Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's, Shmoo Year's

Last year's New Year's post ended by stating I was a damned Monkey's Uncle if you were gonna catch me on the record saying, "Well, at least things can't get any worse." I prophetically went on to say that I really had no hopes or horizon, so '08 was a big empty slate.

And guess what? '08 turned into a big empty slate.

As I lie here on the sofa overwhelmed by the Christmas cleaning, cramps, lingering nausea from some bug that crept through the house last week, and a mild itchy throat, I decided to roam around in the computer and landed upon a fartload of New Year's related entries: lists, pictures, predictions, resolutions. And I stare at them all with an even more increasing sense of nausea, realizing I did nothing in '08. And I didn't even have an excuse.

Maddy died February '07. So I think it was valid that the rest of '07 -- and hell, even the first little bit of '08 -- was spent trying to exist. Functioning. Getting out of bed. Circling through the endless litany of "firsts" without Maddy -- holidays, birthdays, memorial services. Family falling to wayside, births, pregnancy announcements. No wonder I didn't do anything.

But '08? I think I was supposed to do something. Create something. Decide something. Complete something meaningful. Just pick up the fucking phone already. I thought maybe after a year, I would think -- you know, just think -- about having another baby, make up a tidy pro/con list or something. To be honest, I really didn't think about it at all. I've tried to figure out how in hell's name I spent my '08 and here's what I've come up with:


-- I made it through one year without Maddy
-- I took two trips
-- I started writing on another blog
-- I barely avoided foot surgery
-- I oversaw the renovation of the back half of my house
-- I hosted two neighborhood parties
(well, three if you include the Dog Party)
-- um, and, uh, hmmm. Give me a sec.

Things, for the record, I did not do that I probably should have:

-- thought about having another baby, even if the answer was "Fuck no."
-- lost some weight. Some. Meaning, like, even 5 pounds.

Things I probably should do, but calling them "Resolutions" sorta makes it really daunting and takes the interest totally out of it for me:

-- get organized. My house, today notwithstanding, is neat but an organizational nightmare.
-- make a boatload of medical-related appointments. You know, things like, oh, the dentist.
-- lose weight. Seriously, this is just fucking depressing.
-- work on a few rooms in my house that I can tackle by myself.
-- think about -- what's that thing called again? You know, when you work? And someone sends you a check worth some money? That thing you were going to do when Maddy turned six months old, which if things had gone right would've landed on about August '07? Oh right, A JOB.

It's not like I haven't had time, it's that I've completely totally lacked interest. And like I said here, I can't think more than two weeks in advance. You know what I've thought about '09? Here it is in all it's champagne-sparkle: I have some appointments planned the first week. And Bella has a party on January 17th.

That's it.

That's what I think about '09. There is a big lot of nothing behind me, and big lot of nothing ahead of me, and it's just conspiring to depress the hell outta me today. On my horizon in '09, I go through another round of February dates. And then I turn 40. '09 sounds like a steaming pile thus far, and that's only through March. Frankly, I rather hate it already. Mind if I just sulk in this limbo week for a while longer? You think if I don't buy a calendar I can somehow deny '09's existence?

For some cruel reason we've already committed to going to two (two!) New Years' Parties (thankfully both within walking distance, because otherwise what's the point, yes?), and I'm now wondering how on earth I'm going to get through either with a straight face.

At least in '08 I didn't have a baby who died. And that's gotta count for something.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Day IM

me: sup

Julia
: not much

me: so tell me if I should be insulted

Julia: haha
ok?

me: usually MIL sends a bazillion $ of gifts to Bella, something nice to [Mr. ABF], and a $10 something to me
so this year
Bella = bazillion $ of stuff
[Mr. ABF] = Kindle
Me = nothing
bwahahahaha

Julia: nice
why do you still talk to the old hag?
and what does [Mr. ABF] say?

me:
I don't
hence = no present
I don't think [Mr. ABF] noticed
and I really don't want to fuck up anything he's got going there
I've sorta written the whole IL thing off as Not My Problem unless they do something to my husband or child

Julia: same here re:ILs

me: great relationship, eh

:: snip ::

me:
so get this
I asked my mom for PJs
me: exciting right?

Julia: it can be :)

me: and of all the millions of PJs she could've bought me
including those
she got me a pair of

wait for it

Julia: waiting

me: "Life is Good" Pj's

Julia: oh no

me: Bwahahahahahaha
sign of the apocalypse

Julia: well... ok... thinking broadly
if you get to spend the whole day in them

me: I'm so blogging this

Julia: with noone to bug you
endless supply of wine and coffee

me: yeah like that will ever happen

Julia: than maybe, on the microcosm level

me: it's all relative I suppose
Life will be good if they actually fit
I need to focus
I should go do something
I haven't showered yet

Julia: i just did

me: and people are showing up starting in 30

Julia: oy
go
run

me: running
ttyl

Julia: ttyl

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

O Christmas Tree

I've been trying to find time and wit to craft a just-so Christmas post, but time and wit are in short supply of late.

I think it started the weekend we went to chop down our tree -- almost three weeks ago now. We bundled up, loaded into the car, and drove out into the country to the farm where we got last year's tree. Last year, I suppose in some not-horribly-subtle Freudian attempt to over-compensate, we got a monster of a tree that barely snuck in under our 10+ foot ceiling in the family room, and was almost as wide. We began salivating as we drew near, and then we saw the sign: "Tree Farm Closed." We took the next right in order to turn around in an empty parking lot and our jaws collectively dropped: the Christmas tree farm? Was now a driving range.

Two farms later, we finally arrived home late that night with a suitable tree, to find a package from my dear SIL. It was an Angel ornament, for Maddy. It wasn't something I would ever buy myself, or would know existed because I would probably never even search it out. And the fact that someone did take time to locate it made me weep about as much as the overall memory itself. Bella hung it up.

There was the parking cop, who literally ran when she saw me parked illegally (returning a video to the library) so I started running, and she saw me and ran faster, and pulled out her pad to get my license number as I pulled out. A $41 bill arrived two days later. Merry Christmas, Philly! I just know there's some irony involving trying to return a video lest I pay a quarter over-due fee to a library in a city where they are currently being closed at a quick clip only to have to pay said city umbrella entity $41. But I leave the road map for you to decipher.

There was our cabinet maker, who was rear-ended bringing over our wood countertop. The top sailed out the back of his truck and through the plastic grill of the car behind him. Only a small nick in my counter, which I said I'd actually like to keep. Sort of takes the pressure off us when we go and fuck it up for the first time.

We had a small piece of marble installed in one area of the new kitchen for baking, and I guess it's appropriate that since I've been phoning in this area of the project, the install guys phoned it in as well. The piece was cut wrong, they jammed it in, warped my freezer cabinet right next to it, and our freezer hasn't worked since last Friday. Repair guy coming next Monday.

There was the double ear infection, the memorial service. Two kindergarten playdates and one parent interview.

And finally, our neighborhood holiday party, held here in our new kitchen, last Friday night. This is the party we inherited with the house, and which I thought for a brief moment last year and the one before might be my undoing. But I discovered last year it was the only thing that motivated me to get through December. I couldn't really bring myself to decorate for my family, but my neighbors? Hell ya. I stood, glowing, in my new kitchen (90% done) with a champagne cocktail in hand, and actually enjoyed myself a bit. And when we woke up Saturday morning, there was a sigh of relief that for me, the holiday was over.

I've had more -- well, I hate to call it "energy" given the fact that I could drop right now and sleep about 15 hours, but -- energy this year. I spent most of yesterday preparing baked goods for gifts and personal consumption and will go remove everything from the downstairs freezer and bake them at the conclusion of this post. I've managed not to be too horrifically Grinchy when Bella asks things like, "What if Santa forgets our house? What if he can't find it?" I think because I didn't send cards last year (or this for that matter) our card intake has dwindled considerably, and the ones with children stamped on the front somehow seem less poisonous.

A dear old friend suggested that I put all these snippets of my month into a profanity-laced "12 Days of Christmas" -- a brilliant idea!! -- but one I can't seem to wrap my brain around. I even had Day 5 -- can you believe I put on my 8-year-old antique engagement ring (which I wear on nice occasions on my right hand now and again but until recently wore daily), and somehow mashed a side flat so I couldn't take it off? The kind of thing that looks like I left it in a closed car door for a few hours, but honestly didn't discover it until I just woke up one morning? Mr. ABF, on the orders of the jeweler who made Maddy's bracelet, snipped it with wire cutters and pulled it off with pliers. I need to find a few moments to take it in to him where he promises to make it good as new. Er, old. (I actually have a nice fuzzy iPic of this but for some reason, blogger is not letting me resize my photos to anything other than GIFUCKINGNORMOUS. So use your imagination.)

The following graphic pretty much sums it up. And this was the second time, and there was no way we were moving on until we got a Holiday Card worthy photo.




May your Christmas not suck nearly as badly as you think it might!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time of Year

Today Ms. G is remembering M three years later. Please remember with her.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bilateral

I have learned not to expect anything, because things -- even memorial services -- will turn out differently than I imagined.

-- Me, a few days ago.


