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So. Today we’re at the doctor, and that’s fine. He suggests a CTG for us, “come with me,” and he sits us down at a nurses’ station. While we wait, the nurse is across the desk from us, on the phone. She’s speaking Our First Language, and it’s not a fun conversation.

“No. Okay. Uh huh… and you’re worried the baby’s heart has stopped beating,” long pause. “Well, I will talk with … someone … here and call you back. What is your mobile? Okay. Well, it’s possible that you are having a miscarriage. Yes. Are you bleeding? OHHHHH-kay. I will talk with someone and call you back. Okay! Bye bye!”

My face was, probably: aghast, indignant, angry, galled.

See, with our first baby, melka started bleeding at 12 weeks in the middle of the night. I called our midwife. She told me it was probably a miscarriage, and that I shouldn’t bother going to the hospital – they can’t do anything anyway. I asked her what I should do. She said I could “wait for the baby to come out and bury the fetus in the backyard.” That was not the answer I was expecting.

I said, “no, what should I do right now to make sure my wife doesn’t bleed to death?” A week later, and no miscarriage, we had an ultrasound and the baby was still there, alive. (for the time being.) But the woman on the phone was wrong, and I followed her advice.

Melka, too, made that kind of call – twice, I think – when she was worried that the baby wasn’t moving enough. And the midwives said, lay down and be still, you’ll probably feel the baby moving. And so melka lay down, felt really hard, and told herself it was okay.

So we know what it’s like to make those calls, and we know what it’s like to get bad advice, or to be brushed off by someone with a cheery disposition. It was terrifying to watch it happen from the other side. Who was this terrified woman on the other end of the phone? What nightmare was I watching unfold? And why did this nurse just move on to paperwork when she hung up?

I’d like to read a blog written by a woman who deals with people like us all the time. What would she have to say? How has she dealt with the sadness? I’m looking for tips.

But I’m still angry. In the months after the baby died, melka would disappear into a sleep world. I would wait, thinking it would pass. A few times, it didn’t. She wouldn’t talk, she wouldn’t move, eat, drink, acknowledge me. I was scared. I called for help on a Sunday. I explained how scared I was and how I had no idea what to do, that I was worried she might hurt herself. The cheery woman at the emergency healthcare line told me to wait until Monday and call our doctor.

I went back to what I was doing before I foolishly called for help: failing.

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Malina, Malinka, Malinia.

Linka, Linia, Malunia.

I loved her name. The way it formed in my cheeks, tongue and teeth. The feel of it, the longs and shorts of the syllables. All the teasing, loving, ridiculous nicknames my other language allows.

Mala. My little one. Malinka, slodko. My sweet.

It took awhile before we landed on the right name. One that would work in both of my languages, that family and friends alike could pronounce. One that could be both tough and pretty, grown-up and childish, suiting whoever she decided to be.

Malinka, Malinia, Malina.

I’d lie in bed in the mornings, taking my time before rising and readying for work. I’d wait to feel her move, stretch and squirm, marveling at the life inside of me, the inchoate personality. My child. I savoured every move, wanting these moments together to be long and lazy. And I practiced her name – kind of guiltily since we didn’t even know if she really was a girl yet – but I tried out the combination of consonants and vowels, exercising my mouth, getting accustomed to sounding out the name of my daughter. Imagining myself a mother. Wondering who she was, waiting. Stomping feet and laughter and tangles and tear-stained cheeks and opened presents and all kinds of firsts and slammed doors and raised voices and painfully tight, neverending hugs. All, somehow, in the sounds of her name.

Moja Malinia. Malinka moja. My darling. My dear one.

In the aftermath of her birth, shocked and horrified beyond comprehension that she was gone before we even got to really meet her, we were asked for her name.  One well-meaning attendant took our awkward silence as cue to rally us to proper parental love She deserves a name! You have to give her a name! And in those moments of numb confusion, grasping at a way to talk privately to each other about what to do, we asked whether we should find another name. But decided, no, Malina she was. Who she had always been. Giving her another name would be cheating. Lying.

