Thursday, January 31, 2008

I believe...

Sometimes it feels like my world is so small. I like it this way, but sometimes I wish it were bigger. I don't feel like the type of person who needs to make a big, huge mark, but to be able to define oneself as a part of a larger whole would sometimes feel really good. Sometimes I feel a little isolated. I wish I had a cause, I mean a really big one. I think about my friend's husband, who is in the military. I really admire him, and truly respect him, and I am awe-struck and a little envious, almost, that he has something that he believes in so truly. Being in the military is his job, and it is his life, and he will, and has run the risk of, lay down his life for his cause. This blows my mind. What it must feel like to believe in something so wholly, and to be brave enough to risk life and limb for it. I don't have anything like that in my life. I wish I could feel that kind of devotion to something larger. I guess this is the same thing that has sometimes made me want to be part of a church. To have something that I really, truly believe in. The problem with all of this stuff is that you have to have something that you really, truly believe in, and that you agree with, and that you can devote yourself to without reserve. I don't have this kind of relationship with anything except my family. So I guess this is where I sit, in my little corner of Western Massachusetts. I guess this is my world. I think I will have to stay here. While I would like to be part of something bigger, I respect that you have to be somewhere in your mind to be part of that. You can't just decide to be there and do it well. I think that's the thing about, say a really devout religious person, or my friend's husband in the military. It's not like he just joined up. I mean he is there. It's what he truly believes in, and he wouldn't let anything stand in his way. This is real. It never flickers in my mind that sometimes what he believes is different from what I believe, because I respect him so much for just being so devoted to what he believes in. Just like I respect people who are really devoted to their religions, even though I don't share their beliefs. It is an admirable quality to be devoted to something. Just like I can admire a vegan but never want to be one.
And so what do I really believe in? I don't know. I really don't know sometimes. I guess I believe in people, and in friendships, and in the goodness of people. I think I believe in kindness and good will. I believe that I am extrordinarily fortunate to inhabit this little corner of the world. I know I believe that I have an amazing family, both of origin and the one I live with now, and fabulous in-laws to boot. I believe all of this. And I do also believe that somehow my sadness has made me a happier person. I believe that I must help other people who have lost babies, and I know that I feel driven to do so. I believe that I have to be watchful of the environment around me and that I should not waste. I believe that people in this country and society overconsume and I believe that I am also guilty of this a million times over, but I also believe that this overconsumption compared to world standards has made me happy and fortunate and lucky in a thousand ways. Not that I don't try to be reasonable. I believe that my children are going to grow up to be good citizens and to do good things and I hope I can help them to do this. I know there are a lot of things I believe in. I think maybe my desire for a larger thing to feel committed to is simply the result of the disintigration of society, in the way that I don't feel all that connected to society as a whole. I think maybe I would have been better off in a tribal village somewhere with all my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. But I'm here, kind of alone, happily forming and maintaining my own community, and here I will stay. Where else could I decide to go?

Watch it

www.sonnyradio.com/lastlecture.html
It will make you weep, and think.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Blessing of the Hot Fudge

As I have mentioned I am besottedly grateful for a lot of things, first and foremost my children. But also for everything around me in my life. Oh my! I have a house, a really nice house, by world standards, and we have separate bedrooms, and a lovely kitchen, and the pantry is full of food. My children are never hungry. We have soft beds. This is all amazing. So what if I can't afford to buy new shoes that I really like and think are cool? I have so very much. We all have to remind ourselves of this often. We are so fortunate in so many ways. Our one teacher's salary brings us more comfort than many other people could ever dream of.
For example? Bubbling on the stove, the family favorite, passed down from my chocoholic mother, hot fudge sauce.
I don't believe in depriving my children entirely of sugar, though I wouldn't let them eat it in peanut butter or juice. A good dose of sugar through the medium of a hot fudge sundae does EVERY body good, especially mine. So right now, the kids are drying off from their tub, after a cozy family dinner, and the hot fudge bubbles, and they'll come down in cozy sleeper jammies and we'll all have a hot fudge sundae.
That's privilege. That's comfort. We are blessed.

Here are my little sprouts at Charlotte's stone, a beautiful spot on the woods along the river. There is a public trail there where we walked a lot when I was pregnant, and so on Charlotte's two month birthday, we put a stone there that Greg had carved with the words, "We love you, Charlotte Amelia". It has been there ever since, and we bring flowers and plant things there and enjoy the river. These two photos were both taken in the springtime when the children were one. (they are each one in the pictures, which were obviously taken two years apart from one another).
I am having this really successful effort at organization which began with my new year's resolution which was, in case you missed this, "I will not be so lazy". My efforts have been to complete tasks. If you are an active mother (this is to distinguish a mother with children living in her home from a mother who might not have her child living with her but is most definitely still a mother) then you know this much is true: you never, ever, ever finish a task. Not ever. You start one thing, you get sidetracked, you start another thing, etc. So I have been trying, in addition to not being so lazy, to finish tasks when I start them. I am also being more planful about what tasks I want to accomplish. I have come up with a GENIUS solution to my problem of being disorganized.
I got a planbook! A daily book where you write down what you are supposed to do? It took me four years of motherhood to figure out that I actually need this MORE than I did when I was teaching kindergarten. Just like I had to write down what reading lesson I was going to do, and what time snack was at, and what day we had music, I still need this, and more! Because I have found that if I have a list, I do what's on it. I spend less time wandering around the house relocating things that have been moved and more time on things that give me a sense of satisfaction.
Now what, you may ask, particularly those whose only children reside in the stars with my firstborn, could be more satisfying than drinking in the beauty of motherhood 24 hours a day? Not much, really. But it is surprising, even from my vantage point of having lost, how quickly I realized that I have been conditioned to real, measurable feedback for my accomplishments. I became used to feedback from my boss, from parents, from watching a child learn to read, to see the to-do list in my classroom all ticked off. There was a strange point where I felt unsatisfied with my stay at home life because there is nothing to measure. You nurture your children, you play with them, you keep them clean, you feed them, you help them sleep, you sweep the floor, you do the dishes, you do the laundry. Really the housework is all about supporting the kids, making them a nice, clean place to play, making their food, cleaning up their dishes, washing their cute little clothes and diapers (I still love folding cute little laundry, because I am so damn happy to have somebody to wear it). But every task that you do isn't really an accomplishment, because it gets almost immediately undone. We've discussed this before. You sweep, they smoosh crackers. You wash dishes, you eat lunch. You do laundry, they spill milk. This is how the wheel turns, and it's a-okay, but you can't ever really feel that sense of wow, job completed, on to the next task. It's just circular. And with the kids, the center of the wheel, you love them, you adore them, but there are days when they are cranky and whiny and there isn't much feedback from them, either. Kids rarely say, "Wow, you are a great mom." And the other thing? How many times have you heard someone say, "What a great dad." People are ALWAYS complementing men (especially my beloved) on being great dads. But I hope I don't sound whiny when I say that it is very rare for people to comment on how wonderful a mom is. And I don't just mean this in the form that people don't directly compliment me, which of course I don't expect, but I mean to say that even women hanging around together don't tend to do this. They say their friend's husband is great because he's tender and plays great with the kids and can cook but they don't mention how great the friend, who does the exact same things, is as well. I think perhaps this is because women are just expected to do the things they do and men who perform equally as well seem to look superhuman because we still haven't raised the bar from when men used to come home and have a gin and read the paper while the wife did it all.
Which is all to say that my planbook and my list, and my goals of being more organized and completing tasks have been enormously fruitful, and when I'm not blithering away my naptimes writing on this blog I get a lot accomplished and feel like I am more present for my babies when they wake up and want me to play play play. Which I do, happily, and without distraction.

Monday, January 28, 2008

G.W.

