Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fish Food

I've been acutely aware this week of people peeking into the grief fishbowl. Not just me (although the tapping has been giving me a migraine) but us, collectively -- turns out EVERYONE in deadbabygrief-istan has good and bad friends, good and bad family. Even online there are those that get us, and those who don't. One day you're in, the next day . . . oh, you get the point. Perhaps a fishbowl's not even an accurate metaphor given that one extreme is not so much looking in as diving in along with us/me, checking out the water temperature, and gamely washing a few dirty coffee mugs while they're hanging around. The other extreme isn't so much peeking as glaring at the whole bowl tableau, wondering if the fish would drop dead already so they could use the space for a new plasma screen.

Why are we so fucking . . . weird? What is it with us that causes gaper block? the reigning theories, and they are probably correct are: people are put out or inconvenienced or (sigh) tired by our grief; and/or, people are freaked out by death itself. No small wonder in our culture of killing and guns and violent video games and television and the wildly popular horror-porn movie genre. Not to mention the never-ending barrage of babykilling lattes, tuna salads, spicy toro, cold cuts, tap water, and sips of Chianti Ruffino. What was my point? Oh, reasons why people wig out. I'm wondering how much this has to do with (the collective) our changing. Grief does change us (well, I'm being presumptive here -- it's certainly changed me), many have observed, for better and for worse. I went scrambling through Carole's writing for something she posted a while ago that didn't resonate until now:

I feel that from all of the heartache and pain with Joseph's life and death that I have emerged from this. Strong...beautiful...new...like a butterfly. A new creation. But I notice that those around me want their caterpillar back.

How could I ever go back to being a caterpillar?

There is no way that could happen. I can't unsee what I've seen. I can't unlearn what I've learned. I cannot pretend that this very significant thing happened in my life...and somehow I rose from the ashes. I don't even think I'm interested in scrubbing the ashes off.

(I love that Carole feels so positively about the way she's changed, even if it does drive those around her bonkers. I wish I could state my own change so beautifully -- I feel more like I've altered from something functional and forward moving into something with problems functioning that moves forward very slowly, and occasionally backward. I've metamorphosed from bullet train into a handcar?) I'm not so focused here on Carole's change per se (lovely though it may be), but other's reaction to it. WHY on earth would they reject the butterfly? (Or, frankly, had she turned from a Caterpillar into a slug, couldn't those who love her find that form approachable? Beauty? Skin? Deep?) But it isn't about Carole, it's about those outside, everyone outside the fishbowl, unable to deal with change. Trying to still cram you into the circle even though you're now a square. They didn't just need me/you in their life, they needed a cruise director/financial safety net/rock of support/funnyman/party animal. One of Coggy's friend's told her that she hoped Jacob's death wouldn't change Coggy. A naively wistful thing to say, but wretched and awful and false. There are those who will take the change in stride, and those who will flounder without the role you used to fill in their life. Some have the capacity to gracefully morph along with you, others are obstinately unable to do so.

There are people out there when confronted with someone like me/us, say "Crap, I really don't want to deal with this," and they're the ones hoping the fish dies so they can replace the entire bowl with something else and move on from fish. Gerbils perhaps? Or the aforementioned videotainment? Then there is the vast middle, I believe well-intentioned but insanely naive (like Coggy's friend), who hope if they bide their time, that we will pass through this period of sadness and return to who we once were. Sort of like we just took a round trip vacation, we'll be back with some photos and souvenirs and slip right back in to the routine after a rousing discussion at coffee break. (Watch me hop metaphors here! Hang on!) They stare at the fish, even feed the fish, but are really unsettled because they're hoping the red fades back into orange like when they bought it from the store. They say things like "I hope you've found some happiness this year" in their holiday card -- well meaning I'm sure, but more hopeful for our alteration than admitting what the holidays were probably like.

And then there are those at the other end who dive right into the bowl. They take the water temperature, make sure we're clean and well fed, and just hang out a while. These are the people who are patient and willing to be uncomfortable (if they are indeed) for a few moments while they do the right thing: acknowledge our dead children, acknowledge our grief, acknowledge our ongoing sadness and bewilderment. For some I don't think this is even "the right thing to do," but the only thing to do. They patiently wait through silence without taking it personally. They let us know how good it is for us to call them again without being sarcastic. They can express compassion without exuding pity. They can speak gracefully of Maddy without being patronizing or awkward. The sad thing is that I'm so thankful for people like this because they are so few and far between. Shouldn't all people be like this?

The fishbowl metaphor also extends to the blogverse. I'm sure for many of the well-intentioned middle, we're under the heading that they never want to contemplate, let alone click on and muddle through. There's a heavy sigh while they consider what lies within, but then the finger clicking takes them elsewhere. But some are willing to come over, not just to read, but to understand. Mel at Stirrup Queens wrote about Grief last week, and Ahuva wrote about Loss. They don't come over to this corner in order to ogle or pity or try and find common sympathy. They come because they realize life is like this, sometimes wretchedly ugly and painful, and the journey can end up right here, in this column. They come to understand, to discover ways to communicate, and to be better people themselves. And for that and them, I'm grateful. I know there are many of you who read who aren't affected by this sort of tragedy personally, and you have lovely things to say. You're included in this too.