It started yesterday, Saturday, with a runny nose and the now-familiar cough. In a few short hours, Bella was writhing on the couch in agony, weeping, moaning, unable to sit still. My gut said "ear infection," but my brain . . . well. Bella just kept clutching her hair in tufts crying, "My head hurts!" There was fever. There was some throwing up. And why, WHY do these things happen on Saturday afternoon and not during weekday office hours? Why does the fire-alarm battery beep at 3 a.m. and not 10 a.m.? Why does the car always break down on vacation and not two blocks from your house?

And in my (I think) excusable, somewhat anxious state, I vacillated between "This is nothing, give her motrin, we can do this" and "Holy crap, better google the symptoms for that really awful shit that starts with an M and ends with -eningitis," and even got an after-hours nurse on the phone, just to double check my gut. She concurred, upped our pain-killer dosage, and wished me well.

This morning, first words from Bella's mouth after a broken night of sleep were "My ear hurts." Well! There we are. We lounged. Got her more pain-relief. She was hungry, daddy treated her by running to the bakery. And we finally got around to looking up an urgent care clinic a million miles away (topic for another post: NO URGENT CARE CLINICS IN AREA. Seriously, WTF? Has our system come to this? My mother was reminiscing about MY pediatrician driving in on a weekend, and unlocking the door and turning on the light to peer into my ear and write out a script for antibiotics. Them days are o-vuh) and decided we'd leisurely make our way out there for a check. Went to take off Bella's PJ's and discovered . . . .she was covered in a horrible red puffy rash.

Rash. Wasn't that a symptom the night nurse warned me about? Er, yes. Screw the trek to Urgent Care, off went the family to [Delivery Hospital] ER. I knew from the gos that they always have a ped resident on duty, and triage accordingly, and I knew from experience that if this hospital ever felt over in over their heads they wouldn't hesitate to send us to Children's. We were seen within minutes; rash was quickly written off as topical -- either fever or allergy related; and she was then found to have not one, but TWO ear infections. No wonder her head hurt.

Relieved as we were, this presented us with a small problem. And I don't mean losing a weekend we had intended to dedicate to shopping and decorating our house with. We had a candlelight ceremony to go to this evening, and it was clear Bella was in no shape to go. My aunt offered to stay with her, but we couldn't imagine leaving a weeping, moaning Bella with her -- for either of their sakes. So it was decided: Mr. ABF would stay home and light candles with Bella, I would go to the service at Children's with my aunt and uncle.

I always knew that having another child would mean shifts in logistics just like this; I could have never imagined them being this difficult if one child was dead.

Tonight, watching the names and slides slip across the screen, I wanted to remember them all. I don't know if that was some subconscious way of wanting to tell Mr. ABF exactly what I felt, how it went down, or if I just wanted to collect all of those children -- all of their names and faces and dates and hold them close. I should've felt desperately alone and torn, leaving a sick daughter at home to attend to my other one, but I was surprisingly clear. I held my candle high, I clutched my baggie of names.

I was not alone. Maddy, sadly, was not alone either.

I walked in my front door to find my husband had put Maddy's picture on our entry hall table and lit three candles. "I wanted three," piped in Bella. I put my scraps in a bowl next to the picture. I gave Bella a glow stick, and Mr. ABF the book of remembrances they hand out at the service.

Just like I attended a concert with one daughter, while my husband stayed home with the other. Except, not.

***

Maddy,

We're constantly amazed that you were only with us six days and have left such an overwhelming impression on our lives -- even now, almost two years later.

Much has changed. Your big sister asks about you now, now that she has the words and understanding. And it breaks our hearts, but also melts them. The nightmare that used to replay in our heads has softened a bit, as we simply try to remember and envision what a world with you in it would look like. We laugh now, we plan a little, we function rather well. We smile, we water your lilac without the wind being knocked out of us, we say s your name a bit less haltingly. We've moved beyond crying inconsolably to wondering how to answer the confounding question, "How many children do you have?" And that hasn't gotten easier. We still trip up, wondering when to let others into our life, into your life.

But much remains just as it was a year ago. Missing you still consumes us. You are still the strongest and most courageous person we know. Losing you still eats at our ability to hope and dream and wish. And one thing for certain hasn't changed: Please know, you are still loved, deeply, by all of us.

Mommy, Daddy, and Bella.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scraps, Redux

A year ago I was grinding my teeth preparing for the candlelight service (Second Sunday in December, sponsored by the Compassionate Friends -- see sidebar candle for more info) at Children's Hospital. We never had a service for Maddy, so we view it as some sort of obligation to attend the ones the hospital offers us. The indoor one they hold biannually for the children who have died in the past six months was . . . .what's the word? Eviscerating? And I was promised that the December one, held outside, which honors any child who has died, no matter when, was much more freeing. That emotions, instead of sinking like a heavy, dirty, choking cloud from the end of a super-villain's umbrella, rose into the stary wintertime night sky, with the outlines of breath and the faint wisps of candlelight.

This is a popular service -- this year they will read 363 names -- and so they ask attendees to limit the number of tickets they hand out to six (including ourselves). Last year, we thought it would be nice to have support from both of our families: I asked my aunt and uncle to join us, and Mr. ABF asked his father and his father's wife.

The morning of, an overcast not-too-chilly December day with an expected high of 48 or so, my FIL in called to say they wouldn't be coming because it might rain.

I have felt alone in this journey, believe me. There is nothing so lonely as coming home from the hospital without your child. Knowing your child -- your child's body -- is lying somewhere, back there, by herself, in the cold. Feeling as though you are the supreme freak of nature: no one, repeat: no one, has a baby just up and die on them. You are the one. The number 1 on that side of the statistic, 1:whateverthehellbignumber. Your life stops, everyone else's moves on. No one gets you. No one speaks to you. Mothers in Bella's music class literally moved away from me when I told them what happened -- as though it was contagious.

But I'm not sure I felt as alone as I did a year ago on that December morning, knowing that people were deserting us, they were jumping off the ship. Up until now, the loneliness had been about me and my grief, and since I walked a fine line between wanting some acknowledgment for my state of shittiness and wanting to be left the hell alone, I let a lot of it go. But this was different. They weren't just giving us the heave-ho, they were screaming very loudly while deploying their life-vests: your daughter doesn't matter. She is not worth it. She is not even fucking worth a few hours of discomfort (and since when is a chilly night outside in December for an hour followed by hot chocolate uncomfortable? Do people not carol anymore?).

Alone.

But.

Before having these people give us the supreme fuck you, I had told my new friends in the computer -- the ones who understood because they were freaks and "1"'s just like me -- that I wanted to carry their children's names with me to the ceremony. I thought it would spread the load so to speak, and make my grief more diffuse and bearable. What they did, on the cold night, as I choked back tears of grief and anger, and clutched a plastic baggy containing a few dozens scraps of paper with names written on them, was made me less lonely.

I have learned not to expect anything, because things -- even memorial services -- will turn out differently than I imagined. This year, my aunt and uncle, without us initiating anything, asked if they could join us again. My FIL has remained comfortably dumb. And we will go, Mr. ABF, Bella, and I, and I hope again, my scraps. My names. Your names.

I would hate to forget anyone and this year I'm quite likely to, so please, leave me a comment and include the name of the child or children you'd like me to carry with me this Sunday. I will happily carry initials or "blogsafe" names. If you'd like me to carry a real name that you aren't public with, please email me, TashABF at gmail. They'll join the pile I already have going. When I come home, as per last year, they'll go into a bowl and I'll light a candle next to them every night until they get overwhelmed by Christmas paraphernalia. And then they'll get wrapped up and saved for next year.

Names. They matter. They're worth it. They help me. And this Sunday I want to honor all of the dead children I know.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Home

The brick and mortar kind. The ephemeral one you dream of, that lies within. Ghosts. Room allocation.

But no cleaning. Post up at Glow in the Woods.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Virtual Shower for Antigone!!




Imagine yourself entering the ultimate baby shower (really! Click on the envite and meet the lovely hostesses! See the other attendees!). . . No, I'm not talking a pepto-bismol explosion, or a light-blue dump-truck-pacifier-dripping afternoon. No pastels. No baby name contests. No stupid games about due dates. No need to feel like the biggest rainbow-painted elephant in the room because the room is full of technicolor elephants just like you. There's the most delicious cake you could imagine free of baby-esque decorations (unless you count overturned wine bottles and perhaps some four letter words running down the sides). There are lovely conversations about . . . how much things like this usually suck and made your blood pressure rise. How you usually toss out the invitation with a hard roll of the eyes before going to cry in the bathroom. And you all remember babies lost, and find a few moments to revel in babies found.

No. This shower is wonderful and full of snark and frostiness and good-old-fashioned macabre overtones:

It's Antigone's Virtual Shower!! Right here! On line! See? Welcome.

I know it's really fucking hard sometimes to get behind (fully behind) subsequent pregnancies in this corner of the 'verse. Really, I do. BELIEVE ME. But sometimes when the universe dumps an extra load of shit on someone already down, it's hard not to rally around them. And not only do I want Antigone's pregnancy to work out, I want her life to work out. She kinda deserves a good-feeling gifty-type shower-thingy anyways, baby notwithstanding, don't you think?

