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Monday, November 23, 2015

Mutually Inclusive.

Dear Josie,

Turkey tastes different now. 

In the past it was easy to be thankful.  I could look around and see the food and the smiles and the faces, and I could stop and appreciate rather easily.  Rather simply because that's all I really felt, awarded to this one dinner.  Thank you for all that I have. 

After you died it became harder to give thanks.  Really, very, a lot harder.

There was a distinct moment last year around the Thanksgiving table when I pictured you there. Sitting on my lap knocking spoonfuls of cranberry sauce onto the floor and grabbing my hair with what would-have-been, should-have-been chubby, dripping, nine month old fingers.  I can remember running mine through the smooth, perfectly de-tangled locks and growing very angry.  Angry that I could do that.  Angry that it didn't need brushing.   

And I tried to be thankful, but I couldn't.  Not in that moment.  Not at that table.  Not at the same time. 

It was the same feeling from earlier that summer.  When we traveled to Montana for a gorgeous wedding 8,000 feet above sea level, and I drank Huckleberry Vodka to my heart's content because I knew that I could sleep in the next morning.   Or when we returned and I took your brother to the pool and I sat, relaxed, in my lounge chair giving dirty looks to all the parents hunched over, inconveniently chasing their toddlers around or toting their babies on their hips, who couldn't sit with me.  Didn't have to. 

SO much of my life was consumed with anger then.  Angry that my jeans fit again because I had the time to work out.  Angry because we had that Sunday to paint the kitchen.  Angry last Christmas, when I did all my shopping online because I didn't want to accidentally walk by some frilly pink dress in some random toy aisle while searching Ninjago figurines.  (People should really return their retail items properly.)  Anger at the fill-in pediatrician who prescribed antibiotics for your brother, and scoffed when I asked her about the mortality rate of walking pneumonia.

"Worst case scenario, much?"  Her eyebrows raised.

Um.  Actually yes. 

The holidays offer an exceptional torture though, because it seems that anger  is every freaking where, because the reminders are every freaking where.  You are different now.  You used to be like this, but now you're not.  Don't you wish you could be like that again?  Here are a bunch of songs that remind you of a really happy and exceptionally tragedy-free twenty eight years.  Don't you miss them? In every store and on virtually every radio station, the old you clashing with the new one. 

And Thanksgiving?  I mean, the name itself...speaks for itself.  How can anyone be thankful when there is such an immense absence at the table?

Some people probably assume that the holidays are easier now, for me and for us because your baby brother is here.  This is true and it's also inherently untrue.   He is love and he is happiness in giggly, squishy 16 pound perfection.  God-willing, this Thanksgiving and this Christmas he will grab and pull and spill as he pleases from atop our laps.  This New Year's Eve I can take pictures of him in an adorable onesie with the drawn-in bow tie and share it with friends and feel slightly more normal.  I can snuggle with him every frosty morning when he greets me with a smile, pull him up to my pillow and just breathe him in and I can really, truly know that he is here.  That he is mine and that he is with me in this moment and last year, I couldn't do that. 

But his presence will never make up for your absence.  My life will never be the one that exists in the Christmas cards, at least not in the Christmas cards I used to stress over and meticulously plan for and send to family and friends.  My life is different and paradoxical now.  Always and forever. And sometimes when I'm looking at them I'm still angry, because we're still so without, and that will never change.

The other day I was straightening  my hair when I came across a tangle.  A vast, seemingly endless mass that was so thick and entwined that it may have had its own blood supply, right in the back above my neck.  And through all the prodding and the pulling and the curse words, there was also a smile because I knew why it was there.  Grateful that it wasn't smooth.  Grateful for the pain. 

That's my hope now, for this life.  I know that there will always be pain because forever, this Christmas and my next birthday and on Flag Day twenty years from now you will still be gone.  I will not feel your hands or see all the messy creations they'd have fostered.  I cannot know your weight on my knee or your hand on my face, and I get to be angry about that.  I get to cry about it and I'm allowed to roll my eyes at the gigantic Christmas tree in the middle of Kohls because I think it's always going to hurt.  And I think I'm okay with that, because that's how much I love you. 

