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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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Thursday
Oct292009

running on the spot

Inside is a mile-long glossy bar holding up various suits and skirts and a slew of dewy cocktails. The light is perfectly dim and golden, flattering. Our friendly Australian bartender has moved on after having slung us five perfectly mixed martinis of the pink variety. We cheers and clink, smile for a photo taken with someone’s Crackberry.

I end up at the head of the table. We’re sitting on the patio against a black glass wall that shows our reflections like a mirror in a darkened room. I see one, two, four faces sitting opposite each other, mostly blonde, mostly under 35. They’re gorgeous. Smiling, warmed and slinky as the vodka hits their systems.

I feel myself withering under the glare of their confidence. It’s an entirely familiar feeling.  I know with certainty that at least one of them will happily end up in the bed of a stranger tonight and I stare back at myself in the glass once again, wondering what the hell I’m doing there.

.::.

I imagine what Archie, Gabriella, and Ruby, the three other babies in our birth prep class, look like now. The ones who somewhere out there now walk and talk and giggle.

I think about their mothers, who I had grown so close to, so quickly. I had come to rely on them for distraction in the months leading up to Sadie’s birth. We would talk, drink tea, and eat cookies while we terrified each other with potential birthing scenarios. Once the kids were born we ventured out the first time together, navigating life with a tiny human attached to us, finally, on the outside rather than in.  In my mind they were the ones I’d happily spend my years in England closest to.

Of course I haven’t seen them since. My choice, not theirs.

.::.

I look around in silence while I wait for my husband to come back from the bar. It’s the pre-concert happy hour and I’m no longer sure my long cardigan and high boots are stylish now that I observe the wet-look leggings and gladiator heels. Everyone is magically 23, chins held high, their hair intentionally tousled and eyelids perfectly smokey. I’m astonished at the ease with which they carry themselves and in that moment I feel three hundred years old. Have I ever looked that carefree?  He hands me a drink and I can’t stop myself from thinking, “I could be singing a toddler to sleep at this hour.”  I should be.

I shake it off and concentrate on the story he’s telling me.

.::.

Every new situation I find myself in reminds me in some way of how different my life is from what I believed it would be at this point. As I find myself reliving the lifestyle I was once so happy to leave behind, I feel stuck.  I'm wedged between my life before and my life after what should have been. 

Where does the childless mother fit, exactly? We’re strangely and so reluctantly responsibility-free. None of it gives me the satisfaction I need. Yet I can’t seem to push myself to move in the one direction that would change all of that.  Knowing there's even a chance we could go through it all over again leaves me painfully idle, and angry at myself for not having the courage to move forward.

My crystal ball has apparently been lost in the mail.

.::.

How did you reconcile the person you were before your loss with the person you were forced to become?

 
Monday
Oct262009

why me?

Throughout the journey of losing my child, I have never asked myself, Why me?

Honestly, it’s just not a question I ask. Not because I wonder but won’t let myself ask. But because I could just as easily ask, Why not me? And because I already know the answer(s).

Why me? Because Tikva needed me as her mother, to love and hold her on her BIG journey.

Why me? Because there was a part deep inside me that was calling out – even if I didn’t know it – to be cracked open, stretched and expanded in this way.

Why me? Because even when I doubted it, Life knew I could do this.

Why me? Because I have boundless love and compassion – for my children, my family, my friends, in supporting others.

Why me? Because only through this could I become more fully me.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t trade it all in for a healthy, living Tikva toddling around me right now, nudging me off the computer and into a game of blocks with her. I would’ve been quite fine continuing on my way a bit less stretched, my soul less expanded, less fully myself.

But those are not the cards I got, and I want to remain in the game. So I’m making the best of the hand I’m holding now. As it turns out, I’ve got better cards than I thought.

***

I have wondered a lot if it’s all just about outlook, the color of the lenses on the glasses we choose to put on each day.

It’s easy when you’ve lost a child to go to that place of feeling like the person who got hit by lightning. What are the odds? In my case, they were somewhere between 1 in 2,500 and 1 in 5,000. That’s how often a child is born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. Me, I’m the one. 2,500 to 5,000 times more likely to be the majority, but this time I was the one. ONE.

It struck me sometime after Tikva died just how lucky I was that Dahlia, my first child, was born healthy and with no complications. What are the odds of that? One in how many? And my second pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage at 10 weeks – 1 in 4. Pretty high odds, but at the time I was utterly dumbstruck. Me? This happened to ME? I had to laugh about that when I learned that I’d made 1 in 5,000.

Back to outlook… I could look at that in so many different ways:

I must be the most unlucky mother in the whole world.

Someone out there must think really highly of me to be paying so much attention to my little self and giving me so many *$%@#! challenges.

What did I do to deserve this? Did I do something wrong?

The odds could be even smaller, I could be one in ten million.

The Universe is a random place, and shit happens.

Somebody has to be the one.

