Sunday, March 30, 2008
It still strikes me as so bizarre that I choose to publish what once would have been my journal, and so greatly appreciate and love whatever bits of feedback my readers are willing to give me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
My sister posed an interesting question yesterday at lunch, the first meal together of our sisters weekend. She said, "I'm wondering if, and how, your spiritual and/or religious views were changed by Charlotte's death". It was a question that she posed to all three of us, sitting together around the sunny table in a Newport restaurant bay window. The walls were cheery yellow, and tall glasses of ice water stood before us on the table. We were waiting for our food.
The three of us had an attempted religious upbringing. Slightly. Our parents, who were both raised Episcopal by parents who probably did not believe in much but socially were obliged to go to church, were thoughtful in deciding it would be better to give their children a foundation in something, than in nothing. Although they did not really have much religious belief themselves, they dutifully took us, I'm guessing maybe every other Sunday, to the Episcopal church in our town where we attended Sunday school and were all three confirmed.
After confirmation the family trips to church dwindled, and by the time we were all in college church was limited to just Easter and finally to not really ever. Nobody is really with religion, but I would also argue that none of us is decidedly without some vague sense of spirituality. So this is where we're coming from.
Perhaps not surprisingly, we all had very similar answers to this question, which we answered one at a time, going around the table. I began.
I could see, when Charlotte died, the incredible usefulness of religion. How calming it would be, I thought, if I knew that there was a place, a prescribed heaven, where my daughter had gone? Where she would be cared for? Where I would perhaps one day see her again? I could see this incredible function of religion, but I didn't believe it. Not that I actually didn't believe in it, but I just didn't have a preconceived notion of what would happen. So now, having seen my daughter's strong spirit released, I didn't know where it was going-- and this, in the darkest hour, seemed too late to decide. So I just opened the door to all possibility, and left it at that. I didn't know where she was, and I would not deny any possibility. I felt sure that she would not leave my side, and would somehow stay with our family. But as to where she was, I did not know.
My sisters both also felt this same ambiguity about death, and this same utilitarian purpose of religion, which we kind of thought that for us, we would have had to already have had as part of us before we needed it. It wasn't possible for us to invent the belief, or adhere to it, when we needed it. We pondered how we had been given this taste of religion as children, but how for all of us, it seemed the "church" of kindness and good deeds that we got our values and beliefs from. We spoke of how Charlotte's death had brought us closer and more in touch with this religion of sorts, this way of being where you are just thoughtful and caring, and where you give of yourself willingly and openly, and expect nothing in return. We spoke of the love in our family, and the strong, caring values that have been modeled for us, and how Charlotte's death reminded us of the sincere importance of these values.
I think that all loss challenges faith in some ways. My sister remembers me saying, "No God would do this to my baby," and she interpreted this as me denying the existence of a God. Five years later, I clarified this for her. I neither confirm nor deny the existence of one God or Spirit that may influence what happens here on earth, and may work through certain people here on earth. But I am quite sure that if he or she or it exists, that it was not part of some plan to take my daughter from me. I don't believe anybody, even a Great Spirit, can be everywhere at once. So my daughter slipped from my grasp, and from this world, and then maybe someone, somewhere, saw her spirit out there in the spirit world, and gasped, and helped her soul find her way back to me. And perhaps the gift that a greater power has given to me, in return for my daughter's spirit entering that world, is the desire to help other people right through the experience that could have crushed and ruined me. So thank you, thank you, whatever might be out there, for giving me strength. Mostly, though, I believe in the human soul, and the strength of spirit that we all have, and I thank my little daughter Charlotte for giving me more than I ever imagined she could in nine little months here on earth. I believe she is still with me.
The picture posted here, with this entry, was taken when Aoife was two weeks old. We were out in the forest, by the river, at Charlotte's stone. My sister Stephanie took a family photo on her camera, and when she got home and put it on her computer screen, she called me right away.
"I am looking at this picture," she said breathlessly, "And I swear to god, there is an angel sitting on your shoulder. I can't describe it. You have to see this. It is incredible."
She printed the photo, sent it to me in the mail.
I opened the envelope, and I laughed. I laughed for a long, long time, and my smile could not be erased. There was no doubt. Charlotte was in the picture.
Here it is, untampered with, the only family photo we may ever get.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
I spent a lot of last night in bed stewing over the load of stream-of-consciousness garbage that I posted last time, and feeling quite embarrassed about it. But as someone said, maybe it's okay to post your thoughts, it shows how crazy we can think in the moment. I even thought about deleting it, when I woke up this morning and it kind of sunk in some more. But no.
