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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
Apr132009

marked

When we found out Lu was pregnant last January it was one of those rare moments where we knew beyond any doubt that our lives had just changed forever, and that the transformation would be an ongoing process for years, forever, really. We were right about impending change, but wrong about the true nature of what was to come.

Now, over a year later we aren't even back to where we started. I am not back to any place that feels anything like the life I used to have. Everything appears exactly the same and that sameness feels utterly wrong. I look the same, my life rolls on the same way as always and yet within I have been transformed.

It is as though I have been enlarged by grief, and I'm still learning how to carry all this extra soul-weight on body that was used to moving lightly through the world. I had no proof of this, though. No son to show around that says "Now I Am a Dad." That expansion was supposed to be Silas and parenting and a whole new, challenging and invigorating way of life. Instead, that expansive, beautiful life was turned inward and invisible, into a black and dense weight that lives at the center of my being. My tattoo is a physical expression of that pain and loss, and it is helping me.

Lately I have felt less angry about people not remembering or not knowing about Silas. I can't just bring him up, but yet at the same time I cannot go through every day distant and angry, waiting for someone to acknowledge my loss, to speak to me about him. Oh the seething rage or sadness sometimes can't be denied, no doubt, but I work hard to face forward and get through it. In the end, other people can't help me if I can't help myself.

My tattoo in honor of Silas is a way to do that.

Since the tattoo is in a very visible place I know people see it. I am certain that they are aware of the mark and I like that. It is sort of like I'm sneaking Silas into the conversation. He's accounted for, whether they realize it or not. I'm surprised, though at how many people have not asked me about my ink. I figured it would be something people mentioned, but now that I think about it, I can't recall a single time I've asked someone what their tattoo meant.

I guess I just figured if I asked someone about their tattoo that at the least it would be a banal response about alcohol and spring break, or at the worst, well, me I suppose. Our story. And who wants to hear that? So I guess it makes sense that people don't ask me what it means. I'm not even sure how I would respond. I suppose some would get the truth while others I would be more gentle.

"It is to honor someone very close to me that has passed away," is probably the simplest way to put it, but the lack of specificity reduces that sentence to near-garbage. But on the other hand, "it's for my son, who died the day he was born," is so brutal and awful I can see people's souls short out when the words hit their ears. Their gaping, moving mouths and wide eyes make them look like a fish drowning in air. Which, incidentally, is how I always feel anyway. Welcome to my world. Here, have a sip of this. Cheers. To Death, that creepy, invisible intruder that rots the couch and bends the bed springs.

This tattoo is a talisman against the decay of memory and the reductive friction of time.

In a way it's a booby-trap, too. It is there to be seen and wondered about, but god help you if you ask. You just may get the truth. We're dangerous like that these days. There are a lot of things you don't want to ask us when you first meet us. And I worry about that now, in a way I never have before. I always looked forward to new friends and fun parties but now those situations are rife with potential disaster. Kid conversations are out whether it's about your new one or if we have any. Complaining is not an option as idle chit-chat with me. Can't handle it, don't care, will walk away if you keep it up. Plans for the future? Oh yeah we have one, but we had one last year and look where we are now. So we can do movies or music or better yet we can just talk about you because you don't want to know me. But if you do, if you really think you want to be my friend, go ahead and ask about my tattoo and I will tell you everything.

The tree is based on designs of the Tree of Life because Silas means "of the trees." This tree is dark though. It is black and gray and it swirls with an alien strangeness that I thoroughly enjoy. And although this Tree of my Son's Life appears dark and dead, tiny yellow fruit adorn several of the branches. Their pattern reveals the constellation of Orion--Silas' middle name--which rises in the autumn and rides high in the sky through those cold winter nights.

Silas was born on September 25th, so we were looking forward to teaching him about his stars as his birthday rolled around every year. Now that distinctive pattern of stars mocks me as the shape of a man he will never become. All winter those stars were brighter than the sun to me. I could barely look at them without the endless chasm of grief cracking open at my feet. I hate them and love them and drown in their cold starshine whenever my eyes capture their interstellar glow.

There is a heart hidden in my tattoo. That is because Silas is my heart. And because he is hidden, too. Around the edge is a pattern, a border. It is an S repeated over and over like the way I say his name to myself over and over, all the time, but it is also an Eternity symbol that is broken to reveal how he is lost to us.

This tattoo represents a private part of my soul that I demand to have revealed. I require this mark as a feature of who I am because without it, without a conjuring of Silas, I am not complete. It is a channel for my sadness. It is a badge despite how fucked up that sounds to me sometimes. It is a symbol for his life because that's all we have. We don't have his life, so a symbol is used as a poor, paltry placeholder. It is memory insurance.

