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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
May182009

everything but Silas, part 2

Our house and our hearts were filled on Saturday. It has been so long since I have felt as calm and peaceful as I did after we returned from the ceremony at the park.

Inside our apartment was madness, though. I was whipping up press pots of coffee as my aunt shoved food into the oven and people wove in and out of the rooms and between bodies pressed close together. A bag caught on fire. I dropped a pie while rearranging the refrigerator. The cats scampered in fear as our cousins and nephew chased them around. Conversations and chatter filled the rooms and the yard, and it was right.

Music played through the stereo as the Mets fans in the family piled up on the couches, watching the game. Pizzas were ordered, food was brought out and furniture and tables were rearranged on the fly, everyone chipping into do whatever was needed at that moment. We had a plan, but it was loose and success depended on everyone adding their little piece.

It was the same out at the park, when we planted Silas' tree. The three shovels were passed many times and at the end, everyone laid a rock on the fresh mulch under the tiny branches filled with small, vibrant leaves.

We intended to have a marker or plaque, but we just never got around to having it made, and by the time we were mentally prepared to do that it was too late. Instead we figured we would maybe wait a year, until the tree got a little bigger, and have it created and placed then.

Our friends were one step ahead of us. They had Silas Orion engraved on a large, amazing stone, and brought it with them on Saturday. It was exactly what we wanted.

Even the weather was right. A bright sunny day would have been too gorgeous and stark for such a sad event. The low, menacing clouds matched the tenor of my emotions. All day I was calm but unsettled. I felt sad, apprehensive, and that low-grade burble of terror softly churned in my belly. It's like feeling butterflies, but with razor-winged dragonflys instead.

As 2pm approached only a few people had arrived. And then suddenly everyone was there. The house went from empty to overflowing in a matter of about 15 minutes. It was great to see so many friends and family, but it was terrible as well. That twisting, complex emotion made me feel disconnected and a little disoriented. There was a feeling of celebration, having everyone together, but it was also desolate and sharp. "Yay it's everyone we love!" mixed brutally with "No no no no no not everyone. That is why they are here."

But we did it together, and that made all the difference. We walked to the park in small groups. I locked up the house and waited for stragglers and then brought up the rear with some of my oldest friends and one of my brothers. Across the expanse of the park I could see the colorful gathering of our friends and family. The center of their loose arc was immensely small compared to the thick, old trees standing tall all around.

At the park, next to the sapling, I shoved my spade into the earth forcefully, and then asked everyone to come closer and circle around. My father welcomed everyone and then recited Hard Times Come Again No More. I said the Hopi Prayer, and then Lu stepped forward to tell everyone why we picked an Acer Rubrum “Red Sunset” Maple tree to memorialize Silas. "The colors will be brilliant in the fall, when Silas was born. And he was born here, in this town so we wanted the tree to be here, too," she told them, and then she asked for everyone's participation to help us finish planting it.

Before they took up the shovels, though, I stepped forward one more time, because there was something else Lu and I wanted to say to everyone. I was barely able to speak at this point, but it was something we felt needed to be said.

"We do not believe that everything happens for a reason. We do not believe that we are being punished or tested by God. But we do believe that the only way we can can get through this is with all of your love and support. And we are so thankful that you are here with us today to help us, and that you will continue to be there for us, because we need it. We need it so much."

Family stepped forward first to shovel on some dirt and fertilizer, and then suddenly it was done, I was no longer the focus. As each person took hold of the shovel their total attention was on the tree and the task. This was their moment to physically connect with the ceremony, and in turn, our missing son. The action of their arms and hands on the handle, the scoop of dirt, the arc of pebbles and soil in the air as they each helped fill the hole around that tiny tree made the ceremony visceral, complete.

I loved seeing that look on their faces. I needed their sadness and attention to this everyday fact of my impossible life.

It's almost a little sadistic, I'm afraid. I wanted everyone to hurt yesterday. I needed them to feel the bottomless ache I live with every day. It gave me a sense of peace I have not felt for a long time. I didn't have to bear this alone because everywhere I looked on Saturday, I could see pain and sadness and understanding in everyone I loved. My load was lightened because of their hugs holding me up and their tears joining mine.

It turned out that I did not need to demolish the park as part of the ceremony on Saturday. I want that tiny tree to have good role models all around it. I want it to grow up tall and wide and strong. I want it to grow so tall and so wide, that I cannot get my arms around it when I'm out there some day down the line, holding onto it for dear life, because I still can't get my arms around my beautiful, missing son.

