Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where the Sidewalk Ends

I guess I didn't really mention that on Mother's Day Sam and I planted a tree for Lucia. It is a Kwanzan Cherry Tree. It blossoms pink double flowers in early Spring. I sort of envisioned it looking like a majestic Japanese Cherry Sakura, but right now, when your eye catches it, a little Vince Guaraldi strikes up in the background, and I do my little bop ala Peanuts.

I meant to talk about it, but then I became ashamed of the whole thing. Ashamed of not saying anything profound. Ashamed because I didn't even search for a beautiful poem. Nor a snippet of a song. Not even a seventeen syllable haiku. I couldn't even muster a "This tree is for Lucy." We didn't cry, not then. We had been crying all weekend. But when we planted the tree, no tears. We didn't do anything really but dig a hole, chase the puppy away from our work, talk about what we were doing for dinner. We initially invited my sister and her family and my mother over for the planting. I was going to sprinkle some of her ashes. Say something. Say anything. But then, on the phone with my mother the day before, she said something to the effect, "Oh, I'm glad you are doing this, because I really needed a funeral and you didn't have one." And then, I knew. I couldn't make this a funeral. I couldn't even make it a memorial. I couldn't even see anyone. So, in addition to being a lousy babyloss mama, I also was a lousy sister and daughter on Mother's Day. I barely mustered a call to both of them. But I decided this year, I allow myself the selfishness. I allow myself the wallowing. I fucking earned it. And I absolutely could not make this something it wasn't. I was planting a tree. I wanted something beautiful in my yard to label Lucy's Space. Maybe even one day, it will be a meditation space, but I didn't want a ritual.

This isn't like me. I love ritual.

There are so many reasons I didn't want to make this something more. One reason is that I am simply not ready to let go of any of Lucy's ashes. I may never release her ashes. I want my baby with me, even if it is in a little urn. (Shit. That made me lose it. Just writing little urn.) But it is true. I want her ashes in my house. Sitting in my living room. Right where we always are. Reading some Shel Silverstein with her sister and her parents.

Beatrice and I water Lucy's tree everyday. A lot. When I went to pick the tree out on Mother's Day, we walked around the nursery, looking at different trees. I wanted a Weeping Cherry Tree, for obvious reasons. Sam wanted something fast growing to shade our deck. Finally, someone came up and asked us what we were looking for, and I, weary from walking around and around in circles not finding anything beautiful enough for Lucia, said to the man, "Let me be blunt. My daughter died. I want a tree for her. Help us pick a tree that is idiot proof that I simply cannot kill. If I kill this tree, it will defeat the whole point of this." He looked non-nonplussed. He directed us appropriately, like he heard just this sort of request everyday. When we got home and decided on the perfect place, we began digging. Mounds of dirt, and our girl and the dog running up and down the piles giggling. Then clunk.

Clunk. Again. "What was that?" Clunk.

Something hard.

Dear Lord, please do not let it be a coffin.

It is what I thought. Please. Don't let it be anything dead. And I got on my hands and knees and dug my hands in the dirt, started brushing the dirt away from the three foot wide hardness. Brush. Brush. Tears fell a bit as I imagined the worst. I became frantic. Did I mention that FBI agents used to live in my house? I was expecting something...lurid. Something ugly. Something dead.

It was a sidewalk.

We uncovered a strange, misplaced, handmade concrete walkway UNDER a foot of soil in my backyard. Not just in my backyard, in the middle of the yard. Where was it going? I began pulling pieces of concrete out, and laying it on the brick path in our backyard. I sprayed it with water, and examined the concrete. Someone made this. A very long time ago. With their hands. Someone made a path to Lucy's tree. Maybe 80 years ago, when this house was built, they thought someday someone will plant a tree here, for their girl. Her tree is where the sidewalk ends.

And so, if I had to do it again, I might read Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day tonglen

I have had a rough day today. Lots of tears. Lots of sadness. Lots of suffering. And in the midst of the swirling suffering, I thought I would look for a tonglen meditation. Tonglen is a meditation that is supposed to be a meditation of compassion. You literally take and absorb the suffering of another. It is incredibly powerful, and difficult, but also incredibly rewarding. I had been thinking a lot about Janis' post on Glow today. It affected me greatly, thinking about my own girls. Her beautiful words, her heartbreaking story...I needed to get beyond my own suffering. Anyway, I found this beautiful Memorial Day tonglen with the Honorable Pema Chodron. A most apt meditation for today.

