Here’s what’s in my stash.

A tiny pendant of a round and zen-like angel given to me by my mother-in-law immediately after it happened. Lorraine is sturdy and Yankee and Catholic. I love that she reached out to me this way. It came with matching dangly earrings, but metal makes my ears inflate and turn purple.

A wonderful “your heart in my heart” pendant made for me by Barb. She lost her baby boy around the same gestational age that I lost my Mae, and she makes pretty things. I ordered it as soon as I realized that I was going to need her name next to my skin all the time.

A slick, wire-wrapped crescent moon of tiger eye. Brian bought it for me at a country fair last August. We were wandering through the tents in the late summer light, and I was in a mood. A dark and golden stone for my dark moon baby. I strung it next to the heart pendant.

One of those bronze, semi-industrial, semi-romantic tiny tags (love. angel. mae. 2-28-09.) strung with a heart and more e.e. cummings. An unexpected gift from lovely Paige, only a few weeks ahead of me on this grief journey.

My Mother’s Day surprise from Tina. A group of us were swapping “bouquets” – anything with a flower theme – and now my bouquet hangs around my neck. Three little flowers and the word “mama.” Her initials. Her birthstone. Her dates. I’m spoiled.

My tattoo. I think of it as back-up. I don’t wear a necklace every day. Sometimes it doesn’t go with the outfit. Sometimes I just forget. But I never wanted to forget and then feel guilty. I never wanted panic myself into the deep, dark, sobbing missing of her for lack of having her name on me somewhere. So there is the strawberry—almost bruisey red at the bottom, white and not quite ripe near the stem. Her name is hidden in the veins of the leaves for me to point out to you. Or not.

Photo by marie-II.

“I like your necklace.”

“Gee, thanks!”

That’s usually as far as it goes. Unless I know you’ve caught the significance, and maybe I can see you’ve got one of your own.

A soccer mom approached me at the fields the other day, she and her husband both round and grey and fair. Their junior high girl was playing center forward, and their younger boy was kicking dirt, impatient. Both kids had dark skin, sleek hair. Cambodian? I wondered, and tried to remember if Cambodia has had an active adoption program. Because that’s something I might have recall of, now that I’ve been infertile for two years. And I wondered about her journey, and if they had lost anyone. Because that’s the kind of thing I might reasonably wonder about anyone now.

She keyed in on my necklace immediately. “That’s so beautiful!” She peered closely, trying to read the cryptically stamped metal. I casually place my hand over the pendants, blocking her view.

I could have told her my story. She was perfectly nice. Maybe she would have understood. But I deflected her glance.

On a recent class trip with a boat load of moms and 6th graders, someone was talking about “appropriate dress. I brought up, unprovoked, my tattoos and how someone else in our family would have to deter my stepdaughter from inking herself as a teenager. I even pointed them out – one on my shoulder, the strawberry on my ankle, god knows why.

The very sincere woman sitting across from me asked how I selected images that I knew would be meaningful to me forever. I blinked at her slowly and changed the subject.

* * * * *

I question myself. Why wear a necklace out in public, right there above my cleavage to dangle and attract attention, if I don’t want to talk about it? Why flash my big red tattoo in the summer? I feel subversive. This jewelry is just for me, and I’m wearing right out there in front of you. Look away! It’s weird.

But sometimes a moment opens unexpectedly. I started a new job a few months back. My boss and colleagues know little about my personal life, but lately I’ve had the urge to let them in, if only for honesty’s sake.

At a recent meeting my boss and our consultant simultaneously zeroed in on my necklace. They asked what was written on the charms, and I told them, along with the 60-second version of my daughter death story. I think it was the directness of their questions that did it – I didn’t think, I just answered. They ooohed and ahhhed and looked surprised and made sympathetic noises and then restarted the meeting. They were jittery and unfocused for a while after that. But I didn't feel scrambled at all.

That moment, and ones like it, has been good for me. Some families have a strong and open instinct to speak of their missing little ones. Not me—I’m more likely to hide, to protect. But often, when I’m forced out into the light, it goes better than I think it will, and I feel a little stronger for it, a tiny bit more whole.

Maybe that’s why I keep wearing the bling. It’s hard for me to create those moments of openness for myself. But sometimes, if the light is just right, my necklace will shine, and I’ll speak.

