Sunday, June 5, 2011

Right Where I Am: Four Years, Three Four Months

(But Who's Counting.)

It's hot as Hades. I'm standing by the grill, monitoring the meat, and I look up and see that Ale has crawled into the (rusted, dirty) Radio Flyer. Mr. ABF picks up the handle and slowly starts pulling him around the yard. They quickly get to the spot in the grass, the exact spot under the chestnut kinda by the fence, where exactly four years ago right about now Bella did something cute. I honestly can't remember what it was, she was not yet three. But I do know it was a bright day like today, and I remember the ensuing conversation as if it happened five minutes ago:

Mr. ABF looked at me with a gentle, slightly sly smile and said, "How could you not want another one?" And I immediately burst into tears and practically shouted, "How could I lose another one?"

And through these ghosts, a silent dad slowly pulls a red wagon loaded with a fat baby gripping onto the sides for dear life as if he's plummeting downward through the hairy s-curves of a rickety roller-coaster.

I grin widely. I realize I have tears brimming over the corners of my eyes.

Must be my allergies.


When I saw Angie was doing this project, I thought, "Great Idea!" That was a while ago. I absolutely couldn't think of what to write, how to say it.

Four-plus years out is . . . easy. No wait, it's complicated. It's . . . hard to explain. It's probably why I don't blog so much anymore truth be told -- it's just hard to find a metaphor or a story that encompasses how it is I feel about IT. I'm generally happy and go-lucky and "back to normal" (whateverthehell that is), and honestly I can go for some amount of time without even thinking about IT. (And this is while wearing a bracelet with her name on it. Duh people, I tell you.) I sat completely bewildered in front of the paper this week as I read about a three year old who drowned, and was so overwhelmed with sadness for the parents, and wondered how the younger sibling would grow up with this history, and it honestly took me a day or so to realize why this story was hitting me with the amount of detail that it was.

It's a part of me, it's in there, it's not "healed" or "done" or "closed." But nor is it open, bleeding, cutting, hurtful. It's just there. It happened.



I know subsequent kids aren't supposed to provide the salve that mends the wound but there is a significant way in which Ale's presence has changed my mindset.

Maddy was -- and is -- a medical mystery. No one knows what happened, only that it was on a grand scale and fatal and weird. We gave Children's our permission to send out her samples for testing and review whenever they saw fit, without having to notify us each individual time and only contacting us should they get a hit on something. I didn't see the point of the up/down endless stream of waiting by the phone, so other than the first round of information following her autopsy which included a run through the Genome project and slides sent to numerous specialists around the country and even the world, we have received no news. No news in this case is no news. (I know they still run tests; when I called to tell them I was considering getting pregnant in '09, my point person said, "Oh! We were just talking about Maddy. We're running two more tests at Baylor." Clearly, nothing came of them.)

In retrospect the radio silence consumed me. It's not that I needed a cause or something to blame, but I needed information in order to move forward. To accept that one of our family heritages contained something lethal. To let Bella know in due time. To wonder if we could now get pregnant and test for this killer DNA, or use donor gametes. Or, perhaps, it was infection/abruption -- for sure, less likely to happen again, a moment of terrible luck. While I knew deep down I would probably never know, it seemed cruel that so much of my life was tied up in the knowing.

When we decided to run with the specialists who were on the side of infection/abruption and get pregnant again, Maddy came to the fore: The medical conundrum, the fetus who showed no signs of trouble through 32 weeks. The girl who stayed in an extra week, most likely because my body was the only thing keeping her alive. Maddy's identity is largely medical because that's all she was when she was here, and for that year that I conceived and gestated her brother, she was on my lips constantly. Why I wasn't excited, why I needed that test, why I wasn't setting up a room, why I was seeing a high risk doctor. It felt good to speak of her so frequently, even though what I was talking about was liquefied white matter and fatal cardiovascular malformations. I recently read Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and I got -- I mean, I really got -- how easy it is to anthropomorphize body parts after a person is dead. It's not that the family members are dumb or don't get that tissue doesn't feel pain, it's that that's all they know. It's why I catch myself saying, "Maddy's going back to Baylor," when really Maddy is dead and her ashes are on my bookcase and tissue from her leg is somehow flying in the mail to Texas.

But it's her, and I get to say her name, and this is how it is.

Ale was born, he came home, and suddenly . . . it was as if this entire chunk of Maddy's being ceased to matter. Do I want to know what happened? Well I suppose on some philosophical plane it might be interesting, but it no longer consumes me or glues me to the spot unable to think about tomorrow or ten years from now.

But because this was so much of how I thought about her, now I . . . think about her less. And when I do think about her, it tends to be other stuff -- how she looked, how soft her hair was, how little I was able to hold her.