I think what this boils down to is that I still harbor difficult feelings about somebody who was unsupportive to me, even dismissive, when my baby died, and is now asking for my family's support. I suppose it's all different when it's happening to you.
The most ironic thing about all of this, is it isn't even the mom we're dealing with. The mother of this baby IS optimistic, I think.
My whole thought process was trying to sort out how we can't compare, and we can't. I will never know what their family is going through, and I feel for them.
And I pray, from the bottom of my completely soul-filled, spiritual, but unreligious heart, that everybody goes home healthy and alive.
Peace, and sorry about that last post. I think I seemed as narrow-minded as the person I am complaining about. And really, I just want there to be some hope for that little boy. I want him to live.
It's 6:54 Am on a Saturday and I'm the only one up. Time for some coffee, my conscience having been lifted somewhat. I'm off to Newport RI with my sisters today! Hurray! We'll drink wine, have wonderful food, an d delight in each others' company. How lucky I am.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I do believe what I wrote last night. I believe that to me, a 3 pound, breathing baby, sounds like a better option than one who is already dead. But what I may not have made clear is, I really, truly do, feel absolutely, horrifyingly horrible for the family. I am so sorry for Kerri (the mom) and so scared for her, and I'm also scared for the baby. And I also do truly believe that everyone's worst experience is their own worst experience.
I guess there are a few complicating factors which I did not mention in my last post, which was fired off to blow off some surprised steam just before bed last night. One was that when we lost Charlotte, this same grandma who I shot my one-liner to last night, basically told us, "Buck up, kids! You'll have another one! You're young and fun-loving! Don't let THIS get you down!" So it could be said that I harbour just a tiny, teeny bit of a grudge for this attitude, which beyond making me angry just completely breaks my heart, that somebody could dare to think that I could just simply get on with my life, forgetting about the perfect little baby that I made that happened to die.
The other thing is, which was included in this same phone call, is that this everyly-so-sympathetic grandma keeps comparing her situation to mine. She only did it once in the context of my chat with her, but it turns out that she has been doing it to Greg's mom in every conversation. "Oh," she'll say, "You know what it's like".
I have no idea (neither does my mother in law). I (and she) have two points of reference. One, you push the baby out, and she is dead. I am in perfect condition, she is in perfect condition, but with no pulse. I go home to an empty house.
Two, you push the baby out (or get him yanked from your belly). You're fine, he/she's fine, you cuddle, figure out how to nurse, and go home.
I have absolutely, completely, no point of reference for this. I don't have any idea what it feels like to be in no-mans land. I don't know what it feels like to linger somewhere in between living and maybe dying, or to have life, but contemplate death. I have never been there. As my mother in law put it, "We don't know the unfortunate circumstance that also includes hope. She got a phone call that said, 'Well, we have a 3 pound baby boy'. I got a phone call that said, 'Mom, our baby died'. I don't have any idea what it feels like to have hope".
I resent this comparison perhaps because I wish from the bottom of my grief-stricken heart that something could have been done to save my child, that she could have teetered precariously on the edge. Maybe this is more about me being jealous. If I had succumbed to something like pre-eclampsia and they had taken Charlotte at 33 weeks, there's a good chance she could have survived. There was nothing wrong with her. Instead we were both just so goddamn healthy that we went all the way past 41 weeks and her cord asphyxiated her. But for the mostpart I think I resent this comparison because there isn't really anything to compare, except that Kerri and I were both pregnant and had a baby. The circumstances are completely different.
This grandma even said to my mother in law, in regards to her daughter (who is doing well) wanting to be discharged, "I don't know why she wants to go home to that empty crib."
Yeah, an empty crib. Except that there is a crib with her still-alive baby in it somewhere else, while my poor mother in law had to pack up the sheets and blankets from her grandbaby's empty crib, and put them all in a green tupperware bin, and that's a really empty crib.
I know that everyone is entitled to their grief. I know that everyone's worst day is their worst day, and even if your day was worse, theirs is still the worst that they know. I realize this. But I just, I guess, still feel owed a little belated compassion from when my daughter's death was all but ignored. One would imagine this might spark a little bit of that, but apparently not.
So here's the other thing which is hanging me up, and this is just something I think I have to ask, because I want to know what it is like. I am sickly curious. So, when I'm thinking about the only real point of reference I might have, it's me in the car, driving to the hospital. My water has broken, it's streaming down my butt onto a towel on the seat of our Honda. My midwife has just advised me to come in to be monitored because I haven't felt the baby move since my water broke. And I am realizing, that something might be wrong. The elusive "something". And then, we totter inside and I am lying there on the bed, and she's running that black-box of a monitor over and back, over and back, across my belly, and there's no heartbeat. She's focused on the left side of my belly, based on how Charlotte is curled. Then she says, "Where do they usually get a heartbeat on this kid?", and she slides the monitor to the other side of my belly. And I realize, right then, as she slides the monitor away from the ONLY place where they have EVER heard the heartbeat of my "kid", that maybe, just maybe, my baby is "going to die". This fear that shoots through me, that paralyzes me to the point of not being able to even say anything, it shuts me down, almost.
