Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I have one brother who's at school, too, Aoife said, when an older woman at a cafe asked her if Fiona was her baby sister. And I have another sister who lives in the stars.

I cringe, and I hate myself for cringing. I'm not prepared for this, prepared for the woman in the cafe to look at me with sad eyes, and for myself to start talking fast, without making eye contact. That's how it is sometimes.
But she doesn't really hear Aoife, who keeps on talking. So I feel very grateful to Aoife for including Charlotte, and I remember to thank her for this when I am tucking her into bed.

I don't know why my reaction is always like this when my children openly share with strangers about Charlotte. It is as if somehow by them sharing our story it seems more unbearable to me, and I'm not certain how to proceed. At once I admire them for candidly sharing the frank truth about our family, and I wish I could sink into the floor and leave them to work out the details with their newest confidante. I recognize that Charlotte's death is, to them, more simple fact than heartwrenching tragedy. Liam is in the midst of the transition where he is recognizing the gravity of the situation, but Aoife is still blissfully unaware. Today she was bright eyed and honest, her shiny blonde hair hanging in pigtails with pink and green ribbons, as she nibbled delicately on a brownie as big as her face. Her legs have grown long and lanky like a little filly and they still hold the suntan from April's trip. She is so innocent and pure, and I see with my eyes what the stranger sees: the baggage of a dead sister. The baggage that comes in the form of a mother who is babylost, a mother who shares the dead sister with the children and allows them to accept her as their own.

This is, of course, my gift to them.

I hope that Charlotte will change them, as she has changed me. I hope that as they grow in our family, they will see that my love for her has changed the way I love them, and that everyone is the better for it.

But as her pigtails swing, I think I fear that the older woman across the cafe might not see it this way, and that she might think it better if I didn't let my sweet, lanky, suntanned four year old in on the details of our family tragedy. Like an adolescent fearing the judgement of the boy across the room she doesn't know, even though she approves of her outfit and so do her friends.

But luckily, the woman in the cafe doesn't hear.

I am spared this once, but know it will happen again.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Then, it was as if I lived inside a thick, heavy cloak.
When I think back to then, I almost feel it wrapping around me.
I'm turning inside out, the roar of my blood in my veins drowns out any other sound.
I see with blinders on, only what I can manage to take in for that little while.
I am ensconced in softness, holding myself tightly with my two little arms, trying not to fall apart.
I can see the world, and it moves in slow motion for me, and I'm surprised at how fast people are going.
My world, of course, has stopped.
Inside my cloak, I look down, and see the stillness of my body.
It waits for the passage of time, and that is all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I ran today up to the top of the road. The trees hang heavy there, the green is so bright at this time of year. The pavement is old and cracked, and no light comes through the trees in springtime. Today, as I ran, I listened to Richard Shindell and thought of Charlotte.

That stretch of road always reminds me of driving to the hospital; this suprises me. I drive this stretch of road at least twice a day, every day. Yet when I run, and the trees hang over my head, and I enter into the clearing and see Turkey Hill silhouetted against the sky, I always think of that drive. I think of the drive, and then I think of coming home, and more specifically what it felt like to be me when I came home.

It is no exaggeration to say that I had absolutely no desire to live when I came home. I was listless and limp and lost. I pondered, in an intellectual way, the fact that I did not care much about my life anymore. I wondered if this meant that I actually wanted to die, and I quickly determined that I did not, because I knew that as much as I did not want to live I would never have the energy nor the will to make this happen on my own. Furthermore, any time I considered the possibility of my life actually ending, I would be flattened all over again with a new wave of grief; this one for Greg, and for my own parents. So while I was apathetic about living, I did not actually plan to die.

The truth was that while at that moment I could have cared less about living, I did always maintain that there was something worth living for, and what fueled this belief was very simple: I loved Charlotte. Having had her made me sure of what I could some day have: a child of my own to love and keep. While I had no confidence that this would take place in the near future, I knew that it was a possibility. And so I wanted to be alive later on, so that I could experience this for myself. If it could be so amazing to love someone who had already died, I could hardly fathom what it would feel like to keep that person forever.