* * *

Do you wear any memorial jewelry or tattoos? What does it mean to you? How do you respond to comments and questions about it? Where are you, these days, on sharing your loss in public or with those outside your immediate circle?

tempting fate

Sometimes, when I am holding my husband in bed, I worry that lightning will strike us. In those moments when we are so intensely in love, so happy together—still, despite our loss—I think we are asking for trouble. I expect a tree limb to crash through the roof of our bedroom right then. I picture a horrible cancer suddenly taking hold of one of our organs just as I am kissing him. It scares me. So I end the kiss, I pull away, thinking crazily that this might save our lives.

The same terror runs through my body sometimes when we put Lilly to bed. Will this be the night that the dryer lint catches fire? Will she wake with meningitis in the morning? What if the tree limb falls on her bed instead of ours? What if something happens to Brian, and she is taken away from me?

I love my husband. I love my stepdaughter. I don’t want whoever is running things "up there" to see the unbroken parts of my life, for fear they will be broken too. So I have become superstitious.

photo by winthrowBlythe. That's how I was before the death of my baby. Even having seen my parents’ long and bitter divorce, my own quick and dirty divorce, a series of unsuccessful career starts, a few personal tragedies among those I love, I still felt immune, protected, special. I still didn’t know. You know?

It’s probably for the best that I had my bubble burst. Nothing about my daughter’s death is for anybody’s good, but at some point I did need to come down to earth. To learn suffering, compassion, humility, and my own unspecialness. I hope I am less of a brat now. And moments of happiness have become so dearly precious to me. The people I love, so much more valuable.

I worry that they will be taken away from me. What if this lesson in humility does not have me on my knees enough? (Lessons in humility don’t really make me humble. They make me humiliated, which makes me mad.) What if I haven’t been sufficiently broken yet? What if there is more to "learn"?

Feeling happiness is a dangerous prospect these days. I used to avoid it, because really, who wants any of that when your baby is dead? But it has crept in. It has persisted. If I claim it, will someone see and take it away from me? No, no, that's not for you. Not any more. Should I love in secret, to protect the objects of my affection?

Shining and contented moments used to make me feel in tune with and supported by the Universe. Now I’m not sure the Universe is on my side.  Now when I feel happy, I feel it defiantly. My burning love for my man, my stepdaughter, my gorgeous little nieces and nephews—it hurts. It could break my heart. I think out into space, Please, don’t take them away from me. Or sometimes, Screw you, Fate. We are still here. Then I hush myself. I don't want to attract attention.

Maybe it is safer to pull away from happiness, safer not to chase it.  But this summer my husband and I will don wax wings and try to fly to the sun: we will do IVF. Fate will probably be too tempted by this. We should keep our dreams small and quiet, but I’m angry, as well as scared, and not ready to give in. My wings will likely melt right off. My husband? He thinks we’ll soar, and that’s fine with me as long as he doesn’t say it too loudly and maybe throws a pinch of salt over his shoulder, too.

* * * * *

What is your relationship to happy moments (or the future prospect of them) these days? Do you have any quirky habits (of thought or action) that help you to cultivate a sense of safety in the world since your loss(es)?

cyber love

My cell phone rings, and I see it is my friend calling. I don’t answer. I heed the voice in my head saying, she won’t say what you want her to say. I leave the phone alone.

It is February 28th, my baby’s birthday and death-day, and a stillness has descended on our house. Outside a cold rain falls from the sky and freezes as it hits the ground. Brian and I sit on the futon in his office with blankets, mugs of tea, and laptops. All day he stokes the fire in the woodstove. We listen to the crackle of burning bark without speaking.  We keep the lights low. Now and then I look out at the branches of our maple tree, steadily being encased in ice.

All day I sit, working a little, reading a little. Meanwhile, my laptop stays open to Fa.cebo.ok and email, and the cyber condolence flows in. A hug sent here, a love note there. All day, my baby is being remembered someplace on the globe.

I get only a few condolence calls. This is okay, because my heart is so full that I can barely speak. I let them go to voicemail. When the call comes from my friend, for a moment I consider answering.  Did she remember?

No, she did not. On my voicemail she leaves a sixty second rant about delayed flights and the price of gasoline. That’s all. Everything she didn’t say adds to the silence in my house.

* * * * *

The nature of my friendships has changed. Wasn’t there some celebrity in the 1980s who survived a plane crash, and then left her husband for a man who was in the same plane crash? I feel like her sometimes -  like you can only really get me if you were on the plane too.

