Unpregnant: Mothers’ Secret Grief

The following guest post by Lisa Roose-Church appeared in The Livingston Daily, a newspaper in Livingston County, Michigan. Permission was granted to The Blogging Owl for the article to appear here.

Guest writer, Lisa Roose-Church is a justice reporter for The Livingston Daily in Livingston County, Michigan. She is a graduate of Central Michigan University.

Baby Bear

Unpregnant: Mothers’ Secret Grief

Samantha Fox’s eyes glisten with tears as she looks at an urn and light brown teddy bear on a corner shelf in her home.

Inside the small box are the ashes of Fox’s daughter, Lucy Fox, who was diagnosed in utero with anencephaly, a defect that meant she would likely be stillborn or survive only a few hours to a few days after birth.

“I love having her here rather than going somewhere to see her,” Fox said as her 2-year-old daughter, Grace, climbs on the kitchen table. “It helps us with our loss.”

Infant loss – whether through stillbirth or miscarriage – is one of the most devastating losses to women.

A group of Livingston County women, including Fox and spearheaded by Ashley Haponek, is sharing their grief and healing through a Facebook page, We Are Not Alone.
Haponek, who experienced postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter, said she wanted to find a way to help others with similar experiences.

“The biggest thing I felt was alone and going crazy,” the Howell woman said. “Nothing felt normal and it felt like nothing would be normal again. …

Each Monday, Haponek moderates discussion and reaction to a guest speaker’s live video stream. Each video is a woman sharing her experience with the loss of an infant, whether it is through stillbirth or miscarriage, or postpartum depression.

“Once I went through it and realized how common it was, I wanted to do something,” Haponek said.

Secret shame

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that 10 percent to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies – those confirmed by a doctor or clinic – will end in miscarriage.

Chemical pregnancies – which takes place before anything can be seen on an ultrasound scan – may account for 50 percent to 75 percent of all miscarriages.

The likelihood of a miscarriage increases by 25 percent for women who have had one miscarriage, statistics show.

“Exact statistics for miscarriages are never going to be completely accurate due to so many early miscarriages that women aren’t even aware of,” said Jenna Rogers, education coordinator for the American Pregnancy Association.

“For example, with a chemical pregnancy … the bleeding that happens when the pregnancy ends can be mistaken for a period or a late period, since it often happens during or soon after implantation occurs.”

Rogers said some women do not see a doctor after an early miscarriage because they may not know what they experienced was a miscarriage or believe there is not much a doctor can do after an early miscarriage “other than to ensure the health of the mother since miscarriages, for the most part cannot be stopped.”

Many women do not openly talk about miscarriages, in part because they feel alone or ashamed.

Tiffany Shepard, who helps Haponek with We Are Not Alone, was home alone when she felt “the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.” There was no position that gave her relief. When she went to the bathroom, she noticed the blood.

Shepard, then 22 and single, was about two months pregnant when she miscarried.
“I felt ashamed,” the Howell mother said. “I felt like a failure. That’s what women were created to do, and I felt like a failure because I couldn’t get it right. … I remember thinking, ‘Could I ever have children?’

“I don’t want to say I felt foolish, because they were very real feelings,” Shepard added. “I didn’t want to talk about it. … I was in my 20s, and I think I coped with it by partying.”
Howell mom Jessi Western had two miscarriages about one year apart, which was devastating after the successful and uneventful pregnancy of her oldest daughter.

In both pregnancies, Western’s doctor found a blood sac near the fetus. She experienced mild spotting, but thought “nothing of it” because there was a healthy heartbeat at her 6-week doctor’s appointment.

At 12 weeks, there was still a heartbeat, but the baby had not grown and the blood sac remained.

At Western’s 16-week appointment she heard news she hoped would not come: The baby’s heartbeat had stopped.

Western and her husband had options: deliver, wait and miscarry naturally or surgery. The couple opted for surgery, but she had to wait, making a difficult situation more unbearable.

“It happened on a Friday, and I didn’t have surgery until the following Tuesday,”’ she said. “That was the worst part. I was pregnant, but I wasn’t. … I shut myself off from the world.

“We decided after two miscarriages we would stop. We couldn’t take any more heartbreaks,” Western said.

It’s uncommon to have multiple miscarriages in a row. Fewer than 5 percent of pregnant women will experience two consecutive miscarriages, and only 1 percent will experience three or more, according to statistics from the Los Angeles USC Fertility Center.

