Sunday, January 31, 2010


This afternoon I arrived home to a houseful. My parents had arrived a few minutes earlier, the kids were uproariously playing with matchbox cars and a little plastic racetrack they'd picked up at the dump, and Greg was on the phone calling for pizza.
Fiona, amazingly, was asleep in her car seat when we came inside. My dad took her from me and brought her over to the couch and set the seat down. She looked so sweet, so calm. My mother came over to look.
She's so tiny, she commented. She looks almost... she paused, and then said it. Waxy.
And suddenly she did, to me, too. Waxy, too pale. Very still.
Images flashed before my eyes, words echoed through my head, of those nightmarish stories of car seats angled wrong, of breathing being cut off.
I thrust my face into her face but I felt no breath.
(truly, I did not, but I will admit to you that I only gave it half a second)
I whipped the straps off and yanked her out of her car seat, almost shaking her awake.
She did, thank god, wake up.
But it seemed slow. Like she almost couldn't wake up, but then did.
Had she died in her car seat, and then come back?

Two hours later I realize the impossibility of that, and the fact that my baby was simply asleep was cemented in my brain when I looked down at her, warm and breathing in the sling about thirty minutes ago and realized that her little face looked, well, waxy. She is pale, pale, pale... and when she's not flushed, she's pale. Pale as wax. And alive and well.
And I also realize that babies do sometimes sleep in their car seats. Just not often mine.

But that moment was absolutely real. I had lost her, for a moment, and as with the moments that I used to awaken in the night and think that she was gone I was faced with not a flustered, frantic panic, but a complacent sinking heart, I knew this was going to happen, I can't believe it actually has. A disbelief that it could possibly happen again. A horror of what is to come.

And then, thank god, thank god, thank god, whoever he or she or they may be, relief.

And now in my arms, on she sleeps.

And you can bet I will be thanking my lucky stars when she screams in the car on the way to school tomorrow.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

3 girls and a boy...

I remember how much I wanted to tattoo the words "I am a mother" on my forehead that summer, so that everyone who saw me walking alone, or with Greg would know. Because how would they, otherwise?

And today, as I walked in the icy wind with little Fiona tucked under my down coat, blissfully unaware of the subzero windchill around her, I imagined to myself that I would have the opportunity to say to someone, I have three daughters and a son.

Three daughters!

Imagine that. I once thought, after Charlotte died, that I would never have another daughter. I think I was preparing myself for what at the time seemed like an even further cruelty: that I would not only lose this child, but that I would lose this one chance to raise a daughter. I felt certain in this.

Now, of course, I imagine this: I was destined to have three daughters. I am one of three girls, as is my mother. My grandmother was an only child, but her mother also had two sisters. (I don't know what happens upwards from there). But I? I have my three daughters, lucky me, blessed me. But when the first one died, the universe said, oh, loss. This bereaved mother, she deserves something extra to help to heal this broken heart of hers. And so a son was sent to me, a sweet little towhead whose intuition, depth and adoration send me reeling. I was not destined to be the mother of sons, but I got one for an extra-special treat. (yum).

And now with Fiona's birth my living daughter has a sister, and my son has his many sisters, the girls who were always meant to be mine. And I have this amazing family, I am the mother of three girls and a boy, four children in all, which feels like a lot. And I want to say it. I want to put the little family stickers on the back of my van, with the four little children, and I wish they had those with angel wings or something because I want to say it, I want to show it, I want it seen.

I wish someone would ask me, maybe tomorrow. How many children do you have? And tomorrow, without a doubt, I will say it... I have three girls and a boy, three daughters and one son. Because I do.

(Aimee, do I hear an AMEN to that?)

Friday, January 29, 2010


Everyone is asleep but me, and I am alone downstairs. It is the first time I have been alone downstairs in exactly eleven weeks. I actually feel aware of the bend of my middle, aware of not being pregnant, because I haven't sat here, alone, since I was pregnant. I can feel some sort of plateau happening because I am okay alone down here.

