Monday, October 29, 2007

An Onion

When I think about the big question here, and I'm talking about whether to try and expand my family, I think about peeling an onion. So many layers that I'm not sure where to even begin -- it's all so overwhelming that I usually don't get far beyond the brown paper part and suddenly I'm running for the hills.

That, or I think about one of those flow charts -- you know, "I want a baby!" If you want it by some of your own genetic material, go HERE, if no, go HERE:

But it quickly looks like this:

The choices seem so big, each of them so hard to tackle individually, how could I possibly sort through the entire process? Do I want to be pregnant again? Could I do it without completely losing my mind and giving myself preeclampsia from the high blood pressure I'm sure to develop? (Good lord, just sitting here writing about it gives me palpitations.) Very good money-down odds that the medical establishment will not have uncovered Maddy's problem by the time I need to get moving on this question. That means no amount of prenatal testing could shield us from another disaster. Ergo, should I consider egg or sperm donation to get one Awful set of genes out of the mix, and if yes, which and why? This is entirely begging the question, could I get pregnant again? Could I handle the heartache of a negative pregnancy test, a run-of-the-mill miscarriage (bwah), finding out at 11 or 16 weeks that there's a problem, finding out after giving birth that this awful thing has happened all over again? Could I even enjoy another child when I have trouble finding joy in the one I currently have? Does this mean that I'd have some serious hangups with adoption? Is adoption the karmic answer: a daughterless mother adopting a motherless daughter? Am I ready for the rejection, setbacks, and possible medical snafus that can happen on the adoption front? Do I really want another child, or do I want Maddy back? Or both?

You see what I mean? I need a drink. Back in a sec. Talk amongst yourselves.

Ok. As much as I'd like to put off this question until I'm in a warm lavender scented bath and the answer just washes over me, I sorta have to think about it. Now. I'm in my mid thirties in my late thirties in my upper thirties. Let's just say I'm an age that rhymes with Dirty Gate. So it's not like I have years of luxurious baths to wallow in, know what I mean? And then there's the whole infertility thing, seeing as I require a bit of poking and handholding and pills and whatnot in order to even attempt to get pregnant. So if I'm thinking about it again, I should probably think about it sooner than later. Like tomorrow.

Just not now.

So I'm trying to figure out where to even begin this discussion with myself (and, well, you) so I don't get overwhelmed and I don't even know where to do that because within seconds my brain is spinning down the path of endless, scary, deadbaby questions.

But what keeps popping into my mind when I try and focus on this for a few seconds (FOCUS PEOPLE!) is that really fucked up and wildly overquoted Tennyson line: "'Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all." Which right now I think is a ton of bullshit. When Mr. ABF stares at Bella in wonder and says, "how could we not have another?" I respond, usually tearing up, "How can I lose another?" I simply don't know if I'm strong enough to endure more heartache. I cannot at the present wrap my head around optimism, joy in numbers, comfort in more love. I can't even imagine it. To me, right now, there is no pre-Maddy or post-Maddy; like a historian, I'm now reexamining the past through the lens of the present. I can't even enjoy photos of Bella as a baby, because instead of reliving the loveliness (or exhaustion as it were) of that time, I now stare at the photographs with the eye of an expert witness and wonder what Maddy would look like at that age. What color would her eyes be? Would she be as solid as her sister? Would her hair also have a slight strawberry tinge to it? Am I cursed to live the rest of my life looking through this lens, constantly re-evaluating everything given Maddy's loss? If so, is it really fair to bring a baby into this? One I'll just stare at and use as a vehicle to wonder about her sister, and not enjoy right in front of me?

It boggles the mind. And it means that I can't really fathom bringing another being into my family, at least not right at this minute. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week. But I'm running out of time, and need to deconstruct some of this onion, stat.

By the way, Tennyson's Memoriam has much better lines, in my opinion. Case in point:

That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Soooooo . . . . anyone else a fan?

SPOILER ALERT: Will discuss series, including finale. If you haven't watched off your TiHo yet, grab yerself a glass a wine and buckle up. Then get your ass back here.

And if you don't watch, please be patient because eventually this really does get a wee tad on point. And start recording reruns now, because it's awesome.

I'll watch Glenn Close read the phone book, so I was thrilled (thrilled!) to have a great excuse to watch her at her manipulative best as Lawyer extraordinaire Patty Hewes. Insert your bunny in the pot joke here, but I think Patty almost channelled my favorite Close character, Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil. During one of those dog park interludes with Zeljko Ivanek as lawyer Ray Fiske (and damn, is he amazing or what) where he would beg for something of her without acting like begging at all, I really expected her to turn and stare him down, and through pursed lips say with the utmost clarity and diction: "Cruelty."

Delicious. The lawyer who spies on her own employees! The lawyer who hires employees just to get at their soon-to-be-sisters-in -law! The lawyer who orders a hit on her employee's soon-to-be-sister-in-law's dog! While everyone on screen is kvetching that they don't know whom to trust, you the viewer are also in a bit of a conundrum wondering just who the bad guys here are, and who exactly they're working for. Just when you think Patty is working for the common man, she serves her own son (!) with marching papers and an uncapped pen. She is cold, calculating, manipulative, eeeeeeevil. I fucking love her to bits.

