Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Great Expectations

At some point a few weeks ago, Bella sat at the kitchen counter, grabbed a sheet of my grocery list paper, and intently started writing a missive.

Mom, how do you spell 'Christmas'?

When she was done, she read it out loud:

Dear Santa, I want a Poni [sic]. Merry Christmas. I love you. [Bella]

She then announced that she was putting it in the Day 24 slot of her advent calendar so as not to forget, and I reminded her, gently, that Santa does not bring live animals. That animals are a family decision, not a Santa decision, and can you imagine his sled and bag with live puppies and kittens and ponies? The crazy! I also reminded her that she has a pony, for all intents and purposes (it's my aunt's), 45 minutes due west of here that she can ride anytime.

Bella stared at me blankly and went and dutifully (defiantly?) put her note in her calendar.

It's that time of year, where I suppose children and normal people wish and hope and make lists and expect. And as a person with a major holiday party the week before Christmas, preceded by two days of standing on my feet awkwardly hunched over a munchkin table in a Kindergarten class making gingerbread, and still lacking the complete incentive to spread Joy! and Peace!, I remind myself that she won't miss what she doesn't know about. If I don't say anything, and don't make promises, and remind her that Santa uses the list as a guide, not a constitutional legal checklist, she'll be happy with what I can do.

And she was.

And I also reminded myself of the same. I don't make "wish lists" anymore, the whole conceit seems so, well, ripe for disappointment. Not to mention that I can't wish for what I really want. And everything else seems so very trivial in comparison. ("Um, some jelly roll pans would be nice. You know, if you can't raise the dead and perform a miracle of Biblical proportions.") I did what I could, and this year I relinquished a lot of what used to make me happy either to the "Don't Worry About It" pile, or to Bella's To-Do list. And I found that alone made me very happy, very peaceful, very content. Gone were my Martha Stewart pretensions of having perfectly glazed confections, and I scheduled a playdate and had Bella and her companion frost and decorate a full batch of Italian Wedding cookies. They looked wonderful, and lo, still tasted great. Bella did most of the tree decorating, I decided again to forgo sending cards. A wise choice.


We've told Bella about the other pending engagement on the calendar, and in full disclosure told her this was not a promise. We would likely have to wait for the baby to be born in order to know if he was healthy and could be brought home from the hospital. Interestingly, I've found that her conversations have Mid May as a boundary. She's told a few people, but seems to wait for a segue instead of just blurting it out, she likes coming up with names, she talks about the hospital a bit. She has never had a conversation with us about a baby coming home, what will happen, where the baby will go, where it will live, what it will eat, how it will change her life. Lord knows, we certainly haven't either. My internal schedule still only goes two weeks in advance, and the only way I know where I am in this escapade is based on appointments scheduled around significant dates. May is a distant mirage on my horizon, and any discussion of what comes after usually has nothing to do with a baby, but with pool memberships and third floor renovations and if it comes up, the caveat, "If he lives." Or sometimes, "Even if he dies, we'll want to . . . . " And you know, we will.

Bella's baby brother name list is as follows:

EGGPLANT (what I tell her when she asks me what we should name him)
IAN (Olivia the Pig's little brother, and the only reasonable little brother she is familiar with)
BUDDY (Our Dog)
LAREE (I believe two names she feels she can spell without help. Don't laugh, "Bob" and "Car Wash" were on my list for my little brother)

There are moments though, where even though I am still as distant from this experience as one can get with an alien life form growing inside them, that Bella does something to show that not all of us are completely tuned out. When we were decorating gingerbread at home, after making sure she had decorated a unicorn, cookies for the dogs, gingerbread people that (theoretically) resembled Mom, Dad, and Bella, she proclaimed, "And this one is Baby Brother."

(There is a clear resemblance to those blurry ultrasound pictures where everything seems blurry and unreadable and the eyes and mouth are a bit spooky. Tell me you can't see the kidneys in this.)

We can try and tamp down those expectations, but we can only do our best. No promises. I will spare you the profane and macabre joking that this pastry elicited from me and Mr. ABF, but I suppose deep down we were a bit touched. I'm glad someone here is looking after him a little, at least as much as frosting will allow.


I had my twenty week scan yesterday, and all looks fine. Which is not remotely a relief as much as it is a lack of surprise. A few weeks ago, I had a "slightly elevated" marker (and by slightly, .1 above what the cut-off is, and only noticeable because it's one of those "soft" things that they jam into an equation wherein x=my age (40) and n (as in 10n) goes up a factor of a few 100 because of the 40 part, and then odds start to look a bit scarier than it would if I were a respectable 35 or something, but who's paying attention to odds?) so Dr. Hotshit paid extra attention to the spine in addition to all the Maddy pathology goodness and is hereby "not worried." Well that makes one of us. She then scheduled me for a full bank of scans through weeks 20-30 and warned me of the impending weekly fluid checks/NSTs to start around week 30, so I think the "not worried" thing was perhaps a wee bit of an oversell.

Everyone on this side of the ugly warns me that there will come a day when this will become "real" -- like the Velveteen Rabbit, I imagine, perhaps the ultrasound photos become a bit frayed around the edges and lose their luster? -- and will start "being a mindfuck" (tm, Julia), but I'm certainly not there yet, nor do I really foresee being there, frankly. Because my "real" comes a few moments after birth (whenever that may be), there really isn't a milestone along the way where I think "Phew!" or "Viability!" or "Lung maturity up!" or whatever. There is this creature on a screen which is apparently inside my body which may or may not be hosting a time bomb, whose brain though clearly visible may or may not be composed of mush, and then I ask about the next appointment and start worrying about what to have for dinner. Maybe that day will come, who knows. Maybe it will be years from now.

I still run (well, did until we got 16" of snow and entered a deep freeze during which my five-year old is home all. the. time.), still shun maternity clothing (god, I hate that stuff. I hate even typing those words) as much possible, still cover up and try and avoid conversation with people who don't know. All the neighbors know, and those in the know have said . . . . nothing. And you don't know how much I appreciate that. There have been some quiet asides to Mr. ABF about "Let me know if I can do anything, you know, cooking, whatever" and even a nice aside to him (over the keg at the Christmas party) from a newish-neighbor physician-type who works at Children's who apparently "just found out" (and I mean, about everything) to make sure we were comfortable with who we were seeing and that he would do anything he could. Anyone who enters into conversation with me gets met with a gentle yet terse "We're saving congratulations until May," and "We're not talking much about this one." And things get shut down pretty quickly and we start up with how erratic the Steelers are this year.

Perhaps because I expected nothing, I was surprised and giddy with my (stress, MY) Beatles Rockband on Christmas morning, and have been enjoying (probably way more than is healthy) Mario Kart racing. And I didn't say anything at dinner with the relatives, and no one says anything to me, and, well, we wait. I'm not optimistic, but I'm not pessimistic either. I'm just not expecting.

I came home yesterday, showed Bella the pictures ("Is the baby healthy today?" she asked, which I considered remarkably in the moment) and told her that her gingerbread man was a far more accurate anatomical likeness if I thought so myself, and got down the 2010 calendar to enter in my next appointment. She grabbed the calendar and a pen, and before I could catch what she was doing, flipped to "May," plopped her finger down in what to her appeared as the middle square, and without saying a word wrote "BABY." Like I said, at least one of us is thinking a bit in advance.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tangled Web

I'm not big on pain olympics, really truly I'm not. But I did want to draw attention to one particular element many bring with them, in their overloaded steamer trunks and suitcases, to babyloss: Infertility. All tangled up and intertwined, two sets of grief each deserving of their own place in your mind. Let me know how it impacts you, today over at Glow in the Woods.

Monday, December 14, 2009


It poured here yesterday. Just warm enough that it was rain, not sleet or ice or snow, but a frigid rain. We took a neighbor with us to the movies, and otherwise hunkered down inside.

But when we left the house around 6:15, the rain had stopped, the clouds were breaking, and the temperature had gone up a few degrees. We were all bundled in layers, Bella even sporting her new snow pants, and hoping Children's would set us up outside under the sky. Bella even swore she could see a few stars peaking through the gray cover.

It was not to be. Faced with a day of deluge, I'm sure Children's expected the worst, and prepared to put all of us -- 1,300 there to represent 345 children -- inside. They nicely set up three viewing areas to spread the crowd out, but somehow the evening loses something when you're inside peeling off layers and trying not to spill your hot chocolate on the rug and Bella is helping you with your glowstick. No live candles inside, save for the one the person running the ceremony lit on her dais, and promised to keep lit for at least the full hour.

Grief has nowhere to go inside, but up into the ceiling, where it forms a cloud and simply rains right back down.

I saw a few moms I recognized from my old support group, and watched for their children in the program. As always, there were the children that for some reason dropped on your conscious: for my husband, it was the small child who died on his birthday this past year; for me, it was a boy born mere weeks after Maddy who died this summer. That cleaved me in two for some reason -- made me mutter, Son of a Bitch under my breath. He was a blond boy with wide, deep brown eyes -- the kinda boy that a few years ago would've made my ovaries hurt just to look at. To think he escaped our vortex of death and destruction only to be felled two years later by god knows what. You're on my mind today, sweet Joseph.

