Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Aoife, in her little bird shirt I made her
There are many things that evoke memories, some of them by surprise. For me, catching a scent that reminds me of days past often catches me off guard, as do songs that I associate with particular time periods. Today I had a new re-memory. An awakening of a forgotten moment. A forgotten place.

All July, my dear husband has been slaving away on a new downstairs bathroom for us: gorgeous, beadboard wainscoting, a freecycled clawfoot tub, new (also free) pedastal sink, and tiny-tile floor. We had decided that we would move the white wicker changing table from the nursery down to this bathroom, as I have never changed a diaper upstairs since Aoife was born. Besides, I explained, it will make a lovely dry sink area when we don't have babies anymore.
This in itself was huge. There is a part of me that feels terrified to move anything from the nursery that was there when Charlotte was waiting in the wings, and this lovely wicker piece was one of them. That winter, Greg's parents had gone back to the store where we had picked out the crib and bought this for me in secret. They'd had it delivered at the crack of dawn so that, when I awoke the next morning to admire the crib, I found it there, nestled in the corner, as I'd imagined it. I was so delighted with it. It is a fond memory.

But the truth is, as attached and slightly paranoid as I feel about keeping the nursery the same, I really like the changing table, and I liked the idea of having it downstairs where I could actually use it. It's a pretty piece of furniture, which would look pretty in our new room. So I tried not to think about it, and tried not to feel like I was dismantling all that was left of our daughter's could-have-been bedroom, and we went for it. Today, it moved downstairs.

As it went, again, I tried not to see it in the hallway, tried not to think of it as part of her layette that had arrived in winter of '03. I went into the nursery, and re-arranged what was left, moving the rocking chair to fill the space that had once held the changing table, placing the tiny book case catty-corner across the other side, and putting the laundry hamper (which serves as a tiny table) in between the two. Then, as a final touch, I thought: why not move the lamp, which is on top of the wardrobe, on top of the laundry hamper? Then it will be next to the chair. And I did, thinking nothing of it.

Tonight, after bath, I went with Aoife down to her "nursery room" (as she calls it). I turned on the light to put on her jammies and it happened: instantaneous memory; jogged by the way that the light shone differently from that side of the room.

When I had first set up this room, before the crib, or even the changing table arrived, I had placed the lamp in that very spot, for only a few days. It was then that I sat on the floor, sifting through my baby-shower gifts, and Greg tried on the Baby Bjorn and put a dolly in it, and we looked at the clothes and wrote things in the little baby book for her and smiled to ourselves. We thought we had it all. The next weekend we would buy the crib, and we would be all ready. Or so we thought.

I laughed to myself, a little sarcastically, as I looked back on the old me. Truly, I was jealous of her. Also, I felt sad for her. And I appreciated that unexpected memory, for whatever it brought me.

Tomorrow I am off to the cottage. I'm in charge of the family party for 200 + people on Saturday, so it's possible you won't hear from me for a few days... but you never know.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Homecoming, 2003

I am disheveled and a little crazed tonight. I was a manic gardener today, finally completing the last bed that I had hoped to raise and re-plant before leaving for the promised land of the lake. I am now moving into the mode of getting four people packed comfortably into a well-packed car for a ten hour car drive. Our departure looms, but it will be sweet.

I have gone to the cottage every year of my life, I went for the first time when I was four weeks old. My father has never missed a summer, and neither did his father, or his father, except when they were off fighting in the world wars. It has been a place of peace and family and friendship for almost a hundred years. The inside of the cottage has not changed very much since I was little. Each year, when we return, our transition time from being New Englanders cooped up in the car to being barefoot, carefree citizens of the point is about 7 minutes. Enough time to drag the bags in along the worn, dirt path up onto the back porch, thump up the stairs with the suitcases, dump the leftover car-trip food on the kitchen table, and get into our bathing suits. Then, we are there: everything is essentially exactly the same as it was the year before, as if we never left. The friends and family whose houses surround the common field and beach are the same, the toys on the sand are the same, the slide in the water. It is bliss.

It was terror, and torture, however, the year we went to the cottage without Charlotte. That homecoming was worse than coming home from the hospital without her. When we did that, I was so numb, so absolutely thunderstruck that the enormity of what had happened had hardly struck me. I walked into the house empty handed, but I didn't realize that my arms would always be empty. When we arrived at the cottage that August, about 11 weeks after Charlotte's death, I thought it might be difficult. I knew it would be sad. I was afraid of what people would say, or not say: they had not even seen me pregnant. How real could this all be to them? But what I had not realized was how empty that house would seem: I hadn't remembered how this arrival, this coming to the cottage had been worked over again and again in my head during my pregnancy: in essence, coming to the cottage was our only real plan after her birth. Here. we would lose her all over again.

When we arrived, and we walked through the house, our feet clanking on the wood floors and out onto the porch, I simply broke. My body broke, and wilted onto the swinging couch, and I'm sure my sobs were heard by most of our neighbors. I couldn't bear the sadness of being there without her. I couldn't bear the stigma of having failed to bring this baby home. Charlotte was the first baby in the sixth generation of descendants of my great-great grandfather who originally bought the point, and I was so proud for having had her. I could say that it was one of those incredibly cathartic cries where I just sobbed and wailed and so much came out, but the truth is that with every heave of breath the pain cut deeper, like walking with a shard of glass in your foot. It hurt so much to be there without her, suddenly it became so obvious to me: just as I had started to wrap my head around being without her at home, now I was going to have to learn how to be without her at the cottage. She would miss all of this, forever and always, nobody would say she was beautiful or congratulate me on her arrival, or teach her to paddle a canoe through the flat, still water in the early morning.

Two years earlier, Greg and I had been married at the cottage, between two, tall, stately pines in front of the house. When we decided to cremate Charlotte, I originally thought I would want to scatter her ashes there, where the roots of the pine tree grew down into the earth that had been walked on by four generations before me, the only place on earth that will always be home for me. And as you know, it was later our choice to keep her ashes with us. But those trees will always make me think of her.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gratitude, or not

There is this cute man who works for the nursery in our town, and he delivered me some wood chips tonight. He has a six month old baby, and every time I see him he shows photos, and goes on and on about the joys of fatherhood. It really is adorable, and it makes me so happy. There is nothing more satisfying to the babylost than seeing people who truly, deeply, and openly appreciate the gift and miracle of their children.
Tonight, garden man (whose name I don't know!) told me, in the context of complete and utter disbelief, of a friend of his whose parents were fighting for custody of her two children. And he said, she said, fine, take them. I don't care, you can have them.
He expressed to me his disbelief, his inability to understand how someone could possibly not want their children.
And, of course, I said, that always makes me so mad. And I told him about Charlotte, and he listened, and I told him that his acquaintance had it pretty good, and it made me furious to see people who really don't care much for their kids, get them, and they never realize that their kids could be gone a minute later.

Argh. I am so glad there are people like garden man out there, and so disappointed and disheartened that there are people like his friend.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Look What I Made

Thank you, Thank you. I can see that there are already 15 beautiful blessings for my friend a few posts back. I will send your words along to her, as some kind of totem of peace and love for her family, and this somehow makes me feel less wordless myself. What beautiful writing for me to read.

I have to say, also, that in the past few weeks, I have suddenly felt like I have some sense of who some of you are: through your words to my friend, through your writing about what makes you happy or agitated, and through generally more feedback on what I'm writing about. I like it so much. While there is some comfort to the anonymity of just writing to the screen, I am finding it even more amazing to imagine who you all are, where you sit, and how you are hearing what I write. So again, accept a bow and a beckon and a sign of thanks, for reading, and responding, and for giving life to this blog.

