It has been a very confusing and overwhelming couple of days.
Yesterday was my first day back to work after summer vacation. It should have been my first day back after maternity leave. Ryan and I should be in that overwhelming mom and baby stage of spending our first full days apart. Dropping him off at daycare each morning. Crying a few tears on my drive in to work. Me thinking how fast time flies...
But instead, distance between us has become a common thing. I don't really have to worry about how Ryan is adjusting to daycare. Ryan will never need daycare.
Instead, my head is full of worries for Ryan's brother.
This exact time last year, Rich was returning to work. Without me. I was busy at home. Nesting. Getting ready for Ryan's arrival. I had one week at home, just me, Chase, and Ryan inside. Going on short walks to the park. Reading. Putting my feet up. Enjoying some quiet reflective time. We couldn't know how devastatingly that week would end.
This week. This very week.
So I've been on pins and needles. Fortunately, my week has been full of appointments. OB. NSTs. Ultrasound. It's reassuring to have so much excellent and thorough care checking in on Baby Brother. Especially this week. The week I associate with everything going so horribly wrong.
Today is exactly one week until the anniversary of Ryan's death. One week and one day until the anniversary of his birth.
And I have chosen to go back to work. To try and bring some semblance of normalcy to a time when everything seems anything but normal.
I've completed all tasks and meetings in the last two days in a bit of a fog of remembrance and worry. I hesitate to do anything too similarly to how it was done a year ago. I can't risk that feeling of deja vu. I walk around with my hands glued to my belly. Feeling every wiggle, kick, and hiccup. Memorizing their feeling. Afraid they'll go away.
It seems "Back to School" has taken on even more significance to me. It no longer marks the end of summer. It also seems to remind me of the end of my time with Ryan.
Yes. It's been an overwhelming few days... These days that are leading me to two incredibly more significant days.
You would think it would be easier to write when my emotions are fresh and on the surface, but it's actually not. I find I end up either incredibly blocked or my writing is incoherent ramblings better suited for a private journal than anything helpful, reflective, or informative. So I abandoned my "write every day until Ryan's birthday" plan the past few days when I found myself once again struggling through some tough stuff.
The term "secondary losses" is a "grief word" referring to the other things lost after someone you love dies. I encountered the term online very soon after Ryan died, but I haven't truly experienced how deep a secondary loss can be until I've spent some time examining the concept recently.
I think I haven't focused too much on writing about these losses because I've never wanted to come across as whiney, or all "poor me, I lost my son AND all this other stuff too." But the reality is, when you lose someone as intimately close to you as Ryan was to me, life is going to change. You are going to change. And although with change come gains, it also brings loss. I was quick to recognize and cope with two secondary losses: I lost some close relationships. And I lost my former understanding of motherhood. I have been grappling with these losses for a long time now. I have made great strides in accepting those losses and reconciling them with myself and my new understandings of myself and my world.
My current pregnancy, however, has brought to light a new loss. One that was there in the beginning of my journey with grief, magnified at the beginning of my pregnancy, and recently reared its ugly head at this start of my third trimester.
I have lost faith and trust in my body.
I preface my story by saying that everything with baby brother is at this point, still good. Even as I write this, he wiggles away, never letting me forget he's in there (as if I could).
But on Tuesday, we found ourselves making an impromptu visit to Labour and Delivery at the hospital after I had two "strange vision episodes." (re: lots dancing lights making it hard to see). After the first episode, I called L&D as I was concerned it could be a blood pressure issue. The nurse on the phone, after running through a list of other symptoms for which I was negative, decided I should be okay but to come in if it happened again. Which it did. So we did. Blood was drawn, blood pressure taken, baby was monitored. And I learned nothing. There was no explanation for the episodes. Everything looked great. Though I was patted on the back from the OB on call who assured me it was great that I "trusted my gut" and came in to get checked out anyway. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.
Except I didn't trust my gut. In fact, my "gut" was telling me it was nothing. I just went because I was scared. Scared that if I didn't go I'd wake up the next day to relive my worst nightmare all over again. All because of some blinking lights. Actually, if I went to the hospital every time I was worried about something, they'd have to just admit me permanently.
And when I left the hospital, I didn't feel altogether better. I perhaps, felt a little worse. A little more unsure of myself than I had felt before. Here I was with a "real symptom" of something serious that turned out to be nothing. (Which is good!) But, how can I trust my body to alert me if something actually goes wrong when it falsely alerts me when everything is fine? I survived 40 whole weeks with Ryan and didn't realize until it was too late that he was gone. And gone without any solid explanation as to why. How can I trust and believe that won't happen again? Or that something else won't happen this time?