Did you perform a ceremony to remember and honor your child?  What was your favorite part of that terrible day?  What prayer or poem or song lyrics did you use in the ceremony?  What changed for you before & after that day, if anything?

Friday
May152009

everything but Silas, part 1

Looks like we're going to need a babysitter now and then. All they will have to do is take a trip to the Peace Park up the street from our house and water the tree we are about to plant in memory of our son. But you need to be able to transport several gallons of water there every week to sustain its life, so it's not a job for just anyone.

Most weeks we will water his tree ourselves. We considered a service that would take care of it, but I figured we should be able to handle a once-a-week task no matter how much of disruption it might be on those odd, busy weeks. After all, taking care of a fucking tree should be a hell of a lot simpler than raising my son. So we'll handle that weekly chore, one way or another.

That's how we get through a Day, anyway. One way or another. Somehow, someway, as we often say to one another.

I have no idea how the fuck we are going to get through Saturday, when we plant this tree and scatter some of his ashes and are crushed into blubbering by the mass of friends and family that are gathered around us. The awfulness of what we are about to do is hard for me to comprehend. Which is why the planning of this has gone the way it has.

They've called to see about bringing food and what we need, but I never have much of an answer. "Bring whatever you want," I told people. "If we don't have something, we'll call around the corner or up the street and order it. Anything we might need, we can get, easily."

Ha. If only that were true.

The pasta and chicken and bread and beer are all very much appreciated, but we simply don't have the energy to coordinate and organize. This event is suddenly large and largely unplanned because there is just no good way to organize the memorial of your infant son.

We focused specifically on what was the most important. Lu researched the options and then we went and picked out a tree. That day was oddly trivial and unbearably profound all wrapped up into a ball of confusion that was impossible to understand.

Wait, we're doing what? Instead of picking out toddler shirts and a new carseat it's... a tree? A tree that is supposed to mark the fact that our son was on this Earth? What kind of Math is this? What branch of Logic does this fall under?

My dad -- Silas' Grandfather -- is going to say a few words. He officiated our wedding and my brother's, and years ago said the eulogy for his mom, my grandmother. I don't know of anyone else that could perform this task on Saturday. We are so thankful that he is doing this for us, and I hate that it must be done.

I am planning on reciting the Hopi Prayer of the Soul's Graduation, as I did when we planted the peach tree up in New Hampshire. I think I can do it. I think the impossible pain of our son's death is something I can withstand for a few public moments before our gathered loved ones. I bear that pain silently every moment of every day.

Really all I have to do is show up, read the poem, and then withdraw. Even if I crumple halfway through, there's enough people to carry me home. But that's not going to happen.

Instead, I will recite the poem into the faces of the people I love, and then I will smash all the other trees in the park. I'll tear the river from its bed and swallow the clouds in a single gulp. When I am finished devouring this reality I hate, I will use the swingsets as toothpicks and saunter home unsatisfied.

On Saturday I am allowed to let the sad, torrential rage flow through me unfettered. On Saturday, I don't have to be okay, just like I'm not every day.

Sunday
May102009

Give Her What She Wants

"Super Phones for Super Moms In Super Colors! (snip) Stay connected while she's at home, at work, or on-the-go!"(Verizon)

(Shakes box, holds it up to ear.) Hello? Hello? Can you Hear me?

"Make Mom Proud. Get her Gifts there on Time!" (1-800-flowers)

Proud?! Bella saying "please" and "thank you" makes me proud. To be frank, I'm not sure what if anything about Maddy makes me "proud." Punctuality is really the least of it, though. I think it's ok if children just show up live, frankly.

"Send Your Extraordinary Mother extraordinary flowers!" (Robertson's Flowers)

That would be funny, considering you're rather an extraordinary daughter.

"It's not too late! Get mom an e-gift!" (Mountain Gear)

Oh, it's too late. Believe me.

"What is the best gift you can give to mothers everywhere this Mother’s Day? Healthy, strong and thriving children!" (March of Dimes)

Oh Sweet Jebus, is that ever an understatement. 

:::

Believe me, you can't give me what I really want. That would include time travel and metaphysics and alien life-transformative powers only seen in the worst movies from the cheeziest of magic wands.

What is it though, to want nothing on a day like this?

