Tuesday, December 8, 2009

lessons in tea

the day i went to the airport to pick up my mother was the day that i expected to have to finalize the physical loss of my baby. i sat in the barren LAX cell phone waiting lot in my car and listened to a sermon that my beloved sister had sent me: her pastor had just delivered it that Sunday, and it was on grief. it was short, heartfelt, full of truth, and gave me much to think about.
one of the illustrations he used, from the great author and literary critic C.S. Lewis*, was so vivid that i spun my little iPod wheel back several times to listen to it repeatedly: grief, he said, is like a steaming hot cup of tea. if you drink it too fast, you will scald and scar yourself. you must sip it, slowly, but you must finish the whole cup. and in the slow sipping of your grief, as with tea, there is comfort.
i remember sitting in the car, planes roaring overhead, crying as i remembered the raging ferocity of the grief that followed losing Isabela, and knowing that the grey numbness of waiting for the end of this Tummymuffin was about to give way to the same storm. and so in the following days, filled with blood and pain and sorrow (but balanced with comfort, warmth, and blessing), i thought a lot about my cup of grief tea. i think the metaphor extends itself in several ways.
first, you can’t put off the drinking of the grief tea. i think just as Lewis says it’s dangerous to try to gulp the whole boiling cup down at once, it’s just as dangerous to push it away, refusing to drink. the point is that one way or another, you must finish the cup. better you do it of your own volition while it’s fresh, than wait too long and discover that you’re having a years-old, scummed-over, rotted cup of grief tea forced down your throat by circumstance, another person, or even your own subconscious needs. sip the hot tea now – and it may take a long, long time to finish your cup – but do it before the comfort and healing in the drinking has evaporated, coagulating into some horrid apparition that will haunt you.
next, no one else can drink my tea for me. i cannot pass it off to anyone else to finish. especially not my husband; he’s got his own mug of grief tea to work on. and besides, it’s a completely different flavour than mine. our teas have been brewed in different pots, at different strengths, from very different leaves. he will not grieve like me; i must not expect that. nor must he be afraid of my grief; he should not think that i will ever push my cup at him, wanting him to take a sip.
however – and this is, i believe, the most important part of my extended tea metaphor – he can sit with me, each of us clutching our own steamy mug, and we can sip together. just as in real, non-metaphor life, while sometimes it’s cozy to have a hot cup of tea or coffee by yourself, there’s something almost ritually powerful about sharing hot beverages with friends and loved ones (you never say “meet me for a glass of water!” or “please come over for juice!”). and so yes, there is something also extraordinarily soul-affirming in having someone sit with you, mugs of grief tea steaming in one hand, the other holding yours.
right now, as i write, i’m sitting at my table, sipping a cup of very tangible, non-metaphorical tea. it was one of many thoughtful items in a “box of love” recently sent to me by a precious friend, for comfort and cheer. as i’ve been drinking it (needing its realness next to me to help pull this whole tea metaphor together), i’ve thought of her compassion for me every time i catch a whiff of the delicious vanilla aroma -- but i also think of the losses she’s suffered. and so here we are, physically thousands of miles apart, but somehow sitting side-by-side, finding comfort in the sipping of our sometimes bottomless-seeming cups of grief tea – together.
my friends and loved ones, whether your losses are old or new, if you ever need a companion for tea time, please let me know. i would love to sit with you. thanks for sipping with me.

*i've since learned that the original tea metaphor might or might not come from a slim book called A Grief Observed, which Lewis wrote after his wife died. my dear friend gave me a copy and i hope to start reading it soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

blood and silk

i remember last time the blood; dear God there was so much blood, and this time was no different. 
only it was different; let's just say that having to induce your own miscarriage does not exactly rank in anyone’s list of top 10 fun things to do. but it avoided the need for a D&C, and i did have excellent care; my mother’s presence was such a blessing and a comfort, and i am forever thankful that she dropped everything and just came. it is not something to do when alone. it was not easy; there was a lot of cramping and contractions and of course, the blood.
assuming most of the eyes on this blog are female (and apologies to those that are not!), i can safely say that we’ve all been used to seeing our own blood for many years, since that first momentous period. we finally got to use those pads that had been sitting in the hall closet for so long, those neatly wrapped packages that were like tickets out of girlhood into the mysterious world of women. it was only later that we realized menstruation was nothing to get excited about, and that every month Auntie Flo, or The Visitor, or whatever we called it would force us to rearrange whole parts of our lives to accommodate that cycle. and so somehow, with physical maturity that came long before any sort of other maturity, we first learned that blood was an inescapable part of our identity as women.
i am realizing again that this loss also is an inescapable part of that identity, and not just as part of this wise and strong community of so many women – and those that love them -- who remember their lost children long after others have forgotten them. it is also that these babies are literally part of me now, since in both cases, my body took most of them back, leaving behind to be expelled only that which nourished them for the short time they took over my body.
somehow both of my children are part of my wholeness -- yes, my wholeness -- because who i am authentically must include these losses. this is why i decided that i would never lie to people who ask if i have children; i have said yes, we had one but she didn’t make it; we remain hopeful for another. this weekend i found myself now saying yes, we had two, but they were lost and we remain hopeful. a few people don’t know what to do with this; they never considered that this was a possible answer to their innocuous question. but i have found that the vast majority of responses have been: i’m sorry, i understand; my second baby was stillborn, or my wife had three miscarriages between our living kids, or my nephew was lost at 21 weeks. and then we all remember our lost children together and it’s absolutely not tragic; see, that is the miracle, always there is a brightness and grace in the memory of a tiny person you loved being spoken back into a moment of existence.
of course i am grieving, and grieving hard. i’d like to write more on that later, but for now it is enough to say that i still believe in grace, which is as strong and delicate as spider’s silk.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