So: end of show, crap hitting fan, evil woman of steel seen driving into cemetery and sobbing rather deliriously over a grave. This wild-haired moment is really the most emotive we've probably seen Patty in the show, notwithstanding grandly sweeping a day's work off her desk. (Case in point, she was about as expressive as a potted fern when her son was rudely kidnapped by brainwashers, er, taken to a camp for problem kids and screamed "Mom!" out of the van in terror.) We find out she hasn't been to this grave in 35 years. Then through flashbacks, in a sterile room with some instructional vis-aids regarding the uterus tacked to the wall, we see a doctor saying something to the effect of, "It was a girl. The baby was dead before you delivered her. Would you like to put a name on the death certificate?" Cut to out-of-control Patty sweeping the overgrowth off a grave marked "Julia Hewes" and sobbing.

Patty Hewes' baby daughter died 35 years ago.

Patty Hewes' baby daughter died 35 years ago!!??!! Dude, my life IS IN A PLOT LINE OF "DAMAGES." Seriously, how cool is this? It's not a silent problem! It happens to people! Her baby died! But hold the phone, WHY IN HELL did the writers have her be a bereaved mom? Hmm? Personally, I think the answer lies in her relationship with the young, female attorney she hired at the beginning of the season, Ellen. Over the course of the series, Ellen turned from a smart-as-a-whip yet rather street-wise naive young woman into a conniving, manipulative attorney herself. Even though Patty had other motivations for hiring her at the start (getting to a witness for a case), one has to assume by the umpteenth episode that Patty rather likes Ellen, or at least admires her for maturing into, well, a woman not unlike Patty herself. In essence, Patty has a somewhat caring, somewhat frustrating mother/daughter relationship with headstrong Ellen. It could be that Ellen has become the missing daughter in Patty's dysfunctional life. Awwwwwww.

Except Patty tried to kill Ellen. No, really. That's the big reveal in the season finale (although I rather expected it). After the hit is sent through and then foiled, Patty grieves all over again, for the daughter she lost, and for the faux mini-me daughter she (thinks she) lost. While she thinks Ellen is dead, she is so moved to visit the grave of her dead Julia, leaving the audience to put two and two together.

So let's back up and put two and two together: PATTY TRIED TO KILL HER. Didja get that part? The murder part? So what I'm getting at here is that, according the FX writing workshop, Baby dying = woman who shuts down emotionally and becomes fucking bat loco homicidal. I mean, I know the Patty/Ellen relationship is complex (as are most mother/daughter pairings), but attempting to kill her and directly tying it into this graveside visit? Yikes. I'm not sure whether to be outraged or afraid for the lives of those around me. Is this what greater America thinks of women who lose children? That we become emotional vacuums? That we become psychotic? That we become power lawyers at the expense of family relationships and ethics? (And hey, where do I sign up for that?) That we casually kill house pets to make points? I'd like to think this is just a big slam on lawyers, and female lawyers at that, but I'm pretty sure the writers are trying to lead us somewhere else entirely. Hide the bunnies, people.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


You know the symbol:

opposites working in conjunction with one another to form a whole. (And by the way, one of my childhood friends who spoke Mandarin INSISTED "yang" was pronounced with a short-a, not a long-a.) The oreo cookie of philosophy. The symbolic Romeo and Juliet. The contradictory yet delicious salsa of jalapenos and pineapple. And so forth. (Oh hell, Wiki says it better than I can.)

Back in February, "oppositional" seemed to define the gendered division of grief at la casa Awful. Mr. ABF rose to the occasion magnificently while I cowered sobbing in the corner. He made the phone calls, filled out the forms, and took care of the cremation. I could not be bothered to speak to anyone, and so he bravely stepped forward to explain the ugly details to neighbors who trickled over wondering what was going on, and then to accept gifts. He fielded calls from my immediate family when I blew them off for about two months. He was very much the public face of our family for quite some time, while I was a splotchy mess who didn't get out of her pajamas and couldn't be bothered to leave the second floor.

I slowly inched out in public, much to his relief. But I realized by this point that we were grieving very, alarmingly differently. How could he do these Herculean things -- walk to the fence and speak to someone pushing a baby stroller while I felt sick and ran into the house? How was it he could talk so evenly about "it"? And not break down and cry every five minutes? And take time and care to shave and cut his hair? We went to a few sessions of grief therapy together, and then due to scheduling began going separately. Mr. ABF would arrive home with a smart, tidy dissertation about his organized three-point session and lessons learned, and I stared in amazement: here I showed up at the therapist's, cried inconsolably, blathered, and left. I was somewhat hoping all the crappy books were crap, but apparently we were conforming to the jello mold of grief right down to the canned mandarin oranges, man and woman expressing emotions in separate spheres. Do men and women really grieve that differently, I wondered? Are we the quintessential Mars/Venus of deadbabydom?

Summer happened, and I regained a little more functionality including the ability to travel, talk with extended family, socialize with my neighborhood, and -- get this -- go in semi-public wearing a swimsuit. Instead of facing the ass-iversary alone, I decided the weekend of my daughter's birthday and our anniversary that I would throw not one but two parties. A year ago this weekend we had announced our pregnancy to our family, and not wanting to repeat the site or gathering or audience, I invited a cast of thousands (ok, more like 30) over to share what in any other year would have been modest if not private affairs. I simply needed the social support around me. Left to my own dining room and family reminiscing, I knew I would become a puddle.

And then the babies came. On Mr. ABF's side of the family.

At the end of August, rather suddenly, Mr. ABF began shutting down. Not speaking to family. Craving quiet with Bella. Tearing up when discussing a memorial bench for Maddy. I've tried moving my therapy sessions to "the next step" and his intellectual discursives are suddenly unspeakable, heavy, and brooding conversations about Maddy. When I ask how they went, I no longer get the methodological rundown on his mental health sessions, but an exhale followed by "pretty brutal."

