Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Forward Progress

It wasn't the most peaceful of outings.

Sure, there was the gurgling creek off to the side, the occasional rustle of leaves, the sound of birds, the whir of bugs. There was a brilliant blue sky, the layers of green surrounding me, the sound of feet on dirt. There was a hint of that lovely fall smell, with just a touch of crisp in the air, the damp soil and soggy leaves the morning after a night of rain.

I was paying so much attention to my new stopwatch, fumbling with the tiny buttons, making sure I stuck to the prescribed program de jour: eight minutes running, two minutes off, four reps.

I ran outside.

A few months ago, the trainers agreed it was time to run. So I hopped on a treadmill, ran for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of walking, and repeated that four times. I came home and iced my foot and started second guessing whether I should've had that surgery after all. I rested a few days, came back, and tried again. It was so incremental as to be frustrating -- like learning to drive stick after you already know how to drive standard. Moving, but not; feeling terrific followed by that creeping, nagging sensation that your heel is starting to burn. When you've run a marathon, getting maxed out at 30 seconds for a total of 4 minutes of movement on a stationary machine is brutal. Outside the window the kids were walking to school and every one of them seemed more mobile than I.

But I did it. And gradually worked my way up through their program -- 1 minute running. 2 minutes, up to 12 times. 4 minutes running with walking breaks. And when I hit eight minutes running, they said I could go outside.

I missed everyone out there on my route -- the other runners, the long-distance club from the college, the walkers, the bird watchers, the tourists, the dog walkers, the lone equestrian. I missed what I've dubbed "the men's walking group" -- a gaggle of men circa 55-70 who walk in a pack, jawing about sports. Last year, they used to all wear sports sweatshirts, and break their conversation to holler a cheery g'morning to me. Yesterday, with their T's, they resembled an Obama bloc canvassing for that elusive squirrel vote. "How ya doin!" "Beautiful Morning!" I could almost hear them say, as they looked at me somewhat inquisitively, "Where've ya been?

Or maybe that was me.

"Wassup." (always said more as a statement, than a question.)

"Beautiful woodpecker up there at 2 o'clock!"

"Don't mind him, he's friendly!"

[silent head nod, clearly wrapped up in their iMusic]

Almost exactly a year ago this week, in a mad effort to burn my pregnancy weight and rid myself of this sad, saggy reminder around my midsection and hindquarters, my foot collapsed. The plantar fascia which runs down the arch had begun to separate from the point where it attaches to the heel. Yesterday I ran four or so miles. I'm a bit stiff today -- stiff enough that I'm resting my heel completely, simply stretching, wearing my arch supports. Hopefully tomorrow morning I can try this timed segment once again. If I can do it twice without pain, I graduate to running continually with no walking. Just running. Letting my mind flit instead of monitoring my watch.


Here comes that serious-looking runner guy again -- the one with the compact body and the serious clothes and the serious sunglasses. We said our good-morning's at the first pass, but I never know what to say when I pass someone for the second time going in the other direction.

"Have a good one!" he said, raising his hand.

I hope he didn't see me spontaneously break out into an enormous shit-eating grin.

"Thanks! You too!"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Because it doesn't just happen to people like us

Just read that Matt Bryan't son Matthew died suddenly and inexplicably yesterday morning. He was three months old. Bryant is the place kicker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and from another news article I gleaned this bit of information:

Last November, the March of Dimes Florida Bay Division named Bryant and his family an ambassador family for raising awareness and funding for efforts to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Matt and Melissa Bryant's first child together, Tre, was born prematurely in 2006.

Thinking of them all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Be Ok

A little dedication to all of y'all. You know, those who don't want to be ecstatic or joyous or over-the-moon -- those who just want to, well, be OK. Just ok.

Ingrid Michaelson BE OK

Monday, September 22, 2008

Getting Past the Beginning

Mom, is that my baby sister?

No Bug, that's a sick baby in China.

My baby sister died. I want a new one.


Although I'm clear of guilt in the process, knowing full well there's nothing I could've done, that's not exactly true.

I had 14 or so ultrasounds through 32 weeks, and all were fine. I know now that you can't see liquified white matter or lethal proteins or glaucoma on an ultrasound.

I did my kick-counts daily. And although Maddy was less active than Bella, she passed every single one. I know now some of these may have been seizure activity.

