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Good morning, K-Mart Shoppers. I see that I have not visited you here for quite some time. I have much to share, but each time that I plan to log on and do so, I realize that I’ve failed to mention a few sort-of major things that are going on and so I log back off, failing to post anything. First and foremost, it would appear that I am having a baby. According to medical professionals, this baby will be a boy. According to my pregnancy app, this boy will make an appearance in or around 58 days from today. As I waddle about, fretting over the big stuff and the small stuff, it occasionally hits me that these medical professionals and that pregnancy app may actually not be a part of some grand conspiracy. It may actually be true that I’m having a baby. This is, all at once, incredible and exciting and breathtaking. It’s also terrifying and grey hair-producing and exhausting. What it isn’t is miraculous, or at least not any more so than any conception, gestation or birth. I can have babies. The proof is in the messy-haired blonde I just peeked at, snoring softly, Abby Cadabby tucked under her arm. I can also lose babies. Unfortunately, we all can. But it isn’t more than what it is. Or at least this is what I will tell you that I believe. I don’t know if it is my largely-Irish DNA or the fact that I was born under the sign of Virgo (or the fact that I used to play truly insane amounts of Tetris), but for me, things must make sense. The puzzle pieces must fit in order to weave a cohesive story. In terms of this one, this Who Gets To Have a Baby and When and How Much Grief Must Be Endured In the Process, I am waving the white flag. This one doesn’t make sense and it never will. One trip to any grocery store in America will shatter your belief that only seemingly “worthy” people get to parent. I read an essay² this morning, written by a mother who was stuck in limbo as her daughter endured diagnostic test after diagnostic test, and this is how it ended:

This is not the other shoe dropping. It is not tragic irony or doom or punishment for our interpretive failures. It is life, with loss woven into its very fabric. That’s just what there is.

So, I’m still here. And I’ll try to visit more often. In part because I really need to talk to you about Heelys and the fact that they are, surely and truly, going to be the death of what makes this country great endurable. So, I’ll see you soon.

 

¹ I’m hoping my baby doesn’t look quite this terrified/appalled/aghast.

² “Lumpy” – Catherine Newman

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Several months ago, my husband and I unearthed my CD collection, which had been in storage for over a year, and I spent a day listening to songs and albums (are they still called albums?!) which I hadn’t heard in too long.  Since my stillbirth in June, I had replayed a bit of the Tori Amos song “Spark” in my head, from her “miscarriage album”, From the Choirgirl Hotel.  She’s convinced she could hold back a glacier.  But she couldn’t keep baby alive… I found that song and played it on repeat, over and over and over and over again.  And then I moved on to “Playboy Mommy.” Then the baby came before I found the magic how to keep her happy… I’ll say it loud here by your grave.  Those angels can’t ever take my place… And then my paranoia began.  I’m superstitious.  I found out in September that I was pregnant again.  I was happy to have another little bean growing in my belly but anybody who has lost a baby knows that the word “excitement” does not come into play in a subsequent pregnancy.  Fear, dread, worry, hope, hope, hope, hope, hope…

People always say that all you need to do to get pregnant and sustain a healthy pregnancy is to relax.  “Just relax and everything will be fine.”  “A friend of mine had tried to get pregnant for 6 years and once she finally relaxed and quit trying, she got pregnant with twins!”  “Your body knows what it’s doing.  Relax.”  “What are the chances that something bad could happen again?  Don’t borrow trouble.”  Guess what?  There’s not enough chamomile tea, aromatherapy bath salts or benzodiazepines on this planet to allow for relaxation during a pregnancy after a loss.  But alas, I stowed my Tori Amos albums away for fear that all that miscarriage talk, all of that looking back instead of forward, might keep me from being able to adequately relax.  I drank my pregnancy tea and slept on my left side.  I kept my hot laptop battery away from my belly and I crossed streets to avoid second-hand smoke.  I took my prenatal vitamins and I stayed far away from lunch meats, soft cheeses and alcohol.  I did everything right.  But I still lost my baby.

If anybody’s keeping score, my three pregnancies have yielded one living child.  I don’t need Rain Man to tell me that those odds are pretty shitty.  Yes, it would seem that the dealer’s got an ace in the hole, but I’m not easily discouraged in the face of being dealt a terrifically dismal hand.  In fact, I have plans of blowing up the fucking casino.

