Thursday, March 27, 2008

Less Than Three

Someone less than three's me!

Because I was quick with teh Google, CLC was able to dash off her missive to the formula company so they would cease and desist with the heartbreaking packages of newborn feed that were arriving at her doorstop. The marketing genius of these people astounds me. We have children going hungry under the poverty level, and we're sending expensive formula, gratis, to women whose children died. I'm sure this is a minor write-off on their part, but the logic is still a wee bit confounding.

But I digress. She less than three's me! And really, I less than three her, too. In no small part because she bravely started blogging shortly after her loss, when I was a pile of mush on my couch. If someone had told me to start a blog I probably would've snorted. (Right after I looked around for something to kill them with.) But also because she alerted me to a bill that just passed the Pennsylvania Senate (SB387) and is now headed to the House which will provide parents certificates of birth resulting in stillbirth. And I think that's wonderful. I know there's really very little to be fortunate about in any of our situations, but I take a lot of things, like Maddy's birth and death certificates (which arrived in reverse order, wouldn't you know) for granted. Because I have them. And many of you labored and birthed and named your children just like the shiny, happy moms and have nothing to show for it, and I think that's just a finger in the eye of despair. So I wrote my representative and told her to get behind this bill, already. I'd copy my letter here but I'm a bit nervous of their office using teh Google to check and see if it's from an organization. Not sure I want my rep in my biz.

If you read this, and you hail from the Keystone state, please consider going to the easy-peasy assembly website, tracking down your rep, and sending them a quick email in support. It would mean a lot.

Really, I less than three all of you, so I never know where to go with these things. Right now I less than three Ms. G and Beruriah who are both eloquently explaining that although they're thrilled to have live children, the live ones aren't necessarily making grieving the dead ones any easier. In other words, having another and have it turn out well will not necessarily fix your problems. Which I think should be required reading for all, husbands included. (Ahem.) I know it's given me a lot of food for thought. So if y'all have time and see this, go less-than-three yerselves, you!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Frame of Mind

Dear [Mr. ABF's SIL],

(Does that make you my BIL's wife? I'm not very good at these things.)

I know your husband and mine aren't speaking right now. According to mine, yours would like an apology for not "sharing in the joy" of your child born a few months after Maddy's death. I'm not going to beat a dead horse, but let's just say I don't think an apology is warranted, and I'm gathering by your behavior, you don't think so either.

Let me just say I'm grateful for the way you're handling this. You clearly have no problem either calling or picking up calls from my husband, but feel that yours should deal with his own shit, and I respect that. If the situation was reversed, I'd also expect mine to clean up his own mess because I have plenty of other stuff on my plate as I'm sure you do, what with a 7 month old and all.

I admire and am frankly very jealous of your ability to both remember and do things for others on holidays and birthdays. I understand this is a hard-wired trait on your part, and while I often have the nice fuzzy feeling that I should do something for somebody, it's usually very late when I remember and then I'm too fucking busy to do anything about it. But you clearly keep one of those calendars, and you promptly mail out made-in-China plastic crap you picked up at Target thoughtful seasonal items of interest to Bella. I usually throw them out within 24 hours if they haven't broken already. She, and I, really appreciate you thinking about her.

I must confess I actually feel a bit guilty about receiving things from you because I can't reciprocate. It's not that I don't like you, and I'm not a big enough person to stretch across the brotherly fracas, but I simply cannot bring myself to buy gifts for your daughter. You see, I should have one about that size right now, too. We should each be aunts of cousins that would cycle through the same grades, us just opting to buy two of an item instead of just one, and so forth. And I can't bear to look at the websites, or even see the glaring numbers "6-12m" burning into my screen. I would call, but I'm deathly afraid of hearing about her. I don't want to know how big she is, what she's doing, if you're sleeping, because it would be like driving a hot poker into my chest. I appreciate you sending Bella candy-filled plastic eggs that will never see the light of day, an easter-themed tic-tac-toe game that I rescued from my dog's jaws, and other junk goodies, but please understand that I can't -- I simply can't -- pop a "Bunny Fun!" bib in the mail for whatshername. That aisle has been permanently erased on my mental Target store floor plan, and replaced with a big vacant rectangle where I practice sprinting, pushing my cart with my eyes closed, all the while singing Violent Femmes at the top of my lungs.

Which brings me to my birthday present. Why you feel the need to actually buy things instead of, say, just send cards, is I suppose a lovely character flaw. But I can't help but feel here that you had the best of intentions when you earnestly stepped up to drive, and that the tee-shot shanked hard left directly into the woods. I really do like receiving frames as gifts; they are practical items and I am grateful that you resisted the urge to put a picture of your child in it and left it blank for something from our collection. I know this, of course, as per the sticky that you kindly applied to it, lest I wonder if someone from the postal service had opened my package and ripped off that picture of whatshername in her spring finery sitting on the Easter Bunny's lap to put on their fridge, replacing the empty frame back into the box.