But then, the ultrasound comes in, and the woman takes a look, and she says, "I'm sorry. Your baby's heart isn't beating anymore. Your baby is no longer alive." And then, the fear becomes fight-or-flight panic, and I feel sucked into a vacuum, and there is a ringing in my ears. I look at the doctor in the eye. I am still paralyzed, so I can't choose flight, so I choose fight. "My baby is dead?" I say to her, hoping these harsh words will elicit her to laugh, say she's kidding. "I'm afraid so," she answers, and I just stare at the wall, overcome with the most helpless, incredible terror I have ever felt, this thing, this thing I am so afraid of, it has already happened, and I CANNOT FIGHT IT. It is over, it is finished.
So here's my question. If your baby is in the NICU, and you are afraid for his life, and then he dies, what is the experience, the ratio, of fear that you feel before he dies, and then after? Do I know the terror she is feeling, or don't I? Because maybe I do, just a little. And is it the terror of just that moment, felt constantly over time, or does the fear of the unknown escalate to make the fear of the unknown (that being death) just as frightening as when it finally happens?
Because right now I have this comparison to draw, that the fear before it happened, that was like being alone in a dark alley, in a bad neighborhood, in the city, and you hear footsteps coming up behind you, and maybe you see a man with a knife.
But when the baby dies? The knife is at your throat, and you feel the blade slice through your veins, and warm, sticky blood is gushing down your chest. Yeah.
Please comment. Am I just the most totally unsympathetic, self-absorbed person ever? Do I have a right to be turning any of this on myself? What is this all about, anyway? (should I be asking this? and then asking for comments?)
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Poor Greg's cousin. She was 32 weeks along and yesterday her pre-eclampsia got really serious so they delivered her little son, Spence, at 2.9 lbs, and she is all wired up in the ICU with her high blood pressure. Spence is doing well, on oxygen but breathing on his own. Everyone is pretty panicked, of course, and the poor mom is still unable to see or hold her child because she's so sick herself. I do feel very sorry for all of them.
BUT.. there is only one alternative scenario to the above scene. They would both be dead. Her blood pressure was off the charts, she was swelling up, we all know where this ends up. Not so great for the little one either. So 100 years ago, if this happened? Goodbye. The end. Sorry to be morbid.
So I actually feel pretty glad that they are both stable and doing relatively well. I hope, and pray, that everything is okay. But this is good, so far. As I write this I am terrified that something could go wrong. But it hasn't, so we have to be grateful, right? Grateful that so far, they have saved them both?
Anyway, the grandmother of this whole situation just called me by accident, instead of Greg's mom. I asked her how the mom and baby were doing, and there was a pause, kind of a long one, and a deep breath, during which my heart absolutely plummeted into the depths of my belly. And then she says, "Well, as stable as you can be when you're 2.9 pounds"
And it popped right out of my mouth, without my even thinking. I said,
"Well, one of mine didn't make it at all so that sounds pretty good to me"
This is the kind of reply I usually think about saying after the conversation is over. But this time, it just popped out. I wonder if it made her think?
While I realize that this situation is absolutely terrifying, and also legitimately dangerous, could it not hurt to be somewhat optimistic given the options? Must we always compare our current state to the perfect birth we expected, rather than comparing our current circumstance to the alternative outcomes, which might include death of one or both parties? I don't think anyone wants to be there, do you?
It was a lovely, quiet evening. We called our families, but asked them to come in the morning. We kept you all to ourselves. We had a big, soft bed that we all curled up in. I was too excited to sleep. You were tired from the birth and I knew I should get some rest while I could. But you were too beautiful. I had to keep looking at you.
Happy Birthday, my beautiful Aoife. I hope that you have a long, long life, and I am so hopeful that I will be able to share it with you. I can hardly imagine the things you will be capable of experiencing. I love you so very, very much.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Tomorrow my second baby girl will turn two years old. Oh, the race of time. What beauty it brings when we walk slowly through it.
Thinking of warm summer days and the joy to come, when my children can run naked across the common at DeGrassi and splash in the lake of my ancestral home.Peace be with you.
Monday, March 24, 2008
You think you are doing so well, and then something happens.
