Thursday, June 30, 2011

First smiles...

Maeve will be six weeks old tomorrow, and she's smiling like crazy. It's so amusing to see somebody who still sleeps about 22 hours a day wake up and suddenly grin like she's absolutely delighted about something... it makes me melt. She's so cute and growing up so quickly. We took her to visit her new cousin last weekend-- they are almost exactly a month apart-- and it was so shocking for me to see Maeve suddenly look big next to her 7 pound cousin. At her one month visit she had gained a pound and a half and grown nearly 2 inches!

I'm trying to bite my tongue daily as I'm re-entering the world with my four children and meeting so many people-- acquaintances and strangers alike-- who find it their business to ask, only moments after they congratulate me on the birth of Maeve and mention her resemblance to the others or her adorable cuteness, whether I'm planning on having any more children. I really want to say, It's none of your fucking business whether or not I plan to have another baby... because really, how incredibly rude is it to be asking somebody you barely know about their long term family planning decisions? Honestly I don't mind when friends ask me, because it's usually in the context of a conversation, and because we've a history to back it up-- but I'm just amazed at how many people that I barely know who are asking this question almost without fail. Is it because having four children is so unheard of nowadays that they are just curious to know whether I'll continue to break the status quo and keep having more? Is it because my kids are so cute and well behaved that they are hoping I'll keep improving the human race by making more? (Just checking to see if you were listening).

Truly the reason why I probably hate the question is because probably the answer is no, I probably won't have another baby after Maeve, and I can hardly stand to think about this. I love having babies so much... I love every bit of it. I love giving birth (and I've gotten so good at it), I love nursing, I love teeny-tiny babies and everything about taking care of them... I love watching my older children adoring their little siblings, I love filling the chairs around my dining room table... I love all of these things. I would love, in theory, to have a few more babies. It's almost a romantic idea....

but really, I want to be available for my children at least sometimes. I hate having to say to Liam, no, I can't play catch with you because I'm holding the baby, and I have to make Fiona's dinner. No, we can't do that because the babies are napping. No, we can't have a friend over because Mommy is too busy!
I also realize, with each additional baby, that I also feel the stretch for the baby-- at this point a real treat for me (and Maeve) is when I can sit down to nurse her-- as opposed to nursing her in the crook of my arm while I make sandwiches, or in the carrier while pushing Fiona on the swing, or getting kids in and out of the bathtub.
The more babies, the less time I have for each baby, and I want to spoil them with love and attention.
And, I'm getting older, and I'm testing fate each time. And I have FOUR. FOUR healthy, beautiful, happy, amazing, LIVING children. This is a miracle.
So while I would never do anything permanent right now, it's probable that the end of almost a decade of baby making and having and rearing is over. Hard to imagine.

I really don't spend any time thinking about this when I'm taking care of Maeve, because I don't want to feel sad and wistful about her. I just want her to be Maeve and to love every minute of her. But I did, strangely, get a little sad a few weeks ago when I put my fifth and possibly final peri-bottle into the dishwasher to convert to a bath toy.

The end of my bleeding, which to me told me that I could no longer claim that I had "just given birth", gave me a pang of sadness. My uterus, retired.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The first big one...

I was sitting on the couch.
The three kids upstairs were snoozing.
This time it wasn't just a wrinkle, or a twitch, or an attempt, or a maybe.
As I was talking to her my sweet little 8 and a half pound darling bundle of beauty broke into the sweetest little miniature smile.
I burst into tears.
She is real!
I can't wait for everything, and I love now.

If somebody had told me this would be my life eight years ago, I would have told them they were lying. How can I be so happy, when I have experienced such pain? And when the sadness still lies in my heart?

I certainly hope that the trueness of my joy can seep into the pain of somebody's recent loss to help you realize that while it seems absolutely unfathomable, somehow real, genuine, enhanced happiness is absolutely attainable... in enormous degrees. Right alongside all the sadness.

Two Poems by Liam

Maeve (written 5/20, after he saw her freshly born)

Soft as
she opens
her mouth
when she's
oh the
little thing
is Maeve

Free (written last week after bedtime, as he sat by the window watching the birds)
in the sky
Like the
to see
the world
I am
here in
my room.

I love it that my boy loves words, and randomly writes poems when he feels the urge.

This morning it's raining. Liam is still in school and Fiona is napping. I am letting Aoife watch the TELEVISION (a rare treat in our home) and I am trying to find the kitchen counter.

