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Friday, May 18, 2018

Oh, Baby

On Tuesday May 8th, I went in for my twice weekly Non Stress Test and modified Biophysical Profile. I was 37 weeks and four days pregnant, and I was scheduled to be induced at 38 weeks.

During these tests, the baby is hooked up to a monitor, and is expected to show a baseline heart rate within a healthy range, (110-160 beats per minute) as well as a specific amount of accelerations (increase of at least fifteen beats per minute for at least fifteen seconds) within a twenty minute span.  If the baby doesn't pass, (sometimes they are asleep or aren't as active for a number of reasons), one is kept on the monitor for a longer duration of time.  Sometimes, further testing is recommended.

There isn't really a need to explain why NSTs can be traumatic for someone like me.  I feel safest when I'm there, hooked up with someone else watching, but I also hate being privy to each and every alteration.  It always feels like I am about to watch (hear) my baby die in real time, and so I literally count the minutes (and the kicks) and hope for the best.  The nurse always offers the remote, but I can never focus on anything but that sound.

Fortunately, this baby has always passed every NST.  More honestly, she was always increasingly active for the monitors, often "passing" within the first five minutes and offering prolonged accelerations, making it difficult to establish a baseline at all (which can also be alarming).  The nurses always reassured me that she was "happy", meaning well-oxygenated and not currently compromised, which I appreciated, but it was never enough.  Nothing was ever enough.

This particular visit proved to be especially difficult.  First, the baby wasn't moving as often as normal.  I tried to reassure myself, her accelerations still looked good, excellent variability...but I couldn't help but recognize that her typically showy activity while on the monitors had lessened, and it scared me.  

About fifteen minutes into the test I heard a nurse outside my curtain.  A baby in the next room was in distress.

I heard her raise the volume.  I heard the heartbeat fall into the 80s.  And stay there.  And stay there.  And stay there.  I heard the hitch in the nurse's voice as she asked the woman to move to one side, then to the other, to no avail.  

"Oh my God," I said to my husband.  "Her baby."

Two other nurses and one doctor ran by.  I couldn't see their faces, only their shoes.  And then their voices.  Their voices.

"Where is her chart?"  

"Why was she scanned?"

"Lay back farther."

"Turn on your right."

"How far along is she?"

And I heard someone say 38.  

38 weeks.

By the time they called for a stretcher I was hysterical.   I looked at my husband, who was now holding my hand and attempting to calm me down, and I couldn't manage a word.  Couldn't stop shaking.  Couldn't breathe.  I thought back to that Saturday when she left me, and I thought this must have been what it sounded like.  

After some time my nurse returned, clearly shaken but still calm.  I don't know how they do it.

"Looks great!" She assured me as she removed the monitors. 

"Is that baby okay?"  I asked her. 

"They are taking her to labor and delivery now," she said.

I was still crying when they began my ultrasound.  Still crying as the technician noted my baby's hands near her chubby face, and her hair, the slight gray fuzz just above my bladder.  

And when she stated the amniotic fluid level, a 6.07, I was crying, because the night before it had been a 15.  

The perinatologist entered and attempted to calm me down.  The fluid levels can vary a lot, even hour to hour which I understood; however it was of no use.  I was convinced my placenta was failing this baby too, and that she was going to die too, and when he said "you only have three more days," I told him I didn't believe my baby would make it to Friday, because I didn't.

The doctor called my obstetrician, and due to the potentially concerning fluid fluctuations and my extreme anxiety, all agreed that it was likely in everyone's best interest that I have this baby today.  

I stopped crying.  

The Pitocin was started around five.  My water was broken at nine.  There was a shaky epidural through several pretty intense contractions, two pushes, and one amazing nurse who held my hand through it all.  And at 10:44 pm on May 8th, 2018, Lena Josephine LaFata made her entrance into this world.  

And all I can do is stare, in awe, in disbelief, in gratitude, into her wide eyes, because she's here.  Because we made it here.  Together.  

Friday, March 16, 2018

(N) S T

So, sleep is pretty elusive lately.

And I don't mean in the normal, uncomfortably pregnant way.  I don't mean because my hips are killing me and I can't lay on my back, or my stomach, or one side for too long.  I don't mean the hourly bladder issues either, although all of these reasons exist.

