Friday, February 27, 2009

This is Home

In the summer of 2003, I was housebound and paralyzed. I almost was truly paralyzed, my body did not want to go on, to go anywhere. I remember that I would sit at the kitchen table in the early morning, with a bowl of cheerios in front of me, and that I would just weep as I ate them, my tears falling into the milk as I cried without being able to stop, and for some reason also continued to eat, to try to keep myself alive. I can remember the taste of slightly soggy cheerios, warm strawberries which were in season, and the saltwater of my tears which were so abundant that they could be tasted distinctly. This was what my life was, it was stopped completely, it was silent, and still, and sad. I ate and slept and wept and thought about the ruin that was my life and there was nothing but blind faith to indicate that it would ever be any different. I know that I truly believed that I could never again be truly happy.

But we did make a decision that was somewhat odd, we elected to continue our summer tradition of going to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival with our dear friend Gina, and we did get in the car and go, our arms hanging heavy as lead by our sides, the sling hung in the closet instead of wrapped, full of baby, around my belly as we walked across the hayfields to get to the music. Like most of what happened that summer, I don't really remember what we did there, who we saw, what we heard, or what we said. I remember feeling absolutely weighted with the grief, just huge and obvious and empty, and I wanted the sign so badly, the sign that said, baby should be here, so that the people who looked at Greg and I and saw this handsome young couple, this childless couple, would know that we weren't.

The only memory I have of the day we spent there was later in the evening when one of our favorite artists, Lucy Kaplansky, got on the stage to play. Well, it turned out that Lucy herself had just adopted a baby girl from China, and her show was the highlights from her new album entitled "The Red Thread" and was fraught with imagery of birth, abandonment, and the truest love. It is true that when you are grieving the words of most love songs sometimes appear to be applicable to your life, but these songs wrenched our hearts on a deeper level, pulling us down and up at the same time, validating our life and our grief and everything else surrounding it. Gina and Greg and I sat on a blanket, and it was actually raining a little bit at this point, so we were wet, and warm, and the tears just poured and poured as this beautiful music surrounded us and the darkness fell over the rolling hills of eastern New York and the crowd sat together, hushed, and listened to the music. It was very, very sad, but also very beautiful.

And so it was a very poignant coincidence when, two years and eight months later, I pushed one Aoife Charlotte out into the world to the sound of that very same music, and there was something that felt full circle about this, to have once sat in the drizzle and rain and been so incredibly empty and alone, even while surrounded by so much, and to now be in a warm, dry room with a brand new, tiny little life on my belly, this was the most beautiful of the beautiful, and it turned some of the sadness of the song back into beauty and that made me happy. (if you're curious to hear the song, if you go to Lucy's website to listen, it is called This is Home)

I ended up a few Sundays ago in the Iron Horse Music Hall, one of my favorite venues in the world to hear music, at a little table for two with Gina to hear Lucy Kaplansky again. It was a whim to go, but we couldn't turn down the chance to see her. I arrived late, flustered, fighting guilt having left Greg alone to put the kids to bed and clean up from dinner while I enjoyed the music that I loved in a place that we had once frequented together.

This is the thing I have been creeping towards for this entire post, it is this moment in the Iron Horse, as Lucy begins to sing, and weaves again tales of life, and loss, and beauty with her magical voice, and the lights are dim, and I am moved so much. Perhaps thirty minutes into the show she begins a song she explains is new, written by her last spring when she was away from her daughter, now six, for Mother's Day. In the song, she juxtaposes images of Molly's birth mother giving her up with the imagery and emotion of her own mothering journey. The image in the song is ripe for me: the (birth) mother wraps up her baby and says goodbye, she wraps up her baby and says goodbye.

Just like me.

There is something about darkness, and the lateness of the hour, and the power of beautiful singing, and these words that simply pushed me over the edge, sent me tumbling back to where I was taking my own baby girl, and looking down at her on my lap and wrapping her gently in her little blankets. I was swaddling her left side first, then up the middle, then right side to wrap her into a sweet little baby burrito, and picking her up to kiss her tiny nose for the last time, and to feel my heart being pulled, wrenched, yanked out of me as she left us. I could see her for real, and this is so important, because after all these years I am sometimes horrified to realize how many of the times I think of Charlotte I am seeing the photographs that surround me, and that those images have replaced many of the actual memories. But this night while the music swirled around me I could see her again, the elfin face, I could smell that newborn, fresh-birth smell and feel the fuzzy softness of the side of her head that I have never felt since.

I have moments like this every so often, where I am overcome by something, and it hits me like I am being broadsided by a mack truck, HOW can you be sitting here out in the world, when this was you five years and nine months ago, when you have a dead baby on your conscience and in your memory and in your heart? Suddenly she rushes to the forefront, way in front of my present life, looming over the happiness that I have created for myself, and I am right there again, crying into my cheerios, bereft and lonely, with a saggy, stretchmarked stomach, leaking breasts, and a broken heart.

So I was there, in the Iron Horse, and this truck slams me, and I wanted to cry forever, right there. I didn't want to go to the bathroom and cry, I didn't want to go outside or go home, I just wanted to sit in my little wooden chair at my table and cry and cry and cry. The sadness swirled around me and wrapped me like a blanket, warm and heavy, and I didn't want to let it go. It felt so authentic to be in this place, to be sitting just quietly listening to this woman sing, and to feel the true being of me and to let it slide.

