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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Stillbirth Fear Factor

Greetings, KuKd/TTC Colleagues and Inquisitive Guests!

How much fear can the brain really hold? I mean, doesn't it seem like there must be a limit? Aren't humans optimistic by nature? Don't we have to be? If our brains didn't have a natural saturation point for fear, wouldn't our heads fill up with it and explode? Surely that's exactly what would happen.

It would be so cliche of me, so much like a worn-out doormat, for me to talk about post-knocked-down anxieties. Who needs to hear what everyone already can imagine? I mean, yeah. Obviously, obviously, if something bad happens to you repeatedly, you're going to be afraid it will happen again. I don't know if it's true, but I imagine tsunami survivors being afraid of living near the shore, burn victims afraid of fire, cancer survivors afraid of...I don't know...plastics and pesticides and lumpy things beneath their skin.

Which means the fact that I had an "afraid day" today - or, not a whole afraid day, but a day peppered with "afraid moments" - doesn't seem all that newsworthy. That would be like announcing that it rained on a winter day in Seattle. If I tell anyone at all that I'm experiencing a twinge of anxiety, it's like: "well of COURSE you are!" Nobody is surprised by this inevitible fact.

But I don't take post-KuKd anxiety so lightly, like it's this fluffy little "given" in life that of course will occur. I don't like fear at all, don't like to revel in it or talk about it. I worry sometimes that this dismissive attitude toward fear - the fact that I would rather talk about chocolate chip cookie bars and banoffee pies on my blog than spout off about my fears - might come across as flippant and annoying to the KuKd'ers who read this blog, that somehow I'm disrespecting Mother Nature by not showing enough public fear. Not that I know jack about religion, but I get the sense that you're supposed to act afraid around God, that fear is a sign of respect and submission.

My problem with expressing fear is twofold.

First, there's the huge force of optimism that makes up my core being and constantly pushes outward. Look, I'm a basically happy-ass person, and still am. Maybe if I were still the brooding fake-goth chick I was in high school, I'd be able to accept my fear a bit better, and not shove it down like nasty bile. But the truth is, I come from a family of optimists. We laugh things off, shrug things off, make light of situations. Maybe it's an Irish thing; who knows. Really, our whole society is one of optimism, when you think about it, and perhaps that's where I got this trait. And truthfully, although this persistent American optimism annoyed the shit out of me when I lost the babies, I feel ultimately more relieved than not by this pervasive candy-like spirit of joy in our culture and in our family.

Second, there's the fact that post-KuKd fear - specifically this late-term-in-pregancy fear that comes after stillbirth - is one of the worst and most intense feelings of terror that it basically isn't something I can allow to stick around for long. It's more than most people can handle or really understand, unless you've been through something horrendous. It goes back to that fear-saturation point in the brain: this sort of fear is so damned potent, that it fills up my brain instantly to where my head can't hold any more, and I have no choice but to brush it immediately off like a monster's green hand resting on my shoulder. No time to wallow in this fear, or talk about it, or pull it apart and analyze it. Just shove it off and say good riddance.

Today it happened a few times, these afraid moments, which I can only describe like a loud, dark freight train roaring in my ears, coming at me with bright and disorienting lights. Literally, that's basically what happens. I'm sitting there innocently peeing, or typing an e-mail message, and I get the sense that something's wrong. That a heart attack happened inside, that Monday's ultrasound is going to reveal something awful, that people in white lab coats will file into the room and look at me with grave expressions, glancing at their clipboards and explaining in dry medical terminology why everything's fucked.

God, I never used to be able to imagine such a thing happening, but now I can with great ease. It really wouldn't be all that odd for it to happen, given my luck in the baby-making department. But what's the use of imagining such things, dwelling on that fear, revelling in the seering roar and white lights of that freight-train-like fear, talking about it here?

Nothin.' So I suppress it down and keep going in my optimistic way, going through life, letting the genetic/inherent/cultural happiness take over. It isn't hard, because - like I said - I'm basically a happy person.

Today was just an inordinately, weird-ish, freight-train like day. Must have been the Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast - that's the only variable I can think of that was a bit different from the past few weeks.



Hope's Mama said...

OH I had those days. Many of them. From my experience, they kept coming and with more frequency as the weeks went on. I too could clearly imagine all the bad ass things happening, but despite chanting daily "most babies live" I still found it hard to imagine it all going well.
Keep hanging in there, Monica. Seems cliched to say, but I am thinking of you and sending loads of love and luck.

ps: now you made me want banoffee pie....

Being Me said...

I completely hear you on the "of COURSE you are" sentiments. They are everywhere. I recall vividly the stranglehold those days (which you described so well) had on me during my second only ever successful pregnancy and the one which would hopefully see us leave the hospital with a live baby - this time - and by my 37th week I was receiving daily foetal monitoring until I couldn't stand it any longer, asked for the baby to be induced at 38+6 (the effects of which I will refrain from sharing).

It. Never. Ends. You're real, your reality is apparent and you express it oh so well. So I can only nod with solidarity... even though I want to take you aside and whisper all sorts of adamant things to try and ease it. Even if just for today xxxx

wifey said...