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…Death put on its steel-toed boots and mounted a restless stallion who then jumped on the back of a pissed of rhinoceros who, in turn, hijacked an overheating Mack truck and ran me the hell over.

On June 12th, 11 weeks ago today, I said hello and goodbye to my little girl.  On that day, I saw the very deepest depths of hell and – I’m not gonna lie to you here – the PCA pump of Fentanyl that I had access to during my 30 hours in the hospital was nice.  It is unquestionably easier to deal with the overly-lifelike aspects of life while you’re high as a kite and floating somewhere above your physical body.  When that pump was shut off I was left here on Earth, gravity fully-engaged, with nothing more than an opiate hangover and an empty and confused belly.

I spent the remainder of June and July soaking in the mild early-summer sun and trying to move on.  But I didn’t grieve.  I kept moving and I avoided pregnant women like the plague.  It’s not that I felt anger or jealousy about their pregnancies, it was more that pregnancy no longer brought with it an assumption of coming joy.  When I saw a pregnant woman, my mind was reeling with the knowledge of the things that can and do go horribly wrong.  In the past 11 weeks I have seen countless images of dead babies and each and every one of them is breathtakingly beautiful.  But not in the same way that beauty is assessed by anybody who has not seen their own dead baby.  There are more of us who have witnessed this beauty than you can even imagine and I will not go into the “fairness” of this because, as it all turn out, our mothers were right.  Life isn’t fair.  And although I suppose it’s all relative, there are millions of people in the world who are suffering greater injustices than you or I.  I just heard a story yesterday of a woman in my area who was told that she had advanced stomach cancer.  When the doctor performed the surgery to remove the huge tumor, he found that she was actually just pregnant.  He “removed” the baby without telling her in hopes of covering up his own mistake.  Not all doctors are good and I have learned this lesson in a most unfortunate way.

I have a beautiful, intelligent and loving 4-year-old daughter and she is almost the whole entire world to me.  Watching her sleep is a joy that, prior to knowing her, I didn’t realize existed.  In the grief community, people often say that their baby was “born sleeping.”  I don’t care for this term because, let’s be honest, we would all prefer that our baby be born kicking and screaming, with a beating heart.  Why sugar-coat it?  Many well-meaning people have told me that I’m lucky to have my living daughter.  And I am.  But children are not interchangeable.  Don’t they know that?

Being a mother has a way of tethering us to this earth.  But what happens when one of your children isn’t on this earth?  What then?  I imagine that you’re stuck somewhere between the earth and the sky, in a sort of dyslexic purgatory.

August has been a blur.  Sadness finds me every day and deep sadness brings its own share of physical pain as well.  Apparently our bodies like to remind us that things have been shitty, and that things are pretty shitty still. Thankfully, fall is coming soon and I will be here greeting it with open arms.  I welcome the break from the sunshine and the beginning of the Pacific Northwest’s long rainy season.  I won’t get my baby in October but maybe I’ll get a chance to grieve her in the cool, damp darkness.  Because, as Bob Dylan sang, “I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal.”

photo, To Write Their Names in the Sand

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On May 26th, I started a chapter of life that I had not previously imagined possible.  I found out that things were not right, not okay, with my baby-to-be.  I started consulting with Dr. Google.  I started seeking out answers as to what might be wrong with my little girl and what I might possibly do about it.  I found lots of articles that, with neither a medical degree nor a deep understanding of Latin roots, were all Greek to me.  I also found a wealth of support groups.  I found groups of women who were pregnant and were choosing to terminate their pregnancies due to medical reasons.  I found groups of women who were pregnant and were choosing to terminate their pregnancies due to non-medical reasons.  I found groups of women who were pregnant and hoping that their non-thriving babies would live to see 24 weeks, at least.  I found groups of women who were pregnant and were choosing to continue their pregnancies despite the fact that their doctors were giving their babies a very slim chance (or no chance at all) of living beyond the womb.  I felt compelled to join the last group.  I didn’t know what was wrong with Mabel but I knew that I wasn’t at all sure that I could “terminate” her brief life for any reason short of my life being seriously threatened.  I settled into that group for as long as I could, and then my baby died and made the point moot.  I would’ve kept her in my belly for as many days, weeks, and months that were given to me by whoever the hell is handing out miracles these days.  The sore boobs, achy joints, freckled face and constant peeing were heaven on earth to me.  I knew that they were short-lived.  And then she was gone.