But it always happens, that the tears at times like this seem sweet and so perfect for a while, and then I feel as if I am maybe slipping out of control, and I begin to panic that I may begin to appear slightly pathalogical if I am actually going through several packets of kleenex, no matter how moving the music might be. So I do the trick that I learned many moons ago, which is to take a deep breath and blow my nose hard, and somehow I am always able to make myself stop crying by doing this, no matter how sad I am feeling.

So I stopped crying that night, but in my heart I wept and wept, because she's still there, isn't she? I move so freely through this life now, surprising myself every day with happiness and success and friendship, but she is still there. There is still that half of the choose-your-own-adventure book that was torn out, torn apart, thrown far, far, out of my reach, its protagonist a little girl who would be edging her way towards six right now. She is the life I didn't have, the life I now cannot beg back because it would be without my two that I now have, but still I call to her, I call to her.

Charlotte, come back to me. Charlotte, Charlotte.

Charlotte, come home.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I always have to link when somebody else writes about my girl...
Here are her auntie JoJos words, and for them I am grateful.
Every time I hear or read something like this, my baby comes alive a little bit more. She really can only live through the love of others, and I am so grateful that she is remembered and thought of by so many.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A revisit

In the midst of my snapfish-a-thon, which consists of me compiling albums and printing out over 2 years of pictures and organizing them into albums, I came across this CD which my midwife had made for me, with photos from Liam's birth. What a treat to revisit with new eyes, I had not seen these photos since the month after his birth, and what warm memories they bring to my heart.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Owning Fear, or not...

I always hesitate before posting something which was inspired by a comment, because I absolutely thrive on reading comments, and I am so grateful to those who regularly contribute to this site with their reflections and dialogue.
And so it is that I hope that what follows will inspire a devoted reader (and commenter) to feel proud that she inspired deep thought (which I am prone to) and not self conscious of her words....

The comment was in response to a few posts ago, where I confessed to a moment of panic where fear threatened to surround me during an evening meal. I wrote of the reality of realizing that death could happen right there at my dinnertable, that my daughter could choke and die on the food I was spooning into her mouth. I truly don't think most people would go there, but I did, and here is what one reader commented:

.. don't own fear that you don't need or want to have. Don't accept it. You've already told us that you can go most days without it. So when it rears it's ugly head.. say "i don't accept you. I don't want you. go away." Then make it. Take deep breaths. Thinking that if Aoife had choked on food that it would have been your hand that did it is owning that fear. So why own it??

That, my dear, is a very good question. I have thought a great deal about this, and it reminded me of one day while I was pregnant with Liam, and I had run to my therapist after a night of virtually no sleep. I had been frozen with panic, terrified that the baby had died, unable to sleep and unable to accept, even, that his movements indicated his well being.
The dear, dear woman, who I loved and trusted so much, met my eye, and said, "Is there any way you can just trust this baby? Can you trust that it will be allright?"
Everything in the room turned red, and I exploded.
Trust? You want me to trust? Do you know how it feels to be a person whose child has died on HER watch? Who lay there reading a novel while her daughter was silently suffocating within her womb? Do you know what it feels like to be carrying life; yet know that one hundred percent of your children have died and you could not stop it? Do you know what it feels like to wake up in the morning in my silent house and know I have to live another day as myself, the woman whose baby is dead and will always be dead? Do you know what this feels like? No, no, no. I cannot trust. I cannot trust.
I wanted to trust, truly I did. But I could not. Not then, anyway, and things have changed.

When I first toyed with the idea of not owning the fear, of pushing it away, I thought, yes. This is what it means to NOT have a dead child. To not have a dead child means that when you think about your child dying, and the fear doesn't even quite rise in you, you have the power to make it someone else's problem, to push it away and tell yourself that worrying won't accomplish anything and that the likelihood of the child choking or otherwise dying is so unlikely that it's not meaning much to spend a flicker of a moment worrying about it.

I think I agree with this, that without having truly been slammed with true fear, you can control it. But what I realize I don't agree with is what I used to think, back when I verbally assaulted my gentle, kind therapist, which was that I had no control over the fear. I think what happens now is almost a combination of the two. I neither own, nor disown the fear.
There is no way that I can avoid feeling the fear, when it rises, because I know the fear. It is woven into the grains of my muscles, into each blink of my eyelashes, into each pulse of my heart. When I remember back to the moment that the doctor met my eye and said to me, "I'm sorry, your baby's heart isn't beating anymore, your baby is no longer alive," the emotion that still surges into me like adrenaline is not sadness, or grief, or anger, it is pure, raw terror and fear. It is the icy grip of death on my neck, of knowing that I have fallen victim to something that was always someone else's problem, and that I can't backpaddle my way out of it. It's horror, it's terror, it's fear. It's irreversible. It lives in me, that memory, and that is what I can feel when I think about death ever returning to our household. I know I am not immune.
However, while I can feel the fear so intensely on demand, I also have matured in my grief and mothering process to recognize and accept that the fear will get me nowhere, except into a place which is worse than where I am now. And so while I don't feel that I'll ever be able to reject the fear, and truly disown it, I will refuse to look at it in the eye. I will refuse to let it spend more than a fleeting moment in the conscious recesses of my brain. While I will let the fear influence my decision making to some extent, I will not let it inhibit me from living. I must go on, and I must love life for what it is. Fear will not accomplish anything.

