Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Good Life of a Bunny Rabbit

It was a sunny October afternoon, the fifth, when I brought him home to my sophomore dorm at Middlebury. A friend with a car had agreed to help me with my contraband, a tiny silver rabbit accompanied by a huge cage, a bag of food, waterbottle, and book on house-training a rabbit.

I had gone to the pet store thinking I'd get, perhaps, a hampster or gerbil. I felt lonely in my dorm, not lonely for friends, of which I had many, but for someone to care for and dote on. I had decided that a pet, a tiny pet that could slip under the radar of the dorm-security, would be the perfect solution. However, the gerbil (which would have been useless) quickly morphed into a bunny when I set my eyes on the tiny, soft little creature in the corner of the Village Pet Store in Middlebury, Vermont. The sign stated that he was a dwarf rabbit, and the owner explained that the bunny would only double in size, staying quite small. I reserved him right away, went home and confirmed the "ok" with my roommate, and then got the friend to take me back.

When I first got my bunny home, at the tender age of 19, the store owner had told me that he was a female. I worked for hours to try to choose the perfect name for the first pet that would be truly mine; finally I chose "Abbie", for reasons I cannot remember. She was beautiful, my Abbie, with long, black whiskers, the most gorgeous eyelashes like a jersey cow, and the silkiest ears imaginable. She would leap around the room in circles, picking up objects in her path with her little teeth and tossing them into the air. She was delightful.

Two weeks after Abbie came home to the Pearsons dorm, his testicles descended. Whoops! Certainly this ultra-feminine name would no longer do. We would have to choose another (my roommate was in on this round of naming). "Abbie" had a bad habit of chewing on absolutely everything he could get his teeth on, and the most destroyed current victim of his teeth was my old Simon and Garfunkel record cover. So Simon it would be, Simon the rabbit, and my neighbor Tyler gave the rabbit the middle name "Alkinoos", which is Greek for something I no longer can remember. Simon Alkinoos the rabbit, the tiny little silver bunny who grew into a rather large form of a dwarf rabbit, who was naughty, who chewed on everything wooden, all electrical cords within his reach, but dutifully gave out lots of love and kisses and used his litter box like a kitty cat. We adored him.

Simon stayed with me that year in Pearsons, and then my roommate cared for him while I went abroad to New Zealand the next year, and then he moved back on campus. He lived with me in two more dorm rooms, then moved to a horse farm for a year, was cared for by my family while Greg and I traveled around Europe for six months, moved back to Vermont for a few years to live on an old dairy farm and help run a bed and breakfast, and then finally to the Pioneer Valley where he would live for nine years in three different houses.

Going back to that first year in Pearsons, that neighbor who had given Simon his exotic Greek middle name had a roommate, and the roommate's name was Greg. Now it just so happened that Greg was a real softie and loved animals just as I did, and he started to come over to my room almost every day to visit with the cute little baby bunny. He'd bring his books and read in our room, or come with late-night snacks and hold Simon while he fed him corn chips or nuts. My friendship with Greg grew and strengthened during this time. And over time one thing led to another and, you know the rest. Could we ever have imagined that this little silver bunny who helped to form our friendship would live with us through a six year courtship, our marriage, and the birth of three children? That he'd move with us thirteen times, turning from a naughty little bunny who had to be locked up when we weren't around to one so old and feeble that he lived in a corner of our living room on a folded-up towel?

Simon was a loyal pet, one who we loved so dearly despite all the challenges of rabbit-ownership (I don't recommend a rabbit as a pet, as much as I loved my dear Simon). Today his long, thirteen-and-a-half year life came to a close. He had developed a huge, fatty tumor on his neck several years ago, and at first it had not hindered him greatly. But lately, his kidneys seemed to be failing, he was consuming vast quantities of water, he was completely skin and bones, and yesterday he stopped being able to stand on his own. This morning I found him lying on his side, literally gasping for breath, clearly having been stranded in the same position all night long as I had slept. His eyes were glassy, he was making wheezing noises as he opened his little mouth, and gasped for the life that was escaping him. My heart went out to him, I felt so sad for him and wished I could help him.

I knew the time had come when I felt relieved that our vet was open on Saturday mornings, and so I called and I brought him in and held him in my arms as they injected his little leg with the serum that would end his life once and for all. Greg was able to come with me, as his parents are still staying at our house. We cried together in the vet's office after she left, with our once-again tiny little silver rabbit (tiny save the huge tumor on his neck) seeming hardly different now in death as he had in his aged life.

We had told the children that Simon was dying, and that the vet was going to give him a special shot so that he wouldn't be in pain anymore. They both cried and kissed him, and had said goodbye to him before we left for the vet. When we came home they both wanted to come out in the pouring rain to help us bury him. It was a movie-worthy burial, with cold, slushy snow on the ground, a muddy grave site, and the rain absolutely pouring down. Mist rose from the snow as it melted.

There was a brief moment of comic relief as Greg accidentally exhumed our frog (who died last April, aged 21 years) that was in the plot next to where Simon was to be buried, and then I wrapped him in the little pink towel that I had brought him to the vet in, and slid him into the little wooden house that had been in his cage for nearly 14 years and buried him in the ground.

He was a good pet, our Simon, and I will miss him. But his time had come.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas, Round Six

Sadness usually fills me with words; this year it has rendered me silent, unable to piece together what it is that I think. I feel restless, I am bereft at both ends, yet I am so full and surrounded by bliss.

Our big sister Charlotte has been on everyone's mind this Christmas, beginning with the mealtime blessing that we share each dinnertime. Somehow, on the lead of our smaller daughter, our varied blessings and honorings of Charlotte have changed this month to a very simple and plain want and need: We wish you could come back, Charlotte. Sometimes it is in Liam's clear, honest voice; other times in Aoife's little high-pitched two year old voice. But it is every night now, a sad, quiet plea: Return to us, sister, come back. We miss you here.

On Christmas Eve, we did the things that I always did as a child. Daddy read the Night Before Christmas to the children, we set out the milk and cookies. We kissed the children goodnight, with promises that if they fell asleep quickly, Santa would visit sooner and choose the best presents for them. After laying out the gifts and making sure everything was ready, I went in and kissed their warm little foreheads. I was so happy for them that magic existed in their minds; the truth to them was that somewhere over the Atlantic, a fat man with a white beard was hurtling along, sleigh full of presents, pulled by eight reindeer headed for Massachusetts. They truly believed that this mystical man would visit their home and fill their stockings with gifts. What a Christmas miracle. Could I have one, too?

But I knew I could not. I tip-toed back into my bedroom after kissing Aoife and tucking her fleecy blankets around her little face. Liam was asleep on a little mattress at the foot of my bed, my sister slept on a full-sized mattress right next to him, and Greg was already asleep in our bed. I had a little flashlight, and it was by this light that I did what I always do now 0n Christmas eve, I wrote my daughter a letter. I wrote a letter to my child who would not awaken in the morning, my child for whom there is no magic, and no Santa.

I wrote to her and I told her how much I missed her, how we all missed her this Christmas. I told her of the things we had done as a family and how much her absence was felt. In this year's letter, my focus was on one specific, unattainable wish of mine. I wish I knew what Charlotte might look like. I wish that I knew what she looked like, what she would have been at five years old, so that when I tried to imagine what Christmas would be like with all three of my children, I could do so. I would like to not have this blur-faced five-year-old sized girl child streaming through my subconscious. I only wish I could at least imagine with accuracy, even if I could not have her here.

I finished the letter, and I tip-toed back downstairs past the dark Christmas tree and through the kitchen, and I tucked it into the top of her stocking, where it rested on top of the letter Greg had written to his little girl, and on top of the few gifts and trinkets that we and her grandparents had offered to her. I noted the size of her stocking, its flatness in comparison with her siblings, which were stuffed to the brim and overflowing. I felt sad.

Christmas morning came, and joy settled into our home. Liam was the first one awake and took full responsibility for making sure that everyone else was awake for the grand migration downstairs and into the dining room to see if the stockings had been filled-- which, of course, they had. The delight of the morning were two real, wooden Nutcrackers, "just what we asked Santa for!" and Aoife cradled hers for twenty minutes, trying as hard as possible (I imagine) to look just like Clara from the ballet she had seen the week before. In addition to our family, we had my parents and sister, and Greg's parents, and the mood was very bright. I was pushing the sadness away, like we clear the windshield of water while we drive, so that I could see the beauty before me.