Grief is not linear, that we know. You don't just constantly improve until you're over it; you meander, go down alleyways, occasionally speed through the express lanes, and often grind to a halt for what seems like eternity. And grief seldom operates in a vacuum -- typically, you're grieving a child right along with your spouse. Our therapist warned that couples often grieve oppositionally -- that is, if one spouse is dysfunctional for a while, the other steps forward (somewhat unconsciously) to fill in. So, what appears to be happening is that I'm finally functioning at a level that is giving Mr. ABF space to grieve, and grieve hard. We're not so much grieving differently as we are grieving at different times. This rather sucks. I'm finally ready to do some things (look at me email and call the person in charge of memorials! Whee!), and suddenly I'm propping Mr. ABF up while doing so. I'm finally in a position where I'm cooking meals again (Hey! Look! Roasted Chicken and Lemon, NOT toast and eggs!), and Mr. ABF eats in silence.

Far be it from me to complain: Mr. ABF was remarkable while I ate nothing out of the coffee food group, and he stood strong while I left the room sobbing any time the word "memorial" popped up. I realize now that we're not alarming in our differences, we're alarming in our ability to keep the family together during this shitstorm while taking time out to grieve individually. We appear to be, as a couple, rolling along as one black and white circle, each filling in for the other depending on what needs done when and who feels shitty when. We're the proverbial oreo cookie rolling along the counter. Dibs on the cookie part.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Meaning of Life

Surprise, surprise, I'm not a horribly religious person. I like to think of myself as an atheist who leans Buddhist. (I thought this was a really clever turn-of-phrase, until I read it in a NYT metro column when a guy referred to his dead friend as such. Ah well.) I never really much contemplated "the meaning of life" in the abstract, being all hung up with mine and all. I guess personally I thought I should maybe do something constructive outside of myself. You know, instead of just fulfilling my "to do list before I die" (run marathon? check. Dissertation? check. Mayan ruins? check. Sistine Chapel? check.) maybe I could do some stuff that would help others, or make some impact on the earth. Like, um, lessee . . . . well, ugh. Sure, I've done the serve Thanksgiving to the homeless, play music for the infirm, rescue animals, and donate money to a myriad of causes. I'm even in the process of exchanging my car for a hybrid. But nothing with impact. Well, ok, hopefully I've positively impacted some people I've run across (Mr. ABF, now would be a nice time to nod your head), and I certainly think being mom o' Bella has broadened my sense of how I can influence her and hopefully, thereby, others. Peace in your generation, girl! (NOW EAT YOUR FREAKIN' CHICKEN, YOU UNGRATEFUL LITTLE FART!!)

(Totally kidding.) (Pretty much.)

I have thought, though, that people have purpose, talents, gifts, no matter how small, and it's lovely when they share them with the rest of humanity. There are the biggies that have affected life as we know it like Jonas Salk. There are those who (used to) bring me joy like Kieth Haring and Joshua Bell. Then there are just the everyday people that make some small difference in your life, and that when strung together, maybe give it a bit of meaning. I'm talking about everyone from my old roommate who taught me how to make soup from scratch sans recipe, to my childhood violin teacher. Maybe you have some contractor who treats your house remarkably well and makes you appreciate it all the more. Or a regular at a store who has come to signify "it's Tuesday! Bet that gal smiles at me when I check out!" and realize that your Tuesday feels a little less Tuesday-ish when she isn't there. Reach out and touch someone, I say! Pass the Ball! Pay it Forward! Teach a man to Fish! And all that nonsense.

But I'm completely flummoxed when I try and figure out why Maddy was here, and what purpose her being here served. Other than to wreck my life totally, that is. She was here, but not really. She never opened her eyes (and she had glaucoma so opening them wouldn't have done much good anyhoo), and according the doctors, in all probability never heard us speaking to her, or felt us touching her. Minus a few minutes there, she never breathed on her own. She increasingly needed the assistance of drugs to keep from seizing, keep her blood pressure in order, and combat a raging acidosis. She would flinch at the light, and I swear move slightly (the first few days) to stabs in heel, so there must have been some nerve impulse somewhere in that sad body of hers accepting some faded signals. But let's face it: she lay there. She was beautiful, but she lay there. No smiles, no sighs, no handholding, no eating, no fight. Nothing. Am I glad I held her? Sure, from a maternal aspect, now that she was in front of me, helpless and all, yes I really am. But I'm not sure that's why she was here. Because it really didn't do me much good, apparently.

When I went to a support group after Maddy's death I was dumbfounded at how every parent seemed to have at the ready a significance as to why their child was here on earth, and a way in which their child had positively moved their life. To give me strength, to make me "believe" (whatever that meant, I'm still not sure), to show me love, to give me joy, and on and on and on. I asked bewildered when this came to them -- was it still too early in the process for me? Was it because I only had a week with her? Would this hit me like a bolt of lightning? At some point, say while out weeding, suddenly: "EUREKA! MADDY WAS HERE BECAUSE ___________!"? They rather stared at me on that one, and admitted they all had the answer pretty much immediately. Ouch.

I loved her, that much I know. I wanted her. I desperately willed her to be healthy, and then to live, and then desperately wished that she would go quickly and peacefully. But that and a few dollars will get me a Grande Caramel Latte. I'm really completely unclear as to what to draw from this life, and my reaction. When my husband says that he now has some new attitude because Maddy taught him "Life is Short," I stare as if he landed in my kitchen via alien space beam. How can he, who went through the same week I did, have received this incredible life lesson while here I am double checking to make sure he didn't just repeat my lesson, "Life is Shit"? Life is precious, he intones earnestly, and she was a fighter. To quote Graham Greene from "Thunderheart" (completely cheezy B-movie but I love Greene to pieces, and Val Kilmer's ass even more) complete with the narrowed eyes and the frustration, shock, disbelief, jealousy, and lack of faith in his own ability to have a religious epiphany, "You had a Vision. A man waits a long time to have a vision, and he may go his whole life without having one."