I've tried so hard this week to understand why family would fall away when you most need them, and why friends could be so insensitive -- it doesn't seem a limited occurrence. It must be hard to have a friend who can no longer look to the future because the future is too painful and lonely to contemplate. It must be hard to have a friend who can't return your calls for a while. It must be hard to have a sibling who cannot express joy in your life -- they can't, in fact, experience joy at all. They must come to realize though, that this is not a place I like; all things being equal, I would love to coo over your newborn. But not only does it cut me like a knife reminding me of what I don't have, I cannot feel joy regardless. My own daughter hasn't brought me unadulterated joy in a year; I can't look at her infant pictures without thinking of what my other daughter would look like now. In boyfriend breakup language: it's not you, it's the deadbaby. Please don't take it personally.

And if you could spare one of those plastic treasure chest thingies to swim around? That would rock.


A year ago today, Bella turned two and a half. It was the day I had picked in the informal pool for the baby's birthday. My due date (and may I just say that I never really get how people have this nailed down to just one day? Maybe it's an infertile thing? Given that we never really knew when I ovulated, I had one day from the RE, and one from the OB and the maternal fetal people just created their own after looking at measurements -- had a multi-day period in which this baby was "due") was February 4 or 5, Bella had arrived a week early, and given the ol' second babies always come quick legend, I picked this day. It passed uneventfully. But unbeknownst to me, in another corner of the universe, Julia's world was starting to unravel. I'm so grateful to know her, and all of you, and so sorry we have to know each other. It's unfathomable how this fishbowl only expands.

Friday, January 25, 2008

You Know

Because we all need more crappy news. A & S at Our Own Creation lost Lennox on January 5, and yesterday, they lost Lennox's twin sister Zoe. As I said to them, I'm stunned. And I'm weeping.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Of Telephones, Signs, and Calculus

Imagine, if you will, that you and your wife had a baby. And for unexplained medical conditions, but certainly through no fault of your own, the baby died when she was six days old.

Imagine, roughly six months later, your only sibling, your brother, has a baby daughter. You have never had a particularly close relationship with your brother -- it hasn't been bad or strained, just sort of there. You call to wish congratulations. He, so excited with his news, does not use his filter to spare you information that would probably hurt. He talks at you for 45 minutes. I think this conversation hurts you considerably, because you bring it up a lot, and save for another brief phone call you make a week or so later, you decide for a while not to call him at all.

At Christmas, you call to chat and get wish list information. Your sister-in-law is extremely pleasant on the phone, even warns you that a Christmas card with a picture of the baby accidentally got mailed to you instead of a generic one, so please intercept it and toss it. Strangely, although you ask to speak with him, your brother is always "not here right now" or "busy." You send a lovely digital photo frame so they can display pictures of their daughter. They, clearly last minute in reciprocation as if they didn't expect anything from you, send you some books off your wish list.

Also at Christmas time, your father and his wife (aka The Asshats) stand you up at a memorial service for your daughter, their granddaughter. The very next morning, they send you a curt email explaining that they already have plans for Christmas, and flippantly wind it up with, "How was the Service?" You take a week to settle yourself, and send them a very mature, well-versed email stating how disappointed you are that they couldn't come. How sad you are that any of this had to happen at all. That you love them. They don't pick up your phone calls on Christmas Day. They don't pick up any of the calls you make a few weeks later when you start missing them.

You finally gather the nerve to call your brother and ask if he knows anything about what the deal is with your father. You have a pleasant chat with his wife for five minutes where you discuss things like getting babies to sleep. She says, "I'll go get him," and puts the phone down. And you wait.

For ten minutes.

You finally hang up and call your mother. Who tells you that your brother is angry with you (and most likely, your entire family) for "not sharing in the joy of his baby." But, you protest, I did! I called. I sat through a painful phone call to share his joy. I even called back. But: You did not send a gift. Your wife, usually in charge of these things, is still too bereft to visit the "Congratulations!" section at Hallmark. She is in no state of mind to surf through baby gifts for a girl. You decide you probably have a year, like weddings, and decide to put it off for a while. Besides, your other relative who had a baby the same week could care less that you haven't given them a gift; when you skirt the subject she gives you that look and arm gesticulation as if to say, "Seriously, are you fucking kidding?" Followed by the arm wave that says, "look at all this baby crap, do you think we need more?" Summed up, by looking squarely at you with tears in her eyes, as if to say, "you know it's not the gift, the fucking stupid pair of pajamas and stuffed animal we really care about, right?" You do not go to visit your brother and his baby. Not only would this be like pouring flaming gas into an open wound, but seriously: you have 4 pets to find care for, and you'd have to take your toddler on a mind-numbing plane trip to see a personality-less infant and make her miss her first week of school. You probably -- scratch that -- you WOULD NOT make this trip had Maddy lived and you had a toddler AND a six-month old to drag onto a plane. Certainly they will eventually bring their 3-person, petless family up here to see people soon enough, and probably when the baby is more interesting to be around anyway.

No matter. In a brief space on Tuesday night you find out that out of your immediate family of four, two are not speaking with you. Your wife, putting two and two together based on some conversations she's had with others, realizes but does not tell you, that your very own mother, the sole person left who will answer your phone calls, likely fanned the flames between your brother and you, her own sons.


This blog is not about Mr. ABF, it's about me. I am not going to interject what he must be feeling here, although I can guess. But this part is about me: I do not have the time, energy, creativity, or metaphoric capacity today to tell you just how much I love this man, but I will simply say that his loneliness this week has been palpable, and I feel his heart breaking like my own.

I am not one to believe in signs, and I don't even know what to make of this one: the morning before the evening Mr. ABF made this series of phone calls, he finally picked up the phone and called an old friend in New York he hadn't spoken to in a year. His friend reacted as though he had won the lottery, and Mr. ABF said he may have even detected a bit of weepage on phone, so happy was he. That same day, I received an email from a friend who hasn't written since her condolence card, to say she saw a job posting and thought of me. She mentioned Maddy in the second sentence. And that evening, while sitting on an empty line for a brother who never bothered to pick it up or even hang it up, friends from the midwest called on the other line and left a message. They also haven't called in a year, and their message, which I didn't discover until the following morning, said almost verbatim: "Just reaching out, wanting to know how you are. We'd love to hear from you if you get the chance."