But my hope is to live holding both.  To feel your absence in every twinkle light and to be as angry as I deserve to be, and to also feel the gratitude.  Really, truly be grateful for the food and the turkey and the faces.  Grateful for the catch in the brush.

For the love behind the pain.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Dear Josie,

Sunday was a good day. 

And I don't mean "good" as in a day that was extraordinarily special in any way, I mean good in the way I view the adjective anymore.  Good vs. Bad.

"Bad" days were all too common in the past.  Before you died, a bad day began with a traffic jam on my morning commute.  Spilled coffee on my floral blazer.  A bad day was an especially unruly teenager in first hour and five more in seventh.  Parent phone calls and sub par EOC scores.  Burnt lasagna and fights with husbands about a regretful Target rendezvous.  A fever that spiked a little too high and a midnight trip to the ER.  A bad day was typing sub plans while simultaneously being vomited on.  And after you  it was all too confusing, because these days seem all too "good" now, in comparison.

After you died so many things were redefined without my consent.  For starters, the concept that sometimes, birth happens after death.  Right there, immediately, was the essence of "bad".  Nothing could ever be worse.  Right?

It's just that there has been worse.  Since that day, because grief is not linear.  And it's also not all bad.

There was the day, two weeks after you died where your father asked if I was going to get out of bed because your brother was asking for me.  It was six pm.

"Probably not." I rolled my eyes.

"Are you serious?"  he asked.

"Are you?!!"  I responded.

There was the night when I prayed that I wouldn't wake up.  I understand how selfish this may seem to some people, but it happened nonetheless.  My birthday, three weeks after you died.  I turned 29 and you were dead, and it all seemed rather unfair.  A bad day, to be true.

People were texting me the nicest things, but always with "Happy Birthday" attached and those words were making me nauseous, actually physically sick.  I went to get a tattoo of your name and I remember welcoming the pain, because it was controllable.  And I wondered if I would ever be able to control any other emotion ever, ever again.  When I got home I looked around and I didn't see you. I took the special maternity dress I bought for my birthday dinner when you were still alive and I put it on, and then before I closed my eyes I prayed that I might not wake up.

Only I did.  Wake up.  The next morning, and your father made me breakfast and your brother drew me a picture before they left for the park.  And it was sunny out and seventy five degrees and something on TV made me laugh and I thought okay, okay.  Maybe. 

After you died I considered a "good" day to be one where I didn't want to die.  And honestly that first month there weren't many of them.  I smiled and I participated in conversations and I went to the movies a couple times and I ordered things from Amazon, but there were too many nights where I didn't want to wake up because I didn't want to feel it anymore.  Anything.  The love that I have for you or the pain that comes along with it.    Didn't want to walk alongside it.  Didn't think that I could.  And so many of my thoughts were apathetic, because who really cares if my clothes match or if my bed is made, because you died. 

Apathy is an awful thing.  I wanted to care, about the house or the test grade or story time. I wanted to care that I would open my eyes in the morning, and I knew that I should care about those things..  I just didn't care, because I couldn't see through the pain.

Sunday we went to the park, your brothers and I.  It was a play date with some new friends from school and their incredibly sweet mother.  I wasn't expecting to enjoy this day, because I don't generally enjoy Sundays anymore, because they always remind me of your Sunday.  Only surprisingly, I enjoyed it very much.  Holding your little brother and watching your older one wrestle and run on the pavement, and talking with a new friend.  Truly, a good day. 

I've had several since those bad ones, each with its own acknowledgement.  A lightness.  I can really feel it happening and I can really appreciate each part.  Your death showed me what bad really means, but I also know good. 

I know that for every two friends who couldn't seem to run far enough from me,  there was someone who dug in.  Someone who wasn't running.  Someone to pick up the broken and piercing and jagged versions of myself  and hold them until I was ready to reassemble.  One by one. 

I know for  every thought of giving up I saw a sunrise.  Not because I wanted to, but because my eyes opened and I was forced to see that there is life after you.  And what a lesson.  Truly, what a lesson.

And I know for every apathetic thought there were ten productive ones.  Hugs to be given and arms to be opened that were otherwise closed, because you showed me how. 

