Tuesday, December 13, 2011


My heart beats quietly beside her, as we're lying in the dark. I've stopped doing anything, everything I do in my life these last few weeks to let my little tiny one sleep when she wants, and it is paying off. This evening it's just past eight and she's beginning to doze beside me, even though her last nap ended at just before half-past six. So we lie there together, side by side, and she falls gently into slumber while I sing softly to her. It takes her about twenty minutes to fall into a deep sleep, but I have the time. This is the most important thing.
I think to myself, as I look at my baby, falling asleep in the safest place she knows, what a lucky little baby she is, to be falling asleep in her mother's arms, comfortable and cared for.
And what a very, extremely lucky mother I am to realize that there is nothing more important in my life right now than to lie there with her, breathing in this fleeting, delicate moment of her babyhood.

Today is the 13th of December. One year, it was Charlotte's seven month birthday on this day, and the next year she turned 19 months while her brother turned eight months. Some years later her sister turned one month, and then that next year thirteen months.

Eight years ago on this day Greg and I stayed home from work and sat across from each other at our dining room table and made wax-resist Pysanki eggs to hang on our Christmas tree. We wrote her name on them and wept as we did so. I was pregnant but could hardly think about it.

This year, as Greg was carefully hanging his egg, the last ornament to grace the Charlotte tree, it somehow slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor, breaking. The look on his face made me want to run away, it was Grief I saw, that haunting past I haven't seen him turn into for quite some time. He lethargically retrieved the broken pieces off the floor and spent the next half-hour in silence, filling the shell with cotton and using a hot glue gun to try to piece it back together. Liam was slightly horrified at this whole scene, and was continually approaching Greg and saying tentative things to try to mend the awkward intrusion of Grief into our holiday together.

Liam does not remember that Greg always used to cry when we decorated the tree.

The 13th of December, today. A Tuesday, the night where Greg is out and I tuck all the children into bed myself. A cold, blustery night, twelve days before Christmas.

(I have five children)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Amazing today

We almost had no dinner, because just before dinner, everyone became totally engrossed in Christmas crafts. Greg and I were dashing from kid to kid threading needles, matching up felt pieces, and helping to design templates. French toast happened at the last possible moment, and against all odds, the children were all in bed, asleep, by 7:30. Perhaps the universe (or Charlotte) wanted me to have my craft time tonight to make Maeve's Christmas stocking.

Lucky me.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Good night.

It's dark outside so early now, but there is a moon tonight that shines with such brightness that the trees are casting crisp shadows on the earth beneath them and the big, glacial boulders in my front yard are shining in the light. Inside, the Christmas tree glows with its tiny lights and the house still echoes from the voices and stomping feet of the six children who filled it with the noise of eighteen only a few hours earlier.
The dinner party over but the excitement still very much present, it took me quite some time to get Maeve settled down and into bed tonight. During the day I can wrap her up burrito style and walk around with her while she nurses and I talk to the kids, play Monopoly, or otherwise carry on with our daily life. She dozes off and I can then set her down upstairs for her snooze and leave her. But at night it's harder for her to calm down, and because her daytime naps are so erratic in both length and frequency, bedtime hasn't been consistent for her or me. (I could go on about this, because as you know the one thing I can get almost type-A about is children getting enough sleep, and all my children were out like lights by 7 PM at the LATEST by this age, But Maeve is different, and our life is different). So I try every night to draw in great, deep breaths and remind myself of how fleeting this time is, this baby-time.
So tonight I lay in bed with her, after we'd walked upstairs in the dark for a time to get her dozing. We lay in our bed together and she nursed a little more and I patted her back and sang to her softly while I looked out my great, huge windows that overlook the front yard and the river. I could see the moonlight reflected in the rushing water and the cold stillness of the earth below. The dark seemed to wrap itself around us, even in the silvery light. Somehow being able to see in the darkness made it more present. I lay there, looking out, and thought, I have all the time in the world for you, my dear. I lay there with her, feeling the warmth of her little body against mine, knowing with all the certainty in the world just how unbelievably lucky I am to have the privilege to do just this.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

one amazing thing

I just read a book by this title.
(it was a good book to read)

But it got me thinking about the year 2008, and how wonderful it is for me to go back and read this blog because so much of my life and my children and my thoughts are captured.

It made me think about how every day, there are many amazing things that happen.

So today?

One amazing thing was sitting on the couch, with our beautifully lit Christmas tree to my right, looking out the window to my left at cotton-candy clouds kissed pink by a glowing sunrise. It was seven o'clock, just dawn here as the shortest day looms less than two weeks away. The sky behind the clouds was a deep purplish grey. The two older children were playing together (and they were not fighting, not even a little, because sometimes they do that) and I had Maeve curled in my left arm, nursing, and Fiona curled beside me on the couch on the right side, nursing as well. I was wearing my big, fluffy fleece bathrobe, and the house was warm, and it was delicious.

That was a moment that could have been nothing, that could have been forgotten by morning tomorrow. But now, I will remember it. It was me alone with my four living children, everyone happy, while the sun came up over our corner of the world.

While I'm writing, I will share something with you that rocked me a little. I was in the shower yesterday pondering the amazing truth that I have four daughters and one son. Four seems like a lot of daughters for one person to have, it's getting on towards a collection of girls when you get that high, although of course three is a pretty normal amount of girls which is all a person can actually see of our family. But in the context of my considering the number of daughters I have, I stumbled upon a memory I hadn't picked out of the box in a while and it is this:

She is lying in my arms, her head in the crook of my left elbow, and she's just been born. I am dizzy with the overwhelming and surprising overlap of two, seemingly opposite emotions: intense, incredible joy at the little baby in my arms, paired with a haunting, suffocating grief I have never before felt in my life. I'm crying for the wonder and disbelief of the child I have created and grown and birthed and for the tragedy that will tear her from my arms in a quarter day's time. Through my tears, I gently move her tiny leg to the side and see that she is a girl child.
I look at my husband's face and I say to him, she's a little girl, we have a daughter.
Something about that word, daughter, sears it on my heart as the thing I will covet most: daughter. With the word daughter becoming mine, in turn I seize also the word mother, the word parent, the piece of my soul I have always meant to be the most important.

