Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Week and a World Apart

Two memories just blindsided me, one after the other.

The first, it is Monday, the 19th of May. A lovely, kind woman named Nan is at our house. She works at my school and she's here with a bouquet of bleeding heart and lilac, to sit with us and hear Charlotte's story. That afternoon she will return to school, to the staff meeting, and tell everyone our story. She will spare me from repeating it, over and over again. As of now, all they know is that our baby is a girl named Charlotte, and that she inexplicably died. When Nan meets with them, they will know the tearful glory of our time together, the beauty of her face, hands, and feet, they will feel the softness of final kisses and the love that can't be broken.
As I'm speaking, and Nan is listening with quiet, respectful, loving ears, I suddenly see movement in the backyard. With horror, I realize it's Todd: the man we'd hired to run an electric line from our house to our guest cabin. It had been less than a week and a lifetime ago that he'd told me he'd be by soon with some guys to complete the project. Now, here he was, a thorn in the sanctity of our tiny bubble of a home. I needed him gone.
Thank goodness for Nan, who nearly leapt off the couch and out the door to send him on his way. I remember seeing her, in the backyard, telling him what had happened, and watching his face change. He was a stocky, gruff fellow, a chain smoking, beer drinking, cheap electrician, but even he showed a change in his face when the words obviously hit home, and he knelt and retrieved his tools and walked across the yard with Nan, towards his truck. Nan returned to the house as he and his crew backed away, to return at some unspecified time, later in the summer. Our conversation resumed. I was awash with relief that someone had been there to stave him off.

Then, the second memory, which followed, even though it came before: I am leaning at the kitchen counter, writing a list, perhaps, as I am heading out for the day. I am going to go to Smith to swim, and then to run some errands. Todd is at the door, then, to tell me his plans for the upcoming week, about how he's going to bring some guys by to finish running that line to the guest house. I tell him, sure, no problem, we'll be here.
When are you due? he asked me, a seemingly almost odd question coming from such a type, as if his tough-as-nails, riff-raff type wouldn't notice my 9-months pregnant belly.
Last Monday, I laughed, and it was Monday, the 12th. I said something about how sometime in the next week.

Then I headed out to run my errands, not even knowing it was my last day.

Later that night, she would die.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Shadow of a Girl

Charlotte is very present in our home, even obvious, if you spend a little time here. For the most part, she is a known, present part of our family to whomever sees her here. When you know about our tiniest, but biggest girl, it comes as no surprise to see her name written on a plate hanging on the wall, or stitched into a cross stitch, or to see her birth-card, bracelet, and lock of hair behind glass in a shadow box alongside the other three.
But what of the other people, the ones who don't know, and who might not ask?
I think this about a few babysitters we have had, girls from the neighborhood who are 15 now and whose mothers knew about Charlotte when they were 8, but might not have told them. Do they sleuth around the house after our children are sleeping, hoping to piece together the mystery of the child no longer here? Do they go home and ask their mothers, and hear the sad tale of the young, vibrant new couple who moved in, glowingly pregnant, only to lose the baby a few months later? Do they hear the awful word I always avoid, stillborn?
I've been wondering a lot lately about the woman I've had the luxury of having to come and clean (not pick up, but actually CLEAN) my house since Fiona was born. For half a year it was a gift from my mother to have her come, and for the remaining half it has been the gift I give to myself. In fact, it's been the best gift perhaps I've ever given myself, to have this lovely, kind, soft, hippie-ish woman come and clean up the house after I've spent two days picking up all the things hiding the actual house from sight. She comes every two weeks, which seems incredibly often given how frequently I used to clean the house, and she's thoughtful and kind and does a wonderful job. I'm usually home while she's here, but cautious to stay out of her way. And she goes everywhere in our house, so she sees the cradle full of Charlotte's things in our room, and the huge, gigantic photo exhibit over our bed that features 12 , 9x13 photographs in stark, black and white of Greg and I holding her on the thirteenth of May. She dusts the shadowbox and the plate, and she also sees Liam, and Aoife, and Fiona running around the house (inevitably dropping cookie crumbs on the carpet she's just vacuumed) so she knows this is a child who is not here. She's never asked, and I've never had a moment where I felt compelled to explain to her. I'm sure some day Charlotte will come up. But for now, I just wonder what she thinks, where her mind goes with the mystery of this child who clearly did not make it.
In some ways, I suppose, this is why I like having Charlotte pasted all over our home: it means that even if I don't want, or have the chance, to share her with people, they still know she exists. They still see our family as missing a piece, an essential piece, and they know enough to see the shadow of a little girl, seven years young, flash before their eyes. Someday, I'll tell the tale. But for now, this is enough.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Sleep

First, a word of thanks to those of you who offered me your support in letting go of some of the guilt. I appreciate it so very much, and it does help.