I drove home through the icy, dark night from my chorus tonight. The sky was silver above the dark evergreens and the snow pale and cold. Up the long, hemlock-framed driveway, the car stops, door slams. Into the house. An egg sandwich and bowl of cereal later (my breakfast before bed, which differs from the breakfast after bed that will happen in 7 hours or so), I am watching him on television.
Why I do this to myself I am not sure.
Suffice it to say I always have a lot of commentary to bequeath upon our president when I watch him, but on this blog I will limit my commentary to two statements.
1. Nu-clee-ar. Not nu-kyuh-lur.
2. 359 days left.
That's all about that.
I do feel overwhelmingly grateful that I am privileged enough to live a life where I can be entirely insulated from and isolated from my government. When Charlotte died, I simply could not take other people's business anymore. It was all too much. We had no television, we had no newspaper, I turned off the radio, and suddenly it was quiet. I was surrounded by tall trees, rain, sun, air, my neighbors, and the friends that drove up the driveway. The days and weeks slipped by, and the weeks turned into months and even a year and I still rarely turned on the radio, because now when somebody is killed in action I don't see the carnage on the battlefield, I see his mother at home, head in her hands on the chair, a pool beneath where her head rests in her hands. I see the images that flash through her minds of a towheaded toddler, a gawky teen, of a boy who just wanted to be brave and felt proud and wanted to be noble and strong and good. And he was. He probably was. He did his job, and he probably did it well, and he followed directions and he did what he was told and he fought for what he was being told to fight for, and he probably fought really well. But see, I don't think that the person who started the fight was right to start it, so I weep for that boy, and his mother, and I am proud of him and for the sacrifice he made but I don't think he should have had to make it in the first place. Does this make sense? I don't see politics, I see people, and I disagree with the politics, which makes seeing the people even harder.
So I don't really tune in to what's going on, really at all. Sometimes this feels wrong, but mostly it feels right. I am happy in my world here. I don't feel it does me a whole lot of service to know all about what is going on elsewhere every single day. Greg listens to the radio on his long drive home and fills me in if something very important has happened. I do occasionally watch things on the television that come in on one of our 3 channels if I feel I might be educated in a general way or if I just kind of have to see it in a voyeuristic kind of sneaky way, like tonight. But mostly I just live here, in my little, liberal corner of the world. I always love this quote to explain politics where I live, and it comes from my kindergarten classroom I guess it must have been 6 years ago? We were getting a new governor. It was election day.
Me: So, today there is an election for a new governor. Does anyone know who's running for governor?
All the kids jump up and down, raising hands and popping off their benches to try to be called on first. The child called upon shouts out the name of the democratic candidate, and a chorus of others join him.
Me: And who is xxx running against?
A few blank stares, and a hand goes up. The lip kind of curls, and the voice is a little harsh: "A republican." It is said like you might say the name of the bad guy in the movie. Nobody knows his name. And I have literally, and seriously, and I am not kidding, I have never met a republican as long as I have lived here. This is not to say anything negative about republicans, because I know and love and adore quite a few well-meaning republicans, but it just explains some of the politics that do surround me in my greater community.
And this works for me.
So that's all for now. This is probably the most you will EVER hear out of me about politics, and it is all over, and now I'll get back to being a mommy.
We used to say to Liam, when he was one, "Who is George W. Bush?"
And he would answer, totally seriously, "A monkey."
Good night.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why I nurse my toddler
















Aoife, sweetly nursing, pops off.

"Whass your name, Mimi?"


"My name is Mimi. What is your name?"


The look of careful thought. The smile.


"Tuna."

Hilarious laughter.

She latches back on.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A day in the life...

I'm having one of those days where I feel like I should take my "I lost a baby" badge off and lay it on the ground. I'm just housebound and kind of cranky and really feeling like I yearn for something more. But I know, that in reality, I have all I need... but still I feel stuck.



Let me preface this by saying I am on day 7 now of sick children quarantine. I am normally a pretty busy person, and since I am a stay at home mom, this means that my children are also normally pretty busy. And so the 3 of us have been home, together, for seven straight days.



I would also like to bring to the forefront the idea that, when you are a housewife (I use that term deliberately here because right now I feel like a housewife), what you do is you do things all day long and people follow you around and undo what you've done. You sweep a floor, and somebody grinds a cracker into it. You wash a diaper, someone poops into it. You put toys away, and they sneak in behind you and pull them off the shelf. But on good days, this is fine: in fact, this is the whole point. You create order, they create disorder, and this is how you exist together, each with her own purpose, and you are very happy.



And then you mix this with 7 straight days indoors, and sometimes it seems less than quaint.



I think the best way for me to explain the feeling I am having right now would not actually be to explain about how I was walking down the driveway to get the mail and had the urge to just start running as fast as I could away from my home, or to tell you about how I was absolutely fantasizing about vaccuuming the house because it would just be so satisfying, but actually it would be to just describe lunch and naptime. Lunch and naptime would sum up the kind of seemingly fruitless morning I had been having.


I wanted to make a nice lunch today, Aoife is sick. I want her to really like her lunch so she will eat it. So I get the nice, lovely box of Annie's organic orange mac and cheese, and I lovingly cook it for her. I mix up some chick peas, pour some soft, sweet applesauce into sweet little ramekins. I arrange this artfully on a plate, with little piles of this and that, and present it on her favorite blue plate. Liam and Phoebe (Liam's age mate who we care for 2 days a week, we have since they were 4 months old) dig in, happily scarfing down this lovely, child friendly presentation.



The phone rings, and I am in the kitchen for maybe 2 minutes. Maybe 3. I return to the dining room. Here is Aoife's plate.


She has ever, ever so carefully, ever so artfully, distributed the nice, sweet, organically expensive applesauce atop her nice little piles of equally expensive noodles and cheap chick peas.
Now I hate to waste food and avoid doing so at all costs (I almost always eat their leftovers as my lunch) but this? What might one do with this?


Now, I admit, I didn't get angry, really. It was amusing. I chuckled because it was the perfect example of what it's like to be a mom today.


Then, we headed up to nap. I don't want to dwell on the nap subject, because I already have, but here I might just mention it a teeny-tiny bit, because it really almost put me over the edge. I brought Aoife up and nursed her for, maybe 15 minutes. I really wanted her to drop off so I violated my own 10 minute rule. But she wouldn't stop talking to me. Absolutely non stop. One sip, 34 words. One more sip, 33 words. Aoife talks pretty complete English, but like a foreigner. Actually, to tell you the truth, she sounds really a lot like Borat. It is hilarious how similar their syntax is, although not so much the vocab. So she's very amusing. But Liam and Phoebe are patiently amusing themselves downstairs, waiting for their books, and so after 15 minutes I give up. I go down, read to the 3's, tuck them in for their naps. Liam, who has been grumpy all day, falls straight to sleep. Did I mention our upstairs doesn't have proper doors? So basically the kids share a room, because there are just these little shutter folding doors at the low-ceilinged, gabled end of our upstairs. So there's Liam, asleep, sleeping off his grumpies thank god, and Aoife chattering non-stop.
So I head in for another 14 minutes of nursing. This session ends with me saying, almost shouting except that I am talking quietly, "You are here to nurse. If you want to talk, you can talk to yourself in your bed." Then I put her in her bed and stomp out. Wait 2 minutes until she starts to wail, which causes me to fear that she will wake up and re-grump Liam, so I dash in and try some more. And fail.


So I go downstairs, clean up some of the aftermath of the morning (which included making a papier mache balloon pinata and oatmeal raisin cookies, so I am trying to be a good mom) and leave her for another 28 minutes of talking. Then I decide she absolutely has to nap, she is feeling so sick, so I go up and rock and nurse her about another 19 minutes until she is asleep.


Do they ever say a mother's work is never done?
I go back downstairs, and start to clean the kitchen, and then, about 22 minutes after she has fallen asleep, I hear a piercing yell, "CAROL!!" Phoebe has pooped, and needs a wipe. Aoife immediately wakes up and starts to cry.


I wipe Phoebe, send her back to bed, and rock for another 12 minutes.


She sleeps for 30 minutes.


And just FYI-- the total elapsed time here is about 2.5 hours, and all minutes are approximate.


So everyone wakes up, gets up. I'm cool. It's now 3:30. Only 2 hours till dinner. I am firm on the fact that I won't get cranky, even though I still kind of want to walk out the door and just walk in a straight line for about an hour or so. So here's what we do to keep busy:

I put a bunch of toys into a cardboard box. I give the kids spoons and chopsticks. They go to town, trying to tear into the box. I am the postman, I've delivered a package. They stab and rip and stab and rip and delightedly take out the toys.
Then we move the boxes into the playroom and make an airplane. There is an old phone on the wall which becomes com center. We are flying somewhere, it doesn't matter where.
The rest of the afternoon is fun.

Now it's time to go out. This blog post was written from about 2 until 6 pm. I feel much better having unloaded the undoing of my day here.
All in all, it was a great day. I love my kids. The nap is over. The mac and cheese is in the trash. I am happy. Maybe tonight I won't get out of bed 9 times like I did last night. Maybe I don't have to turn in my badge after all.
There's always hope.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Baby Sophie

There is a little girl out there in the world, and you cannot see her, but today is her birthday. Her name is Sophie. Sophie is one.
A year ago today Sophie's mom saw her winking on an ultrasound. The tech told her she had another daughter, her third. Then the doctor told her they probably would not be able to save her baby. Sophie's mom's body was going into shut-down mode, her systems were closing, she was dying, because of a twin of Sophie's that was a molar pregnancy.
And so Sophie winked, and the wand came off of Mom's belly, and that was the end of their life together. Mom had a seizure, her placenta ruptured, and Sophie died. Just like that.
All her Mom dreamed of was having her three little girls at home, having her children close in age so they could play, and love, and enjoy life together. Now one year later, she has nothing, not even a photo or a memory of her little girl.
But there isn't really nothing left of Sophie, is there, because she is here today, here in these words, and in my heart, and in many people's hearts. I am thinking of her, and loving her, and crying for her that she never got a chance to make her mark in this world. My heart aches for her family, and her friends, but mostly my heart aches for Sophie, that she never knew the love her family had for her, that she never felt their loving hands, and that she will never grow up to be a part of their home.
Sophie is real, and the changes she will bring about in this world will be visible. Just wait and you will see.
Happy Birthday, Sophie. There are so many people who wish you could blow out your candles.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Some Color for Today


This was made from wrapping paper from Liam's new baby gifts, things from my blessing way, photographs that we had, wood from Greg's shop, and a few little things Sabrina picked up when she went on a trip to the dump with Greg (our dump has the worlds best take it or leave it shop)

Seriously, how much would you pay for this? (I mean if it were about your own child)

It is priceless.