***

There is so much ego in this business of making sense of loss. So much ME in it all. So much of my busy mind trying to rationalize the irrational, comprehend the incomprehensible. Trying to fit something messy and confusing into a neat little container that can be shut and put away on a shelf, retrieved and reopened as needed.

I don’t think it works that way, though. I can put all of Tikva’s things – the physical reminders of her existence – in boxes in a beautiful wooden chest and keep it close by. But the meaning of it all – the WHY – isn’t so cooperative. And the answers don’t seem to come from my busy mind. From my ego.

Sometimes I ask Tikva…

Why me, Tikva? Because I needed you to hold me and look into my eyes and speak to me and kiss me, to lift me up.

Why me, Tikva? Because you are special, Mama.

Why me, Tikva? Because others will need your help.

Why me, Tikva? I don’t know, Mama, but I’m glad it was you.

***

I sat in a park in Jerusalem with Dave, just weeks before Tikva was conceived. It was sunny and warm and we lay in the grass under a tree.

I said to him, “I want to get pregnant.”

“When?” he asked.

“Now. Soon. This month.” It was just before Rosh Hashanah.

I was absolutely and completely sure. Ready. I had no idea why, but I was sure. Maybe Tikva was whispering in my ear. Maybe there was a part of me that was calling out, unknowing, for the journey ahead. It took us only one try.

If we had waited another month, would it have been Tikva? Would our child have been healthy? We didn’t wait another month. I don’t believe we could have.

Why me? Because this is my story. Tikva is my child. The only child I could have created in that moment in time.

It’s just not a question I ask myself, maybe because if it hadn’t been me, I would never have had a child like Tikva. And I would never have learned to love in quite the same way.

.::.

What are the questions you ask? Do you have answers? Where do the answers come from? How would you lost child(ren) answer your questions?

Wednesday
Oct212009

the land on which i stand

I am an Incognito Disaster.
You can't see the mayhem only millimeters out, but it's there, inside.

You can't see my toes curl as I cringe when I re-live the day Silas was born.
Cars swerve around my thoughts as I drive.

You can't hear the breath
the deep, deep breath
when you trundle in, laden with newborn and bags and Hope.

The Hope smells like crushed pine needles and jasmine covered in maple syrup, honey and soy.  It makes me sick to my soul because I can't swallow that anymore.

Today:
Pregnant lady holding the door for a n00b mom with n00born and they passed a look that gutted my heart.
From one:  "Oh how cute! (you don't know what you're in for.)"
The other, laden within: "I can't wait to be on that side of this  (bloated mess.)"

Wife sick of her pregnancy, Mother sick of her kids.  Father and To-Be on either side unaware of their peril.

From nowhere in their realm, from no vantage of their many views could they see me frozen nearby.  They cannot see the land on which I stand.  They cannot taste the ashes of my dreams despite their sudden sneeze.  To them, my flesh does not sag with endless despair.

I gasped and turned, gutted, I let them pass and flashed into everything each of them promised.
I burned with how bad everything can go, in an instant.
In a day.
In a night of pain and labor.
In a life or three or many, many more.
They should never know any of this and I hate how much we've had to learn.

I'm sick of learning.  I'm sick of fortitude and strength.  I'm sick of wisdom and grace and getting by.
I want to swallow the sunlight.  I want to consume Hope for breakfast and shit rainbows of beauty and joy.

Instead:
Creases in my cheeks from the tears & tears.

Instead:
Holes in my heart that I stare into thinking, sinking.

I lead a double life.  There's this one here alone with Lu and the impossible one with Silas, too.
Both are true, both are me.

I will never let either of them go.

I am a Disaster in Disguise.
I am a Master of the Lies I have to tell to get through the day.
I'm so good at it now, I sometimes even almost fool myself into being a little bit okay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Can you describe an instant of recognition or insight that surprised you or caught you off-guard?  How many lives do you lead?  Do you ever feel okay?  And are you okay with feeling a little okay, sometimes?

Thursday
Oct152009

Foreign Language

During our kitchen renovation last year, we moved one of our favorite paintings out of the way, but stupidly not off the floor. And when the reno was done, we clearly didn't hang it back up fast enough because one day we discovered the glass had shattered.

My husband had given me a bunch of old maps of our neighborhood for Christmas '06 -- two months before Maddy died -- and told me the map store guy recommended a small, "doesn't really have a storefront" framer. Said he was the best in town. Of course, I never took my maps in, they just sat and collected dust, but I dug up the name of the framer when I needed my picture fixed two years later.

I called the number, and was greeted with a recorded message: he was currently scaling back his hours due to his wife's death. He left an email on the message, so I sat down and composed what I thought was a fairly simple note: You were highly recommended; I have this painting with broken glass; and I'm so very sorry to hear of your wife's death. I may have added a sentence that I understood completely the need to scale back hours, and realizing that I was a new customer anyway, I would come in at his convenience.

