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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Shook.

Last week I handed back a test. A class full of teenage eyes stared up at me as I scoffed, pacing back and forth in my confusion as to how they could possibly have done so poorly on a topic we'd covered for over a month. 

They began laughing, calling across the room. Loud proclamations as to who studied and who didn't and who did worse.  Back and forth until I had heard enough, and I told them as much.  I stopped pacing and I asked them what I've wondered more than once in my nine years teaching, "When will it be cool to be smart?"

Their faces changed.  They assured me that their jeering, their laughter and their calls to one another from across the room had all been a farce.  "Ms. LaFata," one student said.  "We're laughing but we  care.  We're still shook."


In the three years since my daughter died I've come to realize that I no longer exude vulnerability.  To many, I'm sure that I embody resilience, strength even.  I am no longer the crying, shaking, puddled version of myself in the corner of a darkened room, clinging to threads of herself and threads of the monogrammed rompers made for the baby who will never wear them.   I can drive myself to holiday parties and smile and nod and converse without feeling like my insides have been shredded.  Billboards and commercials and all things baby don't always send me into retreat, veering towards the shoulder, desperate for the comfort of my couch.  Words don't always blur together to fit my agenda, and I no longer read the channel guides with baby (loss) brain.  (Disclaimer:  There is no show entitled "Miscarriage With Children")

Most of the time this is a good thing.  Okay so I still "hide" pregnant friends on Facebook and okay so I still haven't gone back to my favorite hairdresser, but I can answer lecture questions about fetal development sans heart palpitations, and my morning commute no longer requires the five exit pep talk:  "If you stop crying now, your eyes won't be puffy for first hour."  I can say her name on the heels of a smile and I have held three newborns since mine died, without losing my shit.

So what's the issue?  Most days anymore, there isn't one.  I contribute.  I function.  I'm good. 
But there are days where I'm not okay; more than many would assume, I assume.  And on these days she permeates every ounce of me, and in these days it's hard to believe there exists a moment where I don't wish I'd died with her.  Because although I am no longer shaking, I am far from composed--steady hand and all. 

The holidays are tricky.  It seems that during these times of lights and trees and music, I feel both her presence and her absence more intensely.  Day after day after agonizing, joyful day she warms my heart and she breaks it.  This month we will celebrate our third Christmas without her, and although there are new faces and many, many smiles, there are still so many times where I cannot get close enough; where my world can't shake enough in thoughts of her and who she would be.  Three is favorite shows and clicker shoes and full sentences.   Three is tattling and a specific laugh and asking to stay up later.  Three is no longer fits in your hand but will still hold it on purpose. Three is a closet full of dresses I hadn't bought yet. 

Last week I came upon the sweatshirt.  The same one I'd thrown my coat over it in haste that night before leaving for the hospital.  He'd yelled from the hallway to tell me it was cold, and I'd returned with something smart about it being February. He followed me to the porch and he asked if I'd be okay and I didn't look back with my response, already halfway to the car.  "If she is."

It's innocuous enough, gray and plain block letters in maroon.  No fancy font.  No mascot.  It was supposed to be a night like that.  It was supposed to be a life like that. 

The first day of winter break I wore it to the post office.  It sat heavy on my shoulders in line, absorbing all the red and green from the walls.  The music must have been loud but I couldn't hear it, I could only see the clothes in a pile on the floor as they searched for any trace of her.  I focused on it there, like they say to when you're doing something scary.  Find a focal point, and my eyes fixed on the gray. 

When we returned home that day I packed away all the hard.  Every cotton onesie and personalized gingham print and every version of pink were carefully folded by loving hands, sealed beneath thick plastic in the garage.  I've met so many mothers who left their rooms untouched, pristine and pastel for months and years but I packed away everything that housed her, and then I painted the walls gray. 

Lately I've been wanting to open them.  Every box.  Sometimes I wait until everyone is asleep, and I creep around quietly and I run my fingers across hospital plastic and baby hair beneath one single piece of scotch tape.  I pick up the clothes and I turn the pages and I read the cards, and I whisper to her with all the time and none of the sounds in the world.  Sometimes I am near, rushed and preoccupied but the boxes open just the same, as if to simply say hello in reminder, as if to wake me just so.
 
Sometimes this is all very messy.  Sometimes there are loved ones who don't understand, and sometimes there are strangers who pat your shoulder as you quietly sob in the post office line.  But although it may look wrong, it feels like the farthest thing from the wrong thing, because it feels like I am letting her in.

This life, this version of good that exists for me is so good that I think it's easy for many to forget the other one.  The life that exists just beside this one, the life that lay parallel to my every step; the life that was so close I could touch it, almost take it home.  Almost.

I can't forget that life because it's mine now--this one beside the other.  Happiness and gratitude, alongside the pain forever.  The luckiest parents in the whole world and the absolute unluckiest.  The most unlivably livable existence.  The cutest family portrait that will never be complete.

Please don't be fooled by my steady hand, because although I'm a survivor I am also forever shaken.  Beneath this smile I'm still so very broken.  I'm a girl who hides from sweatshirts.  I'm a girl, forever one girl down. 








Saturday, November 26, 2016

Busch League Heartbreak Grads

Dear Josie,

The first time I felt my heart break I was in high school. 

One afternoon in August I decided to break up with my boyfriend.  More honestly, he broke up with me after I insisted we take a "break".  We had been together for two years (an eternity in teenage time) and after an otherwise mellow argument I insisted that we needed our space. I should note that I said this only partially because my feelings were hurt, and only mostly because I was an incredibly high maintenance sixteen year old, around whom his world should have revolved. 

I remember driving to his house a week later, my hands trembling. He met me at the front door, a door he'd opened for me many, many times only this time I didn't enter.  We sat on the flimsy wooden bench near the doorstep and he placed his hand atop mine.  I was wearing my Britney Spears perfume and my blue argyle sweater, and I was absolutely confident that our break was about to end. 