There is a mom at Liam's school, who I don't know very well, and she was expecting her second baby at the end of this month. She always seemed very nice and I didn't know her very well and suddenly I just thought, hey, why not try to get OVER the fact that you are sickly envious of every pregnant woman you see (because you assume their baby will live and yours didn't) and just do something really, really nice?
So I did.
I just walked the walk, and acted the act, and I organized twelve families who are going to bring them dinners after their baby is born. Hey, I reasoned, this is a really good idea, because unlike a basket of baby clothes, no matter what the outcome, it can still be done. I was feeling so, so proud of myself for being outgoingly friendly and optimistic to this mom.
Well, guess what?
She had her baby on Friday.
She is healthy, 8 lbs, 15 oz, quick easy labor.
She is named Charlotte.
Why does this affect me SO much?
It's just a name, you could say.
That is ALL MY BABY GOT.
I got to give her a name. I didn't get to give her milk, or a clean diaper, or a nice warm bed to sleep in. All I gave her was a NAME.
I have been waiting for this to happen, inevitably some other woman I know would give birth to a girl and give her the most beautiful girl's name EVER. But I just wasn't prepared this time. I didn't think that it would be the time that I went right out and did something awesome that my dead daughter's name would show up on some other pink-faced, squinched little baby girl.
To this mom's credit, she does not know about my Charlotte. Yet.
How could I not say something? At the very least I will have to explain my behaviour when I can't lean over her little carrier and coo at her like all the other moms.
The thing that scares me the most is my very, very strong instinct to just run, to never look at the baby, to plug my ears every time somebody asks her big sister Lily, "How is baby Charlotte?" I don't feel like I am about to burst into tears, instead, I feel terrorized, like I can't ever look at the mom or the older daughter again, like I am afraid to go near them because I might see the baby, or hear her name, or her cry, or see her little chest rise and fall.
And the other adults? To the big sister? They call her baby Charlotte. Just like all the 2,3,4 year olds in my kids' lives call the baby on the wall, and in my locket, baby Charlotte.
My heart is breaking. I feel like I am made of plastiscene clay. I am nearly immobile. Is it really only a name?
Is this really about the name? Or is it maybe more?
This is a big burden to carry, and I am sorry to my little daughter as I say these words, but it does take a lot of energy to be a parent to a child who has died. Sometimes it feels like too much.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
In our heathen household Jesus's name hasn't been mentioned since the creche scene was put away, and the little wooden baby Jesus was no longer available to drive around in the bed of little pickup trucks with his accompanying palm trees and manger. Liam thinks for a minute. He looks at me, his eyes big, blue, and sincere. His blond hair falls so heavily around his little face. He is wearing his green tyrannasaurus pajamas, and there is chocolate on his chin and cheek from the massive amount of chocolate he has already consumed by 7:30 AM. "Well, long ago, but when Jesus was a grown up, he had an accident, and lots of people thought he was dead. And they were really, really sad that he was dead. But then, on Easter Sunday, they realized that they had been wrong, he wasn't dead after all! So they were really happy, and celebrated. And that's how the happy holiday of Easter was started. It was a day for celebrating life and joy."
Liam thinks about this for a little while. Of course he is, at 3, familiar with how sad death makes people, and I think the idea that one could be mistaken about someone's death is intriguing to him.
Hmmm. I hadn't thought that far.
Friday, March 21, 2008
I forgot that I had this great chuckle in the car today. A chuckle!
I was waiting at the end of the Coolidge bridge. The traffic here is always awful. There is a light. But it is only awful in the Western MA sense, which means that if you just kind of sing along to the music, and think about dinner, in about a minute you will be through it. So there was this absolutely anguished man behind me, and he was trying to sneak by me on the right to get into the right turn lane. I kept trying, to ease his pain, to move forward, but the truck in front of me was not doing the same. With each inch I would edge forward, the anguished man would try again, in vain, to squeeze between me and the guard rail. I did feel so sorry for him, and his problem with the traffic.
But I also laughed, with pure pleasure. Because I did not feel his pain. I don't know what has come over me, but I fucking love it. I just don't care about that anymore. I am so aware of the clock ticking and how it just doesn't matter for me if one or three minutes pass before I get through that light. About how nothing will make or break my life. It is so incredibly liberating.
This is not to say that I don't sometimes feel that anxiety about wanting to be somewhere faster, or that I don't sometimes get annoyed with annoying drivers. But I just don't feel that urge to push first through the door anymore. It feels so good to be the one holding the door and smiling.
