Friday, April 30, 2010

The Birthday

I am standing in the kitchen.
It is dark, but there is a night light lit at the bottom of the stairs, on the wall that runs from there to the bathroom, under the window. The glow is small, a soft yellow, just enough to see by.
I am standing in the kitchen, and I am holding the telephone in my hand.
I am wearing blue pajama pants, and they are soaked. I am wearing a soft, almost translucently old cotton top, a yellowed white, with small pink hearts embroidered on it.
I am holding the telephone in my hand, and I walk between the pine table and the refrigerator. The calendar on the fridge catches my eye.
It is the Middlebury College one, with Sabra Fields prints on each page. Tall and thin, open to May. My eye catches the day, the date. Not Monday anymore, but Tuesday. Tuesday the 13th.

A day I hadn't really wanted for my baby's birthday, since 13 is not exactly a lucky number according to legend. But 13 it would be, and I confidently walk up the stairs to the bedroom where my anxiously awaiting Greg lies in our yellow bedroom.

I am holding the telephone in my hand, because I'm waiting for the midwife to call me back.
I'm so excited.
I'm having a baby.

(170 minutes until the world ends)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Interim

I was hovering over myself.

The flat grey light passed through the window and onto the bed where my body lay, swollen, still beautifully pregnant. There was a line running into my arm, to keep the labor going, and a line going into my back, to numb that body from knowing what was happening.

(to protect me from the physical pain, because I was already dying from the pain beneath the numbness of my mind)

I didn't know where I was, or what to do.
I hadn't cried much.

My mind whirled, and I remember thinking things such as, "What will I do with the car seat?" and "Perhaps we can travel to Italy this summer, Italy is so beautiful and I've always wanted to return." I even turned to Greg and said, "All our friends will be afraid of us. We will have to invite them over, surround ourselves with them. Then they won't be afraid." I think maybe I was actually imagining at that point that I might reclaim the childless life I had once had.

The clock ticked, and the hours passed. Hours passed. I slept a little.

A social worker, kind and soft, came and spoke to us. She told us about the kinds of things people do when their baby dies, about inviting families in and taking photographs and spending time together. I believed that others made those choices, but thought that perhaps I would make different ones. I didn't believe, at that time, that I would want even one solitary witness to, or memory of this: my greatest, most colossal failure of all.

And then she asked us if we had thought about what we wanted to do with our baby.
"Have you thought about whether you plan to have a funeral, whether you want to cremate your baby or bury your baby somewhere?"

I was still hovering, dissociated, unaware, but this question came up like an angry hand and yanked me back into my body and I broke into a thousand pieces all at once.

I was responsible for this person, and she had died. It was up to me, because I was the mother of this person, and she had died. I was hoping to choose breast or bottle, pink or blue, to push or to carry, and instead I would choose to bury or to burn.

It was too much. All at once, I cried, and cried, and cried.

And I knew that Italy was completely out of the question, and so were the dinner parties.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

I was grateful for my general attitude towards life on Saturday night, as it crept towards Sunday morning. I found myself in a long line, behind about 400 other harried travellers, all sunburnt and windswept, under flourescent lights in a windowless box somewhere in the middle of the Charlotte, North Carolina airport. We were waiting to clear customs, and the line snaked at a snail's pace around the vinyl barricades as the bored looking agents examined passports and fingerprints and doled out their rote questions and waited for the rote answers to follow. We stood in the line, Fiona snoozing in the sling, Aoife fast asleep in a full-sized car seat stuffed into a little infant snap-and-go stroller, and 6 year old Liam maxxing out the Ergo carrier on Greg's back. We didn't have a watch, but it was almost completely obvious that we would miss our connection. Almost.
There were so many people in that line, and Charlotte being a hub, (isn't it weird for me to be talking about Charlotte and be referring to a city and an airport?) almost everyone in the line was about to miss a plane to somewhere. The tension around us could have cut through the polar ice cap, but we just stood in line, almost patiently. The kids were all asleep, or almost. The line snaked. People wondered what to do, where would they go, why wouldn't they let them cut the line, why was their connection so short when this was so long. But this was out of our hands, so we just waited.
We made it through the agent, and the upside of the long wait was that our baggage was ready and waiting on the roundabout when we emerged from the flourescent-lit box. We grabbed the bags, woke Liam up to help us with one of the wheelie bags, and began to run. We ran until we cleared immigration and re-checked the bags, which I did with great hesitation, knowing how likely it was that we would need them that night.
Then we ran, ran, ran, until we hit the long security line. We stood in line, got through, and the flight was about 3 minutes from its departure time. What if, though, what if? Maybe it was running behind, and the door wasn't shut...
We ran, and ran, and a nice young woman driving a cart saw the baby bobbing around in the sling as I ran and offered me a ride to the gate.
We arrived, and the gate was deserted, and the plane was gone.
So we re-routed to special services, and it only took 45 minutes for us to be re-booked on a flight three days later, the earliest available.
We took a deep breath, and went to a hotel. The beds were huge and comfortable, with amazing turquoise bedspreads and an enormous television. It was 1 AM. We scheduled the wake up call for 5, and when it rang, we slung the kids onto our backs and fronts again and headed out in the dark.
We waited standby for the 7:15 flight to Hartford, which was 9 passengers overbooked. It was when they were offering the contingency plan for those willing to give up their seats that we hatched our own. We would fly to Newark, the only flight that day with seats available. There we could rent a car, and drive up the eastern seaboard until we reached home.