dreaming kelp

i found this lovely poem about lost children before i even knew i'd lose this Tummymuffin too. these last few days i've thought of the tiny body, before my body reclaimed it, as a dreaming kelp, serene and graceful, full of promise.

my love does stay, where now almost nothing is left.

by Sharon Olds

Most of us are never conceived.
Many of us are never born --
we live in a private ocean for hours,
weeks, with our extra or missing limbs,
or holding our poor second head,
growing from our chest, in our arms. And many of us,
sea-fruit on its stem, dreaming kelp
and whelk, are culled in our early months.
And some who are born live only for minutes,
others for two, or for three, summers,
or four, and when they go, everything
goes -- the earth, the firmament --
and love stays, where nothing is, and seeks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Week Ten - Again

i've returned all the maternity library books...again.
i've filed away the "congrats on your pregnancy" cards...again.
i am putting away all the bigger bras and looser pants in the plastic bin...again.
i'm getting out the tampons/pads/ovulation strips/etc....again.
i'm back to kickboxing, surfing, and all the other physical stuff i couldn't do...again.
i'm drinking wine and eating sushi...again.
i've lost a baby...again.
there are a lot of things that are happening again; it's painful to have to re-live some experiences from the last time i got to Week 10 and had to say goodbye to a child of mine. at the same time, as horrible as it is to go through this a second time, there are a lot less surprises. there's a lot that i can expect, and i'm thankful for that. and there are some marvelous "agains" as well:
i'm receiving the most wonderful notes of encouragement from loved ones...again.
i'm finding out how incredible my husband is...again.
i'm discovering that our marriage can withstand things like this...again.
i'm healing in the company of good friendship and laughter...again.
i'm so surrounded by your prayers and love that feel so strong...again.
there's also a lot that is different about this time around. as i said in the last post, when i lost our first, Isabela, it was swift and unexpected, and i felt like i was losing someone i'd already started to get to know. with this one, it has been all foreboding and waiting and quietness. i don't know when i lost this Tummymuffin; i will never know how much of him or her developed before he or she went silent and my body started to take him or her back. and this endgame won't be quite as physically easy; because of how much time has passed, i have been advised by all the medical professionals who have treated me, including my TCM doctor, that i will have to use medical intervention. since everyone involved is trying to avoid a D&C, this means that tomorrow i will have to dose myself with a synthetic prostaglandin called misoprostol and induce the miscarriage.
this is a big, big "Not In Category of Again;" i have no experience with this, and while i have some idea of what to expect (which is not pleasant, so i'm not dwelling on it), every woman is different, so there is no guarantee of how this process will go. in a surprise twist, my mother has decided to get on a plane and fly out here and be with me through the experience, since Thomas won't be able to stay at home. i am nervous, but thankful.
thanks to all of you for standing by me through this storm...again.

*subsequent edit to post: since some readers are finding this blog to be an information resource about dealing with all aspects of miscarriage, including physical, i've written a detailed description of my experience with using misoprostol (Cytotec) to complete a miscarriage. you can find it here. i hope that it will help other women who have to go through a very sad and painful experience. my heart is with you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Week Nine - Limbo

am i really pregnant?
i'm used to the low-level nausea, the feeling that i just did three shots of Nyquil, the ridiculously sore yet alarmingly plump breasts, the stunning burps that just rip out of me whenever they want...in other words, physically, i'm still pregnant. but if the baby i carry is no longer a living embryo, then who -- or what -- am i pregnant with?
the diagnosis is that Tummymuffin stopped developing some time ago, and that it is only a matter of time before my body figures this out and expels what is left. sorry to be clinical about it, but i think it's easier to put it in these terms; i am still trying to wrap my head around this and it's not simple at all. as i am not willing, at this point, to use medical intervention to hasten this process, i am now in this bizarre limbo, waiting for the end instead of a beginning.
this is very different from when i lost Isabela; she always felt so alive and glowing to me -- i felt her presence inside and when i saw her shape and heartbeat on that first ultrasound, it wasn't really a surprise, as i'd somehow pictured her already. i think that's why choosing a name and personifying her as a real child, and a girl, was easy; she'd been with me for those weeks. her loss was a swift and shocking surprise; totally unexpected -- but i was thankful i'd known her for at least a short time.
but this? this is utterly confusing. i'm already mourning the loss of a baby i never really got to know. i'm around the same number of weeks as i was with our first, but there is a heartbreaking, panicky void as to who this second one was. i constantly wonder when Tummymuffin actually left me. and i constantly try not to think about what that answer could be. it makes me wonder if i ever had a Tummymuffin at all. was our confirmed hope & expectation of a child enough to actually "make" a real one? if the space between pure physicality and metaphysical existence is what we call "life," then it's a bigger, greyer, messier space than i realised.
i think what i'm most pregnant with right now is sadness.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