I used to think about that moment every single day, maybe 50 times. It was a part of the story I repeated to myself again and again: we have a daughter, we have a daughter, we have a daughter.

And now, in the process of collecting more of those precious, irreplaceable daughters for our amazing family, I have forgotten to think about this moment in time quite so often.

Just another one of those things that changes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The littlest prophet

Greg went into Fiona's room late last night, after hearing her cry out.
She was lying peacefully on her back, staring up at him.
"Charlotte is sleeping," she told him. He agreed.
"Charlotte has wings" she stated, and turned her head to the side and closed her eyes.

Interesting, given that we've never, ever told any of our children that Charlotte is an angel.

But perhaps she is.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How I could have let it pass over me, I'm not certain. Memories get replaced by newer ones, I suppose, pushing onto the sidelines those that once circulated like wispy smoke through my brain: the happy moments before the storm, that vicious cyclone that ripped through my life and left me bleeding on the side of the road, broken and spent.

(Is this really what I should be telling people? Healing happens like this: your memories are so painful, so agonizing, that your brain will heal you by pushing your memories to the back of your mind, into a place that is like a locked file cabinet somewhere in a dusty closet. Sometimes you'll choose to crack open the drawer and let the memories seep out, but it's likely that when this happens you'll push the drawer shut with a slam, and collapse on the floor wondering how you ever managed to cope with such crippling sadness every single day of your life. Is it fair to confess that most of your memory of what happened will become a list of facts, and you'll learn to rattle off the facts while you carefully avoid matching the facts with the feelings that once paired with them? Should I tell people that one day they may learn to recite their story and feel nothing, to be devoid of anything while the words pour out of their mouth like water from a battered, well-loved waterbottle? Should I tell people that this is how it is, that you learn to live with the pain but that sometimes it's sad that your pain has turned into a story, and you can hardly even remember the sadness because you've done such a good job trying to heal? Do I admit that the sadness sometimes has to be re-remembered on purpose?)

So this is how it came to be that it didn't occur to me until I was watching this young, heavily pregnant woman sit in a big, brown leather armchair, with presents to her right being handed to her by her young niece, that I had once been this woman. Literally I had sat in that same chair, in that same living room, for that same reason, on April 13, 2003. A different, small blond child had handed me my gifts. I had laughed like her. One month to the day before all those baby shower gifts would become useless to me, mere tokens of a dream bitterly lost.

This is how it came to be that while I watched this woman open her baby shower gifts, and I realized that I had once sat in that same chair, heavily pregnant with Charlotte, that I let the gauze fall over the memory. I chose not to connect the dots between that fact and the agony of the loss, and I laughed with the others and commented excitedly about the cute clothes that inside I prayed she would have the privilege of using. I hoped so hard for her and her baby, but I did not let myself think about my own loss. And I was successful in not doing so.

Eight and a half years is a long, long time, isn't it?

(but she'd still only be a little girl. How could I have sidelined so much?)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wow~ Look what I made! Four beautiful children... and I had to throw that photo of Maeve by herself in since she looks a bit sullen in the group shots. I can only imagine what the fifth would look like.... maybe with some kind of photo technology they could combine the four faces to create the fifth.

I'll never know, will I...

Things are a little more under control here right now. It's hard for me to admit this, because the last thing I want to come across as is an anal retentive neat freak, but I do feel so much better about myself when my physical space is under control. The past few days have been good ones in terms of me getting everybody's things organized. I only have a few baskets of laundry, some already folded, the toys are mostly away, and I even got to make the beds today. Small potatoes, but somehow I feel more in control of things when everything is organized. It seems insane that something like too much laundry could send me into such a tailspin but I think that when I'm managing so many people when I start to feel out of control, the landslide happens fast and I get overwhelmed.

Thank you for all your words of support from my last post. Before I wrote that post, I was composing it in my head and almost started it off by saying, "I am not _____", and would have filled in the blank with another very popular blogging mom of many, whose posts paint beautiful portraits of long sunny days spent joyfully crafting and canning homegrown vegetables while the diapers dry on the line. And then I found, deep in the depths of her archives, a disclaimer which stated that her blog (obviously) chose to focus on those sunny moments, and of course she had her moments of complete insanity. I felt better reading that, more authentic myself, and it made me want to just dump the dark reality on the pages that I was typing on to just get it out there: because yes, this blog does focus on the sunny, but it started with the darkest of the dark, so it's okay for me to go there.

I'm glad the days are mostly sunny now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I am almost in a pit. But not quite.
I could use a few things right now.
A housekeeper.
A laundress.
A therapist.
A few long hours with some good girlfriends.
A big, cheesy pizza.
More wine than what I just drank with my 8 ginger cookies, fresh out of the oven.

Maybe a vacation?

So sometimes, the glass is seeming to be always half full. I remember only a month or 6 weeks ago crowing to Greg over and over again, I'm just so HAPPY. I'm just so PLEASED and THRILLED and DELIGHTED about our family! I was over the moon when I folded laundry, laughing to myself at the teeny little undershirts and Ariel underpants and dirty socks that still smelled like Liam's Keen sandals even after a trip through the wash. I joyfully prepared meals, giddy at the prospect of the six of us gathered around our beautiful cherry dining table, imagining the laughter and such that would ensue. The days were sunshiny and warm.

Aww.... and now?

The blackout really almost did me in, personally, because the house that saved us from the last 4 days without electricity had no laundry facilities. Of course the power went out with full baskets for everyone, so I came home to a trashed house that reeked of smoke and old, stale food, and 9 days worth of laundry for 6 people. There were about 10 bags to be unpacked, no groceries, and life just carried on. It was end of term for Greg, I had some meetings, and I am personally a little wiped.

