Friday, August 29, 2008

Alexander and the....

If I had to sum up today, it would be like this:

1. Blue crayon in the dryer.

2. One leg shaved at 7 AM, second leg shaved at 2:23 pm

3. Kids in the bath at 11 AM

4. Liam saying, "You've broken my heart four times already today". Ditto, kid.

5. A two-year-old + a big basket of beads

6. About 23 mediations between Liam and Phoebe who (almost) never argue

So other than that, it's good to reflect upon my writing from a few days ago, where I felt my transition had been so smooth. It reminds me that today is just a day, as was that day, and tomorrow may be better. It may not be, but chances are it will be.

So now I'm off to help Liam and Phoebe make freezer-paper stencilled t-shirts. On a day like today?!%^&* I must be mad. But you always do have to try to have fun.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


We jumped back into life here, with Greg off to work only 8 hours after arriving home in the van in the wee hours of Sunday morning. I imagined my transition back to my "real" life would be a disappointment, but it hasn't felt that way. There is a piece of me that feels wistful, thinking back to the long, lazy days of July, and of course the relaxing delight of the cottage, but truly things are just the way they usually are, and I'm happy.
Shouldn't I be devastated, as I usually am, at the end of summer? I feel the longing for my friends, for the freedom of the lake and the two adults, but it's not as it usually is.
This obvious almost- lack of disappointment brings me a shiver of joy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Head Hanging...

I just need to state, for the record, that while I have withdrawn my card from the baby pool for now, it is not really, truly with a big smile on my face. I talk a good game, eh?

No, I resign in utter defeat, feeling a bit beaten, and knowing that I need a good rest.

Yes, there are pieces of me that feel freed: it seems petty, even odd to say this. After spending a day and a bit with a friend's small baby, feeling that knot in my stomach when it seemed that she was waking, and that walking-on-eggshells feeling of a baby late in the day. I realized that I would not have to feel that feeling for a while, yet. That what I have is comfort and ease, and I LIKE IT. I AM HAPPY.

But, for the record, about half the people I know are pregnant, and about all of them are telling me about all the other people they know who are pregnant, and you know what? It feels like one big fat club that I'm not part of. And this part doesn't feel so dreamy, convenient, and happy-for-now. It kind of feels, for now, as if being at the cottage made me feel just fine to drop out of the race, but now that I am back and it seems that the race is still going on for everyone else, I feel left out and a bit sad.

But in the context of my own home I still feel right with my decision.

See? The happy-sad mama. I can't escape it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The 6th Sense

Aoife had a hard time tonight at bedtime. It is our first night home after almost a month at the cottage. I went back to her after tucking her in, and took her out of her bed and held her in the rocking chair, rocking back and forth, singing softly. I breathed deeply, sucking in the warm night air, feeling the darkness settle.

I started to think about the nursery. I am so emotionally attached to the nursery. I had always assumed that the nursery would simply be passed on from baby to baby until we decided, intentionally, that our family was complete. So what now? Now that babymaking has been unofficially all but suspended, and my daughter nears two and a half? Her new room sits next door, bed made, ready for her to move in at any time. Although I have told her the new bed is for "when she's three", suddenly that time is seeming not that far away. So what happens to the nursery?

Maybe this is all part of it, I thought, the part of letting go. The part of separating what is Charlotte's from what is now, and realizing that keeping the nursery the way it is isn't making me any closer to her. This might be it, a cleansing of sorts, to just take the crib apart and take a deep breath and realize that the world continues to spin when the nursery isn't there. It could be good. A new start. If a new baby ever did come, we could always put it back.

So I started imagining. Could we move the kids beanbag chairs in, maybe with some bookcases? Or it could be an art studio, with all their things up there, and smocks and shelves overflowing with materials. Or, I could put the Brio trains up there, along with other "big" toys, move those out of the living room. I was wondering where we might store the dismantled crib.

Suddenly, Aoife perked up. "I want this to be my room," she said.
"What did you say, honey?"
"This nursery. I want it to be Aoife's room."