After some time had passed and the children had opened most of their stocking gifts, I felt a small hand on my knee, and it was Aoife standing by my side.

"Charlotte isn't here, so she can't open the presents in her stocking," she said.

"I know, sweetie. You and Liam will have to help and open them for her." I pulled her onto my lap, and she rested her head on my breast, and held onto me.

"I feel sad about that," she said.

"Me, too," I told her, and I held her so tightly onto my chest. She is only two years old. How can she know just what to say?

A few minutes later I ask her if she'd like to see if Liam wants to help her to open Charlotte's things, and so they work together, and they find a little, yellow-haired dolly wrapped in pink tissue, and the book "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf". I wonder to myself if Charlotte would even like little dolls. Aoife clutches the doll to her chest, and returns to my lap. She brings me such peace.

There are moments of sadness, long looks on other family members' faces as we are opening the gifts for Charlotte, but then we move into a big, delicious breakfast and dig into the gifts under the tree, and unaffected joy returns. I am delighted to see the children so pleased with the gifts I have made for them; hand-dyed play silks; new freshly cooked play-dough, a home-made rice table with tiny hand-turned wooden buckets and jars, a felt board, and a Greg-constructed new book stand full of low-quality but well-loved Scholastic Christmas themed books. I am surprised at how they linger; rather than tearing as fast as they can through each gift they stop with each one, trying it out, hugging and thanking its source, and near squealing with delight. There is no greed evident, simply happiness with all that is being unveiled and gratitude for those around them.

The day moves along until finally the pile under the tree has been reduced to a houseful of new surprises being tried out, a pile of boxes, a bagful of ribbon, and a giant sack full of pretty decent looking used wrapping paper to use again next Christmas. There are potatoes and cauliflower cooking in the oven, green beans and an apple-beet puree, and a local ham in the oven to enjoy. A pile of sweet confections waits on the counter. The children read their books, the snow sparkles in the warm winter sun outside, wine is poured. Charlotte is still gone. My first child is still dead.

After dinner has been served, the children are in bed, and I have plowed a path through the living room, I follow the lead that has been set and climb the thirteen stairs to my bedroom. Greg is already in bed. Liam and my sister are sound asleep. The ceiling lights are dimmed to their lowest setting, to allow those not yet in bed to see their way over the sea of sleeping bodies and under the covers for a well-earned rest. I let my clothes fall to the floor, and get into my flannel pajama shirt and blue cotton pants. Stepping out of my slippers, I carefully climb up into our high sleigh bed, crawling over the form of Greg's sleeping legs. I get to my side, and then go to reach over him to switch out the light, and I stop.

Greg is asleep, curled on his side with his back to the door where I came in. His face looks gentle, so peacefully sleeping on the white sheet, and in his arms is curled Charlotte's red and white Christmas stocking. He is holding it in his arms, hugging it to his chest, loving it as if it might bring him a moment closer to his baby girl who he hasn't held but on one day five years and seven months and two weeks ago.

I know it will not, and it makes me sad all over again to live the grief that I feel for my husband, who has lost his daughter, who feels a huge grief in his heart over his own child with whom he would have had his own, very special love and friendship.

I lay down in the darkness, sadness filling my heart. It was the best Christmas in six years, of this I can be certain. There was not one moment of the day that was not just full of so much happiness, delight, and privilege. It felt almost perfect. But there is something missing, someone missing, and I can't let that go, I just can't.

I will always miss her.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I spend almost all my time here brewing and stewing about the family that I've made; when really some focus needs to be placed on my absolutely amazing, fabulous family of origin.
So here's where it's at-- me in the middle flanked by my two "little" sisters Stephanie and Sheila (we are each 2 years apart) all wrapped up in my sister Steph's hood that she received along with her doctorate last week... I am so proud of her!
My wonderful sisters and all the love that we share makes me want to make more and more babies; that's where it's at. I can't get enough of my sisters, and I want my children to be able to enjoy the same wonderful fun that multiplies by the sibling. Yee-haw! Let it happen. Let this be a post of pure optimism.
And congrats to my two sisters... both doctors of one kind or another. Wow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I have this peripheral friend; I call her this because I know that if our paths crossed more than three times a year for five minutes we would be much better friends than we are, but as our circumstances put us miles and a river apart on a map, this is how it is. She is such a soul-searching, deep feeling person and I am always so happy to see her, fully in my heart.
Her son started at my school the year after Charlotte died; so she wasn't there for the crisis in full, but witnessed the aftermath. I hadn't met her yet, but I would see her husband walk Ben into the nursery classroom every day with their baby girl on his back in a backpack. She had been born the previous March, only eight weeks before Charlotte. Sometimes the baby would make me weep. Birdy was the only baby girl in the school that year.
I wondered about this family, but I didn't know them. I didn't know them at all until one day I visited the school with my newborn Liam and Catherine threw herself at me, tears in her eyes. I didn't know her yet, per se, but knew her as my friend Nicole's friend, but she hugged me anyway and told me that she cried for ten minutes when she heard that Liam had been born safely, and that she thought it was the best news she had heard in a long time.
This, from a stranger, a not-so-strange friend of a friend stranger who became this weird kind of friend who I like so much but rarely see, yet feel so happy and blessed by whenever our paths cross. Part of this connection is undoubtedly the fact that Catherine can say Charlotte's name and talk about her life and death while maintaining direct eye contact, which is rare. Very rare. Somehow she actually gets this.
So this Friday, our paths did cross again, we were both sitting cross-legged at an all-school sing at the school where I used to teach, and where her two children who are now 8 and 5 still go. Catherine started when she saw me, saying that it was so funny as she was about to e-mail me that morning, but had been distracted. She explained that she had just inhaled Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination the night before, and that she just couldn't stop thinking of me as the words dripped off the page and mixed with the other true story of love and loss that she knew so well. And then she said something which made me stop and think for a long time which was, "And I'm sorry, I don't mean to characterize you by this, that it's the first thing I think of when I think of you. "
And I thought-- why shouldn't it be? I said as much, but I couldn't stop thinking about this-- the fact that the very essence of my motherhood is in very many ways completely wrapped up in the fact that my first child was born without a heartbeat. How can it not be? How can every decision I make, every kiss and snuggle and good bye and goodnight not somehow reflect on the fact that there is a missing child for whom I can do none of these things? I think this very idea, that my motherhood is in so many ways defined by loss, is why it is so difficult for me to have a conversation for more than three minutes with someone who doesn't know that I've lost a child. When this happens, I can't turn off the subtitles in my brain:
I look like a normal person to her.
She thinks I'm just like her.
I'm not.
And so I somehow need this, this definition, and it is certainly not something to be apologized for. Imagine if someone who knows me read this book and did not think of me first? Did not wonder, with each page, if this was what it was like for me? That might require an apology. But this, this I can sit with. What almost seems stranger, from my perspective, is that to someone else it might seem somehow offensive for me to be characterized in this way. I think this is where I can see that I have come so incredibly far, that I can be comfortable with having lost Charlotte as part of my very identity. It truly doesn't tear at my heart the way it used to (at least not all the time), and I can hold her very comfortably.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Two Things for Today:

First, I must comment on my own previous post, which I tacked up yesterday before my Holiday party because I was dying to post something that I thought was somewhat decent writing and I knew that I would not be allowing myself time to write during the day. But I had hardly glanced it over-- and then, tonight, after reading your comments it occurred to me to read it, and to consider exactly what you were commenting about: and reading it sucked me very, very quickly into a very dark place. Quite honestly I can hardly bear to read the words because it hurts so much to remember feeling that way. Yet it is just that, I remember feeling that way, and I do not feel that way anymore. I hardly ever travel back to my memory of that time, because I almost feel sick with the memory. But, in addition to the truth of that visceral memory and what reading about Clare and her homecoming evoke in me now, reading it also makes me feel more and more convinced that when I do write a book, and I am going to do this next year, it will not be a memoir or a manual, but it will be a story about Clare, about a woman who is another character and not me, because she pulls the memory, and the visceral feeling out of me in a way that I feel my own words cannot express quite so adequately. I love writing about Clare, it feels so much easier than writing about myself. Even though Clare is me. I love this strangeness.