Because I'm a last-minute kinda gal, and an academic at heart, I always give books at showers. And I'm pleased to announce that this here, right here, marks the first time I have bought a mom and/or baby a gift since Maddy. Which is a big deal, I think. So here's the lineup that Antigone and Perseus will be receiving from the Awful household:


From Me:



I used to give this book to all the new moms -- until my kid died and theirs kept living. I'm glad to revive the tradition here. It's a delightfully snarky and hilarious and utterly practical book that I think will fit Antigone to a T. It's hard to resist a book with chapters like, "Child Labor: Not Just for the Third World!" and "Bedtime: Is Five-Thirty too Early?" It taught me that sometimes grandma can take a hike: put the video camera down, and just enjoy and be with the moment. It also taught me that a child gets enjoyment out of a martini shaker, too. Not as much as mommy perhaps, but sometimes small tasks can be fun for everyone. Truly a great life lesson.

***

From Mr. ABF:



We bought this stunningly illustrated book for Bella and it quickly became Mr. ABF's favorite. Mr. ABF's favorite story within changes and depends on where he is in his personal "journey" ("car wreck"?) -- like I suppose all things Zen should. We've found it comforting and thoughtful both before and after the great divide in our lives. Oh, and Bella finds Stillwater cute.

***

From Bella:



Pinning Bella's favorite book down is a tough endeavor. On any given night, her "favorite" could involve a young, Hispanic animal rescuer, a talking train, or god forbid, Barbie. I was told by a good friend who happens to have a PhD in library science that one should never deny a kid anything they want to read (well, you know, within reason -- and I don't think Barbie is quite obscene enough to warrant expulsion when she's off saving her sister and not complaining about math or throwing up her lunch), so I endulge and we do it all: the classics, the award winners, and the sheer and utter crap that stores peddle under the guise of children's literature. Right now it's the words and meaning I want her to focus on, and I have no doubt soon she'll have a filter and understand that there's great stuff out there, and then there's beach reading. And there's a time and place for all.

Where was I? Oh, Bella's favorite book. I thought about what book(s) she first really responded to, and I kept coming back to Sendak's "Night Kitchen" and "Where the Wild Things Are." I settled on "Night Kitchen" since she loved the little sound effects (from very early on she began interjecting the "Mama! Papa!" etc.), and eventually the recitation: "Milk in the Batter! Milk in the Batter!" And honestly I have no idea why this book was considered so controversial since Bella has never, ever, now at four years of age, asked me why Micky is naked, and at one point after our 10,000th read she said, "So, this is a dream, right mom?" And people thought this was nonsense? Hmph. Anyway, cheers Perseus.

***

From Maddy:



We tapped the Jon Muth well again the week Maddy was born, and decided to take this back to the hospital with us, and read it to her the week she was alive. Used to be because of this I couldn't make it through the story without sobbing. Not to mention it involves a hurt mother and saving a baby and, well, ugh. Tough. But it's beautiful, and Bella made me keep reading it despite the fact that I could barely finish, and now I can. The last line simply kills me: "That is why we are here." And I'm still trying to figure out how this relates to the child I originally read it to. I'm apparently destined to keep reading it until I figure it out. Perseus, hopefully someday you'll come to some conclusion on this issue yourself.

***

And finally, because Max, Buddy, Tucker, & Kirby insisted Sothis needed something as well:



A really lovely read narrated by Touche the dog, who can't quite understand the new dog, Jo, who doesn't have a tail and (egad!) goes inside the house. Charming. I know you don't get it either, Sothis, because really, why does she need another one of you? But you'll soon become fast friends and it will all make sense. Really it will.

***

And now for the fun party games! (You didn't think I'd let this go by without games, did you?)

The first three people to comment on their favorite book will have them included in my order -- from them, to Antigone and Perseus. One book per, please. My only stipulations are that they need to be available through the etail place named after the river that starts with an A (not a subsidiary, please!), and that they're respectful of both mama and baby. Antigone is not eligible. Quick quick! (Runs off to eat cake while people comment . . . . )

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Means This?

You know, I don't really buy into the whole Supreme Being sending Cosmic Signals bullshit. You know the drill by now: "If you've had 10 miscarriages, 14 failed IVF's, lost a tube, and your uterus is shaped like a muffler, maybe God doesn't want you to have babies." That kinda stuff.

However.

I'm getting the distinct impression that I'm missing some fairly major air-raid sirens, signal fires, red flashing lights, and concussion bombs.

First there was the whole shredded plantar fascia crap last fall that kept me from running for 6-7 months, and damn near face-planted me into surgery. I shrugged off that sign, worked my ass off, and yesterday went for a lovely 3.5 mile spin around the 'hood.

Came home, showered, gulped down lunch, and was running out the door to pick up Bella. Mr. ABF decided to come with as we were all headed to the library immediately following, and on the way out the door, he was telling me a delicious story about some friends of ours and how they swore in front of their 1.5 year old in the car. I turned around to look at Mr. ABF for the punch line, smile on my face already, stepped out the front door . . .

And turned my left ankle. Hard. Leaving my fucking house, I tell you.

It's not so bad that I can't hobble around on it, so I'm quietly thanking a year of rehab that focussed largely on strengthening my ankle and the muscle groups around it. But GODDAMMIT. There's a nice raquetball sized (and blue-colored) lump, and it hurts.

Which is leading me to question if there is in fact some all-mighty Diety who does not want me to run. In fact, this Diety does not want me to leave my house. I am apparently defying my destiny to sit on the couch for an eternity and bloat and become some high blood-pressure, obesity statistic. I don't know why I fight this god-given path of bon bons and daytime television and lumpy thighs and clogged arteries, but I do. And perhaps I should just succumb, and be with the lazy and out of shape.

Or maybe it's something else entirely:

On top of my now swollen ankle, Mr. ABF appears to have contracted pink eye. Which I find somewhat amusing seeing as usually these things spring from the child in the house, who remains blissfully clear-eyed (while she hacks up a lung), but I keep my chuckles to myself knowing full-well that in a mere 24 hours we will all be red, swollen, peering through gunky lids reaching for our appointed handtowels.

To make matters more interesting, my highly independent child who normally runs into school with nary a backward glance decided this morning she didn't want to go. Cue heartwrenching scene with her wrapped around my leg, screaming "Don't leave me!" while her teachers gave me the "What the fuck?" look. What the fuck indeed. I'm giving them 5 more minutes and then I fully expect that my now healthy child (who slept through the night with no coughing! Finally!) will have convinced someone that "she doesn't feel well" and they'll call and I'll go pick her up.

Tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn, she has an IQ Test assessment meeting with a child psychologist which is REQUIRED for Kindergarten applications. I'm telling her a nice woman named J (who just happens to live close to an hour away during rush hour) wants to meet and play with her tomorrow morning. This should go over well.

Saturday a.m. she has the first of four interviews playdates, probably the most significant component in applying for Kindergarten. That is, if she doesn't have pink eye, and decides it's ok to unwind herself from my pants leg. This after filling the admissions people with an infinite well of stories on how independent and social our child is. Oh yes.

This week is not shaping up well at all, and I'm missing some signs here. I'm looking, and what I'm seeing is making me want to curl up in a ball and cry, and possibly throw myself into traffic. I'm looking up the significances in the Almighty Handbook, and the Almighty appears to be giving me -- and my family -- the middle finger. Well, fuck you, too.

Interpretations much appreciated.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Color by Numbers

4: Number of sides people brought. THAT NEEDED COOKED FROM SCRATCH. (Note to self: it is actually easier to prepare everything than it is to lose control of timing due to everyone's side dishes. Even if your kitchen is only 70% complete. Even though you now have two ovens and a warming drawer. Either do it yourself next time, or make sure what is contributed is already cooked.)

60: minutes that my turkey finished ahead of schedule. Unfrozen free range always cooks faster, but this one was so effin' big -- even I was surprised. And then side dish hilarity ensued.

16: Guests.

12: Obama voters. (4 guests under the age of 18.) No political outbursts. Phew.

2: Awkward moments at dinner. Midway through dinner, a good 2.5 hours into the afternoon, one guest finally realizes who the fuck my FIL is and why he's there. D'oh. Mr. ABF swore he did that introduction. Bella passes out plastic bees from her new game, and my grandmother mistakes it for a candy and damn near chews and swallows it before I realize what's going on.

1: Fight. Between my aunt and my mother. I just put my head down and listened to the bullets fly.

5: Hours of sleep Thursday night thanks to Bella's cough attack.

2: number of times Bella has thrown up since Wednesday from coughing so hard.

Infinite: number of times I have cursed the passing of Robitussin as a viable pharmaceutical option since Wednesday.

8: dollars per person paid to enter Christmas fair, which we then walked out of 10 minutes later when Bella threatened to throw up while coughing, again.

Thousands: leaves in my yard that need raked. Right now.

4: number of times Mr. ABF swore he had the phone in his hand to call his mom Thursday morning, but always got distracted and busy. She freaked out that he didn't call (he reminded her that she could've called him, to which she replied, "I can't call you").

0: seconds following Mr. ABF asking if his mother would like to come for Christmas before she responded, "No."

2: relatives who asked, without prompting, if they could attend the candlelight service at Children's next month with us.

