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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Dear Mother

Dear Mother,

I'm so sorry you're here.  I don't mean the logistics of "here", of course.  Right now, wherever you are:  the hospital, their closet, your bathroom floor.

I mean everywhere. Everything you must do and all of the space you will occupy without your child, whatever and wherever that is, for the rest of your life.

I wish I could promise you some epiphany, years later, to make this part easier.  The reality is that at this moment there is so much you cannot know, because you can't yet see beyond the wall, or the rug, or the cold tile on your cheek.  At this moment you cannot fathom a tomorrow, or maybe you don't want to and that's okay.  The first lesson is that it comes, just the same.

Right now, death is a shock to your system. It is jarring and unwelcome and not yet familiar. Death arrived in an unremarkable afternoon.  And you dug in and you said no, and you begged and you begged and you begged, but it took everything from the most capable of arms, anyway.

Right now you are the stuff of nightmares: an open, festering wound and many will treat you accordingly.  You aren't yet accustomed to the stares or the questions, but you will bear them anyway.  In morning drop off lines and pharmacy parking lots and over iced coffee that Sunday you felt brave.  They'll tell you that you're strong and you will smile but it will feel foreign, like the sun on your face.  And you will go home and yell out in your sleep.  And you will read autopsy reports in your garage, fingers bleeding over daggers on the paper.  And every day will feel like a robbery, or like rubbing your heart on sandpaper, but you don't stop because you're her mother, and because you promised her you wouldn't. 

Right now you can't know that there are friends who will disappoint you; that some of the faces behind you now, won't be there in five years when you turn around.  Some will have left you in a showy spectacle, arms flailing and words like stone to flesh.  Even more will have shuffled out quietly, behind years of unrequited text messages, awkward barbecues and unfollow buttons.  Right now you can't see them parting gradually, subtly, as if you wouldn't notice.  But you'll notice, dear mother.  You will feel every one. 

And right now you cannot know that there are harder days ahead.  Days where the bruising has faded but the love has not.  Days where they forget but you remember, because you will always remember.  And on these days you will say no.  "No" to the meeting and "No" to the toy aisle and "No" to the kind stranger who asks.  And on these days you will cry.  And on these days you will beg for one more...  Chance.  Photo.  Second.  And on these days, four-year-olds on escalators will bring you to your knees.  

But right now you cannot know that you'll survive it. 

...That there are those who got up from the floor; and those who will show you how.

That there are people who stay.  People with hearts like the sky, even when you're distant and dramatic and scary.  There are people who will show up and who will love you and who will stay.  And stay and stay and stay.  

That somehow, despite all you've lost, your hands will still crave connection and your eyes will still search the light, even from the darkest of closets. 

That death will offer you what it can:  abruption and isolation and finality.  Dreams of black and blue and traumatic firsthand...

And then you will stand up, and you will take so much more.  


Monday, July 16, 2018

Comedown Town

There's this sense of euphoria when you have a baby.  The moments that surround are intense, dripping relief and astonishment and brand new.  The air is humid; ripe with the hope of what's to come. You forget what you saw on the news last night.  Or maybe you don't, but for some reason it now feels farther away; overcome-able.  Everyone's voice is an octave above and their hands a sternum below, cradling this person you just made, just met, if you let them.

When you have a baby after you've lost a baby, this scenario isn't the same.  The room still holds that same joy, and maybe even those same curtains.  Their faces still greet you with a smile, and your heart still holds all that hope, all that relief.  It's just that now it holds her also, even though you cannot. And now, now you never forget the news. 

Last week I made the trek into the basement, passing the boxes and boxes of childrens' clothes and college clothes and maternity clothes.  I cringed at the dust atop the Christmas decorations and the discarded, forgotten toys someone once had to have.  And then I opened the box I never open if I can help it.  The one I first closed after my first daughter died. 

I still can't believe I used to be that person.  The one who buys the same outfit in three different colors for the baby who isn't yet here.  Light purple jellies for the summer and pink corduroy vests for January.  Leopard printed moccasins and pristine, hand knit rompers with red bows on the collar and a lone denim jacket that would have fit her for a week, and that cost me as long to afford.

I always thought she'd wear them.  And then, when she died I thought, someone will.  Someday.  And then I wrapped them all in plastic and I cursed the duct tape over the lid and I pushed it back.  Far out of view and out of mind so as not to have to see.

And aside from a few close friends and family members who've had baby girls in recent years, my plan of indecision has mostly worked.  Every so often I would make the same trek, barely opening  and  half looking and reluctantly holding up.  And I would mutter to myself about this one suiting that one or how she would want me to, and then I would close the lid and be back on the stairs in the same breath.

This time was different. 

This time I couldn't stop them.  My hands as they opened and my fingers as they traced. This time, even when my chest heaved and my head fell and even when they called me from upstairs, they kept  searching, pulling, holding.  And soon there it was all in front of me.  Every thread
and slipper.  Every consignment sale and every glittery package I'd opened and every line I'd endured with that belly, that baby.  My baby.  And I couldn't not see it anymore.

So much of this life now is deciding which hurts less.

When your oldest asks you if this baby will die too, do you nod in agreement when others say "absolutely not", or do you tell him the truth?  That we are doing everything we can.  That it is very unlikely.  That we hope not, but maybe. 

Do you attend the baby shower; grit your teeth through the diaper explosion games and talk of impending sleepless nights as though they are a certainty?  Or do you send a gift in the mail to the friend who stopped calling, stopped asking, years ago?

And when you have another baby, and another, do you open the box?  Do you lift the lid, ever so slightly?  Do you make the trip down the stairs and back, cry half the decade's worth of tears you swore you'd used up long ago and then wipe them in time for dinner?

And then, after the dishes, do you return in the dark?  Lay them all before you again, with a steady hand?

Pick them up one by one, carry them in these same arms that yearn to hold her, still?

To the stairs and then the closet.  

Do you pull them out in the morning light, and do you slip them then, ever so lovingly and ever so longingly, over chubby legs whose kicks bring you to life?  

In short, somehow.  Yes.

You do.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Oh, Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where is her chart?"  

"Why was she scanned?"

"Lay back farther."

"Turn on your right."

"How far along is she?"

And I heard someone say 38.  

38 weeks.

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

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

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

"Is that baby okay?"  I asked her. 

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

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

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

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

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

I stopped crying.  

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

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

(N) S T

So, sleep is pretty elusive lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I have. 

Friday, February 23, 2018


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

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

"So Mommy," he says. 

"It's a song about you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's for her," I say. 

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

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sweet Disposition

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

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

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

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

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

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