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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
Jun222009

when mama cries

www.flamingpear.com

I do remember my mother crying. I don’t know whether she cried more than most women. She just seemed more comfortable doing it, less reserved, unapologetic. I do remember her crying, and I never really thought there was anything wrong with it. I think it is my mother I have to thank for the ease I have always had releasing my own tears.

I do remember worrying, though, especially when her melancholy would carry on for a while. When she felt blue. When she would spend quiet time with herself, caring for the plants in our garden, rather than engaging with my sister and me as we played nearby. In those moments, I wanted her to cheer up. I wanted to be able to make her feel better. Sometimes I could, but not always.

One day, maybe it just got to be too much for her. And she left, to take care of just herself.

Have you ever read the book or seen the movie, The Hours? About how women throughout time have carried their sorrows? That story just gets me from such a knowing place. After watching it in the theater, my sister and I clung to each other, cathartic tears streaming down our cheeks until the credits had unwound and the lights had come back up in the theater. I looked at my sister stunned and eventually got up to wobble home on spaghetti legs.

Melancholia

The blues

Feeling down

Depression

Mental illness

We are so frightened of these, aren’t we? So stunned by them. I find it irritating when depression is referred to as something surprising…

You’re depressed?! How baffling! How mysterious! How could you possibly be depressed when your life is so good? Look at all the blessings around you! Cheer up! You can do it if you just choose to!

As something that has to be cured, overcome...

We must address this right away! You can feel better with the right help. You have to feel better! We must absolutely help you to feel happy again!

As something that has to be medicated, conquered, eradicated…

There is just so much depression in our society today. But now we know how to treat it! Now we know how to beat it! Now we can free you from its hold with the right combination of science and counseling.

 

Trust me, I am a big fan of therapy… It has saved me many times from sinking to a place from which I might never return. Zoloft helped me once too, when I just couldn't get my head above water no matter how hard I tried.

But can we look at depression, maybe, in a different way? See it. Recognize it. Say hello to it rather than shoving it down?

Hello melancholy feelings! Hello unexplainable sorrow that won’t go away in an appropriate amount of time! Here you are again! Welcome. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I befriend you. Tell me what you need to share with me.

As someone who comes from a long line of people who – egads! – have experienced great depression (they called it melancholia back then) for a number of reasons (they were Holocaust survivors, they lost everything and saw horrible things), and some who have felt it without any apparent cause, it just annoys me the way we approach it in our larger culture.

As a woman who has struggled with my own depression, my own melancholia, my own sorrow and loss and grief and misery – several times, even before losing my child – I have a bone to pick with the way we approach our difficult emotions, how we hold them… or rather how intensely we try to shake them off and as far away from us as possible.

.::.

Shortly after Tikva died, an old friend sent me Miriam Greenspan’s book, Healing Through the Dark EmotionsFinally, I thought after reading the introduction, somebody who gets it! Somebody who understands that the way to get through the hard stuff is to go through it. To be with it. To listen to what it has to teach.

Greenspan lost her own first child, who died just weeks after he was born. Her second child was born healthy. Her third child was born with a serious physical disability. It is clear that her children have been her greatest teachers. But it is not a book about losing a child, nor one about parenting a child with special needs.

As a mother, as a human being, and as a psychotherapist with years of experience in private practice, Greenspan writes about three primary emotions, which she calls the dark emotions – grief, fear and despair. She writes about the alchemy possible when we can really feel them, really experience them, go deeply into the darkness that usually scares us away. And she writes of coming through to the other side, the “transformational process by which grief becomes gratitude, fear turns to joy, and despair opens a doorway to a more resilient faith in life.”

Greenspan writes about compassion, about how it is almost impossible to live in our time, in our day, in our society, with so much sorrow and struggle all around us – and not feel dark emotions. Why, then, do we feel there is something wrong with us when we feel depressed? Why are we told so automatically that it is something that should and can be fixed?

