Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Last night found me in a fitful 13 hour sleep; I fell asleep nursing Fiona to bed at 6 PM and was in bed until a quarter before seven this morning. I swear I nursed her 24 times in the night, possibly more, and because I was waking so much I was filled with vivid dreams swirling around in my early morning haze this morning.

Several were interesting, intriguing and I entertained Liam on the drive to school recounting them. The man, a french-speaking African, who accidentally picked up my bag from the sidewalk where I had left it next to my van. I was able to help him; he didn't speak english and was confused on the street where he stood. It was right out of the book I had enjoyed last month, Tracy Kidder's Strength in What Remains; about a refugee from Burundi. Then there was the dream about my in-laws new home, an ancient stone castle high on a hill. My father in-law drove me to see another castle down the street which was replacing its windows. Then he proceeded to drive his car, in reverse, back up towards his home. Through the front windshield I spotted a mother siberian tiger and her two cubs. I was amazed to realize we were in India. This dream reminds me that today I had on my agenda to call the replacement window contractors to come for estimates on our ancient front windows.

And then there was the dream that I don't share with Liam, the one that leaves me gaping, helpless. In the dream I am in a sterile, yellow room. Fiona is on my lap. In a scene I cannot recall, a person with an old-fashioned rifle has shot her clean through her thigh. She is naked except for a diaper, and the wound is dark purple and round, with deep, red, nearly black arterial blood beginning to ooze from its border. Liam is next to me, begging me to do something, but I can see the glaze beginning in my baby's eyes. I know there is nothing I can do, she is being taken from me. It is too late.
And in the dream I am plotting, scheming in my mind. A tourniquet, perhaps? Couldn't I tie something around her upper leg, to stop the blood from leaving her? Is there somebody I can call to save her? But as I am scheming, it is as if it is already too late, similar to another circumstance in my life about which I need not elaborate here. The thoughts in my mind to save her are wishful thinking, and she sits on my lap, still warm, the wound open, and my son cries into her chest.

I remain haunted.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Late on the evening of November 12, 2009, I went to sit on the toilet in my hospital room and laughed as the fluid poured out of me, splashing all over my legs, the floor, soaking my socks. I was soaking through towels faster than they could replace them, and I was slightly giddy as the baby's heartrate was strong and it looked like we were going to make it.

As I sat down, belly heavy and sticky on my thighs, I breathed in and I smelled it, the smell of amniotic fluid, damp and sweet. My water hadn't broken with Liam or Aoife, so this was it, the moment of olfactory memory, that suddenly tied the births together. I hadn't smelled it for six and a half years, but it was there, clear as day, the smell of birth that had first met me in the wee hours of the morning on that cool May night.

I can smell it now, in my head. Can you do that, try to picture a smell? It flashes through your mind so quickly you can hardly grab it, it's difficult to do. But I can still grasp this one, slightly, and it makes me feel very close to birth, and very lucky to have this tie between my first and last girl.

I smell the fluid, and the other smell which I can still remember so clearly, but will soon forget is that amazing, creamy smell of the newborn baby. Newborn, with the vernix still soaking in, that fresh, amazing smell of absolutely new life. It's akin to the smell of the fluid (not to state the obvious, given where the child has come from) but slightly its own as well. This was, of course, the smell of Charlotte, as she was only ever newly born. I visit her a little in my mind every time I give birth.

I remember these smells now, but wonder for how long I will be able to grasp them before they are lost. If I remember them every single day, can I forget them? I wish it could be bottled.

How will I ever stop having babies?

(but I will, now or someday, whichever comes first)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I came across a quote the other day that caused me to pause; I wished I had been given this line years ago so I could have used it again and again.

Of course, despite my immediate thought that this quote would without doubt make it onto my blog, I did in the meantime return the book to the library, but I won't be dissueded. Please allow me the liberty of paraphrasing.

But first, let me sing the praises of this book, which you should go to your library today to check out. It is Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, and it is a true and beautiful account of her friendship with the poet and writer Lucy Grealy, whose face was disfigured as the result of a childhood cancer. Her life is consumed with the ensuing surgeries to attempt to rebuild her face, and one could imagine that this, combined with the whole cancer-survival and other side effects of radiation, that she is one hell of an amazing woman. And she is, or was, rather, as she sadly died in 2002. I was left reeling in my rocking chair from this book, this frank, honest, raw account of a beautiful friendship between these two women. I was left feeling as if I knew, oddly, Ann herself, moreso rather than Lucy, about whom the book was written. Don't get me wrong, I feel as if I know Lucy as well, but Ann's voice (and here I use her first name, because I do feel as if I could walk into a room with her and just say, Hi, Ann, and start leafing through a magazine as if we'd known each other for ages and had almost run out of topics to cover) is so predominant and her love for Lucy makes the reader so enamoured with her.....

but I digress, and there is this fabulous moment where Lucy is at a reading and a fan says to her, and again, I'm not quoting since I returned the book, You're so brave. I don't think I could have survived such a thing.