On the one hand, these instances of reaching out and reconnecting with friends were as if the universe had sent us pillows, anticipating the evening's free fall and softening the blow when hit with the realization that others were summarily cutting us out. They reminded us that some people do in fact possess patience, sympathy, empathy, and thoughtfulness. On the other hand, these pillows put into glaring contrast the reactions of people who are simply "friends," and those who, you thought last week, were your staunchest supporters no matter what, your family.

How this effects Bella is very much about me. Mr. ABF and I are adults. Shit happens, apparently, and we will prevail. We have other people to fall back on, clearly, people who want to be with us, and we will fill our time with them. But Bella has lost a grandfather here, and his wife, whom she adores. They do not want to see her anymore, because of us. Apparently, I'm now convinced, Bella's grandmother was to some degree complicit in fostering the anger felt by Bella's uncle toward her own father. It is highly unlikely she will see any of these people, any time soon.

I am of the school of thought that a parent must tell the truth to their children. I did this before Maddy died, and was somewhat reaffirmed by the hospital counselor who directed me to give it to Bella straight up: don't hide it from her, don't use euphemisms. But these sticky family matters are, quite frankly, not what I think she should hear. And, to be perfectly honest, I don't know what I'd tell Bella if I did want to tell her the truth, because I don't really know why they're upset with us. I go through all the calculations, and use numerous theorems as I churn through the problem, slowly eliminating variables, watching the scrawl funnel down into an inverted triangle toward the bottom of the page, and I always end up with the same, simple, neat conclusion which I cannot fathom telling Bella should she ask why her grandparents don't visit her anymore:

They are mad at us, because our baby died.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

I'm slowly entering this final turn, the hairpin that will increase speed until I crash unceremoniously on February 12. Like Julia, a year is not enough: I am not ready to end this grief, I don't think I could if I wanted. But: my grief this year has not been limited to Maddy's death; there has been a fair amount of mourning for me. I can't simply say that "a part of me died", because in addition to that missing limb of mom without a baby, a big chunk of my very identity was lost in that hospital cubicle on the night of February 18th. As I look around the deadbabyverse, I see a lot of pining for the "old me." The happy me, the thin me, the positive me, the me with hope, the me with plans, the me who was brave and risk-taking, the smiling me, the social me, the me who gave a crap.

Remember that me? And we lament her loss as we cycle through hell on a redundant, daily basis, glancing at old photos, fingering (or in my case, angrily throwing) old clothes that no longer fit, picking up books that used to be meaningful, remembering meals we tasted and joy we experienced, dreams we had and wishes we made, and wondering if we will ever -- EVER -- see any vestige of the old me again. It's almost as if two people died, not one, and we're in parallel mourning for this person we barely recognize anymore. And although I'm not remotely ready to "accept" Maddy's death (for Pete's sake, I'm barely around to finally accepting that I was indeed pregnant and she existed and this was not some bizzarro 9 month + 6 day nightmare), I am rather ready to stick a fork in the me part. I have come to the conclusion, a year later, that I will never be that person again. Ever. She is gone. It is outright impossible given what I have gone through. And it's time to just accept that, accept the new me and all it's nuances, and move the hell on with the new Tash.

Before you get all panicky I am not totally junking the old me. In reno terms, this is not a tear-down. I would like to resurrect runningTash, and yogaTash. I have made some progress on tasting- and cookingTash. I have not even given up entirely on size6Tash. And I would really, really like to think that unadulterated joy is within the realm of possibility somewhere down the road. I liked being happy. I reserve the right to at least keep those parts of my brain and heart mothballed while the rest sorts itself out.

As for the present body, I do not love it, I will not be putting little inspirational messages on my mirror to make peace with it. Pardon me, gentle readers who are kind to thyselves, I am really not remotely the type to have a beer, climb naked into a warm tub, and have an "I really love you, man!" lovefest with my body. I miss my old tiny me. I hate this new overweight me, and what I really hate are the strings attached to this weight. I hate that my body (foot; apparently abetted by an old sports injury) crapped out on me while trying to get rid of the flab as though I'm middle aged. SHUT UP, DON'T EVEN GO THERE. NEW ME IS ALLOWED A MODICUM OF DENIAL. Ergo, I am not really accepting this body as the new me, unless you count despising it, which, ironically, was also part of the old me. (Amazing, even in my old size 6 self I found room to criticize. Karma's a bitch.) I am, however, doing something about it, albeit slowly: part of getting runningTash back is doing extensive, expensive, and painful PT with my foot. The old Tash dreamed about another marathon or a 10-miler; the new Tash, understanding her feet may not hold up that long anymore, is still mulling over a triathlon.

There are negatives in the new me, that is a given. I am less optimistic (was I ever?), more pessimistic, and I'll never walk into anything blind again. I was somewhat of a dreamer -- not always of the Viggo Mortensen asking me out and money falling from the sky variety, but I liked projecting myself to somewhere else and wondering how great that certain place or time or experience would feel. I can't tell you the last time I did that. I live in the present right now, and will for the foreseeable future. The future will just have to wait for me to get there and I'll deal with it then. What hurts a lot too is that I always thought of myself as "healthy" and a lot of that had to do with my gene pool. I have relatives who lived until 100 and beyond; my soon to be 91 year old grandfather still hikes, goes to Alaska every summer, and golfs -- with an assistant because he is legally blind. I have always been athletic, never smoked, taken care of my diet, taken my vitamins. So to know that I harbor some babykiller gene? Well, it's a bit of a blow to the ol' ego and family lineage. Not to mention a real middle-finger to the time and sacrifice of my good-health life. And a big fat anvil falling on my already-dubious reproductive future. But, as I said, sitting around ruing it ain't gonna make it disappear. I have this gene (it would appear). Time to move on.

