On fearing the night

I recently told someone I didn’t sleep well the night prior and was then questioned, “Did you watch or read something scary before you went to bed?”

No. Unfortunately, in this life post loss, it is damn near impossible for me to watch or read anything that will keep me awake at night.

The things that keep me awake at night, especially while pregnant, reside in my mind, in my memories – the memories that will forever haunt me, proving one’s worst fears can, and sometimes do, come true. As therapist Megan Devine would say, “My life is the stuff others’ nightmares are made of.” Maybe not every detail of my day-to-day life fits this description, but my traumatic, tragic experience of losing my son? The being forced to continue on in the aftermath of this in each day following for my remaining time on this earth? Yes – it’s truly the stuff from which others’ nightmares are made.

I’ve written about this before, but I fear the night, especially while pregnant, and I believe I have reason to. I know the night is when Matthew left me. I went to bed one night feeling his kicks, and I never felt them again, and about 24 hours later he died.

So when I’m faced with the final weeks of a subsequent pregnancy, I fight sleep, whether I intend to or not, whether I believe this to be healthy or not. It’s just what my body does.

In the evenings I’m ridiculously tired, falling asleep in the midst of interesting conversations with others. I intend to go to bed shortly after Joel does, and then, very predictably, at 10:00pm or 11:00pm, I experience this huge burst of energy. I believe it’s my body kicking into survival mode, or both survival and protection mode. My body feels viscerally that it must.stay.awake.

So stay awake I do, until 12:00am, or 1:00am, or 2:00am, until the fatigue inevitably overpowers my survival and protection instincts, and then I wake up about every hour or two thereafter. And then, no matter how tired and miserable I am when I awaken, I will not drift back to sleep until I feel Finch move an acceptable number of times, whatever I deem that to be in my compromised state.

Before I shut my eyes, it’s always the same thoughts that fly through my head, “Don’t you dare go to sleep. Don’t you dare. This could be the last time you feel him move.”

And the intrusive memories and flashbacks attack me when I’m at my most exhausted, vulnerable state.

The sudden code blue. The feelings of pure terror and helplessness. The oxygen mask muffling my screams. White coats flooding the room. Papers thrown in my face. Signing our lives away during our frantic sprint to the operating room. Being instructed to jump onto the operating table and undress myself and then doing it. Overhearing staff order seemingly massive amounts of blood for me, in the event of life-threatening complications. Begging them to make sure neither of us died. Waking up to my husband telling me he’s dead. Meeting him and holding him cold and blue and lifeless and sobbing uncontrollably, telling him, “I’m sorry and goodbye and I love you,” over and over again, knowing this was both the first and last time I’d ever see him. The dangerous drops in blood pressure and violent shaking episodes in the immediate aftermath. The suicidal thoughts that visited me every single day for several months after. The missing him so hard that sometimes I still can’t breathe.

This only scratches the surface. And yes, this loss and this pain and these memories are more than enough to keep me awake at night, and this will probably be true forever.

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20 thoughts on “On fearing the night

    1. Not really… There’s an NST machine, which measures baby’s heartrate but usually these are only found in hospitals. Also, they can be anxiety provoking in the sense that babies aren’t robots and will thus sometimes throw off some questionable readings that are actually normal… Of course there are advantages to just going to the hospital and being hooked up to this, but, at the same time, nothing guarantees a positive outcome, and there are some disadvantages to living in the hospital as well, so cost-benefit of everything needs to be weighed and sometimes the answer isn’t so straightforward. I hope someday there are some new technologies like this that can be more reliably used at home, but right now we just aren’t there yet…

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  1. With Silas, I would wake up in the middle of the night and eat an RX bar just to get him to move. I couldn’t get through a night without doing it. Now, I have been having mild panic attacks (well, actually, my therapist says they are episodes of anxiety. that panic attack is something specific) lately, where I flash back to finding out Sidney was dead, and I am not even pregnant, so I imagine the intensity for you is more extreme. Hugs.

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  2. I always have so many thoughts when I read your posts and never know quite what to say and what will be disgustingly TMI. I suppose I’ll start with I cried. You have a way of writing that makes that happen sometimes. It’s quite a talent. Second, I love Megan Devine (and Angela Miller). Amazing how these women have turned their grief into….good? Is that even the right word? Also, I feel terrified at the thought of ever becoming pregnant again. I won’t say “oh, you are so strong/inspiring/etc” because those are just meaningless cliches. I’m only saying that becoming pregnant, for me, might break me (or maybe heal me?). Just speaking for myself. Finally, “The being forced to continue on in the aftermath of this in each day following for my remaining time on this earth? Yes – it’s truly the stuff from which others’ nightmares are made.” Terrifying. And dreadfully painful.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. Megan Devine and Angela Miller are my faves. I hate that we have to know who they are. I’m reading Megan Devine’s new book right now. Pregnancy after loss is terrifying, for sure… In my experience, the trauma of it has almost completely broken me (though it didn’t), though having another baby physically here has been healing, though of course not a fix. It seems like a truly risky endeavor though, and this is the toughest part, I think… Subjecting oneself to the possibility of a similar future trauma… There are no right answers about when, or even if, to make this journey and how to deal with it… I wish you peace and clarity with whatever lies ahead for you. ❤

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  3. Oh, I forgot to thank you for mentioning the suicidal thoughts. I feel as though this may be (relatively?) common among bereaved parents but because suicide is so taboo and everyone freaks out, nobody really wants to address it. I’m not really sure how it should be addressed but I think it should be, without having everyone running to call 9-1-1.