(and how many times have we babylost folks heard this? And would we not have said this about ourselves before strangely surviving the loss?)

Lucy meets the woman's eye and says without a pause, "Meaning what, you would have died? It doesn't work that way, unless you kill yourself."


I wish I had such wit and speed.

(and please do not make me out to be comparing my life experience with Lucy Grealy's in the slightest... it's just that I've heard that line, the "I could never have survived it" line, SO many times....)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Mothering after a loss can be such a frantic journey.

I say this especially when I am doing it for the third time, because the things that make me most anxious and pent-up are the things that are in actual fact making my life easier.

Take, for example, the mere concept of somebody else holding my baby. She is four months old now, nearly four and a half, and Fiona is now actually a little miniature child, in truth, rather than a helpless newborn. She holds onto things, sucks her thumb, laughs, smiles, frowns when she's worried. She relishes the attention of her siblings, of her father, and of the numerous family and friends who frequent our house, often with the explicit purpose of getting their hands on her. I am grateful, in theory, for the opportunity to have both hands free to get my hands back onto my other two babies, my Liam and Aoife, who although not babies in body still crave the physical attention they deserve. I want to be able to give it to them, and each day, I somehow make my way to be able to do so. If another adult is around, be it their dad, or another person, this liberates me to do this without an ounce of finagling. I can simply attend to them, I can massage them, hug them, chase them, dress them, play dolls or dress up or knights. But my head keeps flicking to the side, eyes on the baby whose body shape I can still feel pressed into my chest, whose drool still wets my shoulder, whose milk fills my breasts every time I think about her in the slightest. I fear not having her on me, the separation hurts me, and this hurts me more because I feel myself being somewhat less than fully present for everyone else if she's not with me.

I was at a seminar the other day with a group of women I know well and adore, all of them, and we were doing a writing exercise. Fiona is the only baby there and the women are all aching to get their hands on her, and I do indulge them from time to time. An exceptionally wonderful woman came over and asked if she could take her from me, this would allow me the hands I needed to write. I consented, and she took Fiona to the back of the room. I watched as Fiona's eyes never left me, her head turning as the woman walked, rooted to her mother home. She didn't fuss, and was quite content as the woman walked her in the back of the space as I wrote. The woman next to me said, "It must be nice to have a break." These words came oddly to me, as my insides churned at the very sight of my baby on the other side of the room. I was, in a sense, happy to have given the other woman a chance to hold her, I was glad to be, in theory, free to write unincumbered. But my brain was so distracted with her away from me I could hardly write anyway, so I didn't even feel much like I was having a break. A break? Who wants a break from their baby?

Most normal people, I think, yes. The intensity of newborn care (or even care of an older child)does make one long for a break, and I have felt this, indeed, I have. Every day, perhaps! I do want a break, I want to be able to take a shower by myself and just stand there with the hot water pouring down my body, breathing in the steam, surrounded by silence. I want to have pockets where I am responsible for no one but myself. I want this; yet when I get it, the pull of the babe and the churn of my stomach render me unable to fully enjoy this time. I want it, but I really don't want it. I want it all, and I want none of it.

In the course of my everyday separation from Fiona is now coming in the form of naps. My baby, unlike my last one, enjoys taking long naps. She's always been a good sleeper, she used to log hours in the Moby wrap snoozing as I went about my day. But then, when the fourth trimester ended and she came out of her shell, she had a period of being quite overtired because she could no longer sleep through it all. She still needed the sleep, but she could only do it if I walked around, always moving, and stayed in a quiet space. Needless to say this was difficult to accomplish, nearly impossible, and so I experimented one day with putting her down to sleep in my bed and she slept for two hours. And now, this is what my baby likes to do every day, in the morning, she likes to go into her own bed and sleep for two hours, by herself, and there isn't much of a way around it. She likes the sleep, she needs the sleep, and she needs to do it there. She does it in the morning, and then again in the afternoon for another hour or even two. Sometimes she'll take 3 naps in one day, even 4 if they are less lengthy. And she likes her little bed. She won't take a long nap anywhere else, and while I rock her to sleep in my arms and usually hold her for 15 minutes or so while I read after she falls asleep, she will begin to stir and awaken after awhile from the turning of the pages. And so now, here I am, liberated arms and all, writing my blog with a cup of tea, and I feel..... conflicted? Conflicted because I now have two hours to myself? Sometimes a few times a day? This is madness! This is what I craved when Aoife was a baby, sleeping in 20 minute bursts. I wanted a textbook angel baby, content to snooze, a thumb-sucker who is not afraid of her own bed, who will wake up, yawn, look out the window for a few minutes, pop in her thumb and drift back to sleep. There should be no conflict.

