Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Confession

Here it is, my confession.
It has been over four and a half years since my blissful, perfect pregnancy ended in the accidental death of my beautiful daughter. Since then, I have had two, healthy, anxiety-wraught pregnancies, ending in the healthy birth of my son and daughter.
Here is the confession. Confessions.
First, I still can't stand seeing pregnant people who I don't know. If I know them, somehow it's okay. I have gotten to the point that I can be happy with this. But strangers? I still cannot surpress the urge to run up to them and tug on their sleeve and say, "But don't you KNOW what could happen? How can you look so smug?" And each time I think this I berate myself because for all I know they have had 24 miscarriages but I still think it. I try not to, but I do. I don't like this one bit.
Confession number 2. When my friends have their first baby, I feel jealous. I look at the picture and I cry, but not for them, for myself. I can't help it. I just want to have that. I remember the feeling of being completely thunderstruck by this life that I had created and I think, imagine if she had been living. Imagine then what that would have felt like. I will never know. It feels so unfair and I can see the joy in their eyes and I want it for myself. I want to go back in time and get it.
But something happened today, something happened for the very, very first time. My friend had a baby, and it was her first, and I cried, and cried, big fat tears rolling down my cheeks at my little desk (which is built into an old stairwell off of our kitchen), and felt even a little shy when Greg came to look at the photo for the first time because of how much I was crying, and how I couldn't even really speak to say to him how happy I was for her. So happy. Happy for her, and not even a teeny-tiny bit sad for myself.
Why is this?
Maybe it is because Jenny has been trying to have a baby for about 10 years, for 3 years with her first husband who left her in the midst of their infertility crisis and then for 3 years with her dear Lawrence who is baby Porter's daddy. So there's this, the fibroids and the IVF and the miscarriage and then finally, at the very end, a beautiful little baby boy, so gorgeous, so here, and alive, and wrapped up burrito-style, and in the picture of her with him in her arms you can see it in her eyes. She can't believe it. There is no part of her that takes even the slightest hint of an eyelash of her son for granted. She knows he is a miracle.
Is it that? Is that why my tears were purely tears of joy?
Or is it this, the letter she sent me a few months back, starting off with talking about her planned c-section since she had had so many fibroids surgeries: it will feel to go to bed the night before and know that's the last night...we hope. I always have to add that - we hope. We hope it will all go well for the next six weeks so that we get to that point. When people tell us, "this is the last Christmas you'll have without a baby!" I can't help but add, "well, we hope so!" The dream still feels fragile to me - maybe it always will.
And I have been wanting to tell you, Carol, that I have conversations with Charlotte on a regular basis. I hope that feels okay to you - it is not in a freaky scary sort of way, more that I feel even more connected to what you were experiencing as you were pregnant with her. I mean, Charlotte has never been far from my thoughts ever, but now when this baby moves I think about how she used to swim around, and I sort of talk with her about it, and think about her life. It's been a really nice thing for me, even though it is also so very sad to me that she never got to experience "out here". Obviously she is part of your family just as Liam and Aoife are, but in many ways, as much as anyone else can be, she is part of my family too - she is really built into the fabric of my heart. It has been nice for me to know a little more about what is was like for you to be pregnant with your first - I don't think anyone has any idea what its like until they do it themselves, which is one of the myriad reasons I wanted it so badly. Anyway, Charlotte keeps me company, and while her birth might be something people would tell me not to dwell on, it's really not what I focus on anyway - I think about how healthy she was and how beautiful and perfect she was. And her birth reminds me of what can happen in life - unexpected and accidental and heartbreaking, but also what can come of it and what each of us does with those experiences.
Oh my oh my. Could I ever have PAID a friend to write something more beautiful and poignant? And so I am concluding, here and now, that I don't have to think to myself this, which I usually think when somebody has a baby:
Now she can really imagine what it was like for me to lose my baby.

Because she doesn't need to. Somehow she already knew, and now she has been blessed with her own baby. I am so happy.
It feels nice in my heart to feel this pure joy. Baby Porter lives in Washington, so I don't know when I'll ever get to meet the little guy, but I am so happy for this couple who has worked so hard for this baby and finally has him.
And, back to my confessional, it is a rare, nice treat to not feel self-centered and wallowing in my own pity when somebody else is in the midst of their own pure joy.

