Monday, June 29, 2009


I have written before of my homecoming in the summer of 2003. I am not speaking here of the time we drove up the driveway in our little silver car, and got out, my belly swollen and empty, face blank as canvas. I'm not writing of that time, when our families ushered our shell-shocked exteriors into the house, where the baby books and newborn supplies had been tidily hidden in our nursery for us to peruse when we were ready. That time, I came home with no baby, but also no idea what I was entering into. I was numb to the core, my very bones shuddering at the emptiness that was inside me, and I did not have the facilities to contemplate what I actually faced.

No, here I am talking of my second homecoming, when Greg and I arrived in that same car at the back drive of our summer cottage, the same cottage where I had spent every summer of my life, and my father every summer of his, and my grandfather and great grandfather every summer of theirs. This was the cottage, my ancestral home, where I had dreamed of bringing my newborn baby girl, where throughout my pregnancy I had fantasized about all my relatives rushing out to ooh, and aah, and congratulate me on being almost the first of my generation (the fifth generation of the point) to create a new being. (There are actually already 8 members of the sixth generation, but their family is off-set in ages from the rest of the extended family, so I was to have been the first in my cousin-cohort to reproduce). Instead, I stumbled from the car, my face already swollen with tears, and I ran and tried to hide myself in the house because I didn't think I could live through the summer without her.

But there is no hiding in a cedar-planked cottage with no insulation. I am certain my wails reverberated over the point, the awful, lost, sad wails of a mother who has lost her child. If you have not lost a child, you cannot fathom this sound. If you have, you have heard it, and have recoiled at the realization that you posess the grief to create such a sound. My cries could not be contained, though, and there was no warm welcome to sweep me up. I could not have felt more alone, there on the point, surrounded by one-hundred and fifteen years of love and holiday and song. My baby wasn't there. I could not be consoled.

I felt nearly certain that my relatives, who I did love and care for, would not be effusive in their condolences. I had endured enough sympathy cards, hugs, and flowers by now to learn who spoke with honesty and who hid from the truth, and I had an inkling of an idea that most of my relatives would be the types to hug me deeply, but then to never mention Charlotte's name, thinking it best to keep the past in the past, and to look forward with new eyes. I was almost, nearly prepared for this. I knew that most of them would lack courage to engage me in a real conversation. I knew plenty of people would avoid me altogether. These people had not seen me pregnant. They had not seen the ultrasounds, felt her feet and elbows through my belly. She was not real to them, she was a pregnancy loss equal to a loss at 6 weeks or 8, something society is well-trained in sweeping under the rug at all costs (not that I encourage this). So I did prepare myself, I did, I did.

But there was one person who I had always been close to, I had always cherished in a special way, and she had sent me some beautiful things in the mail, and had included a poignant poem which we had read at Charlotte's memorial. She, I believed, was different. I believed she would perhaps be the one to sit on the porch and ask me questions. I don't know why I thought this, but I did. So later that afternoon, after my wails had subsided, and silence fell like a black cloak over our still household, she came over and enveloped me in the warmest, most enveloping hug I'd ever felt. The tears started before she spoke, tears of appreciation which soon turned bitter at her words to me, uttered with a soft hand stroking my hair, "It will be allright. Everything is going to be allright."

All right? EVERYTHING?

These were not, were not the words I needed to hear. Everything was NOT allright, and it never would be. I said so.

"It is not all right. My baby girl is gone, how can that ever be all right?"

I do not remember her response, if there even was one. And I write here not at the dismay in this person, because now I can see with complete clarity that she was doing everything she could to try to help me, but she just didn't know what to say. The emotion I seek to extract here is not anger towards a person, but this pervasive feeling of utter disappointment that we, the bereaved, feel when someone who we trusted and care about comes out and says the wrong thing. It has happened to us all. Everyone has someone who has said something that may not have been outright hurtful, but has made our heart sink into our stomach, because here was someone we hoped would say our baby's name, and hold our hand while we cried, and all they can stomach is to try to fix it with one simple sentence.