Secondly, and totally unrelated:

So, last year my New Year's Resolution was this: I will not be so lazy. I said it to myself like a mantra, many times a day. I am not actually, by nature, a lazy person, and in fact one might find in my daily life that whether I am out and about or at home I could be characterized more easily as completely hyperactive, rather than lazy. But the things I wanted to cut out were things like leaving the dishes to dry on the counter instead of just wiping them and putting them away. I wanted to try to just get into the habit of completing undesirable tasks all at once instead of dividing them into little, lazy chunks and putting them off. So I said it to myself, I will not be so lazy, and I wiped the dishes dry again and again and put them away, and I did succeed in becoming less lazy. A little.
Tonight I decided what it is I'm going to work on next year, and again, it's trying not to be something that I'm not anyway: I will not be so shy. I am not a shy person, not really. I'm friendly and I love people and I love to talk to people that I know I have something in common with. But I do get that hesitancy to speak up, that fear of talking to people I don't know. I don't even really like to call for pizza, I'd rather have somebody else do it for me. In terms of being brave and making actual conversation with a stranger, that's something I just haven't excelled at. This year I have made a real, conscious effort to make eye contact with people and say hello, just hello, and if I'm in a store or someplace actually interacting with people, I have lately been trying to say more than hello. To make an actual connection. So this has been on my mind, but tonight something totally different happened that made me think it would be fun to just do what I felt like, without worrying about being shy.
There was a candlelighting tonight, in the town next door, at our local Angel of Hope statue. The candlelighting was hosted by our local chapter of the Compassionate Friends, and I had called (feeling nervous, of course) the leader and asked for the date and time and if it would be alright if our group attended. Of course she said yes, and sent me all the information and a group of 10 of us went to the ceremony tonight. As I was driving over, I remembered that the invitation had said that people could bring a poem or say a few words if they wanted to. I suddenly felt sorry that I hadn't brought something, and as I was wondering if I knew any good poems by heart, a song came into my head.
It was a song we sang in the winter of 2004, as Liam grew in my belly, in my chorus. The director had approached me before we began rehearsing and asked me if I would feel okay with singing this song, she had chosen it because it reminded her of me and of Charlotte. I read the words, and said of course, yes, I would be honored. I sang the solo at our concert, and I had felt so proud.
The words came into my head, a patchwork of the verses to this song, and I suddenly had this strong, crazy urge to sing them at the candlelighting:

Circling round this walk on earth
Tears for death and tears for birth
Blessings quilted with the pain
All are woven in the grain

Giving thanks for breaking bread
And for kind words that are said
Giving back what I've received
Simple acts are sacred deeds

Cradle me, cradle me
Oh, dear mother, Cradle me
Earth and Breath and Sky and Sea
All rise up and Cradle me

(you can hear it sung at

They seemed like the perfect words for tonight. But of course I would not sing them. I would never sing, alone, in front of a whole group of people I had never even met before.

Or would I?

It turned out, I did. I felt almost a little crazy doing it, because it was so vastly out of character for me, but I went up with my lit candle, spoke of my daughter's brief life, and then said, I want to sing this for Charlotte. And I sang, my voice quaking slightly through the tears that had been recently flowing. It felt absolutely amazing, completely liberating to do it.

So I walked away, and thought that I must do things like that more often. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some more Clare....

Clare’s memories of coming home were snapshots, scattered, disheveled images with no distinct chronology or organization. She had described these recollections to somebody once; comparing them to the memories one often has of early childhood, when pictures of faces, smells of grass and apple juice, or the taste of saltwater can tie a person to a frozen moment in time, a memory one can be certain is real even when there are no surroundings to it. Clare felt just this about coming home, although there were so few reminders to tie her there.
Clare had been told that there were probably a multitude of reasons why she could not remember the self that had emerged from the hospital on that warm May afternoon. First was the birth itself. Perhaps as an evolutionary advantage, there is often an amnesic quality to the aftermath of birth, or even the experience itself. Many mothers over time have experienced this; some who have had extremely difficult childbirths cite their hazy memories as the probably cause of their subsequent children whom they had sworn off having during their labors.
But in addition to the birth experience, Clare had been told, her mind was sheltering her from the intensity of the painfulness of her experience. Clare had become, in a heartbeat on that May day, the survivor of an unbearable accident: one that left her alive and her daughter dead. This accident was too unbearable to recall in its full clarity, lest her already gaping wounds begin to bleed again.
But as much as Clare’s mind fought to protect her from her own history, her heart longed to remember. Knowing what her life had been like in the aftermath of her daughter’s death somehow seemed like a tie to her little girl, another way to make Charlotte’s brief life more real to Clare. And so, on the long winter nights of that December and January, Clare fought her subconscious, fishing for the memories that might help her to piece together the remains of her broken heart.
There was the light. It was May, and the days were long, the sun rose early, and their house seemed perpetually filled with light. But the heavens poured with tears, for nearly three weeks after coming home it rained ceaselessly, and so the light in the house was not pure, it was a filtered, bluish light, cold and grey. Clare rarely looked out the window intentionally, but the light was there, casting the reflection of the steel-grey sky onto all the surfaces in her home. For may weeks it was the color of her world as the rain tumbled down.
The sounds in the house were still ones. Clare recalls almost nothing about the way she or Charlie sounded or interacted but she can hear the others. They are padding around in the kitchen, stealing out onto the sun porch over the creaky old floor, they were washing the dishes intentionally, trying not to knock cup against plate or spoon into glass. They whispered in hushed tones, Clare knew they were talking about her but she didn’t care. And every so often, there was music that Charlie put on . There were two CDs they could listen to. Clare liked the sad ones, the ones that gave her a new reason to cry. There was one about cutting down wisteria and another about lost dreams and they had listened to them again and again as the seconds of their new, unwanted life ticked on, and the rain poured down.
Clare could taste the sweet, sticky taste of that May’s strawberries, mixed with a hint of cinnamon and cold lemonade, The smell of lilacs drifted through her mind as she thought back to herself then, a self she could not bear to be.
And Clare could feel her body-- her ravaged, miraculous body, both lacking in the life that had once dwelled within her and swollen with the insatiable desire to sustain that life. Clare could close her eyes and pull herself back to the weakness she felt as she moved, the instability when she rose from her seat, the pain when she lowered herself down. But mostly she could feel the emptiness, the hollowness of her abdomen, the stunning lack of movement, the flatness of her once rounded body. And that body, refusing to believe, not knowing where Charlotte had gone, futilely working, converting Clare’s strawberries and cinnamon buns and lemonade into the rich, perfect milk that filled Clare beyond her capacity, spilling down her front, staining her shirts, and tearing apart her heart like nothing else could. She could still smell that milk.
And Clare remembered herself, standing in front of her bathroom mirror, eyes reaching from her swollen breasts, to the red marks her daughter had stretched across her belly, and up to her face. Clare can remember the shudder she would feel each time she looked in the mirror and it registered that she was the sad, sad woman looking back. It was not a stranger whose hollow eyes revealed unspeakable trauma, it was not someone else’s cheeks chapped by tears, it was not somebody else’s mouth that turned down slightly at the corners. Clare would think, sometimes, when she looked at herself, that she had never seen someone look so sad in her entire life, and that in itself would make her sadder and she would leave the bathroom and return to the sofa and smell strawberries and lilacs and hear the soft voices and feel empty inside and wonder how she would ever make it for the rest of her life.
And it’s in this context, sometimes, of taking herself back to the feeling of lead weight on her chest, to the physicality of a completely broken heart with no supports, that Clare realizes that right now she is making it. It is only when she remembers being paralyzed with pain, too hurt to speak or interact with anyone but Charlie or to walk or eat, that Clare knows that a new part of her has opened. She can never bring herself to say that things are better, because Charlotte is still gone and that won’t get better. But in fighting back the amnesia that separates her and May, she learns that a new part of her has grown, like a new branch on a tree, and that part is beginning to live again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The news is good...

The world is just whirling by, in that good and wonderful and devious kind of way that it does... thus the many days since I have posted to this place.
I write so often, and it does such good for me-- the truth is that I don't ever even read over my posts, much less edit or plan them in advance. So why am I not just continuing to churn it out?
Oh, and I will....
the truth is I have been sick, and I'm cooking for a holiday party we're having this weekend, and I'm wanting to write good things so instead I'm not writing at all.

