Tuesday, December 14, 2010

i'm not dreaming

currently, i’m not feeling like my days are merry or bright.
of course saying this makes me want to list about nineteen gabillion things that i’m grateful for, or that are bringing happiness to my life, or that do provide candles of warmth in an otherwise grey misty landscape. but i won’t. i already know that at my core, i have joy woven into my soul by my Creator that, well, compels me to make that list of nineteen gabillion things. this slow, stifling sadness is an alien and disturbing thing that is not part of who i am. and yet it sits within me, like a heavy sticky ball of unresolved goo that makes me sluggish and weary.
the holidays are not the easiest time; i went through these last few weeks thinking: finally, a Thanksgiving with no dead babies! if that sounds morbid and shocking, perhaps it’s supposed to be; to wake me up from this creeping suffocation. i lost both of my children around this time, a year apart, and while i’m relieved to be going into Christmas without feeling like i just buried part of my shredded heart, this also means i’m staring down the long, murky road of infertility. i was officially there awhile ago, given my “advanced maternal age,” but now i am long past when any woman with my – on paper – excellent health supposedly should have become pregnant again. at least the holidays that featured child loss meant that the grief was hot and pure and spiky and sharp; it kept me defiant of despair and awake enough to pursue healing. i don’t know what to do with this amorphous sorrow; it oozes and drips and makes my grief shadowy and elusive. i don’t know from one moment to the next if it’s that i miss my babies, or that i cannot seem to get pregnant, or that my dreams of family now seem ludicrous, or if it’s my secret devastation that my husband is still not a father.
as each month with a normal cycle blends into the next, i have found that somewhere along the series of 28-day lines i slowly stopped believing. first i gave up thinking that i’d ever have a normal, healthy child. then i stopped thinking i’d ever carry to term and have a live birth. and now i realise i’ve even let go of thinking i'll ever be pregnant again. these all now seem to be mildly interesting events that happen to other people. i’m trying to figure out now if loss of belief means loss of faith, and if loss of faith thus means loss of hope.
i think not yet. i still have faith that my story will unfold with the timing it is supposed to. i still have hope that answers for how we will add to our family will become clear. but i admit, here and now, although it is like another tiny death, that i do not still believe. at least not today.
i am, however, open to the possibilities of tomorrow.

Friday, December 10, 2010

thanks, Elizabeth

words of wisdom from a woman who will be missed:

"If you know someone who has lost a child, and you're afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died -- you're not reminding them. They didn't forget they died. What you're reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift."

-Elizabeth Edwards (3 July 1949- 7 Dec. 2010)

Friday, October 15, 2010

oct 15th: national pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day

today is October 15th: National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
each year, somewhere around one million pregnancies in America alone end all too soon: in miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a newborn child.


October was designated, over 20 years ago, as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. this day, the middle of the month, was finally designated 2 years ago as a remembrance day to bring comfort, healing and unity to parents (and their family & friends) who have suffered a pregnancy or infant loss. many observe it by lighting a candle from 7-8pm their local time, knowing that many around the world are doing so and feeling less alone in their grief.

the point of October 15th is that it allows parents to openly remember their loss, and to have their loss recognised, without any shame or apology. too often, they aren't even comfortable identifying themselves as "parents" if they have no living children. however, they have experienced the love and hope for a child just the same, even if it was for too short a time, and the lives of those children are just as significant and meaningful than if they had been born.

pregnancy loss is so often kept as a tragic secret, because society is not only uncomfortable with grief, but also confused as to how to reach out and offer support. many are hesitant to acknowledge the loss because they're afraid they might cause more pain by doing so. on the contrary, a parent who's lost a child probably thinks of them often, and any remembrance of that child is appreciated and treasured, especially because they only live on in memory. when you are courageous enough to come alongside someone who is grieving and put your arm around them -- literally or figuratively -- you are giving them invaluable gifts: knowledge that they're not doing this alone, empathy in their pain, and hope for the future.

so today, if you or someone you love has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or newborn death, please don't be afraid to remember and recognize the loss, and offer comfort and unity to those whose hearts need healing. thanks.