Bella watched with rapt interest, and when the screen was blocked from view, she settled down on the floor with the book to follow the names and pictures in there as they were read. I was amazed at her ability to see straight through wires and IV's and bald heads and central lines, and coo, "Oh how cute, look at her Santa hat!" or "Aww, she had a dog, too mom." She took in the surroundings of Children's -- their Holiday decorations, lights of all sorts (mostly not holiday, I'm guessing), and even gamely tried to sound out the names of some of the buildings. This comforted me. I remember driving by Children's in Phoenix growing up and shuddering. I viewed it as a leper colony, a place where monsters lived, and children were sent to die. It was the place of nightmares. I don't want her to view our Children's as that place. I wish I didn't.

I recognized the boy in the program who died a day after Maddy and I believe had the bed right across from hers. I believe I found the baby born right after Holly's Ruby, who died a month or so later. I found a toddler who died the day before Maddy, and her parent's missive in the book began with "Saturday." I knew it was a Saturday. I will always know every numerical day and the day of week it corresponds to in that week for as long as I live.

Walking out I reached in my pocket for my ziplock baggie of names, and . . . it wasn't there. I panicked, thinking someone inside had probably just reached down and found an unusual souvenir on the floor when I checked another pocket and there they were. I had placed them in an interior pocket earlier in the day so I wouldn't forget them, and so they would stay dry. The pocket right next to my heart. They're all home, in a bowl, with a candle. The stack is incredibly big now, and I don't have the heart to count how many names. But they're there, keeping Maddy company. Keeping me company.

I noticed this year that the short entries in the accompanying book came from people three years out. Interesting. They increased in length after that again. I'm wondering why that is. This year we just couldn't seem to come up with anything to say that we hadn't already, that matched what we still felt three ceremonies in. I have a feeling regardless of what happens next year, Maddy's memory will come flooding back to play a central role and we'll have more words to put down on paper by next December.



It's been almost three years now, although often it feels as though you were just here. We think of you daily, we miss you mightily, and we remember you always. You're still the most delicate yet strong human we've ever encountered.

Mom, Dad, and Bella

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Names and Light

It's been on the calendar since September; I know, because our photo and written submission were due October 1. And yet, it was just last night when Bella asked what was going on this coming weekend that I realized Sunday night is the annual worldwide candlelight service for children who have died. Per usual, sponsored by Compassionate Friends, and for us, hosted locally at Children's.

For those who haven't been reading since inception (and who can blame you?), the first year we went to this it was . . . rough. It was rough thinking about going, and in the end we were stood up by family members -- the first of many schisms abysses to appear in the relationship we have with extended family.

But. I decided it would make me feel better, and less lonely, and even my load so to speak, if I carried in my coat pocket the names of all the children I know who have died. And you know? It did. And I did it again last year, when Bella and Mr. ABF were kept home with a bilateral ear infection and I went with my Aunt and Uncle. And again, as I absorbed the names and faces of the children in the program in front of me, I silently clutched my stack of names, knowing I wasn't alone in this. None of us are alone in this.

We're planning on going, barring a last-minute massive ear infection for any of us, and again I'd like to carry my names with me. Please note: these names are NOT part of the service, they are not read aloud. I write them down on a piece of paper, and all of the names come with me in my pocket where they keep me company and the palm of hand nicely warm. At our service, they read the names and show the pictures of children who have died at Children's -- some going back before the year I was born, back when fire was invented. Everyone holds candles that look amazing in the frosty winter night, and the grief seems to dissipate skyward into the black. When I return home, the names all go into a bowl next to a candle that is lit nightly until my Christmas decorations overwhelm it all. (Or the cat threatens to dump everything on the floor. Crap happens in this house.)

I love saying the names of your children as I write their names, and put them altogether. There are far too many, and yet it makes me feel so much less alone in my grief and missing.

If you'd like for me to carry your child's name with me this year, please leave a comment with the name. If you'd like me to use a real name and not a blog pseudonym or you'd like to keep this otherwise private, please feel free to email me at tashabf at gmail. As always, I carry the names of children I gathered from my first year doing this, so it's highly likely I already have yours written down, but a reminder and double-check are always welcome.

And please, feel free to light a candle at 7:00 p.m. your time on Sunday, and join in a wave of candlelight remembering Maddy, and those who made impressions despite their short lifespans, earthside or inside.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lost, and Lost

On Thanksgiving morning, after reading Bella the comics, I picked up the local section to peruse the obits as is my wont. Imagine my surprise when there, staring back at me, was the name and a picture of my RE -- yes, the new local one we only just saw recently. Twelve days after we last saw him and he cheerily dismissed us to the OB, he had a heart attack while on vacation and died at the young age of 60.

I'd like to paint a heart-tugging tale using wide brush strokes and deep shades about how he helped create life before departing this world himself (and I'm sure he probably did), but that wasn't so much my experience with him. Ironically we ended up not needing his help in that critical regard, if you catch my drift. (At least I thought this was so ironic, I was set to mail in my picture to some cheapy dictionary with the subtitle "Irony Exemplified: geriatric fecundity" under it, when the resident biologist informed me that it wasn't remotely ironic at all and in fact made perfect sense. So maybe I'll get to that bit of narration here or later, we'll see how it goes.) Not to mention I spent a fair amount of time grumbling about his super-sized practice and their propensity to lose stuff. There was also his utterly classic deer in the headlights look about three minutes into our initial consultation. Here I've been wondering how to start this story, if at all, and this provided me with an apt segue. So here we go.


The decision to try and have another child began with candlelight, a bottle of wine, Barry White in the background, and numerous phone calls to various medical institutions. First there was Children's, where I told our point person to tell everyone else that we were thinking of doing this (I know, how private and romantic and spontaneous and all! We'll name the baby after our genetic counselor's phone extension, how's that?), and the plan was that if there were still eggs in the basket, we'd try with our own genetic material. He recommended an RE's office, and I called them next and blindly agreed to go with whomever they scheduled me with. The next call was tough, to the old RE in our old state, who was never informed of what had happened. I didn't recognize the receptionist who told me to fax over a release for our records, so I did with a very short explanatory cover letter and no less than 10 minutes later my phone rang and here it was old RE himself on the line and the first grief-stricken words practically shouted into the phone were, "My God, WHAT HAPPENED??" I cried. He expedited my record release.

I strolled into the new RE's office, with the game plan already composed in my head: I'd go through my reproductive history Greatest Hits!, and stress that what I really wanted right now was information. I'm practically moving with a walker after all, so I wanted to know my FSH and whatnot, and I'd make a decision from there about whether to try or not and how, and with whose gametes. It sounded good to me.

I didn't get much beyond the part where I hand him the pathology report "in case you're interested," when I noticed his eyes were as big as dinner plates and he had picked up the phone and was punching numbers. "You need to speak to Dr. [HotShit]." Butbutbutbut, I stammered, we've talked to the greatest minds in the country, we've thought for 2+ years, I'm FUCKING 40! HELLO!?, we really don't want to talk to another doctor! What on earth could Dr. HotShit tell us we didn't already know or have thought about, and who was she anyway?

Too late, he cut right into my protestations, he handed me the phone with Dr. HS's scheduler on the other end. As a bone I suppose, he told me to come in on CD3 for the usual.

I was a wee pissed. I called my Children's guy to see what the deal was with Dr. HS, and firstly, it was noted she was actually mentioned at the end of the pathology report as someone to send it to. I picked it up, and there in fact was her name. Huh. And my Children's guy went on and on about what HS she really was, and this would be a good thing, and ugh. I decided if this is what it took for the RE to move forward with me as a patient, we could at least sit in this person's office for a few minutes.

Dr. HS's waiting room was completely unremarkable, replete with one of those brochure centers with pamphlets titled, "Chromosomes: The ABC's of X's and Y's," and while we waited for her assistant to intake us, I told Mr. ABF if she made us watch a Troy McClure filmstrip on basic genetics and amnio, I was walking. He said he'd hold the door. We went back, assistant nicely took our history, and went to get Dr. HS.

And like so many doctors I've met on this road, she walked in the room, the spotlights went on, the music swelled, and the dry ice rolled. She said all the right things about being sorry and asking how we were doing, and then quickly ran through Maddy's history. She knew it cold. Even the really recent parts. And even though this woman has multiple degrees including one in genetics, she also was of the opinion that it was probably placental abruption and/or infection, and we were totally reasonable in wanting to get pregnant again. Not that it mattered -- she could have told us the opposite and I'm not sure if I would've changed my mind, but nice to know Dr. HS thought I wasn't insane. We then went into what would happen on a subsequent pregnancy, at the end of which I may have slightly, just a tad wee bit begged her not very subtly to be my MFM. I may have been on the floor with my arms around her pants-leg. And she agreed on the spot, and her assistant piped up that all I needed to do was call her and she'd schedule everything.

No going through the front desk, no hand-wringing explaining my past to a new MFM. It was like being handed the golden ticket.

With a small caveat: Dr. HS wanted to run "some tests" before I got pregnant. Sure! Whatever. Run away. We'll just get them coordinated through the RE's office because how hard can that be, right?

So I do have RE to thank for that connection, even though I'm pretty sure he set it up because he thought we were despondent batshit crayzees who didn't know a chromosome from a allele.