So I'm basically complaining right now, but the real truth of it is that the kids (well, a few of them...) have been challenging lately. And it's much easier to write when things are rosy and glowing. My image of perfection, Miss Fiona Clementine, has turned TWO. Can you believe it? This, of course, warrants its own post singing her praises, but much to my astonishment, even Fiona has begun to be two. TWO. Like, as in, testing me from time to time, not always complying immediately and without question to everything I ask of her, skipping her nap, saying NO, and all those things. She's cutting teeth and demanding to nurse non-stop (which is difficult as of course I must think of little Maeve, who depends on the milk for her very life!) and has essentially turned from a child who brought nothing but joy and sunshine to... well, more of a regular kid. I suppose it had to happen. But it's a little melancholy for me.
And then there's Aoife. Poor Aoife. We had her parent conference yesterday and at school, she's just amazing. Happy, adjusted, enthusiastic. All the kids love her, she loves all the kids. She's learned to read and is writing volumes and loves math. She can sing a round and play the piano and organize a game with a group of 10. She is cooperative and attentive and lovely.
And the minute she steps out of the car to the driveway, she melts like the wicked witch of the west.
(is this a good argument for homeschooling, or what? but I LOVE my kids school so much, and so do they...)
The poor little girl is so exhausted and she just can't cope. I can't go into detail, I have to protect my little girl and her life shouldn't be splayed out here for all to read. But it's hard for her, and it's very hard for us. And I feel like the life has been sucked out of me from it. It's very, very hard, and almost relentless. I know I've been very lucky, I've been parenting for 7 and a half years and I really haven't struggled at all yet with a child in any phase. But my ass is being kicked right now good and hard, folks, and I could use a hand. (hence the cry for the therapist).
Liam is a rock star. He's learned to knit and is on his 7th project since September. Last week he read the 4th Harry Potter in 5 days. He hugs me good and hard and snuggles me.
Not that I'm comparing, but I'm so grateful to have someone who is so solid right now.
And Mae mae, she's butter and cream, laughing and babbling "mamamam" and rolling all over the place. But, that being said, she is a baby, and babies are hard work. And I suffer from some guilt of course from wanting to give her more than I have time to give her with three older children. She's always happy, though, which should be my gauge.
This is almost a rant, hardly a post. But it's the only way I can be here, and given that I don't have a therapist, I have to tell someone.
Things are a little hard right now. Hard and soft and everything all wrapped up. This month of Thanksgiving has me feeling desperate pretty often; desperate for some kind of time to feel myself think and to be an independent agent for even five minutes, desperate for someone to help me pick up the pieces, desperate for my kids to just settle down and love each other and themselves and me.... I want August back in my lap, the beauty and freedom of warmth and heat and schedule-less joy. I want piles of laundry that sit on the back porch and not in my upstairs bathroom to mock me when I brush my teeth. I want all the toys out on the porch and the rest of the house clutter-free and empty. I want laughing, screaming, hilarious children pouring in and out of my front door. I want OUT with the car and IN with the lake.
It's only November.
(but it is dark, dark, dark....)
I also know that part of what is hard right now is that I don't recharge, ever. Maeve is almost six months old and I really haven't had any time to myself since she was born. I haven't sewed anything (except Liam's octopus costume) and I haven't gone out with a friend and I haven't hosted anything interesting. I haven't done anything without at least one kid in tow. I'm so addicted to my children and I love them so much, but I almost need to find myself in all of this crazy chaos.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


