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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Time Heals All Wounds That We Never Poke Again

children mentioned...

I'm not a very good judge of time or distance. When I say "not very good" I actually mean terrible and when I say terrible, I really mean that it often makes Josh wince. The Wolvog dryly told me once that my two seconds always feel like ten minutes. Because they are, little man, they are.

This post really isn't about my inability to judge time.

When the idea of a possible preterm delivery was first thrown our way, I spent the day running around, ordering baby announcements (because, you know, when your twins have stopped growing and are measuring at 2 pounds, the thing you should concern yourself with is designing your own baby announcement at a shmancy D.C. stationary store...anyone want to discuss denial with me?), ordering roller blinds, and most importantly, buying baby books.

I wanted to have the most kick-ass baby books. The kind where you recorded their birth weight and hand prints and the day they took their first step. I went to three different stores (returning to the first one for a second time) to get the books and I wrote in my journal:
It's funny, once I bought their baby books, I felt myself calm down. For some reason, it made me feel like I could go to the hospital and be content with my delivery experience. I had wanted to bring the baby books to the hospital with me, and once I had them in hand, it felt like I was somehow more prepared.
I'm not sure why I felt more prepared. Perhaps I was just in the fourth stage of panic. People usually quote three stages of panic, but I see long-term panic--the type that would come from finding out that your children were no longer growing and no one could say what would happen next--as following this circuitous route:
  1. Anxiety
  2. Sadness
  3. Denial
  4. Calm
  5. Anxiety
  6. Sadness
  7. Denial
  8. Calm
I'm sure you can guess the next set of emotions. By which I mean that the doctor would tell us news and I'd instantly go into that anxiety space, my heart pounding, light-headed. And then Josh and I would talk about it and I would end up crying. And then I'd talk myself into thinking that I was blowing everything out of proportion and things had to be okay in the end. And then I would enter this calm state where I believed I was at peace, even though, right under the surface, without any trigger, the anxiety was building up again until it would break--not from a new piece of information, but simply from sitting too still with my thoughts or having a bad experience with a barista at the Starbucks cart at the hospital or having someone visit us at the hospital for too long and take away one of the twenty minutes I was given every three hours to hold the twins.

When I wrote in my journal that I felt at peace, I believed it. I believed that I was at peace and all was fine and I had my baby books ready to go. I cycled many times through those four stages of panic, sometimes rapid cycling through them in the span of a single contraction and sometimes cycling through them over the course of several hours. I would go backwards and forwards through those four stages and keep coming back to those baby books. Did we have the baby books? Did the nurses know about the baby books? Did they know I wanted the information recorded--even their Apgars--that I wanted footprints and handprints? Not from their second day of life, but from their first day. I needed it on the first day and did they know? Did they know? Did these nurses know?

I got the handprints and footprints. The weights and lengths. The rest of the book is empty.

I don't know why I didn't fill it out. Why I kept such a detailed journal and scrapbook of the months leading up to our wedding, but didn't create one photo album of the twins. I have about seven places where I've recorded information here and there and I could reconstruct all the important milestone dates and food preferences, hence why I am creating these scrapbooks now.

I don't think it had to do with time because I've always had dozens of projects going at once. If I wanted to scrapbook, I could have found time to scrapbook. It doesn't have to do with a lack of sentimentality--I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more sentimental, who becomes nostalgic before something has even begun. I obviously love to write, to create records, to organize. I have tens of thousands of photographs of them, meaningful art work saved. I just haven't put these things together in a way that is usable, accessible to anyone beyond myself.

I believed that I'd plow through the books, have them finished within the next week or so. Except that two hours of work have yielded three scrapbook pages in one album. I stare at the pictures and then consult the different journals and call a few people to check details and finally write up a blurb to go under the photos. I have obviously misjudged how long this project would take. I'll be happy if I have all three books completed by the end of the summer.

I think one reason I haven't scrapbooked these images is that I have spent the entire week back at the NICU. I have gone through hundreds of photos, selecting ones that don't make me cringe and then replacing them with ones that do and then returning to ones that don't. I remember printing out some of these pictures while they were still in the NICU and defiantly showing them around, silently saying, "you have all shown me your pictures of your gorgeous babies post birth and these are the ones I get to show; the ones where they are encased in tubes and wires and you better fucking tell me that my children are gorgeous because if you don't, it will be just one more place where we were cheated."