It's busy here with four kids. I would say mostly because two of them are under 1.5 years old, but of course I don't want to leave the older ones to their own devices just because I could. So it's busy, buzzing, and sometimes feels like running on a treadmill.
But I am one happy mama.

(and so delighted to once again be waking up to find a sweet milky head in my armpit. Move over, Greg....)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Me, Live.

Here I am.
I won an award, and this is my "acceptance speech".

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Will to Live

I almost went to a reception on Saturday night for the man who was the principal of the school I was working at when Charlotte died. He did an amazing job when my world fell to bits, negotiating all the pieces of my professional life for me-- my students, their parents, my colleagues-- so that my transition back into that community was as gentle as it could have been. I wanted to go to the reception, which honored his 17 years of service to the school, but when a little girl in the backseat let out a wail just as I was passing through downtown, I had to call it a night. We got out into the damp, misty night and walked together, she and I, as the sky darkened and the couples passed us on the sidewalks. We were a couple, Maeve and I, a new couple just learning the dance of our life together. She was warm on my chest as I thought.

I remembered the children, as I walked, the little ones who were five or six in my kindergarten when Charlotte died. They are now thirteen, most probably fourteen by now, finishing up eighth grade and ready for high school. I remembered that many of them became very concerned about me, wanting to be sure that I was still alive and okay.
A fleeting thought passed across my mind, which was that I, too, suffered a moment of panic: somewhere in the haze, between finding out and giving birth, I wondered if whatever random terrible fate that had snatched my daughter from my womb was going to take me, too. I wondered, and I cared. This struck me as odd, in retrospect, because the amount of time in which this could have happened was so very small. After Charlotte was born, if I had felt myself starting to drift away with her, I might have gone. Or perhaps not, I realize.
It seems almost funny to me right now to think that I would have wanted to live just for myself, when I had no children to live for. But I was already thinking ahead. When Charlotte was actually born and in my arms, I wanted fiercely to live because I was so desperate to actually be a mother for real. For real, and that feels so sad to say, that even as I held her in my arms I was longing for the next step. It feels like it sounds like such a betrayal, but instead I want to turn those words a little bit upside down so that you can hear that what I felt was such an absolutely overpowering, addictive love, that I was desperate for more of it. More in any form. This baby, who I loved so perfectly and beautifully, was making me hungry for more.
And when does that not happen? (even as I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off, feeling as if I am sinking in piles of laundry and lunches to make and mouths to feed, I sit here with Maeve on my chest and feel like I could have twelve more babies)
I wanted to live because I wanted to love, and because I was all finished living for myself. It's almost impossible for me to imagine where I would be and how I would think about myself, or the world, or even how I would go about my day if there were only me to think about. It's so amazing to think that at this point in my life I am delighted to the brim to be utterly self-sacrificing, and that this state of almost never considering my own needs actually pleases me. This was what I was aiming for. When Charlotte lay on my lap, I knew I wanted to lie myself down in front of a freight train to save her, and given that I could not, I was desperate to give myself somehow in service to my children. I wanted to pour my heart into theirs.
And I do.
Yet, tonight when I was tucking Aoife into bed, 45 minutes late, after about twelve rounds of antics ranging from spanking Liam's bottom playfully as he peed, pretending to brush her teeth with shaving cream, and pretending to fall asleep on the couch when it was time to go upstairs, I was firm to the point of hearing myself sound like an old crabbypants as I tucked her in. As I pulled the covers up under her beautiful little face, smoothed her blond hair on the pillow, kissed her buttery soft cheek, and sang her her most favorite lullaby, I felt annoyed.
So yes, I sacrifice, and it's not always with a big smile, but I'm still so glad to be here.

I can't believe how much bigger the world gets when you have children. I spend long moments sometimes contemplating what the world would look like if you were a person long past the childbearing years who had never had a child. And I shiver with the satisfaction and gratitude that I am so fortunate to have my life so incredibly full of love.

And this is why this is so addictive: because with each child is another person to love that much. I am so full right now.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The first...