I'll tell you something now about my firstborn: her favorite song was Hey Jude. When we would sing this one, she would, without fail, start to kick and poke. Without fail, all except once, at two in the morning on Tuesday, May 13th.

Remember to let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better.

Isn't this kind of how my relationship with Charlotte works, after all? Perhaps, sadly, she was trying to tell us something.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


*this was written last night, but I couldn't post it until this AM because Blogger was down for a little while

Crickets chirp, and the frogs sing loudly, their voices streaming in through damp screens as the night darkens. Rain drips from the tin edging on the roof, splashing down on wet grass. The refrigerator hums.

The kitchen floor is the color of honey, the lights from the ceiling bright and crisp upon it. Our black cat lies on the floor, stretched on his side, perhaps feeling the coolness of the century old wood on his slick fur coat.

There is a pan on the stovetop, with olive oil coagulating on it, salt and pepper mixed in, and a spatula lying on top of that. Soon, I will run warm water into the white sink, and squirt yellow soap in, and watch the bubbles form. I will wash the pan, and dry it on the blue towel that hangs on the stove, and replace it into the cupboard.

I can see the breadboard, with three colors of wood, and the bag that holds the bread that Greg baked yesterday afternoon when it was so hot. He ran the fan, blowing from the 550 degree oven straight out the door, so that we would not make the house hotter than it already was.

Upstairs, Liam sleeps, and I can hear Greg singing quietly to Aoife. They are in the rocking chair together, he having taken over the routine that was once mine. They are happy together.

Night is falling on my home, and everything is peaceful here. My day was fine, and probably tomorrow will be, too.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, there is a family that has just been blasted apart. Just a few years ago, their daughter, Elysium, died just before birth from a cord accident. This Mother's Day, my friend discovered that she was pregnant again, for the fourth time. After the initial ultrasound showed some anomalies, they pursued further testing and were recently given a fatal diagnosis for their little boy: Trisomy 18. It is unlikely that their son will make it to term; if he does, he will die shortly after birth.

So while the crickets hum, and frogsong fills my ears on this warm summer evening, I am surrounded by the ordinariness of my babylost life, where my life has slowly pieced itself back into something that I call normal, where happiness dominates and peace prevails. And somewhere in the midwest, this family is blinded by the light of the freight train charging haphazardly towards them at a thousand miles an hour, and they cannot stop it from coming.

My heart feels so heavy for them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

How do you do it?

This question came in on my e-mail yesterday, from a babylost mama only three months into her journey. I can answer it in only two sentences.

I know everyone's path is different, but I was wondering if there was anything in particular that helped you grieve and yet be able to see the beauty in life and the beauty Charlotte brought you?

1. I loved her so much.
2. I was really, really sad.

Oh, how I loved my baby girl. There was everything that seemed perfect and right about her, from the way she looked, to how she felt in my arms, to how I imagined she would fit into our family: an eldest daughter, just like I was. There was so much peace around her tiny, still form, and there was more love than I had ever imagined possible coursing through me, making my heart beat and my lungs breathe and my brain keep going even though parts of me wanted to just shut down. She had brought me so much joy, such intense anticipation, I had felt such passion.
And now?
It often frightens me to say this, but there were many, many days in those early months where I truly did want, in essence, to die. I felt so awfully useless and so bereft of my only purpose; I couldn't imagine that my gaping wound would ever begin to close. It felt overwhelming to be engulfed in such anguish, I couldn't believe that every day, for the rest of my life, I would have to wake up and she would still be gone.
But I loved her so much, and she was so peaceful and perfect, and I so wanted to be her mother. So I decided I had to live for her. I could see I had precisely two choices ahead of me: STOP or GO. I chose go. I held my baby's spirt up high, close to my heart, and I just went.
Two weeks after she died, I put on some music, Richard Shindell's Spring. I danced to the upbeat, sweet fiddle music enthusiastically in my dining room. I danced because I wanted her to see what I might have been like, the joy she would have experienced with me. I didn't want her to know me as this morose, melancholy person who laid around crying and blowing my nose without cessation. I wanted her to see me. I was acting, truly acting, I did not feel the joy, but I walked my body through dancing, and I thought about the love that I felt for my daughter, and it moved my arms and legs and body and I whirled around the dining room, my hair flying about my head, the tears streaming down my cheeks, and I hoped that she was watching me. I had wanted to be a good mother to her, and so I took this, and I used this desire to try to be the kind of person I would want her to see. I wanted her to see the good parts of me, too. I was driven by love.

But here is the other side of it, how I think I mastered the art of grieving well, and it is this: I was very, very, very sad for a long, long time.
For four months, I did not leave my house very much at all, I hardly saw anyone, and I felt absolutely bereaved all the time. I know this concerned a lot of people around me. They saw me deep in a pit of despair, and could not fathom that all of this time mulling over what had happened was actually good, hard work. This was what I consider to be the one good piece of having my first child die: although I was now bereft of not just my child, but also my motherhood, I now had all day and all night long to nurse my wounds, uninterrupted. I had absolutely nobody else to consider except my needs, and what I wanted to do, which was to miss my baby. I felt her absence keenly. I noticed her not being there with every breath I took. I missed her with every ounce of my being. I was hardly ever distracted from this. It hurt a lot. There were times where I felt tempted to escape, for relief, but I knew that come September, school would start, and I would have a distraction for seven hours a day, so I let myself do it, I felt the agony of loss, and it burned a hole in my heart that cut so deep that it felt safe to begin to rebuild.
As I did rebuild, I was awfully public about my grief, speaking often about Charlotte and all that was missing in my life. Going back to work, and walking through the motions of being a regular person again felt so counter-intuitive, and I almost felt constantly as if I needed to justify what I was doing, to clarify that I was, also, grieving. So I did. I allowed myself to stay in that category of grieving mother, of a person bereft of the only thing that mattered to her. I made sure I knew that they all knew it, in a gentle and open way. I wore her photo around my neck, I spoke her name, referred to my pregnancy. The sadness paved the way. It was good to have felt it.

These are the two things that radiate from me, when I see my journey so far as a whole: I could not let my daughter's love be defined by her loss, by the sadness, but I had to let her be defined by joy, and beauty, and hope. And somehow, by sitting back on my heels and feeling that terrible pain that was the result of her loss, it allowed me to take the time to figure out how to let her life bring peace to me somehow.

And it has.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cutting the Cord

The cord is very symbolic for me, as you might imagine... the cord that kept my children alive, and ended the life of my first. I will never be able to extrapolate what pieces of me just naturally want to keep that cord attached for as long as possible, and which pieces of me need to keep it attached because of what I have lost. It makes me feel slightly off when I imagine that part of my clinginess to my children may not be simply what I consider to be "good parenting", but is actually me feeling anxious and insecure, wallowing in a desire to infantalize them and keep them under my wing as long as I possibly can.

The cord felt important to me from the beginning. I remember saying to Greg, before Charlotte was born, "Don't let them cut the cord until you get a picture, a picture of me and the baby still attached." That photo was perhaps the farthest thing from my radar at the time of Charlotte's birth, and with Liam being born by c-section, that was never a possibility. However, when Aoife was born and I got my dreamy birth I had always imagined, it all happened just as I had hoped: the baby emerged, with ease, I lifted her to my breast, and she was covered with a blanket at once. We marvelled at her beauty before even looking to determine her sex, and only when my placenta began to emerge did we remember about the cord. And suddenly, it came to me, this wish I had forgotten all about in the nearly three years since the cord had become my enemy: Take a picture. I want to remember this. And so we did.