to leave such a mark

remember how i talked about that liminal space between sleep & waking, where my crazy monkey brain is quieter, so it's easier to hear Truth? it was a hard dose of that yesterday morning when, as i was floating up through the layers of muzzy consciousness to awaken, i heard clearly: please don't stop loving your baby.
my eyes flew open and filled with tears: it's true, ever since the last ultrasound i've begun to detatch myself. i haven't been chatting with Tummymuffin like i usually do, i stopped looking at the daily pregnancy journal, and i've been building a cold and careful wall around my heart.
i know what the stakes are. with Isabela, i naively and blessedly had no fear of losing her, so my love for her never wavered. even though it made losing her so painful, it also made having her so real. i've known that struggling with love for this Tummymuffin might be a challenge, from the first moment i saw the pink double lines on my 99¢ pregs test. but i had no idea how easy it would be for me to go into You Might Get Hurt Again Begin Shut Down Process.
as i lay in bed, quiet, listening, i realised that i have two options if i continue to shut down: 1) Tummymuffin is just fine, and i will look back on this time of uncertainty with regret, because i lost out on those days with my child. 2) Tummymuffin may not be fine, and i will look back on this time of uncertainty with regret, because i lost out on the last days of being with my child. as is usually His nature, yet again, God is right: i need to stay engaged, present; yes, i need to love my baby.
if i had any doubts, the last few days of messages of encouragement and hope from you all have convinced me that i must remain open to giving -- and especially to receiving -- love. after all, this is what Bono (and I) sang a few nights ago: Only love, only love can leave such a mark/
But only love, only love can heal such a scar.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Week Eight - Confused

this post was going to be so many things. i was going to talk about coming full circle, about how i took my last work trip to Italy and lit two candles this time in the Basilica, one for Isabela and one for Tummymuffin. i was going to be amusing about the amount of gas i have and how i feel like a jet-propelled Muffin Oven sometimes. and i was going to more widely ask for the community's involvement and announce the news. and maybe at some point, i will.
but then we went for a second ultrasound -- the first one was scheduled too early due to a clerical error. and this one showed...irregularities. basically, Tummymuffin is too small and hard to find for an 8-week-old. so i have to have blood work done next week to find out what is going on. it could be as simple as another date miscalculation. but given what happened last time, it is hard to trust and be at peace; to reject the destructive worry and fear. i just have to wait and hope...and i've gotten a lot of practice with that over the last year.
i'm sorry this isn't more chipper but life isn't straightforward, and i've always tried to be honest in this space. so that's what's happening right now, and i hope to have better news with the next post. and then i can talk about all those other things, and maybe even tell you about the adventure of taking Tummymuffin to hear U2 play in Las Vegas.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Week Seven - Anticipation

part of me still can’t believe that i’m actually, finally typing a header that begins with the word “week.” yes, it’s true: after much learning, healing, hoping, praying, and of course, trying: we have another Tummymuffin.
i’ll give you (and me) a moment now.
hopefully, your moment was all rejoicing; mine mostly is too, but honestly, there’s a wide streak of anxiety too. i know this is completely normal no matter how many pregnancies and deliveries a woman’s had; every new one comes with its own batch of worries. but i’m not surprised that the pregnancy after a miscarriage has its own unique brand of apprehension, no matter how trusting or serene i try to be.
i’m not trying to put a damper on the (very genuine) excitement; it’s just that when i decided to continue this blog after losing Isabela in week 10, there didn’t seem to be any reason to sugarcoat anything. so in the same vein of forthrightness, i want to be honest about my feelings and thoughts. i wish i still had the same giddy innocence i did with the first pregnancy, but instead i find myself filling out a pregnancy journal with the clenched little fist of defiant hope, with marking a due date being now an act of faith.
when i told Thomas and we both held one another and alternately giggled and cried and laughed and freaked out and smiled, i told him that i was disappointed to not be “more excited.” luckily, because the fabulous Muffin Daddy is a surprisingly intuitive sort of guy, he correctly interpreted that i meant “more full of joyous wide-eyed wonder about a small life growing inside me but alas, i’m not so wide-eyed anymore.” he wisely pointed out that we need to let others’ joy and excitement feed and nourish our own, and that we should probably call our parents sooner than later.
i’ve wrestled with how and when to start announcing the news to people and i’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what happens, i need the support and love that i’ve experienced from this community. i absolutely am certain that i could not have made it through losing the last baby without you all; i am also certain that i may not make it through the experience of gaining this one without you either. or as a dear friend put it: the number of people knowing or not knowing isn’t going to control the outcome of this pregnancy…except as it pertains to the amount of support it provides. she’s right.
i guess that’s my request this week: i welcome your delight and happiness because i need it. it is too easy to let whispers of fear begin with this Tummymuffin, and i refuse to let the mind games get the better of us. i find that your pleasure in our good news has been a wave of encouragement that has made it easier for me to embrace this pregnancy as wholeheartedly as the last one.
so, welcome back if it’s been awhile since you’ve been reading this, or thanks for staying with me through all the twists and turns, if you’re one of the three people (i know there are more of you, but i get a little daunted if i think about that) following along this whole last year. my vision for this blog is the same as last time: to shamelessly ask for the knowledge and input of all you wise women who i’ve come to be so deeply grateful for. click here for the original entry giving instructions on leaving comments. also, please feel free to share the news/blog with any of our mutual friends; i know i’ll eventually get around to telling people, but i think it’ll be harder for me to drum up the same enthusiasm for sending mass e-mails out!
thanks in advance for doing this journey with me…again.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

