Friday, November 1, 2019

celebrating loss, celebrating love

for awhile now, it's been guaranteed that i'll at least post here twice a year: around Mother's Day, and on October 15th, National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, also known in our home as Tummymuffin Day.  this year... October 15th came and went.  no post.  what happened?
what happened, i am astounded to admit to you, is that i... forgot.  yeah. i forgot Tummymuffin Day.  the feeling in my body when i realized this was first a hollow feeling of disbelief, and then a wash of hot shame and regret, like i'd somehow betrayed my family and all of you.  i questioned my priorities, my time management, my authenticity.  as i calmed down, and forced myself to mindfully consider, i had an insight: i'd forgotten the date. i had NOT forgotten the Day -- in other words, i had not forgotten what makes October 15th usually so important, simply because i cannot.  the loss of my other children is always there, and it makes itself known in wildly different ways.  
recently, i was asked in front of a group of people that well-meaning, but ultimately complex question, "So is he your only one?"  i gave my usual response, "Yes, and i didn't think i would even have one; i lost three before and one after him!" i've said this many times, but for some reason, as the questioner said "Oh, I'm so sorry!", i felt a glow of compassion and freedom for my four other Tummymuffins; there was a joy in knowing that will always be mine right alongside the sadness that i will never know them as i do my living son.  my heart felt peaceful.
however, only a few days before the 15th, i overheard a woman mention a long road of infertility, and when i looked over, i saw her face was frozen in an all-too-familiar rictus mask of 'being strong' -- the too-wide smile, the too-bright eyes.  the other person said "Well, at least you and your husband are having fun trying!" and it suddenly felt like the world around me went into horrible slow motion; i literally had to put my head between my knees to clear the roaring in my ears. i quietly sobbed into my jeans, bewildered by the absolute tidal wave of emotion.  i felt like i was leaking for at least another hour; every time i thought i'd "gotten over it" i would cry again.  the inner turmoil didn't subside until i recognized that the cracks in my heart are actually shared ravines with so many other women, and that maybe by tumbling in, i was sharing in a communal experience of that pain.

i live in a city that enthusiastically celebrates today and tomorrow as Dia de los Muertos, otherwise known as the Day of the Dead.  (for a long time, most people outside of Mexico or communities with a Mexican-American population had never heard of it, but then Pixar gave us the beautiful film Coco.) yes, the whole point of the two-day event is death, but it is an exuberant explosion of joy, love, respect, and community.  families remember loved ones who have died not with sorrowful mourning, but with grateful happiness that their lives intersected.  in fact, it is customary when sharing memories of the deceased, to purposefully pick the funniest, most entertaining memories possible.  there is singing, dancing, and of course eating...it's a party, and the spirits/memories/souls (you pick) of the departed join.  it is not twisted glorification of darkness or spookiness, nor is it a romanticized view of death.  it is the acknowledgment of the human cycle of experience, and it is an honoring of who we are as humans who love and who lose those we love.

so even though i did not light my candles for each Tummymuffin on the 15th, i will light them tonight, celebrating the existence of their little brief lives with joy even as i honor the cracks in my heart that need no mending, for they are forever part of me.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

not my choice

here i am, seven years into this journey of motherhood between losses, and i'm still deeply ambivalent about Mother's Day.  sure, i am beyond cynical about the commercial part with packed restaurants and overpriced flowers and cards, but i find it easier to place myself with the people for whom Mother's Day is difficult (see last year's Mother's Day post) than slip beatifically into a role of a smiling mommy having adoration force-fed to her.
ok, maybe i'm still beyond cynical.
but here is the thing: none of this was my choice.
i struggled with infertility before each pregnancy.  not my choice.
i experienced motherhood four times only through happy nausea, hopeful tiredness, proudly tight pants, blessedly hearing a heartbeat, and then crushing grief.  not my choice.
i wrestle with the reality that there are millions of secret mothers with invisible children out there, just like me.  not their choice.
i know that there are also plenty of hurting secret dads out there too, who have even less space and social permission to experience their grief.  not their choice.
i have already hugged several friends who are dreading Mother's Day because their mom won't speak to them, or is a squizillion miles away, or is dead.  not their choice.

i told my patient and understand husband that i didn't want anything special for Mother's Day, since i still feel so negative and sad about it, which confuses me.  "are you sure?" he asked.  "you know that's not your choice to make."
i did not like this answer, and said as much.
"honey," he said, "our son gets to decide that.  Mother's Day is for him, too."

clearly i married up.

and my wise and beloved husband is absolutely right.  our child is all whispers and secrets and hiding things in Dad's closet and dashing around and happiness.  he keeps asking me how long it is until Mother's Day when he will be able to, if his excitement is any indication, unleash what must be a surprise awesomeness of epic proportions.  "it is a special day!" he proclaims. "for special mommys! and you are my only mommy so it is special for you!!!"
this is so clearly Not My Choice.

what is my choice, then, is to accept that my confusing cynical gloom cloud can coexist with the sparkly rainbow sunshine of my family's joy, and neither shall negate the authenticity of the other.  and i shall choose to inhabit the sparklyness with all my presence, and in so doing, honor my invisible children by holding space for them in that expansive joy.