Saturday, September 18, 2010

grey

somehow, in the early grey morning hours, i feel more untethered to responsibility and rationality. i suppose this is true for most humans; this is why we have rituals like Lauds or Fajr. it's different from those nights when i can't sleep, eyes searching the ceiling in the grainy darkness, my beloved husband breathing evenly into my shoulder, me wanting my brain to just shut up already. no, in the mornings, that is the difference; it is quiet and all that is there is a morass of emotion. gratefulness struggles against sorrow for purchase; contentment and fear jockey for position. i'm learning to let it all sort of wash around and over and through me; i have no one to question my tears and/or laughter when i'm alone so why hide them? as much as i love U2, Bono is still a man, and when he sings "always pain before the child is born...why the dark before the dawn?" i think he misses it. the pain is part of the birth and cannot be separated. the dark is integral to the dawn.
soon it will be a year since i last carried life within me; too long for the doctors to be happy about it and long enough for me to wonder when one just walks away from a dream. how do you know when it's time? when do you know the door is shut? what is the dividing line between "being steadfast in hope" and being delusional with false expectations?
i don't know the answer to that. my last round of tests led my OB/GYN to declare somewhat hilariously that "it is a fine uterus so far." that's lovely, but it's not my uterus that feels beaten down and exhausted from the constant mental wrangling that goes on, when not a day goes by that i don't either think of my lost children or my deferred hopes, or worst, the empty arms of my husband. it's not just my dreams that feel shaky.
when i was first trying to get pregnant, and it wasn't happening, i was horrified by the prospect of becoming That Woman, the one who gets all obsessed with her cycle and cries every period and starts hating sex since it's not making babies and resenting other people's children. after losing both Isabela and Tim, i was horrified by the prospect of becoming That Other Woman, the one who falls into deep depression after miscarriage and becomes a shell of herself, emotionally abandoning her husband and friends for her memory-zombie babies. neither has happened, but the evil ghosts of both of them float at the edges of my consciousness, reminding me how bad it can get. just the fact that i got to spend a lot of time in radiology having strange machines and people prod around my ladyparts was practically a seance, inviting them to both come jeer at me for being unable to just normally have a baby, for heaven's sake. thank God, no really, thank you God for good friends and a supportive husband who never let those bitches get too close.
recently, i met a woman who has a two-year-old and is pregnant with her fourth...she lost two children between her son and the little girl she's carrying now. she was compassionate, and talked to me about how when you do have a healthy pregnancy, it is possible to let go of the anxiety and see your pregnancies as separate events, and be able to find joy in those 40 weeks again. she told me she wished that she had known earlier that infertility and pregnancy loss are every bit as much of the process of building a family as getting pregnant and having babies is. i couldn't stop thinking about that: accepting this as part of the journey towards family -- not as delays or derailings of that journey -- is a much truer, more realistic viewpoint, especially with miscarriage being as devastatingly common as it is.
anyone who has suffered tragedy, pain, and loss will tell you that they find it astonishing that life just kept moving on after such catastrophe. it does though, and if you try to get over grief or through it or past it, you will be stuck. those same people will tell you that grief has no expiration date. so for now, i am just accepting that i have already come a long, long way on my journey, and that the Grief Kitty will come with me and that is alright. (have i written about my Grief Kitty? no? then i'll have to do that sometime) on this road to family, i might see others speed past me in luxury vehicles, but i might also pass others who don't even have shoes. when i watch the dawning grey turn to clear light, i will take my sustenance from all that i do have, and shall not dwell on what i do not.