I had the first moment of PTSDish awfulness yesterday, short lived, and probably could have been easily avoided with a little thought.
So my dear husband's grandmother is in town. She is an absolutely steadfast, loving, amazing, tall and true Albertan. She drove the combine up until her 80th birthday. Like me, she lost her first daughter and then went on to raise three daughters and one son. I adore this woman, and I love the lifelong influence she has had on my husband, who reveres her with just cause. I love to share my children with her, and so when Maeve finished nursing just after she arrived yesterday afternoon, I cheerfully snuggled her sleeping little body onto Gigi's shoulder. I was truly happy to give this amazing great-grandmother a nice, long time with her newest great granddaughter. But this was a difficult time for me to share my baby, because it was right after a nice, long feed, on a long, hot, lazy afternoon. She slept, and slept, and slept. An hour went by. For that hour, I did throw myself into playing hard with Fiona, I threw a ball with Liam, and chased Aoife around. I did some things I couldn't do while I was pregnant, and definitely can't do with Maeve in arms. I can handle being parted from my baby for short periods when I am actively babying my other babies. But then, my cousin who was visiting brought Liam and Aoife down to the river to swim. And Fiona was puttering around on the swingset, and suddenly it hit me just so hard and deep, I needed my baby. I needed to breathe in the milky smell of her neck, I needed to feel her warm little scrunched up limbs in my arms. My eyes welled up and my milk let down, and I was over by the swingset gazing across the yard at her.
What happened then was that I got stuck. I was angry for not having her in my arms, grumpy with Greg for having family who swept in and took over my newborn, desperate to have her in my arms, but unable to come up with the words or the strategy to get her back. Words Greg had spoken to me when Fiona was a baby, and I struggled with this often, came back to me: She's your baby, just ask for her back. But I couldn't do it without thinking of a good reason why. And I can't lie. So I began to cry, just a little, staring across the yard at Maeve, feeling so awfully desperate for her. Fiona, who was standing on the platform of the slide next to me, leaned over and kissed my eye, and stroked my cheek. She wrapped her little arms around my neck.

Just at this moment, Greg came outside. He knew. He went to his grandmother, and gently fetched me my baby. He laid her in my arms. She smelled a little like somebody else, but she fit so snugly in my arms like a little lump of bread dough. She's so soft and wobbly and perfect right now. I took her down to the river and she laid in my lap as the cool rose up from the bedrock below us. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wished I could have just said something.
(p.s. can you see the huge bugbite on her forehead? bad mommy...)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Today, today.

This afternoon is lazy and sunny, and for the first time in perhaps years, I find myself posting on my blog simply because I have time, not because I feel absolutely desperate to do so. I'm sitting in our little sunroom while Maeve snoozes on my chest, snoring softly. Aoife is upstairs playing with our neighbor's granddaughter, a rare treat for a little country girl with no neighbors under the age of 50. Liam is at school releasing salmon frye into the Mill River behind his school, and Fiona and Greg have gone to observe the action by the riverside. So I am here, basking, melting, sleepy and rocking in an upholstered glider rocker, the sunshine warming my toes as the crickets hum outside my window and the wind blows through the screen, refreshingly crisp after a week of hot weather.
After my post last night, I went upstairs with Maeve tucked in the crook of my arm. She's still so tiny that I'm not really one handed yet-- more one-and-a-half handed, because I can hold her in my elbow and still use that hand if I hold something close enough. She's also so tiny that I haven't really transitioned her to hanging out in a sling or a Moby yet-- and I have the privilege of having Greg home right now (and for another week) so I really can just swaddle her up and hold her. So up we went, and I brushed my teeth and changed into some cozy pajamas, and swapped out Maeve's filmy muslin swaddling blanket for a thick flannel one. It had grown cold and I closed the windows, and then we climbed into the big sleigh bed together. I laid her on her back on the bed and curled myself around her. And then I rested my cheek on the down of her hair, and breathed her in.
I thought to myself, I want you here until you're three, or four, here curled next to me. I thought this even knowing that it wasn't true, because at some point she will become big, and sweaty, and cranky during the night. She'll grow teeth that will pinch my nipple after she falls asleep, and she'll toss and turn and crawl around in the bed at night and it won't be peaceful anymore. What I want is just this: a newborn, sweet and milky, soft and delicious to curl myself around forever.
There is nothing like experience as a mother to make caring for a newborn simply the most delicious prospect ever. They are so sweet and undemanding, even as demanding as they are. Every single demand that a newborn makes is real: I am hungry, I am wet, I am lonely. There is no manipulation, no deceit, no desire, even. It is simply need, and as a mother, these are simple needs to fulfill. Children become ever so much more complicated as they grow: they need to be interpreted on a much more complex level. They try to swindle you and perplex you and wheedle things out of you at every opportunity. These are also the things that give them remarkable personalities, delightful wit and hilarious spunk. I love parenting my older children to the extent that it has taken away some of the bitter-sweetness of their growth. They are fun, intelligent, wonderful PEOPLE that I absolutely love to hang around with. But I love the primitive newness of a newborn. Maeve is here, undoubtedly human but still figuring out how to be out in the world. Her personhood lies twisted intricately with my own. I want to wallow in this mixed up love for as long, and as deep as I can. I simply love it.
I have said this before, but I'll say it again: I'm constantly curious about how much of my own deep gratitude and obsessive love for my children is grown out of my experience of loss. Having never parented before Charlotte, I could never truly know how much of what I feel is simply what any mother feels, and how much of it is born out of the incredible longing for life on earth that came along with her loss.
All I know is, I'm in deep. And I can't believe that it just keeps growing. Every child I have, I grow bigger, and have more love to give, and more to get, and my family feels more full and amazing.
Off to sit here, and rock in the sunshine, and breathe deeply the smell of a sweet, innocent newborn life. Lucky, lucky me. And you know I mean that. I am so unbelievably lucky, even given how it all started.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thinking of Charlotte...