So here's the big problem with being sad. When Charlotte first died, and I felt sad, I could just talk about her. Just about her. About being pregnant. About how she would have her toes up in my ribs and delighted in catching them under my bottom rib and pulling down as hard as she could, sometimes with an audible snap (I swear this is true. She was such a little mischeif maker). I could talk about the feeling of her soft, downy shoulders, and remember so clearly her new, sweet smell. I could talk about the birth, answer questions about what she looked like. There was, if I had the right audience, a lot to talk about.
But there came a point, and I'm still there, where it kind of started to feel like it had all been said. Like the sadness that I had in me was just sitting there, and I didn't know what to do with it, because the story was over, it was very much over. I still wanted more chapters. But there weren't any.
So when I feel this sadness, this stuckness, like I want and need to feel the loss of my baby in the midst of my otherwise very happy life with my vivacious Liam and Aoife and so much other love and companionship, I just don't know where to start.
Maybe with you?
When I started to push Charlotte out, I didn't really think I was still having a baby. She had been stolen from me already, by means of her future being erased. My mind couldn't wrap itself around the fact that she was still there. But as I felt her head be born, and then my midwife gently guided her shoulders out one by one, my brain slowly processed those two pieces of anatomy, head and shoulders, and something shifted in me, and suddenly the whole experience became very empowering and huge in a very new way. The strength that I had felt, the ultimate groundedness, the wholeness as I had pushed, suddenly became birth for me. My hands reached for her, and pulled her onto my belly.
The room was pink, dusky pink, and the lights were very, very low. It was a grey, rainy day outside, pouring rain, and the curtains and shades were not drawn. The flat, rainy light that would haunt me all spring fell on my new baby's face, which was surprisingly clean. Her hair was thick and swirled on the crown of her head, and curling around her ears. She had eyes, nose, and mouth, and four perfect limbs sprouted from her tiny middle. The miracle of life beheld me.
Life? But she did not breathe.
Yes, life. Because she was a life, the life of my own little girl, although at that point, I did not know if she was a boy or a girl. I breathed in so deeply, with the shock, and the love, and the horror of what would lie ahead. "Oh, Greg, " I said, softly. "Our baby is so beautiful."
I have tried so many times to explain what this feels like, this falling in love with the child you know you will not keep. With all due respect to the instantaneous, deep, unfathomably deep love that I felt for Liam and Aoife, it is still incomparable. The knowledge that you will never see this child grow old, I think, causes you to bottle, to compress, the love that you hold in your heart that you are supposed to spread over a lifetime and pour it all into that moment, into that day. It gripped me so deeply in my belly. I could not believe that this perfect, perfect baby was mine. I throbbed with the wanting of her. With the desire to have her with me forever, of course knowing that I could not. I kissed her face, bent way over my deflated belly to do so. We were still attached. After breathing in her little face for a while, and seeing her tiny features that looked just like mine, and kissing her baby lips ever so gently, I looked beneath her little curled leg, and saw that she was a girl.
This, again, is indescribable. For having had three pregnancies during which I really, honestly feel that I did not care one way or the other if the child was male or female, the second I realized that this baby that I could not raise was a girl, my mind whirled into this instantly intact fantasy that I had always wanted a girl and could not live without her. I remain fully convinced that if Charlotte had been Max, I would have concocted the same story with a little boy as the protagonist. Suddenly, she was just what I needed. My baby girl. The oldest daughter, just like me. Had I always wanted a girl during the pregnancy? At that moment, I believed that I had. I needed her desparately. How could she be taken away already? How could all of these dreams be empty hopes?
Greg cut the cord, finally, severing that which had both sustained Charlotte and caused her to die. Then I could pull her closer to me. And I did.
This is what I can do right now. I just have to live those moments sometimes, to rebring her to me. To remember what that was like, that intensity which I have never experienced since. That one day love affair (which of course still lives in my mind).
Enough. So, not to change the subject, but have I ever mentioned my excitingly crafty side? Tonight, after the napless kids went to bed at half past six and Greg went with his parents to have dinner with his brother, I worked on my very cool, expertly designed curtains that I am making for AOIFE's NEW BEDROOM!! They are very cool, and if they come out as cool as I think they will, I will for sure be posting a picture of my masterpiece here. So that was my evening. Cutting out and pinning up curtains while watching intensely depressing grief video.
Don't you wish you were me?
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Yet I think how I do this, is that I also avoid the trigger points that personalize this for me. The points that say, that was YOUR baby who died. YOU were the person saying goodbye to your baby. The points that make me remember what it actually felt like to hold my little, still baby, to have just one day with her, and to say goodbye to her. I remember the feelings and I describe them all the time in my writing, but I'm not feeling them all over again, necessarily, whileI do that. I'm just telling.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
For me, it's month 10.