I’m just not sure I feel this way now. I wonder if we did the right thing. If we really had to do that, to give that name away forever, locking it away with someone who will never be. Whether it would feel any easier if we saved it for another who might live. Whether we would ever be able to use it again.

Probably not. It’s done.

But I wonder this as I search for another name for another possible girl. Sounding out syllables, shaping vowels and consonants with tired cheeks and grief-weary lips. I worry what it means when I can’t find another name I love as much, that fits as well, that my mouth and throat can form and feel with the intimacy and emotion of someone who’s supposed to be a mother. I have ideas, in fact one main likely contender, but they still seem awkward, at times unimaginable in comparison. They’re not the same.

I do have my moments with this one, the laziness of those lingering mornings in bed now injected with anxiety, the needle-sharp pricks asking how it will all turn out this time. I do call this one by a name now. I practice its different forms and versions, but this time silently. The sounds reverberate in a space only I can hear, secret and safe.

Though maybe this one hears me anyway, can sense the sounds her mother is silent uttering. The name waiting for her in the dark under warm, yellow-orange porchlights.

I hope it’s recognized, by both of us. I hope this one answers the call and finds her way here, home.

——–. ———. ——.  My heart. My love.

We talked this morning about starting to enjoy this pregnancy.

It’s been going on for 35 weeks now, and melka expressed recently a fear that it’s gonna be over soon – hopefully with a live baby – and what happens to all this experience? Why haven’t we enjoyed it like we should?

Well, nothing kills joy like deep, unshakable fear. So melka and I have been enjoying the pregnancy in tiny, discreet ways. One is watching the hiccups that this little person is experiencing. When melka feels particularly harsh kicks, she laughs. She says ow, woah, everything – but never complains.

And I’m sure, in her heart, she’s talking to this little one, in a special language that I can’t speak yet.

These kinds of things are so private, talking about them – if only for a minute or two – is a big deal. I told her that, if we get through this week 35 without a crisis, I want to start enjoying it a little more. Our Malina died at around this time, and while the ultrasound yesterday was a-ok, we’ve been a little hesitant to celebrate. That may come later.

So, maybe pictures this weekend. Maybe I’ll be able to talk to the belly, say hello to this baby, tell this baby that I’m in love. Astoundingly to those outside our little grief world, I haven’t done any of those things yet. That’s what I did with Malina – and it’s just too sad to repeat that.

It’s all the more important that we arm ourselves with attempts at enjoyment.

When we were grieving Malina, it was a weird feeling. I’ve got an anxious, depressive history, but I’ve never been one without the other. For me, losing Malina was the worst thing… and suddenly I had grief but little worry. I wasn’t fearing that something bad could happen anymore – it already had happened. Instead, I was just lost.

Now, we’re doing both: grieving, and worrying.

(greetings to GITW visitors, melka – my superior in communication – will be adding soon.)

There’s one big thing we’ve got stashed away here in our apartment. It’s a disposable camera, and it has undeveloped pictures of our Malina on it.

The hospital staff, as they were trained, offered to take some pictures of her body. I can completely understand how and why grieving parents would want such a thing. But at the time, it seemed sick. She’s dead – you take pictures of a live baby, not a dead one. We politely declined.

They asked again. And again, telling us that we might really regret not having pictures. The third time, I said, fine, take the damn pictures. We got the camera.

I’m no photographer, but I know a few things: the camera was a disposable thing with a flash. Those take bad pictures. I also know – God, how I wish I didn’t – what my little baby girl looked like. She looked awful. She’d been gone for a while.

(here’s where I pause, and think about what to exactly describe. but that is just too painful to share for so many reasons.)

I know the pictures won’t be good. I know the flash will be distorting… I thought the nurse was a wonderful person and very kind with us. But could she possibly take good pictures – take good final pictures of my beloved?

I have the camera still, hidden away where we won’t come across it without really trying. What on earth am I supposed to do with it? I never want to see those photos. But at the same time, I feel like I should. Maybe she won’t look as bad as I remember. But maybe she will look much worse.

We’ve spent 14 months studiously avoiding infants on television, on the street, in our imagination. In a few weeks (insert loud sound of knocking on wood) we will be facing one and, apparently, unable to look away. What then? What will those first few photographs of our second child look like? Can I ever throw away, develop, or decide what to do with that camera?