There was no time -- absolutely no time -- at which we could've delivered early and saved this pregnancy. If the one doctor was right, she was on a track headed in the wrong direction from conception. If the other doctor was right, she was gripped by infection around 25 weeks. If there's a future pregnancy, there is no point at which I can relax, no date which I can squarely wrap my head around and figure "That's it. If I make it there, and she's still kicking, she'll live." That date will be labor, and I'll find out shortly after a baby's removed from me, when a doctor gingerly tries to peel back an eyelid to see if the corneas are clouded over, whether that child will live or die.

I had amnio, it was perfectly normal.

I don't stay awake thinking that I should've called about that abdominal pain, or I should've pressed harder on a certain ultrasound reading. There were no signs to be had. I sought medical attention regarding the bleeding and the low-lying placenta, and the result was always the same: The baby is fine. I don't worry that I should've delivered her earlier -- I would've wound up exactly where I am now, just with a different set of dates to mourn around.

There is no point at which this train wreck could've been avoided.

Except the very first step: the phone call. Picking up the phone to call the RE, and explain in an attempted cool voice that yes, I'd like to try this again.

I did not remotely enjoy my pregnancy, and I'm very sure that to the extent babies are aware in utero, Maddy probably didn't enjoy it much either. And the only thing that could've prevented this entire mess, was not picking up the phone.

I explained to someone last week that I'm the kind of person that likes to at least explore things, say things, just so I know -- so I don't go through the rest of my life thinking What if. I went to visit all of the colleges I got into, even the ones I hated on sight, because I didn't want to stay up nights thinking Would I have been happier there? Did I make the right decision? I always got what was on my mind about a boy off my chest even if the answer was No, thank you, or in the case of my now-husband, at least 90 seconds and two subject changes after asking the question, Yes, yes I would.

And so there is a small piece of me that would consider going to the RE if nothing else to find out if there's even a chance. Of course the RE is always going to tell a patient there's a chance given the right protocol, but I feel I somewhat need to know the answers to my personal parameters so I can sleep at night, and lie next to my husband in good conscience knowing it was a matter of science and not my emotional failings: I was too old. There was no way we could have another safely.

But I can't pick up the phone. I find other things to do, other appointments to make first, weight that needs lost, things I need to take care of before embarking on the multi-appointment hell that marks the six-week work-up to figure out the condition of my reproductive system. I can't pick up the phone because this is where I could've saved Maddy. Right here. Pushing those buttons and making that initial three-day blood draw appointment followed immediately by calling the pharmacy. A cell phone call from an oppressively hot car on an Arizona street, the day after a wedding, on the way to get tampons and lunch. That's where I failed her, as I sat unknowingly holding her fate from the passenger seat in the rental car right around noon on that Monday. And I don't want to put another child through that ever again.

Maybe Maddy was the question. Maybe that was me asking if --What If -- I could have another child, and taking that chance, and I need to acknowledge that the answer was a resounding No.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Comments on the last post were actually healthy, s'mores notwithstanding: CLC asked why on earth people read blogs like ours who aren't experiencing "it." Niobe asked something similar here and I think the answers were telling. I know people read my blog who haven't experienced loss, but they come here because they've experienced something else. Maybe something similar. Maybe a different form of grief. Some come because they simply want to know, and are actually inspired, or find a way to put some relativity on their own lives. Some simply come because they've become "friends," and want to know more about me.

I personally think that's all lovely, and I truly appreciate everyone who finds the time to read the nonsense I occasionally find time to put up here. Knowing some of my readers haven't been through this exact drama actually comforts me. Knowing they read me makes me feel less like an oddity, more like just another gal who got slammed with some shit. And I'm here to tell them, they're good people for facing it. Better than a lot of people in my real life, better than some of my family.

Of course there's the occasional gawker, the accident-gaper, the person with the superiority complex, who I guess feels a bit intimidated by Martha Stewart, but not so much by the likes of us -- or those with myriad other problems, be it struggling with infertility, the possibility of a planned c-section, or just re-working their life philosophy. There are always those who read not to comfort, but to judge, and turn what they've read back into their life with the message: "I could do better." Um, Good for you? But that's not how you build community though, or understand, or meet people half-way, or reach out a hand, or offer sympathy, or listen.