But a frame with the word "FAMILY" written across the top in big letters? Really? If you took, say, five minutes, could you understand that it is impossible given current scientific advancements to photograph my entire metaphysical family? I know, I know, it's just a frame, and the three of us are technically still a "family," and I'm probably being a complete bitch here because you were really nice to buy it and send it and all, but I can't help in my current state of babydeath dementia to view the word family in this particular instance as a loaded term. "Family" with a lightning bolt breaking the word in two, or "Family?" or even putting masking tape over the M and Y (leaving FA_IL_) seems to me more appropriate. You couldn't possibly know this, but I will never view or hear that word the same way again. "Family day," "Family Val-u Pack" and "Family Nite" will forever serve to remind me that my entire family is not, and will never be there with me. I'm sure you see absolutely nothing untorward about placing a photo of the living three of us in there; you, after all, now have the family of three that you've been dreaming of for so long. But my family isn't three big, it's four. One of us died, remember? I haven't as much as photographed my living family for a year because I don't want to remember us from this time, nor do I want to look through the lens and be rewarded with the truth of the matter -- someone is missing from the frame. I suppose it's a bit unfair of me to expect you to know this, or have any idea how hard it is to explain the concept of "family" to Bella, when her sister is no longer of the earthly realm. Did you know her recent cute thing to do is to make up imaginary sisters? Maybe we could photoshop in the cartoon character she keeps referring to as her "sister," or one of her many school chums who she also calls "sister" in the most casual and heartbreaking of conversations?

I know I'm difficult to buy for (apparently, certain etail wishlist notwithstanding), and it's the thought that counts, but what did I want? The only person who asked me about my birthday wishes, with deep sincerity, without that "please tell me you updated your elist already and got rid of those medical books and mother-loses-baby fiction titles" undertone, was Bella. And I felt it was unfair to ask a 3.5 year old for the ability to travel back in time, raise the dead, and grant me the healing powers of Jesus. And frankly, there's really nothing else that I want. So I asked for a card (my cousin suggested next year that I ask for candy too, and that seems like a good idea, if you'd like to plug that into your PDA). I want everything I can't have, and thus I want nothing. And what would mean the most from people this year, and any year, is simply understanding.

You know, Mr. ABF asked in his now-well-honed therapist voice, "So how did this gift make you feel?" And you know what the first word was that flew out of my mouth? "Guilty." As much as the gift-giving instinct is part of your DNA, the Thank-You is part of mine, and I really don't know what to do here with people like you. And yes, there are others, not just you, who try their damnedest to be nice and poignant and appropriate and they end up tripping over both shoes and landing in a pile at my feet while I gasp for air. And I spend a few panicked moments thinking, should I gloss over this and thank this person? I mean, they're trying so hard. Or does that mean they'll think I'll like what they're doing and continue to do this? Should I tell them things like this really make me feel like shit? Wouldn't that just ruin their day and life-purpose? And while these thoughts are churning and the drool is spilling over my open bottom lip, the moment passes, and we're left just waiting for the next horrifically awkward ecounter where I'm forced to check my emotions for the sake of others. Again. Which, frankly, I don't think is wholly incumbent upon me.

I tell you this with trepidation because I know Mother's Day is looming just around the bend there (see it?), and for you this year will be a Sunday full of joy and promise and identity fulfillment. And knowing you and your penchant for sharing your glee with others dear to you, you will likely feel the urge to send me something. It will be thoughtful, and heartfelt, and I already know, it will crush the motherfuckin' life out of me. If you could, please, resist the urge to send me anything, including cards, however carefully annotated.

You try, and believe me, that I appreciate. So it's with deep regret that the ungrateful bitch in me asks you to please, try harder. Or simply don't try at all. Either way spares me from a world of pain and awkwardness that appears to be missing from your emotional atlas.

Happy Day.



Friday, March 21, 2008

Late Friday Afternoon News Releases are Never Good

Genetics called, and we struck out. Goose eggs all around. But we did discover something during the phone call; apparently the "it's most likely a autosomal recessive disorder (but could be infection, but really probably not, because infections leave traces and do specific things and none of this is evident, but just to cover our butts)" line was not so much a unified front between our two point doctors, but a disagreement. Apparently this whole time they've been playing "naynahnaynah" with each other, as pathology reports and assorted tests failed to prove either of them correct. "You can't prove your caus-a-tion" (sung, annoyingly sing-songy, with tongue out, natch).

