Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Post #410.

Tonight I made and canned 22 bottles of jam. Yesterday, the kids and I picked 26 pounds of strawberries at a farm nearby. I began by making strawberry jam, but then I started on thinking about how I still had two quarts of our own raspberries from last fall in my deep freeze, and over a gallon of our own blueberries, and how the bushes are already producing, and so I did a few more batches of mixed berry jam, with excellent results. All told three hours of jam making, and thankfully Fiona Clementine cooperated by staying asleep through it all. With four teeth baring their razor sharp edges this is quite a feat.
An old friend just found me on the internet. I was so gratefully happy that she did, as I had looked for her quite a few times and wasn't able to find her (she changed her name). She was someone that I used to be very good friends with, and had a very pure love for. A friend that happened at a very vulnerable time in my girlhood, really, in my late teens, and I was sorry that we lost touch somehow in college. I always thought very fondly of her, and wondered what had happened to her. Now I know, she is out there, still, now married with three children, two girls and a boy. Until last week, she lived in the next county over from me. Imagine that. But only days after finding me, she packed up her family and moved to Maryland. Unfortunate timing, I should say, but I'm happy nonetheless to have made the connection.
The reason why I'm going on about having found her, is that it always surprises me to have to give old friends the surprising news that yes, I'm here, I'm living in this lovely home that Greg and I crafted all by ourselves to be the most amazing home for our family, I am surrounded by loving friends, I have three of the most hilarious and beautiful and whipper-snapper smart children I've ever met, and oh, yeah, my first baby died. Do I tack it there, on the end, or do I do it the way it really happened, which is that our baby died, and then we realized how surrounded we were by loving friends, and so we set about building ourselves an amazing homestead in which to have three more fabulous children? Either way, it's kind of shitty news to share.
Then again, it's absolutely just the gist of who I am. Charlotte was the beginning of my present life, without a doubt. Everything that has happened since she died-- from the births of each of my other children, to each renovation project on our house, to each friendship I've maintained or each new friend I've made, it's all somehow related to, or based on, her. Changing things in the house that reminded me of the bad parts. Keeping and loving those parts that reminded me of the good parts. She's like every fourth thread in the tapestry of me, and so it seems so terse and insufficent to just say, yeah. We had another baby, once, but she died. As if she's finished, because really, she isn't. She's still part of this story.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

To die, or not

This is not a post about suicide. Or at least not in the way it might seem logical to write about suicide in this blog. I have never been suicidal, although there were many days where I did feel I'd rather not be living. This was a rather detached feeling, however, and the grief I was drowning in was not so thick that I could not see what the repercussions of such a drastic action would be. In the moments where I felt like I would like to disappear, I would inevitably almost instantly imagine my husband and parents again bowled over in grief-- this time with the loss of me-- and I would find my own grief compounded, and the thought would be pushed aside.
No, tonight I am talking about the right to die, and more specifically, reflecting on an absolutely amazing Frontline show on PBS that Greg happened to stumble upon while grading papers last Monday night. (click there to watch it, click here to read a nice summary with a few choice quotes) It was about a man with ALS who had chosen to end his own life through assisted suicide, using an organization in Zurich that does just that. This man was so gracious, so thoughtful, and what he wanted was to die peacefully, without a great deal of pain, given that his disease was going to cause his death within a matter of years no matter what he chose. The documentary followed him through the decision making process, both on his own and with his wife, and on the plane over to Zurich and on through his very calm, and peaceful death. It was agonizing to watch this man, sitting with his wife in a softly lit room, drink through a straw the concoction that would cause his heart to cease. I was so amazed by his bravery-- knowing that there could have been moments that would have brought him pleasure, but also knowing that much suffering lay ahead. As his eyes closed, his wife sat by his side, holding his hand. You can only imagine me, sitting about three feet from the television in the dark (my glasses were upstairs), in a tiny child's wicker rocking chair, just weeping from the bottom of my heart. I was weeping because it was sad, but I was also weeping because it was absolutely the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. This was like the perfect birth plan, only it was at the other end of the line. This man had chosen the exact day and manner of his death, he had chosen who would be there with him, and he had chosen the music he would listen to when he went. Before he died, his wife kissed him and said, Goodbye, safe journey. Could there possibly be a better way to go? (That being said, I was also cursing the gods for befelling this intelligent, loving man with such a vicious illness; he was only 59 and vivacious and it was just so sad all around)
The sad thing about it is, that death can be beautiful. It is very powerful, just like birth is. It is enshrouded by mystery and can leave its witnesses with some mystical sense of peace. I only wish there were more opportunities for people like this man to be able to make a lovely plan to avoid their own dehumanizing, humiliating decline, and choose a dignified, quiet way to go.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Twelve days have passed since I have visited here. I have been writing. I am working on something new, and my mind is there.

Fiona can sit up now, and she clearly understands some of the things I say. Against all odds, she is a champion napper, although she still consumes most of her calories by night. She is pure delight, and all of us couldn't be happier with her. I cannot believe how much my older children love her.

I am deeply happy right now. I am also feeling settled, and grounded. I can't explain this. I feel as if June sometimes feels this way to me, after the emotional ride that May takes me on.

