Friday, August 22, 2008

Caution: Grieving Mother - Enter at your own risk

Below is the draft of a letter that I am thinking of sending out by email to my coworkers to help make my transition back to work more manageable. I go back in just over a week and I'm scared about how I will react when people ask me how I am or when people pretend nothing happened. I hope that sending a letter will help others figure out what to say. Dug says (and I agree) that my letter is way too long and so I'm in the process of modifying and shortening it. My problem is that I feel like it is my only opportunity to get my thoughts across and I don't want to miss anything important. Anyhow, here it is.

Dear coworkers and friends,

With the start of the school year approaching I wanted to send out some information to help you and help me after the death of my twins, Cole and Breanna. In all the bereavement materials I have read (oh how I have read) it says to ‘let people know what you want and need. Friends and coworkers are uncomfortable and don’t know how to deal with such a situation and end up saying and doing things that are hurtful when they think they are being kind.’

First off you should know that my husband and I are proud parents of twin baby angels Cole and Breanna, and just like any proud parent we love to talk about our babies. In our eyes, they were perfect. Although they may not have joined our family in the way we expected, they are still a part of our lives. So before you can ask me ‘how my summer was’ I will share with you that it has been an emotional and difficult few months. Grieving their passing has been and still is difficult and always on my mind.

Below are some things you can do to help me:

Say Cole and Breanna’s names when you talk about them; they are real and it makes me feel good when others acknowledge that. Granted I may cry, not because you are opening an old wound or reminding me of something sad, but because you are showing me that you care and that means the world to me. The more you use their names and talk about them in natural conversation the less I will cry. Having said that, there is an appropriate time to talk about them and I prefer not to cry in front of my students.

Please be understanding that I may not be in complete control of my emotions all of the time and your understanding if I cry is greatly appreciated. From what I hear it will take several years to adjust to the loss of a child and learn how to incorporate it into my new life. I write this letter in hopes that you will know what I am thinking and feeling but please note that I am STILL grieving and therefore all advice in this letter I subject to change without notice!!

Realize that nothing is comparable to the loss of your child. I appreciate the sentiment if you say “I know what it’s like, I lost my parent/sibling/spouse/relative/best friend”. It shows me that you are TRYING to understand and that you are at least familiar with grief. But it is only helpful if you acknowledge that it is not the same as losing your child. They are your own flesh and blood and losing your children goes against the natural order of things. So unless you have lost a CHILD you really have no idea what it is like.

Saying that you understand what it’s like because you have had a miscarriage is bittersweet. I appreciate the effort you are making to understand what it is like to be in my shoes as long as you realize that I gave birth to two babies that were alive and subsequently died. NOTHING can compare to that. And FYI, I have also had a miscarriage so I know the difference and hopefully I will not have too many more on the road to creating a little brother or sister for Cole and Breanna.

Here is a list of things you can say if words escape you:
“You are in my thoughts”
“I can’t imagine what you are going through”
“I’m here for you if you want to talk”
“I don’t know what to say”
If all else fails a simple “I’m sorry” will do

Now let’s talk about the Don’ts:

Please don’t ignore me (ie leave the room when I come in or turn the other way when you see me coming down the hall) – I am not medusa. We don’t have to talk about them. If you are uncomfortable please just tell me. All you need to say is “I’m sorry but I am uncomfortable dealing with such a loss” and I will never mention them to you.

Please don’t tell me about miracles that have happened to premature babies that are alive and well. It does not help me to hear how modern medicine has made such advancements to save premature babies. They could not save my babies and I will forever be haunted by the thoughts of ‘what if’.

Please don’t tell me that I am young and will have other children. This is so painful on many levels. One, I’m actually not that young in terms of child bearing years. Two, there is no guarantee that I will have more children. It took us a year and a half of fertility treatments to have Cole and Breanna. And three, and most painful, is that even if I have more children nothing will ever replace Cole and Breanna. I will love them forever and they will always have a place in my life. Having another child will just mean that I will have to teach someone else, that never met Cole and Breanna, how important they were to me.

Please don’t say “At least you didn’t get to know them or get too attached”. I carried these babies for 6 months and wanted them for many years before that. I was attached from the second I peed on a stick. I felt them kick and could distinguish between their personalities in my womb. I knew them very well. In fact it’s worse that I didn’t have them for very long because I have no good memories to look back on, only what I had hoped for. The wonderful day they were born was also the horrible day they died.

Other things NOT to say are:
“You should be over it by now” – anyone who has lost someone significant in their life can attest to the fact that you NEVER get over it you just learn to live with it.
“It was for the best” or “it is gods will” or “meant to be” – Really that’s not helpful. For the best would be them being alive and with me right now.
“You need to find the bright side” – there is none.
“You need to get on with your life” – I have, it’s a different life, the life of a grieving mother

Here is a little poem I found that sums up my letter best.

You think that silence is kind but it hurts me even more.

