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Monday, May 18, 2015


Dear Josie,

I watched a movie the other day.

The movie is called "Cake". Going in, I knew some things.  This was a movie about chronic pain and prescription medication.  This was a movie that starred Jennifer Aniston.  I read somewhere that she wore no makeup throughout the entire thing.  I was intrigued.

There were a few things that caught me off-guard.  Mostly that the main character in this movie has lost a child, a five year old son, in a tragic accident. 

I felt this weird pull then, when I realized what I was watching.  The movie took on an entirely different meaning for me, which I guess was the point. 

There is this one scene.  The mother is attempting to embrace life again, and invites a friend and his son over for lunch.  This particular son is around the same age as the boy she lost.  There is a pool and he wants to go swimming, but did not bring any swimming attire. 

"Hold on," she says.  "I think I might have something he can wear."

And I knew what was coming.  I felt what she did, I think.  Walking down that hallway into his room.  Into the dark, empty, dusty room that should house the living child but instead houses the memories.  The plans.  All of the demons and thoughts that keep you up at night.  And the room is always there.  And it taunts you and it toys with you.  Dares you to enter, lest you forget.

And so right before she enters she yells out for her housekeeper, because I think she knew it was going to be difficult. 

And she walks over to the stack of blue, Rubbermaid tubs.  The same exact blue Rubbermaid tubs that hold your clothes.  All of your beautiful, colorful baby shower outfits and knick-knacks and girlie things.  All of the things that should be stained or broken or on a shelf somewhere now, but instead they are covered in the blue darkness.  Forever pristine.    

Watching this scene I cried harder than I have in a long time.  It felt good.  Really, really good.  And I was happy that a movie exists with this scene.  And I was happy that I watched it.  And I was happy that I was alone at eleven am on a Sunday morning.  And when it was over I felt lighter, and I wished that I could have a Vodka and Sprite.

And then I did something I haven't been able to do since you died. 

I walked downstairs to the garage, to the deepest part of our garage.  To the very back part that I don't ever pass by on purpose.  And it was there, as it always is.  Your lone, blue Rubbermaid tub.

I ripped off the tape like I've done a thousand band aids, and I saw them there all folded nicely.  I brought them to my face and I smelled them, although I'm not really sure why, because they do not smell of you.  I think I was smelling that life.  That week before you died.  All of the thank-you cards I could never bring myself to write.  All of the hope that was lost that I thought was gone forever. 

I realized that maybe I could take just one.  Just in case we get this baby.  On the chance we bring it home. 

And I brought it upstairs with me, because I think you'd want me to. 

And also because,  Jennifer Aniston is really pretty without the makeup.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015



Dear Josie,

One month after you died I had a conversation with a friend.  She asked about you, about the hospital.  I told her about your pictures that morning.  How initially I didn't want them, didn't want to remember that pain.  I didn't want to look back in twenty years and see my eyes on that morning.  How a nurse convinced me otherwise.  How she told me, "You don't ever have to look.  But one day you might , and there she'll be." 

I told her how I hadn't known if I should smile, if I should cry.  How I pretty much sat there and did nothing.  How I loved the gown you wore, donated and created from some angelic woman's wedding dress.   How it felt like I was watching some parody of a life that was supposed to happen. 

She was crying when she told me she was sorry.  "Nora, I don't think I could ever look at those."

I knew then that she would forever be the friend who had the choice to turn away.  And I, forever the mother who was forced to look.  It felt like the table between us had grown, and suddenly my tea was sour.

Yesterday was tough.

Truthfully, that sentence could be applied to any point in my life now, only yesterday was really, really tough.

I know it isn't logical to assume that the same thing would happen to this baby at the exact same point in this pregnancy as yours.  I know we are taking different precautions this time.  I know that we are receiving additional scans, monitoring, medicine...

It just doesn't matter.  So many things that used to matter to me don't.   I am no longer a logical person to whom logical things happen.

So I pretty much freaked out all day.  Silently.  I was short with my students, conscious of every movement, every twinge.  I got zero sleep the night before.  I cried on the drive to work just thinking about her, the blissfully unaware 34 weeks and 5 days pregnant girl eating her cereal in another universe somewhere.  I wanted to reach out, to warn her, to scream at her to put down the spoon. To look.  To watch you dance just one more time beneath her skin.   But I can't.  And  she is out there somewhere and she has no clue. 

By the time I got to the hospital for my 3:15 appointment I could barely hold it together.  The nurse strapped the monitor on and once I heard that beautiful sound I lost it.  I couldn't possibly have held it together if I had tried, and I wasn't trying anymore.

She understood, dimmed the lights for me, closed the curtain behind her.  And I just stared at the screens, the beeping fluctuations, and I cried for the entire thirty five minutes.

There was certainly relief, as it is always, always a relief to hear that sound.  I guess there is a part of me that didn't believe we'd make it this far, this baby and me.  There is also an immense  sadness.  A guilt.  Because you never got this day.  You never got 34+6.

Last summer I met some co-workers for dinner.  We sat outside and ate and drank until midnight.   It was lovely, the first time I had really let loose in a while.  It may have been the liquid courage, or it could have been the sincerity in their questions of you on that night.  They asked to see you and I didn't hesitate. 