Friday, July 30, 2010

normal

this last month, i kid you not, i have gotten a bajillion million baby birth announcement things. okay, maybe one or two less than that. but still. this is the right time of my life for that; my peers are happily baby-fying and that is totally normal.
the problem here is that N-word. yeah, i said it, "normal." i sort of alluded to this in my last post, but i've been thinking a lot more about it lately. it's a weird little piece of semantics; on one hand it implies that You Too can be part of a big group of ordinary folk; on the other, it indicates that You Are A Freak O' Nature because nothing normal happens to you or for you.
the last nine months i have watched someone in close proximity to me get normally pregnant; have a normal, healthy first pregnancy, filled with normal joy & anticipation & innocence; go normally into labour; and finally, have a normal, natural live childbirth resulting in a normal healthy baby. i have felt often that i am clearly living in a parallel universe because what seems so normal over there is totally shocking! breathtaking! astounding! over here. other people in that parallel normal place you know, just get pregnant and have babies and are happy. in my version of normal, it is a struggle to get pregnant and then maybe you're actually not going to have any babies, and you will cry a lot, and if you actually do get pregnant on your own and actually do deliver a real live healthy child then it will be A TOTAL EXTRAORDINARY JAW-DROPPING MIRACLE for heaven's sake.
of course, any normal mother will tell you every single one of her kids is a total extraordinary jaw-dropping miracle, right?
i guess i am normal after all...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

kapelle

in the days before men thought they could tame the wild earth, a Roman warrior, weary of the hard dirt underneath his dusty feet, came upon a place by the mighty river where the banks were high and safe from floods. recognizing its potential for safety and respite, he ordered a camp built there for him and his five hundred men.
one thousand years later, in times when men had begun to cut and harness and mold the earth for their own use, a man crowned both king and emperor, desiring to honor God and himself too, ordered a massive cathedral to be constructed in that same place; he too wanted it to be high and safe from the water. and so red sandstone was carved from the nearby mountains, and ferried down a channel built from that mighty river Rhine.
a few kilometers away, where the fields spread lush and fertile around the roads leading to the growing city, a unknown man, probably a farmer, also began to build, but only for the honor of God. he finished far earlier than did the king and emperor; the tiny chapel was simply a roofed shrine that sheltered any offerings or lit candles that a worshiper might leave. perhaps many a weary traveler to and from the great city, a seat of power both earthly and spiritual, stopped at the tiny chapel and offered quiet prayers.
over the slow sweep of the years, the cathedral saw the power of the bishops give way to the power of free citizens. it saw the Reformation course through the country, and was the birthplace of Protestantism, when angry princes wrote a letter there and sealed the great schism that divides houses of worship even to this day. emperors were buried within her walls; the rulers of that city changed again and again; there were military occupations by most neighboring countries, and even a full annexation. and as one century passed into the next, there was burning and destruction and wars and rebuilding and new life and peace…and she saw it all.
did the wee roadside chapel, perhaps a miniscule cousin to the gigantic cathedral, know any of this? they share the same ancient age, but what does a little shrine know of power or might? no, the small chapel knows only of individual stories; she hears the single prayers of lonely pilgrims or thankful farmers or frightened children. under her humble roof she stores the hopes and wishes of simple men and women.
this coming year, in these digital miracle times when men have almost forgotten their need for the earth, the Speyer Cathedral will celebrate 950 years of consecration with festivals, art exhibits, and special services. somehow, all these centuries and restorations later, she still stands with her red sandstone walls, marking time as a tourist attraction, a cultural symbol, a historical monument, a tomb of emperors, and a house of God.
and somehow, the little roadside chapel still stands too – although no one knows how old her walls are anymore since no one knows what was rebuilt and restored when. all that is known is it has always been a sacred place for as long as can be remembered, that it has always been a local landmark for the people of the small towns whose main road leads past it, and those people have always taken care of it. as it stands now, it is still simply a roofed shrine, with wrought iron gates protecting the altar inside with its flowers and candles. the key to the gates is kept by a neighbourhood woman that everyone knows, who got the key from the last person to live in the house across the small stream from the tiny chapel. and ever since my husband grew up in the house next to the keeper of the key, that kapelle has been a part of his visual landscape.
it was only natural, then, that when the day came to pass that our second child would have been born, he spoke to the lady with the key. he told her why we wanted the gates opened, and that morning she met us there with not only the key, but also a candle, although we’d brought our own. and there in the cool shaded stone of that old, hallowed place, we lit our candle for Tim and lit her candle for Isabela since we had it and we held each other and cried and prayed and grieved and loved and kept breathing.
later that summer night, when it seemed to stay grey-blue dusk forever, i walked to the corner again. before i even crossed the street to the chapel, i could already see the twin flames dancing together, flickering like dancing stars between the curving bars of the iron gate. i thought of other candles: the ones I had left over my several visits to that ancient church in Rome, first in thanks for Isabela’s life growing within me, and then in farewell to her, and finally, one for her and one for the second life that i would discover in the months to come would end before i knew him. despite the tears streaming down my face, i had to laugh: my children seem to have quite the taste for historied, time-honored, sacred places.
in a few days, as happens every summer, there will be a candlelight procession that winds through the neighbourhood to the tiny chapel, in honor of something --perhaps a patron saint? – but it doesn’t really matter; it is a tradition that may be as old as the chapel. people will laugh and sing and bring their children, who will play as the adults eat their picnic dinners and drink the sweet local wine together. and as the long twilight deepens into darkness, all those candles will stay lit at the kapelle, glowing hope and love into the summer night, for weary travelers everywhere.

