Today’s the day for more guilt

The guilt is real, folks. And it’s rearing it’s ugly head at this very inconvenient time.

We all struggle, in one way or another, especially now. This weird Covid-19, “rona” thing happening is affecting us all. We’re all on high anxiety, antsy, when is this going to end mode and it’s manifesting in each of us in such different ways.

Some of us feel the anxiety part more than anything else. I’m raising my hand. I’ve learned over the last few years that my anxiety likes to show in more physical ways. Sometimes I feel like I want to take deep breaths, sometimes I can’t sit still, sometimes I feel like I need to take a break from wearing my glasses (this one is weird, but it happens. Why does it happen? I have no idea). Sometimes my anxiey is a result of feeling like I need to cry, a way to release the anxiety. So I’ll have a good cry and my anxiety slowly settles down. The unknown of this new covid life combined with having anxiety to begin with, is making for some interesting times.

For others, and I’ll raise my hand for this one as well, the antsy bugs are at an all time high. I never realized how much driving to and from work, or being able to shop at Target whenever I wanted was such a stress reliever. Freedom at it’s finest.

So here is where the guilt comes in, at this very inconvenient time.

I am a mother who has lost a child, I think we all know this by now. My first born child who was, and still is, my world. He is a part of my every day life, whether it’s thoughts, stories, or tears. I would do ANYTHING to have the situation changed, to have him growing up with his brother, to have him with me. I yearn to be stuck in this quarantine life with both of my boys, four of us with nowhere to go, nowhere to be except with each other.

That will never happen.

So, when the moments come (the MANY moments throughout these “new normal” days) when I am working on my computer, now at home on my kitchen table, and Quinlan’s little brother comes up to me, blabbering away in his baby talk with a “mama” thrown in for cuteness, and I have to say “I love you, but please go play” the guilt I feel is REAL. I should be squeezing him and kissing him every second of every day because the fear of losing another child is also real. And when I can’t because of work, or chores, or whatever else comes with being and adult, it breaks my heart.

*Please know that I fully understand this comes with being a mom to any and all children, I am not minimizing that fact. I only know this type of guilt so it’s what I’m able to speak about.*

I was talking to a new friend about this issue, a friend who was brought into my life because she also lost her child, and she brought up a very relevant point. She said that it’s almost like we are expected to love our living children even more because we have experienced the loss of another child. But then in thinking about that, who is saying that we are “expected” to be doing this? Society, friends, family, other’s in the loss community? Nope. It is us, the loss mom’s who are putting extreme pressure on ourselves. We feel like we have to devote every single second of our lives to our living children, and more importantly, not complain because we are so incredibly lucky to have children that we can kiss and hug whenever we want. And yes, I do feel beyond lucky, and feel like I have been saved by our youngest child. But damn, that’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves.

So, while it’s easier said than done, we need to not feel that guilt. We have to know that we are going to have the frustrations just like every mom, the moments (many, many moments) where saying “I love you, but leave me alone” is necessary. No guilt!

Maybe it’s because we have the love for our living child combined with the love for our child who has passed built up inside of us. Yet our day to day lives only allow us to be able to share that love with our living children, to hug, kiss and squeeze as much as entirely possible. As a result, they get it all when that love was designed to be shared with all of your children. That is one of the incredibly messed up parts of having lost a child.

Or maybe it’s because this is such an unnatural situation to be in, that no one really knows how we are supposed to live our day to day lives. So there is guilt, there are kisses, there is lots of pressure, and lots and lots of love.

💚Mama Bear

Today’s the day to remember that was me

So, there have been moments lately where I have read about a mom who lost her child and think “that is so unimaginable”. Or hear about a child who has been in the hospital for a prolonged period of time and say to myself “that poor baby, and his poor parents”.

But then I remember, that was me. That is me. My husband and I are those parents.