So-- instead, I'll post a few pieces of good news. First, the earliest indications are that the cord blood bone marrow transplant is taking in baby Andrew... potentially the first big step in the right direction for him.
Next, and completely unrelated, my dear friend Sara whose darling Henry died almost a year ago, on the 19th of December of 2007, gave birth yesterday to a healthy, beautiful baby girl named Kathleen Avery. Since I'm mentioning her, I may as well tell you the origin of her name: Kathleen comes from Sara's husband's sister, who sadly died of liver cancer last year while Sara was pregnant. And before she died, and before Sara had told anyone she was pregnant, that sister Kathleen dreamed that Sara would give birth to a daughter and name her Avery. So there you go. Kathleen Avery. Isn't that beautiful? What a beautiful tribute.
Congratulations, Sara. We are so happy for you (may I speak for you, too?)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Our first words for Charlotte 5.13.03

When we told our nurse we wanted ten more minutes with our baby, we asked her to bring us a piece of paper and a pen. Then, holding Charlotte, we wrote this poem. We did it so we would not forget her. Little did we know how impossible she would be to forget.
I can still feel my hand penning it, my little, warm, tiny baby nestled in the crook of my left arm with the table moved just so that my left hand could move the pen, scratching the words in messy black ink onto the tiny scratch pad the nurse had brought us.

We love you angel baby
Your long fingers with perfect little fingernails
Your tiny feet with elegant toes
Your tiny round belly
Your flat little bottom
Your little creases here and there
Your rosebud lips
Tiny pert nose
Your downy hair
Tiny wrinkles on your fingers, just like Mama
Little chin just like Daddy
Beautiful eyes that never saw the world
Cute, round ears, chubby at the top. So round, where did they come from?
Sweet, soft nipples
Charlotte, you are a little miracle.
You brought us so much happiness during the nine months you were in our lives
Now we have to let you go
The hardest thing we will ever do.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

There is a park nearby, right on the edge of a pretty little pond. Seven years ago the Compassionate Friends group from a nearby city carved out a little corner and dedicated a Christmas Box Angel statue (also known as the Angel of Hope). There are 100 of these statues nationally, and they are inspired by this beautiful little story called the Christmas Box. (if you like this blog, you would like that book. It is lovely)

Anyhow, the park is very pretty and has dedicated bricks from when it was installed, a pretty gazebo, and scattered benches. Liam and I were waiting there for Aoife and Greg this morning, we were having a rendez-vous after I had taken Liam ski shopping and before he left to help a friend move.
The pond had a thin layer of ice on it, which probably formed last week, and since then the water level had dropped substantially. There was incredible cracking and moaning from the ice as the edges had clung to the surrounding earth and vegetation and were now sinking to meet the level of the water. Liam and I found some steps and went down them, and sat by the edge quietly together and listened to the ice thunder and ricochet. It was very, very cold and crisp.

From where we were sitting, we saw Greg and Aoife come around the corner, so we walked up the steps and back through the little park and statue area. I noticed that the top was off of the trash can, and being rather type-A I wanted to replace it, because it looked disorganized and messy to have the lid off the can. So I walked over, and picked it up as I walked, and put it back on top. It was an Oscar-the-Grouch type of can, metal and rusty, but kind of vintage looking. As I turned to walk away the orange graffiti on the top caught my eye, and I accidentally read it:

No dead babys

This is what it said on the top of the trash can. This is what some teenage asshole decided would be a funny joke in a park dedicated to the memory of people's children. The irony of it all is, since it is a Compassionate Friends sponsored statue, the bricks are primarily dedicated to older children. But this kid decided to focus on the younger lot: no dead babys. It made my blood boil.

I remembered when we placed Charlotte's little stone on the side of the Mill River trail, and Greg worried about this. "What if someone defaces it?" he asked. "What if they put graffiti on it?"

I answered, "Who would do that?"

I didn't mention it to Greg. I didn't want him to see it. Not because it would inspire fear for our own memorial, but just because it lowered my faith in mankind to see those words.

So I went across the street to the studio sale I had been planning to go to and spent $500 on lamps. But they are really cool lamps. Isn't that the type of thing people who make one teacher's salary should do? It made me feel great. I never even buy myself new socks or underwear (I can sew up a little hole here and there) but I bought these beautiful lamps. Is this what they call retail therapy?

I think the next time I return to the park I will bring some paint and paint over that graffiti.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The winter I was pregnant with Liam, I took a pregnancy yoga class. It was with the same teacher that I had taken a class with the year before. I had been apprehensive about re-entering the class, wondering, in fact, if I might actually overlap with some people who had started at the tail end of my pregnancy with Charlotte. I sent the teacher an e-mail, asking her if it was alright if I came to the class, and wondering what I should say when people asked me about my pregnancy. After all, surely I couldn't speak of my recently deceased baby in the presence of a roomful of pregnant mothers?
It turned out I could. Arden, the teacher, was so gracious she made me burst into tears, which I had been practicing very hard not to do. She told me my birth story was a birth story like any other story, with a mother and a birth and a baby, and she told me I should never hesitate to tell anyone what had happened to Charlotte. She encouraged me to be true to myself and my child, and to remind myself that loss and grief are not contagious. I do not think I have heard such honest words since then.
I began the class in my usual location, and enjoyed attending. It was the one time of each week where I actually acknowledged my pregnant body and the new little soul blossoming within. One week, I couldn't go to the Northampton class, so I decided to drop by the Amherst class after work. The roomful of women there did not know my story. When I entered, they were talking excitedly to one another. I unrolled my mat and took off my shoes. I sat down, leaned onto my legs, and breathed.
I was having one of those days where I did not have the emotional energy to take care of other people. You know, if you too are bereaved, what I am saying. When you speak those words, "My baby died," the person looks shocked, then sad, then pitying. They feel terrible for having "brought up" this sad subject, and wonder if they have just ruined your day. So you have to convince them that, despite the dead baby, you are quite fine, (which is actually a lie) and not to worry one little bit. Some days, the emotional energy of facing the guilt and horror that will surely follow the dead baby announcement seems too much.
I was having one of those days, go figure. So I tried to just look like a yogi, breathe deeply, and not interact. But the truth is, I like to talk. So when I heard a question that nobody else had an answer to, I couldn't keep my mouth shut any longer.
"Has anyone here taken the Hypnobirthing Series," a juicy, jolly young woman asked. She looked so full of everything; of life, and hope, and innocence. But I had taken the series, and I had loved it, so I did speak up.
"I took it with my first baby, my daughter, it was wonderful, " I told her.
Suddenly, everyone in the room wanted to know all about it. So I spoke to the advantages of the training in mentally preparing onesself for birth, in creating healthy, productive attitudes towards birthing as a natural process, in thinking of myself as an animal being who knew, inherently, how to birth.
"But did it really help you when you gave birth? What did you think?" They all had their eyes on me, wanting to know. I just couldn't throw my curveball to this room full of innocents.
"I actually had a lot of complications with my birth, " I answered evasively.
"So was it really great to have all those techniques to use?" she asked.
"I didn't actually end up using many of the techniques during the delivery." That, kind of a very vague lie, skirting around the issue that I was actually paralyzed with grief and fear and that all the plans I had made for my birth went down the drain.
"Well, did you feel that having the hypnobirthing made you more prepared for the complications?"
Holy shit, woman. You are going to want to stop right there. You don't know what you are getting yourself into.
But of course I didn't say that.
"My situation was very, very complicated. The Hypnobirthing didn't really play into it at all."
"But do you think that having the more relaxed mindset helped you to be more flexible with what was happening?"
Fuck. Can you not take a hint? There are 16 highly pregnant woman staring at me right now and you are backing me into a corner. If you know what is good for you you will stop right now.
"I had a very difficult experience and the course did not really prepare me to handle what happened."
"So what happened?"
This woman was not giving up. She wanted to know what this Hypnobirthing had done for me, and she wanted to know tonight. I hated to break her heart, but I had evaded the question already as many times as I could. They were all staring at me. I had to answer.
"My daughter actually died during the delivery. I don't think there's a course that could have prepared me for that."
I think not.
All the faces in the room crumpled slightly, and the interrogator almost sprung back, exclaiming, "Oh! I'm so sorry!" There was a flurry of activity as yoga mats were adjusted and items were removed from and replaced into bags. People looked both horrified and pitying, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that not a single mother in that room worried for one single moment that their baby would be born dead. I was the horror story in the room, the person that you would never become, and they all felt awful that they had dragged the terrible truth from me as slowly as possible.
And me? My greatest regret was that I hadn't come out and said it right away, because in my interest in protecting them, I now appeared hesitant to speak of my experience, which I was not. I would have been glad to fill them in on any of the details of my very average, completely normal birth experience. Everything was normal, of course, except for the absence of a pulse. But because I was trying not to burst their bubbles, they now felt awful for "bringing it up".

