Sunday, October 15, 2017

pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day


very recently, i went to a movie with my husband -- we can do that sort of thing now, because L is now in kindergarten, and we can enjoy the early bird shows.  We were the only people in the theatre, and we were pretty early, so my husband went to use the bathroom, leaving me alone with the ads for concessions and insurance and lawn care and mobile phones and whatever it is they run forever before you actually even get to the trailers.
i was excited to be feeling like a grown-up, relaxing in an air-conditioned movie theatre, on a date with my husband, when an image came on the massive screen in front of me: a woman looking at a pregnancy test, with a slowly spreading smile on her face, and then a shot of her and her partner, cuddling happily with the test in hand.  i sat in shock for a second, and then completely, unexpectedly, and utterly lost it.
it literally felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to my chest.  i gasped for breath, clutching the back of the oversized plushy seat, heaving with sobs.  while the lizard brain part of me fell to complete pieces, the rational bits of me were terrified: what if there's someone in the projection booth and they think i'm having a heart attack? what if my husband comes back right now and finds me like this? and what, for the love of all that is holy, is happening to me?
i curled into a fetal ball into the corner of the seat and tried to breathe through the giant, primal sobs. i scrabbled around in my bag for a tissue, and tried to keep from drowning in my own tears and snot.  i had no idea what that ad had been selling, and didn't even really understand what was happening to me in the moment, but i certainly knew why it was happening: it was the concentrated grief of all those many, many pregnancy tests...and how even the positive ones amounted to a negative when it came to actually having a child.  it was the memory of the last, unexpected one that hurt the most.
"that's all i had for some of you," i whispered, "just blue lines on a stick. i wish you were more. oh, i wish you had all been more!"  and then -- like a switch had been flipped -- the sobs just...stopped.  it was as if the acknowledgement of my lost babies' presence in my life was the truth that needed to be spoken to acknowledge the grief and send it back to rest.
i stabbed the tissue furiously at my eyes, blew my nose, and did box breathing while the lights went down and the trailers started.  miraculously, my husband did not re-appear until a few minutes later, and the darkness effectively hid my swollen eyes. we proceeded to enjoy a movie like a couple of happy teens cutting class. now, you'd think this abrupt emotional shifting would've ruined things, but instead i found myself simply relieved to know that They Still Matter A Lot. 

so why do i tell you this very personal and awkward story?  because you can see the tickers in the right-hand column (scroll down if you want to) saying it's been eight and a half years (!) since we first honored a would-be day of a child that never came -- and the sorrow still packs a hard punch.  it's another October 15th, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (click the links if you want more information on what this is), or "Tummymuffin Remembrance Day," as we call it in our home.  with time, each one is no easier than the last...they're just different.  i wrote in my last post about growing within the measures of joy and sorrow, and as my story shows, said growth will likely never be done.  i will likely always carry some pain of hopes crushed, just as i live every day the joy of a dream fulfilled beyond measure in so much more than even the life of my one living son.

friends, there are a lot of other parents tonight who will be lighting candles, remembering the ones they never met and choosing to courageously keep loving them anyway.  so please break the silence: offer a word of encouragement.  say "i love you and i'm remembering with you." give a hug.  light your own candle. ask for stories. say their baby or baby's name out loud.  just be there. 
and thanks to all of you who have been there, some of you for each and every one of these October 15ths over the last many years, who have extended so many acts of love that have defined our family in ways we could not imagine.  my candles will be lit tonight with so much gratefulness because of these, because of you.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

the measure of a (wo)man

recently, someone said to me they had realised a basic truth about life: that the measure of joy in your life is in no way connected to the measure of the amount of sorrow.  in other words, if you are very happy, it doesn't necessarily mean you should have very little sadness. and if you are struggling with some overwhelming challenge that leaves you  breathless with grief, this shouldn't preclude the presence of joy in your life.
there is no other day in the calendar of my adult life that so starkly racks this usually hazy duality into sharp focus than Mothers' Day. i am at the life stage now where more and more of my friends are losing their parents to the inevitabilities of age -- cancer, heart disease, accidents not recovered from.  they miss their mothers (and fathers) with a raw emptiness than i can only guess at.  i have my own inkling about it though, because i still miss my four lost children in a way that startles me.  how is that chasm of grief still so deep, and dark, with edges i cannot see? 

i am five years into being the mother of a living child, and every day of those five years has changed and shaped and challenged me in the best and most exhausting ways possible.  i have never before felt so much love, and joy, and also terror, and frustration, and above all, how strong i am.  my son is a miracle in every way -- and i know that the tenderness i feel when he puts his small arms around me is all the more fierce because i truly never thought i would have this experience. 
some of you have followed this journey from the beginning; some of you are new to it, and so i will admit to you all that yes, i gave up.  the clutching hands of my exhausted soul were cramping up after years of infertility and three lost babies, and i felt i had to simply let go of hope.  it actually felt good, like releasing a spiked iron ball into an ocean wave.  in time, i realised that it was being replaced with another, different kind of hope: hope for me, hope for my amazing husband, hope for the family of two that we were.  and since that was what i already had to work with, i didn't have to hold it so tightly.  so when i lost the much-wanted, and not-realistically-hoped-for-pregnancy after having my miracle-gift son, that spiky ball had been growing soft algae at the bottom of the sea for several years already.  getting through the day by focusing on my everyday, present hopes alongside recognising my crushing anger and hollow sadness felt actually normal.   i suppose i can call this Growth, or maybe it's just Growing Up. because generally, growing up isn't fun, but it is certainly healthy and good.
please don't hear what i'm not saying: i am not saying to anyone dealing with the grief of a denied future to just "give up hope." what i am saying is that the more i do the hard work of internalizing the dual nature of joy and grief; of having and having-not, the more i grow and the stronger i become.  letting go of hope for a dream that is not going to become a reality is a true loss, AND that loss is not connected to all the dreams that have come true; they should not lessen one another in any way.  there are many other things in my life that require this awful, messy work, and i cannot shrink from them with an unfounded fear that to do so would somehow decrease the overflowing joy in my life.

sigh. this all feels rather inarticulate, and i suppose it should be, since this is a lesson-in-progress.  i "know" all this, and yet i find myself more and more falling into the trap of guilt and denial over any present sorrow i still feel for my missing children: i have so much -- SO MUCH in my life that is rich and beautiful and marvelous, including a robustly alive son whose face, i am told, looks like mine. (strangers who tell me that on random playgrounds have no idea how deeply meaningful that is, how it feels like they are actually saying, "my dear lady, may i congratulate you on winning the Grandest of the Grand Prizes?")   shouldn't i just be able to leave those years of loss, and grief, and disappointment behind me? isn't it selfish to still sometimes cry so hard that i must sit down because something, anything reminds me of my other Tummymuffins? can't i just be happy with what i have?
the truth is, Mothers' Day is still emotionally conflicted for me. i cannot fully access the joy of my little son reciting a poem to me about our love and giving me a tiny flowerpot, without also fully accessing the years of pain this day has meant for so long -- both to me and to so many i love who are "secret mothers." both are real, both are completely heart-exploding, both are inextricably part of me, and neither negate the other.  perhaps the measure of joy and grief in a life is actually a measure of love.