But I haven’t cut anyone out of my life.  I have become an enigma to those “before” friends. They have unknowingly inflicted wounds, yet I still need them badly. Sometimes I need a time-out from grief, and a friend who’s never been to the dark side of the moon – plus a martini – can be just the ticket. My “before” friends link me to the “before” me— a self that I once knew and liked but can no longer access. I might need her someday, and they carry memories of her.

But this one friend – I can’t compartmentalize her. I’ve tried limiting our interaction to occasional social outings. But she is accustomed to our friendship running deeper than that. She probes and wants to know how I’m really doing. So I tell her, and she can’t change the subject, or clear the room, fast enough. I fall for it every time, because I believe that she is better than this. For two years I have been throwing my heart into her path, only to watch her casually step around it.

photo by youngthousands

If only she would say my baby’s name just once.

If only she would not complain to me about how hard it is to raise her daughter, born alive five weeks before mine.

If only she did not wonder how the holidays could be hard for me, since they are so fun for her.

If only she would tear up a little about my loss, the way she does at those TLC shows about moms who give their babies up for adoption.

If only she did not think of my loss as a health problem.

If only she believed my baby were real.

* * * * *

If only she were on Fa.cebo.ok.

Thinking of you.


remembering your baby


So simple. So easy. That very tiny bit of love, sent regularly by keyboard, lets me know that my friends care, even if they don’t completely understand. It soothes my beastly bitterness at how the world slights this type of loss. Fa.cebo.ok, of all things, has saved some real friendships, by helping me let people off the hook for not being better at this. (Not you, Dad. If you are my parent, Fa.cebo.oking me on the baby’s birthday does not count.)

Maybe if this friend were on Fa.cebo.ok, she would say those needed little things on cue. Maybe she would see what other humans post to me, and a lightbulb would go on. Oh, that’s what I’m supposed to say!

But that’s a fantasy. Cyber love can’t save this friendship. I’ve gotten myself into a tug of war with someone who doesn’t even know she’s holding the other end of the rope. She can’t imagine the sacred stillness of a house on a dead baby’s birthday – she can’t feel what I’m feeling, even a little bit. The only thing left is for me to drop my end of the rope and walk away.

* * * * * *

How’s it going with your friends from before your loss? Is there anything you wish they would say that they haven’t? How do you handle friends who have hurt or abandoned you during this time? What role does the internet play in your friendships these days?


Two months before my world went supernova, I got laid off from my job. At the time, we laughed about it. We were just married and just post parent-cancer-scare. Brian was himself post-operative (hernia), and my pregnancy was troubled. Oh, and it was Christmas. So of course I lost my job. Ha, nice one, Universe! What else have you got for us?

We found out, of course.

But then I was so grateful to be out of work. I couldn’t imagine going to an office every day – facing other human beings who knew who I was, and what had happened. Who, God forbid, needed something from me. Lilly, my stepdaughter, was the only person on the planet allowed to need something from me then. I appeared in public only at her school recitals and soccer games, wearing Liz Taylor sunglasses and carrying a bag of knitting projects to bend my head over.

I tried to imagine myself in dress slacks with an armful of file folders where a baby should be and felt nothing but relief at the idea of letting my career slide into oblivion. I collected unemployment. I found freelance work. I stayed home.

* * * * * * * *

There are mile markers on this grief trail. Anniversaries, firsts, a certain number of good days in a row. They exist, I think, to light my path towards some sort of normalcy, and to let me know I’m not out here on the road alone. But when I see one of those markers coming up I just think: No, no, no, fuck no! And I try to slow myself down, but it’s no use. The clock ticks, and my body zips by.

But my heart is torn out all over again—it’s back there in the dark behind me, heels dug in, staring down that marker, refusing to budge. No way. No, sir. I am staying right the fuck here. Because who wants to move one single inch, one single second, further from the last moment they held their baby in their body, in their arms?

So I curse and cry and stomp around for a few days. Eventually, mysteriously, my heart lets go and, in slingshot motion, snaps back into my body, and forward we go. Because, oh hell, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, and someone’s got to get dinner on the table.

* * * * * * * * *

I did not want a job. I wanted to be home with my baby. With that option gone, I stayed home with my grief for two years. What do you call that? Stay-at-Home-Griever? So when Brian showed me a job listing over Thanksgiving, my reaction was: No, no, no, fuck no! Mile marker ahead.

