Thursday, March 31, 2011
I'm at the stage now where, if I spent a lot of time out in public, I should be able to comfortably sing Charlotte's name aloud on a regular basis. If asked by the man behind the laundry counter whether this is my first, I should be able to say with beautiful confidence, No, my fifth, and saunter out feeling proud of all my babies. And if it's a nice mother at the park, I would still say it's my fifth, and then counter her shocked expression with the sad truth that I only have three with me at home right now.
But it's still cold here, and supposed to snow again tomorrow, so I haven't been to the park since the fall. I don't go to the laundry, or really to many places at all, because I'm always juggling a sweet, small girl who needs naps and lots of time to play at home with driving the older two hither and yonder. In the past few weeks, as I have finally been able to downgrade my thick, puffy, life-jacketish down coat to a hefty fleece model, I have seen many faces of sudden surprise at my seemlingly sudden large belly. 32 weeks, and most of the world I live in didn't even know.
So go ahead, snow tomorrow. But then, please melt, and free me from these four walls and set me on the park to walk, and bask in the springtime sun, and speak her name out loud.
Monday, March 28, 2011
I dug in the garden yesterday, and it was Aoife's fifth birthday.
Digging is almost an exaggeration. I am approaching hugely pregnant, and bending down, particularly with the earth so damp, cold, and soggy, is close to impossible. I had a little child's rake in my hand and I used it to lift the old, dead leaves from the mulch in my garden beds, almost all of which have peeked their edges out from beneath the giant heaps of snow that are still in various stages of melt.
This year, mother nature gave Aoife a winter birthday. But I am searching for spring. As I lifted the wet, half-rotten leaves I unearthed the bent heads of tiny crocuses struggling to raise themselves against the odds to greet the sun. The children raced around the driveway on rollerblades, screaming with delight, hands still in thick mittens and their coats buttoned up high against the below-freezing temperatures and steady wind. As I came around the corner to the southwest side of the house, I saw that the little snowbank from our most recent fall of snow had melted, revealing the giant crocuses that had been buried in full bloom seven days ago. They were still brilliantly purple and standing tall. They had survived.
I, too, was buried once. I almost suffocated under the weight of what had fallen on me: a life I did not want, a future that was devoid of meaning. I almost gave up on breathing at times because it seemed to difficult and evidently pointless. There was nothing to breathe for, this winter would clearly go on and on, and even if I saw moments of sunshine or melted patches in other people's yards it still didn't mean that the snowpack in my shaded, wooded yard was melting any faster.
I hold onto this feeling of near-death, of being enveloped in pain and certain of a future that held nothing. I hold onto it because it stands in sharp contrast to what I have now, where days are somehow filled with laughter and joy and the relentless pace of children's needs. I mother with fervor, because I am free to do so.
This weekend, my sister was coming for the night with her almost-new boyfriend. He is the person she has been waiting to deserve for too long, and our whole family is ecstatic about his new role in her life. He is enthusiastic about our children and they adore him. While we've spent many weekends with him at my parents, he had yet to come to our home for a visit. This weekend, in honor of Aoife's birthday, the two of them would come out and take the children out for dinner and spend her special day with us.
I wanted to be especially hospitable to them, given his extreme patience with my overly-enthusiastic children, and so I had it in my head that I would give them our bedroom, and we would sleep downstairs on the pull-out couch. This would allow Aoife to sleep in her own double bed which usually serves as our guest bed. I spent almost an hour picking up my room, changing the sheets, organizing my sewing table to perfection, and folding laundry. I was tucking a little stuffed animal into Charlotte's little cradle, which sits under a double window next to my bed, when I began to worry about whether Nate would notice the little cradle and ask Steph what was in it. Then I even extended my worry to think about whether, if behind a closed door, I might poke around a little in the cradle, because I'd always kind of wondered what was tucked inside it and had been afraid to ask. I was thinking about whether this bothered me, this potential that one of them might lift the little blanket and see the urn with her ashes, or open her memory box and finger her little keepsakes, when my eye caught the photos over our bed.
12 photos, black and white, 12 inches by 14 inches, in a 4.5 foot by 4 foot refurbished window. The legacy of our six hours together, looming over our cherry sleigh bed. Twelve images of our grief, our daughter, our three naked bodies curled up in a narrow hospital bed to look over us while we sleep.
Us, while we sleep.
I gathered up the dirty sheets, loaded them into the washing machine, and got a clean set of double sheets from the linen closet. I re-made Aoife's bed and tidied her room, and placed a little mattress on our bedroom floor for her to sleep on.