And so, perhaps, I can say this to the fear: I know you are there, and I respect you. You come from an honest place. But I will not let you take away from what I have now. You belong in my life because of what has happened to me, but I will not meet your eye. Fade into my background and live there, as a memory, and please try not to interfere with what wellness and good surrounds me now.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

A few weekends ago, I did something I hadn't done in a long, long time.

The anticipation of doing it made me almost ill, not because I worried so much about what would happen, but because suddenly I was being thrown back there, to the place I hadn't been in so very long, and thought I was all finished with being there and I didn't want to go back.

So where is there? I was invited to a sledding party, and among the other guests was a family who had been in our first childbirth class, when I was pregnant with Charlotte. The last time I spoke to Betsy was on the evening of our last childbirth class. We both had been due on May 5th. We had special snacks that night, and an extra long meditation session. My life was still one of innocence.

It wasn't my last communication, though. When I logged onto my e-mail on, perhaps, May the 15th to send my birthing class the notification of our baby's birth and death, my inbox flashed with an e-mail from Betsy.

"Is this someone's idea of a cruel joke?" she had written. "My due date has been changed to the 10th, and so they won't induce me until the 24th. Arrrgh!"

I think I almost laughed. Cruel joke? I had a better one for her.

I didn't fault her, mind you. I have been that woman, 8 days late, just thinking I would do about anything to get the baby out.

But I hadn't seen her since. And so here I was, now almost six years and three births later, going out to a party where I would suddenly be the woman with the dead baby. Where I would see her across a big backyard, and I would have to walk that mile across the yard wondering if she was going to say something or not. And of course the whole time I am knowing that she's thinking to herself, oh, god, here she comes, that poor woman, what should I say to her? So I feel sorry for myself, and I feel sorry for her, and I'm knowing that I will just die if she says nothing, and I truly have not walked this walk in five years.

I also felt almost repelled by the idea of seeing her daughter, I felt incapacitated at the thought that my two children would be in a room with a little girl who is almost precisely the same age as their older sister, and they would not even know it. (their daughter was born six days after Charlotte). I worried about having to talk to her. I worried that she would be nice to Aoife and make me cry.

But mostly I worried about the elephant in the room. I had almost forgotten about him over all these years.

He was there, for a little while, but I just dreamed him up. When I arrived at the party, all the guests scattered around on a majestic hillside with panoramic views, sleds flying and chidlren shrieking with delight, I looked around deftly, surveying the scene, and determined that she wasn't there. When their car pulled up and they piled out onto the snowbank my radar kicked in right away and I kept track of them for 10 minutes ago on my subtle radar, until I realized that I wasn't engaged in anything except making sure I wasn't making eye contact with Betsy, and so at that point I marched right up to her on the side of the hill and re-introduced myself and that was the beginning of that.

She was lovely, really, and even surprised and delighted me by asking me lots of questions about Charlotte and our birth and what it was like to be pregnant again. She was impressed to hear about my group and the work I've done in the community and we talked for quite a long time, me still avoiding her daughter, but it was a satisfying conversation and I was almost thrilled with myself for having just done it, for having just walked over to her and squishing the elephant flat because I couldn't deal with him at all.

Later on, when we were in the house, I couldn't help but watch her daughter, and notice how tall she was, how long her long bones were and how grown up she looked compared to the four year olds in the room. She was blonde, and her hair was straight, and maybe from the back she could have been my child, but she wasn't.

On a comical note, the evening ended in laughter from me, on the car ride home. For days, I had been stewing about this meeting, and I had told Greg the day before that they would be at the party and he had sort of mumbled and commiserated a little bit with me about how that might be hard. So we're in the car, driving through the darkness with this brilliantly full moon casting silver light on everything around us. I'm feeling kind of rosy and glad that this momentous event is behind me, I've had a lovely time and surmounted this obstacle and accomplished something difficult. Best of all, the stewing and the worrying and the consumption with being thrown back into my depressing and awful past is completely over and done with. So I turn to Greg and I say to him, "So, did you talk to Betsy or her husband?"
I could see him sit up a little straighter, and he turned his head and said to me in a most jovial tone, "No, I completely forgot that they were there. "


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fear, Part 2

(Today, Aoife woke up and asked me for pink cake. So I said to her, YES. And here it is.)
My nights are quiet now, in this baby-less home, and I sleep all night long sometimes without dreaming before the dawn begins to light the sky and people begin to stir. I used to dream so much, when I was waking and falling back to sleep so often with a babe tucked under my arm while I slept, and now that I sleep so long and hard and I'm not woken it's rare that a dream will wake me.

But the drowning dreams always do, they always do. I have written before about my subconscious obsession with drowning that I can only imagine comes from my infantile brain struggling with the image of my first daughter suffocating whilst surrounded by fluid, a drowning of sorts, though not by definition. The other night I woke with a frightful start from a dream which filled me up to the top. I was on a dock, by a wide, cool lake, and Aoife had just been pulled from the deep. Her lungs were full with water and she was not breathing. I shook her upside down, then laid her down and began to try to pump the water from her chest but I didn't know how hard it was safe to push on her tiny bird-like chest, and feared ruining her some other way. Meanwhile, she was drowned before me, water pouring from her mouth, no breath coming from her at all. Help was being summoned, but I didn't know if it would get there in time.

When I woke from this dream I was thankful to hear that what had woken me was perhaps not the dream and its horror but the sound of my wee bird from down the hall, crying gently to me for another blanket, she was cold. I ran down and scooped her up and curled her in my arms, she is still so tiny and almost frail, and I rocked her while she slept and buried my face in her silky hair and breathed in her warm strawberry-chapstick sleepy smell. Then I tucked around her four or five blankets before returning to my own, lonely childless bed. (Aoife having expressed several times lately that she prefers sleeping in her "own yittle bed")

So that dream, it was sad and awful, but thankfully just a dream.

