welcome

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.

subscribe
categories
search
Powered by Squarespace
Wednesday
Oct072009

Ti(ieieie)me is going by...

I made coffee on the first day of school. Right into my shiny new travel mug. It only takes a few minutes in the morning-- pop pod into the machine, put mug under spigot, wait for green light, press button; meanwhile, get milk out of the fridge, pour into a glass, pop into microwave (milk jug back into the fridge), start; after the coffee is done, add Splenda, wait for milk, pour that in, stir, screw the travel mug's top on, and done. As it turns out,
that day I made the coffee only to forget it on the kitchen table.

Not the first time, and not the last, of course. But as the emotions started to overtake me later, in the school auditorium during the first day of school assembly/introduction of new teachers/may this be a good and challenging year thing, it was that mug of coffee I was missing, blaming my sudden desire to weep, my sudden out of place and out of time feeling on its absence. Logically it's far more likely that the culprit was JD's absence-- away on business, and thus a lack of a hand to squeeze and eyes to exchange meaningful glances with. But logic was absent that morning. As was my coffee. And I was convinced that had I only had the coffee, things would've been better, each sip providing a grounding, and the mug-- a place for my hands to be.

So I was already wound up by the time we made our way from the classroom to the assembly-- by the commute, by lack of coffee, by lack of sleep directly related to the what the hell have I gotten myself into crazy busy work schedule I was in the middle of, take your pick-- when in walked another mom in the class, with a biggish toddler girl. I actually saw the toddler first, heard her say something, registered a fleeting thought about how I don't know her and wonder who she belongs to. Just then seeing who she attached herself to answered that question, and made me wince (on the inside, I am pretty sure I kept my actual face straight).

I was right-- I'd never seen the kid before. But the last time she was called to my attention stang. It still stings, through no fault of hers or even her mom's. She was still in utero then, two years and some months ago, during a meet and greet for Monkey's future kindergarten class. It was there that another mom in the class (one with whom I'd actually had a bit of a history) during the go-around-the-circle introductions said of her three months old baby "...and this is X, future [name of school] incoming class of 2012, classmate of Y [pointing at another family's brand-new baby] and [pointing at the belly] Z's baby." I knew she didn't know, but that didn't help. To be honest, neither did the history. Or that JD wasn't there then either, to, you know, provide me that much needed hand to squeeze and eyes to exchange meaningful glances with. (Um, yes... seems I'd had a hard time at all three significant school events he's ever missed.)

So there I am, realizing who this little girl is, and starting to fall apart on the inside. I can't even tell you exactly why. She's younger than A would've been, and a girl. I think about it, and decide that it must be because she marks time, the ordinary, predictable, uninterrupted passing of time. And popping like that into my world, fully formed whirling and chatting dervish, she reminds me, abruptly and three dimensionally, of what it is exactly that I am missing. It happens to me once in a while (usually when it's a new age-appropriate skill that I am suddenly observing, like when I saw that clueless mom's baby X run on the playground)-- I realize, with one cutting, blinding image, that the age-old saying of the bereaved parents is true. We don't just lose our babies, we lose also all the other ages they might've grown to be.

 

Time, for me, makes some blows softer. But not all, and not predictably. Something like ten days after that first day of class thing we took the Cub to his trial baby gymnastics class. It's at the place where Monkey spends inordinate amount of hours each week, and I thought we could spend one of those letting the Cub explore all the wonderfully climby things he eyes with envy every time we drop her off or pick her up. There were two girls in the class, both obviously older than him, older than two. I should've figured it out, seeing as the class is for kids under 3, but I didn't. I didn't give it much thought at all, I guess.

Towards the end of the class there was the tumbling run game, and the coach was giving different instructions to each kid/parent combo, depending on what skills the kid needed to work on. The Cub was trying to walk on the springy surface while holding my hands without falling. The girls were each assigned some form of a jump attempt. The coach said something to one mom, she answered, the other mom misheard and reacted, and that resulted in the moms spontaneously exchanging their daughters' birthdays-- February 23rd and March 16th. They were both surprised to find how close in age the girls were. I was surprised that the dates, neatly hugging A's due date on either side, didn't knock the air out of me, as I would've expected them to do even just a year ago. (In the interest of full disclosure, though, we haven't been back to the class yet. I tell myself it's because of how our schedule had worked out so far, and it is. But will we go now that there's no scheduling conflicts on the horizon, and now that the Cub is walking confidently on his own? I guess we'll see.)

