Community Voices: Ritual

I am incredibly honored and pleased to present two readers' voices today as guest posts on Glow.

The first piece is by Juliet Spear Gardener. Juliet is the mother of Peregrine Elan, who died and was born at 39 weeks gestation in January, 2013. She lives in Northern California.

Each week, I keep an eye out for the right stone and slide it into my pocket.

Each week, we bring the stone, water, and flowers from our garden. Once, we brought an antler: old, fragile, gnawed. Once, a cutting from a plant that is a cutting from a plant that P.’s grandmother grew. Once, wildflower seeds—only one took root, an orange California poppy whose abundant blooms open for the day but are closed during evening visits. After weeks of checking my favorite nursery, they finally had blue lupines; that week, I remembered the shovel.

Each week, we walk down the stone path, the steep slope. Each week, I remember that first walk: me still wearing a black maternity dress, P. carrying the tiny casket he built, my hand on his back, our families trailing behind.

Each week, we water the plants. I pull out the rocks and recount their origins. I arrange the flowers and explain their names and attributes—jasmine wafting through our bedroom window, the summer joy of chewing sourgrass, wisteria’s delicate drips and Kool-Aid breath.

Some weeks I cry; some I listen to the Eucalyptus leaves. Some weeks I hold P. while he cries; some I wander nearby, restless. One week I pounded the earth. Some weeks I don't want to go. Twice I lay back and felt the sun and wind on my skin.

There are 32 stones there now, each from a place I wish he could have seen with me.


This second piece is by Tamara. She writes: I thought I knew what the future looked like. I didn't. Learning to live without my son is the hardest thing I've ever tried to do. My wife and I are putting one foot in front of the other after losing Ezra on August 6, 2013. I try to make sense of it at Queerly Trying.

My wife and I picked out our son's name before he was conceived, an initial each for our lost mothers. In a different reality, the reality we were supposed to have, where my son had his whole brain intact and we welcomed him joyfully in December, we would have had a naming ceremony. I was already planning it, this welcome to the world for the boy we wanted so much.

In August we sat instead in the geneticist's office signing a stack of papers authorizing the induction of labour at 22 weeks. In order to spare our baby a terrible death, I consented to each form, pausing when I got to the one allowing autopsy. Stillborn was printed neatly in the space for our son's name. Nameless. Stillborn OurLastName, the baby that wasn't.

Under Jewish law, if a baby doesn't live for 30 days, there are no rituals performed. In my personal pick-and-choose brand of agnosticism, I had never thought much about this. I made Chanukah latkes and taught my students to play dreidel. I threw a feminist Seder every year. I didn't really believe in God, but I believed in community, in history. I had never considered what I believed about infant death. I didn't know, until I held my beautiful still son in my arms, how much I was going to need my Jewishness. He needed his name.

The hospital's one rabbi was on vacation. Every rabbi I contacted pointed to the law and said no. You don't even believe, said whispered voice in my head. I insisted. Finally, a friend reached a cousin who is married to a Jew who knew a rabbi who was willing to help. That good man got in his car and drove across town to bless the stillborn son of a couple he had never met.

The rabbi shook my wife's hand. He sat at my bedside and murmured condolences. He tenderly held my baby, wrapped in a blue blanket, and intoned the words given for healing, given in welcome. Welcome, little one.

I only understood snatches of the Hebrew. I caught "r’fuah shleimah"—complete recovery. And the most important part of all. Ezra ben Tamar. Ezra, son of Tamara. Named, in that drafty hospital room, before me and my wife and the God I'm never sure about. Named. He existed.

I can't explain the comfort that those prayers gave me. I won't try. What I know is that I wasn't ready to give my baby to the nurse until it was done. Ezra George, the son of Lauren and Tamara, named for his grandmothers Elizabeth and Gloria. Our son.


What rituals have you done for the one(s) you have lost, little or big? Who have you invited to be part of these rituals?

I Won't Give You Up

I must start this post by confessing something: I am not a particularly spiritual person. I’m cynical by nature, which makes it hard for me to have a particularly spiritual approach to anything that happens in my life. It’s something I’ve tried to shake for years, but not very effectively.

But then, you see, there are the dragonflies.

Before Roxy died, before everything collapsed that August, we had prepared her room. Terra had wanted a dragonfly theme. There was dragonfly décor everywhere. Dragonfly blankets, dragonfly baby clothes, dragonfly pictures, dragonfly room. Everything, dragonflies.

Then she died and two years ran over us like a combine. We sold our house and moved.