And I wrote yesterday about how the fear is often surpressed by life itself.

But, then, there are days where it rears its ugly head, of course.

And here is something that I can hardly get myself around-- the idea of my children choking. Oh, my children, how tiny their food has to be cut up. I think that carrots and grapes shall be cut into tiny strips for them forever, and I am continually envisioning them choking on the food I give to them. Tonight, at the dinnertable, Aoife was coughing quite hard while she was eating, and suddenly I was fraught with the vision of her food being sucked into her windpipe as she coughed, and the vision from the dream of me trying in vain to clear her airway overwhelmed me, and I had to take away her plate so I could monitor how much food went in, and when. I felt like I was sinking, like I was weighted by helplessness as I envisioned what it would be like if food closed off her airway and we couldn't get it out, and how the ambulance would scream its way here but it would probably be too late by the time it arrived.

And here is what I could not shake: I cut the food for her, I fed it to her with my own fork. So, in fact, if she did then proceed to choke, I was in fact the instrument in my own child's death, having cut and fed her that bite of food that choked her.

She ate very slowly, as a result, and I am pleased to report that I did succeed in preventing choking for this meal, anyway. Thank goodness this fear can be surpressed on most days. I could not live like that every day.

And so, at the end of this day, I sink back in gratitude once again, for the warm home that surrounds me, for the cozy clothes on my back, the food in my belly, my beautiful family, my loving husband, my two beautiful children, and the daughter who helps me to see it all through the muck and mist of everyday life. I am blessed in so many ways.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shaking Fear by the Shoulders

And there was this, too.

After Liam lived, and he was curled naked next to my naked body under a heat lamp in the postpartum room, I let go of so much of my fear for a time. He had lived, he had survived the cord, and the confines of my womb, and he was out in the air where I could see and watch him and help him to keep on living. For four days we lay in bliss in hospital, watched over by a team of loving and caring nurses, peeked in upon by our sensitive pediatrician, with food delivered at regular intervals, sheets changed each morning, and visitors with gifts and tears and cards all day long.

He was very jaundiced, my Liam, and they couldn't get the numbers down to a good place. Most babies are taken from their mamas, and put in light-beds with teeny-tiny sunglasses so they can soak up the rays that will help them to break down their excess bilirubin. Without so much as a word, or a conversation, my pediatrician knew that this would never fly for me to let my child leave my side, and so he arranged for an alternative situation. We would be discharged, and that afternoon a truck from the big hospital down in Springfield would arrive with a teeny-tiny "bili-vest" for our little tiny boy to wear. It would wrap around his tummy and light him up like a glow-worm, and would serve the same purpose as the light bed, only we could hold him and sleep with him while he wore it. The arrangement was perfect. We signed the papers, and went home.

And home we were, no longer watched, no longer monitored. The bili-vest arrived, and we lit up our newborn son so adorably in an eerie-ghostly blue colour, and tried to sleep. The light was warm, almost hot, and I couldn't decide how to dress or blanket him. Too cool? Very dangerous for a newborn. Too hot? Very dangerous for a newborn. My heart began to beat a little faster. Perhaps I could dress him cool-ish and tuck him very close in beside me? But oh, day 4 post c-section and night 4 of nursing all night long, I was so exhausted. Very dangerous for a newborn. What is a mother to do?

Then I noticed it, or heard it, rather, this strange breathing thing he was doing. He would take a breath, and let it out. Then a pause, a rather long one, and then several quick breaths, and another pause. I sat up, straight, and began to listen more intently. It continued, with alarmingly long pauses.

Suddenly it occurred to me. He wasn't safe! He still might die! Maybe he had some kind of heart, or respiratory problem that hadn't been detected. Maybe he was overheating from this bili-vest. Maybe his lungs were not ready and his blood-ox was dropping and oh, my, oh my. I started to cry, very hard, and Greg could not quite figure out why I was so hysterical and really it was not even that I was so worried about him right then, which of course I was, but it was just that I had just realized that now I would have to worry this hard forever, that I would always be a mother who would KNOW what it felt like to have a child die, and so would fear that loss in such a real way.

Most people are lucky enough to fear the unknown, but I was fearing what I already knew and could never survive again. But, back to the breathing situation which was nearly paralyzing me for the time being, of course I called the pediatrician right away, and he assured me that this is what newborns do, it's how they breathe because they just aren't that good at it yet, it even has a name: newborn periodic breathing. And so I was comforted a little bit for that event, but it stuck with me for a while, this realization. I wished so much that I didn't have to know what I was afraid of.

This was, of course, before I decided to let fear go, and live for the day. There were even days when I would look at him and say, oh, my, if today was his last I would feel so fulfilled, I have had so much love with him, so much more than I had with her. But I have found that I have become greedier and greedier for time as the years have passed, and I no longer feel that there would be much sense of fulfillment if this was all I got. I want a lifetime out of this one. (and Aoife, too!) But I do live for the day, I live so freely and happily where I am, and this is a much easier way to live, but can only come after living for a while with the fear.