It’s a seriously surreal feeling. It’s a completely different world I once lived in. I can’t say that I’m too sure I was actually fully present during that time in my life. I was so focused on taking care of Quinlan that I’m not sure I actually soaked it all in (nor do I believe it’s humanly possible to do so in such a traumatic situation). I was so concentrated on learning all I could from the doctors, nurses and therapists in order for Quinlan to survive. Hearing about these families going through the same thing as we went through sometimes seems so foreign to me, while also seems so incredibly familiar. I could see a child laying in an ICU bed space and know (or at least have an idea) what that tube is for, what those machines do, and how he or she is doing based on the numbers on the monitors. I could still hear the alarm and automatically jump up to check what their numbers show. I still know the fear the parents feel every moment. Maybe this feeling of disconnect is my body’s way of protecting myself because if I truly did feel it all, all the time, I would not be able to continue on and live the rest of my life.

I recently realized that August is the same age now that Quinlan was when he was finally diagnosed with having the Brat1 mutation. These last 15 months with August have gone by so fast, it’s almost impossible to think that in this same exact time frame, we went through all we did with Q. Again, such a different world that was.

When Quinlan was August’s age, he had spent 300 days admitted to the hospital. August has spent zero.

Three years ago this weekend, Bear and I spent two nights away at a hotel in Kennebunkport to “get away” from the fact that our two year old son had just passed away (there’s no getting away from that, as you know or can imagine). This weekend was spent chasing after August at the playground and watching him giggle as he went down the slide.

Could these two weekends be any different? It’s like two different peoples lives.

And saying all this now brings on the guilt. The guilt of wondering if I was a different mom to Quinlan than I am now to August. Does feeling as though that life is so foreign take away all that we went through? Am I more or less a mom to one over the other because these journeys have been so incredibly different?

I feel like I’ve lived such an out-of-body experience, yet that same experience has changed me, so how out-of-body could it really have been?

That was me then and this is me now. I’m still working on introducing them to each other.

💚Mama Bear

Today’s the day for not so alone time

I’ve recently thought of a way to describe a teeny tiny piece of the grief we deal with from child loss. It may make sense or it may sound totally bizarre. To be honest, it almost doesn’t make sense to me, while at the same time makes me say “YES! That’s it”.

Being a mom, you need alone time. We all know this. You need time to step away for a few minutes, know your child is being well taken care of (by your husband, family member, friend, trusted babysitter, whoever), and turn your mind off for a bit. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a needed thing.

I’m going to preface the rest of this post by saying that as moms (and dads) we are always going to have our kids on our minds. That goes without saying. The alone time I’m going to talk about (and the switching our minds off) is the necessary alone time that is needed to stay sane while raising a kid, while never actually forgetting you have a kid, duh (I hope this makes sense).

Let me continue.

Think about taking a trip to Target, by yourself. You can shop for what YOU want to shop for. You have no one else pulling you in different directions rushing you out of the store. Yes, you may glance through the kids section to see if anything catches your eye for your little one to purchase, but it’s because YOU want to and not because something caught a little ones eye and they “have to have it”. You will then continue on your way to look for a new purse you really don’t need, or a book you’ve heard is good (in the hopes of having additional alone time to actually read it).

Going to the nail salon. Yes! The best afternoon! Stop at Starbucks, grab yourself your favorite hot beverage, sit down and get pampered while sipping on your HOT (decaf, if you’re like me) white chocolate mocha, sure add the whip, and not having to reheat it twelve times throughout the day because you keep forgetting it’s there while you’re doing 67 other things. Your mind is officially switched off for the next 50 minutes and you can just be.

When you’ve lost a child, it’s like you can never go to Target by yourself, or get pampered while drinking your Starbucks. You can’t ever switch your mind to off.

You may try as best you can but it doesn’t happen. It’s like it CAN’T happen.

You ALWAYS have your mind switched on.

By this I mean, for example, your trip to Target. You walk in, alone, perusing the aisles. Taking some alone time to reset for a bit. And then you see the shirt that your little one who has passed away wore in that picture you love. You see the book about siblings and you are reminded, yet again, that your living child will never get to meet his brother. You see another mom out with her baby and remember all the trips you got to take with your little one to Target before he was too sick to leave the house, before he was attached to wires and machines for the rest of his life.