My father is Vietnam veteran. My grandfather is a veteran of both WWII and Korea. We are a Navy family on my side. The twentieth century has many Kennas serving. But I also reflect upon my married family. My brother in law and sister in law are veterans of more recent wars. For all of my beautiful, brave family and all of the families affected by war, this tonglen is dedicated.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The soul of a teddy bear

I am not a teddy bear kind of person.

I have no inherent issue with teddy bears, per se. I just feel about them the way I feel when I see a poster with a kitten clinging to a tree with a formal script underneath it reading "Hang in there." I think, "Uh, no."

But then I saw this book called Bears. The author took teddy bears turned them inside out and restuffed them. I know how they feel.

There is something so beautiful, so creepy, so weird, so ugly, so real, so perfect about these bears, even if they have scars, ugly lumps, their stuffing is coming out of weird orifices, perhaps because of them. Let's just say, I want to curl up with one of these. A misshapen, scarred mess of a bear and the misshaped, scarred mess of a woman. Together. Weeping poly-blend stuffing.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

To making an ass out of oneself

Lucy's death didn't simply cause a change in me. It can be classified as more of a seismic shift. Whole continents in me are no longer flat.

But to say I am completely different is wrong. I am perhaps more me than I have ever been in my life. More vulnerable. More genuine. More honest. More appreciative. More flaky. More compassionate. More selfish. More. More. More.

Today, I began writing about this feeling of liberation in my soul. This creative freedom I feel. I feel so guilt-ridden even saying the word liberated. It's not that I feel at all liberated by Lucy's death. I feel absolutely fettered to this grief. It is the ACME 800 lb. Roadrunner anvil around my ankle. But inside me, creatively, I just feel a freedom from dignity and self-doubt. Like Lucy's death somehow gave me the permission to make an ass out of myself. And here I am, writing my every thought down, putting it up on the internet. An invitation to the world that says, "Here, welcome to the fucked up brain of a babylost mama. It's messy in here. Leave your shoes at the door. Bourbon is in the cerebellum." I, Angie, posted a ridiculous haiku for the world to read about coffee and weeping. I made an album of my silly paintings on Facebook. I just sent out another manuscript of my poetry for publication. Dignity, be damned.

I feel guilty because I should have been living my life more honestly before. I also feel wracked with guilt to say that anything positive came from my daughter's death. Because, no. NO. NO. NO. NO. No. There is no larger meaning from her death. There was nothing to learn from it. Even though for the last 35 years of my life I have met every hardship with the question, "What am I supposed to learn from this?" I refuse to do that with Lucy's death. Not this one, no. No. It is not a lesson learned. Fuck that. It is a tragedy. A senseless, fucked up, chaotic random occurrence in my belly.

But maybe this feeling of freedom is a gift from Lucy. Lucy gave me freedom of expression. She gave me a confidence in the authenticity of my feelings. Lucy gave me courage, not to go on without her, but she gave me courage to make a fool out of myself. It's not that I am more secure. It's not that I am more confident, but I just don't give a shit about being the best anymore, or even being mediocre. I don't care if the end result sucks, it has become the process. The hours of focusing on something other than "Lucy is dead."

It is also about that hypothetical question we all say to ourselves during random decisions, "What is the worst that can happen?" Right. That happened. Sending some poetry out, and getting rejected. A drop in the fucking bucket of heartbreak. Having someone say, "The heads on your paintings are not in scale." No shit. My daughter died, jackass, we aren't painting realism over here. We are just painting.

I once said to my friend Ken when he asked me if I wanted to go cliff diving. "No, I will make an ass out of myself bouncing off those rocks." And he said, "I guarantee that every person that spends their life doing something cool made an ass out of himself the first time he tried it." And I believe that.