Why it happens

Miscarriages or stillbirths are oftentimes “naturally occurring,” Rogers said. Sometimes, it can be due to chromosomal issues, birth defects, chronic disease or an inhospitable uterine lining, she noted. Other times, they are behavior-induced, such as though drugs or a physical accident.

Western said not knowing the cause was one of the most frustrating aspects for her.
“They were never able to give me a rhyme or reason,” she said. “It was something that, unfortunately, happened two times in a row. It wasn’t based on medical history. That would be nice to know – the why. But, I try not to think about it.”

Fox said her doctors questioned whether her medical history contributed to Lucy’s anencephaly.

Fox was hospitalized for 10 days following her honeymoon in Jamaica after she contracted leptospira, a bacterial disease that can lead to kidney damage or meningitis if not treated.

“I was high risk because of the leptospira,” she said. “The doctors were being cautious.”
When a scan showed Lucy had anencephaly, the doctors told Fox she could carry to term, but the baby would not survive. The doctors decided to induce labor and after 12 hours of labor, at 2:30 a.m. Oct. 14, 2016, Lucy arrived. She was 8 ounces and 8.5 inches long.
“Nothing hit me until I pushed her out,” Fox said. “It was really rough. I found out I was pregnant again three months to the day after delivering Lucy. I think that helped me.”
Experts say that women who experience miscarriages, including recurrent miscarriages, have a chance of eventually having a successful pregnancy.

Motherhood

Haponek, whose husband described her postpartum behavior as “being checked out” of family life, did not experience postpartum depression following the birth of her second child, son Jack. She said she learned to recognize the triggers following the birth of her daughter, Emma Haponek, 3, and she made changes to avoid depression.

“Still, to this day, I feel guilty … that I had the bond with (Jack), but not with her,” Haponek said, adding that motherhood is her biggest joy in life.

Western has two daughters today and Fox, who has an older daughter, Grace, 2, is expecting her third daughter, who she plans to name Daisy, in September.

Shepard welcomed daughter Addisyn Shepard four years ago.

They all agree that motherhood is their most rewarding, albeit sometimes frustrating, role in life.

“Motherhood is the craziest, most wonderful, exhausting thing,” Western said. “It’s hard to describe. It can be the worst thing on some days and not others. It’s an oxymoron. That’s how I describe motherhood – an oxymoron.”

On the Net:

The following organizations offer support for people who have lost a baby:
CJ First Candle – http://cjfirstcandle.org/

Compassionate Friends – https://www.compassionatefriends.org/

March of Dimes – http://www.marchofdimes.org/

MISS Foundation – https://missfoundation.org/

Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support – http://nationalshare.org/

Staycation: Three “R” Tips

Guest writer, TL Clemmer is an automotive executive who lives with her husband, Bob, an artist and craftsman in southern California. As you enter their front gate, you are greeted by a stained-glass patio gate. She enjoys tending to her tomato garden in the company of her dog, Parker. One of her greatest joys is the monthly lunch date with her Mother, sister and nieces.

I have traveled the world for both business and pleasure. I highly recommend traveling to experience the culture, native cuisine, and what the world offers regionally and internationally. My husband would shut his sign and art studio down in Carlsbad, CA to surf the big waves in Mexico and Hawaii. What fun!

When circumstances change

A year ago, my husband suffered a stroke. Our travel excursions have changed.
Although he has progressed with rehabilitation for his stroke, as a big and proud man, he wouldn’t think of traveling with the aid of a wheelchair and walking long distances is not an option. So, traveling by air is out of the mix for traveling to far off destinations.

Now what?

The Staycation

The term, Staycation is a combination of vacationing at home or nearby. The staycation gained popularity during the United States’ financial-crisis of 2007-2010. Individuals or families would participate in day trips to points of interest or leisure activities.

Alas! Why not try it?

After two successful Staycations, I can now classify ourselves as experts. But in order to have a truly relaxing and restful vacation, I believe the staycationer needs to abide by the following tips:

Transportation imageTransportation: No airplanes, boats, trains, taxis, or buses

Drive your own car. Pack it with the comforts of our home. By that I mean, your own coffee pot and favorite coffee. No Exceptions!

(Although, if you do drive for living in your own car, consider renting a comfortable or fun car.)

