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Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged, understood.

Many thanks to artist Stephanie Sicore for allowing us to feature her little bird in our banner.

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Monday
Feb082016

Lost, and never found

This post mentions my living son.

 

I could drive around this town blindfolded.

Its old streets lined with empty trees, behind which old brick houses proudly stand, containing lives, deaths, sometimes everything in between, other times nothing in between. I could enter each one of those houses, stand in the foyer, and tell their stories in my head. I could then turn at corners quietly, ready to encounter the next block of houses, the next set of stories. In all my thirty one months in this preppy town known for the Ivy League university it shares its name with, I have gotten to know each stop sign, each side street, each by-lane. I know the speed limits, the way 40 goes down to 35, then 30, and then, finally, to a timid 25, in a matter of half a mile. I have grown to drive around carefree, often intuitively taking detours, knowing exactly where I will reach, and how long it will take me to get there. I don’t need a compass or a GPS. I am an anchored ship here, bobbing in the mild breeze, my destiny drawn latitudinally and longitudinally.

I feel confident here, comfortable, kind of at home. Even getting lost, on those rare occasions I almost indulge myself to half-knowingly take a wrong turn, feels tender, known, almost luxuriously safe. This town allows me to experiment with directions, and sometimes it even pushes me to be borderline adventurous. Sitting on the grass, leisurely extending its legs forward and tilting its head back, it is like a mother, watching her inquisitive child explore the woods on a picnic in the neighborhood, pretending to be appalled by the lurking dangers, all the while basking inwardly in the predictability of the surrounding that her knowledge and protectiveness have afforded her. Even the unknown in this town is known, even the unchartered seems to have been touched.

It is strange, this familiarity.

It should impart warmth and security, but all it brings is cold, bitter, angry injuries. I could drive here blindfolded, and yet I feel blind here. I take turns, and with every turn, no matter how close it brings me to my destination, or how playfully I pretend to get lost, I am always back in my mind at the corner of the street where, thirty one months ago, I turned right slowly and cautiously, not knowing which lane to stay on, as I trembled in a new car in a new town with a new baby in the backseat. That morning in July 2013, as I buckled Raahi and Aahir in at the hotel parking lot, and got into a rented hybrid car that did not need a key to turn on, I felt a tiny trickle of sweat run down my back. We were on our way to Raahi’s pediatrician for a routine check-up, the first after our move to this state three days back, and I was scared to drive.

I had memorized the route while the children slept in the morning, and I would have my phone in the cupholder, but I shook, realizing a mere block after I had merged onto the notorious Route 1 that I had not put my seatbelt on. I pulled over into the parking lot of a bank, and put it on, glancing terror-stricken at the shooting traffic a few hundred feet away, shuddering to think what could have happened, what might still happen. I was so nervous about getting everything right that even an amendable mistake devoured whatever was left of my confidence. I fretfully looked for the lane before the one where I would have to turn right in the final leg of the journey, as cars tailed me and cyclists gave me annoyed looks. Raahi was not even crying, Aahir quieter than ever, and yet my palms were sweating, my temples throbbing. I was aware, I was alert. I was paranoid. It was the first day in my life as a mother of two that I was aghast.

The sprawling shopping center which housed the pediatrician’s office had a designated right lane, with stores in the front and back. The doctor’s office was at the back, and I remember it took me long to find a parking spot in an empty parking lot. I remember the casual and presumptuous tone in which the receptionist at the doctor’s office uttered the name of the street, one light over, as she gave me directions to the radiology building. I had not come expecting to drive Raahi there for an ultrasound, which would provide what the doctor called baseline data during our rather simple visit with him. I did not expect to have my daughter, discharged from the hospital merely a week back after a brutally long twelve-week-stay, pricked for bloodwork, again. It made me cry uncontrollably in the lobby outside as I tried to read a book to her brother. My sense of bewilderment was exacerbated by how confident and at ease everyone else seemed in their space, and the matter-of-fact way they directed me to the next stop. It was like they thought everyone who ever came to their office had lived in the town forever, and had always known where they were going.

That rudderless feeling of being lost in the seas, literally and entirely, is what I remember the most about that day. The feeling that I could not afford to be flustered, not in this town, not anywhere, since I had two children to care for. The way my mind trembled like a compass needle, quivering from fear to strength, from paranoia to calm, from letting go to holding tight. That day in July, almost three years ago. The last day my daughter was alive. The last morning she woke up. The last time I drove her anywhere.