I asked him how he'd been, as if we hadn't seen each other in years,  and he looked at me and that's when everything changed.   "Actually," he said, "I've been...great."

My teenage heart shattered on the porch.  Somehow I stumbled through something resembling "yeah, me too" while I tried not to cry, nodding along when he suggested we were better off as friends.  And when I learned that he'd kissed a cheerleader from the neighboring high school the following weekend (via a three-way phone call, no less) my heart broke again. I remember feeling like my world had ended. I wanted to spontaneously combust and return as a blonde member of the cheerleading squad.  I wanted to move a thousand miles away.  But mostly I just wanted him to say he'd been wrong, and that he was sorry, and that he couldn't bear the thought of living life without me, and to drive his Dad's neon hatchback to my house with tears and roses and an Iggy's peanut butter concrete.  It didn't happen.

Everyone has their version of this story.  The first heartbreak.  Puppy love turned rabid. Or maybe for some it was college, I have my version of that too.  It equally as momentous, equally as defining.  And now that my heart has not only been broken and stomped on and stabbed and chewed up and spit out and lit on fire, I have to admit that it's funny how many times I thought the hardest thing would be the hardest thing forever. 

What I'd give now for that  sixteen year old's definition of heartache, for her description of what devastated meant.  Back when Beyoncé could help, when trips to the mall with big sisters offered hope; back when"you're better off without" might be true.  Someday. 

All my life I've written stories, spiral notebooks in my parents' basement filled with magicians and poetry and magical math papers. Broken hearts found solace on white pages, and how they'd fill and how they'd save, and now there are words I cannot use.  People declare their families "complete" but I could never.  People say they would die if their children did, and my every breath proves what no one wants to believe.   No. 

You wouldn't. 



Last week I met two women for dinner.  Both of these women have recently lost children, which is to say that recently, both of these women have learned what heartbreak really is.

Over tears and fresh guacamole we spoke of many things, anger and solitude, hope and depression and resentment.  We spoke a pain so raw that it craters the mind.  Gaps of what once made sense spanning a desolate space, only we aren't alone there, and we never were. 

Something happens when you find the like-minded; those who carry the same burden, whose backs break with every step as yours does.  Among these people there is no need for explanation or excuse or description.   There is no shame or obligation, there is only a shared experience and understanding. So intense that you'd swear you see parts of yourself in her eyes across the table, the same parts that died in that hospital room.  It's as if there are pieces of you now, that reside within someone else.

At dinner we spoke our children's names and we looked each other in the eyes.  When it was time to leave we embraced, and then we laughed as we ran to our cars in the rain. Try as I might, I can think of no word that could ever do her justice.  The mother who buried her child twelve weeks and six months and fourteen years ago, the mother whose heart isn't whole, with her manicured nails and her pea coat , who laughs at the rain on her cheeks, and who sings as she drives herself home.

Love,
Mom






Saturday, October 22, 2016

What Hurts the Most

Dear Josie,

Today in one of my elective courses we spoke of pain.  Specifically, the nervous system and its interpretation of and its reactions to it.  One of my students offered that he wished these parts of the brain didn't always work.  Most agreed, eager to share their stories of emergency appendectomies and tonsillectomies and prom night breakups.  Quickly I reminded the class that pain is a perception; that not everyone interprets and feels and responds to pain in the same way.  Also I told them, pain is helpful.

When you died there was no pain, initially.  The only consideration I allowed with regards to pain was whether or not you'd felt any.  I researched things like fetal cardiac arrest and gradual oxygen deprivation and "does it hurt when your heart stops".  I was maternally, unhealthily preoccupied with what the last few moments of your life must have felt like, while I'd been oblivious to your impending death just inches above, relaxing in my Sunday slippers. 

I cannot pin the moment I allowed myself to feel it, finally, but it was far too long after you'd gone.  For months I fell into medical books, losing myself in decades of research and words I didn't understand.  I told myself that I wanted to know but the truth was that I didn't.  Looking back, I can say that I was so focused on the logistics of what took your life that I didn't allow myself the realization that something actually had.   And as a result, much of my grief, and my interpretation of what happened to you and to me, was delayed. 
 
There are times I still cannot believe this is my life; that my daughter, my baby, actually died.  I was always the person to whom silly things happened, the ones that make for good stories later.  In high school I wrecked the brand new family car one month after being allowed to drive it.   When I was five my grandmother wrapped all of my Christmas presents, accidentally writing your aunt's name on every one of them.  There is a home video we all love to watch, and I'm sitting there quietly as she opens the fifteenth shiny package.  And she holds up the purple "My Little Pony" socks, obscuring my face from the camera view, shouting "Mommy!  I got another one!  Again!"
 
When you died it wasn't funny anymore.  I didn't want to be the random, statistical anomaly.  I didn't want to be special or different.  This beautiful gift I'd been given, this gift so many get to open and hold and take home no questions asked and here I was, being forced to walk away empty handed.  Everyone was treating me carefully, thoughtfully,  their faces soft and their words softer but all I wanted was to be the normal one, blending into the scenery with a daughter whose heart was still beating. 
 
I did all kinds of things to trick myself into believing nothing had changed.  There was the time I went to the movies alone, one of my all time favorite things to do, and cried through the entirety of "The Art of the Steal".  There was the day four months after you died, where I thought it a good idea to meet a friend and her daughters to shop for matching sister outfits. I remember watching her hold up one perfectly adorable pink baby dress from across the store and suddenly feeling faint.  Of course there was the time I finally called the insurance company to inquire about returning the unused breast pump they'd mailed me.  I'd been staring at it in the box for weeks, unsure of what to do and when they asked why I wanted to send it back I didn't tell them the truth. Instead I vaguely, calmly explained that it hadn't met my expectations.  And they passed me around from department to department in an attempt to figure out what the hell I was talking about, and what the hell to do with my breast pump.
 