written on November 2nd, 2011

We would have laughed at the forecast for snow on Saturday night, except that already last Thursday the rainy afternoon turned to big, slushy flakes on the windshield on our way up to the library. By Friday morning there was a thin layer of snow on our ripe cherry tomatoes and covering the roses in the garden, and the children were joyously swiping what little snow there was off of the leaves and licking it delightedly as we prepared to leave for school.
So we heard it might snow, and groaned-- we'd had snow until April last spring, and it seems almost a cruel joke that after such a long, seemingly never ending winter last year, that the dreaded season should arrive on our doorstep only a few days after the flip-flops went downstairs to the basement to wait for spring. Indeed, it was only a little over two weeks ago that I had my ceremonial last swim of the season, running as fast as I could across the sand at my parents' beach and thundering into the icy water up to my knees and diving forward, feeling the water bite me as I swam underwater for 30 feet or so before realizing that the lake was, sadly, no longer swimmable. And now this?
But by 2 PM, suddenly, huge, giant, sloppy flakes began pouring out of the sky. Within minutes the ground was blanketed; within an hour, we had inches to shovel off the walk. It was steady for the afternoon, and the forecast of power outages when snowstorm meets trees that haven't yet shed their leaves began to ring true as the lights flickered and went out at 2, and then resumed but went out again at 4. But by 5 they were back on, and I jacked the heat up to 74 just in case. We rolled fresh pasta and made a fresh tomato, red pepper, and fennel sausage sauce, and filled a few soup pots with water along with our five gallon jug we'd bought to be prepared for Hurricane Irene . We ate two full meals per person with our friend Sara, who was with us for the night, and tucked into bed, flushed from the heat and the wine and the incredibly huge amount of food we'd consumed.
At about 11, I heard the white noise cut out, and the night lights went out. Fiona began to cry and Greg rigged her little sailboat night-light cover over a flashlight, and we all went back to sleep. It wasn't until morning that I remembered how cold the house would get, as I wiggled into wool socks and gaped at the snowbanks that had formed under our gutters. The world was absolutely painted in thick, white snow-- huge, thick layers of it on every leaf, branch, twig, and bush. Everything seemed to have melted, as branches hung heavy to the ground. Our little apple tree that had finally given us 26 beautiful golden russet apples this year looked like a tiny lump on our lawn. The cherry tree was sweeping the driveway. The rose bushes had disappeared. In all, almost a foot of snow had fallen. And it wasn't even Halloween.
So we lit a fire, and we launched into the day of snow removal and tree revival. Liam joyously leapt around the yard whacking limbs and bushes with his hockey stick, freeing them from the weight of the damp, heavy snow. Greg went up and down our long driveway with his snowblower, clearing the way, and neighbors came up and down periodically to check in and discuss damage and the power outage. It seemed the power was out pretty widely, but we weren't sure. By afternoon I was feeling hungry and cold and tired of it all so we all piled into the van and took a trip into town, just to see if there would be anyplace we could get a hot meal. We swung by the bigger town, and it was dark and vacant, the traffic lights all out, cars everywhere snaking through town doing just what we were doing: looking for warm food and somewhere to be. We turned east and headed into the next, smaller town, and happened to spot someone coming out of a darkened pizza parlor. They had their gas ovens fired up and some candles lighting their work area and we had a hot lunch, huddled around the greasy table in the dim light while Fiona ran around the table in delight. (with her 6 PM bedtime she hasn't logged very many hours in a restaurant!) Then we headed over to the grocery store where, to our surprise, they were open and running on limited power from a generator. The refrigerator sections were mostly cleared out to bigger fridges in the back to save energy and many cases were covered over with insulated cloths, but we were able to get bagels, fruit, and a box of super-softee donuts (the kind that're powdered, cinnamon, and plain) as a kind of snow-day bonus.
Back to the homestead we trundled, with our bags and the sun shining in the windows and the trees dripping melted snow on the tree-limb and power-line strewn streets. We came in quickly, to try to keep the heat in the house, and lit a fire in the fireplace to cuddle around, and got out the games. We moved the dining room table over, and we waited.
We waited, and waited, and although it was only late October the temperature outside was cold and inside the temperature dropped down, and down. That night when we went to bed it was still around 50 upstairs, so we dragged mattresses into our room and all slept together for body heat. We slept well under huge duvets (well if you try not to include the 4 or 9 times Fiona woke up crying, desperate to be nursed in the freezing cold) and when morning came (it was Monday) the world was still closed, our valley still almost completely without power, and our house was really cold.
It was one more day and night of mostly the same, three days in total of our house getting colder, and colder, and colder. Luckily, we'd anticipated the outage and filled our 5 gallon water jug with fresh water and we do have the river to fill buckets with for flushing toilets and such. Our camp stove was set up on the porch beside the coolers of food from our fridge, it was a bit like camping.
Except that it wasn't camping, and it was really cold, and the babies weren't sleeping well. And it was getting dirty in our house from all the boots, and we couldn't wash ourselves, and what would we do when the deep freeze started to thaw?
Thankfully, on the morning of the third day, power was restored to my in-laws house, only 3 miles from us. They were out of town so we moved right in, taking clothing for one day at a time, shuttling between the houses for four more days as we waited patiently for the crews to make it to our road, where our power line lay limply like a dead snake along the side of our road.
So then, on Friday, November 4th, our power returned, and the kids got on their costumes and participated in rescheduled Halloween....

and we were thankful, thankful, thankful to come home to a nice, warm house.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

So Maeve was sick this weekend, she had a fever and a cough and was oh-so-miserable. What made it harder for me was that she wouldn't sleep unless I was walking around with her... at all. Not even a little. As soon as I sat, or tried to lie, she would begin to arch, and scream.

Maeve never, ever cries. Not when she's hungry, not when she's tired. Never. She never has. She's just a quiet baby, and I've learned to read her squeaks and whistles and figure her out pretty well. So all of this screaming was kind of alarming, and while her fever broke on Sunday night, this inability to sleep much at all (she did go down at 3 on Sunday night, and at 2 on Monday night!) combined with continued screaming led me to one conclusion:

Definitely some kind of tumor, causing excruciating pain.

I cried about this, feeling distraught as I paced the dark dining room at 1 AM. Here I was, desperate for sleep after 4 nights of none, wanting so badly for her to go to sleep, and soon she'd be in hospital for months, maybe forever, and how could this be happening?

In the morning, after I'd had my coffee, I remembered about ear infections. I thought about how interesting it is that my brain visits the idea of fatal tumors before it suggests the possibility that a congested baby might have an ear infection, which would cause pain and an inability to sleep.

Oh, well.

I did make an appointment to bring her in tomorrow, but today she had a long nap on my bed and now she's been sleeping there for almost 2 hours. Not in my arms, not while I walk. So I think maybe my hours of pacing the floor possibly dodged us a round of ammoxocillin (and as she threw up the tylenol I tried to give her each time, I doubt that would have gone over very well) and I am hoping we are in the clear.

Monday, October 17, 2011


It's time to write again.
My, how the time flies by, when you're spinning in circles all day long and then it takes an hour to make the lunches for the next day after dinner clean up because you're so tired. But it's all good work, for good people, and while I'm wondering who is going to make Liam's octopus costume and when, I'm still managing to hang onto my surfboard as the ocean undulates below me. Thankfully, Aoife has decided once again to be some variety of fairy princess for Halloween which means I can, with gratitude, send her to the gigantic dress up basket on the 31st of October to choose her own get-up.
This weekend was our town's fall festival. We live in a very small town up in the hills, and it's important for me to attend this festival every fall to remind myself how incredibly adorable this community really is. Of course there's the beautiful white church, town hall, and pristine library that comprise our town centre and sit perched atop a hill with panoramic views of the Connecticut River Valley. But on Festival day the back lawn of the library becomes a hubbub of activity with little tents, pens with all varieties of baby and adult animals, a cow pie bingo pen, lots of food tents, fairy house building, a craft table, and bounce house... and all the activities are free. Open to the public, and free. Amazing.
This festival consists of a kick-off 5K run through the hills (Liam completed his first 5K run, I'm proud to say, with Greg, Maeve, Grandpa and me!) followed by a variety of music, tours of the old blacksmith shop museum, home made sugar donuts, pies for sale, tractors to climb on, corn to grind, wool to spin, cider to press, and lots of animals to visit of course. There was a woodsman's competition and a trebuchet slingshot contraption flinging squashes into the forest.