And now, a post that really isn't about loss at all, but about being a parent for me, right now. Around here lately I’ve been consumed by sleep, or my lack of it. I suppose one could really be more specific and point out that it is Fiona Clementine who is struggling with sleep, not me. I imagine that if left, alone, in a dark, silent hotel room, I would probably sleep for about 27 hours without waking once. But, in fact, I live in a small-ish, old house with thin walls and shutter-style doors. And so if one person does not sleep, we’re all around to bear witness to her struggles.

Struggle, schmuggle, I often think, when people speak of their babies’ sleep issues. Babies aren’t supposed to sleep well, they aren’t supposed to sleep for long, they aren’t supposed to sleep alone. By saying this I’m not implying that I disapprove of people who do put their babies to sleep alone, because I absolutely believe in every family choosing the sleep style that works best for them, and I withhold judgement. But you can’t deny the biological fact that babies aren’t supposed to sleep alone, and so there is an element of learning that has to take place around all of this. What I’m struggling with is the fact that my baby, while still a baby, is going to become a big sister. And my internal struggles with what I should do about sleep and Fiona are becoming further complicated by incoming molars and a 4:30 wake up time... yes, 4:30 AM. Almost every day. Wow.

This might not be so awful, you might think, because I am co-parenting so one might imagine we could tag team. Except that my dear husband leaves for work at 5:15 AM, so once I’ve tried to put her back to sleep, and rotisserie-nursed for 40 unsuccessful minutes, he’s gone and the house is empty and cold and it’s hours before real morning should arrive. And Fiona Clementine is tired, but fiercely determined to start her day, and I’m pregnant and eager to get back into bed. And I wish I had some way to get her to agree with me that sleeping until 6 is a good idea.

Fiona has always been, since the age of 10 months, my most independent sleeper. She slept tucked into my armpit comfortably until she was 9 months, and then spent a month trying to clue me into the fact that she was ready and wanting her own space. Now, she actually likes her bed, she likes the space of it, and she really doesn’t like to sleep with me anymore. Ever. Some people might imagine that this seamless, happy transition to her own bed would be in my favor, and I admit that with the coincidence of my positive pregnancy test and her decision to sleep alone, I would almost jump to agree. Except that when she’s having trouble sleeping, I don’t have the back up plan of pulling her into my bed and letting her snuggle in and nurse and snooze with me. Because she won’t snooze with me. She’ll nurse, and crawl around, and then get extraordinarily frustrated that I’m not getting up with her. This is possibly the only time I ever see Fiona Clementine exert her will: when she wants to get up in the "morning".

But still, at some point about a week into this struggle, the nursing and snuggling did start to seem kind of nice to her. So even though she wasn’t really sleeping, and even though she was waking up, and wanting to switch sides, and maybe chat a little about every 6 minutes, she decided she didn’t really want to get into her crib. And when nap time rolled around, she was putting up a mighty protest, which was leaving me sitting bewildered in the rocking chair, baby at my breast, wondering what had happened to my champion napper. It also left me bewildered at 4 PM with an absolutely exhausted baby who was ready to go to bed for the night.

It was then that some really wise words my cousin gave to me rang a bell in my head, and I combined them with some of my own, personal wisdom.

The wisdom I have always held so dearly to is simply that sleep is important, and that babies need a lot of it. I cringe when my babies (under 3) get less than 14 hours of every 24. At our house we strive for 12 solid hours at night (solid doesn’t mean no nursing, just good sleep!), and when they’re little, at least 2 hours during the day. Fiona was doing an average of 3 daytime hours before the teeth and the fussing, and suddenly it dawned on me that we had whittled her 15 hours of sleep down to about 12, with the decreased naps and early wake ups. To me, this is a recipe to catch a cold, in addition to being an obvious precursor to a crabby baby.

So this is my wisdom, knowing that sleep is a health issue, and keeps my children not only healthy, but happy. I'm proud to say that in almost seven years of active parenting and three children, we've only been to TWO doctor's visits (knock on wood!) that weren't well child-- and we've had TWO bouts of vomiting and a handful of colds. I have been so lucky-- and I really do think a lot of it has to do with how well rested they always are.