I took in a sharp breath. It was as if I had been speaking aloud.

Only I hadn't been.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Sometimes there's this letting go of something that you've been hanging on to, and you don't even know why it happened. There is a lightness where before your belly tied itself up into a dull knot. You wonder why something felt so heavy, when now it feels like a passing concern.

I don't know what it is about now, but for the past number of months, I have been wanting, most desparately, you know what I am about to say, a baby. Looking back I don't know why. Because I like babies? Because I envision my family at some point growing? But why now? Why right now? I can't answer that. It just felt pressing, for whatever reason. I had never looked at Aoife and Liam and felt that my family was complete. I saw Aoife as a middle child, and needed that to come to fruition.

I don't know how much of this lightening has come from my cousin's baby being so sick, this new, disheartening reminder that you never know what you're going to get. I know this is a piece of it, that I don't really feel like now is the time to say, Hey, everyone! Guess what? I'm pregnant! I feel like the focus, the energy, needs to be elsewhere. I also feel as if Andrew has given me this sudden jolt, a jolt I didn't know I needed, to take a deep breath and say, wow. Look at those two little blonde beauties in front of you. This is perfection already. There is nothing that must be added.

This is all not to say that I don't, at some point, want to have another baby. I do. I truly do hope that I will be blessed with another baby someday. But I no longer feel a pressing urge. It does not have to be now. I actually find myself contemplating the benefits of larger and larger gaps between my children.

You can also do the math and figure that if I got pregnant around now, the due date would be in the middle of May. So I suppose this also plays into this, in fact I'm sure, that I actually fear being pregnant on that day, that I would cringe at a due date that could fall within days of her birthday. My heart jumps a little at the mere prospect that a sibling could steal her birthday, turn my darkest day which is only for her into a shared event. So yes, there is this.

But more than that, I realize that worrying, that anxiety, is playing into stealing some of the limelight from today. I am not spending the time that I could just knowing that I am so fortunate to have this family that is here with me, and in celebrating that I am so surrounded with people who I love, and who love me. So I'm postponing this wish, this desire, with my fullest confidence and a deep, contented breath. My life is so settled and clean right now, in such a sweet place. Why would I wish any of this away with a focus on an unfulfilled desire? Instead I choose to see my fulfilled desires, my amazing family, my husband, my beautiful children. The worry can wait.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Calm within the storm

Thank you for your comments, and I will pass them on... Baby Andrew is still fighting and although at his tender age doctors are not optimistic, each day he pulls through is considered progress. I keep remembering this saying, which helped me through many a dark day myself, I don't know where it is from:

Faith is the bird that sees the light when the dawn is still dark

This sudden change, this visible newness in my cousin's life, and for all their family, is reminding me once again to be grateful, and faithful to what I believe in: in tenderness, caring, gratitude, and true love. I am seeing my children all over again, and giving to them in a conscientious way, having been reminded of the frailty of it all.

Although Andrew's illness devastates me, I am not terrified by it in the way that I might be. I learned my lesson five years ago. I know how quickly things can change, how unstable even the most secure things can become. I know that his being ill does not make my family any more vulnerable.

Andrew does, however, remind me of this: that I must be true to what I believe, that I must give to my children in the ways that feel most genuine to me, that I must show my love to others liberally and generously. We do not know for sure what tomorrow may bring.

Meanwhile, as they wage this war downtown in the depths of Sick Kids, the sun shines here. I am everly aware of how tidy it is for me to avoid this crisis, here on the beach, my hair blowing in the stiff wind as August begins to draw to a close. My children are blissfully ignorant of their cousin's illness, knowing only that "he is sick". Birds carry on, chirping merrily, there is joy everywhere around me in other ways. This really is just life. And for some people, it is really difficult right now.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Baby Andrew

I am no stranger to this, how life can change in an instant.