How talented our "Auntie Brina" is, and how her love for our family shines through her work. Thanks, sweets. You can see more of her genius at:
I really am lucky in so many ways, ironically. After thinking about Gina last night I began thinking about all the wonderful people in my life and how much they all fit into the puzzle of who I am. Each person who completes us has their own way of being with us, their own interaction, their own special place in our lives.
I have this other friend, Kathleen, and I have known her since we were five and six. We met on the first day of first grade, and we have been best friends ever since. She is my history. She knows absolutely everything about me. We still talk at least every week. Do you know what she did when Charlotte died, and she was living in Savannah? She called me every, single day for about three months. She was also pregnant at the time, so I have to give her extra kudos because talking to me must have scared the shit out of her. But she did. She called, and she had the absolute best line. I'd pick up the phone and she'd say, "Hi. What's today like?" Not how are you, which is a question I cannot honestly answer, or what's up, or any of those regular conversation starters. Just, what's today like. And then she would listen, for hours on end, and for months, and months, and months, I never asked her about what was happening in her life, I never asked for cute stories about her daughter, and when her next baby was born (a girl, predestined to be Charlotte's best friend) I could hardly speak to her for my fear of hearing the baby cry, but she was patient with me and respected the distance. This was a beautiful thing.
She lives in Alabama, is a military wife, our political views are polar opposites, and none of that matters. I know she will always, always be my friend. We are planning to go away on a spa weekend this spring, it will be a year late to celebrate our 30th birthdays, but only six months late to celebrate our 25th anniversary of being friends. Hurrah!
At our house today Aoife is seeming a little croupy. She had a fever last night and finished of the night curled into bed with me. Not much coughing but she seems to have lost her voice which I now recognize as a precursor of what's to come. Looks like another week in the house ahead of us. That is fine. I can think of far worse things than being housebound with two beautiful children.
Like being housebound with nobody. Because that really, really sucked. No matter how long I live I will never forget the light in the house, this flat, gray light, as the rain poured down outside and we just sat. We just sat, and stared at the wall, and couldn't believe what was happening as the month of May slipped by. This time in our life where nothing was on our calendar but working our new baby into our life, and she wasn't there, and we didn't have our next move planned. So we sat, and the rain poured down and filled our house with dampness and gray light, and the lilacs drooped and rotted on their branches, and we sat in the house and cried and held our arms tight to our aching chests and felt like nothing would ever bring light to our home again.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My Gina

Once, a month or so back, I posted a piece of old writing on this blog, called The Angel. This piece starred, among others, Gina. Because I had written of her in an intimate, close way, and shared a story that was also hers, I had to tell Gina about this blog, give her the address. She started to read it, and she was the only friend of mine, just regular old friend, who knew about the blog. She still is.
Gina was my first friend here in the valley. We were in grad school together, we had moved here to go to the prestigious womens' collegel to get our masters' in teaching. We didn't know anyone. We started off in a cohort of six teaching fellows, all on equal ground, each paired with a master teacher, and taking classes each afternoon when school let out. Gina's master teacher gave her hell. She raised the bar super high, thinking nobody would actually try to reach it, but Gina did. It made her feel like a failure and she wanted to leave the program. She almost did.
At that time, it felt irrational to me, but I really didn't want Gina to leave. I didn't know her very well, but I felt like I needed her. I could feel that we had potential. I wanted to be her friend.
She stayed. She stayed for the year, and then she stayed for a few more, and then she bought a house, and moved her boyfriend here, and married him, and had a little girl 3 months after I had Aoife.
So now? Gina is like my sister. She is such a good friend that sometimes I feel like she is my wife or something, I know everything she is doing for each hour of the day and we talk several times a day and it's usually about nothing. We know the ins and outs and the ups and downs and it all comes out.
And here's where the blog comes in. Because it never all comes out. Not all of it. So suddenly, with one blog entry that probably pissed you off too, Gina felt like I was thinking things about her and not saying them to her face.
Diapers.
So of course I feel terrible, because even as I was writing the diaper-monologue I was thinking about how maybe Gina would read it and be offended, but offense wasn't necessarily what happened. What happened was that Gina thought, what else is she thinking and not telling me? And she felt like I thought she was yucky for using throw-away diapers and that maybe there were other things I was also thinking and not telling her.
Well, first of all, I tried to explain this but didn't very well, it's not that I think anyone is yucky or gross, I was just airing my thoughts on the matter. So I don't.
But there are things we don't say, and it's not that we're judging, it's just that I respect that everyone has their way of doing things and it isn't any of my business what they do in their house.
So Gina made, and told me, a good decision, probably one I would make myself: she isn't going to read this blog anymore. I actually do think this is smart. Who needs to know exactly what is going on in your best friend's mind when she's not talking to you? It must be eerie.
But here is what I want to say before she stops reading. Something else I might not ever say to her face, because I would start to cry, and so would she, and because friends are usually too much into what is happening to say these kinds of things, even though they should.
Gina was my best friend in Northampton for many years before I had my Charlotte, but after that, she became my lifeline. My lifeline. She was the only person I could call when I was really, really sad, the only person who I could just bawl uncontrollably with, the only person who I felt really, honestly felt the same pain I did. For whatever reason I never felt self conscious with her and, unlike with my family members, I never felt worried about making her sad. I could just be. Gina's support was unparalleled, and in many, many ways, she held our heads above water when nobody else could.
Gina continued to hold us through Liam's birth. She was the first one at the hospital to hold him, she knit him things, brought us food, and mothered him along with us. Even though I had officially moved into the category of active mother and she was still childless, our friendship was never affected. Not one little bit. She loved my son unconditionally, and actually loved the stories and cute things and showed off for me to his friends. Could anything make you love a friend more?
And now, blessed now, we have two little girls the same age, growing up together, coerced into being best friends like their mothers.
Sometimes I think I love Gina so much that I don't even realize how important she is to me. She is woven into the tapestry of my life in such a deep and comprehensive way that I don't even remember that she is someone that I have to stop to appreciate. Being friends with her takes no effort or work. She is easy, she is lovely, she laughs, she cries.
Gina and I are very similar. We are both super-sensitive, both eldest daughters, both slightly perfectionist and wanting to please and placate. This is why it is, perhaps, a good idea for Gina not to read this blog, because if I am speaking from the depths of my id, I might say something that might hurt her feelings or ruffle her feathers, and that's not right. I care too much about her to do that.
But the underlying truth, beyond all of that, besides anything I might say, is that I love Gina more than practically anyone, she is indescribably important to me and I need her in most every way, in every part of my life. She is one of few people that I literally do not know what I would do without.
So here's to you, Gina, to thank you for your beautiful friendship, to emphasize once again how you saved my life after Charlotte died, to thank you for loving my children, and to hope that the future of our friendship is as wonderful as it is right now.
You can stop reading the blog, if you want. I'll tell you if there's something great for you to check on. And you should know? There's not much in there to worry about. All I'm ever really thinking about you and not saying is how grateful I am to have you and how I don't know what I would do without you. I don't care which goddam diapers you use. I love you to the moon and back.
How many people are lucky enough to have a friend like Gina?

The Name


Isn't it odd, for those of you in my intimate, sad, club, how much punch the name holds?
You know, the name. That one you chose for that beautiful, unique, perfect child of yours. That child who ended up getting not much but a name. Is that what it is? Is it just that their name is almost all we have of who they would have been? We don't know if they would have preferred soccer or ballet, but we do know that we would have cheered, "Yeah, Charlotte!" We don't know what the art would have looked like, if her handwriting would have been messy or tidy, but it would have been there, scrawled in the bottom left corner, "Charlotte R." Is that why it's so hard to meet somebody with that name? Why my skin crawls with envy, with the longing to leap up and shout, "My daughter is Charlotte, too. " Why is that?

This musing comes out of Kate, who sometimes reads this blog, whose little lost baby is named Liam. Somehow this broke my heart more than usual, to think that she grieved her baby Liam, while I thrived on mine. That while my heart pumped through my veins because of my Liam, hers was broken because of hers. It humbled me, made me suddenly extra-grateful for my darling boy, to think that he walked around bearing the name that was music to Kate's ears, that made her want to leap up and claim immediate ownership, that made her weep and sing for joy all at the same time. My resolute protector, and hers as well, keeping her in such a lovely place, as all of our lost babies do. Thinking of Liam today, of yours, Kate, and mine.
Caption for picture: This is a little piece from a grand and beautiful piece of art that cousin Sabrina Ward Harrison made for little Liam. A quote from Charlotte's Web, which of course became Charlotte's book, is collaged into the beauty of it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What Beauty is to Me


This is what beauty is to me. These curled dark eyelashes that touch her eyebrows, the tiny vein at the corner of his eye. How deep set her eyes are, how wide set his are. They are different. They are the same. They are mine.
It is the way she looks at me when she nurses, and how he puts his hand on her face, how he loves her just like I do. I love these babies.