And now, even as a layer of me has been added to the thick, permanent skin on this old townscape, rock solid behind the wheels on these streets and on my feet in these buildings, I prick and peel it away every day, deliberately exposing the vulnerable, the fearful, the bleeding me, dripping wet with sweat and tears, her unseeing eyes searching for what she will never find. I hold my breath and drive by the shopping center and the radiology building, blinded by their familiarity, scorched by the knowledge of exactly where I went and what I did on July 22, 2013. I feel like a lead pole grounded into this earth, heavy, rusted, part of the scenery, and yet fading away. I never need to memorize anything.

And yet, the memories, of walking barefoot on foreign rocks, of feeling uprooted, are all I have with me when I survive in this town, where my little girl stopped breathing. As I drive by the cemetery in its center, where her body lies, I realize that on that day in July, overcome as I was with the fear of being lost with her, I still had no idea of how lost, how irretrievably lost I would be, in a few hours, and then forever, without her.

As I take a breath, a few steps, a turn, and then another in this town and in this life, I am forever paused at the stop sign where my little explorer Raahi last stood with me, and showed me the way.

 

What do you remember of the space you were in at the time of your loss(es)? Have you had to navigate a new space, a new town, since you lost your baby(ies)? How has your relationship with your old neighborhood changed after your loss(es)? What are you looking for, or not, on your “journeys”? 

Monday
Feb012016

outside/inside

I met A. twenty years ago. We posted pictures of us together, in high school, the other day on Facebook. And though our hair is shorter now, it is unmistakably us. We haven’t changed, everyone tells us. We look exactly the same.

My eyes are still brown, deep-set like my grandmother’s, and I still have her upper lip, and chin. I never grew more than the five feet I reached in high school.

I still prefer to dress in solid colors. Long pants almost year-round, since I still don’t like to shave my legs. I wear sensible shoes, brown or black. I’ve worn the same coat through more than a dozen winters now.

 

So I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking, from afar, that I am the same girl.

But come closer.

I’ll let you in.

 

Inside

Where synapses have been permanently pruned, new neural pathways grown stronger. My worldview literally rearranged. The hemispherical balance shifted. Fear pulses deep in my brain, sometimes a whisper, sometimes deafening.

Inside

Where a deep emptiness extends through my solar plexus, a place God used to dwell. I try and fill it with Light, the kindness of strangers, the love of friends and family—to find the kingdom of God here on earth—but the Light keeps draining away.

Inside

Where my heart has swollen, cracked, mended. It holds a hollow-bellied woman, still weeping and moaning, but without any sound. I love the living with a fierce desperation.

 

We talked of trains, A. and I, in those first weeks after our son died. How it felt like someone had flipped the railway switch, and we’d gone off onto a different track, in the wrong direction. We hurtled away from our former selves, our assumptions of who we were supposed to be.

I’ve realized I am still half-waiting for the train to turn around. Hoping that someday I will see familiar landscape, and then perhaps a station to transfer back to the right track.

I have been waiting to return to the person I was before my baby died.

But there is no going back.

I am not going back.

 

What have you been waiting for?

Monday
Jan252016

broken dreams

Please welcome Megan, our guest writer today. Megan's son Anthony was born in July and died on September 16, 2015. She writes, "I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with a rare heart defect whose imperfect heart made my heart whole. In the aftermath of his loss, I am stumbling through the fog of grief and gathering the pieces of my shattered heart." She is blogging now at Grieving Anthony.

It has been 18 days since my son took his last breath. As I sit on the nursery floor, I stare at the alphabet decals on the wall and cry. What was once a room full of hopes and expectations is now a room full of shattered dreams. Instead of holding our sweet baby boy, the crib now holds the relics of his hospital room—a sign bearing his name in colored pencil, a diagram of his heart defect, a small collection of stuffed animals, baby books, his hand and footprints, and blankets that still hold his scent. To say that I miss Anthony does not adequately express how I feel. I ache for him with every fiber of my being. His death has left a hole in my heart that neither time nor patience will ever completely heal. I look at these objects in his crib and cannot believe that these things are all that I have left of my son.