Nobody knows what to do, nobody. Nobody knows what to say. We are all speechless in the face of loss, of grief, and especially when birth and death, life's two greatest mysteries, intertwine. We the bereaved have all due respect for this not-knowing what to do. But say it, say it. Know not what to do, be speechless with your thoughts, and say so. Let us grieve, let us grieve. It is the only way out, it is the only way up. We must grieve in order to grow, and we must grow in order to live.

It was a lonely time, that August, a lonely time. This year, I head to the point a month early, to afford my blessed chidren with five weeks of sun and sand, surrounded by the love of one hundred and twenty years of family holiday. They will sleep under the same roof that their great-great-great grandfather built, and they will breathe the fresh Simcoe air that has nourished plenty a soul over the years. I will be pregnant there for the first time ever, and I am already prepared for the numerous comments that will surely come about my "third" pregnancy. I will, of course, remind them of the facts. And I will sit with knowing that many people, no matter how much they care for you, simply cannot face the truth.

**And suffice this to say that my internet access will be sporadic at best over the next five weeks, so please don't abandon me, my fair readers, as I desperately seek kind souls with computers who will let me check into the blog-o-sphere every now and again... Until the next time, fare well***

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A matter of words

Note: After writing this post (which I considered deleting, but decided to keep since my writing here has been so infrequent) I went to check out Glow in the Woods and discovered a lovely award had been handed to a person who had written about this much more eloquently, and from personal experience. So you should really go there, but read this if you must (and I'm sorry to apron-wring).

Sometimes the words that we use to describe the situations we find ourselves in are simply not adequate. For me, the word that has always nagged at me is "accident". This is, by common medical terms (although not technical terms), what killed my daughter, an accident. When we describe the cord accident, the act by which the blood flow is randomly cut off by an inconveniently positioned limb, kink in the cord, or sudden increase in pressure, we are using the same word that we would choose to describe a glass of milk dropped on a tile floor, or a car sideswiping a mailbox and scraping or denting its passenger door. For the latter two, we spend a few minutes with a mop, a broom, a hammer, a can of paint. For the first, we spend a lifetime of longing, remorse, and disbelief. It seems unlikely that the same word should describe all three events. But there is no replacement. We are simply asked to consider the context.

I was asked once by a reader to wonder about another word which to me carries much more gravity than my own example of the word accident. Her gripe was with the word "choice", as in, "The family made the choice to take their baby off of life support." Where, she wondered, is the choice in this? How can we use a word that, in the context of our daily life, usually refers to a decision made between two things that are both realistic options? If I make the choice to get a portobello mushroom sandwich, how do I then make the choice to terminate a pregnancy to save my own life?
So maybe we don't use that word, I thought. Maybe I would use the word "decision", rather than choice, as this word connotes more of an image of a family pondering deeply the impacts of both options, and coming to a more thoughtful conclusion.
But still, but still. This is neither choice, nor decision. When a person is bound to make any sort of decision that ends with the death of a well-loved, deeply wanted baby, this is something completely different and cannot be put on the same plane of existence with anything else. (I speak not from experience, obviously, but from the position of awe and horror in watching others in this position). I can only imagine that when families find themselves in such a place, the arrived at conclusion is because there simply IS no choice, there is no decision to make, there is only one rational, compassionate, road to take, and somehow they summon up the courage to take that road.

And I can tell you, what I simply cannot fathom is having that courage. Does it come with time? With suffering? Because I feel simply quite sure that I would have done anything, anything to keep my baby with me, even make a decision that with my 20/20 hindsight I would now not approve of. Not to exclude those non-babylost readers out there, but I truly do not believe that somebody who has not had a baby die can even conjure up an approximation of the absolute desperation that one feels when a baby dies, or is forecast to die. The soul of the mother simply leaps from the body, willing and able to do absolutely anything to make that baby live. I simply cannot imagine mixing rational thought into this biological drive to save the baby.

But some people have to stop, reel in their soul, and watch their baby's soul float into the space around them. Then, somehow, they let it go, they let it go. In the situations I am talking about, it is always for the right reasons. And yet they live with the guilt, the "decision", forever. Even though it was, by no means, a choice.

I cannot imagine. The "choice" was made for me, and I am grateful for that. Which means it really wasn't a choice, because who would choose that?

So what would you call it?

