Thursday, February 25, 2010

One wonders about the things one can never know.
I bury my nose in Fiona's little head, I breathe in deeply and smell the smell of her baby head. It is new skin, milk, sweat, sleep, saliva. The smell of a small, warm, sweet new person. The chemicals that course through me are of love, love, devotion, protection, lay-down-my-life for you hormones, but there is something else, too. There is this element of mysticism, this inability to comprehend that she lives, that she made it all this long while, and that her chest rises and falls with mine right this minute while we type. There is this feeling of tears filling up the back of my throat, a tightness in my chest as emotion surges through me, I weep on the inside because she is here, but part of that is a reflection on who is not here.
And I wonder, as I breathe her in, as I feel dizzy with the smell of this person, intoxicated by her very being, how much of this exists for anyone, and which pieces are enhanced by my loss. I can only proclaim that my gratitude is enhanced by loss; but I can never test this theory because with every living child, I have already lost one.
Does the memory of the feeling of your dead child in your arms make your skin tingle just that much more when you feel that your new baby is warm, and when you notice how she is growing? Does the echoing silence in your memory cause you to breathe just that much more deeply with the amazement of your current state when your new baby's mewing wakes you in the night?
Is the haunting recollection of long nights spent alone, with a tear-soaked pillow, what gives me the stamina to awaken with a tender smile any time I hear my baby cry?
And I feel certain it is Charlotte who has caused me to never, ever say no when my older children ask me to lie down and cuddle them, even when I have hours of things to do after their supposed bedtimes.
I will never know.
But I can't imagine this could feel quite the same.
I just can't.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quotes from the little sister

The sun shone today, and I felt it pulsing through the windshield, heating up my car as I drove down the road with Aoife two rows back from me in the golden van. She was semi-reclined in her cow-print car seat, her big pink hat poufed up above her elfin face.

"What did you do at school today?"
The usual question, and I expected an answer about the castle banquet they were preparing for that will happen tomorrow. Instead, I got this:

"We had a banquet, it was a banquet for Charlotte."

I had to check a few times to make sure I hadn't misheard, had she said that? For Charlotte?
"Yes, for Charlotte", she answered for the third time, getting irritated at me. "It was a banquet for Charlotte, and we put out all kinds of fancy food. It was for all sorts of people who are dead, there was a banquet for them. So my banquet was for Charlotte."

"Oh," I replied. "That sounds like fun."

She was quiet, for a while. Then she said, "Do you know what children can do, children who die? They can look up in the stars and find a grown up who died, and then they can ask that grown up if they can be their new mother. That's what they can do. I think that's what Charlotte could do."

And I thought, she's got a perfectly good mother down here. I wish she didn't need to do that, but of course I responded that the idea was a good one, because you've got to give her credit.

And then lastly, after dinner, Aoife was calling Liam a riggedy-rascal, and he didn't like that, and told her not to. And so she said, "I'm going to call Charlotte a riggedy-rascal, because she's not here to tell me not to, because she's dead."

Sibling rivalry never ends, does it. It made me laugh a little, even though I probably should have cried.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Here comes the Sun

Three days before my baby died, I ate breakfast at a diner and played the song "Here comes the Sun" on the jukebox. Charlotte danced heartily in my belly, and we laughed as we felt her, there were four of us, knowing that the Beatles were her favorite. To this day I weep a little when I hear that song, especially when I am at the diner.

Did you know that it rained almost every, single day after my baby died?

The heavens poured, just poured that spring. I write about it often, about how the lilacs drooped and hung, about their cloying smell and the dampness that clung to the inside of our house, about the flat grey light that can bring me right back to May when I think of it.

It rained, and rained, and rained, but then one day, it didn't rain.

We woke up early that day, at 6:30, and we set an alarm because we'd become accustomed to the long sleeps of the bereaved who can't bear to face life; we were sleeping 12 hours a night and sometimes more for fear of facing the day. But that day we arose, and set out for our 7:30 meeting at the midwife's office. It had been 23 days.

We were going to see the midwife early so that we wouldn't see any other patients; and we were going to her office because we were going to meet with the pathologist.
The pathologist. The evil, evil being, I imagined, who had done unthinkable things to my child to try to determine why she had died. Things I somehow had to let her do, because I couldn't sit with not knowing why she had slipped from us so suddenly.

I had already spoken to her on the phone, this woman, I had called her to ask her if she could please save us Charlotte's placenta. She had been very gracious and accommodating in this regard, and so she had moved up one notch in my mind. But still, who does this, I wondered? Who did this to my baby?

I remember little of the meeting, to tell the truth. We were in a small waiting room downstairs, where I had never been before, and there were glamourous magazines strewn about on the end tables next to me. The pathologist turned out to be a diminutive, beautiful youngish woman who had children of her own. Her specialty was with "problems of pregnancy", as she phrased it, which bothered me at first because I objected to Charlotte being referred to as a mere pregnancy, but I warmed to her when she went on to explain how important it was to her that families who had lost their precious babies, their entire futures, should come to understand what could have gone wrong. She spoke about her work with such devotion, and spoke of the families with whom she worked with such warmth, that she transformed before my eyes from a devilish sort of creature into a kind hearted woman who truly wanted us to have answers to some of our unanswered questions.

She began by asking us our baby's name, and I should precede telling you her opening statement by acknowledging that our midwife had already revealed to us, only a day after Charlotte's birth, the preliminary findings that a cord accident had ended her life. So the pathologist's opening statement was

Charlotte was an absolutely beautiful, absolutely perfect baby.