Every once in a while I come across a story that reminds me that, no, keeping a pregnancy quiet for as long as possible is not at all strange.

This one kept it from people who live with her.

I’m sure she had her reasons, too.

We’re getting into difficult territory. Melka hits 34 weeks Monday. We lost our last baby around this time. We’ve taken some hard knocks to our confidence lately… the chicken pox debacle was one of them. Now it’s starting to feel like it did before, last time, when we thought it was going to happen fine and then it went horribly wrong. So these weeks may be beyond terrifying.

One doctor, the one we like, recommended another ultrasound during the 35th week. He said, “we’ll want to make sure the umbilical cord is functioning like it should, because this is the time you lost Malina.” There’s a special room in heaven for him, for saying something that thoughtful and appropriate. Unfortunately, he won’t have much company there.

But still, we are (thinking about maybe considering a process that will lead to us) making plans. Our doula sent along a revised version of our birth plan, the one melka wrote over a year ago. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading because it’s intended for another birth, another baby, an alternate world where we have a daughter already. For the most part, it’s fine. But there’s a few things that need to be added:

If the baby dies:

  • Don’t ask if we want pictures taken. We won’t. If we want pictures, we’ll ask.
  • Don’t invite funeral directors with their casket brochures into the hospital room. We’d rather deal with that on our own.
  • Please don’t insist that we name the child immediately. We’ll need time to think.

These are just three of the numerous painful things that we’ve been chewing, gagging, choking on for the past 14 months. I’m sure there are more. So many more.

I wish, somehow, that not only will we have a living child at the end of this… but also that our last memories of pregnancy, last memories of childbirth, general feelings about the whole procreation process will be a little smudged. A little more mixed. I can understand the birth of your next child being the most bitter-sweet moment ever… and that’s something to prepare for. But can it be any worse than pure bitter?

I need this time to be different. We all know that.

I need birth to mean life this time around. I want that, desperately. But I also need to find room, head-wise and heart-wise, to welcome whoever this new person might be, should they decide to show. This pregnancy has been a very private affair, and in many ways a very sad one, the hope undeniably inherent but buried, latent. I’ve been so afraid to assume this small one is here to stay, unsure and confused now whether the obsessively noted movements inside my abdomen signal a start or a finish to our time together.

The milestones and stages of this time around have, most of the time, felt like the re-tracing of a trip that ended badly, very badly. I haven’t been able to experience this on its own terms. So when it comes to anticipating labour and birth, I’ve been terrified. I imagine flashbacks, panic attacks, and the unbearably acute renewal of feelings I’d rather not bring back to their full-fledged, monster size. My only experience of birth has been, well, horrific.

But maybe, just maybe, if the setting is different, if I’m in an environment where this birth isn’t a grim, gruesome process to just be gotten through; something other than danger and imminent death to be overcome. The Lowlands, as I was told last time, is the place to have a baby, after all. Home to a proud and long-held tradition of home birthing as the norm. Where birth is natural, beautiful. Given how things turned out last time, this has all sat rather bitterly in the back of my throat since. Me, who spent time years back apprenticing with midwives, considering becoming one myself. Plans changed, other opportunities presented, but I’ve always been drawn to the different notions surrounding what birth can be.

When I started out this pregnancy, though, I wanted the most medical of care from the get-go. I wanted machines, people in white coats, percentages and numbers drawn from blood tests, graphs, images. And it’s been just the right thing to do – we’ve drawn a lot of comfort from high-tech care. Most importantly of all, it’s not at all how we did things last time. Different.

My time in hospital with the pox, though, got me thinking. It was hard, really hard, being vulnerable and in pain in a hospital again. It may have been a different hospital in a different city, but somehow it felt exactly the same. Giving birth there offers the most non-Lowland experience an expat can get – extensive, constant monitoring and wonder of wonders, an anesthesiologist on-call around the clock and the real promise of pain relief if you ask for it – simply not the norm here, even though it was made the law just last year.