On the other hand, Monkey this summer has been dealing with the whole issue of never. Never getting to see A, to hold him-- the past. But also the future-- not having him around, not seeing him grow up. That doesn't get easy. Watching her work it out, offering her support and love, but no shortcuts, no platitudes-- that shit's hard.

 

Time also appears to move at different speeds for me and in my understanding of the world outside. I think of A's death as not long ago, even if no longer yesterday. But it seems I don't have that firm a concept of how long it's been, really. One day this summer we were shooting the breeze at work, talking about issues of professional concern, including retention of women in graduate school and academia in general. Things that come up in these conversations always include maternity leaves and day care situations, inevitably causing conversations to cross into personal experiences. I mentioned the unheard of benefit of three months paid paternity leave JD had and took advantage of when Monkey was a baby. In response my officemate, her eyes filling with tears, said that when her brother's wife lost a baby, his boss was calling him about a client meeting the very next day.

I didn't want to do this in front of the others in the group, but later, back in the office, I asked her how far along her sister-in-law had been then, how long it's been, whether her sister-in-law had support, and about how they were doing. She had to think on the how long ago question, and worked it out to bout two and a half years. Pretty good while, said a voice in my head, and I let it go as we talked about other aspects. I went to the bathroom a few minutes later, and as I was walking it occurred to me that our own monthaversary that day was 30th-- two and a half years. Huh.

 

When the part of the first day for which parents were welcome to stay was over, and the now-second-graders headed off to their classroom, I was relieved as I walked out of the school. I thought about the route I might take to work, the tasks still left in the day, the lack of coffee. The route, I decided, would take me past the two-tailed mermaid's castle of caffeinated salvation. I saw that latte as stress relief in a cup, size venti. The first sip sent the wave of ahhhhh through my entire body, wave that told me I was not wrong. Triumphantly holding the key to my much improved day, I headed for the car. And then, at the intersection I drive through at least twice a week and know like the back of my hand, I promptly got on the highway headed in the wrong direction.

 

How have you experienced time since the death of your baby? Has it been a while, or just the other day? Are some things harder than others? Do you have your tricks for dealing with time's curve balls?

Monday
Sep282009

a great and noble life

I sit in the sanctuary. It is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. The year when even the least observant Jew can be seen in a synagogue.

I am not the least observant Jew… Not really possible with a husband who is studying to become a rabbi. Not really possible with the amount of Jewish tradition I was raised with. Not really possible with Polish grandparents who survived the Holocaust. Not really possible with the number of Jewish food calories I have consumed in 38 years.

And yet it is still somewhat a surprise to me that I am there, in this synagogue, following along with this kind of service. It is a traditional Reform Jewish service. The prayer book – Gates of Repentance, special for this day of atonement – talks of

God as Lord,

God as male,

God as judging,

God as forgiving.

I can’t quite bring myself to recite along during the call and response. I can’t bring myself to say, God, oh Lord… out loud.

This is not how I relate to God, to Source, to all that is around and within me. This is not how I connect to my divine essence. Not in this language.

My “God” is not separate from me.

My “God” is not in charge, deciding what I will receive and what will be taken away, when I will struggle and when I will overcome.

My “God” does not judge or punish me.

My “God” does not care whether I fast on Yom Kippur, or that my fast today included drinks of water and kombucha, that my day of atonement included a trip to Whole Foods and time sitting on my couch writing in my journal and reading a (non-Jewish) book.

Then I find this in the prayer book during the afternoon service: 

This is the vision of a great and noble life:

To endure ambiguity and to make light shine through it;

To stand fast in uncertainty;

To prove capable of unlimited love and hope.

And it resonates inside.

Hmm… A great and noble life as one that is lived as well as possible in spite of its precariousness, in spite of our fragility. Amid the fuzzy blurred boundaries that keep changing on us without warning, and rugs that are pulled out suddenly from underneath us.

