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Strands of hair have stories to tell

I’ve been wanting to get a haircut for a few weeks now, but just didn’t have the brain-space to plan & actually get to it. Finally, when a friend at work planned a girls’ salon day out today, I got it done.

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It’s a haircut – nothing can go wrong (other than a bad haircut), right?

The last time I got a haircut was almost 2 years ago. I got it trimmed once or twice, but not a cut. My plan was to let it grow & get it cut very short, just below the ears, 1-2 weeks before my due date last year because short hair would be convenient with the baby around, plus I might not have the time to step out as much once the baby is here. So, I might as well get it done before my delivery. Perfect plan!

My hair grew a lot in length with all the pregnancy hormones & the added nutrients during that phase. It grew further after the c-section  – meaning, it continued to grow even after Ayden’s death. I got compliments from family & friends on how my hair has grown & that it looks nice. Most people noticed my hair first before anything else. I ran into a male friend whom I hadn’t met in a while, at a restaurant, and the first thing he said after “Great to see you” was “Wow long hair!”

My hair was probably the only good surviving outcome of that pregnancy. And, that’s a secret reason why I was hesitant to get it cut.

To people who knew of my pregnancy & the aftermath, I’d always attribute the shiny hair & it’s growth to the pregnancy, but to others I just smile. A friend once joked – “Oh wow, I don’t mind having a kid sooner if pregnancy gets me good hair.”

So… the hairstylist asked me the kind of hair styles I’ve had in the past & what I wanted now, etc. He also asked why I decided to grow my hair that long (he wasn’t questioning, but a friendly chat) to which I answered –

“I’ve mostly had mid length hair, layer cut. But then it just grew last year and I thought I’ll retain the length since that’s the longest it’s ever grown. Now I think I need a new look.” I smiled.

“It JUST grew?” He chuckled. He’s a stylist – he’d want to know that secret formula to a quick hair growth.

“As in, last year I was pregnant. So, with all the hormones & nutrients the growth was sudden I guess…”

“Oh ok.”

He didn’t ask anything else. I’m assuming that he assumed there was something off-the-route and that he shouldn’t probe further. Otherwise, I’d have said “I had a baby last year, and with all the pregnancy hormones my hair grew…”

He ran his scissors through those reminiscence of a life that once was. I couldn’t help but think of it when those strands fell on the floor to be thrown away later.

Anyway, that’s just one leaf from everyday life where almost everything has a story to tell – all related to a loss!

 

Coming of age on normalizing death conversations

Shortly after Ayden’s death, I realized the extent of social stigma around death & grief. I wasn’t aware that the taboo was so deep ingrained until I had to face it. Or maybe I didn’t think about it until then. I didn’t have a reason to, right? I was kinda forced into curling up into that stigma & be normal like everybody else.

With the heavily private person that I am, and not agreeing to the societal standards of grief, it was a battle between not sharing my true emotions & educating the world around me.

“How was your weekend?” A usual friendly question on Mondays.

I’d have actually published a post on my blog on that weekend, and drafted some 5 more to be edited, modified & published later. But, I don’t say that. If I say I blogged, the obvious question “what do you blog about?” and the uncomfortable not-so-obvious answer “I blog on child-loss” would make eyes stoop, topics change, wind change its direction…

“Weekend was ok. I was mostly at home – watching movies, reading…”  is a safe option, but hoping that they don’t ask what I read because the answer to that would be “articles, books & blogs on child-loss”  

Being a people pleaser is hard work. I never showed my darkest corners, never told anyone (except for a very few close friends) on how life has changed drastically, never showed my anger, and behold – always smiled. And, people believe what they see. I look happy, so I must be happy. I must be over it. I must be back to what I was.

But, it didn’t seem right to me. It didn’t seem genuine, exactly like some of the questions & concerns I had to face.

Once, in a very very casual conversation, an acquaintance asked what I do after office hours & on weekends .

“I usually finish up the unfinished chores, workout, maybe watch a movie, read, blog… no specific pattern.”

“Oh, what do you blog on?”

“On child-loss.”

“Oh…”

Silence.

There it is. I said it. I dropped the bomb. For once, I wasn’t concerned about the other person being uncomfortable.

This wasn’t easy, but it should be. Ideally. But, ideally my son should be alive.

I felt like a superhero. I felt empowered. I felt wow.

Again at work, during our chai break, when someone brought up about my cooking skills & my food blog, a teammate entered the scene just enough to hear “blog.”

“Whose blog are we talking about?”

“Shameema’s” My friend pointed at me

“Oh, what do you blog about?”