Two years and almost four months later, my baby is still my baby: she still falls asleep in my arms at least once a day, and she still nurses at least twice day, when she wakes up and before her nap in the afternoon. And I see, on the horizon, that I am going to need to cut that cord, soon, and I have a plan to do that in two months.

Need to? Have to?
Of course I don't ever have to. By cutting to cord I am, of course, referring to weaning, which in some people's opinion should have happened years ago anyhow. But I find it getting harder as she gets older, verbally expressing that nursing is her favorite thing, how much she loves her cuddles, snuggling in for that closeness that never does get precisely replicated. But I also do respect that my daughter is getting older, that she is a very independent, lovely person of her own, and that it is her right to move forward into this next stage of independence. I am proud of her, and I am glad for what I have given her. I have given myself two months to taper down, to get down to one, and then I plan to throw a little party for her, with the china tea-set that Greg's aunt gave to Aoife at birth, so excited she was to finally have a little girl in the family.

I feel a slight sadness and longing about this already, but I know that my darling girl will keep me near. She is such a snuggle love. It is going to be time.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Aoife's painted tummy looking pregnant

After Charlotte died, they were everywhere: strollers, newborns, people with children, girls young and old, pregnant bellies. When I saw the ones who were out I would think, "Wow. There's another one who survived the cord." When I saw one who was still in, I would think, "Oh, please. Let that one survive the cord." (I would also, of course, think to myself with a sneer, Do you know what could happen? There was, and still sometimes is, a part of me who just wants every pregnant person to know what could happen, so she will realize how lucky she is when it doesn't happen to her). Even older people seemed like miracles to me: all those years, and their hearts were still beating, where my daughter's only beat for 9 months.

And now I'm seeing it all differently: pregnant bellies, tiny babies, and I look at the mother and I think, It worked for her. I think it's a little different because I actually don't feel truly traumatized by my apparent inability to get pregnant just yet, it's more of a longing and these intermittant pangs of intense fear that it will never happen. And so it is with this new respect, this new intensity of curiosity that I admire these pregnant women and their new young and wonder to myself, will that ever be me again? How do they do it? Why won't my body do it? Suddenly I'm seeing the whole reproductive world all over again, in a way that I was aware was there, but never a place where I had sat. I knew that I felt some connection to my friends who had experienced trouble becoming pregnant, because I had felt this tugging, awful desire to have a child, and had felt that taunting of every stroller that passes. But for me, it was never the getting pregnant part, it was just the getting the baby out alive part. Now I get to try on these shoes. I don't like them.

So now I get to experience not getting pregnant easily, and if I ever do get pregnant, then I will also get to worry my way through the entire pregnancy, pretty sure that the baby is dying at every step of the way. But I really do want another baby. In fact I need another baby.

I called my doctor, to see if they might check me out. I wanted tests. I wanted evidence. I was told I hadn't waited out the year, didn't qualify to be checked out in that way just yet. They gave me some suggestions. I wanted to cry,

Don't you see? I am damaged goods. I have already proven this with one dead baby. Don't you want to try to fix me?

But the words didn't come. Perhaps there was a small piece of me that felt settled by the fact that they can't see this piece of me, this failure to thrive, to produce, to reproduce that seems so evident to me.

There is also a piece of me, a rather big one, I hesitate to admit, which feels as if it might be only fair if everything related to reproduction could just come easily to me after losing Charlotte to the cord. Entitlement. A cranky, simpering way to be, but it feels real at times, and now is one of them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Garden

Now, it is highly likely that you don't really care about my garden. In that case, scroll down and there's a real post called The Nursery. But here is what I've been doing for the past month, up to my armpits in dirt and grime and sweat and just loving it so much.

When I moved into my house, my whole front yard was like this: waist deep meadow grass. Nice and wild looking, but not so much fun and not useful at all. (You can see the house up on the ledge behind, there are the porch railings)

Now, here is what I have done: by hand dug up the grass and cleared half of the front yard. All of the plants are just pieces from plants that are in my upper gardens (i.e. gardener with no budget) so it looks a little sparse right now, but you can see that I have made tremendous progress. I am very proud.

You can also see the lovely tree house from down below. I dug out a lot of the bedrock which had a lot of soil on top of it from years of rotting leaves. Here's the edge of the ledge, behind the long grasses, where there is also lots of rock (in the back)
And my new raised bed in the top of the yard, with my little rock wall. Of course I wish the sidewalk were a nice stone pathway but it's great for riding bikes so we'll keep it for awhile.

Thanks for humoring me by looking at these.
Lastly, on another proud note, check out Glow in the Woods. I am so humbled and proud (and surprised and happy!).

The Nursery

I just came down from there.

The night is cool now, but it's steamy in the nursery, with its two sloped walls and low ceiling, making it seem like a tent on a summer evening. My sweaty, sleepless daughter was calling to me. I scooped her up out of her bed and rocked with her in the big, old, black rocking chair. I sang an old ballad and patted her back. Her head rested on my shoulder, her arms around me, her legs heavy on my legs. Her little body seemed so big, in contrast to the tiny bean I used to prop on my shoulder as I read at night, patting her back to lull her to sleep. So much has changed, yet so little.

She fell asleep in four minutes. I laid her in her crib, the crib which has stood in that corner of the room for almost six years. We set it up when I was pregnant with Charlotte, after I had lovingly painted the walls a buttery yellow colour, and the ceiling a smoky blue with stars shinining. I pulled up the side, turned on the monitor which allows me to hear her, but also promises to beep if she should cease to move (i.e. breathe, or if she scrunches down so low in the bottom of the bed that it can't detect her breathing). She is over two years old but that monitor still brings me comfort, I need to hear its silence to know that my daughter is still there, waiting for me in that nursery.

After Charlotte died, nobody moved anything in the nursery. They did go around the house and take all the things that seemed like they would be painful-- the parenting books, the pregnancy tea, the cards, the baby book lying await, and they put them in a box and put that in the nursery. Then, they closed the door. When I finally mustered up the courage to go up the stairs in my house, about 10 days after I arrived home, I saw the door closed and burst into tears. The little, embroidered, handmade sign still hung from the doorknob, "Baby sleeping". But she was not. It hurt to see that door closed, the door itself was a sign saying, Chapter closed, baby gone, nursery not necessary.

I opened the door and went in, and her things called to me. I surrounded myself with the material goods that had been meant for Charlotte, and somehow having those things made me a mother at that time. It brought logic to the ache in my heart, made right of the blood flowing from me, the milk in my breasts. Here were the banners: You had a baby. Everyone expected her to be here. She was here, she is yours. Somehow I needed the evidence, that everyone else could also see, to help me grapple with the mystery of what had happened.
For that year, the nursery was my sanctuary. Greg and I went there every night. We read Charlotte's Web to each other, we wrote letters to Charlotte, and we built towers out of her blocks. I arranged and rearranged her stuffed animals in the little cradle. I straightened all the memorabilia from her birth that lay in the crib. I looked at the curtains and bedskirt and the stars on the ceiling and remembered how I had sewed and painted and sweated over all these things with such love, never imagining that it might all be for naught.

Liam arrived, and with the exception of the things deemed truly hers, such as a few stuffed animals, her things from the hospital, her going home outfit and blanket, and the cradle, he moved right in. It gave me a sense of greatest relief to see the things used. I wanted what had been hers to become useful, to become somebody's. It felt not just okay, but right for me to use her things for her brother.

When Liam was two, Aoife was born. We moved him out of the nursery, mostly only because we didn't want him to associate his being booted into a new room with his sister moving into it. So he got a new room, and a new crib, and the nursery didn't really have an occupant for about six months while Aoife was getting acquainted with the outside world, and slept in my room. But it was still considered hers, and her clothes were in the wardrobe, and the changing table had her diapers in it, and we used the room some. So it was not vacant. Thank god.