Two days ago, my sewing machine needle broke, so I wandered down the muddy path through the young forest, clomped across the old, wooden bridge, and climbed the steps up to my aunt’s cottage. Inside, the toddlers were asleep, and while Margot fetched me the needle I needed to borrow, I kneeled and made eyes at her newest grandson, twelve week old Andrew, my newest cousin. His eyes are big, and almost all the way finished turning brown. He flashed me that erratic, almost neurotic looking newborn smile, where you know the baby is smiling on the inside but can’t quite piece together the neurons to make the smile last for longer than a few seconds. He was so content. I chatted with his parents, my cousin and his wife, until Margot returned with the needle. I went home and sewed for a while while the children slept. I thought nothing of it.

Today, Andrew is in the Hospital for Sick Kids. His parents noticed some strange bumps on his belly yesterday, and along with a runny nose in such a little boy, they thought they’d better get it checked out. Never would they have guessed what they would discover: their little boy was at death’s door, critically ill with advanced leukemia. He is in intensive care, his white blood cell count presently having been reduced from one million to below three hundred thousand. Ten thousand is normal, and anything over fifty thousand is considered critical. He is twelve weeks old.

My heart is crying for them, there is this bear in my stomach gnawing for this family, aching, pleading to the stars and the trees and whatever, whomever, might listen, to save this baby. He cannot die. I cannot have to see this wonderful family, my fun-loving, positive, sweet cousin who is such a wonderful father, lose his only son. I can’t see their two little girls lose their baby brother. I can’t see my cousin’s wife, who is a good woman to the core, become what I am: the woman whose baby died.

Last night I stood in the middle of the common, tears streaming down my face, just outside the tall stand of pines. The stars shone, and I talked to them, and I talked to Charlotte. You cannot let this baby die, I said, you cannot. I do not ask you for much, but I am asking you this.

This morning, when I woke up, the sun was shining, the air looked strong. I took a deep breath of the crisp morning air, and I felt confident: he will make it. He will make it. But I know that, despite this feeling I have that I have taken the bullet for everyone I know, he might not make it. And I just can’t bear that thought.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An ode to cousin love

In the perhaps ten minutes since my last post there was a cry out the window next door. I had been sitting on the cap of the ancient septic tank, covered with old moss and crumbling slightly. When I sit here, between the ever-larger balsam firs that now cast shadows between our cottage and the Harrison’s next door, I can pick up their wireless—hence my ability to post here at the cottage. So out there I sat, quietly writing, just signing off when there was this call of my name, this happy, sharp call, and there was Sabrina, child of my youth, my peer here in forts and sand castles and midnight skinny dips and trampoline contests.
I looked up and there she was, in the window, wrapped in a towel. I can see her through the screen. I walked up onto the back deck, through the warm, yellow kitchen, past the plate of sliced Ontario field tomatoes garnished with fresh basil, into the darkened hallway where I knocked on her door, and she opened it, her face fresh, still wrapped in a towel. “Only you,” she said, “Only you can see this.”
Sabrina is my cousin and there is this strange cord of family that ties me to her on this deep level, we are different in so many fundamental ways and yet I love her so much, for her sincerity, her hilarious sense of self, and her creative way of seeing everything around us. Sabrina has this piece of her childhood that she shares with me, that we experienced together, and she clutches it so tightly to her heart, letting people peek at it here, and there through her writing and her art, but I was there, and so there is something that is there, a knowing, that makes me feel tied to her.
I wanted to have my camera with me there, to photograph this disheveled scene as we flopped belly- down on the bed, caught in a moment. The bed was covered with fabric remnants, old clothing that might or might not be turned into a fort or a piece of art, the dresser was covered with tiny bottles of tinctures, an unfinished drink, a half-eaten piece of toast. I looked around me at the beautiful collage of fabric and color and disarray that is Sabrina, that surrounds her and draws me to her and makes me want to be with her more and more. You have been here two days, I said to her, and this is amazing. There is just so much of you here.
The room is the antithesis of what I end up creating in my own home, where I crave order and organization. When I see this scene on my own dresser I want to make it go away, but here it makes me curious, it settles me, it looks beautiful. But I love it, there is a piece of me that craves this disorder and I love it in Sabrina. And maybe part of this is why Sabrina loves me, because I am kind of ordinary and plain and tidy. This is, of course, sometimes what makes people love each other, this way that they can provide for each other the pieces of being that we need but cannot create. These pieces that we admire but we cannot be.
Sabrina and I share this strange blood, this love of being and family and this sense of place. There are pieces of each other that we fundamentally cannot understand, I cannot know what her life is like, this flying around the world and making art and knowing so many people all at once; likewise she cannot know what it is like to be me, to be centered in the simple existence of motherhood, the void of my babyloss, the fulfillment of what has followed
It is grounding and settling to have people like this in my life, and this night, who bring worlds to me, who tie me to where I am, where I have been, and where I might go.