In my estimation, Mother's Day is one of those truly awkward holidays for everyone involved -- and for the record, I thought this long prior to February 2007. Interestingly, the early proponents of "Mother's Day" in America in the late 19th century, were peace advocates (and the woman who is most credited with advocating for a Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis, actually did so out of a longing to honor her dead mother). Mother's Day was proclaimed a National Holiday by Woodrow Wilson in 1914; an era when women probably heard tales of a generation not far behind that told of mother's losing sons in the Civil War.  Mothers in the early 20th century may have known a loss of their own during WWI. Also interesting was discovering that Jarvis grew distraught at the rampant commercialization of the day she had for so long proposed:

Jarvis became known for scathing letters in which she would berate people who purchased greeting cards, saying they were too lazy to write personal letters.  ----  MSNBC

Anyway, point being: the origins of this holiday, at least in this country, were already tangled with death -- the absence of mothers, the absence of grown children, gone off to serve their country. It was never meant to be a day where you bought diamond baubles or sent a Hallmark.

(Shakes box) If you're listening, I like sapphires better, anyway.

Because Mother's Day has become so ungodly commercial, it must, for it's economic livelihood, focus on the living. You cannot take a dead mother to brunch, buy her a cell phone plan, or send her a card. It puts pressure on daughters of mothers who neglected or abused, and I imagine, makes them wonder what they're missing -- having no one they'd really care to spend hard-earned money on.

Even for a day.

I could take you to breakfast, box, I suppose. You'd fit in my purse.

The flip side of this, of course, is that a dead child cannot purchase -- or, even imaginatively create -- you diamond studs or a necklace of twine, wood beading charms, and "flowers" (read: dandylion weeds). There is no entity there to cry through a meal of stuffed french toast, or hand you a self-picked bouquet of garden treasures (read: onion grass weeds and slightly molded azalea).

And there should be. Because you carried it, you birthed it, you longed for it. You probably longed for this day, the public outing at church, the family gathering where you could finally show your card at the door and receive admission into the club. The day that -- for a few hours -- put you on a pedestal, and gave you freedom to bitch about sleep deprivation and bask in gooey hugs and greetings.

This holiday is so difficult because while "everybody has a mother," the original intent of the matter has been lost: instead of merely thinking of or remembering yours, and contemplating the universal concept that everyone has a mother -- even the dead, we are supposed to buybuybuy and showshowshow. For those who have no mother to hug or greet, the effort seems lost in the application. I am so incredibly sorry if this holiday hurts you for this very reason.

And believe me, I'm also sorry if it hurts you because, although you're a mother, there's no son or daughter there to validate that simple fact.

Hallmark made it easy, Hallmark made it hurt.

:::

Mother's Day '06: We sat in a coffee shop chain, on a rainy day, with a realtor, and put a bid in for our house (which we got). Maddy was conceived sometime over that weekend.

Mother's Day '07: I am still crying at the drop of a hat, and implore everyone I know to please leave me be and ignore it. Bella is too young to even know. I garden in silence. I stupidly think I can play with radioactive material, and leave the card store with my stomach up in my throat, unable to buy my own mother a card.

Mother's Day '08: I like the idea of a day of gardening. I ask for this. Bella makes me something in school. For my mother, I finally settle on a donation to NILMDTS . She seems genuinely touched.

Mother's Day '09: Four years of ignoring this holiday has had the cumulative effect of not even realizing it was approaching. There was no anticpatory anxiety because I completely forgot about it until Bella announced that she was making me a surprise at school, "For Mother's Day. It's a Plate."

"Shhh! Shouldn't it be a surprise?"

"What's on it IS the surprise!"

She made me open it immediately upon arriving at home last Wednesday. That was fine with me.

Today I'm working in the yard. I should be out there right now, sowing seeds in our recession vegetable garden, watching the neighbors walk and drive by, dressed up on their way to brunch, the museum, the mall. We'll all work, we'll grill some burgers. This year, after getting gobsmacked by a series of articles and opinion pieces on women in far away countries who lack adequate medical care during and after labor who then suffer from Fistulas, I made a donation to the Fistula Foundation in my mother's honor. Because I guess now more than ever, I believe motherhood should be more about healthy AND live, mothers AND babies.

(Sets box back up in bowl on the top shelf.) I miss you. I miss you so much.

Call me.

:::

What are your feelings on this day -- or when Mother's Day falls in your country?  What do you do to get through?  Has babyloss changed how this day makes you respond to your own mother (regardless of that relationship)?  Believe me when I say, I'm thinking of you all.

 

Tuesday
May052009

birthday pass

Is it unhealthy and untoward and all other breeds of ‘un’ for me to borrow the helm of a so-called healing community to say christ, but some days I feel completely insane with the fucking rage?

I’m supposed to cap this month of physical reflection by writing about my newfound vegetarianism. I wanted to hear from you about how your consumption has changed after babyloss—have you found anything that nourishes you or silences your demons? Do you self-medicate? Do you deprive? Do you rejoice in food? Choke it down? Do you need wine to sleep?