The highlight of the festival comes at 4 PM when the Great Pumpkin Roll happens. At this time, all children get a small pumpkin and go to the top of the hill, and after singing a song, which is of course called, "The Great Pumpkin Roll," the starting gun fires and everyone pitches their pumpkin forward, and then great chaos emerges as each child rushes down the hill after his or her pumpkin. There are always a few tears as pumpkins are lost and kids trip on the incredibly steep hill on the way down, but there are way more smiles and cheers as the kids run sometimes half a mile down the hill after their pumpkins. One can easily imagine how quickly the 10 year old boys begin smashing pumpkins on the street on the way back up the hill and how shocked and horrified the 8 year old girls act as they compare how their pumpkins survived the journey and cradle them, hoping they will make it home for a good jack-o-lantern.
This year, our competitive by nature son was prepared to run all the way home if necessary (we live 1 mile down), and thrilled at the prospect of doing so. Aoife was almost going to opt out, as the throng of over-excited bodies pitching quickly downhill is always terrifying to her (and who can blame her, she's still barely 40 pounds) but a schoolmate's enthusiasm convinced her to at least pitch the pumpkin, and send Grandpa after it. Fiona spent the whole day saying, "Frow pumpkin down driveway, want to frow my pumpkin NOW down driveway, want pumpkin, want pumpkin NOW!" and then, in typical almost-two year old fashion, clung to her pumpkin and would not budge when the time came. It was an amazing day together, spent as a family, and it helped me to center in to the cute little community that I may have only lived in for 9 years but that has been my children's home for all of their lives.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how small our house is going to seem in 5 years, or maybe in only two, and how at some point we might actually consider the thought (just consider) of moving somewhere else. It really could only happen if we found the exact homestead that we envisioned originally, the dream that was too high to aspire for when we scraped together just enough to buy the tiny cottage that we were able to renew and expand to become what we call home today. It would have to be the farmhouse with acres of land and an attic to renovate into our bedroom, with a barn big enough for a swing and an existing place for our hens and enough room so that we could have a dog or two without wondering where even the dog would sleep. But I'm starting to realize that if we did, or could find that place at the time when our house was feeling too small, it might have to happen.
I know many people who have moved after their babies died, but I can't shake the feeling that I would be leaving Charlotte behind if I ever left this place. I think there's also a piece of me that feels so attached to this house because I feel like I absolutely became the woman I am here. I moved in here a slip of a girl with a basketball under my dress and I've become a wise, aged mother over the years, and more than feeling like I couldn't leave, I can't bear the thought of somebody else taking over this domain which is so sacred to me.
Maybe I'd have to be one of those weird sellers who would only sell their house to a family they really, really like.

And what of the placenta of the daughter I lost, which now lies encompassed in the root system of a very successful, 25 foot plum tree? What of that?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Little Fi

What Fiona loves best is when, after her tub, I let her climb up with me into our sleigh bed and nurse her while she's bare naked, lying down.
Fiona slept with me every night of her life until she was nine months old, you'll recall. She was the snuggliest, coziest, most delicious little baby to snooze with until suddenly she wasn't. Suddenly she was a wretched bedmate, thrashing and moaning, nursing and ripping the nipple out of her mouth in frustration, only settling when I would jump out of the bed in utter despair, not knowing how to soothe her. It took me a few weeks to put two and two together and realize that this child craved space, and she's slept very happily in her crib ever since (albeit not through the night until the dawn of the ever-so-ingenious nightlight).
So, to snuggle with her cozied against me, naked to boot, is simply a delight.
She's so tiny, Fiona is, she's almost two but she's just over 20 pounds and just petite all over. She has this fluffy head of baby curls that are getting quite long and she's so wiry and strong and amazing to lie with. She still absolutely loves to nurse and I love to nurse her. It's such a sweet, quiet way to love each other.

Lately when we're nursing in bed after her bath, she's taken to gazing upward at the photoframe above the bed with all the photos of Charlotte in it. She knows it's Charlotte, but obviously can't understand who Charlotte is, or what happened to her. Her comments vary, and I don't even really try to rationally explain it to her because I know she's too little.
"Charlotte's asleep."
"Charlotte's sad."
"Charlotte's nursing."
"Charlotte wake up. Mimi have bandaid."
"Charlotte happy."
Once, a while back, before I had specifically identified the photos over our bed as Charlotte, she thought they were photos of me holding a dolly. At that point she probably thought Charlotte was a candle we lit on our dining room table, as her context was "Let's light Charlotte's candle".

It's funny for me to compare her knowledge of Charlotte at this point to Liam's when he was her age. When Liam was a baby, and it was just the two of us, I told him the story of Charlotte over, and over, and over. It was like a book we read, the story of the mother and father who wanted their baby but she died, and then they had this amazing little boy to bring joy back into their lives. His information about Charlotte was her story over and over again. Fiona has probably never even gotten the whole story, all laid out in a straight line like that. She gets whispers of it in her ear, she gets photographs all over the house that everyone in the family refers to and tells her it's Charlotte. She has everyone going around saying their wish for Charlotte before we eat. She even chips in now, saying, "We love you, Charlotte, we miss you," and I'm sure she wonders who it is she's talking to. When Fiona was tiny I was having such awful PTSD (if I may call it that) that I could barely think about Charlotte let alone tell her story out loud to the baby in my lap who lived.

I feel like I should make her a book about our family, explaining who everyone was, who came first, who came next. There's just so darn many of us now.
And I love it.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I did have one, teeny temper tantrum the other night. It would be simple for all of you who have been blessed with living children to guess what it was about, and harder for those of you who long for sleepless nights to fathom...
of course, sleep.
I'm tired, quite.
Maeve Eloise sleeps quite well, sometimes. There were nights when she'd do 5 or 6 hours at a time, leaving me wondering how I could possibly feel so rested. I'd been up 3 or 4 times a night with Fiona up until a month or two before Maeve's birth, and now they were neck and neck, each getting me up once or twice.
(Fiona, incidentally, who has been up at least twice in the night every night of her life suddenly sleeps through the night due to my ingenious idea that perhaps a night light would help).
But some nights, she's nursing every ten minutes.
Like tonight, when I thought I could sneak down and do a blog post. But two minutes after I came downstairs, she's awake.
She wants to go to bed at 6:30 PM, with me.
No can do, girlfriend.
That's all I've got for tonight. My little Mae-mae calls, and my beautiful images of myself snuggled in bed with her, tummy to tummy, feeling her tiny little belly rise and fall against mine, will have to wait until tomorrow, or some other night when I might get five minutes instead of two to tell you about what things are like in the happy, happy (sad) house.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I am itching to write, to capture moments, and I have to surrender: while I started this as a loss blog four years ago (almost), now my joys outnumber my losses four to one, and thus it only makes sense that perhaps my posts should begin to reflect this.