So far, no stranger has asked me what my tattoo means and I was surprised by that, but it makes sense now. Yet, in the last week three people have out of the blue stopped me and told me that my tattoo was beautiful. I thanked them and smiled and they continued on their way. Inside I whispered over and over that it is, but you should have known my son. This is nothing compared to him.

 

Do you want people to ask you about your lost child? Do you initiate conversation about him or her? How do you commemorate your child? Necklace? Ink? Photographs? What objects or images link you to your child?

This post is a part of The Body Shop at Glow in the Woods -- a month of themed reflections and memes that explore what we do in an effort to occupy these physical selves with grace after babyloss.

Tuesday
Apr072009

Let's Talk About Sex, (and no) Baby

I took a course on Early American literature as part of my minor in grad school. The professor was one of those incredible women who sprinted into the room and the energy level spiked as if everyone had just chugged an espresso. She could get us talking, laughing, standing, shouting. And if you've spent any time in American literature circa 1790-1900 you'll know it's littered with women who fell in love with the wrong men, held the wrong ideas, came of age, left home, cut their hair, and died. It became a class mantra, one chanted exuberantly in unison when the instructor sashayed to the front of the class and offered us a knowing look with a "Sooo?"

"Sex is Death!" we chanted. "Sex is Death!"

That's all I could think of for weeks after Maddy died, as I paced circles in my bedroom:  a classroom of giddy college students, merrily chanting "Sex is Death!" Here my own life had turned into a nineteenth-century novella writ large.

Sex is Death!

:::

In my defense, quite unlike most of you, when I was in the hospital I defiantly proclaimed I wasn't going to do THAT again. And by THAT, I meant carry and deliver a baby, or by extension, any of the precursory goings on. I decided that avoiding babies, and avoiding them vehemently, meant not going to places to where they might be, or doing things that might just cause me to have one.

Coitus packed the bags, stopped the mail, and took a long interruptus.

Sex and I have had a rather on-again/off-again relationship over most of the last decade. Eight years ago now, when I was overconfident and perhaps still even a bit cute, I excitedly dumped my pills in the trash and said, "Let's have a baby!" And two fun, anticipatory months later, voila! And a month after that, an ultrasound confirming the reason for all the bleeding.

But I got pregnant, right? We'll just do it again! And again! And again. A-gain. Again? God, tonight, really, must we? Already? I spent two years having timed sex, at times hopped up on one medication or another, sometimes followed by a rather humiliating trip to the RE, trying to have Bella. The idea that sex was "fun" or "procreative" or both dwindled until Bella was conceived. And while the fun resumed in a timely fashion, I can honestly say I didn't get my groove back until the breast-feeding hormones left the building. And for a while there, it was reliving the good ol' days of just doin' it whenever! Because why not! And there was joy and harmony and sometimes the planets collided into starry explosions. (Cue grauzy footage and loaded euphemisms.) And then we decided to try again, and again with the planned sex, and Maddy and . . . . well. Let's just say my drive didn't come back when the milk ran dry.

The fear and loathing was multifold. First and foremost, I was a big chickenshit. That something so fun could possibly result in . . . THAT, made my skin run cold. I remember in High School my biggest fear was getting pregnant because it might wreck my chances of escaping my wee little town and leaving my state and going to college. I now realized I hadn't even begun to comprehend what fear really was. In my mind there was no birth control safe enough to prevent the horrible "Alien" meets "House" hell that I had just experienced. I had just wound up on the wrong side of 1 in a kajillion, and you're handing me a pack of pills telling me to smile and trust 99%? Get the fuck out.

A month or so after Maddy died, I went on antidepressants, which made me about as excited as a 1950s Bowling Championship rerun. Not to mention the audio/visual loop of her death that started every night when the lights went out (now that's foreplay!). And because of the loop and the anxiety and the insomnia, sleep took a far greater precedence over anything. A-n-y-thing.

And finally, there was my body. It was -- and still is -- rather distressing. My wee breasts which at one point I could've described as "perky" were anything but. My midsection was a deflated tire. I was . . . am heavier. My skin is a blotchy mess, and I have deep rings under my eyes (which were puffy for months). I honestly couldn't stand to look at myself, let alone have my husband look at the minefield or (gasp!) touch it. I steered far clear of what I guessed must be his sheer horror in my new weight, lumps that shouldn't be there, sag where there once was not. And mind you, I don't think it was necessarily the outward visual appearance that depressed the shit out of me, although it was pretty unsexytastic (my husband is elevated enough on the food chain that I trusted he still found me "beautiful" -- especially after a beer). No, it was what the new self represented, what it reminded me of, what I assumed he thought of when he caught glimpse of a cottage cheese thigh. And does to this day. My jeans won't snap. Because of Maddy, and she's dead.