And now? I grapple with what I will do, as my careful and naive plan to have another baby when Aoife was two-and-a-half has not happened, and my luck seems to be running thin. What if there is never a new baby? Already Aoife has two rooms, her "special" room, which was decorated for her in April and where she can play and have an upstairs space that is all hers, and then the nursery where she still sleeps. I would be happy to keep her in the crib until she is three, because then she can hang out there while she doesn't sleep during "naptime".
But what then? To me it seems impossible, just utter defeat in so many ways, to take down the nursery. This room holds such power over me, it has functioned in so many ways as a source of excitement and wonder, of sadness and woe, of new joy, of new babies and soft diapers and sweet smelling hair. What would I turn it into?

Don't worry about it, says one friend. Just leave it up. Surely some day there'll be a new baby. And I know she is right. Probably, given the technology available at this point in time, I will have a new baby. But what if it isn't for a while? I simply cannot have an empty nursery. That says too much. It pulls at my heart in a way that she just can't understand.

I don't have to decide now. I can keep Aoife there for the next six, or eight months, and see what the future might bring. It's just that from where I sit now, where the easy part has now become the hard part (my three children all having been conceived within two weeks of us deciding to have another baby), my babylost brain has spun me into a web of nevernever land, where I am once again a defective product, incapable of producing what seems to be so simple for so many. * I can't see the probable positive in the future because my darkness has moved in, reminding me that I am in a different category from all of them, that I can take nothing for granted.

So it was in the rocking chair tonight that I sat, rocking my heavy little daughter (all 23 pounds of her) on my shoulder, feeling her sweaty hair against my neck, and breathed in the details of that room: the darkened curtain, the sharp edges of the wardrobe that Greg build with his own two hands, the soft, white wicker of the changing table. Nothing had changed, but yet so much has. What beauty I felt in that 23 pounds of girl leaning against me, the love and the trust and the soft sound of her falling-asleep breathing, that almost lulled me into sleep myself.
Today, my nursery is full. I am focusing on strength to remember that today, my nursery is lived in. This is the most beautiful thing, and I won't forget it.

*Out of the flow of my writing, I have to clarify this statement to say that since I have lost Charlotte I, by no means, have ever felt that any part of conception or pregnancy should be taken for granted and is in any way easy. Here, I am simply referring to the syndrome whereby when you are having difficulty in any arena, you look at the world through tinted glasses where everyone else seems to effortlessly produce babies as if it were as easy as baking a loaf of bread. This is what it looks like to me right now. It feels risky for me to be writing about this here. This subject has not felt public to me yet, and it probably won't again for a long time. But tonight it called to me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Thank you...

And now, having read the six comments from yesterday's post, I just have to say thank you, because I am so unbelievably curious about who reads this blog, and that was the best feedback I've ever gotten in terms of feeling like I'm getting a sense of who you are. So come on, let's be friends! Comment some more! I want to know what pushes your buttons, and what makes you sing!

And on...

Before I read any comments, and see what kinds of things six of you care about (and maybe respond to them in the comments section) I am going to go on. I keep thinking about the things that make my heart soar and bring me such intense satisfaction, to the point that I am deliberate and delerious about making them part of my life:

Singing. Oh! How I love to sing! We do it all-- lovely harmonies, rounds, good old fashioned, loud renditions of twinkle twinkle. We sing in the car, at the dinner table, while we work, and while we play. Aoife sings in her bed, they fight for solos (so-yos) while waiting for snacks. I love music. I actually secretly wish I had some friends who were as dorky as I am in loving singing, because it would be so fun for me to just sit around and pick out harmonies together. Greg humors me at times, and I love that. I shouldn't say humors me. He loves to sing, too, and he's good. We have a new-ish tradition of singing a song before we eat at night, while we're still holding hands from our blessing (praise for the blessing to follow). Tonight we sang a pretty little grace I know, marvelling at the wonders of the earth, and then the kids wanted to sing Twinkle Twinkle. So we sang that, too. All four of us, together, everyone in tune (not that this matters-- because what's actually beautiful to me is just the loving to sing, not the perfect pitch), and everyone feeling so happy.

Being Grateful I know I go on and on about this, because I am just so grateful for what I have. Our tradition is always to light a candle at the dinner table for Charlotte, so we do this, and we say "the blessing", which for Greg and I usually is a little tribute to Charlotte about how much she means to us and how she's changed our life. But the kids have pretty much taken this one over, and so it's usually a hearty, "We miss you, Charlotte, and we love you!" and then we move on to singing. So I've started to say something that I'm grateful for. When we first started this, a few months back, Liam would always just talk about Charlotte. He didn't really get it, because to him the blessing was just about missing Charlotte. But he's moving on. Tonight he said he's grateful for "having a loving family". Yeah. And Aoife? She said, "I'm grateful for princesses", which means that she really gets it too, because right now I think she really is grateful for princesses.

Growing Stuff I love to grow stuff. Garden pictures coming soon. But here I actually don't mean pretty plants, I mean stuff to eat. Our garden is a little slim, since we abandon it for a month in August, but we've been gorging on blueberries, rhubarb, green beans, and herbs from our yard. I love being able to just go and get something that I need. I wanted to make a crisp, and I had the fruit growing in my yard to do it. I went and chopped off the stalks and 20 minutes later I had something delicious to eat.

Composting Stuff This is also great. I just created this new garden space, and I had so much dirt to fill it in with because all the leaves, old grass and dirt clumps, sticks, weeds, etc. from the past five years are nicely sorted into heaps in the forest that has turned into beautiful, black, rich earth. Then, we have our food compost where we switch sides every year, leaving on the other side a nice mooshy pile of black beauty that is so ripe. I can feed my plants for free. I love this.

Baking Bread Now this, I don't do, but I do eat it. Greg bakes bread. Nice, hearty, crusy italian loaves, partially whole wheat, baked in a super hot oven on a stone so they are just restaurant quality and so amazing. And also? We don't have to buy any bread. It probably costs about 75 cents a loaf to make. Beauty.

The kids art table. I love it mostly because I would have loved it when I was their age. Tins of markers, crayons, scissors, tape, glue, trays of paper, scraps, stickers, pipe cleaners, stacks of paint, an easel, two chairs, and licence to create. I love it.

My Sewing Machine Not my sewing machine, actually, because it jams all the time and if I weren't so lazy it would be in the shop right now being tuned. But I love being able to make stuff. Wait till you see (yes, the camera has been fetched from the shop) the picture of her new outfit. Oh, so fun.

My Job and I don't mean the mom one. I keep meaning to remember, when people ask me, So what do you do? That I actually founded a little organization here in the valley, and I work with the hospital, and the doctors, and the PR people, and the wounded families, and I run these groups. This is my work. I LOVE this work. I do have a job, a pretty useful one, to some people. And I don't want to be paid for it.

Living outside I don't know what I would do if I didn't live here, and by here I don't mean this region, I mean this specific house. There is something about our house, the way it's oriented. The house is backwards, with the front facing the backyard, so when you're in the house, the backyard is in front of you. The door is barely a step above the yard, so you're just level with the yard. We're out there all the time. We eat on the porch, we play outside all day. We read our stories for nap on the porch. Okay, we sleep indoors. But we spend all the time outside. I can't imagine it any other way. Our driveway snakes up into the back yard too, which from an adult perspective I dislike, but it means we have a place to ride bikes, draw with chalk, and play when the grass is covered with snow or soaking wet. So this is good.