I know, it's so petty. It so easily could have been otherwise and we are so lucky--so incredibly lucky, so fucking lucky in comparison to some of my friends now--and I feel like an ass saying this. But I wanted the pretty baby photos. We got them later on--which is why I feel like an ass writing this because anyone who didn't get the other photos later on probably wants to slap me-- but I wanted those initial gorgeous baby photos where the baby is swaddled and sleeping and cuddled close. The ones that aren't truthful to the experience at all--I mean, first days are never easy days--but I wanted those newborn pictures just like I wanted to conceive naturally or carry to term or be able to breastfeed or bring the twins home.

I have been sitting with these pictures that I haven't really looked at much in the last five years. There was a period of time where the twins liked to look at them so I saw them then, but this week was the first time in five years that I went through all of the photos rather than looking at the five or six the twins watched on a video Josh made for their first birthday. It was the first time in five years that I opened the journal I kept during that time. I've checked the one I kept during treatments numerous times but that one was buried deep in a drawer. We go back to the NICU every year for their reunion party, but it is very different to see the places void of anyone you know--just a hospital room, really--than to see photos of the twins in that space.

Doing this scrapbook means sitting with those early days, before I entered this stage of retrospect where I know how everything would shake out. We have a few light preemie issues still on hand, but for the most part, you would never guess their beginnings. It is hard for the twins to look at the pictures and believe it was them. They think the pictures are hysterical. They ask why we fed them through their nose or why they had to sleep in the incubators, but they laugh as if they don't really believe that they ever looked at that way.

And it's difficult for me to reconcile that those were our first days. To return to the emotions from that time period. There was a night when we were leaving after they had locked the front doors of the hospital and so we had to exit out the basement near the emergency room, except because I had never gone through this exit and was crying too hard to hear anyone, I thought that Josh was having me committed and that we were by the locked ward of the hospital. I remember walking through the hallway screaming, terrified that I'd be separated from the twins because I was just too damn crazy to exist as I cycled through my panic.

We got outside and true to the panic cycle, once the anxiety and sadness portions were complete and I was entering a car, not being sedated and restrained to a bed, that went into the denial that any of this was happening, the believed calm. I sat in their empty room at home and cried that night, still going through the cycle. I found a picture of me taken about an hour before I was led down the hallway. Should I include it and tell them the story of that night? Should I leave it out, rewrite history?

Looking at those pictures, reading the journals, makes me think about panic. And I am with those memories for so damn long, working so slowly as I make my way through the NICU days. I am really a terrible judge of time. I thought I'd have to look at them for a few hours. My mind has been travelling back five years for many days.

I think time does heal all wounds that we never poke again. That we never touch and allow to fade into oblivion. But anything that we continuously rub raw just by going through life, confronting our wound visually in the lives of other people or having it bumped through questions, I don't think those wounds truly heal. We can leave on a bandage for long periods of time, even forget that the wound exists. But if someone jostles the site, the wound reopens, starts bleeding profusely. Our body goes back into trauma mode for a moment, cycles through the panic quartet. I stare at the picture and I feel anxiety, then sadness, then denial that I feel anything at all, and finally believed calm. Until the next picture.

So, yes, time heals some wounds completely. But it only heals all wounds if we cocoon ourselves, never open the photo box, leaf back through the journal, remember. Barring that, I think we need to rephrase the adage.


Nina said...

I think you're right. I'm able to compartmentalize my loss, for now, but I know it's a fragile facade. I'm currently pregnant again, but that doesn't stop me from panicking every time I have a gas pain, or having to talk myself off the ledge when it happens. Stupid, I know, but unavoidable. Good luck! I know they're beautiful.

Lisa RM said...

Sitting here reminding myself not to pick the scar on my left elbow from last week, I understand where your coming from. Time does heal all wounds if we can ignore them. But sometimes the added healing time and soreness is worth the awesome battle scar at the end. And everybody needs a few scars.


nh said...