On Wednesday I left my baby to run my meeting. I felt tormented about doing it, and concocted a very convoluted plan whereby my friend Gina met us at the hospital and wore Fiona for the two hours while the meeting took place. Greg and I went out on 20 minute intervals to check in on them. Fiona Clementine, despite the fact that at home she often nurses every 20 minutes in the evening, slept the entire time. Amazing, and so good for me... because I absolutely loved being back at Empty Arms. It feels so awkward to say that I loved being there, because obviously it is sad, but it just fills me so much to be around people who have done this. That, and feeling like what I have created is helping somebody. Some people. At the end of the evening I took Fiona back into my arms and sat with her in a darkened conference room and nursed her. My hands fit around her body and I felt her in a way that I needed to be reminded to feel her, because she is here with me, and going to the meeting helped to shake me back to that amazing realization. Not just that Fiona is NOT GONE, which sometimes is the focus, but that she is actually here. Unlike some other babies, who are not.

I asked people to speak about a dark place for them, either of the past or right now. My moment was so vivid, and I described it in detail and then thought some more about it as I lay in bed later that night. I remembered a shower I took, it might have been day four, or five. I stood under the water for a long time, my breasts were huge and pouring with milk, and they hurt so much. I knew I wasn't supposed to touch them or express any milk, to make it stop, but I couldn't bear it. I squeezed them under the hot, hot water, just a little, just to take some of the edge off. I can remember the milk swirling in the drain, round and round, and I could have even just been imagining it mixing with the water, visibly going down, down the drain, headed nowhere. Nowhere it should have been. Warm tears rinsed my face and the salt of them mixed with the milk and the blood and the water at my feet.

I stepped out of the shower, eventually, and I began to towel off. Maybe it was the drying off, or perhaps I heard something, but I was momentarily distracted, and at this second in time I caught sight of myself in the mirror and lost my breath.

There were several things, several things. My belly hung, pouchy and low, with a sunrise of sleek, shiny stretch marks radiating upwards towards my navel. It was halfway pregnant looking but so obviously devoid of life to me. Above it were the rock hard breasts, mocking my empty handedness. And I dared at that moment to meet my eyes, and gazed into the saddest face I had ever seen.

I remember the word "ravaged" bouncing around in my head like a ping-pong ball, my body was ravaged and torn and swollen and broken, and my heart was the worst of it all. The inside of me felt unrepairable, uncomparable to the outside of me which would one day heal.

Somehow looking at my body brought me up one more notch towards understanding what had happened, towards understanding that the baby, the long awaited baby, had been born, but that she had died. That the baby had been a little girl named Charlotte, and that her brief appearance had already been made, and that she was gone. That she had once been, but her time was finished.
And I was still here.

I sank, naked, onto the blue bathroom rug, cotton with big hooked loops. It was a 2 by 3 rectangle and I folded myself onto it, belly down, and cried for a long time. I did not want to see myself.

That memory is seared into my brain.

At that time my body was ravaged, it had been torn apart by the birth simply because my baby had died. The awfulness of the swelling and the bleeding and the engorgement and everything else that goes along with the time after birth felt mocking and horrible and painful and wrong, and that was because that baby was not there.

And I thought later on about how it makes perfect sense that I feel haunted every time I give birth, haunted by my body even though none of that swelling and bleeding and engorgement feels so awful when the baby lives.

When I think about what I have been through I find it extremely odd that I feel so normal most of the time now.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Deja vu (revised)

(Fiona, a few nights ago)(Liam, fall 2004)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The passage of time...

Me, at 26, with a living Charlotte Amelia (and some of my kindergarten students)

There is always something of a time-warp that happens when we have our babies. I look at Liam, at his sweet swoop of a nose, his fine hair like toasted wheat, his sparkling eyes the color of Boston Harbor, deep and blue and green all at once. His face, though I never would have known it at the time, looks almost just the same as it did when he was a wee little thing with tiny white fuzz on the top of his head. Yet his body is so long he has outgrown our bathtub. I think back upon the mere five years and nine months that have encompassed his life and I wonder how it could only be that long, and how he could have grown so much in such a small period of time.

But the babylost thing, that is really a time warp. Because if I think back six years and nine months, I was bursting with new life. I had a car seat and a stroller and a baby swing in my basement, and I had this big gift card someone had given me to BabiesRus and I was trying to decide what I'd "need" for my new baby. Perhaps one of those seats that jiggles when you turn it on? A plastic bathtub for the kitchen sink? A mattress pad? I remember going into the store and carefully choosing some Avent bottles, just in case. I mean, everyone with a baby eventually uses a bottle, right? I catalogued the clothes I received at the various showers, clipping off the tags (which revealed their size, of course) because I didn't want my baby's skin to be irritated. Everything got washed a few times in special detergent. Things were folded.
Six years and nine months ago I was painting stars on the ceiling of a nursery that would stand empty for another year and a quarter, even though the baby in my womb was almost five pounds. I thought I was ready, but I had no idea what I needed to be ready for.