All things Balkan

We went to this fabulous performance in Boston on Thursday, perhaps you have heard of it, the Christmas Revels. I used to go every year when I was a child. A celebration of the winter solstice, the original revels had a pretty consistent repetoire of songs, dances, and drama all revolving around this time of year-- much of it old English. Now, however, each year the Revels focuses on a theme, and this year it was the Balkans.
Now perhaps you don't know this, but Balkan music is unreal. It is haunting and absolutely enchanting. It is characterized by lines of extremely close harmony which cross over one another in surprising moments of unison. I love singing Balkan music, and in the two choruses I am part of we have always done Balkan pieces. It is hard to sing but unbelievably satisfying. Many of the harmony lines of pieces I know have become very successful lullabies for my babies.
Anyhow. I had to see the Balkan revels. So I bought some tickets, uncharacteristically, the most expensive in the house (all that was left) and Greg and I left our kids with my parents in New Hampshire and drove the hour and a half down to Boston to spend the evening surrounded by Balkan good cheer. Just as it was starting, I said to Greg, next year Liam will be ready for this. And just as the singing filled the hall, the glorious, full, strong voices of about 80 men and women, it hit me. Why had it not been obvious before?
That means this year would have been Charlotte's first year. So I cried a little.
Then, later in the program, I read something that said that it is traditional at Christmastime to set an extra place at the table to stand for those who are with us only in spirit. So there. It is a real tradition, and one I shall begin at the next event I host.
I loved the Revels. The music was just amazing and the whole scene inspiring.
Music is such a spiritual experience for me (my only spirituality?) and I want my children to be part of it. The kids come to one of my choruses with me and (among a wealth of other songs)they have picked up this really great Macedonian song which they sing together. It is called "Sto mi e milo" and it's fabulous. It is so cute. My kids are 3 and 1 and they can actually sing at pitch which amazes me and makes me so proud. I think soon Liam might be ready to even carry a melody line while I sing some kind of harmony without getting confused. OOh it makes me so pleased. I love singing.
The song they sing can be found on UTube if you enter Sto Mi E Milo and the Pennywhistlers.This is a funny recording of it from the 1960's. I would put the link here, but as I have said before, I have dial up. It might take me over an hour to actually get it to load far enough to figure out the address. Maybe if we're lucky Erin will figure it out for me and post it in the comments. But otherwise I figure if there is anyone out there (anyone? anyone?) who wants to hear a sampling of a pretty kickass Balkan song and think about how cute it is that my two adorable kids can sing it, they can figure this out.
Whoop de doo.
It is sunny here. I have just gotten my two children to sleep, this is so nice for them, they are exhausted. Liam tucked into the top bunk and Aoife in her crib with her "princess", a cheesy, sparkly dolly that was a gift from our neighbor, chosen from a wealth of soft, organic, waldorfy, beautiful dollys to be her favorite doll. Go figure. You can only do so much. The weather looks lovely and I am going to go for a nice long run. Greg is cleaning our basement-- 5 foot ceilings and a dirt floor. Old New England Farmhouse. Go Greg.
Wishing you peace and good cheer.
So long.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Empty Chair

Tonight there will actually not be an empty chair at our table.
Not actually, but I will see it.
Will you?
Who will?
Charlotte had a stocking this morning. There were three things in her stocking. One, a beautiful, folk-art type of angel, with a warm, brown face and aqua dress, with tea-stained wings and an embroidered face. This from her Nana and Poppy. Also from them was a tea-towel with an "angel sugar cookie" recipe and an angel cookie cutter. Lastly, from her parents, a beautiful 'lady in waiting' dolly for her cradle upstairs. It matches some of the other waldorfy type dolls that are in her cradle. Aoife loved the doll, wrapping it in her pink playsilk and walking around delightedly with it. Sigh, sigh. If only.
Greg wrote her a beautiful card. He is going to reframe the fabulous photo of her little feet resting in his big, strong hands. That is a lovely gift.
And what would she be like today, on her fifth Christmas, a beautiful, blonde waif of a girl with wide, blue eyes, and a devilish grin? Liam looked so like her at birth, and my three children all shared so many features at birth which Liam and Aoife still display, I sometimes feel as if I can easily conjure an idea of what she would look like.
Look like.
But be like? Shy, quiet, loud, funny, reserved, joyful, respectful, naughty, silly, magical, trustworthy, optimistic? What would my daughter be? Become?
Why must I never know?
I always look at her little pictures and wonder in amazement at how she was programmed to become someone, and we will never know what that program was.
Today we will all be together at Christmas. But not our eldest daughter. Not ever.
This Christmas so much easier than four years ago, so very much more joyous and so much less painful. But my wound is still open. I miss her so much.
Last year, at Greg's house, his mom set the table in the afternoon. As we all sat down hours later for Christmas dinner, we arranged ourselves around the table and realized that there was, in fact, an empty chair. "A mistake", his mother said, but we didn't see it as that. We left the chair there, empty, and Greg and I smiled to ourselves and cried a little as it sat there, empty, and our lives carried on.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Finally, the good news.