“Hmmmm… I have 2 blogs – one is a food blog – that’s what we were talking about. And, the other one is on child-loss, related mental-health…”

He just nodded, chewing his paneer pakodas. Other than being tasty, pakodas can be a great distractor as well.

Poor thing! That sudden shift from chai to child-loss without any warning wouldn’t have been that pleasant for him. In my defense, I didn’t mean to scare him, but life had become scary for me, and it was high time that I thought of my comfort & sanity than investing in making others comfortable.

This happened multiple times in the past few months. It wasn’t like I was hunting people down to ask me anything to which the answer would be related to Ayden’s death, but these people & their questions were voluntarily coming my way without a hint of knowing what they were actually getting into.

Did it lessen my pain? Hell no! But this coming of age was indeed liberating at least for those few moments when it happened. Maybe I educated 4 more people this month that I’m not over it, and that bereaved parents think about their children even after a year of losing them (1 year, 1 month & 15 days as of today)!

Questions that make you think & overthink

A few days ago, I was going back home from work in our office-provided cab. There were 2 other employees as well. I know them. Acquaintances. One of them, let’s name her X, has worked with me in my previous team, so I know a bit more about her & vice versa. The other, Y, a mother of 2 – she shares the cab with me once in a while, and that’s about it.

During casual conversation, X turned towards me – “Did you see Z? She’s back from her maternity leave.”

“Ya I saw. Didn’t get to talk to her though.” 

Y pitched in to ask about Z’s childcare arrangements when she’s at work, etc. A small discussion between X & Y on newborns & sleepless nights followed. Slightly uncomfortable for me to sit in the same space as them & listen, given that they are not my friends & I don’t share emotions with them.

At one point, Y, with whom I haven’t spoken to beyond the casual Hi’s & hellos & thank yous, asked me “How’s your health now?”

“It’s fine.” I didn’t have anything else to say.

The only thing that was wrong with my health in the recent past was the C-section, post-partum issues & a messed up mental health. So, in all probability she must be asking about my C-section (she wouldn’t know about my mental health because I always smile to her. That means I’m fine, right?), which means she knows I had a baby, which also means she knows that my baby died because she didn’t ask anything about that baby. Now, that “how’s your health now?” seems very misplaced.

This wasn’t a first.

Once someone asked me “Is your backpain therapy helping you?”

Nothing before or after. Again, the same context.

I’ve been asked out of the blue by people on how my backpain was, or how my health was in general. If they know about my bad health, they should be knowing about my baby & the trauma that followed. Maybe, those questions & concerns would be better placed if there was an “I’m very sorry for your loss” or similar to precede them.

Ideally, something like this:

“I heard about your baby. I’m very sorry”…..  ….”How’s your health though?”

I don’t blame them completely. Nobody wants to talk about death. Neither did I, until about a year ago. We’ve been conditioned to heavily filter our queries & concerns in a socially accepted format, even if it doesn’t make sense. Taboo. And, that filter takes away all the emotions that could have made that statement or question a bit more sensible.

Use filters only where it matters & makes sense!

 

Fathers need to be thought about too

The traditional role of a man is to be the strong one in any situation. They don’t have a choice, but to toughen up. There’s a reason why it’s spoken about when a man cries.

When my husband told me that Ayden is born with a critical heart disease & we might not see him again, he cried. He cried with every nerve possible. He cried because his son was going to die; but he couldn’t cry enough because he had the role of the support-provider & making sure that his wife doesn’t slip into the sudden emotional trauma, that was just around the corner.

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Crying was just the tip of the iceberg. Crying was/is the least he could do. Someone said – you bore the baby, but looks like he’s had the labor pains. Well, you could be angry at that very random statement. Does it mean – he’s not supposed to be in pain? Because he’s a man? But that totally unintentional acknowledgement of his grief saved that person from the anger due on them.

The family’s focus on me around that time was natural. Understandable. Women are always considered the weaker lot. Children & child-care are almost always associated with mothers. My still fragile body needed the time, space, nutrients & rest to heal. Family ensured that all these were taken care of. One thing they kinda didn’t pay much attention to was the man of the house. The father. He needed a bandage too.

Why would anyone assume that it’s easier on men? Of course, the experience of having borne the baby physically & feeling every inch of their being in the belly sets the women apart from the male lot. But there do exist fathers who are there not just to pay school fees or buy candies, but also to unconditionally love & parent their tiny ones with every beat of their heart.

