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Parent Issues


These are a little miscelaneous in nature, but they're issues you may confront from time to time during the pregnancy. Don't worry if some don't apply to you.

Superman

Let's play a game of pretend. Pretend Superman exists. He's out minding his own business when a school-bus full of kids topples off a bridge, and he catches it. No problem. Then a Buick falls off the bridge, and he catches that too. He starts bringing them back up to the bridge when Spiderman swings by and says, "Hey, man, can you hold my sandwich?"

He can't do it. Not because he can't hold a sandwich, but because he's run out of hands. This is basically what living every day is like when you're grieving. You've got both hands full of the weightiest object you've ever carried, and then you're supposed to go grocery shopping on top of that? Or pay the bills? Or cook dinner? Or vacuum? How can you be expected to carry on with--or even to care about--all these stupid little minutiae?

Be gentle on yourself. If you find yourself ordering take-out every night for a week, don't worry. If you haven't washed the bathroom in a month, it'll probably take about as long to clean it when you do have the energy. Maybe the lawn is tall enough to film The Oregon Trail. It doesn't matter. What matters now is your baby, and your energies are necessarily diverted elsewhere. If it gets to you, surprise one of those ubiquitous people who says "If there's anything I can do--" and hand out sponges and scouring powder.

Driving

I will be honest: after we got the diagnosis, I was not fit to drive (I had tried to put my husband's coat on my son, for starters). Neither was my husband. We'd gone to the ultrasound appointment in two separate cars. And yes, we both drove our cars home. I pretended I was driving in blizard conditions, keeping exactly to the speed limit and about 30 car-lengths between me and the poor souls ahead of me. My husband says he simply drove home like a maniac. A friend gave me a well-deserved yelling-at for that little stunt.

There were other days I was not fit to drive, and yes, I drove anyhow. It's only by a miracle I didn't kill anyone. If you're in the same position, please consider not driving. If doctor appointments throw you for a loop, maybe a friend can bring you. Maybe it would be worth the cab fare. There will be some days when the attention drifts, or when you find yourself crying too hard to see. I know it's difficult because I never backed off, but there's no shame in admitting you can't drive on some days. But wrecking your car or hurting someone else because your life is a wreck of its own..that would be a shame. Please be careful.

The Next Baby

You don't need to make the decision now, but you may want to ask your spouse what he/she thinks is an appropriate period for waiting. (Your doctor can answer when you will be physically ready; only you and your spouse can gauge emotional readiness.) This may seem like jumping the gun, but if you get yourself through this pregnancy by thinking of another pregnancy six weeks after delivery, and your spouse is thinking eighteen months might be just about enough of a wait, you'll clash when you can least afford to be divided. It's worth it just to know where one another stand. The one with the shorter time-frame could probably get what he or she wants, but at the expense of marital trust and intimacy. Pick a time-frame you can both live with as a time when you'll discuss it "for real," and reserve the right to change your mind. I know my desire for another child would rapidly fluctuate from "Now, I want one this second" to "Never again in my lifetime."

I find myself chafing when people talk about "Trying again." Using the phrase "try again" implies that we failed the first time. We didn't fail. We had a beautiful baby who happened to have a birth defect that killed her. That's not failure. Loving Emily was a success of a very different kind, and I was glad to have the chance to do so. Her life increased my conviction that children are a gift from God, and that I wanted lots of them. After her death, though, I discovered in myself a desire to let Emily be my "youngest child" for a bit longer than I had originally planned.

A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ 1999;318:1721-1724) showed that women who conceive within a year of a miscarriage or stillbirth show more depression and anxiety in the third trimester and one year postpartum than women who wait a year. I would assume the same holds true if your child lives only for minutes or days. This increase in depression and anxiety probably happens because grief itself takes eighteen months to two years to run its course, and if a woman conceives before nine months pass, she may be dealing with grief on top of depression, worsening both. This single study may not be a reason to postpone conceiving; women should be aware of the possibility after delivery, though, and be extra-vigilant about their mental state.