Not all of the negatives are entirely negative though, if you know what I mean. I really feel my limitations now. I used to be one of those people who just pushed through, plowed through pain, was extraordinarily patient. I'm not anymore, I cannnot deal with bullshit nor will I do something if it hurts. I'm not going to tell you this is some "I know what's important, and life's too short" philosophy, because it's not really. I'm just much more in touch with what I can and can't do, what I want to do and what I don't want. I will, quite frankly, put it down and go watch television. Or, tell you that you're full of crap and walk away. There are other silver-lining among the shit-clouds: A few years ago I would've flipped out if my toddler daughter nonchalantly asked me while in the middle of her bath: "are you going to die tomorrow?" And now it's met with an academic, three-year-old answer which is essentially: No, (probably) I won't. I hate that she has to know this much about death at this age, but I'm glad I'm more equipped to deal with it and her because I'm guessing we're not done with it yet.

I need, somehow, kumbaya, to make peace with this, the stuff I'll never get back, and the stuff I'm going to try and reclaim, and cobble together a new me. It will be a me with a different set of friends, and a different set of priorities. I will have different limits, a different view of myself, a different attitude toward others. I need to accept that my innocence is shattered, and that I'll never again be able to enter an experience with blind faith that it will work out in the end. I have lost my naivete forever: Santa doesn't exist, God is dead (oh, who am I kidding, I learned those things around age 10). I am still stuck reproductively, and probably will be for a while. And I need to just make peace with that, and learn to be with it. I'm not saying that I'm going to hide in my closet and make my immediate family members dress in chain mail when they leave the house, but I will probably go through the rest of my life flinching, and steeled for the bad. But it's not so bad to be prepared, is it not? Hopefully there will be some happiness, some taste, and -- dare I jinx it -- some joy between the furtive sideways glances.

And I will always miss my daughter -- that, too, I need to come to grips with. Believe me, I've heard the crap about time healing wounds and broken hearts, but no amount of time is going to fill the empty space that resides within me. It's going to be there until the day I finally leave this planet, and I just need to learn to live with that hole. It sucks, it's unfair, and it's hard, but it is what it is and there's no dialing that back.

Now, back to missing my daughter. Have I told you about the pile of death certificate forms, bereavement information, hospital handouts, foot and hand prints, photos, ultrasound photos, cards, bracelets, and other Maddy detritus on my dresser? It's been there 339 days. Talk about not ready -- you'd think I could at least put it in a drawer.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Grief with a side of Guilt

If you've been to a support session, you've probably picked up a rather inane handout (or seven) about grief. You know, the ones with butterfly clip art in the margins that tell you to drink water and abstain from alcohol and exercise and get enough sleep and JEEBUS, I'M NOT PREGNANT ANYMORE PEOPLE!! Those ones? Yeah. Sometimes, not often but sometimes, something on those silly things would stick. Usually not right there, but later I'd think, "huh, silly inane handout was right."

There's a rote saying in the griefverse to the effect that there are no apologies in grief. It's on all of the butterfly handouts, usually written in big BOLD letters. Which I think means that you shouldn't apologize for what your grief makes you do or think. If you need to take a break from babies and pregnant people (for a few years), don't apologize. If you cry a lot and can't go through the story for the millionith time and so instead decide to not make eye contact (re: ignore) your co-worker/friend/neighbor, don't apologize. Don't apologize for crying. For being short, or feeling angry. On the flip side, don't apologize for telling people exactly what happened, or for crying during the story where you explain that your baby actually has a name. Don't apologize for making others uncomfortable after you've gone through what is likely the most uncomfortable experience ever.

It's rather a social get-out-of-jail-free card, which would be awesome if not for the deadbaby thing, eh? But certainly there are some limits on this card are there not? At least, I sort of feel that way. Not that I've taken advantage of my grief, or exploited it, or played the grief card where I shouldn't have, but there are parts of grief that make me, well, feel badly. And even though people have told me "No Worries! Deal with it later! No one expects you to do that!" I feel a bit as though it's selling me short. I think I could do a few of these things, just that it will hurt like hell when I do them. Am I avoiding things because of pain? Could I have managed the grief better? And is that within the legal boundaries of my "no apologies!" card?

Case 1: During the holidays prior to Maddy's birth, my friend's father died. I was INSANELY busy. I was exhausted, and felt like crap. I was laid up a lot, and moreover, had killer sciatica so I could barely walk. I had a million people over for Christmas, both cars broke down, as did my washer/dryer. I had a lovely story about my friend's father, and wanted a few peaceful moments somewhere so I could handwrite these lovely memories for her and tell her how truly sorry I was for this crushing loss. And of course I had no peaceful moments, so I thought, fuck it, I'll just email it, it will mean the same thing. And I started the email, wanting to word it just so, and never finished it before Maddy died. And people, a year later, it's still there, unwritten, unsent. She sent a brief message when Maddy died, but I feel as though I've completely ruined this relationship and have no way to get it back. I know the right thing to do now, even though it's all shades of awkward, is to just write her now and tell her everything I wanted to say, and explain why I never said it. She's not a horribly emotive person, so I'll probably never know if she forgives me for this procrastination/grief hiatus, or whether she thinks I'm a supreme asshole who happened to lose her baby. I had a lot of friends who, after saying their piece, tuned me out. With few exceptions, I don't even get the one liner when my team wins/loses, or my favorite show goes off the air. This, though, is one friendship I'd like to mend. I wonder how many people wanted to find just the right time to say just the right thing to me and never found it -- I need to cut them a lot of slack too.