And then, back to Fiona, I thought of my cousin Briare’s wise words which were, sometimes not sleeping is just an issue of saying NO, and remembering who is in charge when it’s in your child’s best interest. If your child fussed for cookies and cake every time she got into her high chair, you wouldn’t give her them no matter how hard she cried, would you?

Obviously not.
And so, sometimes, even when your baby says, I don’t feel like sleeping right now, and they are old enough to know their safe place in the world and to know you are always there for them, and to hear your voice saying, I know you don’t want to take your nap, but it’s important for your healthy body to have a rest right now... Then I think you do just lie them down in their little bed and let them be for a little while.

So I did it. I committed this for my little Fi, and I told myself that I had to just pick a routine and stick to it without fail so that she would know what I expected of her. Just like I give her healthy food to eat, and even though I know she loves ice cream I don’t give her ice cream when she throws her green beans on the floor.

So I sang the same lullaby I always sing her, and rocked her and nursed her and smooched her, but then despite her request of “no” I did put her in her crib. The first time she squawked and fussed for the whole “nap time”-- which was 45 minutes long. But that was it. The next time she squawked and fussed for a few minutes, and after that, she would still let me know on my way to her bed that she didn’t want to go down, but she didn’t fuss. She already knows that I am always consistent, so she learns fast. And so I’m on my way to reprogramming Fiona Clementine for her health and mine, and I’m glad I remembered that even though it is so hard to hear your baby unhappy, when it’s a matter of keeping them happy and healthy, sometimes it isn’t a real choice.

I am not a mother who supports the true “cry it out” method. But I also don’t support children who perpetually don’t get enough sleep. There are all sorts of evidence that support negative effects of sleep deprivation, and I do believe that there are certain elements of attachment parenting (a style of parenting that I mostly go along with) that are not conducive to a well rested child. I have seen so many children parented in this style who look so bleary eyed and are sick so much of the time because they can't sleep alone, and so they go to bed late and nap infrequently. I believe that it is fully possible to have a firmly attached child who feels safe enough to sleep alone at times. I suppose what I support is really good communication with your older baby, so that you can make your expectations of them crystal clear, so they know that you love them no matter what, and that you will be right there for them when they wake up.

That's my diatribe for today. It's part explanation of where I'm at, sleep deprived, looking for change, and part trying to justify to myself in writing that what I'm doing is good for my baby and for my family and for myself. Fiona's at 14 months of age and she's had no colds and 1 ear infection in her life, and I'd like to keep things going in that direction. I love her too much to see it any other way.

And also? I'd like to get some sleep myself, mostly between the hours of 4:30 and 6 AM. I am not opposed to getting up early with my kids. I think kids are, and should be, early birds. But 4:30? That's just not morning, no matter how you cut it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I'm here tonight to write about guilt.
It's a strange position I find myself in, one that might be foreign to almost everyone else I know. But for me, when the time comes where I have to confess that I'm pregnant, I hate to do it. I know that I will crush some people, make them feel jealous, awkward, and angry at the world. I know that my good fortune will be one more lashing for a good percentage of the people in my life. I know that having another baby will build a wall between me and some people I hold very, very dear.
Although with Fiona I so hesitated to write about my pregnancy here for this exact reason, I'm making a conscious effort not to do so this time. My rationale behind this is that each one of you can choose to read or not to read. I'm not a person who blogs so her family and friends can follow her, I blog for purely selfish reasons, to dump my innermost thoughts down into print. I've probably only told about five people about this blog in the three years I've had it. Therefore it seems bordering on ridiculous to censor myself because of my perceived audience. I know many of you are, indeed, baby lost, but I really don't know many of you. So here, I am going to allow myself a lifting of the guilt, and know that you will read if you so choose, and skip the parts that you don't like.
But out in the world, I'm growing everly more self conscious of my pregnancy. Now I am 21 weeks and you can see that I am pregnant. I still haven't had the experience of someone approaching me and calling me on it, but I'm really guessing that has more to do with the baby in my arms and less to do with my protruding belly. It's much smaller than it was with Fiona, but it's there. Perhaps the winter coats and sweaters are doing me a favor. Whatever the reason, I'm still in the closet, but I have to come out.
The most important place I have to come out is to the support group I run. Last time around I made the announcement at the end of the August meeting, just barely visibly pregnant, and then I didn't come back. I was so terrified of people seeing me. This time I'm toying with the idea of making the announcement this month that next month will be my last meeting to facilitate. I'm showing, but with the right outfit I could definitely conceal it for this time. But I'm wondering if this is a dumb idea. Will people instantly not want to be near me when they find out? Will I cause them pain just by being in the room, when they know that information?
I am so terrified of making people sad. I feel ashamed and awkward about having to share this information, and if it wouldn't sound so ridiculous I would want to tell people that I really don't want them to talk to me about it at all. It feels so dreadful to me to be admitting my good fortune to people who would give anything to be where I am, pregnant with my fourth child who might live, with three glowing babies at home. I am so afraid that people will congratulate me , because I really don't want to be congratulated by the bereaved. It just feels to awful and awkward.
There are a number of people who I have pretty good friendships with who are relatively recently bereaved who don't know yet. I am starting to feel deceptive by not sharing this information, but I'm just so incredibly afraid of how to say it, when to say it, and how to do it without making them feel awful. And I'm also just postponing the possibility that they may have to drop out of my life for a while.
And, for those friends who are bereaved and do know, now that I am starting to look pregnant, and realizing that sometime in the future I may actually have a newborn baby, this also feels like a loss of sorts. I realize that some distance may have to occur, and I accept this as what may have to happen. I hope they know this.
I'm just so worried right now. I wish I could keep this a secret forever so people wouldn't have to know about what's good for me. I hate, hate, hate the fact that when good things happen to me, by default because of the role I serve and the friends I have, my good fortune brings others pain. There are a few friends who I shared this news with who have never spoken to me since then. This makes me sad, but I have to try to understand where they are coming from. Sometimes it's just too hard.
I wish it didn't have to be this way. I wish I could have my baby and just feel happy, happy, happy about it. Honestly, I'd even accept the fear and anxiety that sometimes sends me reeling, but I wish that me having another baby wouldn't make other people really, really sad.
Because I'm not in the business of making people sad. I'm just not.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

