Friday, October 29, 2010

October 29

Our family is coasting right now, and I am grateful.
Coasting, coasting, coasting.
Our days are busy, but as the fall closes in on us they are busy with just life as it rolls, with nothing extra piled on top to complicate things.
In the mornings now, it is dark as pitch when Liam wakes me up. He crawls into bed with me, curling himself into a little breadloaf upon my belly, and we lie there in the darkness together for sometimes half an hour, dozing and snuggling and loving each other up until a little Fi cheeps from the darkness down the hall.
Liam loves, loves, loves his baby sister. The visible joy on his face when he sees her is enough to melt you into a puddle. He turns on her light and leaps into her bed, wrapping himself around her. She giggles, grabbing at his face. She is almost a year old, our little Fiona Clementine, and she is as happy and joyful and aware as she was from the beginning. I was just marvelling the other day that I don't think I've ever seen her frustrated or angry.... yet. She's still in that golden stage where it's all curiosity, joy and amazement. She scoots around the house, wondering at everything, yanking books off the shelf, sifting through their pages. She pulls down toy cars and manipulates the wheels, destroys block towers with gusto and whacks the blocks together, and picks up anything resembling a telephone and croons, "Hieeee, Hieeee." I love it that Liam is old enough to appreciate her for all that she is, and he just adores her. So from the start of that day, we go down together while our late sleeper dozes on, and I start to cook breakfast while my boy and my baby play with each other happily.
Aoife still greets us with her sunny SURPRISE! from the stairs, and when she joins us we eat breakfast together. From there, everyone plays until it is time to leave. Liam and Aoife have been treating each other well lately, and treating me well to boot. They have been getting themselves dressed, brushing their own teeth, and getting their own shoes and coats on as their token contribution to the morning's toils. This may sound like an almost no-brainer for a 4.5 and 6.5 year old, but the things is, I always like to coddle my kids a little bit... okay, maybe a lot. So when they used to lie there helplessly and say, Oh, Mimi, will you dress me? I would say, okay, my darling baby, and tack five more minutes onto my morning. One day I just lost my cool with dressing all 3 babies, and I sat them down and explained how much more time we'd all have to play before school if they could be counted on to slip into their clothes when they got out of bed, and take responsibility for their own shoes and coats (at the same time as I was getting myself and Fi ready)... this rung true for them, and they've been right on ever since. Deep sigh.
It's those little things, sometimes. I can get wrapped up in wanting to be that super mom, and in always wanting to be uber-available and saying YES to my children all at once. I know so many people who have fewer children than I do and do give them more special treatment and helicopter-parent doting than I am sometimes able to give my three. But then I have to remind myself that this is what I believe in: I really think my children have a gift in each other, and I also think it's okay for two such aged soldiers to be expected to do a few things for themselves in the morning, even when it means that they aren't really my babies anymore. The split always hurts, but everyone is always better off after it happens. I think this is probably because all of our moves towards independence usually happen when the child is well able and ready to be independent, so there's no battle by the time we finally get there.
My little Fiona naps so well, so well, every day. I still feel like I should knock on wood when I say it, but she naps twice a day for almost two hours and sleeps for twelve hours every night (with a few nursing breaks... well, maybe more than a few some nights). Our transition to sleeping apart has been so great for both of us. She loves her little bed, and I appreciate so much being able to actually sleep for 3 or 4 hours at a time without a wiggling, half asleep, over tired, irritated baby beside me. When I'm nursing her now on the mattress in her room, at bedtime and in the night, she actually will sit up and lean towards her bed when she's finished with her milk, and when I put her in she snuggles onto her belly and closes her eyes. I am amazed by this still and it reminds me that when we have different children no matter what our expectations are and no matter how we parent them in the end they are their own person, with their own preferences, and if we listen to them we will often be surprised.
And where does Charlotte fit into all of this? I muse on this, as sometimes so much of this blog can be retrospective, me using this space as an opportunity to connect to my past, and keep some of the more vivid, visceral memories alive. Part of where she fits in is to my work... my organization feels so full-blooded right now, pulsing and alive. The speaker I brought in touched so many caregivers (over 150) and that felt like such progress to me. The feedback I received about the presentation was phenomenal. And, sadly, there have been a number of losses this month and I have gone and sat with these bereaved families and known that I am being guided by Charlotte and my love for her as I hold their hands as they weep. Our meeting this month had an attendance of 19 people... a record for us and an absolutely overwhelming evening it was. There were so many tears, and so much audible relief around the table in having found one another. All of this work, each of the souls touched by the conference, each person I personally reach out to, everyone who is impacted by the group, these are all my daughter in the flesh, doing her work here on earth, with me as her agent. I love her so much for it. I love having her in my life, and having this in my life, because it feels so good to do good. There is nothing else quite like it.
And in the quiet evening, after the clock strikes seven, and the children are all in bed, I sift through the remnants of my day, pack the lunches for tomorrow, and try to clear the counter of the detritus of three meals and numerous snacks and homework and mail and everything else that accumulates over the course of twelve hours together. And in the peace of the evening is an even greater peace in having found peace amid what seemed like such an impossible situation. I think my happiness is based on my ability, seven and a half years out, to really see with both eyes everything that I do have, and to feel so awestruck that such beauty could possibly be born out of such intense sadness. I don't avoid the sadness, or the void, or the pain that still lives in me, but I don't let it define me. I let Charlotte define me, but not the aching, raw edges of the loss. That lives in me and rather than hurting me I let it fuel the joy. This is the gift of time and good fortune all wrapped into one.
I am so grateful for everyone.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Yellow Balloon