All our Play Spaces This is another essay to follow. I love the nooks and crannies of our yard, all the places to play. The tree house (completed! yay greg) and the swingset and the climbing structure and the climbing tree and the sandbox and the laurel grove behind the guest house which is called "the movie theater", even though my kids don't really know what a movie theater is. They hang blossoms from trees and make them lights, and make seats out of sticks, and generally move organic matter around in a game of creating something that they know nothing about. It's so fun.

I've got to stop for tonight. But I'll say this, before I go.

Do you know what this is, this going on, and on, and on? It's called optimism. I'm counting my blessings, right here, and reminding myself in a public way how good things are. Just how good they are. And they are. They're good.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I could go on...

There is a gift that Charlotte gave me, and it's passion. Passion about so many things. I don't know whether I appear to be openly passionate, to my friends, or even my family, but I do feel so incredibly passionate and decided about so many things, and I attribute it to her. Why? Charlotte made me realize that anything could happen. I could absolutely, definitely die tomorrow, and I truly could have cancer growing in my belly, and it's possible that someone will break into my house tonight and murder me. I could go on, with the extensive list of things that you think will never happen to you, but on that list used to be: Your baby will die; but then that happened, and suddenly the whole list entered into my realm of possibility.
The long and the short of it is, knowing all of this doesn't scare me: this reminds me of the GITW question about my relationship to fear. It humbles me, to be suddenly vulnerable, surrounded by people who still live in the bubble, but it somehow lessens my fear, because I know I have no control. When you are contemplating such scenarios and they do seem impossible, the instinct is to tighten up-- to wonder to onesself, how do I stop it from happening? What would I do if it did? But when you realize they could happen, you think, I couldn't stop it in the first place, and if it did happen, I would muddle my way through it the best I could and it wouldn't do me a damn lick of good to have thought about it in advance. So-- in a sense-- I am liberated from this fear: I choose not to address it, even knowing anything could happen, and instead I focus on now, I focus on here, and I try to just love it.
I do. Of course you know that. Half of the time that's all I talk about, how besotted I am with my children, how fortunate I am to have such wonderful friends, a completely amazing husband, and a rock-solid family of origin. Before I lost Charlotte, I used to really think about this often: I had everything I wanted, and it seemed like I always got what I wanted. Well, that didn't really last... but I digress.
So here I sit, intentionally surrounding myself with things that I love. People, plants (oh, my gardens... I am picking up my digital camera tomorrow and prepare to behold the next sunny day) I love my house by the river, it calls to me, I love the things that I do. I actually smile to myself at the little saying on the back of Liam's Life is Good shirt: love what you do, and do what you love... because this is what I try to do.
Now I also recognize that I am in such a place of privilege to love what I do all the time... I don't have to grow my own food, so I can just love what I do all the time, and for this I am so very grateful.
In this, I am also finding that I feel more convicted about things, and more likely to take a stance. Which means, I have opinions, and they are definite for me. I don't share them very often, because in my belief that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I really don't feel like they need me breathing down their backs. But hey! Here I am, on my blog, writing, for all intents and purposes, TO MYSELF. So hey! What do I feel passionate about? What, if I were a more obnoxious, out-there person, would I be saying? What, if I wasn't so busy loving my tiny, insular life in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, would I be out there saying, or thinking, or doing?
1. I love hanging my laundry outside! You should all try this. Despite my big yard, I didn't have a good place for a clothesline, so I hedged on this... and finally just bought two big drying racks that I put out (so smart) on the hot black driveway. They dry nice and crispy and the first month I did it after the winter my electric bill was $24 less, and I swear that's why.
2. Cloth diapers.. I know I have already gotten on my soapbox about this, but really, they are just so cool. I would bet that each one of my diapers has probably been worn and washed over a thousand times. That's without even doing any real math, it might be more. Think about the pile of throw aways that would become. Wow. So very, very cool. And really, not a lot of work, really close to none, and cheap, too. Really, you should do it. You won't look back.
3. Vegetable based stuff! Here's what's on the back of my 7th generation laundry detergent (and I believe it, because I am being brainwashed as we speak) "If every household in the US replaced one 50 oz. bottle of petroleum based liquid laundry detergent with one bottle of our vegetable based product, we could save 233,000 barrels of oil a year, enough to heat and cool 13,400 U.S. homes for a year. HI! Go out and replace your tide with something else. That's not hard, is it?
4. Circumcision! (I know, I am starting to sound like mothering magazine. Bear with me, knowing that I secretly do like eating Cheetos sometimes when we stop for gas on a road trip, and also knowing that I bribe my children semi-regularly with M & Ms) Okay, so here's what I would say, if somebody asked me and my filter fell off: If you are religious about this issue, it's a question of faith, and you don't have to have a reason for faith, that's just the whole point of faith. But if not? Let's look at it this way. What if I said to the doc in the newborn nursery, Could you just do a little tuck on those ears? They kind of stick out. Could you just kind of do a little plastic surgery to tuck them in, so they'll look better?
Yeah, so that's pretty much it, in my opinion, and I know this will definitely make some of my readers mad, and I'm sorry for this, but I really do think that cutting off a bunch of skin from a boy's penis for no proven medical reason is no different from any cosmetic surgery. So in case you were wondering about that, now you know. I think it's ridiculous.
5. Reading. I love, love, love to read, and I read exactly what I want. I never make myself read certain books because I feel like I should. I think it's really good to read. It takes me to new places, and even fiction I feel helps me learn about what it's like to be someone else somewhere else. So I think everyone should read more.
6. Television. I think it rots people's brains, but it's still fun sometimes. In our house, we have a TV but no channels except for 2. We get PBS and one other main one (CBS? NBC?) which flickers intermittantly making it not so desirable to watch. Our TV routine is that about once a month we watch NOVA (such dorks) and about once a winter we borrow and get sickly addicted to one season of a show-- usually 24, although we have also seen 2 seasons of Lost. We watch like complete zombies until the series is over and then swear off of ever borrowing TV from the library again, until the sun starts to set at 4:40 pm again and then it seems like a great idea. As for the kids, the TV doesn't really register for them, as they don't use it, and every now and again, on the fourth rainy day in a row, or when someone's sick, they get to watch a little video, and they think they are the coolest kids ever. I like TV for that.
7. Pacifiers. So what, for a baby? If it makes your kid happy, yay. But every minute of every day? Maybe not. And when the kid is 4? Maybe not anymore. Those of you who know me are laughing because you know the source of this feeling of mine. I have this child who I love (not my child, a friend's child) whose teeth are right now, this minute as we speak, being destroyed by her beloved binky. I want to burn it.
8. Breasts. Whip 'em out. Feed that baby. I love nursing, and I think everyone should do it for as long as they can stand it. When it drives you crazy, then you should stop. Because it's supposed to be fun and cuddly. But do suck it up for as long as you can stand it, your baby deserves it. Also on the subject of breasts, mine are basically gone at this point, and I'm trying to tell myself that it's really okay, because I have a pretty small frame anyway, so wouldn't it make sense that I would be small breasted? Maybe just fit right in, make me look even slimmer? Yeah, I'm trying to tell myself this.
9. Please don't feed your kids junk food. I mean all the time. Of course sometimes isn't going to kill anyone. But it makes me sad to see kids drinking soda. Or chowing on really nasty stuff, and you can tell it's not for a treat. Why would you intentionally make that the start to life? (my kids do eat a lot of ice cream cones in the summer, just so you know).
10. Sleep. Oh man, I am tired. I need a lot of it. I could really go on. I don't know why I even started this. I could talk about toys, about imaginative play, about running, and eating meat or not, I could talk about going away for the weekend without the kids or not, I could talk about using paper cups at a party, or buying a SUV, or having indoor or outdoor cats. Of course I have lots of opinions about lots of things, but right now I'm tired.
So tell me, what gets you going?
I know that my readers really tend not to comment too much. But can you all pretend that I just wrote something like the Baby Borrowers, and tell me this? If there's one area you wish you could be honest about, or you have really strong feelings, what is it? And what's your opinion? TELL US!!!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Last night was spent away from the children, in my sister's SWANK little studio which lies near the corner of Commonwealth and Berkeley (for those of you familiar with Boston), just a block up from the Public Garden (for those of you familiar with Make Way for Ducklings). My two sisters and I had a glorious evening inhaling fabulous Italian food in the North end, brushing each others' hair, and scratching backs before collapsing, exhausted, into our beds. We had to be up early to feed the meters and enjoyed a walk in the park, such fun pawning through designer clothes at the fabulous thrift stores on Newbury Street, and a run along the Charles.
And oh, did I miss my little squishy delicious babies, who greeted me with such joy. I left them overnight for the first time in November (we went to a SHARE conference in St. Louis) and that was three nights, and a little long, but now that I've done it 3 times, the one nighter just makes them so succulent and delicious that I just can't wait to inhale them. So I did.
And the news, or the focus, of the day, is that this lovely family who lost their daughter Addison this April held a softball tournament in her memory today and earned TWO THOUSAND dollars for our group. I just am in disbelief. This generosity does not stop, does it? This will fund our November educational training completely. I was touched and amazed. I started this. And now it's real.
And two other newses: (that is the four year old plural for news)
My dear friends Amanda and Becky are GETTING THEIR BABY SAM from Vietnam~ this news is so good, I can't even describe it, just try to feel this delicious, warm feeling of pure joy and that's all I feel when I think about this. These women have lost a lot in the past few years, and now Sam is coming home. I am delighted.
My dear friends Crista and Eric, who I wrote about maybe back in November, had their beautiful baby boy last night, and despite worries about his health because he had been diagnosed in Utero with Down's, he was born robust and very healthy, and I am so relieved. This baby also follows loss and disappointment and frustration and he is just a ray of beautiful sunshine for EVERYONE and his parents are going to be the most amazing parents ever.
So not that you care about those newses, but I do, so you get to hear them.
That's today in a nutshell.
And the Sox are really really winning.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Compartments of my Soul