I mean it in the sense of the terror that becomes the notion of letting down my guard.  For one second?  No, for eight hours. 

In my class we talk of tumor suppressors:  sequences of DNA whose sole purpose is to stop the progression of abnormal cells from dividing.  The cancer police.  The guardians of the genome. 

As we discuss mutations, someone inevitably asks what happens when these genes don't work anymore.  Who watches the watchmen?

Last week I went to the hospital.  There were no labor pains, no imminent concerns.  I cried the entire way there and as they took my blood pressure.  The nurse offered a gown but I asked if she could attach the monitors instead.  Just hook me up.  Just so someone else could watch.  Just for an hour. 

I wish I could adequately describe what this feels like.  What a fourth pregnancy feels like.  What pregnancy after loss feels like.  What pregnancy after third trimester loss feels like. 

I guess maybe, like a hand who always shakes.  Like a pause button, or a lamb being potentially lead to the slaughter they know well.   Like an enormous question mark in every crevice of your life, for nine months. 

Every night I wake in a panic, over and again.  Sometimes I dream in real conversations, people saying things like, "Oh, what a beautiful baby!" and when I open my eyes she isn't there.

Sometimes it's a song.  And it's soft, calming even as they wheel her away down the hall.  And I'm still behind the door and I am calling to the nurse but she doesn't turn around, and when I'm awake I can never remember the words.

I wrestle with cold aloe vera at midnight, static echoes in the kitchen in the dark.  I steady my hand and my heart as I search, eyes fixed on the neighbor's lone basement light.  I half convince myself that she has left me, every time, and then I wonder what they're doing at this hour. 

My husband assures me that the Doppler is a decoy; that there is no realistic way I could "catch" something in time to save this baby. Of course I know this to be true.  The first thing my doctor told me as she entered the room that morning was that it wasn't my fault.  "I'm going to say something, Nora, and I want you to hear me.  You could have been sitting in this chair and it would have been too late.  Do you understand?  This was not your fault."  And the Pitocin lurched and I nodded but in my head it was so very loud.  How do you know how do you know how do you know. 

So I listen.  I watch my stomach dance and I tell myself it's make believe and I still listen.  The only moments I am certain of her existence live within that sound, and there are never enough of them. 

The nurse analyzed the strip with me, every "perfect" acceleration, lovingly explaining why she'd chosen such a word.  Before I left she kissed me on the forehead, "Come back anytime", she said.  I managed a laugh.  "You'll regret saying that to me."  She shook her head gently.  


And I know I'll be back.  It's inevitable.   I'll be sitting somewhere when the panic strikes, and there is nothing I can do but remember and tremble and cry, again and again for the next seven weeks until someone places her safely in my arms.  Hopefully.  I have to add the word.  In this life, nothing is certain anymore. 

On the drive home there was a dialogue in my head.  Who signs up for this, knowingly and willingly, again?  Who is this naive; this hopeful?  Who does such a thing?

But then there isn't much to say, because I already know the answer.  Because it's me.  I am.

I have. 

Friday, February 23, 2018


There's a song on the radio sometimes, the artist is Sia.  And she sings of stamina, and one day he asked me to clarify.

I told him stamina is what people have who never give up.

"So Mommy," he says. 

"It's a song about you."

Today I got up and dressed.  I made the coffee and I looked in my rear view as I left the driveway.  I went to work and I answered emails and questions and blank stares.  But today is different from the others.  Today, there should be a four year old; a bouncing, curious, little girl with her daddy wrapped around her finger, giving chase to her brothers in the yard. 

Today I should know what it's like to braid thin, toddler hair, to readjust the straps of tiny Mary Janes Christmas morning. 

I should know all her favorites, every scrape and scar. There should be things to look back on, a lifetimes' gallery in my head.  Her smile, her laugh, her touch, these things should feel like home. 

I should be closer to some, and a stranger to many more.  So many who have saved me,  so many who have let me down.

I shouldn't know all the things that I do; shouldn't have a clue of the weight of one's dead baby in her arms, what such a weight does to one. 

Today I've been trying to remember our last together. Is it a purposeful thing, the forgetting?  The little details that are all there, somewhere, that my mind won't always let me see? 

