Thursday, February 21, 2008

Toddler, Interrupted

So: I was going to thank you (thank you all, by the way) and go all Stephen King on your asses and tell you about writing the last week, and how it came to be and how it made me feel and yadda yadda yadda, eyes glazing over, but with a bit of profanity. But I'll save that post until tomorrow.

Last week, during our time out for grief, Bella was rather nonplussed by the whole thing. On Tuesday, she asked why we were buying flowers, and we told her. She asked why we were lighting a candle, and we told her. But she didn't follow up, and I don't like to push things down her little eardrums that aren't sought, and so I said nothing. I can't say I blamed her for not being interested, because really, how could she possibly remember or know?

This morning, on the way to school, we passed the hospital. Not THE hospital, delivery hospital, but our little local hospital that's a routine sign post en route to her school parking lot.

Bella: There's the hospital!

Me: Yup! There it is!

Bella: That's where I was when I was a baby.

Me: No, sweetie, you were born in another hospital, in [state where we used to live], by our old house.

Bella: No, that's where I went to visit you in the hospital, when I was a baby yesterday. (Her way of saying, any time in the last 3.5 years.)

Me: (Suddenly realizing what's going on) You did come to visit me in the hospital. But not that one. Maddy was born in a different hospital.

And suddenly, from the back seat, in Bella's small but articulate voice tumbled memories of her coming to visit me the morning after Maddy's birth. She remembered everything: the pictures of Maddy that the nurses had put on the wall, sitting on my bed and eating snacks off my tray, going to cafeteria to eat lunch with her grandparents. When I parked the car, I turned around and said, "you have a very good memory. That was a year ago. You know, Maddy's birthday was last week. She would've been one year old."

Bella: (looking a bit alarmed) what did we do? Did we have a cake?

Me: No, we didn't have a cake. We bought flowers.

Bella: Anything else?

Me: Flowers. And we lit a candle.

Bella: No cake??? Anything else?

Me: Well, we're thinking of getting her a bench, with her name on it at [park Bella knows].

Bella: (silent for a moment) You know, I think they have PUPPIES IN THAT PARK!! PUPPIES! puppies puppies puppies puppies blah blah blah puppies . . . . segue . . .

Only yesterday, did I comment on Searching's blog, that Bella never met Maddy. Bella fell below the age-limit for the NICUs, and worse, she was at the time in the midst of a four month runny-nose and post-nasal-drip hack. The nurse at Children's was geared up to "get around this somehow," but I demurred -- the last thing I needed on my head was Bella cough-spitting in the NICU and giving some poor tot with a deficient immune system a virus that would prove deadly. (I felt somewhat vindicated when two days after Maddy's death, she ran a temperature of 101, and had to be taken to the doctor.) Plus, I thought, she won't remember anyway. She's too young. Now, this morning, I realize, she remembers everything. Oh my God, what have I done?


Last fall, at the Deli Counter in the supermarket, I found myself in conversation with another mom from Bella's school (child in another class). I have zero idea how this came up, but you know it does with certain people, and there she was with her two boys telling me how she really wanted a third, next summer, maybe August. Did my best not to sputter at the absurdity of simply desiring a child and presto! having it happen, but let it go.

And this morning, after this conversation with Bella, I found myself walking out of the school behind this woman, talking with another mom, and suddenly heard her announce, "By the way, I'm pregnant. Eight weeks."

Yes, apparently you CAN simply desire children (live ones, duh) and they will fall into your lap like fresh fruit hanging from a tree. There are people who can casually discuss conception and pregnancy as easily as if they were ordering a latte, while some of us have discussions about baby death in the car before preschool. Everyone was right: so far, year two is worse. Much, much worse.


charmedgirl said...

i still wonder how much mine know of paige; they know enough to have pretend "baby sister" dolls, but what do they really know? they were also 2.5 when it happened.

people who can plan conception like that...the whole thing turns me into a melty wax ball of envy and hatred. really. i wonder how many things i am ignorant of, the way they are of their fertility.

niobe said...

This is the part where I want to stick my fingers in my ears and say "lalalalala I'm not listening."

But, really, i think you have the opportunity to shape the way you want Bella to remember Maddy, by focussing on certain details and by talking about her sister, exactly the way it sounds like you're already doing. Memories for young children tend to be very fluid and plastic and often, years later, what they really remember are the discussions about any given event and the reactions to it, and not the actual event itself.

Searching said...

I think you did the right thing. Bella has only positive memories of her sister, no scary wires and tubes and a baby unable to open her sweet eyes. She remembers the love and that there are two children in your family. You are an amazing mother.