I wish this was a prelude to saying, "Here I am, World. Kiss my ass." It just is the random thoughts of today, as I embark of Girl's Craft Night with my friend Betsy. I will be in a social situation with strangers, which is terrifying. I will driving at night, also not anything remotely close to what I like to do. I will be bringing my little weird idiosyncratic arts and crafts and doing them in front of normal women, some of whom are pregnant. I have a feeling some of you are reading this last paragraph and thinking I have completely lost my mind now. Uh, cuckoo.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday morning haiku

bleary eyes and yawns,
there is no coffee at home.
Mondays make me cry.

I wrote this haiku this morning at six. I woke up hearing the coffeepot beep, and the dog whining. With a hair tie, my glasses slumping down my face, I shuffled down the stairs to let the dog outside. He still needs me to walk outside first, apparently to make sure ninjas don't attack. It is ridiculous, and yet,with the moderate temperatures, I really don't mind. I made my way back inside, still wiping the sand from my eyes, got a mug, poured the coffee, walked to the computer, sip...shit. It's water. Lukewarm water. What the hell...oh, right, it all came back in an instant. Sam standing in the kitchen. "Ang, did you get coffee?"

We frantically searched the freezer, the way way back of the cabinet. ANYWHERE. No coffee. Well, decaf, but no caffeine. He had poured the water in the coffeepot already, so I said, like a normal person, "It'll be fine."

Who the fuck was I kidding? There was no coffee. Until morning coffee, nothing is fine.

I put an Earl Grey tea bag in the coffeepot water. There, I admit it.

It was bloody awful, but I was desperate.

Then, Sally chatted me up, asked me if I was doing okay, she read my haiku. I meant to be overly dramatic about my lack of caffeine, though truth be told, a headache and grouchiness were seeping into my morning. I was sort of down. Really, though, I meant for the haiku to be funny. I think haiku, when used properly, is the perfect vehicle for comedy. Well, I think poetry in general can. I have said to my sister or my husband on a particularly hard day, "I just wrote a poem. Would you like to hear it? It is entitled 'Blackness Surrounds Me Like a Shroud, Number 692'" There is always some little iota of truth in our joking, no?


So, earlier than usual, I pulled on a hoodie, and some jeans, and headed to the local cafe. A pound of La Colome coffee, treat myself to a cappuccino for my hard work. The cafe lady told me she didn't have a grinder for the coffee. "Couldn't you go round to your neighbor's house?"
"To grind a pound of coffee?"
"Or the market."
"Can you bring in a pound of coffee purchased elsewhere to grind? You mean, you sell coffee beans, but no means to grind it?"
"Maybe you should buy a grinder for your house."
"I have a grinder, but I don't want to pull it out."
"But it'll taste better if you grind by the pot."
"Here is the thing. I don't want to grind by the pot. I just want to make the coffee. I'll just go somewhere else, I guess."

Five minutes of my life I will never get back. I head to Starbucks, the evil empire of coffee, and let Darth Vader make me a vat of cappuccino.


I get home curl on the couch with my warm and comforting drugs (coffee and steamed milk). Beatrice brought me a book this morning to read to her. It was my favorite book growing up. It is called the Bunny Book. If you are familiar with this particular Little Golden Book, then you can just go ahead and give a good sob and stop reading here.

Don't you feel better?

For those unfamiliar, it is painful. So very painful now, and so touching. I had no idea. I began reading it...let me preface this by saying that Richard Scarry's bunnies are amongst my favorite children book images. I am a Bunny is one of my favorite children's books. Anyway, it begins, "The Daddy Bunny tossed his baby in the air. 'What will our baby be when he grows up?' asked the daddy bunny." *whimper* And everyone in the family takes turns guessing what the baby will be...a policeman, a circus clown *shudder*, a doctor, a cowboy, a farmer, a candy store owner. All the while, the baby bunny just slyly smiles and knows what he will be.

Of course, do you know what he wants to be?

"...a daddy rabbit! That is what he will be--with lots of little bunny children to feed when they are hungry. He will be a nice daddy who will chase the children when they want to be chased..."

Cue maniacal sobbing.

And in an image that still defines my idea of a perfect home, there is the daddy bunny, on the last page of the book, stepping on a stool tucking in a little bunny into the top of four built-in wall bunks, as another child waits with a little stuffed bunny flopped by his side.