How could it be any other way?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Boy Who Lived

I remember this viscerally, with all of my being. I am lying in a hospital bed, perfectly cranked to just the right angle of comfort. The dim lights are on, the warmed blanket draped over my legs. The velcro, elasticized straps are tight around my round belly, and I can hear the heartbeat as it ticks, beep, beep, beep. There has been no sweeter sound to my ears in months.

Am I having a baby in this memory?

No, I am not. I am lying in the bed, watching Air Force One, the movie that happens to be on the television. Earlier that day, they had attempted to induce me, but after 5 hours of pitocin and no progress, we decided to call off the effort for the day. The midwives had been lovely.

Don't worry, they said, you can sleep here, on the monitor. You don't have to go home until this baby is born.

I sighed with delight, imagining that I could live there indefinitely on the monitor, listening to its quiet beeping, and knowing with great certainty that my Sweet Pea was alive.

The essence of the memory is the disbelief, the complete unawareness that I was, actually, going to deliver a baby in the near future. This feeling was different from when I had been pregnant with Charlotte, when that disbelief was the simple product of the fact that I could not envision pushing a baby from my body and having it be real. This was more of a suspended reality, a willingness to close off and disbelieve. An avoidance of what might happen, lest it might not. I was not thinking about the fact that I might be having a baby, because I couldn't imagine what that would be like. At that point, 100% of all my births had ended in death.

So I lay there, holding Greg's hand, hearing the monitor quietly beep, watching Harrison Ford as president and wondering in the deepest recesses of my subconscious what tomorrow would hold. I only hoped it would be good.

Sleep came, later on, with sadness. It had been eleven months since I had fallen asleep with a living Charlotte, eleven months to the day. Tomorrow was her "birthday". The day to dread. Fear rose, and I tried to shove it away.


There was no need for pitocin the next day. When the day nurse checked on me at half past seven, I had been laboring quietly in my bed for over an hour. I had been able to feel the contractions quickening as the dawn had pinked up the sky, and I could see on the chart that they were getting stronger and stronger (love that monitor). The nurse, our dear Trudy, who had held our hands and our hearts and our daughter eleven months earlier, reviewed the printout and smiled at me. I was surely in labor.

But what did this mean to me, then? In labor for what? I don't think I knew, really. I was trying to undo something, I was trying to undo the undoing of my motherhood, and I thought maybe this was it, but I hadn't pictured it, I hadn't imagined this real baby would actually arrive.

But labor it was, and labor I did, strong and hard. The midwife was in a meeting and I encouraged her to stay, no, really, I'm happy with Trudy and Greg, check me when your meeting is over.

She did, and if you've given birth you know this awfulness, how you are in a position that feels right and then you have to somehow move to let the midwife get a feel of your cervix, and how awful the cramping is when you can't get yourself into that just-right position that you used to be in.

Ten centimeters, she said, but there was something off about her voice. Ten centimeters, but I can't feel the head anymore. It's not in your pelvis.

Well, go get it. I thought. The baby's head had been in my pelvis for 4 weeks already. Certainly it hadn't come out while I was laboring.

The doctor came, the doctor was summoned with the ultrasound, just like last time. Same midwife, different doctor. But still the monitor beeped, beeped, beeped.

What was happening? What was I preparing to do? I really don't think I knew.

There was a hustle and a bustle then, because the doctor determined that the head wasn't there, it was up in my ribs. Somehow this little guy had turned on us and now he was high and dry, nowhere near where he was supposed to be, with a big bag of waters under his cute little feet and a cord somewhere in there, too.

This baby's coming out the other way, and now, he said, and they all started running. There were people all around me, shoving in catheters, shaving my belly, talking to me about anesthesia as they wheeled me down the hall within about 60 seconds of this discovery. Something was given to me to stop the contractions and I was rolled over and a spinal was given, immediately, and as I rolled back onto my back, and had my little monitors and things all attached to my arms I looked down and saw that same doctor, his scalpel poised, poking it gently towards my belly. It disappeared from sight.

Can you feel this? he asked.

Could I? Could I? It had only been somewhat under a minute since the spinal went in of course I could feel that, or could I? I said maybe, I wasn't sure, and I heard him say,

She's numb. And felt the tugging and the pulling of the cut, and knew they were doing it, they were saving the baby.

The midwife was there. She looked at my eyes and she said,

Your baby is going to be here very soon.

My what? Did you say what I think you said? Did you say BABY?

(Could this really be happening?)

And then it did. Greg said, I can see the feet, and then he was rising to his feet and his face crumpling with joy, and I could hear crying, the cry of a newborn. And I saw this baby be carried across the room, and Greg said, It's a boy, and I was all tears and I could not believe this was really it, a BABY, a real actual baby had been born and I had made him with my own body and he LIVED, he was here and he was alive.

I lay there, on my back, tears pooling in my ears as I sobbed, shaking the table, He's alive, he's alive, he's alive.

Then the midwife spoke almost sharply to the doctor, who was doing his usual ritual of suctioning out the c-sectioned newborn to clear his airway, and she said, will somebody please bring this mother her baby right now?

And the doctor looked, and he did, he carried the little vernix-covered boy over to me, and he laid him gently next to my face.

I was still wearing an oxygen mask, so they couldn't hear me, but Liam heard me. I said, I want to kiss him, and when I spoke, Liam stopped crying, and he looked at me then, and so I said it again, and they heard me that time and moved my mask.

I kissed my new little boy, kissed his little, wet face for the first time and knew it was real.