My other great memory of RE was him calling me from home on his day off to tell me my CD3 results. "How old did you say you were? Because you have the levels of a 20 year old." I sat with my jaw on the floor. (And it stayed there until a few weeks later when he told me my progesterone results, which were like the levels of a cardboard box. But whatever, let's focus on the positive.) And, it turns out despite still being a good 18 lbs overweight (e.g., over what I was before getting pregnant with Bella), my glucose/insulin levels were fine, totally normal, that is to say, better than they were. To make even more clear: the whole reason for my 2+ years of infertility prior to Bella, and the raison d'etre behind seeking secondary infertility treatments before Maddy had vanished. RE said something about an IUI, but certainly didn't think I'd have a problem getting pregnant, and definitely no need for meds at the moment.

By now the candles are stubs, the wine is long gone -- the bottle kicked under the table, and Barry is hopelessly stuck on the same endless loop of "Can't Get Enough of Your Love," but we look each other in the eye and decide to do this thing. Let's just get this pesky bloodwork out of the way.

It took my nurse what seemed like ages to find all the right codes and stuff for the myriad clotting, circulation, autoimmune, and general antibody screening tests that Dr. HS wanted, and I finally went in to the lab and they took a gallon of blood in small individually marked vials and I went home to wait by the phone and fix the Barry recording.

And I waited. And waited. And I called the nurse for results, and she said they weren't back, call next week. Next week I started the daily stalking routine and she finally called me back (now over three weeks later) and said, "I called the lab. They never received them, they were all lost en route." Well fuck me, there went a cycle not to mention a gallon-sized zip lock of filled vials. That can't be good for anyone. Back I went, drained my arm, and again sat by the phone to wait.

And then August hit.

There was no way we could go in August. I didn't even call to see if the test results made it, and they certainly didn't call me, and I hardly cared. There was no way I could even think about doing anything in August, including, you know, that. At least that much. Poor Barry got put back on the shelf. But hey look, how convenient, the next cycle starts Bella's first week back in school! I'll call then.

And the first day of school rolled around and I packed up a lunch and stereotypically forgot my camera and we headed in for the Kindergarten parents' coffee reception where I guess we're supposed to stand around and cry or something, and on the way in I merrily started doing math in my head so I could call the office when I got home and . . . I was late. Well, I was on cd28 according to my really bad August math, and for someone who never makes it beyond 26, that's . . . suspicious.

Just for good measure, the lab ALSO lost my second beta draw, forcing me to drive in early on a rainy Saturday morning hoping we could all do math and figure out doubling/tripling over three days instead of two. I casually asked if the lab was like this, big and overworked and overused by multiple offices and prone to just chuck things in the trash when they didn't have time to get around to them, and they stared at me and insisted that they'd never heard of anyone losing results ever. That losing two sets of stuff within the space of two months was really unheard of. Must be me, then. How auspicious.

And hahahahahaha and progesterone supplements, here we are.

I felt a bit . . . guilty? Like a liarliarpantsonfire? going back to see RE and I suppose he felt a bit smug seeing as all he did was point me in the direction of Dr. HS but given that the lab had lost a few results and I felt like patients in this practice really needed to be proactive (when I was about as passive as one could imagine), I'm wondering what would've happened had we really needed assistance. Would they have handed us a turkey baster, pointed us to a private room and gently reminded us to shut off the ultrasound machine when we were finished? RE personally did the first ultrasound to make sure the sac wasn't in my ear canal (not entirely a laughing matter when a resident on the second visit found the heartbeat but couldn't locate the yolk sac, which I really didn't think was biologically possible, but I didn't want to mess with the poor kid's head), and then on subsequent visits stood and chatted with us while residents had all the fun practicing "Find the embryo!" Last we saw him, he smiled, shook our hands, wished us luck, and asked to be kept apprised of what happened.

I'm sure in another life, I'd pull out all of the steaming hot omens in this story -- the wreckage left behind with missing test results and a dead RE aren't exactly good signs, are they. But that was the old me, and the new me understands all the pregnancy omens in the world are contained in a small box of ashes in a bowl on a shelf in my family room, and what happened here was just life.


Although not exactly personally responsible for what lies inside, my RE was a remarkable person. According to his obit, the first in vitro baby in Philadelphia was born in 1983, and RE headed up the IVF center -- the only one in the region. He was considered an IVF pioneer by his peers (and I googled his peers and saw their publications, and damn that's one peer group) and led the center until taking over reproductive surgery. He is survived by his wife, two sons, a grandchild, and I imagine countless, thankful parents and their offspring. Including the girl born in 1983 whose embryo RE apparently looked at under a microscope, a girl who is now a woman with a child of her own.

Thank you, RE, for everything.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I remember in Italy, when we mentioned we were renting a car and driving from Florence to Rome (cue hysterical laughter) in order to make some day trips along the way, an Italian told us, "Don't follow the lanes. Don't expect to. Just move with the flow."

Best advice we could've ever received.

Imagine my surprise though, when I went out on my usual run of denial normalcy last Saturday at the beach and found that on the boardwalk was a demarcated lane just for me. Despite the fact that it was a cool, crisp morning and everything was eerily shut down for the season and the boardwalk was close to deserted, I got in my lane and stayed there all the way down and back. Sometimes it's nice to know you fit in somewhere.


Two weeks ago I got a message from Ms. Prufrock at Barren Albion wondering if I lived anywhere in the proximity of [place to remain unnamed, story belongs on her blog] and I believe my reaction was "HOLY SHIT, that's 10 minutes away."

And last Thursday night, I let Ms. Prufrock in my front door and despite popular internet legend, she was not an attention-starved 14-year old boy or a 56 year-old male axe-murderer. She was beautiful and sweet and had this lovely little British lilt despite her Pennsylvania roots, and we sat and drank tea in my kitchen and chatted and it was . . . . awesome. It's really quite strange to sit with someone you've never met, and yet you know their whole backstory. It's like you don't know them at all, and know them more than most.


Less than 24 hours after my tea time (Ms. Prufrock promised not to make fun of my gauche American tea-making skillz, which consist of putting a bag in a mug of water and putting it all in the microwave if I promised not to mention that she sat at my kitchen counter and tried to get her no-plan mobile phone to work and . . . did I just say all that out loud?), I loaded my car with goodies and set off for the shore to meet . . . . total strangers. Psychopaths. Internet hoodlums. Well, ok, not entirely true -- I had met Angie and Sarah before, so I knew it would be at least three against seven (if they were still alive), and I more or less trusted Niobe and Julia since I had communicated with them a bit and knew a bit of non-internet information . . . . but you never know. I mean, even if everyone else there -- M., TracyOC, Lani, Molly, Laura -- was legit, what if (gulp) we all just didn't click? And then I saw people unloading Dogfish Head and Victory beer from their coolers and knew, knew right then and there, that we were all going to get along just fine.

And we did.

There was chatter, and eating, and eating yet again, and laughter, and crying, and even crying because you were laughing so hard. (Ok, that was me.) And everyone just fell into their places at the couch or the table or walking down the boardwalk, and conversation was usually chippy and up but occasionally the elephant entered the room, and how nice to know we were at the convention of florescent pink elephants and no one skipped a beat.

It was so nice to finally fit in.

I think what I really liked was the normalcy -- the knitting (though I don't), the photo taking, the game playing. I didn't know what to expect, and while I didn't think there would be seances and chest beating and shrine design sessions, I was pleasantly surprised at how beachy and weekend-y it all turned out.

I know what you're all thinking, I can sense it through the interwebs, and the answer is . . . YES. Yes computer friends, I DID get a picture of Niobe. Right before she threatened to grab my camera and smash it to bits.

Niobe Playing Jacks

I jest. I would never attempt to photograph such a spirit.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Afternoon News Release, Typical

Genetics called.

All chromosomes are there, all accounted for, no extras, none missing. No breaks, no obvious translocations.

It's a boy.

I'm 14+w pregnant.


I suppose there's a somewhat humorous and interesting back story here (isn't there always?), but I'll have to sort through what I feel like mashing through and what I don't.

I guess the big thing is that I thought this would be hard. That I'd either be a) petrified, cowering in the closet, clutching my safety blanket and weeping while rocking back and forth and wishing a coma upon myself, or b) fighting off hope. DAMN YOU! GET AWAY YOU INSOLENT LITTLE SHIT! BEGONE! (Stamps foot, sprays poison, wields blowtorch.)

I'm neither. Frankly, I'm nothing. This has, to this point, been the most out-of-body experience ever. I stare at the ultrasound screen, and I might as well be watching television. They flip it off, and I ask when I need to come back. My due date has been said out loud to me a grand total of once, and thank goodness for short-term memory loss, because I've honestly forgotten. Something in May. Mid-May, I think. I function. I'm . . . nothing. I'm not pessimistic, which is good, but nor am I optimistic. I feel surprisingly fine, good even, which perhaps is significant, or maybe just evident considering I'm not moving to another state, I'm not bleeding, I've yet to visit the ER (knock wood, throw salt), and I don't have a two-year-old. I've been cleared to run, so I lace up my shoes and leave out the back door and inhale the Fall and it's like none of this is really happening.

And right now that's exactly what I need.

So . . . . no C-word please. You know the drill. We know if this works, um, sometime in May. Save the C-stuff for the first day of Kindergarten.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Seeing in the Dark

Yesterday, the US Preventative Services Taskforce recommended that the age of regular mammogram screening get bumped up to 50 from 40. Furthermore, they stated that getting screened every two years was enough.