"Does it work?" 
Yes, of course it works. 
"But you're not satisfied?" 
No, I'm not satisfied. 
"How long have you had it?"
Two months. 
"Can you explain?" 
I just don't like it.

 
Of course it's obvious to me now what wasn't then:  The grief and the love, they cannot separate.  You don't put one down and leave the other; cannot set one aside for a later, more appropriate date.  How I longed to hold you and feel one of them for a time; just the love or just the pain, back and forth until I was ready, until I was prepared to feel them both at once.  Only the moment you died they became one forever.  What I was trying to do then was like pulling skin from bone.   
 
I tell others now, "indulge in your grief."  Invite it into your living rooms and your dinner tables.  Sit across it and study every mole and tale and idiosyncracy, and when it hurts do not run; let it guide you.  Listen as it calls for you to feel with every ounce of who you are now, for the love we have made of our children knows no match.  This love who scans the abyss, unfazed.  This love who grows taller in their absence, still.  Own this love who holds you now, who holds your children.  This honest love, this painful, painful love, this bravest love; and know that when the pain is big,  it's because the love is bigger. 


Love,
Mom














Monday, October 17, 2016

Really random thoughts: Then and Now.

It's three days after you died and there's a knock at the door.

My eyes open.  Swollen and crusted from tears that never fell and tears that wanted to, drying in pools on the lids, seeping out the sides. 

It's bright.  Too bright for my grief hangover.  I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stumble down the hallway.  The front door feels light and I'm confused. Everything is heavy now. 

A man holding flowers beams down at me, "Wow!  Someone just left the hospital, huh?!" I look down through cracks of matted hair, unwashed for days.  Three days.  It's been three days without you.

He nods at my arm.  I follow to the bruising on my elbow and wrist.  Plastic bracelets over crusted blood where the IV entered and left, as you did.  Track marks from a high I'll never reach again.   

"Here," he hands me the flowers.  They feel heavy. 

 "You should see the other guy!"  He jokes.  I set the flowers at his feet. 

"She's dead," I say. 

I turn to shut the door and I realize, it's no longer clear who I'm referring to. 

___________________________________________________

It's eight weeks since you died, and it's my first day back to work.   I'm standing in front of my seventh hour in a skirt and tennis shoes.  Comfort takes precedence these days.

I'm in awe of the words as they leave my mouth, how they flow so freely with your face in my mind. Can they tell I'm shaking in my Sauconys?   Can they tell it hurts to return to this room?  This room where we talked of you, hoped for you.  Can they tell I'm not the same?

 I'm using words like "it" and "these things"  and "passed".  It will be months before I can say you died out loud. 

I'm brushing it off because I want them to.  I don't want to acknowledge the horror of what's happened. 

I'll be okay, I tell them.  These things occur. 
I show them pictures of your tree. 
We've met some people who know what this is like.  It's helped us very much.
I've missed you all, I loved your cards.
I'll be okay.  Thank you.  I'm okay.

There's a girl crying in the back row.  Softly, then louder, shoulders heaving. 

I try to ignore her.  Has this happened to someone she knows?  A family member?  I haven't thought this through...clearly. 

The bell rings and I call her over.  All the other students leave.  She's sobbing now, chasing breaths. 

"I'm sorry, Christina,"  I say.  "I'm so sorry I didn't know." 

She looks at me confused. 

"Mrs. LaFata," she says.  "I'm crying for your baby."

____________________________________________________


This weekend was the SHARE walk for 'Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness'.  We walked for you and held signs and decorated t shirts with your name on the back, and I dressed your little brother in rainbow leggings.  As the names were read I got to thinking. 

I'm sure most people think I'm used to this life by now, but I'm not used to this life. I wish there were an answer for how long it will take for me to accept that you died.  Have I accepted it?  Is it acceptable?  In the literal sense and the figurative one.  What kind of a mother accepts the death of her child?  I imagine one day far from now, I'm hiking up some picturesque mountainside and I reach this level of clarity at the top, and it feels like you're telling me it's okay.  It's okay to let it happen.  And my hands are up in one final, desperate surrender. "Okay," I say to no one.   "You win."

But I think it's probably more like a slow, incremental acceptance.  And so maybe I'm already partially there, and then everyone is kind of right.  Or maybe it isn't acceptance at all.  Maybe it's something else entirely.  Maybe I'll go to my grave in defiance, having never accepted a lick of it.  Even if it brought me joy.  Even if it's beautiful. 


___________________________________________________

Yesterday at a red light I googled "How many days since February 23, 2014?"  Someone made a website that figures this out, and so now I know.   

_____________________________________________________


It's 967 days since you died and your little brother is learning to speak.   He'll point to a truck and give it his best.  

Today he pointed to your bear.  I had taken it from the armoire for a picture and it was there on the nightstand.  He reached for it and I said "Josie Bear".  It was the first time he has ever tried to say your name.  It wasn't remotely close but I  broke down.  Your father entered the room then, surprised by the tears.   He asked what happened but for nearly five minutes I couldn't speak.
_____________________________________________________



Last week your brother asked me when he was going to get another baby.  I laughed.  Then he asked me if I was scared.  "Are you scared the next baby will die, mommy?" 

At this point there's no sense in lying.  I'm scared all the time.  The thought of being pregnant sends me into a panic attack.  If I'd known how hard it would be I'm not sure I could have done it.  I'm not sure I could do it again.

Just then I catch a glimpse of your little brother's feet in the rearview.  Perfectly bare, chubby, baby toes.   And he's kicking them up and he's grabbing them, and he's babbling something out the window.  And his voice is something beautiful, intoxicating, coaxing even.  I smile.  Then I realize I'm veering. 









Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Life Outside Bubbles.

Dear Josie,

When you died I worried about one person more than anyone else.   . 