Photo by mirimcfly.This was a job I could probably get. And if I got it, there would be no reason not to take it. The hours and pay were good. The commute was short. The organization did nice things, like feed homeless people. And it had been almost two years, after all. So I began:

Resume updating (reluctant). Phone interview (heart with heels firmly dug in). In-person interview (denial: I don’t think they liked me). Call back for second interview (Dammit, tears). Job offer (There’s a recession on, so who I am to turn my nose up?). First day (Actually, this could be good).

Thus I have a new job. It’s part-time, with some hours from home, which suits me nicely. The place is chaotic and full of well-intended people who know almost nothing about me, which suits me too. There are no dress slacks to be seen, but I do wake up and put on my game face, and pour a to-go mug, and schlep out into the snow to get some work done in the service of another cause. And it’s kind of fun.

I do worry about my bad days—about being productive through tears, about looking like a mad woman, about one day waking up and being unable to get out of bed. Failing them spectacularly at some critical juncture seems inevitable. And I feel a little guilty—like I am putting my daughter into Griever’s Daycare.

But overall I thought this would be harder. I thought taking a job meant I was putting more of her behind me, or trying to get back to a time before she existed. Then again, I always think that sort of thing when I pass a marker. My heart panics, but when it catches up with reality, everything becomes clear: she is still with me, she is still gone. No more, no less. Wherever I put my heart and my energy now, it is because of her and what she has made me. She can’t possibly be left behind.

* * * * * * * *

How long did it take you to go back to your job (or, unpaid work like volunteering, helping your church/synagogue, sitting on boards, etc.)? How has loss changed your relationship to your work? Has work been a respite or a burden? What your strategies for coping with grief at work?

the back nine

When Brian and I were engaged, we used to joke about “the back nine.” Lilly, his daughter who lives with us, was nine years old when we met. Since she would (in theory) leave for college at 18 that gave us nine years of raising her. He called it playing the back nine together.

The back nine also meant the second half of our lives. We were ridiculously, giddily in love, like teenagers in the movies, but aware of our middle-agedness. When we married, the question of more children was on the table, but not well discussed. It was possible that we would simply make a family of three. Later we could launch Lilly into the world and ride off into the sunset—still healthy, only in our 50s, just the two of us.

Little did we know that when I walked down the aisle, I was already knocked up. And then we were so happy at this new plan for our future. And then we were broken.

Over this Christmas break, Lilly went to her mom’s for a week, and Brian and I took a mini-honeymoon at home. We cooked grown-up food, read books in front of the fire, and watched football naked under fleece blankets. We ate on no particular schedule, drove no one to soccer practice, and attended no parent-teacher conferences. For a few days, we looked like a carefree couple with no responsibilities. We looked almost like that original vision of our back nine.

I let myself try it on: the relaxed schedule, the freedom. It was nice. What if we stopped trying for another baby? What if we walked away from the whole IVF project? What if we looked at each other and said, Okay, it’s just you and me? We could do it, you know, we could pull the plug.

Photo by katerha

But I am afraid of becoming a bitter, childless old woman, mired in grief, ruining my husband’s golden years. I almost ruined our little vacation this week. One moment I was saying, “The sun is out, let’s go for a walk!” And three breaths later I said, “The pain of missing her is so bad that I wish someone would hit me with a two-by-four.” How romantic.

Our baby’s death has cheated us out of so many things, including the ability to dream our own future. If we hotly pursue interventions or adoption, I want to do it with my whole heart, not because we got screwed. If we choose to raise no more children, I want to embrace that path fully, and appreciate the time and freedom we would have, instead of always mourning for what could have been. But inevitably that road will be second-best too.

We could have had such a wonderful goddamn life, if she had never come to us (terrible mother!), or if she had never died. I am turning 39 in a few days and feel no peace about the second-best life we’ve been handed. Instead, I feel my advanced maternal age.

I remember a few years back, when I was single, sobbing in my mom’s car outside the Rochester airport. It was a pent-up cry that I’d been holding in for days. My flight was leaving in 45 minutes, and I was holding us hostage, wiping my snotty fingers on her lambskin seat coverings.

I wish I were 45 instead of 35, I wailed. I just want to know already if I’m going to have a family or not. And if not, then I just want to be an old woman. I hate this middle part.

Skip ahead. I now have a wonderful little family, but I still hate the middle part. I want to peek ahead ten years, to find Brian and I deep in that back nine, and to see, is there a new little grade-schooler out there on the greens with us? Or just the two of us holding hands, with a baby in our hearts?

The future doesn’t feel like a choice anymore, only a mystery. There’s nothing for us to do but wait.