I am enjoying the view of the world today, for
the second day in a row, of the walls of my house. Liam has croup and so we're in for the day, again. I guess we don't really have four walls. If I count the actual walls of my little, additioned, gabled house, I guess there are actually 14 different walls. But outside of them looks pretty exciting to me right now.


Believe it or not this is only my second quarantine since Liam was born. He has never been sick before, except one stomach bug when he was almost 2. It lasted a day. He really hasn't even ever had a bad cold. This is the first time he's even ever coughed on a regular basis. In almost 4 years. I think this is a god somewhere saying, "Sorry about that first child. I'll make this one extra healthy to make up for it." Aoife, too, has lucked out. She has had a few runny noses and one pukey bug but that's it. I am hoping that excessive nursing will keep this one out of her system.





Anyhow, to entertain myself today, I took pictures of the children. Is there anything, I mean anything, more beautiful than your own children? Do you ever wonder what your children really look like? I mean what they look like to other people? I find myself looking at my two living ones and thinking, they could be the homeliest little creatures in the world and I would never suspect it. But I would be pretty surprised if they really were homely. Because look!

How could this be anything but beauty?

There's nothing wrong with a little quarantine every now and again.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Diapers

Aoife in her "ubernachten-poopenstopper" (overnight diaper) last winter.

I don't really get on my high horse about anything. The way I see it, everybody has their own way of doing things, and they can just do it the way they want to. I have always kind of bumbled my way through life and made decisions that seemed practical to me, and they've worked for me. I haven't ever really obsessed about much. I do things that to me, make sense. I think this is why most people do things.

There are things that I do that some people are really into, and to them it makes a statement. Like breast-feeding. I nurse my kids all the time, when they want, as long as they want, as much as they want. Aoife is almost two and probably won't wean for another year. This is fine with me. I don't feel the need to talk about it. I don't care if the next person weans at a year or at four years. I guess I do feel a little animosity towards people who either don't breastfeed by choice or wean super-early but this is just rooted in my own milk-anxieties which are born out of not being able to nurse Charlotte. My point is, I don't really have an opinion one way or another about other people in my same situation who choose to or not to breast feed. No matter when people choose to wean they usually have some rational argument that makes sense to them.

So here's the only place where I just don't get it. And here I will sound like I am up on my high horse, trying to make an environmental statement, but really, truly, I am just befuddled.

Disposable diapers.

I am just completely in awe of the amazingly effective marketing scam that has created cloth diapers as this messy, difficult, time consuming endeavor which is easily and inexpensively replaced with chemical-ridden disposable diapers.

The reason why I am so befuddled is this.

You put the diaper on. There are no longer pins or anything, so this is easy and quick. Maybe 3 more seconds than a disposable. The baby poops/pees. You take off the diaper (comparable time as disposables) and either throw it in the pail, or rinse it quickly in the toilet and throw it in the pail.
Every few days, you dump the pail in the washer. You pour soap in, press start. This is the same method you use for the other 8 loads of laundry you have done in the last 3 days. So what's one more?

The overall cost? So incredibly cheap compared to disposables. And your next kid? Absolutely, 100% free with no charge, recycled, reused, rewashed, loved diapers.

So this is completely, environmentally nonwithstanding, confusing to me, why so many people who are thinking about their checkbooks would think that cloth was just "too difficult". There is so, absolutely, nothing difficult. I will admit that sometimes, with a really messy poop away from home, I do long to chuck the diaper in the trash instead of doggy-bagging it back home. But really, it's not that bad.
And so then we could just peek at the environmental issue, which will of course make me look more like a militant environmentalist trying to push for less waste in the landfills. Diapers are the third? fourth? I am forgetting... right up there in the top 4 for solid waste in the NATION. This is gross and unecessary. Technically it is illegal to put solid waste in a landfill, but I have only ever met one paper diaper user (she had no washer and was 5 miles from the laundromat) who actually scraped her poop out of her disposables before throwing them out. So this is gross, and then what about all those little crystals that automatically inflate when your child pees to keep her nice and dry? What do they do when they decompose? Just wondering; seriously, I am not trying to make a statement, just thinking out loud.

And then there is that study that we've all heard about, the one where they say that the environmental impact of laundering diapers is equal to that of disposables. First of all, think of this. The factory that makes the diapers. The trucks that bring in the materials to make the diapers. The trucks that truck out the diapers to the stores. The actual diaper factory energy use. The diapers in the landfill. The bleach for the paper. Compare this to: my washing machine, doing maybe two loads a week.

Second of all? Pampers sponsored the study. The studies. All of them.

Truly, I made the decision to use cloth diapers because to me, it seemed illogical not to. I think I have paid maybe $300 total in diapers for a total of now almost 4 years of solid diapering, for one of those there were 2 children in diapers. So this made sense to me. And it's not hard.
So this place just seemed like the place for me to say what I would never, ever say.

Why do you use disposable diapers? I just don't get it.

Just to clarify....

Now I feel uncomfortable and awkward, because I didn't mean for my last post to make it sound like I didn't like talking about Charlotte. I do. I really, really do, and I never deny her. I never even think of denying her, because not denying her is how I keep her with me. I guess I just wish sometimes that I didn't have this underlying concern for the people I am talking to about her. I am always aware that I am going to make people feel sad for me. By nature I am a people-fixer so it always feels funny to make people feel sad. I want them to feel sad for me, but I feel sad about making them sad. Does that make sense? I am worried that I sounded like I wasn't into sharing Charlotte, that I was buying into the whole lets-be-afraid-of-death-and-avoid-the-subject issue. And I guess it is true that, almost 5 years out, there are days where my energy isn't really into advertising that I have a dead daughter. But I would never, ever deny her. Not ever.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I think the last two posts pretty much sum up my life in a nutshell. There is a lot of sadness in my heart, but it hurts a lot to be there. I am far enough away from losing Charlotte that on a daily basis, I almost have a choice about whether or not I want to think about those really, really sad parts. Most of the time, I choose not to. It's too sad. It makes me too sad. I think this is why I like having pictures of Charlotte up around my house, and lighting candles for her at every meal (sometimes the kids even request the candle at snacks, as I light it they chime in together, "We love you, Charlotte. We miss you. Honoring this phantom sister they never saw). It makes me feel like she's just a regular kid of mine, I can love her in a comfortable place, appreciate the cuteness of her little face and the love in Greg's eyes as he gazes down on her. I can look at photos of myself pregnant and think of the absolute joy she brought me. I think I have taken down or torn apart (literally, through house construction) every little detail that reminds me of the long months of sitting in silence in my home, arms heavy and empty, my calendar blank, wondering what on earth to do next. This period can happily not exist for me on most days.

I don't mean to say that I don't think I should remember this. It's just that having the choice not to, and then deciding instead to think about the happy parts, including the happy parts of Charlotte, keep me in a better place overall. Then, when it's quiet, I can choose to remember those sad moments, I can sift through the 300 sympathy cards and look at the photos of her empty nursery with all the things we brought home from the hospital and cry when it's convenient.

I was really aware of this happy/sad dichotomy because I sent a few people links to this blog yesterday who I actually know. I haven't really shared this blog many people who I actually know at all and so I felt a little sheepish and unsure about giving out the info. What would these normal, regular people think of me? I look so jolly picking up my son from nursery school and cheerfully running across the big grass at the cottage, chasing some tiny naked children, yet here is the inside part of me, splayed out.
Part of it is that as much as I want people to feel sorry for me, as much as I want to say, this is what happened to me, can you believe this, can you believe I did this, I am afraid to actually talk to them about it sometimes. Not it. I can talk about Charlotte, but when people tell me about how sad it makes them, then I start to realize how sad it is, and my day-to-day front starts to crumble. My strategy for survival is that I have braced myself to be able to say whatever I want to about Charlotte with a straight face. This way I get to keep her here with me. If I couldn't do that, if I cried every time, I couldn't be as open about her with the general public as I am. But sometimes I find myself in a situation where I have removed myself so much from my own reality out in my public face that someone else is crying for my daughter and I am not. I am matter-of-factly explaining about how I got to the hospital with my bags all packed expecting to bring my baby home and then the monitor never beeped, never picked anything up and a doctor kindly informed me with a very gentle face that my baby's heart wasn't actually beating anymore, and the person I am telling this to is tearing up and I'm just talking about it like it's the latest price of gas or the snowstorm about to arrive. Is that right? Is that wrong? Either way it feels awkward.
But this is my strategy, I suppose, and not a conscious one. And at the same time that someone else crying makes me feel a little funny, I am grateful for their tears, and a hundred times more grateful that they were brave enough to ask me in the first place. That they thought of something to say. Even I am dumbstruck sometimes around loss, me this person whose whole life revolves around my own loss. I still don't know what to say.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Too Much


There seems to be too

much sadness right now

so here is some joy

thank you Aoife

Is it brave?
Is it brave that I hung onto my husband and watched the nurse take her from me?
People tend to think of this as brave, as a sign of strength, but when I look back on it, it seems like weakness.

