Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Words of comfort

I keep receiving these little religious grief booklets in the mail from my mother-in-law. I think they are a way for her to communicate that she is thinking about us and our loss. She isn't exactly the most emotive person I have ever met, so I appreciate her thoughts however they come.

My husband throws them away, and I immediately fish them out of the garbage, wipe them down, and file them in the Lucia folder in our two story filing cabinet. I haven't exactly read them. I mean, not really. I page through them before filing them. I have the urge to perform dramatic readings from them in a little beatnik bar with a stand-up bass and a small hand rolled cigarette perched on my lips.

"You did the best that you could," the chapter title screams at me.

Snap, snap, snap. The audience nods in approval.


Sometimes I find myself wandering around the house, picking things up, placing things down. I rearrange a room, move it back to the same arrangement. I file everything, put every last pair of shoes away somewhere, every bag laying around, and then can't find my purse two hours later. I then have to redistribute the chaos back into common spaces to find anything. And then, after I do that, I pick up the sixteenth plastic shit toy given to my daughter and I throw it against the wall, and fall on the floor and sob into my hands. I hate this life without her. I hate it.

"Grief is natural, normal, necessary," it says. "You may even feel angry when you are grieving."

I know sometimes that no one, not anyone, can do anything right for me. That even the most benign of messages makes me feel the wrath. I know it is unfair, but I don't give a shit. I got so angry today when reading another babylost mama's blog. She was talking about the "risks" of stillbirth--race, obesity, advanced maternal age. Can I just say fuck you? So, what, because I am a Latina with an extra roll of fat and having hit that magic horrible age of 35 I caused my baby's death? These are statistical correlations. They are not risks. She also wrote something to the effect of kick counts need to be performed at 28 weeks and beyond.

I understand that she wants to raise awareness. To change the world and make meaning from her loss. Hey, I did that too. I wrote letter to people who paid attention for a week and then went back to talking about anything else. It's not her, she is quoting from these people who want to give women this illusion of control when they are anxious. I just get so enraged when there is this insinuation that anything could have saved my baby's heart from stopping. If a woman just takes some notes, and counts kicks, she can control death. If you aren't brown or black, or fat, or know, babies die. I fucking wish it were different. I honestly believe that if I had been counting kicks, I would have known twelve hours earlier that Lucy died. And well, wouldn't those extra twelve hours of torture have been great?

But the truth is, I didn't count kicks. Not regularly. Not with a pen. Sure, sometimes I sat there and paid attention, but mostly, I experienced my pregnancy as though she were always going to live. Her blog whispered, "But you didn't count kicks, Angie. That blogger thinks you killed your baby. Maybe you are just trying to justify your laziness. Maybe this whole blog is trying to justify your being. Maybe your brown skin and love of carbohydrates killed her too."

"Guilt is only supposed to be a temporary emotion--a warning signal that something is wrong and needs to be corrected."


"If you find it embarrassing or difficult to cry, this chapter is especially for you. My advice is simple: Find a way to have a good cry. You'll quickly discover how soothing and healing your tears can be."

I can't think of her lips today. Or her birth, her slipping out of my belly limp. I almost did today, while we were driving to the trail for our morning walk. I started thinking about how that felt, and tears welled up. I looked into the back seat and saw Beatrice making monkey faces, and whispering OOO, EEE, to herself in the mirrored reflection of the window. Crying will ruin our morning.

We walked in the mud, and the verdant musty growth that encompass the entire spectrum of greens. I am grateful for the small escapes, those moments of clarity and presence when the refrain is simply, "Lucy is dead" and not something more sinister, or hateful, or angry.

You just never know when you are going to read that sentence that will change your perspective, that will change your way of being, your sadness, your grief. Sometimes that change has come to me for a few weeks, after reading something on someone's blog, and then I fall into the malaise again. I cope pretty well. It probably doesn't sound like it today, but I do. I meditate and love, and paint and cook, and laugh and tickle, I sob and throw things. But right now, I am hard-pressed to remember anything particularly life-changing I have read. I feel like my words have dried up, my memory shot, my experience too matchy-matchy. ("I went to the store, but I cried and was sad." "I had a date night, but I cried and was sad." "I visited the zoo, but I cried and was sad.") I think the premise in which these grief booklets are being mailed is the it-can't-hurt premise. I'm cool with that. It's better than the I-can't-be-bothered premise.

No, wait, that isn't right. I do remember one email I received. It is possibly the darkest thing I have ever read, and it was sent to me the day after Lucia died from someone who knows me just about better than anyone else (except my twin and my husband and my mother, you know.) That one email has stayed with me from the beginning, and I've revisited it here and there throughout the last six months, because it introduced me to the abyss. "Hello, Abyss, nice to meet you. Here are my friends."

When one is drawn into a Black Hole, it is said, one approaches a point called the Event Horizon; Essentially it is the point of no-return at which the gravitational pull of the collapsed star becomes greater than the potential escape velocity of any particular body. There is no escape.

My wife and I have been at that point before when we lost our three babies. Because of this, I will refrain from saying to you that I know how you feel, because I do not...