You go to the nail salon and think about the nail color you had on in your favorite picture of you two together. You are transported back to two days after his passing when you needed to get out of the house and why not get a manicure, and pray they did not ask how many children you have.

There is no off switch for grieving a child. There is no stepping away knowing your child is in good hands.

There just isn’t.

We are always shopping with one of our children with us. Always concerned about their well being to the Nth degree.

It is ALWAYS there. We are ALWAYS on.

And we wonder why grief is so exhausting?

💚Mama Bear

Today’s the day I settle for Mickey and Batman

Something else to add to the oh so confusing world of being a Vilomah (if you haven’t heard the word, I recommend looking it up, but not in a dictionary because it’s not there yet. It’s a heavy word but so necessary in society. I’ll get more into that later…and by later I mean another blog post, I’ll leave you in suspense).

This something else to add is the fact that I am still mothering two children. Sounds crazy because, well, one of them isn’t here, and yet, I’m still mothering him. I’m the mother of two boys who hold equal spots in my heart, my soul, my brain, and my world.

This fact holds true all year round but especially right now, during the holidays.

Here is a perfect example:

Fortunately for us, Baby Bear is still young enough to be more excited about the boxes than he will the actual gift when they come Christmas morning. Taking advantage of this opportunity, we will be wrapping up a box of diapers, his already used toys, and a package of diaper wipes. He’ll be as content as ever, and know no different. (And because I’m not a total grinch, yes, I did buy him a couple new things and will fill his stocking – possibly with more wipes, but again, he’s 1, he won’t know the difference). So in the midst of collecting things for him (both old and new), and the rest of our family (don’t worry, they all get new) I’ve been doing a decent amount of shopping, aka a decent amount of trips to Target. During one of my first holiday shopping trips to Target, I noticed these cute little stockings with initials on them. Stockings in our family are just as important as the gifts, and even more special. We all have hand made stockings (except Baby Bear, but we’re working on that #secondchildproblems) and the hope that Santa fills each one with a toothbrush, Lifesavers book, and chocolate coins is still there. These little stockings I wanted to buy would purely be for decoration. Something with each of our initials to hang together as a family. So, I start looking through the bin. Found the L, the J, a couple of A’s, another J in a different pattern, a green AND a red L….no Q. Next trip to Target I look again. Same issue. Not a single Q. Clearly I’m not purchasing these little stockings without a Q. It wouldn’t be right. Every time I go to Target I’m still looking for a Q, and still nothing (including a late night shopping excursion with the bf, still no Q’s even at 10pm). At this point, I’m passed the point of finding these little stockings to hang as our family of four (and a bit annoyed they don’t have a single Q. They have X, Y and Z, but no Q). Alas, I’ve moved on. I then notice they have a little Mickey Mouse stocking (30% off, I might add) and Baby Bear is currently obsessed with Mickey Mouse. So, I pick that up. I can’t just get him a stocking though, I need one for Quinlan as well. Him being the Superhero he was, I grab him a Batman stocking to hang next to Mickey. Stocking purchase complete but not fully what I was hoping for.

Yes, I could have bought the L, J and A, but that’s not my family. My family is four parts and the Q is and always will be included.

From the jewelry I wear (my two rings, one with the August birthstone and one with December’s, and the necklace with a flower for each of the boys) to the birthdays we celebrate to family pictures we take. He is included.

I am thinking about him, worrying about him, loving him every second of every day, just like I do with Baby Bear. My two sons.

It’s confusing to all (including myself) because how do you mother one child who’s here and one child who’s in heaven? It’s a very split feeling. You want to be in both places at once. Holding both of them together, but knowing that will never happen. Wanting to make sure you’re sharing enough memories about one, while still making enough memories with the other.

Oh this journey is so f’d up.