The next day, I was scheduled to attend a prenatal yoga workshop that incorporated mindfulness meditation. An aptly time workshop on learning how to "stay present." It could not have gone more horribly wrong for me. I sat in a studio with 10 other women who sat in a circle and shared affirmations like "I trust my body," and "There is nothing to fear." Meanwhile I'm thinking: "I sure hope this works out." Because I don't trust my body, and I know what there is to fear. I spent a lot of meditation time that evening crying silent tears and wishing I could find that trust and fearless place again.
Combine all of this with having to make a decision about returning to work in September and I'm surprised I haven't imploded somehow. It's hard to believe my body will "do what it's made to do." "What women have been doing for thousands of years." And it's hard to trust myself to make the right decisions for myself and baby. And whether it was my body, my decisions, or just pure shitty luck that caused the collapse of my hopes and dreams for Ryan, none of that is comforting when I'm walking down a path that at times looks quite similar to the one I was on a year ago.
The loss of my self-confidence and trust in my body has been the hardest loss to overcome, and I'm nowhere near reconciling this one. I'm not even quite sure how to do it. I don't know if it will fix itself should I find myself fortunate enough to have a breathing baby resting on my chest in 2 months' time.
Somehow, I don't think so.
This one feels pretty big.
We stood next to each other on that fall afternoon staring at a piece of granite. Newly installed. Our baby's name carved in black.
I had tears on my cheeks. In those days, I nearly always had tears on my cheeks.
"I love his name," I said.
"Me too," replied my husband.
"I don't want it to be wasted." I dissolved into tears. I can't quite remember what came after that. I'm sure there were reassurances in the form of, "it won't" or "don't worry."
We went home, and I still think of that afternoon from time to time. You see, I was never worried that we had wasted a good name on a baby who couldn't use it. I was (still am occasionally) worried that it's a good name for a sweet baby and it won't get used enough because he's not physically here.
We worked hard on that name. Ryan Kendrick Russell. We sweated over that name actually. We practically had round table discussions to arrive at that particular name.
A tradition in Richard's family is that first-born sons have RKR initials. There's one exception, Richard's grandfather who was named after a man who saved his father in wartimes or something (my apologies if my abridgement of this story has gotten the facts wrong in some way). With no such epic story in our own lives, and us being just traditional enough, we thought an RKR name would be really special for our little man.
We did not have an easy time agreeing on a name that started with R. It took months. But Ryan was always the name we would come back to. I believe Richard was almost a Ryan, and it became the only R name we could both agree was a great name. So Ryan it was. Then we had to start with K names.
Not only K names, but traditional as we sometimes consider ourselves, we found it necessary that the middle name bared some significance. So naturally, it would be Kendrick. Except to anyone reading this, even our closest family members. Kendrick would seem to make no sense at all. As far as either of us know, there is not a single Kendrick in either of our lineages.
But I remember the night we picked it perfectly.
Laying in bed we were tossing around the silliest names we could think of. I was making another pitch for abandoning the name Ryan altogether and going with "Robo Kop Russell." Rich, of course, refused to budge. We eventually started trying to combine names of relatives to create something unique. This got us to Richard's dad's middle name (Kenneth) and my dad's middle name (Frank).
We landed on Kendrank. A decidedly hideous name (my apologies to any Kendranks out there) that sent us into great fits of laughter.
When we caught our breaths, we repeated it over and over trying to get it to roll of the tongue more smoothly. Kendrank. Kendrank. Spoiler: it's impossible. But soon, Kendrank morphed itself by some divine intervention (likely God trying to get us to stop saying the horrible name, Kendrank), into Kendrick.
We repeated that over and over. And it was just right. It actually sparked some pretty intense fireworks in my belly. I was excited about an RKR name for the first time since Robo Kop.
And so, Ryan Kendrick Russell he became.
That fall day, looking at his name carved in granite put this fear in my heart that this name for this boy that we love so much would be forgotten. Because there's no way the world could remember him years after he's gone. That my Ryan Kendrick wouldn't have a chance to go out into the world and "make a name for himself." Using the name we gave him. The name we worked on for so long. The name that has given me the kind of memories that make my heart smile.
But I know now how wrong I was that day. Because even if the world forgets him. We won't. Even if no one else ever says his name, I always will. As time goes on I hope people always speak of him. But if they don't, his name was never wasted. It's still and always will be the most precious name in my heart.
