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.