I had so many ah-hah! moments when reading her book. Not because it was something I didn’t already know, but because it just resonated with me as truth, and it was a reminder that came at just the right time…

That there is no way I am going to truly survive – and by survive here, I really mean to thrive after (because we are allowed to thrive again, we are!) – the death of my child if I don’t go first to those dark places in my soul, look them in the eye, and ask them what they have to teach me.

It’s that hindsight is 20-20 thing: I have learned enough from my less successful attempts at pushing down my grief in the past to know that this won’t get me far for very long. I have learned that I certainly won’t get anywhere remotely close to growth by ignoring what needs attention in the dark places in my soul. I tried that in high school, shortly after my mother left, and I found myself two years later with 65 extra pounds of weight on my body and an anger shoved so deep inside that I found myself too depressed to get out of bed.

.::.

Here I am now, ten and a half months since my sweet girl died. More than a year since she was born so fragile. Almost a year and a half since her ultrasound, when my world as I knew it imploded and my life changed forever in ways I am only now beginning to understand.

“Grief becomes gratitude, fear turns to joy, and despair opens a doorway to a more resilient faith in life.”

I’ll tell you something that isn’t easy to admit, especially here…

I do feel gratitude.

I do feel joy.

I do still have faith.

Something is being transformed deep inside me since – because – I lost my Tikva. I don’t think it would have happened if she hadn’t been who she was. If she hadn’t come and gone so quickly. I consider it her gift, what I get instead of my second child here in my arms, healthy and well. It is a gift of compassion. True compassion, which starts with compassion towards myself. Begins with patience and understanding towards myself as I go through the messiness of the ups and downs of each day.

When I read about the possibility for gratitude, joy and faith months ago, I opened up to the possibility that I could get there as I went through this dark passage. It’s true. They’re there – the gratitude for Tikva, the joy I feel when I see a hawk flying above or feel Dahlia climbing my body as if I were a jungle gym, the faith I have in good things ahead. They’re there – even when I only feel them in glimmers every once in a while, balanced by their darker counterparts.

I’ll keep going there, through the darkness, towards the light. And as I do, I’ll continue to cry as much as I need. Cry at the sorrow and at the joy. These days I wonder if one can truly exist without the other. Maybe that’s what Tikva came through to teach me.

.::.

How do you experience your dark and your light emotions? What are the ways in which you go there, deep into the shadows or leaping towards joy? Do you sometimes avoid your more difficult emotions? What works for you in navigating all the places in your soul?

Tuesday
Jun162009

from our side

Late for work, late to bed, dishes in the sink, beer bottles strewn through the house like a breadcrumb trail to my evening flameout is how I roll. How about you?

I was ready to start complaining about how tough it was to work after being up all night with that little bugger screaming my sleep away. I was ready to become a machine calibrated only for the mom/baby show to shine.

Instead, now, I'm part therapist, part rock, part disaster, part ogre.

But in the end I can only do so much. No matter what, I'm still something of a spectator to the deep well of grief that my wife inhabits. She can't help but feel this more profoundly because of the specific physicality of her experience. Our emotional trauma is roughly equivalent, but my physical self is essentially unchanged. Sure, my shit is liquid on those mornings when I wake up devastated and insane. Yes, my neck and shoulders are crimped and twisted by this invisible, relentless weight of sadness. There is no question that I have grown fat and lazy on a diet of avoidance and lassitude.

Frankly, I'm psyched when I can get up and do anything at all. The laze comes easy to me. Stayed in bed until noon the other day. Noon. By the time I had breakfast and finished coffee it was time to start thinking about dinner. Lunch didn't even make it into the rotation. Poised on the brink of parenthood, I've been tossed back into a life where sleeping until noon is actually an option. And I choose that option only because facing the day is more difficult than feeling bad about wasting it.