I have proven capable of unlimited love and hope. Each day I surprise myself that I continue to feel it even more. In spite of the uncertainty that comes with knowing that things can completely fall apart and come crashing down again and again.

I never before thought of my ability to bounce back as being a quality of a great and noble life. I never before related to survival that way. Yet survival is what it is, isn’t it? Isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Surviving? 

Or perhaps I have actually… been… thriving…?

***

It is later in the afternoon and the yizkor memorial service has begun. The mood is quiet and solemn and the passage is about our finiteness, words about being on the road towards death from the moment we are born. (I close off some when I hear the words birth and death in the same sentence.) Again I start leafing through the prayer book, unsatisfied with the gloom and doom.

I find this: 

May the pains of past bereavements grow more gentle;

Indeed, let them be transformed into gratitude to our dear ones who have died

And tenderness to those who are still with us.

I was so lost at this time last year. I was so angry… at everything and everyone. I cried through the entire day at our warm and wonderful Renewal congregation in Berkeley, surrounded by friends who were there at every turn to hug me and sit with me or leave me alone outside if I needed that. I didn’t fast. I felt no obligation, no inspiration.

I felt no connection to this day, so soon after Tikva had died. All I could do was picture her spinning in circles in a white dress, dancing to the music, a year later. The two of us together in a parallel universe where she had continued to live.

All I could do was cry an endless stream of angry lost tears.

Now, a year later, the pain has grown more gentle. I think of Tikva with gratitude for the gifts of hope and love she gave me, for the compassion space she cracked open and expanded within me. For asking me to love her in a way I had never before known I could love, for teaching me that hope never completely goes away, even when everything feels lost

Or finite.

And I think of Dahlia, who daily stretches my capacity for patience, who demands my presence, my tenderness like no one else can, who reminds me to laugh in my most frustrated and exhausted moments, and I feel gratitude for both of my daughters, the deepest kind of gratitude for the way things are.

Just as they are. 

***

I surprise myself, that I can feel this lightness, especially today. On this day that for many is solemn and serious, reflective and laden with guilt needing to be cleared and asking for forgiveness. I surprise myself that I feel anything other than rebelliousness about Yom Kippur, this holy day I was determined to mostly blow off this year.

Then I woke up this morning and felt peaceful, held. By an energy that is comforting, serene, gentle. It didn’t matter that I was not spending the day with my community back in California, but instead in my house and at the grocery store and at services that felt mostly foreign.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t asked anyone’s forgiveness, nor made any big plans for ways I wanted to grow and expand in the coming year.

All that mattered was that when I stepped outside to watch four monarch butterflies and two fat bumblebees holding for dear life to the white flowers as the wind blew them furiously around, 

I felt connected… to all of it.

Connected to the wind, to the smells in the crisp fall air, to the bees and the butterflies, to the light streaming through their gold-orange wings…

Connected to Tikva. 

Connected to my essence, the most pure and true part of me.

Connected to a deep knowing inside me that I can and will continue believing in hope and love.

Perhaps the makings of a great and noble life are that simple.

.::.

And you? How do you connect with the part deep inside that is most entirely you? Is there something bigger that helps you feel connected? How have you stretched and expanded through losing your child? What makes you recoil, contract? What helps you to feel you are thriving? What are the makings of your great and noble life? 

Tuesday
Sep222009

the rising stars

I'm not sure how to do this, what to call it or how to get through it.  The anniversary of Silas' birth and death is on Friday which means I am a year deep into this nightmare and still mostly lost.

Our plan is to spend time away with my brother's family, up in New Hampshire.  Their house is cozy and safe, tucked onto a hillside in the midst of trees and trails, the canopy of stars endless above.

Orion NebulaIt's those fucking stars I'm worried about.  It was right around this time when we picked Orion as his middle name.  I've always loved constellations and the way that one in particular is special for the winter nights.  If you are out in northeast America and can see Orion, it is certainly crisp and cold.

Missing Silas chills my soul.  Each of those stars are huge, hot suns, but I cannot feel any of their massive warmth.  Very soon now that piercing and familiar constellation will begin to peek over the horizon, and I don't know how I'm going to handle that.  They were supposed to be his special connection to the world, and now it is ours to him.