I think it's normal to shield your children from the dark parts of life.  I tell myself as much when I lie to your brother about something awful he's heard on the news.  I skim over the scary details and I deny and oversimplify.  Of course the monsters aren't real and the people in the accident are fine. I make the afterlife sound fun, never acknowledging the fact that the unknown is what people typically fear most.  I let him believe that the world is full of good people to whom good things happen; never so much as hinting that very bad things happen to these people all the time, until I had to.

Imagine the horror that is to realize your bubble has not only burst, but with its implosion came the obliteration of a three year old's bubble as well.  Your three year old.  That night I kept replaying my child psychology professor's voice in my head:  "A child's sense of security is the single most significant developmental factor, and the most devastating to lose."

I remember the initial shock giving way to this concern almost immediately.  Looking back I'm certain it was my body's way of not allowing me to focus on what lie ahead.   The nurse placed her hand on my shoulder and I asked for the phone.  They had just sat down for spaghetti dinner when I informed your father that your heart had stopped beating.   "Take Frank to my sister's," I'd said. 

When he walked in the hospital room thirty two minutes later he hugged me. Between sobs he asked what was going to happen and if they were going to give me medicine and if we were going to see the baby and if I was okay, but I could only focus on your brother.   "This can't change him," I insisted.  It remains one of the dumbest things I've ever said.

That night we agreed to tell him everything.  We would always welcome your presence in his life, however sad and however it manifested.  It would be known that in your absence from us, you would remain a part of our family forever.   We would never shy of speaking your name and we would never, ever fear you.  We did our best to present your death  to him as though it were something very sad, but survivable.  This proved to be most difficult for me, as I didn't yet believe it myself. 

In any case, I was sure we'd done it wrong.  And in the early days I envisioned him scarred forever, huddled in the corner of his kindergarten classroom, refusing to partake in carpet time or dodge ball.  In my skewed version of the future I saw him crying a lot for trivial things and forever clinging to my leg.  Of course he'd grow antisocial and of course he'd be terrified to try anything new.  As a young adult he'd become preoccupied with death, bringing it up whenever possible.  He'd have trouble making friends and he'd develop a fear of leaving the house.   I prepared myself for the calls and inquiries from concerned school teachers and counselors and soccer coaches.  "I'm sorry," I would say.  "When he was three his baby sister died inside of me.  We've done all we can."  And they would nod, eluding to an understanding I'd pretend to believe they possessed, and then later they'd talk about me in the teachers' lounge.  "So awful," they'd whisper.  "He could have been such a nice boy."

I often wonder why I ever worried about him at all.  Your brother, the most social, most compassionate, most enthusiastic lover of life on this planet.   Your brother, who holds me together and who pulls me from corners onto carpets, just bursting to share you with the world.  The tiny three year old who taught me that life is worth fighting for, even when it isn't and the strong, knowing six year old who hugs his brother fiercely, as though he knows he was never a guarantee.  Most days I just stare in awe of who he's become; how much better and well adjusted and emotionally mature he is, having known you.  This knowledge that most kids his age don't possess; this experience most adults run from, giving way to something that should never be feared, only celebrated.


The day your baby brother was born your father left the room to spread the news: a beautiful, healthy, baby boy had come screaming into our lives. 

He told your brother first, whispering to him in the doorway of the waiting room.  I'm told that he beamed, and that he turned to the small crowd and exclaimed, "The boys won!"

As they entered the room there was a look of wonderment in his eyes I will never forget.  I captured my favorite shot from the hospital bed as their eyes met for the first time.   How patiently he'd waited for this moment.  How carefully, how lovingly he'd looked him over. 

Hours later in our private room I watched them together, not yet fully believing it was happening.  The large pillow propped beneath the tiny elbow, the proud big brother smile, and the silent acceptance that my subsequent pregnancy, the second most traumatic thing I have ever endured in my life, was over. 

When your brother noticed my tears he handed the baby to your father, joining me on the bed.  Gently, he lay his head on my shoulder.  Firmly, he grabbed my hand. 

"It's okay, Mommy," he said.  

"We get to keep this one."

Love,
Mom




 
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

After You.


***I am dedicating today's post to SHARE's Walk of Remembrance and the Wave of Light, in support of infertility and pregnancy and infant loss, and shattering the stigma.  Click here for a list of the amazing, courageous bloggers on the tour, leading up to Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on October 15th***

Dear Josie,

The other day I drove three miles for a stolen brownie sundae.  With pecans. 

It was Sunday night.  It was jacket weather.  I got home and your brother read "The Magic Fish".  Afterwards I found three toddler shoes in the trashcan.  Your father and I put the boys to bed and ate ice cream and watched political coverage and fell asleep on the couch.  Every second was so beautifully ordinary, so nearly complete.  It's nights like this I can trick myself into believing we're normal. 

When I was little I would rack my brain for what bothered me most about a problem.  Rarely was it ever the "problem" itself, as I saw it.  Mostly it was my skewed version of reality, my fear of confrontation or my need for reassurance.  For weeks I could over-analyze and scrutinize and pick apart in an effort to logically explain it away; to overcome.  I have searched it now, with regards to you.  What bothers me most about your death?  It's not possible.

As a mother, I like to go first.  I like to make sure that it's safe; that it isn't too scary or too cold or too tight. I look both ways for the tiny feet behind me and I test the macaroni, blowing and waving onto spoons as chubby, impatient hands reach from their highchairs.  If there's a hit I'm going to take it.  If a tongue is to burn, it is mine.  When you died that was stolen from me.  There was no checking to see that the light was on, there was no holding your hand.  Despite all my worrying and fretting and nesting, you went before me in the scariest way into the most unknown place.  In an instant you were gone, and I am left to wonder, forever,  how it must have felt to leave us on your own. 