It seems like my animal core should have leapt from the bed, tearing at the white curtain, screaming in a low, howling tone, give me my baby back.

I can picture the scene, I am naked, my breasts heavy and swinging, belly that strange, 7-hours-after-birth pouch, blood streaming out of me onto the floor, probably falling in my emotional and physical weakness onto the floor, slipping, screaming, falling to my face and screaming in anguish.

Anguish.

This really could have happened. Should it have happened? How could I just let the other scene happen, where I just sit there, hiding my eyes, not wanting to believe the turn my life has taken?

Maybe it was strength. Maybe it was just not knowing what to do.

I still cannot believe I did it, one way or the other. Nobody should have to do this.

I thought, in the weeks afterwards, when my arms ached and my breasts were bursting and my house was filled with the heaviest, most deafening silence, of mother animals I had seen on television. The mother animals who clung to their dead infants. Stood by them. Refused to leave them. I could recall that once I had thought they were of too little brain to understand that their young were no longer living. I now know that I was of too little brain to understand what those mothers were feeling. I, too, wanted to hold my dead baby forever, perhaps had I not had the societal fear of death woven so deeply into my soul I would have tucked her under my coat and taken her from the hospital, taken her home where she belonged to be with me in her own house for a day or two before the inevitable came.

To sleep with her, to dress her in the clothes that were folded in her drawers, to share her with the family and friends that I was too numb-struck to share her with on the day of her birth.
So instead, I let her go.

The hardest thing I will ever do.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Last Moment

There are very few moments about my brief time with Charlotte that I try not to remember. Mostly, I am straining to remember every detail of the hours we spent with her. The ways I held her, the different angles of her face that I can remember when I held her, and when Greg held her. The feeling of her tiny little bottom in my bare hand, of her soft hair in the crook of my elbow. If I concentrate really hard, I can even smell her, for the briefest, tiniest second. The memory of her smell is so fleeting that by the time the olfactory recall has flashed through my mind I have forgotten it again, but it is there.
I work very hard to remember Charlotte, so that I can keep her with me. But then there are the moments that make my insides sieze up, the ones that I have to make sure I am in the right place, at the right time, to remember. One of those is saying goodbye to her.
I feel so deeply sorry for myself that I had to say goodbye to my firstborn daughter only 6 or 7 hours after I met her. I really do. It is the part of me that I want to just pull out sometimes when somebody else is having a "really bad" day. My trump card. The card I wish I didn't have anywhere in my hand. I can't believe I had to say goodbye to my child forever.
I will never know why or how Greg and I came to the decision to say goodbye to Charlotte. I think I was afraid that she would begin to seem dead to me. She came out so perfect, looking so real and just like a sleeping baby to me. We kept her skin-to-skin the whole time we had her, so she stayed warm against our bodies. It seemed surreal that her chest did not rise and fall, but it didn't. I imagined breathing life into her lungs. I wondered what would happen if I just tried this, for a moment. But it would not have done anything. When I think back to those last hours, when all our family members had come and gone and it was just us, our own holy trinity of me, and Greg, and Charlotte, I can remember this feeling creeping up on me: you are going to have to do it. You are going to have to give this baby up.
I think it was when this became real to me. I realized that this was reality, that my baby wasn't breathing, and her heart wasn't beating. As sweet and as lovely as it was to sit there and cradle her in our arms, we were not going to be able to stay that way, naked in a hospital bed together, forever. It became real that we were going to have to eventually move on to the next step, face life without her.
In a strange way we had had a glimpse of life without her before she was born: when I was expecting to give birth to something without life. But when she was born, she DID have life to us. She was this amazing, immaculate creature, so clean and fresh and new, made of our flesh. Her face was all her own, yet we could see ourselves in her. The beauty we saw was unprecedented. The love we felt was new and surreal. She was alive to us.
But then we knew what would have to come. A small, slight panic set in, and we suddenly felt like we either had to do it now, or it would be impossible. Impossible. Which it technically was. Imagine, for those of you who have not lost a child, if, at the tender age of 6 or 7 hours, the nurse had come and told you to kiss your baby goodbye, and then you would be free to go? Impossible. One would have had to drag you, kicking and screaming from that baby, which was what I was imagining. I said to Greg, "I think that when they take her from me, I am going to howl like an animal." I imagined this, but when it happened, there was nothing left with which to howl.
So we told the nurse we wanted 10 more minutes with her. I suppose this gave us a parameter for saying goodbye. We wrote a poem for her, describing her little body and our love for her. We kissed her all over, from head to toe, and tried to just breathe her in as much as we could.
There was a knock at the door. Trudy came in with two little blankets. I had wondered how they would bring Charlotte out of our room. On a guerney? I could see now that it was not to be that way. She was just a little baby. Trudy would carry her, swaddled in blankets, just like a regular baby. She laid down the blankets. Greg had practiced swaddling in our childbirth class, and so he did it, as his tears dripped onto the blankets. We kissed her, and held her one last time. Trudy started to walk out.
I could not stand it.
I could not stand it.
I cried, I need her back. I need to kiss her again. I felt weak at that moment, like I had just done the most difficult thing in my life and now I was going to have to do it again. But I took her, I took my daughter back and kissed her more, and more and more, and then as Trudy gently lifted her from my arms for the last time I turned into my Greg and laid in his arms, limp and defeated, unable to even breathe for the pain that burnt the very core of my soul.
I watched Trudy's back as she crossed the room, ducking behind the white curtain which went across the little hallway that led to the door.
And then, for a brief second, I saw her back again, through the crack between the curtain and the wall, and the door opened, and as she turned to close it, I could see my daughter's little, elfin face peeking out from her burrito of blankets, nestled in Trudy's arms.
The door closed.
The door clicked shut.
She was gone.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Just Life


This is home. Right in the front, you can see the little angel, buried in the snow next to the purple plum tree that will bloom for Charlotte's birthday next May. It is a beautiful garden. It is a beautiful house. It is so very much a home. It is perched up on a rocky ledge, with ancient stone walls terracing it up above the road. The driveway winds up around to the back, bringing visitors into our little enclave up off the road. Tall pines and hemlocks surround our backyard, and the woods behind lead down to a beautiful, mossy, rock-filled river, surrounded by very old, big hemlock trees. Across the road, filling our house with the constant noise of rushing water, flows another river. They join a few houses down the road. This is my home, where I live, where my heart is. I sometimes smile to myself to realize that this is where my children's childhood memories will be rooted.

We take turns sleeping "in" on the weekends, today was my day, and I slept until 8:30. This was after going to bed at about 11, sleeping in Liam's little twin loft bed with him from 12-2, and having Liam in bed with us from 4:00 onwards. Aoife awoke to nurse at 6, and then Liam woke up at 7, and then my sleep-in started. What's all this about sleeping through the night? I swear some nights I do actually get to sleep from 10-6. I do. Just not last night. But I did sleep in.

When I came down, there were waffles brewing in the oven, real, yeasted, Belgian waffles. The iron was hot, there was whipped cream and syrup on the table (real, of course, we live in a sugaring town) and berry compote. How I love my domesticated husband who cooks amazing food for us. We ate this feast with coffee and orange juice, and then settled into a lazy Sunday morning (as if it hadn't been already). Aoife and I read books in the big chair by the fireplace, then Greg broke out the guitar and we had a family singalong. This is a weekend standard. We sing loud, and some family favories are "The Good Old Hockey Game" by Stompin' Tom and the song about Charley who couldn't get off of the MTA and some Greg Brown favorites. The kids dance and sometimes we break out other instruments (kid instruments) and Greg sings the melody and I sing the harmony and we have a good old time.


The sun was shining, so we headed down the road. It's a beautiful road, slow and it winds along a river. When you come onto our road you pass 2 horse farms, then a dairy, and then some cornfields with hemlock forest going up the side of Turkey Hill on your right, until you come to the little bridge that goes over the river, and just after this you can see the confluence of the big river across the street from us and the little one that runs behind our house. Then there is this little gathering of tiny little old houses in the little valley, about 4, and our house is perched up on the hill. I love our little pink house. I don't think I'll ever move, and part of this is because Charlotte lived here (albeit in my belly) and I would feel like I was leaving her behind.


So anyway we walked up the road, with Aoife in the carriage and Liam on his trike (manhandled from the back by me with a pushbar so he can't steer into traffic). We visited the calves and then headed home, into the lunch and nap routine.