He called back within hours, and after arranging a time to bring in my picture, he said "Thank you so much for your words about my wife." I said again how sorry I was to hear of his loss, and he went on to tell me it was after a struggle with cancer. I asked how old she was -- in her 50s. Ugh.

When I went into the store, he had a small picture of his wife up on his desk. We chatted again, I asked how he was doing ("You're very understanding," he said appreciatively at one point), we talked about her battle. And then the story spilled out: as it so happens my house, for a few decades in the mid-1900s, was a school of sorts. He saw my address, and confirmed which house was mine, and it turned out he went to this school. He eventually taught at this school. He met his wife at this school, in the building that was now my home.

My heart broke in two. I invited him to please come over some time -- we'd love for him to walk around and point out what was where as he remembered it, and place some of the ghosts in their appropriate rooms. But to think, if I had not been so engulfed in my own grief, I would've made this trip much earlier -- two years earlier -- and they both could've come over and relived something together. For some reason I felt miserable. (During this entire discussion I never once mentioned Maddy, though I may have alluded to "a personal tragedy.")  We spoke some more, he fixed the glass on my painting, and I have yet to take in my maps. I need to call him.

:::

My mom was really quiet on the other end of the line. I asked how she was doing, and she said, "I guess I'm just getting used to the idea that my mom isn't here anymore." For some reason, I blurted out, "Grief isn't linear."

Which sounded too pat. So I started gently explaining that in my opinion (trying desperately not to sound like I had written this a million times in a million venues), that perhaps you went through the stages, but not with any rhyme or reason. It wasn't better, better, better every day until suddenly . . . . all done! You went through a stage, sometimes really fast, but maybe you circled back around and did it again a few months later. I pulled out my traffic metaphor: sometimes you're in the express lane, sometimes you find yourself stuck in traffic. You can be humming along only to make a turn and find yourself lost, or in a dead end.

"That makes a world of sense," said my mother. "Thank you."

:::

I discovered a neighbor's father had died during August, my personal month from hell with the endless houseguests and my own grandmother dying. I ran over a card on which I wrote (after saying how sorry I was) that I was looking forward to hearing some stories about his father the next time we got together. And to please call if he needed anything.

:::

I have given up thinking that I am to find or gain something positive from Maddy's death. It was brutal and ugly and senseless, and I've decided I really don't need any "silver lining" in order to move forward. Maybe it will slowly hit me one day, maybe not, and I'm fine with that. I've stopped looking or caring, in any case.

But some things have certainly changed in my behavior and mind's eye, and some of those things I would venture to say for the better.

I can now talk about death. I am completely comfortable talking to people now about all things grim reaper.

There is no way I could've had any of the above conversations prior to three years ago -- I would've been tongue-tied, perhaps mumbled an "I'm sorry," and maybe listened, but probably in hopes they would soon change the subject so I wouldn't have to. I remember standing around a funeral for a father, a distant relative, and being so crushed for his wife and children, and having absolutely nothing to say. Nothing. Seeing the vacant miles of space behind his teenaged-children's eyes, and not knowing how to acknowledge that I saw it, too. Just standing arms akimbo, feeling very lost and removed.

Now, I'm right there with them. I listen attentively, as long as they need to talk. I ask questions. I don't state platitudes. I am not so bold as to say I am empathetic -- I don't know cancer, I have never lost a spouse, my parents are still alive. I only have the briefest of experiences with dementia, and second- and third-hand relationships with hospice. But I know grief. I know the contours, the expressions, the varieties -- each with a differently shaped leaf. I can sense now when to simply be quiet, when people don't want to talk, and when they need to dump. I am no longer fearful or awkward around graveyards, or DNR discussions. I am no longer afraid when people cry. I know this. This I can do, for them.

I can -- usually -- rather easily feel what other babyloss parents are feeling, even if the circumstances are wildly different and their reaction is polar opposite from my own. I know the language now, all those words about "loss" and "never," "why" and "beautiful," but mostly "sad," "crushed," "hopeless."   Certainly it hurts to read of new deaths in some respects, but I feel a sense of obligation to bear witness to the stories, to roll the name(s) off my tongue, and simply (virtually) sit with the parent for a few moments. A few moments -- that's all it hurts me any more, but I know for them the moments will stretch and multiply and crawl until it seems they're drowning. It's the least I can do now that I know I can do it.

I abide.

Some would say this is a skill, or even a gift, that I didn't possess before, and I suppose I should be thankful and consider it a positive consequence to my own journey through hell. But there are days I wish I didn't have it, this ability to sit and be with death, and that I still felt fear, awkwardness, and taciturn bewilderment. Because it would mean none of this ever happened.

Have you experienced a death or another person's grief (outside of babyloss blogs) since the loss of your child(ren)? How did you handle it? How did it make you feel? Is it easier or harder or unchanged the way you acknowledge others' loss?

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?