(Inspired by Jenni, from her post on GITW.)

I remember so vividly feeling Charlotte with me when I had her. I don't think I felt the warmth until she left, and the chill that seemed to surround me when she left the room was palatable. Greg and I were alone with our tears and broken selves, and suddenly I felt that she must have been there, somehow, that her little soul must have waited around to watch us be with her before she floated off to wherever came next. There was also this intense, undeniable feeling that she had to be somewhere. Just the day before she had been this absolutely vital force: this kicking, writhing person who loved to tuck her feet into my ribs and pluck them down with an audible twang. How could this person be simply gone, rendered a lifeless body in my arms? She had to be somewhere, didn't she?
Suddenly the idea of religious belief made perfect sense, and I wished more than anything that I had some preexisting sense of how these things worked. It seemed to late now to suddenly become a fierce believer in a place called heaven, or in life after death, or some other fixed version of what happens. But I didn't, so I was forced to ruminate on the hundreds of possibilities of where she might be, and to feel little if any faith that I would ever be privy to her sweet self again.
But there was a fierce need to keep her, and so after we came home, we saw her everywhere. We saw her in the heavy rain that hung from the lilacs outside our windows, and on the sunny days in the fluffy wisps of cottonwood that would ride the air around our house. The sunshine, the warmth, everything beautiful seemed to be her for some time. I needed her to be there with me. I wanted her to know that I could be good, that I could be beautiful beneath all of my melancholy. Almost every day, I would put on Spring by Richard Shindell and dance like no one was watching, passionately and deeply, hoping that she was somehow watching me. I wanted her to see that I could feel joy, and would have.
But then the darkness settled in and the signs seemed more contrived to me, as things I wanted to see rather than real moments with her presence. The truth was, my baby was gone, and I was never getting her back. I didn't want a sign of her, or to imagine that she could see my potential for joy. I was sad, angry, disgraced. I wanted my daughter.
There was one event, however, that felt truly inexplicable to me. It has always felt like my one, true piece of evidence that she was looking out for us. Charlotte would have been about two and a half years old. This may have been around the time when I truly stopped looking for signs; around the time when my life had almost started to just be my life again, albeit my new life, and where I stopped thinking that somehow, if I just tried hard enough, she would come to me in a dream.
The day it happened was a blustery spring afternoon, and our baby Liam was about eighteen months old. We had dropped our car off at the Honda dealer and walked into town to get a sandwich while it was being repaired. The man at the dealer had given Liam a giant, round yellow balloon with a bright orange ribbon. As we walked, he held it in his fat little hand and screamed with delight as it bobbed in the wind. We tied it around his wrist, but in time, it loosened and suddenly there it was, floating up to the sky. Liam pointed after it, to stifle his potential torrent of tears we waved to it cheerfully and told him he was such a nice boy to decide to give his balloon to baby Charlotte. We kept waving to it, watching it rise into the grey sky above, until we got to the restaurant. During the meal he kept talking about his balloon and baby Charlotte, and we kept saying that his balloon had floated up to the stars to be with Charlotte.
Several hours later, we returned to the dealer, got into our car and began to drive north, towards the Vermont border, to visit my parents. Thirty minutes into the drive, we were talking about the balloon once again when I saw what must have been a trick of the light, waving to me from a tree along the side of the highway. I looked once, twice, but it was real: there is was, the yellow balloon, with its thick orange ribbon, bobbing in a tree beside the very road upon which we were driving. Three hours had elapsed, and perhaps thirty miles, and somehow this yellow balloon, round and giant and perfectly unlikely, had snagged along our path of travel.
I leaned back and took in a deep breath. Perhaps Charlotte had gotten the balloon after all, and this was her way of saying Thank you.