Maybe there are others of you, like me, who are babylost but have this space of time-- for me, five years, that leaves you practiced and composed. I am consistently amazed at how well I have packed my emotional duress into tidy, neat boxes, all labeled in indelible marker, capital letters, and stacked them neatly inside my body, for easy access whenever I need them.
Somehow, it's as if my body can remember exactly what's in those boxes, and discuss, and relate to, and share all those intense emotions and memories without actually opening them. Of course, there's an obvious reason why, and that's because it's really sad to open them up. But while having this very practiced system for organizing my surprisingly distraught beginning to motherhood has very much facilitated my proceeding in a calm, and relatively happy manner, there are pieces of it that do rub me slightly raw.
Today we got a call, as we sadly often do, because somebody else's baby died. There are three hospitals that we are on call for, and often it's the chaplain or the social worker calling to ask us things, or to give us a patient's number to call later, but sometimes it's actually the patient, one of the unusual specimens who has the wherewithall to know that it might be helpful to seek advice from a person whose done this before. (When I had Charlotte, mind you, I would never have even considered doing this, but in hindsight, I can only imagine what kinds of advice I might have been given: take all your film, dress her in cute outfits, etc) Today it was exactly that: a woman who was still in the hospital, she had just delivered her fourth child, a girl, and the baby had not survived the birth.
But today, something new happened: I did not take the call. I was putting Aoife to bed, and Greg got to the phone. Normally he is at work, and I field all the calls. But not today. As I came down the stairs, I found him curled at the bottom of our old staircase, taking notes on the whiteboard, alternately listening and talking:

thurs ultrasound
weekend no heartbeat
blockage in bowels?
other kids 13 11 1
3-D ultrasound video
lost julie

It's a rare art and skill that my husband has, for a man, he can take out his heart, lay it on the table, and give it to someone if they really need it. For this woman, he did. I was so proud as I heard him, speaking slowly and honestly and thoughtfully, offering advice while leaving doors wide open. When I first came down, I imagined that I would take over the call (Ha! how arrogant), and after only a few seconds of listening I realized how utterly preposterous that idea was, and felt ashamed for even having thought it. Greg, too, lost his baby, he was equally as skilled as I to offer this family his thoughts.

And then, as a listener, I found myself stymied: I was imagining this woman at the other end of the phone, lying there in her bed, her face raw with tears, her body ravaged by the birth, her arms empty, and I couldn't even really get to the fact that I had once been that woman. I tried, kind of, to get to the boxes inside me, but I couldn't. I could see them, and I could remember having packed the feelings away, but I couldn't really get to them. I puzzled over this, feeling confused by the fact that I could so easily see that I had it all inside me, but couldn't get at any of it.

It is amazing, truly amazing, how your mind will protect you.
If I had to feel those feelings, over and over again, I would have gone mad by now.
I do need, however, to figure out a better way at just opening their lids just ever so slightly, so I can peek inside and visit a little more easily. It's not always a bad thing to experience who you are.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


It's curious how this can happen, a random, unplanned catharsis of sorts.
I had never planned to write the entry of two days ago, "Lost". It just came out, flowed from my fingertips, words I hadn't known were there.

I suppose, in retrospect, I had felt them many times, lurking, waiting to burst out. My own discomfort, the words I couldn't really face. I think that writing about avoiding the funeral home, which came up in the GITW 6x6, alerted me to the real thing that I was avoiding: I cremated my first child, and I really just can't face that fact alone.
I am mystified at how others find comfort in their tiny urns, and I'm thinking back, and wondering if this is it: I don't think I believed that my baby was really dead until I was faced with that question.

It must have been almost midday, I can tell by the light in my memory. It was raining that day, but it was bright, the lights were off and the room was light. The social worker sat by my bed. I was really in denial. Not outwardly, and not even really aware of it, but I did not truly realize what was happening to me. I felt angry at the doctors and nurses and social workers who were treating me, in this dissociated way, because I didn't want to be that patient, I just wanted to be in regular labor having a regular baby. The social worker, we'll call her Anne, was telling us about what we'd want to do when we had our baby with us.
And then what? I asked. My tone might have seemed unpleasant; it felt unpleasant. It was challenging, trying to get her to say it. Maybe say something new. It felt so rude and inconsiderate for these people to be referring to my child as if she were dead. So I dared her.
And then what?
Well, she said, then you'll have to decide whether you want to bury or cremate your baby.
That was the moment.
I had been on lifesaving, facesaving, mindsaving autopilot, a completely stoic, occasionally weepy automaton, not believing what was happening to me, until those words emanated from Anne's mouth.
I broke completely, then, into a thousand shards that I am still working to put back together. I felt, for the first time, that awful, deep ache that hurts so incredibly much that it makes you want to run, run, run and never look back. I wrapped my arms around my swollen, huge belly, ripe with life, and I thought I might never breathe again. What kind of a choice was that to make? I could not choose.
Eventually, when I had caught my breath, and Anne had left, Greg and I talked about it.
I don't know, I said. I have always said that I would want to be cremated, so I guess that's what I'd choose for my child?
And if not, where would we bury her? he said. We had moved to our town only five months earlier, to our larger community only three years earlier. We didn't seem rooted, our families were spread apart. We didn't want to leave her behind. if we ended up leaving.
So the decision was made for us, a decision made of indecision. We didn't want to bury her, and wanted to cremate ourselves, so that would be the destiny of our first child.
Greg signed the papers. Signed away the tiny body that hadn't even left me yet. Agreed to let the funeral home take care of everything, and they would call us when the ashes were ready. Signed away our opportunity to parent her more, to see her again, to have a wake, because we couldn't deal with any of that just then, it just didn't seem possible.
Now, looking back, I ache for the opportunity to do it again, to have a proper wake and to let people see her, to dignify her with what little ritual exists around death in our culture.
And so I repeat to myself this mantra, this saying that we the babylost have for ourselves, you did the best you could at that time, you did the best you could under those circumstances, you made the choices that seemed like the right ones at that time. We all have twenty twenty hindsight. That was the right choice for you, then.
This way it isn't a regret, it's just what happened, plain and simple. It happened that way because it did, and at that time, in that moment, there just wasn't any other way for it to happen.