For the majority of us/you, it pays to reach out and discover a bit of the universe you may know nothing about. Women (and men!) who live their days with grief, or with children with disabilities, or a disability of their own, or addiction, or sobriety, or cancer, or infertility, or scars of a traumatic emotional sort. Fellow bloggers can teach us strength, dignity, power, and yes, sometimes, even for the hard-hearted and cynical among us, a wee bit about hope.

Lolli began Bridges to compile these stories in one place. Fittingly, today I'm a guest blogger there, an oldie-but-goodie from GITW. Don't just read me, please poke through and see who else you discover. In a good way.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Somewhere in the midst of the "Little Engine That Could" (neither a favorite nor a good read-aloud -- no idea why she selected this one, spite I suppose) last night, while trying to spice up the story by seeing how many words Bella knew on any given page, Mr. ABF walked in and handed her a blue plastic Maddy bracelet.

Clearly, there had been some conversation which I was not privy to, but whatever, I hardly paused, trains kept rejecting the toys pleas for a tow, Bella attempted to put the band on her ankle, and then settled for her wrist.

She climbed into bed with the bracelet still on, and it suddenly hit me, What if she wants to wear this to school tomorrow?

If memory serves, only one parent in her class knows, and as of last Sunday, one knows that we had another child who died, but doesn't know the details. Or at least I hope that's what she gathered from my answering "Only Living" to her question of "Is she your only child?" (Now that I think about it, that answer is a bit wanting, for me. I really need something else.) It began to race through my imagination that Bella was going to walk into school this morning, and blow this whole thing open wide.

I decided I might like a bit of insight as to exactly how this was going to go down with her peeps in the morning.

"Do you know what that bracelet says?" I asked her.
"Maddy," she said quietly.
"Maddalena," I said gently, in what I hope was more of a reaffirming and not correcting tone of voice. "And her birthday."

There was some chatter of birthdays, and then I sprang another question, "And who is she?"

"Your Baby from last year."

Interesting. I actually found this response completely fascinating -- that somehow this whole ugly business was mine (and I'm assuming her father's) and not really hers. Was this some childlike detachment? Or do kids around a certain age just instinctively refer to siblings as "The Baby" (capital T)? I often wonder if she considers Maddy her sister.

"She was your sister, you know."

Shit, can't believe I said that. I was going to let it stop. I hate the "How many kids do you have?" question, and I have no idea what buzzes through her head when someone asks "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" No, wait, I do know -- she says "No." And I'm always completely fine with that answer. Of course she doesn't. What in hell was I doing? I really wanted to take that back.

"She died. I wish she didn't die. I miss her."

The last two sentences there were delivered with just a drop of that dramatic flair I hear when she says "I miss my Daddy," knowing full well he's just outside in the yard letting the dogs out. So I decided it was late, she was tired, and taking this somewhere I didn't want to go. I said nothing, scratched her back, and read one more story.

This morning the bracelet was still on through breakfast, on through getting dressed. I was actually starting to get a bit panicky, wondering if I should offer to keep it safe at home. Right before we left the house, I noticed it was missing. "Your bracelet?"

"I didn't want to wear it."

Flooded with relief, I tell you. Flooded.

But. It's very clear, that the truth will out, and soon. And the messenger will be a four-year-old, in all her brassy, straight-forward, articulate, malapropic, and often hilarious glory.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Looking Back

It's always difficult (in a mind-fuck sort of way) to imagine what our fellow bloggers were doing on certain days that we too can recall. A year ago yesterday, I started a blog. A year ago this morning, I was probably somewhat giddy and taken aback and perhaps a bit freaked out that people commented on my blog.

A year ago today, Charmed delivered P@ige. On her due date. Please go remember.

Monday, September 8, 2008


A year ago this week, Bella went to school for the first time.

A year ago, I got off my antidepressants.

A year ago, finally granted with 7.5 hours/week to myself, I decided to try and regain a grip on my rapidly snowballing life. 7.5 hours isn't so much when you think about it, and so I made what I thought was a wise decision: Instead of making a mile-long to-do list and going ape-shit in my small window trying to get things done, I would prioritize my list, and focus on chunks. So. First priority? Get back into shape, lose weight. I would spend the majority of my 7.5 hours doing that. In any free time I had left over, I'd do something for me. Something mentally healthy. Something to put some definition on my grief.

A year ago today, I started a blog.


Last week, Bella went back to school. I now get 20 (!) hours a week to myself.