I don't think that's a bad thing actually, it's a bit freeing really. And it doesn't mean I still don't get walloped occasionally by the grief stick. Some night in the past week I went in to check on Bella who was lying in perfect profile, so peacefully. Mr. ABF and I have recently commented that with the adult teeth coming in and this latest growth spurt that has her looking more tween than child, that her facial features are providing a glimpse of how she'll look in the future rather than that extension of the baby photos. And yet, in the quick moment that I took her in, just so, I was suddenly transported back to the night Maddy died, when I limped into the dark house and went immediately to Bella's room and crawled into bed with her. It remains one of my more visceral memories.


At some point during the week after Maddy died, Mr. ABF told me something (now VP) Joe Biden once said. He was on Meet the Press, and the subject of his first wife's and young daughter's deaths in a car accident came up. Tim Russert (may he RIP) asked if this was a "defining moment" in his life and Biden said defiantly (and I'm paraphrasing), "No. It was the worst time of my life to be sure, but it did not define me."

And we decided, Mr. ABF and I, that we wanted to get there, to be that, to believe that. To be able to tell people and have them say, "Ah, now I understand how you made it through," rather than, "Ah, now I understand you." (When I explained this to my therapist, it was more, "Ah, now I understand how you made it through," rather than, "Ah, now I get why you're holding that martini.") I did not want to become a parody for lost children, a bereft, emotionally unsound, alcoholic, vacant excuse for a mother like that dumb-ass caricature of a (still) grieving mother in The Time Traveler's Wife. I wanted to remember Maddy to be sure, but somehow do it without breaking down, without resorting to morbidity, without disturbing those around me. I didn't want to deny, but I wanted to memorialize.

And yet I didn't want it to define me. I wanted it to be a bad moment, but not shape my existence.

I had no fucking clue how.

I still don't. But I'm a lot closer to that idea than I ever in a million years thought I would be. I tell people now who don't know but know me a bit and they're surprised; they ask great questions, I don't fall apart, it's filed away in the "life is sometimes really fucking shitty" drawer. And we continue our conversation about the book of the month, or our kid's hockey practice, or why on earth spring seemed to last two minutes this year. To them I'm a mother (now I suppose of three), a historian, a reader, a sports fan, an old-house nut, a gardener, a baker, a cook, a gal who likes a good beer, who needs a new vet, a runner, a wife, a politically cynical harpy who loves a good sale.

It happened. And I'm still functioning.


JoyAndSorrow said...

I absolutely love this post and relate so much to not wanting this to be your identity. I am much greener at this, only six months out, but I just blogged about this very topic and my need to untangle this mess of what happened versus what defines me and what can and can not be traced back to my loss. *hugs* ~Lindsay

Hope's Mama said...

I think that's what drew me to your blog in the first place. The title. Even three years ago, you were awful but functioning. And in those early, raw and grief filled moments of my life, I needed to hear that. I needed to know that at some point in the future, I would function again.
I'm so bloody glad you took part in this project. It really has brought so many of my favourite bloggers back to my screen, especially the ones who have been hanging around here a bit longer.
Though our stories are ultimately quite different, I still got so much out of this, and still nodded along to almost all of what you said.
We'll always miss Maddy with you, Tash.

Natalie said...

I love this post. Love it. I love the honesty, the simple truths. It just feels so right to me, echoing what I feel.

Laine said...

I've been a lurker of yours for some time now. Just recently started a blog myself so now I feel comfortable leaving a comment. Thank you. My son was stillborn just a month after your Maddy. Your posts always seem to have the "that's exactly it" moment for me. Which of course is comforting in that sad, awful way. This post did it again. Thanks!

Jeanette said...

Like Sally, I was initially drawn to your blog by the title, and your writing kept me coming back. I see some similarities between our stories. My Florence also has slides of her major organs shipped around the country to specialists, nothing has ever come back from them.
It's good to read others posts and know it's possible to keep on functioning.

Brooke said...

I am six months out today and this post made tears spill over because I still want to feel better and I do feel better and I feel guilty about feeling better or easier or whatever and I want to try to have another baby but I'm scared and I think it would help to get pregnant but I also think it would be terrifying and I want another baby but also I just want Eliza back and in the middle of all of this, I just needed to hear someone say that someday I will feel like myself again and even with this in my past, eventually it will really feel like things are okay again.

Pardon the run-on sentence, and thank you for posting this. Obviously I needed to read it.

IndieBambino said...

Beautifully said. Though I know the "why" of my son's death, I do not know the "how" or the exact "when" of certain events that led to his death -- and it is maddening, but you are right when you ask "Does it matter?". No, really it doesn't. They are gone now, and they are not coming back. Peace is more important, and I still seek it.

erica said...