Six years and nine months ago I had these three things: hope, trust, and innocence. Hope that things would would go smoothly, trust that anything that did not go smoothly would work itself out, and the complete innocence of a girl (and I was, at 26) who had no idea just how wrong things could go.

Leap forward, to now.

But look down as you leap, in between then and now, and see that year of time where I lived in complete darkness, where I had no hope, no trust, and not a flicker of the innocence that had been so cruelly yanked from beneath my feet in the wee hours one May morning.

And then look at me now, typing with babe at breast, with two more supple, long-lashed delicacies nestled beneath duvets under the eaves of our little pink house. The lunches are packed for tomorrow, the books we read at bedtime still sit on the bedside table, their little clothes lie on the floor of the bathroom where they were cast before tub time. I'm here, like a mother, as if I am just a mother of some children living here in this pink house.

As if there wasn't a time, a year that felt like a lifetime, where the house echoed with silence.

As if I had that innocence back, which I certainly don't.

But this span, looking back, makes my head spin.

What happened?

Who am I?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Car

Fiona, day two... before she knew what hit her (one of the only moments of sleep in the car we've ever witnessed, and the only photo possibly ever of her in the bucket)

So this is just a word, for those of you who are blessed with subsequent babies. It is also a reminder to myself.

Just because you are babylost, you are still also a normal mother, with normal emotions and normal capacities... you are actually still a human being... and this can be hard.

My struggle of late, beyond the nuances of juggling three children which I am pleased to say I believe I am handling with relative grace, involves the car.

It involves the car, my rural home, and one furious, screaming Fiona Clementine.

Unlike most babies, who can be taken for a car ride to induce sleep, all of my babies have despised the car, and Fiona is no exception. During my pregnancy I would often say that this one was going to have to sleep in the car... she'd have no choice. With two older siblings going to two different schools, both 12 minute drives from our home and 7 minutes apart, she was going to be a prisoner in the bucket for at least 45 minutes each day, and that would be if we didn't have anywhere else to go. But alas, the dark side of babywearing rears its ugly head, and not only does Fiona Clementine refuse to sleep in the car, but even the sight of the bucket in our hallway can send her into helpless cries of despair.

And thus begins what has become the bane of my existence. I dread each moment I spend transporting my older children (or myself) anywhere, because with very few exceptions every single second spent in the "golden van" is marked with the loud, piercing newborn cries of my sweet fourthborn. Her crying is hysterical and very loud, with nary a pause. When she gets really cranked up, and quite hoarse from having gone at it for an especially long time, she is reduced to these quick, barky yelps. But it is crying, all the time, every time, and my nerves are frayed and almost shot from it.

What to do, what to do?
Silly woman, you should carpool, perhaps you are saying, imagining me burning these fossil fuels for nothing. But alas, there are no other children in our town who commute to the neighboring town for school, and so this option is lost.
What about your husband, is he such a lazy goodfornothing that he cannot help you cart these two big children to and fro to relieve your little baby from some of her trials? But again, alack and alas, he teaches school and leaves for work at 5:30 in the morning and returns after school is out. And he has no flexibility with his schedule, of course.

So I am alone, hands tied, head downcast each morning as I strap my sweet Fiona Clementine into the blue bucket for her torture session.

"Does it make you want to cry?" asked my dear friend Erin, also babylost.

"No," I answered, and I'm sure she was surprised. But it's true. It doesn't make me want to cry, it makes me want to bang my head against the wall with frustration. I feel awfully, awfully sorry for Fiona, and my heart bleeds for her, but it is my absolute inability to do anything for her that is the predominant emotion.

So today we were on our sixth leg of travel, our sixth full-tilt, high decibel wailing trip home, and the kids had been slow buckling themselves into their carseats, and it had been sleeting down my back as I waited kind-of-but-not-really patiently for them to do so, and now I was finally driving and she was screaming and for the first time, I didn't coo softly at her from my perch behind the wheel, but instead my voice came out sounding as exasperated as I felt and I said to her, "Could you please stop crying?"

I truly did, for a brief moment, feel that exasperation, and I felt like an almost normal mother for being fed up with my newborn. Because I am, after all, human, so those emotions do happen...