Sometimes sacred space becomes so ordinary, you forget what it is.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Several years back, I was hosting a training for professionals on the subject of caring compassionately for families whose babies had died. A conversation between bereaved parents on a panel and those in the audience arose regarding people who attempt to demonstrate their understanding for the pain you are feeling surrounding the death of your baby by comparing it to the pain they felt when a beloved pet died. I don't think I would need to elaborate on the fact that the parents unanimously felt pretty outraged when somebody said to them, "I know how you feel. My dog died last year and I had such a hard time coping". There was the feeling of anger towards these people but also disbelief that such a ridiculous comparison would be made in the first place. A caregiver in the audience raised her hand and suggested that she had extremely strong feelings for her cats, and that when her cat died it really did feel to her that one of her babies had died. I can remember at the time feeling surprised that she would offer this when it was so clear that all the bereaved parents were opposed to this viewpoint, but she did offer it and I seem to recall that the response from the parents was a muffled silence before the topic changed to something else.
Six months later, the same caregiver ran into me at a conference and confronted me about that very interaction. She told me she had loved the training and found it very informative and useful, but that she felt it was very offensive that, as the facilitator, I had allowed this conversation to go on which belittled people who felt strong feelings of love for their pets.
I can remember feeling shocked and surprised that she had hung onto this for so long, but also put on the spot and sorry, from the perspective of a fellow human being, that her feelings had been hurt. At the same time I was pretty sure that I didn't feel any different about whether or not the conversation was appropriate: clearly people are offended when people equate their baby's death with that of a pet. A parent panel had expressed their emotions on the topic, thus educating the audience. Was this not the point of the training?
However, I stumbled through an apology, saying I was sorry for having hurt her feelings, and that I would keep it in mind for the future. But looking back I realize how clear cut this is: it doesn't matter if her feelings are hurt, or how she feels about her cats, or the issue of whether you can love a cat as much as a baby. The only thing that matters, for her as a caregiver, is that bereaved parents are offended if you make this comparison. A firm statement, both in the context of the training during the conversation, and during this follow up discussion, should be that regardless of ones' opinions about pets and babies, it's important to respect that bereaved parents should never, ever be told that you understand because of the grief you felt for a pet. Never, ever, ever. Period. There isn't a conversation to have. It's only about learning where to draw the line. I wish that on the spot I would be better at identifying truth from emotion and laying it out, brick by brick, the truth of the matter.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The sun shone today, for real. It was bright and warm and there was a big enough patch of snow melted on our side lawn that I was able to lay down a big, sisal mat and serve peanut butter and jam sandwiches with apple slices and carrots to an incredibly pleased pair of children. Despite the fact that I am an admitted homebody, and do love my home immensely, I have felt lately the creeping crank of cabin fever setting in. I began to come home from school drop off and feel like I could hardly bear to figure out what to do with two girls with such diverse interests and abilities... and I would (and do) yearn for a nice, warm sandbox with a pile of buckets and shovels and maybe a few pails of warmish water to boot.
And so today we moved out, temporarily of course, but it was celebratory to be able to open a window and flush out some of the germs and dust and to make dinner and see that the toys I'd picked up last night still lay neatly in their spots, as we'd spent the whole day outdoors. This life will return.
I am over 30 weeks pregnant, which I suppose puts me technically somewhere in the middle of mky 31st week. It has taken me a while with this one to put on a good girth, but I've got one now. All of the sudden, somewhere over the past week, I feel very pregnant. I look longingly at the toys on the floor, willing them to pick themselves up. I feel thankful for the fact that my parents' dog is staying with us for a few weeks as it means I don't have to wipe up any messes off the floor after mealtimes. And all the things that a pregnant lady ordinarily cringes to do, I cringe, and I also have Fiona Clementine on my hip.
Fiona Clementine is an adorably petite little thing. She's now 16 months old but most people take her for around a year or less. She weighs in at about 17 and 3/4 pounds right now, talks a blue streak (we've made lists of words she can say on her own, as opposed to mimicking us, and the list was over 100 words) and she is now starting to put 2 and sometimes 3 words together. So how wonderful that this little fairy sprite can talk, for at least I know what she's thinking about and what she wants. But the one thing I could really use would be for her to learn to walk, because it's really hard to play outside in mud season when you won't walk. And I say "won't" because Fiona is strong, she stands on her own and will squat to pick things up, and stand back up, and do this repeatedly, and her balance is super. She walks quickly and efficiently holding one or two hands or pushing something, but she will not try walking without a hand. Of course I appreciate this aspect of her personality in some ways, with physical tasks she practices and practices with help until she can do things perfectly and with confidence, and only then will she venture out on her own. But right now I'm just really hoping that as the snow continues to melt and we start to be outside more, that she'll realize that running around with a ball is so much more fun than plowing through the snow and mud on your hands and knees. And, oh, there's also the part where I wouldn't have to bend over and pick her up again, and again, and again.
I'm really going to have another baby sometime rather soon, I'm beginning to realize... and I realize this with the most incredible and bizarre mix of delight and fear. Given that Liam was born only 11 months after Charlotte's birth, I always felt like I wanted to have the experience of having two children close in age. I think there's a part of me that feels anxious that I won't be good at this, that somehow having these two children closer in age than any I've had before will crush my romantic, beautiful vision of Charlotte and Liam as the two children whom I obviously would have raised harmoniously and without complaint if only I had had the privilege to do so. I know this will be hard, and I want to allow myself the wisdom and freedom to burst into tears when I need to, when the two babies and the guilt and the exhaustion push me into a place where tears are what I need. I want to allow myself to know that I could have raised Liam and Charlotte together, and to feel grateful that I have been given the privilege of reclaiming this tiny portion of my imaginary life with all my children in my clutches.