So it's seemed that there has been lots of bad baby news lately, and it's made me feel a little dismal and maybe even a little doubtful and more scared for myself and my other friends, and then this:

Today, my dear old friend Crista, has announced the arrival in her belly, of a tiny new bean!
This is truly amazing and wonderful news.
Crista and Eric, these two, absolutely beautiful people.
They are beautiful. I mean, they are really beautiful. They are sweet, and sensitive, and quiet. They are so thoughtful and kind and do great stuff for other people. They laugh a lot and love their garden and have so much fun together. They have so much LOVE for each other and for everyone else, too.
They are also beautiful to see-- they are just classically gorgeous in every way, and this is probably mostly because she is just very, very pretty and he is extremely handsome, but all of this is so highlighted by flashing, bright smiles, and warm laughter, and just such an aura of goodness.
All they want is a baby.
They have tried, and tried and tried.
Last summer they almost got a baby. They finally got a little baby growing in there, only to miscarry. She would have been due this February, the 6th I think.
And now this: this new little bean! I feel so hopeful for them, and I wanted to post this story because I want this little bean to be OUT THERE and to be getting all the hopes and wishes that he or she deserves. I want this little bean to grow and thrive and be BORN ALIVE in seven months or whenever he or she is ready. And I somehow feel like maybe if we all think it, it will happen.
Come on, little bean! We're rooting for you!
Yay, Crista and Eric! We are so happy for you.

The Angel

I told this story to Erin and Matt last night, and it begged to be told again. I found this version written in an old book from my first writing group. All my writing is about "Clare". It is always easier to cast your story off on somebody else.
This, about our first outing without Charlotte: July 14, 2003, 2 months and 1 day after her birth, to a Woodie Guthrie tribute concert on his birthday at the Academy of Music:

Angels arrive when you least expect them to. In the months since Clare had lost her only child, people had hovered and swarmed, trying in vain to sweeten the world around her. All of them were struggling mortals like she was, lost in the swirling confusion, blindly swinging in the darkness that death leaves behind. They were grasping at nothing to try to restore order. And Clare sat, as if weighted in her chair, mesmerised by the depth of her loss, ignorant of the chaos that continued in her midst as people tried to save her. But Clare didn't need to be saved.
Her sitting time was long, that was true. For sixty-two days her house was her temple, surrounding her with the quietness and gentleness that her world could not guarantee. Certainly there were days where she emerged, braving the torrential rains of that spring to shop for groceries at the tiny corner store or to walk the trail by the river where she had carried Charlotte last. But never once in those sixty-two days had she chosen to go somewhere with so many people all at once. And yet she knew she had to go.
The prospect of venturing forward was terrifying to Clare, yet something, someone, must have told her it would be alright. Perhaps the angel was already beckoning to her. She chose the event because there would be singing, and if anything could prossibly dip into the black inkwell of her sadness and draw forth honey, it would be all those people singing. So on that night, only one day past the two-month anniversary of Charlotte's death, Clare and Charlie drove in their car like any couple, and as if walking in a dream, bought their tickets, and walked into the old theater.
They weren't completely lost in the crowd, because their closest friend and greatest supporter was already there. Gina hugged them and held their hands and showed them to the seats she had saved for them. Soon the singing began and maybe the angel was already there, watching, but Clare didn't know it. She sang loudly and for Charlotte, her voice blending with hundreds of others, and she could feel pink tendrils of joy peeking into her peripheral vision as she sang. Finally the intermission came and Clare sank deeply into her chair, overwhelmed by the depth of feeling surrounding her: satisfaction in having emerged, stark pain in the emptiness of her arms, and warmth and lightness from the singing. She was beginning to feel safe. And then the baby arrived.
Clare was sitting two seats in when the woman with the baby stopped and greeted Gina.
"Hello, B---," said Gina, and Clare had heard of this baby. The baby had been adopted by the woman holding her, then lost for some time to a custody battle, and then returned, and Clare knows more details which she wants to remember right then but all she could see were the fat cheeks, the downy hair, and the woman's arms so gloriously around the baby. Clare tried not to look, but the blackness was filling her brain and suddenly she was crying, hard, and she started to feel hot and prickly all over and all she could think was, somebody gave that baby up. Somebody gave birth to that little girl and didn't keep her. Then that woman, now her mother, that woman lost that baby and got her back. She could feel the walls of panic closing in on her. She could not get away, she was the third seat in, with Gina and the woman and her baby between her and safety.
The angel could have saved her then, but he didn't. Not yet. He let the panic come, let Clare scramble over the seats and stumble up the aisle, blinded by hot tears, oblivious of the people flashing before her eyes. She made it to the lobby and it was crowded, there seemed no escape. Clare turned to enter a little lounge on the right but a woman was sitting, arms curled around her nursing baby, and Clare turned in haste, crying for real by now. Her eyes flickered to the wide staircase, maybe she could sit there and blend into the wall, but even that escape route was blocked, this time by a woman holding twins, one on each hip. Defeated, Clare turned to face the wall by the refreshment stand, leaning into her sadness, sobbing without reserve.
Suddenly Charlie is there, and Gina too, and the man behind the refreshment stand is handing her a glass of water. They're holding her, and she's crying hard, and there are people everywhere and Clare doesn't care. She can hardly draw a breath through her pain, and eyes turn to her as the lobby starts to empty, and that's when the angel appears.
He wasn't tall, or particularly handsome.He was a relatively short man with a round belly, non-descript clothes, and unkempt grey hair. His glasses looked old, but his face was kind. He beckoned to Gina, and pulled her aside. Clare is crying so hard she doesn't even notice.
"Is she grieving?" he asks Gina. She nods yes.
"Who is she grieving for?" says the man, the angel.
"Her daughter," says Gina. "She lost her baby girl."
The man pushes through and hands Clare some Kleenex. She looks up, surprised, and meets the angel's eyes.
"Thank you," she tells him, and he takes her hand.
"Let it out," he tells her, "you have to let it out. There is nothing logical about it, is there? You just have to feel it".
And on cue, Clare sobs harder, she buries her head in Charlie's chest and is unable to catch her breath. The pain is so deep, so thorough.
"That's the way," the angel says, and then, "I'm not minding my own business, here."
Clare looks up, alarmed. "No," she says, "I really appreciate it. Thank you."
And she means it.