I am overwhelmed with happiness right now. I absolutely love having four children; I love so many things about it I can hardly begin to wrap my head around expressing what makes it so wonderful. I feel so lucky that I was physically able to pull of this feat of having four living children in my house, but I also feel lucky that I was emotionally and mentally able to open myself up to the chaos that this big family entails*. I feel, somehow, that being "busier" has liberated me somehow, and opened me to just really embracing how amazing it is to have these four people to live with, and to raise, and mostly to enjoy. I absolutely love their company, each and every one of them. I love taking care of them and watching them grow and I'm just so giddy and thrilled that I get to love FOUR of these little walking, talking people (or maybe not quite walking and talking yet....) which is four times as many people for me to love.

I am almost operating on a new theory, which is that suddenly now that there is barely time for me to do anything other than take care of them, I'm forced to just embrace that as the joy in my life as opposed to trying to find other things that are my own, personal things that I crave to do. I also have this sudden, alarming context to it all: (and could this be the result of having the second child enrolled in full-day school?) which is, that childhood lasts for such a brief flicker, and if I don't pay attention, it will be gone, and forever. I have so many years of my life to do other things, but only now to do this. It is not work to take care of them, it is my privilege. (oh, okay. So it is work, a lot of work, but that work is my privilege) And it makes me so happy.

Last night the rain was blowing in. The river was riding high, sounding like a fan on high speed as it rushed over the huge boulders outside my bedroom window. A cool breeze blew in the windows as I climbed into bed onto smooth bedsheets and lifted baby Maeve, who had been sleeping on the bed, into my arms to nurse her before I went to sleep myself. She was swaddled in her turquoise blue flannel blanket with wavy coloured stitching around the border, and her little fuzzy head stuck out the top. I latched her on and grabbed my book and suddenly became aware of her feet, which had come out of the bottom of her wrap and were now settled on my thigh as she nursed. The soles of them were flat to my skin, and as the wind blew across our bed they radiated warmth into my body. It felt so, so warm, so beautifully warm on my leg, and it was in such sharp contrast to the night air that surrounded us. As I laid down to sleep, I inched her carefully down by my side and tucked up my legs around her so that her feet stayed there, warm on me, as we fell asleep together.

I love this.

* Yes, there is a financial piece: I suppose that if Greg and I, who ourselves could barely send our children to nursery school, didn't come from families who can and will help us to conquer whatever pieces of university we can't get paid for elsewhere, we might have had to reel it in a little earlier. I just have to state that because obviously kids cost money; I will also say that we do sacrifice somewhat in order to have a big family: i do not buy myself a juice if I'm thirsty, and we don't get take out food or go to restaurants on any sort of regular basis or buy new things for fun. We share bedrooms and get our toys at our town dump's swap shop and we have a great time doing it!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

There he was, just sitting on a picnic blanket in front of me.
It was a man, we'll call him Rich, and I'd worked with him 10 years ago, the year I became pregnant with Charlotte.
I had known for several months that my new acquaintance Kellie had a husband named Rich, but I'd never met him or seen a photo.
Then suddenly there he was, right in front of me. He had a new 5 month old daughter and I had my new 4 month old daughter and it happened so fast, because he and his wife were leaving the picnic as I arrived, that I almost could have missed the fact that the last time I laid eyes on him was the day I left work, on the second of May, to have my baby girl.
"You're Rich?" I staggered, so caught off guard to know this man already. I was frantically doing the math in my head at the time, trying to figure out which pieces of my life story were known to him.
He was, of course, Rich. And as he and his wife left with their baby girl I wondered if there was anyone else on earth who I had known up until the eleventh hour of my old life and had not seen since.
I cannot think of a single one.

(typed with one hand)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Baking Cookies

I'm making cookies right now, while both girls sleep. There are about 7 baskets of unfolded laundry and wet clothes in the dryer and toys strewn about my feet as I bake, but I really, really like to eat cookies, and so I'm baking.
This is another thing I've adopted lately, as my life has become more and more consumed with caring for others: I try to be really nice to myself in the little ways I can, like buying myself peanut M&Ms at the grocery store checkout before my girls are old enough to ask for a packet themselves, and sometimes sneaking in a quick read of the paper while I'm nursing Maeve during Fiona's nap instead of nursing her in the Ergo while I do housework.
Do you know that in 7 years of being a stay at home Mom I have never once just done something fun or nice for myself while my children napped? I hesitated to write this, because I had to spend quite a few minutes thinking carefully to make sure I was not conjuring up some sort of lie. But I think it's really true, I don't think I've ever just sat in a chair and tucked into a good book or started a sewing project (unless I was working frantically on the project for somebody else) on a weekday. You could look at that and say, "Wow, she's a really devoted mother and housekeeper" but I look at it instead and say, "Wow, what an idiot. All those hours where she could have had just half an hour of self-care and she's racing around like a madman and probably crabby by 5 PM as a result."
I remember that when I was pregnant with Aoife in the winter of 2006, Liam had a swimming class on Saturday mornings and Greg and I took turns bringing him. I vividly recall that somehow, since it was the weekend, I felt this gave me license to sit in the yellow glider in the sunroom with my book. It was so delicious to be alone in my house, just reading. I remember so well, it was Catherine Newman's book "Waiting for Birdy", and while it was a book on parenting (which usually annoy me to no end because the authors are so entitled and oblivious of the possibility of either loss or gratitude) this book did not strike me this way; one because I knew Catherine and she was so kind and emotional during Charlotte's death and Liam's birth, and also because her writing is neither assuming of her own good fortune nor annoying in any way. I read on those mornings and I felt no guilt because it was the weekend; yet I have not been able (or has it not even occurred to me?) to do this during the week in all those years. Why?
On those mornings, what I wanted to do was read, and so I read. But somehow I was under the (false) impression that since others (namely my husband) were at work, I also should be working.
But won't I work better, and more efficiently, if I'm happy and fulfilled? I say, YES, heartily and fully. So in the oven they are, delicious cowboy cookies, and if you're so inclined you could go and bake them yourself.