In addition to providing fodder for the next conversation with the ol' OBG, this story crystalized some of my newfound problems with modern medicine as a result of Maddy's death. Do you have any problems with doctors, medicine, technology, or science in general as a result of your experience? Join me today over on Glow In The Woods.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Own Goal

As a soccer fan, I was shocked to read the headline yesterday about Robert Enke, a German goalkeeper who apparently, willfully, lethally, put himself in the path of a train. According to all reports, he was to be named Germany's starting goalkeeper in next year's World Cup.

And as a soccer fan, may it be said I would've been drawn to this story whether he was a German goalie or a Ugandan midfielder, and as a human being I would have kept reading the story -- whether he played soccer or not.

I wrote about attempted suicide in the second post I ever wrote for this blog. I remember that particular story and person being a small paradigm shift of sorts for me: pain is yours, no matter the cause. And gratefully, my pain at that moment was no where near as great. Poor Owen Wilson gave me relativity, exemplified my first lesson in pain olympics, and proved that despite my shitty circumstances I was able to still show sympathy, and empathy. And did I mention gratefulness of my own pitiful condition? I should underscore that: I wanted to disappear, but at the end of that metaphor, I always wanted to come back.

I don't know what drives people to want to end their lives, but I no longer compare rationales because in the end it's moot: it's what the individual feels, and who am I to judge what someone feels?

Buried at the end of the saga of Enke, the lovely quotes from coaches and teammates and fans, descriptions of mourning taking place, pictures of candles and flowers, was this:

Enke is survived by his wife and eight-month-old daughter, who the couple adopted.

The couple's two-year-old daughter died in 2006 from a heart condition, and [soccer commentator and journalist Rafael] Honigstein said the loss of his child had taken a toll on Enke.

That brought me to my knees. Because I do know this pain. I just don't know his.

Rest in peace, Robert. And my profound sympathy to his family.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I may be quiet here, but I have a new post up on GITW today about my newfound ability to discuss death.

Also: Today, October 15, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. I have a pin I will wear today, and will light a candle at 7 p.m. tonight in memory of Maddy, and all of yours. Much love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for not posting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In No Apparent Order

I owe y'all pictures of the garden. So! First there was this:

which led to this,

pun completely intended. We ripped out poison garden, and my industrious husband built these:

(Two more to be added next year.) It was July by now, so we threw in seeds for beets, arugula, lettuces, carrots, and beans. At the nursery we found a couple herbs and peppers and a really raggedy tomato plant, all looking withered and on deep discount. We threw them in too.

It's not quite the harvest we wanted or intended but hey, I'm an aim-low kinda gal now. At least we know we can actually grow things to next year should be fun.

My big conundrum now is what to do in the bed adjoining the garden (see behind Bella's shoulder in the cucumber picture? The round bank of windows with a basement window underneath? That one); it had been over-ridden by some vine weed and mint (people, don't put mint in the ground. Grow it in a container, or if you must put it in the ground, plant the whole effin' container in the ground. I learned this valuable life lesson when I was about six from my mother, and am mystified to find people who don't realize what a pervasive weed it can be). The original plan was to put in blueberry bushes, but now with the lead we are not so crazy with this idea. Someone (I'm going out on a limb here and assuming not the people who planted the mint) planted peonies, which I really liked, but were overtaken and smothered. I'm toying with more of those and something tall in the corner next to the door (butterfly bush?). I welcome suggestions.


Because we've been busy with getting rid of houseguests and school and whatnot, the fishtank was cleaned and refilled (and forgotten pretty much, but) and has now been "established" for at least a month. We now have an ammonia sensor, not to mention a couple bottles of stuff to regulate water chemicals. The filter is clean and running. In total, I've probably spent $70 on fish-tank related accouterments. And yesterday, we went and bought two tiny feeder goldfish -- that bill was 28 cents. I told my mom this was apparently about guilt.


We're now wading knee deep in Fall and in addition to the pile of minutia I need to deal with, I've added to my docket . . . .coaching. No, for real. I am now head coach of Bella's soccer team after a fair amount of arm twisting and then using the arm to beat my husband over the head with. It's nerveracking, it wears me out, it's hilarious. After more than 20 years of playing the game, coaching the first time really puts things in perspective and has forced me to return to the essential, the raw, the root: Don't touch the ball with your hands. Followed closely by, Don't take the ball away from your teammate. The point is to score a goal. (A point quickly retracted when my wee scrimmage team goes up 3-zip in about two minutes, and I then tell them I'm not counting any more goals until I see them use today's skill of pulling the ball backwards on the way to the ball going in the net.) For me, it's a valuable lesson in not swearing for an hour, not laughing (out loud), realizing that running around with eleven 5-7 year-olds wears me the hell out. Aging is not a pretty thing.

It's also served to remind me that I haven't completely turned into some bitter, pariah freak of nature that really shouldn't be around innocent lovelies, even if I do know a thing or two about how to effectively bend a corner kick. It's reminded me I used to love soccer. Apparently, I still do.


It's my first fall with my new kitchen. Last year I wistfully looked at the recipes for baked apple whatevertheheck, and this year I'm itching for an excuse to make pumpkin cake. (Does one need an excuse?) We've ushered in the season of hot breakfasts, and afternoon cups of tea. It almost feels like my first settled fall -- the first one where I wasn't in fear about the spooky pregnancy, or tied in emotional knots, or running my house out of a makeshift kitchen while contractors took up residence in my downstairs. The first fall where I can now sit with my tea and pumpkin cookie and look at my favorite tree in the yard, and watch the yellow and red start to erupt behind it.

I wonder if life will be like this, always a series of firsts as Time that uneven bitch makes it way beneath my feet.

I'm sure there's more, but seriously, I'm still catching up on my August Tivo. Not to mention my blogroll. Which I feel like a real asshole about. I'll come say hi, I promise. PROMISE. In the meantime, what are your Fall plans if any? (I know this is loaded, any season is a ton of crap for some, so I'm really sorry. Feel free to tell me about those plans, too. Really.) Also, have any of you ever considered letting your parents live with you? Because when we moved here, we honestly thought this was in the realm of possibility. After August, we're both thinking we were fucking mental to have ever entertained that thought, and we've forbidden each other from speaking of It ever again.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Think That Was Me on TV

Ever run across a fellow babyloss parent on television, in a book, in the movies, in a play? Were they sad or psycho? Depressed or drunk? Feel you could write this stuff better if given the chance? I've got a post up today on babyloss parents in popular culture over at Glow In The Woods.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cusp of Solstice

(One of my favorite pictures of grandma with Bella, age 4 months)

(In the middle of my grandmother's very overly-long memorial service, Bella turns to me and says in conversational voice):

I wish I was at camp.

I wish I was at camp too.


Bella we missed you yesterday!

I was at the Deadness Thing for my grandma.


Funerals are odd in that they're sort of fun family reunions minus the fun. I shouldn't say that -- there's still fun around the edges, but sometimes the funny stories take a sharp turn and you find your eyes brimming over, or someone else's voice cracks mid-story and everyone's left fumbling in an unexpected pause of silence.

I got to talking with one of my mother's cousins from Florida, one I don't think I had seen in over a decade if not longer (there was a family reunion in '98, but my memory is a bit fuzzy on all the cousins -- the one great uncle had a LOT of kids). I spoke during the service, framing my discussion on my grandmother's lousy cooking (in a real stretch for me, I tried to make it funny and touching), and cousin told me how much she loved what I had said, and how many memories it pulled out for her. And after lingering over some photos she turned to me and put her hand on my arm and said,

I'm sorry, I only just heard that you recently lost a child.

I did the two sentence spiel I have canned for such occasions, and she said,

You know, my mother had a baby who died. Gregory. He was three days old. They say he choked, probably on phlegm that no one then thought to rid him of. He was perfect. My mother couldn't speak of him for years without fully breaking down. I grew up knowing my brother that I never knew.

You can't know how relieved this made me -- not that there was another deadbaby in the family tree, but that here was this grown, totally sane, well-put-together smart beautiful woman with a family of her own who had gone through this. Whose mother had gone through this. She in no way looked as though she were living under a bridge, and though I've only seen about 10 minutes of Jerry Springer and a grand total of five or so Oprah episodes, she didn't look familiar from either milieu. Phhhhheeeeewwwwww.

I told her how much I now appreciated the silver lining of being able to talk to Bella straightfowardly about things like Grandma's death and funeral, and Bella exemplified this moments later by delicately tiptoing on the fresh mound of dirt covering my grandmother in order to see what flowers were still alive after last week's burial. No fear, this one, King of the Hill of Death.


The cemetery in which my grandmother is buried is older than some, but for this region decided not "old" -- I think the stones closest to the church date back to the early 1800s (this was indeed a stretch of road where Washington rode and slept, and some of the churches just up the street must have older occupants), which give way to the recent, as you walk back through the yard, to the last row where my grandmother now lies. I always pause at the military stones to read which war, and how old. (There's a veteran of the Spanish-American war in the same column as my grandmother a few rows back, and I've already promised myself when I go to plant pansies and bulbs by my grandmother, I'm weeding his place and tidying up.) As a historian I'm always fascinated by family structures: how many wives/husbands over time, how many children, elderly sisters who are buried as neighbors. Now of course I laser in on the children: fourteen years old; ten years; three, one, and then . . . there it is. A life measured in days.