And I realize, I am exactly where I was a year ago: a list now five miles long, in need of prioritization, that sadly, reads exactly like last year's: firstly, get back in shape and lose weight. And sometimes, like last Friday, where I went from a tile appointment to a lighting store to a deli in order to buy lunch for my contractors, to picking up Bella and then hustling out to buy gifts for two birthdays this weekend, to preparing dinner so she could eat by six because she was looking a bit peaked, to treating myself to an after-dinner glass of wine only to have Bella wake me up at 1:30 a.m. and never really falling fast asleep again for the rest of the night . . .

I think, Why bother?

Here we go again. We all know how well last year's number-one flab busting mission went. (Not.) And here I am, finally running again in tiny little chunks with walks in-between a la my carefully crafted program by my wonderful PT staff, and I'm developing blisters on my arches where the orthotic hits. Podiatrist appointment set for my "free time" on the 15th. I am still overweight (18 pounds to be exact), and I'm fucking depressed by it. I haven't run in almost a year. And all those things that were supposed to happen after I lost a few pounds and got back in the swing of running? The playroom still isn't painted. The groups I wanted to check out last year, the job possibilities, the yoga class, the incredible list of house projects, the restaurants, the movies, all remain un-checked off, un-crossed out, looming at me, laughing.

Time to myself lately has been hard to come by. After the whirlwind family visit of almost a month, we barely had time to recoup when other family arrived for a three-day tomato jarring extravaganza. With nary an inhale between cleaning the pots and stashing the jars in the basement, Mr. ABF disappeared for four days on business pleasure work-related entertainment. Bella was dropped off at school on her first day, and we immediately went out for coffee and pastry and finally had a meaningful discussion together for the first time since June went out on a fruitless search for a kitchen faucet.

Some of my August bills are unpaid and I'm nearing their September due dates.

I still have a plethora of health-related appointments I need to make for myself, that got shoved aside while I dealt with my foot and its myriad of podiatric, orthopedic, and physical therapy appointments.

To massively mix metaphors, it's like ground-hog day while putting out fires. I'm on a hamster wheel with a wee hose. Just yesterday, while looking at tile in our gutted kitchen, Mr. ABF brought something up, which illicited a now-typical "Crap, I don't know when on earth I'll have time for THAT I barely have time to shower or think anymore," and then two hours later I went to him and said:

Um, you don't happen to remember what the thing was that was so important that I needed to find time to do it? The thing we discussed when we were downstairs?"

Mr. ABF couldn't remember.

I'm sure we'll remember and have the same exact conversation with zero activity and no memory until the next time whateveritwas comes up.


But before you whip out the tiny violins and join me in the chorus:

I've been blogging for a year. And while I feel terribly that my bloggy life has suffered miserably in the last two blenderized months, when I look back on the past year it really remains my singular accomplishment:

I started a blog.

I started writing on another blog.

And in the process, I met (what to me comprised) an unimaginable number of empathetic friends who've made me think, ponder, cry, shout, act, feel comforted, want to meet them, and perhaps most importantly, laugh. I talk about so many of you now as though you lived down the street: "This woman I know? You'll never believe what happened . . . . " "So my friend in Canada? You know what she said?"

My body and my to-do list may be stuck, going round-and-round on the squeaky wheel whilst dodging the brush fires, but my mind is active. My brain to a great extent feels unfettered and worked over (minus the occasional and still-panicky lapse in short-term memory). My spirit is comforted and strengthened, and I know when I come here to speak -- and I don't mean about how no one makes an aesthetic, integrated-spray gooseneck faucet -- about how my grief intertwined with my day, whether amusing, frightful, or despondent, that someone out there in the computer will respond. Even if I feel so mashed out, a human ink-stain in need of paper towels, unable to cobble together my own thoughts, one of you will write a post that will tweak a synapse and suddenly make my fingers move, my eyes focus, my mind inspired.

I'm sure if at this birthday party yesterday (where, incidentally, I tried out the phrase "only living" to answer the "is she your only child?" question with a new mom. She quitely said "Oh," there was a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, and while she didn't follow up on that, she did keep talking to me and even sought me out to talk to me some more later on. So maybe someday?) I announced that my singular achievement last year was starting a blog, that the party would've ground into silence, and people would've stared at me somewhat forlornly, and someone would've muttered under their breath something about blogs being egocentric vehicles, and another about how the web spurs unsocial behavior. But I'd be smiling. This experience has been better than a support group, better than a writing workshop, better than a crossword puzzle. It has undoubtedly saved me, improved me, and given me confidence.

