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Thursday, July 30, 2015


Dear Josie,

Since your brother could talk, we have played this game. It started one night at bedtime as we said our I love you's, when he asked if he could tell me a secret.

"Mommy," he whispered.  "I love you more than Earth."

Not to be outdone, I replied, telling him that I loved him more than the universe.

"What's a universe?"  I remember him asking. 

The game always becomes quite silly, as both of us try to out-love the other.  I love you more than sixty elephants.  Twelve thousand candy canes.  A million ice cream cones.  With sprinkles?
Of course with sprinkles.  A gazillion sprinkles. 

But it always ends the same way.  He will giggle and he will look at me and say, "Wow!  That's a lotta love!"

The other day he whispered into the baby's ear.  "I told Dom I loved him!"  he declared, happily. 

"Awwww," I prompted.  "Tell him how much."

And without blinking, he grabbed your little brother's hand. 

"I love you even when you're dead."

Two weeks ago we arrived home way past bedtime.  It had been one of those long, amazing, sweaty summer days filled with tons of family, and we pulled into the driveway around ten.  Your father and I had driven separately, for one reason or another, and I arrived home first with the boys. 

Both of them were sound asleep, so I carried them inside.  Your little brother first, in his car seat.  Your older brother next, blindly navigating my way down the stairs into his "big boy" room and gently dropping him into bed.  For a moment I caught myself staring at him, and I thought that I couldn't remember the last time I held him. 

I read an article once that made me cry,  about holding your child for the last time.  How when they're little, you hold them all the time...have to.  Then they grow, as they should, and they learn to walk, and you still hold them but it's a little less and a little heavy.  Soon they're jumping out of your arms, onto slides and into pools, only running to you with a scrape or a scare, and slowly, gradually, your arms grow emptier, until one day you set them down and you never pick them up again.

It's one of the things that makes me sad to think about, all the prime holding times I missed with him, having been pregnant for the better part of the last two years.  During your pregnancy as I grew bigger, I'd let your father carry him to bed most nights, watch from a distance as he was beaming, scooped into towel after warm towel after many a bath time.  And it would sting a little, but I knew you were coming.  I just knew I'd hold my baby soon.

This last pregnancy was different.  He was older and I was more neurotic, barely bending to tie a shoe, confident that such a movement could jeopardize the life inside me.  I hardly thought of it because I was so preoccupied with fear.  And now he's starting kindergarten in three weeks and he's almost fifty pounds, and it breaks my heart and nearly my back whenever I try.

It's one of the things you miss, initially, in the grieving process.  I remember holding you, and it feeling like an out-of-body experience.  And not in the dramatic, brush-with-death-come-out-stronger kind of way, more like the if I tried to completely comprehend the gravity of what is happening here all at once, how much I've been robbed of, it will kill me way, so I kind of blindly felt my way through.  Because I knew it was something I should do, but I didn't want to.  God forgive me, I didn't want to. 

They handed you to me, and it was kind of like when you get soap in one of your eyes in the shower.  At first the pain is so intense that you cannot see at all, but your muscles all still work and so you feel your way to the towel, and gradually the pain starts to lessen until you can see again.  Until you can assess the damage. 

Except that towel is much, much farther away.  Some days I still search it in the dark. 
And the pain is much worse.  And my eyes will always be red.

I notice something now, about me.

Your brother will cry, and instead of my stomach tightening like with our first baby, I feel lighter.  I don't roll my eyes at your father as much.  My smile comes just a smidge easier and those really, really long nights that accompany the first few months with a newborn feel like paradise.  I am not always happy but when I'm happy I'm skipping.  Skipping through life like a child. 

And when I hold them.  I really, really hold them.  You know? 

And I think it's because I held you.

It's because I am holding you too.   


Monday, July 27, 2015


Dear Josie,

But.  I detest the word.

I should go to the gym but...
No, you can't stay up another hour.  "BUT!"  "BUT!"
I had a baby.  But.

It's something I no longer take for granted.  This luxury of partaking in all the normal baby talk, conversations about head size and birthmarks and failed epidurals.  Never having to insert that awful word.  That elaboration.  But she died. 

Recently I met with a mother who suffered a loss like mine. Within days of my meeting her she had lost her son.  As I prepared to leave the house I asked your father what to say. I'm sure that sounds strange, that most people would assume I'd know exactly what to say to her, but I didn't, so I asked him.  What was most helpful to hear in those first few days without you?

"Seriously?"  He looked at me like I was crazy. 

"Nothing, Nora."  he said.  "Nothing helped."

I ran through so many possibilities in my head on the drive.  Time will help, but the pain will never leave.    Lean on family and friends, but try to ignore the stabbing feeling in your chest when someone tells you there's reason for everything.  You will get through this, but it will be hard.  This time next year you'll be you, but you won't. 