And I know that for every ten bad days, there is a day where it's 65 in November.  And there's a park with gravel beads just waiting to fill little, Kindergarten shoes that are going to ask for my help.  I know that there are kind strangers to offer ears on playgrounds and spontaneous brunches to be had.  I know that there are chubby babies to laugh with and six million breezes to fill these lungs, and soft cotton sweatshirts to hug these arms on these days.  These perfect, ordinary, amazingly "good" days that I cannot always see, but are coming, I know.

Sometimes, there is birth after death. 

And if you keep walking, life is there too.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Let's not and say we didn't.

Dear Josie,

The hospital where you were born has a special department for pregnancy loss, with a special RN whose job is to help these special families.  Families like us. 

Let's digest that for a second. 

There are enough babies dying to warrant an entire department, with an office and staff members trained to adhere to this unique pain, at a large metropolitan hospital in the United States. 

Sometimes I still can't believe that this happened to me.  I remember the moment I first read the word, stillbirth.  I actually remember where I was and what I was doing.  And I thought that birth should be anything but still, and that this must be the most awful word that exists in the English language or any other.  And I never understood how someone comes out on the other side, and I never thought it would be me. 

It makes me sick.  At every one of our support meetings I think about her.  The woman out there somewhere who cannot see it coming.  And here we are, waiting for her in this room with our experience and our open arms.  I feel like Ben Affleck in that scene from Good Will Hunting, where he tells Matt Damon that although he loves him (in so many words), he longs for the day where he shows up to drive him to their dead-end job, and Matt Damon isn't there because he's off somewhere better with Minnie Driver.

I want them to be off somewhere.  Better.  With Minnie Driver.

(Okay so not actually with Minnie Driver, but maybe...I don't pretend to know everyone's connections.) 

How can it be that so many babies are dying?  How can it be that this number, this horrible, inconceivably high number has remained so horrible and inconceivably high?  Now?  In the 21st century. How?

Last year in the United States, around twenty four thousand babies were born "still".  Twenty four thousand and you were one of them. 

Your neighbor, your sister, your cousin, your friend.  Your daughter.  Just like that, twenty four thousand people no one will ever know. 

I mean, how is this happening?

I get so mad because we should be doing more to lessen this number.  I sit in the same chair every month and in my head I'm screaming.  Stop this from happening to her.  The lady who is walking in right now or sitting in her car in the parking lot, crying because it's her first meeting and she can barely make it through those rotating doors, turn her around.  Put her at home with her newborn son watching The Real Housewives, bitching about her lack of sleep and the spit-up smell on her shoulder. I want that for her.  I don't want her to meet me and be inspired by me and those like me, I want her to never have to research such an awful word.  I want it to remain this horrid parallel universe where she gets to live inside the luxury of pretending it doesn't exist. 

The numbers should be lessening.  We need to do more.  I know you're not here and I can't change that, but I'm going to try to change other things.

I love my club.  The people in my club are stronger and braver and more resilient than anyone on the planet, and I am lucky to know them.  Everyone is.  In fact, the people in my club should probably just walk around all day saying "You're welcome", to their friends and coworkers and the mailman because anyone should be so lucky as to know them.  To know their stories and their pain, to hear about their children and their goals and their struggles, but I don't want to add anyone else to my club.   The initiation is too demanding.  Too permanent.  Too sad.  With too many ramifications.  So, no more new members.  No more new members. 

People tell me I am strong all the time.  All the time and while I know it's meant as a compliment I can never take it as such because I don't feel strong.  Wise, maybe.  Experienced, sure.  But strong?

Or maybe it's because I would rather be weak.  Scoffing at the word "stillbirth" weak.  "It could never happen" weak. Thinking it would kill me weak.  Writing you a letter on your wedding day weak.  All three of my children in the family picture weak.

I'd give anything not to know.  Not to flex.  I'd give anything for her not to know me.  And I hope, next month, I'm still a stranger. 



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Action Potential.

Dear Josie,

Yesterday I received an email  from a fellow loss mother I have never spoken with or met. Her words were kind, and she made my morning.