Turns out the one actually does think it was an infection. Just not one medical science is currently aware of. From what I gather, this doctor is putting all his grim-reaper eggs in one basket: Maddy had an echogenic bowel at 28w that was gone by 32w. The most common cause of these feared bright spots on the ultrasound is infection, but usually of the garden variety TORCH Infections, and so they tested me for all of that (a lot of it for the second time), and we came up with nothing. (And for clarification, Maddy and I were both again tested for these same infections and more within a day after her birth with the same negative result.) (Should you go read what causes echogenic bowels: we scratched Down's, CF, and the Torch Infections off the list with a few blood tests, and assumed it was ingested blood from my long-term subchorionic bleed, or nothing. And "nothing" is a totally feasible explanation for echogenic bowels in the thrid trimester, from what I gather.) So what the fuck "Infection" is this guy talking about? could be one of those crazy situations where the baby's antibodies attack mom. Or something. It is totally possible that Maddy had a genetic disorder which made her susceptible to some bizzaro infection, in which case they both win, and they split the bedroom set down the middle and come back next week for the playoff. The doctor trying to argue infection also has some tough explaining to do; Maddy's problems were clearly long term, evolving from a problem extremely early on in gestation. So why the sudden infectious marker at 28w and not earlier? (And remember, by 28w I had undergone 10 or so of my 12-14 ultrasounds.) There is no way to disprove his side, but no way to prove it either. The infectious side is made on a house of assumptions and the basic fact that the other side can't prove their case.

Sadly, there's no way to prove or disprove the genetic side, either. Maddy's genetics have been combed through by the genome experts at Ba.y.lor; in one case, she was only the second human trial. They found nothing. The doctor arguing in favor of the killer genetics relies heavily on the multi-system crash, severity of multiple crashes, and uniqueness of problems to assume it's autosomal recessive. Again, assumption, assumption, conclusive assumption based on facts and non-proof of other side. Both doctors apparently presented Maddy's case to outside doctors at two conferences, and even there, the ringer "Guess that Cause of BabyDeath!" doctors disagreed on whether her case presented more infection or genetic. "I'll take enlarged heart muscle and depleted mitochondria for $500!"

In short, we have no idea why she died. We have a 1-25% of having a dead baby, with no possible way of knowing the baby will die prenatally. They would like us, should we want to partake in this life-affirming expansion of our family, to use an egg or sperm donor, just in case. Not that someone else's reproductive material will make a whit of difference should I happen to harbor some never-before-seen infectious catastrophe. We will know if the baby is viable when he or she is born, presuming we make it that far. Which, should I choose to go through this exercise, will (if I continue to follow their wish list) happen at Children's or right next door with them present in the room.

No, that won't be awkward at all to have the doctors who told me Maddy would die watching me deliver another baby, not at all. I'll probably be used to it by that point, what with the recurring nightmare and all.

This is exactly what I'd expected, the strike out in the genetic lottery and the shrugged shoulders, and I had no hope of them delivering the magic bullet. That scenario never once played through my head. So I'm trying to be level about this, and didn't realize how upset I was until I ruined dinner by dropped the blender full of marinade on the floor and erupting into a screaming, cursing, sobbing pile of frustration. It's especially rough when the late Friday afternoon phone call ends, "Is there anything I can do for you other than tell you I'm sorry we have no answers?"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Another Banner Year*

Today, the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano. It's also St. Joseph's Day, where we all remember the, um, nonbiological father of Jesus? Or whatever. I see it as a good day to eat fried pastry loaded with polysaturated fat and covered with sprinkles. Oh, and 30-some-zillion-odd years ago, I was born.

Smitten's Ding Dong cake is baked and sitting disassembled awaiting icing. Bella and I will slap it together and likely eat it right there, at the counter. As per the title song, I'll tell the parents I'm great and gloss over the medical fact that my ovarian factories are presently circling the drain. I've never been an enormous fan of teh Birthday, but now that they get bogged down in infertility and deadbaby stuff? I really hate them. A year ago, I had just made it through the first month without Maddy. I am quite different today, showered, dressed, standing, alert, blogging (!), and yet not so much. (Wait, I take that back, I have *not* showered today, nor do I forsee any time this afternoon to do so. Bother.) I feel like I just wasted a year, coping. That my big event of year thirtyblahblabhblah was: coping. I really have nothing to show for the last year; no big career move, nothing got done on the house (that I did, and I'm supposed to be doing stuff), I didn't find religion. I'm at the age where I should be pondering if I can leave my 10 and 12 year olds with the in-laws while I escape to Hawaii with the husband. Instead, I'm overweight, pondering foot surgery necessitated by trying to run again in order to lose the deadbaby weight, wondering if I can, will, or should have another child so my three-and-a-half-year-old can shut it with the "Hey mom. Today at school Frances was my sister."

The person who decided we need cake on birthdays? Thank you. I'm taking that excuse and running with it.