Case 2: I never finished my thank you notes for everything that everyone did for Maddy. A kind friend ordered me cards so I wouldn't have to, and I began sending them off to thank people for their thoughts and flowers and food and trees and money. In the beginning I was on top of everything, and it was rather therapeutic to sit down and have something to do, not to mention the instant gratification of having a neat little stack of envelopes at the end of the evening. But then it just hurt. It just hurt to thank people for being nice because my child was dead. I didn't know how to thank them for a tree when I really didn't want a fucking tree at all -- I wanted my baby. I didn't want to think about the NICU ever again, let alone write a thank you to someone for giving money there so someone else's baby might live. And slowly I quit. And the list piled up, and sits there on my desk, next to the empty cards, almost a year later, incomplete. And I feel guilty every time I see it. I've been told point blank by people who didn't receive cards that no one expects a thank you, but I'm not sure I really believe that.

Case 3: I feel that Bella hasn't really had the greatest mom this year. No, scratch that, I know that Bella hasn't had the greatest mom this year, and although I know I did the best I could given the circumstances, I'm not sure who or what else I could blame for this. I purposefully decided years ago that I would stay home with her, for the both of us. So I could spend some time with her before the endless march of seven-hour school days, and could give her the undivided attention I thought she deserved. Because of the move, I couldn't find a daycare/pre-K opening for her the Fall of '06, so during the pregnancy from hell she was home with me, and I spent most of my days pleading with her to please, please lie down for just 20 minutes. (She has never napped. Ever). And then last year happened. I went on antidepressants the day I could no longer function as a mom -- the day I couldn't get out of my bed to check on her, the day I realized I shouldn't be operating a car because I couldn't stop crying. The grief deprived her of what was rightfully hers: she had rather scaled down birthday due to my mood not to mention that week my aunt almost killed herself falling off a horse and both my cars broke down (there's a car theme here, isn't there), and I'll never get that back to do-over. She's healthy, well fed, and dare I say rather smart. She's clean, well-clothed, and I have somehow avoided planting her in front of the television. I hope despite her rather out-of-it mom that this year will come with some positives for her: empathy, and the wonderful ability to entertain herself with her imagination, a stuffed animal, and some throw-pillows. I have not used her a whipping post (literally or figuratively) for my grief, nor have I used her as a crutch. But I often look at her and wonder "what if" -- would she be happier? healthier? smarter? if her mother had been completely in touch? She lost her sister last year, and I can't help but think sometimes she lost a bit of her mom, too. And that's not fair. And I feel guilty about it.

I'm not writing this so you can fill my comments section with props and kudos and "it's ok"s (although if you also failed to send out all your thank you's that WOULD make me feel better). I guess I just feel sometimes the silly handout jargon is a lot easier to preach to others than it is to apply to yourself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where'd I put that?

I've brought this up in other people's comments, but since February 18, 2007, I appear to have lost my short-term memory. And many of my other memory facilities as well. I hazily remember skimming an article within this year proclaiming an identifiable link between PTSD, depression, and other such mental traumas, and memory loss. I can't remember whether the article said such loss ever returns. But, it appears that from the shock, the depression, or the antidepressants, I have fried the egg inside my cranium. My memory prior was actually fairly decent; as a kid I memorized musical scores, as a teen and adult, scads of sports (oh, and of course, historical) trivia. I was never on the level of Bob Costas, but within my own team perspectives and branching out a tad relatively speaking, I was pretty impressive. Recent lapses include:

-- moving and then losing a book of local maps in December (that would be, last month). Decided it didn't belong on Family room shelf, so I moved it somewhere more appropriate. I remember very clearly holding the big book of maps, and saying, "You would be far more useful to me [HERE]." Please let me know where you think that might be in my house, or where I might store a book that is roughly 1.5" thick and 16" tall. I have yet to find it.

-- Forgetting John Stockton's name when asked, "who was that other point guard in the west that was so good?" I could actually visualize him, with his Jazz jersey neatly tucked in, doing an academic pick and roll with Malone. (Most of you are scratching your heads going "huh?" but those who know me and my fandom of the Suns and all things west-coast are now off googling "signs of early Alzheimer's.")

-- Starting a Christmas List in my new iDevice and then forgetting I had started it.

-- Pointing out something to Mr. ABF TOTALLY FORGETTING that he has a vision defect from birth that makes it impossible to see what I'm seeing in certain (distinctly obvious) situations. I've been with him 20 years, people. Jeebus.

I could go on. But it scares me a wee tad.

And yet, now that I'm rounding the 11 month marker, I'm turning up frightening and frighteningly mundane memories from the last few naive and innocent moments of my life last January, and some of the lost detritus from the wretched week in February.

I have vivid memories of folding tiny green and beige laundry for my surprise sex child circa week 37. The patterns on the clothes, the textures.

I remember going to REI for warm socks for Bella, and having her point out a pair of panda socks. (Pandas are among her favorites.) I told her they were too small, so she asked if we could get them for the baby. I dutifully washed and folded them, too. I think they're in a plastic container somewhere in my basement.