- this is for Tim, who i never really knew. your father gave you your name.

Monday, May 31, 2010

the "w." not the "s."

tomorrow my second child Would be born.

oddly, i am able to write that without flinching; perhaps because it's a truth i've lived with for the past months, all those months i would have been growing him -- or was it her? i'll never know; it was only a flutter of intuition that i say "him." i never really knew him like i think i knew Isabela; the only thing i was sure of was that this baby was quiet. too quiet. and i found out why all too soon.
i also say "Would," not "Should." that "W" makes a big difference; who am i to say what Should and Should Not be? i decided a long time ago that when it comes to things in my life i cannot control -- which is to say most things -- that i would rather trust the Author of my life who knows all the pages and twists of my story, than try to do the Choose Your Own Adventure thing. (i mean, usually with those you end up being thrown in a hole or killed by pirates or eaten by sharks or worst, stuck in an endless loop. you know this is true.) can i honestly shake my fist at the heavens and demand that i Should be a mother of two? that i Should know why this is happening? or that i Should not have to bear this grief? or that my beloved husband Should be a father?
ah, this is what makes me come undone these days; the fear that he'll never hold his own child, never see his own eyes looking back at him, that he won't ever hear a little voice call him Daddy. currently we're in Germany; this weekend was the baptism of our nephew, who also happens to be our godson, and it was indeed a joyful occasion. i was quite fine the whole time; somehow "my nephew" has become a completely separate concept from "my nephew who doesn't have a cousin his age." i've never felt it was somehow unfair or upsetting that Thomas' brother has a child and we don't; as i've written here before, we always wanted them to be first with the family thing. but yesterday, before we said goodbye, Thomas scooped his little nephew into his arms to bundle him into the car. the small one gurgled and laughed and patted Thomas' face and was such the picture of pure joy & love that i thought i might never breathe again. it's no surprise to me that kids like my husband; this was one of the many charming and wonderful traits i observed in him long before we were ever married. but somehow seeing him with his own blood family, with a child in his arms that has the same big blue eyes and ready smile, cut far too close to the bone. Thomas says the most painful thing about losing our babies isn't so much missing them, it's watching me bear the grief of it. although sometimes i wonder how true that is; however, i would no sooner question the shape of his scars than i would want him to challenge mine. meanwhile, we can only hold onto each other while we grow in our trust and love, like green ivy and an old brick wall; soon it is indistinguishable what is holding the other up, where one begins and the other ends.
some days are better than others; i've found bigger windows and more fresh air lately, i'd like to think. i have plenty of time where i feel content in my already-rich life and can live with the reality of what has happened. or not happened. i feel the deep-down peace that comes from being able to live with the Future Unknown and i can accept that life occurs in very short increments, and that Today Is Good.
and then some days the fear is too much and it overwhelms with its icy grasp; like my fears about my husband not being a father or when i feel like i'm seriously running out of time when i see my birthday quickly approaching. or when i realise that i may actually not really believe that i will ever get pregnant again, let alone have a successful pregnancy, let alone have a healthy child. these days it seems to me that normal baby-havings is something that happens to Other People; i recently went to a baby shower where i was "incognito" (no one knew I'd had pregnancy losses), and i was slightly astonished to find that i had the same feeling i experience on the first day of exploring a new country i'm visiting: being the fascinated foreigner in an exotic land.