Later, as a true reader will do, a chapter title came to my head to describe this day, and it was from Chapter One of the very first Harry Potter book:

The Boy Who Lived

And that was my Liam.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Night falls

It is the 13th, Friday the 13th, and while I try so hard not to be superstitious about that date there is something about today that has made me sink into 13, indeed being an unlucky number (which I surmised upon Charlotte's birth and then attempted to dismiss upon Liam's birth).

The first set of broken hearts, my sweet sister in law and her husband, my darling brother in law who loves so deeply like my Greg, just found out today that their teeny-tiny, 12-week developing babe who would have been due in September is not to be... The doctor's visit which was supposed to be the big, and exciting visit ended in tragedy, and my heart broke for her when I answered the phone late this afternoon.
I had been thrilled that we would bond over a baby, and I am crushed to be bonding with her about this loss. I don't even have anything more to say about this. My heart is heavy.

The second set of broken hearts belong to my fierce, brave cousins who have been fighting with their infant son Andrew for so long: Andrew who has won the battle with cancer, who has accepted his bone marrow transplant and fought off graft-versus-host disease, and who is now suffering from severe neurological damage from the chemo and the drugs and all that his tiny little system has been exposed to in his fight. The palliative care team has been called, and they are preparing, in the next few weeks to take him home. What happens then? Perhaps a miracle? But perhaps not, and their hearts are broken, and I cry for them, too.

Such a dim day. Sometimes it just seems as if there is too much sadness in the world. I feel so grateful for my little darlings right now. And I'm so grateful that I have two of them. This is a good place to be in.

(Oh, and yes, somebody does have joy today... my dear Aimee (see Jan. 29th, I didn't title it so I can't link it!) has given birth to her new son, and has herself been reborn. About this I shall write some day, because this does fill me with incredible hope.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Today my second baby was standing on a platform at a playground with a warm, inspiring, February sunshine on his back. Filled with light and hope he took a flying leap for the third monkey bar....
and landed nose-first on the hard-packed, icy snow.
The scream that rose from him was animal-like, something I have never heard before, and as I lifted his limp body from the snow blood was pumping out of his nose at an alarming rate. His screams were frantic and hurt me, they conveyed a level of pain that he had never before communicated.
(He is all right.)
After ten minutes with wads and wads of kleenex and half an hour with an ice-filled glove, we took him to the doctor to be sure nothing was broken. While his nose is quite literally swollen to twice its normal size, everything seems to be intact, and he does not appear to have a concussion.
As I was lying with him on the melting, soggy snow, soaked with blood and tears and snot, I was marvelling that this is virtually the first time that he has gotten hurt, really hurt. All of his other injuries haven't even really caused me to feel sorry for him. He has made a big deal of them, but they have been minor, really minor. I would say he has probably only bled 3 times. And, on top of this, Liam has never really been sick. Not EVER. He has thrown up once on two occasions (his version of a stomach virus) and had the croup for one night. He has spiked fevers but never for more than a day or so.
So, all of this is to think and marvel at the good luck which has seemed to follow the bad luck.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It grieves me that my last post stood front and center for so very long... and I thank you sincerely for your comments. The truth of my situation is that while the injustice is certainly there, it rears its ugly head in the form of self-pity almost rarely; for the mostpart I am carrying on with some degree of faith that at some point in my life, at some point in my future, I will be graced with the gift of carrying another life, and when that time comes, it will come.
These words flow as easily today as the rant recounted in the previous post.
Ironically the underlying purpose of the last post was less of a pity-party, and more of a muse: what does it mean to be desperate for another baby, with two already walking and talking around my love-filled household? How much of what I long for is that my vision of my family always consisted of something larger than three, and how much of it is this nagging pull towards another, another, another?
Certainly I never thought of myself as somebody who would have two children. I grew up with three in my home. There was a point, when I was about eight, when my sisters and I were called to the table for a family meeting. My hopes soared: this could only mean one thing. My mother was having another baby! I was delighted: I loved babies, and perhaps this would mean the brother I had always hoped for. I near skipped down the stairs only to learn that my mother was not pregnant and that, in fact, she was going to have a small "procedure" the next day, which would diminish the possibility of me ever having that brother t0, well, about .002 percent. Whoops.
That anecdote serves to say that I always dreamed of a big family; my sisters are so amazing and I draw so much from them. Our family had so much fun together I could never help but imagine how the fun could grow with more. Thus it has always been my dream to have a small flock of children. I counter my slightly-offish guilt about world population growth by imagining that the children I produce will certainly be generous, thoughtful, intelligent citizens of the world who will better it as they move through it.
I absolutely respect the family choices that people make for themselves, and so I hasten to say this but it's true for myself, that from where I stand, I feel very sorry for only children, and I never even envisioned myself with two-- it all seemed two simple, two hands, two children, two knees. Only one person to tell the "Can you believe what Mom did?" story to. The long and the short of it is, I never imagined I would stop here, with two. (and I haven't, I'm just SAYING)
So this is the irony, I think this is where this all plays in. I think to myself, I never thought I would stop here, with two. BUT I HAD THREE!! I'm NOT stopping at two, I'm stopping at THREE, but I don't have three. So this seems kind of unbalanced and makes me uncomfortable. There is a part of me that would like to think that my frustration would be lessened and my patience extended if I hadn't actually birthed three children, but of course I will never know.