For those of you that already had children, this all must be completely different. I'm sure it is easier to focus on the living children than the one that didn't survive. But for those of us whom our lost offspring is our first, the wrenching denial of everything that was to come is nearly overpowering. I've never been one to descend to the depths of "Fuck Everything" that I now sometimes swim through. Sure I touched on it here and there. Perhaps dipped a toe into that boggy morass of nihilism and disregard during a rough patch, but I never submerged into that particular muck. Wasn't my style at all.

Now, somehow, I have to make this muck into a home. Losing your child is a lesson in how to make Shit Houses. Here's a pile of crap, live in it.

And not only live in it, but you have to share this Feces Condominium with someone else who is probably in many ways even worse off than you.

Are you a patient person? Can you listen well and respond without anger? How do you fare when you see someone that has everything you want, but complains about how tough it is? Are you capable of letting go of expectations and accepting the World at face value? If so, a career in having your child die just might be for you. Everyone else need not apply.

There is no one set of rules and instructions to help us deal with the loss of our child. For each person, this path through grief and despair is utterly solitary and painfully unique. And even though we get it more than anyone else our wives know, we still don't get it like they do. And that pisses me off, too.

I am the necessary, vital partner, but secondary to the vessel that carried my son. Without me she would crumble, but I am a hot breeze away from disintegration myself. She wants me to be there, to help her, to discuss the steaming pile of shit that is our shared life, but all I have been doing all day is fighting back the relentless demons that plague my every thought. By the time I get home I've finally won, and there suddenly is a new battle for me to fight. It's not me against her, it's us against her own horde of demons, but sometimes I've got nothing left.

There is no easy way to say "I've spent the last 10 waking hours thinking about our dead son and I simply cannot hear any words pertaining to said awfulness. Everything you say I have already thought, and I've chosen to keep silent. When you speak these words, they rip me open doubly, once because I know, I know I know, and another time because I know how destroyed you are too."

Can't we just watch TV? Can't we just sigh together and let that be enough? Can't you see how I move slow through the world and lash out at every obstacle? Would it be easier if I showed my true emotions and dismantled this entire reality with my own bare hands? I can destroy everything, you know. I can do it. There's nothing left anyway, so it would be easy to take that next step and show everyone how nothing everything has become by destroying everything in sight.

It wouldn't even be a rage thing. I wouldn't hurt anyone at all. I'd just start with this keyboard, move to the desk and then piece by piece sledgehammer this house into rubble. Sidewalk and street would be next but it would be the car that would really take some time. Those things are built to last. It wouldn't though. Not in the path of my focused pain. Helpless to help my son be alive, I could demonstrate to everyone the futile emptiness of this life. At least it would be action with an end result.

Look, I could say. Look what I've done for us. Now everyone knows what the World looks like from our side. Our desolation is now obvious and clear and we don't have to talk about any of it anymore.

I don't do that, though, and by not I am showing you how much I love you and want this World to work out somehow. The containment of my rage is an act of love. The daily denial of vomit and insanity is proof of my commitment. I can keep standing up and moving forward with you, but every millimeter of motion and attention takes the entire focus of my will.

The big picture of this pain is impossible to comprehend all at once. All I can manage to figure out is the very next thing in front of me. So each next thing that comes my way, I try to make it as good as I can. I know what makes me happy. Simple things I can control like sleeping until noon or steak grilled to perfection gives me pleasure in a world where joy is rare and fleeting.

I don't aim for joy anymore. I aim for contentment, I aim for an absence of pain. The problem is, to get there I sometimes have to shut down so many systems and thoughts that I can barely speak. If I am quiet and distant it is because I have spent the day raging against my pain. When I am brusque and bitter it is because of how much I hate what we have been denied. I know she is not my enemy, but there is no one to battle against to right this terrible wrong. Caresses and communication are sometimes collateral damage to the trauma of this experience.

I cannot take away her pain, so it feels like I can't do anything worthwhile at all. I couldn't stop what happened to our son. I could not fix him before he was gone. I cannot go back and get him and bring him to her, and I cannot alter the awful truth of every single day.