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I am walking down the main street of town, heading for the local ice cream shop for an afternoon treat. Liam is ahead of me, riding his bike, and Aoife is riding solo in our double stroller, which is still my preferred carriage to push despite the excess of seats.
A woman walks by with her dog, looks at the carriage, and says, "Where's the other baby?"

And it's so poignant, because there is a missing child. I say nothing, and mumble under my breath, If only you knew.

Then, I spend moments of the remainder of the afternoon imagining the shell-shocked look on the woman's face, had I answered with direct eye contact, "She died."

But I would never actually do that.

Would I?

Friday, June 19, 2009


Today I was brave, out walking on sharp rocks with spring-new feet and pretending I couldn't feel a thing. We stopped in a little shopping area to use the bathroom on our way home from my parents' house in New Hampshire, and we were drawn into a little children's store having a big sale. So I put on a big, cheery smile and the kids and I picked out a sunny little ducky outfit in a newborn size, which will look perfect with our hand-knitted newborn sweater that our babies wear home. A vote of confidence for the little Peanut. A stride in the right direction for me. And plus? I looked like a normal, happy expectant mom in the store, happily thinking ahead to Thanksgiving time without reserve. I so, so want to be that mom.

On another note, there is this thing that happens when you lose your first baby, and then go on to have more. Your second child teaches you, belatedly, what you have been missing out on. Five is so absolutely amazing. So amazing. I am so glad I did not know what I was missing last year, but I look back now and weep for the thought of what she would have done. And would be doing. So much more complex than learning to talk and walk, as important as those milestones are. In the past four months Liam has learned to:

-Ride a bike really well
-Read and write at a much more comfortable level
-Pump on a swing really independently and well
-Become my friend for real, for real

Now I know all kids develop differently, and some of you with four year olds are thinking, my kid could do that a while ago to some of those. But all these things suddenly came all at once for Liam, and on top of that, he is just the absolute easiest child I could imagine (with a little teasing his sister thrown in just so I'm sure he's for real). He is helpful, cooperative, and always delightedly happy. He entertains himself so beautifully, loves to sit and color, reads to himself, reads to his sister (!), or just plays quietly. This is such a huge change from what he was like a year ago. He is, for all intents and purposes, a person. Ha! Someone I can relate to, who I don't have to bribe or convince or con, he is somebody I can talk to. He is fascinated by all sorts of science and history and we read reams of books on different subjects. This week-- a biography of Christopher Columbus. I'll have to edit some of that, I'm sure, but I just can't believe that this child whose diapers I was changing three years ago is this fully formed person. It is amazing.