Thanks for this post, Tash. I remember finding your blog through glow and while, like others, I appreciated the title, I think what I loved immediately about it was your use of dark humor and profanity and the way you straightforwardly wrote about how much losing Maddy sucked.

And all those things are here in this post, too, which is pretty wonderful. I still dither, sometimes, between wanting to give up and let the loss define me. I think my reasons for not doing that are still mostly other people instead of myself. But I'm closer to wanting it for myself than I have been for a long time.

still life angie said...

I was drawn to your blog by your profanity. And your sick sense of humor, which I share. I think one of the things that has changed for me is not remembering sometimes that babylost people and I share dead babies as our connector. How did we become friends? Hmmm, I forget. Oh, right. We share It. This is the sentence that just made me want clowns, and confetti and dancing poodles and shit: It's a part of me, it's in there, it's not "healed" or "done" or "closed." But nor is it open, bleeding, cutting, hurtful. It's just there. It happened.


That is it exactly.

Thank you for participating in this project. xo

Kate said...

I'm both comforted by this and feel guilty about being comforted by it. We've emailed before, and our situations are a little different - my son was a year old when I lost him. So there's the week in CHOP and the horror of those memories and then there are 13 months of wonderful memories of his life.

Over year out, pregnant again, I'm starting to feel a little bit of what you're expressing here. I feel more like myself a lot of days. My thoughts tend to look more toward the future than the past. And, best of all, the memories from Max's life are separating from the memories of his death...for so long they were intrinsically tangled. I look forward to continuing onto a place where it's not so much of who I am, but at the same time I still feel guilty about that.

loribeth said...

I'm so glad you took part in this, Tash. Good to get an update from you too! : ) Someone, I think it was Julia S., once said something to the effect that she didn't want her lost babies' legacy to be that their mother fell apart, that their brief lives meant the destruction of hers. I feel that too. Losing Katie was definitely a defining moment for me -- but I don't want it to be the one thing that defines me. Grief & loss are a huge part of my life, but they're not all that I'm about.

Kristin said...

I often feel guilty reading the comments on your posts because I haven't lost a baby or child. But I love your writing. I love your profanity (absent though it may have been in this post). I love your honesty. I love your clarity. And I owe you such a debt of gratitude for helping me to understand, to the extent possible for an outsider, what a couple of friends of mine have experienced through their babyloss. Thank you, Tash, for expressing yourself exactly the way you do.

I am also so happy to see where you are now. I only came to your blog around last Christmas, but I read every single post over the course of several days. They ripped my heart out while also making me laugh my head off.

I wish you all the best as you continue to be where you are, day by day by day.

Alice said...

What a wonderful post. I could relate to so much in this. I actually feel that I am defined by what happened to me. But I'm defined by it in a postive way. I don't quite know what that means. I'm still finding out. But is some how gets me around the 'defined by it or not' question. Thanks so much for your thoughts. Alice

Peg said...

Lovely post. My sister and her husband were killed in a car accident 18 months ago leaving behind 4 girls. We have adopted two of them. My life has turned upside down. I'll still waiting for the day that I don't feel defined by the accident or the aunt who took in my nieces. But at the same time this horrible thing happened and I don't want to forget. This grief thing is complicated. Thanks for always being so thoughtful and honest. Your words here and on glow in the woods have really moved me.

Erica said...

Love this post and relate so much to not wanting this to be your identity. Love the simple truths.

Homeowner Insurance

Val said...

Tash, I anxiously await your book - you are such a great writer!

I've been trying to spend less time in cyberspace & more in the Real World... Neither do I want to be "defined" by my own difficult road to motherhood & the challenging trail thereafter. I've gotten my boy well over halfway to adulthood now; time to come up w/a new goal.

Rachel said...

Wow...that was great...just very honest and I could relate to parts of it easily. Especially the parts about Ale and how he added/subtracted emotions and such in your relationship to grief. Remembering Maddy.

Fireflyforever said...

I'm not sure if I've ever commented here before, Tash but I'm another who was drawn here by the pitch black humour, which seems unfathomable sometimes to non-dbms.

I'm another one who relates to Joe Biden's comment. I don't know how to NOT let it define me some days but a lot more days now, IT is just something that happened, it's crap and I live with it.

charmedgirl said...

at almost 4 years, the pain is not on my skin anymore; the pain has evolved. i can't even really call it pain anymore.

at almost 4 years out, i can only reap the benefits having her brought to my life and my self. after 3 years of therapy, i moved out with the three and my divorce is almost final. I AM HAPPY. THE TIME IS NOW, for christ's sake. i was blind, and she made me see. actually, i made myself see, in her honor.

so, at almost four years out, babydeath doesn't define me, but it's forced me to define myself, not entirely like my alive children! i am happy with all my children...and myself.

tash, i'm so happy to read this happy you are doing well.

(ps- FINALLY going for the deposition in august...)