When I was in my sitting time, those months meant so much, and brough so much wonder, and speculation, about what things might be like. What she should be doing. It was strange, and I wonder now, having two more children, how it might have been different if I had had any idea what I was missing.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Here's the other thing. I live in this 100 year old farmhouse. We have no attic, essentially no closets (there are 3 just big enough for some hangers) and a basement with a 5 foot, 6 inch ceiling (ho ho! I am 5'5"!!) that gets lots of puddles in it when the weather's wet because the floor is partially dirt and the walls are raw bedrock in places. Thanks to my illustrious husband we now have some big, sturdy plywood shelves that hold our rubbermaids up off the floor, and a pump for our dehumidifier, which runs constantly. So I can actually keep the rubbermaids here.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
So I'm back. Obviously by what's been written I just haven't been in the mood to write lately. Somehow those rocky mountains just sucked the life right out of me. We've been back 3 weeks now but it has taken all this time to just screw my head on quite right and start thinking again.
Look at that landscape. Look at that beauty. I would go out on my skis, and this is what would lie before me, this vast, open landscape of white and beauty, and I could choose wherever I wanted to go. Sometimes I was with somebody, and sometimes I was alone. The sun shone every day. The trees were almost buried by all the snow. I felt very close to the heavens. I was giddy. I would push off and go.
The wind blows in my face as I go down, fast. I like to go fast, and I also like to try to make myself flow, like a dance. Sometimes I say poetry to myself, or sing a particularly rhythmic song while I ski, because it fills me with the rhythm that I need to rise up, and down, moving quietly and softly through the steepness and down to the valley below.
It is almost too much. In this isolation, alone on the hill, despite the fact that I am at a multi-million dollar, man-assisted resort, my elite sport melds with just being out there in the world. My options for solitude make me feel like part of the air. I could do this every day, I think.
I love to be on mountaintops. I can smell my daughter when I am there. I see her in the clouds, cheering for me, watching the smile on my face, and feeling proud that I have rebuilt the life that I thought I lost.
I love to be free. I think I like to be out there, on top of the world, going so fast, because it is the sharpest contrast to the absolutely grounded nature of my existence right now. In my home, surrounded by walls, my day dictated by the moods and wishes of others, versus there, on the mountaintop, deciding my route, free to fly at my own accord.
This brings me great happiness.
But that was just the trip. Somehow I returned from that trip, so full of family, love, great food, and of course, the skiing, and then 8 days later loaded my kids back on the airplane headed for Alabama, to visit one of my oldest and dearest friends and her three beautiful daughters. This trip was about being home in Alabama. It was about our five children (should be six) running around the house together, shrieking with laughter, and us catching each other's eye and thinking about that day 26 years ago when we stood next to each other in the line in first grade. I booked the tickets for Alabama when I realized I had 3 weeks left until Aoife turned 2 and needed a paid seat. So off we went.
I remember when Kathleen (above friend in Alabama) was pregnant with her second child, Quinn, and she had just gotten her ultrasound. It was my due date. I came home and listened to my answering machine. Kathleen is the type of person who always likes to know exactly what she is getting. So she says, "Looks like I am having another girl. So I am calling to tell you that it would be really great if you could produce a girl so they could be best friends like us". And so, eight days later, I did produce a girl. The sweetest little girl I'd ever seen. But she never had a friend.
Liam loved Quinn. They are only 8 months apart. They raced around, played games, dressed up, and listened to her older sister Dacey read "Green Eggs and Ham". She is a doll. I adore her. There is nothing about Quinn I don't love, but I think the thing I love the most about her is that she would have been my daugher's engineered best friend. When Quinn was born, I could hardly call Kathleen because I was so afraid I would hear her baby cry. Now, I smile to see the beauty of Quinn's smile and I wonder if my daughter helped to choose such a vibrant, delicious soul to my best friend to be her second daughter.
It is so nice how gentle time is to the soul. Patience does pay off.
And oh? The nicest thing that the gods and great spirits did, to make us feel better about that, was to send us two more little girls, two and a half years later, born only 4 days apart. As Aoife says, "My best friend Reagan." Here they are.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Do you remember my New Year's Resolution? It was,"I will not be so lazy." This was supposed to encompass a lot of things. Mostly it was supposed to mean that I dried and put away dishes right away after washing them, and that I decided whether clothes were clean or dirty and put them into the appropriate locations after removing them from my body, but I always extended my new mantra to everything. I think that, as a stay at home mom, the amount of "quantifiable" work that I do is very small, which often leaves me with the false impression that I don't do anything. I work on things all day long, but rarely do I devote enough consecutive time to one item to complete it. This is just the way it works out when you are home with kids and you put them first. There's nothing wrong with it, except that it is very different from the way I used to operate. It is also, to state it mildly, kind of exhausting, which means that when I put my little ones to bed at night I truly do feel like being lazy. The other night Greg and I stretched out on the couch together with some decaf cappuccino and talked in the semi-dark for half an hour before heading up to bed. Last night we sat at the tiny table at the kitchen and made a shopping list for the next day before packing up. Lately not much happens after the kids are in bed (which, mind you, happens pretty early). For some reason we are just feeling slammed and all we want to do is sleep.