When I finally had those longings, it wasn't really those longings at all. You know the scene from "High Fidelity" when Laura leaves her father's funeral with Rob (now her ex) and asks him to have sex with her, right then, in the car? And as he gives her a bewildered "You want me to WHAT?!" look, she says, puffy-eyed and sobbing, (and I'm probably paraphrasing a tad,) "I just want to feel something else." I just want to feel something else.

That was it, something else. There finally (Hallelujuah, interjects my husband) came a point after months of some Lysistrata-type mindset (protesting what, I'm not entirely clear) that I just needed to feel something else. Something other than numb. Something other than despondent. Something other than bonecrushing sadness. I missed him, hell, I missed it. And I sheepishly crawled across the divide.

And, much to my chagrin, I cried afterwards. Me. The sports-loving, beer-drinking, foul-mouthed, "I don't need no stinking cuddling," "Go ahead and leave in the morning, just turn the snooze off" me, cried after sex. Pffffffffffft.

:::

Once in a blue moon, there are still tears afterwards (I can't believe I just copped to that). In fact, two years later, there are still moments of . . . er, confusion. Change. Thoughts that crash in like a meteor through the ceiling and quell everything like a cold shower. I certainly don't reject a midmorning "conference call" if we both happen to be "working at home" but I crave darkness now more than I once did. I'm always a bit saddened when our bracelets -- worn in Maddy's remembrance, mine on my left wrist, his on his right -- clash. I hate being jolted from a mindless floating state when the extra weight in my midsection becomes the focus -- and not in a good way. There are times I consciously need to turn off the dark side of my brain, so it will let me enjoy, for enjoyment's sake -- not because I want to defrost and feel.

I remember thinking, a few months after Maddy's death, that I had lost so much more than my daughter -- I had lost things that I deeply enjoyed, like tasting food and sex. And seriously wondered if either would ever return. There wasn't an "A-ha! It's back!" moment for either of those sensations, just a slow return to recognizing both and a dawning realization later that I could indeed remember how to feel. In a good way. In the best of ways. In the "Damn, you look good in those jeans and I missed you while you were out grilling dinner" kinda way.

Hey baby, thanks for clearing my dreams, 
Of all those horror scenes,
Which crept in uninvited.
I'm in love and I'm so excited,
Hey baby, thanks for clearing my dreams.

Eventually, the repercussions, the self-deprecation, the replay, the zombies, alien babies and all the other ingredients of scary films that appear when the lights go out subside. Eventually.

Now if you'll excuse me . . . .

Let's Do it!   Let's Go All the Way! Can you say a few words about your sex life after the death of your child(ren)? Was there an extended spell without? What pulled/pushed you back? Has it changed, and if so, how?


This post is a part of  The Body Shop  at Glow in the Woods -- a month of themed reflections and memes that explore what we do in an effort to occupy these physical selves with grace after babyloss.

Monday
Apr062009

7 by 7: the body shop

If there's any time of the year to take an inventory of physical healing, spring is it.

April is Body Shop month at Glow in the Woods -- in our posts, we'll be exploring what we've done and not done in an effort to occupy these bodies with grace after babyloss. To kick things off, it's a new 7 by 7 -- join in, won't you?

Our answers are here -- if you have a blog, copy and paste these questions into your own post, link to us, and share the link to your answers in the comments here. If you don't have a blog, please answer directly in the comments.

+++

1 | Give us a few words you would have used to describe your body, your health or your sense of physical vitality before the experience of babyloss—and a few that you’d use to describe it now.

2 | What do you do to take care of yourself? Has this changed?

3 | Give us one or two words to describe sex or physical intimacy before, and then after the loss of your baby.

4 | Has loss and/or grief left a physical mark on you (a scar, a chronic condition, insomnia, a tattoo)?

5 | Do you medicate or control your emotions with food, wine, altered states, prescriptions? Without judgement, what have you gravitated towards in an effort to heal, and how do you feel about it?

6 | Was physical healing important for you in the first year after your loss? What did/does physical healing entail and how did/do you work towards it? If physicality hasn't been a priority for you, what do you do that makes you feel stronger or more able to cope?

7 | If you could change anything about your body and/or health, what would it be? What would it feel like to be either at peace with your body, or at peace with this babylost state?

 

(to comment and partipate, please leave your answers and/or link on this month's 7 by 7 page)

Thursday
Apr022009

coming soon: the GITW body shop

Oh, all the words I should not know those doctors wrote on me
Swell up and from their syllable won't let me get to sleep.
The sun will start later, clock out early
And I'll drive around and wait for it.
Follow familiar roads emptied of every memory
Under a sheet of silence and unmarked snow.