And then in comes the babylost part.

Because my cousin's baby, Andrew, whom many of you remember, was diagnosed with his leukemia at somewhere around 11 weeks, and Fiona is now nearing 10 weeks. So now that I've birthed her alive, and gotten over the hump of accepting her as born alive and strong, now I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, analyzing what I suck out of her nose for signs of blood, worrying about everything she does as a potential sign of a lurking killer. I am obsessed and fantasize about asking the pediatrician to run bloodwork on her just in case... and at the same time I also can see, with my other eye, that she is robust and healthy and has displayed no signs of being uhealthy at all.

But, back to the screaming in the car...

of course, after I asked her to stop crying, I realized this: of course now something is going to happen, because I didn't appreciate this moment. I wondered what was wrong with me, when for a year of my life I day dreamed about the cries of my infant and now here I was asking her to be silent, as if one baby's silence hadn't been enough to almost kill me. I felt as if I had committed a true wrong against her, when in true fact, I was just being human, I was just being human.

So this is my message to myself, and anyone else who needs to fill in the blank to their own situation. I absolutely love this baby with all my heart. And while it breaks my heart that half of her awake time in a given day is spent screaming in the back seat, I really don't have any control over this. I am doing the best that I can. And if I get frustrated, this is because I am human, not because I am ungrateful. Charlotte has taught me a great deal about being grateful, but I am sure even she, could she have had the good fortune to be here for the ride, would have wanted Fiona to stop crying.

(and I also know that there might be something about her being held literally almost every second of her life except being in the carseat that might have something else to do with it... but that's another story for another day)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Musings on family

Every now and then I consider the fact that I have now birthed four babies. It makes my head spin with each one, as my family grows bigger, as brothers receive sisters and sisters welcome sisters and still the candle glows on our dining table. I often wondered to myself if I would always be playing catch up. Would my family always seem too small, because we'd always be missing one? How would I ever feel like I had enough children around my table, as long as that candle was glowing?

And so where am I now, now that three are here? Three that is significantly more than the tidy two, two where there is a hand for each child and a parent for each child (in our household). I thrive on being outnumbered, and there is some feeling of relief in simply being here. After Aoife was born, I had a son and a daughter, and my Liam had a sister, but I still felt as if I was running on a gerbil wheel. My daughter did not have her sister! What if I couldn't get pregnant again, because for a while it appeared I could not? What I never had another daughter and my Aoife never had a sister here with her? There were things that I felt I needed my children to have, to make up for having lost Charlotte, and they weren't here.

And now they are, in the form of Fiona Clementine. Our family has broken out of the tidy box. Another sister is here. So the ends of the frayed knot are smoothing themselves out. I feel like some logistics that kept my head spinning have been relieved somehow.

And now, I am free to miss her. I am free to know I am missing this child, this eldest daughter, and there is no way left to scheme about how I might go on to try to produce another child that might alleviate some of that missing piece for our family. I am left to simply stare at that glow in the midst of our dining room table, to ponder that the six chairs around it would, in theory, all be full if she were here.

There is some feeling of settling for having had Fiona, and I feel in my heart that Charlotte chose her for our family for just that reason. She is the baby that has freed me somehow. At the table now, when we light that candle, the children as always offer their blessings. Aoife's blessing always comes in the form of a conversation.
Sarlotte, I wish that you could not be dead and that you could be alive so you could be here to share this lovely meal with our family. And we miss you and we love you.

And Liam offers his own blessing, We love you Charlotte, usually, and now he offers one for Fiona, as well, making some other statement about missing her and wanting her to be here to share our day.

It's strange how she's settled into our family, Charlotte has, as the kids have grown older. When they first started to say things like this, I could have cried every time. Now it's routine, part of each and every meal around our table, and it makes me smile. I thank them every night. And I mean those thanks, because my children have no obligation to love Charlotte. They did not know her. They weren't here to catch wind of the hope, and joy, and love that she brought into our lives. They benefit from it, of course, but they live in the wake of her impact, so they can't see it directly. But they love her, they love her for real from their hearts. And I am so grateful for that. I could not make them feel that way.