Everything seems some elaborate code for alienation, longing, love, loss. I guess I always wanted to be a Mommy Bunny. A mommy bunny that chased the children, tossed them high into the air, imagined what they would be when they grew up, reading them books, tucking them into a wall of bunks. I feel so cheated from days of lightness. I miss my lightness.

So now, another Monday morning haiku:

reading little books
about being a daddy
makes tears of longing.

that one wasn't supposed to be funny.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Summer solstice

After Lucia died, six months seemed like such an impossibly long time away. June?

It will never come.

June is warm. June is beautiful. June is summer. I couldn’t conceive of where I would be in my life, my healing, or my grief. I measured my mood based on the hour, even a day seemed too long. Lucy died and was born on winter solstice. December, I could conceive of nothing warm. Everything was much too icy, much too cold, much too dark and lonely; the sun seemed lifetimes away.

Six months later was summer solstice, the polar opposite of Lucy’s day. I have these markers forever, and I suspect that I will attach my grieving to those days rather than to a date on the calendar. Summer solstice, would I be on the opposite side of my emotions as well? I had no idea. Now, six months has become a different marker of sorts. Not simply because half a year will have passed since Lucy died, which is its own pain, but also because it is the time when our midwives and high risk OB told us we can start trying to conceive again.


I’m not one of those women who left the hospital thinking I would try again. Ever. “I will never have another child.” I said to Sam, staring into the beautiful eyes of my husband. The ultrasound technician and the nurses and the midwives and the doctors had left the room to give us space after telling us our baby was dead. “I’m sorry, love, but I can’t.” I cried softly into his shoulder, repeating “I’m sorry.” And he held me repeating the words, “I know, Angie, I know.”

In the next few weeks, and months, I would periodically say it to him, just to remind him not to get any funny thoughts. “I’m not sure I will ever have another child, Sam. Do you understand?” And he would answer, “I will be sad, but I will understand.”

Some days, I mourn for all my possible children, not just Lucy. I cannot imagine ever being pregnant again. I don’t ever want to be pregnant again. I always wanted two girls. I have two girls, even if one is dead. Even if one can’t run and play, she is still a daughter I birthed. She is still a girl I birthed and is my daughter. Does it only count if they breathe?

I think sometimes this is why I don’t have shadow issues, like some babylost mamas, with pregnant women and babies, because it is not something for which I am longing. I want MY baby, my Lucy, my beautiful beautiful Lucia. I don’t want another baby. I don’t want a new baby to remind me of my loss. I don’t want to push my luck. I appreciate the child I have. I don’t want to move on, have a “rainbow” baby…I want to be whole again. I want to be a whole person. A good mother. A stable daughter. I’m not sure I can do that with a newborn. And yet, I fully understand when other women focus on trying again. It is an impulse that is just below the surface of not wanting to ever again. Sometimes I’m afraid if I scratch that veneer, I will desperately want another child I may never get.

All of these thoughts sometimes make me feel very Other in this community and outside of it. People say things that I know are meant to comfort, but that ache in me. Friends who say it would be a travesty if I don’t have another baby, since I am such a good mother. (I DID HAVE A BABY!) People that interpret my dreams to mean I am destined to have another living child. Acquaintances that assume I would be trying again, as soon as I get the green light. Other people that tell me it is fear, cowardly, to not try again. Even my first grief therapist refused to accept that I didn’t want to have more children, she would repeat like a positive birth loss therapist mantra, “Some women wait as long as a year before trying again.” The metatext simply being: But they always try again.

Truth be told, I haven’t really read many stories of women who go on to decide not to have any more children. I have read stories of infertility, of painful decisions, of not conceiving easily after loss, but to choose not to have another child, it seems strange, even to me. I decided to have Lucy, why not decide to have another baby that lives?

It is not simply that she might not live. It is NOT fear, though for a while I thought it was. It is just that my heart isn’t in it. I imagine going back to square one with grief. Square one with child rearing. Square one with being out of work (being a stay at home mom is a sacrifice I chose to make for a limited time.) I imagine if something were to happen to child number three, would I, could I, still be a good mother to Beatrice, or a good wife to Sam? It’s not just about me; it is also about them.