Because vegetarianism—which, shockingly, has never felt like deprivation—got death the hell off my plate. Three times a day this gave me clarity and peace.

But I can’t write that post. Not today. Today, any claim on peace is a lie.

Today is their birthday, and the vision of two years ago has taunted me on continuous replay. He lies fused and lifeless, purple, swollen, covered with wires and tubes, a vision of pain and of the failure of a womb.

...

...

I’m waiting. I’m waiting for you to screw up your face and say No. No! It was not your fault. You didn’t do anything to cause this. Stop it. You did not fail.

...

...

You’re totally missing your cue. And I adore you for it.

To you I hold up my ugly and you simply nod at it, perhaps raise a glass. You don’t deny it. You don’t try and reason with it. You know that I’m not so entirely lobotomized as to think I caused the death of one child and the very-near-death of the other. You know that this is the ache and the flailing of a heart, and hearts do not make nor require sense.

I invent a grace that constantly evades me. It’s hard work. I choose to dig for it, and to find it, I need to dig through the horror.

I write on my blog about light and mystery and Liam’s voice and while those sentiments aren’t false, they are sometimes half-truths, for the wholeness of days like these is just too damn ugly for mixed company.

On days like this I pull the car to the side of the road thinking I’m going to throw up. I come close. A physical response to self-loathing, to memory, to having to live with this rage. Rage at the fates, rage at myself. I am dripping and shaking. I need to hit something.

(breathe)

Somewhere out there, someone reads this and says oh my god, yeah, it’s just like that. Maybe you, maybe not. But someone will. And knowing it calms my pulse. Getting it out might help me to sleep tonight. Seeing that you’re not the only one that feels this way might help you to sleep tonight. Who knows.

Christ, but some days I feel completely insane with the fucking rage.

Then I go to sleep. Then I get up again, and shower, and scramble eggs, and try again. Because that’s just what you do.

Friday
May012009

Waxing. Poetic? 

As I sit here, at my kitchen table, typing this, my left leg is waxed below the knee. My right leg is not. (Not that you would be able to tell, since I am, as is nearly always the case these days, wearing pants. But that is a different part of this post. Be warned.) This is the way it's been ever since Saturday, when I decided to use Cub's naptime to test out one of those drugstore waxing kits. Which wasn't that bad. Actually, it was pretty good. Not like those old time home kits. Lemme tell ya-- those kits were, quite possibly, the cornerstone of the conspiracy devised and perpetrated by the salon owners with the goal of increasing revenue and tips. Because really, once you tried that at home, you were willing to pay whatever it took to have a professional do the job. I know I was.

Professional is such a stretchable term, isn't it? I sure met my share of ladies who stretched it but good before stumbling onto Vicky, the goddess of wax. Who is now, just so you know, the only one allowed down there with the hot, sticky stuff. I also don't trust anyone else near my eyebrows, or even near the insult to injury that is the PCOS-induced facial hair. In fact, nobody else is allowed to wax me anywhere. Period. Vicky is un-humanly quick, equally efficient, and she has this technique for minimizing the paaaaaain. She's also rather thorough, which means that she will make sure to get every.last.hair. Every last one. She is nice to chat with, and just plain nice.

So why then, given unrestricted access to the gold standard herself, am I sitting here with only one leg waxed? Good question. I could say that I was trying to save money. I could. And if I did, I wouldn't even be altogether lying. But why don't you settle into an armchair, or a dimestore, or whatever metaphor for ridiculously transparent psychology you prefer, and let me tell you a story? Warning-- I may or may not restrain myself from the completely unnecessary editorializing at the end. So, the story.

I saw Vicky sometime in the first half of my pregnancy with Monkey. Eye brow wax, I think, before a fancy shmancy function. She mentioned then that a number of her clients come to see her for a bikini wax before giving birth. Makes it less messy after, they said. Uhm, thought I. Not really sure I want to try the lift your leg like so acrobatics inherent in the procedure when I am, you know, huge.

But then it turned out that I had placenta previa. And by turn out I mean I had a huge bleed in the middle of a mall, the day after my thesis defense. Better than the day before, no question. Anyway, these bleeds, they come with hospitalizations and bedpans. Fuuuuuuuun! But as my previa was partial, and as I was deemed a highly responsible and compliant patient, and as I live a short distance away from the hospital, I was allowed to go home after these episodes. And then the placenta moved, and I was cleared for a vaginal birth, but with a big red star on my folder, indicating that should things go to pot, there was a c-section with my name on it faster than you could say any of it.