There's the concept of time now, which is also backwards. "Give it time," they say, but it makes no sense anymore.  When we visit you, standing above in our clasped hands and promises, I'm reminded that time is no longer something I trust or desire.  Without you, there is simply too much of it. 

There is also the perpetual confusion that is not knowing myself anymore, all the familiar edges and preferences;  what will upset me and who to avoid.  The unrecognizable ticks and triggers and meltdowns that grow and evolve as I do, and that I must own and face and circumnavigate.  Recently I've concluded that while it's all difficult, none of it hurts as much as the constant, nagging awareness of all you'll never do. This finite number in my head of everything you've ever touched, documented and sealed and packed away in time, never to be added upon. 

Sometimes I creep into the basement late at night to hold them, your things.  The  monogrammed rompers and leopard print Mary Janes I bought the moment the ultrasound confirmed I was to have a daughter.  The lone blanket to ever hold you , still and cold and the imprint of your head on the neon sports bra I'll never wash.  I turn them over in my hands and I wish that there were more of these threads and cracks and stains; more of these fading imperfections that exist because you did. 


Last month we hosted a trivia night to raise money for our local support group.  An idea that was nearly a year in the making, came to life on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday night. 

We began last fall by drafting a donation letter, myself and a few other local loss mothers.  Was it too cliché?  Too honest?  Could we efficiently depict what our lives had so traumatically become in a way that was also hopeful?  Was there enough emphasis on the gravely unfortunate necessity of our cause? We met for coffee and we typed words and we deleted them, and then we typed them again.  We sent them to hundreds of businesses.  We bought stamps and envelopes and made copies.  We procured an emcee, and we walked door to door in the rain and the cold and the heat.  We drafted professional email requests and navigated lengthy, corporate websites and with every rejection notice we tried our best not to cry, and then we did it all again. 

Gradually, slowly, they began to trickle in.  HUNDREDS of tangible goods and sought- after services and stories and hugs from perfect strangers who couldn't imagine and those who could relate.  We designed t-shirts with our babies' footprints in the middle and we made fliers and soundtracks and table guides.  We learned how to use a popcorn machine and we received THOUSANDS of dollars worth of silent auction items and raffle prizes and alcohol.  We displayed the most perfect, most beautiful centerpieces, asking local mothers for their childrens' stories, and we bought frames to secure them inside. We decorated pink and blue balloons and weighed them down with pink and blue drawstring bags and we walked around in shirts with their names on the back to remind everyone why we were there.

At the end of the night there was a number:  Twelve thousand six hundred and fifty-five dollars.   Every cent will meet the one hundred and forty local families whose dreams will end this year as ours did.  Silently and abruptly, in some foreign hospital room.  And when I think of all this money will do, and all it will touch, I can only admit that I've been wrong all this time.

Because there's a mother out there whose baby will receive a silver heart necklace to wear for the pictures she never saw coming.  There's a hospital bill to be halved and family counseling sessions that will happen that were otherwise unaffordable. There are cards in mailboxes for hearts that don't yet exist; open arms just bleeding to console and every fractional second of solace does not belong to us; it belongs to our babies. 

Perhaps your impact isn't so fixed.  And these traces of you that bring me to my knees, perhaps there's more to come. I see it now, and it helps.  I could send a thousand letters.  I could write the speeches, lift the fingers and the legs and the hearts but I won't accept the credit because it was never mine.

You touched every bit of it first.

Love,
Mom






 









 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



 







  

 






 









 
 
 

 


 
 
***Thank you for reading, and for helping to #shatterthestigma surrounding infertility, and pregnancy and infant loss.  Be sure to check out Jen's beautiful piece from yesterday on the importance of sharing our stories of loss and love, and don't miss Jennifer's post coming this Thursday!  Lastly, please be sure to share your own Walk of Remembrance photos on social media, using the hashtag #ShareWalk2016, and join us in lighting a candle in remembrance of those we have lost at 7pm on October 15th, using #WaveofLight #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness ***



Friday, September 2, 2016

Pressure Cooker.

Dear Josie,
 
My three pregnancies were not terribly unlike the progression of hot sauce choices at a Taco Bell:  "Mild", "Tragic", and "Are you insane?"    In that order. 
 
When I was pregnant with your older brother I never thought he could die.  It never occurred to me.  Not once.

During my ninth month, the amniotic fluid grew extremely low.  I remember my doctor saying that this was  fairly common;  that it could happen towards the end of a pregnancy and that we were going to watch it.   She told me to take it easy and to drink plenty of water.  It was the last month of school and I was in the process of moving in with your father, but I did my best. 

The week before his due date I had a normal check up.   There was your run-of-the-mill, uncomfortable cervical check and I was one centimeter, maybe.  I was told that an induction would occur no later than two weeks past my due date, which was June 8th.  I was satisfied.  "See you next week!" I beamed, hobbling away casually, with certainty.

"Hold on," my doctor stopped me.  "Aren't you scheduled for an ultrasound?"

In my blissful unawareness, I had actually forgotten that we were supposed to be checking my fluid levels.  I had forgotten this most important, most crucial thing, and had I continued walking out the door your brother would not be here today. 

Moments later, the ultrasound technician wiggled her wand across my belly. "Wow," her eyes widened.

"What?"  I was half sitting up now, finally concerned.  "Is it low?"

She looked at me.  "It's zero."

Needless to say, I was induced that afternoon.  And your older brother, my very first baby, was born the following morning,  June 3rd at 11:40am.  There were zero complications, save for some variable decelerations during my contractions, for which I was given an oxygen mask.  He was born kicking and screaming and indescribably beautiful, and we all passed him around happily.  I remember the doctor asking if I wanted to see the placenta.  I made a face and refused, slightly grossed out.  Your father made a joke about it later and I never gave it another thought until you died.

Now I wonder.

Had there been clots in his placenta, too?  Was that the reason for the low fluid?  Was I not part of the "common" few to whom this occasionally happened?  Was this a chronic thing for me?  For my pregnancies?
 