faith hope love

recently, my husband Thomas asked me where in my cycle i was, and if i dread it when the expected day of beginning my period gets closer. i thought about it and was bemusedly glad to honestly say no -- i don't dread it, i still take the chance of feeling hopeful every month, right up until the moment of red truth.
dreaming about things doesn't come easily to me. i have a hard time visualizing a future that i would like. i even have difficulty daydreaming about concrete things that i know will happen; for example, fantasizing about an upcoming vacation. so this persistence of hope, month after month, isn't exactly in my personality.
sometimes in the early morning, when i'm in that liminal space between true wakefulness and deep sleep, i find myself asking God about things because i think i can hear Him better when my brain isn't being so noisy about mundane things, or so sure of itself. so i puzzled: why do i have this hopefulness? why am i not "shielding" myself from disappointment by being my usual pragmatic self?
and i heard: because this is the strength I give you, child. I am near you in the bleeding and in the not-bleeding, whichever may come. you have faith, and you have love, so I'm helping you out with the hope. don't question it. draw your strength from it.
so. it seems the more i hope for what i do not yet have, the more i find myself grateful for what i already possess. the "greatest of these" may be love, but for now, and for me, it's hope.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

mea corpus

i didn't choose her. she's the only one i get to have. without her, i wouldn't really even exist. i spend immense amounts of time, money, and effort on her. many of my daily decisions revolve around her, and even when my control over her is compromised, she does everything possible to maintain herself. i suppose you could say that yes, i do love her. i am most certainly thankful for her. she's been with me since before i took my first breath, and will stay with me until my last.
i'm talking, of course, about my body: my corporeal, physical self. i could easily describe her; she's truly the blend of her earthly creators: like her Chinese mother, she's always been on the petite side and prefers Asian food, and like her Caucasian father, she's light in coloring and burns through that food pretty quickly. She likes being outdoors, having her heart worked out thoroughly, and can handle tropical heat but never snow. She has a few scars from accidents, got started on adolescence relatively late, doesn't have all her teeth (but you'd never guess), and functions best on 9 hours of sleep a night (not so practical). She likes adrenaline, has a curved spine and green eyes, and prefers to use her right side for physical tasks.
i've lived with her for more than thirty years, and although our relationship has been tumultuous at times, it is nothing compared to the people i know who have to negotiate with their bodies to function through chronic illness or other physical disability. i am often acutely grateful for her and how well she's held up. sometimes i feel like i early on made a deal with her: i will not abuse you with terrible substances or irresponsible choices, and you will let me make you strong and able to withstand strenuous but healthy usage. this deal has worked out pretty well.
i'm writing about this because i've been thinking a lot about my body lately. despite my intimate knowledge of her -- her likes and dislikes, her quirks and demands, her outward appearance -- she remains a complete mystery to me on the inside. i have never seen a meal digested nor a synapse fire. i've never witnessed the flood of hormones that are released when she's pulled into the arms of the man who loves her. and of course i have not been privy to whatever it is that has kept her from being able to have a child.
after a fair amount of thought and prayer, i've begun a course of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) which include acupuncture and extensive use of herbs. the approach is holistic -- recognising the connections of mind and body -- and there is a part of me that trusts it more than the Western approach to having me come in only when something is "wrong" and then guessing how to fix it. i realise this is a simplistic view of things, and i am still under the care of my usual physician, but i felt that maximising my healthiness, both emotional and physical, was something i needed to do. because i have to give my doctor detailed reports about changes i observe, i've become even more acutely aware than usual regarding the fragile little package of carbon and water that is me.
i know i've been speaking in a somewhat detached manner about my body but i don't see "myself" as separate from her; i guess i've just been more frustrated lately about my inability to know and understand what is going on, unseen, under all this flesh and bone. and every month, the cycle of hope and guessing begins again. sometimes i long for translucent skin, like i could become a glass-bottomed boat. i want to see what is going on in there; i would like to see if my modifications of food/drink intake is doing anything; i want to see to where the blood flows; i'd love to see the moment my monthly ovulation occurs; i've seen it once in a documentary and it was amazing. but it's more than that. i want to ask my body questions; i want her to show me why today i was so hungry or what her endocrine system was up to that she felt so ebullient (or sluggish, or whatever) for no apparent reason or what her left middle trapezius is all irritated about. and every month when the cycle of hope, guessing, and then the bleeding again happens, i want ask her what happened in there that a new life didn't begin. but only she and her Creator knows. and ultimately, it's not in my control. i can just do the best i can to take care of her.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

our ocean farewell

some of you have asked about our little ceremony we had on Isabela's due date -- here are some photos from that day. we got up early, went to the ocean, and paddled out beyond the break. Thomas had made a lei of flowers, which we cut apart and scattered on the waves. we said goodbye, watched the flowers float away, and surfed for awhile. it was very healing, and even a joyful time. especially meaningful was that also, there in the waves, Thomas also gave me a beautiful necklace with quite a backstory from Rome to commemorate the day.