363: number of children whose names will be read at this year's service.

15: days until the service. Some people count down days 'til Christmas; some . . . don't. Check it out in the side bar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Figment of My Imagination

It feels extremely hollow and completely disingenuous to say that blogging about my dead baby has had some lovely moments and benefits. But I have met all of you, and you have invited me in to share with me the names and brief lives of your children, and that has been truly wonderful if not humbling.

One odd bloggy circumstance led to another, and shazam, in a supreme moment of Deadbaby Serendipity, I had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth McCracken about her memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.

We discuss a smattering of stillbirth and doctors, grief and guilt, online and bloggy, and of course Pudding, and Gus, and the action of writing. And we cuss and swear and really, it was a rather good time.

Join us over at Glow in the Woods.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Everybody Loves the Sound of a Train in the Distance

I read Cecily all to infrequently anymore, but got caught up lately in some of her brilliant election stuff, and her Phillies euphoria (woot!). So I flitted by the other day and she had up what for her I'm assuming was a rather innocuous post on living in chaos.

Cecily spoke of how even in her decade-plus state of sobriety she still creates and craves the chaos that used to mark her addicted life: she described making herself late for things, and driving maniacally; and how her home and carpeting had disintigrated into a war zone (though not quite approaching Katrina people, so lighten up). And how she's going to work on fixing this situation stat because she simply can't live like this anymore, especially with her daughter.

And my internal air raid siren went off, and I stared slack-jawed at my screen.

I realized, I too, live in a state of chaos, mostly of my own making. Here's how it goes:

I live in two week increments.

I don't plan anything further out than two weeks, and if something goes on the calendar further out than that, I just turn the page back quickly, with a heavy sigh, knowing full well I'm going to have to move something around once I get there. 99 times out of 100, the thing that far in advance has to do with Bella.

I don't think about anything more than two weeks in my future. I don't fantasize, dream, wish, plan. If it's something that's going to have to happen more than two weeks out, I usually just stop thinking about it, or drop it altogether. (See: dentist appointment.)

Ergo, I live in a fire-drill. I wake up, and run pell-mell through my day, with my only goal being to make it to bedtime. Phew. And then I crash, wake up, and do it all over again. I'm insanely busy -- and things always interrupt my plans, and fuck up my daily schedules -- something happens with the kitchen which slams my morning, and my afternoon is already full so shopping moves to tomorrow, dinner plans get dialed back, and on.

This all started, I believe, last fall with the foot issue. I was so intent and focussed on losing the pregnancy weight, that when my schedule became consumed with physical therapy, podiatry, and orthopedic appointments, I refused to schedule anything else lest it interfere with my recovery. Any other doctor's appointment or event might just stand in the way of the shedding of 15 pounds, and hell if I'm letting that happen. So I just filled up two weeks at a time with appointments, declared my schedule full, and plowed through.

It continues to this day, even though I no longer have those appointments, and my weight shedding schedule is limited to an early morning gym trip or forest path run.

This is not to say I don't enjoy myself, but it's last minute -- Mr. ABF will ask me on Wednesday if we should call a babysitter for Saturday night, and I hem and haw, and fret that if I feel like I do now, I'll fall asleep before she arrives, and we end up going out and having a delightful time and I say something like "We should make this a standing date!" But we don't.

My house is tidy, I arrive to appointments in a timely fashion. I shower most days, and keep on top of laundry and meals and bills and house stuff. But I don't plan.

I never have those falling-asleep fantasies anymore about holidays or vacations or what my family will look like in 5-10 years, or visualizations about where Bella might go to school next year, or full-throated wonderments about renting a house in Italy for some distant December. A month or so ago, Mr. ABF and I began discussing an end-of-February vacation (we decided it's a nice bit of rope to gently pull us through the ugliness), we hopped online for a few days, and then the bottom came out of the stock market. Oddly, I wasn't that upset, but nor did I search for less expensive outings. I just folded up the mental manilla folder and filed it away, thankful to have that space in my day to do something else.

Of course, this behavior is begging the obvious: I'm also unable, totally, completely, to think about a child-bearing future. I've been told to try and visualize my future, "try a few scenarios on for size," and believe me I try. I lie in bed, nicely sated by the crossword, and consciously wonder about a sibling for Bella -- or not. A child of our making. An AIDS orphan from Africa. A tidy, efficient family of three with an enormous rambling house where everyone gets their own office.

But I can't. I try and project what it would feel like to have another set of feet in the house, but my consciousness gets stuck on that 7-letter word for 8-across. And then I realize the blinking light in my peripheral vision is a phone message. Which reminds me I never called someone back, need to do that tomorrow. Along with the application I've now put off for three days. And Cinnamon! Must remember to put that on the grocery list. Do I have stuff in the dryer? Will I have time for a load of laundry tomorrow? No, I can't call the RE. Maybe when the kitchen's done. I just don't have the time.

There are a number of reasons for this way of living:

I'm scared to death. I'm positively frozen about what terrible horrible things my future might hold. Bella might die in her teens, my husband might divorce me. We could lose our house to fire, our city could come to resemble the dystopia in "Robocop." A very typical conversation goes like this:

Me: I need a haircut.
Mr. ABF: When are you going to schedule your mammogram?
Me: (Bursts into tears, runs from room.)

But these terrible, horrible, no good very bad things will never happen in the next two weeks! Why, if I only think two weeks in advance, nothing bad will ever happen! And of course you may have a toke from my hookah eminating the florescent cartoon flowers and the sweet aromatic smell of denial!

Diminishing returns. If I only plan things two weeks in advance, and they don't happen, I don't feel so badly. Hell, if I say on Friday that I want to do something Sunday, and suddenly wake up Monday morning realizing I totally spaced out on that thing on Sunday? Eh. Oh well. Because we all know the less time we have to grow attached to an idea, the less it will hurt if it doesn't come to fruition. Right? What? Pass the bong again? Here ya go.

Time of year. This happened last fall, and I'm just noticing it in full force again now. Wonder why? Hmm. Lessee: on my horizon, starting about 7 weeks from now and going forward: Christmas. New Years. February. My 40th birthday. Now who the fuck wants to plan around that shit? I don't want to do any of it. I don't want any of it to even arrive. I want to crawl in a cave and have someone wake me up next April with a two week schedule that involves baking and travel.

My reproductive state. I'm supposed to be thinking about this. I'm supposed to be doing something before I hit the big 4-0 and my eggs mutate and my ovaries rust over. And I can't think about it, because thinking about it involves envisioning a future -- a possible pregnancy, a child of someone's creation, and concomitantly, a tragedy, and a death. If I never start, I'll never have to push out my horizon. And it's comfortable here, where nothing bad ever happens.

So what to do.

I'd actually like to change this. I'm tired of being stuck in the now. I realize I'm exhausted from functioning, from existing, but I'm not really living.

It's more than just getting brave, picking up the pen, flipping the calendar to the end of January and writing something down be it an event, an appointment, or simply a date with my husband.

It's somehow changing my mindset to once again accept the possibility of a future. And the idea that good, fun, entertaining stuff might happen there -- along with the inevitable calamity and tragedy. That my expectations will undoubtedly be dashed again, but that happens, and occasionally, something will in all probability occur as it should. That dreaming is simply that -- dreaming. No more, no less. And it's a fun exercise (or it used to be) regardless of whether I ever take action and start looking at Tuscan real estate sites. People will let me down, like clockwork, at the holidays when I'm especially low. So maybe I need to reach out there a bit, and plan an alternative activity -- buy tickets to something for the family? -- something that will cheer my husband and daughter when a relative doesn't show with presents and comfort. When relatives fail to remember why it is that we're so miserable.

I've written in many many comments that my life lacks a horizon. And I've only recently come to see how completely debilitating and depressing this is. The big question now is how do I paint one back in?

***

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks it’s true
What is the point of this story
What information pertains
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly
Into our hearts
And our brains

--- Paul Simon

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fill in the Blanks

NAME: Bella

ADDRESS: You mean when she's not guest lecturing at Harvard? Why, right here!

MOTHER'S OCCUPATION: Woo boy. Hmmm. I'll get back to you on that one.

CURRENT SCHOOL: Yes. Thank goodness.

SIBLINGS (Please attach separate sheet if necessary): Oh for fuck's sake . . .

***

We're currently going through the stress of applying to schools for Bella. It's very much like college with interviews, and testing, and visits, and short essay questions. Except that unlike college, we're responsible for the future of this sweet little four-year old, not ourselves. And the alternative is not a decent state school, it's . . . well. I'll leave that discussion for another post. But it's not good.

The forms include a space, multiple lines in fact, for listing siblings. The reason is this: if you attend a very good private school, your sibling is pretty much guaranteed a space when they are ready. No matter if sibling one is Einstein incarnate, and sibling two is a box-of-rocks exhibiting 8 of the 13 signs of a serial killer, one highly sought after place (sans knives, I presume) will be reserved (as it is for legacy children) for them. And I've now attended multiple workshops where I've learned all about "leveraging the sibling, even the younger ones!" Which helps me not in the least. Thank you.

