for this post!. This is was my 1st thanksgiving since losing my baby (Liam) on 6/16/09. I was overwhelmed and dissed everyone just to stay home alone. & I know X-mas is going to be the same. Thx! <3

angie said...

Wes Anderson is the director of Rushmore, Life Aquatic, the Royal Tennenbaums, etc. But the Princess Bride would work too!