I was still naïve during my pregnancy with you, but not in a maddening way. More of my friends had become parents.  I had scanned "Google" a time or fifteen hundred in search of remedies for high fevers and strange rashes, stumbling upon several worst case scenarios accidentally.  I had read about fatal dresser accidents and deadly viruses and international cries for awareness.  I was aware that children died.  I knew that tragedy could strike, but it had never really touched me.  Never my child.

During my third pregnancy I was the opposite of naïve.  Of blissful.  Of anything resembling a normal, well adjusted, confident human being capable of taking anyone's word for anything. 

In nine months I researched every pregnancy acronym in existence.  AFI and AFP and HCG and NST.   IUGR and HELLP and FL and GD.   If someone told me everything "looked good" I never believed them, no matter the letters behind their name.  I worried about fluid levels sure, but I also worried about heart rate and head size, neurological response and cardiac acceleration.   I obsessed over fetal protein levels and adequate folic acid intake.  Cord circumference, flow, attachment and compression.  I worried about a sudden increase in blood glucose and fetal stroke and tripping on my way to the car.  There was no sanity.  Every minute was its own ,unique trauma. 

At my 34 week appointment the perinatologist noted a rise in my blood pressure.  "We'll see how you look at 36," he said.  "If it's high, we might consider a 37 week induction."

That night I convinced myself that your brother simply HAD to arrive at 37 weeks, if not to spare him from a sudden blood pressure spike or a lackluster placenta, then surely from a cord accident or a spontaneous abruption.  The morning of my appointment I ate a bag of peanuts.  I stopped at Quick Trip and bought a 44 ounce Pepsi, chugging the entire thing before pulling into the hospital parking lot.  I grabbed my purse, along with the heaviest item in the trunk of my car, which happened to be the teacher's edition of a Pearson Biology textbook.  Then I walked up the three flights of stairs to my doctor's office.  Twice. 

The nurse actually gasped when she took my blood pressure. 

"Oh," I offered, aloof. "Is it high?" 

"You could say that," she said, while calling the doctor. I smiled, visions of an abrupt hospital admission danced through my head, equipped with 24 hour monitoring and a baby by morning. 

The doctor entered and shrugged.  "What's all this about?" he joked.   As he began to take his own reading I grew concerned.

"Let's just give you a few minutes," he offered, calmly. "It could be your nerves."

Despite my best efforts, I could feel my heart begin to slow then.   It was almost as if he were willing it so; as though my plans were so transparent and he were directing my every lying, bulging artery to deflate.   The numbers fell quickly.  Within minutes we were in a semi-normal range, and when he reassuringly said, "Looks like we can make it to 38 after all!" I burst into tears, absolutely convinced  he had just handed your brother a death sentence. 

He offered me a tissue and gently placed his hands on my shoulders. "Your baby is very healthy, Nora," he said.  "Your baby is going to make it."

I could barely breathe.  "Maybe,"  I managed, looking up at him.  "But I won't."



Sometimes I wonder what people see when they look at him; how some must view him as a replacement or a band aid, although he is neither.    But I wonder if he shows them all he has taught me, namely how you can lose everything.  That you can be the saddest mother on the playground with the biggest broken heart, shattered even.  You can walk around in a constant, muggy awareness of what you have been denied, feeling every inch of all you'll never have; your life, the least desired and the most feared.  You can be so completely lost and still sense a gratitude that spans the skies; that you can touch the bottom and feel the top all at once.   
 
And you can be the most hapless soul; you can bury a child and still feel incredibly fortunate, incredibly blessed.  Lucky, even.

The luckiest.
 

Love,
Mom


 





Friday, August 26, 2016

On Grief and Assuming the Null.

Dear Josie,

Like a hideous, horned reptile that shoots poison from its pores, it seems my grief has evolved.  Recently I was talking with a friend about her future plans.   In my mind these words seem to repel each other now, future and plans, but not everyone feels the same.  This friend has two adorable children, one boy and one girl.  "It doesn't matter to me what the third one is," she assured me, smiling. "Although if I'm being honest, I'd want another girl.  Little girls are the best."

I silently choked on my wine, looked around to make sure no one had heard my heart breaking in two and then I waited.  Five minutes, then ten. She raised her glass and waved to a friend across the room and hugged me goodbye and I just stood there, as if my insides weren't combusting. 

The first year after you died these words would have killed me.  Okay not literally, but almost literally.   Girl.  Pink.  Ruffles.  Bow.  Little girl communion dresses and flower girls and teenage girls who take too many selfies.  Any combination would level me instantly.  I was nowhere near accepting that you'd died and every moment, every day, every person was its own, excruciating alarm.  Some were loud and domineering, blurring the successions of the day until everything spun and I could only see the pain.  Some were faint and haunting, like the background symphony in a horror film, only there was no hooded madman to fear.  My every breath was the nightmare.  For this reason, most commercials and billboards and checkout lines and pharmacies and restaurants and t ball games and movie theatres and playgrounds and classrooms and family dinners and malls were excruciating; however I was still somewhat fortunate.  Most everyone I knew was extremely careful with their words, for which I am eternally grateful.  I'm not sure exactly when that changed, but that has changed.

There are no "reminders" now.   I've accepted that you died.  I'm aware that if I live to be one hundred I will never, ever see you again.  I envision everything we'll never do together, exposing myself to some such things purposely,  my pathetic attempts to lessen the suspense.  But these days, the words hurt less.  To quote my extremely eloquent and bad ass friend Brooke, in recent months I've been fighting the urge to "claw off my face" for different reasons.  Suffice it to say that the phrase "little girls are the best" doesn't bother me as much as the fact that it was said to me by someone who knows about you; someone I consider a friend.  The same someone who called me after you died, and who sent me a card on your first birthday.  It was said as though we were discussing the weather.  Quickly and easily, with seemingly zero f*&cks  given as to how it might make me feel. 