But to all appearances, it won’t be different. Last time I ended up in hospital because things had gone very, very wrong. Lately I’ve realized that maybe, just maybe, I still have a shot at a beautiful birth experience. Obviously, birth resulting in a live child this time around would be pretty damn beautiful. But maybe, if I can take advantage of the fact I’m living in the supposed haven for natural birth, maybe it won’t have to be so traumatic getting to that better outcome. Maybe I’ll actually be in a state where I can welcome this new person rather than just relive the trauma of losing his or her predecessor.

I’ve actually found what seems to be the perfect solution. Making Mokum live up to its meaning. It turns out this city has a birthing centre, the only of its kind in the country. Softly-lit, warmly-coloured rooms dressed up to feel like home and staffed by seasoned professionals in the practice of natural, home births – but it’s housed in a hospital, with doctors, more extensive tech and operating rooms just down the hall, should they be needed.  I’ve paid a visit, asked the staff a barrage of questions. For the first time, with this as an option, I feel like I can not only face this impending birth, but actually feel some excitement, some hope.

It’s not that easy, though. One, they might be full-up when my day comes and they don’t take reservations. Not to mention that labour may not start out smoothly or anywhere near on time – and it turns out they’re pretty strict about just who gets to go natural in the end and they’re quick to boot you over to the machines and methods of the hospital if anything close to a complication seems to be happening. Which I actually find comforting.

But the biggest source of unease – the fact my current hospital and doctors won’t give their consent for me to go there. They’ve also made it clear that they don’t care how I feel, dismissing my concerns about how going through labour again is very possibly going to be traumatic, refusing to talk about ways we all might be able to cope with that. It’s been disappointing and alarming. Tellingly, this place doesn’t give tours of its maternity ward. The kind of births they have here are emergencies to be managed and the emotional experience is secondary, unimportant compared to the outcome. Fair enough, especially for the likes of me. I’m just not convinced, given my history and the progress of this pregnancy, that this birth is sure to be a medical emergency. Helped by our fantastic doula here who’s been with us since M, we met with a highly-recommended doctor at another hospital for a second opinion. After a thorough going-over, he thinks differently. That I can choose to give birth where I want – should all stars amiably align in the right direction, that is.

So now we’re in the uncomfortable position of having to choose who to listen to, who to believe. Is now really the time to disagree with any doctor? Is it selfish to worry about emotions and aesthetics, birth stools, bathtubs and low-lighting versus uncomfortable, constant electronic monitoring in an ugly setting attempting to leave nothing to chance? Is it irresponsible to leave the doctor who makes me feel bad for the doctor who tells me what I want to hear?

This all opens up a whole slimy, wormy discussion, as a recent GITW thread demonstrates. Home versus hospital, natural versus not; the question of power, choice and control in birth. No clear answers, no known outcomes to virtually any of this.

I just want a way, some way for my broken heart and my exhausted emotions to look toward this birth a potential passage to joy, not simply the reliving of my worst nightmare, re-tracing a trauma that obliterates my ability to recognize or enjoy an alternate outcome.

I have no way of knowing how it will go, any of it. But I feel like my heart needs some help as this birth approaches. Even if it’s just drawing pretty curtains over the most traumatic day of my life. I’d welcome the disguise. I need it.

bocian firanka

Our first real act as parents was holding her body, bundled tightly in hospital blankets, after they brought her out from the morgue.

I’d been too scared, too shocked, too horrified to hold her after birth, trapped in a paralysis interrupted only by shaking sobs and post-labour chills. I wasn’t expecting my baby to be a corpse.  The child I had been waiting to greet had already disappeared from view, her face obscured by the thick paint-strokes of death, bright with inappropriate, cruel colour. I didn’t know how to make sense of the infant form in front of me. I didn’t know how to mother a daughter who died before I got to see her.

Afterwards, though, my body ached to hold her, to feel the weight of her. I rejected the funeral directors’ suggestion we pick a casket for the cremation ceremony. She would not lie alone, a contained object on a table to be distantly weeped at before burning. She would be in my arms. Until I had to let her go.