It was the only thing I could think of. How else could it have gotten there?

Spring (Richard Shindell)

The day will begin like any other
Another sunrise in the east
It will reach across and touch you like a lover
It will tease you from a dream

And opening your eyes you will surrender
To the light that fills the room
And the hope that you have carried since September
You will offer up to June

Maybe will be certain
You can take it as a vow
Winters just the curtain
Spring will take the bow

Looking out your window you will wonder
At the blooming in your yard
And evry opening flower will be a mirror
Of the quickening in your heart


The day will begin like any other
Another sunrise in the east
It will reach across and touch you like a lover
It will tease you from a dream
You wont remember

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Room

I was led into this room once before, a waddling 41 weeks pregnant, laughing with the midwife about the falling pressure and the number of women who had been admitted with ruptured membranes that evening. I remember it crystally clear-- walking through the first door, and then the second, swinging myself up onto the bed, the midwife strapping on the monitor. I remember the room vividly, the yellowy-beige walls, the wooden nightstand with the telephone, the door to the bathroom on the left. I remember the window, which was the same as the ones in all the other labor and delivery rooms. But the thing that set this room apart from the other L&D rooms in my mind looking back was its size: it was small. Whereas the other rooms were large, with room for walking, bouncing on a ball, and bringing in an army of family and friends, this one had only a few feet between the end of the bed and the wall. And the wall, which I remember staring at wide eyed after the doctor told me that my baby had died, was smooth and unadorned. Unlike the other rooms, with cabinets, a counter for writing bracelets and collecting specimens, and the warming oven for the baby blankets, this back wall was plain and smooth, blank as could be.
I hold this in my mind so perfectly, this absolutely blank wall that met my stare, as I looked into my empty future. Beside me, my husband cried into his hands, but I just lay there, my huge belly like a weight upon me, and stared dry eyed at the wall in front of me. I have revisited this memory more times than I've cared to over the years. The blank, blank wall, so close to the foot of my bed, my dry eyes haunting me as my ears rung with the doctor's awful words.

Then, last Friday, I was called to come and sit with a family whose baby had just been born still the previous day. They were returning to the hospital to collect some things and wanted to see me. When I arrived, I was told they would be in room one. Chills climbed up and down my spine; I had not walked through those doors in seven and a half years. As I approached the room, I remembered it again, clear as day in my mind, and mused that the couple had probably been placed there to talk to me because it was a smaller, more intimate space to talk.

I expected that the colors that would meet me would be different, as the childbirth center had been repainted several years ago, and indeed it was a soft lavender paired with sage green that met my eyes. But as I opened the door my jaw must have almost hit the floor because this was the thing: the room was huge.
It was HUGE.
The room was almost identical to the other L&D rooms, yes, except it was far bigger. So much bigger, in fact, that it was in this room that they had chosen to put the new birthing tub, and it fit quite easily between the bed and the bathroom door.

This space that I remembered the doctor barely cramming the ultrasound machine, where I remember the doctor and the midwife crowded together, their backs to the bathroom door, faces grave.

And the wall opposite the bed?

Covered with cabinets, and countertops, and just like the other rooms.

Eleven months ago, I had given birth to a baby on the room to the left of this one.
And on the right lay the closet where I keep my Empty Arms materials, and an office where I sometimes have meetings.

The room didn't change one bit.

But somehow, my memory was absolutely erroneous.