Here’s what is left in her place:  The stories of women who lost their babies far too soon (Is there a right time to lose a baby?) and families who are in the process.  I am drawn to these stories, to these women.  I don’t know why (and believe me, it pisses me me off beyond reason), but every story I come across includes wonderful families, deserving parents (Maybe the shitheads always get to keep their babies or maybe they just don’t blog?), broken hearts and unanswered questions for the dude (or dudette?) upstairs.  Beautiful families.

One of these families is the Cook Family.  They lost their little girl, Stevie Joy, on May 8th at almost 26 weeks.  Kristin Cook writes a beautiful, heartbreaking tribute to Stevie at her blog, which began as a spot to write letters to her baby-to-be.  One of the ways that Kristin and Andy remember Stevie is through the beauty (and the life) of trees.  After they lost Stevie, they carved her name into the bark of a tree – a love letter.  Now, they do the same for other little ones who left too soon.  Last night, after a full day of fitful tears and a defeated heart, I opened my email and found Mabel’s carving.

When you have a baby, and that baby is not here on this earth, it’s hard to find opportunities to celebrate them.  Last night, I got one.  Thank you, Kristin.

Kristin’s blog

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Last night, out of the clear, blue sky – as if there were such a thing – my daughter said to me, “So… your dad’s invisible, right?”  I wasn’t sure how to respond.  My dad died three years ago but for much of my life he was, essentially, invisible.  But she wasn’t speaking figuratively – She’s 4.  I told her that my dad is not alive anymore and that many believe that people who are not alive anymore go to a beautiful place called Heaven.  I said that those people could think about us and that we could think about them but that we could not see or speak with one another in the same way that she and I see and speak with one another.  I told her that we could still think about and love one another.  What I didn’t tell her is that I really don’t know what I believe happens to us after we die.  (How could I tell her that?)  She said that I should paint a picture of my dad and hang it on the wall so that I can see him while I’m thinking about him.  I told her that this was a fabulous idea.  And then she said, ‘Which one of us will be invisible first, me or you?”  I told her that it would probably be me.  I tried to make this sound, in some way, light and cheery.  She played along for a few seconds and then burst into tears.  She sobbed and sobbed and, between sobs, said, “I just feel like I need to cry about that!!”  While I held and rocked her (and tried not to lose my mind because of the sadness of it all) I remembered the first time I learned that my mom would, someday, die.  I remember feeling that I would never be able to carry on – that life could never again be normal.

I was a child who had a healthy fear of strangers (thanks in part to the man who tried to coax my sister and I off of a city bus and to his home) and an unhealthy fear of impending war (thanks in part to being born in 1975 and also in part to the song, “Russians.”  Thanks a lot, Sting.).  I was afraid of loud noises, unusual weather, darkness…  But mostly, I was afraid of being apart from my mom.  I knew that one day Averi would start to understand that living is not a permanent state, but I was hoping that I had a few more years before she would start to ask questions.   Who was I kidding?  Last month she was waiting for her new baby sister, her “Halloween Surprise.”  This month she’s saying that she’d really like to have a baby brother or sister…someday.

Fuck you, life.

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When you pee on the stick and see the second pink line develop, you begin a reworking of your life story.  The movie that is your life is getting a new character and everything from that day forward is going to be different.  I got my second line on February 9th and immediately packed up my summer clothes and soon after, all the rest of my non-maternity clothes.  I wouldn’t be needing those for awhile.  I pictured the scenes of my summer: The heat, the swollen feet, the huge belly, complaints about the heat, the swollen feet and the huge belly…  Fall, my favorite season, would bring the start of preschool for Averi.  I would need to plan her Halloween costume early because the baby would be here in the middle of October.  Thanksgiving and Christmas, people could come to us if they wanted to see us.  Nobody expects a family with a brand-new baby to travel.  I worried about who would be with Averi when I went to the hospital to deliver her new baby brother or sister, how she would react, if she would feel replaced.  I wondered how I could ever possibly love another child in the same way that I loved Averi.  I wrote countless scenes from their childhood together.  I imagined Averi coaching the little one along, through babyhood, through school, through life.