Time doesn't heal wounds, it just gives us the means to cope with the hurt on a day to day basis.

Eventually we all have to return to the things that hurt us, and remember the pain and suffering. But each time they are revisited the acuteness of the pain lessens. But healing completely, I don't think so.

Echloe said...

Thanks for being so honest about your thoughts on this. I've been naively clinging to that time heals all wounds thing. Even though I know deep down that it sort of just dulls the wound. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who feels this way.

areyoukiddingme said...

It's only been five years, though. When they say that time heals all wounds, they don't tell you that the amount of time depends on the size of the wound. Also, if you've never actually confronted the wound before, the first time is almost worse than when it's happening.

As to baby books...I am passive-aggressively NOT filling out my daughter's baby book. I had registered for one, and a friend bought it for me. Then my sister-in-law bought a different one - that I hadn't chosen and that I don't like. I could return the one I'd chosen that the friend bought, but I couldn't return the one my SIL bought. Practicality won over and now I have a book that I will probably never fill out. But I have a million pictures and a journal from her first year, so it's not like she won't have anything.

Another baby book story...Background: I am the fourth and youngest child. I was conceived because my mother had a surprise pregnancy with my 3rd sister and felt that each child needed a companion. (Don't feel bad for me- I'm the favorite.) When my mom was selling the family home to move to a condo, we were doing some cleaning. In one of our storage spaces, I found my oldest sister's baby book - all lovingly filled out and complete. I found my second oldest sister's baby book - mostly filled out with a few odds and ends in the bag that should have gone in the book. I found my third sister's baby book, not filled out but with all the appropriate items necessary to do so. For me? Nothing. Also, each of my sisters had their baby shoes bronzed. Except for me. I did get some really cute patent leather mary janes that I had worn, but that's all that remains of my infancy. I don't even appear much in pictures because they got the 8mm camera around that time, so I'm in the movies that no one ever watches!

nutmeg96 said...

I only filled out the first page of my preemie's book, too. Now I have a pile of about 300 photos in a box, many of them now kind of frightening to look at, that I can't deal with.

I was the opposite of you with the photos while my daughter was in the NICU. I didn't want to show anyone. She was badly bruised and had all sorts of wires coming out of her. When I found out my husband sent them to his family, I felt like my daughter had been betrayed. I just recently found out that a lot of my non-IF friends were asking each other, "what's with the secrecy around Megan's baby?" If they'd seen those pictures, they would have known not to ask anything else.

Lavender Luz said...

I'm not sure I agree that we can only be healed by keeping our hearts cocooned and the box closed.

I will speak only for myself. Mostly I can look back on my whole story, both the gains and the losses, and not bleed.

Raising twins, publishing a book and writing others, running a community of 2000 bloggers, plus all the other cool things you do -- you've been very busy for 5 years. You are now processing a new layer of your grief over what you lost: the cute newborn photos, the going home the next day with your babies triumphantly, the "normal" baby book.

My hope for you is that the Calm part of the cycle continues to expand while the others recede.

XO, Mel. Big X and O.

a Tonggu Momma said...

My next-door neighbor and close friend had twins (now six) who were born at 25 weeks. Both weighed less than two pounds and spent months in the NICU.

I am an adoptive momma (China). Rosie, the twins momma (she passed away last October), once shared with me thoughts very similar to your own. And I remarked that perhaps scrapbooking those moments felt much like creating a lifebook for an adopted child. It's the child's story, yes, but it's painful, so it's difficult to go down that path.

As hard as it was for me to create the Tongginator's lifebook (her known story prior to adoption), it DID help me process things. Now it doesn't feel so raw. Now it's not quite so sharp of a pain.

I don't know if I would have gone down the road of writing the story, if not for the real need to do so with an adoptive child. Rosie never could bring herself to do it. And now she can't. If she had survived breast cancer, I still don't know if she ever would have gotten to the point of being able to document that time. It felt so very painful to her.

Just some (rather lengthy - sorry) thoughts after reading your post...

Michelle said...

All I have to say to you is thank you. Thank you for being so honest about your feelings. We all have those feelings you would rather hide away, but dealing with them, in my opinion, is the only way you truly heal.