 

Social Media clipartElectronic Devices: No laptops, PDA’s, phones

NO posting to Social Media allowed! Not even scrumptious meals or romantic sunsets. NO Facebook location notifications – you don’t want to be found, nor do you want thieves to find you are not at home.

Resort clipart

 

Vacation Accommodations: Insert the word, “Resort”

Whether the accommodations are by mountains, sea, or wherever your adventure takes you, make sure it has the word, “Resort” in the name.

Vacation Activities

Do it! Whatever amenity is available, use them all.

Order room service, relax in a whirlpool spa, massage, pool, wear the resort robes hanging in the closet, avail yourself to the mini bar, and if there is a concierge, allow them to make the reservations.

 

Happy Hour

Awww! Happy Hour! Never miss it.

Enough said.

 

Sleep at hotel

Sleep!!

Sleep. Sleep a lot. Sleep whenever you want. Put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door.

 

Picnic basket

Pack all your favorite snacks and beverages

Pack a few great snacks and wine, beer, etc. We enjoyed crackers and cheese, fresh fruit, gourmet popcorn and some dark chocolate. We hate those two-cup hotel coffee makers, so hence, the packing of our own coffee maker and favorite coffee.

Relaxing Actitivies

Be present in the moment!

Be present mentally and physically in the space you are in. It’s okay to take a long, hot shower and use three large bath towels and slip into the robe (or nothing), and not dry your hair.

Staycation

Memories, memories, memories…

Pick one special place you want to spend money at. I searched the internet and picked a bookstore that was over 100 years old. Find a happy place you can get lost in near to your resort.

Last, but not least, really try to stick to NO electronic devices and social media. Wait until you get home to post to social media and boast about the best staycation ever!

Another important tip! Pick a reliable proxy at work who you tag as the “go to” person in your email auto-reply. No email. None!

Relax, Rest, Restore

If you don’t follow through on my tips for no electronic devices, social media and email, you are short changing yourself on being present in the moment. It doesn’t matter if your staycation is in your backyard or my recommendation of a resort you can travel to by car, but you owe it to yourself to relax, rest and restore your mind, body, and spirit.

A Veteran’s Perspective: “Please don’t thank me.”

I don’t know if it’s my own guilt or if it’s because I feel that I’m not worthy, but I hate when people thank me for my service.  When a stranger instinctively tells you thanks for your service to me it’s completely hollow.  I think, “man you should thank the families of the ones that didn’t come home or the men in Walter Reed”.  I don’t do anything deserving of thanks or medals.  I didn’t do anything heroic or extraordinary.  I served with my brothers and I was a volunteer for both of my combat deployments.  It’s a completely different feeling when it’s family or friends thanking you because they know you, they have a feeling of what you are about, and what you went through and the sacrifice.  When someone thanks me, I accept their thanks, but deep down I feel like I’m not what they think I am.  It’s not that I believe people are being insincere, but for me, it’s hard to come to terms with being thanked for something that is such a curse and a blessing.

Sgt. Nickolas Gilbert

I didn’t join the military out of a sense of purpose or patriotism.  I did it because my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college and I was a screw-up.  I knew that if I didn’t make a change in my life I was going nowhere.  I did it because I knew it would open doors and help me grow into a man.  It helped me grow into a man and I learned many useful skills.  It also gave me some deep emotional scars that I’m sure I’ll always carry and remember daily.  As bad, as it was sometimes for me, I’m thankful because I had it easy and a lot of people are in much worse shape than I could ever imagine.

I served 12 years and got out prior to a third deployment.  I lost a good deal of friends who viewed me as a coward for getting out prior to a deployment.  I made the decision because I was newly married with a baby on the way, and that was and still is my #1 priority.  It’s not that I was scared to deploy or die, or be injured.  I just didn’t want to miss my son being born or be away from my wife.  I know that millions of men have served in combat away from their families, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.  My heart just wasn’t in it.  My thought was I already did two tours and I’m not willing to leave my family.  I will always feel a sense of shame for the decision, but it’s one I would make again and again and one that I do not regret.