since then, i have felt a sort of slow dissolve of the hard spiky stone called grief that always seemed to be rattling around inside my heart. yes, i still have some days where the sadness or disappointment is more keen -- and i know i always will carry that spiky stone -- but i would like to believe that it will be easier for me to choose hope as the stronger emotion as i heal and move forward.
we thank you for the incredible outpouring of love and support that you have shown us -- you are truly conduits of God's compassion.

Monday, July 6, 2009


today should have been the birthday of a very dear friend, Kathy, a co-worker and kindred spirit who in many ways helped me become the woman i am now. she nurtured me in this wacky career, laughed and cried with me when both were needed -- and there was a LOT of laughing -- and emboldened me to believe in myself and my own strength, and championed the spirit of adventure with which we faced life.
less than three weeks after I lost Isabela, Kathy was suddenly killed in a ridiculous, senseless car wreck. i was still so raw from the baby's death, and my desperate grief for them both became inextricably tangled up together. because i had to be the mistress of ceremonies for Kathy's memorial service, i couldn't really experience the loss properly, as my whole job was to keep it together so other people could fall apart. (yeah, i know, my default mode.)
but anyway, it's just been recently that i have tried to start working through the knotwork of Kathy's death. as i said, she was hugely influential in my early career, and she inspired me by example to pursue being a spirited, happy, independent, adventurous woman who drew strength from her faith and her community. she was full of life and compassion, and no one expected her -- of all people! to be taken so swiftly and without warning. it was a horrible shock when she was killed.
but someone -- i think one of her best friends -- said at her memorial service: "what if Kathy's life's purpose had be served? what if all she was here to do had been done? and so she could go?" "now," said the speaker, "no one here may agree that it was time for her to go because we all still want her in our lives. but even if it is cruel for us and we will miss her more in the coming months than we even know today, perhaps there is some comfort in thinking that she left life with a purpose fulfilled."
and so i have been thinking: what if Isabela Eva had a purpose and she needed only 10 weeks of life to accomplish it? if so, what is that purpose? and am i fully exploring the growth i am to have from it? already she has brought to me a community of support and love from both expected and unexpected places. she has facilitated what i hope will be a more authentic relationship with my family. she has shown me how resilient i am, and how strong my marriage actually is. she has let me see the incredible strength and character of her father, my husband. and she has shown me that indeed, the love and compassion of the God i follow is very very strong, and always close.
perhaps this way of thinking, which is some comfort now, will not always be so. but for now, as i try to ignore the ache of empty arms, it brings some semblance of order and blessing to me and makes me take inventory of all that there is to be grateful for. and it helps me think of Isabela as a real part of my ongoing life, not someone i will have to leave behind in hazy memory.
besides, i know Kathy would tell me to stand strong and honest and keep living fully and loving more. and then, with a hug, she'd say "suck it up and smile, girl!"
i will -- but i still miss them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Isabela Eva Bertling

we would like to announce the name of our first child, Isabela Eva Bertling. for reasons we will never know or fully understand, we are not meeting her today, her due date, as we hoped we would. but we want to recognise her as a child we would have loved, and give her an identity that makes her a part of our family.
the name Isabela is the Italian variant of Elisabeth, which means "consecrated/pledged to God," or "promise of God." it is an Italian name, because that is where she resides in spirit and memory (see this post), and that is where she spent some of the first weeks of her short life in the womb. in addition, Elisabeth is the middle name of both her fraternal grandmother, Sabine Elisabeth Bertling, and her maternal great-grandmother, Anne Elizabeth Gieschen.
the name Eva was the English name of Yu-Ying Eva Chan, her maternal great-grandmother, who left this earth one week before Isabela Eva did. when we lost our baby, there was comfort in the image of Eva Chan already there in heaven to welcome and hold her when she arrived. Eva Chan, who is also missed, was an incredible woman of courage, faith, and fierce love. and more importantly, the name Eva is still carried by Isabela Eva's maternal grandmother, Nancy Eva Gieschen.

Isabela Eva Bertling, we hope to meet you someday. in the meantime, we will remember you, and we do consecrate you into the hands of a loving creator God. thank you for what you have given to us in your short life.