This journey just keeps on going. How incredibly different it is now, edging towards seven years since she slipped from our grasp. Three children later seems like a long time, like a long road to have traveled. Now that Fiona is out, and here, and I'm not living with the daily terror of reliving the loss, I feel an eerie distance from the whole experience. Like I had been floating for a long time, hovering over May 13th, and now I have landed. I can see it, clearly, across the water, but I have landed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Night

The first week was blissful; almost otherworldly, but marked by panic. Panic mostly in the night, when my mind was hazy and groggy and less able to distinguish now from then. The baby, tiny and frail and smaller than any other baby I'd ever borne, would be curled next to me in the bed when I awoke, in her thin cotton nightie, swaddled tightly in the thin cotton blanket that I'd knicked from the hospital. Using their blanket, I reasoned, must be the safest temperature for the baby. I worried constantly about temperature: about heating or overheating. I wanted her next to me, but wondered if my heat would bring hers too high. Too warm, you know, isn't good. So I would always try to put a tiny bit of space between us when I would finish nursing her, to lay her on her back like I knew was the safest, and to give her that buffer to maintain her own cool temperature to be as safe as she could be.
But each time it was the same, when I awoke, she had inched herself across the bed and lay on her side, her face pressed into me, memorizing my scent. Like many mothers, I often awake before she is stirring, anticipating her need to nurse only seconds before she herself begins to root. And in that moment of silence, before the nuzzling began, my heart would stop every time in that first week, because she was too, too still.

It was like this, in the moment of my awakening: I would begin to come to, the hazy edges of awareness beginning to break into my sleep, when I would feel her little body next to mine and remember this new life I had with me, this new cherished being who seemed so precariously here. And then, suddenly, that hazy almost-awakeness would shift to an alert, alive panic: the baby was here, but she was still, too still, and most certainly dead. Her face was mashed into my body and how could she breathe, she could not breathe, she was suffocating in my own body and it was all my fault. I would bolt upright in my bed, grasping at her tiny body with my two hands and despairing at its limp flop as I lifted her to me. My adreniline would pump, and then I would push my face into hers and meet milky breath, and I could kiss her soft, wet lips then and feel their warmth, and I would realize that I was wrong that time, that she was still there, and we were in the clear.

The panic was precise, and hard, and real. I was telling my closest friend that I was having the roughest time yet with fearing death and I explained these nighttime wakings, and she said, "Don't you always worry that the baby has died in her sleep?" And I said no, not like that, not a worry, but it was real, and it was every single time. I would bolt awake and it was almost like she was dead, she was lost to me, until I found her. That is very, very different.

And then, in the days, I worried constantly. I couldn't think about her growing older, about her being an older baby or a little girl, because it seemed too unlikely to consider. I felt mean, awful, like I was slighting her as my daughter because I wasn't giving her the chance but I was just so, so scared. When I sat on my bed backwards, as I am prone to do, leaning on the footboard of the sleigh bed, I could not even look up to the framed photos of Charlotte. I could not consider one dead daughter when I was holding an alive one who, I might add, resembled her in an uncanny way. I couldn't risk sending the live one back. I couldn't even begin to recall the horror of losing one. It was all too much.

And through this all, this week of fearing she would die, of bolting upright in the night and shaking her awake, and generally feeling traumatized and slightly psychotic, there was also this incredible wash of bliss: of good fortune, and true delight in my new baby and my family. It was almost as if I was so thrilled to have her, so completely overjoyed to have welcomed her safely into the world, that this had to be countered with the true fear of loss. Fear, as I have said before, that feels so intimate to me because I am fearing what I know as a truth in my life.

And now? Fiona Clementine is SEVEN WEEKS OLD. My, how the time flies by. She is gurgling and smiling and getting oh-so-chubby as I watch on in delight. She is still mostly fetal, mind you, sleeping most of the time and tired after about 25 minutes of being awake a few times a day, but she is just unfolding into a little person before my very eyes. It is so amazing each and every time. Of course I still fear for her life, but it is not the same. It has faded into a worry that matches what I worried for Liam and Aoife, a worry that does not impair my function. I do not cry with fear for her any longer. The fear does not wake me in the night.Instead, when I wake just moments before her, I turn her face upwards and breathe in her sweet smell, and listen to her breath, and feel every so grateful for that very very moment. That panic, probably some sort of post-traumatic stress induced by hormones, has faded. I can rest comfortably with the fact that my baby can and will migrate into me every night while we sleep, and I can trust her body to do what all babies do, what all people do, to breathe in, and out, in and out, and for that little heart to beat.

I do, though, remind her, every night. "Don't forget to breathe." Just in case.