The Physical Side to Grief

I’ve realised more strongly as time has passed how the grief affects me.

I think I don’t experience too much grief–at least not as much as I thought I might, and not debilitating most days–and then I realise how my body physically experiences it instead.  Aside from the anxiety that clutches at my heart and won’t let go, my body is still dragging out the post-baby healing process.  All of my hair is falling out right now.  I haven’t lost this much hair in a while.  My hair lost its curl (though I’m starting to get it back this week).  I’m breaking out everywhere.  My hair and skin are oily instead of the dry they’ve been the past 10 years.  And I can’t drop a single pound.

I’m the same weight I was right before I had the baby.

My doctor told me at my 2 week postpartum check-up that I needed to do something about the weight.  I was already in the doghouse for gaining too much weight when I was pregnant.  Since I am technically obese, I was supposed to gain, at most, 15 pounds.  Despite not eating the first trimester, I gained 15 pounds.  By the time I approached the end of my pregnancy, I was nearly 50 pounds heavier than at the beginning.  I figured I’d lose 20 pounds just having the baby and clearing out my uterus.  Not so for me.

Because my hormones have been out of whack for a while, I haven’t been able to lose weight for years.  Right now, I feel like it’s serious.  I’ve never weighed this much.  I try to watch what I eat, but it doesn’t seem to help.  I don’t fit most of my clothes, so I finally broke down and bought a couple more things.  I didn’t want to encourage myself to not lose weight, but I need something to wear, don’t I?

So now I’m in a bad cycle.  My weight has me down in addition to the obvious downs I already feel.  Being depressed about my weight will make me hang onto it more.

If my hormones were straightened out, I could lose weight.  If I could lose weight, my hormones would straighten out.

I hate this.

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Do You Hear the People Sing?

I think I accidentally helped along an uprising of sorts at work.  It hasn’t broken through yet, but the grumbling is getting louder.

When I returned to work after being on medical leave, I noticed a markedly different atmosphere.  My library job, which I had loved so very much (where I actually had coworkers I could count as friends, of all things!), seemed to be coming to pieces.  One of the supervisors–who was always very understanding with my “back pain” and found me things to do while I was pregnant other than lifting heavy boxes and sitting on the floor, shelving books–moved to a position at another library across town.  Three new high-ranking librarians took her place.  Basically, we lost one person who actually did something concrete and feasible, like dealing with patrons and helping assign tasks that needed to be done, and gained three new administrators who sit in offices and talk to one another.  This made the very poorly paid front desk staff very angry.

After about a month of being ignored by everyone at work who I had once considered friends, I just about had a meltdown at work.  The stress of being back there was worse than the grief from losing my child.  One of my coworkers, who especially cares for me, asked me if I was getting counselling since that really helped her when her son died.  She quickly followed that up with an apology for interfering in my personal affairs, just that she was worried about me since I didn’t want to talk about it.  I was shocked.  She explained that the supervisor had told them that my baby had died and that they weren’t to talk about it to me because I would be “too sad” and didn’t want to talk about it.

The last time my supervisor had a conversation with me was after I’d been air-lifted to the hospital and I was in labour letting her know I wouldn’t be in to work that day.  I’ve told her absolutely nothing about my baby since.

I relayed that to my friend, and she was immediately shocked herself, then intensely angry that the supervisor lied.  She told another coworker right there, “Did you know she did want to talk about it?  That the supervisor lied to us about this whole thing?”  The second coworker immediately apologised, “Oh, I am so sorry we didn’t say anything.  We were only doing as we were told.”

My supervisor had instructed me, on three separate occasions from November to February, to keep quiet about being pregnant so no one at work would know about it.  I didn’t have the emotional strength to defy her and defend myself, so I complied.  She then told everyone not to talk to me about my baby.

It made the perfect situation for her to have 100% of the baby-related attention firmly centred on her, who miraculously turned out to be pregnant throughout this whole thing.  She’s due next month.

I confronted the supervisor about it, and she told me to go talk to HR.  So I did.  Nothing got fixed.  HR told me it was a “big misunderstanding” and clearly the supervisor hadn’t meant me any harm.  I don’t buy it.