I do not take this decision lightly. I remember my midwives, like a hippie Greek chorus, saying, “Some women just chose to forgo birth control and see what happens.” To use birth control, or not use birth control…it is very tempting to leave it up to the Fates.

I think about having another baby all the time, even if it seems like my decision is made already. Molly once said to me, “I thought hard about my decision to have children, and now I resent having to make that decision again.” And I have thought that too. I resent having to make this decision again. But the truth is, I thought it would happen that one day I would wake up, and say, “I need to have another baby.” That my body would want it. That I would know, deep within my soul, that another baby is the right decision. But that hasn’t fucking happened yet. Will it ever happen? Did it happen to you?

I catch myself, every now and again, imagining my full belly, moving with baby, and the expectation. I think of baby names constantly. I paint pictures of Bea and Lucy and imagine what our family portrait will be in a few years. I think about the women I know who are pregnant—there are many many of them (nine at last count), and remember what that was like—pregnant with my first, pregnant with my second. The happiest times of my life. I think of Beatrice with her little sister, and I get choked up and sad. She deserves a sister, or brother. I think of breast feeding, and baby smells, and then...I also can’t go there. Not completely. It always stops. Something stops me.

On the longest day of the year, I will begin making the toughest decision of my life. I know I don’t have to make this decision now, every therapist I have seen, every person I have talked to, says that to me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate that sentiment. It is good to be reminded that I have flexibility and choice in this. It is that it is out there lingering. It is eating me up. I want to know if I should begin mentally preparing for this next phase of our life. Baby after loss. I also don’t know if getting pregnant will be easy. I am 35, that bullshit magic age. I want to start trying now, if I am going to try again.

Sometimes, despite my logical, non-superstitious, non-fate-believing mind, I want to consult the Oracle of Delphi. I want the hallucinogenic smoke to waft over an altar, and a half-crazed woman in long flowing gowns and crazy gypsy hair screaming and high to tell me what the gods have in store for me. I want someone to read my tarot cards, my astrological forecast, my aura.

I want someone to tell me what to do. I've made too many decisions since December. Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Haiku and tanka for the day

The last six weeks I have participated in Mother Henna's Grief: Finding our Way small group session. Mama Henna, aka, Kara, is a force and a wonder, and I feel honored to have worked with her, even if it was briefly. We explored our grief through creativity, and participated in a forum style discussion. By we, I mean, me and other mamas who have experienced losses, mostly losses like my own, I believe.

It was really incredible. It made me think of my grief three dimensionally, which was enlightening. Creativity begets creativity, and participating in a workshop where creative, non-linear thinking is encouraged is liberating. I wanted to share a haiku and tanka written for our last session. I have been working on a poem, and this tanka is a part of that larger work. I heart poetry.

Moss-covered morning
Dew settles on my warm breath
A deep sigh escapes

Wearing somber, black,
itchy clothes and intricate
necklaces of hair,
She placed a sign on her heart
That read “Protect from idle talk.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I don’t believe in jinxes anymore.

I realized that yesterday when a pregnant friend off-handedly said, “I didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day. I didn’t want to jinx anything.”

When I had considered all the possible reasons why Lucy died, jinx was not one of them. But it got me thinking, about jinxes. Does my friend think I jinxed this pregnancy by telling my friends and my neighbors at eight weeks that I was pregnant? Or was it because I got her room ready, or stuffed her Christmas stocking, or told my friends her name? Was it when I pouted because Sam didn’t do anything for Mother’s Day last year, when I had just found out I was pregnant? Was it because I loved her too much too early? Did I jinx it when I thought about late night feedings and got anxious and thought, “What am I doing having another kid?”

Of course, it seems so silly. Superstitions. But I probably thought that sometimes-- that an early congratulations, or gift, might jinx something. The universe might punish the cockiness of celebrating life too early. With Beatrice, I was so superstitious, so scared of doing anything wrong, even if it was silly. “Better to be safe than sorry,” I stupidly said. “I’m not walking under that damn ladder.”

I didn’t want to jinx Lucy either. I wanted Lucy to live, but I did all those things. Told everyone at eight weeks. Set up the crib at 25 weeks. Went Christmas shopping for her in utero. Announced her name. Posted status update after status update on Facebook about “Getting this kid out.”