Then in the afternoon we move out of the home, with alternate trips to the Y to work out for me and Greg, and then a trip to town with good friends to eat at the "french fry" restaurant (this differentiates it from the Chinese restaurant or the pizza restaurant, some of our other favorites).


We came home to "crazy time" when the kids run around naked upstairs for a while, and then baths, cozy warm towels, and cozy warm beds. Aoife didn't want to nurse tonight. "Just books," she tells me, running to the end of the hall and shouting, "Greg!" Daddy is the book-man these days at bedtime.


I colored with Liam downstairs before taking him up and tucking him in. "Tell me what it's going to be like next morning," he asks, and I tell him about the Nor'easter that is headed our way, and how school is likely to be cancelled.


I came down to Greg on the phone. His school has already been cancelled for tomorrow. So our weekend will be long, and tomorrow might just be more of the same, minus the trips in the car and with a little snow-removal thrown into the package. So tomorrow our day will be home again, together, a happy, little family in their cute, little pink house, bought for the nursery that sits in the tiny gable over the two lit windows in the picture, a nursery that stood empty for a year and a half with crib made up with crisp sheets, little clothes in the drawers, and soft, cotton diapers folded gently in the changing table. Who would have ever known such laughter would follow such silence and deep sadness?

I feel so fortunate in so many ways.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Liam is born 4.13.04


As I have said before, Liam's birth was all tangled up in Charlotte's death. Technically they were probably too close together, but I didn't care. I still don't. It worked for us. We needed a beating heart in the bed beside us to keep us breathing and eating and he was it, swelling up my belly for nine months until the day arrived when he would enter the world.

In my fear saturated haze, I chose induction. This was offered to me right from the start. If, near the end, you cannot bear to be pregnant for one more day lest that baby die in the meantime, we can drug you up and get it out early. It sounded like heaven to me. Because Charlotte's death was a cord accident 8 days past term, there was no "point" at which I could relax. A freak accident had happened to me. It might happen again. Not only that, but I had also read each and every grief resource that I could get my hands on, so I was now aware of all the other ways that your baby can die. I had a lot to worry about.

The pregnancy was stressful. Sad. But I loved that baby in my belly. He (although he wasn't a he to me at the time, just a gender-neutral "Sweet Pea") kept me going, he gave me breath in the morning and made being with Charlotte, and being without her, more bearable. Many mothers in my position talk of their hesitancy or inability to bond with their new baby. Not me. That baby was it for me. Every day, I imagined his birth cry. I could not imagine anything further than that. I didn't imagine him wearing the clothes. I cringed when people said things like, "You'll have so much fun at the beach with him this summer." I only wished I could be so confident. But each day, I was so happy to have that baby with me.

When the 38 week mark came around, our midwives gave us their schedules at the birthing center and we picked a day. April 12th. It would be 38 weeks and 1 day. 3 weeks earlier than the day that Charlotte's cord ended her life. Maybe we could save this one.

We arrived and I felt saved. The monitor went around my big belly and I could hear the heartbeat. I was in the hospital, surrounded by all the things that maybe could have saved Charlotte if I had been in the right place at the right time, and the baby was still alive. They started the pitocin and we waited. When I arrived I was almost 4 cm. By 3 PM, I was 4 1/2. The midwife suggested stopping the pitocin and trying again the next day. She invited us for a slumber party on the monitor. We agreed. It was the best night of sleep of my whole pregnancy, just listening to that little heart go bleep, bleep, bleep all night long.

By 6 AM I was awake, and I was in labor. The nurses hadn't checked on me that night since I wasn't really a patient that night, just a tenant, and Greg was still sleeping. It was my little secret, and I could feel it was for real. Nice, strong, regular contractions. Trudy, our guardian angel nurse from when Charlotte was born, came in at around 7:30 and was so happy to see we were on our way. It was 11 months to the day after we had met her, after our Charlotte's birth. It was her 11 month birthday. And her brother would be born on this day, turning the 13th from a day of bad fortune to one of good.

My midwife was in a meeting. No problem, I said, I am happy with Trudy. I have done this before. And I love giving birth, I love to do it pretty much by myself, I don't have a hard time with it and it doesn't scare me. I feel so lucky with this, that for 3 births I have been able to just ride through contractions, and then laugh and be happy for the time inbetween. I like to sit on a big ball. That does it for me. Nice firm pressure between the legs, a little counterpressure on the back from the person behind me, a nice, long, dial-tone of a sound, and we ride it through.So I was fine with Judie finishing her meeting and coming when she was done.

When she arrived, she massaged my back for a few contractions and then said she really ought to check me. I had been in good labor for about 3 hours. She reached up there, and reached some more...

"You're fully dialated, but I can't find the head."
"It's in there."

To Trudy, "Will you go get Doctor S.?"

Trudy: "You think it's breech?"
"I don't know what it is"
So in comes the doctor, with the little portable ultrasound machine, the same one that told me my daughter was dead. Luckily I can still hear this baby's heart thundering like hoofbeats on my monitor, so my adreniline does not pump too fast.

Doctor S. puts the wand on, and says, "Oh, no, here's the head." He thinks he sees the outline of the head, but it's really just the outline of the amniotic sac, bulging into my pelvis. Then he reaches up. "But I can't feel anything."
He slides the wand upwards, over my ribs.
"There's the head," he says. He meets my eye. "This baby's coming out the other way."

Somehow, between last night and this morning, my baby had flipped, and risen completely out of my pelvis, leaving underneath him a neat sac of fluid and potentially a nice bit of umbilical cord. My water, thank god, was still intact.

I think from this time until he was born was maybe 6 minutes. In reality it was probably 9. I was 10 cm dialated and my amniotic sac was literally bursting from my body with my baby way up in my abdomen in a frank breech. Because of his placement and what they saw on the ultrasound they suspected that his cord was gathered beneath him. Sweet. Just what I was hoping for, another cord issue.

"But you're not allowed to worry," Judie tells me, as they are wheeling me into the OR. "You are not allowed to worry unless your water breaks. You are in no danger unless your water breaks. And your baby is going to be here very soon."
This is when I start to cry, because I realize that the scenario that I have played out a million times in my mind, the scenario in which they save Charlotte, is happening. And it is happening to my new baby, and they are going to get him out in time.

The anesthesiologist sticks me with a spinal because there is no time for an epidural. And there I am, and any of you who have undergone c-sections will recall this fondly, splayed out like Jesus Christ himself on the table, arms wide, draped, and about 1 minute after the injection is in my back the scalpel is out and they are cutting into me. It seems impossible that I could be numb but I can't feel anything, just pulling and tugging. Greg's eyes are glued to the top of the screen. Suddenly he grabs my hand, tight. "I can see the feet."

Then, "The baby is peeing"

And I hear it.

My baby cries. There is oxygen in his lungs. My baby is alive.

I go completely hysterical. I am hyperventilating, breathing so hard, crying harder, "He is alive, he's alive. My baby is alive, oh my god, he's alive." I have made it so far. I have made it this far. I have a new baby. Greg has told me this baby is a boy, so I know he is my little Liam, and he is alive. I can hear him, but I can't see him very well. Just little red feet.
Then, my midwife, "Bring this woman her baby," and the doctor complies, he brings to me this beautiful, gorgeous little boy, this tiny, male carbon-copy of my lost daughter, with wide-set eyes, a tiny nose, and a cheerio mouth. I cannot hold him, but I put his cheek to mine, breathe in his newborn smell. I can't turn my head. I can barely speak.

"I want to kiss him," I say, but they can't understand me. They lean over me, like I am the child, ask me to repeat myself. "I want to kiss him, " I sob, and they move him closer, and I kiss my little baby, my new little son, who I will bring home.

Greg goes with Liam while they suck out his lungs and Greg wipes him with a blanket and wraps him up like a little burrito. I am unaware of all that is going on below, and they bring my baby to me again, and lay him next to me on the table and I cry into his new skin and love him so much I feel like I am never going to be right in the head again.

It doesn't seem like long until we are back in our room where I was laboring, in fact, only half an hour has passed. Nobody in our life knows we have come to the hospital. We get to call them, it is 12 noon, and tell them their grandson, their nephew, the only living member of his generation, has been born, that he is alive, and that we are here.
They come in droves.

