Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Guilt, Superstition and Turkey

The first thing out of the doctor’s mouth after “I’m afraid something catastrophic has happened, baby A no longer has a heartbeat” was “it’s nothing you did, it isn’t your fault.”

Immediate thought 1: How do you know, we’ve never met before today.

Immediate thought 2: Thou doest protest too much.

Hearing those same words from a doctor I’d known for years and knew more about my choices and lifestyle decisions and the like might have been different, but coming from someone I didn’t know at all, it seemed like just a blanket statement that they say to absolve your sins rather than a medical fact.
I hadn’t jumped to assuming responsibility until she said those words.  Obviously if there’s a case where it isn’t my fault, then there must be a case where it is.  And so rather than absolving my sins, she left me wrestling with guilt.

Now, to be clear, intellectually I know that it was not my fault.  I even have the added support of Chiron’s amazing size and health for his gestational age.  My purpose in writing this is not to question whether or not it is my fault.  It is to share where my mind is and hopefully explain some other thoughts.  So, while I intellectually know it was nothing I did, I also live with a feeling of “yeah, but she died on my watch.” 

That’s the context of guilt.  Leading us into superstition.

If you’ve ever spend much time around a maternity floor or a NICU, you know that both of these arenas are teeming with superstition.  Sometimes it’s true though!  There was one nurse on the L&D side that I would always either start contracting or step up the intensity and frequency of the contractions when she was around.  After the third time this happened, it was declared (by them) that they just would always switch her out with someone else rather than treat me.  I tell this story because I think it’s an example of a principle: while it may not be certain, anecdotal and circumstantial evidence is enough to make a decision on when there isn’t a great cost.

I think I now live that principle.  It may seem weird, but I just feel like I should do things differently this time.  Not everything, but spice up the mix.  Downplay the déjà vu sense.  Err on the side of caution.

I did Pilates several times a week last time until the week Aurelia died and walked a few miles every day with the dogs and sometimes Trajan.  Now? None.

Last time I didn’t do the Boost Plus drinks and just tried to eat more and well.  This time?  I do them.  Plus every vitamin suggested at all.  Fistfuls of them with glee.  And I’m already paying attention to getting in a position at my desk that has my legs partway up.

Some things might be less benign.  I’ve refused to take even Tylenol this time under the theory of why introduce anything that is uncertain that I can avoid.  Until today when I realized that whenever I moved my head, I was distracted by pain.  That I was really quite uncomfortable.  And something clicked and I decided to go ahead and do it.  And I took two Tylenol.  Mark it: 08:45 Central time on 2/7/2012 (disturbing confession: the marking it is against a negative outcome so I can come back and point rather than as a celebration of my progress).

I have done a couple positive things such as my breaking my avoiding of a certain coffee spot and their rooibos lattes as well. 

And that leads us into the last topic, turkey sandwiches.

I would like a turkey sandwich.  Turkey and provolone to be exact.  But I won’t eat one.  Why?  Because it is recommended due to Listeria.  Now, having read way too much about Listeria, not eating a turkey sandwich actually doesn’t provide much protection at all.  The odds from all sources of Listeria are such that I’m actually endangering the babies less having a turkey sandwich than if I drive somewhere to pick up something else.  And the foods that they recommend not eating are only those that have been implicated in Listeria outbreaks despite the fact that the vast majority of cases of Listeria in pregnant women are from single cases rather than outbreaks.

However, the flip side is the case where I am again the winner of extreme odds and contract a case of Listeria.  Had I eaten a turkey sandwich, I think this would make the guilt situation much, much worse.  And so I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are much worse things than wanting a turkey sandwich and I would gladly trade the entire rest of my life’s right to eat turkey sandwiches for some sort of guarantee of health or even an increased likelihood.  But it doesn’t work that way.  There is no bartering with death.

No guarantees, but hope.