All the numerous texts & emails & phone calls to my husband that involved “take care of your wife,” “she needs you now more than any other time,” “it must be very tough for a mother” were all very valid – Sure, I needed him more then than ever – but wouldn’t he have shrunk at the thought that he wasn’t thought about as much as he deserved?

When I’m asked how I am holding up, I’d talk about “us.” I make it a point to include the man in every conversation around Ayden possible – mainly to remind them to remember him. Our grief might be different, but the only person whose grief is the closest to mine is him. He’s signed way too many consent forms along with me, knowing death is a possibility. He has signed a birth certificate & a death certificate in less than a month.

I won’t be able to measure his emotional investment & pain in the whole process. But what I can for sure tell is that his son’s birth & death has shaken his grounds in the most devastating way possible, and every detail is as fresh as day 1 as it is for me. He’s had his first & last Father’s Day in the hospital, wanting to hold his son, but unable to, for the fear of hurting his baby’s delicate body that was struggling to survive.

Every “you’re so strong” pat on my back is partly a result of the same man being there, making efforts to ensure I didn’t crumble even further.

Let’s a take a minute for fathers who value equal-parenting, whose pain might not be visible, who have held their dreams closer for nine months only to see them shatter in seconds… They deserve remembering. Let’s give them their due.

I know you, momma!

To the momma who lost her child…

I know you. I understand you. I’ve been there. My son died – a year ago, today! When I should be waking up to his midnight cries, I was crying alone at midnight. When I should be by his cot and cradle, I was by his hospital bed. When I should be feeding him and playing with him, I was arranging for his funeral. I died a 1000 deaths everyday after. Please know that I know you. If I hugged you now, held your hands tight, you’d know that I know.

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It’s been a year; it’s been a lifetime!

You are breathing, and there’s your child in every breath. Your heart is beating, and every beat yearns for that one more kiss & drool. I know, you wake up with the same thought that you sleep with. And, that thought, will last till your last breath. I promise. And, that thought will give you the strength – the strength to mourn & grieve your child the way you want, and finally, breath with a different air. Because, that’s the only way out.

You smile, you laugh, you crack jokes, but I know. I know the scars behind the smile, the tears behind the laughter, the grief behind the jokes.

Friends and family meet you. They talk to you. About work, hobbies, weekends, their kids. But not about your kid, and that hurts. I know. You silently hope the next sentence to be about your kid. The kid that left your arms too soon. You hope to hear their name. You truly wished they asked you, but they don’t.

And, when you hear their name, you beam with pride. Yes, your kid. Their name. Their existence. Their short life. Their struggle. Your struggle. Hearing their name is an acknowledgement of all these. I know.

Move on doesn’t mean anything to you, because you don’t. Because it doesn’t heal that easily. Because it was a piece of you. You move on differently than others. You move on with your little one’s thoughts. All the time.

You look at their pictures. You wish you had more of them. You wish you kissed them more. You wish you held them longer. You touch the pictures – how you wish you could still touch them in real. I know.

You enjoyed your pregnancy. You were happy. You were nervous at times. There was excitement. There was anticipation. There was planning. You had tears when you first heard those tiny heart beats. You looked forward to the ultra sounds. You felt their kicks and jabs. You smiled. You had happy tears. You made your world with them. I know.

Know that others wouldn’t understand you completely. Your parents, siblings, friends, in-laws, colleagues, acquaintances, unless they share the same experience. Know that they want you to get over it. Know that they might be uncomfortable with your crying. Know that they’ll say a lot of at leasts. Know that what they say or do will make no sense to you. Know that they don’t know it, though.

Know that they ask you to plan for another kid. It hurts. That’s a different kid. Unborn. You had a kid, whose sex you knew. Whom you loved deeply. Whose existence mattered. You wish they spoke about them, and not about the unborn ones. They are no replacement to the one you just lost. No replacement. I know.

When you hear about pregnancy & birth announcements, you contemplate – between congratulating and looking for a cover to wrap under. You are not jealous. You are not unhappy for them. Pain is the word. Helplessness is another.

Your life has changed. Your priorities are different. You are not the person that you once were.

You don’t make your bed anymore. You don’t care about the unfolded laundry for days. Or maybe weeks. You also would ignore the stains on your curtain. You don’t remember when you last went to your favorite corner of the house with a mug of coffee just to sit & enjoy. You also don’t want others to know all these because being termed ‘depressed’ or ‘cry-baby’ like it was in your hands is never a fun thing to hear.

When you need to cry, do that. When you need to be alone, ask for it. When you feel like talking about them, talk. You don’t need to hide any of these. Be honest with your grief. I’ve faked it, and I regret not being honest.