As if I hadn't been thinking about "it" all day.
"It" has a name, Charlotte. And I never stop thinking about her, even now.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tis the Season

This is the time of year where my world seems to close in on me in a beautiful, magical way. The night settles in as New England goes dark for the winter, the birds are gathering to feast on seed, and my breath goes frosty as I open the door into the morning darkness to let out the cat. Lights twinkle around the house; on the tree in the living room and the candles in the dining room. It is the beginning of winter, where being housebound becomes a privilege, where there is anticipation of all kinds, where love abounds.

For so many people, recently bereaved, Christmas and this entire season is devoid of anything that might mean joy. I had that, once, that awful Christmas where we went to the farm up the road and bought the tree because, damn it, we had planned to and I still wanted to, for her. We put it up and decorated it with shaking fingers, tears streaming down our faces. While Greg went to class in the evenings I sat home and embroidered on two beautiful Christmas stockings, to match the ones my aunt had made for everyone in our extended family. One said "Daddy", and the other, of course, said "Charlotte". I cried as I made them, for the man who did not get to be a daddy to his little girl, and for the girl herself who was robbed of this privilege of life that most of us take for granted. I was so intent, that season, to show her something of myself, to let her see what a good mother I truly was. I put up that tree, and I hung her stocking. I played holiday music and sang along. I needed her to see joy.

I also needed to feign joy for the poor, untended baby in my womb, the child around whom all the hope in the world was wound tightly around, and whom I was almost too terrified to face. I loved my new, unborn child with all my heart, I needed him desperately, but I feared for him. Feared for his life, and also feared that he would be born melancholy and wasted from the sadness that had engulfed him in the womb. I would talk to him, through my tears, as my sobs wracked my body and bent me sideways over the swell of him, "I love you so much, I love you so much." I hoped so deeply that he would know that I would find joy in him, although I had none at that time. And so there were some, intentional times where I would create it out of nowhere, with the sound of my voice singing, or by skipping somewhere instead of walking, so that perhaps the motions of my body would create joy where I could find none.

And that Christmas, there was hope for everyone but me in that swell of my growing belly, because I could not trust that all would be well. I knew there was a chance, but I was still much too wild with grief for Charlotte to acknowledge that somebody else was on the way. They were just too close together for me to truly take pleasure in his presence at times. And I am sorry for that.

But I do not need to explain the joy that swept me with his birth, my saviour and rebirth, Liam Gregory. He was born the day after Easter and it seemed almost like a resurrection to me; I was reborn a new person when his cry split the air. The sadness was still there, so fierce, but this joy that I felt severed the part of me that could not hope and transformed it permenantly because this I could see, good things could happen. I wanted this little boy to feel nothing but love, and not just love for one baby, he would feel it for two, and I would give him anything.

So now, at Christmas, I delight in the joy that my children feel, in the pleasure of giving and the treat for them of receiving my thoughtfully made and selected gifts. I love seeing them surrounded with family members, all smiles, safe and rooted in a loving home.

Our Christmas table has one of those beautiful angel chimes, with the four candles on the bottom that turn the little fan and ring the bells. We all say a wish or hope for Charlotte at supper, by way of our grace, and it brings a strange mix of sadness and pride and joy as my children express what they are grateful for, and what they wish could happen.

"I'm so grateful for our family," Liam says, "and I wish Charlotte could be here."

"I want Charlotte to come back and live with us," says Aoife, the same wish she has made every night for about a month.

My heart swells. I am sorry for them, forced to miss a sister they never knew, but sincere in their wishes because love is contagious and they have caught ours. Greg and I make our wishes, and the bells tinkle gently as we eat our supper, talking and singing while the quiet night falls, icy cold and frosty around our family's home.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flicker of a Soul

Last night I lay with Liam in the mostly-dark of his bedroom. The sound machine whirred, the walls were reflecting a dim yellow-blue from the glow of his little night light. I lay next to him, my head almost over him, buried in the covers beside his head. Suddenly, he started.

What was that? he said.

What was what?

That shadow. A shadow just went gliding across the ceiling.

I looked, and saw nothing. There was nothing animate between the light and the ceiling, nothing rational to make a shadow.

"I don't know," I said. "What do you think it was?" But inside, I smiled to myself.

Tonight, at dinner, I told him, "That shadow you saw? I think it was Charlotte's spirit."

He looked confused. "But I saw it," he said.

"Sometimes," I told him, "If you are very lucky, you can see a spirit."

He smiled at me then, a knowing smile of pure joy. We said no more.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What I can't relate to

There is another thing that makes me turn red on the inside, while I smile on the outside. Somehow I have never been able to get past carrying on as if an interested participant in the conversation, but I can feel hot liquid oozing out of my ears and from beneath my fingernails. Ants crawl up and down my spine and I want to jump up and run out, out, out... And this is what it is. I'll put six statements in chronological order, and you will understand immediately.

2003: Sometimes nursing can just be really difficult.

2004: They can really just get to be such a handful once they're walking!

2005: It's just such a treat to finally know what he has to say, to see his personality emerge.

2006: Oh, my god. Having a two-three year old presents a whole new set of challenges. I never know what to do!

2007: Can you believe it? She can draw real people! Look!

2008: I am so proud. He can read! It is just so exciting when they figure out the code.

So you get this, eh? These are the people who have the children Charlotte's age, who are talking to me not as the mother of Charlotte, but as the mother of Liam, who is a year younger than their son or daughter. This is a mother telling me, look out! Guess what's coming!

But you know what I hear, don't you?

This is what you are missing right now, this is what you should know, but you don't. You have no idea.

They never mean harm, never ever, never ever. Some go on more than others, but they never even know that I am melting inside, seething with the sadness for what I am missing. I have never said a thing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Still, but Born


I never, ever put those two words together.

But more than that, I never put the words


together, and put them into a sentence with my daughter's name in it.

Why? It's true. That is the technical term for what happened. It's here in Webster's:

stillborn: adj; dead when born
stillbirth: n. 1. the birth of a stillborn fetus 2. such a fetus

Now, I realize that is what happened. But look at that definition. I can hardly take it, this other term they use: fetus. She was nothing but a fetus to them, just a fetus. This full grown, seven pound, dark haired, healthy girl-fetus. We were all those, once. Only when we were born, we got to be called a baby. My child: a fetus. A stillbirth. I hate those words.

They degrade my child, to my ears, they lower her status from baby to something other-than; they make her less of a real thing and more of a term. Calling her stillborn puts her into a statistical category; she becomes something familiar. It is insulting.

After all, we've all heard about a baby being stillborn. We've read about it in books from the old days, when labors were longer and there were no doctors and it happened more often. The baby was stillborn, and the midwife would take her and wrap her in a cloth and she wouldn't let the mother see. The child was never named, and the mother was encouraged to quickly forget.

So should I be doing that? Forgetting? I think not. Being fixed on not forgetting is part of what I do, I think, when I say she died during the birth. This is, of course technically true: she did die during the birth, and by saying this I get to avoid calling her stillborn. We don't forget anymore. So I don't use that old word.

Sometimes I wonder whether my absolute refusal to use the word (and I can tell you with absolute certainty that I have never in my life referred to Charlotte as stillborn) is a form of denial. I don't want her to die. I don't want that to have happened to her. I think there is also a piece of me that is latching onto the fact that in our society, if your baby takes even a breath, even lives for one minute or two hours or a day or a few weeks, suddenly it all seems so much more legitimate to everyone that you get to miss that baby. Somehow, when it is so clear, when I say stillborn, that she never took a breath, it's as if she never happened. When I say that she died during the birth, it's almost as if I'm trying to prove just how close she got to life, even though she just missed it by a hair.

This is of course highlighted by the paperwork, in that of course she cannot have a real birth certificate, only a death certificate. And yes, yes. I do have the Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth; which you have to apply separately for later on because it doesn't happen automatically. But it's still not a birth certificate. She still never had life to them, she never existed on paper. It breaks my heart.

This is part of why I loved recording the StoryCorps interview with Greg yesterday, because we talked extensively about Charlotte, and now she is archived in the Library of Congress. You can't look her name up as someone who was really born but you can hear all about her if you go to the Folklife Center. At least she is somewhere.

Lastly, I will throw one more term into the pot: two words I found scrawled at the bottom of my discharge slip. They cut into me like a cattle brand, they seared my heart, sucked my baby down into a whirlpool.

Fetal demise.

I don't even need to write about this. How would you feel if someone called your baby this, even if you knew it was true? Her name was Charlotte Amelia. Please call her that.