I'm worried about Friday, but not too much.  I'm sure it will be painful to recognize that a full year has passed without our son, and I am a little terrified of the fact that this is only the first of many, many years we will not have him.  I am certain it will hurt less than what I experienced a year ago but I should know better than to be certain of anything.

I looked for Orion last night, but I didn't see it.  Maybe this year it won't appear, and then that will prove I am in a whole other Universe than the one I thought I was inhabiting.  That would be proof of the disbelief I still feel for this World around me.  It wouldn't even surprise me, really.  Just another part of all of this I cannot trust to be correct and true.

Instead of celebrating, we continue to mourn but I'm so good at it now, you can't even tell I'm doing it every day, all the time.  So then Friday is just another day without Silas, unless, of course,  his rising constellation coincides with our drive north into solitude.  How can it not?

Is it faith or belief or religion for me to assume that the Universe will fuck with me any chance it gets?  I always thought we were on pretty good terms.  Healthy respect for the Vast Ineffability of it all mixed with wonder and love and appreciation for Its endless beauty and mystery, but I guess I missed how dark and deep the Mystery part goes.  Because I am very fucking mystified by how much this sucks.

I have to hold back anger when I have to let people know exactly what I am not celebrating, but then I remember there's nothing they can do for me anyway, so why bother?  I'm surprised by the number of people that seem to have forgotten.  But then I have also been surprised with unexpected cards and gifts and kind words from so many people who do remember him, and do understand how sad we remain.