I remember my husband had a work due-date a few days prior to the baby's. Bella had come a week early, and so we spent a week talking fervently to my stomach, please, please, whatever you do, please stay in there. Just for the week. We shouldn't have bothered; whatever Maddy's numerous limitations, some mechanism in her clearly realized it was better in than out and we induced at 41w.

My grandfather's 90th birthday was the weekend before my Monday induction. It will forever be my last happy family event: someone, somewhere, has photos of it, and I refuse to see them. My last moments as me, a normal albeit somewhat snarky yet hopeful mom, ready to end this particular saga and get on with the business of caring for a baby. I can't tell you what I did yesterday, but I remember my grandfather had a lemon cake.

I remember the outfits I packed in my hospital bag for my return home, and for the baby's.

I remember what we were going to name Maddy if she had been a boy.

I remember the morning of my induction, crying a little in the car to be leaving Bella for what I thought would be 48 hours, the longest I have ever left her. (Poor kid, I essentially left her for almost a week.) I remember getting undressed, and putting on my hospital gown. I remember that, lying there hooked up to everything before they even started the pit, I started feeling contractions. And felt comforted knowing that I wasn't messing with the universe's plan too much by having a baby today.

I remember the book I read while waiting for the Pit to kick in. I remember hearing a baby cry from somewhere on the floor and feeling happy.

And I remember almost every waking minute following, for six days.

I also remembered, quite out of the blue, a conversation with Mr. ABF in the fall of 2006. I remember telling him that this all seemed too good to be true -- the neighborhood, the house, the beautiful warm clear day, our toddler on the swingset. I remember telling him I was rather waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I remember exactly where I was standing in the yard when I asked him, "you don't think the baby is the other shoe, do you?" And he simply looked at me and smiled.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When the Journey Takes Over Your Life

There is a Buddhist saying that goes something like this:

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is not found in finishing an activity, but in doing it.

And although I sometimes admire people who buy into theories wholesale, exceptions must be made. If you worship at the altar of Adam Smith, I urge you to reconsider energy and health care, because I'm not convinced (Enron?) you can cram them into the capitalist model. And if you try and embrace Buddhist philosophy AND you're infertile, well, here's a quote that you're better off shredding into a million pieces, stomping on it for a while, running it over with your car, and then setting it afire.

Yesterday at my therapy session I mentioned I was a bit stuck on something. I feel stalled reproductively, and that I can't make any decisions until I have more information. And sadly, this includes the big decision about whether I want to do this again or not, regardless. There are a lot of "it depends" out there that need a bit more feedback from the great geneticists on high before I decide to trot my (soon-to-be-) 39-year-old body to an RE and ask what gives in the egg basket, and what s/he can possibly do for me. Like any good infertile, I need to expect those freaky outliers which in my case are things like: say I get pregnant using egg/sperm donation, and then find out 7 months into the pregnancy that they've cracked the code and found the mystery gene that killed Maddy. Clearly I carry out the pregnancy (or, you know, try) but how would I deal with this? Regret? Pack it and move on? Try (gulp) yet another pregnancy while now geriatric? What would said kid think to be bookended by 100% genetic siblings? Gah.

ANYWAY, I said something to the effect that it's hard for me to mentally move on in other areas -- like where Maddy fits into this puzzle of my life, and how to plan a foreseeable future for myself -- until I solve this reproductive piece. It's holding me up, and gumming the works. Which in my head, while sad, made perfect sense and didn't really seem out of the ordinary. And my therapist greeted this statement with Alarm. And I became alarmed at her alarm. And spent yesterday wondering why on earth this was just such a familiar place for me to be -- stuck like this, with everything on hold. So I ruminated, and it came to me.

Early in 2002, six years ago right about now, while I was in the waning months of 33, I began my journey to have a family. And a week or so after my 34th birthday, I miscarried at eight weeks. To say I was clueless about the whole thing does disservice to the word clueless, but as my miscarriage dragged on into a 3.5 month debacle ending in a D&C in July, I quickly ramped up, this time with my good friends BBT, ovulation sticks, google and friends in the computer. And tried again. And again. And life turned into the two year treadmill of trying and failing, the groundhog day when your period starts. As any infertile knows, infertility quickly bleeds (pun totally intended) into every other area of your life. That it permeates your marriage and sex life is a given. But as your life slowly becomes consumed, and broken down into increments of days and sometimes hours, infertility begins to invade just about everything. It is entirely impossible to compartmentalize infertility and check it at the door. Can I go on that vacation or would that be just about the time I would be miscarrying should I get pregnant this month? Shit, that business trip falls on cd 12-14, better see if I can rearrange that. Would love to go out for a margarita with you, but I'm 6 dpo, so it's water for me. (Again.) Try me again in 8 days, and I'll spring for them and chasers.

When I finally went to an RE, I prayed he would find a problem just so we could do something. He did, a minor one, but a potentially solvable one, and I became pregnant with Bella. What I really liked, though, was that from square one in his office we had a plan: This month we treat you like a lab rat. For the next three months we'll try this, and if this fails, we'll try that the following two. And then we'll bring out the big guns, and don't worry, here they are, and I know how to wield them. Finally, there was an outline to the repetitive, head-banging struggle.

And hope? Forget it. If you've suffered through infertility and miscarriage(s), you know better. Where others can view two lines as the end game, you're left merely hoping it will stay blue for another two weeks. And then another four. And that there'll be a heartbeat. And up and down through the seemingly infinite markers along the 40w trip, hopefully past the date of your last downfall, hopefully past the nervous phone call from the perinatal center. Infertility tests your hope to the extreme, and to say that I've been burned after making it through every milestone including delivery is an understatement. And hope is one of those things that's nice to have elsewhere in your life, y'know?