(We pause here to consider a '92 Val Kilmer in jeans.) (Take your time.)

I wanna vision. (Stamps foot.) I want desperately to believe Maddy was here for a reason. A GOOD one. A meaningful one. No matter how small. The best case fantasy I suppose is that some obscure scientist poking through her genetic makeup will discover her anomaly holds the key to diabetes. Or lactose intolerance. Oh hell, I'd settle for male-pattern baldness. But failing that, I'd like to think she changed my life for the better, or better yet, taught me a lesson in zen fashion. I'd love someday, while folding laundry, to suddenly lull into a semi-conscious state and experience enlightenment, thus realizing that shitty week with Maddy taught me patience, or kindness, or peace, or the "life is short" mantra, or even a way to rearrange my kitchen. I want her awful six days of existence on this planet to mean something. To Me. It doesn't have to mean anything to anyone else, or maybe it's already moved you to do something. But I don't think it's too much for a mother to ask for the meaning of her daughter's life. Because right now her life is nothing but a big week of sleeplessness, helplessness, despondency, heartbreak, and grief, and eight months of pretty much the same following.

One (if not The) essential tenet of Buddhism is Life is Difficult (or suffering, or whatever other grim synonym you'd like to place there). Now I suppose I should wholeheartedly embrace them ("Damn, y'all ain't kidding!") both on the account of my life as well as Maddy's. Or, I should denounce them wholesale, because if this is what they mean by difficult, they are a cruel bunch of sick sonnofabithces. Now more than ever when I ask "why" -- why she was here, why she died -- I need the Grim Reaper to show and bellow, "THE SALMON MOUSSE!!" Not horribly zen, but it would make my day.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Florence Would Be Proud

Turns out October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Who knew? Apparently Searching did. Here I simply march in lockstep to the well-oiled machine efficient yet compassionate Children's Hospital Bereavement Services department who promote Dec. 9 (see sidebar). My attention is focused there right now as the blurb about Maddy for the Deadkid Book they hand out at their event is due on Friday.

But I digress.

Searching is a NICU nurse, and to quote Maddy's death notice regarding NICU nurses in general, "a superhero in her profession." And I mean that. Nurses are so often invisible, unthanked, and taken for granted as they blend into the white noise of hums, beeps, and rolling IV stands of the NICU. Parents are usually so exhausted, overwhelmed, sad, hopeful, and despondent, that they save any remote iota of energy for the doctor, who comes infrequently, and often delivers news that is impossibly hard to understand and painfully hard to hear. The nurse tends to be the person who hovers between you and your child, silently checking vitals, and comes to embody all that is shit about the experience of having your baby in a plastic cot and not at your breast.

I know there are bad apples out there. I know because I've read the stories in my "Deadbabies for Dummies" books, and heard the stories in groups, blogs, and word of mouth. But I'm here to tell you that our experience was nothing short of textbook wonderful. Searching asked to elaborate on a few things that could make her better at her job (which just goes to show that she's one of the great ones), and I started to comment on her blog and realized I'd write more than her original entry. So here we are.

Good stuff wouldn't be good without bad to compare to, right? So for any NICU nurses reading along here, quickly, are a few things to avoid. And in NICU nurses' defense, these no-nos were committed by nurses in the postpartum unit, but I can imagine similar transgressions occur. (And in postpartum nurses' defense, I had an AWESOME one at my delivery hospital once I got moved to the recovery section near the NICU.) Don't insert your own philosophy, beliefs, or judgment on the parents, whether it be medical, philosophical, or religious. That is, don't tell me my baby is too beautiful to have anything wrong with her, you've seen this a million times and the baby always goes home, and God has a plan so just blithely keep trucking and it will all come out in the wash. (This latter sentiment was given to me by a nurse -- who probably invoked Jesus a few more times than I did right there -- while taking my blood pressure a mere few hours after I was told that Maddy's brain was in shambles. I gave her an icy stare as she recorded numbers in the vicinity of 180/120.) You don't know, we don't need sugar-coating, and your God is in all likelihood, not mine.

But mostly, the nurses offered pleasantries and goodness and all that a misty wartime Florence Nightingale movie would offer. I often tell Mr. ABF that as wretched as our situation was/is, I cannot imagine having gone through it anywhere else. A lot of that feeling is based on the amazing medical staff at both my Delivery Hospital and Children's Hospital, the nurses in particular. I personally know a woman who invited her son's nurses from Children's Hospital to his funeral, and when they arrived, late, still in scrubs directly from their shift, she interrupted the service and asked everyone to please give the staff a round of applause. They got a standing ovation. Here's why.

When your child is a mass of wires, tubes, beeping, sirens, pings, gauze, and tape, it's scary enough that it can become a bit detaching. Not that you don't love your child and don't want to sweep her up in your arms, but you're afraid of setting off some remote trip wire just by breathing on her and raising her temperature an iota of a degree that will send the entire medical staff into red alert. Our nurses explained every freaking wire, machine, drip, and sensor. They noted what was different now as opposed to before we took a break for lunch. And then they repeated it all over again because we were too tired to remember a damn thing they said two hours ago. Furthermore, the nurses dragged us into the mechanical jungle and got us involved: we changed diapers, cleaned Maddy's lips as her tube made them a bit gunky, cleaned her closed eyes, bathed her, took her temperature, touched her, and the piece de'resitance: held her. They never sighed or rolled their eyes even if it involved two (sometimes thee) nurses to negotiate her equipment and lift her out of her cot and into my lap. If I just didn't have the gumption to bother them, the nurses would proactively ask me if I wanted to hold her, and go through the whole rigmarole again. They allowed me to touch, hold, feel, and smell my child and for that I'm grateful.