 

'Hymn of the Medical Oddity', The Weakerthans

It's not just a vessel of children, of seed-sowing. It's a vessel of you.

How has your relationship to your physical self changed since birth and loss? Perhaps it's been a conscious effort to accept your scars. Or perhaps you conjured others with ink on skin. You may or may not sleep well. You may rely on down-dogs or uppers or pounds or vitality. Or perhaps all that's changed is invisible to the untrained eye.

For the next round of posting, we're all going to share aspects of our physical healing -- and we hope you do, too. Reflect with us as we think way beyond calories to sex, yoga, wine. But not all at once. Or maybe so. You tell us.

Early next week, we'll kick off this theme month with a new Body Shop 7 by 7 feature to get everyone warmed up -- expect to see our answers and the meme posted early next week, and join in.

Until then, think on this, mothers and fathers alike:

You walked out through hospital doors, blinking in strange air and light, a babylost parent. Your heart and guts had been thrown up into the air like shrapnel, then settled back down again all askew. What now? How do you take care of this body, honour it, forgive it? Or do you?

 

Tuesday
Mar242009

thinking back, looking forward

It was a year ago this week that we began what would end up being a weeklong stay on the cardiac and then ICU wards at the children's hospital. In my mind's eye the memory is seen from a point of view over my shoulder, blurry as though through a filtered lens, all mottled edges and underwater sounds.

The brunette receptionist.

Being buzzed in.

The nurse I ignored as she greeted me, thinking she couldn't be old enough to know a thing.

Me holding tight, one hand held protectively against the back of Sadie's head, the other under her tiny padded bum.

My utter disbelief that we were there to begin with.

Why did they know who we were? Why were they expecting us?

Of course, the emergency room doctor at our local hospital had called ahead. She had already sent me home to pack a bag and call my husband before arranging for an ambulance to bring us across the city. She understood long before we left that the size of her heart made Sadie a very sick little girl.

There was a bed waiting for us. I distinctly remember feeling panic rise in my chest over not understanding what anyone was saying. I didn't want to take her out of her sling to hand her over to anyone. The strongest bond she and I formed over her six short weeks on earth was when I held her, cheek nuzzled to my neck. She was soothed instantly by it. It made me understand what it meant to be willing to give your life for another’s. I don’t have to explain to any of you the depth of devotion one feels toward their child. The strongest love that exists, full stop.

The walls were painted a vivid yellow; the enormous privacy curtains around each bed pumpkin orange. They were such happy colours to use as the backdrop to a thousand layers and personal brands of fear, doubt, and confusion. By mid afternoon they cast a warm glow on one’s skin when the sun shone through the wall of windows at the end of the ward. As though the fiery determination of all of those terrified parents was burning from their insides out as they learned to administer meds and monitor heart rates.

Shortly after arriving we met the specialists who would diagnose her Cardiomyopathy and tell us how rare and difficult it typically proved for infants. I was knocked out of my daze into the present, struggling to comprehend his intricate explanation of how a healthy heart works versus how our daughter’s did. I slowly understood that I needed to think of her as a ‘Heart Baby’ and what that meant to our future. I began to write stories in my head to her. All of which included how to explain her special circumstances, in which her special heart needed extra special care, because she was different from other people in a very special way.

One morning, for the first time, she looked right at me as I leaned over her hospital bed and smiled the most beautiful smile in history. Machines beeped and children cried and she sealed her spot as the love of my life.

A week later we would watch a team of intensive care doctors try in vain to save her life.

Neither of us has been the same since, in too many ways to mention. But together we're so much stronger than apart.

.::.

I told my husband months ago that I wanted very much to escape from our lives on March 31st. I didn’t want to have to face anyone else but the one who understands what is happening in my heart. He understands that if anything, a year is but a minute when it comes to grief.

The difference between today and a year ago is not that the pain of our lost girl has diminished. It has only changed. Morphing from a life size mask to become an inky black fragment of my shadow. Always there and forever a part of me, but not the first thing you’ll see when you meet me. Sadie would have wanted me to take the mask off. I am still her mother. I am still me.

Next Tuesday, on the morning that will mark a year since we lost her, I will wake up early beside the man I love and watch the sunrise. We’ll have breakfast on the roof of our riad in the heart of Marrakech. Then we will travel to the Atlas Mountains with the solitary goal of drinking in the natural beauty of the exotic Moroccan landscape. I want to spend our time walking by his side, exploring the medina together. Breathing in the scents of spice and soaking up the turquoise sky. Losing ourselves in the city described as one that time has forgotten. All that matters is that I will be far away with him, remembering her.

.:.

How did you spend the first anniversary of your child's death, or how do you intend to?