I handed over my phone, and I watched my friend scroll through each one.  After a few minutes I noticed she was crying.

"I'm sorry," I said, immediately feeling horrible.  I know it isn't easy to look at them.  My beautiful, anatomically perfect daughter.  My dead baby.

"You don't have to keep going," I held out my hand.

"No," she shook her head, struggling to speak.  "I'm crying for you."

And I think it was then.  It must have been then, the first time I was grateful for the pictures. 

Because they never got to hold you, to know you.  They never got to feel your weight in their arms.  How could they possibly understand?  In that moment I was grateful for the proof.  This proof that you existed.  That you were real.  Ten fingers and ten toes and two parents.  One heart that just stopped on one day.  Because something so horrible warrants the pause.  Because you deserve to be seen.

I hugged my friend that night and I thought of that nurse, and I wanted to hug her too.  I think she knew something that I didn't that morning.  Not yet.

She knew that I might want to share.

And she knew there'd be those who could look.


Monday, May 11, 2015


Dear Josie,

Today I am 34 weeks and five days pregnant.  Today is significant.  It is the exact gestational age that your heart stopped beating inside me.  The doctors refer to it as"fetal demise".  Today was your fetal demise. 

I'm not sure that I ever fully allowed myself to realize how close we were.  I look down at my stomach and I'm grateful, of course, but I'm also angry.  I'm angry that this happened to you, to me, to our family.   I'm angry that you were robbed of your chance so close to the finish line.  I'm angry that I was allowed to plan for you for such a time, to feel you and grow you and know you for so long only to have you ripped away.  I'm angry that everyone I love was deprived of this connection I will always feel.  I'm angry because the same thing could still happen to this baby.  I'm angry because I have to know that. 

I asked my doctor about the odds.  Statistically.  At this point.  Where do we stand.   
He put down his clipboard and he placed his hands on my shoulders:  "You are going to have this baby."

Last week your father asked me about the nursery.  When would I like to set it up?  A million thoughts ran through my head.

When this baby gets here.
When we know it's breathing.
When I can hold it in my hands.
When I don't have to give it back.

Instead, I just said "Whenever."

He saw through my ambivalence quickly enough and texted me the next morning:   "You need to make a commitment to visualizing a positive outcome here, even though you may feel that is an emotional risk."

Ahh yes.  The risk. 

I remember when you died, my initial reaction was that everyone was going to be angry with me.  It must have been my fault, something I did or didn't do.  I remember my doctor walking into the room and telling me that was wrong.  "You could have been sitting in this chair," she said.  "It wouldn't have made a difference."  I have read that this is a pretty common thought process, the bereaved mother's guilt.  I no longer feel that people are mad at me; however the guilt has not subsided. 

I know your father would take on the entirety of my pain.  He'd have switched places with me in that hospital bed in a second.  He would endure the physical scars and the flabby skin.  This skin that all mothers wear with pride while their children run circles around them.   But he can't.  It's not possible.

So he acknowledges this risk, as everyone does.  He feels the pain of losing you, of course.   And it's intense and it's awful and it's forever, but it isn't the same as mine. 

There are times when the guilt gets to me.  How little faith I have had in my body, in this baby since learning of its existence.  How I have to train myself to think positively.  How it takes an effort all-consuming to envision bringing him or her home, walking through the doors together, laying them down in the softest cotton blanket, fixing myself a glass of iced tea at nap time.

Last week, I began the long and emotional process of putting the nursery together.  And with every swipe of the dust cloth I tried, my very hardest, to picture this baby here.  Alive.  In this room. 

It's just so difficult, because I can also see myself here without you.  Hunched over in the corner near the pristine white baseboards, clutching my flat stomach and screaming into perfectly ironed curtains.  I see my mother, helping to fold your onesies into storage.  I see 15 months of clutter and dust where a baby girl should have learned to walk.  I see urns and empty car seats and I think that close to no one understands, because close to no one should. 

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago, a fellow loss mom.  She has had two babies since her son was stillborn, and she thanked me for sharing my letters to you.  How honest they have been about the terrifying nature of pregnancy after loss.  How people might read them and realize,"It's that bad?"  We both chuckled as we said it together.   "Yes.  It's that bad."

And I know that she gets it.  She understands this risk. 

I know that after her son died, she felt the phantom kicks. She knows how it feels to endure the stretch marks and the debilitating sadness of having nothing to show for them.  I know she has fought the urge to run from the double stroller across the street, that she has hidden the babies on social media and declined the shower invites.  She remembers what it's like to have your milk arrive with no one to feed.  She has lived the terror that is to wear such a vulnerability front and center, to heed the polite and loving and well-intentioned "one day closer" comments, conscious of the fact that it could end at any time. 

And I could get caught up in all of that.  And I do. 

There are times where I have to stop the decorating for a moment... because what ever made me think that I could do this?  Why would anyone intentionally put themselves into a position where that were possible, EVER again?  Only I don't have to search the answer.  Any parent can tell you why.

It's because when they're with you, for thirty-five weeks or ten minutes or fifty years...

It's that good.