This man, this stranger, this unfamiliar face, has recognized that only Clare can save herself and that this is how she will do it.

She cries into the Kleenex he has given her for a minute longer, but when she looks up again, he is gone. Neither Gina nor Charlie has seen him leave.
She kept right on crying, but stumbled back down the aisle, latched onto Charlie's arm. She sang through her tears, and at the end of the night when they sang the birthday song, Clare sang loudly and cried harder and sang happy birthday to Charlotte, and she thought about the words of the angel, and she knew she would be okay.
Clare looked for the man everywhere from that day on, but he never appeared again.

I just couldn't rework it to make the part about the angel in the past tense. It tells itself better in the present. It's just how it works.
Now I feel hot and heavy and sad. Liam is awake and sitting on my lap and reading the words he knows off the screen. "I see 'too'! There's 'yes'?" He is so clever and I am so proud. The second guardian angel in my life.
Why that man seemed so angelic I'll never know. Something about his mysterious coming and going (Gina and Greg never saw where he came from and they never saw him leave) and the fact that he didn't try to make me feel better.
And how did he know I was grieving?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

So here's something I really want to know, and I know you can help me.
So how far should you go when you know someone has lost a baby and
you want to help them? And by this I don't mean that I have any answers that they don't, but just that inherently it IS helpful to be friends with people who have also had a loss. And that I really, truly like and enjoy having friends who have also had a loss because they see life the way I do.
But in trying to make these friends and offer support when they are in their trench of new grief I never want to go to far. But how far is too far?
Clearly this is completely dependent on who you are dealing with. But what do you think?
Here's an example of late. I sent a card to a family-- I don't know when I write the card who they are, but I know the circumstances of their loss. They sent me an e-mail yesterday thanking me for my kindness and say, after a pretty long e-mail remarking on our story, theirs, and the hope of a subsequent pregnancy, "Thanks for the phone number and contact info, and the offer of support. I hope we meet someday and can share happy baby stories." So I guess I think to myself, this means they do not want to hang out right now, they are politely thanking me for my gesture, and maybe when they are in a different place, they will want to be friends.
But then, at the bottom, he signs his name, and then puts both of their full names (which I hadn't known) and their address and phone numbers and e-mails.
So I wonder, what should I do?
Of course the idea of making friends with them is completely appealing to me. I want to just write back immediately, but this seems too pushy. So I won't.
But should I ever contact them again?
I guess why I ask is because in the depths of despair (which I am not in anymore 4 1/2 years later) I don't remember how this would have felt. All I do remember is that I was too tired and sad and insane from grief that I never called any of those numbers people gave me because I didn't know what to say. Hi, my baby died, please help me? So I think maybe I might have thought it was nice if someone called me, maybe?
But what are these people trying to say to me? Call someday? Call next year? Recycle the piece of paper with our address on it?
Any thoughts?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Knowing and the Helpless