So today is a good day, and I would venture to say that probably 29 days out of the month are good days. I am really not stressed about this on a regular basis. My modus operandus in life has always been this: I am happy, happy, happy, calm, optimistic, cheery, excited, almost all the time: except when I'm not. And then everything that hasn't been expressed in those weeks of happiness comes explosively outward, funneling itself into an irrational flurry of anger and frustration and all those other things I could be feeling on a daily basis but choose not to. I hate to line this up on a monthly cycle but let's be honest here, hormones DO play a role in all of this. So fear not when you get a post like the last one, all is not lost. Give me an encouraging comment and I'll be back on my feet in at least 24 hours, if not sooner.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Subject I don't write about...

I melted down last night, like a two year old. I yelled about things that weren't worthy of words, I threw a few things, I stomped my feet. I was cranky and cross. I was tired. I wanted somebody to rub my back and brush my hair and I didn't want to have to ask.

I'm tired, I said to Greg, I'm tired. I'm tired of all of this. I'm so tired of trying to make a baby and it doesn't work. And the only thing all the testing has told us is that it isn't you, which means it is me. So it means I am broken. It means I'm broken and I know I can't be fixed so I'm sick of it, I'm sick of it and I'm tired of it and I want to quit.

You know what I think the problem is?
I ranted at him. I think my eggs are dead, I think they're gone, all done, used up, finished. They're no good. I'm hitting early menopause or something, maybe because I hit puberty so early. And you know what? There isn't anything you can do about that. If the eggs are no good, then you can't make a baby.

It's not possible, I said to him, it's just not possible to try to make a baby out of an egg that's no good. It's like trying to bring a dead person back to life. It's just not possible.

I stopped, then, my words echoing in my own ears. Perhaps I just had to hear them, to reconcile this fact in my head, the true source of my desperation to see another living child walk this earth. to bring a dead person back to life....

Is this it? My crazy obsession with having another baby? Is it just that, that I am constantly trying to make up for what I've lost?

If it is, all the better that I quit while I'm ahead.
I just sent off this letter to Cookie magazine ( in response to an article they published in their November 2008 issue, which reviewed Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination and Jessica Berger Gross' anthology About What Was Lost: 20 Writers on Miscarriage, Healing and Hope. My opinions on the article are revealed in the letter below... it was a bit of a let down to finally see something pertaining to babyloss in print, only to feel pretty much totally unsatisfied with the content. It occurred to me that almost everything I've ever seen that's been printed about this subject has been as a memoir, and that this might just be the first time that somebody who (obviously) has no personal experience with loss (stillbirth, to be specific) has written the piece.

Dear Cookie,

A friend just lent me your Nov. 2008 issue, so that I could read the article "The Quiet Club" by Nell Casey. I am a leader in my area for supporting families who have suffered through infant and pregnancy loss, and I applaud you for daring to cover this topic in your magazine. Many women, myself as an example having lost my first daughter at term, suffer in silence, and each step in the direction of recognition is worthy in an of itself.
I would, however, like to comment on two areas that struck me as very misleading and wrong about Casey's article. The first area is two incorrect facts: one, that there is not statistical information available on the number of stillbirths, and the second is that there is no standard definition of stillbirth. In fact, while there are several states that vary on the number of weeks gestation that divide miscarriages from stillbirths, nearly every state will define a stillbirth as death in utero of a fetus over 20 weeks gestation. Furthermore, regardless of the state-by-state differences (of which there are very few to begin with) the statistics are out there and they are the same everywhere you look: 29,000 stillbirths annually, which means that each day in the US an average of 80 families will experience this tragedy. I can't help but think this information was omitted intentionally to "spare" the fears of readers. This lack of statistics further isolates those of us who have suffered alone, continuing to shelve us as "unique" and unspeakable. I would beg you to correct this.Secondly, I personally took great offense to Casey's comment that McCracken's friend's question "'Was he a beautiful baby?'" reads as an almost shocking question without the emotional context of this friendship." This is the blow that hits hardest, beneath the waist, and leaves us breathless, us babylost mothers and fathers. Not only are we robbed of the rest of our lives with our children, but we are shunned from even mentioning their names, from describing their adorable faces and miniature toes, from sharing our babies as best we can through memories and photos. Would it be shocking to ask a mother of a live baby if her baby was beautiful? I challenge you to find a mother of a stillborn baby who did not find her baby to be beautiful. What Casey should have instead relayed, perhaps, is that while this question might sound surprising, a stillborn baby can often resemble a sleeping infant in color and by touch, and that it is quite normal (and encouraged) for families to spend many hours with their deceased children to get to know them as well as they can in their brief time. Indicating that inquiring after the baby would be shocking, without qualifying it as the best possible thing one can do, is very misleading. For a babylost mother to have a friend legitimize her baby for what he is: an actual baby who had an adorable, elfin face and long limbs, is a gift beyond value.Thank you for your time, and again, I truly appreciate your bravery in addressing this "taboo" subject area that simply must come out of the closet, so to speak.

I signed it as my name with the title, Director, Empty Arms Western Massachusetts

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


There are, of course, over a million ways in which my two living children have soothed my love-sick soul. But something that could be overlooked in its comforting powers is the sheer innocence of little children. Being surrounded by this all day long (and all night, and then all day again, and then all night again, etc) can be so refreshing and replenishing that you can do things like forget that George W. Bush is the president (thank God that's over) and that people all over the world are sick and starving and dying and can allow you to just hone in on the little corner of the world that you occupy, and enjoy it.