In the airport, another family in the same situation waited for the Newark flight, where they planned to rent a car and drive to Boston.
"Isn't this a nightmare?" the woman said, wringing her hands. "This is just a nightmare."

I smiled to myself, as I boarded the flight to Newark. No, this wasn't a nightmare. This was a manageable crisis, something that we could find a solution to, and indeed we had. Through the whole ordeal I didn't get ruffled once. Because I know what a nightmare can be, and a missed plane does not qualify to me anymore.

The Chevy Malibu we rented worked just fine, and although our car wouldn't start when we arrived back at the airport in Hartford we worked that out, too, and by 5 PM we were home.

Suntanned and windswept, 14 hours later than we'd expected, happy and smiling, three hundred dollars poorer, and glad to be home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Greg was holding her, and I was leaning into his shoulder so my face was only a few inches from her. I could smell that sweet, buttermilk newborn smell, and my hands were on her.

Charlotte's tiny feet hovered near my breast, her toes so impossibly small it was hard to believe they were all there, but they were. All with their complete tiny flecks of toenail, perfect and lovely. I cradled her foot in the palm of my hand held her first toe between my fingers.

This little piggie goes to market...

And so it goes, right to the part where the piggie cried all the way home.

Because I was never going to get to play that game with her, was I.

To this day, I almost cry a little every time I play that game with one of my living babies, because they are there, and she is not.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

And I lay there, my arms strapped down, the curtain blocking my view.

I saw some bloody latex gloves at one point, and the room seemed cavernous, despite the some 8 people who hovered over me.

Greg crouched over my head, protective, afraid.

Then suddenly I saw him straighten, and draw in a startled breath in the crisp bright flourescent light.

I can see the feet! he said, and he was standing now, leaning away from my head, It's peeing...

And the cry split the air, that birth cry like no other, that birth cry that followed precisely 11 months of the most excruciating silence I will ever know.

Amid cries of "It's a boy" and "does he have a name?" and "his name is Liam", and me saying, "Go to him," and pushing Greg towards the small, flailing infant who was on a lighted heat bed having his lungs sucked out, I was reborn.
I lay on my back, like Jesus Christ on the cross, my arms outstretched, immobile.
I lay on my back and tears poured down my cheeks.

I had been afraid of this, that at this moment of birth I wouldn't be able to hold my baby right away.

But when it happened, and that cry broke the air?

I could have waited five minutes, maybe even ten. Hell, maybe even an hour!
Patience reigned, because he lived, he lived.

My little boy who lived.
I still heave these huge sighs of relief, because I was saved by him.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A daughter of a daughter