My Ryan Kendrick.
And when or if people ask, I always say he was named after his grandfathers. Which allows me to tell the funny story about the time he was almost named Ryan Kendrank.
PS: Full disclosure I hate the wording of this "Certificate of Life." Too much past tense. Too much with the "brief life" (like we needed that reminder). Too much focus on how he "lived in our hearts." What about in my womb? But I digress. I included it because I just like to look at his full name as written by someone who isn't me. (And come on. Look at that dark lock of hair!)
Over the past year I have been collecting quotes, images, moments, thoughts, feelings, all with the intention of sharing them someday here. And I usually do when the right moment comes along, or when I need to push myself in terms of reflecting or working things through. In fact, if I sat down and wrote every time I jotted down one of these notes, I'm not sure I'd ever leave this room. Or surely people would stop reading, so endless would my stream of postings be.
Yes, the list is long, but it is important. Because everything I've felt, or thought, or experienced, or came across and was touched by, tells part of our story and another piece of my heart. And that was the whole point of taking my journalling online: to share my heart. My healing, my grief, my story -- my version of motherhood.
So, as part of my preparations for my boy's big day I'm going to share, share, share, all the things I've been meaning to explore but haven't found the right moment. What moment could be more right than the days leading up to the day that changed me forever?
And I'll start with my favourite. Something I want to share with every person who walks through my door. But, since I refuse to force Ryan on anyone (said the woman who writes a blog and posts it all over social media), I have really only shared it with a select few family members.
Ryan's Baby Book.
I created it back in November as an outlet for thinking of him and preserving as many of the memories we have together as possible. I wrote about it on Instagram when it arrived and today I'll share a page-by-page photo breakdown of the book. So you can see the happiness he brought to us while he was still here. It's so important to remember and hold on to that happiness whenever I can.
These last few days have been hard. I remember as your 6 month milestone approached, I was scared. Scared that time was moving on too quickly. And now, one month away from what would have been your 1st birthday… I barely have words that can adequately express the ache I have in my heart.
It’s only time. And time passing doesn’t change how much I love you, how much I miss you. But there’s something so monumental about having lived without you for one year. On your 11 month milestone I sit here in the cemetery hoping time can both slow down and speed up. I sit in conflict with my own emotions. Balancing a shocking sadness that you’ve been gone for so long, and mother’s desire to find ways to celebrate your upcoming first birthday despite your obvious absence.
I’ve spent at least two days now trying to function between short crying jags. The nearness of September 6th and 7th has not only made me miss you incredibly, but it has also made me so fearful for your brother. A fear I know will intensify as the day we lost you looms. This month, little one, don’t worry about me, but put all of your love and energy into your baby brother. Keep him safe for me. I try so hard but endlessly worry that it won’t be enough, like it wasn’t enough for you.
I catch myself holding my breath or holding back tears because a situation seems too similar to a moment I carried you at this time. This month I really know what it feels like to be a mother of two as daily my focus constantly shifts between worrying about your brother, and worrying that I could never do enough to honour and celebrate your extra special milestone next month. Finding ways to celebrate a life that couldn’t be lived can seem an impossible task.
I know this is something hard to understand for someone who has never lost a child, but even though you’re gone, I still worry about you as if you were here. You can see my heart, so I know you know how much you’re loved, but as your mom it’s my job to see to it that you are taken care of, even in death, and I plan to do just that.
Just like no milestone has gone uncelebrated or unrecognized by me, your first birthday will be no different. I can promise you that. I know I plan to spend the day with you close by, and I’ve worked out a plan to celebrate your memory by donating some keepsake/remembrance boxes to the hospital in your name.
Today, 11 months without you, I’m here to acknowledge my love for you. My longing for you. And my fears and the sadness that this time of year will inevitable carry with it. 11 months is just one more month on this long road of carrying you in my heart instead of my arms.
I miss you terribly.
But I celebrate you every day.
I love you forever, baby boy.
Happy 11 Months.
Today I am 28 weeks +2 days pregnant.
Today I walked the hallways of the labour and delivery floor for the first time since September 7, 2015.
Today I told my story to at least one nurse who asked, "What brings you in for the Non-Stress Test today?"
"Oh. Um. My first born was stillborn..."
Today I laid in a hospital bed.
Today I held my breath as a nurse strapped a monitor to my belly to find my son's heartbeat.
Today it came through loud and clear. I breathed again.