So after Bella was born, we knew we wanted a second, and now I was solidly in the "advanced maternal age" category, so there wasn't much time to waste. I finished breast feeding at a year, gave myself about 6-8 months to lose a bit of weight, enjoy some wine, catch up on sleep, and then back I went. Back into the cycle of planning and plotting and having everything rotate around your reproductive schedule, this time with the bonus of secondary infertility: finding childcare so you can pop in willy-nilly on days 3 and 8 for blood work, 11 for an ultrasound, and so on. Schedules shuffled, diets changed. When I began bleeding during the US-Italy world cup game (week 6 of Maddy's pregnancy), I sighed, and realized I now had to plan a D&C around work, child care, selling our house, and world cup. I walked into the RE with the world cup schedule in hand on Monday morning, determined not to miss a match laid up in the hospital or zipped out on drugs, and there was Maddy, heart beating away, with her new friend, a big cyst of blood.

What does this have to do with now? I feel, to put it bluntly, that I've just experienced a failed pregnancy. And I'm still on the journey to have a family, but but now I'm in the desert doing donuts, and there isn't a road sign to be found. To belabor the metaphor, my car is really beat-up and dinged, and there's no radio to occupy my brain. Hope left the building years ago. There's no kind doctor pointing the way, showing me the promised land and the big drawer of artillery. No one averring or even gently suggesting that I should definitely avoid one turn-off over another. It's very hard for me to plan in a future -- a future now weighed down with grief for a missing child whose space in my life I need to consider -- whether I need to leave some leeway in there to think about this all-consuming exercise and the panorama of potential results one more time. I'm not sure whether it's time to turn off the engine and leave the car be, or, stay on making donuts in the dust, hope someone can begin again to prescribe tests and blood draws and the ever-lovely vaginal ultrasounds and fertility drugs so that my life, already consumed in toto by this journey, becomes full with the minutia of having a baby once again.

Maybe it's totally possible for some to just be on the grief journey, and not let that particular depression and anger overstep it's bounds into other arenas. But when the grief is part of a longer, much longer, more tedious and stressful journey that has already taken over all areas of life like kudzu? I believe it's a bit more complicated. I've already done the delicate tap dance with family. I've already had my hopes dashed, although not to this extent. I've been on a six-year trajectory of loathing people who can easily become pregnant and carry on as though it's the greatest miracle in the universe. Believe me, I've asked myself, do I think my grief is like infertility, or a part of it? And I think I've concluded that my life was already all-consumed before Maddy's arrival/demise, and that this is just a big, sad, chapter of that entertwining journey.

And thus, I feel a strange sense of deja vu, like I'm back where I started. Infertile. No answers. Ground-hog day, over and over. Hope beaten into the ground. Except this time without the distraction of the daily countdowns. And I need a phone call, or failing that, a divine sign, that I need to let the journey enter it's 7th year, or hang up my shoes not having reached the destination I set out for, accepting the place that I've reached with Bella, and begin another completely different journey anew. I'm now at 11 months past Maddy's death, and it's caught my attention that many other people who circulate through here by this this point have some sort of plan, direction, and journey. I guess I just wish mine felt a bit less futile and contained a few more signposts, and was a bit less entrenched into other parts of my would-be life. There is no joy left in this trip. And it may well be time to book another.

Note: It has, with a great amount of embarassment, come to my attention that I cannot do math. I used to be able to, I'm not sure what happened. In the beginning of 2002, I was in fact 32. I turned 33 in 2002. Thank you, that is all.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Chinks in the Armor

Expect Nothing. And be pleasantly surprised when something happens.

I tried very hard to put my new mantra into practice last night while watching the Steelers. For a half, it was very easy. I expected nothing, they gave me less than that. I entertained myself by surfing the web, which made each interception and sack slightly less painful. ("eh, who needs an offensive line? Look at these pretty mugs!") And then, the second half, they began to come back. "Expect Nothing," I told myself firmly as Miller made an outstanding catch on fourth down for a touchdown. I remembered that years ago I wanted his jersey and didn't buy it knowing I would only jinx things and he would either suffer from a season-ending injury or move to another team. You see? If this pessimism and cautiousness fills the part of my life filled with two-dimensional guys in tights on my tv, it's no wonder the rest of my life is just ass.

But the Steelers continue to pleasantly surprise me. And suddenly we're ahead, with the ball, with very little time left. We run a few dud plays and it's third down and six, and we really need this to continue to hold the ball and run the clock. And dammit, my expectations start to seep through.

Certainly ultrasound technology can sense if your unborn child's nervous and cardiovascular systems are completely and severely fucked up?

Certainly family members will be supportive during the holidays of the worst year of your life?

Certainly this man who gets paid to draw up plays will come up with something better than I -- tiny female on my couch who just spent the first half looking at pretty dinnerware on my computer?

And I'm staring at the lineup thinking, "Good lord, he's going to run the quarterback." No. He wouldn't. He couldn't possibly.

He does. Quarterback picks up two yards, and they punt. And Jacksonville gets the ball back, comes down the field, zips their chubby quarterback through our defense like a knife through melted butter, kicks a field goal, and we lose.

And I hurt. Turns out I do expect things, or I at least expect things and people to try their damnedest even if the results aren't good. I expect to know if my child is going to be born with severe problems, I expect to know in advance that family will act stupidly so I can avoid delicate situations with them or at least tell me honestly that they don't like dealing with dead babies, and I expect pro coaches to fucking THROW the ball on third and six when the game is on the line. And you know, if the results are grim, and family acts like asshats, and they drop the ball, at least you know they tried, and you can prepare for the dagger in the eye. Well, that was nice while it lasted.