I think there was a point in my early grieving process where I actually believed that once I had dug myself out of the hole I was in, I was going to know so much about grief that I would be able to be such a wise, loving resource to anyone else caught in the throes of life's most merciless moments.
And I realize now how wrong I was. How is it that still I know not where to begin with each person I talk to? With each new person who calls me, or crosses my path, I still don't feel like I can find the words to help. Of course, in my heart of hearts, I know this is because when your baby dies, you really can't be helped. You have to heal yourself, and all you can be is supported. So I suppose I do try to do that, to hold people gently, and to try not to talk too much (my biggest fear) and to listen thoughtfully, and not to assume anything.
But I want to help! This helplessness makes me feel dizzy, and I want to do something, to make a difference. I feel addicted to the idea that I might be able to smooth someone's path just a little bit, and I wish I knew an exact, and gentle, and perfect way to do it every time.
This comes from the news of three very dear friends, first my friend Aimee who miscarried last Friday after losing Sophie in January, and now my friends A. and B. who just miscarried on Friday. Their daughter died last March, on my daughter Aoife's first birthday. I held the phone and talked A. through meeting her tiny, beautiful, miniature daughter as I mixed the batter for my miracle daughter's cake, my salty tears mixing into the batter as I imagined how her pain came on the day that had brought me such great joy.
And only that year earlier, on the very day of Aoife's birth, Katie and Jon came to the hospital to deliver Nicholas, still and without a cry at 32 weeks. We left our newborn Aoife with my parents in our hospital room and limped down the hall to sit with Katie and Jon. Jon held his beautiful, still son, and I thought of my warm, wrinkled daughter all wrapped in her burrito blankets down the hall in my mother's arms and again I felt helpless and like I couldn't find the words yet my heart knew all that I wanted to say to them.
That's the real thing, you see. I know what it is I want to say, and it's just that in my heart, I can feel the sadness, and I know how the hurt pulses through your veins, and travels up to your brain and then reverberates down to all your body systems. I know how you can't see three feet in front of you for the tears that flood your eyes, and how there really is no future, just the today that you can't seem to see the end of.
I know all these things, I feel them and have walked them and still can, at will, surface all these emotions and feel them, and I want to say, I am aware. I am aware that there is pain, and it is yours, not mine. It will do to you what it does, and it might be different from what mine did. But still I know, and my heart, and my ears, and my arms are here to hold you, and to try to give you what I can while you are working your way back to a comfortable spot.
So today I struggle with the thoughts of A. and B., only about 4 miles away but I don't know how to reach them, struggling with the loss of another baby (and their beloved cat the next day, to pour salt on the wound), struggling with the thought of whether another baby will ever work its way into their family, struggling with their own sadness and their older two girls and the way that their grief affects their mothering.... and I wonder, does it help to know that someone is just wondering how they can help you, even if they aren't doing anything to help?
Can I really know what they feel, when I have only lost one baby myself?
Have I ever really felt such hopelessness? Does it matter that I have not?
Is it okay to just know that my heart is in the right place?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Just this one, weird thing about having published an article in a magazine that a lot of people in this community read:
I forget, sometimes, about this. So I am with this woman, and I'm kind of trying to make friends with her because I really like her and we sing in a chorus together and our sons are in nursery school together. I'm sort of casually trying to clue her into my life, along with some other people, when someone says, "Did you have an article in the newspaper last year? Or was it a magazine?" Actually, it was both, the Mothering Article and they ended up writing something really sweet and quite long in the newspaper before our Mother's Day walk which we did to raise funds for our support group. So I tell her this, that I had the newspaper in May and then the Mothering article in March.
And the woman I am trying to court says, 'Oh, was it really only in March? I feel like it was about a year and a half ago'.
Which makes me kind of sigh, and laugh to myself, because here I have been really nervous trying to talk about Charlotte and not say too much that I scare her away, but say enough that I feel comfortable, and meanwhile she knows the whole, entire, depth of my story. Written from my heart. It hadn't even crossed my mind.
Here it is at

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Setting things straight

We know all too well that life is unpredictable and you never know what's coming next. So I like to keep my conscience clean. I just did something to clean out a little corner of my heart, and it feels good so far.
I have a dear cousin, born only 10 weeks before me, and we have been close since birth. She never had any sisters and she has always been very special to me. Her first baby was born on September 24th of this year, and of course we all know mine was Charlotte born 4 years and 6 months and 26 days ago. Not that I'm counting.
When Charlotte died, we kept with our original plan of going up to our summer cottage when she would have been 3 months old. We go for four or five weeks each summer and it is really our soul space there. The lake is peaceful and the old cottage echoes with the shadows of five generations of my family. We couldn't not go. But it was a challenge, and while we did some deep healing there, my extended family was not as outwardly supportive as our friends at home had been. This was challenging, and so we kept to ourselves most of the time.
Upon returning home I expressed some of this disappointment over e-mail to my special cousin. She herself had been very supportive of me, but hadn't been there that often. She began to write back with her take on the situation. Except that she hadn't ever had a baby, and in trying to defend and explain the behavior of some of our relatives, she ended up hurting my feelings. I ended the e-mail correspondence abrubtly, realizing too late that some things shouldn't ever be talked about on a computer screen. It's all too fast, too anonymous, and too easy to press send.
Julie and I never really talked about it again, except that there has been a little rift there ever since. I always felt I couldn't bring it up until she had a new perspective. I am hoping with the birth of her daughter, perhaps she can now see that I was in a pretty deranged spot and certainly I have the perspective at this point to forgive her for anything she said. I know her intentions were always for the best.
So today I sent her a letter to tell her that I loved her dearly and wanted that rift to go away, if she still felt it (which I suspect she does). It makes me glad to clear a little space in my heart because having aired those feelings I don't have to worry about them anymore. There are many things in my life that I think and worry about and I wish I could drag up the courage to think about more of them and act upon them.
I realize that I have some pretty big-ticket items in my emotional bank and it's important for me to do housecleaning when I can. Also I love the thought that something that's bringing me worries that doesn't have to can be erased from the list.
So that's one off my list. Now what shall be next...