Friday, June 19, 2009

no hiding

here i am, in the month i was supposed to finally meet Tummymuffin. i would be a week away from my due date right about now. just when i think i'm fine, the latent pockets of grief make themselves known; i almost didn't want to celebrate my birthday this week just because i felt so emotionally tired, and not even in an overt way, which makes it even weirder to deal with. seeing my social lethargy as a bad warning sign, i invited a whole bunch of people to come to my backyard throughout the day to have a cupcake or two with me. it was a success, and i realised how relieved and happy i was to be with people. i'm glad i was proactive; i want to keep moving forward and not hide out.
there's other posts brewing in the near future, but for now i just want to avoid isolation and accept that there are mostly good days but sometimes it still hurts a lot. in a week, on what would have been the due date, we are planning to give Tummymuffin a name because she needs to have her own place in our family. more importantly, the name "Tummymuffin" needs to be freed up for whoever we hope her brother or sister will be in the future. we're still trying, and hoping, and praying. for awhile, i was really hesitant about naming her; i guess it takes some courage to really call her a real child and recognise her as our first.
in some ways, i wonder if after the due date passes, i will sense an end to this "emotional pregnancy" and i'll feel differently. for any of you out there still reading who have dealt with a pregnancy loss, what did you do on/around your due date, and did things change?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

i would like to love you

we had always hoped they'd have a child first.
when T's brother called with the news that they were expecting, we were so happy. due to various reasons, we'd always hoped they'd have the first grandbaby, that they'd experience parenthood ahead of us. and honestly, when T told me, i felt a wave of relief: now it can be our turn, i thought; now i am free to become pregnant. and then i was, a few months later. and then i was not, a few months after that.
we always were happy for C & K. that did not change at all for me when we lost Tummymuffin. i sort of focused on "at least there is still a baby coming for the T's side of the family." it was while i was in that ancient stone convent in the mountains of Abruzzo that he arrived. it was the day after my epic battle to finally let Tummymuffin go that my little nephew came into the world -- a different baby with the same family name on his wrist. i was happy and devastated at the same time and it was utterly confusing. at first, i couldn't look at the photos of him without sobbing. then i went into a sort of numbness about him; he was a baby 6000 miles (9650km) away with no relation to me. T's brother called: will you be his godparents also? he asked, in a gesture of trust and love between brothers that was nothing short of historic. i continued to feel strange. i didn't feel like an aunt, or a godmother, or anything.
actually, what i did feel was just weirdness, weirdness and strange guilt and the disappointment of being cheated again out of loving a baby. i simply wanted to be happy for them and happy for us that we have a nephew, but of course you can't parse the complex messy reality of emotions into neat categories. i felt full of apology: i'm sorry, Baby B, you won't have a cousin right away; i'm sorry mother-in-law, you can't come to the doctor's office and see the ultrasound and come back to America in July; i'm sorry Mommy, you aren't the one who gets to be a grandmother. and i'm so sorry, T, my beloved husband, you won't be holding your own child in just a few months' time. i don't know why i felt so apologetic towards other people's phantom losses, but maybe that was a natural part of accepting that Tummymuffin wouldn't be coming back, ever.
we planned a trip for late May; Baby B would be three months old and we needed to meet him and spend some time with C & K. when i would picture myself holding him i would start to shake and cry silently. this is not good, i told myself. i put a photo of him on our refrigerator and would talk to it. hallo, Baby B, i'd say. Ich bin deine Tante, und ich möchte dich zu lieben. i'm your auntie, and i would like to love you. this helped. a little. i tried not to panic as the date of departure came and went.

i am here to tell you that Baby B is, of course, adorable. he's big for his age, over 7 kilos (almost 16 lbs)! much to his parents' amazement. he gurgles and grabs your finger like a lifeline and burrows his head into your shoulder and snuffles around. in other words, he's like any other baby. but unlike any other baby, this one will hopefully be part of our lives for a long, long time. this one bridges unseen gaps in the family; gives us a rallying point for our disparate lives, and brings us together in our love for this little drooling person.
i can't say it was easy meeting him. watching T hold him, spin him around, cuddle him wasn't initially emotion-free. feeling how easily he fit into the groove of my baby-holding woman hips, how instinctively i could calm him, breathing in the smell of the top of his head -- that wasn't so easy either. but it was easy to pleasure in the astonished joy of the parents, to take ownership of the love for him that is mine by familial right, to choose to step into this delicate new network of connection.
i'm still sorting through the whole experience; i've had to ask myself how honest this reaction is -- for some reason i thought i would possibly find more painfulness than i'm letting on to. maybe i will as i continue to pray and journal and talk through it with T. or maybe i'll be surprised that i can hold on to this tenuous feeling of happiness for a baby; it tells me that i am getting better at not playing the Let's Compare Everything to Your Loss Game, in which i am always the loser. the truth is that some days are better than others, but isn't that life in general?
welcome to the family, Baby B. now i'm not the newest B in the family anymore.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