A few months ago we would've left this part blank. But we decided after a bit of back and forth to fill in Maddy's name, followed by "Deceased" and her dates because another portion of this application hell is the interview/playdate. That would be with the child. Where they ask the child all sorts of questions (like "how many bunnies" (11, in case you were curious), and to spell their name, and oh, do you have any brothers and sisters?) and I'm just not sure how Bella answers that any more. And god forbid she answers in the affirmative: I want the person asking to know that answer is a possibility, and not go slack-jawed and drool on her perfectly styled little hair-do, and comment inappropriately on her wild yet peculiarly macabre imagination.

Around the house, Bella can hold two distinct narratives in her head: I don't have a sister. And, seconds later pointing to a picture, that's my sister, and she's dead. And both make complete sense, and I can see how they do, and frankly most days I keep these separate narratives in my head and voice as well.

But there are times when the disconnect is heartbreaking. Our parent-teacher conference last week was a cheerful discussion filled with "only child" syndrome behaviors, none of which her teachers found remotely troubling or problematic, but clearly indicative. At one point her teacher said when she asked Bella if she had any siblings, her response was "No! I'm the one and only." Which made me laugh, sincerely, but also turned on my internal rainstorm.

You would think that this school application business was stressful enough, but we can't seem to escape Maddy at any turn. Last Wednesday, at the very end of a parent-interview, the admissions lady asked me and Mr. ABF, "Is there anything else? Anything else I should know?" And we sat in silence, smiling at each other, thinking we had covered everything awesome there was to know, and damn this bitch, she followed up. I can't remember her exact words, but they were pointed and left us no wiggle room: "Any crises? Family traumas? Calamities? Casualties? Things that would effect your child emotionally that we should know about?" And since we had already printed "Deceased" on the form we handed in 45 minutes earlier (which she didn't read, because she doesn't need our address for the interview and who puts "deceased" down as an answer to that?), we told her. And for three painful minutes, I tried to clarify that we were in touch with professionals and knew what we were doing, and that Bella was acting completely normally and was not a loaded bomb. I have no idea what kind of flag this warrants on her folder. And seriously, what if any responses does she usually get to that question? Cancer diagnoses? Lost jobs? Death of pets or grandparents? Divorce?

Mr. ABF who is not often given the opportunity to discuss Maddy was a bit disturbed and bummed out for the rest of the day; I was far more panicked by the following discussion on how few openings their kindergarten will have next year due to legacy kids and especially, for some freaky reason this year, SIBLINGS.


***

In my panic, I went to see the director of Bella's preschool who talked me off the ledge, and suggested yet one more place I might apply to, just to cover my bases. I went to visit this last school on Saturday, and drove into the wrong parking lot. As did another quiet-mannered woman. The signage was set for the other correct lot, so we got ridiculously lost together en route to registration. So when we walked in and were asked, "So! Did you find us ok?" we both launched into our story of the wrong lot, finishing each other's sentences about walking into the wrong building, and the arrows seemingly pointed in the wrong direction. And because of this, and because we both wrote a big "K" down as our interest in today's tour, someone assumed we were together. As in, a couple. Which we explained, um, no, we're not. We just met in the parking lot.

We, this woman and I, were placed on a tour with a couple and their twins, and THEY were interested in the PreSchool. But every time our guide entered a room and introduced the bunch of us, it was, "I have a family interested in PreK and two Kindergarteners," and then the twins ran in, and everyone assumed THEY were the Kindergarteners and WE (parking lot woman and I) were the family interested in PreSchool.

I'm touched and pleased to report that this school is very, very welcoming of lesbian families, as my life partner and I were treated with a casual respect with questions addressed to the both of us about our "child," singular. And then we clarified, eventually with some joking, that we were not, and our poor tour guide got more and more flustered as the afternoon wore on.

On the way back to the parking lot, while chatting with my lover about where her child was presently and where she lived (complicated relationship, this), we walked through a small graveyard next to the campus church. The graves were all sunken, sprinkled haphazardly, tilted askew, and difficult to read given the worn etching in white stone. And yet, like a laser, my eyes suddenly focussed on a random stone, with a now illegible name, and underneath in capital letters where numbered dates should've been, "[illegible] Days." It was a word longer than "six" -- seven? eleven? Something in the teens? -- but it was, from over a century ago, a marker of a life measured in days. I desperately wanted to take out my phone and try and get a picture in the now-descending darkness of the four o'clock hour, but didn't want to explain to or creep out the kind lady with whom I shared a life with, if only for an afternoon.

She follows me, this ghost, no matter what it is I'm doing, or stressing over. Her name finds her way on forms, and she inserts itself into discussions. Her presence seeps in the corners of my conversations, even the ones that are making me smile, even when I'm not looking. She's completely, irrepressibly present. And totally, achingly not.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Payment Due

'Twas a time when daily mail delivery was a concrete representation of my so-called-fucked-up life. Unbeknownst to the mailman, through sleet and snow on his appointed rounds, he delivered us stacks fraught with trauma. Cheery cooking magazines topped with condolence cards. Banal clothing catalogs wrapped around hospital bills addressed to our new, and newly deceased, occupant.

We deconstructed the old life from the new, and even though our internal clocks were permanently frozen, apparently the phone company's, JJill's, a few political campaigns', and my high school reunion committee's, were not.

We opened sympathy cards and notices of donations first.

Then medical bills -- there was a sort of obligation to view those, and pay them quickly. It was a bizarre sort of Thank You gesture, writing out checks to specialists to whom we were completely enamored with and grateful for. (With the exception of the amnio bill which -- laden with irony -- showed up a few weeks after Maddy's death. I wondered if there was some sort of lemon law on those things, and then decided I didn't even have the strength to write "YOU MISSED SOMETHING" on my check.) There were services where deductibles and reductions had been taken, and we owed a bit of money. Some modest bills arrived for services that were covered by insurance, but where the biller didn't know our information for some reason -- like the transport team who moved Maddy from Delivery Hospital to Children's. Finally, there were the multiple-page ones, screaming "THIS IS NOT A BILL!" across the top, but I guess they felt it was a courtesy to inform us just how fucking much four (plus two) days costs in a state-of-the-art NICU. Like a movie, the envelope slipped from our fingers and dropped in slow motion to the floor, and we, agape, marveled at how many digits they could cram into those little shaded rectangles at the bottom of the page. As much as we had cursed our insurance company for years regarding their lack of preventative coverage (including, believe it or not, children's immunizations in my old state), we were now on bended knee thanking the stars that we were among the insured. We're self-employed, so our "coverage" is more a tattered, small-pox infested dish rag than a heated security blanket, but desperately sick children are apparently covered. Phew.

And then there was the rest of the mail: cooking magazines went into the living room bin for later, catalogs directly into the recycle bin, and we slowly started opening our other bills.

We're computer people, and busy, so a number of bills are set up for auto pay. Then there are the bunch where we just sit down once a month on the computer and 10 minutes later, presto, our account is zipping invisible monies to the utilities while we sip our coffee. And then there are a few yearlies that we often forget how exactly we set up, but usually they're really persistent buggers with the multiple warnings which arrive in envelopes announcing the next stage of alarm, much like the national security codes. ("Your bottled water bill threat level is yellow!") Normally the people who need our permission to roll over another year onto the credit card call us as well, repeatedly, at all hours of the day. Which I normally can't stand, but since losing my short term memory I find all kinds of convenient. Last week, I treated the service lady from my local paper like a long-lost friend. She barely got out who she was, and I started babbling, "I've had you on my to-do list for 5 weeks now! How are you? Thank you so much for calling!"

We were a bit late for this, a little longer for that, we filed a tax extension. Eventually, we dug out.

***

Meanwhile, back at the farm, my car was having issues of not starting, and not responding to jump starting. I distinctly remember a moment of panic that spring, April? May? in the Target parking lot with Bella in the car, and husband a good 90 minutes away at his job. I called my car insurance since we have roadside assistance through them, and they nicely sent out someone and praise jeebus, it responded to a jump. A few months later, in the cellphone lot at the airport, on a brutally hot day in July, I got the phone call from my brother that his family had gathered their luggage off the carousel, come get us -- and it didn't start. We couldn't jump start it. So again, I called the friendly insurance lady, and again, she sat on the phone with me for 20 minutes while we found a tow truck, and figured out where to tow it. Just as the truck pulled in, the car turned over.

We finally got to the bottom of this problem (ignition wire, duh), but this plus my car's lousy gas mileage got us thinking about another car. We test drove a hybrid, and decided to put in an order for a new fall model. I believe this was August. Car guy needed our insurance cards to place the order and get his ducks in a row, so we pulled them out and realized that they had expired. Huh.

This was not unusual for us, so we didn't panic remotely. We've been insured by said company since '95. As we er, matured, we also acquired an umbrella policy from them. And they have our credit card number, and they frequently send multiple envelopes and call, and etcetera. And we just assumed that we had missed the envelope where the new cards were (we've done that before), so we dove back into the now short stack. And couldn't find it. In fact, we couldn't find anything from them. No bills, no cards, no nothing.

So! We called the nice insurance company and asked if they could send us new cards? Thanks!

Sure we could, they said, If you were covered by us.

Mi Scusi?

Yeah. Your insurance policy payment? Was due in March. You didn't pay it.