What words get you?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

When I look out into my world right now it's as if there is a little, dimly-tinted screen over my eyes. I don't feel uplifted or optimistic. I feel as if I wish that if I had all this wisdom to spread about the pain of losing a baby and then the joy that can actually, possibly follow, then it should be joy I write about, joy. And of course the pain, but the pain of losing that one baby, and not about any other pains that might follow.
Tonight I am just sickly worried about the health of one of my children, I am feeling melancholy and missing Charlotte after recording a very intense and moving StoryCorps interview with Greg this morning, and I'm feeling pretty certain that I am permanently infertile and will never again have the pleasure of holding a newborn babe against my bare skin.

Ashamed, I feel as if these emotions should be causing me to spout some sort of excellent writing, but instead they render me mute; I have nothing to say. I want to crawl away and hide and come out and have at least the hereafter, the post-Charlotte; the things that seemed, at one time, to be manageable, to be okay.

But we all know how these things go... certainly after a little ice cream, a long sleep, some pancakes in the morning? Tomorrow could bring new sunshine.

Let's hope it does.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My sister is a psychologist, a good one. I could say this just because she is a good person, but there have been times in my life when I have needed her so desperately and she has worn that hat for me, and she wears it well. In her work she has crossed paths with a variety of people under many different circumstances. Among the most compelling to me were a number of older men that she worked with at a VA hospital some years ago. Their various disabilities and psychological illnesses are irrelevant to me and to this story, because what touched me most was this: these men were completely alone in the world. They had, literally, no one. No parents, no siblings, no aunts or uncles who cared. They had no spouse, no girlfriend, and no children. These people had nobody who loved them. Not anybody.
I could hardly wrap my mind about this concept, and it made my heart literally ache. To imagine being so alone, to have nobody to turn to when you needed something, to have not been touched in a gentle, soft way in decades. I couldn't imagine having nobody to care for, no one to think about, and knowing that there was nobody to think about me. To know that if you died, there would be nobody to claim your body. To be virtually alone.
I compare this to my own life, and it makes me want to pull the covers up over my head and hide, because I am so blessed with so many people whom I love, and who love me. I don't even know where to begin. My family is huge, everyone is happy and good to each other (mostly), I have so many good, good friends. There are dozens of places I could turn for anything.
I wish I had the clarity of mind to always feel this absolutely blessed when I'm having the worst day of my life, when my children are pulling me in six different directions, when my husband forgot to call and say he's going to be late, when I forgot to thaw the dinner, and it feels like everything is whirling around me in a sandstorm. Wouldn't it be sublime if I could just step outside of that situation and say, so many people love me, these two children are alive and well, and my husband will be home... eventually. But, I'll think it today, and perhaps I'll be reminded of this sometime when things seem too whirly to compute.

One man's story, I shall never forget. His parents were dead, no siblings to speak of. His wife had left him years before. He had no real friends; he was homeless.
His children? One daughter, stillborn forty years earlier. My sister said his eyes filled with tears as he told her. She was his only child.

This Thanksgiving, I say with a great, deep breath of gratitude, I have so much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm not usually wordless... I have so much to say that doesn't burble out during the course of my everyday life, and here is such a great place to let it flow.

Tonight, however, time is of the essence...

so I thought I might provide some visuals of some of the daily events of the past few weeks... our trip to the circus, a ride in the shopping cart, a skirt I made, Liam's storywriting, and our Thanksgiving trees.
Now I have to go up to our town hall and vote in a special town meeting so that the library can gift a building to the town to build a brand new library. Yee-haw. I love small town New England politics. I will get lots of knitting done.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This is still new to me; and somewhere I never thought I'd be.

How easy it was to put the blinders on; does one never stop being innocent in some ways, even when innocence is lost? I shake my head in dismay at myself, ashamed.

I just cringe at the memory of myself saying it, so many times: getting pregnant is the only thing I don't have trouble with.

As of now, having past the magical anniversary, I have had a multitude of tests all of which cannot determine why I would not be getting pregnant. Mysterious, unexplained infertility. Awesome.

And I am now at the point where, had I conceived when I thought I first would, I would be shopping for Christmas with babe in arms.

Today, as I was taking advantage of Northampton's pre-holiday "Bag Day" sale, I bumped into several people whom I had not seen in quite a while. Oh! They said, how many kids do you have now?

Two, I said, trying to keep a straight face. Just two. Not three. And not four. I realize the fourth baby never happened, but there is this feeling of almost wanting to justify the lack of the fourth almost as much (but not quite) as I want to remind people of the first. Bookends to my two living children, the "perfect family", to some people, but lacking to me. The ghost child and the child that didn't happen, they surround me now as I flicker my way through this life.

I have tried, please believe me. I look at my two gorgeous, happy, sprites that fill me with so much joy, and I try it out, like a mantra: this is my family, this is my family. They have each other. But I can't accept it. I don't know why, I just can't.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

There are times when my own story escapes me; it has become such an integral part of my own geography that the details become lost upon me in the rush. This is something that I don't think I've ever consciously realized about the road that I have walked, and it humbles me to the point of almost feeling like an imposter in this world of floundering babylost people.

I never existed out in the world without hope.
What is hope? It was Liam, this tiny seed growing in my womb, conceived not three months after Charlotte vacated. The unexpected delighted in how-could-it-happen little being that planted his feet firmly into my life, as if throwing me a ring-buoy, and has been there ever since.

Certainly there were the days, but there were only 102 of them, where I had nothing. Only 102. For those days, for ALL of them, I was devoted entirely to my grief. I did not work, I rarely socialized, I barely cooked, ate, exercised, or grocery shopped. The only times I left my house were for things that related to Charlotte-- a foray to place her memorial stone, a writing group to lay down my soul on paper, a walk with Greg in a private wood to share our deepest thoughts. My memories of that time-- my sitting time, I call it-- are mostly of me frozen on the couch, my eyes fixed on her tiny footprints that were balanced on the mantlepiece (and still are, not in a frame, just balanced there as if we just casually set them there a few moments ago and plan to move them). I recall being laid out on the nursery floor, the smell of wet wool as my tears literally soaked the rug beneath my face. I remember the sunlight on my bedroom wall as I would wake up in the morning, sucking in the dead air of my room and wishing I could sleep forever. We slept for 12 hours a night that summer, at least. It was all I could see fit to do.
And by the time I went back to work, 15 weeks after Charlotte's birth and death, I knew I was pregnant. At the time, I didn't think the notion of being pregnant was affecting me much, the whole idea seemed so uncertain. But of course it did, of course. How could it not? How could the very idea that something was growing-- even if it might quit on me-- not provide me with something in the way of hope?

And so what do I have to offer, at times, in knowing what it feels like to go for months and years without hope, or to never have hope again? I can equate it only to those early months, and I pray that the later months and years do not sear as wickedly as those early months alone did.

It makes me feel so lucky, which I am in those certain ways.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Power of a Name

Somewhere out there, in western Australia, a mother like me who had heard about me went out to the sand one evening and, thinking of my daughter, created this.
I feel speechless at this beauty.

Thank you, so very much.
(see the creator at and many thanks to my new friend Sally who made this happen)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Clare, Part 1

I was reminded tonight of my desperate love of writing of myself in the third person. So... just for fun, here is a clip from my "book"-- if you can call all my spiral bound notebooks that. My protagonist is Clare, and she is, 100%, without a speck of doubt, me. Somehow it felt so beautifully liberating to cast my story upon another, although I will have you know that I did keep Charlotte's name the same as the story marches onward.

Here you will read of the moment when my labor begins, a moment I spoke of several posts ago:

The window was open, and a damp smell was in the night air. Clare’s mind awoke before her eyes, she lay on the smooth, pearl colored sheets for a moment and became aware. She was on her left side, propped up from behind with one, large feather pillow and two throw pillows. In front of her, Clare’s enormous, nine-months pregnant belly lay like it was already another being in itself. It was propped up with a tiny child’s pillow, but its weight pulled at Clare’s ribcage and she needed to turn over. Lifting her top leg, and bracing with both arms, she pushed with sleepy-nighttime strength against the forgiving mattress, and then suddenly she felt it.