But excuses suck and I can always do better. I can share the simple pleasures with her, and listen even when the words shred me to pieces. I've been shredded so thoroughly by now, another tear doesn't hurt much at all. I can hold her and touch her skin and say nothing at all and be certain it was exactly what she wanted and needed right then and there.

We are not enemies here. One or the other is never to blame. All the tools and methods we had for working together have been tested to the limit or thrown out the window along with our hopes and dreams, everything except for one thing. That One Thing is that there is no one in the world except for her, my wife, and I would do anything and everything to take away all the pain of these last nine months.

I'll do the dishes. I'll sweep this Shit House. I'll drive to the store and buy organic strawberries and fair trade dark chocolate and I'll feed it to her piece by piece and listen quietly while she rages with tears against her internal, implacable demons. I know she'll hold me when I can't fight them either, and she won't make a racket cleaning up my detritus when I'm sleeping till noon.

She knows that in my dreams I just might find our son. It's one of the only place left I have to look. The other place is in her eyes, and I always find Silas there. Sometimes, though I cannot handle that either. The pain I see inside her breaks me to pieces, too.

~~~~~~~~~~

What do you and your partner fight about? How do you each handle stress and pain? What do you need most? What is the worst part of your every day? How do you help each other deal with grief? What could both of you do better? What are you awesome at together?

Friday
Jun122009

call for nominations: glow in the woods awards spring 2009

Once again, the time has come for the Glow in the Woods Awards -- our chance to reach out to one another to say thanks and keep writing and hey I read that post at 2 AM and it helped me to sleep or made me laugh or had me feeling sane.

We acknowledge the writing of babylost parents four times a year -- once for each season. For Spring 2009, send us posts from March, April and May -- go here to nominate by no later than Thursday, June 18th, and here to review the winners so far. On Friday June 19, we'll announce the winner along with a list of all the nominees.

Please fish back in your memory and favourites, and share with us. Spring is a time for poking our heads from the ground, sniffing the air, stretching legs. Who made you feel accompanied this season?

Monday
Jun082009

I will follow you into the dark

This post marks the first in what will be a regular (albeit spontaneous) occurance at Glowa post written by an anonymous contributor. You're invited to respond in the comments either anonymously, by another name or by your own name. If you've commented as yourself before, simply click 'remove stored information' in the comment box, clear your blog URL and email address, and use 'anonymous' as your name.

The intention is not necessarily to ratchet up emotive sharing for the sake of exposé, although that's bound to happenrather, we want to provide a forum that allows us to explore the monologue that we can sometimes barely acknowledge to ourselves. This can open doors, help us knock down what's blocking better days. One way to do this is the exercise of namelessness.

Despite the namelessness, though, please be gentle with one another. Anonymous posts and/or comments are neither an individual's plea for advice nor a license to judge. Simply consider this another prompt to share how the world looks from your perspectiveand please, if your experience has been positive, share that too. This is not merely a call for vents, but for gratitude.

Please welcome Anonymous 1for the sake of response, let's call her Ann.

 

There's a gulf in my living room, a black hole that houses me, and it's been this way since my daughter died.

You'll have to hold your hands out in front of you at first, feel around for the edges, but then light will seep in and you'll see: I have almost everything I need down here. Sustenance. Diversions, books, songs, writing. Places to curl up and rest, accustomed now to the fitfulness.

Far above me my husband sits on the couch. He watches basketball, draws breath in through teeth and groans at every missed pass. His hand digs in a bowl of chips. I stare at his oblivious chewing. How can he just sit there, eating chips? How can he not know that we are failing?

I know what you're thinking. You cannot expect him to be psychic. You need to tell him what you need.