This is a kind of hell not unlike an event horizon; not even light itself can escape... There is only a darkness that pulls at you... And all you can do is fall in.

And, no matter who is there to offer solace, you fall in alone.

Because your tears will not be enough, we will be crying with you, as an extension of the pain we know you must be feeling.

People will offer advice, but none of it will help.

People will offer their love, solace and condolence, but these too will be drawn into the black hole...

Even though there is light and love in our lives, after an experience like this, that light fades a little. It is hard to ever be the same.

It is devastating. And it is appropriate to be devastated.

It is heartbreaking. And it is appropriate to be heartbroken.

Don't preoccupy yourself with bouncing back and healing.

Those things are also inevitable...

This is a journey through heartache and pain that is different for each of us.

This is a journey through a Black Hole...

My love and prayers are with you and your family.


  1. I love that email. It's perfectly put. There is no way to do this but to go through it. And it sucks. But somehow, most of us, we do get through it even if we don't mean to. Of course, we are not the same people we were when we started, but still, somehow, we survived and hopefully found the things we needed to not only survive but to live again.
    And to want to live again. That's the hard part right?

  2. wow angie, that is such a powerful email. someone who really gets it.

    your words are so honest, so painfully real. i feel the intense rage and excruciating longing for lev too. it all jut fucking sucks. and there are no words or books that can make it better. cuz lucy and lev are gone and nothing can bring them back into our arms and bring us back to the happy mamas we were.

    i sometimes think about kick counts and whether i could have saved lev. sometimes i really get stuck on it. that i am too old and too fat (that i ate too much ice cream) and maybe we are both too jewish (eventhough i passed all those ashkenazi jewish genetic tests). but there is still that part of me that blames myself and others for not responding, for not saving him. i need someone or somewhere to direct my anger. but babies die. it's fucked up but it is true and we did the best we could.

    sending you so much love

  3. Oh Angie. No one can do anything right for me either somedays. I'm just too damn angry to let anything BE right at times.

    I don't know anything at all about stillbirth, its risk factors or the likelihood of kick counts reducing mortality. I didn't lose my own daughter to stillbirth.

    I do know a very little about statistics. Well, it is the only field I have any bit of paper qualifications in and I've just ranted away about this very topic on my blog too. I can only say risk schmisk. You are right, risk factors are statistical correlates. You can't use them to predict any particular individual outcome with 100% accuracy. That is just a nonsense as far as I know. It might be good to inform people of the risk factors but what can you DO about your ethnicity or your age. Precisely jack shit. You can't change them. I have enough difficulty changing my weight, I just enjoy eating. Do you decide to never, ever risk having a child on that basis? There are risks attached to being too thin or too young as well. Pretem labour. That was the nasty that got me. Not due to being too thin or too young. Sadly although they would be poor consolation. In this endless risk schmisk race I don't think you can ever win.

    I want to tell you please not to feel guilty but I know I may as well save my breath to cool my porridge. In theory I know that there was nothing I could have done to save my girl, that I couldn't have stopped her being born once the labour had started. But in my heart, I still think I could've. It would be the pot calling the kettle black to tell you not to feel guilty.

    That email is devastating and true, at times it does feel like a journey through a black hole.

    Gah, rant over. Sorry about the long comment. xx

  4. Oh goodness...That email is beautifully put, just so raw and true.

    I *try* not to live in that place of analyzing risk factors, but I can't help but to sometimes beat myself up with the +35 - check, extra pounds - check...and wonder if that caused Rose to die. And it sucks. as if her dying in my body doesn't cause enough guilt, but then to tell me that I caused it?

    I DID do nightly kick counts and it was all standard. Hell, she was FINE on a NST just three days before...she just died. There was NOTHING that a kick count would have predicted that the NST wouldn't have, is there???

    A mom I've met along the way...not over 35, no extra pounds.....her baby died too. No explanations (cord etc) for his death.

    Its just so upsetting. Risk factors, all of it. Its not fair our babies died.

    love to you.

  5. Sweetie, I'm an upper class white bitch (ok, so I'm kinda maternally geriatric), well within the BMI limits, who had amnio, did her kick counts with a PEN and STILL fucking had a deadbaby. Like Catherine said, that jazz is done after the fact using the population at large. It has zero to do with you -- UNLESSS you happen to be the one. It's horrible, but there it is. Babies die. And eventually, it's gonna happen to you or someone you know. (I'm also happy to know a baby born to an alcoholic, heroin-addicted prostitute -- who thankfully was given up for adoption and is now my cousin's son, and he's healthy as a . . . . well, he's perfectly healthy. Because, you know, statistics.)

    Black hole indeed. The sad thing is when I wanted to crawl into mine. Hang tough, Angie. Thinking of you.

  6. We all try to understand why our babies had to be the ones to die. I remember the midwife saying that my next pregnancy would be monitored more - even though, that has not been proven to change outcomes. There are no guarantees.. no matter how many kicks you count, or how slim, or how healthy or how much our babies are loved, sometimes babies die. The person down the road can do all the wrong things.. take drugs, drink constantly, smoke like a chimney and live on big macs.. and guess what? They can give birth to a perfect little baby breathing just as well. I've come to realize that it really just doesn't matter what we do.. but at the same time, I'm not going to take a risk, so I'll do the same 'good/right' things I did last time and hope for the best.