I just really can't get over that I'm having another baby. I feel so lucky, which scares me, because does this mean I'm assuming that I'm lucky, rather than unlucky?
I hope I'm lucky. (this being a day full of the luck of the Irish)
Friday, March 11, 2011
poem written by Liam R., early this morning, while looking out the window at the Manhan rushing outside our front door
There are still two hard, icy feet of snowpack in our backyard. The sky is grey and the rain pours down. In some places, along the borders of our south-facing house front, the snow has melted down within about six inches of our house walls, and feisty, determined tulips are beginning to poke their tips out of the soil. I can see them, and I know the end is in sight. Spring will come again, and May.
May will come, inevitably, as it always does. I rush through March, and I am eager to shed the coats, and boots, and hats, and other clutter that accompanies winter and children. I am desperate to closet my slippery down coat that causes the child I carry to slide off my hip; I'm hungry to be able to slip on a sling and bounce down a dry path in my sneakers. I want the smell of mud and sunlight in my house, I want to purge the dry, stale air of winter and invite the freshness of spring to take its place.
This spring, there is another replacement of sorts, or so I hope. May, as my long term readers will remember, takes my breath away every time. Somehow it surprises me with its arrival, perhaps because I am caught up in the excitement of the drying earth, blooming flowers and sunshine in the air. Our family has a week off towards the end of April, which passes by in a fit of springtime flurry, and then suddenly I realize with an almost heavy heart that it is, truly, the 30th of April and there is no 31st, and I must turn the page to May.
To May, where somewhere in the second or third line of the calendar it sits there, #13, like an ordinary day where others might go and buy a loaf of bread and fill the car up with gas while I sit at home, lonely and confused, wondering how I should be feeling and what on earth I should be doing. There is so much chaos in my house now that the stillness that used to settle upon that day like a blanket is unreachable now; instead it's a flurry of something or other while I think to myself of the moments that I can blink into almost present time that happened years ago.
This day has squelched May for me, made me fear its arrival. There is a lifting afterwards, but the downward slide is inevitable.
Except this year, May is getting traded in. I hope.
I suppose it's more of a matching gift. My feeling of doom that shadows the glorious month of May has always made me think that someday, somehow another child would tumble into our lives during this month, somehow helping us to restore the beauty of the month. And I think that's going to happen this May, I hope it does. I'm looking at this as the universe trying to give me back the gift of May, and hoping that this sense of balance will give me faith as May comes and the fear and pain settle into my core. The smell of the air, the color of the light, all of it will take me right back. This time, on her birthday, I will be 38 weeks pregnant.
Must I actually speak these words, or can you hear them? I always want to go early, to free the baby from the danger I perceive in the deep dark womb, but this time... this time...
I need her birthday to be her own, and I need this new life to have a day of his/her own as well. But yet how can I make it through that day, feeling the doom, knowing that another life teeters on the brink inside of me?
And then, when that life comes, what will May mean then?
Seven weeks 'til May, I needn't worry now.
But the river roars, my little one. She is coming.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
This morning was so beautiful.
I slept past sunrise, which is a beautiful thing in and of itself. Fiona has started to sleep a little bit more, with the love and helpful guidance of her sweet father. Somehow the presence of a person without a milk supply has chilled her out and helped her to put in some longer stretches, for which my ever-growing pregnant body is incredibly grateful.
So she was sleeping, and I was sleeping, and Aoife was sleeping when my little Liam crawled into my bed at the very late hour of half past six. He curled into me, and went back to sleep for a little while, and I was in heaven. We woke together to the sound of Aoife getting up and I, wanting to wow and amaze them as well as log a few extra moments of sleep while Fiona was miraculously still conked out, offered the sweet candy of an early morning PBS show. Liam scampered down, after having told Aoife the wonderful news, and I began to drift off again.
Then Aoife climbed into my bed, took me by the hand, and stared at me earnestly in the eye.
Mimi, I love you so much, my love for you goes from here, out to space, and back again to here. And she planted a huge, insanely juicy kiss on my lips. I knew it was all about the show, but it was still the absolutely most wonderful way to begin my day.
I slept for half an hour more, then. I woke up to the sweet chatter of little Fiona down the hall, the 13 portraits of our holy trinity hanging over my head, and the sunshine streaming in.
Somehow it lifted the heaviness of winter.
And all this, on the day that is the birthday of a sweet girl who should be four years old, my dear friend Erin's Birdie. Perhaps she sent the love down, it was rippling in waves from her mama's house five miles away. But I was grateful for the beauty of the morning.