A warm rush, more than a trickle, coming from seemingly nowhere, and suddenly on her legs. In an instant Clare’s eyes flew open, her muscles clamped down, and she was on the edge of the bed sitting, bare feet on the floor, back straight, and fully awake. Her mind flashed to the date. 8 days past due. She felt the bed behind her. Dry. Suddenly it occurred to Clare, through her adreneline haze, that it was quite possible that her water had not broken after all. Every day some strange, new, hormone-induced symptom would appear and perhaps what she had felt was just that. She clenched her abdominal muscles and bore down. Another rush of warm liquid. Her heart soared.

She stood up and began to move towards the hall, and it was like a steady, smooth flow of bathwater that soaked her pants and ran down her leg. Across the hall Clare walked, turning on the light to assess her situation and mindfully moving in a whisper so as not to prematurely awaken Charlie. She carefully found a clean pair of pajama pants and underwear in the pile of laundry and tucked them under her arm.

Towards the nursery she crept, catching sight of Charlie in their bed on her way. She felt wickedly delighted at this moment: she alone knew that their baby was coming. Leaning in again to see Charlie’s blankets rise and fall, Clare envisioned her mother, her father, her sisters, so many friends, all doing the same. Sleeping the sleep of waiting, phones positioned at their bedsides, waiting for news. And Clare had the news.

Tiptoeing as best she could with her top-heavy frame, Clare continued into her baby’s bedroom and opened the top drawer. Soft, cotton diapers like clouds, twice laundered already and sweet smelling. She pulled out two, folded them twice lengthwise, and laid them over the maple crib railing. Off came her soggy pajama bottoms, on went the clean, dry clothes, and into her underpants she tucked the diapers. She giggled to herself. Definitely the best system for keeping dry. Her baby would laugh one day to know that her Mama had sampled her diapers before her birth.
Moving back into the bedroom, Clare stole a glance at the clock: 2:49. A quarter of an hour had passed. Charlie was still so blissfully asleep, his face calm, the yellow blanket pulled up over his shoulder.
“Charlie,” Clare said softly. “I think my water broke.”
Charlie bolted up as if he had been electrocuted. “It did?” he blurted, sounding completely awake and lucid. “When? Did you call?” His alert tone of voice was fading as his mind began to balance his current need for wakefulness in the midst of his deep sleep.
“Not yet,” said Clare. “I wasn’t sure for awhile. I’m going down now.” She turned, and stole down the stairs, leaving a bewildered Charlie in their bed. She crossed the kitchen, dimly lit from a night light, and then entered the dark living room. The red light on the telephone guided her, and she picked up the handset.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Please help

This is baby Andrew.

If you're reading this, I am guessing there is about a 90% chance that you know somebody who is pregnant.
If you do, (or if you are), please do this: copy down this address

This is the enrollment form to donate umbilical cord blood. It is very easy to do, you have to download and submit forms by the end of your 34th week (and get your doc's signature) and be planning a birth at an approved hospital (all the ones in my area were approved, you can call the number to see if yours is also on the list).

This week, my cousin's baby, Andrew, who is very sick with congenital leukemia, is receiving a bone marrow transplant that is from donated cord blood. His life will literally be saved (we hope and pray) because somebody out there took the time to fill out a few papers, get their doc to sign them, and sent them in. Imagine that instead of your (or your friend's) cord being tossed out as medical waste, it could potentially prevent a very sick baby or child from dying.

Do it now. Copy the address, pass it on. If you are pregnant, download the forms right now.


RSVP. I would be curious to see how many of you are able to pass this information on, or to use it yourself. Imagine if your cord blood could save this baby's life. Wouldn't you do it?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tonight we had Trudy for dinner.

Trudy, Trudy.

Do you know who Trudy is? She is the only person on this entire planet, besides my parents and sisters, and Greg's parents and brother, who has seen all three of our children. I call her our guardian angel. She kind of is.

Trudy came into our life at 3:00 in the afternoon on the thirteenth of May, 2003. Her shift had just begun, and our life had just in a single moment, ended and begun again at 2:14. We had lost our parenthood, and were snatching it back again just as Trudy came on shift. Our daughter had disappeared, and we were clinging to her, realizing that we could hang onto her, get to know her, be with her for a time in this earthly life while we still could. Trudy helped that to happen.

She stayed with us, nearby, bringing us the things that we needed, taking photographs, talking to us about Charlotte's beauty and our family's closeness and trust. She marvelled at our instincts to parent this little girl as any parents would, despite what had happened. She followed our lead and we followed hers. I don't know how we could have negotiated that day without her.

When the time came to say goodbye, Trudy was the one who walked out of the room with my baby girl. I saw her back turn, and Charlotte disappeared. As my heart literally ripped in half, I saw Charlotte again-- for a split second-- in the crack between the curtain and the wall, as Trudy turned to close the door behind her. My tiny daughter was cradled in Trudy's left arm, her little face peeping out from the blankets Greg had so carefully swaddled her in, just as he had been taught in our childbirth class. I saw her again, and the door clicked shut.

I loved Trudy so much that day, I loved her for taking such good care of us, and for treating Charlotte with the dignity that she deserved. I loved her because she asked us questions about our baby, about who she looked like, because she called her by name. I loved her because she gave us respectful space but she also talked to us, got to know us, and didn't avoid us. I loved her for being this absolutely present and spirtual witness to our day together.

After we went home, I loved her because she had seen Charlotte. She was somebody who actually knew, she had seen the evidence, that I was a mother. I wanted to thank her for everything she had done. It seemed right when suddenly we realized that we had a mutual friend, and one June morning we sat in Sally's yard, eating cinnamon buns and drinking strong coffee with cream. Trudy was back in our lives, and apparently she liked it that way.

I love having Trudy in my life. She is quite honestly the sole witness of Greg and my time with Charlotte. Our families came, and they visited, but not for long. Trudy was there for it all, she watched us, she helped us, and she carried our baby away from us with such solemn grace and reserve. It seemed right that she happened to be there for the births of our next two children. We are the only family for whom she has worked with for three births.

Last week, Trudy came to our conference. There are times when I feel so steeled to my own experience. I have become so accustomed, through the work that I do, to speaking of Charlotte and of my loss experience with nary a flicker of emotion, let alone a tear. Somehow being able to maintain a straight face has made me better able to share her with the world, so a great deal of this time this is how I operate. But last week I sat on a parent panel, and I looked out into the audience and I saw Trudy sitting there, with her wide, blue eyes, and beautiful smile, and I could see her as the only person I had to turn to on that very day, the real day that it happened, the only day I ever held my baby girl, and suddenly it became real for me again, that it was really me, my baby that died. My own little daughter. Not just some sad cause that I work tirelessly for because nobody deserves to be treated badly. The sad cause that I am so devoted to because my very own child died. I broke into tears, and as I spoke they spilled down my cheeks and I had to get some kleenex and stop for a minute and I can tell you that hasn't happened in a long, long time.

I remember reading something like this in a battered, green book I borrowed from the support group that I had attended. It was an early 80's SANDS publication from England, and it was called, quite simply, "When a Baby Dies". There was a quote in that book from a woman who recalled that, when they had told her the news that her baby died, she went almost robotic, not truly realizing that it was in fact her own child who would be born dead. She then went on to describe the outpouring of emotion that overwhelmed her when she did give birth, and suddenly the pieces all fit together all at once: it was not just the sad tale of someone's lost baby, but it was her little girl who lay lifeless in her arms, who would never take a breath, and there was nothing anyone could do to undo any of it. That feeling, put into words by this anonymous woman, was so familiar to me, as I had experienced a very similar dissociation and then immediate connection and loss upon Charlotte's birth. But I now realize that this continues to happen as I grow and grieve, I will lose her and then gain her again, and then gain her again. I dissociate at times because it's too sad, and I can't cry right then for whatever reason, and she becomes this sad thing that I talk about, and then there are these days where it just hits me like a ton of bricks; my baby is dead, my baby is dead.

I have no five year old child upstairs asleep, my daughter has no sister, I have only two children right now. This is all because my baby is dead, because that woman that I talk about all the time is in fact me, and I'm the one whose baby died, and I will always be her, no matter how much I'd sometimes like to take a vacation from that feeling in the pit of my stomach that won't go away.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Missing Sister

It is midnight, exactly.

Driving at night always makes me sad. There is so much time for thinking, and truth be told, I have a lot to be sad about. Being sad takes a lot of time, and in the busy-ness of everyday life, I don't prioritize it. It sometimes seems too hard to take the time to feel sad, and it also is hard to be sad about something that absolutely cannot ever be fixed.