I have been saved.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Question

I have had the answer prepared to the question since Liam was about, oh, maybe 4 months gestation. I read it in a little, tattered green book that I had borrowed from my support group in Springfield. The book was called, "When a Baby Dies," and it was about 20 years old, published by the SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) group in England. I came across this little story about a family in England whose third child had died and the parents had let the elder children, who were I think 6 and 9 at the time, decide what to do with the baby's body. They told their children, you have two choices when a person dies. You can choose to return the body to the earth, and so we would put our baby in a little box and bury her beneath the ground so she could return to the earth. Or, we could choose to return her to the air, in which case we would put that box on a special fire which will turn her body to smoke and return her into the air. How simple and lovely they made it sound. This huge, huge decision which rocked my world to its core: what will you do with your baby?
This was, as an aside, the moment that I realized that my life was over. The social worker asked me this, told me this, you will have to decide if you want your baby to be cremated or buried. This was the moment where I slipped from my stunned numbness, leaned over my still-pregnant, laboring belly, and began to heave with the hugest, deepest sobs, because all I wanted to do was bring my baby home.
We did, however, choose to cremate Charlotte, and this decision was made based purely on the fact that we ourselves would choose cremation over burial, so it only made sense to choose this for our child (who thinks of such things?).
I have wondered when Liam would ask where Charlotte was. Where her body was. He knows her body isn't here anymore, but he sees her pictures all over her house so he knows that she once was. We have always told him that a person has two parts: the body, which makes you walk and run, etc. and the spirit, which does the thinking and the feeling. We told him that when a person dies, their body stops working but the part that does the thinking and the feeling goes to live in the stars. We don't really have a heaven concept, just the idea that the spirit is still lurking around somewhere, that sometimes she's here, and sometimes she's there, and we never quite know where she might be.
But he never asked the question.
Even though I had the answer prepared since before he was born, I still worried about the question. I think it's because I still feel uncomfortable, having given my firstborn daughter over to a crematorioum to be reduced to a tiny, white urn of ashes. It wasn't what I wanted to do. The idea still scares me and makes me feel that deep, bottomless feeling in my belly that this cannot be happening to me.
So the other night, we are lying in his bed together in the semi-dark, with the sloped ceiling cradling us in his warm, quilted bed. The lullaby CD is playing and we're just lying there, just quietly, because he wanted some company. He asks me then, "Why were Charlotte and Henry born on almost the same day?" Henry is Liam's best friend, and Charlotte's soulmate, they brewed together in the womb while me and Henry's mom took yoga and ate cinnamon buns and planned for our babies' lives together. They were born a day apart and a world apart, and never met, of course. But now Liam is Henry's best friend, and Beth and I smile to see them together, the link between the lost and the found. So I explain this to Liam, how Charlotte lived in my belly while Henry lived in Beth's. "So will Charlotte turn 5 when Henry turns 5?" he asks. Yes, I say. She will. "But does Charlotte keep having birthdays even though she doesn't grow?" he asks. I explain to him that a birthday also counts the number of years since a person was born, and so even though her body doesn't get bigger, this still happens.
"Do we still have Charlotte's bones?" he asks.
This is it. He loves dinosaurs, and he understands that when something is dead, sometimes you can still see the bones. So I tell him.
"No, we don't have Charlotte's bones. Are you wondering what happened to Charlotte's body after she died?"
He nods, and curls his body a little deeper into the comma of my belly.
"When a person dies," I explain, "You have the choice to return their body to the earth, by burying them, or to return them to the air. Daddy and I chose to have Charlotte returned to the air, and so some people helped us and put Charlotte's body on a special fire that turned her into smoke and returned her to the air. And because her body wasn't working anymore, it didn't hurt, and so she turned into smoke, and we have a little jar with the ashes that are left."
I take a deep breath, and wait for the reply.
"Can wood turn into smoke?"
"Yes, honey, it can."
"Can paper?"
"Yes."
And we list into silence again, the lullabies playing in the dark.
How simple it is to be three, when it seems okay that your sister turned into smoke just like the logs in your fireplace, and where any answer is a good as anything else, as long as your mom is really listening to you and answering the questions that you have. I hugged him tight to me, remembering that the things that seem most complicated to us adults sometimes don't seem so strange to the children around us. And my little boy fell asleep in my arms.

On Food

So today I am thinking about food.
I started my life off with little to no relationship with food. I didn't like anything, and this was not my mother's fault. She is an amazing cook with a passion for food that somehow, her three little girls just didn't come out sharing. In addition, we were all extremely skinny little girls, probably the result of our picky palates, to the point that our pediatrician, who is now the president of the AAP, told our mother: Feed them what they will eat. Don't worry about variety, as long as you can get them to eat something of value. So these are the things I remember eating: eggs, cheese, applesauce, lots of breads and muffins with grated up things in them (carrot, squash, zucchini etc) lots of bran stuff, oatmeal, and peanut butter sandwiches on brown bread. I think I seriously just summed up the first 8 or 9 years of my life in a nutshell. When my palate expanded, I never started eating meat so I still wasn't much of a social eater, because I still felt shy about what I would and would not eat.
How did this all change? I don't know. A semester abroad in New Zealand introduced me to eating meat, which really was a session in how not to eat meat: it was 23 ways to cook an old sheep. Very native and authentic, but very distasteful to the new meat eater. It did, however, make me less nervous to try this category of food and now (sorry to shock some of you out there) I quite enjoy the expansion of my palate to include other meats as well (although I will never eat a sheep again). Pregnancy actually was what did this, my craving for iron suddenly made me realize the potential for whole new centerpieces to my food experiences.
So now I am a foodie. I love to buy it, I love to cook it, and I love to serve it, and I LOVE to eat it. Thank goodness I have retained my good metabolism. I love food and I am happy to say my kids love food, too. They like pretty much everything. Fruits, veggies, spicy, sweet, you name it. But with my fabulous, food eating kids, and my own food-addiction, comes the trip to the grocery store and the ever-present connundrum of what to buy, how it's grown, and what it costs.
Argh.
So don't you sometimes wish you lived in the 30's or something? Or somewhere where we didn't have the time and money and privilege to worry so much about what we put into our bodies? I long for the simplicity of not reading any studies at all, for not really thinking or knowing about how something was grown and just feeling comforted by the mere fact that my children are being fed three times a day and are healthy and thriving. With every industry, every food product and everything we buy, we have to make these choices (if we can afford to) about what we are supporting (or not) by what we buy. I worry about what I'm growing my kids bodies with more than I worry about my own. Sometimes, for example, if the budget is tight I will buy them organic milk, but not for me. Things like that. But for some reason yesterday, after a long trip to the grocery store and a lot of thinking about what I was buying, and as I put it into my fridge, I decided this.
I can't afford to buy everything labled "organic" in the grocery store. Furthermore, when you read labels on food, you never know what exactly means anything. For example, sugar is labled fat free. Duh. This seems silly. But also, organic milk is labeled antibiotic free. But did you know what? I am from dairy country, and when you are shipping your milk, they test it, and if you have any antibiotics in the milk, they reject the whole shipment. Yes, yes, I know. Those farms are allowed to treat their animals with antibiotics, remove them from the milking herd, and then restore them as milkers when the antibiotic is out of their milk. But still! All milk is technically antibiotic free. So my point is not that you don't need to be buying organic milk (I do), but that reading labels doesn't necessarily get you a good comparison. So anyway this is how I try to look at buying food: its the same way I look at vaccinations, as a public health issue. When I can, I want to try to support a world that is healthier for everyone. So this means less pesticides, and better practices of farming in sustainable ways. If I worry about my children, I will feel worried, and obsess about every little thing which isn't healthy for my brain. So instead, I will transfer this to trying to buy milk from tiny little farms which practice good herd management, and graze their cows, and hopefully are also organic to boot. You get my drift? I am kind of leaning towards lifestyle, and not just obsessing about every chemical. If I were obsessing about every chemical I should definitely move far away from America where my poor kids are probably breathing in far worse things than I feed them. But again, I digress and worry worry worry where I could be having fun enjoying running in the "fresh" air.
I also feel like obsessing over food leads to limiting what kids can eat. I am very careful about what my kids eat at our table. I think about balancing vitamins and colors, about making sure they get lots of good healthy fat, and about making food exciting and appealing so that they will love to eat. If somebody offers them something elsewhere that doesn't appeal to our family's eating priorities? I don't care one bit. Let them eat it, whatever it is. Candy, pop tart, gold fish, etc. Bring it on. You know why? Food is social. Food makes kids part of a community. Sharing food is a universal thing. If there are things that kids aren't allowed to eat, and this is a really strict thing, I have seen lots of kids feel really upset by this. Mostly in this case I am thinking of the vegan children that I taught, who were not allowed to participate in shared snack, who were not allowed the cupcake at the birthday celebration, etc. While I have all respect for the ideals behind this practice, my sympathies were limited when I had this child weeping in my arms, just crying into my shoulder saying, "But my mom does let me eat goldfish crackers, I swear she does, just sometimes on special occasions". And I know that mom does not let her eat goldfish, but all the other kids are eating these little crackers with the 4 ingredients of flour, water, cheese, and paprika, and I wonder what is more harmful: 23 crackers, or the fact that this little girl is left out of all the community food activities she is exposed to. Now I don't have to think about this, really, because my kids are not vegan and not even vegetarian, but where it comes into play with me was my initial instinct to not let Liam eat anything with sugar, or partially hydrogenated fats when he was a smaller child. I used to read labels obsessively until I just thought, let it go. Read your own labels. Do whatever feels right and good and just to you behind your 4 walls. When out in the world, just let the child be part of that world and what comes with it.
So I let the kids be part of their world, and I buy as well as I can afford to, and what I think is reasonable. Often in the grocery store I just wish that we weren't living on one teacher's salary because I would shop differently if I had all the money in the world. But it's all a balance, isn't it. We have to provide a lot of things for our children and we just do the best we can. I am constantly reminding myself of how unbelieveably priviledged my children are, and I am, and I am so lucky to have the luxury of making any of these decisions at all.
I would also like to state, just for the record, that I do also eat ice cream almost every day. Yeah.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Life for real