I came home, still dizzy and reeling, and wondered aloud to Greg, sharing my memory of the stark, blank wall, and the room which was closing around me.

And he, too, corroborated that the room was in fact not small.

And so, as my life closed in around me, I suppose my memory did as well.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I hold a vision of myself, face puffy and tear-streaked, eyes red, hair hanging slack around my horrified, angst-ridden face. I have no shirt on. I am about to get into the shower, and my breasts are as hard as concrete, every node popped out to its fullest, the sides dimpled all the way around to my back as each and very milk duct was being pumped fuller, fuller, fuller... and not a drop expressed. I remember pushing with my index finger, pushing from the top down towards my nipple to let just a drop or two come out, and feeling surprise at the thick, fatty stream that instantly poured down my breast and dripped down onto my belly, still swollen. I put my finger to my daughter's milk and tasted it. I hadn't known it would be so sweet.
I had to ask, when I was in the hospital, what to do about the milk. The midwife held my hand, told me about putting on a tight bra, about the cabbage leaves, about trying not to touch my breasts. I remember her telling me that any time my breasts were stimulated, whether it be changing my shirt, or the hot water, or my touch, that more milk would come. If I could avoid such things, the milk would soon pass.
As with almost everything at that time of helplessness, I took her advice and clung to it. I was a mother without a baby, and therefore I must make the milk stop. I must do what she said and put on that teeny tiny bra my sister lent me, and take advil, and keep ice on my breasts to dull the pain. When I took a shower I stood with my back to the water, knowing that I shouldn't let the water touch my breasts, lest the milk be permitted to flow.
I compare these moments to the experience of watching my baby girl be taken away from me, and I wonder how it is that I can repeatedly say that the milk was the hardest part. In hindsight, though, I think that part of it being the hardest part was not just the slap in the face that my body was working furiously to provide food for my baby who had died, but the fact that I didn't know that I didn't have to make the milk go away as fast as possible. It could have been a piece of her to keep for a while.
I don't think I would have been in the mindset to pump my milk and donate it, although looking back I wish I could have come to that place. But what I do wish is that somebody had told me that it would be okay for me to pump a little to alleviate the pressure, and that I could take the weaning of my breasts, so to speak, at my own pace. At the time I felt so compelled to make the milk go away because I felt it was my duty; it was what I had to do because there was no baby. But at the same time I was obsessed with the milk; I was constantly taking off that bra and looking at my breasts and crying and letting some milk escape, and feeling guilty and proud of myself for making it and wishing I could keep some of my baby's food all at the same time. It never occurred to me that I could take this process at my own rate. I never thought, let's just let this happen in a way that doesn't hurt, and maybe the milk will last a while, and that's okay.
When the engorgement went away, and the physical pain was gone, I felt freed. I squeezed milk from my breasts every day, let it drip into the sink, tasted it, let it soak my bra pads, and dreamed about it. I dreamed that I was in the locker room at my old middle school, getting changed, and a girl called across the locker room that I was wearing a padded bra.
It's not a padded bra, the girl me said, they're nursing pads, I had a baby.
I was fiercely proud of my milk, because it made me a mother, and I did, in fact, have a baby.
I wonder now, what it would have been like if I had been allowed to go about this at my own pace, if someone had offered me the choices that were out there: to make it go away very fast, to let it come and help it go at my own pace, to let it come and let it keep coming, or to give it away. As with many things, I can't truly look back into my bedraggled, addled brain at that time and know what choice I would have made. But at the time I didn't make a choice, because I wasn't offered one.
*written in response to a conversation I had with a local lactation consultant who attended my seminar last week. She and I were discussing the idea of teaming up to create a resource for bereaved moms that explicitly provides the different options available to moms and perhaps touch upon the emotional journey of the milk. More to come on this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two weeks of....

It's been nearly two weeks of whirlwind everything, and the wind has finally ceased, and I'm looking around, wondering what has happened.

Somehow I got it into my head last spring that I was going to bring back my old friend Cathi Lam.mert, of Share, to speak at my local hospital. I was very excited to do this; I love the talk Cathi gives, I love being able to spend the donor's money on the idea that others will be better cared for in the future, and there is this small piece of me that enjoys having something to do that stretches beyond peanut butter sandwiches and that small red potty.