So last night, as I was packing up, doing lunches, cleaning the kitchen, feeding the cats and bunny, picking up the last of the toys, my eyes wandered to my whiteboard. In big, black, capital letters, across the top of it, were the words: I WILL NOT BE SO LAZY.
Underneath it is my list of things I have to do:
Make a haircut appointment for my sister for the next time she comes
Drive by a house my mother in law is interested in looking at
Write two cover letters for things the hospital is going to send out
Call the newspaper and radio station about our fundraisers
Send a card to a young mother who lost a baby (anniversary coming up)
Watch 3 DVDs that I ordered for educational purposes for hospital staff (these being so absolutely horrifyingly depressing but really good tools to teach nurses/docs with)
Order dental alginate and stone for hand casts/learn how to do the hand casts
Put together packets for the Childbirth Center.
There are actually a few more things. These things are all going to get done in the next week. So do you know what I decided? Actually, I am not lazy. So I took a towel and I wiped off my New Year's resolution and I decided that I have met the criteria. Done.
Today Liam made me a little drawing. "It's to help you remember Charlotte, and for Daddy, too," he explained. Then he asked, "Does Aoife miss Charlotte like I do?"
"She will," I said. And I cried in my heart a little, thinking of my sisters and how much I adore them, and how I could never live without them. I cry for my daughter who will grow up without her sister, and for my son, because even though I don't know what a sister is like to a brother, I know in my heart he needs her just as I do. Sigh.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Give to us peace.
This is my anthem.
I don't mean by this that I am demanding world peace on a greater level, although this would be nice. I just mean that to live peacefully, without the wrenching pain, is the best that we can hope for. Peace means that when I see my daughter's little face I smile to myself, and I don't cry.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Everyone was laughing and talking with her, and she was saying things about the ease of having just one child with her, so I know that her baby was at home. But I still could barely look at her. I was so afraid. What if it wasn't at home? What if something went wrong? It absolutely panicked me to see this formerly-pregnant woman without that baby. I could hardly look at her.
These are the rose colored glasses I wear.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Are we not all free agents?
Now I know I am lucky, truly fortunate, to have a really great birthing center at our local hospital, and I have had the same, very fabulous nurse with me for each of my births. So I was given a nice jaccuzzi to lie in, was offered a nice big birthing ball to sit on, and when I of course demanded to be monitored so I could hear that sweet heartbeat they made sure it was a telemetry one so I could walk around, move, etc. I was encouraged not to lie down, was given a squatting bar, this was all very good. I know that most moms are not offered such things.
But rather than steering people away from a hospital, why am I not really seeing much action towards changing hospitals, and first and foremost, educating mothers? Or rather, where can I find the people who are working from this angle? To me this seems really logical. Really, even if you wanted to, there would be many, many moms who could never be convinced to give birth at home. So rather than coccooning up with the rest of the homebirthers, why not work hard to change what's happening in hospitals? To make sure mothers KNOW what might happen, and have the education to assist in weighing and calculating the risk possible to their babies and themselves?
Yeah, I know. This actually is going on. I am missing it, because I am sequestered in this spoiled rotten granola crunching valley where our hospital already IS good and where lots of people have homebirths and where all the people who get epidurals have asked for them, begged for them.
But this is where I want to be. I want to change things from the inside, not walk away from the whole problem. And by saying this I am not insinuating that people who are pro-homebirth are walking away from the problem, quite the contrary, in fact. It's just that while obviously that pro-natural birth community is working quite hard to re-establish birth as normal, and sees a logical consequence of this action as moving away from the hospital in uncomplicated, risk free deliveries, we have already established that I don't share that opinion due to my freaky sensation that all babies in the womb are ticking time bombs, liable to drop dead at any moment.
So anyway, here's my point. We are all free agents. We are all free to say NO. We can say no to monitoring, ultrasounds, pitocin, epidurals, and even a c-section. We can at any point walk out the door. Right? So who is the one responsible for the interventions? Is it the doctor? Is it the nurse? And isn't it also the patient? The consenting patient?