* Title from Bishop Allen's "News from Your Bed." Thanks to Niobe and the numerous previouslies, it's become a personal favorite. (If you'd like to listen to this cheery song about depression, follow the link to Niobe's. I'm far too lazy to figure out how to do this, especially this week after figuring out on a mac with a blu.etooth connection. Just looking at the Odeo site made my brain hurt.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Today, We're All a Wee Bit Irish

'Twas a time where I was proud of my genetics. I come from, shall we say, good stock. My great grandmother, may she rest in peace, lived 'til 100, and an extremely lucid, listen-to-all-the-Pirates-Spring-training-games 100 at that. My great great aunt lived to 107, and answered the door herself when my brother and I visited in her 101st year. Another great grandmother lived to 98. Her son, my grandfather, is a hearty 91, still travels to Alaska annually to hike, and plays golf regularly -- all despite the fact that he is leagally blind.

I hoped this set of family would dominate my father's genes which contained a few worrisome outliers. His aunt lived to 85 or something, largely subsisting on government cheese, crackers, and scotch. However, his father died when he was only in his forties (my father was around 12 years old). For some reason, I was always thought he had died of a heart attack, in fact, I may have even written that on a few medical background forms, and worried a bit about my father and his smoking habit. And then a few years ago, while driving around his home town, the stories started to spill from my father's mouth (you skinny dipped where??), and he told the story of his father's death, which I had never heard before (where did that heart attack story come from, anyway?), and which we all agreed (medical specialists that we are) (not) sounded suspiciously like a brain tumor. Of course, given the day and age, no autopsy was performed, and we will never know.

My mother's family is rather white-bread "English," and I don't think anyone has turned up anything remotely interesting in our lineage other than the usual Americana. Apparently that family wound up here in the 18th century, some fought in the Revolution, etc., etc. Yawn. My father's family name is one that lent itself to variations over the centuries, so if you believe all the variations are related in some way, the family seems to trend Welsh. My father's family also came to America in the 18th century, and had a slightly more interesting history here replete with claim-jumping and politics. There are actually some streets, counties and parks bearing my last name sprinkled through parts of the country.

Last year, my uncle revealed that he had recently discovered our name actually has French roots, and "our people" probably drifted across the channel during one of the infinite quarrels with the English over the last geological era, and that's how we actually wound up there. Huh. Tough to think my brutish ways might actually be French. (I'm sure the French would be less than pleased. Or, maybe they're relieved that we drifted away. Not to give too much away here, but the roots of my last name in French mean something between "That which we throw out with the eggshells" and "Sad sack cannon-fodder.") My grandmother's maiden name, as it was passed down to me and I understood it, was Scottish. I never thought twice about it, or the Englishness of anything else in my roots. Also relevant to this story: My father grew up in a working class steel town during a time when it was de rigueur to refer to people by their ethnic group in not such a polite way. If you get my drift. He actually apologized to my third-generation, 100% Italian-American husband in advance of meeting some of his elderly family in the event the G-word slipped out in conversation.

Then a few years ago my cousin calls me on St. Pat's day to ask if I'm drinking a Guiness. Which, I totally would anyway, cuz Guinness! Yum! Frothy warm motor-oil thick brown goodness in a glass! But probably couldn't break away to find a bar with it on tap, which is the ONLY way you should drink Guinness, people. But clearly missing the point:


Why? We're not Irish.
Yes we are.
No we're not.
Yes we are. Grandma M.
M is a Scottish name, you twit. And you're not really blonde either.
No, it's Irish. And take your ass to a salon already, you jealous bi-

***Hang up, and call my Father.***

Are we Irish?
Wellllll, could be.
Could be? I'm thirty-fucking-something years old, and you're just now getting around to telling me that we might be Irish? Dad, I've missed sooo many parties, and now I'm totally too old for one of those plastic leprechaun hats!
M might be an Irish name. Could be that she was embarrassed and thought it best considering where we lived, where people referred to Irish as M___s, to explain it away as "Scottish." After Dad died, she had to clean houses for income; people in the area might not have let her in the door if they had an inkling she was part-Irish.


Well, plus there's my uncle, who would rather be French or Irish or pretty much any damn thing remotely more romantic than English (because really, what have they done that warrants drinking?), so I'm thinking this is all a bit far-fetched really, and for the first time I actually think of googling my grandmother's maiden name. It turns up Irish. Everywhere.

We don't talk much about our genetics anymore. Especially the fact that both of our families tend to lead long, healthy lives. Or that in outward appearance, Mr. ABF seems to have inherited every recessive gene there was to inherit from his families. Obviously including that one. I look like my father, exactly. When I was about 12, I once went to visit him at the office and into the elevator walked a guy who turned out to be one of my dad's students. He took one look at me and said, "You must be a [Last name]." I look like my cousins' sister (minus her totally from-the-bottle blond hair, do not be fooled). We all have the same features, same faces, same eyes. When pregnant, we anticipated Bella would inherit all of my family's dominant stuff -- the big cheeks, big eyes -- and probably look just like me, but with her father's (dominant) brown eyes; instead, she looks just like her father, with my blue eyes. There used to be a sense of awe in her recessive inheritance, but like I said, that conversation never comes up anymore. We don't discuss the possible lineage of Bella's facial features because I think we silently agree that we are simply fucking lucky to have her at all. Our family trees have ceased to be places of mystery and wonderment, squirrel cheeks and Roman noses, underlying contentment of a life that lies ahead, and have instead become landmines of not-knowing from whence this microcosmic death-knell originated.