And so I'm coming to miss my friendship with Charlotte, and it's a real friendship I'm discovering with Liam right now as we can explore our way through the world together in a more mature fashion. I wonder what we would have loved to explore together, to read about. I wonder what her strengths would have been. I wonder what she would have liked about me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I feel like I am in some kind of black hole, a void of sorts.  I am a horse walking along a dark road with blinders on and cotton in my ears.  It is a road I have walked on before, so I'm not falling in any  holes or crashing into trees, but I'm not giving into anything around me, either. 
I am here in a rainy, cool June, muddling along with my two little children by my side, going through the motions of my life and actually enjoying the ride as well, but with blinders on both sides so that I can't see into my past or my future. Really. At all. 
I cannot specifically say what is at the root of this, although it is not difficult for me to hypothesize. My past holds loss, sadness, and despair as the beginning of my mothering journey. As those experiences become more and more part of my history with the passage of time, so also does the optionality of considering those experiences on a daily basis. I can remember Charlotte as a part of my life, at this point, without choosing to remember the associated pain and agony of her loss. I can just think of her. While there is something about this that makes my heart sing at the liberation of it all, I also bemoan the ordinariness of being able to just ponder such a great loss on a rather mundane level. Still, at the crux of this is my facility with dissociating myself completely from the painful memories at will, and this spring I find myself much more likely to do this than I ever have in the past. 
This is unusual only because I like the pain sometimes, I crave the recall of the rawness of the loss because somehow the deep sadness represents my love and commitment to Charlotte. To choose not to recall those painful moments on such a regular basis sometimes means I am remembering the actual time around her birth and death less, and this is not a choice I like to make. 
But clearly there is a source to this, and the source is as we speak squirming around inside my belly and causing me a great deal of confusion. This is because I still have not accepted the truth of this pregnancy, I still quiver at the concept of believing it to be true. The risk of speaking of this baby as real, as fact, as there seems too great a risk for me to take, and so I resist looking into the future in much the same way as I am currently avoiding glances towards my past. I cannot go there. I want it to be real, but I cannot believe that it will be. I feel squiggles and blips and rather than delighting in this obvious sign of vitality and well-being, I find myself listing off the other bodily functions that could be causing such sensations. I am doing more than knocking on wood when I speak of my future, I speak with downcast eyes as if I am telling a lie, as if I am misleading myself and others on a mythical journey that will never materialize. I don't like this, either. 
Where is my relationship with this baby, when I can't even admit that it's there? I know that by the 18th week with both Liam and Aoife I was not in such a state of denial. So why now? I just write notes of apology in the baby's book, over and over, trying to explain that I don't know why it's so difficult this time, but it is. 
So I am here, in the here and now, working not to look back, or forward, but wanting to do both. May the warmth of the summer sun bring the energy I need to go to the places I need to go. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My husband leaves for work in the morning early, before anyone else is up. So each workday it's just me and the kids having breakfast, and we always sit together and share the meal, sometimes by candlelight. We have a long, rectangular shaker-style table in our dining room, cherry with maple accents. We had made for us by a local craftsman when we were married. At dinnertime, we always sit two on a side, facing each other, but for breakfast I don't want one of the kids to feel left out so I always sit on the end, between where the two of them sit. Sometimes I move my placemat from my usual spot, next to Aoife, but lately I've taken to just adding a fifth placemat down at that end so that it's ready and there in the morning when I need it. The obvious result is that it appears, at dinnertime, as if there is an extra placesetting for somebody who isn't there.


I kind of like it for that. It pleases me to see the extra place, rather than to just imagine it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The night smelled ripe tonight, and it was a full forty degrees cooler than last year as I walked into the temperature-controlled building on the Amherst College campus where the graduation would be held. My one night a year of professional affiliation with my previous place of employment, and tonight the graduates consisted of a group of 13 students, the majority of whom had been in kindergarten, under my tutelage, during the school year of 2002-2003.
It is nearly bizarre for me to look back on myself as a kindergarten teacher, and a good one. I had no children of my own, and I really honestly loved my students. I thought about them at night when I was falling asleep, I would be jerked awake by ideas that might inspire one or the other. I was absolutely energized every day by the fact that these little people loved me; more than that, they revered me, and I sucked it up and it helped me to grow. I was very happy.
This particular group of children were very, very diverse. Not physically speaking, or socioeconomically speaking, but just as a group. Very, very different little souls, some quirky, some less so, but there was virtually no status quo. They were a trip to work with, but I knew I would not finish up the school year with them, because I was having a baby... right. I was having a baby.
So I was mostly their kindergarten teacher, up until the 2nd of May, and then I went on my maternity leave. They kissed me, and hugged me. They made me a big cake that said, "We love you, Carol." They all brought me presents, and they made me cards, and they cried when I left.

Tonight, some of the children are taller than me. Their voices are changing, they are becoming young women, they are singers, actors, writers, moving on to various high schools and academies and performing arts schools. I hugged each one of them, marvelling in their accomplishments, and they all asked about my children and noted my swelling belly.

And I thought back to when they were in kindergarten, when, on the night of May 13th, the phone chain began. The director of the school, moved by the vision of ghastly rumors spreading like fire from classroom to classroom, telephoned each teacher, who telephoned each parent. The call was the same: The baby has died, we don't know why. At that time, they didn't even know her name. Each child was to be informed. They would all know the same thing. This is very sad. We don't always know why this happens. Your class will have a meeting about this in the morning.

By the morning the baby had a name, Charlotte, and the classes did meet. Meanwhile, a mother who was a midwife held a meeting for the parents in the gym. People cried, asked questions, didn't know what to do or say. I was in the hospital, paralyzed in a double bed, curled like a fiddlehead around my husband while my baby was transported to another hospital to be autopsied. My life was over. The questions continued. Kids wondered if I would have another baby. They wondered what happened. So did I.