Friday, December 7, 2007


I have a heavy heart.
I just received an email from my dear friend Aimee.
Aimee lost her daughter, Sophie, last winter. The situation was beyond complicated. Sophie, who was the living twin in a pregnancy in which one twin was a molar pregnancy, died as the result of complications when Aimee's hormone levels became toxic and her organ systems began to shut down. Nobody had realized there was a molar pregnancy in there with Sophie as this is practically a medically undocumented situation. Aimee began to bleed out, and Sophie died.
Aimee almost died, too.
And everyone said, You are so lucky to be alive!
Nobody worried too, too much about Sophie, because Aimee was SO lucky to be alive.
That's what they said to her, anyway.
But Aimee worried quite a bit about Sophie, her third daughter who had died at 37 weeks gestation, who she never saw or held because she was in a coma.
Of course, Aimee's heart is broken. Quite.
With joy, Aimee announced to me a month ago that she was again pregnant. We were so happy together.
Today I read this on my email

The baby died.
I have a D & C tomorrow.
I can't write right now.

Oh, oh, oh.

I can't write right now either.

Why do such sad things happen to such good people?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Aoife's birth


You will later learn the whole story of Liam's birth. I still cannot tell the story without crying. I can tell people about Charlotte and her death with an almost straight face, but I tear up when I think of his birth.
But he almost died, too.

I was terrified to be late with Aoife. Charlotte was 8 days late, and Liam was induced, but at 10 cm. was delivered by c-section because he was suddenly breech with (maybe?) his cord under him. So Aoife, I just had to wait for. And if she was too, too late? They might cut me open again to get her, too.

But I digress. Here is her story.
It was the 27th of March. Early in my pregnancy an ultrasound had said this would be my due date, but as it was only 5 days off of my period due date, I had kept the date of March 31 in my head. This day, the 27th, was a Monday. Our car was in the shop. Liam slept until 7:30 and I arose early. I had had some contractions in the night after some attempts (undisclosed) to induce labour and so took a long, hot shower (a real luxury with a toddler, you may realize) just in case I didn't get a shower for a while. Through the next 2 hours I had some contractions every 15 minutes and then they stopped. As I knew they would.
What a day Liam and I had. We just played. We drew with chalk and wandered around the yard. He had a "pointer", a long stick that he would use to find the bulbs that were poking their heads through the damp spring earth. We were together and we did what our hearts told us to do.
Later in the afternoon, I looked at the calendar. It was the 27th of March. The ultrasound due date and also one of 5 days around my due date that Trudy, the nurse that had accompanied us for the births of Charlotte and Liam and was now our family's fairy godmother, would be working. I said to myself, "I guess that baby's not coming today". It was already 3.
When Liam awoke from his nap I took him for a long walk, down the street past the dairy farm to see the horses, and I was contracting intermittently this whole time. I am a big contraction girl. All through my first 2 pregnancies I contracted all the time. So this meant nothing. And they were random.
Until I got home, and listened to a message from Greg saying he would be skipping that evening's class at UMass because he felt a little sick. A few minutes later, around 4:35 or so, he came home. About 5 minutes later I had a real contraction. And 5 minutes after that, and after that, so that by 5 pm. I felt I couldn't comfortably ride in a car and really needed to see my midwife.
I was so scared that my water would break at home.
I settled Liam in his high chair and called Gina who would take care of him. She came in 10 minutes, and I was doubled over singing my birth song.
I kissed my baby boy and cried deeply as I walked out the door. My life alone with my little son, my saviour, was about to change forever. I hoped.
We arrived at our hospital and went up to the birthing center. Trudy met us with hugs. She had pilfered some flowers from a departing family's room and put them in our room. Our midwife, Amy, checked me. At this point I was half expecting to be sent home in false labor. 6 1/2 cm. I was having my baby. The monitor was on and her heart was still beating.
I was so happy. I had my Greg, and my Trudy, and that was all I needed. I didn't even really need the midwife. Trudy knew us so well, and Greg was so good at this. And so was I. I sat on the birthing ball and sang my song, over and over, a deep, Jacob-marley-esque dial tone of a noise, and as a contraction subsided I would lapse back into the conversation I had left behind.
3 hours later I knew it was time. Amy checked me and I was almost ready to go. Could I push? I had a little rim of cervix left.
Amy asked me if I could roll over on my side so she could just look as I gave a little "trial" push to see if the half-centimeter or so of cervix that was left would give with a little push. Strangely, as I gave her this field of vision and relaxed on my side, my contrations stopped for a minute. Maybe 3. It was a welcome reprieve. I was so happy. The baby's heart still beat strongly.
I gave my sample push. Down came the head. Trudy said, "You're having a baby!" and with two more pushes my little baby's head was out, and her shoulders, too, and I reached beneath her shoulders and pulled her to my chest, tiny and pink, covered in vernix.
She was so quiet, but she squeaked and groaned and nuzzled in like a kitten. As I had asked her to, Trudy covered my baby in a warm, white blanket so that nobody, not even us, could see the sex. I wanted to enjoy my baby here, in life, as I had in the womb, as an anonymous somebody who I loved with all my heart. This birth had happened so fast, and so beautifully, and she was already here, and I just needed to be with her for a minute before we moved on to the next stage.
She bleated like a little lamb. She looked different from Liam and Charlotte! I was surprised to see this being who did not resemble my two first children, who had been so alike. Finally I couldn't wait any longer. I peeked beneath the blanket and cried.
"I never thought I would bring another baby girl home," I said, and everyone in the room sighed pretty hard. I was weeping, but not like when Liam was born, because this birth had happened so smoothly and with so much joy and even confidence that I just wanted to trust this little girl, and I knew she was meant for me.
Of course. Of course this was the child for me. As Liam had been who he was, a calm, loving, beautiful little boy, who looked enough like his sister to reassure me that she lived alongside his spirit, but yet was a little boy to help me to know how very different they were. And now, two years and 11 months later, my next little girl, to give me the knowledge of having a daughter here to love.
Everything about baby Aoife was calm. She never, ever, ever, cried. She slept peacefully and nursed well. She loved to be held and would sleep on anyone. Aoife, Aoife. My sweet little girl number two. Have I ever told you the peace you bring me? You are without holds. You are mine. You are you. How I love you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Being a "good mom"