There was a story, a children's book, read aloud to a three year old.  We'd moved his things into his new room, fresh paint on the walls.   There was breakfast and lunch and nap time, and Olympic figure skating on the television.  I can't watch it anymore.

I remember it was cold but it was light out, then abruptly so very dark.  I remember the sun disappearing through the blinds; sensing a chill with the fade.  

And I remember when the nurse began to cry behind her glasses.  She was still searching but the tears came anyway. 

I don't remember the book.  Or what was on my plate.  I don't remember much of what was said, or  when it was that I think I knew.  And I don't remember how it felt just then, or feeling much of anything at all.  For a time.

If I could go back, I'd laminate the pages.  Frame their faces in my mind and revisit on the weekends.  I would memorize the sounds and hoard it all somewhere safe, somewhere the joy couldn't mask what had been, because what had been is all I've got. 

And I think this is what most cannot understand, don't have to.  They can see how the pain dislocates, how it stiffens in places and pulls in others and how it, quite clearly and quite cruelly sometimes, envelops and darkens the person they once knew. 

But they don't see how it builds upon the insides, like skyscrapers from stone. 

They don't know of the love that I know.  The one that spans all space and flesh and time.  The one that grew within me, grows within me, still. 

And while they assume I'd run from the fire, if I could, they are wrong. I am in search of it always.  Forever in its wake.

And while this doesn't make me lucky or envied or wise, it makes me strong.  It makes me her mother. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Have you ever been given something you wanted really bad?  In a word, all wrapped and beautiful and perfect. 

And they told you it was coming, and so you shopped and sang and extolled?  Told big brothers and co workers and baristas and the mailman. 

And the anticipation grew inside you, along with the gift for months.  And so you exhaled and you unwrapped and you assembled.  And you planned and you planned and you planned. 

And then, in an instant it was gone.  Gone from your insides and gone from your arms and gone from their mouths.  As though it had never been. 

The other night I had a dream.  A friend had a baby and I made her a lasagna.  The next day at work she told me her baby died, as though we were discussing the weather.

"We gave him a bite," she told me.  "It must have been the sauce you made."

In December they asked if we wanted to know.   Of course not.  Absolutely not.  There would be no planning this time.  Never again.

Only the wand moved and someone said "her".  Make sure you get the pocket next to her face.  He didn't catch it, but my heart never misses that word anymore. 

The next day I drove to the office for confirmation.  They handed me a sealed envelope, and on the way home I stared at the tape as though it were two hands on a boulder just above me.  At every stoplight I pondered how someone could know such a thing, how anyone tempts fate in this way; how a version of myself exists somewhere, swirling blindly in colors of pink and blue for months on end because they told her she could.  And she never questions what words on envelopes tell her is to happen, what everyone is told is to happen, and she hurries through Saturday mornings with her two beautiful children, and there's never a Doppler in her purse.

My fingers trembled as we opened together.  And my heart skipped and dropped and sang and remembered.  And it felt as though I were back somewhere I'd been before, and I missed her then.  God, I miss her.  And it felt possible and certainly doomed.  And I cried on the bed for two hours straight. 

Since she died I'll be shopping and they'll jump at me from the periphery.   Polka dots and purple and lace and tulle, stripping my thoughts from this life and placing me back in that one.  To those moments in that room.  With her. 

I've gotten so good at blocking them out.  The memories and the fabric, so harsh in my mind and so soft in my hands.  Turning my head and changing the subject and accepting what will not be.  Every item to never grace her skin, sealed somewhere underground in the dark.   Friends who have babies and wrap them in pink, and I press the buttons and I send the flowers.  And my heart screams and my head drops but I proceed, as I always do.

Last week I thought, maybe, maybe just one and so I picked it up.  The tiny navy jumper with the yellow shoulder bow. 

I thought of her then.  Running in the sun, holding someone's hand.  Needing someone's help and making us late that time.  Blowing kisses from the grass and chasing her brothers somewhere and mouthing something to me softly from the carpet some morning,  someday.  Someday. 

The cashier looked at me strangely and then I feel it, white knuckles gripping the navy at my side, so as no one could see. 

Gently she takes it from my hands until they're empty; this most familiar sensation.   And like a lunatic who has learned nothing, I hedge the same.

"It's for her," I say. 