None of them fit.   Nothing seemed adequate, and by the time I parked the car I was shaking. 

When I saw her none of that mattered.  We hugged immediately.  This perfect stranger, she reached for me and we both began to cry.  As it happens I didn't need the words. They weren't necessary at all.

Last February your father and I got into an argument.  This loss has strengthened us, but the process isn't always pretty.

He was angry about something on the credit card, and voices were raised.  He slammed a door, (which he never does) and I decided to give him some space.  After all, it was your Saturday.  That Saturday a year before when we learned you had died.  Neither of us had said it, but we both knew what day it was.   

An hour later I opened the door to the basement. He was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, folding the whites, and he was crying.  I scooped up your brother and we left your father to his release.  This ever-so important, ever-so sporadic release.  I knew it was necessary, and that mine would come too.  In time.

Later that evening we attended a fundraiser for your brother's school.  Casino night.  I was 24 weeks pregnant at the time and feeling pretty miserable already, but I got all dressed up and I wore my new lipstick with my favorite clutch and out we went!  The night turned out to be a lot of fun, despite its significance.  I drank several Sprites as I thought of myself in that hospital bed the year before, and I rubbed my belly a lot.

At this party, there were dealers dressed for the card games.   One of them asked about my tattoo.  "It's my daughter's name,"  I said.  No but. 

The next spin, he happily smiled at me,  "For Josephine's college fund!" he declared, and I thought of correcting him.

Only I didn't.

And it stung for a minute.  I met your father's gaze across the table, but neither of us spoke.  For the moment it seemed alright that this man knew you existed.  End of story. 

On the way home we laughed at his words, because you will never go to college, and because that is so awful.  And I remember thinking how it hadn't ruined me, like that time last year.  The first time I'd excluded that word. 

It was my typical post-partum chiropractic visit,  three weeks after you died.   After a pregnancy, my back pain always flares for a few months.  Yours was no exception.  How cruel a thing that when your baby dies, you still suffer all the physical reminders.  All the pain.

So I mustered the courage to leave the house alone, and I hobbled through those doors again, sans baby this time.  The receptionist remembered me. 

 "Did you have the baby?!"  She squealed.

I told her yes, and I left it at that. 

Afterwards my back felt slightly better, but I cried for a week because of the guilt.  The "But she died" I hadn't said. 

Maybe it's because  I knew if I'd elaborated I would have had to leave, in tears, and I really needed the adjustment.  Perhaps it was that it had taken all my effort to walk out the front door that morning, and I wasn't sure when that energy might return. 

But I'm pretty sure it was because I was tired of all the corrections,  because it felt so good to simply say yes. 

I had the baby.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Slice of Heaven.

Dear Josie,

The morning after you died, my doctor arrived very early.  The first thing she said to me was that it wasn't my fault.  Of course I couldn't believe that yet, not really, but I listened.  And when I told her I wasn't sure why I wasn't really feeling anything yet, asked her why I wasn't crying,  I remember her saying something else. 

"This hasn't hit you yet,"  she said.  "This is going to be hitting you for awhile."

My family came to visit that night.  All of them.  We sat around the room and I can remember telling stories.  I can remember laughing.  Almost feeling normal.   They brought Roberto's and someone gave me pizza, and I remember it had no taste.  My favorite pizza in the world and it had no taste. 

The day before your little brother was born, I got my nails done.  Well, I went to work, I had a panic attack, and I got my nails done.  In that order. 

I was to report to the hospital around midnight, and I guess some people might have stayed home.  I guess I could have sat in our brown recliner folding pre-washed onesies and receiving blankets, only I hadn't pre-washed anything.  The only pieces of clothing that existed for this baby were sitting in an empty room.  Still in the packaging. 

So I went to work to keep busy.  And I scheduled a pedicure for the afternoon, before my last NST at the hospital. 

Only it didn't work that way.  Driving to the nail salon he wasn't moving as much as I'd like, he never moved as much as I'd have liked.  So I pulled into the salon parking lot and promptly turned around, and I drove to the hospital instead.

They were perfectly understanding, as they always were.  Hooked me up to the machine and your brother was dancing like crazy.  In fact, he was moving so much that they could not establish a satisfactory baseline heart rate, so I remained on the monitor for one hour and thirty minutes. 

Finally the nurse got the doctor, who assured me that the movement was good but that a further test was necessary, just to rule out anything  worrisome.  Your brother was never this active for this long.  It wasn't normal for him.

I was moved to one of the ultrasound rooms and a biophysical profile (or BPP) was completed.  Basically, the baby is watched and timed for thirty minutes, and must complete a series of tasks within that time frame to "pass".  These tasks include minor and major movements and practice breaths.  Of course by now he had presumably fallen asleep, taking the full twenty nine minutes to pass. 