Admittedly, part of my current to-do-list angst is blog-related: I have two big writing thingies that have been mothballed since, um, early July; my blogroll and reader are horribly out-of-date and lack symmetry (there are some provocative new reads out there, people); those with private blogs have fallen into the black hole of my memory. (I'm hoping to carve time to put all of you in a tidy (neon, blinking, screaming) button somewhere obvious on my dashboard.) My email is unanswered. My comments have been a bit terse.

But it's all good. This was the second thing on my list last year, and I've accomplished it.

And I owe you all a thousand thank-you's for abiding with me on this journey.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Inspired by a few of you from a few posts ago who suggested using the camera as shield to hide behind (brilliant!), two weekends ago I bravely ventured into a big family situation and distanced myself. There was a just-turned one-year-old there who I could avoid because people, camera! It's difficult! It has all these dials and shit! And when my MIL came screaming across the yard trying to get Mr. ABF's attention and he whipped out his cell phone ready to dial 911 only to be met with, "Look! The Baby's WALKING!" -- I am confident, confident, that my big ass camera stiffled my "Well, LA-TI-FUCKING-DA." Totally. Need to talk about BIL's kid's first birthday party? I need to find better light. You may be on to something.

The story of a few weekends ago actually begins eons ago, when Mr. ABF was a boy. Every summer, his Big Italian Family would get together and jar tomatoes. No, scratch that, they would jar sauce. His grandfather set up enormous army-issue pots on an old gas stovetop that he picked up at the dump, and they'd cook down bushels of Jersey tomatoes. (What exactly constituted a "bushel" was a hot topic that weekend.) Once cooked, they'd run the tomatoes through a press, a Rube Goldberg contraption his grandfather set up with a grinder powered by an old wash machine motor and belt. Finally, they'd cook it until hot again, and then jar hot in order to skip the boiling-to-seal step.

When I met Mr. ABF many moons ago, he had in his possession numerous mason jars of red sauce. And when an evening called for it, he'd saute some garlic and parsley in olive oil, add a splash of wine, and the dump in a jar or two of his family's tomatoes. (To this we have over the years added anything from homemade meatballs to live lobster.) And it's seriously the best thing you've ever tasted.

His grandfather was sick for many years, and finally died in the Fall '06. The tomato tradition, however, died years ago. At some point, in our last house, we finally used the last of the good jars and were left from that point to use store-bought tomatoes. Which we discovered really aren't the same.

Someone, probably after a few too many glasses of vino, had the bright idea that maybe we should revive the tradition. Inspired by memories of watching his grandmother sweat in the August heat as she sat on her stoop slicing tomatoes into a pot that came up to her waist, Mr. ABF deicded this was exactly the tradition he'd like to revive for Bella's sake. One of the old pots was located, another one ordered (who knew they made gumbo in such big vessels?). Portable gas burners and an electric mill e-tailed. Tomatoes and basil picked up at market. And finally, family amassed in order to go through the process again, and hopefully for at least another generation more.

This was the year to get the kinks out we kept reminding ourselves, and good thing, because batch two (clearly marked with a big "2" on the mason jars) got a bit toasty. We sorted through the problem, chalked it up as a learning experience, and vowed we'd at least use the jars for chili and failing that, decoration.

But batches 1, and 3-6 looked and smelled wonderful: deep red, thick, fragrant. We figured out how to avoid burn (pulverize the tomatoes a bit with the enormous wooden stirring utensil before turning on heat), and how to get the mill operating smoothly (send things through HOT).

And while I was dubious that simply reheating the sauce to near boiling and jarring hot would provide a substantial seal, I was proven wrong. Rubber gloves donned to fend the heat and help with grip, lids quickly twisted and the air filled with the sounds of metal popping as the lids sealed.

After three days of solid work, we had enough cases to send a few home with everyone there (we split up batch #2 so no one got stuck with a bunch of them). Pots cleaned, cars loaded, good-byes said, and hopes that next August we'd all amass with our notes and try this again. In the meanwhile, once a month or so, we'll take out a pot, saute some garlic and parsley in olive oil, cook down a bit of wine, and then pour in two jars from this year's enterprise. If we're lucky, it will taste delicious, and take us a bit into the past, and re-establish a tradition for the future.