With our surrogate, Kyrie, just a few weeks away from what we hope will be the safe delivery of our son, I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between this possible new baby and the twins we lost a little more than two years ago. Of course, this new child can't be a literal replacement for the twins. But there's less to distinguish them than one might think.

 Part of that is simply the mechanics of IVF. One afternoon in April 2006, on the third floor of a big hospital in the Northeast, ten embryos were coaxed into being. Curled in their petri dishes, cells dividing, the embryos, from my point of view, were interchangeable. I hoped that at least one of them would grow to be my child, but I didn't care which one and I didn't give much thought to what would happen to the others.

The doctors chose two embryos -- call them A and B -- to transfer and froze the rest. A and B became the twins and we all know how that turned out. So, in April 2008, they unfroze embryo C, which is now, at least theoretically, the baby due at the beginning of January.

Although the selection of which embryos to transfer wasn't entirely random, chance clearly played the guiding role. Right now, I could just as easily be mourning the loss of embryos D and E or cautiously celebrating the impending arrival of F. And that cascade of contingencies make it that much harder to attach significance to the individual identity of any of them.

Moreover, over time, the twins themselves have become mostly an abstraction. I have almost no actual memories of them -- a positive pregnancy test, a dozen increasingly ominous ultrasounds, a month or two or flutters and kicks. What memories I do have are really about myself, my hopes, my wishes, my painting an imaginary future in pastel shades of pink and blue. And, though much more hesitantly, I find myself now thinking almost the identical thoughts, transferring the old dreams to this new child and wondering whether I can see this child -- at least in some non-literal way -- as one of the twins returned to me.

Because I tend to think in metaphors, and extended and heavy-handed ones at that, let me put it this way. Imagine you're looking into a series of lighted kitchen windows at dinnertime. In one lucky house, all the chairs at the table are filled with cheerful family members. In the house next door, there are chairs with no-one sitting in them, but you notice that they're drawn close to the table, still part of the family circle. In yet another house, the table at first seems full, but if you look in the next room, you'll find the unused chairs carefully, lovingly stored away.

And then, in the house I hope one day to live in, there's a chair that, in the manner of Schrödinger's cat is simultaneously occupied and empty.  And in it sits a little boy who is at once here and, well, absolutely elsewhere.


Your thoughts on the concept of the replacement child? A dangerous or unfair idea? An understandable rationalization? Something in between?

What does your dinner table look like?

My Living Child

First of all, I hate the phrase.  My living child.  It emphasizes that I also have a dead child – two of them, in fact – and it seems to subtly diminish my son's other qualities, to imply that the most important thing about him is that he's here with me, living and breathing. And maybe that's right. But, since for a whole bunch of reasons, I almost never mention him on my own blog, I'd like to tell you a few other things about Gray.

When Gray was three, despite my misgivings, he insisted on wearing an all-pink outfit to preschool. After he got home, I asked him how his day had gone.  Mommy, you know that some of the kids were so stupid that they said that pink was only for girls?  He rolled his eyes at their pitiable lack of knowledge and I told him that, in our family, we didn't use the word stupid.

He has a beautiful tenor voice, sings with an a capella group and used to perform with local opera companies whenever they needed a child actor. He went to a bilingual school until he was eleven and speaks French with just the tiniest American accent. He seems to have lots of friends. He hates almost all sports. He makes and edits movies. He writes political articles for a student magazine. He still gives me spontaneous hugs and ends most telephone conversations with "l love you."  A year or so ago, he asked me, in all seriousness, "Mom, why would anyone care what other people think?"

In some ways, he's so much like me – the same pointy chin, the same eyes – his a shade or two darker – the same cynicism, the same temperament, though without my crippling shyness. In the last few years, he's grown even skinnier and longer limbed and now towers over me. We've never talked about the twins.

This morning, he was sitting at the kitchen table, translating some lines from Virgil for Latin class and I was singing Saturday Night Fever and showing off my best late-70s disco moves, my flailing arms making shadows against the walls. Gray looked up at me.

"You know, Mom, that looks just like —"

"Plato's allegory  about the cave?"  I said

"How did you know I was going to say that? It's kind of a wasty allegory anyway."

And then I said Happy Birthday. Because seventeen years ago today, it was a Wednesday and it was Yom Kippur, the most solemn and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Labor went quickly and easily and Gray was full term, but there were some problems and I only saw him for a moment before they rushed him off to the NICU. And, terrified and exhausted as I was, it's hard to remember another time when I was so completely, so impossibly filled with hope and joy
How do you feel about the phrase "living child?"   If you have any living children, we'd love it if you'd tell us just a tiny bit about them.

from a distance

The raspberries are almost over, but tomatoes are still green and it seems quite possible that the beginning of January will never get here. Our surrogate, Kyrie, is 18 weeks pregnant. I didn't really think we'd get to this point and it's hard to imagine that we'll ever get beyond it. 

There's a certain air of unreality about the whole thing. At least physically, it's nothing like last time at all. There's no morning sickness, no paneled and pouched maternity clothes, no flickering quivers against my stomach, no dull leaden slug lodged under my ribs. I don't turn sideways in front of mirrors, pulling up my shirt to let my hands play up and down the pale convexity of a belly become a gibbous moon. Right now, I'm sitting on the back porch, and the only thing I'm considering is whether I should pour myself a second glass of cheap white wine. 

It doesn't seem to count. It doesn't seem like it's really happening. Unlike last time at this point, I haven't told anyone -- not my coworkers, not my family, not my friends. I've been to the appointments, but I don't look at the ultrasound screen and I never talk to the doctor. It's like it's happening to someone else. It is happening to someone else. 