I envy you for your optimism (and, who am I kidding, your cute-as-a-button pregnant self!). I am your opposite: I consistently expect and prepare for the worst, embracing fear and using it as motivation (for guilt, mostly, but sometimes good comes out of it).

But I do get what you're saying about the fear being so big you have to shove it off. It makes perfect sense.

BTW, just wanted to let you know that yours is pretty much the only blog written by a knocked up chick I can stomach reading these days. Your honesty draws me in, despite myself :)

Parenthood For Me said...

I can imagine that the brain cannot stay focused on these fears that invade the psyche. I too am an optimist. Irish blood. You are so strong. Thinking of you and what monday brings.

Sharon said...

Mon, I so related to this post! Granted, I have NOT experienced stillbirth (the mere thought of having to experience it is enought to make me pass out with fear) but I have experienced 7 first trimester losses and trust me when I say, you experience enough of those, you can relate to the fear you're talking about. When I went through my 7th loss, to get the news I was loosing another pregnancy came almost as a relief because it meant I had to live through my worst fear and get it out of my head, I wouldn't have to fantasize about it all the time. I could set my mind free of the fear. Hence our decision to adopt, I could not face the mental anguish of another pregnancy.
And you're so right, the fear is pointless, it does nothing! But how do we fully escape it, that's what I'd like to know!

Kristen said...

I was thinking about you a lot yesterday -- now I wish I had called! I hope you got some sleep and today is filled with joy instead of fear. Monday will be here soon -- I look forward to hearing good news afterward.

aliza said...

fear is so normal and natural- for everyone, let alone a pregnant babylost mama. i have been listening to pema chodron a lot lately and she talks so much about fear and sort of making friends with it, rather than trying to escape it. the happy, every thing is peachy is so not real, even though our society wants us all to believe that is the way we should be. but enough rambling...just know you are not alone in your fear and we are here with you.

AnxiousMummyto3 said...

Hey Monica,
I love that this post is coming from a place of absolute honesty. Like some of the other commenters, I've not been through stillbirth, but in my second pregnancy I had a complication I was convinced was going to cause it to happen. It's funny that you said you'd be sitting there innocently peeing and it would hit you, cos that's what it was like for me. Get up in the middle of the night and late in my pregnancy she'd be on the same sleeping pattern as me. So I'd literally dread going to asleep because there was NO movement at all throughout the night (why would there be..she was asleep!). Just a little thing really but enough to wake me up gasping for breath-I'd literally wake up and have a panic attack almost immediately.
Gosh, sorry for the novel. I guess I just wanted to write something back that says, hey-I know where you're coming from. You're right, we're all (most of us) optimistic by nature and I can tell from your writing that's what you're like. There's nothing I can say to take the fear away really, but I want you to know you're not alone. Thanks for writing this!
XXX Take care

Reba said...

my pregnancy loss wasn't a stillbirth, but i too had these moments near the end of my next pregnancy of "if i let this go, it will turn into a full-on panic attack." especially while i was on bed rest. i would take a deep breath and push on the spot on my belly that i knew would almost always elicit a response push back. any little reminder of what i had at that moment to keep the fear at bay.

Wanna Bee said...

I am so with you on this! I have called myself Pollyanna for many years, but losing 4 pregnancies has permanently messed with my head. We are adopting partially because I just couldn't see myself sane during another pregnancy. I really admire your courage and look forward to welcoming your new baby! I was pissed/excited when you got pregnant naturally. Is there a KuKu'd word for that feeling?

Cathy said...

Hi Monica,
Girl,I have been in your shoes and it's not fun. My only boy was stillborn at 31 weeks. I had a blighted ovum 6 months later and was pregnant again 6 months after that. I was monitored very closely- u/s, NST, office visit weekly. I arranged it so that each was on a separate visit, being a heart rate junkie. My daughter is now 15 and we did not have home dopplers available then. Would have been so nice...By 36 weeks, the amniotic fluid was low and labor was induced. After my dr. broke my water, I asked if we could take the technology down- I had reached my goal and I was ready to revel in it. He let me walk to go into labor( ended up on pitocin)and I was able to delivery naturally in just 4 hrs. Her cute 5 lb 13 oz preemie body was ready to roll and I took her home 2 days later on christmas eve. A victory! I worried everyday and then some. Stillbirth is such a shock and it scarred me for life. I will never be the same. I have spoiled this child and I still look at her like she is made of gold. I can't help it. I'll be praying for you and your new baby.
P.S. I think of my Griffin every day.

namastemom said...

Imagine a person saw there friend die by falling off of a cliff. Naturally, that person would be afraid of that cliff. But just over the edge of the cliff was a beautiful rare site and the only way to see it was to go to that cliff. That is what I think post kukd pregnancy is like...everyone else is going to the cliff and eventually you scoot toward it with trepedation and fear that someone is going to fall off again. Even though it is naturally to be fearful, it still sucks. I was/am fearful everyday that something bad is going to happen. It sucks.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm pregnant again after losing our beautiful daughter at 21 weeks, and this pretty much hits the nail on the head. Makes me feel not so alone... it's been 6 months and my family thinks I should "get over it" since I'm pregnant again.