Thank you for making this blog. Thank you for creating ICLW. I feel I am finally able to feel my real feelings with other women who are experiencing the same thing. You are truly a blessing and I appreciate all you do!
~Michelle (ICLW)

Beautiful Mess said...

Time does heal some wounds, sometimes so much so that you think the wounds are gone. Then we look back and BAM, we're right where we were when it happened. I hope your wounds continue to heal. I think that by doing these scrapbooks, you will heal that much more. You're doing a fantastic job!
P.S. Happy ICLW!

Emmy said...

I relate to a lot of this post too much. The cycles of panic you mention are too familiar.

I think that time does dull wounds-- it is just a matter of how thick of a callus you are able to grow over to protect it. Some wounds never quite get a chance to dull completely.

Nice post.

Rebecca said...

Wow. Just wow. So beautifully written.

Cassandra said...

This post belongs in their baby books. The kick-ass baby books, even with healthy full-term babies, usually gloss over all sorts of unpleasantness. No audio files of sleep-deprived Mommy and Daddy yelling things at each other that they will later regret. No videos of the baby crying for the 4th straight hour. No phone records documenting the many anxious 3 a.m. phone calls to the pediatrician. No photos of Mommy after she hasn't showered for more than a week, or the crib sheets soaked through with explosive diarrhea and Mommy sobbing in a heap on the floor. There are some missing pages in every baby book, even if all of the printed pages have been filled out.

Conveying the full range of emotions is rare for "happy" venues such as baby books, but a record of parents' feelings, good and bad, is a true gift to the children. If nothing else, they need to know the reality so that when their own time as parents comes along, they realize that they aren't alone.

On a different note, you totally read my mind about the next Thoughtful Thursday, which fits in perfectly with this train of thought. I'll even give you a sneak preview on Wednesday. We have so much to talk about.

Fertilized said...

Excellent, Touching, Amazing, Beautiful!

Kristin said...

Wow...what an honest, forthright post. YOU are so right about time healing wounds we leave alone. I do think nh is right and time "gives us the means to cope with the hurt on a day to day basis."

Another Dreamer said...

"I found a picture of me taken about an hour before I was led down the hallway. Should I include it and tell them the story of that night? Should I leave it out, rewrite history?"

Wow. What a great post; thank you for sharing it.

Melissa G said...

In a way this post reconfirms my fears that I will never really ever be able to get over our infertility. Sometimes I think I'll be proud of it, and not cover it with a bandage or wrap, but let it drip or scab over for all to see. Then other times I'm pretty sure I'll wear long sleeves for the rest of my life.

I hope to find a happy medium and feel a certain amount of contentment with the strength it has given me, all the while feeling grateful that I don't have it as badly as others. But that is just the calm talking. Or maybe even the denial, because I haven't even made it to the other side yet.

The one thing I can rely on is never forgetting. It will never go away, and right now - I am okay with that.

Thank you so much for all you have created, which has helped bring this community together. I can't image how I would make it through all this without the support of so many people I have found, because of you.

Anonymous said...

Amazing as usual, Mel.

Grief is not linear. I want to echo Lavendar Luz, as she said better than I could have what I was thinking...

I don't know what heals best, but I don't think it is time alone. I don't think it is "not touching" either. There are definitely different layers to our grief. We wander around in it for a while, come in, go out (maybe multiple times). If only it were as straightforward as checking off the Kubler-Ross stages.

May you find peace in the midst of whatever grief you find.

Stacie said...

Thank you, Mel. Once again you've captured what I've felt in your elegant and thought provoking way.

I have the boys' baby books tucked away in a closet. There is plenty to fill them with, but I just can't bring myself to go through those emotions yet--the pain, the fear, the disappointment, the joy, and the unbelievable love. I do hope that time will if not completely heal the pain from those NICU wounds then at least allow it to be more bearable.

loribeth said...

I have all kinds of papers & stamps, etc., collected for a scrapbook for Katie. I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. Not yet. I figured that by blogging her story last year, 10 years later, I'd at least have the journalling done ; ) but that took a lot more out of me than I thought it would too.