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    1. The suicidal thoughts are very real and I also think common. I think people should talk about it more frequently too. I had friends who wanted me admitted to a hospital. It’s a tough concept for people to understand – frequent suicide ideation without necessarily the imminent danger of necessitating a 9-1-1 call. I’m shocked that people were so shocked that I had these thoughts. I mean, my baby had just died. How was I supposed to feel?! I’m not sure how to address it either other than people should speak up about it. xoxo

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  4. Night is tricky for me to… Or rather, falling asleep is tricky.

    As soon as my inhibitions go down, the fear comes up to the surface. I keep getting these images of my (perfectly healthy) six-year-old dead in his bed. Then I have to go check on him. It got better over time, also because he is older and somehow more robust as well as able to tell us about his states (like, the other day he told us he feels like he has a fever, and he did – what an improvement over the time when we had to guess what’s going on!).

    But right now I’m in the early stages of a new pregnancy, and it just all came flooding back in. I’m OK during the day, then at night I’m suddenly afraid of every little thing that could happen to him. I’m afraid for embryo too, but that fear is kind of logical as I have a history of not getting past the first trimester. And I fear for myself as well, about again being suddenly surrounded by a group of doctors rushing around making sure my life stays out of danger. No fun at all.

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    1. I can relate to your relief over your child getting older. The older Joel gets, the easier for me. Even though I am loving him as he is, I long for the day when he can communicate what’s wrong. I think it would even further relieve my anxiety. But yes, I have the same horrible thoughts about him too and I have to check the video monitor to ensure his chest is still rising and falling…

      Gentle congrats on your new pregnancy. I will be sending you all of the well wishes for you to sail past this first trimester and beyond, until baby is screaming in your arms. PAL is so hard, but I’m wishing for it to go as smoothly as it possibly can for you. xoxo

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  5. I relate to this post so much. Nights are the worst for me too. The last movement I felt from Maddy was the hiccups she had the night before I found out her heart had stopped. She had to have died while I stupidly slept. Now it seems impossible to me that the baby will live through the night if I’m not awake to monitor her movements. I’ve been waking up at 4am each morning waiting and willing her to m

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  6. move the “right” amount of times so that I don’t have to wake Will up with the fetal monitor. This morning she wasn’t moving, and then it too me 23 effing minutes to find her heartbeat (it usually takes 1-2 tops). In my mind she was dead and I was already envisioning delivering another lifeless baby. Hoping and praying both the baby and I make it through this pregnancy. Thinking of you my friend!

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    1. OMG I’m so sorry you can relate so closely to this. Just a couple of nights ago I had the exact same thing happen. Sometimes when I awaken at night, baby is moving, and I go back to sleep. Other times, I awaken at the wrong time, and baby isn’t moving. THis recently happened, and I had to go get the Doppler. There was a heartbeat, but I was convinced he was still in distress. I start crying and envisioning my C-section taking place that day, them removing him lifeless. It was awful. Shortly thereafter, he did start moving again, and I don’t even think he had been quiet for longer than 20 minutes (not abnormal), but this was obviously still enough time for my mind to go to the worst place. It’s so brutal sometimes. Hugs to you, my friend!!

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  7. I’ve been following your blog since I lost my first child, a girl, back in late February at 38 weeks. Thank you for writing with such honesty and humor. I’m currently 14 weeks pregnant with (hopefully) our rainbow and the level of anxiety is intensifying every week, especially when we don’t know the cause of our daughter’s death.

    My husband’s large family (who doesn’t know I’m pregnant yet and I’d prefer to keep it that way) got together over the weekend and we ended up playing the board game “What’s Yours Like?” guys vs gals. Not even joking, the prompt the girls had to describe? “Worst Nightmare”. The things I wanted to say: My life every day. Finding out your baby has died. Being cut open in a c section to remove your dead baby. Walking away from the hospital empty handed. Waking up in the middle of the night in a panic wondering if the new baby’s heartbeat has, too, stopped. What could possibly be worse?

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    1. Kim, I am so very sorry for your loss of your precious daughter. It’s the most devastating nightmare one can experience, I think, and I’m so sorry you’ve been forced to walk this brutal path.

      Gentle congrats on your rainbow pregnancy. I’m sure it’s extra scary not knowing the cause of your first daughter’s death, and I’m so beyond sorry that you have this added fear. PAL is so terrifying, and it’s really just a one day at a time type of thing until you get to the end… I hope it helps to read others’ stories – there are many (including me) who did not think we could make it to the end of PAL with a living baby, and yet, somehow we still did. I hope this alone gives you hope.

      Also, I’m so sorry you got asked that stupid board game question. I probably would have just answered with what you wrote and watched the horror and awkwardness in the room ensue…

      Anyway, I’m so very hopeful for you, and I’m sending you much love and strength.

      xoxo

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