At some point in early July, when I realized summer was getting away from us and we weren't going to the Outer Banks because the family that we usually meet up with there had decided to go even farther southward (should we take this as a message?), I suggested that we quick find a close beach getaway for a few days or a weekend in August. I hope that laughing I hear is with me, not at me. August obviously got sucked into a maelstrom of houseguests, grocery runs, meals, trips to the country, funerals, services, cleaning up and out my grandmother's things, and that ever familiar drive-through of grief. I'll take the usual. So last Monday, I piped up -- mostly to myself -- let's go to the beach! And go we went, to a close one, for two days and one night. Beach for Bella, brewpub for us.

It was unseasonably chilly, extremely windy, overcast; there were tidal warnings, red flags, anxious life guards; wind burn, sand in every orifice . . . . . and it was AWESOME. The sand was clean and soft and perfect for castles, we bundled up in our covers and rash guards (save Bella, who is a leper when it comes to water, and ran around in her swim suit as if it were a sunny , still 92 degrees), read, napped, watched a pack (school? herd?) of dolphins swim by, oogled at the parasurfers, ate, slept, and went back for more. I made no decisions. I didn't make a meal. It was a slice of heaven.

Now I'm back staring at the yard I didn't weed for a month, the list of school supplies I didn't shop for, the soccer gear I need by next weekend, the garden that needs tending, the fridge that needs disinfected and I'm wondering, where did summer go? I could point to times when it was fast, and times when it was slow. Overall, it was . . . disappointing. I'm going to eat home-grown beet salad for dinner, and look forward to Fall.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Good Grief

Is Grandma going to die?
Yes love.
This week.
Yeah, but what day?
They don't know.
The doctors can't tell you that?


A million moons ago, sometime in July, began the influx of house guests. They came to party primarily, and say hello, and for my mom there was also the added benefit of a high school reunion. At some point in this initial seizure of good times, my grandmother was hospitalized for dehydration.

I suppose no one ever foresees this kinda thing, but in that bout of institutionalization came MRSA. Followed by organ failure. The day my mother was to drive west for a few days of wine and old yearbook hilarity, we had a conversation in my kitchen about DNR's where I suddenly found the following words leaving my mouth, as though my lips were possessed by their own small wee brain:

I know all situations and doctors are different, but when we were at Children's . . . . . There's a lot of gray area in there between "yes" and "no." You can give them a half-assed answer, there's a lot of wiggle room . . . .

Under what circumstances does a daughter tell her mother these things?

For a while, grandma was "stable." And anyone with time clocked in the NICU knows "stable" simply means "not plummeting in a death spiral at the moment." It does not mean "good," or even "better." She wasn't eating. She recognized a vase from her china set when I brought in flowers. Me not so much. Because of the infection, we all had to suit up, and I had to wear gloves just to touch her.

There is no comfort in latex.

After stabilization came a stint at the nursing home, and decisions were made about hospice. There was no time line, but it was understood that she was seriously compromised and the next step -- whether in days, weeks, or even months; whether a small stumble or a flying headfirst leap -- would be her last. Plans were made to dislodge the house guests.

And then hospice called: we could expect only days. Flights were changed; my brother madly hopped on a red-eye.

And after dinner on Monday I drove out to the nursing home to say goodbye.

Did you touch her?
I touched her hair. It was so soft. She's not in pain, she's very peaceful. She didn't talk. She looked like she was sleeping. I told her you loved her.

It was deja vu all over again, sitting in a dark nursing home room, listening to her shallow, long breaths. Her eyes were closed, she may well have been sleeping, and I sat not knowing what to say. Again. A life so short, I couldn't possibly cram everything in versus a life so long I couldn't possibly cram everything in. I left it at I love you. Awkwardly hunched over a bed, this time with no suiting up but strict instructions to wash my hands very well afterwards. Some things never change.

My brother's plane touched down at 8:19 a.m the following morning; Grandma died at 8:00 a.m.

Bella, Grandma died.
Oh. Will we bury her?
Can I help?

Pieces of conversations slammed me: "We're going to the funeral home. I have no idea how long it will be; I don't know what they do there." I do. But I decided not to regale them -- they'd find out soon enough.

The funeral director offered to include ashes in the casket, and apparently there was a whispered conversation between my aunt and Mr. ABF about Maddy's remains. We were touched, but opted no. Grandma will be buried at her church, where she's been a member for 40+ years -- a move I couldn't argue was more perfect for her. It is not perfect for us.

The burial was Friday, a private affair, just immediate family plus one family who will not be there for the memorial service next week. Plus since my dad can't lift, we needed another pallbearer. We stood in the hot noontime sun, my aunt, my mother, and I wearing grandma's jewelry we had laid claim to the day before while sorting through her apartment. We went to a brew pub afterwards and drank and ate. And that evening, we all dissolved in tears.

Can we visit Grandma?
Next week at the memorial we will. And later this fall we'll plant flowers, ok?

It has been an incredibly long month. We've had uninterrupted house guests since July 29, and more are on the way this week. I have been in constant motion since July 27 or so, always planning the next 48 hours. I am exhausted.

For Bella's birthday my father gave her a fish tank, and since that fateful day, we've been through (I am not making this up) 8 fish. We finally realized the primary goldfish we bought was aggressively trying to make meals out of his/her compatriots, and then sadly the last partner we brought in brought disease with. Before the major cemetery ceremony, we had a few in the back yard. Until that got old.

Do you want to bury Lily in the yard or flush her so she goes back into the water?
Flush her. I'll do it.

Poor kid has overseen 9 burials in the past four weeks. The silver lining is that although there have been tears, there has been only honestly, no mincing of words, no euphemisms. No hiding, no secrets, no lying. No finding a babysitter. She has asked great questions, she understands perfectly that we will never see grandma again.

Mom, can you get another grandma if yours dies?
No love. No you can't.

Sadly, I know exactly where she's going with this.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spare the Messenger?

Still processing how family and friends deliver the new me news of a delicate nature. Please go share your stories and opinions today at Glow in the Woods.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spinal Tap

I started this blog with the primary purpose of recording my grief. I thought there would come a day when the writing would wane, when all that was left to say was said. When all the metaphors had been used, all the social ramifications had been chewed through (or perhaps more accurately, put through a shredder), and we hit some plateau regarding our daughter and our missing.

Today is not that day.


Saturday a.m. I awoke late and somewhat . . . well surprisingly, not hungover per se, but full? Still tired? Friday evening, neighbors invited 10 of us to celebrate their anniversary with a trip to one of the area's top-rated restaurants and even sprung for a bus so no one would have to drive (and thank goodness, because by "Philly area" we're actually talking "practically Delaware"). It was delicious, it was wonderful, and I haven't laughed that hard since . . . well I honestly can't remember the last time I was surrounded by people I considered friends and laughed quite that hard. Probably grad school.

So there I am, weeding with coffee mug in hand, smiling at this great thing that is now my life and thinking I wouldn't eat for at least four more days, when Mr. ABF got a call and walked away looking somewhat grim and serious. Huh. Inside a bit later he approached me and said, "[SIL] had a baby this a.m.; they had to deliver it early due to pre-ecclampsia." I got wide eyed and asked how far along she was, expecting the absolute worst since we hadn't heard boo from or about them in over a year, and was met with a steely, "Nine months. Over 37 weeks. Baby is fine. They never told us she was pregnant."

We sat there and gaped at each other. I kinda understand his (asshole) brother not telling us because dude doesn't talk to us anymore. I actually consider him least to blame in this present mess. Mr. ABF's mother though, was in my house for five days last week and said nothing. She invited over shitloads of relatives who ate at my table and said nothing. Only minutes before getting the serious phone call, Mr. ABF called to confirm a late birthday celebration for Bella at his Dad's, and he said nothing. Let's forget for a moment, the past -- let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say six -- six months of interaction with this family. We found out from a cousin, who apparently sat in stunned silence on the line and said, "I thought you knew."

Within a space of minutes, we realized we had become the social pariahs, the fragile freaks around whom no one can speak freely (apparently), and we felt like utter assholes. Everyone tiptoeing around us now thinking they deserved some fucking medal for not speaking the P-word, but never once considering to simply stop and ask us: How are you guys feeling these days anyway? How are you doing? Never once in this entire two and half years stopping to say, "You know, we still think of Maddy all the time. I know this hasn't been easy." No, they simply assumed through the vast powers of osmosis and probably some bad made-for-television movie swirled with a bit of family drama, that "we couldn't handle it." No one in this entire fucking family could find the stones to start a conversation, "I'm going to tell you something, and I realize it may hurt, and I understand that completely, but I didn't want you not to know . . . "

I suppose the supreme irony here is that my reaction would have been: whatever. Honestly. I'm kinda beyond the pregnancy = jealousy stage, and into the pregnancy = fear stage. I root solidly for my online friends to find two lines in the morning. When my mother said to me about six months ago, "[SIL] is having some infertility issues -- she's wondering if it's ok to talk to you," I leaped at the chance to help her. Know why? She's been one the good ones, one of the best ones. One that's communicated with me from the get go, one that interweaves Maddy into everyday conversation like it's no big deal. I can honestly say I'd be thrilled if anything I told her resulted in a healthy, live baby. Is there a twinge of regret? Sure there is. Honestly though, I'm more put off by the banter than I am the actual news/view, and I'm a big girl and can go entertain myself just fine, thanks, when the conversation veers toward college funds and the best place to get maternity formal wear. Mr. ABF's BIL? We don't even talk to these people. Hearing they were expecting their second would probably draw a lesser reaction from me than finding out a neighbor was.