So I was caught in this space. I cared not a bit for anything at that moment. My life was quite literally without meaning; I had no definition. I was neither here nor there. I was a mother, but I had no child. I had left my job, but had no reason to stay home. We weren't a childless couple, but we had no children.

I simply existed for what seemed like a long, long while, knowing that anything would be an improvement upon where I was then. And time marched on.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

7, and 3 days

Today the sweet, most amazing father of my children turns 34, and for the first time in eight years I absolutely did it up for his birthday. I shopped well and in advance, not allowing the birthday of Charlotte to overshadow his, as it has every year since she died. So this morning, in the warm, May sunshine that seemed brighter somehow, we sat on the porch and he opened his new snorkeling gear, a lovely, shiny new banjo, and other assorted trinkets that brought a smile to his face. And mine. And everyone's.
As we walked along the Mill River path with a newly-carved stone to place at "Charlotte's Stone" (Greg re-etched it to deepen the engraving for her birthday, and added the kids names to the side) I thought the thing that I think every single year, when the anniversary of the aftermath comes.
I never would have believed I could get to this. I never could have believed I would be this happy.
Liam was tearing along the path on his new, big bicycle. Aoife, who had skinned her knee as we prepared to leave the house, was dressed in a beautiful, long blue smocked dress and riding in the Ergo on Greg's back. Fiona Clementine was curled up in the Moby on my chest, her blue eyes peeking out the side, sleepy and content. The river lazed past us, smooth as glass.
Was this a picture of the happy family, even though the pack on my back held the weight of the stone that we would return to its spot beneath the tall pine tree, memorializing our dead daughter?
Yes, this was the picture of a happy family. Because the most amazing and biggest miracle of all of this is that somehow, the sadness that we carry, the weight of that stone on my back, doesn't subtract from the happiness that I have now. It is huge, and it's heavy, and it is a burden to carry. But I still have this huge love, and this huge happiness, and that's real.
And if you told me, seven years ago, that I was capable of that, it's possible you might have been able to make me laugh. Not likely. But possible. Because I would never have believed you.

Do you know what it's like, when you spend several hours at a night club, or party, and you come home and the silence of your home makes your ears pound? There's this pulse that you hear, a ringing, and it's the emptiness, the nothing that you hear. And your throat hurts when you talk. And you've stayed up too late, so your body is weak.
This is my memory of what that was like, what it was like right now, then. My ears pounded. My body ached. My milk had come in, and I kept ice on them. I was cold.

A woman I didn't know made a huge salmon dinner for our family on this day. She was a friend of my sister's from college, and she lived in town. Salmon and rice and some vegetable, and we heated it up and ate it for Greg's birthday dinner. Because Charlotte was late, and I wasn't thinking, I hadn't bought much for him. Just a pair of rubber boots and a plaid button down summer cotton shirt. I presented these, my head hung. Our families sat around the long table in our sun-lit dining room and we ate the salmon dinner, as he opened these gifts, and some cards. My sister in law gave me a beautiful card, which I still sometimes read. My sister made Greg a cake, but I told them they couldn't sing. There was obviously nothing to sing about.

My ears rung, and my body shook with grief. My face was wet, always. My heart was shattered, and it barely functioned. Each breath was a ragged, half-assed attempt to maintain my own life, about which I could hardly have cared.