Cards came, flowers were sent. The midwife mother told me she would love to hear my birth story. People showed up at the memorial, and they brought more flowers. Parents whose children I had loved as my own felt heartbroken for me, the sweet young mother whose only child had died. They didn't know what to do, so many did nothing.

When I went to the school picnic the next fall, four months later, nobody spoke to me. Not one, single person. I walked around, as if in a daze, and believe me when I tell you I was crawling out of a hole and did not seek anyone out. They looked at me from a distance, but they did not talk to me. The kids did, of course. The kids hugged me and looked at me only a little sideways, but to them I was still Carol and they didn't need to ask questions. But to the parents, I was a terrifying proposition. When I left, I was tremendously relieved at their lack of courage. I had no energy for talking.

So tonight, I looked at the graduates, fledged in part by me, and I saw them as the children who would always, always remember that their kindergarten teacher had a baby that died. They will never forget that, as I will never forget them, the children who puzzled over my first ultrasound images, and who rubbed my belly and sang to Charlotte. She always danced to their singing, and she lived in that classroom for most of her life. When I returned to teach the same group as first graders the next year, they greeted me with open honesty, with questions about my baby that adults never would have dared to ask, and I appreciated them like nothing else. They were my friends, these little people who weren't afraid to meet my eye and ask what had happened.

I wondered, tonight, how many of them thought of this. Remembered me, then, or her.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Baby love

This is something of an elaborated re-post from a comment I made on Glow in the Woods.

My first experience of holding a baby after Charlotte died caught me completely by surprise, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. Three months after Charlotte died we had gone forth for our summer as planned and travelled up to our family's cottage in Ontario for the month. It was absolutely awful to be there, in the place I had fantasized about bringing my baby and my ever-so-cheery extended family who had never seen me pregnant encouraged me constantly, promising me that I was "going to be allright" and that I was sure to have more. I could still barely see straight. I hadn't held a baby because I hadn't been around one; I literally had almost not left my house for the three months before our trip began. Arriving there had felt like a second homecoming, once again empty armed, and I sank almost deeper into despair for being there alone.

Then, suddenly, one day, I was in the water swimming when I saw an old-fashioned pram roll up to the top of our beach. In our community everyone is my relative, so I was at first outraged to see the pram, thinking "Who dares to bring their infant into my presence" until I realized I did not know who the woman was. With closer scrutiny I realized she was the daughter of the winter caretaker of the cottages, someone I had met years earlier. She reached into the carriage and pulled out a tiny, new baby dressed in blue. I grabbed my husband's hand, and I said, "I'm going to go and see that baby."

I left him, mouth agape, and swam to shore. I dried off, slowly and calmly, and sat for a few minutes in the sun to dry off. Then I walked up to her, and in a quavering voice, told her that she had a beautiful baby. I touched his hand. I asked when he had been born. Then suddenly, the story and the tears poured out, all about my baby and her death and my months of aloneness and how I hadn't seen a baby since. Surprisingly, she listened, and she looked at me while she listened. Her face looked sad. She asked me if I wanted to hold him, and I reached for him and held him. It was something I had to do. It made me cry, but it didn't feel awful. I held him upright, because I wanted him to feel different from Charlotte, who had lain across my chest.

I still see that little boy, usually every summer now, and I remember him not so much as the shadow-child of my own (probably because he is a boy), but as a moment in time, where I was briefly lifted into an astounding moment of courage, and where I suddenly realized that I still liked babies, and that I wouldn't have to re-birth Charlotte to fall in love again.