But. They obviously wouldn't know I've come around to this position (or, that I ever had another position on the subject, frankly) because no one every bothered to talk to us. About anything.

And I realized, as I ran through the vast array of bullshit we've experienced with the IL's since Maddy's death, that Maddy's death was just one big inconvenience to them. It upset travel plans. Holidays would be "too depressing" to spend with us. Memorial services "too wet." The only feedback we've ever received are things like "you're wallowing." And now apparently they can't talk to us either. Poor them, the verbal gymnastics they've had to endure this year.

When we had the blowup with FIL two Decembers ago, our therapist said "I don't recommend cutting off communication with family unless there's abuse involved." To which I responded, "Damn." But we tried to be the bigger people. We sucked it up, we tried to make people comfortable around us for the sake of Bella -- so she could have relationships with people. And now we discover people weren't communicating with us at all -- they were communicating around us, they were communicating in spite of us. And now, frankly, I'm tired of playing fifth grade and am ready to move on to people who take us for what we are: parents of a live child and a dead child who have come a long way in two years. We have such an amazing support and friend system here, it seems a waste to spend time on people who would feel more comfortable if we weren't in the room.


I opted not to go to my FIL's this weekend when it was determined that I would not be able to keep my mouth shut this time. (I even offered to drive a second car in the event I turned tail and walked out the door.) And perhaps, good thing, because FIL was genuinely shocked that we didn't know, and at one point in the afternoon apparently turned to Mr. ABF and said,

"Do you want to talk about it?"

I'm giving him a few points for this, delay notwithstanding. It's nice an old dog can learn new tricks, but a whole lot of crap could've been avoided here if someone in this family had uttered those seven words about, oh, 26 months ago, and then continued to use them every now and again. Also nice I wasn't there, because the "talk" would've been a stream of expletives. They talked, although no consensus was reached: FIL feels badly, but I'm not sure I'm ready to let him off the hook for "I thought you knew." Someone had to step up. Someone had to ask around.

FIL also said, "Here we thought you knew, and we've been walking on eggshells." And this? Made me feel like a big, fat freak. When I told one of my good friends this whole soggy story, her response was "It sounds like they've projected a whole lot of crazy on you." She's absolutely right. (Incidentally and somewhat pertinent to this narrative, this friend is nine months pregnant.) (Hahaha, funny story about how I found about her pregnancy: SHE TOLD ME. I know! ) I feel as if last weekend (and countless times before) I had people into my home, cleaned for them and made them dinner, gave them our good bottles of wine and entertaining conversation . . . . but they were all in on the performance art of the evening. They had a conversation on the way about the entertainment, and unbeknownst to me, it was me. And when they left, I can almost hear them saying to each other walking down the porch stairs, "Dude, you're right! What a fucking freak show! We're back for lunch tomorrow, right?"

I guess we were supposed to find out at Christmas time, when Bella's present arrived "from" another child's name we didn't recognize. I guess in their heads that would hurt less than simply sitting down and telling us. Scratch that, it would hurt THEM less if that's how we found out. Because who wants to sit down and talk to us?

Today's post brought to you by the Cold War Kids : Something is Not Right with Me. How Was I supposed to know?

Crash Into People who're sleeping late into the evening
Reach behind they can hardly find their spines.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lightning, And This Time I Mean It

Two weekends ago, on the 26th, we dragged Bella to an outdoor rock concert. We decided to leave when we did in part because I could sense the internal meltdown slowly brewing, but also because the sky looked a wee tad ominous. On the drive home we had a view of the coming storm through our windshield, and at one point, a dagger of lightning sliced across the sky sideways. It was beautiful, blue, veined. "I've never seen like lightning like that," Bella cooed.


Wednesday, the big day, at around 5 p.m., we had what is a typically normal but this summer is a bit unusual afternoon thundershower. There was thunder, and lightning, and a tree across the street got hit dropping a branch onto the electric wire. Poof went the electric, in came the fire department, the electric guys, and finally, the bastard tree butcherers. It was an "event" as no one got hurt, and everyone gathered on our corner to gape and chat and talk about their crude 19th century evenings.

Ours went like this: we have a gas range, which was already lit since daddy made his little girl homemade tomato sauce for her birthday. We simply slid the pot off the flame, and popped on our pasta, and ate a lovely dinner by candlelight. Afterwards, we invited a neighbor family over for champagne and s'mores, outside, next to the grill. Rough, right out of Little House on the Prairie. Well, everything minus an outfit Bella received from a far-flung relative that had her father and I gaping and struggling for words when she came out to model it. (Seriously, this is from a major kid's clothing chain -- one I never shop at, incidentally, and now I remember why -- and in size 6 they make a rhinestone encrusted tightly fitted cotton halter top with matching skirt. "Your job to keep her off the pole," I whispered to Mr. ABF and then turned to Bella, told her she was absolutely stunning, but she did know this was a dress up box outfit, yes? Dress up for what exactly remains to be seen. Please no one send her the matching thigh-high white leather boots.)

We had planned Bella's school-chum party for Friday evening; I invited a gaggle figuring it was summer and only 10 would show up, but, gak, 18 accepted the invitation to drop their children off for dinner, cake, and a moon bounce. Whatever, how hard can that be?

Thursday I watched the weather report go from 20 to 40 to 70% chance of showers on Friday. And Friday evening, three minutes before the scheduled start of the outdoor party and hot dog grillathon, the heavens opened. In my house were 18 amped kids who blew through my "rain back up plan B" activities in about 4 minutes. Over was the draw a picture of yourself guest list; whatever-d were the foam doorhandles, cool but quickly completed was the scavenger hunt. When there appeared the slightest glimmer of light through the drops I hissed at Mr. ABF, "Go blow up that thing, NOW." All 18 hustled into the moon bounce. Skies clear, kids eat, kids pinata, kids bounce again. Party saved, barely.

Saturday was the get-together for the neighborhood (sunny, of course), which featured "Adult Bounce" on the hour ("Man Bounce" was especially entertaining), followed by dinner for about 16.

I woke up Sunday, groggy, tired, and facing rain. We packed up the soggy moon bounce, and Mr. ABF went to return it, and I stepped in the shower.

Just as I turned off the water, there was a huge crack of thunder coming at the same time as the flash. Moments later, while toweling my hair, I heard the fire engine go by our house, and stop nearby. I traipsed out the front door in bare feet, and admittedly a small smirk on my face, completely expecting to see a live wire dancing down through the neighbor's yard.

I was met by clouds of black smoke.

My neighbor's house was on fire. In fact, two of my neighbors' houses were on fire: lightning hit one side of the twin, and the fire jumped the roof to the other. I ran down in driving rain to . . . . I don't know. What compels people to run to certain things and not others? Just the day before as I was grocery shopping there was a police take-down of some guy near the fish counter. No idea what happened (Out of Easy-Peel shrimp? That always pisses me) , and I honestly just tried to mind my biz and not gape. And yet here I was going to the mouth of the disaster. I met my one neighbor standing on the sidewalk looking as if she personally had been struck by lightning -- if she were a cartoon, I'd put swirls in her eyes. "Is everyone out?" "Yes," she responded, clearly a million miles away. "Let me take the dogs," I said and she robotically stuck out her hands with the leashes and off I went to add two more canines to my brood at home.

Everyone got out, including three cats and three dogs between two houses. One side was two-thirds damaged, but the other side -- only just recently renovated -- was totaled. It's a gut. Again.

My awesome neighborhood absorbed both families and their children, clothes were found, toys were pulled out of yard-sale bins, pizzas were ordered, wine was poured, dogs were walked, tv's were housed, suitcases were loaned in order to dump clothes into them. We've all been walking around bewildered, stunned, that one minute you can be minding your business on a Sunday morning, and the next, your life is up in flames.

I guess a lot of us understand that metaphorically, but it's really grim to see it happen literally.

The family came late in the afternoon to collect their dogs -- they needed to be with them, and I understood that completely. When I asked what she needed, she looked like a zombie with the eye swirls returning, and I said, hey -- I'll come by in a few days and ask again. You'll know more then. In the meantime, just ring the bell and ask. We went for a walk after dinner this evening, in the beautiful breeze of a sunny summer evening, as if the perfect day had just occurred. Past the charred remains of two homes, emiting smoke fumes. Contractors already at work with tarp and plywood. Past the littered front porches of the adjoining houses, which now contain the saved remains of two families lives.


I've always had a secret fascination with thunder storms. Since a child, I've loved counting in between the flash and the boom (a trick I've used often this summer while trying to grill, standing safely on my porch figuring how much time I have to go flip things over), feeling the bass run through my legs, watching the lightning dance and weave. I've never been afraid of being struck -- maybe before because I was naive, and afterwards because . . . . I don't know. Naivite again? Won't get struck twice? Figure I can live through it, so run and enjoy?