So, if you’re reading this and thinking I sound a bit nutty, oh well, you can think that (because yes, I can be a bit nutty at times). But in this situation, it’s my new normal and it’s how it has to be, as confusing and f’d up as it is.

And as a side note, I do want to again say how thankful we are for everyone’s love and positive thoughts over the last few years. It’s not easy but it could be a lot harder without your genuine support.

Happy Holidays!

J, L, Q, A

💚Mama Bear

Today’s the day that should have been

Hi. It’s me. Miss MIA. I could rattle off a list of excuses as to why I’ve totally fallen out of the blog world (summer craziness, chasing around a 9 month old, blah blah blah). Really it can all be summed up as plain old adulting. We all know what it’s like, we all understand, no excuses needed. Adulting happens whether we like it or not.

(It’s currently been an hour since I wrote the last paragraph. I guess babies like to eat occasionally, and apparently it’s up to us as parents to make it happen. Talk about “adulting”.)

Now back to blogging.

So, I’ve risen out of blog world hibernation because it’s one of those days. (Hold please, crying baby crawling over to me).

Back again…so yes, today is one of those days. One of those days not necessarily on the calendar, or a day I’ve thought much about over the last two and a half years. But a day that has snuck up on me. Quinlan should have started kindergarten today. He should have been one of those kids standing at the front door with one of those signs telling what he wants to be when he grows up, who his teacher would be, his favorite book, and all the things he SHOULD be.

And to add to all the feels of today, tomorrow he would have turned 5 years old. Five years since he made me a mom. Five years since my life changed forever. And not just forever, but FOREVER.

So, yes, it’s one of those days, one of those weeks.

With that being said, and the feels coming out in full force, I wanted to make a list of all the things as a mom that I want to do, wish I could have done, and hope others do. But mostly things I want to remind myself to do/keep doing even when we have a teenager who no longer wants to be in the same room as me. Being a bereaved parent, I think our brains work in a different way. Slightly more paranoid, yet maybe more forgiving. More anxious, yet also more freeing. It’s really quite confusing. (Full disclosure: I am not a professional and do not expect anyone to take any of my advise. But maybe something I write will be exactly what someone needs to hear one day.)

In no particular order:

  1. Give ALL the hugs – even when they just won’t go to sleep and keep reaching for you, squeeze them tight (#currentmood)
  2. Rub their backs until they fall asleep for as long as possible. Yes, I will get in my car and drive however far away I need if Baby Bear needs a mama back rub to fall asleep, even when he’s 50 years old. I’ll be really old, but I’ll try my hardest.
  3. Take the pictures – especially the milestones, the first days of school, and the selfies. There is no such thing as too many pictures. Just wait for the hundreds of “first day of school” pics Baby Bear will have taken. Sorry in advance! Unfriend me now.
  4. Laugh with them, even when you’re feeling down. They need to see it as much as you need to feel it.
  5. Let them sleep in your bedroom as long as you want – I tried to keep him under my watchful eye until he was at least 10 years old, but, that didn’t work out. (Sadly I’m only half kidding about this one). Turns out he needed his own crib and I needed to not be awake every hour making sure he was still breathing. Not good for my sanity.
  6. Sit in the backseat with them, even after they “need” you to. I used to have to sit in the backseat with Quinlan every car ride because of his medical condition. There are times now that I’ll sit in the backseat with Baby Bear just because. No reason other than I want to.
  7. When they fall, don’t always pick them up (only sometimes). Does that make me a bad mom? We are currently in the crawling, pulling himself up on EVERYTHING stage and with all my might, I try not to reach down and pick him up every time he falls. My husband will attest to the fact that I will immediately jump, ask “Is he okay?!”, and want to coddle him, but, he is fine. In fact, most of the time, he laughs afterward. My child the daredevil. However, the minute there is blood, yes, I will freak out, coddle, jump, run, pick him up, etc. etc.
  8. Go with your gut. Ask all the questions. Get every opinion you need to feel comfortable with anything going on with your child. They have a hangnail that looks funny, take them to the number one hospital in the country. You can NEVER be too overprotective of your child. You will never seem overbearing or crazy for wanting to know exactly what is going on with your child. You are your child’s best advocate.