1 cup sugar

1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar

1 cup shortening (I use butter)

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp/ baking powder

2 ½ cups quick cooking oats

2 cups chips (flavors of your choice!)

Combine all ingredients in bowl in the order given, mixing by hand after each addition. Place on greased cookie sheet (I use the parchment paper instead).

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until light brown…..Cool on wire rack…

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I love this now.
This here, right now in my home.
Logically this seems odd, because I am far busier than I have ever been in my life, but it's caused an almost calm. The kids are in school and Greg is at work and the dishwasher is broken and the list is so long that I don't care anymore if I get it done. I don't have fleeting thoughts of time alone or a sewing project I'd love to tackle; right now what I crave is little spots of time with each child alone and quiet moments and times when we're all laughing together, usually at Fiona, and by now even little Maeve's eyes are lighting up when the room is afire with joy.

I sat tonight, in Aoife's room. She was having trouble falling asleep so I came and perched on the edge of her bed and scratched her back, ever so lightly in small and then bigger circles, just like I myself crave. She settled into her nest of pillows and finally, finally drifted off. And I could have stayed there, and it seemed like almost the first time ever where it didn't seem like there was something I wanted to try to get to after bedtime, I was just savoring bedtime. Savoring a warm, relaxed girl beneath my hand, and the quiet, and the dark, and the peace of being with her.
Why is this?
Tomorrow I might feel differently, but tonight, I'll take it. It's a magical feeling because you know, this is it. In 10 years I will be sewing and Aoife will have shut her door tightly and she'll be asleep in there alone and she won't want me (or maybe, if I'm lucky, she will...) to go in and lie with her in the dark for twenty minutes, just thinking and feeling calm. Or it will just be another night when somebody else needs me and I'm itching to get away but tonight it was just her, a little girl who couldn't sleep, and my lucky job was to sit on her bed by the night light and scratch her back.

Aoife will never be five again, and this point in my family's history is not going to repeat itself. The children will grow and be different stages of children and then they will be gone, and I will have the rest of my life to have a clean house, and cook intricate and fabulous meals, and sew interesting things, and have a fulfilling professional career. But this is it, this is the best. There will never be anything more beautiful than this.

Tonight, I nursed Fiona and Maeve together in the rocking chair after their bath. Maeve was sorely exhausted, and I snuggled them in on my lap in the tight little chair and began to rock, singing their little lullaby (a slight variation on the tune of Go Tell Aunt Rhody):
Good night Fiona,
Good night Maeve Eloise.
Good night my sweet girls,
It's time to go to sleep.
I looked off into the darkness of the room as I sang, rocking hypnotically, and when I looked down I saw that they were curled into each other while they nursed, and were clutching each others' hands. Maeve had fallen asleep.

I will leave you with that beautiful moment. Tomorrow there may be tears of frustration, I may fling a dish towel across the kitchen in frustration and shout at the top of my voice but today was full of things that made me glad to be just where I am, here, and now.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Just a throw-out for the loss mamas out there.

As most of you know, I recently authored a pamphlet with a lactivist friend on Lactation After Loss (picture it as a trifold, folded up). I have received many requests from hospitals around North America to use the pamphlet (yippee!) to which I say, of course, HURRAY! YES! HAND IT OUT!
They say, I notice there is no copyright. I say, that's because I want you to copy it. I want you to give it to mothers. I want people NOT to be sent home with swollen, dripping breasts and no idea how to feel and what to do.
I am pleased and proud to be able to offer such a thing, it is an honor to me and my daughter's memory if people give this to as many mothers as possible.

Recently, I had a bereavement counselor say that she liked the pamphlet, but felt concerned about the section on milk donation. It was her feeling that we shouldn't include the section on donation, and that if mothers were interested in donation (and we all know that it is the minority who would have this interest) those mothers could simply ask about it and be given the information at that time.

I countered her suggestion that women would ask for the information by saying that I felt strongly that, while indeed the suggestion that one could donate could be a sensitive topic to newly bereaved mothers, it is presumptuous to assume that this information is simply to difficult and to therefore omit it. I have met mothers who have indicated that they wished they had known about this possibility. I also felt that we wrote the section sensitively so as not to make mothers feel as if donating is something they should do.

My take is, the right thing to do is to present all the options.

What do you think? (and feel free to call me wrong, if you wish. This is what I'm asking for)

Please share this pamphlet with your local hospital or support organization.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Our time away...

I actually still exist.
It's been so long... so much longer than I ever thought I'd go without writing.

There are many aspects of my life that have fallen aside, intentionally. I have four children now, four very young, very precious, and very lovely children who need me desperately. They need me to hug them, kiss them, play with them, tell them stories, sing them songs, tuck them in, rock them, nurse them, change their clothes and diapers and shoes, pack their lunches, drive them places, pick up their toys (or could they do this themselves?), run a support group in her memory, they need me to wipe their noses and bums and wash their hair for them, lay out their clothes and breakfast dishes and pour their orange juice and stir their oatmeal and wash the pot, they need me to take photographs of them so we'll remember all of this and call the dishwasher repairman so we'll have more time together in the evenings and go to the library to get books. They need me to scratch their backs, and swaddle them, and change their sheets, and vacuum the house so we won't have allergies, and cut the grass so it's perfect for soccer. They need me to push them on the swings and take them to the park and grocery shop for them and get them school supplies and teach them how to knit, and take them to ballet, and drive to soccer practice, and organize playdates, and take them for a walk to see the cows, and rock them to sleep.