There is no good time to have a child in the hospital, but right after you've given birth is a bit traumatic. I was fucking exhausted, physically and emotionally. I slept less in the six days that Maddy was alive than I would have had I brought home a healthy newborn who ate every 90-120 minutes. And the nurses all understood that and in addition to taking care of my problem child, took care of me. Without my asking they would bring me a pillow or a more comfortable chair. They brought me water. They walked my pumped milk containers to the freezer thus allowing me every possible second with my daughter. They made pumping near my child easy and non stressful. A nurse at Children's Hospital got sidetracked while finding a screen for my first pumping session there, so I just started out in the open. (I'm not the most modest person when it comes to breastfeeding, and having a dying child at the ready really didn't do much to curb these tendencies.) She returned and apologized, I told her I really didn't care but if she thought doctors and others would find it distracting I'd shield myself. She responded, "If they did, they wouldn't be working here." From then on I double-pumped in the open, and more than once carried on an interview with a suited male specialist while hooked up on both sides to my purring Medela Symphony. No one blinked. I truly believe this is because the nurses care so much for not just the infant, but the parents, that it permeates to the rest of the staff. I know this sentiment evolves from the bottom up: Mom is physically fragile right now, the nurses seem to emanate, so as with everyone here, handle with care.

My husband is quite a gifted photographer if I say so myself. He took some shots in the delivery room, but then put the camera down in order to be in front of the lens for the following 6 days. The nurses picked up where he left off and constantly had out their cameras, taking pictures of Maddy, us holding Maddy, Maddy's hands, her feet. They often took pictures when I demurred, knowing I had just given birth and hadn't showered in three days. The pictures aren't great; they're grainy, poorly lit, and some not horribly well composed. (Certainly nothing as remarkably beautiful as Carole's.) And yet, they're all we have. They live in my purse, on my computer, on my mantle. And weeks after her death, I went back to both hospitals asking for the files and they responded immediately with loads of photos I didn't even know were taken. Parents don't often want the pictures taken (at the time, I certainly couldn't imagine ever wanting to see myself at that juncture), but minds change as soon as six weeks later. If you can, take pictures, save them, send them later. I'm actually thinking of giving a good digital camera to both NICU's as a gift, along with some good lenses.

In addition to the pictures, both hospitals -- without our asking -- took footprints (both the ink and faux plaster variety), saved every single thing related to her crib with a name on it or that touched her (bracelets, nametags, those bands that they keep track of their pulse with) and gave them to us. I was amazed six weeks after her death when Children's Hospital called to say that they had the blanket she was swaddled in when she died. Did we want it? It sits in its manila envelope on my dresser, and occasionally I peak at it, or smell a corner, or just rub it between my fingers.

By far the most touching memento (mori) we received was directly the result of a NICU nurse. Maddy was born two days before Valentine's Day, and on the 14th, Bella decorated a Valentine (Dora stickers, don't ya know) for Maddy's crib. The next morning, on top of our stuff, we found a Valentine from Maddy to Bella. The NICU nurse had cut out pictures of Maddy, pasted them on a handmade card, and also glued in copies of Maddy's hand and footprints. The card instructs Bella to place her hand over Maddy's and trace it to see how big she was when they became sisters. This card now serves as a sort of a talisman for me -- it sits on Bella's shelf, but I refuse to let her hold it without strict supervision. Bella never met her sister, and this card, this touching moment that someone took time to compose, will have to serve in lieu of a real face to face encounter. As much as it sucks that paste and paper is as close to meeting her sister as she will ever get, it is simultaneously a magnificent substitution.

At the moment of Maddy's death, we were surrounded by nurses. Well, they set up a privacy screen, but that's who was on the other side. There was a resident on hand to confirm the time of death, but otherwise, nurses. They helped us clean her, swaddle her, place her in our arms. They took pictures that I didn't want at the time, but cherish now. And they cried. All of them, the resident included. They didn't rush us, push us, encourage us to or not to do anything. They told us to take our time, and that they'd get us anything we needed. And when it was time to go, they promised they would take care of her, now, still. She would not be alone, even now. My last image of my lifeless Maddy is swaddled with a nurse hovering over her as if she was still breathing away, in need of assistance.

Mostly though, the nurses were just there for us. We often just wanted to be close to our daughter, but thought if we read another Beatrix Potter story we might just remove Maddy's central line and jab it into our eyes. And so, we would just drift into conversation with the nurses as casually as if there were a bartender at one end of the aisle and a football game playing at the other. They told us about their jobs and how they got them, their children, their husbands. We decorated Maddy's crib in a manner that would put high school lockers to shame, and the nurses asked us about all of the photos: our dog, weddings, family members, and our daughter Bella. We chatted about living in this area, where they ate, what they did when they weren't dealing with strung-out parents and challenged babies. And we knew if we left, even just to run to the rest room, pump, find food, fall asleep briefly, the nurses would be there caring as if we were hovering over their shoulders. They cared deeply, and it showed.