Mr. ABF's last boss was Irish through-and-through, the kind of guy who spoke at the big-time St. Patrick's dinners and whatnot. And from him, we learned about a traditional Gaelic prayer that gets thrown around a lot. When Maddy died, someone from the office gave us a copy. I'm not religious but for some reason I find this prayer especially appealing. It might be the mysterious double entendre of it -- is the person referring to me when they say it, or Maddy? Or both? Does it refer to the present, or the afterlife, and is there any difference? And I love that it acknowledges the here and now, the journey I'm already on, and how arduous it will be, and that it will eventually lead me right back here, where you are:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

It's not saccharine, it's not "everything will be ok." It's simply hoping that while you're in the now, on this lousy trek forward, things go as best they can. And I'm rather down with that.

Huh. Turns out I might actually be a wee bit Irish. In any event, I'm embracing it today if no other reason than to head down to my neighborhood Irish bar (which obviously, being in my neighborhood, includes organic and vegan dishes on the menu) and have a Guinness, on tap. And raise a toast to my Grandmother, who brought up three boys single-handedly regardless of her country of origin, and all of my great ones, for conspiring to place me where I am.

With some really funky babykilling genetics. Beannachtam na Feile Padraig, and all that.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Murky Chords of Memory

There's been another kerfluffle in the publishing world about a Memoir gone terribly, terribly wrong. Well, actually two kerfluflles; one apparently about a woman who wasn't really a gangster, and another who wasn't really a Holocast survivor. These follow the memoir about recovery that wasn't, and probably some others I'm missing.

Memoir, just to clarify, is a personal account of a portion of someone's life -- usually a life-changing portion, or why bother. It's sort of like biography, except usually memoir is limited to an event, and does not include the entire life from conception to present. Memoir has a little story, a plot, a narrative line, and in order to sell them, should thus have a bit of tension, and drama, and surprise.

I opted, as a historian, to use memoir in very limited ways despite its non-fiction status. I found, in my dissertation where I was interested in language at a particular time (what people were saying/thinking about certain issues during a certain set of years), that the language changed significantly regarding the event as the person aged. Society's views on the event (say, a war) changed significantly over the course of 30-40 years, and thus the way one explained what happened to them shifted to fit the new way of viewing things. As a crude example: a person might have thought a war was a terrible thing when they were in it, but 30 years later, society thinks everyone who went through that war is a hero; thus the person's (hi)story becomes about being a hero, not some shlub who happened to be present for the mundane to the monstrous. I should add here that the facts did not necessarily change, but they might have been slightly embellished, or perhaps things were left out, in order to conform to the way the narrator now thought about things in his own head. The authors of such memoirs, I believe, did not suffer from psychosis, nor were they liars (they did not fabricate being in the war altogether like the recent outed parties), but they did want to sell their books, and get their story out there. Their very memories -- and really their very own histories and lives -- became subject to the times, and the passage of time.

I read memoir, for my professional and personal reasons, with a big margarita glass rimmed with grain of salt. I'm thus always rather surprised that people buy into memoir wholesale, and are then shocked! (shocked!) to discover that the story that moved them so much wasn't true. I'm even more perplexed by people who read memoir as blueprint, and then head off on a three-part trip to Italy, India, and Indonesia to rectify their own lives, or think that renovating a house in Tuscany will bring about personal growth. And part of me thinks, if the story moved you, isn't that enough? What is it exactly about finding out something fact is really fiction that stings so much?

I of course say this without having read a memoir about something deeply personal to me, and then found out it was a lie. There is something to be said for the personal and monetary pain caused when the upfront claim that what follows is true turns out to be a big pile of bullshit. Should I stumble across a personal ground-breaking memoir on child loss and then find out the person made it up, I would probably look said person up and not-very-politely cram their book down his/her throat. But what if the book changed me somehow? Moved me? Dramatically shifted how I thought about things? Would it matter?

So to bring this around to the point lest this become a lit-crit blog and we all break out in groups and start drafting essays: Although I hold back facts in real life (I don't know that my genetics are my neighbors' business, nor do I think they would care), I hold back very little here. Most of that is strictly therapeutic; part of that is some small, wee, tiny, glint of hope that maybe, just maybe, someone will google Maddy's problems and realize there's a similarity between her and a child they know.