Pain had become all-encompassing, and I had closed myself in. This would last for a long, long time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I sit with six gingersnaps and a big glass of good red wine, drinking it all in. All of it. All of seven years of hope and despair and loss and gain and good fortune and mishap and everything that goes along with all of that.
Seven years ago, this minute, I think maybe she was already gone from my arms. I think, but I can't be sure. I am grateful to say that I didn't look at the clock when we said goodbye, so I can't be tortured by that moment of truth, that most awful of moments.
The reality was, when I finally gave her up for the second time, succumbing to the inevitable and watching her disappear, I think I sank back onto the scratchy, starched hospital sheets in pure and utter defeat. I think the smallest of whimpers may have escaped me, and I lay as torrents of tears soaked my bare chest, and that chest barely rose and fell with what little breath I could muster.
But my vision of the departure, from the inside, is much more dramatic. I can see myself, draped in white, falling to my knees, scratching at the bare earth, howling up at the moon in agony for her. I see myself, arms cradling my useless, empty belly, pushing into its vacancy and screaming out as I collapse onto the ground, dirt blowing into my mouth and nose, my eyes squeezed shut to the wind. I care for nothing; I care about nothing; I am nothing now, without her. There is nothing left. I am no longer alive.
Memories that couldn't ever be verbalized, could never be shared, really. Who, I ask, who has not been subjected to the terror of it all herself, would want to even imagine the depths of such pain?
And again, this being a year when a new baby was born to me, I feel closer to that birth euphoria, to that amazing, fresh, gorgeous and unearthly moment where this child emerges from me and I gasp in disbelief. And I shake my head at the tragedy of that moment of euphoria crushed with the limp limbs and still body of a baby who has already passed on. It is too much to bear.

As if she has been summoned, Fiona Clementine calls for me from upstairs. And I will go to her, as I always do, and I will bury my face in her as she nurses, and thank her for bringing me life. I will weep into her soft hair as I remember her sister, her much beloved, much remembered sister.

I still miss you, Charlotte Amelia.
I wish you could have blown out your candles tonight.

Seven years old.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Running away

I run now, at night.
I tuck in the children, kiss them all soundly and wetly and wait until they are breathing heavily, their misty breath gathering around their faces, the flannel pulled high under their chins. I wait until Fiona Clementine has woken to nurse at least once, and then I put on some running shoes and I head down the hill, beneath the arc of hemlocks, and hit the pavement and run.
I run, at first, like I am running away. Like I'm trying to get away from something.
I put on music, and I run with it sitting right in the middle of my head, the way music feels when you listen with earphones. This week, I choose purposely those pieces that evoke the sadness in me. The greens look greener, the fields smell of new dirt, the cows moan as I pound along my road. I wonder in my mind if any of the dairy cows are crying for their calves; and I am sad for them as I go.
As I run I always think about myself, and my grief. It's just like when I'm in the garden, suddenly alone, working with my hands. Or cutting the grass, the loud din of the mower drowning out anything else that might be in my head. It's as if suddenly everything that is tangible, and real, and there in my life for certain gets to disappear, because I can trust that, and suddenly this space is made for Charlotte. I think of her, and I think of me. I think about how I'm different from most everyone I know, because of what I hold inside. I think about the memories that haunt me, memories that most of my friends and acquaintances couldn't dream up.
And tonight I even went so far as to think about how easy I got it: I was thinking about war-torn countries; atrocities of all kinds that mothers have had to endure. I was thinking of mothers seeing their children killed, or being forced to choose between their children. I was thinking about how compared to them I got off so very, very easy, with just one little baby who died so quietly and peacefully, and then three precious living ones to follow.
But each one's tragedy is her own, isn't it.
And I have mine.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Weight


There is a weight, and it pulls at me.

Threatens to pull me right down, tripping over my own feet, hands fumbling for something to grab onto to steady myself.

My eyelids are heavy, there is a buzzing in my ears. My skin feels tingly.

The world whips past me, but I look up. I see blue sky, and clouds that are fluffy and white and drifting past so slowly. The leaves on the trees are completely unfurled now, so shadows dapple the world. A bird flies over me.

My heart beats somewhere inside my chest.

I have three living children: two frolicking, hilarous blond-headed beauties, sparklingly alive with joy and curiousity and wisdom, and a small, fuzz-headed baby, so delicously milk smelling, a nuzzling, snuggling creature who lives and breathes for me and with me.

This present is so intoxicating it sometimes keeps me away from my past.

It keeps me in a place where I spew it out like rote, like a script I have memorized and speak for someone else. My baby died. I had another daughter. It was a cord accident.

But then May rolls around, and I start to feel the weeping at the edges of my eyes, and I am haunted by the images of myself holding her, wondering why I didn't keep her deep into the night.