One of the things that's been difficult for me is the duality between what I've always felt was right and just making my kids happy, and the way this is hard to balance because I just want to lay myself down for Liam in gratitude.
It may sound strange to say Liam, since I have two living children. But there is this strange element to my relationship with Liam since he was the first baby after Charlotte died. I was still so completely ensconced with grief for the first year or so of his life, that his being is really wrapped up in that. By the time Aoife came around, and was swept up into my waiting arms after a quick and easy birth, joy was my state of being. She is also at a relatively un-challenging age--20 months-- so there really aren't many power struggles.
But not so much for my three year old beauty. Now I used to teach kindergarten, and I think I was pretty good at it. The kids in my class were happy, jolly, creative, and they did whatever I said. I could see that setting firm, consistent, sensible boundaries with clear incentives and consequences really made kids understand their world. This is really what being a little kid is all about: you want to know what is going on out there in the big bad world, who is going to protect you, and how much you can get away with. Kids are pretty much fine with not getting away with stuff, but it has to be clear that they are outside the boundaries.
So these are the things that I strive for with my children. It's not about being strict, it's about being nice. Being inconsistent isn't nice. Then kids can't trust their world. So if you can be firm and stick to your guns, then you are doing them a huge favor. They learn to trust their world, and are confident enough to make good choices for themselves.
So why do I sometimes feel that Liam isn't getting this? Because when it comes down to it I know he might not be here. When he gets upset and cries and lies down with big, huge, crocodile tears streaming down his lovely rosy cheeks I almost always try to figure out a way to stealthily give him a little bit of what he wants so that he doesn't really know I'm letting him get his way but he will be happy again. And he is happy again. But I see these meltdowns more and more often and I know that I need to be better. I guess relative to another child it might be pretty rare (we are only talking a few times a week) but I want to be better.
The good news is he is polite in public and is polite to his teachers and doesn't melt down at school (he goes to a nursery school 2 mornings a week. Big deal for me. He loves it, of course).
So I guess in theory I am doing my job.
I always tell myself that all you can strive for is for your child to be kind and well behaved to others. When at home they will always act a little wilder and a little ruder, because they know you will always love them.
Don't I know it.
Now with Aoife the only discipline issue I am dealing with is trying to get her to wait "until the sun comes up" to have any milk. At the rate she is going I will definitely have her weaned by high school so I guess that's okay. Sigh.
I do think I am a good mom but I also know that I am really sentimental and just addicted to my kids and that often my vision is clouded by this.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am GLAD to have this clouded vision, it makes me love and appreciate them in such a unique way and it ties me to Charlotte and the gifts she left me with every day. But I still worry about the trivial things just like anyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I found a beautiful picture frame that I want to buy.

It is very expensive.

It is tall (20") and wide (12") and has a little square on the top for your picture.

The poem written on it is ee cummings

i carry your heart

with me (i carry it

in my heart) i am

never without it

(anywhere i go

you go, my dear)

then your child's name is written on top, above the picture.

Charlotte Amelia.

Now, that name, we chose because we loved it. Charlotte has always been one of my favorite names, and this was why I wanted to use it. I was named after my father's mother, Carol, who died before I was born. Very beautiful, strong, adored woman, amazing mother. She was named for her Uncle, Charles Mitchell, who died in WWI, Carol being one feminine form of Charles. So I thought it would be pretty cool to use another feminine for Charles, thus carrying on this little tradition.

Want to know something weird? My grandmother, Carol, and I both delivered our first child, a girl, on the same day. May 13. Sixty years apart. Want to know something weirder? Her mother was also born on May 13th. So my aunt, Margot, and her grandmother, and my daughter, were all born on the same day.

And guess what? My grandmother died from an aneurism. And then my aunt had an aneurism and almost died. And then my daughter's cord got all smashed up and she died, too. Shit luck, huh.