When we went three days later to pick her up for the hospital morgue, we wailed in unison at the sight of the thickly-wrapped body they brought out, and we stretched out our arms to receive her. I remember the small cylinder of cold through the layer of blankets, the stiff crinkle of plastic. I welcomed the weight.  Then, ready with a handful of paper and cloth, we put her down gently before us, two parents bending over their first child and figuring out together how to hold, how to touch.  I wanted her to be wrapped with photos, letters and cards from us and all the people in our lives who had waiting to receive her. I wanted her ashes to be mingled with the evidence that she was wanted. I didn’t want her to be alone.  We stroked the blanket covering our baby, spots on the surface spreading and darkening with both our tears, and made out the orientation of head and feet. We kissed her, we told her we loved her, and then carried her to the car taking us to the crematorium. Parents, finally.

But are we really? What do I know about mothering when I couldn’t make out the face of my own child, when I could only hold her with a barrier of blankets between us?

There’s one moment that frightens me most when I anticipate the impending birth of this other child. Other than more death, that is. I’m not frightened of the pain or length of labour, I’m not really frightened about emergency c-sections, radical episiotomies, or dramatic, disfiguring perineal tears. Worried, of course, but not frightened. What does frighten me is that moment where I just might come face to face with another infant. One that’s alive. One that’s mine. One that should be seen, and held.

I’m scared of what I’ll see when I look into the face of a breathing, crying newborn, scared of being shown anew the difference that death makes. I’m scared of catching a glimpse of what I should have seen a year ago, scared the TV-screen scramble my shocked brain broadcast in response to my firstborn’s face will be restored to clarity – a perfect, high-definition picture of what and who we’ve lost.

And so rather than anticipating the moment I meet this child with eagerness and excitement, I’m wondering whether I’ll want to see him or her at all. If I’ll be able to.

I’m wondering what kind of mother that makes me, if any at all.

First off, a quote from Pregnancy after a loss: “Men are notorious for hiding their true feelings. Your partner is probably no exception.” So, please, read through my previous posts with a grain of salt. I appreciate the understanding. Melka has heard somewhere that men are from Mars. It’s apparently a popular notion. Maybe in another post I can talk share about how much this ROCKS for a man who hides his true feelings.

Same book, a few sentences later, it says that weight gain may be a sign of sympathetic fathers-to-be.

And then, thankfully, the surprising revelation: men have feelings, too. Otherwise, a good book.

Anyway.

We’ve got a few things lying around here that we don’t necessarily want, but can’t get rid of.

The main thing is the container that our daughter’s ashes came in. They arrived in a cardboard box that folded up into a handle. It’s a bit like a happy meal box, but different for several reasons. I can think of two ways – for one, it has butterflies drawn on the outside. We didn’t open it at first.

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There’s really no hiding the belly now. That’s a good development.

Melka’s done with work (she got a note saying 10 weeks before the due date was her last day) and that’s taken the stress off the workplace hiding. I have no idea how many of our colleagues knew – I know of four for sure. And only one of those figured it out on her own. Thankfully, the others who might know have kept their mouths shut.

I told my parents a little bit ago. It went well. They’re far away, and for very complicated, but reasonable, reasons, we didn’t tell them. It went well, my dad said he was expecting us to get off a plane with a two year old some day. He said melka is a very brave woman. That was nice to hear, someone acknowledging how hard this is. My mom was very happy I told her. My sister, well, that was more tough. It somehow ended with me apologizing for upsetting her… I can’t remember how, but it pisses me off now.

The thing that’s hardest about being so far away and having family know is that now I have another three people to take care of. They want updates, they worry, they want to know things are okay. And while I can look at melka and ask if she’s feeling any kicking, they can’t. So I have to take care of their worry, and mine.

But it helps a little to have the secret let out – if only just a little.

For anyone that has gone through this loss, and this process of doing it again… how? How do you not become insanely jealous of your time, your feelings, your future, your child – the living and the dead? I worry that both of us – maybe in different ways – have become more open to strangers than our own families. That feels like a bad thing. I imagine having a living child and not wanting anyone to look at her/him. I wonder if it is just this particularly stressful time (understatement). Or is this how things will be? Does this anxiety about sharing change?