Our new house had an expansive yard that tickled woods on all sides, but there was enough open space for a large garden. I’d taken up gardening the summer before, and found it to be a peaceful exercise in a time when I’d never more desperately needed some peace. I marked out a plot for the garden that was about 900 square feet. I built a fence, planted cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, etc., and I made it Roxy’s garden. I built what I would refer to as a “rustic” arbor entrance with a sign that said “We Love You Roxy Jean.”

That summer, unlike any other, the dragonflies came to the garden in swarms. Every time I walked into the garden, they were everywhere, all around me. I felt Roxy there, that summer, in that garden, in a way I could never explain in words. The pain that I felt from losing her was something I appreciated in that garden and I wanted to keep it. That’s what this song is about: keeping my pain instead of trying to escape it. Since that summer, dragonflies have continued to make timely appearances in our lives.

The bees swarm the edge of the tree line where you’re kept
Where the peonies rise up
The dragonflies dance that put me in a trance
And I go sweetly to the dust
Where I always get stung
I always get lost inside you honey
But I won’t give you up
No I, I won’t give you up
I guess you’re written in my script
I go shitty ‘til I split
Into some guillotine tonight
Some place to kill the fight that rises with the sun each morning
And dies out with the light
I should have memorized
I cannot recall the color of your eyes
But I won’t give you up
No I, I won’t give you up
No I, I won’t give you up
No I, I won’t give you up

Has losing a child increased or decreased your spirituality? Are there places or things that cause you to feel your child's presence since they passed away?

Loving and losing

The other day one of those supposedly inspirational quotes popped up on my Google+ page, among the many well and truly inspirational stories that populate it on the daily basis. The real inspirational stories are there because I am subscribed to a bunch of science-related feeds. Just recently, there was a story of recreating martian clouds in a giant lab structure on Earth, one about using a small 3D printer to print objects of any size through the use of an ingenious after-printing folding technology (no, really!), and one about a new discovery in astronomy that implies that life on planets outside the solar system is a lot more likely than we previously thought. Oh, and right above the inspirational quote, one about a possible vaccine against malaria. You know, malaria, disease that killed about 660 thousand people in 2010 alone, most of them children under 5 years old. Inspiring, no?-- to think that some day soon we may take that 660, 000 right down to 0.

And then there was the quote. Because for some reason Google likes to throw me those little nuggets of Hot on... Perhaps it is worried that I'd miss the really important stuff, what with my tragically unhip collection of subscriptions. Anyway, the quote. It was by a woman I haven't heard of before, though she is supposedly fairly well-known, Barbara De Angelis. "You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back." it said, accompanied by a picture of an intertwined couple looking like clothes are about to start flying, if you know what I mean. 

It chafes me, the quote. At first I think it's the carefree couple in the illustration that is making the quote profoundly one-dimensional. And while it certainly does that, maybe that's not the whole story, since I can't seem to mentally walk away from this one-- the quote and the post keep bugging me. So I keep thinking about it. So maybe it's the absolutism of the quote itself, the lack of gray zones. Is it really true that you just can't lose by loving? What about an abused spouse-- shouldn't they be pulling back, walking away no matter if they still love their abuser? Or how about a teenage crush? Or, you know, those budding feelings at any age-- can you really never lose by plunging right in?

But eventually I realize that my internal issue is not about the intricacies of intimate relationships. It's about-- DUH-- me feeling like, again, the babylost, the childlost, the grieving, are cropped out of the conversation that is meant to be had. Our situations, our stories are not hallmarky enough for short quotes. Our stories illuminate what is, sometimes, really risked, by loving. Imagine for a second the same quote accompanying a picture of a small grave marker, a tiny coffin, or those impossibly small hand or footprints many of us have. Instead of wise, doesn't the quote suddenly sound cruel? Or, at least, impossibly sad?

Look, my personal blog's title, a quote from Sarah McLachlan, is the promise to not fear love. I think about that too, together with the quote, and wonder why the quote bothers me so much. And I come to think that perhaps it's because the quote makes it seem so plain and easy and obvious when it's none of those things. It's an impossible choice even when it feels like it's not a choice at all. We chose to try again, knowing what we can lose, again. Or we try again because not trying feels worse than trying, even knowing what we can lose, again. Or we chose to not try because we know what we could lose, again. Or the choice is made for us, and we are left to pick up the pieces. And no matter whether there's another round, no matter how the next round shakes out, a child, or children, we love is-- are-- still dead. We still love them, and they are still dead. And it's impossible for me to say that we haven't lost.