..."Your sentiments reflect what I feel, so much that I both savor each sentence I read and move with caution as I read further..."

I was happy and I was also sad.  Happy that there is another person out there who knows about you, and sad that she can relate.  Happy that I am not alone and sad because there are so many like me, walking around every day, contributing and improving and all functional-like, and so desperately missing their babies. 

I love the appropriateness of her statement, too.   In the aftermath of your death, savoring every sentence while proceeding with caution.  In the beginning life was one colossal landmine.  I was walking, helmet in hand, through dangerously unpredictable fields where I'd be feeling almost normal and then abruptly, seconds later I'm laying on my back barely breathing, encased in shrapnel and needing help to stand. 

My only saving grace then were the others like me, that I could glance back or ahead a few yards and see someone in that field, ducking and dodging and soldiering through.  I know that sounds absurd, to be thankful that other people know this pain, but technically I guess that's the truth.  I am angry that I have to know them, that their tired, groggy, tear stained eyes fall upon your letters at five am when they cannot sleep, and so grateful to have them with me, all at once. 

It's a balancing act.  My life.  In every aspect and interpretation.  Having  your little brother handed to me for the first time was one of the most profound and significant moments of my life, and arguably the most rewarding thus far.  I have never, ever felt more relief and I am still exhaling nearly six months later, but there was also a sadness.  So immense and widespread that I would become overwhelmed just staring at him.  This living with and so very without.  This carrying of the happiness alongside the pain, a skill I've yet to master. 

One of my favorite poems  She says:

"If your nerve, deny you-
Go above your Nerve-
He can lean against the Grave,
If he fear to swerve-

That's a steady posture-
Never any bend
Held of those Brass arms-
Best Giant made-

If your Soul seesaw-
Lift the Flesh door-
The Poltroon wants Oxygen-
Nothing more-"

When I fist read this poem, a high school English teacher clarified that the "Flesh Door" was  the mouth, and that 'Poltroon' meant 'fool'.  The fool wants oxygen, nothing more. 

The night we found out about your little brother I wrote my favorite part on a post-it.  I guess I have a thing for post-its.  And Emily Dickinson. 

I carried it with me for 37 weeks.  I would look at it on a daily basis.  For the first few months it lay in my wallet, pristine.  Atop my license picture, stickiness intact, but soon the paper became crumpled.  The letters, faded, falling out in the rush of the drive through lane while I searched for payment.  Sliding behind the Zoo Membership card and the hoarded Target receipts.  In the quest for a nickel I'd catch the flash of blue and remember, momentarily. 

The third trimester offered an unrivaled terror, though, and so my paper courage mostly took residence in the pockets of the three pair of stretchy pants I rotated throughout the week. During the nearly constant second-guessing of my intentions and the definitely constant checking of your brother's heartbeat, I needed the reminder more often,  why I was doing what I was doing.  And so I would pick it up and turn it over and over in my hands, and I would curse loudly in my head, and I would wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea to try.  And I longed for the soft comfort of my little nerves inside their insulated beds, and tried to put one foot in front of the other. 

I mean, here's a thought.  Put yourself there again, try.  We will do our very best and we will run every test but we cannot guarantee this won't happen.  In fact, you are at an increased risk now, so you are slightly more prone to this exact thing happening.  Again.   And you already know how terrible it is, like really, really know that it's very possible and very terrible.  You game? 

When I was nearly 36 weeks along, your father and I attended a wedding.  There is picture of the two of us at this beautiful winery, and my feet and legs are pale and swollen and my hair's a mess and I'm holding my belly, and I'm smiling.  Everyone there was so happy for me and I could see the relief in their eyes, only I wasn't there.  Not yet.  No one thought twice about my twenty trips to our SUV in the parking lot, disguised as bathroom breaks, where I would frustratingly pull the Doppler from underneath the passenger seat and listen, just listen.  And I could hear the music behind me and I knew they were dancing, but those moments in the car were the only times I could. 

Your aunt asked me recently how I did it.  No really, Nora, how did you do that?  And the truth is I don't know.  How anyone does it.  I don't know how anyone says goodbye to their children in such traumatic, life-altering ways, sometimes more than once.   I don't know how they willingly put themselves into such vulnerable positions, time and time again,  walking around, nerves shot and torn and exposed, and waiting.  I don't know.