But I wonder what will happen as years pass. The memories now are so bright they give me migraines, and I often wish I could just box them up and remove them from my head entirely. But I also recall, after reading some fresh loss blogs, those endless loops of ten-minute intervals that used to keep me up at night. They don't any more. I remember what Maddy looks like, but I'm aided incredibly by photographs. I remember what she felt like, what her hand felt like, her hair, but am I influenced by Bella's touch? As I detailed her final hours for this blog, I obviously left out some things I figured were incidental and didn't further the story, but they advanced my story. If I don't write those points down, will they slip away too? Will this narrative change as the years go on? Become shorter? Will the details fray at the edges until the story simply becomes, "we lost a child, she lived roughly a week, and we don't know why"? I worry now, just year out, that my wish may be coming true, and I may already be forgetting things, forgetting her. I never want to forget her, and don't think I could. But will the way I think about her, and this point of my life change? Probably. And how will that change the story?

I still dream about someday being hit by a bolt of lightning while aimlessly doing Jumble or something, and suddenly realizing why Maddy was here. Why it happened to us. Why she was only here six days. What positively wonderfully powerful life-transforming thing I'm to do or believe now in her honor, that I wouldn't have otherwise if she hadn't have died. If that happens, and I do find that elusive thing, will it change the story? Right now the story is painful and horrible, and I can't every imagine it being any other way. It's heartache and -break, it's tragedy, it's pointless. The rest-stops and punctuation marks for me are the grimmest of moments. But as my life continues, and I get further away, will other points of that week come into focus as those drift away? I can't remember the nurses names any more (the ones I thought would live with me forever), or much about the babies in the cribs who surrounded Maddy (who I often thought were her only "friends"). Am I just forgetful or forgetting the unimportant? Will the story eventually change to encompass this forgetfulness, or will I look it up or write it off with "that delightful nurse with an Irish-sounding name"?

Will it matter?

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Risky subject, but it gets on point eventually, really, so bear with me:

First, some background. I've been politically aware since roughly age 12, and politically involved shortly thereafter. In November, 6th grade, my teacher ran a "turkey" contest and my good friend Lola and I made a couple fabulous ones if I say so myself: we stuffed nylons, glued on feathers, and cut out and affixed the faces of Reagan and Bush. We won the prize for "Best Political Turkeys." This was also about the time I found out said 6th grade teacher, whom I adored, was voting for Reagan. I stayed after school one day to argue with him. I was eleven. Also about the time I announced to my mother and her friend, completely unprompted, that I would "only marry a democrat." (To date, still one of my mother's proudest moments, most likely topping my marathon run, and my PhD.) Four years later, Lola came to school dressed head to toe, veil included, in black to mourn the reelection.

I grew up in extremely conservative Arizona. "Conservative" probably does a disservice to conservatives, because "Wackjoblunatic" is probably closer to what the state put forth at that time. State representatives who asked that "Flat Earth" be taught in schools as a theory. Outright, virulent racism and sexism flowed from elected people's mouths and the newspaper. A governor who rescinded MLK Day with the most racist of rationales. I marched, I protested, I worked. On the exact day that I was old enough to do so, somewhere in the vicinity of my 18th birthday, I was sworn in as a deputy registrar so I could register my friends so they could sign the recall petition and vote in the special election to rid ourselves of our joke-of-a governor (which became unnecessary; the governor resigned in a flood of ethics allegations). (Aside: I needed a faculty sponsor to do this on school grounds, and my sponsor overheard the school librarians in the faculty lunchroom call my voter registration drive "anarchy.") The fall of my senior year, there was a vacancy due to the retirement of Sen. Barry Goldwater, and in my first campaign experience ever, I worked for the Democrat, a lovely man with a history of state experience. He lost to the guy with the (R) after his name, a forgone conclusion in AZ at the time. That guy's name was John McCain.

In sum, I grew up losing. Always losing. Always fighting. The roots of my cynicism lie here. Not just in politics mind you, but in a high school Chem teacher who told us on the first day of class he didn't understand why girls were made to take his class because it wasn't like we were going to need it anyway; a high school where religious seminary (of one particular religion only) counted as a class, toward your GPA; where I was called a slut (along with two other women who are now a lawyer and a biologist, respectively) by a teacher for dropping his lame-ass physics class so I could spend that time at the local university on an independent study with a professor investigating lupus.

My adult life has likewise been spent campaigning, phone calling, writing letters, ringing doorbells, attending rallies, marching, donating money. Bella was actually conceived not in our home state because Mr. ABF was working on a campaign elsewhere. I like to think I am about as plugged in and aware as an American citizen can get. If timing your reproductive cycles around the primary schedule doesn't spell commitment, I don't know what does.

So, you'd think with this background, and the previous eight years, that a person of my ilk would be rather overjoyed with the current embarrassment of riches on my plate. And I'm as cynical as ever.