A couple more weeks pass, and I talk to HR again.  I say that if a wrong was done, it needs to be righted.  Even an accidentally wrong statement made by a worker would be expected to be corrected and the offender apologise to the offended and those involved.  Why was this any different?  So she brought the supervisor in, we had a long, heated conversation that ended with her being instructed to, one on one, talk to every single employee and tell them they had “misunderstood” her since she had never said anything to anyone (her version).

At a meeting on Tuesday, the supervisor demanded to know who had started the rumour (after being told by HR to not talk about it in a meeting–only one on one).  A couple of employees calmly replied that the supervisor herself had.  She denied it, obviously.  HR had informed her that what she had allegedly done was illegal.  She’s afraid of losing her job.

In the aftermath, individual employees who cared about me have been angrily venting to me about her lies.  How she lied that I didn’t want people to talk to me, how she’s lying now that she didn’t say it and it’s a “big misunderstanding.”  I feel vindicated, knowing that I am not the crazy one, no matter what HR thinks.  

Truly, if I had felt at liberty to talk about my pregnancy, do you think I would have kept silent?  I spent a third of my life there–I value those women and their support and I longed for it.  I also thought I would be in trouble if I defied the supervisor.  I didn’t have strength to be defiant then.  I do now.

So the subordinates are angry, and boldly so.  I know nothing will be done, no wrongs righted, and life will go along just perfectly fine for the supervisor who stabbed me in the back after pretending to be a friend.  She gets to brag about her unborn child to every single person she talks to.  She denied me that joy.

Six months have passed, and I’ve never had those moments of joy and sorrow with my colleagues.  I’ll never get them.  Everything is past now–even though grief is still fresh for me, it will never be truly “new” again.  Everything that goes on now is just scar tissue.  I can’t take back those lost months.

“She’ll get hers,” my coworkers say.  But I don’t want her to “get hers.”  I want her to undid what she did to me–go back through the months and fix every wrong that happened and make it turn out differently.  That’s what I want.

Obviously I won’t ever get that.

So instead we grumble and fume and think we can actually do something when we’re underpaid, undervalued, and powerless.  If we stood up to the administration, the library would cease to run.  But we won’t.  We value our jobs; we’re expendable.

The sentiment reminds me a lot of this song, and the truth of our utter powerlessness to really fix the wrongs in the world, no matter how big our hearts are:

The dress

On Sunday, we celebrated our “liturgical” anniversary.  Since we were married during the Paschal season, we can always remember the exact Sunday we were married on, even though it will usually fall on a very different day than the one we actually celebrate our wedding.

It was also 3 months to the day that Seraphim died.  My husband thought this was symbolic in a way.  We remembered him and our kind-of-sort-of wedding anniversary the same day.

For our wedding, just about everything was DIY.  The biggest project that I took on was also the one I most wanted full control over: my wedding dress.  Being married in the church means a strict dress code, and most store-bought gowns don’t even come close.  I wouldn’t want to flaunt everything on the day I was getting married anyway, church rules aside, and I didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for a gown and then have to pay out another outrageous sum for a cover-up to keep my modesty.  Besides, I had very particular tastes that I doubted anyone could please but myself.

I spent right around $100 on my wedding dress and veil–including a change of mind about lace that could’ve saved me $20 but was worth it in the end for my personal happiness with the finished product.  I still have lots of scraps of material (which, had I been feeling better when I was pregnant, I would’ve sewn into a gown for Seraphim–something I regret quite a bit).

I recently remembered that the day I started making my dress (which was a big celebratory event for me, personally–I suppose like shopping for the dress is for other girls, though I’d had my pattern picked out for months) was Presidents’ Day.  I picked this day because I had the whole day off of work, and to start a monumental project like making a wedding dress, I knew I would need a lot of time.  The date I started my dress was the same date that our son was born a year later.

Who would’ve guessed the changes that just a year would bring?  I hoped we would be blessed with a child (at least a pregnancy) in the first year or two of our marriage, since we both really long for a family.  We didn’t expect what we got.  It wasn’t even a thought in our minds.