To all of this, I say yes. And lately, to the computer, I say a loud, and definite no. When all of the above has been accomplished, and it's 11:00 at night, and I have two nursing babies who need me all night long, I have remembered how important it is to prioritize what's here and now, and so I do.

I'll be around, I'll be around.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A better catch...

This, here, is a better Maeve, captured in her usual pose. So, see? They all really do just look like sleeping babies. Sleeping Maeves, that is....

(this is Maeve fast asleep from the heat on our family's trip to Storyland, a trip I solemnly promised to my children last summer when I told them it would be "easier for our family" to travel this summer....)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The photograph of Charlotte that you see on the sidebar that is one of the most beautiful we have of our family, our trinity. We only have two photos of Greg holding her, and there is something about the way the three of us are wrapped around each other that seems so circular and whole. The raw emotion that this photo evokes has always left me breathless. In the beginning it was every time I looked at it, but now, as it hangs in three rooms in my house and is part of the fabric of my being, it is when I sit down and try to process it with myself, my amnesic self who lives in another nation now: this was you, you and your beloved, you are young and in your twenties, and you are cradling your firstborn, dead child. This fact still sends me reeling. (will it ever seem real?)
Charlotte looks so beautiful to me in this photo. To me it's the one that looks most like how I remember her, the delicacy of her little features, the chiseled beauty of her face. It's the one I always think of when I am realizing how similar all my children look to one another.

But there's one thing that's always bothered me about it, that I've felt a little self conscious about. I've always stated that Charlotte looked just like she was sleeping. But in this photo, she has her mouth open, and none of my babies ever did sleep with their mouths open. So I would wonder to myself, maybe this looks odd to other people: maybe she doesn't just look like she's asleep to them. I desperately want her photos to look like she's sleeping, it's as if I can seize her as living for just a moment if I imagine that somebody might look at her photo and not be sure whether she was a living baby or not. But for that mouth, that mouth.

And then came Maeve, my fourth living child, my fourth daughter, my little wisp of beauty that shares the same chisled face with her sisters and brother and always, always sleeps with her mouth hanging open, just like Charlotte in that photo.

Thank you, Maeve, for connecting me just one more time with my little first born. Thank you for making her look like any other sleeping baby in my favorite ever photo of her beauty, captured forever in black and white, seared into my heart.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

capturing life

And all of it, because you never know.

I look at Fiona's face, and I think, this is how I cried. This is how it was, every day, for I don't know how long.

Did you know that grown-ups can cry like that?

I didn't either.

(it hurts your heart so much)

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Almost 20 years after my sweet old Pentax bit the dust, I am back to a "real" camera... and so happy for it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Daughters and Sons

There was a time, after Charlotte died, where I felt sure that I would never, ever have another daughter. I steeled myself for a life of parenting rough-and-tumble boys, envisioning myself feeling wistful for a waif-like daughter with long blond hair, someone who would snuggle and read Anne of Green Gables with me...
Then, I had Liam. I had never had a boy in my life before for real, being one of only sisters, parented by a mother who was the same. I was amazed (silly me) to see how absolutely FUN it was to have a boy, and was humbled to realize that my son was full of more cuddles than I could ever imagine. Pregnant again for the third time, I imagined myself with another little boy: a pal for Liam, and his name was to be Owen Henry. Liam and Owen, my two boys... it seemed perfectly clear to me that this would happen. Occasionally the fear would flash before my eyes, but I would try to avoid it: maybe I will never have another girl, maybe she was it. But I would dismiss it, feeling defensive of Liam and how passionately I loved him. Boys would be fine, just fine. Perhaps I was not meant to have girls. I was building my walls of defense, just in case. Would it have been fine?

Three daughters later, I like to rationalize that the universe has a way of giving back to you somehow. Aoife gifted me a daughter and Liam a sister, Fiona gifted Aoife a sister. Maeve came close on the heels of Fiona to gift me the experience of two very close babies, as Charlotte and Liam would have been.
And when I look at Liam? I imagine this. The universe had a plan for me. A plan for daughters, a houseful of girls to run me ragged and keep me laughing and whip me into shape. But something happened, something awful, and that first baby girl couldn't stay. So Liam, sweet baby Liam, was a little special treat: the son I might never have had, the little boy I wouldn't have even known to miss if I'd never had him. I feel wistful, now, thinking that I won't have another little boy, ever, to visit construction sites and obsess over tractor models and farm equipment (although the last two rounds would have brought us Callum, not Owen...) It's funny to hold up the fear of not having another daughter with this near-sadness that I'll only have one son.

And my girls, my three living girls, they are a beautiful gift that follows, three little girls I can't say whether I would have had or not. But I'm sure glad I've got them. There was almost a sense of relief each time, like a catching up: somehow, with the birth of each daughter, we found ourselves with the number and ratio of sons to daughters we'd had in theory prior to her birth. Except that now we had one more. So we never caught up, of course...

I like to always tell the families I work with, although bereaved moms and dads often feel enraged at people who express a preference for the sex of a particular baby, it's also completely normal for those of us who are missing a child to have the (often very strong) desire to parent another child of the same sex. Why not? Wouldn't it simply make sense that we would want that experience? I hate the thought of parents feeling as if their worries are petty when they are grieving the loss of never having had the experience of parenting either a son or daughter. It's a real thing to grieve. And I'm saying this never having even really experienced it, as it was less than 3 years after Charlotte's death that my eldest living daughter was born.

It's the fourth of July. We went to a parade in a nearby town, patriotically dressing our 100% Canadian family in red, white and blue, waving little American flags. Our family looked tidy and complete and lovely walking down the street, bystanders sitting in folding chairs and on blankets waiting for the festivities to begin. Only I saw her, the ethereal mist following behind, the ghost of a daughter who began it all.