Right now, I'm working on a scrapbook for dh & me. It's our 25th (!) wedding anniversary next year, & I got the brilliant idea to do a spread for every year of our marriage. I'm already finding it harder going than I thought. Not that there isn't a lot of happy stuff there, especially at first. I think it's knowing what came next (even though we have survived). When you promise "for better or for worse" you never really know how bad things can get, do you?

Tara said...

What an awesome post. It made me cry...I am so glad the twins are healthy.

Vee said...

Yes I totally agree what an awesome post!

One on my fears for the future is healing and how I will heal, if I will heal at all. It scares me.

battynurse said...

I know from when I worked NICU how many parents felt cheated. All of them that got to take babies home were thankful to be doing so but it still wasn't the experience they had dreamed of and planned on for so long. Many had missed things such as baby showers and early breast feeding.
You are right about things will come back at a moment you're not expecting them too. As far as what parts to put in and leave out of the twins scrapbooks? I don't know. You mentioned 3 books, are you doing one for yourself? That could be a good plan.

Vintage Mommy said...

I think I agree with nh who said time doesn't heal the wound, just gives us a better ability to carry on.

We have a daughter we love and that took some of the most raw IF pain away. What continues to hurt is our inability to adopt a second time. And that doesn't seem to be fading yet . . .

I also agree w/the commenter who said that you've had a very busy 5 years! You should take all the time you need to process as you work through the books; they will be amazing I'm sure.

B said...

Wow mel. Beautiful post.

"But I wanted the pretty baby photos." - mmmmmm I don't think it was just the photos you wanted. I can understand that feeling.....

"Should I include it and tell them the story of that night? Should I leave it out, rewrite history?"

I guess the question is are you telling your story or theirs? Because knowing that their mum loved them and was worried for them is all they need to know in their story. It is true, but different to your experience.

time and wounds? I agree we get better at living with pain. I think the distance between the times of feeling acute pain lengthens, and oƒ course, reminders often don't help (which is one of the reasons infertility is so hard) but then sometimes they bring a new sadness and therefor a new healing.

Take care as you do this job, and give yourself a break sometimes

love b

Meim said...

Simply, beautiful.

Ellen K. said...

I too spent an awful lot of time ISO the perfect baby books for my twins, and although I've collected some clippings and the footprint papers, the books remain blank. I'm not sure why. I thought it was just because I haven't had much time, but your post makes me think that something else is going on. And now I know I'm not alone, so thank you, Mel.

Mad Hatter said...


How absolutely correct. Thank you so much for sharing this, and for creating a space for this community to connect. I'm very new to IF blogs and blogging and it helps me so much to know I'm not suffering alone.

serenity said...

So it's not the same, not at all. But it took me 8 years to even DEAL with the grief by my cousin's passing. And then it was like those 8 years hadn't passed at all.

I think that time DOES heal all wounds, but only if they've been lanced. Worked through.

So clearly there's some emotions you still need to work through about your twins' NICU experience. And that's okay.


sassy said...

I don't know if even time is powerful enough to heal these kinds of wounds. However, I am so glad for you, that time let your babies grow and live, and that today you can hold them in your arms. Doesn't that make all this worth it?

Sunny said...

Wow, wow, wow. What an emotional post, as always I love and appreciate your honesty.

I agree that "time heals all wounds" needs some revision. It reminds me of a Brandi Carlile song I love where she croons, "Someone told me a lie. Someone looked me in the eye, and said time will heal your pain."

I think that cocooning yourself, not touching the wound again is not healing it... it's denying it. If you can't live fully, if there is a block, you aren't healed. Some wounds will always have a painful scar, the challenge is not letting it stop you from enjoying happiness altogether.

kate said...

Powerful and thought-provoking responses to your walk through the early days of their lives- I love this post. I all too well know the cycles of anxiety, and it's almost like my life sometimes swings through meta-cycles of anxiety. First the panic for a few months- I will never be a mother, I'm scared of what will happen, of what won't happen. Then the sadness- Why me? I don't deserve to be a mother. I don't want to feel this pain anymore. Then the denial for a few months- I'll just stop trying. Maybe there's nothing really wrong with me. Maybe I'll get that one-in-a-million hail-Mary pass of a pregnancy. Maybe I don't really want to be a mom after all. And a few months of calm- I am breathing, I am alive, I am well, things WILL work out for me.