The Children's Hospital nurses sent us a card, which I appreciated very much, if only because it reminded me of their names. I have yet to thank them personally, and I feel horribly that I haven't. I apparently missed Nurses Day (take heed: your child dies, and suddenly you're a new target market for Hallmark). So here goes: Thank you Meg . . . or was it Beth? (Clearly, Little Women was not a useful memory device for someone who then lost her short-term memory. I know you weren't Jo or Amy, though), Kathy, Jen, Bridget, and especially Roisin. Although I'm still processing why my daughter existed for six days, you were as much a part of her short life as she was herself. You have woven yourselves into our lives, and indeed, into our family. Searching, thank you for everything you do. And it seems so appropriate that you, a NICU nurse who cares not only for the babies, but the families they belong too, would think of everyone on this day and go out of your way to remind us. I applaud you, and I'm standing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Baby Steps

Never get all gung ho about writing on your new blog in advance of your parents coming to visit. Talk about a buzz saw through your momentum. (You see? Right there. That. That shoulda been a pithy little Phillies pitching-related sports metaphor. And here I am, emotionally and creatively drained after trying to herd the legally blind, doesn't drive after dark, perpetually late, gotta use the potty, immediate and extended families from both sides. If this post doesn't do it for you I apologize -- please don't forget to tip your waitress on the way out.)

Where was I? Oh yes.

Babies. I hate babies. Hate 'em all. And the pregnant women they rode in on. Just writing that sounds off; a bit like I'm toeing some fine line between an Oscar the Grouch lyric and a federal offense.

Disclaimer: any pregnant woman or mom of a newborn that has lost a child gets a pass. Sure, I'm a wee bit jealous, I'll admit it, but I also think you're a wee bit batshit. I can't even think about thinking about having another child without heart palpitations and an immediate subject change and a glass of wine. I smell future posts . . . .

Right. Hate 'em. I had an epiphany somewhere back around High School that "hate" was a fairly strong word, and perhaps I should quit applying it to things like brussel sprouts, the Dallas Cowboys, and that guy who dated my best friend for 10 days and then proceeded to treat her like yesterday's John Hughes' movie. I decided "dislike" was probably more appropriate and I would save the big H when I had bigger fish to fry.

Apparently the fish are here: tiny wee babies, sometimes those I can't even see they are bundled up so tight in their car seat carriers, cause a reaction in me that is visceral, physical, and ugly. My stomach clenches and often becomes nauseated. I find myself holding my breath, my blood pressure increases to where my eyes feel as though they're bulging a bit, and often afterwards, discover that I have clenched my hands so hard that my fingernails have cut into my palms, and clenched my jaw to the point that my face aches. All that's in addition to the tears in my eyes, the slight dizzy feeling, and the attempt to simultaneously avert my eyes and wonder if Maddy would look like that right now. Jack Bauer naked and hooked up to something electric in a Chinese cargo ship knows nothing of the torture I face daily walking the gauntlet of baby-filled car carriers when I collect Bella outside her classroom. While the other non-baby mommies smile and coo and ask about sleeping habits, and resemblances, and question whether that pink drooling lump is indeed the end of the family expansion, I avoid eye contact and intensely study the impasto on the giant finger-painted pumpkin on the bulletin board, and pray for a handout in Bella's cubby that could occupy my rapt attention.

Somewhere around my eighth month of pregnancy, when I deemed it probably safe enough to quit worrying about the exchange policy on my maternity clothes, I decided my new neighborhood (I moved here August '06) was pretty much meant to be: within 5 or so blocks, there would soon be 5 or so children born within 3 months of Maddy. I didn't have a room set up for Maddy in the house (too much commitment from a miscarriage survivor), but I did have the plans in my head: the big south-facing room on the second floor would be designated a playroom, and in my daydreamy moments would envision it lined with breast feeding moms, and me bragging about how I got fucked lucked out and got another human who could live on only 5 hours of sleep per 24 hr. period. I really hit it off with one mom in particular; we hadn't talked horribly much, but I liked what I knew. She seemed equally tired, intellectually sound, and prone to the occasional streak of sarcastic wit. Her due date was a month after mine.

Now I can't bear to see any of the moms, even from the privacy of my own window blinds. I haven't spoken to them since February. And that includes the cool one who I knew had her baby because one horrible, freezing cold day I saw other family members out walking her toddler. Two weeks later, like clockwork, there she was proudly pushing her now necessary double stroller down my block. If I'm out in the yard and see them coming, I hustle the dogs in and shut the door, or leave Bella to wander over to the fence and show off her blossoming social skills solo while I tend to some horticultural emergency with the Asters. If I'm walking, I cross the street and avert my eyes. I feel like I'm in fucking 5th grade, and I should send her one of those foldy notes with big circles over the i's that reads "like you" "hate you" "[smiley] [frownie]""you know why". Mr. ABF has on occasion been polite and neighborly enough to speak with her, and believe it or not, she asks about me and claims she will talk to me when I'm ready. She's told Mr. ABF that she'd love to go out to coffee with my Nietzsche-loving self, and "won't bring it up, won't discuss a thing!" and I sigh and tell him I hope he told her that it's not her, it's the goddamn baby. The baby girl whose name I don't even know that haunts me and only serves to remind me of what I don't have. I don't have a double stroller. I don't have a second car seat. I don't have a reason to wear a nursing bra. I don't have a squealing, pink, female, now grasping, sitting up, solid-food eating, cooing blob of love and cuteness. I have a box of ashes in my family room. Should I bring it to coffee too?