Of course, the work I do with my program I started is really what does sustain the part of me who is an adult person other than a mother, and I do feel like I have a job, although I don't often feel that I have the resources (both financial and physical) to put the work that I'd like to into it. But somehow, with this vision of bringing Cathi back the stars aligned and within our first conversation it became apparent that there were two days in October where the big conference room at the hospital would be available for me to use and where Cathi was free, and so we grabbed it, and signed, and it was set.

So this entails a great deal of publicity, in theory, registrations, sorting out who wants CEUs, ordering food for each seminar, collecting donations for those who work outside of our region of service, reserving tech equipment, assembling parent panels, more publicity, brochures, reminders, e-mails, more e-mails, and a whole lot of time.

During the height of this organization in late summer, about 6 weeks before the program, my dear friend at the hospital who serves as my liason to everyone had to go on long term sick leave. Which left me, absolutely, alone to manage all of it.

I need not go into the details of patching together the three days of childcare for three different children in two different schools, and the nursing baby who had never, ever been left without her mother. But we figured it all out, and we all survived.

And over 150 people came to my program, and I proudly stood at the front of the room and told them that I'd made this, that I had created this program and brought Cathi here with funds we'd raised together, my little group, and I didn't just feel like I was doing this, I was doing it.

All I ever wanted was for Charlotte's life to matter to someone. I have to say that doing this work just makes my heart absolutely spin and glow and burn, because she absolutely is creating change in people, through the work I do. What a relief to know this is true. That it has happened, and that it will happen.

And that is why I have not posted in two weeks. Now, I begin to dig myself out of all the things that did not get accomplished as I was sifting through 45 new e-mails and reading Pajama Time with the other hand.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The talk, round 9

It happens every time I make a new friend, but there is no rehearsing, really.
Today it was a new friend from Liam's school. I invited her over this morning with her four year old daughter. When I first extended the invitation, I wondered for a few minutes whether any of our mutual, new, friends had mentioned my past to Rachel. I knew there was a chance of this; it has happened before. But this morning, as she pulled up into the downpour and shuffled under her umbrella with her little daughter and into our mudroom, I had forgotten this missing piece.
It wasn't until maybe twenty minutes later, when I was pouring the tea in the kitchen, that I remembered. As I popped my head around the corner to ask her if she took milk in her tea, I saw her standing in my little sunroom, looking around at the things hanging on the walls. Things like the plates that have all the kids' birthdays, and the cross stitch that memorializes Charlotte and her birth date. I had to brace myself, I knew it was coming.
I don't know why I always get so nervous, but I do.
She said, which was sly, I'm not sure exactly what the non profit work that you do is, but I'm guessing it has something to do with loss...
Oh, I said, did someone tell you about Charlotte?
No, she said, I saw the plaque in there, she said, referring to the wallhanging in the living room.
And what did I reply?, I'm asking myself, as I type, and I think it was something like this:
Charlotte was our first baby; she was born a year before Liam and she died at birth from a cord accident. So that was our really sucky start to parenthood... and it was awful... and now I'm an especially happy and grateful mother to have these three living children".
God, I hate it, but I think that's almost exactly what I said, almost closing the door in her face, because I could see the tears welling up in her eyes and I just couldn't take it, it's as if I can't deal with someone else being sad about my loss because it will remind me about how awfully sad my life actually is. (it's so embarrassing to admit this, but I have to, because this is why I blog)
And because I shut the door in her face, by providing her with a tidy, one sentence description which almost implied that I didn't want to talk about it, and reminded her of the happy ending to my story, I never got to really talk about Charlotte. In my desire to help her to not burst into tears in my kitchen I began talking quickly about the conference I'm running next week, and about my work with the hospital that can be so challenging, and how satisfying it can be for me... and I never really told her about my baby girl.
I don't know if I wanted to, then, because I was so caught up in wanting her not to cry over her cup of tea, but I want to now. I want to calmly and coherently tell her the quiet, brief story of Charlotte's life, and remind her of what a miracle this makes Liam. I want to bring to light the fierce love that dictates the act of parenting for me, love that is partially fueled by bereavement and despair. I want to celebrate the four children in my family, because now she knows.
I will follow up on this, I know I will.
I just have to let there be a next time to talk about Charlotte, and I'm good at that.