Butbutbutbut . . we sputtered . . . no bill! No warning! No multiple warnings! No phone call! You fucking helped us out on roadside assistance -- TWICE -- and didn't tell us our bill was due! Or that we were no longer covered!" You have our fucking credit card, you morons!

Apparently that qualifies for: Too bad.

We wondered if something had been lost in the mail? Did we miss a phone call? We pulled out the grief card. We got some quiet sympathy.

We need insurance rather immediately, seeing as the car guy was on the other line -- what can we do?

Oh, my chickadees, as long time -- nay, twelve year -- customers of ours, with only one broken windshield and a fender bender (not our fault) to your name -- and your upgrade of an umbrella policy -- bills always paid on time -- credit card already confirmed and here on hand -- we can . . . . recover you as new people whom we've never heard of at our new rates which are more than double than what you were paying a few months ago.

Putting aside for a brief moment the fact that we were driving around uninsured (against the law in this here state) for, oh, FOUR MONTHS, is the lack of communication, AND, I'm sorry, but where did case-by-case basis go in this country? Is it possible your "This is a warning" letter got lost in the mail? Because we didn't get it. Is this how you treat long-term customers in good standing? Apparently.

We had little choice, we re-upped, and cursed them.

And today, over a year later, we finally got around to changing car insurance providers. We're saving money, yes, but we're also giving a big FUCK YOU to the old company. As well as the trauma of the bill stack during that nightmare.

***

If you're still reading this boring-as-hell drivel, the point is this: Maddy's death permeated our lives in ways we never thought possible, and continues to, more than a year and half later. This story, when you turn up the heat and reduce it and send it through a sieve, ends with the odd conclusion that only someone in our shoes could ever understand the absurdity and the complete rationality of:

We got new car insurance today, because our baby died.


***

Today C. is remembering Callum, a year later. Please remember with her.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lotsa Love



Awwwww. Busted Babymaker loves my blog! And may I just say, I love her brutally honest, forthright, sometimes sassy and always heartfelt blog, too. Rightbackatcha. Know who else loves my blog and vice versa? Chance at Embracing Happenstance. And while you're taking in her amazing photography, please check out her beautiful handmade Waiting Hearts -- all proceeds go toward her surrogacy journey.

And thank goodness there's a meme to go with this , because people! Even if you aren't physically picking up a hammer or thumbing through "Drywall for Dummies," kitchen renovations are a time suck. I'm actually quite patient when it comes to waiting to use my old stuff and new stuff (I presently have a batch of Smitten Kitchen's Pumpkin Swirl Browines in my EasyBake Oven, gently toasting under a 60w bulb -- hopefully done in time for tonight's neighborhood Phillies rally), but I'm really, really tired of making decisions. And it seems there is always one to be made, right now, that requires a trip out to a store 20 miles away. Or that magically makes two hours of my life disappear on the internet.

Where was I? Oh right, fun meme. Here goes:

1. Where is your cell phone? Purse
2. Where is your significant other? Dogwalk
3. Your hair color? Dishwater
4. Your mother? Supportive
5. Your father? Quiet
6. Your favorite thing? Chocolate. No, wine. Wait, Chocolate. Damn.
7. Your dream last night? unmemorable
8. Your dream/goal? internal peace
9. The room you're in? Upstairs sitting room
10. Your hobby? pastime? Running
11. Your fear? Abandonment
12. Where do you want to be in six years? Here
13. Where were you last night? Couch
14. What you're not? Optimistic
15. One of your wish list items? What's a wish list?
16. Where you grew up? Arizona
17. The last thing you did? Baked
18. What are you wearing? Comfy Sweater
19. Your T.V.? Large
20. Your pet? too many
21. Your computer? Mercurial
22. Your mood? meh
23. Missing someone? Always
24. Your car? Hybrid
25. Something you're not wearing? shoes
26. Favorite store? D'Angelo's
27. Your Summer? Hectic
28. Love someone? Unrequited
29. Your favorite color? Blue
30. When is the last time you laughed? 10:00 a.m.
31. Last time you cried? Last week

Who needs a nice distraction?

Julia?
Missing One?
Coggy?
Which Box?
Melissia?
Sohpie?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

Photobucket


(A click will take you to information re: the House Bill on Stillbirth Awareness.)

And as I told Mr. ABF, seeing as I've now lost one of each, I need to pony-up: I'm wearing my pin, and lighting a candle this evening at 7 p.m.

Remembering Maddy, and all of yours. Always.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Words Unspoken

Me: (pausing in the middle of one of our favorites, John, Paul, George, and Ben) Did you know that Benjamin Franklin used to near live here? Would you like to go see his house some day?

Bella: Is he dead?

Me: Yes, but sweetie, he was very old when he died, and he died over 200 years ago.

Bella: I'm going to live forever. (Pause, eyes rapidly fill up with tears) Mommy, am I going to die?

Me: We're all going to die, love. But hopefully not for a very, very long time.

Bella: But I'll miss you when I die.


***


Bella: Mom, what does a brain look like?

Me: (pulls up a picture on the computer): like this, pink, kinda mushy and squiggly. Here's a map of what all the different parts of the brain do. (I touch her head to roughly correspond with what is responsible for seeing, hearing, memory, language.)

Where did you hear about the brain? Did you talk about it at school today? Hear something on tv?

Bella: No. So it would be bad if I hurt my brain, wouldn't it.

(We've never, to my knowledge discussed Maddy's medical problems in front of Bella -- at least not intentionally, and the last phone conversation we might have had where we were doing the talking would've been a year ago August.)


***

Bella: (pointing at my stomach) Mommy, do you have a baby in your tummy?

Me: No, no I don't.

Bella: Then why are you fat?


***


Bella (at breakfast, out of the blue): Mom, when are you going to have another baby?

Me: I don't know. I don't know if I will have another baby.

Bella: Why. (Delivered more as a statement than a question)

Me: It's . . . Because I'm old.


***


Bella (While baking apple cake, again with no segue): Mommy, when are you going to die?

Me: I don't know. Hopefully when I'm very old.

Bella: (voice catching) When am I going to die?

Me: I don't know. I hope when you're very old. Hon, I know it's hard (BELIEVE ME) to think like this, but we can't worry about it. We need to enjoy just being alive, right now. If we keep worrying . . .

Bella: Mom

Me: . . . we won't be happy . . .

Bella: Mom!

Me: . . . maybe you can let mommy worry about it . . .

Bella: MOM!!

Me: Yes?

Bella: When are you going to have another baby?


***


I remember like it was yesterday, sitting knee to knee across from the social worker at Children's, who was sent to talk to us about Bella. This, 2.5, is the hardest age, she warned us. Any earlier, and she wouldn't remember. Any later, and she'd have some verbal ability to express her emotions. She's going to grow into this grief. One to two years from now, it's going to come up, when it's inopportune, when you least expect it, she's going to start talking about it. That's ok. That's normal. Just know it's coming.


***

The conversations have been coming fast and furious lately. Out of nowhere, the eyes pool with tears, and suddenly Bella and I are hugging and I'm dredging up words I never use anywhere anymore: "I hope." "Hopefully." But I'm never definitive, never emphatic. I stifle my tears because I want her to know she can talk to me about these things without the fear that she makes mommy dissolve.

And there is an obvious connection that is not lost on me.

School has started, and this year Bella attends five days in a class with 16 or so precocious four and five year olds. At the beginning of the year, two mothers were incredibly pregnant. One, according to the happy notice pinned outside her classroom next to the snack sheet, had a baby girl a week or so ago (and named her, much to my chagrin, after one of my favorite bloggers here. It's a peculiar stab in the heart to see that name on that sign every morning). "Please help us in welcoming X's sister!" I wonder what that paper would've looked like had Maddy been born in the school year. Black, with white writing? Perhaps a crayon drawing of a lily? But I digress: there has been an uptick in discussion of all things pregnancy and siblings and babies. "So-and-so's mommy has a baby in her tummy," Bella announced. "So-and-so has a new baby sister."

We've had discussions with Bella since February '07 on Maddy. And on death. The former trend towards lilac bushes and bracelets, identifying her in pictures and "remembering;" the latter on hearts shutting down, inability to breathe, loss of bodily functions (like eating and running) and the esoteric notion that all living things die. These discussions are always on her timetable, at her discretion, with her permission. But they have been on two separate tracks -- Maddy here, death there -- until now. The rivers of thought have finally converged, and suddenly out of nowhere there are profound discussions on death, siblings, and life all mashed together over a semi-soggy bowl of cheerios, during a cute history read-aloud, or while I'm peeling apples. There is no longer confusion: Her sister, her BABY sister, died. She, Bella, will die someday too. We will all die. Living things die. But we are alive now, and her friends get to bring home LIVE siblings, so why shouldn't she?

***

Last Friday evening, Mr. ABF and I attended the pre-school parents wine/cheese get-together for Bella's class. All well and good, until the host's husband (who is eternally away on business) asks Mr. ABF if Bella is our only child. To which he responds "Yes." And I hear the regret on his voice while the word is still hanging in the air, and I look down and feel . . . .guilty. I'm so tired of this. I'm so tired of hiding this part of my life, I'm so tired of tip-toeing around others' sensibilities. While our hosts drone on about "Woo boy, we would've NEVER had another had we known what we were in for --- our first was wayyyy to easy!" Mr. ABF shoots me a mental "I'm sorry," and I telepath back that I most likely wouldn't have had the mettle to bring down an evening right from the start, either.