To make matters worse, two close family members were pregnant when Maddy died, and have since had children. There was a brief 6-week or so period last winter where we all marveled at the auspicious timing of three "cousins" who could hang out and develop together at family functions. No more. I have not spoken to these family members either, nor can I bear to congratulate them on the birth of their healthy children. "Congratulations! Glad the Universe Didn't Fuck You Over!" didn't seem like the appropriate message, so I sent none. I can't bear to read through the greeting cards, write the words, gloss the baby gear sites for gifts and whatnot. I sometimes dream about what it would be like to get together with them again, and the houses just seem too claustrophobic, and the neutral meeting place get-togethers in my mind end with me screaming "you have no fucking clue how lucky you are!" It's selfish of me, it's immature, and I know the longer I let this silence go the more awkward it will be to break it. And yet, and yet. It just hurts too much, it just reminds me, tortures me, punches me in the gut, knifes me in the eyes. It's a hot pot, and I have learned not to touch it.

One of my "Dead Babies for Dummies" books speaks to a sort of phantom limb syndrome, where the author reminds her sorry readers that one's arms may feel heavy from simply imagining carrying your child around. I apparently have a lot of phantoms, or I'm seriously dehydrated. I look at babies and I arms feel empty, my nose clings to baby smell, my fingers crave soft hair, my arms long to push a stroller or juggle car seat or sling a diaper bag, and I swear my wee teeny 34-36 B (for barely) boobs get a bit achy and heavy. And the phantoms don't stop with my body. Although I didn't set up a room that I had to dismantle, I still had to get rid of a lot of Maddy. I didn't have a lot of clothes ready as my washer/drier had crapped out before her due date, but what I did have went almost immediately in a blue plastic storage bin. My father quickly dismantled the bassinet and thew it in a heap in an unused room upstairs. The car seat returned to the basement. Bella remains in what would've been the playroom, and now has new furniture to match the lovely decor we inherited upon moving in. The upstairs rooms that would've housed my girls are slowly transforming into Bella's play space and Mr. ABF's office. And when I see a baby, or a pregnant woman, all I can think of are the ghosts in my house, the baby who should be progressing through her stages, occupying space, filling the air with sound.

I try desperately hard not to judge. For all I know, that cute, clearly gymed-out mom I roll my eyes at may have only obtained her sleeping, insanely cutely dressed infant after countless miscarriages and a second-mortgage worth of ART. For all I know, she's the mom of three, not two, and one lies somewhere else -- in the ground, on a shelf, lilting on wind in a ballpark or forest -- never to be seen again. But the bile starts rising before my mind catches up with the loathing my body is already feeling. I have also tried since the age of 17, if it didn't involve a sports event or my dissertation, to watch my language. Language has power, I kept telling myself, and so one must reserve the right word for the right situation in order for it to truly lob it's impact. And look at me now: I swear like a truck-driving long-shore man, evidently because there just aren't enough powerful PG-13 words to express the sadness and anger and despair. I hate, hate, hate babies. But if you can think of a way I can get mine back, I'll change my mind in a millisecond.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Dude, I Was Kidding!

Sort of. According to the New York Times, it turns out my complete body makeover fantasy can be realized: Is the "Mom Job" Really Necessary? I'm off to see if I can add lobotomy and hysterectomy to my options package if I get the deadbaby upgrade. Oh, and before you go snot at (or high five) Stroller Derby (and believe me, I was headed over there to tell her to stick her four (4!) live children somewhere ugly), I think the NYT was just fishing for critics and probably could've done better. Stroller Derby confesses that she'd actually like a full-body makeover too, but laments that it's become "pervasive" and that many women in the article seem to be doing this for hubby, and not for themselves. And despite my unfortunate situation, I have to agree with all of that. Off to book a plane ticket . . .

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hey There

Google analytics is a fucking hoot. Hello reader(s) from Japan, Spain, Germany, Australia, and of course North America! (Oh, and I think someone from Slovakia, but Analytics is just reading you as "Germany." Sorry 'bout that.) God bless the internet.

My favorite thing though, is checking the terms people googled that led them to click on my site. I apologize to the person who was clearly searching for some medical remedy for a cat's gallstone problem (hope s/he's ok), and the person who also adores the grandin road Halloween catalogue (oops, probably just snagged a few more decorators into my literally literal web of death). (By the way, too much to have the grim reaper mannequin on my porch this year? Too -- how shall we say -- overt?) But to the person who googled the following:

"The Baby Whisperer Bullshit"

I really, really, really want to meet you. Hope I didn't scare you off.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Qu’est-ce Que C’est, Joy?

When I finally decided to jump in the deep end of the blog pool I went to Stirrup's List in search of a good title. The best were taken (shakes fist at Niobe) (I jest.). But how could my dark macabre self resist seeing what lay within something titled Deadbabyblog? I had to know just who had claimed this most outstanding title.

Of course the story wasn’t pretty – a baby who was “born and died on the same day,” and containing posts eerily similar to what I intended to philosophize about. A few entries in was a post devoted to the first birthday of a living, smiling, cherubic son. This seemingly celebratory event occurred a mere six or so weeks prior to what would have been her dead daughter’s third birthday. And Deadbabyblogger wrote a few days later:

"My regret is that his birthday was tinged with sadness simply because his sister doesn't get to live her life and have the same treatment. Her birthdays are quiet affairs with tears involved, and that sucks. It also sucks that O doesn't get unadulterated joy; no matter how hard I try and how much time passes there will always be pain and regret. I guess the task is to acknowledge it but not let it get in the way of his life, and all I can do is my best to see that that happens."

My heart sank. I, too, miss joy, and apparently it could take at least three years to get it back, despite the smiling happy babies that may come our way in the meantime.