But I can tell her why.  Why I did it and why I risked it and why I would risk it again.  I love you and I love them. 

And because although I am a scarred and trembling shell of the person I used to be,
I want so much more than to breathe. 



Monday, November 9, 2015

I'm looking at you, Miley

Dear Josie,

Saturday your father and I attended a trivia night.  It was a fundraiser for families of children diagnosed with cancer.  Before the trivia began, one of the fathers thanked the crowd.   Soon, his son would join him on stage, and although most had already started drinking and were having a pretty good time, when he spoke all was silent.

In all honesty, I didn't know what organization this particular night was to benefit until we arrived.   Your aunt invited us and I simply assumed it was for her elementary school, but it wasn't.   The night was for these amazing souls, these little people who have only begun their lives and now must fight to sustain them.  It was for their families, the mothers and fathers and brothers and aunts who sit bedside, helpless and struggling to understand.  And as this eight year old little boy thanked us I couldn't help but be angry.  Really, really angry that he might die.  And that any parent might ever have to do such a thing as to watch.

When you died perhaps the only comfort provided to me was that I never saw you suffer.  I think about it all the time.  People would say how you "only knew love" and "never felt pain".  To be sure, I googled horrible things like "baby heart attacks" and fetal pain reception and "can a baby feel when its heart stops".  I don't think I'll ever know for certain if you felt anything or if you were scared, but I like to tell myself that you didn't.  And that you weren't.  I like to think that, as a baby, you were so much stronger and braver than me, possessing some holy understanding that I'll never have.  It may be dumb and it may be selfish but it helps me, so mostly I go with it.  

I hate when people say I can't imagine.  It's the single most repeated sentence after anyone finds out about you and I hate it.  But when I think about those parents, the parents of the children with cancer that's what I feel.  Like it's so horrible that I can't imagine.  I look at your brothers and I envision all the times they are sick, with a cough or a fever and how I silently beg that their symptoms, no matter how minor, transfer to me and relieve them.  And I think what if it were something like cancer, and what if I had to see, and I just can't imagine. 

After trivia ended we went home.  Your father and I had the night and the house to ourselves for once.  What happens when this happens?  Apparently he falls asleep on one couch while I watch SNL reruns on the other.   What can I say?  We like to party. 

I happened to catch a recent episode where Miley Cyrus was the host and musical guest.  It's not often that I listen to or tolerate Miley Cyrus.  Most of the time I am distracted by her outfits and her seemingly desperate ploys for attention, but this time was different.  I think.

During her second performance, Miley is sitting alone at a piano.  I should note that this piano is clad in some type of "fake cloud" puffy fabric and twinkle lights, and that she is wearing a really long George Washington-esque blonde wig, but I digress.  She begins by describing a dream where "David Bowie taught us how to skateboard" but "he was shaped like Gumby" and I almost changed the channel, but I was intrigued so I didn't.  Then...

"...And I had a dream.  Took a helicopter.  Flew it up too high, got stuck in the clouds.
Don't wanna come down...
And I had a dream that you were dying, but I wasn't even crying,
I just sang you to sleep.  I sang you to sleep...
...But what does it mean?  What does it all mean?  ...I just want to scream."

And she did.  Screamed.  Into the microphone.  Repeatedly.  "What does it mean?"  Over and over again until she was crying and so was I, and when the final verse began she could barely finish the song.

Logically, through the tears my very first thought was that Miley Cyrus must have also lost a daughter, because in the incredibly bizarre and incredibly raw nature of this performance somehow I saw myself, screaming into your curtains that morning; however upon further research I would learn that the "Twinkle Song" was actually written for her deceased dog, Floyd. 

I have watched the video several times now, and I've read the comments people offer.  While some are appreciative, praising Miley for the honesty in her emotion, many accuse her of faking it for the cameras.  Others seem more impressed by the busy decorum or the fact that she kept her tongue in place for the entirety of this performance, and before you,  I may have joined them.