So the reality is this: I go upstairs last night to get my soft, wet, delicious children out of the tub, and Aoife has puked just a little bit on the carpet. Greg kind of squeezed her a little when he was getting her out of the bath. Liam is rubbing a toothbrush around the inside of the sink basin which hasn't been cleaned in I-don't-know-how-long, there are bathmats and carpets and half-folded laundry all over the place all of which Greg is trying to save from the puke, and meanwhile Aoife is running like crazy around this messy scene saying, "I throw up a little. My tummy is sick. I think I need the dentist."
So the imagery I provided last evening in anticipation of our cozy, serene bedtime was a little off the mark. But we still had a cuddly old time.
Also I would like to say that I took a deep breath and decided this: for naptime, I will read Aoife two books, and then rock and nurse her for 10 minutes, and then she shall take a 2 hour nap. If she is still awake after half an hour, I shall go and check to see if she has a poop. If she does I shall change her and then nurse her for five more minutes to re-calm her and then she shall go into her bed for the remaining time allotted as nap-time. If she decides to just play with her beautiful sparkly princess doll this whole time, I will not have a tantrum in the kitchen, I will not sit there stomping my foot, dreading 4:30 PM, and trying to decide whether or not to run upstairs and nurse her into a coma. Aoife either will, or will not, take a nap, and my part will be limited to this. She is perfectly happy in her bed and that's fine. The first day she fell asleep after about one hour and 54 minutes of playing with her sparkly princess but the last 2 days she has gone pretty much right to sleep with just a little chat so things are going well. I promise here and now never to have a fit again. (Ha.)
The reality is that although I have such a drive to just coddle coddle coddle my children I have had so much objective experience with children through all of my child care and kindergarten/first grade teaching that I firmly believe that you can teach a child to do absolutely anything you want them to do and you can teach it to them gently and nicely. But you have to decide in advance what it is you want to teach them, and you have to really feel decided with yourself about why it is important for them to learn the skill. This way you will be consistent and you will have a goal in mind. Some of these things are easy and don't require any real thought, like eating with a spoon. We all have the goal of our child one day eating with a spoon by him or herself, and so we gently show them, and let them practice, and help them when they need help. Things like sleep, or going to nursery school for the first time, are the same types of goals and skills except you need to think more clearly through what your goals for your child are, what your reality is, and what you think you might accomplish along the way. So I am gently and nicely teaching Aoife that from 1-3 in my house, when you are not quite 2 years old you actually do have to take a nap, and we don't feel flexible about this. And I feel quite sure that she will learn this, because she is tired.
The sun shines brightly today, and the snow is dripping everywhere. The kind of day that makes you long to run outside but then when you get there, everything is very soggy and damp and cold. But we'll see what we can make of it... when naptime's over.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Love-crazed baby addiction

I just re-read the last posting I made and I am thinking about that little thing I wrote about the way I love Liam being too complicated to explain. And it really is. He's always going to be (is he always? or will this change?) the result of me having my two babies so close together.
I really want to write down Liam's birth story, but I know I am going to be called to pull two, sweet, wet children out of the tub in about 2-3 minutes, so I have to wait on that one for a day or two. But the gist of the circumstances of his birth are as follows.
When your baby dies, and I think especially when she's your first and you are left with NOTHING, you have this pretty awful situation at hand. You just had a baby, you just had revealed to you the secret of life: this love that is huger than huge, this privilege of adoration and creation that you never anticipated, and then she is gone. Poof. Just as soon as you had gotten the chance to see her beautiful little body, her little fingers and toes and furry shoulders and soft, dark head, she is gone. You drive home, with your empty car seat and the bag all packed with the teeny-tiny clothes, and you wonder, what should I do with these teeny tiny clothes all packed in this little tiny suitcase for the baby that I just held yesterday, who just changed my life forever and who I won't ever see again?
You have a house full of baby stuff, yes, but mostly you have a heart full of baby stuff. You have this huge, open place that was going to be your mommy (or daddy) brain. You have this availability and this giving-ness and you want nothing to do with yourself anymore. You just want to give to your baby, and she is gone, and so what do you do?
We devoted every day to Charlotte, we kept all her things, preserved the nursery, all the clothes, etc. She still lived with us, just not really. But what we wanted was to be parents, real parents, not just lighting candles around the table and sifting through memory boxes and writing letters in a little journal. We didn't want to be just writing beautiful poetry and planting gardens and making beautiful art about her. We wanted somebody who was here, too. We needed to put our energy somewhere, because the Charlotte energy was finding its place in the things we did to keep her here, but the rest of the parenting energy could, in theory, be displaced and bestowed upon another child.
So birth control was out of the question, and it appears that I am quite fertile, so suddenly, quite suddenly, I was pregnant again. Still in the absolute pit of despair, pretty much not knowing what was up from down, and I was pregnant.
Now this was a good thing, really. To be given a shred of hope for a bright future at this juncture was really pretty unbelievable good luck. To think that maybe, just maybe I could feel that love again, was motivating for me to do the things that some people take for granted, like breathe frequently (seriously, if you are ever in a situation like this? there would be moments where I would realize I hadn't breathed in a while. I actually hurt so much I had to think about breathing), eat, drink water, exercise, etc. So I was pregnant, and this was good.
But I wasn't done grieving, and I wasn't done really with my "charlotte only" period that I needed, where I just clung to her with every ounce of my being, and refused to let her go, and figured out, day by day, how I was going to keep her with me.
So the pregnancy was a little weird, with a lot of denial, and a whole lot of fear, and not much trust in my body or even in my tiny, innocent boy who was growing beautifully in my well-seasoned womb.
And then he was born.
Oh, he was born, and that's the story I will tell tomorrow, or the next day. But my world did explode, oh how it did. What a beautiful thing. What a complicated thing. And the love that I have? Huger than life. And the same thing when Aoife was born. I honestly think, and this is so ridiculous that I can't believe I am writing it because it obviously isn't true, but I honestly think I love my kids more than other people do.
To thinkI would write this! But really what I mean is, I love my kids so much, so intensely much, and I am so grateful for them that my image that flies past the blackness of my eyelids when I think too hard about this love is of me lying, face-down, on the ground reaching up for them. I want them so intensely interwoven with me, I feel absolutely addicted to them and entranced by them and I just can't imagine that everyone else in the world feels this way because I am almost CRAZY with the love and addiction for them. I feel that if we all felt this way the world would be full of crazy people. But I know that this is not true, and that perhaps everyone's love is just this strong, but in my mind I secretly like to tell myself that my love is a teeny-bit stronger, just because I feel I am owed that due to the hellish beginning to my life as a mama. (this feeling of being owed things would be a good topic for another day)
So, no offense to anyone, I am sure you all are also completely, gut-wrenchingly, insanely addicted to your children as well, but do you know what I mean? Is it not hard to fathom that other people are also so crazily addicted to their children and are functioning, as are you, relatively normally?
So the wet children beckon, and now I must go and fulfill my addiction by kissing delicious, wet tummies, by rubbing a soft cotton towel through wet, sweet smelling hair, and by kissing soft, tooth-brushed lips and cuddling under the covers. Oh, how divine....

Monday, January 7, 2008

Little Liam

I realize that my little Liam has not entered into play a lot lately. Maybe this is because he is just such a great pal to me right now and he's kind of uncomplicated. Here are some amazing things about my little Liam.
1. He is learning to read, in earnest. He recognizes words all over the place and helps me read books with him. Schwing! Holy kindergarten-teacher's dream come true! Yay, Liam!
2. He is so cozy. His hair is so silky and soft and his little body is just the warmest, snuggliest thing. He loves to just lie in bed and snuggle.
3. He loves to sing and is very good at it. Yeah, we've mentioned this before.
4. He is nice to his sister. This can be a rare trait in a 3 year old.
5. He also saved my life. An unusual trait as well. Yeah, I think I would have definitely sunk into a pit of despair if he hadn't come out with a bellow. My little Liam.

I always try to think about how I would describe how much I love Liam, and what his life means to me, but I can't. It's just too complicated.

So that's all. Greg and I are cooking a gourmet, grownups feast tonight with lots of wine.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Broadband coming soon

Just a little FYI.
The dial up that I know and love so fondly is to be short lived after all. We decided to ditch our cell phone and trade it for the internet. Next week I will have all new pictures, lovely exciting features, etc. on this page, because I will no longer have to wait approximately 92 minutes for each picture to upload, then 43 more for it to not properly load onto the page, and 132 minutes to try the whole thing all over again.
Now I will have time for more important things, like reading people's blogs.