Sunday, I sat in my family room, holding a shaking, soggy dog (not my own), listening to yet another wave of thunder and lightning go through (1, 2, it's getting closer). The rain was torrential (we got 4" on Sunday, alone), the multi-alarm fire had trucks planted outside our house tapping the two hydrants and running them down the middle of the street and through neighbors' back yards. Mr. ABF came in with an update: a few of the trucks were getting peeled off to go fight another lightning-inspired fire a few blocks away.

(That one didn't turn out so well.)

And I sat watching the fireman run like ants from my window, and willed that storm away. No more. No more lightning. No more heartache, no more work and danger for these guys, no more acrid smoke. Please no more.

A front is supposed to move through this afternoon. I will sit through it, undoubtedly, jaw firmly clenched with my fingers hovering around 9-1-1, counting. Always counting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gravitational Pull

It dawned me sometime in the last few months that I really no longer know what "normal" parenting is. And I hear you saying, But Tash, there is no "normal." Everyone is different, every family is different, every child is different. And I know that. But when I look back on the last five years of Bella, it's hard to assess it without the prism of Maddy. What is it like to parent an only child -- an only child by choice? What's it like to parent to two -- when both are on the same plane of existence? What is it like to be distracted -- by a job, a death in the family, a midlife crisis? I wanted, when this all started five years ago, to be a fun mom, a friend mom, an honest mom, a mom that didn't do baby talk and a mom who wasn't afraid to introduce my musical tastes on my kid at an early age (which may have backfired this weekend when we took her to the local radio station's outdoor rock fest and she asked if The Killer's were going to be there.  Um, no.   And then expressed extreme disappointment when I told her that The Police were not only not going to be there, but were no longer a band. Growing up is tough, y'all. Now how to break it to her about The Beatles). I'm not sure what I've been, exactly, but I'm hoping I was there, not too mean, not to exasperated, not too exhausted.

The common refrain looking back on a child's life is how fast things are going, and indeed I suppose they are. But time is funny now, defined mostly by six particular days. At times those days seemed so painfully long, so brutally eternal, we pleaded with any deities listening to end it and now. And at times, so brief, faster than a insect's life span, caught in a whirlwind of paperwork and decisions and kleenex, before we could know -- before we could know her. After this, time is no longer measured in fast and slow, but beauty and ugliness and truth.

Four? Was rough. But is this normal, or is it . . . . you know. I finally came out of my coma for four, so maybe I'm just feeling the sass more than I did? My therapist suggested that kids are extremely perceptive, and that Bella probably kept it together herself a bit if she sensed I was fragile, but now that I'm back to my steel-plated-armored-Mercedes self, she's more apt to lob rocks and let loose with the demanding and the whining and see what kind of effect she generates. Don't get me wrong -- I'm lovin' most of the independence: she can dust while I sweep (and it's still a novelty!), and on the 4th of July, decorated cupcakes while I sat on the computer. She's developing a sense of humor (perky!), and is inquisitive an fun as hell. There's just no one trailing anymore to go through the milestones, again. Bella was two and a half when Maddy died, and although I don't play the "She woulda been ____" game anymore, we're now two and half years beyond her death. And for some reason I feel as though I've passed another odd milestone, and am now in an area where I know nothing of what the future holds for any of us. And for me at least, that's a relief.

There were conversations when I was pregnant about parenting two children with this particular age gap. Mr. ABF and his brother are roughly 2.5 years apart, and they never got along. He was very churlish during the pregnancy -- very defensive of Bella and her space -- and at times I got downright angry, feeling as though he was taking sides before the child was even here. My brother and I were five years apart, and mostly got along, and now I wonder whether things would be fine if we had another, or would just blow her brain in a way that would never recover. Would any of us recover?


On July 27, 2004, I felt a rush of water from down yon. Which they later told me that afternoon was not THAT water. Which they then told me 36 hours later, was in fact amniotic fluid. I know now, having read of all the possible tragedies that this was not a good thing. And maybe in another universe I would tell this story dramatically and with a flourish, taking my audience to the edge of the cliff only to release the parachute: "But when my temperature started rising, they quickly suctioned her out! And here she is!" Back we all shuffle away from the rim to enjoy the view.

Now I know what lies at the bottom of the gorge, what it's like for the rail to falter and to pitch over the edge headfirst and watch the cliff-side rush past your eyes in a blur. And now I know it's just luck, just random, nothing special I did, no master-stroke of Darwinism or obstetrics, just sheer luck that she's here, stuffing a unicorn pinata with cavity-causing goodness.

I remember on July 27, turning to my husband and saying, "This baby is angling to take over the center of our lives. Just watch, s/he'll be born on our anniversary, insuring that we'll never get time to ourselves on that day ever again." And I was right. Literally. About the shared anniversary, and about being the center. She is it. There is no other. There is only a distant moon that orbits around all of us, sometimes so close you could almost reach out and touch its harvest orange, and sometimes on the other side of our earth. Often eclipsed now, but still reflecting light.


July 27 means something else for Janis; what for me was mild warning (shoo'd away like a pesky fly) was for her the drop of the blade. Her story -- Ferdinand's, really -- starts and tragically ends July 27 too; the understanding that a child will always be central to her universe, but strangely never there. And July 29, 2007, what could have been a random sharing of dates between two children, three years apart, never to cross paths, fell. And because one lived and one did not, our family's paths crossed and intertwined, and now it's a date shared, a slice of the cosmos all too familiar and ironic and bittersweet.

We joke that Bella will never forget our anniversary, but that she'll never do anything about it. We'll never forget Ferdinand's birthday, though I'm at a complete loss as to what to do in order to acknowledge it. Hit the pinata especially hard, I suppose.

It's all tied up together, this day of overlapping sentiments, this gift of uneven edges -- the beautiful, the promising, the truth. It is appropriate, it is complete, it is why we are here.

Happy Birthday, Ferdinand.
Happy Birthday, Bella.
Happy Anniversary, Us.

Friday, July 17, 2009

And the Livin' is (more or less) Easy

Geez, I feel as if I have so much to say and yet neither time or inclination to get it down. "Wow, THAT'S blogable!" I think whipping out the phone to take a picture, or running through a few pithy sentences in my head. But the box never opens and fingers never type.

It's summer, the AC is on for the first time this year, and we have less a summer schedule than perhaps a summer rhythm. There's wake up time, which is sometimes early ("Mom! The sun is really bright in my room! My clock says 6:40. Hey Dad, do the Eagles play today?" I hear a muffled "No hon, the Phillies, it's summer" from the other side of the bed and lift a sleepy eye to see Bella toodling out in her Eagle's jersey and underwear, headed back to her room for outfit change number one of the day), and sometimes late (Yesterday? 8:30. I kid you not. The last time I slept in until 8:30 was . . . well, it was some time ago. But I was in a benedryl-induced coma, and Mr. ABF had a book to read, so up he got, and I just kept snoring).

Then some mornings there's a camp, or a swim lesson, or sometimes it's just barbies and hiking with the dogs, laundry and Tour de France. (And despite not having free seconds of time to use the toilet alone, I'm somehow finding time to read Lance's Tweets. Someone shoot me.) And there are playdates, and the garden . .

The garden! You know, I was going to post a picture, but the yard needs mowed and the sunflowers are looking to bloom -- maybe next week? So I'll get a picture then.

In short, we begin anew. Mr. ABF built us two lovely cedar boxes, and filled them with mushroom soil. In are already-started herbs and a tomato plant that was on the Throw-Out shelf for a buck, and some seeds that should bear us carrots and beans and beets and lettuces in early fall. Many neighbors are now testing for lead, and I even received some email after the last post from readers in other urban locations who are testing. Good for you! Now to test my water.

Summer . . . Anyway, point being, I don't have the blocks of time I usually do to sit on the computer. If there is a chunk of time it's "Let's go the pool!" and I'm not remotely complaining, but, well, it means nothing gets written for me or you.

And I sometimes miss it -- both the writing for me and the commenting.


It's strange, I remember early on in this grief business when my emotions just took me whenever -- opening the fridge, in the car, on the stairs. And then I kinda got it together, and tried to just let myself go in the shower, or at bedtime. And then there was blogging, and that became my grief time -- and I needed a lot of it. And now . . .

Well. I guess you could say I don't need to come vomit on the screen every time I have an emotion, but that's not entirely true. I mean, I read this article on how a recent study concludes that swearing reduces pain, and thought "Well goddamn, tell me something I don't fucking know! Why do you assholes think I write like I do, hmmmm? Blog it!!" And then I read this one, which brought me to tears, about a mother and a deadbaby, and a health workers strike and a photographer trying to get the government's attention, and instead of resulting in "Never Again!" the whole thing getting reduced to "pornography" and ugly things people don't want to deal with.

It's not as if it's not coming up, let's put it that way.