Yesterday, Liam and his dear friend Phoebe were outside for hours. I could see them running back and forth from the woods with little sticks and branches but the fruits of their labor were hidden behind our Christmas tree, which is sticking up from one of our mountainous snowbanks. Suddenly, he burst into the house with this grin plastered across his face so wide he could barely talk.
Mimi! You have to come see what we made! A trap! We're going to trap a turkey!

I followed him out obediently. The "cage" was deftly designed of pine branches, with an ear of indian corn inside. A little trail of purple kernels led from the trap to the forest beyond. The two of them were breathlessly excited about their plan. They explained how the bird would undoubtedly smell the corn and squeeze between the branches, and become ensnared. I was enthusiastic and hopeful for them.
This morning, by 6:45 am, he had gone outside to check his trap. I don't think I need to report on the outcome. We did spot a few turkey tracks in the driveway, but the trap was empty.

"Maybe my trap isn't big enough," he mused. "I might have to expand it."

I smiled, so happy to be working on a project to trap a turkey. I wonder if he has a plan of what he'll do with it if he catches one.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Locker Room Overheards

(first, some briefs of our life as of late: cabin fever setting in hard)

It is a strange phenomenon that occurs at times, when you speak of something, it happens within days.
Just last week, when Cara was visiting, we were talking about the ever-curious question, How many children do you have? I was musing about how depending on the context, or the person, or how detailed I thought I could get at that moment, or how long I planned to be in the conversation, my answer varied.
"For example," I said to her, "If I'm talking to a stranger in the locker room, and I'm almost dressed, and I know I'm not going to really get to know this person in any great depth, sometimes I'll use this stock phrase that I have which is, 'I have two children at home with me'. This doesn't discount Charlotte, but it also doesn't force me into a longer conversation that I'm not prepared to have."

It was just the next morning, on Friday, that I was toweling dry my hair, hanging upside down, and happened to see the book Three Cups of Tea in somebody's gym bag. I had just that morning lent the book to a friend for her book club, so I asked the woman if she was in my friend's book club. She was, and as we both dressed, we started to talk. I was completely dressed, with my hairbrush in my hand, when she asked it, "How many kids do you have?"
Such a simple question to her, practically the simplest. To me, the most complicated. I was already brushing my hair, the kids were downstairs in the child watch waiting for me.
"I have two with me at home, " I said, shaking the water out of my brush.

"Oh," she said, "Do you have another one that doesn't live with you?"
In five years nobody has ever asked me that. Not one, single person has ever noticed the unusal phrasing of that stock answer, and I was delighted to provide her with an answer, of course. When I told her about Charlotte, she apologized for having asked, and I reassured her that I was quite happy to talk about her, and about it, but that I didn't always bring her up immediately just because of my concern that "some people" just can't handle it. I phrased this to indicate that she was clearly not in that category, and indeed she did follow up with a number of questions, allowing me to speak loudly and clearly so that everyone else in the locker room also probably got to hear the summarized version of what could basically be called my life story (you could call Charlotte's birth and death a defining moment, above any other moment in my life!). I followed her to the blow dryers, although I hadn't planned to dry my hair, and dried it a little just so that I could keep on talking, and so that I could bask in the beauty of this rare specimen who just kept on firing the questions. My coat went on very slowly (although I planned to stay at the Y for some time longer) and my shoes were ever so carefully tied while we talked, while I was outed as the mother that I truly am, feeling almost shameful for having attempted to avoid the issue.

So perhaps this is a lesson to me, and it should be, and I will make it one. Do not be so lazy (last year's New Year's Resolution), do not skirt the issue when you don't have the so-called energy to face the person in front of you. Answer the question with honesty, because it's the truth, and don't just offer a half-truth to make a quick getaway.

It makes me hang my head to even imagine that I needed to be taught this lesson.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Two little brothers

The bic lighter swooshes, and he speaks.
We love you, Charlotte.
Her face illuminates, the candlelight glowing and reflecting in her eyes, which are blue pools.
We wish you could come back, Sar-yitte.
A collective silence, a quiet sigh. The blessing, we call it. The words around the lit candle that stands for her, the same ones repeated every night. One, the truth, one a wish that will never be.

A few nights ago we were joined at the table by little Holdyn, whom some of you know. He had been difficult to settle only moments earlier, his sweet, devoted Mama had spent many long minutes changing and rocking and feeding him to bring him to where he sat now, on her lap, his own blue eyes reflecting the candlelight that lay before him. He seemed mesmerised by the light, or perhaps by the sea of faces that quietly surrounded him. He is so little, only 17 weeks old, yet in that context he had this mature look to his face, which has lost its new-born look almost entirely.

At this meal I added to the blessing, tonight there is somebody else who is missing from this table, Liam, could you say a blessing for her, too?
He was shy, because Erin is a kind, loving, pretty woman (and he therefore has a slight crush on her) so I said the words for him,
We love you, Birdie.
And I looked at Holdyn, and I said to Liam, in only a few years maybe Holdyn will have the job of saying the blessing at his own dinner table, for his big sister who is missing. And I was so glad, then, in that moment, to have Erin and her family, to have Holdyn who is the same as my son, who can learn from him and normalize his life for him. I was glad for Holdyn and I was glad for Liam that they can know each other as the little brother of a sister who is gone. They can know each other as two little boys who are the oldest but not the first.

Misery loves company, this is one way to think of it. But I'd rather think of us as a different version of a family, of a family who just has this missing sister as part of their history, who will not let her go, but who lights the candle and marches on.

Time is so, so gentle to the healing soul.

But the wound never does completely heal.