Stress

Everyone reacts differently to stress, and of course this is (hopefully) the most stress you'll ever have to handle. Some problems are almost universal in response to stress, though, and I thought I'd make mention of two of them:

  • Colds. Most people find their immune system compromised as a result of high stress. Personally, I contracted long-lasting wicked colds two weeks after Emily's diagnosis and two weeks after Emily's death; when I say long-lasting, I mean three to four weeks apiece. If your doctor approves of echinacea or zinc or vitamin C tablets, you might consider taking them to build up your resistence. On the non-medical side of things, learn to make a really strong chicken soup (and freeze half of it--see below). You'll thank yourself later for it.
  • Teeth-clenching. This doesn't affect as many people, but it's a doozy. Some people tend to clench their jaws under stress, creating massive headaches, neck cramps, tooth pain, and stress fractures in the tooth enamel. Don't change your dentist's income tax bracket. Just being aware that you might be prone to clenching your jaw helps you stop it before it hurts you. As a plus, learning to relax the jaw muscles theoretically helps a woman relax the perineal muscles during childbirth.

Sexuality

Be prepared for any reaction in this area. You may find nothing has changed. You may find nothing works. You'll probably find something in between those two. All I can suggest is that you and your spouse spend a lot of time talking in a non-threatening place and a non-threatening time (where neither of you is expected to immediately act on what's being discussed) and use a lot of I-feel statements and three-part sentences ("When you X, I feel Y because Z.") Restate what your spouse says to make sure you understood correctly. Every couple will work out something individual to themselves, so all you really need to do is make sure you're both communicating what you want and expect from and for each other.

Cooking for Two

Two meals, that is. In the month or two immediately following your baby's birth, neither parent is going to feel much like preparing a meal. In the last month of pregnancy, I found an article about cooking for one month at a time, and I had two thoughts: a) these people must have huge freezers; b) there's nothing to stop me from cooking two meals at a time and freezing the other half. That was what I did, and I learned that in my case, preparing twice or three times as much food took a lot less time than cooking the same amount of food in separate batches. After Emily died, all I needed to do was take a pre-cooked meal out of the freezer and get it to an edible temperature somehow. This preparation took a lot of strain off me, and that's why I pass it on.

Major Decisions

Here's a tip from a friend: "I would add that times of trauma are the worst times to make major life decisions. People tend to do things on the spur of the moment when they are in crisis and then regret them later. Even if these things seem unrelated, it's best to stick to the status quo unless it's either essential (like quitting smoking) or very easily reversable (like deciding to read stacks of trashy romance novels.)"

Hobbies

I thought the Abiding Hearts website was kidding when I read that I should keep current on all my hobbies. I did it anyhow, and now I'm glad I did. Every so often it helped to take my mind off things. I also started a new hobby, guitar-playing, and found I was able to channel some of the pain into learning. Guitar lessons cost $15 for half an hour a week; a therapist would charge me $70 at a minimum, and I wouldn't have a useful skill at the end of it.

Sudden Reminders

They can't be prepared for by their very nature, but little unexpected details may set you off and bring the whole situation to the surface. For me, it happened while grocery shopping as I reached for the milk: I realized the dairy products were going to expire after my daughter did.

Little reminders are often worse than the big ones. You can steel yourself for a visit to cousin Thelma and her newborn. You can't steel yourself for every aisle of the grocery store, every shop in the mall, every headline in the paper... I finally gave myself permission to cry or just feel rotten. It's one more unfairness in a gut-wrenching situation, but it's a part of who we are as mothers and fathers.

Shopping

Grocery stores and shopping malls seem to be baby-havens nowadays (when you can't remember seeing a pregnant woman or a stroller before.) Moms with kids tend to do their shopping during school hours, when the older kids are occupied. You're less likely to see the babies-on-parade if you shop during dinner hour or in the evening. Also about shopping: you're guaranteed not to see babies if you order online!

 

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