In Biology we cover the Null Hypothesis.  We discuss its significance and we practice writing it thoroughly:  "The treatment will not work."  "There is no correlation."  "Everything remains the same."  My students always groan, eager to begin testing their alternatives but I must ask them to be patient.  Not only is it necessary to identify the null, we must assume it to be true. 
  
A dear friend of mine and co-worker lost her father nearly ten years ago.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, he was gone.  She was very close to him, and although it's been nearly a decade I'm still careful.  I watch my words around Father's Day and I don't elaborate on how much I love my dad over lunch.  I don't talk to her about father/daughter dances or how comforting my father's voice has always been, and I would never, ever say "Dads are the best" in her presence.  I don't do this because I think she is weak, or because I'm a good friend.  I am careful because I love her; because I assume it still hurts. 

You died.  You died on my watch, while still inside of my body.  I labored for thirteen hours.  I received an epidural and your father held my hand when it made me twitch and cringe and dry heave.  Everyone left the room but I couldn't sleep. I could only think of what was coming.  The most intense fear I've ever known, in the moments  just before I met you. 

Your skin was bruised and pale and warm, growing colder every second we held you. Your fingers and your toes were exactly your father's, only still.   The nurse cut the cord and they weighed you and they cleaned you and they wrapped you, as if you were alive but you were dead.  They placed you in the mobile crib and I stared at the light for the longest time.  Everyone around me was crying but I was still.  I felt absolutely nothing.  Never in my life have I experienced that before.  Absolutely nothing.

The next morning a nice lady took your pictures.  There was blood around your nose and she wiped it away gently.  She held your mouth closed and when I asked her if we should smile she began to cry. I wore a white, long sleeved shirt with "Budweiser" on the sleeve because it was what I'd slept in.  It was four days before I changed clothes.  After twenty minutes your father began to cry so hard that it scared me.  I called for the nurse and I kissed your hands.  She placed you in the cart and she wheeled you away.   It was the last time I saw you.

One month later I  poured your ashes into the ground through my fingers.   The Earth felt cold.  I dug as deeply as my hands would  allow.  I went home and played sidewalk chalk with your brother.  There was dirt beneath my thumbnail and I wondered how much of it was you.

This is the burden I carry.  I don't want my friend to take it on.  I pray she never understands what it's like to live in a world that will never satisfy.  I don't want her to feel that words like "living" or "healthy" are necessary when speaking in reference to her children.   I hope she never feels sad after a belly laugh or a messy toddler kiss.  I hope that when she watches her babies learn to walk and tie a shoe and cross multiply, that she only feels joy and not a guilt the size of an ocean, for the one who isn't there. 

But there is something I would ask of her, of the world.  With regards to the bereaved, can we just assume that although things have changed, things are also very much the same?  Because two years is a blip in a lifetime.  Every bit of it still hurts.  And besides, it's just good science.

Love,
Mom












Thursday, August 18, 2016

Please Help.

Dear Josie,

I received an email last week. 

Sometimes people email me about the blog.  A gentle hand reaching out from the loss life abyss.  A friend in an often desolate space.  Someone searching for meaning in something awful.  Someone who understands. 

This email was different from any I've received before.  It was from a mother who lost a little girl, just like me.  She sent it six hours after learning that her daughter had died.  She sent it from her hospital bed. 

This particular Thursday morning was like any other.  I hit the snooze three times.  I kissed your brothers goodbye and I left eight minutes later than planned.  My coffee went cold too fast and as I entered my dark classroom the silence paused me.  The stillness of a day not yet begun, and all the quiet, calming potential. 

I entered from hall duty and I exclaimed "Good Morning!" in a generic, singsong-y tone, which suggested I was more awake than I felt and which was met by 27 annoyed stares.  Our every other day department meeting came and went and as I sat down for lunch at 10:40am (my school starts at an ungodly, inhuman time, but I digress...) there it was, staring up at me.  Mixed in between the "Land of Nod" coupons and the J Crew flash sale updates.  As if it were benign.  As if I could scroll right past. 

And I guess the point is that it's easy to forget.  Easy for ME, even, to forget that it's still happening.  Someone out there is losing their baby.   Always.  Right now.  Tomorrow.   Someone's life is changing forever. 

The subject line read "Please Help", and so I opened it.  And there I was in my bright, noisy classroom, the kids dropping off their backpacks en route to the cafeteria.  But I was somewhere else, too.

I told her as much, and as little, because what can be said when all the words fail? 

I am with you, I said.  Climbing right there beside. Can you feel me?

Squeeze my hand when you feel like dying.  All the strength you will earn. 

My heart breaks with yours, now and every second after.  And every single piece you must leave behind, lay for all eternity, with pieces of me.

I am catching your wails from the walls.  Every tear, unto an experienced hand.  I am holding them close; they are mine. 


Love,
Mom 










Saturday, July 9, 2016

My Baby Died And What That Did To Me

Last week there was a dead squirrel in the road.  We pulled into the driveway and my six year old ran to see it, eager to show his grandfather who had pulled up just behind us. 

"Look!"  he exclaimed, to which his grandfather replied, "that squirrel is pretty dead," or something to that effect. 

My son shrugged.  "That's life," he said. 

And he's right, almost.  I've heard it a thousand times at least.  Death is a part of life, except for when it isn't. 

My daughter died before she was born.  One month before she was due to be born, to be exact.  She died in what many consider the safest possible place.  She died before any lesson she could have learned or any fault she might have owned.  She died before ever seeing her father's face, or knowing what anyone's hand felt like in hers.  She died before laughing, or crying, or smelling.   Death was not a part of her life, death came before it.

I know that there are people who believe I should be normal now.  Less distant perhaps, or happier, and believe me I'm trying.  But I would urge those who feel that grieving a baby you've never known must certainly be overcome-able, to focus on the mere act of something I had to do when I was only 29. 