You are brave. You live the loss of your child. There’s nothing braver than this. I know. I’m very sorry for your loss. You just didn’t lose your child. You lost the giggles and drools. You lost the midnight cries. You lost their crawls. You lost the picky eater. You lost the first day of school. You lost the teenage tantrums. Among many other things. I know.

Friend, I’ve walked in your shoes, and I struggled the walk. Bumpy. Bruised. Thorny. I hope those shoes are broken and no mother gets to wear them again. Ever. Because, I know…

 

In memory of a first & last Father’s Day

Unfortunately, that first & last were the same – the Father’s Day of 2016. On June 19th.

The little boy that made any sense to that Father’s day was just 17 days old. Attached to more tubes & wires his body could endure. His chest was closed just the previous day, 9 days after his open heart surgery.

His dad, a nervous, emotional, worried and tired bag of love, stood motionless looking at his son, wondering if he’ll be able to hold him for his second. That was probably the longest he looked at him without a blink. His wife captured that moment on her phone.

He, who had imagined his first Father’s Day to be different, to be slightly colorful, came out of the ICU, teary-eyed, told his wife – “I hope it’s not my last.” His wife vividly remembers that conversation. She knew too, that there’s a possibility that it could be his last. But both of them caught hold on to that one tiny bit of hope that was the only way forward. She didn’t want to give him any false promises. She just smiled. Maybe, held his hands.

When the day started with both of them acknowledging that it’s Father’s Day, with a happy yet worried smile, they didn’t know it could get this intense. A friend who did not have the courage to send him a note, sent her instead:

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She passed it on to him. He smiled & responded to that friend with the pic from that day of him looking at his son, standing by his bed – a pic that spoke of multitude emotions.

Later that day, in their hunger for the deserved acknowledgement, they reminded their son’s surgeon that it’s that special day. He’s a father too; he’ll know it.

A while later, when reality slowly started biting, she told him – I don’t think I’ll have my first Mother’s Day with him. And, you may not have your second.”  She was right!

 

The last few hours of your child’s life

Not sure what’s worse – your child’s death or knowing that she/he has just a couple of more hours to live.

Ayden passed away on a Friday afternoon. The same morning, when his BP went down drastically low, it was kinda understood that he’s not going to make it. Doctors still did whatever they could. Around 9-10 am, his surgeon very hesitantly told us that he just has 1 or 2 hours left. I swallowed a big lump down my throat.

I didn’t try to think.

I took my mother, sister and a close friend inside the ICU to let them see him alive for one last time.

Eerie!

I called important family members, so they have time to take the next available flight/bus/train whatever.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 4.19.25 PMI started packing our things in the hospital room. Threw my lactation supplements in the bin. changed my clothes. Called a friend to come and be with me at the hospital. She reached in no time. Just sat outside ICU for sometime. Restless, walked aimlessly in the hospital corridors. Startled every time the ICU door opened.

Went to the coffeeshop downstairs with the friend. Sat there in silence for almost an hour trying to gulp down one sip of coffee. While sitting there, a friend messaged asking how Ayden was. I didn’t respond immediately. I didn’t want to tell her we’ve been told he’s gonna die. I thought, I’ll respond to her when that happens. She’s a close friend and had genuine concern for me. So I knew she must be waiting for a reply. So, after a bit I replied – He’s not gonna make it. Maybe just another 2-4 hrs. The doctors said 1-2 hrs and already 1 hr was over. But I told her 2-4 hrs just in that tiny hope of extending his life a wee bit more.

Another friend who’s been with me throughout was traveling that day, messaged me – I’m on my way to the airport now, but remember I’m always just a call or WhatsApp away.” I didn’t want to screw up her flight. So I just said thank you. She got to know of Ayden’s passing just a couple of minutes before she boarded the flight.

Now when I look back to those couple of hours, I don’t know what my emotions were. I don’t know what drove me to do the things that I did. I don’t know how I was pulling myself together. I don’t know how I had the courage to pack things, inform people, or sip that coffee. Revisiting every detail of that day gives the same chills as it is happening now, right in front you.

Every second is a live video in my mind – when I was told “It’s over”… the helpless look on the nurses’ face when they saw us coming in right after they unplugged the supports that wasn’t needed anymore… the anesthetist trying to hold back her tears… his lifeless body on that oversized bed, with a blue bedsheet & cute Donald duck prints…

I’m a mother who waited for her son’s death, knowing it will happen. I’m a mother who lived her son’s death even before it happened.

Some of us do have to catch the wrong flight home!