But this time, on this night I didn't care about the distractions because I could only see the pain.   Real or contrived, I kept staring at the husky in the picture frame atop the piano, and I could only see the pain. 

Maybe it's the thought of all those parents somewhere right now, sitting next to their  sick children and stroking their hair.  Or the ones like me who look for their babies in the stars.  Or the many, many people who are forced to say goodbye to a best friend or a sister or a husband, or maybe it was the beer... but I didn't want to make fun of her this time. 

It is quite possible that I am going crazy, but Saturday night I wanted to hug Miley Cyrus.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

The opposite of almost.

Dear Josie,

So here's the thing.  Baby girls are hard.

I mean, specifically, newborn baby girls.  Very hard.  For me. 

I have held three since you died.  Drove myself to the respective hospitals and braved the elevators toting pretty pink bags with pretty pink bows and shaking.  Just shaking. 

It's not that I'm not happy for them.  In contrast, I am very, very happy for anyone who has a baby.  Only now do I realize the one million things that have to go right, just so, for a healthy baby to be born.  Alive. 

It's just that I'm also so sad.  For me and for you, because not all one million happened.  Maybe nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine, but that last one...that last one. 

Two months ago your aunt had a baby girl.  A glowing, gorgeous baby girl with a FULL head of dark hair and piercing brown eyes, and I am in love with her.  So completely and so helplessly in love.   I drove to the hospital that night, the same hospital we never brought you home from and I held her.  I held her and I took her in, and I told her I loved her and I kissed her perfect cheeks and her tiny fingers and then I had to leave, because the truth is I can't wait.  I cannot wait to take her shopping and play with her hair, to buy her dresses and the leggings with the frills at the bottom and the matching little girl boots.  I can't wait to marvel at her prom pictures and help her with college algebra and promise never, ever to tell her mother about the guy she likes.  But that doesn't mean it wasn't hard.  Very hard, to say hello.

Someone said to me once, "Well, you almost had a daughter."  And it might have been the shock that caused me to just stand there, mouth open, not saying what I really, really wanted to say to this person.  Or it may have been that it was a work setting and I would like to keep my job.  So I shifted my weight and I changed the subject quickly and I hurried away, nearly running into the wall and probably stuttering a bit because let's be clear, I have a daughter. 

I have a daughter. 

No they cannot hold you, but I have.  As completely and as tangibly as I held my sons, you were in my arms.  And perhaps they cannot see you, but I do.  I see you in them and in me and in everything.  Every day. 

I can remember a time in the night, before your delivery where I looked at your father and I said "I can't do this."  And I really, really felt like I couldn't do it.  Everything was progressing so quickly and doctors and nurses were coming in and taking blood and testing things and saying how it was probably the cord, and all I could think was how you would never open your eyes.  I knew what was coming and I didn't want it to, and I didn't think that I could. 

He told me yes you can, so matter-of-factly.  Like there wasn't a question.  Of course you can do this.  And I appreciate that, because at the time it seemed impossible.  And the way he said it left no room for the question, whether or not I could, and so I did.  Looking back I'm sure that confidence was quite the opposite of what he was feeling.  Because how does anyone do?   That. 

I have done the impossible because of you.  And no, I haven't run a marathon or climbed Everest or created world peace or cured cancer, I have done the impossible.  I delivered a baby, knowing she would never take a breath.  I held her and I handed her away and then I WALKED out of the room.  Two months later I drove to work, taught one hundred adolescents how a cell makes a protein.  I went to lunch and when someone asked me about the weather I smiled.  Smiled. I used the copy machine and graded essay questions and responded to emails.  And then I drove home. 

I have done the impossible.  All of these things, after you and without the potential of you.  Impossible.  The hair brushing, pancake making, dress shopping, road-tripping, Christmas wrapping, wedding dancing, impossible. 

Held a baby. 
Had a baby. 
Held my baby. 

And any one person might think it cannot be, that they couldn't possibly have done all that I have done, after all that I have done.  But I know it to be true, because I could, and because I did.  And I have you to thank for that.  My daughter, the one they cannot see and will never hold, the one that doesn't live but exists in every single impossible thing I do.  The "almost" in their dense beliefs and the "definitely" in mine. 