So here I am again, thinking about this fact, this fearful fact that my baby is cremated and in a little urn, and I don't like that. But I'm working this out, really, and now when I look at the cradle, I do remember that her ashes are in there. I'm thinking about them being there, which is more than I was doing last week. They're there for me now, and I guess that's good. Is it?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Our River

I crave the beach, smooth sand on a soft, gentle, sweet smelling lake, but I live on a river. I am growing to appreciate the river, for all its gentle calmness, tiny waterfalls, and beautiful sound that fills my house in the summertime and rushes beneath layers of thick ice in the winter. Today we played in the river at the end of a hot, sticky afternoon. The bottom is a mixture of big, flat rocks, and lower, sandy spots, nothing deeper than about two feet. There are eddies full of little round stones perfect for throwing, and there are many huge, craggy boulders strewn throughout, for climbing and playing king (or princess, if you are Aoife) of the castle. The children found sand and smeared it on their skin, rubbing it between their fingers, "washing" themselves with it. Just as I would do as a child, at the beach. They are finding it, the beauty of water and sand, and it's right there. I promise to use it.

(You know how you often don't attend to the things right around you? Like yearn to live on a lake, yet forget to swim in the river you live on? Yes, me, too. I promise to use it.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008


This word flummoxes me every time: lost.

As if she can be found.

I lost my baby.

This euphamism, which I use often for the benefit of others, truly does not work for me. Our daughter is not lost. Our cat, who wandered into the woods, and was most probably eaten by some wild creature, he is lost. Our daughter, we know just where she is.

Her ashes are in a small, marble urn. I have never had the strength to face up to this urn. Others display their urns in prominent places, or hold them close, cherishing all they have left. I am different.

I can hardly look at the urn. The urn says this to me: Your child is dead. You chose to burn her. Here is what remains.

Would I have preferred a grave? No. Had we chosen a grave, I would have lain on the bare dirt, muddy from the spring rains, and I would have dug with my bare hands, all night and into the day to bring her back into my arms. I would have muddied every shirt I had, ruined shorts and pants and socks and shoes, lying on the soft May earth, trying to get closer to her. I can see it now. I would lie there, and I would know it: She is under me. She is there. Her body is there. Her face is there, her hands are there, her feet are there. If I could get to her, I could feel her. My flesh lies beneath me. I must have her.

And then? Now? Five years later? I would still go, and probably I would sit, and I would tend to the grass and the flowers and make it as perfect as I could, and I would try not to think about it: She is still there, and what now? What remains, what does not?

Ashes are simple. Charlotte is gone. From three days after her death, her body ceased to exist. Her little body, which had begun from two cells just over nine months earlier, again was nothing. Not there, gone. As if she had never happened.

So shouldn't the clink, clink of the tiny bits of her that I can rattle around inside the urn bring me something? A form of comfort to know that there are pieces of her, some tiny, broken remains of the beautiful daughter that I grew and cared for and loved?

When we brought her ashes home, I put them in the crib we had prepared for her, and I covered the urn with a small blanket. I pretended they were not there. I did not acknowedge them. They pained me. I had not wanted to answer what I was asked that day: will you cremate or bury your daughter? No, I screamed, no. I will bring her home. I will not make that choice.

Nearly a year later, when we prepared the room for its next occupant, I moved her ashes into the tiny cradle that would sit next to our bed with the rest of her things. I wrapped them the same blanket, and I put some other things on top of them. I wanted them to be in there, but I didn't want anyone else to know that. I needed her ashes to be only mine. I couldn't talk about them.

Several weeks ago, we were at an event with some other families from the group we run, and one of the newly bereaved families brought their son's ashes with them. As we were sitting together, feeling the spring air surround us, Liam approached them, fascinated by the little, wooden box. It was engraved with a teddy bear, and had the child's name and birth date enscribed on the side.

What's this? asked Liam, and the mother answered, That's Jacob*. Liam stared, and I felt a little embarrassed, as if I, too, should have my child's ashes with me. At the very least it seemed that my son, who knows almost everything he could possibly know about his dead sister, should be familiar with what this box might contain. So I reminded him, as if we talked about it often, about how when a body dies, it can be returned to the earth, or returned to the air by putting it on a special fire, and how the ashes are left, and how those are Jacob's ashes. So he asked, logically, Do we have Charlotte's ashes? I told him, yes, I would show him when we got home.

I felt shy to be explaining it to him there, while Jacob's mom held what was left of him close to her heart. Why could the ashes of my daughter never bring me comfort? I still do not know.

It took Liam a few days to remember about this, this curious fact that somewhere unbeknownst to him, there was a container that held his sister's ashes. But he did remember, and when he asked, I had to act brave and matter of fact, and I unwrapped the little velvet bag from its blanket, and I opened the bag and removed the urn, being careful not to remove the death certificate that still lies in its envelope in the bag with the urn.

Liam held it between his hands, and turned it upside down, and back again.

Shhh, shhhh, went the sound of his sister.

I want to open it, he said.

And I said, we can't.

And there was, and is, a tiny piece of me that wanted to, that wanted to smash the urn to bits, and let the ashes spill all around us on the wide, pine floor, I wanted to see the tiny pieces of her bones, to eat them up and say Yes, yes. This is my daughter, these are what's left of her bones and her DNA might still be here. She was real.

But I just held his hand, and told him how they used a special key at the funeral home to close it up tight, and how we would never be able to get inside.

And he accepted that, and so did I.

I re-wrapped the urn in the velvet bag, and I put it back under the folded yellow blanket, and laid the little footprint blanket on top, so it almost just disappeared into the softness of the cradle.

Goodnight, my daughter?

I don't think so. The daughter I know and love isn't in that urn, she is in the stars, and she is in the trees, and runs with the swift river water in my backyard. She lights up with the fireflies and she smells sweet in the wind.

And so, perhaps if she is, indeed, all those things, she is simply lost. I will never cease to look for her.

*not his real name

Friday, July 4, 2008

Glow In the Woods 6x6

Here's a little assignment from Glow In the Woods, my favorite babylost site of all...
You can check out other's answers if you go here.

1 How would you describe your relationship to fear before and after the loss of your baby?
Before Charlotte died, fear was just something I did symbolically: I thought about things that were scary to me, but the feeling behind it was empty, because I didn't know what I was afraid of. I would think, "What if this baby died?" and at the time, it would feel scary... but I didn't know that awful, crippling grief. Fear now? It's avoidance, and the complete inability to think about the things that might happen, that do make me afraid. It is so intentional: I think about something that is truly terrifying, and in order to maintain peace, and the ability to love today and to rejoice in what's around me, I don't go there. I escape it. Fear to me now, is to terrifying to face, because I know that what you fear might actually happen.