I can't help but wonder if the loss of hope in my personal life is what makes my backhairs stand up like a cat when someone says, with complete earnestness and a wide smile, "HOPE!" May I just say, that the "Hope" hate runs deep and has a history dating back further than the present: the slogan of Children's Hospital, splashed on the very building and on the banners that pop up around my city in the most unexpected places like graffiti, is "Hope Lives Here." And once you start parsing those three words, in all of its combinations, you can see just how fucked up it is. Hope? Lives? HOPE LIVES?? Um, no. "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here" would be much more appropriate, but probably wouldn't raise them much money.

Where was I? The Nihilism of Hope. Then there's the other side, the people who smile, again with the earnestness of people who live in some abstract "nation" where bad things happen to people in the newspaper only ("people are dying!" they say with deep concern, jabbing at the paper, as if I have no idea how it must feel as a parent to be told that your child is dead), and tell me how wonderful it is that we're finally in a place where my daughter can truly grow up and become anything she wants. Can I tell you something? About a month ago, out of nowhere, I guess after studying family relationships in school, Bella came home and told me she wanted to be an aunt. THAT was a tricky conversation, and I tried to mollify her dejected expression by explaining that some of her "aunts" weren't really. I will take the sex talk any day and nine times on Sunday over the rerun of that conversation when she gets older.

I am burned out. I'm in a state whose primary has never meant boo, and suddenly, here we are, apparently "the new Iowa." And I could care less. I am actually jealous of my friends who can get behind one or the other of these groundbreaking candidates and say all the hopeful, can-ful, change-ful, joyous things. They can see ahead, and see the difference. They're optimistic. Passionate. Angry. Emboldened. They read the papers and the blogs which make my eyes roll so hard my head hurts.

I have spent a good deal of time wondering what the old Tash, the pre 2/12/07 Tash would've thought of this particular duel. Would she come down strongly on one side or the other? Would she have gone to the mat for one of these candidates? Would she be marching and campaigning, dragging her children along with her? Would she be gleefully looking forward and wearing buttons with big letters expressing "Change" and "Hope"?

I can't even remember hope. I can't even remember what it was like to envision something turning out the right way. Having the sunshiney daydreams of a healthy family and a democratic presidency. If it seemed at the time far fetched, or inevitable, or somewhere in between. I have no idea if my current cynicism is the result of decades worth of fighting and losing, or a year of losing a battle I didn't even know I was a participant in until it was over, and I had lost.

"Hope" requires that you have an object at the other end to hope for, and even finding objects to "hope" about has been an extremely delicate business for me this past year. I had "hoped" that I would've lost the pregnancy weight by now. And mind you, I did not loaf about on my couch eating imported chocolate bars while "hoping" my jeans would finally fit again: I ate right, I purposefully set aside time last fall to run, and tried my damnedest, and my foot crapped out and failed me. I am now "hoping" that I will run again this year, and not need surgery to correct my foot. I had "hoped" that we might have some direction to move regarding having another child, but we have none, and that is leading to some serious inertia problems on my part. But "hope" also requires "faith." Faith that you or someone else or the universe will act in a way that the hope will materialize as reality. And that I lack totally. I have lost faith in people, science, "proof," odds, logic, love, friends, and family. There are no givens, no guarantees, and I am not about to leap over the breach for anyone, or anything, ever again, thank you. I live precisely in my moment, relying not very firmly, on myself and my gut. Would I like "Change?" I suppose I would, in the abstract. But I sat around worrying about "change" in the abstract before Maddy was born: would Bella do ok with a sibling? Would I do ok without sleep? Would we be able to function as a family of four? And look where THAT got me. Have any of these people considered that the very Hope and Change they desire may not come to pass at all? That the discussion may shift entirely under their feet, for absolutely no reason, and when they least expect it?

I'm not sure where this leaves me other than bitter and "undecided." Believe me, when the time comes, I'll send in my money, and vote, because I know in the end either of these people are vastly better than what exists now, or, as I learned beginning my senior year of high school, what exists on the other side. Please don't fill my comment sections with position papers and links to blogs and op eds, because believe me, I'm aware of them, I just don't care. Not to mention I'm going to be inundated with all that over my phone and mailbox in the upcoming month. What you can tell me is how the aftermath of grief has spilled over into other areas of your life -- your politics, your religion, your work -- and whether the loss of life, hope, and joy bleeds into other areas that you used to get fired up about. Would this bitterness have come about anyway given my age? Maybe I've just been around too long? Possibly. Or maybe this is just another piece of the old Tash breaking off and drifting away with all the yard signs, pins, t-shirts, righteousness, and Hope.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


The air is as balmy as in April in Sevilla, and it is so fragrant that it is a pleasure to breathe it. -- Christopher Columbus, 10.08.1492

Historians surmise that Columbus probably made ground in the Bahamas, most likely Watlings or Samana. I was not there; most likely Columbus espied my particular location on his second journey back. I was in the Caribbean, on the narrow tip of an island affording me glorious eastern, northern, and western views from beaches, all within a five minute walk of each other. The island was in large part lushly vegetated thanks to preservation efforts which will keep it safe from further Tom, Dick, and Harry resort chains and souvenir shops. Only so many pirate shirts a person can buy in a lifetime, I say.