Friday, January 4, 2008


A few days ago I was in the gym locker room with two other women who were having a very heated discussion. Not argument, discussion. With very loud, emotional and dramatic voices. I was the sole audience member, and although I think even though I was in their way, they didn't notice me in the slightest. I think, though I'm not certain, that this was derrivative of a sermon they had heard. Suddenly, one pronounced with all the seriousness and gravity of a minister: "Expect nothing, and be pleasantly surprised when something happens." She paused, and then repeated it for emphasis:

Expect nothing, and be pleasantly surprised when something happens.

I smiled, nodded goodbye, and have been repeating it ever since.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


When I entered the L&D hospital, I was given a bracelet. With my name on it. Seconds after Maddy was born, as the NICU doctors were trying to clear her lungs of meconium (save your time, folks, save your time) a nurse fastened on a matching bracelet on Maddy's tiny wrist with my name on it, and we became linked. From Monday through Friday, my bracelet was my ticket to Maddy: it got me into the NICU at all hours, it let nurses in the hallway know I wasn't loitering at 3 in the morning, and it reminded me that we were a set, her and I of the matching bracelets.


On Friday, Maddy was transferred to Children's Hospital and she was given a bracelet with her name on it. It was blue, and there was also a number which for a few hours I had memorized as it needed to be printed on every bottle of milk I pumped and deposited in the freezer (Delivery Hospital was not as fussy about labeling). In order to get into Children's at all hours, Mr. ABF and I were given matching blue bracelets with her name on them. I was loathe to remove the first bracelet from Delivery Hospital, but Children's insisted that I must. And so, late Saturday night when the doctor turned to Mr. ABF and said, "How far away do you live?" followed by "I think it's time to call your wife," roughly 30 minutes later I flashed my blue bracelet at the security guard who waved me through into a deserted hospital save for the 20 or so people mingling around Maddy's cot. She made it through that night, but not the next.


After Maddy died, Mr. ABF and I could not take off our bracelets. They were all we had of her, the only thing it seemed to remind us that this was not some awful dream but that we had in fact been in the hospital, delivered a baby, and had a daughter with this beautiful name. The bracelets became worn, water blurred the writing, Mr. ABF's eventually disintegrated and mine was in tatters. So Mr. ABF hopped on the internet and ordered us blue plastic ones of the Li.ve.strong variety simply printed with her first name and birthdate, approximating the blue bracelets of Children's.


By the time I donned this bracelet, until a few months later, I realized that since Maddy's birth, I had worn a bracelet on my left wrist. It was a source of continuity for me, a sign of my passage into places most horrible, and other than my gut, a visible reminder of her existence. I grew to like seeing her name in print throughout my day. She may have gone, but this thing around my wrist ever connecting me to her remained.

I thought about something permanent I'd like to do for Maddy (Mr. ABF is still considering a tattoo), and I decided I would like a bracelet for my left wrist. I pondered the options, and nothing really spoke to me, so one day I happened upon a custom jeweler nearby and visited his store. I could tell within minutes of seeing his work and speaking with him that he could do this for me. I waited a few more months, sat on a sketch, and then went in this fall and asked him if he could do this for me.


I decided I wanted a cuff-like band, not unlike my plastic one. The symbolism I wanted to capture was "Delicate but Strong." And so I wanted a solid circle, but with one half gradually cut away to reveal a flowered vine. On the inside of the solid half, I would print her first name in strong capital letters. I explained the significance of the bracelet, the imagery, the fact that it would have to be on my wrist constantly. The jeweler rose to the challenge, procuring wax models for me to study before proceeding, and never suggesting that I remove my blue plastic bracelet for fittings. He knew that one would not come off until the new one went on.

A few weekends ago, he called. It was done, save for the engraving which he wouldn't have time to do until after his Christmas rush, but he wanted me to have it now. He told me that this of all projects he really enjoyed working on: not only was it a challenge, but it was of great significance, and he said he never stopped thinking of that while he worked.


I do like it very much, and it's amazing to me that I could hand a sketch to someone and they could produce an object from it.

But I'm already of mixed mind about it. Is it too much? Probably. For starts, at times when the strong side spins to the top, it reminds me a bit of a handcuff and I wonder if I'm not unhealthily chaining myself to her memory. One of my neighbors is from the "Let it Go" school of spirituality (not blowing off the experience, but allowing Maddy to be wherever she is now and make peace with that), and I'm sure she would not condone my continuing to wear her name so visibly shackled to my body. I'm also very much aware that should I lose more children I could very well end up resembling Wonder Woman, or will need to procure a membership at Harry Winston, and concomitantly, an appearance at a celebrity-laden awards show.

But, as my therapist likes to remind me, it's where I am now. Perhaps years from now it will no longer be a daily memento mori, but one I pull out of a box to run my fingers over and think not only of Maddy but where I was at this particular point of my life. Perhaps it will still encircle my wrist -- at times simple and modern, at others sweet and ornate -- prompting me to think or act a certain way inspired by the brief life of my daughter which as of today I still find so ugly and meaningless. As you can see, I am trying my damnedest to find some peace, some beauty, something positive to take from Maddy's life. And this will serve to remind me at least of that challenge as well the passages (literal, physical, and figurative) to see her and our permanent, unbreakable link.

Sorry for the off-center photos. Blogger moved everything off-center from the Preview to the Post, and now it won't let me in to fix it. Whatev. You get the point.