The doctors and  staff assured me that the baby was fine, that everything was going to be fine, but I wasn't convinced.  So I waddled back to the parking lot, becoming hysterical the moment I shut my car door.  I couldn't have possibly gone home and stared at the clock for seven more hours, so I drove to the nail salon.  Again.

The woman who gave me my pedicure was nice, and it was surprisingly calming.  I remember talking to her about a Pinterest recipe and for a moment I wasn't mentally counting kicks. 

Twenty minutes in I heard someone yelling.  We turned to see another very pregnant woman at one of the manicure tables, standing and screaming and demanding to see the manager.  Apparently she had asked for pink tips on her French manicure.  Four fingers in and she noticed they were white. 

"I'm HAVING her on Thursday!"  she barked.  "They need to look right for our pictures." 

I looked down at my belly and I was immediately jealous.  So very jealous of this snotty, awful person yelling at the teenage technician.  The way she had said it.  "I'm having her."  Like she was confident.  Like she was a guarantee. 

I cried the whole way home because I wasn't confident, and because I had bitten all of my fingernails to the skin, (hence the lone pedicure), and because the only thing I was sure about was that something bad was going to happen before midnight.  And seventeen hours later I held your brother in my arms.  Screaming and pink and alive.  And the very last thing on this Earth I cared about were my pretty blue toenails. 

I think about her now, that lady.

I think she must be enjoying her new baby girl, as I'm enjoying him. 
I think of her perfect pictures above the stone mantle.  I see her pushing the stroller in her yoga pants on a Sunday.  And there are mountains of pink dresses and ribbons and tulle where she is.  And I'm jealous, but I wonder. 

I'm sure her smiles come easy.  And I'm sure her nails are perfect.

But I wonder if her pizza tastes as good as mine. 


Sunday, July 12, 2015


Dear Josie,

This week.  Wow.

Your (little) brother developed a nasty-looking rash in an odd place.  While meeting with a specialist for his reflux issues this week, she noticed and suggested I get it tested for Strep.  Huh?

In short, your adorable, perfect, happily content (except for the two weeks of intense and unsatisfied itchiness) has Strep.  In a place where one should never, ever have Strep.

Thankfully, it's not like having Strep Throat.  He really isn't "sick" at all, just some unsavory red spots and some antibiotics, and a mommy who feels really, really bad.

So when your (older) brother woke up Friday morning with a fever and a sore throat, I immediately asked Google if it were possible for strep in location "X" to turn into Strep in location "Y" on someone else.  It is. 

I called the doctor, who called in the Amoxicillin  I waited in line at the pharmacy counter for the second time in as many days and by the time I got home to give him his first dose, a new symptom had reared its ugly head.   Painful, blistering sores all over the inside of his mouth.  Reluctantly, I consulted Google while I waited for the doctor to call back.  Again.  We ended up driving in for the last open slot of the weekend for the confirmation.  Hand, foot, and mouth disease.  Huh?

The doctor explained that this was a virus, capable of producing an impressive fever and typically, three to four days of intense, painful sores all over one's hands, feet, and mouth.  He went on to say that its pretty rampant at day cares and preschools, and that he was "shocked" we hadn't gotten it yet, offering an apologetic chuckle. 

Sarcastically, I thanked him for his diagnosis and knowing better, asked...well begged for a prescription of some kind, reminding him of my six week old at home.  He repeated that antibiotics don't work on viral infections, and told me to keep them in separate rooms.  As I picked up my increasingly uncomfortable and lethargic five year old and headed for the parking lot, he patted me on the back.  "Good luck."

So here we are.  Day three of quarantine.  One boy and one parent in one room, the other in another down the hall. Sanitize and switch.  Console and rotate.  Twenty four seven. 

Friday night was bad.  After an hour of snuggling and soft, painful whimpers, your older brother fell asleep in my arms.  Gently, I lay his head onto his pillow and made my way to the living room.  Your father had just given your (little) brother his antibiotic and sat down next to me.  After thirty minutes the shrieking began. 

I'm not sure I can do it justice, the feeling you get as a parent when your child is in pain and there is nothing you can do to help.  He was sitting up in bed, barely conscious, shaking, crying and covering his mouth as if to cradle the pain.  As if it would help. 

We had given him his medicine an hour before, so there was nothing more to do but to hold him as he cried.  Two hours passed and he finally gave in, falling asleep and continuing to moan throughout the night.  I laid there next to him, listening helplessly and waking to feed the baby at two, and switching places with your father for the remainder of the night. 

The next morning your poor brother stared at his donut and cried.  And  I had to leave the room because I was ready to do the same. 