You may have saved the life of another child. We had one 8mo, former 23 weeker, fought like hell to live and was doing great. Then she got (disease I won't mention in case someone can identify her) and it spread to her brain. I'll spare you the details but no one could care for her without crying. She looked like something no human should ever have to look like. Her own mother refused to see her. She died. Sad thing is, she probably got it from a family member/friend. Maybe someone with a cold sore kissed her or sneezed on her. She was almost one of our best success stories. Almost. So by keeping a sick little Bella away you did a really good thing.

I'm so sorry about the magic baby making machine woman. It always is a knife in my heart when I see people like that.

artandwords said...

Tash, I ditto what's written above. I really do think you made the best decision, given the variables at hand (not that this makes it any easier).

So sorry that year two started out with even more suckitude. It just seems so unfair -- you and your family deserve some sort of respite and peace. Thinking of you lots, and sending much love. kit

Dayna said...

I think Bella would have been frightened by the wires, and that it was a good decision that you made. Especially if she was sick.

I agree with Niobe's comment.

Also, if you can possibly bear it (and certainly, if you can't, no one would blame you) if it would mean something to Bella to have a cake, or if Bella has another way of remembering her sister that's important to her, maybe that's something worth thinking about?

Coggy said...

The things kids come out with never ceases to amaze me. We always think they're oblivious to these things. FWIW I think it was probably the best thing for Bella not to see Maddy in the hospital. It would have probably been upsetting and maybe not the way for Bella to remember her.

On a completely trivial an unimportant level I've tagged you on my blog for a mindless post if you're up for it.

Amy said...

Kids are amazing! I am so totally shocked at the fact that some people are so nonchallant when it comes to having children but then again, I guess I was once that way too!

missing_one said...


yeah, A had just turned two a week before J was born. Every now and again he'll do weird things like spit out random memories.
the other day, "mama, you have baby in your tummy"
me, "no, no baby in my tummy"
A, "where baby go to?"
me, "remember, baby went away"
A, "oh, yes, baby sister flew away"


they remember everything! You are so correct! None of the books are correct at all!

Lisa b said...

Tash this is a heartbreaking story about Bella. You know you did the right thing by avoiding making another baby sick. I think Niobe is right about how important what you are doing moving forward will be to her memories of Maddy.

it is unlike me, but when faced with people who are oblivious of the reproductive struggles of others I always barely manage to keep myself from wishing them ill and just hope that they know how damned lucky they are.

CLC said...

Kids are really perceptive and pick up more than we ever give them credit for. It's great that you had this discussion with Bella and hopefully there will be more to come so she will grow up with a beautiful memory of her sister.

kalakly said...

Mine, being 10 and 6 have completely different ideas about having a dead litle brother. We actualy had to tell my son(10) that even tho the baby had died, he was still his brother. My daughter talks about him all the time, he's just as real to her dead as he was in my tummy...really more of a wish and a dream to her. I think you did right by Bella, she has her memories of what happened, having seen a little one how Maddy was may have scared her and altered her whole idea of docs, hospitals etc..This way you can help her keep her happy memories of her sister the way she imagined her.
I always say to my husband, the chapter on "What to expect when things go Wrong" wasn't written by someone who had things go wrong...way, way wrong.

Having been one of those who in my former life ordered up my perfect pregnancy, twice, and now seem to have used them all up, I get to hate everyone who can do it and myself for forgetting how to before I was finished. That's fun.

Bon said...

Tash, the juxtaposition of those two conversations - with Bella in the car, your heart sinking, and with that mom so casually announcing the fulfillment of her plans - had to be particularly heartrending.

even well into year 3, i'm often viscerally, painfully reminded that the whole baby sweepstakes is just plain unfair. i am so sorry.

Antigone said...

Seems like we were all like that once. Two years ago I sat in my office and made a Gantt chart which I would bring home to my husband. It illustrated when we would conceive and birth each of our four children. I'd scheduled it all perfectly, fitting them in during session breaks from law school. I got pregnant with the first one on schedule and then with a gush of blood I went back to my chart and adjusted my timeline. With a little bit of tweaking everything was neatly scheduled again. And then another gush of blood months later...and another...Now there's no Gantt chart.

kate said...

i did not have a chance to respond here earlier...i think niobe is right about the way children remember things.

It struck me that Bella was shocked that Maddie had a birthday with no cake. Very toddler! For Chloe, birthday & cake are synonymous.

I don't make a cake for Nicolas but we do have cupcakes every year. I have also heard of people doing ice cream sundaes, etc.

Michelle said...

I'm a new reader. I was going to say I really enjoyed reading your blog, but enjoyed is just not the right word. We're quickly approaching the day our daughter was stillborn and it freaks me out.

My 4-year-old son still waits for her to come home. I made him a storybook, with the few pictures I have, telling the story of how we were planning on two babies, but only got one.

And? I HATE the strong label. Really? What other choice is there?

I wish I had words of wisdom, but I don't - and I'm so sorry you lost your Maddy.