My grandfather, who just turned 88, with Maeve
Liam, while I clean up from dinner...

The dust is settling, I suppose.
It's hard to imagine it as dust, unless I picture it as pink, sparkly fairy dust, glittering through the sky as it falls on the now-brown lilacs and the bright green leaves and grass and shoots of new life that surround me. This is a beautiful thing, it is.
It's always different, isn't it. This time, I expected and feared what happened after Fiona's birth: a menacing, haunting sort of post-traumatic episode, where I would wake in the night and fear for my baby's life, where I would feel ghostly and empty if I were out of arm's reach for her, where I was rendered incapable of sharing her with just about anyone, including her father.
This time, while her scent draws me to her, and while I lie mesmerised by her in the half-light of the nightlight in the wee hours, it feels different. This little baby is surrounded by the love of so many people-- by my own, by her father's, and by the true and very devoted love of her siblings, and somehow this time I am wanting to share her at times. When I see the true love that Liam and Aoife have for her, and realize that this is truly a gift for Maeve, I am glad to lie her in their arms, safely confined on our big, soft couch, while I clean up from dinner or take a shower. No longer do I feel paralyzed by my fear of leaving her, and while my body always feels that slight ache when she is not in my arms, the ache does not haunt me and recall the body memory of my depleted form following Charlotte's death. Instead, my body feels grateful for her life and delighted for her to have been born into a world where there are so many people to love and care for her.
Today is a weird sort of day. Maeve is 13 days old, and she was five days early, so I am eight days past my due date. This means that Maeve is, by her gestational age, 41 weeks and 1 day old, which is the very day I met my little Charlotte. The only day I met her. As the years go by and lengthen with my living children, those six hours seem so short. To imagine that my time with my baby would have just begun at 2:14, when I was upstairs trying to help Aoife get her newly purchased (with her own piggy bank money) cheap @#$% Tinkerbell jewelery box out of the box (fact that might surprise you: while I myself am a purist, I do allow my children to make their own choices with their own money, and when you're five... well, enough said). And by this time of the night, as the hour nears eight o'clock, I would be nearing the close of my time with her. Perhaps now was the time that we asked Trudy for the little pad of paper so that we could write a poem about her. Or maybe it was just after Greg's mother left, when we sat in the sad silence of Room 3, slowly and sadly coming to the realization that at some point this would all be over and she would be gone.
I have a lot of work to do in the next little while, folks. When May 13th rolled around this year, I really couldn't take it. I wanted to honor my little girl, and we did, but I simply could not do the rehash. At 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant, I simply could not dig up the details of arriving at the hospital to greet such horrible news, of the aching silence while I labored, and the stillness of the gray light in the room when my daughter was born without a cry. It was all too near, and too real, and too imminent-seeming for me to face. I said to Greg, there's a lot of thinking I need to do, but I need to do it later. I just can't see those things in my head.
It made me sad, to not think of her little face on purpose, so I remembered the feeling of her in my arms and the look of her sweetness and the feeling of first kissing those tiny, tiny lips while I blocked the horrifying truth of what had happened to her.
Even still, now, as I look at Maeve, and study the photographs of Charlotte to try to find their similarities, I can't face that I once held a baby for only six hours and had to say goodbye to her.
Tonight, in the half light of our nightlight, I will snuggle my nose a little deeper into my baby's neck as we fall asleep together, eternally grateful for what I have been given, and though I am taking my time in facing my past right now, never forgetting what (who) has been taken away from me.