A precious gift

Today I was at the beach, with an old friend and her two children. She said this to me, and it rooted me to the ground, my toes squishing into the sand where I played as a tiny girl:

I see you with your family, and it makes me so happy: how you have pulled out of this tragic beginning and build such a happy family for yourself. That you would progress with such bravery, looking straight ahead, seemingly undaunted by your past. It is truly amazing, and I think of you so often as a mother.

It has made me feel truly amazed to have two living, healthy babies; both your stories, and some stories of my friends. I realize what a gift it is to have babies without complication or tragedy, and I am grateful. I really do think of you all the time.

I meant to, and I will, say this:

Thank you for this gift of your awareness. I feel so humbly grateful that you have this sight of your own good fortune.

In the moment, I became carried away in the conversation, I was so grateful to have been engaged in the dialogue about my own true start to motherhood without having to have raised this issue myself. We talked for some time, and my heart and head were swimming in it, basking in the ability and opportunity to talk of myself, and my mothering, to say her name undaunted because I was not the one who brought it up.

So thanks, Kristin, that was truly an amazing gift.

This night, August 11th, In the darkness by the fire.

We are gathered around in the living room. There is a tall, stone hearth, with rounded stones and a wooden mantle, the fire is warm. A smooth, square pine trunk stands in front of that, there are six feet on top of it, four bare, one with flip-flops. On an old stump, a cutting from an ancient oak tree that was cut down forty years ago stands the television. We are watching the Olympics on television. There is something so cozy about this scene, there are five of us, gathered around the fire first, and the television second, watching these athletes competing twelve hours and halfway around the world away.
We are watching television more as background, and for the mostpart of this time we have been engaged in a hot discussion of healthcare in the US. My entire family is Canadian, my sisters and I are the only members of our entire extended family on both sides who have dual citizenship with the US. More by default and habit than by choice, the three of us have all ended up living in the states, and so it’s always fun for us to get into a good, hot chat about all the things about our fair (or not so fair) nation that could use a good fix. Tonight it was health care.
Now I shalt not go into the entire conversation, but there was one area that stood out to me, and it reminded me of this age gone by on this blog, and a rant I had going for some time which hasn’t reared its head in quite some time. It was this assumption that Americans have (and of course, yes, Canadians have it, too, but this was in the context of our American health-care conversation) that everything, EVERYTHING, can be fixed. Everything with your body can be fixed.
At the support group I run, we talk about this almost every month, the utter disbelief that we feel that whatever it was that caused our baby to die, it was either undetected or somehow, for whatever reason, unfixable. Somehow, all along, we had been gently led around by the hand with blinders on, made to believe that all of science and technology could solve almost any problem. But this all had failed us, and we all had a dead baby, or maybe even two, to prove it.
My mother talked about how many orthopedists find patients shocked to hear that their injuries will never be pain free. Even after bone crushing disasters, it is an assumption that people have that the doctors can fix this: if it is fixed, it won’t be hurt. Then she went on to talk about how in Holland, almost all babies are born at home, and there is virtually no pain medication used: patients expect that to give birth, one must feel pain, and in addition, one must bite ones lip and endure pain. So different from the concepts we have. And in addition: one of the lowest infant mortality rates. Oh, so kind.
So this returned me to the conversations I am always having, elsewhere and at times here, about hospital births versus homebirths, and how desperately I wish there was a way for women who were not as educated, as self-assured, and as bossy as I am to give birth in hospital, where all the life-saving mechanisms are on-call and in place, but without this vicious slide of watching the clock and induction and epidurals and pitocin and water-breaking and intravenous this and that and all things otherwise unnatural and, in some cases, unnecessary. I can’t bear it that so many women are left feeling helpless and defensive, their hands tied as they are led to believe they are doing what’s best for their babies, and in some cases they are, but in some cases they aren’t. I wish there were a way to turn this cycle around, to act truly in the best interest of babies only, to eliminate some of the peripheral antics that can take place, and to just focus on this beautiful end result, with confidence and truth.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Is this life, or is this being babylost?