I suppose that reinforces the whole Orthodox Christian mindset of marriage: we give up ourselves to make the whole better, and to better our souls.  We had to give up our hopes and expectations and desires and take what life gave us instead.  We took something that we didn’t get a decision in and had to accept it because we couldn’t refuse it.  The crowns of martyrdom we were granted thus far in our marriage were far different than the crowns I thought I was taking on.

How typical.

Because I want to, I’ll go ahead and share some of my pictures of my “masterpiece” (aka my wedding dress).  The dress is Vogue pattern V2979 with Simplicity 4940 sleeves (I liked the Grace Kelly style, but wanted less form-fitting and more breathable sleeves since it gets really hot around here this time of year!).  The half-hat veil pattern was something crochet I found online (my friend made it because I don’t know how to crochet) and then I just cut some lace and sewed it onto the veil.  Simple.  The dress took me about 2 months to finish; the veil took about 5 minutes.

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I was showing the back of the dress (which had about 30 buttons) to some ladies. The train got a little tangled up in my hand.

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Yes, I made the flowers, too (with some help from a few people and a great online tutorial).

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I was anti-train until seeing a friend’s wedding and admiring the bride’s train (incidentally, the wife of my husband’s sponsor/best man). So I decided I had to have one.
I made almost all of the accessories as well: flowers (as mentioned), hats, men’s ties (which you can’t see here), crowns.

Busy and Stressed

it’s hard to blog being back at work, plain and simple.

I have a million things in my head I’d like to get out–about my baby and not about my baby (that’s OK isn’t it? to not think about my baby every single millisecond and incorporate his memory into every single thought and phrase and idea?)–but no time to do anything.  We don’t have internet at home, so internet is reserved for important things, like paying bills and finding directions.

I’ve applied to a few job postings recently.  I’m ready, plain and simple, for a change.  I need something new.  I already needed something new, but now without Seraphim in my life, it doesn’t feel right to keep going on with life as it is.  Besides, work at the library turned into a nightmare when I went back; it has not improved and likely never will.  Just having a baby that died changed a job I enjoyed into a job that I despise.  My supervisor is mostly to blame–she who, while pregnant herself, forbade me from talking about my pregnancy, then forbade my coworkers from talking to me when I returned.  I felt like I was wallowing through the deepest darkness of my life the first month back, and when I finally found out why no one would talk to me about why I was gone and would walk away when I attempted to say something about my child, I was beyond devastated.  I blame the stress and heartache from my job for some of my problems with my menstrual cycles; stress has had similar results in the past.

So, something new would be nice.  I’m not trying to forget Seraphim or leave him behind.  I just feel like him being here and then not being here anymore has given me reason to pursue something maybe I wouldn’t’ve if I were taking care of him now.

I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t get a new job in the next month or two.  I can’t bear the thought of going on like this.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day came and went and I survived.

I stayed home, in part because I didn’t want to hear a single word about mothers or about children, or about anything at all.  Mostly I stayed home because I’ve been having trouble with my menstrual cycles, though.  I had a bit of a horrific experience, but it’s probably a good thing because it gave me something to think about other than the pain of being a childless mother surrounded by more fortunate people.

I was surprised that some people recognised that I would be hurting on Mother’s Day.  I received a few texts, an e-mail, and Facebook messages telling me that people were thinking of and praying for me and for Seraphim especially on that extra hard day.  It helped the day not seem as bleak, knowing that while I couldn’t spend the day with my child, people remembered me.

I still don’t know what being a parent looks like when you have no living children, and I doubt I’ll ever figure it out.  I will probably wrestle with this until (if) I am blessed with another child and can be a “real” parent as far as everyone else sees it.  Maybe I will always struggle with it, knowing I had the first one who I would never watch grow older.

Firsts

The last time I was at this Starbucks, my husband and I were shopping for a crib, researching the necessities to add to our list of things to get for our baby.  I was 19 weeks pregnant at the time.

I don’t think I have intentionally avoided this Starbucks.  I don’t know how I haven’t been here since; my husband works one of his part-time jobs right next to it.  I guess he just doesn’t normally work weekends, so I don’t normally have to hang out nearby while he is working.

I remember last time I was here, he had met me right after he got off work so we could dream of baby things.  I had just recently let myself even hope this baby would actually survive, since it’d been a few weeks since the bleeding had finally ended.  My husband was more than excited for both of us, though, so I think that helped.