The morning she arrived I was angry at her father because he was afraid to hold her.  "I'm not sure I can," were his exact words. I rolled my eyes and I scoffed and I said, "You're going to have to," as if he were a five year old and I was telling him to fold the laundry.  As if we were at home in our living room.  As though he shouldn't have been scared.

What I didn't tell him then was that I was scared, too.  Terrified.  For twelve hours I stared at the belly I had grown beneath my hospital gown and I wondered if I could hold what was inside.  Shaking and knowing but only half believing and nowhere near accepting that she was really gone. 

What I couldn't know was what it would do to me. 

Sometimes I cry in really happy places.  Wedding receptions.  Parades.  Bachelorette parties.  During a child's recital or a Pharrell Williams song.  Group outings are overwhelming and isolating and exhausting.  I have little patience for long lines and deadlines and spilled milk.  I have trouble remembering things like play dates and half days.  I rarely return phone calls.  I used to be productive, motivated; now I snap, so quickly defeated.  There is an argument about the dishes and I completely shut down, retreating to my room.  My loving husband always follows, asks what many probably do and what I often ask myself, "What's wrong?"  But they shouldn't have to ask and I shouldn't have to say it out loud, because it's actually pretty simple.

My baby died.

I watched as he held her first.  How he cried for her, wailing and loud and haunting words I can barely type to this day without crying myself.  "Oh, my girl.  Oh, my little girl."  How he pressed his head to her chest as his was heaving, and I looked out the window and I thought how?  How will we ever leave this room? 

I am not here today to tell you how that happened.  How I somehow summoned the strength required  to push my legs to the side of the bed and stumble onto the cold marble floor.  Into the silent elevator and back to the house that would forever be the home she wouldn't know.  Eventually, returning to work and making copies and assigning detentions.  That is a logical sequence of events that can be proven and documented and are cemented in time. Instead, I am here today to explain how I'm still there.

Of course we physically left the hospital, the following day without her.  It was two hundred steps to the parking lot and twenty minutes home.  One month of awful reality television and choking down catered fruit.  But in the two years since that morning there is something I have realized.  When you hold your dead child in your arms, I'm not sure you ever really go.  In many ways, we've never left that room.

The other day I came upon her ashes, the ones I'd saved when we buried her.  We were unpacking and cleaning and dancing, I moved a box and there they were.  Sticking out from beneath a manila envelope, digging claws into my chest like that morning.  A love and a pain I will never forget.

Although it had been a good day, exciting even, and although it was two years later I could only cry.  Lay down in my new house and cry, because she should still be here.  Because my baby died. 

I see death in the most peaceful things now.  When their eyes are closed they resemble her most, to me, above all else.  I wonder who she'd have been on the playground, what her footsteps would sound like on the hardwood.  Sometimes, I can feel her waving from the backseat. 

And no matter the days that pass I won't forget her.  Can't pretend she didn't happen, because I held her.  Because she was mine. 

Sometimes I feel it's something I should disclose the moment I meet someone.  Shake their hand and  kick start the painful and awkward conversation that is typically avoided at all costs by many, and even sometimes by me. 

How much simpler life might be if they knew I wasn't avoiding them because I was rude; that my distance wasn't hurtful, if that honesty were inherent.  If I could always say and they could always understand to please, please be patient with me.   I'm not mean.   I'm not crazy. 

My baby died.
























Friday, June 24, 2016

Scaling Back.

Dear Josie,

I figured out why I hate love running.  It's the only thing on this Earth that comes close to what this life without you feels like.

It's hard.  Like really hard, every time and I always want to stop.  In the beginning I could make it around our block once and then twice and then a mile and then two, and then three.  There was a lot of labored breathing at first, then gradually longer intervals of respite.  Finding my rhythm is a task that's become easier and familiar on the pavement.  There have been bouts of physical anguish where I didn't want to continue. People stare and sometimes honk, (Seriously?  How is near death attractive?) and when I make it home I always feel accomplished.  Like I could have stopped but didn't.  Like it could have killed me but it hasn't. Yet.

Apparently this is no new revelation.  This is why most runners like to run, actually.  The sense of accomplishment, the mental perseverance.  I was talking with a longtime runner friend recently about my new hobby and she was like, "Um, yeah that's why everyone runs."

The weight loss is an added bonus.  The other day I went to Target to buy a scale.  I'd noticed my clothes fitting a tad looser but I wanted to see just how much I'd lost since March.  When I got home the scale didn't work, so after trying several brands of AAA batteries I went back for an exchange. In my rush to make it home before dinner, I must have foregone my normal Target detour  because I quickly found myself walking aimlessly through the little girls' clothing section, a land that I typically bypass at all costs.   I became aware as I passed a particularly adorable denim romper, but it was too late.  The anger inside me of was already growing, but it wasn't about the scale, as my mental conversation took flight...

"Pink is dumb.  Splatter paint leggings are dumb.  Why didn't this fucking scale work?  I miss you I miss you I miss you."

By the time I'd  reached my desired location the tears had pooled in my eyes like welcomed relatives on the porch, long overdue for a visit.  I tried to politely wipe them away but there were too many, so I kind of just knelt there for a minute and cried.  I'm sure it looked like I was crying about some failed weight loss plan, next to the scales on the wall there but of course I wasn't.  I was crying because my daughter died two years ago and because there is no parting of the seas for my kind.  Pink will always be a color.  Father/daughter dances will always happen, and there will always be adorable polka dotted swimsuits with pink and navy strings, potentially on the way to the bathroom appliance section. 

Eventually the tears subsided, and so I grabbed the twenty dollar scale and I headed back to the front of the store, through the little girls' section on purpose because I wanted to.  Because there were cute splatter paint leggings that my goddaughter might like, and because it felt like running.

Love,
Mom