When your baby dies, or when you find out that you will not be bringing a baby home from the hospital, production on the movie of your life is halted.  It’s derailed.  It’s scrapped.  You need to edit the new character out of the script.  But the problem is that you don’t want to.  You liked the movie with the new character in it and it’s not quite as simple as you think it might be to revert back to the old script.  You know that things have indeed changed forever, and that you will not even be getting a live baby to show for it.

A few hours before I found out that something was wrong, I visited a new preschool that we were thinking of enrolling Averi in.  I loved it and knew right away that it was the perfect place for her.  I told the registrar that my husband would have to be the active parent come fall because I would have a brand-new baby on the way.  I told her that I would put a check in the mail for the deposit as soon as I got home.  I didn’t mail it for almost a week.  Every time it occurred to me to write the check, I thought to myself, “I don’t need to pay the deposit for preschool because we won’t be here in the fall.”  And then I would remind myself again that it was only the baby who would not be here in the fall.  I have to remind myself of this ridiculous fact several times a day.  It still doesn’t make any sense.

I’m new at this.  I only found out 27 days ago that there was something wrong.  14 days ago, my baby died.  10 days ago, my baby was born.  8 days ago, my baby was cremated.  I’m not one to speak on the subject of going through the stages of grief after losing a child to stillbirth.  I haven’t gone through any stages yet.  I’m still reminding myself that everything is changed.  I’ve hidden away my pregnancy books, which seems to me like a start.  Your Pregnancy Week By Week was still on my nightstand when I got home from delivering my baby.  I couldn’t bear to put it away sooner although I had stopped looking at it after I found out that something was wrong –  I knew that my baby was not doing what the baby in the book was doing that week.  I knew that my baby never would.

So please forgive me if you found my blog, thought it was funny and decided to stick around for more.  I know you didn’t sign on to read about a woman who loses her baby and then possibly just a bit of her sanity.  Like I said, this wasn’t a part of my original script.

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When you’re in the midst of something absolutely dreadful, a lot of people will tell you that God will not give you more than you can handle in a day.  I used to listen and nod, maybe even believing them on some level.  I’ve thought a lot about this theory over the past few years and I’ve come up with the following conclusion: BULLSHIT.  When, on May 14th 2006, I spent my first Mother’s Day alone with my 19-day old baby girl, it was more than I could handle.  Two days prior, my husband and I had gotten married.  Our new daughter, Averi, had worn a garland of baby roses as we exchanged vows and wedding bands.  Hours later, we were awoken by the news that my dad had been in a car accident and wasn’t expected to survive the night.  My husband had to leave to start his new job, three hours away.  My mom and my sister flew to be with my dad.  I was left with my brand new baby girl and a world of sorrow.  It was more than I could handle.  On June 9th 2010, I went to Swedish Hospital for a second opinion on my unborn baby’s condition.  I had hope, prayer and a Tarot card reading on my side.  I left three hours later with a cervical dilation underway, directions on how to check-in to the hospital in order to deliver my deceased baby, and a business card in my pocket for a “Perinatal Social Worker.”  It was more than I could handle.

Maybe it’s an issue of semantics.  If, by “handle,” you simply mean to say that we can physically survive the day and live to see another, well, I suppose I did alright.  If, by “handle,” you mean to say that we are able to take in what is being presented to us and carry on, unscathed, with a plan or even a clue?  Not so much.  Here’s what I think:  I think we’re given what we’re given.  When it’s too much, we handle the little bit that we can and the rest is broken up and put into a million tiny boxes, intended to be dealt with at our own convenience, at some point in the future.  The reality is that we never find the time, life gets in the way, and those tiny boxes start to break loose from the tight little corners in which we tucked them.  They come after us, pelting us in the head and in the heart at the most inopportune moments imaginable – when we’re speaking to an insurance agent or buying coffee.  People think that we’ve lost it; that we’re drunk or insane.  These people have been lucky; they’ve managed to outrun their tiny boxes.  Or maybe they just packed them better.

These people mean well.  They have faith.  They have hope that we, as civilized human beings, can cope with hardship and pain in a way that is both dignified and sane.  I have the same hope, but I’m starting to sleep with one eye open because I know how hastily I’ve packed those tiny boxes.

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