We're all a daughter of a daughter, of course.
I can only go back to my great great grandmother, but I was the fifth generation to give birth to a baby girl. In four generations, on my mother's side, there had only ever been one boy, and he was the fourth after three sisters. I can't say that I expected to deliver a baby girl, but it would be fair to say that girls were all I ever knew, so it seemed like the order of the universe when that baby was born and she was the girl I suddenly realized I had always needed.
I go back to this moment, time and time again, and for those of us babylost who didn't know who we were waiting for, I'm sure we all remember it. The moment we realized, too late, who we had lost.
I always remember the light first, that cold, flat light with the rain pouring down outside. It was 2:14 when Charlotte was born, and in those first moments I clutched her to my chest and drank in her tiny face, amazed at the very fact that she was there. She looked so perfect to me, as I imagine everyone's baby looks to them, and it felt almost frantic inside of me, this rush of joy and amazement while knowing this baby was on her way towards leaving me.
But she was here, she was here. I held her to me as best I could with her cord still attached and coming out of me. I was bent over to make myself reach her, to allow myself to wrap my upper body around her, like I was trying to curl her back inside of me. Greg and I were weeping but we were amazed, we were astonished by her, and some of the fear had lifted.
Then I remember this, so clearly, I remember pulling back slightly and seeing her tiny knees, white and covered with vernix. Her little thighs were pressed together against my belly and her cord snaked sideways and down. I leaned back slightly and lifted her top leg and saw that she was a girl, and then suddenly there was this rush of incredible sadness, this amazing and huge new grief for her. Here she was, the daughter of a daughter of a daughter of a daughter of a daughter, the sister I had always wanted for my other children.
Had I really wanted a girl, I wondered, as this sudden sadness hit me? Was this something I had repressed? In the moment, I decided that yes, all along I must have really longed for a little girl, and here she was, and I ached for her. Looking back, I redefine this for myself, because I think that what really happened is that suddenly I saw my life with her when I realized who she was. Instead of being the nameless, sexless baby who made my belly do flip-flops and kept me up at night, she was suddenly Charlotte Amelia, who would have been my daughter. She would have been the eldest child, the big sister, just like I was. In that moment, she became. And in that moment, I realized who I had lost.
She was still there, but I wanted her back.
I still do.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The First Gesture of Sympathy I Ever Received

I am lying in the hospital room, and it is morning. The sky is steel grey and heavy sheets of rain are pouring down. The lights are all off. There is a privacy screen hanging over the window, white with tiny holes all over it, and the dull daylight creeps in, but there are no shadows. The walls are a dusty rose color, the floor is beige linoleum tile. The cabinets across from the bed are oak, and from the CD player the haunting strains of the English Patient soundtrack fill my head. I am lying on my side, and I can't imagine for the life of me what I am thinking about. I think I am in a void, a numb, sleepy void. I was up almost all night, and it is now 8 AM. I am waiting for my epidural, which has been gently suggested to me by my midwife, because maybe I want to create space for my emotional pain. An automaton, I concede, yes, this sounds like a good idea. Let's create some space for that. So now I lie here, waiting, the sad music flowing around me. I think Greg is in the little bed with me, because I can't imagine he would have been anywhere else. Maybe he is curled behind me, as I am curled around Charlotte, the three of us like descending commas, a kernel of life.
Then there is a knock at the door, so I imagine Greg gets out of the bed as the nurse and then the doctor come around the white curtain into the room. The doctor has a tray of things, and he is introduced to me. He is Eastern European, with an accent. He tells me to roll over on my side, and I do, in my fog.
The music plays.
He is wiping off my back, and I feel so small, so awkward. Here I am, getting this epidural as if I'm going to have a baby, except for that I'm not. They told me back in that room with the ultrasound that there is no baby, so now I'm just going through these motions of childbirth.
The alcohol is cold on the small of my back, and the music is all there is, except for the silence of the people in the room.
Then he clears his throat and speaks to me, for the first time.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I don't know what to say."
Nobody speaks.
The epidural goes in, and then he is gone.
I lie there, pregnant, except that I'm not having a baby.

Later, when I remember his words breaking the silence, I realize he will be one of the only people who actually says the right thing.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Void

I used to wonder this, to myself, earlier in my life.
If someone came and told me really, really, horrible news, of the worst kind, that someone I really, really loved had died, what would I do?
Would I scream loudly, banging my head down on the table, and begin to sob?
Would I collapse, faint, hyperventilate?
Would I cry no, no, no again and again as I sank to my knees, overcome and awash with grief?
I spent time pondering this, from a distance, as of course I was privileged enough not to have to attach a face with this awful news I was imagining myself receiving.
I was so fortunate, I had never actually received terrible news.
I had never really felt completely in shock before.
Nothing had ever really been ripped out from under me before, like a carpet or a chair that leaves you sore and aching and prone on the floor, wondering what on earth happened to you.