Damn. What wonderful, awful words to hear. Our beautiful, perfect baby, dead and gone. I marvelled as I looked at her, this woman knew my baby. She had spent time with her, knew what she looked like. She had spent more time with her than my own mother had, or my sister. Maybe she had even spent more time with her than I had, I didn't know how long these things took. In a world full of people who had never seen Charlotte, here was one of the people who had seen her, and she testified to it: Charlotte was beautiful, and perfect, too. She even had the evidence to boot, the pages of lab sheets identifying all of Charlotte as perfect, intact, and functional.

Of course then she went into the conversation about babies with compromised blood supplies from cord compressions, which lots of babies have due to the minimized space in a full term uterus, and how occasionally there is an event, in my case the rupture of membranes, which causes the compression to "exceed the baby's tolerance" for reduced oxygen. In other words, they die. Which Charlotte did. Which I still, to this day, can hardly wrap my mind around.

This piece isn't, though, about what happened in that meeting.

What it really is about is how we walked out of that meeting, and it was 8:30 in the morning on a Friday morning, and it was warm, and fresh, and the sun poured down on our faces. It was bright and green in a way that only early June displays in Massachusetts; everything was absolutely brilliant and especially in contrast to the three weeks of rain we'd had.

We walked over to Smith College, and we walked through the gardens together, holding hands. Everything was bursting with life, in full bloom. Beauty was all around us. The sun just shone, shone, shone. We could feel it.

And then, at 3:00 PM, up the hill at the college chapel, we held Charlotte's memorial service. Everyone brought fresh flowers from their garden, and the sun shone down on us as we grieved her. It would not have seemed right if it had rained. We were celebrating a new life; albeit the loss of one.

The sun shone all day, and set late in the evening of the biggest day we'd had since her birth. I fell asleep exhilerated, and thanked her for the sunshine.

The next day, it rained again.

It really did seem like a miracle, that sunshine.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


On Sunday morning, the sun streamed into my parents' dining room. There were banana pancakes on the table, with warm maple syrup and butter. The children's laughter floated over the table and steam rose from the coffee. We exchanged valentine cards, and my newly literate son read the rude card my father had given to my mother. We all howled with laughter, more at his delight at having discovered something inappropriate than at the content of the card. Warmth prevailed.

Somewhere, across the country, a baby was born, and no cry split the air.

This happens, we know, all the time. But this time it happened to somebody I know, a dear, dear old friend. I knew him as a young man full of so much sprite, so much love and expectation. He had energy to spare and an aura of anticipation and devotion. He was a good friend, a dear friend at the time, and my greatest gratitude goes to him for setting me up with my dear Greg, and being our relationship's greatest fan when it was in its dawning phase.

And now, I see his face, no longer 22, I see his smile in my minds eye, and I see it wrenched around, twisted in agony, as his son was born lifeless into his arms. And I float back, I float back...

and suddenly I am there again, in that fog of pain and disbelief, because I am a mother, right? I was having a baby, wasn't I? And I think that there is a car seat in my car and some little onesies folded up in the nursery drawer, that's right, I have a nursery at my house... but my baby is gone. As if I'd always known it was too good to be true. I feel that knife in my heart as they took her from me, as I watched her leave me, and I knew, I knew, I would never see her again. I see the blood and the milk on the bathroom floor, and I see the swollen face in front of me in the mirror. I feel the sheet soaked beneath my face. I taste warm milk and soggy Cheerios because I am too bereft to eat my breakfast. I am in the bathroom and I need help in here because my pain has left me physically helpless, I can't even manoeuver myself through my daily chores and it's not from the pain of the birth, I now know, it's the pain, the pain, the unbelievable pain of having lost what might as well have been the only person I've ever truly loved. In that way, at least, in that way.

I am there, discovering love, discovering what it means to really love, and then she is gone, leaving my head echoing with the blank space of what to do, what to do, what to do.

And why, why WHY does it have to keep happening again, and again, and AGAIN?

It just isn't fair. It isn't fair to me, or to you, or to him, and his wife. These sweet, soft, joyful, loving people who wanted nothing more than a son to take home and love.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good News

There is this fog of exhaustion that is making it almost difficult to see the page, but before I stumble up to my babe in bed, I give you this:

(and, I chuckle to myself at the concept of the "babe in bed", which ten years ago would have meant something entirely different, but now of course refers to the sweet, milky, 90-day old Fiona... I was just realizing today that the feeling I get in my gut when I catch a whiff of her is exactly the same way I used to feel when I had a crush on Greg and I would see him walking towards me across the Middlebury campus... that butterflies in your stomach, excitement and love and hope feeling-- so amazing how our husbands have to move on over to make way for the love affair with baby)

But, I digress.

When I used to see babies Charlotte's age, I called them missiles. They assaulted me from all sides, I could hardly bear to see them. As time went by the little blond girls her age used to pop out at me in 3-D, all the other children melting into a blur while the ones that might have been her wounded me with each breath they drew. That was then.
This strange new stage, new wave, has brought me to a place where a completely different thing is happening. Indeed, I am faced with girls her age every day, at 8:30 and 3:00 when I drop off and pick up my son at his classroom, which he shares with the first graders. So those first grade girls are there with him, and do you know how I feel?
I feel especially fond of them.
Somehow, they warm my heart. I love to see them, they look so sweet and wonderful to me and I like them. I like them. I like them and I don't even resent their parents anymore. I do feel the hope, and the urge, to someday share with them the story of my daughter who shares a birth year or even a month with their daughter. But I don't resent them, because somehow, it's not their fault anymore.
Time does make everything feel much more gentle, in so many ways.
Isn't this good news?