Today was scary and gave me a glimpse of the next 10 weeks.
Hello, Trimester 3. We meet again.
This time it's going to look a little (a lot) different. Last time was eager anticipation. Counting down the days til we met Ryan. A flurry of home reorganization. Making room for baby. Installing car seats. Finishing touches on the nursery. Putting my oh-so-swollen feet up on the hottest days. Waddling down the street to the park with Chase on the not-quite-as-hot days. Mix in an appointment with my OB every other week or so. Maybe an ultrasound here and there. One "emergency" trip to labour and delivery because I was "leaking." (Nope, just wet myself, apparently. Pregnant lady problems, I'm told!) It was blissful actually. I remember those days with a real fondness. I don't recall being overly worried about anything.
Fast forward 11 months. I'm somewhere else entirely. It's like the moment my calendar "reminded" me my 3rd trimester started on Sunday, a switch has gone off inside me. This is the trimester in which Ryan died. Now is the time to be hyper-vigilant. Now is the time to take nothing for granted (as if I've been taking anything for granted the past 7 months). I knew coming into this pregnancy that my OB had planned to take extra precautions during my third trimester -- weekly non-stress tests (NSTs) for baby, two additional ultrasounds (more if deemed necessary), but I never anticipated how it would affect me. My religious kick counting. My fear of dancing and Hawaiian pizza (maybe I'll explain these another time). My seamless ability to slip into the past and relive it in full colour.
Today was one of the most difficult days of my pregnancy so far. I was scheduled for my first of my weekly NSTs. A simple test where they monitor baby's heartbeat and movements for a certain length of time. The minute we started our drive to the hospital I was back there. September 6, 2015. Driving to the hospital to see if everything was okay with my baby. Today I held my belly like I did that day. This time, baby wiggling inside, not like his too-still brother, Ryan. I should have felt reassured. I didn't. Instead I relived the anxiety of last time. I told Richard, "I'm so grateful you came with me today." I'm not sure how I would have handled the morning without him.
Walking into the labour and delivery floor everything felt the same. Same walls. Same turns. But I felt lost at the same time. Like I could barely remember any of it. Again, I thanked Rich for guiding my way there.
I checked in at the desk. Saw dads moving in and out of delivery rooms. Changed tactics and stared at my feet instead. I just needed to get into a room.
We made it to the room for NSTs. I was asked why I was referred for weekly testing. I explained that Ryan was stillborn. The nurse said no more about it. She handed me the elastic band that would hold the monitors to my belly and asked me to lay in the bed. I wished she would have said something else. Something reassuring. Some kind of condolence. Anything. But now I was getting into a hospital bed with a strap around my belly. Thinking of Ryan. She put on the monitors then said she'd be right back. She had to put me into the computer system before turning on the machine, And there I was. Laying in a hospital bed, with heart monitors on my belly. No sounds. Just me and Rich. Yes. This is what a PAL nightmare looks like. My breath and pulse were quickening. I tried to crack a few jokes to Rich. No. Too much like last time. I knew the monitor wasn't on. But it didn't matter. I had been here before. It didn't matter that 5 minutes before I had felt baby's kicks and wiggles. I had heart monitors on my belly and was listening to nothing but my own breathing, and the heartbeat of the baby in the next curtained-off room. Not my son's. It was too familiar.
The nurse came back. She turned on my monitors. Found his heart beat almost immediately and the test began. I breathed again. I just had to lay there and let the machine collect information about his heart and movements. Easy enough. I guess. I managed to find some calm. Until on the other side of the curtain next to mine the nurse had a hard time finding the heartbeat of some other woman's precious little one. I held my breath for her until the galloping of her baby's heart was picked up. "There it is!" I breathed again.
About 40 minutes later, I was done. "Everything looks good. See you next week. Make your appointment at the desk on the way out."
We stopped by the desk. A new nurse. "And why are we booking for next week?" "Um." "Oh wait. Never mind. I see here. Okay." Awkward smiles. Avoid eye contact. Appointment made.
I waited in the car while Rich paid for parking. I cried a little. It was scary. There were too many "first-time-since-Ryan moments" in the span of an hour. There was a lot of vividly remembering the worst moments of my life. Yes, it was different this time. This time my baby had a heartbeat. My baby tried his best to kick those monitors off his mama's belly. My baby came home with me. Still safe inside. And I will do this every week for the next 9. Only 9 more times. It's got to get easier than it was today.
Oh, Trimester 3. We are going to find a way to make this work.