The hardest part of being thanked is the feeling of being a fraud.  I don’t feel that I ever did anything that made me special or that deserved special recognition.  I was just a regular guy doing the job I signed up for, trying to do a good job, and trying to keep my buddies safe.  I didn’t do it for the awards, or the money, or to feel good.  I just did because it needed to be done and it was my job.  In all honesty, I didn’t give a shit about Iraq, or the Iraqi people.  I just wanted all my friends to come home alive and in one piece.  The hardest part was not being what I was supposed to be or feel how I was supposed to feel.  I wasn’t this super soldier; I was a just a scared 24-year-old college kid. I was constantly surrounded by all of these warriors.  Intelligent, strong, experienced men who could do these great things.  And here I was this regular guy, just hoping I was going to make it through and that I wouldn’t lose any friends along the way.  I’m still in awe of the toughness, intestinal strength, and courage that I saw from these men.  I’m sure I had my moments but I was just a boy playing in the field of giants.

One of the hardest moments I remember was my parents having a party for me when I was on leave during my first tour in Iraq and I didn’t want anything to do with it.  I know for them it was 100% out of love for me and I’m with that totally.  My family was awesome and they were/are so proud of me and I always loved and appreciated it.  I wasn’t who they thought I was. I wish I was but I wasn’t.  I’m sure they thought I was this high-speed Rambo, but the truth is I wasn’t.  I did bad things, I hurt some people, and honestly I didn’t care.  And I didn’t like that feeling.  But when you’re fresh from a combat zone the last thing you want (at least for me) is to be around a bunch of people making a big deal out of things.  What you do want (at least for me) was to get back to normal life and let your guard down.  It’s the reason soldiers love having beards and long hair after they’re out.  They loved the part of the military where you’re with your buddies and you feel useful, but after a while, you don’t want to feel like you’re a Joe anymore.

I know for me the first time I came home from Iraq was toughest, the lowest point in my life and I felt completely alone.  I had nightmares stemming from a specific incident that came and went periodically for years.  That event still bothers me on a daily basis, but it’s too late to go back and there is nothing I can do about that now.  The bitch of it is, we didn’t do anything wrong.  Bad shit happens and it is what it is.  When I got home all I really wanted was someone to ask me how I was doing and if I was ok.  The truth was I was not ok, and I was not alright.  But I was too proud and trying to be strong and be what I thought I was supposed to be.  Because of that I suffered, for a long time  I don’t know at the time if I would have accepted help, or if truth be told, but I know I rarely had the chance.  I put up artificial walls of false bravado around me, the alcohol and my stubbornness were all a part of it.

I had all these people thanking me and telling me how proud they were but most of them never wrote me a letter, sent me an email or a card while I was deployed.  I had my family and close friends and that’s all I needed or so I thought.  I could be surrounded by everyone I loved and I felt completely alone.  I wanted to be back in my living quarters or my truck or on a rooftop with my team.  But when I was on that rooftop and in that truck all I wanted was to be in that room with my family.

There’s a scene in the movie Blackhawk Down where the movies main badass “Hoot” says, “When I go home, people ask me, “Hey Hoot, why do you do it, man? Why? You some kind of war junkie?” I won’t say a goddamn word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand it’s about the men next to you… and that’s it. That’s all it is.” Truer words have never been spoken.  You can thank me if you want, but at the end of the day, I don’t need the thanks.  Unless we wore the same patch, rode the same truck, or walked the same patrol, I don’t need your thanks.  If I have the men whom  I served with respect me than at the end of the day it’s all that matters.  Some of them I do, some I do not.  And that’s fine.  I make no excuses, I am what I am and who I’ve always been.  With or without their respect, they have mine and I’ll always consider them brothers and my heroes.

This may seem harsh, but it’s my honest feelings.  If anyone deserves thanks, it’s the men who I served with, my wife, my mom, my dad, my stepmom, my stepdad, my sister, my brothers, my wife’s family, my extended family, Curtiss, Cole, Rob, Jim and my other buddies who supported me while I was away.  Thank you to them.

Please don’t thank me for my service, thank the wars for making it possible.

The Blogging Owl’s Guest Blogger:  Nickolas Gilbert

Nick served in the military for 12 years. Nick spent 3 years on active duty in the 82nd Airborne as a Sergeant and combat medic in an infantry battalion. This was followed by 9 years in total with the Michigan National Guard serving in an Airborne long-range surveillance unit and also a light infantry battalion. He served two-year long combat deployments in Iraq. Nick is a husband and father.  He is an Eastern Michigan University graduate.