So you may wonder what I actually did that night, or that morning, rather, when the daylight was just starting to creep in through the mesh privacy curtain that hung over the window in the birthing room. The doctor had wheeled in a slightly archaic looking ultrasound machine, with a screen that reminded me of the Apple Computers that we had at my elementary school, the pale greenish-beige ones with the bright green turtles that you clicked around the screen. The midwife sat on the bed, by my left knee, and the doctor stood next to her, and the screen was tilted towards their faces and was up next to my shoulder. Greg was watching on the screen, but the moment the form of the baby came up on the screen I had to turn away.
I saw their faces, I saw the wide, grave eyes of both of their faces as the wand moved slowly over my belly, and so I had to look away, as if perhaps by doing so they would begin to smile and tell me the good news.
Our baby is so big, Greg commented, we haven't seen an ultrasound since 20 weeks.
My face was buried in his shoulder, and I remember this clearly, I said,
but it's not an okay baby.
Because I knew, I just knew.
And the next words spoken were just that, the doctor said,
I'm sorry, but your baby's heart isn't beating any more. Your baby is no longer alive.
I suppose there was a moment of silence, a long, hard, aching silence.
Greg's body began to shake with sobs, but my face lifted, my face was frozen.
There was a tan wall in front of me, and I fixed my gaze on it.
Slowly, my head turned.
You mean, my baby is dead?
I looked right in that doctor's eyes, and I said that awful word, dead, almost as a challenge.
She wouldn't dare to use that word, to call my dear, sweet, beloved baby that.
I'm afraid so, she said, and she looked down.
The two of them began to speak slowly, quietly, about how this was the worst thing that could ever happen, about how they didn't have answers for us right now about why this might have happened so late in the game, about what would come to pass later that day.
I heard them, but there was a roaring in my ears.
I fixed my eyes on that tan wall, and went numb.
I did not wail, scream, or flail.
I did not wilt or lose consciousness.
I did not even shed one single tear.
I just stared, stared, stared at that wall, and I wondered what would become of me.

How would I survive this?

(and here, at the end of my stream of consciousness, I am laughing at the last line that I wrote and refuse to edit out, quoting Lucy Grealy to myself, Meaning what, you would have died? It doesn't work that way unless you kill yourself... which is not what I was intending to think, or say, or do... but simply that I could not wrap my head around what in the hell one does next when one thinks one is going to start a family and then has to go home empty handed)

Time to click publish post.

A Plan

I have a plan.
I liked my last post, which was born out of 3 minutes (literally) of frantic writing before I went to bed. I wanted to post, I had no ideas. So I thought to myself, pluck a memory out of air, and write. Don't read it over, don't edit it after you've written. Just write, and post. Then, you will have time to post.
This is always how the true grit gets posted, and I want to do more of it.
So here is my goal, publicly posted:
I want to do this at least three times a week, if not every day. From now until the 13th of May. I am going to let my mind settle on a single moment of memory, and I'm going to let my fingers fly for a time, and then I'm going to hit POST.
So for a while, anyway, the story will be patched together again, for the seventh time around. I won't be intimidated about it being "too late for me to write" because it's not a time committment. I won't be intimidated about having "nothing to write about" because that just isn't possible. And I won't be intimidated that my writing isn't good, because if I declare here and now that I'm posting stream-of-consciousness writing, then you will take it for what it is: not a polished piece of writing, fit for publication, but the essence of my heart and memory, worthwhile in its own right.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Moment.

I remember the weakness in my body after giving birth. I assumed it was because I had proven myself an amazon woman, with power beyond all power: I had pushed another human being out into the world. My legs were unbelievably shaky and I almost had blind spots, when I stood up I had to be held. I had to pee so badly and the bathroom seemed so far away. The nurse was so kind, so loving, as she took my arm and helped me hobble across the floor. I was naked, but still had the IV pole attached to my arm with sticky white tape. It trailed along behind me with a slow squeak as I shuffled my way towards the open door, which was only about four feet from the bed. Bright red splotches of blood followed me, a trail to lead me back to where I needed to return.
I sat down on the toilet, terrified for the pain I anticipated. I was dizzy and disoriented. I peed and peed, gallons it seemed, pee that was now able to fill a bladder previously squashed and cramped by the baby inside me. I looked down and saw all the blood and I was woozy again, and the nurse had to help me with the peri bottle because I felt too sickened to do it.
She asked me, do you hate the sight of blood? Does it bother you when you get your period? And I answered her with the truth, no, none of this bothered me. It was just this, this blood, this end of a pregnancy that was supposed to bring me a glorious life and was instead sucking me into a vaccuum of pain and oblivion. It was this beginning of the aftermath that I could not bear.
She helped me up, and dried me off. Then we followed the trail of blood splotches back to the bed, and I looked up, and he sat there with the baby in his arms.
And for the first time, I noticed that she was completely still, and the horror swept over me, and as the nurse helped me crawl back onto the bed, I cried and cried.