Saturday, October 15, 2016

national pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day

my neighbours are landscaping their front yard, and it's currently a childrens' paradise, with huge piles of stones and dirt everywhere. they have a daughter only a few months older than my son, and a few evenings ago, they were happily playing together in their makeshift "construction zone." L drove his bulldozer up and down a dirt hill, loading piles of fragrant soil into his friend's little cement mixer.  her mom and i stood nearby, contentedly watching our kids play and enjoying the last moments of daylight.
we first became friends when we both had huge pregnant bellies and no real idea what to expect.   we shared maternity clothes, nursing shirts, baby food gear, kids' books and toys, and each others' yards.  after awhile, we also discovered that we shared the experience of three prior miscarriages previous to our fourth child's live birth.  and recently, we've also shared the grief of letting go of the dream of a family of four, as she also has experienced secondary infertility.
as the sunlight began its steady autumn-evening fade, she turned and asked me, hauntedly, "how do you let go of what you never had? how do you deal with the guilt of wanting another child when you already have one against the odds? how do you move on?"
i listened. i breathed deeply. i was silent. the sound of our kids laughing made me wonder if she also sometimes thinks about how it would be to hear her child's laughter mixed with that of a brother or sister that never was.

at this time last year, i was aching and so angry, hollow and raging, fresh from the loss of Tummymuffin V and full of unanswered useless questions, most of them starting (and ending) with the word WHY? in this year's span, i've healed a lot; i've let go more, but i have done so mostly quietly.  i have yet to write about the unexpected laying to rest and naming of my last lost baby; perhaps my silence is evidence of how soul-weary i am from these sorts of thoughts.
you see, i don't have an easy answer to her question.  it's really asking: how do you balance feeling unbelievably blessed and unbelievably cheated? can you? should you? i don't really know. what i do know is that i still don't think you really "move on" or "get over" pregnancy loss and infertility. you have to move with it; accept its presence in your life, and make it an acknowledged companion so it doesn't become some parasitic vampire of your actual identity. 
recently i have noticed that perhaps the lack of peace i feel is possibly -- dare i say -- feminist in nature: that pregnancy loss, and the insidious culture of silence that society imposes around it, is part of the acceptance of the idea that a woman's worth is measured by being someone's wife (you attracted and caught someone! you win!) and someone's mother (your ladyparts all work! good job!). i'm astonished by how often i hear comments that imply that i'm cheating my son, or i'm being irresponsible or selfish, or even that i "have it so easy" because i have only one living child and i do not (actually cannot) plan to have another.  i can rationally reject these comments, just as i can and have rationally rejected the many unintentionally devastating comments regarding my pregnancy losses and infertility.  but they take their toll.
so on this Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, or as we call it here, Tummymuffin Day, i lovingly and humbly make this request: please don't ask the couple "so when are you going to have a baby?". don't say to the parents " oh but (s)he needs a brother/sister!".  and for the love of all that is holy, please do not ever say to any woman, "you better hurry up and have a/more kid(s); your clock is ticking!".  and if you are privy to the details of someone's family-making journey, and you know there has been tragedy and roadblocks, just saying "i love you and support you" goes a long, long way.

as the sun became a red-orange glow, and the outlines of our precious children's beautiful, vital, innocent bodies showed against the pink-tinged sky, i turned to my friend, put my arm around her shoulder, and said, "you know, some moments are better than others. in the best, i am simply grateful. and i let THOSE moments define my life. this is one of them."  
tonight, i shall light my candles and speak the names of my own lost children, and then love my friends by speaking the names of theirs, and i will hear my own life taking shape. and i will be grateful.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