I've said for a long time, that I see grief as a mirror image of love. We grieve because we love them. We grieve because there's nothing else to do. So does it follow that if we didn't love them, or didn't love them as much, we wouldn't grieve (as much)? A friend has been known to occasionally pine for a lobotomy-- a way to forget the whole thing, pregnancy and on. I see the appeal, I do, though I can't, even this many years later, want it for myself. It used to drive me batty that nobody but us knew A, that he just doesn't matter to most people. It doesn't hurt as much anymore, this particular part, but I still can't wish for the memories to go-- it feels like wishing to diminish what little is left of him in this world. Of course, I realize that this is circular reasoning. It hurts me that he is invisible to most. With a hypothetical lobotomy I wouldn't remember, and so it wouldn't matter. I know, but I still can't wish for it.

All of this is theoretical, though. In this universe times moves in one direction, and sometime in our past, a child, or children, died. And now we are here, having loved them, still loving them. We are here and they are not, and we still love them, but have we not lost? Could we have avoided losing, or maybe lost less by holding back? Theoretical again, I know. Except our experiences inform our choices going forward. Which is why I called my blog what I did-- it was a note to self, writ large. I tried to be prudent, to hold back for a while, and I do think it helped keep me sane in the early months of the next pregnancy. But eventually I leaped. And I got lucky-- that son lived. He almost didn't, but he did.

I think this is why the quote bothers me so-- it makes a hard choice seem easy and it promises a reward that is nobody's to promise. Choosing to love is hard. And nobody, but nobody can say what will happen if you do. Choosing not to love, not loving, is often also hard. The choice takes your breath away. Sometimes, you make the choice despite yourself. Sometimes, you don't get one. Life is messy, and heartbreaking, and beautiful. And too complicated for simplistic prescriptions.


How do you feel about the quote? Do you agree with me or do you think I am overreacting? Or tell us about another quote that may seem innocuous to others, but bothered you because of your babylost experience. 

Blank stares, crickets and tumbleweeds

Recently a friend of mine posted news announcing her third pregnancy on that social media site I sometimes wonder why I joined.  It was a witty, read-between-the-lines kind of announcement that is commonplace in the land of non-baby loss folk.  It is not announcement any of us who have ever had to make the other, darker kind of pregnancy announcement (The baby died.  I’m not pregnant anymore) are apt to make anymore for a subsequent pregnancy.  With my daughter I did not clue anyone into the fact that I was pregnant until I was about 18 weeks along.  There was no formal announcement I just sort of stopped denying what people already had suspected for awhile.  I waited that long not because I was afraid that she was going to die like her brother, although in fact I was pretty sure that was exactly what was going to happen.  Rather it was because I did not have the emotional capacity to deal with the proclamations of “This time everything is going to be fine,” or “Try not to worry, it isn’t good for the baby,” by well-meaning people.  Turns out I got them anyway so it ended up not really accomplishing anything. 


Had George been born with a healthy heart and not three months early he would roughly be the same age as that of my newly thrice-pregnant friend’s eldest child.  As much as I would love to say that after three years of navigating the world of baby-loss I’ve risen above comparing my life to others I can’t.  It is just not possible for me to look at this friend’s life and not draw comparisons to my own.  She has a three year old doing those things that three-year olds tend to do.  I have a baby; dead for three years, not doing those things three year olds tend to do.  She has a second baby and a third on the way.  I am struggling to get pregnant and stay that way long enough to bring home a second living baby.   I think about her and imagine that my life could have looked very similar to hers if only fate had favored me in the same way it had favored her.  I think about her and envy the relative confidence she likely possess that her current pregnancy will have the same result as her previous two did.  I don’t have any confidence that any future pregnancy I may or may not have will result in a living baby. 


A year ago I was in a place where her announcement wouldn’t have been much more than a tiny blip on my radar.  Back then it was fairly easy to have a conversation about pregnancy without white knuckling through the entire thing.  I had also mostly stopped mentally reprimanding pregnant women for complaining about trivial things like swollen ankles and nighttime trips to the bathroom.  If a friend wanted to tell me about her birth plan I was mostly fine with it.  Sure!  Let's do it!  Let's talk about playlists and birthing balls and the evils of medical intervention.  I was a champion!  I was a fortress! I was a pillar of support!  


Two miscarriages later and I’m not feeling so enthusiastic about being a champion or a fortress or a pillar of support anymore.   All I’ve been able to muster in words of encouragement for my friend on her most recent pregnancy is a simple “congrats” to add to the multitude of other congratulatory responses she’s received.   I wish her the best, I really do, I just don’t want to talk about or otherwise be around it, that’s all.   So should she ever want to talk to me about birth plans and swollen ankles and nighttime trips to the bathroom, for now it’s going to be nothing but blank stares, crickets and tumbleweeds. 


How do you feel about your friends' pregnancies?  Has your opinion about thier pregnancies and/or your comfort level with them changed over time?  Do you feel guilty about the way they make you feel?  Have you been made to feel guilty about the way they make you feel?