I see these families, these children, once a year, and they amaze me. In the older years, they don't change as much from the end of August when I leave, until the next end of July when I arrive. At these ages, in fact, I am sometimes surprised that they have not changed: this eight year old I left, still seems eight when I come back, still running shirtless and tanned, with tiny grains of sand stuck to his shiny blond leghairs. But it's the babies that make me feel full of wonder, especially the spring ones, who were tiny little bundles of sleeping potential last summer, and now they blossom.

They toddle, and tip, wading in the water with delighted smiles, splashing and floating around in little inflatable ducks, and laughing on the slide. Their bodies are full and robust, and I look at them, and I think this: inside those bodies are functioning organs, hearts, and livers and kidneys and intestines and they all work, they have given this child growth and life. I see the child's body as this magnificent masterpiece, swelling and fulfilling the mystery of life before my very eyes. There is something about witnessing this amazing growth in 11-month increments that makes it all the more marvellous, seeing how people begin as these tiny, pulsing, beloved accessories and in the course of a year become fully-present human beings. Then a year after that, they can speak, and communicate, and run fast across the dewey morning grass, with the sun shining on their full heads of hair, independent in this fairy-land of children.

My children somehow know this is home. They don't ask about the things they've left behind, their cat, or rabbit, or their beds and toys back in the valley. They relish what is here, loving the tall, elegant trees, soaking up the beach, running on their sturdy little legs to greet family members returning from the beach or a casual game of tennis. There are so many people here who love them, who are amazed like I am at how they have grown, at their curiousity and enthusiasm. It makes my eyes sparkle to know that other people see them as I do.

And I wonder, if this span also made the jump from Charlotte to Liam seem more remarkable than it even was: that one summer I was caved in, lifeless, devoid of anything worth living for, and the next I was glowing, arms full of fat, baby boy. Did my joy for him seem even more unparalleled when it was seen in direct contrast with the woman who had left 11 months earlier, sullen and grey, hopeless and limp?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It breaks my heart, yet I feel this pulse, this swell: what I have made, is functioning.

After Charlotte was born, I went to a support group, half an hour from my home, and it met on the second Wednesday of each month, for two hours. So each month I would go, and then I would count off the days until the next one: 31, 30, 29.... In between meetings, when I had those horrible days, those days where the carpet was soaked with my tears, as I lay there prone on the nursery floor, there was nobody.

Four years later, I had started my own group- in my own community, with the help of my own hospital. Right from the start, people started to come. We worked with people often from the day they had their loss-- sometimes getting calls from the delivery room even before birth. This was a great mission for me: not only to provide a group, but to provide a resource. A place where people could truly turn when they needed it. So that when they felt like all was lost, I could help them to see that it might not be.

Tonight, as I logged into my e-mail for the first time since arriving in Shangri-la, I got the note: please help me. One of my friends, my regulars, a few months out, who just feels so much like she is slipping down a backwards slope, watching everyone and everything else in her life moving upwards ahead of her. Please help, she said, and I could.