For Real

This is real, isn't it? Can you see this little prehensile sweetheart, curled on his/her back, legs curled up? The hands were up around by the face, curled into little fists, and this little someone was sucking his or her thumb while we watched on the camera yesterday afternoon. Not only is the baby fabulously cute, but somehow, beyond all of my expectations, they could find nothing wrong with the baby. Nothing. It seems perfect, so far. All my nausea and sweating in fear for naught. Surreal can hardly describe this experience.

20 weeks, 1 day, and I still really don't know if this is real.

There were many times during the past seven years when I would think to myself, what I'd really like someday is to get pregnant without really planning for it. Somehow, I reasoned, a baby that wasn't carefully calculated and worked for might seem more like a mystical gift-- like a soul that came down when he or she felt ready to. Somehow, having had one soul stolen from me, it seemed appropriate to strive for one given to me unexpectedly.
I've said before that this pregnancy was, in fact, planned, but this was only on paper. In my mind, I was still a broken, half-useless infertile with a poor track record, and that with the nursling on my lap left me so far from believing that a baby would actually be conceived as a result of our "plan" to throw caution to the wind that I was, indeed, quite completely surprised when I became pregnant. So, while I hate to admit this in the face of so many people who have struggled so mightily to become pregnant, this happened so easily I didn't even know it had happened, and so immediately that I never even conceived of the notion that it could be happening. Somehow plans of this grand nature seem like they would take a few months to settle in, at least, but this one took root so fast and hard that suddenly it was here- he or she was here, is here, and here we are.
But what I hadn't done was already carve the emotional space for this child, which I had already done with each and every child before. With all of them, I had planned so hard in my head for the "next baby" that by the time I became pregnant, there was some huge void I was trying to fill. The next baby already existed in my mind well before she was created. But here, the baby existed in my belly before I even thought about what it would mean to have it in my life. And so in some ways, it feels like a beautiful thing that this baby just is-- it will be a joyful, amazing addition to our family and I don't lust after its existence from some place of angst and terror. I feel greedy and giddy to imagine another little one, but it's like a really, sweet gift, a fabulous present that I've been given.
So somehow I find myself feeling like my fifth pregnancy is the hardest one for me to really comprehend. I can't grasp that it's a real, squirming baby in there, even though I feel the kicks and squiggles. Part of this is what I've said above, and the other part is that it's so convenient to just ride on this wave of disbelief as a tool for detachment, just in case. Because, you know, if something goes wrong, it would be so much easier to be detached??? (this is obviously my emotional brain hard at work here). So here I am, feeling barely, maybe pregnant, and hoping that the disbelief will stave off the terror, and fear, which so far it has.
But yesterday, for half an hour, the baby was real.