Today I went to a Children's Museum nearby, in a town I had never been to before. While I was there I met another mom who I had seen at a school open house last weekend, so I connected with her about that and we stood chatting while our kids played. She had two children with her and was heavily pregnant, due around the same time that I might have been had I conceived around when I thought I might last spring. In addition to her two year old son, she had a beautiful, shining, joyful five and a half year old daughter, Louisa.

When I had seen Louisa at the school a week earlier, she had stood out to me: something about her was appealing. I had thought maybe she was looking for kindergarten next year, but her mother clarified that she was going to be in first grade. I should have known, looking at her more closely, she was clearly one of those girls I pick out on the street, just a little older than Liam, somehow my radar sucks them in, she is a spring baby from 2003.

I so desperately wanted to ask when her birthday was. I wanted to know exactly. Was she a few weeks older, or younger than my child? How can I compare them?

I didn't really know why Louisa was making me feel so agitated. I do see five year old girls all the time. I have become accustomed to being around them.

A while later, Aoife wandered over to the dentist's office area of the museum, where they have the real dentist's chair that you can sit in and all kinds of things to play dentist with. Louisa was there, and as Aoife sat in the chair, Louisa played the dentist, and it hit me: they look the same. Not Charlotte and Louisa, but Louisa and Aoife. Louisa had the same delicate little features, close set eyes, and very straight, blonde hair in a side part with a barette. Any person walking by would take a glance and assume that they were sisters. Without a doubt.

They were giggling and laughing, enjoying this two-to-five year old interaction so thoroughly, and she looked like her sister, a big sister, just like my Aoife deserves. It makes me want to stamp my foot on the wood floor so hard that the little table in the middle of my kitchen bounces up and down, because I did have a baby that should be that old, and she was absolutely perfect in every single way except for the fact that a freak accident crimped her cord while she was trying to be born.

Did you know that my midwife said "fuck" when she was telling me this? Her total human-ness in this situation made me feel so comforted, for real. She said, it was an accident, that's all. She was perfect. A fucking freak accident. Yeah. Can't really say much after that.

So there, in the museum, I watched this grown-up Aoife play with little Aoife, and I thought about my big girl who is missing, about the things she might enjoy, and about how she might explore and love this new museum we had discovered not half and hour from our home. It made me so, deeply sad for myself to be missing my girl. Somehow she stood for my girl, somehow in her straight blonde hair with the little barette and her cute pixie face, a face that Charlotte didn't even have, only Aoife does, but she looked like my daughter's sister and that was enough for me. It just broke my heart.

I have been having a very emotional time of it lately. There are many more posts for me to make in the aftermath of last week's conference. Just being there and surrounded by all of this babyloss constantly, being on the parent panel, it brought me back to a place I have not visited in a long time. I also have several friends who are getting ready to welcome their own new babies, which is such a joyous prospect but I selfishly turn inward and remember that absolute joy of anticipation that I got to experience just once, the one and only time where I thought my baby was a sure thing, only she wasn't.

Day after day lately I am just brought into this whirlpool where I feel like what I really want to do is have a good, hard cry.

Why is that so hard to do?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Five and a half...

So exactly five and a half years ago, I lay in a hospital bed with my baby in my arms. Not that I'm counting... and I am, absolutely. I used to calculate the days as I drove to work sometimes, in those early days. It has been 146 days since I held her, 217. I did just do the math, of course, because I had to, and it has now been 2009 days since I held her. That is a long time. A long time to grow into a little blonde-headed child with a wild sense of humor and hysterical giggles, with wavering but determined handwriting and a thirst for reading. We ate chocolate chip cookie and ice cream sandwiches for dinner to "celebrate" Charlotte's half birthday. We held hands and said our blessing for her, told her how much we loved and missed her, and licked melted ice cream off our fingers. It was jolly, sort of.
I was curious to see what I had written five years ago, on a day I remember had been quite difficult. I did not go to work. Here is what was in the journal I kept for her, the only thing I ever wrote in. Greg and I would take turns writing together in the nursery.

November 12th, 2003 (written by me)

Dear Charlotte,
Tonight is the eve of your six month birthday. It is hard to believe that it was six months ago tonight that we read you your last 3 books and innocently fell asleep. So often I recall the moments I spent walking around our house leaking water and I wonder when your last seconds were. I remember when I woke Daddy up. I said, "Greg. My water broke." He sat up very quickly and exclaimed, "It did?!" We were so very, very excited that you were coming. NEver in a million years did we consider that we might not get to bring you home. Even when we couldn't wake you up we never went that far to consider the impossible. We loved you too much to even imagine that something so awful could happen to you. We are looking forward to devoting all of tomorrow to remembering, honoring, and loving you without distraction. That is something we haven't done in quite a while. You are our family and tomorrow is our family day. We love you so much, and although you are not here, our love for you grows each day as we see your amazing impacts on our lives.
Love, Mama and Daddy

November 13, 2003 (written by Greg)

Dear Charlotte,
Today we spent the whole day remembering you, loving you, honoring you without distraction. We also took care of ourselves. We woke up to sunshine on the walls of the bedroom. After a fresh donut and coffee in bed we remembered all the details of your birth. Then, we went to revisit the hospital, the place where you were born. Our friends Andrea and Trudy were there to help us. After lunch in a restaurant, we bought some pink flowers and took them to your stone at the river. We tied your flowers to a little tree so they would not blow away on this very windy Thursday. When we came home we lit a nice fire and have spent the entire evening in front of it. We ate supper on the sofa and then decided to sleep by the fire. So that's where we are. We are missing you and loving you so much and wondering again and again what you would be like if you were here with us today, six months old.
Love, Daddy and Mama.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I am basking in the joys of accomplishment....

When I was first babylost, I yearned for the days when I could be entirely satiated by sitting quietly with a suckling newborn, needing nothing more.
And I need very little more than my children, it's true. Not much more outside of just being their sweet devoted mama.

But to truly give? It is the most satisfying thing on earth. Giving my time and energy to this group I run is like being a mother, you just give with no expectations of anything in return, and it's from the heart, and it feels like butter. Our conference was such an amazing, rewarding success. We had an attendance over the two days of over eighty, and I just stood there in partially stunned amazement, listening to the great Cathi Lammert speak, thinking, I made this. This is something that I did.

I admit now, at this point, that there is a piece of me that benefits greatly from a tangible product, from having something visible and useful that others can benefit from. My job as a mother is irreplacable and I think I do a fairly decent job at it, but let's face it: the kids don't often thank me, and there's generally not much feedback on what I'm doing right. So to put together something that felt so good and right that taught and benefitted so many made me soar above the clouds and just feel so ... well ... useful! I really needed to feel that, and I'm grateful.

Grateful for the people who helped to make it happen, grateful for those who came, and mostly grateful to Charlotte, who gave me the courage to pick up and keep walking when I wanted to stop and lie down and die. And now somebody else might keep walking because of her.

There was a story at the conference that made me cry, cry, cry. I still can't get it out of my head, and you won't either. Cathi was talking about memorials and funerals, and it came upon this slide: a family, man and woman, walking side by side in the sunshine down a path in a cemetary. Their heads are hanging, eyes cast down, they are wearing black. The mother's face is concealed by her long hair. Behind them they pulled a wooden wagon, the kind with the big wheels and the slatted sides that you can take on and off. You could see flowers in the back, and a tiny casket.

These parents, said Cathi, lost twins five weeks apart, Gage and Garrett. This dad decided that he wanted to take them through the cemetary in a wagon as part of the service.

She said, He wanted his boys to have a ride in the wagon.

A ride in the wagon.
A ride in the wagon. Like my two kids do every day, almost, in our wagon, and these people did it through a cemetary, and that's all their little boys got.

I wept and wept, as if I'd never even been there myself.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

24 hours...

I am ticking off the days until I can sit idly and type away about the throes of motherhood... we are now just one day from conference time... at this time tomorrow I will be wining and dining our guest here in my home as we prepare for Monday and Tuesday's big events. I am so excited, proud and, yes, slightly nervous.

But so what? What if the food doesn't arrive, or everyone doesn't have a pen, or the tables are arranged wrong. I could run out of folders, or my books could be lost, but still, Cathi will come, and the 70 people who have signed up will probably show up, and they will all learn things they perhaps didn't know before.

And then, when someone like me, or you, or someone you know walks into their room, they will know what to say, and will also know what not to say.

And how much is that worth?

I have felt so busy and crazed with all of this; I am so excited for it to end so I can settle a little bit into the life that I love and just enjoy my little folks a little more fully.