But still the days march past, and I laugh.

And then a pastor writes me a letter and tells me I'm doing this all wrong. And even though I think he's wrong, and even though I know for certain that I am reading much more deeply into his words than he ever intended, it is the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back.

It breaks, and I am suffocated now beneath the weight of seven years of sadness.

It feels like a steamroller, and I reckon it'll roll off of me somewhere around next Tuesday.

Until then, I try to breathe.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Little Liam

Fresh, yeasted Belgian waffles steamed on my plate, with freshly-picked strawberries bleeding into the lightly toasted wells of their surface. Syrup pooled beneath it. We lit Charlotte's candle, and my children surrounded me.

Mother's Day morning, and it could hardly have been more perfect. From the kitchen, where the speakers are, I had Pandora radio playing. Suddenly my ears perked up, hearing something vaguely familiar. At first I could not place it, but then I realized what it was. Years ago, I had heard the singer Mindy Smith interviewed by Terri Gross, explaining how she had lost her mother to breast cancer, and how her heart still missed her so deeply. She sang this song on the radio, and I cried and cried by myself in the car, imagining what I would do with just one more moment with my baby in my arms. Even thinking back on that time in the car makes my eyes fill again; the thought of having one more moment with her yanks me, as if on a string, back to the moment I handed Charlotte to Trudy and knowing that if I'd stalled for two more minutes, I would have had two more minutes with her in my arms.

So I gasped, gasped at my plate steaming with waffles, and my eyes filled with tears again. The family looked at me, and I explained to them why I was crying.

It made me think about how I just wanted one more moment with Charlotte, how much I would love to just have one more moment with her in my arms.

Liam stared at me, hard. His deep, bluish-greenish eyes were heavy with concern, so I thought, and then he broke into tears and crawled into my lap like a baby. He bawled and cried, and I stopped because I was worried that I'd scared him because I had said that the singer's mother had died. But he shook his head, and cried harder, so I carried him into the living room and laid him across my lap and let him cry.

He's so sensitive, and so sweet, and I imagined him hearing that my heart was aching so, crying in the car alone because I wanted one more moment with my baby. He knows babies now, I realized, and he's realizing how deep my sadness must be. I wondered at his amazing compassion, and I wept with him, my ever-growing boy, so full of love.

I asked him, is it hard for you to know that I carry such sadness in my heart?

He looked at me, so tearful, and said, well, it's not exactly that.

Tell me, I said, Tell me about your sadness.

It's just that I'm sad about Charlotte, I'm sad that Charlotte died. He said this, and he cried thick and hard on my shoulder, and he hiccuped and cried some more. He missed his sister, and he wanted a moment, too.

I knew one day this would come, he would miss her himself, deep and hard. It surprised me, still.

He cried for a long, long time.


I opened my e-mail and this is what I read, from someone who had received a mailing from my group, in opposition to the words lost and loss, which he counted were used 5 times in the piece:

Loss or lost are such terribly misleading words to use at such a time of grief and pain. Dreams are not lost when a baby dies - parents can dream for other children and have other hopes and dreams for future children.
I feel and believe (and know many others also who feel and believe the same) that continued use of the word loss implies an error the parents have made, or an implication that the child who has died, no matter what the gestational age, is not a real person, with feelings and thoughts, but merely a growth or a group of cells. Loss takes away the dignity and humanity of the child who has died and reduces the pregnancy to something medical and technical instead of human.
In this era of unfettered abortion and a throwaway society, why relegate children to an uncaring abyss?
An uncaring abyss?
An uncaring abyss?
All this hard work, all these hours, all these tears shed, only to have someone feel that I am relegating children to an uncaring abyss.

Furthermore, I disagree heartily that dreams cannot be lost. I believe I lost a dream or two along the way.
I do think there are better words than lost, but how to encompass all of the deaths, from conception through infancy, and all the ways it can happen, in one word? I, myself, am lost.
Tell me how you feel about this word. I agree that it is misleading, because our babies can't be found. But while I don't love the word, I feel as if it's become a pretty commonly used, and acceptable word in this community. I did check Websters, and there is a definition that applies.
But this is more about what we feel. Please respond. Are you offended?