i will not, i will

there have been so many things i've wanted to write about coming to terms with "not having another one," and also grieving the loss of a baby after having a living child.  one of the realities of this is that as a full-time parent with a small child around, one is almost always tired, and autonomous time is scarce (and only comes in increments of several minutes or less).  yes, this affects posting on a blog, but more than that, it greatly changes the process of mourning changes and losses.
this recent Mother's Day was a really tough one. i've written before about the challenge of this day for women who are infertile and/or have suffered pregnancy loss, but i was really quite unprepared for how much i'd still have mixed feelings about this day.  last year when the holiday came around, we were at a wedding in the mountains and were too busy celebrating that.  but this year we're right now in Germany, visiting my in-laws, and "Mutterstag" has been exported in all its commercial glory to this country too.  my son is still too young to do the whole breakfast in bed/card/present/flowers/etc. thing, and i told my husband that he should concentrate on his mom and direct all of L's attention to her as well.  we had a lovely day with a long all-family bike ride through the woods (yes, very Black Forest-y) to a little restaurant where we had homemade bratwurst and kuchen, and we laughed and L played, and we all delighted in our love for one another and the good mothering that got us there.
there was such sharpness and strength to that joy: hearing my son's pure lilting giggles while seeing my husband and his mother share a good story, the warm sun filtering through trees, the clean, crisp smell of spring and growth filling my lungs every time i drew breath to laugh.  that tangible joy felt like a sturdy shelter, and even a natural respite, from the heavy grief that permeated the other hours of my day, and i believe its brightness was intensified by the contrast, and its protection.  it made me grateful for many lessons hard-earned about the complementary nature of joy and grief.

today is the Would-Be Day for our fifth child, who is yet to be named.  i feel somewhat lost as to how to lay her memory to rest; she is unlike our first three Tummymuffins, who were alive and real enough but still, for me as a mother, only promises of a future not experienced.  however, this Mother's Day, which was in cruel proximity to today, i couldn't stop remembering, as i sprawled on the floor, sobbing for all the things i now actually knew.  i couldn't stop remembering what it actually felt like to be 40 weeks pregnant; how full and heavy and taut and uncomfortable and thrilling.  i couldn't stop recalling the feeling of tiny feet kicking from within, or even the indescribable exhilaration of feeling my baby finally slide from my womb into the world and burst into full-throated life. 
over the last several months, i have tried to drink my full tea mug of grief, but there has been so little mental space and energy, and i think i only sipped when i should've stared into its murky depths and then downed it.  the Mother's Day cup was scalding, and bitter, and difficult to finish because it entailed recognizing that i was mourning for someone whom this time, i could truly imagine. 
today, i understand now as i did not before with my first three, what this would-be day will not have.   i will not feel the weight of a small beautiful body placed upon my chest.  i will not smell the sweetness of a soft, downy head.  i will not look down into bright clear eyes and see my own face reflected.  i will not be looking at my husband with pride and even deeper love as he cradles his new child. i will not see my parents, or my sister, or my parents-in-law, or my friends' joy at a new arrival. i will not have a little face nuzzled against my breast.  i will not gaze down in amazement at this marvelous creature that i, by some miracle, will call my own.  i will not fall dizzyingly, splendidly, exhaustingly in love. 
and yet, by the same token, i know what i do have.  i will experience bone-deep gratitude when i feel the weight of my son, formerly Tummymuffin IV, snuggled on my lap tonight.  i will run my hands through his thick, bewilderingly curly hair and hear him say in his sweet voice, "I love you, Mommy." i will kiss my amazing husband with decisive pleasure and pride, and tell him again that he is a wonderful father.  i will send photos of today's adventures to my family and know they will take joy in seeing our son's growth and exuberant happiness.  i will be flooded with compassion as i enfold my boy in my arms and comfort him after an inevitable bump or bruise, as he buries his wailing face in my chest.  i will gaze down in delight at him when he does something hilarious, and then in the next moment takes my hand and asks some astonishingly insightful question.  i am daily, over and over, falling in love.

oh my little Tummymuffin V, i will never know you, but i know how it is to be your mother.  happy would-be day, and happy Mother's Day too.  i love you.