The people that remember and acknowledge Silas, the people that hold him and us in their hearts, they are carrying us along, and we thank you all for your love and support.  We need it so much, especially this week as his stars slip into the night sky and his day passes us by.

~~~~

So then what of it?  Please tell me, how did you do this?  Where can we find solace?  What possible actions or words or thoughts can make Friday bearable?  Or is Unbearable the only way through? 

Thursday
Sep172009

Is that Me you're talking about?

"Is she drunk?" and Alicia whispers back, "I think she was drinking in her room before dinner."

::snip::

All through dinner Lucille has been careening wildly from sadness to elation to despair . . . But as we sit down and begin to eat dessert, she breaks down and sobs silently, her shoulders shaking, her head turned away as though she's going to tuck it in under her wing like a sleeping bird.

::snip::

"What's wrong with your mom?" he asks as I carefully arrange myself next to him, trying not to get stabbed by my dress.

"She's manic-depressive."

"Has she always been?"

"She was better when I was little. She had a baby that died, when I was seven, and that was bad. She tried to kill herself. I found her."

-- The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

I should probably recuse myself here because I am one of the few people on earth who didn't like "The Time Traveler's Wife." But the point remains the same: I was somehow so completely unsurprised to find out that the drunk-by-dinner emotionally vapid and over-reactive mom of the protagonist had a skeleton in her closet: a skeleton of a baby, that is.

What is it with images of mothers who've lost children in popular culture?

I'm sure in my lifetime I've run across this trope a million times between books, the movies, and the television, and yet for the life of me I can't remember many of them that I encountered prior to my own loss. Dead babies were simply a plot device or (as above) character development -- a throw-away line that explained someone's depression or alcoholism or emotional instability. "Ahhh," I can hear myself saying as I read the line, and then moved on to become engrossed by the story's main theme. Now I feel as though I'm a magnet for these storylines, and depending on my mood, and their presentation, my reaction to these literary doppelgangers has been decidedly mixed.

For some fiction, dead babies and children make great plot devices: it's a crime, a mystery, a turning point. A grief-laden springboard from which the rest of the story flows, a sometimes hidden/sometimes overt source of guilt, a crux in a relationship between parents. Recently and notably, there's been "The Rabbit Hole" (an acclaimed play which revolves around parents coming to terms with the death of a 4-year old who ran into traffic) and "Antichrist" (starring Willem Dafoe as half of a grieving couple, whose young child fell out of a window while unattended, apparently because they were next door having a moment, if you catch my drift). (Disclosure: I have not had the wherewithall to watch either of these two productions.) There's at least one recent "Law & Order" depicting a nutty babyloss mom and a few older ones with dead babies as centerpieces; and there's an MI5 from a season ago where a infant-napping goes awry and parents wind up mourning as the mystery unfolds. As many of you are now aware, the first twenty minutes of Pixar's "Up" include a poignant passing reference to either infertility or miscarriage -- a precursor to the balloons uprooting the house and the adventure unravelling as it does. I'm sure there are countless medical dramas that use this riveting ploy, but I stopped watching those two and half years ago. Too close.

Then there's child loss as character development. Think of the quiet, introverted grief-stricken father -- teetering on divorce, by the way -- who spends his life trying to travel and yet not escape the comforting cocoon of his home in "The Accidental Tourist." You just want to hug him, he looks so sad, and eventually Geena Davis does (apparently his grief just needed some fun-time crayzee!). Or another set of parents, in a movie featuring nothing but a relationship, attempting to channel their grief and save their marriage in "Ordinary People." These are "accidents" that happen to "ordinary" parents -- and we're left watching what we assume would be an everyperson, every family type of reaction.  This could happen to me; I hope if it does I find a fun Geena type chick to help me out of it.  Somehow circumscribing these people by grief makes all the sense in world -- or does it?

Sometimes the personality conclusion from babyloss is a real head-scratcher. In the TV series "Damages," Glen Close deliciously plays Patty Hewes, an evil lawer who eventually is revealed to have a violent streak, especially in regards to one of her young, female employees. In the waning minutes of the season one finale, the mystery explaining Patty's personality is finally unveiled: Her baby died. What are they trying to tell me here? Did she miss her dead daughter, who perhaps would now be around the age of her new hiree with whom she has an intense love/hate(/murderous) relationship? Or was she just fucking nuts thanks to grief? The camera passes over a gravestone, backs up to show Glen Close kneeling over it with tears flowing, and then cuts to a flashback in a hospital where things go horribly and vaguely and fuzzily wrong.   We, the viewers, are suddenly meant to understand her -- and an entire season of her icy, bitchy, wild, calculating, sociopathic and homicidal character -- completely. Just like the mom in "Time Traveler's Wife", where with a few throw-away words we're to summarize her identity, her character writ large. And it's not pretty.

What does this all say about me? Where does society (or the literary half) think I'm headed? For divorce? A murderous rampage? The bottle? Hot sex in the woods with Willem Dafoe?

:::

Maybe babyloss is more common than I'm giving it credit for: maybe it really is widespread, hidden beneath the weeds, and all of these authors and television programs are simply stating the obvious, what happens all the time and what everyone knows. Maybe this is the publicity we all need.

Recently In the New York Times MagazineGina Bellafante wrote about the novels of Jodi Picoult, and how they all seem to center on children undergoing great peril. Picoult is a best-selling author whose books have spawned movies -- but why? Why does she use this outline, and why on earth are people interested in reading it?