Later, there's a 20-minute discussion where everyone chimes in on how at one point or another they "forgot" their second child -- in their heads, in their arms, in the car -- and through the laughter, Mr. ABF and I mentally prop each other up and wonder how in fuck we're going to get through a lifetime of these inane conversations. We're like aliens standing there, listening to a room speak in Swahili while we stand on the perimeter missing the punchline -- and always will be.

I don't begrudge these people their stories -- hell, I'd be one of those parents that left a kid in a grocery cart -- I just wish I could add to them. But I either have the easiest second child on the planet seeing as how her remains neatly fit into my purse and can be left at home on the shelf while we go to the beach for a week, or the hardest to forget. I'll never forget my second child. She's the fifteen-pound ring around my midsection, the downward gaze of my husband, the circles under my eyes, the bracelet on my wrist. She's the wall between me and every parent in this room. She's the reason I'm choking down my wine with a stony expression. She's the reason I have heartbreaking discussions about death with my child -- anyone else having those?

And we say nothing. Everyone is laughing, dressed up, enjoying time away thanks to the babysitter. We collapse in the car on the way home, grateful to be out of the lion's den, and yet rueful that we missed another opportunity to introduce people to our normal. To our children. It is utterly exhausting to be in public. Still.

Monday, October 6, 2008

S.3142 and H.R. 5979 regarding Stillbirth

Last year, or any of the years previous, I didn't even know that Pregnancy and Infant Loss had it's own day, let alone a whole month. I found out, perhaps not surprisingly, from a lovely NICU nurse.

This year, the wonderful Antigone has spearheaded a movement to raise awareness about the day itself, and in addition, Senate Bill 3142: "Preventing Stillbirth and SUID Act of 2008." (The complimentary, but not identical bill, in the House is H.R. 5979. Those of you who remember School House Rock know that a bill must pass both the House and Senate before going to the President to be signed into law.) I know we're all desperately trying to wrap our heads around the subprime mortgage crisis (funny yet explanatory slide show here), cramming small bills into our mattresses, burning the window trim, and fashioning clothing from our draperies, but it would be nice if on Oct. 15th -- for a few minutes of one day -- the esteemed Lawmakers could focus on this issue.

I'm not hoping, I'm just sayin'.

(Also, might I add here, I explain some of the differences between these two bills below, but the Senate Bill is being sponsored by none other the the IL-D, Senator Barack Obama. Talk about the possibility of national awareness. So instead of only calling about the House Bill as the way below call to action suggests, I'm going to plug the senate bill by calling my senator AND the Obama HQ, and I encourage you to do the same -- in addition to calling your representative about the House Bill.)

I've been hesitating putting the whole shabang on the blog here until I read through the Senate bill itself, and I finally found a few minutes to do so. (Let's see if I can drum up a few more minutes and write about the damn thing.) I have some issues, which I'll relay below, but nothing that shouldn't be addressed to my (or your) senator when calling to voice my (your) support.

I'm not a stillbirth mom, but I could very well have been, and bills like this in the future may help moms like me. Let me explain.

For starts, the doctors told us on numerous occasions that Maddy's problems were so severe, that she really shouldn't have made it to term, let alone six days after. Which means, my six-day NICU experience was separated by the familiar ultrasound-with-no-heartbeat experience by the flimsiest of dividers. I could've been there.

As it is, I'm not, and Maddy's situation would not be applicable, but the results of this bill could very well have helped our doctors find a reason or at least eliminate some. The crux of the bill is a registry of sorts for that will amass information on stillbirth by establishing protocols for autopsies and the placenta (!). Other standardized factors of post mortem can be entered into this database (and here I'm assuming these would be questions posed the mother and doctor in addition to a pathology report, OR in the event that the parents decline an autopsy for whatever reason). The bill also places emphasis on "awareness" -- which may become more useful as the database increases. But I'm also assuming "awareness" includes PSA's on the database itself so that should a mother find herself in this unfortunate position, she (or her doctor) may already be aware that they help the greater cause (so to speak) by agreeing to participate in supplying information. My hope is that this becomes like organ donation, where people are less squeamish about autopsies knowing that something good may eventually come out of it all -- even if it's not their child's case specifically.

How would this have helped me? There would be an enormous pile of steaming hot data to compare my experience with. Our babies may have looked remarkably different on the inside, but what if our placentas (palcentae?) were not dissimilar? What if we both experienced a similar, unremarkable symptom at 25 weeks? Furthermore, the hope is that this study will actually find a link (or two) and suggest some diagnostic tools and safeguards for all women. You know by now my serious reservations on ultrasound technology as a diagnostic tool during pregnancy, but what if there was something else? What if someone designed a test of some sort for the 20th or 25th week to check for infection? Or realized that at week 28 they should zoom in on an particular organ that had been determined to show the first signs of distress? Anything??

What I like about the Senate bill: There's much to like. For starts, I like that the tone indicates we know a bit about stillbirth, but most people in this situation are left with no answers. Which means there's work to do. I like the coordinated effort and the acknowledgment that simple public awareness is needed and deserves funding in and of itself.

What I'm not crazy about: For starts, passing the buck on the defintion of "stillbirth." I'll go into this more on the House Bill (see below) but this, right here, is where things could get really sticky.

Also, with all due respect and sympathy to those who have lost children to SUID (including SIDS), I'm not sure I like that cause bundled with this bill. The two may very well be linked, but I think stillbirth needs a stand-alone bill, with a dedicated money pile and focus before we start making links like this. Not to mention, I think most parents are now aware of problems like SIDS and the more obvious risk factors (the Back to Sleep campaign has been quite successful). Are there still questions to be answered in this arena? You bet -- I'm sure there's nothing quite as devastating as finding your three month old dead one morning, even though you followed all the rules. Nothing like an ad campaign to label you an imbecile who was clueless about crib bumpers and tummy sleeping when in reality, your child's death remains a mystery. But I believe both of these issues need their own champions -- they are both important enough.

Finally, the wonderfully smart Julia alerted me that the NIH has an ongoing, long-term stillbirth study that is still in progress. It would probably behoove not only the authors of this bill, but the ultimate implementers, if this study were completed and in hand before moving forward.

As for the House Bill: I like that the House Bill stays focussed on Stillbirth. However, I'm a bit confounded that they're trying to push through the Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbrith in this version. This, my friends, is where things get hairy. It's not that I don't think parents deserve and need this piece of paper, because by God, they certainly do. (They deserve a helluva lot more, but validation of their children's existence is a nice start.) But no one to date has been able to settle on a definition here that doesn't open the door to the anti-choice movement using the bill as case-law and taking things in another direction entirely. As I commented on Antigone's blog, I'm distressed that deadbabies have become political footballs like this, but someone smart (like Julia!) needs to craft this language in a way that is careful and meaningful. Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth bills have failed on the state level in NY and NM because pro-choice representatives (and in NM, the governor) found the language vague enough to be dangerous.

I'm troubled because I would hate to see the idea of a national database torpedoed because people can't agree on the vocabulary behind and for this certificate. On the other hand, I'm somewhat cheered because this House Bill is co-sponsored by some very progressive, pro-choice representatives, so maybe -- just maybe -- they will be the ones to knit together just the right adjectives and terminology to make sense, and validate the children involved without turning them into launching pads for someone else's cause de jour.

In sum: database good. Extraneous stuff possibly bad, would like people to stay focussed on the issue at hand.

*******************

I now ask if you haven't already discussed the bill OR NATIONAL PREGNANCY AND INFANT LOSS AWARENESS MONTH/DAY on your blog/website/myspace page that you please take a moment for us and you to state the following as per Antigone:

October 15th is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in the United States. More than 25,000 children are stillborn in the United States every year leaving mothers, entire families and communities devastated. Estimates of the rate of occurrence of stillbirth make it at least as common as autism.

Stillbirth is not an intractable problem. Greater research would likely significantly reduce its incidence, but good research requires good data. H.R. 5979: Stillbirth Awareness and Research Act is under consideration by Congress. This proposed bill would standardize stillbirth investigation and diagnosis, thus providing more data for the needed research. Better research means fewer children born still.

On October 15th, remember the thousands of unfinished children lost and the families who remain to grieve them. Honor them by taking action. Let's help pass H.R. 5979.

Action Steps:

Step 1. Use Your Blog to Enlist Others
-Copy the contents of this entire post and publish it on your blog immediately.

GOAL: Enlist 10 of your readers to spread the word

Step 2. Use Your E-mail to Enlist Others
-E-mail 5 bloggers and ask them (nicely and in an unspammy way) to publish these action steps on their blog. Consider contacting celebrity bloggers, political bloggers, medical bloggers, or bloggers who are not part of your reading community.

GOAL: Enlist 3 bloggers outside of your normal blog sphere to spread the word in other online communities.