It’s a small list, and yes there are a million other things that could be added, but these are the things right now that I wish I could have done for Quinlan, and things I hope I can continue to do for Baby Bear as long as possible.

Take nothing for granted, and take all the pictures. You will never get sick of them.

💚Mama Bear

Today’s the day for a dip in the lake

Guess what I did this weekend. I brought Baby Bear to the lake, and he went in the water!

Sounds like a pretty typical weekend for those dealing with this hot New England summer (I’m NOT complaining, bring on those beach days…at least on weekends, when I’m not sitting in an office).

For me, this is anything but typical.

My family is lucky enough to have access to a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee during the summers. A place to sleep, a place to sit on the sand or float in the water pretty much any time we want. Nice, right? Except, in the almost five years since becoming a mom, this is the very first time I’ve brought my child to the lake. I’ve been up there with family, friends, cousins, cousins kids, nieces. I’ve been up there pregnant and not pregnant. I’ve been up there prior to being a mom and after becoming a mom. But never have I been up there with my child. Until this weekend.

Quinlan was born towards the end of lake season. By the time the following summer rolled around he was still admitted to the hospital. The following summer when he had finally been discharged, he had a trach, ventilator and g-tube. All of which make it hard (not impossible, but hard) to make the one and a half hour drive to NH, stay overnight, never mind taking a dip in the lake. Again, not an impossible task, but one that never seemed like a viable option for us.

I had often thought about what trips we could take as a family. It was a short list. Renting an RV so we could drive a good distance but still be able to keep his ventilator, battery, O2 monitor, and g-tube plugged in. And, of course, keeping track of where all the closest hospitals would be at all times. We looked into renting a house for a week. Again, an easier vacation so all of his machines could be plugged in most of the time. This would involve checking with the renter to ensure electrical outlets were up to date and could handle multiple machines being plugged in continuously. This could be doable. And yes, still mapping out exactly where the closest hospital was located. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to take him on vacations. It was far from that. It’s that being the parents of a medically complex child, especially one that requires being plugged in at all times, literally plugged in, puts a bit of a different spin on “vacationing”. No vacation is easy with kids. In fact you usually need a vacation from the vacation (from what I hear from others but am slowly learning for myself). To leave the comfort of your own home, where you know where every extra trach is, which drawer every piece of gauze or medical tape is kept, and having a nurse as another set of hands and eyes watching over your child, that’s scary. If you’re lucky, you may have a nurse or two that will come on vacation with you for a couple days. But I’m guessing having multiple nurses abandon their day to day lives to vacation with you is rare, and no one can blame them.

Packing up Baby Bear for two nights away was a bit of an ordeal for me. Not because I’m new to packing up a child, but because packing for two days when it doesn’t include a hospital stay, extra g-tube, ventilator battery and ambu bag seemed surreal. Yes, I certainly overpacked. Did he need 12 bibs for two days? No. Three days, maybe, but I still could have gotten away with far less. This new “normal”, which actually IS “normal” for many, is something I’m still getting used to. (Next time I’ll cut the number down to 8 bibs).

It’s not easy to sit here and feel fully excited about doing this “typical” activity. Something I can say I’m finally able to do, that I’ve wanted to do for years. In my mind that makes it seem like there were no firsts or “finally able to do’s” with Quinlan. Or that the activities we did do with Quinlan I wasn’t excited about. Clearly that wasn’t the case.

I guess it’s just that every new experience that I’m able to say “yes, I’ve done that” makes this new world of ours seem that much more real. Real in the sense that our “abnormal” is being replaced by “typical” and that comes with all sorts of emotions.

Sometimes I still feel like I fit in better with the “abnormal” than with the “typical”. Is that normal?

💚Mama Bear