So here's the plan. Once I have successfully trained all the OB's and nurses and midwives and doulas in the northeast US to be really awesomely conscientious and kind and do all the right thing for the people whose babies DO die; AND after I have made sure that every person whose baby dies has access to adequate support networks; AND after I have made sure that all hospitals and homebirth midwives have access to and use excellent photography equpiment, dental-stone castings, beautiful blankets, etc. all this first-rate stuff for memory making; AND after I have totally revolutionized in general the way that perinatal loss is viewed in the obstetrical and nursing community; THEN I will move onto this subject. The patient needs to know what is happening to her. Because she is the one saying yes. So that's the next thing.
Monday, March 3, 2008
So is it really succumbing to a culture of fear to perhaps make a cautious choice to save the life of a child? Because how would it feel if you decided to go "out on a limb?" Say you are the doctor, and you are at a birth, and you are seeing plummeting in the heart rate, and you are a little concerned. The nurse points this out to you, and you are a little worried. Maybe the patient is aware, and maybe she isn't. Maybe she's very into having a natural birth, and maybe she isn't. But either way, once you are concerned, you have two choices. Act conservatively, or wait and see.
Say you decide to wait and see. Then you see further decels. It's not life-threatening right now, but the labor is kind of slow. The patient really doesn't want a c-section. Neither do you, really. But you are concerned.
So do you act conservatively, or wait and see?
Let's say you wait and see some more, and then suddenly, without warning, the patient feels a flurry of movement, and then the heart stops beating. Completely. You put her on oxygen, lie her flat, turn her on her side, call the anesthesiologist. Now there is no choice to be made.
The baby is delivered 14 minutes later, with a nuchal cord wrapped tight 3 times. The peditrician tries for 27 minutes to rescusitate her. The attempt fails.
So don't you wonder, then, what might have happened if you didn't wait and see? And wouldn't that just make you want to NOT wait and see the next time?
And, just so you know, that mother would then be like all the rest of us in that club, who can look back to the very moment when something really conservative could have been done to save her baby, but wasn't in the name of letting things progress as they naturally would. (For me this would be the thought that some "crazy" doctors don't let patients go beyond their due date. Imagine! If my doctor had been one of those, I would have an almost 5 year old girl playing pet shop in the living room right now)
The thing I always like to kind of have a little laugh about, and this is in regards both to childbirth and also to vaccinations, which I have never brought up on this blog, is the third world. So I'm imagining these women in Africa, whose infant mortality rate is very high, whose maternal mortality rate is very high. To them, the ability to have access to the kind of health care we do would be a dream come true, and for many infants and mothers, a potential lifesaver. Same goes for vaccines, these moms line their kids up, anxiously awaiting the vaccine for the disease that might have killed their sister, or mother, or other children. And here we are, all wealthy and privileged and so completely vamped out of the real world that we snub our noses at the very things that were invented for the simple purpose of saving lives. (I realize, of course, that it is far more complicated than just this, but I do sometimes feel so ashamed of this attitude of privilege)
I also feel disgusted by how removed from the natural world we also are, so I really would hope for some kind of glorious compromise, which I have not figured out here.
And all of this, everything that I wrote, is not necessarily representing what I really think is right or true, but just things I think we should be thinking about.
When you have actually had your baby die, and be dead in your arms, you really do see things so very differently. The choices sometimes, to me, seem so much more logical. I just don't see how anyone, ANYONE, doctor, nurse, patient, and for god's sake THE MOTHER, would want to take a risk! A chance! Do you have any idea what it feels like to have your baby actually die? To actually never get to keep that baby you were growing all that time? To have to plan a funeral and to make phone calls to tell people that that long awaited life has been extinguished? I think that we are so removed from reality sometimes that there are a lot of moms out there who really don't even REALIZE that this could happen to them. That their baby might actually be almost dying during the birth. And guess what? Might actually die.
It is such a fucking let down to become a statistic.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
"It was also hard to witness the intense judgment against OBs, even though much of it was warranted, because I knew what it was leaving out: my knowledge of my dad, who was loving and wanted to do the right thing, and who wanted to insure the safety of my child, his grandchild. My dad, who had witnessed the death of babies, who had worked hard to save babies, who never ever wanted to take a chance if he could save a baby’s life, and who probably did save many lives."
Can you think about this from this standpoint, all of you? Can you imagine being the well meaning doctor, who maybe did just go into this for the love of people and healing and doing good, looking into the torn, anguished eyes of a mother as he pulled her dead baby from her womb? Who holds the mother's hand as he tells her that her baby has died, who hands her a kleenex as her tears fall onto the sweet face of her child who will never wake. And then, maybe later that evening, or the next day, he has a situation where he thinks maybe, just maybe, another baby is in danger?
What would you do?
It is, in fact, remotely possible, that this is not just about money.