A reasonable response. As I've heard said before: be the love that you want. A bomb of a sentiment that forces all of us to quit assessing the hits or misses of our spouses and consider what we offer. And what do I offer? I sit at the bottom of this hole. I have made it comfortable and liveable, this inner solitude. This place is not one of pure misery, or consant depression. It is just differentness. Since our daughter, I am compelled to embrace it. In contrast, my husband is compelled to insist that he is unchanged.

Still, the hole is self-imposed exile. I no longer expect accompaniment. What feels to me like acceptance must appear to anyone else as giving up on him, on us.

But you know what else makes sense?

I shouldn't have to tell my husband how to love me.

 

For the first months after our daughter's death my grief was a spectacle. I needed those around me to acknowledge my loss, dammit, and so for a while I made it impossible to ignore. I needed to confront friends and family with it, to make them hear. They asked me how are you and I answered them entirely without sugar. I neglected myself. I withdrew. I needed to be the physical manifestation of sadness, and I was.

She needs to get it together.

My husband almost instantly crossed the line that divided Us and Them. This left Me and Them, of which my husband was a part. He stared back from the other side, arms folded across his chest with a crowd at his back.

I don't think of it anymore. You shouldn't either.

 

Some time passed, the year it takes to get over the initial shock. I took steps towards him holding abbreviated memories at arm's length, thinking that calm, measured attempts at sharing how I felt were necessary to keep us connected.

Over toast I'd say casually I dreamed about her last night. I was composed, outwardly fine. His cereal would hit the bowl with a clatter, his back to me, and he would say Oh. Then it was can you pass the marmalade and is there any more coffee in the pot and I can't find my keys.

In my head it was different. Oh, what did you see? and I like that and it's okay to dream or maybe just I love you.

But he was closed, gone elsewhere. It was an inescapable heaviness as heartbreaking as the loss of our daughter. It was the loss of us.

 

We are still unfound. We are roommates. We tend to life together, me from down here.

That's not to say I'm continually depressed. Our lives are full and blessed. My husband is a good man, ethical and straightforward. But the death of our daughter served to highlight that perhaps the unit of he and I were not strong enough to sustain this. His crossing of that line prolonged the spectacle by way of isolation. I am forever changed, and not for the worse, now that time has passed. He is unaffected, or rather, his facade of unaffectedness is more important to him than bearing a crack in it through which to talk to me.

We speak of very little beyond shared bills and shared space. I see continued silence as failure. He sees it as relief. I have given up. Is this the rest of my life? A life with someone who will only care for the parts of me that are tidy, presentable? This is not marriage. This is claustrophobia. For him and for me.

I see others mention here it made us stronger and I couldn't have gone through this without my husband and I stare at the screen, mystified.

The death of our baby caused us to fail one another completely. I failed him by being a spectacle. He failed me by refusing to peer over the edge of my hole and wonder why I was down there. I made it impossible for him to forget her, as was his instinct. He didn't come for me, to either sit with me or yank me from that place, to demand that I be with him because he needs me, these days the definition of passionate love. I no longer share my occasional dark with him, these days the definition of inauthenticity. He shakes his head at me, as he always has, and I retreat. He digs through chips, chewing, drawing breath in through teeth at a flickering screen.

Some people reference high divorce rates among babylost parents. Others insist that's a myth. Most agree that men and women tend to grieve differently. How do we cross that gulf to one another? How did your marriage sustain the loss of your baby/babies?

In her email to us Ann noted how difficult it was to write this post, even anonymously. "It feels like a betrayal to share this intimately," she wrote. "My husband and I are not in a state of constant upset. I don't want to make me out to be wholly sad, nor my husband to be wholly coldhearted. Neither of us are either of those things. This has just been so incredibly tough on us, and I'm wondering how it's been for others."

Remember that you're welcome to post here either anonymously, under another identity or as yourself. If you've commented as yourself before and would like to comment anonymously, simply click 'remove stored information' in the comment box, clear your blog URL and email address, and use 'anonymous' as your name.