The reason I am telling this is because I have this weird thing that I am going to die from an aneurism, too. I keep wanting to go to the doctor and get a head scan just to look to see if things look okay. They can do this, you know. Just look at the vasculature of your brain and see how things are flowing. I want this. Hopefully some day, before the aneurism gets me, I will be brave enough to ask for it.

The fear I feel for myself is so real. There are so many kinds of fear I feel. I still feel afraid that Charlotte died. This is hard to understand. But when I think "my baby died", and I think to that very, very, VERY brief moment between thinking things were fine and thinking maybe they weren't, and the fear that instantly boiled up in me like a fever, I can still feel the fear. Because I still don't want it to happen.

The strangest part is that I am not fearful, so much, of my two living souls. When Liam was newborn, I did fear for him. He did that newborn breathing thing, of course, where they kind of hold their breath, and then draw in this huge ragged breath, and then hold it some more. I was sure he was going to die. I didn't want him in my bed, just in case, and I didn't want him out of reach, just in case. It was hard. But after a while, when his body gained some form, and his eyes began to focus and I could see that he was a little person with his own, sturdy presence in this world, I started to trust him. And it has been like this since then. I trust my children. I have always trusted Aoife.

But this is a defense mechanism, of course, because I am fully aware that something might happen, but I love them too much to actually fantasize about it happening. When I was pregnant with them I would walk through the scenarios for "when they died". Seriously. Who I'd call first, different things I might do with memorials, etc. But once they were out and they were breathing with their lungs I was okay.

But I do fear for myself. I worry about cancers I can't see or feel, that might be eating away at me. You just never know what's happening inside your body, do you? I'd like to go in and have a nice cat scan or something, just to check every organ and bone and artery just to make sure I'm not about to die.

Dying would just be another way I could miss out on my children's lives. And I must see them grow old.

This is what I always said to Liam when he was a baby

Dear god and great spirits, we're so grateful for our sweet baby Liam. We hope that he will have a long, and healthy, and happy life and that he'll live to be an old, old man.

We're so grateful for our baby Charlotte, she taught us so much about life and love. We pray that she's safe in the stars and that she knows how much we love her

we pray that baby sprout will be born safe and alive and will live a long and healthy and happy life and live to be old

and we pray that mimi and daddy will have a long and healthy life and will live to see their children grow old

I don't have a religious belief so I felt like a prayer like this offered hope that maybe out there someone was listening. And wouldn't it be great if someone were. I do like to think that I'll be able to present the possibility of a deity to my children so that they could have that option if they choose. It's all about open mindedness, right?

One time Liam asked, Can grown ups die?

This was when I realized that the only people he's ever know who have died are babies.

He knows Erin, whose baby Birdie died, and Dana, whose baby Pearl died, and Priya, whose babies Roman and Hamid died, and Jack and Isabelle whose baby Emma died, and he knows Marla whose baby Joey died. He's never known a grown up to die. So I had to set him straight, and just tell him that he knows an unusual number of babies who have died, but that usually people don't die until they are very, very old.

Because this is what you should have the gift of believing when you are a child.

by the by, the frame is from www.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Today I have six minutes.
That's fine.
Here are the few things I want to say.

I call myself Charlotte's mama for this reason. My two living babies are always with me. Everyone who sees me knows I am Liam and Aoife's mother. So it's nice when I have the opportunity to be Charlotte's mama.

I also want to tell you (who is you, I wonder? I write as if to an audience. This is very interesting to me) about Aoife's name.
We say it "Eh-fa"-- kind of like Ava with an f but a little flatter, the end a little more like feh than fah.
And I chose it because it's the Gaelic for Eve, which means Life or Living one. Could there be a more perfect name for my little living daughter?

Liam means resolute protector. We chose it because we liked it but I also felt that he was going to save me (he did) and protect me while he was here. He does.

Having my children here brings me SO much joy. They fill me. But there are these moments.

Today we got a beautiful Christmas tree. As Liam hung the first ornament on the perfectly lit, triangle shaped balsam fir in our fire-lit living room, Greg burst into tears. The kids looked so beautiful. If I had more than 2 minutes until our babysitter arrived I would put a picture of them. All happy things are sad, too, for us. Liam climbed on Greg's lap and said, I know you miss Charlotte. He cried into Liam's sweater.

Here's another thing. I now have a blog but basically I'm media free so this is a pretty big leap for me. No TV or Newspaper or anything like that. I have found it easier to live in my own little world and keep it that way. Greg tells me what he learns on NPR on the way to or from work if it might affect me but mostly I know not much. And of course this means a very slow dial up connection for our internet so you'll (there it is again! This imaginary you. I like this!) have to excuse me.

Tonight I will go to a Christmas party. I will laugh and tell stories with all these wonderful people and some of them will know about my Charlotte but some of them won't. I'll get a chance to mention her casually to some of them (I always look for ways to work her into the conversation). But I will smile and laugh and have fun.