mother's day

it's Mother's Day today, one of several "land mine" events that i've been expecting. notice i didn't say "dreading" -- one of the best bits of advice i received right after the miscarriage was my counselor telling me i must separate grief from fear. he meant that i needed to experience my grief in a pure way, recognising the loss of a baby and a dream, but not let it get clouded by fear of never getting pregnant again or fear of more miscarriages or fear that this will crush me beyond repair. i think i took that advice and extended it beyond that, thinking of the scriptural wisdom that says love has in it no element of fear; but perfect love drives away fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (I John 4:18) i have been so surrounded by love that it has indeed chased fear away many times, and i know that i'm not being "punished" for anything.
fear is a liar, a confuser, and a cheater. fear keeps you isolated in your pain because even as you slog your way through anger, confusion, and sadness, fear blinds you from seeing the love that's running beside you that cheers for you, prays for you, brings you meals, listens to you, energizes you. grief is the hardest work i may have ever done, but because of love, i've learned i can stomp straight into the pain without fear, stare it down, own it -- and survive.
so i can't "dread" mother's day. i don't dread talking about this, even if sometimes it's still hard to articulate things and not terribly comfortable. i never really knew what "peace in the storm" meant until now: when the devastation beats at you, but you find refuge in a peace that makes you defiant. i think i had the wrong idea about peace before this -- peace was a word that connoted quietness, softness, gentleness. now i know that it, along with love, is sturdy and strong; it keeps me standing up, shaking my little fist, refusing to hide. it feels good to get to today and find myself with this attitude, wanting to move on, but not wanting to sweep things under the rug and pretend it's all fine. it's been six months of learning and healing, one day at a time.
so happy Mother's Day to all of you mothers -- and especially to those of you who have lost children in whatever way. may you be able to remember them today in love, without fear, and feel a defiant peace.

Friday, May 1, 2009

letting go, or why visits to Tummymuffin will always include gelato

i’m writing this from the belly of a plane hurtling towards Los Angeles from Zurich, Switzerland. we're currently flying over Iceland. i've just finished a whirlwind two-week job in Sweden, Italy, and England, and it occurs to me that one thing that came to me at the same time as Tummymuffin is this renaissance of travelling for me. it is a gift -- but more about that later. maybe i'll split this into a few posts.
heck, i don't even know if anyone is even following this anymore, but it is worthwhile to me to try to make sense of the months that have flown by -- i've stayed unbelievably busy since the beginning of the year, which is an enormous blessing for a freelancer in the middle of a worldwide economic toilet flush. i have tried to stay honest, not hiding in work or activity, but part of that honesty is also admitting that the structure to my days has been helpful. if i am alone too much with my own thoughts and not enough to do, i find myself growing melancholy and falling into old fears and anxieties. but the last post, about the receding of the grief into the background, and how i deliberately pull part of me out of the moment to observe myself, still holds true. overall, i feel more healed as time goes by, but there is also the knowledge that this permanent part of my story will never entirely lose its sting.

i was newly pregnant when i took what i thought was my "last hurrah" work trip to Italy. it was in Umbria, and later in Rome, that i first "felt" pregnant, that the magic and joy and hope and wonder first hit. it was too early for me to be terrified of parenting. i was just amazed at how i felt, how it was incredible to have this secret light inside me, how in some ways i didn't miss Thomas as much because i felt i was carrying a part of him with me. the last day in Rome, i walked to an ancient little church that is by the Colosseum, called Basilica di San Clemente -- it is the site of one of the first house churches in Rome, and has an ancient heritage of worship. under a spectacularly beautiful mosaic of twelve sheep gathered around one Jesus sheep, in front of a surprisingly tasteful painting of Mary the mother with a Holy Spirit dove, i lit a candle and gave thanks for the miracle of Tummymuffin. the day before, people had been partying in the streets over the election of America's first non-white president, and everyone was in a happy mood. i was so full of hope, so full of gratitude.
now, one of the things that helped me deal with the loss of Tummymuffin in the first few weeks was the idea that if her body just wasn't up to living outside of me, maybe she just went back for a retrofit -- that i had lost a sort of beta Tummymuffin and after a good redesign, i might meet her after all. please understand that neither Thomas nor i believe at all in reincarnation, but somehow this idea was comforting. (our counselor points out that Thomas telling me this idea is not surprising, since he is truly a designer, and that's exactly how designers think. Thomas has since confirmed that this is true.) it allowed us to come to grips with the reality of what had happened without having to really say goodbye.

in February, i returned to Italy with the same job. the company was happy with how things went in November, and asked me to come back for another shoot. this time we went to Abruzzo* and Rome, and it was fully winter. high in the Apennine Mountains, town after incredible medieval town nestled in the dips and valleys give a sense of timelessness and serenity. we stayed in a converted old convent from the 1500s, a cavernous stone structure where the cold from the constant snow settled on you like a damp cloak. it was not the easiest place to be fighting through my last stubborn attempts to hold on to someone that was gone.
*if Abruzzo sounds familiar to you, this is because that is where the massive earthquake a few weeks ago devastated Italy. in fact, there are several towns we shot in that literally no longer exist. all the friends we made there are physically okay but two of them lost homes.
it was hard for me to say yes to this job because Italy and Tummymuffin are very emotionally connected. but i knew that i could do healing here and let go in a way that i could not at home...and i was right. i got my period in the middle of a shoot, on Valentine's Day, and there, looking at the valley from the old walls of Caporciano, the truth hit me like a ton of bricks: i had been secretly hoping i would be pregnant again, in Italy. seeing the blood made it utterly real: history is not going to repeat itself; Tummymuffin is not coming back. she is gone, and she is not coming back. i had to have a good, solid cry that night in the shower (always an excellent place to bawl your head off) and really come to grips with accepting that Tummymuffin 2.0 will be a brother or sister but not ever Tummymuffin 1.0. while it was comforting for awhile to think of it the "designer's way," i knew i will not be ready for 2.0 until i accept that i lost a real, individual child.
and so, a few days later, back in Rome, i retraced my steps to the same church. there in the Basilica di San Clemente, under that gorgeous mosaic, i lit another candle for my Tummymuffin, and let go. i left her there. it took me a long, long time to actually be able to physically leave that sanctuary, but i realised: here i am, still full of hope and gratitude. and Tummymuffin is still a miracle. when i finally could stagger out of that lovely layers-of-history church, i felt like i'd just had an amputation of my heart -- but i felt free.