It was only 10 days later that I learned, much to my surprise, that I was pregnant. I have always wondered if it was the soul of Liam entering my body in those days who sent me out of the water and up the beach, to hold a little boy and feel the beauty of new life once more. I almost believe that it was.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Head Count

Today I went to a local children's museum for the morning. We hadn't planned on going out anywhere, as our week has seemed busy. Liam had a special week at school, four mornings because of special events, and each day after school we went somewhere new to ride bikes and explore. No babysitting clients this week, just my own two blessings, full of so much life and curiosity and amazement in the world around them. I have been absolutely relishing some time to spend with JUST my children and it has been simply devine.
But despite the joy of the past four days they were busy, and all three of us also really enjoy being lazy and having nowhere to go and no schedule to abide to. That was the morning I had planned. Laziness, maybe a walk across the street to wade in the river, throw rocks, maybe some baking. But the kids were up very, very early today, and when a friend called at 8 AM to say she had procured passes to the local museum, all three of us felt as if we'd had our share of laziness and were delighted to pack up once again for a morning out.
My friend's daughter is Aoife's age, and the two are fast friends. I was worried that Liam would feel the odd man out, but instead he jumped immediately into the role of loving caretaker, leading the two little girls around by the hand, helping them on the climbing structure, explaining to them how to use the frozen shadow room. The three of them were so adorable.
The museum was not very crowded and they were free to dash as they pleased from pretend grocery store, to ambulance, to forklift, to bubbles, and back to the store. On one of their passes, as I followed them, I heard a woman calling to her son, "Liam!" I echoed her, and she turned around, and I told her I had a Liam, too. We talked for a minute and as Aoife passed and I said something motherly to her, too, the woman asked, "How many kids do you have?" I think she had seen me with my friend's daughter, and also had perhaps confused some other kids that had been running alongside of ours as part of our group, so she asked it in the tone as if I had many children.
"Oh, just three," I said, the answer rolling off my tongue as naturally as if the third had been at the top of the climbing structure, pigtails askew, striped cotton shirt hanging over a polka dotted skirt over flowered tights. I almost looked for her, the third child, and I was so happy that in the din and the mayhem there was no opportunity to account for the three children I was laying claim to, that it was just an answer to a question with no explanation necessary.
I love these opportunities. It is so rare that I get to tell this semi-lie, not so much a lie as it is an omission of information. I love to just say the number, so that my pregnancies match up to the number I get to posess, so that the number of babies that I have held in my arms, that have stolen my hearts, and have left me breathless for years of my life all get to be included in the head count.
I still remember the first time I did this. I was at the dermatologist quite pregnant with Aoife, and the nurse who was taking my blood pressure asked if it was my first baby.
"No, my third, " I answered with ease, because that question is easy. There is never any temptation to omit the pregnancy, because they were all just as real at that stage. She asked how old my others were, and if they were boys or girls. I hesitated for only half a second, and then realized she was literally on her way out the door, and so as my heart raced, I answered her.
"A two and a half year old girl and a one and a half year old boy," I said, my breath catching in the truth I had never dared to speak. She looked surprised.
"You'll have your hands full!" she said, and I nodded and laughed, too, enjoying the action of being the mother of two young children, which was not the script I got to follow in my real life. Then she left, and I felt full, and warm, and happy, because I had just told this little almost-lie that had made my day. She was leaving and she was seeing me as the mama of a little girl and boy, and I was lying there under a paper wrap feeling as full and delighted as I hadn't in all my days of mothering.
I am careful, though, about where I throw out the three-kid-without-an-explanation number, because I don't like to feel backed into a corner when further questions ensue. I mostly only answer with a casual "three" if I know there will be no follow up. If I know I will be there for a while, or that I will see the person again, I usually answer with the, "Three, but..." answer. Because the truth is, sadly, my little Charlotte never got to be a kid. She should be a kid, and she would have been a kid, but her life was stolen from her when she was just a baby. This is why the question of how many babies I've had seems effortless to me, and almost a relief, whereas the question of how many kids I have seems more complicated.
And now, I almost look forward to the growing swell of my belly, because I know that the questions are sure to come more often, "How many is this?" And I will get to answer with honesty, that this is my fourth baby, and I will get to tell about my spirit daughter, and I will feel proud.

Speaking of the growing swell, I thought I would include this 16 week shot of myself. No, this is not a joke... this is me today. Some people, mind you, aren't showing at 16 weeks. So yes, the questions will come fast.
And then, just a few shots of daily life...
Liam on his beloved bike
Aoife and friend Julia (of Children's museum fame) nursing their babies alongside of Gina nursing 11 week old Elliott
Dad and kids roasting tofu pups over the campfire