    Huge hugs Angie.. your words are always so powerful!

  7. It all sucks Angie. I was 28, healthy and I'm white. And she died. I wasn't counting kicks (say with a pen) but I did notice within half an hour that she'd stopped moving. Statistics mean shit when you land on the wrong side of them. It happens to all of us, and it sucks. I have to spend the rest of my life watching Simon's brother and his trash girlfriend raising their daughter who was born after Mama smoked and drank her way through nine months. I have to somehow make sense of that. I never had a fucking cup of coffee.
    I think we must have had similar days yesterday. I have been doing ok, then one innocent enough comment in an email sent me spiralling over the edge. Back in to the abyss. I loved the email, and wish more people could say the things we need them to say. Why is it so hard for most people?
    Love you heaps Angie. Again I'm so desperately sorry you have to know this pain.
    I miss Lucy xo

  8. Oh Angie, that email is incredible. We have all been to that event horizon. Much love to you my friend.

  9. Thank you for sharing that email, Angie. It is deeply true and yet I can't help but wonder what you made of it in the early hours of losing Lucy. What can anyone say to us in that moment?

    Oh, and kick counts are absolute horse shit. No doctor would do an emergency c-section right away because of decreased movement so what the hell do people expect kick counts to do??? It's just something to try and make us feel better that fails miserably.

    You didn't cause Lucy's death in any way. I know you know that but I still wanted to say it. Hang in there...

  10. I went to the hospital concerned about decreased movement and a fuck lot of good that did me. Had an ultrasound and NST monitoring for 2 days. Sam still died. Like everyone has said - statistics mean fuck all when you've been on the wrong side of them.

    What a beautiful email, so true.

    Much love to you, Angie. Here with you no matter what.

  11. So hard, all around. So hard. The "illusion of control" is a profound phrase.

  12. Wow. Those are some amazing words. The author of that email most definitely gets it. You must feel such deep gratitude for that.

    I know the part about date night, cried; shopping, cried; etc. But, those events so often happen at the most surprising and inopportune times. Like when I'm reading a stack of books at the library to my children and my son hands me one about 'Get Ready for Baby, Big Brother.' (Oh. And, today I threw a water bottle at the wall and it exploded down the stairs.)

    On a more positive note, Angie, you inspire me to get out in the world more. Take my children for hikes. Go swimming. Live (or at least go through the motions and hope the feelings catch up). Thank you.

    Peace, my friend.

  13. Thanks for sharing that wonderful email, Angie.
    And I also did not do kick-counts seriously with F, I did NOT expect him to die. I did kick-counts like crazy with Lyra, but did that assure me she will live? Hell NO.
    ((hugs)) holding you in my heart, sweet.

  14. hey Angie

    I feel like kicking and shouting today, too. But, though I don't know why, I am not.

    I wrote something about risk the other day and I was all brave about it. And now i wonder, if it' the right thing to do, to comment on someone else's experience because really, no one knows what it's like for someone else. I can imagine, guess, compare, but the hell I find myself in, is my own hell. I call it my abyss, too. It's fucking lonely place. it sucks up all the happ-ines-s.

    Bounching back and healing? Inevitable?
    Let's hope so.

    I hold on to that bit of magic myself.


    Much love and a big hug

  15. Wow, what an email. Finally, someone who can tell the truth.

    And as for kick counts and stats... I didn't fit one of those "risks" (well, I do have a big ass so maybe the weight thing) and and guess what... I have a dead baby. I also felt him moving right up until my water broke.

    I have to tell you Angie, I read your posts and I am often at a loss for words. Your writing is so powerful, real, and thought-provoking. It often brings order to the mangled ideas, thoughts, and emotions I have swirling in my being. Thank you.

  16. A. Black. Hole.

    Yep, that's exactly right.

    As for any "control" that we may have thought we had, we all know that's just an illusion. Actually I haven't thought I had any control at all ... right from the start ... but that's neither here nor there. All I know is that I did all the right things during my pregnancies and my babies still died.

    Life sucks sometime, and there's fuck all you can do about it.

  17. I am at a loss for words after reading that email. It is beautiful and so true. And only someone who has experienced this could possibly write that.

    And fyi, I did kick counts, had weekly NSTs, etc. and she still died. None of it means anything because she died within 24 hours of the last perfect NST. We have no control and we have to accept it. That, of course, is a lot easier said than done.

  18. I am blown away by that email.

    There is so much truth in it.

    I have no other words Angie.

    Love to you friend x

  19. Your post was wonderful to read today. That email was powerful and it resonated with me as well. Peace.

  20. that's a kickass letter

    i don't know what could have saved Serenity. But I do regret not doing something that DID.

  21. I really love this whole post. It's like a bunch of pieces of insight woven together. I can relate to so much of it. You always dealt with your pregnancy "as though she would live" - I was the same way about kicks count. Why wouldn't you be? And those "powerful lines" you talk about and how your memory is "matchy matchy" now - I so understand that.


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