This post just really hit me close to the heart. Do you rewrite history to save the pain, to save not only you, but them? Or is it critical to share the story, to be true-to-real-life so as not to lose a single detail? I don't know.

Michelle said...

I agree completely and have thought for a long time that we need to revise it. Time does not heal all wounds. It might fade into the background but all it needs is a little reminder and it can be like you are in that place all over again.

Eve said...

Interesting...I, too, have a fairly blank baby book that feels like a 'dirty little secret' since it seems like such an ANTI-mother thing to do. I went into pre-term labor with my son at 24 weeks, though they were able to stop my labor. My much dreamed-of pregnancy ended up being full of sickness, hospitalizations and bedrest. I was able to hold off delivery until 36 weeks, so my son was very healthy...but I was so ill when we came home that I didn't get to take those token 'darling' new baby photos or do little handprints. I am so lucky to have a healthy son, but I know I still mourn a 'normal' pregnancy, labor, and entry into motherhood.

Time rubs some wounds away, but just covers others over, still whole, only to be discovered at another time.

Lisa said...

True, you can keep going and even thrive, be truly happy, feel deep gratitude for the way things turned out later, and blah, blah, blah . . . but some things in life (and everyone has a few such things) will never heal all the way. And they shouldn't! Please don't feel you ever have to apologize for these feelings. The fact that your babies are here and healthy does NOT invalidate what you went through before "five years later" got here.

Meanwhile, here's a share: I was a preemie, born 2 months early. I stayed in the hospital for a full month and was supposed to stay a bit longer, but my (literally) hysterical mom finagled an earlier release. I am 43 years old, and my mom (dad, too, if drawn in) STILL gets emotional when she talks about not being able to hold me, having to go home and leave me behind every day, watching nurses feed me. That scary period happened, and life turning out dandy didn't erase the experience -- or the wish that it could have been different -- from my parents' life.

Good luck with the scrapbooking, and give yourself a big long break from it if now's not the right time to dig in. I have a feeling, though, that your immersion in the project, while painful at times, will help move you forward in terms of your daily dealings with remembering that time.

Lorza said...

awww. Mel- {{HUGS}} I have been through some stuff in my life unrelated to IF, so I can TOTALLY understand. Thus the reason I refuse to acknowledge Father's Day. It is full of pain and heartache for me- now that I am married with a FIL, I have to acknowledge it- and it is painful. I should be happy I have a great FIL...but it brings up my past.

This brings the question- is it possible to wrap ourselves up in the cloak of invisibility? I wish.

Sometimes a little I&D (incision and drainage) is needed of some wounds so that they can heal fully. Maybe that is what your scrapbook can be for you. Get all that panic out once and for all? It would definitely be a great thing for your children to have later.

Good luck sweetie. <3

Trish said...

Wow. This post really struck quite a nerve.
The panic cycle is so incredibly accurate.
When they told me I had pre-e, I kept asking everyone how long I could last. No one would tell me longer than 12 hours. So I'd freak out, then I'd be sad, then I'd convince myself they were wrong, then I'd be calm for a bit until I could ask someone else, who would tell me the same thing.

As for the re-opening old wounds.. Oh yes. I think the NICU days will always be a scabby, weeping wound.
I get some.. uhh... negative feedback, we'll say, on my blog sometimes. You know, I'm a whiner and such. But truly, IF left me changed and the preemie experience changed me further.
I barely recognize the person I was just 3 years ago.

KLTTX said...

This post really hit home for me. Its been almost 6 years since my NICU days and if you look at my son now, you'd never know he was a preemie that had to spend 7 weeks in the NICU but some things still bring me back there. A few months ago, he had his first sleep over and I know I was more emotional than I should have been because of the NICU experience (I even blogged about it). I think that experience will be with me forever and I will not ever truly be completely healed from that experience. Its a part of who we are now. My son also cannot believe the pictures of him in the NICU are him. He just sees a tiny baby with tubes.

As to a baby book, I thought I was the only mom in the world to not work on a book. I am happy to know that I am not although some day, I do hope to do something (maybe I can give my kids their books for their weddings??).