2 Is your lost baby/are your babies present in your life? In what way?
Oh, yes, she is, but also she isn't. I'd like to think she is, and I surround myself constantly with all her "things" and pictures and memorabilia. I speak her name often because I want her to be here. She's made me more conscientious, more in the moment, more loving, caring and responsible, and so in that way, she's here. She has drastically changed the way I parent my living children. She's calmed me down, rooted me, pacified me. But she's actually not here with me, I can't hug her, or watch her play, or kiss her while she sleeps. That part hurts.

3 Tell us about something said or done after your loss that left you feeling nurtured or supported.
Here were my two favorite cards:

Dear Carol,
You did everything right. One could feel the love with which you surrounded that baby. And now, how to survive having to say hello and goodbye in one breath.

Dear Carol,
I am so sorry about Charlotte, and I am sad... (this card went on, but this part struck me)
Love, Gina

There was so much support that felt so precious to me, but the people who spoke her name, who acknowledged her life, what I had done for her, and the struggle I would face helped the most. There was no real opportunity for me to be reassured at that point, so when people said things that were indeed true, such as, "I'm sure the love of your family will help you through this difficult time," that didn't feel as supportive as, "I'm sad." I needed people to miss Charlotte with me, and I needed them to validate the agony of the journey I was facing. That was most supportive.

.4 Tell us about something said or done after your loss that left you feeling marginalized or misunderstood
Something really simple, and said often out of caring and an intention to support: You'll get through this.
No, I will not get through this. My daughter died. I will never leave this behind. Do not try to be helpful by telling me I am strong and will get through this. I don't want to get through this. I want to stay here forever and miss her. Please can't you miss her with me?
There were also a lot of comments (you can have another one to replace her, I know how you feel, my dog died) that really spun me for a loop, but this message of "getting through" as if I would someday get over the death of my first child always made me feel more frustrated and misunderstood. The really stupid comments made me feel like never talking to the person again, whereas the message of strength made me yearn to try to explain myself and my grief, and I never really quite felt as if I could do that effectively.

5 What's taken you a long time to do again? How did it feel, if you have?
It took me three years to drive past the funeral home where we picked up her ashes. It was a horrible, grey, rainy day when we went there. I was out of my body, and out of my mind with grief. We went in the door, and the kind, gentle woman handed us this little white urn that contained our daughter's ashes. She offered condolences, we thanked her, and turned. We walked out the door, cradling the little urn in disbelief, this was what was left of Charlotte. In the car, I opened the envelope. There was the certificate that accompanied her "remains":

Name: Charlotte Reynolds
Cause of Death: Asphyxiation

My head fell into my lap, onto the white marble, and I cried until I ran out of breath, I almost broke from the sobbing. The rain poured down as I imagined my precious little baby, the only child I had, suffocating in my womb while I slept, knowing nothing. We sat in the car for a long while, crying together. I never drove by again.

It was a surprise when I did. Traffic was heavy, and prior to Charlotte's birth, I had often shortcut that way to avoid the center of town. One day, I just did it without thinking. My blinker was on, and I was turning. Liam was in the back, and I was pregnant with Aoife. I drove by, looking curiously at the parking lot, feeling curiously as if it had been someone else who had cried in the parking lot a lifetime ago instead of me.

I still rarely go back.

.6 How would you describe yourself as a partner before, and after?
I don't know how I could describe myself as a partner, except to say that I think Greg and I understand each other better. Having weathered such a crisis and survived rock-solid and fiercely in love, I can't imagine what a world without him would be like.

If you have lost a baby, I would be curious to see what your answers are. If you post them on Glow in the Woods, please comment the link (or your answers) here... or just answer them here in comment form. It's a cool exercise. It is so good for me to think about these things analytically. (again, my online therapy, cheaper and more convenient!)

My TV Wake-up call

Oh, it's been a long, long while. The garden has been calling me, tugging me, and I finally finished a little skirt ensemble for Aoife (how I wish I could post a picture of her in her tiered skirt, appliqued t-shirt, and matching bandana) and I have also been just enjoying my family. Such a treat.
Among my many lovely experiences in the past week was one moment that I felt really connected me to our society at large. I had the exciting pleasure of indulging in a little TELEVISION the other night, while babysitting for my dear friend Gina's sleeping daughter while she and her husband went out on a date. I must say, coming from a TV free home, it is always a little titillating for me to imagine that if I turn on the TV elsewhere, instead of flickering static there will be actual shows, and choices, too! It's a fun adventure. I was working on Aoife's skirt and looking forward to having a little entertainment while I ruffled and pinned and basted.
Oh, did I find it. With sickening, thunderstruck curiosity, I watched, spellbound, as I saw how low our society had indeed stooped, while I have been whiling away the months gardening and sewing and reading and listening to the baseball on the radio. I turned it on, and it was the first channel I came to, and I couldn't even explore the other channels. It was like a terrifying horror movie-- one that really creeps you out, but you have to see it anyway, just to find out what happens:

The Baby Borrowers.

Just in case you are, like me, unaware of this show, I'll fill you in. The creators choose five (?) teenage couples who think they love kids and will make great parents. They set them up in posh homes, send them to a few baby-care classes. Meanwhile, they simultaneously find some unbelievably INSANE parents who actually have a baby and are willing to SACRIFICE their child to these rookie couples for THREE DAYS AND NIGHTS. (I apologize for the overuse of capitals, but I can't think of another way of putting it. This is madness). The parents provide the teens with a little notebook with baby's likes and dislikes, etc, and then they leave. They leave. The babies are alone with the teens. There is a chaperone in the house (defined as a professional nanny, but from the shots provided, they looked like early-20's) to intervene if the baby is in immediate danger, and the parents watch on a closed camera from a satellite house.

The idea behind the show? Simple enough. Give these teens, who fancy themselves to be in stable relationships and to think having a baby will be really dreamy, a good reality check. Show them how unbelievably difficult parenting is, how much of themselves they have to be ready to sacrifice in order to care for a baby, and encourage them to wait to start their own families.
Good enough. I mean, really, one of the girls on the show (17, so bratty, and refused to care for her "baby" after the mother intervened to tell her that even if the baby cried, she had to keep attempting to feed him, this after the girl said, "fine, don't eat", and took him out of the high chair) actually said she thought it was better for the kids if the parents were young, that both she and her boyfriend were born to teen moms and felt their relationships were closer as a result. So yeah, the idea of teaching them a lesson might be legitimate, because I can tell you these teenagers were pretty strung out after about 6 hours of trying to care for their charges.

But HELLO? Who are the IDIOTS who actually give up their babies for the show? These poor babies cried non-stop. NON- STOP. I wonder why? Can you imagine sitting there, watching your child who is 9 months old crying and crying and crying and these incompetent teens doing ALL the wrong things to try to soothe him? Because 9 month old babies don't just lie there and wail anymore, that's for newborns. If you are 9 months and crying uncontrollably, you are unbelievably miserable. It just absolutely shocked and disheartened me to see that people would do that.

This doesn't even have anything to do with the fact that in my world, any one of these babies (who ranged from 6 to 11 months old) would still be exclusively breastfed, carried around and held all day, and sleeping right next to me. But at the very least, a child of this age should have his mom with him to lovingly give the bottle and to pat his back in the crib when he cries! Oh my gosh! Who would do this to their child?

I know the answer. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
And I'd like to think it would all go into the college fund, but I doubt it will.

Well. I could go on. But instead, I'll sum up: nobody's borrowing my babies. They're mine, all mine, and I'm keeping the ones I've got.