I want to talk about my child who had gone through deaths door.
Don't say these things to me, although you do mean well.
They do not take my pain away; I must go through this hell.
I will get better, slow but sure -- and it helps to have you near.
But a simple, "I'm sorry you lost your child" is all I need to hear.
Author unknown

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I know how difficult and uncomfortable the thought of losing a child is. I appreciate your effort and all the support I have received so far.

Audrey Hogarth
Proud mommy of twin angels Cole and Breanna

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Due Date Balloon Release

Many people in the baby loss world have several dates that are significant to them regarding their baby. Most celebrate the day their baby was born which is also the day they died. May 3rd and May 4th will always be their special days. The days when my babies were born and became angels… as many in the baby loss world call ‘angelversary’. I know those will be difficult days in the coming years but I want to try and celebrate them…not think of it as the days they died but as the days they joined our family.

I often heard that the expected due date is also a day that people commemorate. I feel like I too want to commemorate that day but I’m struggling to find a date to pin down as their due date. Their official due date, when they would be 40 weeks, is August 30th although at one point it was August 28th. But we never really thought of that as anything significant because we were told that I would be induced at 38 weeks if I hadn’t already delivered them by then, which they expected. Dug and I knew they were going to be early, I was thinking they’d arrive mid to late July, because they were twins and I am so small, so we were getting everything ready. We had bought some preemie clothes and supplies. They were hard to find so whenever we saw them we picked them up thinking we’d rather be over prepared than running around at the last minute trying to find stuff to fit them and figured that if they were too big for the preemie clothes we would donate them to the NICU or multiples association.

So the problem is what day do we commemorate as their due date? I know I don’t need a day because I think of them and honour them everyday but I feel like I need something tangible to hang on to, focus my energy on so that my entire summer for the rest of my life is not a big empty vast space of grieving. I asked Dug what he thought and he had said “Well if you want the date that I expected them to arrive that would be July 15th”. I started to cry. It was already August. I missed it. I felt so awful. How could I have done nothing to commemorate their day?

A week later Natasha came to visit after her appointment with Dr. Donahoe (the psychologist we are both seeing) and she mentioned that Dr. Donahoe asked her if she was going to do anything for Henry’s expected due date, which happens to be August 30th as well. I shared with her that I was so sad because I felt like I had missed the day that we expected them and then gave her ideas as to what people on the message boards had done such as butterfly releases, balloon releases, going to their grave, or just doing something special.

That weekend I went to the store to get some balloons blown up for my friend Amy’s shower. There I saw balloons with Winnie-the-pooh and Eeyore on them. They were so cute and thought to myself ‘those would be great for a balloon release for Cole and Breanna.’ As I drove to Amy’s mom’s house for the shower I started getting emotional, for seemingly no reason (not that it’s that unusual nowadays) but then I thought about it and realized the date. It was August 16th… Cole and Breanna would have been 38 weeks today. I would have been induced today!!! That’s it, today is the day. I figured when I get home from the shower I’ll pick up those balloons and we’ll do a balloon release. I suddenly felt much better. But then I got worried about what if the store closes, so I called Dug and told him my idea and asked him to pick up the balloons while I was at the shower so that we’d have them ready.

Just before the shower started my friend Becky surprised me with the most amazing gift. She had gotten two stars in the Taurus constellation named after Cole and Breanna. I was so touched by such a thoughtful gesture. And it made the day just that much more special to commemorate Cole and Breanna. I knew this was perfect!

When I got home from the shower Dug had the helium balloons ready and we drove to the cemetery. We pulled out our blanket that we keep in Dug’s trunk for when we have picnics at the cemetery with the kids. We sat down and read the information packages that came with the Stars that Becky had gotten named after Cole and Breanna that she had given to me earlier that day. We told Cole and Breanna all about their stars. Then we wrote messages on their balloons took some pictures and released them. It was so windy, they just took off. Dug had tied the two balloons together so they flew away together. Dug and I stood there, holding each other, watching the balloons until they got so high and so small that we could no longer see them. It was perfect!! The weather was perfect and the sky was clear, which is really amazing because this summer has been so rainy and cloudy. Becky’s gift was perfectly timed and to top it all off we were leaving the next day for 2 weeks in Florida. I was so relieved to have done something special that day to commemorate them and the date had significance. It may not be when we expected them or when they actually came but it was the last possible day for them to have been born and I’m thankful that we did something for that.

Starting a new blog

I've decided to move the location of my blog to here. I started a blog (well more like a collection of essays) back in May after my twins Cole and Breanna passed away. I have found it helpful to sort out my thoughts and theraputic in that it lets me get stuff off my chest. My hope is that I will be able to look back on what I have written and see how far I have come in my grieving. I originally started my blog at WTE ( since I was there already on the message boards during my pregnancy and it was one of the first grief and loss message boards I found after they passed away. But I have since realized that there are some problems and limitations with their blog site. First off, it was driving me crazy everytime I went on there to see pictures and advertisements for babies. Second, they added a word limit which was really annoying because the entire point of this is to help me deal with issues and I can't do that if I have to limit what I write. And third, is that I could not post pictures which I love. So here I am starting this new blog and thinking I should probably move all of my old posts here. Oh boy, what a chore!