I was a self-avowed cynic of the highest degree prior to having Maddy. And yet, I’m rather astounded now – looking back -- at how much joy my “oh yeah, right, like this’ll mean anything (eye roll)” hard heart allowed in. I am, for starts, an unabashed foodie, and loved to cook and especially to eat. I reveled in the complex, occasionally attempting to dissect restaurant sauces by smell. I’ve had the good fortune of a couple of meals – one involving a rabbit ragout – that I would have paid money for the olfactory privilege of simply hovering over. I also relished the simple: a perfect Ginger Gold apple, fresh berries on Greek yogurt, a steaming cup of good, fresh ground and brewed, strong coffee. Within the last few years Mr. ABF pulled me into his Italian wine fetish, and I grew to adore the berry-cherry velvety blends of Tuscany, while appreciating, yet not so much loving his preference of the barnyard smelling reds of Piedmont. I’m a lucky gal in that Mr. ABF cooks, and does so well. Just talking about preparing squid for stuffing on Christmas Eve made my mouth water.

And now? I know I should eat, so I do. I could care less if the coffee is Peet’s or 7-11, and my hope in the morning is that the humidity hasn’t congealed the Clifford Crunch, and the milk is still good even though it’s a few days past the due date. In short, I seem to have lost my joy of taste. Every summer I wait for the first brutally hot day, and then have my inaugural summer Gin and Tonic. This is usually a celebration of sorts, as I hold the cold, fizzing citrus bittersweet concoction up, hopefully catching some carbonation directly into my nasal passages, and this summer? Poured a good two-thirds of it down the drain. Mr. ABF promises me restaurant mecca in our new foodie location “when I’m ready” – and he doesn’t mean that from an emotionally-ready-to-out-in-public way, he means, when I can taste my food so we don’t throw out $250 for two for a reaction of “eh, ‘twas good.” I long for the return of my taste buds. How bad has it gotten, you wonder? People, I bought frosting in a can for cookies last weekend.

Taste is but one sense to go on recess during my grief. I have two enormous, stunning magnolia trees on my property that in April exploded into huge pink pompoms that literally stopped traffic. I took a few pictures, knowing consciously that these were considered impressive and striking, and yet, I personally felt nothing. I might as well have been observing two supermarket flats of wilted impatiens. Tiny little occurrences that should make my heart a bit lighter, or skip, or smile inwardly now pass before me like widgets on an assembly line. As cynical as I was, I now realize the endless list of small moments that I loved getting hit with: seeing my husband walk into the kitchen after a day at work; going for a run in a light rain; watching my dog leap in the air in an s-curve to snag a Frisbee from high in the air; arriving home after a particularly intense yoga session; getting some killer deals at Nordstrom Rack; pacing my living room while the Steelers pull a miraculous win out of their collective asses against the Colts in the playoffs. All of these things could make me weak in the knees, smile at the sky, hum to myself, giggle, and pump my fist.

And then there’s joy embodied, my daughter, Bella. I’m not going to sit here and wax that my life since Bella has been one big soft cooing marshmallow of love and harp-playing happiness; in her 3+ yrs of existence Bella has never, ever been a sleeper. I will never forget throwing Baby Whisperer across the room and into the wall, or the horrific first week of December ’04 when, at just 4 months old, Bella went 5 days straight without even a 30 minute midday collapse en route to “bedtime.” By two years of existence she no longer napped at all, and getting through a pregnancy last year with her to look after was brutal. But no matter how heavy my eyelids and how close to breaking into tears I may have been, she has been nothing short of a jolt to my system. You begin living for the smiles, the giggles, and your daughter’s ability to crack her own joke and make herself laugh. This year has been one moment after another: beginning to understand the connection between letters, sounds, and words; spelling her name, going to school, using the toilet, climbing a tree, riding a scooter. I used to revel in that joy that only a child can express: getting out of the car at my aunt’s farm, taking a look in the field, and screaming in her best “I just won the lottery” voice: “COWS!”

But for me, this year, Dullsville. I should be happy, I occasionally crack a smile, but there’s no joy. During that horrible week that Maddy was alive, I felt so torn between my daughters – I’d have to leave one in order to see the other. I felt terrible leaving the one, and guilty when I was with the other. I was literally split in two. And oddly, even though Maddy is no longer here and I no longer have to track down sitters so I can spend hours on end at the hospital, I still feel as though I’m shortchanging Bella. I’m still torn. I’m guilty that I’m thinking about one daughter to the detriment of enjoying the other.

A month or so after Maddy died someone asked me if anything made me feel good. I thought, and replied that nothing makes me feel good, but some things make me feel better. I do feel better after a jog. I feel better after watching Bella tuck our dog into her bed. I did discern that the 20-yr old wine I purchased as a surprise for Mr. ABF last week was pretty damn good, and certainly better than the $8 stuff I had at a party the week before. The apples are tasty enough this fall that when I was snack mom last week, I actually went in and cut them at the appointed time so they wouldn’t turn brown. Even toddlers deserve good food.

But I’m tired of just feeling better, I want joy again. Unadulterated, heart-skipping joy that I can float in -- for a few seconds -- without thinking about Maddy, without thinking that she should be here too, without missing her. I want to have the joy of watching my husband be a father without thinking he should have two children, and I want to have the joy of experiencing all that is Bella without wondering how she would be with a little sister. I want to see my yard with Maddy running across it, and I want to dress another little girl in Steelers jerseys on Sunday afternoons. And dammit, if I can’t enjoy a stuffed flank steak without thinking that I might as well have just grabbed a handful of stale Cheerios, I’m going to lose it. Anyone else who lost joy and then found it again, I’d love to know when. I’m hungry.