I had so much to say to her, and maybe you do, too. For me, the summer was the worst. Everything that had to do with Charlotte was done. The results were in, the doctors appointments had been had. I was no longer post-partum, no longer lactating, I was getting ready to return to work, the sympathy cards stopped coming. I had finished planning memorials, sent all the thank you notes. There was this feeling of finality: a book had been written about my daughter Charlotte, and there was nothing left to write. A life lay ahead of me, empty seeming, and I didn't want to go there, but I couldn't go back.

So I cried, and cried, and cried. I didn't know what to do, and I really did wish I could just escape somehow. Go to sleep and not wake up. Skip the next 7 years. It seemed impossible to negotiate. But I did. And here I am, now.

So, though my heart breaks for this woman, and though there is functionally nothing I can do to soothe her pain, I rest comforted that, unlike me, she had somewhere to turn.

Is there anyone else who had these experiences several months out? This feeling of a backwards slide, with no end in sight? I wonder....

Monday, August 4, 2008


Today is my birthday.
Thirty two years ago today, my mother birthed her first child: a daughter.
In the delivery room, a nearly- seven pound baby girl emerged.
It's a girl, the doctor cried.
And so did I.
I am so jealous of my mother, I envy her, for having me. This is a strange feeling.

When Charlotte died, she laid her head down on the bed beside me and cried.
I wish it could be me, she cried, I wish I could take this away from you. It's not fair. I got to have you and you need your little girl, too.

And I do.

Five years ago today we had her cottage memorial. About thirty people came. We showed pictures, read words to them, to try to make her real. Today I wore my shirt proudly : Charlotte's mama, in case anyone forgot.

It is hard to imagine anyone would, but sometimes people forget the things they don't want to remember.

From Friday...

All day, as I walk around this place which is my ancestral home I think this: I want to post 10,000 pictures to try to capture this to them, so they can see the beauty of where I am. As I do not have a computer with the right software to do so, however, I will humbly try to capture it with words.

It is afternoon, late. Nearing five o’clock, and the sun is high and bright in the sky. We are westward enough that the sunset is late here, nearly nine o’clock. The afternoon almost feels new. I am sitting on the sand, the soft, sandy hill that slopes down to the lake’s edge. We call this place the baby beach; the eight cottages that were first built one hundred years ago by my ancestors are built in a horseshoe around this beach, and in lieu of private waterfront we share the “common”—a huge, grassy field, and this beach. The dock is large, and shaped like an L, and the beach is wide, deep, and sloped. The water is very shallow around our dock. Because we have owned the land since 1889, we have the rare, grandfathered-in privilege of actually owning water, so we have ½ mile long buoy line that extends around the point, protecting us from fishermen and party boats, the speedy and the noisy. We are safe.

I am sitting by my children, and there is laughter and concentration. We are building a series of ponds, connected with canals. Children are hard at work mixing “cement” to line the canals, digging out new pools, and ferrying up buckets of water to fill the ponds. There are my two children, and my cousin Caley’s daughter, and my cousin Briare’s two boys, and my cousin Deb’s three children, and my cousin Julie’s daughter, and they are all in the sand together, working busily. Their ages span over less than three years. All the children are fourth cousins with one another. They share a common great, great, great grandfather. I cannot get over how amazing this is. Who else in North America knows of, let alone plays with, an entire slew of fourth cousins? And how fortunate for my children, who have no first cousins of their own, to have this crowd of distant relations to call family. I am grateful.

And also, everly aware, that the eldest of this crew is missing. I am always aware of how happy I seem, and wonder if people remember this missing piece of me. I have made it a point to remember, this summer, that if people ask me if I am working, I will say YES. I may not work for money, but I work very hard for my group. I founded an organization that, without me, would not run. And so, yes, I do work. I am proud of my work, and by speaking of it, I not only remind them of Charlotte, but I also show them that I have chosen not to let go of her, and that my grief and remembrance is making a difference in the lives of others. This is of great value.