Thursday, May 6, 2010


My dear friend said to me yesterday, maybe I should have asked you out for coffee so we could have talked about her.
And I was grateful, but I realized that even though I want somebody to ask me about the sad parts, I don't really think I can talk about the sad parts to anyone.

I feel like a petulant child. I want you to ask, but I don't want to answer.
I want you to know, but I don't want to tell you.

I know some people who regularly appear so ungrateful for their children, they are constantly annoyed with them for acting... imagine this... like children.

And I want them to know the saddest, most awfullest parts, the deepest pain, I want to tell them in the most vivid details.

Not that I think they'd get less annoyed with their kids if they knew.

And not that I'd tell them.

Oh, it's so hard to want to tell, but to not want to say.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Evening

The spring arrived early this year.

I feel programmed like a Canada goose or something; my spring calendar is dictated by the bloom of the lilacs and the weeping cherry outside my kitchen door.
But this year, the cherry is all finished, its blossoms scattering about my driveway and lawn already, like a fresh coating of pale pink snow that covers the new, bright green spring.

And outside my living room window, where my screen porch used to be, the lilacs are already heavy with nectar, their scent wafting up into my bedroom.

I went running tonight just at sunset, down my long country road. I passed by the dairy farm and the hayfield, and through the trees to the next horse farm. Along the road, lilac bushes leaned into my path, hunting me with their sweet smell.

May is here, May is here.

As I ran, my feet pounding against unforgiving pavement, I noticed that the sky, which was becoming less blue and more gray with the descending light, looked almost as it had in the early beginnings of dawn the day we drove to the hospital with Charlotte for the last time.

Eight days, eight days.

Cinco de Mayo. Today is her due date. Seven years ago today I went to a restaurant with my friend Beth and we ate cinnamon buns together over our huge, 40-week exactly bellies.

I think of my other children, who, at 40 weeks gestation, all lay in my arms, a week old, give or take. And I weep for Charlotte, having lost that chance.

But as I ran, and the lilacs chased me, and the dawn-like light drew me back, I thought about the eight days to come. I must be careful, I thought, about who I surround myself with. Already I can feel myself pulling out, pulling away. I am fragile, barely mended. I must be with only the opportunity to be just me, present with what I need.

And what do I need?

It stopped me, almost, from running when I realized that I really do not, and I really could not, really speak about Charlotte to anyone. I do, in some ways, of course. I do in that I say, "It's Charlotte's birthday on Thursday". Or in that I say, "My first baby died a year before Liam was born". Or in that I say, "This is a difficult time of year for us."

But I never really talk about her. I never really tell anyone what it was really like. I never really describe for them the horror of finding out, or waiting for her to be born. I never really try to explain to anyone the miracle of her birth, the absolutely suspended in time experience of having her in our arms, and then the awful, dreadful, tearing-my-heart-to-shreds awfulness of having to let her go. I never, ever really talk to anyone about that. Nobody ever asks, not that I blame them. And I don't think I really can talk about it. I might start to cry, and I don't usually feel like doing that with anyone except just myself.

I remember that when my article came out in Mothering years and years ago, a very, good, true friend called me in tears. "I never really knew the story," she told me, and it was true. For the most part, nobody really knows the story. They let me tell what I want to tell, but I am careful only to tell them the parts that won't make them cry.

Sometimes, I wish that someone would ask me about the sad parts.

Especially in May.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Charlotte's Walk

In Memory of Charlotte Amelia, I run an organization.
And in the amazing effort to BREAK THE SILENCE and introduce the world to these fallen babies, we walk together on Saturday, May 8, at Look Park in Northampton, Massachusetts. Registration is at 10:30 AM, walk begins at 11.
Walk? Why do we do a walk?
I don't know, because we all come together, and then we make a statement by all being there, carrying balloons, wearing shirts. We walk in the audience of all the other families, and we say, I have an invisible child, and you can't ignore me anymore.
But the great part is that we all get to hang out, and afterwards we'll have a picnic together.

