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The First 7 Days of Grief: A User’s Guide

I am struggling with writing this Grief Blog.  

On one hand, I don’t want to dwell in my grief, simmer in it, because then I’ll become part of the Grief Stew, and I fear it will overtake me.  On the other hand, though, there is all this emotion that needs to be let out.  I think if I can collect it all together in one blog, then it will be something for me to have to remember my son with, long after there are other children’s feet pattering around in my kitchen.

My grief is what I have to hold on to my son.  It’s my link to him, and I want to document everything I can so that I will always have this connection.  So that even if I’m still alive and coherent in fifty years, with grandchildren sitting on my knee, I’ll still be able to look back on this blog, and to remember the grief, to remember that I had a son.  

And so, I write.  I document.  I catalog.  I make notes so I don’t forget.  I had been doing this on my personal blog, but then decided that I wanted one place completely dedicated to Baby Teysko, and his memory.  My blog’s been around, in various iterations, for almost eight years.  I want Baby T to have a place of his own, where I can just grieve for him.

Last week we had crazy storms in SoCal.  The rain poured down, just as it did the week after Baby T died.  I don’t think I will ever forget those first few days after his death.  I don’t know that I want to, as hard as they are to think about.

So here is my summary to-do-list of how to spend your first week grieving your lost baby, if you’re going to do it like me.  Not like I think anybody should do it like me.  But here’s how I did it, nonetheless.

Day 1: You are probably still in the hospital.  Watch bad TV.  Highly recommended are The Millionaire Matchmaker, and this show on the History Channel about loggers.  If you’re lucky, there will be a 24 hour marathon of it, so you can watch one episode after another and not lose track of which loggers are fighting with each other.  Make sure your hubby is in bed with you, making fun of the TV shows with you.  When the hospital offers to wash the clothes you came in with, politely decline and ask instead that they be thrown away.  You might be sad about it, because that top was your favorite maternity top, but it’s not worth having the memories of last night hanging in your closet, ready to say hello to you every time you get dressed.   

Day 2:  You will probably wake up early, even though you’re on sleeping pills.  You will putter around the house, looking at everything differently, because now you’re seeing things through the eyes of devastation.  Your neighbor will hug you and tell you that the same thing happened to her son and his wife, and they have two beautiful children now.  That is supposed to give you hope, and you recognize that, so you are grateful.  You might enjoy getting the house in order.  That chicken you were roasting when you went to the hospital; that really needs to be thrown out.  Take out the recycling while you’re at it.  Do the dishes.  It will give you something to do besides stare at The Price is Right, and having a clean house will help you.  That afternoon, go for a drive to look at the fall colors with your hubby, and when you stop to eat at Sizzler, tell the waitress that you’re not eating much because you just lost a baby.  The more people you tell, the more it makes it real.  Plus, she might respond that she lost one too.  Knowing that there are other people who have gone through what you are going through, and have made it out the other side is comforting.  Before you go home, stop for some groceries, and get comfort food.  Lucky Charms is particularly recommended.  In the grocery store you may see a pregnant woman.  If you do, just bury your head in your husband’s shoulder.  He can guide you past her.

Day 3:  You should probably de-register from the websites you had created accounts with.  And it wouldn’t hurt to check out the grief message boards on those sites, where you can talk with other women.  You pull out the packet of information about grief that they gave you at the hospital.  There is a support group that meets in 2 weeks.  You decide to go.  But more pressing is the need to deal with the mortuary.  You pull out the paper they gave you listing phone numbers of local mortuaries, and you and hubby decide on one after looking at several websites.  You have to go in person to sign the paperwork.  That really sucks.  Your dad might offer to do it for you.  But he can’t.  You need to sign the paperwork.  In ink.  Within three days.  So you and hubby drive to the mortuary and fill out the forms in triplicate, and you will probably want to collapse walking down the steps leaving the funeral home.  It makes sense.  Four days ago you were a glowing pregnant mama.  Now you’re an empty shell. Let your hubby catch you.  He wants to help you so much.  So many people want to help you, you’re realizing.  Let them.  You will stop at Target on the way home to get a tight sports bra, which the nurses recommend to keep your milk from coming in.  On the way home, you decide you want to get away.  That you don’t want to spend another minute in your  house, with the piles of baby clothes and baby books and baby memories everywhere.  So call the petsitter, pack up, take a quick nap, and leave in the wee hours of…