Step 3. Help Pass the Stillbirth Awareness and Research Act
-By October 15th, publish a post on your blog supporting H.R. 5979 Stillbirth Awareness and Research Act. For maximum impact, title your post: "Stillbirth Awareness and Research Act."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Forward Progress

It wasn't the most peaceful of outings.

Sure, there was the gurgling creek off to the side, the occasional rustle of leaves, the sound of birds, the whir of bugs. There was a brilliant blue sky, the layers of green surrounding me, the sound of feet on dirt. There was a hint of that lovely fall smell, with just a touch of crisp in the air, the damp soil and soggy leaves the morning after a night of rain.

I was paying so much attention to my new stopwatch, fumbling with the tiny buttons, making sure I stuck to the prescribed program de jour: eight minutes running, two minutes off, four reps.

I ran outside.

A few months ago, the trainers agreed it was time to run. So I hopped on a treadmill, ran for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of walking, and repeated that four times. I came home and iced my foot and started second guessing whether I should've had that surgery after all. I rested a few days, came back, and tried again. It was so incremental as to be frustrating -- like learning to drive stick after you already know how to drive standard. Moving, but not; feeling terrific followed by that creeping, nagging sensation that your heel is starting to burn. When you've run a marathon, getting maxed out at 30 seconds for a total of 4 minutes of movement on a stationary machine is brutal. Outside the window the kids were walking to school and every one of them seemed more mobile than I.

But I did it. And gradually worked my way up through their program -- 1 minute running. 2 minutes, up to 12 times. 4 minutes running with walking breaks. And when I hit eight minutes running, they said I could go outside.

I missed everyone out there on my route -- the other runners, the long-distance club from the college, the walkers, the bird watchers, the tourists, the dog walkers, the lone equestrian. I missed what I've dubbed "the men's walking group" -- a gaggle of men circa 55-70 who walk in a pack, jawing about sports. Last year, they used to all wear sports sweatshirts, and break their conversation to holler a cheery g'morning to me. Yesterday, with their T's, they resembled an Obama bloc canvassing for that elusive squirrel vote. "How ya doin!" "Beautiful Morning!" I could almost hear them say, as they looked at me somewhat inquisitively, "Where've ya been?

Or maybe that was me.


"Wassup." (always said more as a statement, than a question.)

"Beautiful woodpecker up there at 2 o'clock!"

"Don't mind him, he's friendly!"

[silent head nod, clearly wrapped up in their iMusic]

Almost exactly a year ago this week, in a mad effort to burn my pregnancy weight and rid myself of this sad, saggy reminder around my midsection and hindquarters, my foot collapsed. The plantar fascia which runs down the arch had begun to separate from the point where it attaches to the heel. Yesterday I ran four or so miles. I'm a bit stiff today -- stiff enough that I'm resting my heel completely, simply stretching, wearing my arch supports. Hopefully tomorrow morning I can try this timed segment once again. If I can do it twice without pain, I graduate to running continually with no walking. Just running. Letting my mind flit instead of monitoring my watch.

***

Here comes that serious-looking runner guy again -- the one with the compact body and the serious clothes and the serious sunglasses. We said our good-morning's at the first pass, but I never know what to say when I pass someone for the second time going in the other direction.

"Have a good one!" he said, raising his hand.

I hope he didn't see me spontaneously break out into an enormous shit-eating grin.

"Thanks! You too!"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Because it doesn't just happen to people like us

Just read that Matt Bryan't son Matthew died suddenly and inexplicably yesterday morning. He was three months old. Bryant is the place kicker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and from another news article I gleaned this bit of information:

Last November, the March of Dimes Florida Bay Division named Bryant and his family an ambassador family for raising awareness and funding for efforts to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Matt and Melissa Bryant's first child together, Tre, was born prematurely in 2006.


Thinking of them all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Be Ok

A little dedication to all of y'all. You know, those who don't want to be ecstatic or joyous or over-the-moon -- those who just want to, well, be OK. Just ok.

Ingrid Michaelson BE OK

Monday, September 22, 2008

Getting Past the Beginning

Mom, is that my baby sister?

No Bug, that's a sick baby in China.

My baby sister died. I want a new one.



*****************************


Although I'm clear of guilt in the process, knowing full well there's nothing I could've done, that's not exactly true.

I had 14 or so ultrasounds through 32 weeks, and all were fine. I know now that you can't see liquified white matter or lethal proteins or glaucoma on an ultrasound.

I did my kick-counts daily. And although Maddy was less active than Bella, she passed every single one. I know now some of these may have been seizure activity.

There was no time -- absolutely no time -- at which we could've delivered early and saved this pregnancy. If the one doctor was right, she was on a track headed in the wrong direction from conception. If the other doctor was right, she was gripped by infection around 25 weeks. If there's a future pregnancy, there is no point at which I can relax, no date which I can squarely wrap my head around and figure "That's it. If I make it there, and she's still kicking, she'll live." That date will be labor, and I'll find out shortly after a baby's removed from me, when a doctor gingerly tries to peel back an eyelid to see if the corneas are clouded over, whether that child will live or die.

I had amnio, it was perfectly normal.

I don't stay awake thinking that I should've called about that abdominal pain, or I should've pressed harder on a certain ultrasound reading. There were no signs to be had. I sought medical attention regarding the bleeding and the low-lying placenta, and the result was always the same: The baby is fine. I don't worry that I should've delivered her earlier -- I would've wound up exactly where I am now, just with a different set of dates to mourn around.

There is no point at which this train wreck could've been avoided.

Except the very first step: the phone call. Picking up the phone to call the RE, and explain in an attempted cool voice that yes, I'd like to try this again.

I did not remotely enjoy my pregnancy, and I'm very sure that to the extent babies are aware in utero, Maddy probably didn't enjoy it much either. And the only thing that could've prevented this entire mess, was not picking up the phone.

I explained to someone last week that I'm the kind of person that likes to at least explore things, say things, just so I know -- so I don't go through the rest of my life thinking What if. I went to visit all of the colleges I got into, even the ones I hated on sight, because I didn't want to stay up nights thinking Would I have been happier there? Did I make the right decision? I always got what was on my mind about a boy off my chest even if the answer was No, thank you, or in the case of my now-husband, at least 90 seconds and two subject changes after asking the question, Yes, yes I would.

And so there is a small piece of me that would consider going to the RE if nothing else to find out if there's even a chance. Of course the RE is always going to tell a patient there's a chance given the right protocol, but I feel I somewhat need to know the answers to my personal parameters so I can sleep at night, and lie next to my husband in good conscience knowing it was a matter of science and not my emotional failings: I was too old. There was no way we could have another safely.

But I can't pick up the phone. I find other things to do, other appointments to make first, weight that needs lost, things I need to take care of before embarking on the multi-appointment hell that marks the six-week work-up to figure out the condition of my reproductive system. I can't pick up the phone because this is where I could've saved Maddy. Right here. Pushing those buttons and making that initial three-day blood draw appointment followed immediately by calling the pharmacy. A cell phone call from an oppressively hot car on an Arizona street, the day after a wedding, on the way to get tampons and lunch. That's where I failed her, as I sat unknowingly holding her fate from the passenger seat in the rental car right around noon on that Monday. And I don't want to put another child through that ever again.

Maybe Maddy was the question. Maybe that was me asking if --What If -- I could have another child, and taking that chance, and I need to acknowledge that the answer was a resounding No.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bridges

Comments on the last post were actually healthy, s'mores notwithstanding: CLC asked why on earth people read blogs like ours who aren't experiencing "it." Niobe asked something similar here and I think the answers were telling. I know people read my blog who haven't experienced loss, but they come here because they've experienced something else. Maybe something similar. Maybe a different form of grief. Some come because they simply want to know, and are actually inspired, or find a way to put some relativity on their own lives. Some simply come because they've become "friends," and want to know more about me.

I personally think that's all lovely, and I truly appreciate everyone who finds the time to read the nonsense I occasionally find time to put up here. Knowing some of my readers haven't been through this exact drama actually comforts me. Knowing they read me makes me feel less like an oddity, more like just another gal who got slammed with some shit. And I'm here to tell them, they're good people for facing it. Better than a lot of people in my real life, better than some of my family.

Of course there's the occasional gawker, the accident-gaper, the person with the superiority complex, who I guess feels a bit intimidated by Martha Stewart, but not so much by the likes of us -- or those with myriad other problems, be it struggling with infertility, the possibility of a planned c-section, or just re-working their life philosophy. There are always those who read not to comfort, but to judge, and turn what they've read back into their life with the message: "I could do better." Um, Good for you? But that's not how you build community though, or understand, or meet people half-way, or reach out a hand, or offer sympathy, or listen.

For the majority of us/you, it pays to reach out and discover a bit of the universe you may know nothing about. Women (and men!) who live their days with grief, or with children with disabilities, or a disability of their own, or addiction, or sobriety, or cancer, or infertility, or scars of a traumatic emotional sort. Fellow bloggers can teach us strength, dignity, power, and yes, sometimes, even for the hard-hearted and cynical among us, a wee bit about hope.

Lolli began Bridges to compile these stories in one place. Fittingly, today I'm a guest blogger there, an oldie-but-goodie from GITW. Don't just read me, please poke through and see who else you discover. In a good way.