In scanning the landscape of this room, I am struck over and over again by the magnitude of losing Anthony. We will never bring our son into this room. I will never lay him in his crib or change his diaper on the changing table. Clothes in his closet will remain unworn and baby books will stay forever closed. Diapers, baby shampoo, powder, combs, and pacifiers will sit on the organizer shelves and collect dust. Much like my own life, these items have lost their purpose. I am a mother without a baby to love. I will never again have the chance to hold Anthony’s hand, kiss his chubby cheek, or feel the weight of him in my arms.

The future looms ahead as a dark and shadowy land, stripped of the light and promise it once held. It is now filled with the ghosts of what might have been. In this future, Anthony will never utter his first word or take his first unsteady step. He will never blow out the candles of his birthday cake. Nor will he wave goodbye to me as he boards the bus on his first day of school. Dances, high school graduation, college, marriage, and children will remain a mystery to him. Instead, he will only ever know the inside of a hospital room and a body riddled with tubes and needles. And the love of his mom and dad who desperately fought to keep him alive and who tried to squeeze a lifetime of love into 9 weeks of life.

What are you missing from your baby(ies)' life today? What events? What moments? What items of your baby(ies) do you have out, or pull out, and look at?

Tuesday
Jan192016

Approaching

Hello, Darkness, my old friend. You've come to sit with me again.

Except this is not darkness-- I can see just fine. This thing is cold, tight-gripped, and weirdly paralyzing, channeling all the energy I have into racing thoughts and fidgeting extremities, leaving next to nothing for useful productive things. This is anxiety, and it is here, again, to remind me that A's birthday is coming up. As if I need reminding.

It comes on way back in December, around the time the fall semester ends. Pinpricks at first, warning shots. I'm coming, they say, and you'd better not be planning to accomplish much in the next while. As New Year draws closer, the grip tightens. One month, New Year's Eve whispers, one month exactly. This pisses me off-- New Year's Eve is a big deal in the Old Country, and I want to be enjoying it. Tick tock, it replies, unmoved, one month. There is distance between me and everyone else at the party.

I miss my son. I miss him always. It is a fact of life, not new or exciting. In other news, water is wet and sky is blue. But January is sharper than other times, more in my face. The ache is more physical and more illusory all at once. We're coming up on nine years. Imagining nine is blowing my mind.

It's exhausting, the grief season. Laundry, cooking, shopping, shlepping-- the daily tasks still have to get done. And tomorrow the new semester starts, with student names to learn, classes to prepare, work to grade. All while the thoughs race and the extremities fidget, and the heart aches. January rolls on, counting out the steps, and I roll with it, trying to be gentle with myself, trying.

I know all the major stops on the route. Whatever happens from year to year, I know which days are likely to sting, which are going to be bittersweet, and which are packing a punch. There is a secret shelter, too, that I've fashioned myself along this route, two and a half days where sheer busyness and exhaustion make everything else take a break.

Over the last several years I've stepped up to take a bigger and bigger role in running a chunk of an annual event, and as it became more and more of an all-encompasing thing for that weekend, I've come to appreciate the opportunity to take a little break from January. Friday is all about prep, and Saturday and Sunday makes for a double marathon of 18 hour days. When the days are a non-ending series of concrete tasks, and when every last bone in your body feels too tired to function, but you have to function anyway, anxiety has to step off. Not a sustainable strategy to be sure (especially since feeling all the feels is a big grief commandment for me), but a needed breather.

I'm past my shelter now, rejoining January, already in progress. I'm back with the whole bloody gammut of emotions. I understand that each of them is a reflection of a different facet of my love for my son, and so I own them-- this is the way it goes. Though I still wish anxiety would bugger off. The anniversary, the birthday, they are just around the next bend in this road. Ready or not, here they come. But I think I'm ready.

 

How does your grief season go? How do you deal? 

Monday
Jan112016

to my first daughter, on Christmas morning

Trigger warning: This post mentions my living children.

Like any bereaved parent, it continues to be important to carry with me Lydia’s absolute place in our family, and the holiday season only intensifies this insatiable urge. Last Christmas, I waded through the heavy holiday with a tear-streaked face, just seven weeks removed from the day she died and from the day she was born. I was still very much crawling through the muddy crater of early and raw grief and honestly, remember very little of the holiday. But I do remember that we made sure that our daughter was represented in our photos and that she had a small gift just for her mixed up in the ribbon and bows under the tree.