My child died.

If keeping my mouth shut for nine months would have saved my child, I would have done it. I didn’t know. I didn’t think it was possible. I wanted to apologize as I stare at the ceiling last night, a cry welling up in my eyes. I’m sorry, Lucy, if I jinxed you, even though, I don’t believe in jinxes.

Cross your fingers.
Kiss your hand, touch the roof of the car.
Lick your thumb, punch your left hand.
Hold your breath.
Make a wish.
Knock on wood.
Throw salt over your shoulder.
Cross yourself, kiss your hand.

Imagine her breathing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day

It was not a good weekend.

I didn't want to write about Mother's Day. Not. At. All. It is so complex, the emotions around having one living daughter and one dead one. Someone wrote on my Facebook page "I've been thinking of you on this bittersweet day as you mourn for Lucia, but celebrate motherhood with your beautiful Beatrice." It was nice to have someone remember Lucia on Mother's Day and how hard this day would be for me, but inside I was thinking, "This year, it is all bitter."

And if I am celebrating, I am celebrating my motherhood to both of them. I am a mother to both of them--actively a mother to Bea AND Lucy. I love Lucia as much as if she were here, as deeply and completely as I love my Beatrice. And I ache that she is not here. That pain, I absolutely know, is something only a mother feels. I miss Lucia. I just miss her.

And so, what to do on a day when we are to celebrate our mother-ness? I am two separate mothers. I am a creative loving compassionate strong mother, and I am a broken sad bereaved mother. This Mother's Day, instead of celebrating all the ways I am a mother to Beatrice and Lucy, I mourned all the ways I couldn't be a mother, not just to Lucy, but also to Beatrice. To be honest, I couldn't rightly control what came out of me--the tears, the screaming, the aching, the pain, the missing. It came out of me like the early days of this loss. And then Beatrice would crawl on top of me, and say,"Mami crying." And I would feel this sense of overwhelming guilt--a deep guilt that Beatrice's childhood will have this grief, and sadness, and yet this is my family's reality. I cannot protect her from loss, though I desperately wish it were different. I also had a deep guilt for not making Mother's Day as much about Bea as it was about Lucy.

It happens often that guilt creeps into my grief. Not guilt about Lucy's death, but guilt about Beatrice's childhood and happiness. When I think of a new piece of jewelery with Lucy's name, or tweak the design for my Lucy tattoo, or invent a new way of honoring Lucy, I feel guilty that I don't do that for Beatrice. Will she grow up noticing how all my jewelry, my tattoos, my art and my writing is about the daughter that is not there? Will she resent her sister? Will she resent me? I tell Beatrice all the time about how I miss Lucy, how I love Lucy, how I am crying for Lucy. We talk about Lucy. She never met Lucy. Maybe she thinks, who is this Lucy person? Why does Lucy get so much of my mother?

And so, this was my Mother's Day. Complicated. Guilt-ridden. Sad. and now it is over, and I can go back to appreciating being a mother to Beatrice and Lucy instead of the ways in which I am not a good mother to them. But still, in this space where I write about the ways in which Lucy's death has transformed my life, I want to take a minute,the day after Mother's Day, to appreciate Beatrice. She is the light of my life, my giggling heap of girl. When I was about six months pregnant with her, I had a dream where she appeared to me. In the dream, she was a newborn, but talking. She had golden curls and blue eyes. At the time, I thought that was hilarious, and so far out. I mean, I have black hair and dark brown eyes. (She now is blond and blue-eyed.) She told me her name was Stephanie, but I could call her anything I wanted. She also told me she picked me to be her mother, because she remembered how kind and compassionate I was. When I woke up from that dream, I had my first sense of being a mother. Today, I realize that that dream was Beatrice. It is her personality to a T. I am proud of Beatrice in so many ways, not least of which is because she is kind, compassionate, polite, smart, happy, and funny. She makes me feel like I am pretty good at this mothering thing. Everyday, I kiss her nose and say, "Thank you, mijita, for picking me to be your mother." Everyday, I appreciate how lucky I am to be her mother, even if some of those days are spent curled up under the covers mourning my losses.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Our community

Did you ever meet someone where there is something else going on? Sure, you shake hands, either in real life or virtually, and it is polite. But it is like they owed you money in a past life. It’s not exactly like you remember the amount, but something about them makes you think, “Oh, right, I remember this douche bag now.”