I thought a lot about Columbus, and history -- both recent and distant -- on this trip. I, too, had expectations for the island, for my vacation. I was not so presumptuous to jam a flag in the ground, rename the place, and expect to convert the locals to cynicism, but I did expect it to give me something, no matter how fleeting or ephemeral. Upon arriving after a trip of car, plane, bus, and boat, I too noticed that the sky looked different, the air smelled wonderful, the bright sun felt comfortably warm.

As I stood on the beach that our room opened out on, feeling the winds from the east rise off the swimming-pool clear clear water in our (you see that? personally claiming "our" beach!) densely vegetated, green bay, I wondered about that first sighting: what it must have been like to look off a tiny ship after months at sea, and see this small island, green and lush, sitting atop crystal blue-green water. What it must have been to stand in a place looking very similar to where I was standing, and observe three modest-yacht-sized ships set ground off the shore, and emit tall white men onto the beach. I told my students that contact must have been like something from science fiction, two clearly related species, and yet so different, unable to communicate with each other, each expecting something from the other and making assumptions that would fail to transpire.

I'm no horticulturist, but I'm guessing this view probably looked remarkably like it did 400 years ago with the smattering of fruit and palm trees and the errant cacti. However, I do know that the land underwent a serious transformation in the interim. Slaves were imported from Africa, made to raze the wild vegetation, and sugar cane was systematically planted. Lest I forget that a sugar plantation and it's inhabitants once shared this beach and this magnificent view, the ruins remained right by the tennis courts and a restaurant constructed on top of the old mill. I often have what I call "historian's guilt" when on vacation in certain places, knowing full well that the place I am currently enjoying has an undercurrent of tension, anger, and dare I say it, grief.

The historian's grief, of course, ran parallel to my own this time, but to my surprise, remained just that: a subdued undercurrent. Not a hurricane gale, or even a tidal wash directly in the face. I was able to acknowledge it, and yet enjoy my surroundings, the people, the wildlife, and my own family. I enjoyed numerous delicious rum-filled cocktails, a morning kayaking with my husband, snorkeling amidst grand sea turtles, and one particularly spectacular pink and orange sunset. My daughter refused to leave the water once in it, and with a gently lapping current with an indiscernible undertow and gradual shelf, she was able to frolic without her mother clenching her teeth or tethering our swimsuits together.

Of course, the story of Columbus is fraught with tragedy as well as a trajectory. I could only hope my vacation wouldn't follow the metaphor of alleged cannibalism, kidnapping, paranoia, and germ warfare. There was the night Bella couldn't sleep; the daily struggle to get her out of the water to reapply sunscreen which went well until the last day where some "pink" occurred sending me into a mom melt-down of enormous proportions. The pregnant people, with children already (including twins) who for whatever reason, were always attracted to the spot right next to my family. The 4' barracuda I ran into while snorkeling one day, which I was told later wouldn't have done anything, and was far more scared of me than vice versa, but still managed to scare the piss out of me. The tiny bites on my lower legs, ankles, and feet that itch like hell.

Mr. ABF and I had, what was to date, my most perfect morning in a year, free from Bella, in a kayak on the water. We followed up an hour's worth of work with a cold beer, and decided that this was a place we would return to, possibly as soon as next winter. We discussed whether Bella would then be old enough for a bit of hiking, which we decided was out of the realm of possibility for this year. We contemplated which direction we'd like to face should we return. And I realized, this was the first time, in a year, that I had thought about a future. A future beyond my upcoming class snack obligation and asundry appointments. A future where we didn't discuss whether there'd be a pregnancy, or an attempt at, or none, to consider in the planning. A future where we were simply able to accept our little family of three and envision us there, a year later, happily enjoying the sand, surf, beer and dive-shop rental equipment.

I don't know where this trajectory will take me, or how long it will last. The plans may fall around my feet within a month as the crushing grief returns. It was, after all, impossible to get away entirely from "it." Maddy's name was on my bracelet (thankfully, I wore my rubberized one, not the sparkly one that attracts certain fish to snack, I'm looking at you Mr. Barracuda), on my lips, in my mind. But it remained an undercurrent of guilt and grief. Guilt that I should be enjoying this without her, leaving her awful life behind while I went in search of turtles. Grief that she should be here, watching her father strap her sister into a life jacket and kayak in the extremely shallow water, knowing someday her turn would come too. I know everyone's grief is different, and not everyone can afford monetarily or otherwise to escape to someplace beautiful after dealing with the hell that life can dish out. For me, it was exactly what I needed.

And now, piles of soggy, sand-filled laundry await my care. In addition to what seems an eternity of blog reading to catch up on. I hope you all are as well as can be expected.