I think of the bin in our basement and I realize that no matter what happens, it's the truth. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sweet Disposition

A song I listened to on repeat during my last pregnancy:

"Sweet disposition
Never too soon
Oh, reckless abandon
Like no one's watching you...
Songs of desperation
I played them for you.
A moment, a love
A dream, aloud..." 

But one of my favorites has no words at all.   When Josie died, I thought someone wrote it just for me.  It made me feel sad, (which wasn't hard to do then), but it made me feel hopeful too:  hopeful that I might survive;  hopeful for what was to come.  "September Song", by Agnes Obel.  It's strange how a piano can see your soul like that.

This September I learned something important.  And so I remember all of the things that could happen, those that did, and those which might never, and so I am terrified; a fear I can hardly exist beside, every second.

But I am also hopeful.  I am so very hopeful of what could be, when the leaves are green again. 

Baby LaFata #4,  We love you.  We're dreaming of you.  We hope to meet you soon. 


Friday, November 10, 2017

Friends In Low Places.

Two years ago, I stumbled upon a blog post I've since thought about many times. While it may seem harsh to some,  it remains the most honest depiction of the (appropriate) bitterness that can surround the loss of a child, that I've ever read.

Sadly, there exists an expectation with regards to grief.  I remember first sensing a pressure around the six month mark.  Conversations returned to normal topics and I felt the need to suppress it all in talks of the weather and Cardinals playoff games.  I was thinking of her, (and of the pain) all the time, but it no longer felt safe to disclose.  Of course life goes on, and of course no one ever said it to me aloud but I began to feel their assumptions, like a push from behind I hadn't expected.  She's smiling.  She's wearing lipstick again.  She's okay.

It's just that I wasn't. 

It is an impossible pain, to live without your child.  To grow her and birth her and bury her within a years' time, and then return to... what?  Life?  What life?

But it's even more impossible to exist in a world that watched you grow her, birth her, bury her, and who assumes you could ever be the same.

After our next baby was born, these expectations intensified.  Of course we are happy and grateful and relieved that he arrived safely.  Of course I look at him and picture those tumultuous nine months; all the other outcomes I had planned for that could have just as easily happened.  But of course it's still hard.  Life is still incredibly lacking and incredibly prickly and incredibly hard.  And in many, many ways, I am still not okay. 

Last summer I met someone for dinner.   She and I, though years apart in age, became close after our loved ones both suffered traumatic brain injuries.  When my daughter died, she was there for me.  Like, really there. 

There were the friends who asked me to go shopping with them, or out to dinner, and then there was this woman who would sit with me on the phone, messaging for hours, talking about the most difficult things; things that scared me and things I'd been harboring and things that cannot possibly be sorted over lunch on the patio.  This woman wasn't afraid of me.  More importantly, she seemed to understand my grief, my bitterness, my disdain for normal life happenings, more than most people I'd known for decades. 

When we met, we immediately began to catch each other up on the past 8 months.  Terrible two's and retirement and the like and then, her newest granddaughter. 

"I know you're happy for me," she said.  " I didn't send a picture because I didn't want to cause you any more pain."

My eyes and my heart softened, and in that moment I realized something surprising.  I WANTED to hear about her granddaughter.  I wanted to see her picture. 

It's strange how my pulse slowed then; how quickly my hands reached out in connection.  How the moment my eyes met the screen, I felt something that pictures of little girls with little bows in their hair hardly bring me anymore.  I felt happy.  For her. 

I am the farthest from perfect.  In the past four years, I have disappointed more people than I could count on five hands.  There is a stack of invites and unrequited text messages the recesses of my mind could never hope to count.  I have let down my friends, my husband, my sons, but my life is a learning process now. How to breathe without her.  How to stand upright.  How to cope and to accept.  How to forgive.  And most recently, when others can place their feelings aside for what remains of my happiness, how to do the same for them. 

And I'm learning that when your baby dies you need friends. You need friends who will call when you don't, who will reach out when you can't.   You need friends who will tell you that your feelings are valid, and justified, and okay, even when they may not believe this to be true. You need friends who will show up the day after and four years later; who text on her birthday but also on boring Tuesday nights in April.  You need friends who will hold your heart in theirs with every decision, as though it were the most fragile, most aching, most broken thing.