It's a fundraiser, but do you want to know a secret? I could care less about the funds. Really. I'd even say, don't donate, if you asked. But I would say, come. It shows you care.

So pack a picnic, and come, if you live nearby. I'd love to see you.

Falling in love

Did I forget what had happened, that moment she appeared?
I might have, for a beat of my heart.
I remember it so clearly, looking down, seeing her, and folding myself almost in half on top of her, reaching for her like I was grasping for my very life
(and I was).
I was leaning over her, and into her, and burying my face in her neck and gathering up arms and legs and slippery belly and trying to get her closer, closer to me.
Could this be real?
There was very suddenly a person on my belly,
a real, true person
Someone with a head, and two eyes and ears, a nose and a mouth.
She had shoulders, and arms and perfect, miniature hands and feet.
Her legs were long, skinny as a baby should be.
She was a person, a new one, someone with a code inside of her to make her a new and lovely and most wonderful addition to this earth
(except that she had already left).
Is everyone this stunned at the human-ness of their firstborn infant?
I was stunned, amazed that I'd done this: grown a person.
And I felt the earth shake below me with the sudden surge of unspeakable love that boiled up inside of me, boiled up and spilled out all over the place.
How could this be real!
Certainly if other people loved their babies this much they would cease to function. They would turn inward and lose all other aspects of their lives. They would forget to eat, and bathe. They would never pay a bill or mow a lawn.
I couldn't believe how big it was.

This all happened, in this tiny second, this beat of my heart, where I forgot. Where all I felt was the sheer exhileration of it all, the joy, the amazement of this new love.

And then I remembered.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Inevitable

I had to do it.
It was a quarter past five in the morning, so I picked up the phone and I dialed the number. I knew it would ring, and that one of my parents would leap out of bed to pick it up, knowing it was me, knowing the news was coming.
It rang two times, and my father answered, breathless.
Dad, I said, it's not good news. I had to say that, first, to let him down easy. To prepare him, if there could be a way to do this, for what would come.

Our baby died, I said. We don't know why. I haven't had it yet.

My memory holds nothing of what followed, nothing at all, except that he told me my mother wasn't at home, that she had gone to the club to work out.

But I do remember what he told me about that morning, after the fact.

He told me that he was at the top of the stairs, when he heard the phone ring. He told me that he danced his way down the hall, with an enormous grin upon his face, and then picked it up. And he told me that when my mother came home, he met her in the little hallway at the top of the basement stairs, and he held her firmly by the elbows and told her the news.

I don't remember whether this is what happened, or what I imagine, but she nearly sank to the floor in grief, screaming, crying, they must be wrong, they must be wrong.

I had told them not to come, but they came right away, of course.

That was the only call I ever made. Ever. That day, after the family arrived at our home to wait for Charlotte to be born, my mother and my sister got out every single phone book I had ever kept and called everyone they could think of, and asked them to call everyone they could think of. They wanted to spare me from ever having to make that call again.

I was grateful for this.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Ride Out

Greg went down ahead of me, to get the car.

I felt too weak to walk, weak, I believed, from giving birth. I now know differently.

The nurse helped me into a wheelchair. It hurt, hurt, hurt to sit, and she offered me a donut to sit on. I remember sitting, in pain, while she rummaged in a closet looking for one. I felt as if I had been cheated of this simple comfort, a donut for my sore and ravaged bottom, because the lack of a baby on my lap caused them to forget I had just given birth.

She wheeled me down the hall, and into the elevator, and then we had to go down the long hall, lined with chairs, past all the people. I stared at my lap. I probably looked as if I was still pregnant, but only a little.

We went outside into the brilliant sunshine. We stood, waiting for Greg.

I felt sorry for the nurse. What could she say to me? How do you make small talk, in the brilliant sunshine, when there is no baby?

Greg pulled the car up, and I looked for the car seat in the back, but it was gone.

I wondered what he had done with it, but I did not ask.

I got in the car and drove home, leaving my life behind.