One of the rather odd side effects of losing Charlotte is that it made me into a very tidy person. I used to joke that it was my form of anorexia, rather than seeing food as something I could control (and I did see that as an area of control, too, but I used it as a way of deriving pleasure out of my world through tasty things) I craved order and organization, and so I would tidy up my house. I would de-clutter and clean and feel oddly satisfied at what I'd accomplished. This has stuck, to a degree, although I am also practical and do not let my desire for order interfere with my children's lives. They are allowed to play and make a huge mess and I don't clean up anything that I think they are planning to use again in its same form. But the past few weeks of outdoor play have allowed me to turn the inside of my house into a sanctuary of organization. This, combined with the end of the school year and the fact that we will all be joyfully home together, makes me feel so settled.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I called my sister, because I didn't know who else I could call. I choked on my tears, hoping that by trying to explain what was happening, it would get easier or go away.
I was paralyzed, traumatized, haunted.
In my lap lay this beautiful, 6 pound, 9 ounce, curled up living joy. Her chest rose and fell, her soft, thin, blonde newborn eyelashes grazed her cheek.
Above us, over the bed, was a 20-light window frame. 12 of the frames were filled with the images of me holding another beautiful baby. I could not see it, but I could imagine it: if I had lifted her arm and then dropped it, it would have flopped down.
How could I have survived that? How could I have actually given birth to death? How could I have held her in my arms and then actually given her up?
I would look down, over, across, at my new baby, the living one, and I would imagine myself swaddling her first in a white, gauzey blanket, and then again in one with little blue and pink footprints on it. I would imagine myself handing her to a nurse, and watching her leave me, and feeling the imprint of her burned onto my chest, the searing pain of separation.
I would choke, my breath would catch. I cannot do this.
And I was sure then, sure that she would die.
So sure that I was rocked awake several times a night, sure of it.
So sure that I was afraid to imagine what might happen tomorrow, next week, next month.
So sure I almost couldn't call her a girl, or think of her as a little girl or anything more than just a newborn baby, because those bigger words implied growing older and I was so, so afraid.
So sure that I could not let her out of my arms, almost not for a moment.
Sometimes I let her father hold her.
I held her, almost without stopping, for three months.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Char-lotte, Char-lotte

I had a baby, I did, I did.
I stand before the mirror examining the sunrise of stretch marks on my belly, the droop to my breasts. I am still able to squeeze a few drops of milk out, but they don't hurt anymore.
I have a mother's body, I think.
If I died on the highway, and I became a Jane Doe. They could look at me and say, She is somebody's mother.
They would feel sad, looking at me, white and cold on the table. She's so young, with a child out there somewhere.
little would they know, would they.

What is it that makes it so hard for us?
Why don't we believe that we ever had that baby, that we ever were mothers?
I would hunt for evidence all day long; the physical evidence of my body would keep me convinced for only so long. Then I would turn to the drawers of neatly folded diapers, of cotton onesies and hand-knitted sweaters. I would run my fingers along the smoothness of the maple crib rail; the rocking chair. I have these things, I would murmur to myself under my breath, because I had a baby, I did, I did.
Going for my post partum, I held my head high, absolutely awash with relief to be back at the midwife's office.
How awful, some might say, to have to go back.
But here, it was real. I was a mother, I was, I was.
I was examined because I had given birth, and treated as such.
I was allowed to talk about my birth.
Isn't that what you ask all new mothers? How was the birth?
I got to say it, I did.

And I can't say, when it comes down to it, that much has changed. When I look across my son's classroom and stare unabashedly at the seven year old girls, I chant it still: I have one of those, I do, I did.

There is no longer any evidence worth hunting for, but for my heart that still beats to the rhythm of her name.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Boy

Tell me my birth story, again, he says, and I curl his everly-more elongated body, naked and cool in the night air, onto my lap and begin again.
I can feel his heart beat through the thin skin of his chest, his ribs are now easy to feel, all traces of baby fat gone. He is lean, now, like a little coyote, springy and frisky and wiry.
His hair is thick and the color of sun-kissed wheat, and I kiss it, smelling the summer sweat buried beneath the layers.
I begin to tell the story, again, it is the third time in two days, and he is hungry to hear it again. He used to be sad that there was no birth music; the girls all have birth music. But he is understanding this now, what I told him in the first place: your birth music was the only music I was fit to hear, it was the sound of a baby's cry.
I'm telling the story again, about the long night, and the wiggly-jiggly baby, and the midwife who can't find his head. I'm telling him about the long short ride to the OR, and the three people who held him before I did. I'm telling him about how his dad's eyes filled with tears, and his face fell slack with a look of almost shock as he saw those feet emerge, and then the tiny, live backside of the same boy who is now lying on my lap, wearing his birthday suit. I try to tell him about what happened to my heart the moment I knew he had lived, but I can't find the words.
I can't figure out how I could ever put that into words, ever.
I want him to know, I so desperately want him to know what that moment did to me. I was a butterfly who burst out of her cocoon so abrubtly she tripped on her wings in her joy, grasping at the very air around her. I was alive and on fire, the liquid, red-hot molten embers of my previously extinguished happiness bubbling forth with a vengeance, rediscovered after a year of smoldering. I was quivering, faint, and barely aware.

He had been mad at himself, a few days earlier. He had done something wrong and was ashamed, down in the front yard, not wanting to see Greg. My poor boy, so hard on himself, wanting to be a good boy all the time. I sat down beside him. He said, I wish I'd never been born.
Oh, Liam. I said, calmly taking his hand. I breathed quietly into the side of his neck. You saved my life when you were born.
I did? he said, his eyes wide.
And for the first time, I could see in his blue-green depths, he was hearing something new.
And that night, he asked it for the first time. Tell me about when I was born.