We carried forward these hopeful-traditions to this year’s Christmas, where we were very fortunate to hang a third stocking above our fireplace for Lydia’s little sister born safely in October. But as we filled these stockings with big-boy scissors and first baby dolls, it was painfully hard not to notice the one stocking that lay empty.

So on Christmas Eve, along with her heart-shaped stone that I still carry in my pocket, I placed a folded note into the little white stocking of my first daughter:

Today will be a special day, Lydie. And today will be a horrible day.

Today, we will introduce your baby sister to the spectacle that is Christmas. Her blue eyes will glow with the reflection of bright lights strung around the tree, illuminating the ornaments of holidays past. Paper angels and school photos from your mother’s childhood, moose on skis, a tiny life jacket with a story, and a fat wooden tree that traces back to your Dutch roots. Newer ornaments too—ones that have just begun to tell the story of your siblings and cousins, others that continue to tell yours. Today will be a day with smiles charmed from your brother’s excitement of playing Santa Claus, his eagerness to help tear off the wrapping paper that covers the sprawl growing from under the tree. Today will be a day that your parents snap too many photos, trying our best to capture a moment that can be savored for years to come.

Today will be a sad day, my little girl. Today will be a day that, after all of the excitement, a small and lonely present will remain under the glittery tree, waiting for someone who isn’t there. Today will be a day that we look at our photos and painfully notice one always missing; an empty space where a little girl should be chasing her cousins and siblings, experiencing her second holiday through new eyes. Today will be a day where we whisper our love into a glowing candle and starry night sky instead of your tiny ear, where the edges we have worked so hard to soften become instantly jagged and jab at the hole in our hearts. Today will be a day where the moments we capture will always contain with them the ones that have slipped away.

These past months have been convincing, Lydie. And these past months have been uncertain.

I was recently asked how I was managing, having your sister at home, and I paused to fill my lungs with enough air to answer the question. Answering openly and honestly is important to me, but can often be weighed down by the need to protect you, our family and myself. My mind races each time to calculate the details of the current situation. A complex equation of intent, relationship, timing and knowledge—anever-changing set of variables that yield so many different responses to a seemingly simply question. It is so very lovely to bring Josephine home, to watch as her eyes begin to wake up and explore the world around her, to see her thrive, to be amazed how time can move so quickly as I stare at her long eyelashes or catch glimpses of her attempts to smile. It is so hopeful to envision a life for her, to be filled with the excitement of the wonderful events yet to come. But that same breath holds with it worry and uneasiness. It is a dark and sometimes shameful cloud that appears abruptly to steal moments away as I grapple with gathering gratitude; a storm of thoughts so massive that I sometimes need to run and hide as they pour down on me with disquiet. These are months that are filled with more questions than answers, and a longing that simply will never be satisfied.

This past year has brought happiness, Lydie. And this past year has brought so much sorrow.

This past year has been an unpredictable collection of moments and as I count them, it is hard to imagine that one year can hold so many. There have been moments of the purest joy as I hold your tiny sister safely in my arms and ones of amazement as I witness the growth of your big brother into an energetic and smart little boy. There have been moments where I am calmed as I feel the love of our family pulse through my veins. However, there have also been moments of deep despair that still arrive unannounced and press on my chest. Moments that fog my mind and blur my eyes, moments where I want nothing more than to have you physically here with us. These are moments that demand my attention, refuse any denial and leave me exhausted. And somewhere in between lay moments of bittersweet. Where we stand together with others that want to celebrate you, that speak and write your name, that help us to carry you with us. There have been moments of cake and balloons, moments of giving back and making a small difference, moments of looking up and feeling the warmth shining down from a distant sparkling star. There are so many moments, and you exist in each and every one.

This life will be a painful life, Lydie. There is just no denying that I will always ache to have you near, that every day that separates each Christmas from the last will be filled with the yearning to discard of the tragedy that have intruded on our family. That one day your brother and sister will learn to know you in a much richer, deeper and inevitably more difficult way.

This is a beautiful life, Lydie. It is a life where I have held you in my arms, if only for a few hours. It is a life that carries your name and your spirit. It is a life that holds unimaginable beauty in the warm smile of your brother, in the depths of your sister’s blue eyes, and from the immeasurable love for our Christmas baby – Lydia Joanne.

Merry Christmas, Lydie. You are loved.

          -Dad

How were your holidays? How have the holidays changed for you year to year? What holiday traditions do you have to honor your child(ren)?