My daughter, who danced to the Strokes and jalepenos.  Who loved the sound of her brother's voice and who was calmed by NPR.  My daughter, whose pink bear resides in her brother's room, my daughter who definitely lived because she definitely died, whose name we carefully selected and whose toes we definitely counted. 

Definitely missed.  Definitely real.  Definitely loved.  Eight days a week and a zillion times on Sunday.   Definitely, not almost.

I definitely have a daughter.




Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fools Rush In

Dear Josie,

The other night your brother had a Charley Horse.  He barged into our room at two am, hopping and crying and holding his leg.  Your father and I were barely awake and it was hard to discern what was happening at first, until I could process. 

"Charlie Brown!  I have a bad Charlie Brown!"

For a moment I kind of rolled into your father, onto his pillow with my face down to hide my laughter.  I noticed that your father was doing the same, and then I sprung into action.  There were snuggles.  We set up a bed on the couch, a heating pad and some soft calf massages.  There were cartoons and soon he was asleep, but I wasn't. 

I guess that's the difference between the old me and this one.  The old me would have gone back to sleep when he did.  The new me lay in bed until 3:30, googling until her eyes gave in.  Leg cramps.  Growing Pains.  Osteosarcoma.  Soon she would be twenty sites deep, crying, because a four year old named Leah went to the doctor for a leg cramp and died two years later.  

The old me knows that bone cancer is rare, although heartbreakingly not rare enough. She knows that, most likely, her son needs some water or a banana and to take it easy tomorrow.  But the new me knows so much more.  She knows that hearts can stop, how it feels to marvel at the growth of a tree instead of a daughter.  She knows what it's like to be the one in a room of 160.  She knows many, many people who were unable to protect their children from horrible acronyms like SIDS and PPROM and HELLP and IUGR.  She knows that they are not statistics, but people.  People with names and futures and mannerisms and father's noses.   Adam and William and Lydia.  Eliza.  Matthew.  Logan.  Lily.  Kate. 

There is this fence that never existed, save for in my mind.  There was me standing inside of some invisible perimeter, and when you died it was forever penetrated.  Obliterated.   Something got through and got you, and now anything could.  In my mind everything can and probably will and I am their mother.  I am your mother and I feel so helpless. 

This last pregnancy did a number on me.  Mentally.  Physically.  Mentally.  I could have been standing in a lion's den somewhere and I would not have felt so vulnerable as those nine months.  Foolish, I said every day.  I am foolish to think this will work.  Foolish to WILLINGLY put myself in this position again.  His kicks underneath my stretchy tunic, foolish to enjoy them.  Foolish to hope. 

Every doctor's appointment was a test, both in the literal sense and in my mind.  Can I love this baby yet?  Did I have permission? Is it safe?  Only it was never safe.   It still isn't safe.  The risk is always there. Over their heads as they sleep and at high school graduation.  A big, fat question mark. 

One of my students asked me if I believed in love at first sight.  We were talking about mitochondrial structure and someone raised his hand and that was his question, obviously.  The old me would have opposed, but the new me very clearly saw two lines. 

Yes, I told him.  I do. 

Because try as I might to prepare, I could not.  I would roll my eyes at them, the blissfully unaware.  The pink and blue cupcakes at the gender reveal and the white cotton onesie with the baby ducks in a row.  I would begin sentences with "If" and "Hopefully" and I did my very best to disconnect, to distance.  This purposeful boycotting of all things baby and I was only fooling myself, because he could have died at any moment.  As I stood before them or as I slept he could have left me, and it would have saved me nothing because I still loved him.  I still loved him all along.    

It's alarming, how swift the exit when his eyes met mine.  The fear that was all consuming.  The fear that nearly killed me, but when they placed him in my arms how instantly I thought, yes.  I could do this again. 

Foolish, their skin on mine. 
Foolish, the euphoria.  The college fund.  The hope. 
Foolish.  Foolish.  Foolish. 

And after everything that's happened I am lost and untrusting.  In many ways,  I am rubble.   But still, still...

Buoyant and expectant and hopeful.   Still.

Stumbling through the days with my eyes closed. 

I'm still just a fool in love.