i have no idea what we're going to do tomorrow to recognise the child we Would have had. not Should have had. i can only believe that if we Should have had either or both of them, right now she'd be crying for a diaper change or he would be kicking his way into exit position. but that is not to be. so it is and always will be the "W," not the "S."
i have no idea if there is anything we can do to confirm personhood upon someone that i will never be able to have memories of. this time i have had no names come to me, no real grasp of who Tummymuffin II was, or Would have been. it's so different from last time, but still the crushing sadness is the same. how is it that my hopes and dreams were just as unformed and nascent as he was, and yet now that they are gone along with him, the void they leave is so enormous and defined?
how is it that you can miss so desperately someone you never knew?

Monday, March 29, 2010

no medals

anyone who has struggled with pregnancy issues -- infertility, miscarriage, etc. -- will tell you that every month or so it's the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics of Mental Gymnastics. there are several events: maybe you're a ribbon twirler who wants to stay positive, and you let yourself hope that This Time is going to be it...and then your cycle starts, right on time. or maybe you're the more stoic balance beam walker who just gets up there and puts the tampons in your purse around day 27 and expects another round of disappointment because that way you can concentrate on Just Not Falling. or maybe the whole thing has worn you down so much that you just wish desperately you could just dismount and forget it and stop counting days...but you just can't, compulsively spinning around and around the very uneven bars of your sanity.
there are no medals awarded in these events. there's no real audience because generally all this sweat and blood and tears takes place in the very private confines of a woman's heart, mind, and body. sometimes partners or friends are clued into what's going on, but generally the monthly heartbreak is downplayed, hidden, and pushed aside for the demands of everyday life. even Olympians have to pay bills, especially when Wheaties is most certainly not endorsing you.

well, i fell off the balance beam completely, and i think i might have a concussion.

i actually, mercifully, didn't even notice how late i was until i was well into I Guess I Better Pee On The Stick territory. yet somehow, even as the dumb stick was, uh, marinating, i somehow knew that there would only be one line showing when i looked at it. and sure enough, that afternoon, the blood came in very full force. i was surprised to find, as i sat there under the balance beam, dizzy and head aching from my fall, that i was angry. not at anyone or anything in particular, just plain angry.
i was glad i had an appointment with my TCM doctor towards the end of the day, as she has been so supportive and trustworthy, and has really helped me stay at peace with my body. i was totally unprepared for her response though: "i think you conceived again." she said. "i think you conceived but it just didn't implant. i can't confirm anything, of course, but when i last treated you, your hormones were strong and high and i suspected something might be happening." she continued to explain this period would be especially heavy, the treatment she'd give for that, and to encourage me to see this as a positive: that if it's true i conceived again, it's a "step closer" and that my body is still healthy and fertile. before she left the room, she hugged me and said she was sorry -- and more or less implied that while all this is "normal" physiological stuff, it's certainly not emotionally easy.
as i lay there in the darkness, body bristling with acupuncture needles, i cried and cried. and i knew why i was so angry. it wasn't so much that the tiny window of hope had opened a crack and then slammed shut. it was that i realised that the damn window is not only miniscule, it is filthy and painted shut with the big sloppy letters F-E-A-R. fear of having no more pregnancies. fear of having another pregnancy with all the ways the next baby could quietly leave me before i ever know him or her. fear of having a pregnancy with complications or loss farther into the baby's gestation. fear of actually making it to a live birth and then losing the child soon after.
as the needles did their healing work, and i drifted into half-sleep, half-wakefulness, i started to understand maybe that window isn't supposed to get cleaned or pried open. i have to accept that my innocence is polluted. hope is no longer fresh, naïve, and sparkling. i won't ever feel the clear exhilaration of a positive pregnancy test again. the purity of excitement that we had with Isabela is not going to be repeated. i will never be able to wildly and freely dream about a future child without it being tempered by the knowledge that life is never guaranteed. the grime and dripping letters are a part of my story and a reality i cannot try to scrub away or pretend isn't there.
almost a year ago, the first Mother's Day after Isabela was gone, i wrote about how "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." (see, another good thing about this blog: it keeps me honest about what i've learned.) i'm so tired of being lied to, confused, and cheated. i've got another Mother's Day coming up, and i don't even know what we're going to do to commemorate Tummymuffin II, who still seems like someone i just dreamed about, and now i'm awake, and i can't hold the memory.