I don't really have any negative feelings about the concept of surrogacy --maybe because, long ago, I had a successful pregnancy or maybe because I know that the odds are overwhelming that any future pregnancy of mine would end the same way the last one did. And probably that's why I sometimes forget that surrogacy is, for a whole variety of reasons, fairly unusual and quite controversial.

But I've been wondering what you all think. Comment honestly (and anonymously, if you'd prefer). You're not going to upset me or hurt my feelings and I realize that there are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides. What's your view on surrogacy? What limitations (if any) do you think should be placed on it? Should it be available to someone like me who, theoretically, could carry a baby to term, but runs a high risk of another death or a catastrophically premature baby? Would you consider working with a surrogate? Could you imagine being a surrogate? Why or why not?

writing and crying

You can't write and cry at the same time.   I wrote that sentence, or something like it, back when I first started blogging.  I think it was part of a post trying to justify -- to myself and to the world at large -- my inability to see anything larger than my own anguish, the posts choked out of me like sobs.   

I say "or something like it," because I can't be sure exactly what it was that I wrote.  Though I try to be reasonably scrupulous about checking those things I can check, I can't bear to go back and read through my early posts.  Even imagining them triggers a shuddering claustrophia, terror of going back to that dark and narrow place.   

I feel a little of the same fear when I read blogs written by the newly bereaved.  I'm less wary of those who, like me, started blogging only after their losses as a way of channeling their grief.  On those blogs, the words tend to be weighed and filtered, the pain veneered with prose.

More difficult to read are the blogs by people who've been chronicling a pregnancy, when suddenly everything goes terribly, unexpectedly wrong.  I start those stories at the end, then go back to read the earlier posts, viciously ironic in retrospect: the heartrate at the first ultrasound, a link to the options for changing tables.  

I read those older posts like a novel, seaching for clues that might foreshadow the coming disaster.  But, of course, real life doesn't work that way.  We're always being blindsided.  We're always unprepared.  Life is a run of discontinuities and the gods have a weakness for the O.Henry ending.   

When I come to the end of the posts, I feel helpless.  I want to give something, but when I look down I usually find that my hands are empty.  My experience -- however similar to theirs -- is valuable mostly to me.  All I can do is watch and, once in a while, say something that I hope is, if not exactly right, at least not too blatently wrong.  Because if it's hard to write and cry simultaneously, to read and cry at the same time turns out to be no trouble at all.


Do you read lostbaby blogs?  Do you comment on them?  Are there specific things you try to say or not to say?



In theory, I understand it.  It's a shield and a sword.  Protection from the knife-sharp comments or the knife-sharp silence and a blade you can turn against them.  It's the panther that walks with you, straining against its slender leash.  It's a Molotov cocktail.  It's a loaded gun.  

But, in theory, I understand a lot of things.  In practice, I wonder about the burden anger can be.

I don't generally get angry, even when, perhaps, I should.  Once upon a time, the man I couldn't imagine life without and the woman who knew all my secrets found each other and left me completely alone.   "You must be so angry at them,"  people would say. 

But I wasn't angry at all.  I was sad, terribly sad, so sad that I had to force myself to breathe, but I understood why they had done what they did and, more importantly, understood that, they hadn't really done anything to me

So it's hard for me to even imagine the rage that so often seems to swirl around the death of a child.  You could be angry at yourself, the doctors, your husband, your friends with healthy babies, the gods, the sunlight on the garden, the earth that spins in its monotonous circles as if nothing at all had happened.  But it all seems so meaningless, so futile, like being angry at a coin for coming up heads when you wanted it to be tails. 

You could be angry at other people's reactions.  People generally don't respond well to loss and say and do all the wrong things.  But, for the most part, they're not being malicious, just selfish and thoughtless.  And, while, sometimes, some people surprise you, expecting people not to be selfish and thoughtless is expecting far too much.

Sadness makes sense to me.  Anger -- at least anger at a loss --often, well, doesn't.  And, while I know there are emotions that transcend reason and that anger can be a force for healing, what I think about is the fable of the miller, who got rid of the mice that were stealing his flour by burning down the mill.

Your turn.  Tell me why I'm wrong.  Have you felt anger in the wake of a loss -- whether the loss of a child or some other loss?  What was it like?  Who or what were you angry with?  Was your anger an additional burden or a source of strength or comfort? 

journey's end

My father and stepmother were in town, so they took me out to dinner at a restaurant a good deal more upscale than the ones I usually frequent.  The menu, printed in copperplate gothic bold, featured a smörgåsbord of resolutely non-kosher choices -- Curried Tasmanian Crabcakes, Ginger-Wrapped Skate, Pork Loin Dulce de Leche.  I asked the waiter what the soup of the day was, but he said he couldn't tell me because "The chef personally creates it based on what he finds freshest at the market that morning." 

We reviewed my nephews' soccer season, wondered why my sister never seems to be able to find a job or a boyfriend, critiqued the recent Supreme Court decisions on money laundering, and lamented the housing market in London.  

At the end of the evening, as we were saying goodbye, my stepmother reached out to hug me and said, "We were so worried about you, Niobe.  We didn't even know what to say."

"I'm fine,"  I said.  And I meant it.

After the twins died, I read a lot of articles about bereavement and mourning.  They said that the journey of grief goes on for a lifetime.  They said that you never truly get over the death of a child.  They said that the child who died will always have a special place in your heart. 

They didn't say what to do when you come, unexpectedly, to the journey's end; when your fingers fumble, searching for that familiar hole in your heart, only to find it's no longer there.