I remarked what a miracle it is that any child survives to the age of 6, given the exposed outlets, tumbling kitchen knives and thousand quotidian threats that are, in a new parent’s mind, colluding toward an entirely opposite outcome. Picoult laughed in sympathy. “You can’t make your kids wear helmets, you just can’t do that,” she told me. The real dangers are, of course, the ones we can’t (or refuse to) anticipate.  

So that's it. Point out the stuff I may not have thought of, expand my horizons. Is that what I am to everyone around me, the one who makes them realize and understand danger? To remind them that bad stuff comes from nowhere and can happen to anyone? And what does the reader take away from countless books highlighting a mother's worst fears?

“Maybe the average reader is not facing the daily challenges of a mom whose child is dying of cancer, for example, but she probably had an argument with her teenager that morning about something inconsequential that left her feeling frustrated and certain there’s no middle ground between them,” she told me. Picoult said she hoped in some sense that her books were the way to that middle ground.

Middle ground? Is that what me and my story represent to the general public? I'm wondering here if Picoult means "perspective" ("Things aren't so bad! We could be treating my kid for cancer!") or "gratefulness" ("At least my child is alive to fight about things like her skirt being too short!"). I would like to think that parents around my neighborhood think about me when they begin yelling at their teenagers, and slowly come to understand some nuance about appreciating life, and taking control of what you can. But frankly, I think Picoult is probably a best-seller because Americans love a car-wreck. They love sitting in fear for a brief moment, and knowing it's a fiction and not happening to them or someone they love. According to some of the anonymous comments on our blogs, some people like absorbing stories of woe and figuring they would handle it differently, or better.

That, I fear, is what I represent to many.  Alcoholics and sociopaths.

:::

I watched last season's "Dollhouse" feeling simultaneously insulted as a woman, and mystified that Joss Whedon could come up with this stuff on a weekly basis. In short, the series follows men but mostly women who are confined in a spa-like building (after signing contracts, though the pressure to sign is questioned) for a period of years during which time their memories and identities are erased. When they're needed for a "job," (usually a callgirl-slash-adventure type gig) an imprint is placed into their heads of the person/-ality they are to be for that particular job. Tension mounts throughout the season as bits and pieces of the Dolls' past flit through their consciousness. In one episode, the Dolls retain their original identities for a a few hours, and with those some of their residual memories. And one Doll -- a female sub-character -- stumbles across a baby carriage and says bewildered, "I had a baby."

"Just watch," I immediately said to my husband on the couch next to me, "her baby's dead."

Sure enough, minutes later, we find her stumbling into a graveyard to recall the death of her child. And this is why, we are left to connect the dots, she agreed so wholeheartedly to signing over her identity and memories for a period of years, never to think of them, the baby, it. To escape the grief, to escape her. To enter a mini coma. To forget (even temporarily) that horrible day or event. To let that ubiquitous Time, pass.

Strangely, that bit of character I got completely. 

Where have you stumbled across babyloss parents in popular culture?  How were they depicted?  Did you find the plot device or character development that ensued to be familiar or unrealistic?  How did it make you feel?

 

Tuesday
Sep152009

walking to remember: a GITW meetup

It's set. I'm going to Edmonton again for the Walk to Remember.

Last year I walked through the crowd and saw not just the echo of babies lost, but a cross-section of this gauntlet.

I saw mothers fresh from hospitals, turned inside-out.

I saw fathers cradling new babies but tracking the sky, following the path of a balloon set loose.

I saw brothers and sisters chasing tails, and grandparents holding hands.

I worried I wouldn't be able to talk -- not just because I'd lost my voice the day before, but because I expected, when I got up there, to be hit with a wall of grief. How could I presume to say something useful, or worthy, or fitting, or inspiring? It felt like a tightrope.

Up the stairs to the podium. A microphone waited. Families sat cross-legged on the grass. The sun was brilliant, the leaves golden and crackly underfoot. I apologized for the state of my voice with shallow breaths and then paused to look at all of them, my chest thumping.

They sat there, waiting, looking at me. These people -- hundreds of them -- love babies that died. Held them and counted toes and then drove home with an empty car seat. Some of them shifted, leaning into husbands or shushing cousins or tugging gently on antsy leashes.

Slow down.

Every now and then a father would nod, his chin in his hand. One mother, a loving arm draped across her shoulder, sat there with her face dripping tears. Another glowed with wistful peace.

This day, this event, was a living Glow in the Woods. It was elegant and thoughtful and soul-feeding. It honoured this strange parenthood, this talking to phantoms. It was fresh air and pumping blood. It was a surrounding of exquisite likeness, sameness, getting-it.

I can't wait to be there. To see Jocelyn and Chris, mama and daddy to starborne Lincoln, who work tirelessly to make this day so unspeakably magical and inclusive. We'll go for breakfast again, I hope, and eat sticky buns with tea while we sit together, an invisible fireball of mystery humming between us, a warmth I only feel in their presence and in yours.

If you're in Edmonton, Alberta -- or if you can get there to the absolutely stunning Legislature Grounds on Saturday, October 3 -- please come along. Bring however big of a loving posse you like. Go here to register. See the photographer's lovely captures of last year here, and see my photos, reflections and the speech I gave herehere and here.

Let me know in the comments if you plan on walking. If you do, let's go for a beer afterwards, or hot chocolate, or anything. A Glow in the Woods meetup. Please? Pretty please? Leave a comment here and we'll get an email thread going. We'll walk from the Legislature Grounds to a pub, or some cozy spot, and I'll need a crew of locals to make a recommendation.

+++

Tell me about your own experiences of en masse remembering. Have you walked to remember in your own city? Have you gathered with other babylost parents -- either in large, organized groups or in intimate kitchens? Why, and how does it feel?