I wanted it to be Strep.  On the way to the doctor it's all I could think about.  Strep is familiar.  It's common.  We know Strep.  Strep is do-able.

But it wasn't Strep.  It was this awful, horrid other thing.  And we weren't prepared and there is no medicine and there was nothing I could do but watch.

I think back to when you died, how intense the pain was then.  How systemic.  How nothing helped.  How sometimes it hurt so bad that I went numb, to the outside world, to every over-the-counter remedy and well-meaning friend.  How there was no antiviral, no magic drug to make it better.  How you have to suffer.  To endure.  How you have to feel the extent of the pain.  Every single drop, until the smiles don't sting. 

And I wish it were better understood, that some pain can't be lessened and some sadness never leaves.  That the blistering, festering tissues scar, until eventually you can swallow again but the remnants remain.  And one day something snags and they open again, as gaping and as vulnerable as the day it began.  And it can't be fixed.  Shouldn't be. 

And as much as it breaks your heart, all one can do is climb into bed beside it.  Holding tight, until the wailing stops. 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Nuk ish.

Dear Josie,

When you leave the hospital without your baby, they give you things.  Grief pamphlets.  A stillbirth certificate.  Non-slip socks.    Funeral home recommendations.  Hugs.

When you leave the hospital with your baby, they give you other things.  Diapers.  Onesies.  Formula.  A little gauze and A&D ointment and a water bottle.  This last time we even got a swaddle!  All the stuff your baby uses while you're there, you get to take it with you.  It's actually quite nice.

You always get a pacifier, too.  Those big, rubbery blue ones that look adorable in all the initial photos because they take up half of the baby's face.  I love those pacifiers.  Your older brother used one those first few weeks.  Eventually, we switched to the "Nuk" brand because they are more contoured to the face, which makes them easier for little mouths to retain...which makes for less blind crib searches in the dark...which allows (a few seconds) more rest.   And also because, the colors. 

Your father returned from the grocery store with some "Nuks" this weekend.  He apologized to your brother as he tossed them to me during a feeding. 

"Sorry, Dom.  They only had the girl ones."

Your little brother has reflux.  We have been told that he is a "happy spitter" because despite his stuffy nose and hoarse cry, and while most of his bottles end up on his wardrobe, he is still an incredibly content little guy.  Even during the night when your father and I can hear him tossing and turning and grunting and twisting from the heartburn, he never cries.  Such a mellow one, and I guess I should have known.  He never was the most active thing, even before birth. Of course now I know it was just his temperament.  There was no telling me that then.

Sometimes I like to think that you hand-picked him for me.  I imagine you walking down some shimmery aisle, and all these adorable faces and souls line the shelves, and you pass a thousand or more.  And when you reach him, you curl those beautiful red lips.  That one. 

The love I have for him is barely containable.  Hardly describable.  I sit awake with him on my chest at three a.m., and I'm not thinking of the sleep I'm missing or whose turn it is or how wronged I've been in this life.  I'm thinking how good it feels when my right arm goes numb under these nine pounds.  How heavy the emptiness after I held you, the uncertainty before him.  I'm thinking how I love the smell of spit-up on my sixty dollar sweater.  How the vase shatters and the food is cold and I'm three hours late and I'm lucky.  So grateful that it's hard to breathe. 

I guess that's why I'm confused when they ask me, as multiple people have.  Was I disappointed?
I always need the clarification after this question.  This disappointment.  In my baby.  In my perfect little boy.  Because he was a boy. 

I think on some level I understand what they're asking, horrid word choice aside.  Because this grief can complicate things, was I hoping for a girl? 

And I'd have to say...


I was hoping for him. 

I was hoping for the baby I listened to one million times on my couch.  The one who kicked me for the first time on December 16th.  I wanted the baby who heard my cries at five am when I was sure he had died too.  The foot in my ribs for three weeks in the spring and the swell in my favorite tennis shoes. I wanted the face on ten thousand ultrasounds and the heartbeat in my sleep. The baby who earned it with me.  Together.  This life.  This love.  I wanted that one. 

I can't explain what I felt when he was handed to me.  The very best blind date in history?  The most perfect first impression?  I kept turning him over, taking in every inch.  All along it had been him.  All along it was him I had hoped for, and when they all left the room with the cameras and the stethoscopes that's exactly what I told him.  I lifted him to my cheek and I whispered "it was you".

So I have to laugh when they use that word.  As if he were disappointing.  Like the forgotten fries or the rain delay.  As if he were capable of such an effect.

I keep searching the words for that afternoon, the day I met my second son.  This perfect little boy with the massive blue eyes and the pink pacifier, but they escape me.  I'm not sure what I felt that day, or that I'll ever feel it again.  But I wasn't disappointed.  Not even a little.

Not even close.