  1. I totally understand!! Believe me -- I was the same way my first pregnancy (not so much this time around, LOL.) I remember a friend asking me why women in France could drink a little wine, but in the U.S., it's an absolute no-no! I think that's a good point (women in Japan eat sushi, too!) but all I could think of was that something important would be forming in my babies' little bodies/brains at the PRECISE moment I decided to have a sip of red wine or put on perfumed lotion or ate a Subway sandwich, and my child would forever be lacking something. I don't know what that might be, it could be anything -- some tiny connection in the brain that helps people cope with adversity, I don't know! It didn't matter. I was paranoid as hell. And people actually teased me about it. But I so did not care! So I totally get it. And I say, go with what makes you feel most comfortable. This abstention from stuff that seems harmless to others is not going to last forever. What do you have left? 6 more months? Five?? You can do anything -- or NOT do anything -- for that long!
    That being said, you can have your turkey sandwich HOT. Heating the meat kills listeria. An a hot, open-faced turkey sammich with gravy is goooood, with a capital G. Throw in some fries, too, while you're at it. :-)

  2. I've been craving a turkey subway... Logic tells me things would prob be fine if I ate it, but yeah, not worth the chance of risking baby and taking on guilt.

  3. All I can say, my sweet friend, you are an exception. Re your comment on my blog. If I were as candid as you, my family would ostracize me. Totally, and completely. Therefore, I will most likely continue to pretend.
    Keep taking good care of those babies. I am anxiously waiting the huge announcement in a few months.

  4. If you heat up the turkey in the microwave or make it into a melt then the meat has heated out any chances of Listeria. I'm all about superstitions in all aspects of my life - so I completely understand what you are feeling.

    1. But then it's hot ;-). I've done that a little, but just seems slightly wrong!

  5. I totally get it because in my mind I'm still living it. When I think back to the miscarriage, and the few months before it, I ask myself... was it the migraine pill I took before I knew? Was it the headache medicine I took before I knew? Was it the coffee I drank before I knew? And so on, forever, with no answers at all. Which is why now I'm trying to conceive, and failing miserably, ha, I'm not drinking coffee (but almost always forget if someone brings in soda duh) and not taking my migraine pills or any meds but Tylenol. It sucks and it's hard and it's part of the pregnancy will never be fun again thing.

    1. Err on the side of caution. Good luck! (also, I'd stopped taking prenatals finally after like two years the MONTH before I got pregnant and the first month. Let's just say spinal bifida or something like that will make me feel like a louse.)

  6. It's funny you would talk about this.
    I watched a show about a 40 yr old man who was in the body of a 10 yr old. His mother and brother brought him from Australia (?) to Florida to try and find out what his condition was. Was it hereditary. etc.
    When the doctors did all of their testing the doctor said.....at around week 7 when his pituitary gland was developing something went wrong. It was either environmental or something "you" did during those first few weeks.

    I immediately said, "what an asshole" J looked at me like I was being harsh...it had gone completely over her head and I explained that he just told her that it was all her fault.

    Do you know what you are having yet ? My hell....they HAVE to know by now and you are getting scanned all of the time. Please don't keep us waiting. ;-)

    1. Believe me, I'll tell you when I know! Heck, Paul may find out reading ;-).

      It's interesting, because where is the line between giving information and being sensitive? Like with tooth enamel, apparently a cold or something like that at the right moment is often the cause of a weak spot. Some dentists say this and some seem to buzz over it. I'm not sure who I like better.

      One of the perinatologists will call gender at 12 weeks. He's who I was scheduled with, but then it turned out to be another one and he will NOT. My OB uses a quick portable and she wasn't comfortable calling at 14. Though, she did say something about "wouldn't it be a hoot (I don't think that was teh word, but I can't remember what she said) if they were both girls", so I'm suspicious that she thinks at least one is a girl. Particularly since in my experience, the boys are easier to call at earlier gestational ages than girls.

      I've debated writing out my thoughts on gender here. I've definitely had some, but since really what I'm rooting for is alive, seems wrong to even write about the thoughts I have.

      So, I'm going to take this as a compromise and ramble here in the comments.

      First thought is that same-gender would be easier. Whether two boys or two girls, it would keep our numbers easier to work logistically for rooms and things like that. Advantages of two boys: have the clothes, used to boys, and just means we embrace boyhood.

      Advantages of two girls: Paul's funny line that we'd be 2/3s of the way to the Brady Bunch. Would give an easy distinction to call these two youngest that would not be "the twins". Instead, the girls. And yes, I know it is unlikely I will avoid them being referred to as the twins regardless, but I'm just not there yet and so I see that as a plus. And, as I've worried some about Trajan and Chiron losing some of their closeness in Trajan retreating from the "babies" in self-defense, the little two being girls could help keep Trajan and Chiron close. Add in that girls do best in the NICU and fetuses do better for having a female co-fetus and pretty good arguments for girls.