It was the last time we dreamed of things our baby would need at home.  After that, the only things he needed were a coffin, a gown, a burial plot, a blanket, a patron saint’s name.  People who are expecting a baby don’t typically do these things–not buy car seats or cribs or diapers.  At the end, when I again let myself just one short glimmer of hope that Seraphim might make it out alive–when my doctor, who was so unemotional, expressed excitement that he had continued to grow in the womb long after she thought he would’ve stopped–I worried that he wouldn’t have the things he needed.  My husband assured me we would get those things if we needed them, and we could borrow things in the meantime.

Of course, we had everything we needed in the end and that was that.

So I’m sitting here, realising this is yet another “first.”  The first time I’ve been here since Seraphim was alive, and the first time I’ve been here since we even knew he had a terrible problem.  

The firsts are the hardest, and there seems to be an endless line of them.

A lady at my church had a stillborn son–her first–nearly 30 years ago.  She warned me that the firsts would be so hard they would sometimes feel unbearable and insurmountable.  But they are, somehow.  I realise from talking to her that the pain will never “go away.”  She still cries about him, and she admits that there are certain things that trigger her emotions over him even now.  She warned me every pregnancy from here on out will be a terror–something I already assumed.  Another woman at church who also lost her first-born to premature birth about 30 years ago has said the same.  Both of these women survived their losses and are stronger for them, and both went on to have other children despite the recognition that horrible things are actually possible.  They never forgot the loss of that child, though.

I realise how fortunate I am to have lost a baby now, and not in a circumstance during the time period these women lost theirs, though.  We could hold Seraphim as long as we wanted, we could keep him in our room with us until we left the hospital.  These women’s babies were rushed away immediately.  They never got to see their babies, let alone hold them.  During that time, it was believed that women would suffer the loss too greatly if they had the opportunity to see or hold a baby that had died or would soon die.  Instead, they’ve suffered it worse because they couldn’t.

I have pictures of Seraphim and memories of him–though few–outside of my womb.  I am glad I met him, and glad I was permitted to be as close to him for as long as I needed.  I will always mourn for him, and I will always love him.  He left a big, gaping hole in my heart, but I am happier to have it as a reminder that I had him than to not have it at all because he never was.

And I’m sure life will continue to be full of these “firsts” for a long, long time.  Mundane, almost meaningless memories until now.

The Elevator

Ever since November, I have had nearly crippling anxiety.

It makes it difficult for me to go to any event that might be loud.  Even dinner parties frighten me.

I can’t drive.  I’ve driven more in the past two months than the three or so months before, but freeways are nearly impossible.  I used to drive LA traffic almost every day, and now I can’t stand almost-rural-middle-of-nowhere traffic.

Elevators have begun to bother me deeply, too.

At the library, I have to use the elevator every day.  The only way I can shelve the non-fiction books is to put them into the elevator and ride with them up to the second floor.  To make matters worse, this particular elevator has a history of problems.  Less than 5 months ago, on my birthday, a kid got stuck in the elevator between floors.  I can’t help but think about this every time I find myself in the elevator.

Every day, I fight the urge to stick the cart in the elevator, hit the “2” button, and run up the stairs to meet the books.  But I don’t.  I get in with the books, and I stare the opposing wall down as the elevator lurches and drags to the next floor.  I tell myself that every time I do this, I am facing my fears and my fears will eventually go away.  They don’t.

The interesting thing is that while my anxiety holds on with its death grip on me, my fear of babies is subsiding little by little.  I still avoid the children’s section if at all possible (it usually isn’t), and I still find my heart flip-flopping at the sight of a baby or the sound of a giggle or cry.  Pregnant women still make me feel a deep, painful emptiness in the pit of my stomach.  But I don’t cry as much when it happens.  I’ve emerged from my maternity leave bubble where no one had babies (because I was home most of the time and there were no babies there) to the world where everyone seems to have one.

I still have the pangs of sadness around children, and they tend to hit me off-guard more often than not.  But it’s getting better, and I’m getting better at avoiding the triggers when I can predict them.

I wish the anxiety would hurry up and go away.