If you don’t know, I’m a recently added clicker for Lost and Found Connections Abound, so I have the privilege of reading the stillbirth, neonatal death and infant death blogs on Mel’s huge mother blogroll and passing on news to LFCA. This was the end of my first week. As I read a whole host of blogs I had never read before, blogs spanning from years to weeks since the loss of the writer’s baby or babies, I realized that each of us on this journey experience such universal truths with very individual perspectives. It was humbling and insightful. I was so curious after looking at people’s sidebars, why it is we connect with some blogs and not others?

I know my writing is not everyone’s cup of tea. This journey is mine alone. I’m generally not offended if someone decides to drop me, add me, comment, not comment, but I do think this community is beautiful because of the support from all realms—from the babylost and non-babylost alike, from the pregnant and the trying, from the ones of recent loss and those with losses from many decades ago. Comments are so important, and I appreciate every one. (Except for perhaps that one I got from a sex yoga blog in Malaysia, I could have done without that one.) It is why I comment on blogs often, because when something moves me, or resonates with me, or I see someone hurting, or happy. I can smile at them, open my arms, send a brief note to tell them that their stories were heard.

I just wonder some days what it would be like if, instead of reading these blogs, I ran into grieving women throughout my day, and heard their stories instead of reading them. This used to happen often when I worked as the morning barista in the largest coffee shop (during the pre-Starbucks times) in Tucson, Arizona. People would flutter in. I would see their car pull into the parking lot, and start their drinks. I knew details of their lives that their own sisters, husbands or parents didn’t know. And I really cared about the people who drank coffee in that place. All of us that worked there did. We wondered where they were, if they were regulars that skipped a day. We noticed when people were down, or angry, or happy, or short, or spacey. We didn’t gossip about them, but we talked about their lives as though they were friends of ours. We reached out to those in need. We set people up on dates. We passed along recommendations, and job leads, and books, and anything we could give at the moment.

But in this community, where we might read blogs in our pajamas over our morning cup of coffee, I wonder how much of our mood changes how we read the blog post. Would my own delivery of my words change the message? Would you like me, or dislike me, because of how I speak, or my nervous laughter, or my sarcastic undertones? Could you get past my crazy hair to listen to my story, or would my one wild white hair curled in front of my eyes distract you too much?


Last night, Sam and I went on a date night, dropping Beatrice off at my sister’s house. After our night, we lounged in my sister’s living room with the kids. Cooper, my almost seven year old nephew, had his head against my shoulder, and my sister said to me, “I was telling Cooper today what wasn’t invented when we were children.”

“Yeah, Auntie Angie, there wasn’t an internet, or cordless phones. Mommy told me that you used to fight with her just outside of the reach of Abuelita when she was on the phone.” (Karmically, I know naughtiness is coming my way.)

It made me think. There once wasn’t an internet. And my beautiful new friends in Australia would have not felt like my neighbors. What would I have done after Lucy died? What would my community look like?

A few weeks ago, my friend Kitt sent me a really interesting snippet of a book she was reviewing by a historian of religion named Molly McGarry called, Ghosts of Futures Past: Spiritualism and the Cultural Politics of Nineteenth-Century America.

Here are Kitt's words, because, well, I would have just rewritten them:

I was sort of blown away by this part of the book where she was talking about how mothers of lost children were especially drawn to spiritualism, not because this was new information, but because of how she analyzed it. She talked about Victorian culture and the rituals of grief with which I'm sure you're familiar: the elaborate mourning rituals, the carefully prescribed stages of grief with specific clothing for each phase, the memento mori, lockets, notecards, etc. And I had always thought that maybe that would be an easier time to experience such a loss--not that it's ever "easy," that's a terrible word for me to use--but because death was an expected part of life...there are a lot of books about death in Victorian culture, people's awareness of death, and so on. But grievers who were drawn to spiritualism were actually critical of the way Victorians grieved; the "intricate rituals of middle-class sentimental culture effectively shifted the social focus from the dead to the living, from those who were mourned to the mourners themselves."