Day 4:  You might pick Yosemite, like we did, to get away.   You will move slowly, like an old lady, because you are still healing, and you will not venture far from the main tourist sites.  But you will marvel at how you have healed so quickly already.  Four days ago you were in agony, and afraid you were dying.  Now look at you!  Taking slow walks around tourist sites and eating veggie burgers from their cafeterias!  You will go for a little walk to see the old Yosemite graveyard, and you will talk to the people buried there.  Children of early settlers who died.  You will tell them to watch out for your baby, to check in with him and make sure he’s ok.  You might be by a waterfall and ask your baby for a sign that he’s ok, and that he knows how much you loved him.  All day long you will be looking for signs, and if you’re lucky, you will get one.  Leaving the park the back way, there is an adopt-a-highway sign that says that the highway is adopted by Butterflies and Rainbows.  That’s it.  Just Butterflies and Rainbows.  You will laugh and tell your hubby that that’s the sign, because you’ve learned the past few days that in the pregnancy-loss world, they call the babies that are lost Butterfly Babies, and the babies you have after a loss are called Rainbow Babies.  That evening you will drive down to Mammoth, where your hubby used to go snow-boarding as a teenager.  Along the drive, you will notice rainbows, and you will feel very close to your son.  That night, you will go to a Mexican place and notice all the women around you.  You know that 1 in 4 women will experience this anguish, and you look around wondering which other women in the restaurant with you have experienced this.  You could ask for a show of hands, but decide not to.  

That night, you will sleep well for the first time.

Day 5:  You will drive home today.  Your hubby dreads going home, but you are kind of looking forward to it.  If you’re like me, you will start back to work tomorrow, and you’re looking forward to life starting to get back to normal.  In the morning before you leave, though, you will buy a heart pendant at one of the outlets in Mammoth, and wearing it will be how you are continually close to your baby.  When you squeeze the heart, you will be hugging him.  That comforts you.  You will also spend the morning driving around the Mammoth Lakes, which are amazingly colorful in the fall.  You and hubby will talk to your baby together.  He will tell your baby that he wants to be a worthy dad, and make Baby T proud of him.  And he wants to take care of Baby T’s mom (that’s you).  You will tear up, and he will hug you, and you will go back to the car.  That night when you get home, you will watch 30 Rock on your netflix streaming box, and you will laugh for the first time in almost a week.  You might feel a little guilty, but it will help to laugh.  It’s good to smile, you think.  Baby T wants you to smile.

Day 6:  You start back to work.  You work at home, so you can cry whenever you want.   You write to some friends to tell them what happened.  You try to concentrate on things, but whenever someone asks you for anything, you want to scream, “how is this important to you?  I just lost a baby?  Are you kidding me?  You deem this worthy of my attention?  Are you joking?” and you will shut your computer down and punch some pillows.  You go through your pile of magazines – you love magazines – and see the beloved September issue of Vogue, still waiting to be fully absorbed.  You throw it in the recycling bin, because it seems so stupid and petty now.  That night you go out for dinner, and, still feeling nauseated sometimes, you fall asleep in the car on the way home, hugging your empty belly.  You are still wearing maternity jeans because they are comfortable, and anyway, all your non-maternity clothes are up in the attic.  You weren’t supposed to have to take them out for at least a month or so after the baby was born.  You take a nice warm shower – your first in a while, and the steam feels good entering your nose and throat, which is worn out from all the crying and nose-blowing.

Day 7:   In the middle of the night you wake up with wet spots on your nightgown, and the sheets, and you know that, despite the tight bra, your milk has come in.  Well if that ain’t a b*tch.  That morning you will run to Target to get a pump.  The nurses said you could pump a little, just to make it hurt less.  The damn pumps are in the baby section.  This just seems too cruel.  You need to walk past strollers and tiny bathtubs to get a pump for your useless milk.  When you get home you are crying so hard you can’t bring yourself to do anything with the pump.  Finally, in a moment of tenderness and intimacy that you will never forget, your husband will pump for you, while you just sit there moaning, a lump of sobs.  That will be the worst of it.  It will go away soon.  You will be afraid to take a shower for another week or more, though, because the warm water stimulates the milk production.   That evening you will watch the Project Runway that you missed last week, and you will be happy that Mondo is doing so well, and for a few moments you won’t remember how miserable you are.  You make a note to call your therapist in the morning to set up grief therapy.  You think that talking about it will help you.

Those few minutes you experienced will grow and expand and gain energy and momentum until you will be able to go for a day without crying, and then two days.  At some point I hear that you can actually go for weeks, or a month.  I haven’t gone past two days yet, so I can’t comment on the verity of that claim.  Every moment you suffer through now is one moment closer to bringing you healing and happiness.