Tuesday
Jun022009

inside the daily crazy

I haven't held a baby since March 31st of last year. She was beautiful, and so cold. I held on for hours, telling her how much I loved her, my vision blurred with a lightning bolt migraine and an endless stream of tears. One of her doctors came in to offer his condolences; he stayed at the doorway with visibly shaking hands. He was young and I actually felt sorry for him in the moment before the first buds of hatred sprouted.

A nurse helped me dress her in a soft white onesie before we wrapped her in a blanket. Then we said goodbye, because I couldn't take the physical effects of death anymore. The walls were closing in on us and I just couldn't make her warm again. They put us in a cab and as it pulled away I saw the counsellor who had visited us through the week running out after us. Our eyes met briefly through the window but I couldn't ask the driver to stop. The look on her face had made me instantly nauseous.


.::.


We're at that age. I have friends who are pregnant, friends who are trying to get pregnant, friends with thriving, adorable infants whose photos it simultaneously kills and thrills me to look at on Facebook. Blessed with some wonderful women in my life, I constantly wonder what it will be like when the first one holds out a newborn for me to hold. Will I hold it together? Or will I crumble?

.::.

"She'd be tottering around back here by now, just learning to walk." I gesture over my shoulder from the patio table toward the green lawn in our backyard. Hold my arms out like an idiot lacking balance to demonstrate.

He smiles just slightly with acknowledgement, nodding.

"And there'd be shit everywhere."

"...."

"....shit?"

"Yeah. Toys and stuff. You know. Baby shit."

Ah.

Understood. The good kind of shit, not the dirtied diaper kind.

Eloquent.

.::.

There are a few advantages to working for the same company as your spouse. We travel together in the morning, reading the free daily on a swaying train. We get caught up, decide who's going to cook that evening. Occasionally we bicker and I tell him we shouldn't travel together anymore. We have our coffee guy. Our bagel guy. I only need one Christmas party outfit.

The downside is that he's been there for almost ten years. People have known him a long time. They knew him before, when his wife was expecting. They collected their heavy shrapnel-like coins and a few generous notes in an envelope until there was enough to buy us a congratulatory gift. They noticed his two month absence after she died.

Over the past year or so I have been able to tell every time I'm introduced to someone new whether or not they know. I recognize the moment it clicks. The hear the accent and the familar surname. There is a flash of recognition in their eyes, replaced just a second too late to be hidden by the forced and cheerful smile that follows.

There are a handful who just plain old avoid me altogether. Actually look to the floor when I walk past, and hell maybe I'm imagining it with my all sorts of crazy, but I'll bet it's not unlike the way they look at a person who's terminally ill, or whose spouse is cheating on them and they're the only one in the whole goddamn building who hasn't clued in yet.

They're the ones I want to get up real close to. So close that our noses touch and they are forced to look me in the eye when I tell them that I'm not contagious.

.::.

There are babies I do like being around. In line at the grocery store, gumming away on a soother, holding it out for my inspection when I catch their eye and smile. There are the ones on the train after work. Sat cozily in slings against their mother's chest, waving their arms and staring at everyone innocently.

I make it a point to sit next to them, getting a little anonymous fix in. One goofy look and the cutest ones pay back in spades, kicking the air and coo'ing at me with interest. Mostly their parents smile at me and laugh, proud and chatty to the blonde who they see as a harmless kid lover.

"Do you have any?"

I just shake my head no. Nothing further required. All they see is a friendly woman of childbearing age, engaging with their perfect kid. Maybe they believe I'm secretly pregnant, or hoping to be.  They don't know, and I don't have to explain the truth. In those ten minutes until my stop I can enjoy sweet baby bliss under the gaze of someone who will never know my story, and who will never be searching for the crazy reaction of the woman who lost her own. Sadly, it's appears to be all I can handle just yet.

.::.

What was your first experience with a baby after your loss? How did you handle it - was it easier or more difficult than you feared it would be?