Then there's Bella . . woah. To put it mildly, she's firmly entered the "I want to talk about Maddy" stage. So many encounters I couldn't possibly blog them all. Oh, and now there's art! We've already had the family portrait, avec Maddy. Who is small, with closed slits for eyes instead of round orbs (I have yet to teach Bella the symbolism of x's for eyes, clearly), and with the most adorable curl on her head. She looks like a very dead Cindy Lou Who. Then came the masterpiece, "Maddy coming out of Mommy's Tummy in the Hospital! And mommy's blanket is blue, because that's her favorite color." This alternate reality showed everyone surrounding me in bed, with bright red cheerful smiles, BellaWho holding CindyLou. We've had discussions about Maddy's remains and what we're doing with them (and I have yet to tell her where they actually are, because I'm now fearful that one day I'll be up to my elbows in raw hamburger only to have Bella skip in the kitchen and announce, "Mom! Guess what I did with Maddy's ashes! It's sooo beautiful!"); how old she was exactly when she died (a fact I've heard repeated now to near strangers); and a heavy sigh followed by "I'm not getting another sister, AM I." She's a jedi, this one.

So I think the point is . . . . I still have blogable emotions, but perhaps not so much time, and it's just not as necessary anymore to make the time. I'm perfectly happy these days to daydream about Lance giving Berto the ol' (Jan Ulrich-inspired) evil eye over his shoulder as he blisters a path by him in the Alps. And it's not really forgetting Maddy, because when the grandma at the museum today called, "C'mon Madeline, let's go!" to the child next to Bella (who stopped what she was doing, and the gears churned so loudly I could hear them), my heart still oozes and sinks into my (still tire-ringed) gut. (Remind me to post sometime about barefoot running.) I noticed two nights ago that my friend's adopted daughter, who was born roughly six weeks after Maddy, no longer really bothers me. And I'm wondering, is it because I'm further out, or she is? I mean, she's not a baby anymore, all walking, talking, art-ing, dancing, and ergo -- what's to miss? My toddler didn't die, my baby did.

CLC had a post recently, which reminded me of the Billy Joel Conundrum. Which goes: The writing is good when the going is bad. When you're poor and young and homely and lonely and otherwise depressed, you write really, really good music. Glass Houses kinda good. Then you get a bit of money and marry a supermodel, and what do you want to write about anymore? How chippy things are in the Hamptons? The impetus is gone, there is nothing worth agonizing and you're left with fucking "Uptown Girl."

I'm wondering if I'm entering the "Uptown Girl" phase. One the one hand, I almost hate to say it (dons garlic wreath, spits, throws salt, genuflects, waves cross) but I'm kinda happy lately. Things are good! (I know!) In fact, good enough that I'm actually looking around for the other shoe to drop. Which is all kinds of hilarious considering I still need to maneuver around the remains of the last gargantuan shoe when I back the car out of the drive. I keep thinking, "This is ok! I love my house! This neighborhood is awesome! My kid is cool! Hope this doesn't get fucked up!" and suddenly "Wham!" This is when it gets glum and I get down. And back I crawl, back to the blogspot login, back to where I can focus and be and maybe swear a bit out of earshot of the perpetually happy. Back where I can curl up with my peeps and whisper "Maddy" to the screen and not feel self-conscious and dramatic. Back where I can feel helpful, and feel as though I've made some progress and let my gut hang out over my waistband and shrug.

I keep thinking it's leaving, it goes out the back door, I wave goodbye and tell it to mind the shoe parts on the way out the back gate; and no sooner do I turn the lock than the front doorbell rings. And there it is, dripping wet on the step, grief come a'callin'. Nothing to do but let it in, dry it off by the fire, and sit with it for a bit.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Couch Doctor

I stumbled into therapy -- for the first time in my life -- in less than two weeks after Maddy died. I didn't really know why other than, "Isn't this what people do?"

Sure, after some sessions I felt like I had been dropped off a building. Some days I felt like I needed therapy after my therapy to help me sift through everything I had unpacked. Eventually, slowly, I could see how it was useful and how it helped. Like anything else in this experience, I think I just got lucky.

I'm interviewing a grief therapist today at GITW. Come read along and give your shrink experience, won't you?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reap What You Sow

To recap, in May, garden was a nice rectangle of dirt full of seeds.

As of Friday, it was bountiful:

As of today, it is a hazmat site.

Yes, the lead report came back, and it's not pretty, kids. A whopping 793 parts per, which puts us in the (high-ish) "Medium" range. The handy-dandy pamphlet lets us know that with a moderate reading "restrict access of children or pets." Should we also be looking for signs of anger? (Haha, just looked up the symptoms of lead poisoning and "memory loss" is one; "appetite loss" and "weight loss" are others so I'm not remotely concerned for any of us. Yet.)

It's getting plowed in, we're putting in raised beds, and starting over -- although it's probably too late to do much this year save for lettuce and maybe a few herbs. And that's really optimistic because we've already got a host of other outdoor projects on the docket, so raised beds are unlikely to appear until sometime next year. We'll plow under the arugula and herbs and cucumbers, and lordy, there were tears -- real fat tears -- over the broccoli. Some day I'm going to remind Bella that she cried over the loss of green vegetables.

Mr. ABF's dream of an "Ultralocal Dinner" are gone -- dashed are the plans for beet ravioli, glazed carrots, stuffed peppers, grilled and rolled eggplant. Gone are my dreams of picking beans from the vine and eating them raw. I can say with authority: expecting the worst sure made telling y'all a lot easier, but I'm not sure it made the loss hurt any less.

Oh, and also, if you're gardening in an urban environment and not using raised beds, PLEASE, for the love of mike, contact your local university agricultural extension about getting your soil tested for lead. The good news here is that we thought to do this before making Poison Brain-frying Salad and eating handfuls of sweet smelling, well compost-fertilized dirt.

Back to the grocery store.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Slouching Towards Five

Where did the Planets come from?

Where did People come from?

Does it hurt when a baby comes out of your tummy?

Can we get a new sister? Because mine died.

How do people NOT have babies?

How many days was Maddy when she died?

What would happen if everyone just lived one day?

If you had a baby would you still love me as much?

There's something so deeply philosophical about Bella lately -- when she's not in a droning whine "Moommmmy, I'mmm hunnggry" -- that I ache to give her Carl Sagan and Hobbes and Locke and Shakespeare for her birthday, not the goldfish which she has adamantly requested. Questions that aren't posited just to be annoying or waste time or find the weak spot, but that demand answers more than a sentence long.

Most of them.

And I struggle to discover from whence these questions are coming: I am not pregnant, I am -- to my untrained and biased and eternally hopeful eye -- perhaps even slightly lighter around the middle, not the other way around. None of her friends have recently acquired siblings (although the sibling question came on a day when she went out with a good friend and her younger brother. I have a feeling friend is feeling some things through, out loud). We have not been watching old Cosmos reruns, or discussing Darwin at the dinner table. I am sure that all to most of these are standard-issue four-going-on-five philosophical "how does the world work" questions, but for me they seem to revolve around common themes lately: life, death, the meaning of the beginning, and the end. And of course, what comes next. There's always the corner, beckoning, and to which I can only shrug my shoulders and say with absolute certainty, "I don't know."

For me there's a subtext here, and it's Maddy. I have no idea what Bella's subtext is. Probably Spongebob.

At times she seems 63, and others, 13. Because you see, the other annoying habit she's picked up in addition to questioning the age and origin of the solar system, is announcing to everyone within earshot, "I have a boyfriend."

(No, I mean that. Today we went to the zoo, just the two of us, and she wanted to ride the camel. Which she had to do with another single child. So I finally got her up to the front of the line, left her there so I could run around and get her picture, and I heard her announce to the complete stranger camel guy who took her ticket nanoseconds ago, "I have a boyfriend.")

And again, I have no idea from whence this concept sprouted. I've been paying more attention to her programming (she watches an hour, but I always go do something else, so I honestly don't know if Olivia has "very special!" episodes, or Spongebob's sidekick Patrick has untoward affairs), and as far as I can tell she is not getting this attitude from television -- no one on her shows even dates (unless it's an older sibling, I've noticed in an ep of this and that, here and there, but interesting, they never use the term "boy/girl-friend", usually it's a "date" gone awry for comic purposes), and they tend to be mixed sex groups of friends who hang and which I find quite healthy all the way around. (Unless I'm missing something regarding Agent Oso, cuz that's new, and I'm sure a panda-type bear in a vest gets all sorts of attention from the ladies.) (I jest.)

I cringe. She's not yet five, and she's so proud to have this, to own this term. I've quizzed her nonchalantly on the issue, and she claims "he's a boy who's a friend!" and more to the point, the only boy at her school apparently who will actually play with her, and not push, hit, or otherwise tease and torment and knock down her stack of carefully placed blocks. And I remind myself that no more than two months ago, she was discussing marriage with her "girlfriend," and specifically, who would have the babies. So I'm trying not to get too (too) worked up, and I kinda ignore it and let it ride, and remind her periodically that "you know, you're too young for a boyfriend," but it doesn't seem to be dying down.

My suspicion is that this verbage and interest comes from the friend of ours who just got married after a whirlwind romance. I'm hoping it all dissipates with the rose petals.

We're pushing five here, and I do mean pushing. She seems so confident and content most of the time, and yet sometimes I can just sense her surfing, trying to catch her balance as the paradigms move under her feet. Sometimes she is so easy and fun I wonder why I haven't attempted to construct a sibling; sometimes she is so unsettling I can't imagine having the strength to parent another; and sometimes she is so singularly incredible that I struggle to remember why I ever wanted another child in the first place.