These hospitalizations, though, taught me a few things. One, I hate bedpans. Hate them. Two, duuuuude, blood is messy. Especially when you can't see so well what all you are doing cleaning it up. So I started rolling that whole bikini wax idea in my head. Still wasn't too excited about it, but could now see the point. So I made a deal with myself-- if I should make it to the week of my due date, I will make an appointment for the day before said due date. I did, and I did. And I went. And Vicky, being the goddess of wax, used all kinds of tricks and table positions to minimize the awkwardness of the lift your leg like so bit.

Next day, the due date, in fact-- spontaneous labor, no real surprises (except for a little bleed at the end that made them all nervous for a bit, but turned out to have been only a long scratch courtesy of Miss Monkey), no def con anything, one gorgeous, loud baby. [If you are squeamish, skip to the next paragraph.] Ok, I warned you-- also hemorrhoids that the nurses on the post partum floor called bad. You know you are screwed when the nurses call them bad. And one haematoma, just for giggles.

For weeks after that, as I stumbled around with my little blue donut pillow, the one that made it possible for me to sit, I praised the wisdom and skill of Vicky, the goddess of wax, at least once daily. Because she clearly spared me some major post partum hassle. And I vowed that I would totally get a wax next time. Like no duh.

Of course next time was different, in so many ways. The baby, he was gorgeous, but not loud. Silent, forever. The labor, induced and weeks before due date. So among these big things, it didn't bother me that I didn't get that wax. But the added mess in the weeks after-- it stang a bit every time I was dealing with it, taunted me in its small way with how hugely not to plan the whole thing went.

You know what was worse? Needing to go see Vicky right around my actual due date. Because I had, without considering all the logistical implications, agreed to go on a cruise vacation shortly after the due date. JD made a pitch centered around the tragic truth we all know only too well-- everything around us was the same, everyone else's lives were the same. It was only our world that crashed. Let's not sit around looking at that, let's go somewhere else and try to make new memories. Sounded reasonable, and so, despite feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect, I agreed. Forgot to consider the whole will need to wax thing. In fact, forgot to consider any of the self-care things that go into an undertaking like this.

Result? Surreal and agonizing few days, as I packed, got a pedicure, got a wax, packed some more. And talked to friends about how I was terrified of happy people trying to engage me in a conversation. In the middle of all that, I had to call to make the appointment for that wax. And then I had to go to said appointment. With Vicky, who's known me for years. Years. I was facing the prospect of not only having to get a not-pregnant wax, but also, and this was gonna be FUN, having to tell yet another person that my baby died. In the end, my sister went the day before I was scheduled to go. Ostensibly to get an eyebrow wax. But really, to tell. To make it less of a horror show for me. I love my sister.

I also love Vicky, who was instinctively wonderful when I came. Not intrusive. Not spouting platitudes. Gentle, kind, on the ball. She did all she could do, and yet, it was not enough. Not because there was anything else she could've done. Simply because nothing, then, could've been enough. It was my mistake-- doing things that used to make me happy when nothing could make me happy. I poisoned the well.

And so this is principly why my left leg is waxed below the knee while my right one is not. I was using the home kit, and then the virus I contracted sometime Friday really went to town, and so I didn't have the lung capacity to deal with the other leg. Maybe this weekend. But I was using the home kit largely because the activation energy for making an appointment with Vicky has grown for me since A died. Oh, I still go. I am not suicidal enough to attempt bikini waxing by myself. (I went before the Cub was born, for example-- guessed the right week in my modified bedrest saga and everything. Made for a much easier self-care while living on the NICU couch afterwards, let me tell you.) And I take my face to Vicky once in a while too. But I used to go more frequently, I think. At least it feels like I did. Once I am there, I am good. It's just there is a higher and steeper wall to climb in picking up the phone to call for an appointment.

Well, since we are being this honest, there's likely another reason I am not eager to see Vicky these days. I am huge, again. And this time, there is no excuse in progress. I am trying to be nice to my body. I understand that most of these offending pounds tell the story of pregnancies and hormonal upheavals they bring with and leave behind. But it doesn't make me happy to see it. And so I wear mostly pants. And I avoid putting myself in a position where I have to face the heft unnecessarily. Which is, of course, a very debatable point. What is unnecessarily? And I don't really know how much of what I put into this word is just the heft, just my discomfort at being this large, at being this uncomfortable in my body, and how much is the bereavement, still.

photo by Meredith_Farmer

What about you? What are your habits of self-care? Have they changed in your bereavement? What do you miss? What is new, in the after?

 

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.