      Thoughts on one of each. Yes, I know phoenix-dragon twins are the best in Chinese culture and given that it's the year of the yang water dragon, seems like it would be appropriate. And yes, I would be ecstatic and love them and all that. As you might can tell this is the part where I'm uncomfortable writing my thoughts. But g2m inspired me to commit again to what you see is what you get honesty, so here goes.

      I am most apprehensive about boy/girl twins. In addition to 3 boys and 1 girl seeming to be less balanced dynamics, the more dark reason is the feeling of deja vu. And I don't even know if this makes sense, but it seems like the obvious differences of two girls would keep me from speculating more about Aurelia than if I had just one girl. [this one may be crazy, but I decided to go whole hog on the honesty]

      Despite the perinatologist saying that he would call it close to 50-50 odds that they are identical versus fraternal given they are spontaneous did-di twins, I'm still convinced they are fraternal. And so yes in that case there are 50% odds that they are boy/girl. I know that I won't mourn that for even a minute, it's just that there are some reasons that when I'm being perfectly honest I should confess that I'm rooting for same sex.

    2. Longest comment ever gets a part II!

      So, when will we find out? No ultrasound next week barring something going wrong, so I'm hoping at the 16-week anatomy scan at the perinatologist. He actually said at the 12-week he would tell us that, so I should be confident, but this isn't my first rodeo. They said they would confirm at 16 weeks with X and A and BOTH of them were in a position that they could never get a view the entire time. That time I got a stomach bug the next week and my OB looked and give me genders out of pity, but going to try not to go that route again.

      If we don't find our around the 21st at the perinatologist, the next ultrasound should be the first week of March at the OB.

      And yes, inquiring minds need to know!

  7. I am also avoiding lunch meat even though my girlfriends call me crazy for doing so. They never experienced a loss or been friends with those who have so they don't get it. I have read stories (blogs) of baby losses from listeria and I would never forgive myself if I caused that to my baby. Guilt is a crazy thing...

    We can go on a turkey sandwich binge next year :)

  8. Totally understandable, all of it. I think its just human nature. This is totally unrelated to pregnancy, but I will never ever get flowers painted on my toes during a pedicure, because that it what was done just prior to breaking my leg in 3 places.

  9. You want a turkey sandwich. I want eggs benedict. So badly.

  10. NICUs are superstitious places. I was a nurse in one and a patient's parent in another and in both I noticed myself and the other nurses clinging to superstition. For myself, when my daughter was admitted, every time it rained it seemed she had a set-back. Nothing terrible, but it made me anxious every time I would wake up and find that it was raining. In the NICU where I worked you NEVER wanted to comment on how great a patient was doing (So-so is having an awesome night!) because sure enough that baby would have issues come the next shift. You also never wanted to say anything about "how quiet" your shift was, because within the next 20 minutes you would inevitably be told "Oh, guess what? You're getting a really sick admission and you have 20 minutes to prepare! Good luck!".

  11. I also felt I should do things differently this time. With the twins I was SO careful, I agonised over every little thing. And part of me turned into a sulky teenager and thought . . . hmmmm, look how well that turned out with all your vitamins and water and vegetables and avoidance of turkey sandwiches. So I kind of felt a little bit, screw all this caution, it didn't do me any good last time.

    So I didn't take any stupid risks but things which seemed fairly innocuous, like the odd caffeinated drink, a slightly more unhealthy diet (ok really unhealthy and consisting of WAY too much chocolate!), using hair dye after the first tri. Well, I did all those things. Felt kind of defiant really as I am not usually one to take a risk or not follow the most cautious set of rules. Because there is no bartering with death. My sulky cry of 'but I did everything right' doesn't carry any weight against mortality. Sadly.

    I was also told that Jessica was a very good weight and in very good condition for her gestation and that I should take comfort from that. I do, on a good day, but yes, you've nailed it. It happened on my watch. Intellectually, rationally, I know it was nothing that I did. It was certainly nothing that I intended or wished for. I deeply wanted them both to live but they died because my body ejected them too early. Not necessarily my fault, I'll never really know WHY but my body, my watch.

    So interesting, places like NICUs, where really advanced medical technology and superstition collide. The girls neonatologist often said things that sounded very much like a fortune teller. He told me when Jessica arrived on the ward that he thought she would make it and that she would be in good condition if she did. And he wasn't just trying to comfort me because in the next breath he told me that Georgina would probably die. And yes, as Emily says, never say that so-and-so is having a awesome night. Big mistake.