* * * * * * *

As we enter this new year, what does your future hold? Have any of your dreams and plans for your future remained the intact through your loss(es)? Where does family-building figure in your future plans? If you could magically jump ahead in time to gain perspective on your life, would you do it and to when?

rest now

clink crackle sschwipp hum

 These are the small noises of my acupuncture clinic. They are the sounds of care, the sounds of someone watching over me.

When I come here, they seat me in a fuzzy recliner. I roll up my sleeves and the legs of my jeans and settle in. The acupuncturist drapes me in soft fleece blankets, folding them just so. He crouches next to me and gently takes my pulse. I feel like a small, sick child, in the best possible way—I am tucked in and a grown up has come to check on me. 

He asks a few questions in a soft whisper. How am I feeling? How is my mood? Am I sleeping okay? I stick out my tongue, and am told that it is a little puffy, or a little red, or looks good. Then comes the clink of a jar lid and the crackle of the plastic coming off a new needle. The tiny pinch goes into my foot, and I hear the sschwipp of the plastic sheath sliding away, leaving the needle in place. Six in my legs, four in my arms, and one between my brows, which I always ask for because it makes me sleepy. Then the best part—an electric heat lamp over my bare toes. Hum. 

“Rest now,” he says. And I do. But half asleep, I like to listen to the sounds in the room. Another patient rustling in. The soft, sibilant conversation assessing today’s aches and pains. Clink, crackle, sschwipp, hum. Care is being given. Somebody cares.

* * * * * *

I first crawled into the acupuncture clinic fourteen months ago. I walked in actually, but emotionally-speaking I was on my hands and knees. Depression runs in both sides of my family, and for several months I’d had an eagle-eye on that nearly indiscernible line between it and grief. I’d been fighting hard for every little bit of serotonin I could scrape together: long hot showers, daily chocolate brownies, stupid comedies on DVD, a few, barely tolerable minutes outdoors with sunshine on my face. This was the first six months after losing her. This was pure survival.

Then one August morning I woke up and knew I was over the line. I couldn’t fight on my own any more. I was tired, pissed off, and scared. We talked about antidepressants, and decided to try acupuncture first – I had a friend who was studying it, and he recommended a clinic where I could be treated in a group setting, in a comfy recliner, and pay just twenty dollars.

So I crawled in, and I told the acupuncturist everything—this perfect stranger. He listened so quietly and didn’t turn away. There were very specific questions about my moods and the care I received during and after the loss. And then he said the best thing—that treatments would not get rid of my grief, but would lessen the depression and anxiety so that I could grieve more fully. Well, how about that? This place just gave me license to grieve.

So I have grieved there—twice a week, draped in blankets, with heat on my toes and needles in my arms, I have cried silently and dreamt of my daughter resting on my chest. I’ve imagined a new future, a new child. And I’ve simply slept. This whole time, I’ve been treated with nothing but tenderness, and the needles have done their job—I no longer feel like I’m in free fall towards the pit.

Photo by Green Heat

When I say that acupuncture helped me, most people don’t understand the enormity of what I’m saying. My baby died, and nothing can make that better for me—not the love of family and friends, not the beauty of nature, not support groups and bloggers, not hot showers and brownies. These things are all crucial parts of my grief journey, and I would be lost without them. But nothing makes a dead baby better.

However there is something about the acupuncture clinic that is, miraculously, healing a part of me. Its gentle professionalism may be off-setting some of the damage done by the carelessness of my medical doctors. It might be the fact that the acupuncturist is simply a stranger, not friend or family. When we talk I don’t need to take care of his feelings, and the only thing I owe him is a check for $20.

And then there are the cozy blankets. I am so used to working hard at taking care of myself, and others. So much that I do requires an outlay of energy—even the things I do for myself, like taking a walk, or calling a friend. Acupuncture is an utter reversion. I am a child under those blankets. Something bigger than me is at work. Someone knows what they are doing. Someone cares and wants to make things better.

I have lost all sense of that kind of order and goodness in the world since my baby’s death. In the clinic, amidst the clinks and sschwipps and hums, for a couple of hours each week, I find it again.

* * * * * *

Acupuncture is my thing. What’s yours? Is there a person, place, or activity that has supported you unconditionally? That has eased your walk with grief? That has restored your faith in… anything? When you are in the dark, it can be hard to talk about the good stuff, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on what could possibly help this most un-helpable thing.