And you need friends who watch as your ice cream falls and melts on the floor, who will savor their cone in another room, for a time, until you're ready.  Until your taste buds work again. 


Sunday, October 15, 2017


In 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared the month of October to be"Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month".  I didn't learn this from a history book or some weary tour guide, I learned of this declaration as I would learn so many things after that morning:  the hard way.  

After a textbook pregnancy in 2014,  I delivered a stillborn baby girl. A girl we'd lovingly named after her great-grandmother.  A girl who'd kicked and hiccupped and turned around inside me for nearly nine months.  A girl with a full head of dark, fuzzy hair.  A girl with her father's toes.  A girl whose lungs would never know the air. 

Eight months later I found myself in the bathroom, staring at two faded lines on a stick.  I remember showing the lines to my husband.   "Okay," he smiled.  "Okay."

"How is this okay?"  I'd asked. 

At our first ultrasound the technician made a face.  I remember the immediate validation, the all too familiar devastation rising up from my stomach.   "There's no heartbeat, right?" 

Her eyes widened, "I'm sorry, I thought I was going to sneeze.  There it is!  There's the heartbeat!"

On the way home he asked how I felt. 

Between the tears I told him the truth.  "I feel like we're either really brave or really fucking stupid."

He laughed and then he said,  "I think we're a lot of both."

There is something to be said for stupidity; for being reckless, for throwing (verified and experienced and extremely valid) concern to the wind.  To be certain, all parents are stupid in this regard, to some extent.   We look to the horrors of the world and demand invincibility.  We convince ourselves that we possess the controls.  We watch the news and we say the prayers and we insist that it could never happen to ours. 

But there is something more to be said for the bravery: for the re-entry into a world that has failed you in the most devastating way; to see every sharp edge and drop off from a place you never, ever wanted to know.  To hold the knowledge that it could happen, because it did happen, and to continue...walking, cooking, working, breathing.

I remember as we told people, it wasn't happy or even anticipatory.  The "telling" was something that grew to become a necessary task, in the literal sense, with each passing day.  To say the words "I'm pregnant" out loud was a betrayal:  a terrifying, dreadful feeling.  People would exclaim "Congratulations!" and it would confuse me, send me running into empty classrooms and restrooms and laundry rooms to cry or catch my breath.  All I could see was the enormity of the task before me, all of the uncertainty and the fear.  And her face, still and silent in my arms.

It is difficult to describe what "awareness" means to me now.  Of course there is the need to inform; to educate and share and comfort and warn.  What began as a sort of reluctant obligation, a willingness to move forward and speak her name, has evolved into more than that; more than buttons on a keyboard.  The awareness is a memory, and a skin, and a weight in my arms.  It has bred a love, and a psychosis, and a marrow all its own.   To be aware, for me, is to breathe anymore. 

And so it is difficult to be reckless.  To push the fear aside in a moment; to trust in a world that has left me on my knees with her ashes in my hands.  It's the bravery that becomes most familiar.  The pits in my stomach and the panic and the palpitations.   The putting one foot in front of the other with the knowledge and experience and memory of all you've lost.  The creeping around walls and counting rising chests at nap time.  And while every moment is a fear all-consuming, there is something in the ability to acknowledge the pain and to forge onward, anyway, towards what you still believe might be possible.  Even for you. 

I know there are some who consider him a band aid; that this unique, whole person independent of the tragedy that befell us serves as some sort of replacement.  It sounds absurd but I can see it, in their faces and through the holes in our conversations, as though one person could replace another.  As though his happy entrance into this world erases the trauma of hers.  As though you could discount the silence of that hospital room, or the absence of pink Legos in the carpet, with even the happiest of things.  

But he is not a band aid, because a band aid stops the bleeding. 

Today those two lines greet me at the door. They laugh and pool their nose in my neck and throw tantrums in the produce aisle.  They tap my shoulder in the middle of the night and leave backwash in my dinner glass.  Today those lines hold life in a pulse all their own, louder and more distracting that any fear I could hope to conjure.  Every day, they open wounds and limbs and parts of me I'd deemed closed long ago, which is more than one could say for any tourniquet.  And, as fleeting as time they achieve the impossible, again and again.

Because although I am very much aware, in these moments I am reckless again.