you know what? f**k the monthly Olympics; i want to opt out. i don't want to do the compulsory exercises anymore. i don't want to need an elusive medal that doesn't exist anyway. i'm going to need all my energy to find another window, one that's bigger, cleaner, and can be thrown wide open.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

happiness vs. joy

well. here it is, already the end of February and i seem to have survived the holidays and beyond. somewhere in there Thomas and i had a good, restorative getaway together at the little mountain cabin we like to escape to every now and then. that cabin has seen us through the loss of two children now, and we're always so grateful for the generosity of the owners who freely offer its use to us. the healing has been gradual, as expected, and because, well, i've had what you might call a sneak preview of how this goes, the violent bouts of grief aren't as shocking as they once were, and they are less frequent. i am still asking what it is that i am to learn from this experience that i didn't last time, trying to make sense of the alternation between the dull acceptance of the reality that we are back to square one again in our family-making journey, and the jagged stabbing void of no children where there "should" be now two.
one of the things that has been deeply bothering me these days is wondering if i'm also actually grieving the loss of joy, which, if true, would be a fanged, nightmarish terror. yet i find myself often furious that what should be cause for joy instead gets stolen or mutilated or vandalised. recently, a local friend (who is as yet unaware of our two pregnancy losses) buoyantly announced her first pregnancy via e-mail, and i found that my immediate reaction was to want to avoid seeing her as long as possible. other friends who know my situation have shared good news of conceiving in a sensitive, solemn, and gentle way, wanting to be careful of my feelings: this i find quite generous, but the need to do so is utterly regrettable and makes me angry that they must not initially be demonstratively open with their celebration. and meeting people's "freshly-hatched" babies is always a total crap shoot: hey, i might be just fine and be able to fully rejoice in the tiny life on my lap, or i might emotionally collapse and create an incredibly awkward situation. in any case, this has left me confused, outraged, and a bit bewildered. it makes me feel like someone sucker-punched me, stole all my valuables, and left me dazed and bleeding on the pavement.
three weeks ago, the world said goodbye to author J.D. Salinger, best known for that book about a very conflicted teenage boy. Salinger himself was a supremely confused and conflicted man, but there's a quote from him that got me thinking -- it seems he once said "The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid." although some might say that the happiness/joy difference is merely semantic, i do beg to differ. i was brought up believing that joy is a long-lasting, soul-satisfying, transformative internal state of being that is a choice. happiness, on the other hand, is a more fleeting thing that is based upon circumstance and the self's pleasure. while one may think that Salinger's solid/liquid analogy is the opposite of this, i'm inclined to disagree. the "solidity" of happiness is what makes it fleeting. the "liquidity" of joy is part of its sustaining presence. happiness is rooted in a concrete time & place; it is experienced and then left behind as one moves on. joy, on the other hand, is quicksilver; it surges and moves with you, completely free of the confines of time.
so i think this is what i am wrestling with: i need to accept that solid, time-bound happiness can indeed be snatched and stolen away. and i should not try to cling to liquid, numinous joy, which will just flow through my clutching desperate fingers. the key to living this truth is, i think, to choose to commit to restoration and healing. standing still or insisting on staying in the past is what leads me to believe that those baubles of happiness should be, must be, need to be mine and that their disappearance is catastrophe. moving forward, even through emotional exhaustion or my own stubbornness, is what lets me stay with the flowing currents of joy, even if they seem to be only a trickle sometimes.