I should say, though, that the existence of conflict does not mean that I am necessarily ruffled. I just acknowledge it, I realized it is there. I know that I wish I could be holding her, but I also know that she is doing what's best for her and in truth what is good for me, too. If she gets into a rhythm of sleeping well during the day, it means she never has to be patient with me while I fold laundry, or pick up the kitchen. It can all be done while she rests. I am freed then to lie on the floor with her, rolling jingly balls and playing this-little-piggy and singing songs. This is all good. This good sleeping, which also translates into a nice stretch from about 6 at night until I go to bed (and obviously snatch her out of the co-sleeper and nestle her into my body, thus ending her nice long stretch of deep sleep) means that I can facilitate my support group again, and take care of the grieving mother inside of me, and I am everly so grateful for this.

And speaking of the grieving mother, did you know it's almost April? And after April comes... May. The dreaded May. I just started planning this years 4th annual Mother's Day walk, which actually comes the day before Mother's day, which is on paper the walk to benefit the support group that I run, but to me is really Charlotte's birthday party. I held back from calling it Charlotte's walk, because I want it to be for all the babies... but the timing works especially well for me. Perhaps if you live within driving distance you'd like to join the walk, to increase the number in the throng that will allow other people to see that (GASP!) babies die and parents still love them, they remember them and they acknowledge their grief and HERE THEY ARE, walking with friends who are willing to support them. It's going to be at 11 AM on May 8, at Look Park in Northampton, MA. Mark your calendar. It'll be a good time. Maybe we'll have a cake for Charlotte.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I am giddy in the night when I wake up with Fiona. I can't help it. I know in theory I am supposed to remain mellow and quiet to try to help her to know it's night time, but I can't help it. I am just beside myself, still, with disbelief and awe that she is here. I smile and coo at her, she laughs back at me, and then we collapse together onto the smooth sheets and fall asleep together.

This is a gift from Charlotte, a gift to a mother who really, certainly would not have laughed if Charlotte had woken her up an average of 7 times each night.

But seeing as how I never woke up once with her, you now find me laughing, laughing after my latest 57 minute stretch of sleep at 3 in the morning.

This is the gift that loss leaves behind, it liberates me.

What is interesting about this, also, is that I was not quite this way with Liam. Sometimes people ask me about what it was like to give birth to my next baby 11 months after Charlotte left us, and I answer them honestly. Having another baby was the most healing thing I've ever done, but I was still wild with grief when he was born, and felt almost deranged by the intensity of my emotional state both during the pregnancy and during the early months of his life. I was still so awfully bereft, so empty armed on the one hand; and then there was this boy who arrived so miraculously into my arms, he was safe, alive, sweet, and a needy human infant-- something with which I had previously had no experience. I was flummoxed by the intensity of his needs, by my introduction to sleep deprivation, by the mystery of the newborn's fragile nervous system. I was overwhelmed by the sudden loss of self that accompanies the birth of any baby that lives. I wondered where I had gone. With me, of course, had also gone these hours a day to pine away for Charlotte, and I yearned for her. I yearned for her, and I clung to him, and I grieved, and I loved him, and I tried to act like a semi-normal mother. It was a difficult act.
This is all to say that I spent a lot of time doing what I thought I "should" do with my new baby, he slept in a basket at the foot of my bed instead of in my arms, and sometimes rode in a stroller instead of on my chest, because I didn't know any mothers with living babies, and I didn't know that it was perfectly okay for me to do that. I was wound up so tightly that I didn't even have much of an instinct to follow. I was a whirlwind of sadness and joy wrapped up so tightly that I didn't know which way was up.

But we muddled through it, didn't we, and I sleep with him now sometimes, to make up for the nights I missed out on in his infancy. And now, years later, wound so much more loosely, I celebrate my ability to do whatever I damn well please.

Thanks, Charlotte.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Today, a string of photos of life in the past week or so.
But mostly, today, I think of Birdie, a baby who is so loved, and who would have lived a life so absolutely full of the greatest gifts of love and adoration that two parents could have possibly poured into her. I grieve her loss, myself, because I cherish her mother and family and I wish I could have had her sweet, three year old self tearing up my house on a weekly basis.
Loving you, Birdie, and wishing your wings could bring you home.