since then, back at home in Los Angeles, whenever i have thought of her, my mind flies over the oceans and she is there in Rome, in this small ancient lovely church under the compassionate gaze of a Jesus Sheep, her candle always burning. i visited her this trip as well, during my all-too-short day in a city that i no longer feel like much of a tourist in (agenda: eat local gelato, go to a tiny jewelry boutique, visit Tummymuffin). she's at peace. to a certain extent, so am i.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

at least it doesn't live here anymore

yesterday my boss’ family showed up on set; it was the weekend and the oldest girl “wanted to see her Daddy.” i’ve know my boss for years, and his wife is a friend. she became pregnant with their third very close to the time i became un-pregnant. now, my profession means i generally work with a lot of men, so i’m not around a lot of women, much less pregnant ones. thus, seeing my friend’s -- my boss’ wife’s – belly, it suddenly hit me: Erika, this is what you’d look like right now. as i prepped some microphones, i thought: i don’t want to be prepping mics anymore; i want to be driving my kids somewhere because they want to see their Daddy. only i guess it was a pretty powerful thought, since i was surprised to hear myself say it out loud. then i started to cry.
i know that i am making progress towards the resolution of my grief; in fact, i did a lot of work last month on the letting go, which i would like to post about later. but i realized with quite the shock that the reason i knew i’ve moved forward is because when the pain came, it was fresh and raw. in other words, it wasn’t a resident pain surfacing; it was an oddly familiar, clearly identifiable ache that felt like it invaded me for an unpleasant visit. slipping into pure observer mode, i stepped outside myself and thought: huh! i know this pain! who knew it would have such a distinctive feel? well, at least i’m not swimming in constant sorrow anymore! and then i popped back into being the participant in my own life: damn, this is a nasty feeling!
i hid out for the rest of my shift; walking home i was tempted to give in to a storm of tears, but the me-observer noticed that this would take up all the energy i was going to use for driving up to Pasadena to have dinner with my mother-in-law, and thus really quite a waste. when the participant came back, she was fierce and defiant: the time for falling to pieces is past. i have no illusions that i’ll ever “get over” the loss of Tummymuffin; many of you wise women have taught me that. but the season of unmitigated howling is over; i have begun the healing and to let myself dissolve now is to disrespect that. certainly there will be many more tears shed, but the difference is that i no longer feel like i need to be dragged back from the abyss. the pain isn't a psycho roommate anymore who steals my stuff and invades my privacy -- it's more of an unwanted visitor that stops by and stinks up my living room. of course, i haven’t gotten through Mother’s Day or Tummymuffin’s due date yet… but see, that’s why i think this emotional work now is so important. i want to be able to walk into those dates without dread or fear or shrinking back; i want to live those dates with choiceful recognition of our loss, but with hope for the future and gratitude for the present.

Friday, January 30, 2009

talking about it

it's been two months now since we lost Tummymuffin, and in that time, i have been amazed at the number of women i know who have gone through a pregnancy loss -- but i never knew until now. miscarriage is a strange thing; it's not written on your body visibly somewhere that you lost a child, so until you choose to speak about it, it is a spiky little secret that lodges uncomfortably in your heart. i do not think this is a good thing.
while no one wants to be "the woman who lost a baby," i don't think that talking about it makes it a primary part of your identity. of course each case is unique, each grief is unique. but overall, i am so thankful for the women who have been choosing to tell me about it because i understand, viscerally, that i am now part of a community. you can tell me miscarriage is alarmingly common, but i felt so cut off in my pain for awhile. i appreciate the people who reached out to me, or who gladly welcomed my requests for help, and used their own past sadness to help heal both me and themselves at the same time.
i had an awkward situation at work recently, where sitting at a table with mostly married/with kids people, i was asked if i wanted children. i've found that the pain of loss lurks well below the surface these days, but it can surprise me with how quickly it can bob to the top. i was like a deer in the headlights -- i just said "yes." then someone asked when. still shellshocked by how hard that spiky secret twisted inside, i just said "as soon as possible." so when someone else asked if i'd keep working, and people started to tell me how great having kids was, i had to excuse myself before falling to pieces. these were all innocent questions with genuine care behnd them -- these are people i've known for awhile -- but they have no idea what happened. and i had no idea what to say.
so after a conversation with my wise and compassionate husband, i have decided -- now that i've been able to think about it and plan for the next time it happens, because it will - that i will be honest about my experience. i will say that i have already had a child, but she was lost before she could be born, and that we are still happy and hopeful about having another baby as soon as God allows. i don't want to make anyone feel bad, but i don't think this approach does that. it doesn't punish the asker for an honest question -- and for all i know, they may have gone through this too.
Tummymuffin was a real child, and not a figment of my imagination. i need to acknowledge her.


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