But spiritualists wanted to connect to the dead, so they got involved in spiritualist communities, which, McGarry argues, were virtual communities like the internet is today. True, they would attend actual events--séance and the like--in an attempt to connect with their lost children, but they would also subscribe to spiritualist journals and write letters in which they said that no one understood them and their grief except others with the same experience. She wrote: "The medium's bodily transformation in the séance circle was an individual experience collectively mobilized." It was accepted that "only those who had been mourners could sympathize with the bereaved." One woman wrote, "To others my grief may appear excessive, but you, who have lost children, may conceive of the anguish of a mother's spirit, in seeing suddenly snatched from her arms, in the space of a few hours, the idol of her heart...and who in that Spirit-world can replace the mother in this?" [here I thought of the Jizo, as I've learned about it from you.] Here's McGarry again: "What most characterizes this literature is a sense of social isolation among the correspondents, of being without collective comfort and alone with solitary grief. It is hard to say whether these bereaved individuals found themselves actually excluded from the materialistic cult of mourning and untouched by the era's mostly literary ethos of sentimentality or whether they were voicing grief as a longing for connection that these social forms repressed. In some ways, the very existence of these epistolary exchanges speaks to the shared sense among letter writers that their immediate social circles had failed them and that another imagined community, in this case a community in print, was required to assist in the mourning process." And finally: "Spiritualism provided a community of the living for the living."

Such a rich beautiful multi-faceted insight into our people--the babylost. I also thought, like Kitt, that with the elaborate Victorian mourning rituals, and the prevalence of stillbirth at the time, that the 19th century might have been an era where it might be, uh, easier somehow. It is never easy to grieve, as Kitt says. And it has never been easier. I feel like a jerk for even thinking it, but it still is one of those ideas I had. How many of us have written blog post upon blog post about our alienation from our social circle, the non-babylost? Still, I found it fascinating.

I think we would have found each other in a different way in a different time. We would have connected more with some women than others. It might have been through church, or séance, but the other babyloss women would have answered that loud wail across the universe that only a woman who lost her baby can recognize. Maybe we would have been keening together in an ice hut, not fixing our husband's torn kayak, or maybe we would have sat around a campfire dancing our stories with masks and drums, stabbing sticks into the ground, or maybe even we might have sat in a circle in a darkened room, listening to the sound of spirit trumpets or waiting for objects to levitate, but I have no doubt, we would have told our stories to one another somehow.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A day in the life

Tonight, I am alone with the girl and the dog.

It isn't anything hysterical. Sam has a twenty-four hour shift. It happens once a week, and every week I sort of hold my breath for a day, sporadic sleep and endless Facebook quizzes. I try not to think too hard, or else I cry and feel overwhelmed.

These days are stretched, and desperate. I take long walks through the small alleys behind our neighborhood streets, and make half-assed meals for us. (Tonight was broccoli and quesadillas with Iced Passion Tea.) We paint for hours, and leave the door open so the dog can come and go as he pleases. Tonight, he ran into the house with his stuffed sheep, slid straight into the chair, wiping out all gangly legs, and floppy paws. I am trying to commit these awkward puppy moments to memory, because he will soon be a big dog.

As we walked today, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. My little Beatrice wandering a few steps ahead, and Jack on his leash. I turned to see a large black dog off leash, about half a block away, making a beeline towards us. I quickly said, “Come here, mijita.” Picking Beatrice up in my arms, my heart sunk, as I imagined this dog grabbing my little skittish puppy in his jaws tearing him limb from limb. He is still so shell-shocked from being attacked by the neighbor’s dog, and well, so am I. I stood still, as the dog ran straight towards us, teeth bearing, a bark in his throat. I closed my eyes. “Please, no. Please, no. No. No.” The dog ran around us, and a teenage boy running full speed behind him yells, “He’s friendly.” But the damage was done, and my heart was in my throat, and I wanted to melt into a heap of sobbing anxiety. I held Beatrice close, as she repeated “Mama, doggie. Mama, scared.” Jack sat at attention at my feet. “Good dog.” We turned around and went home. Half an hour later, my heart was still racing as I pitchforked compost. I needed to do something physical, exhausting. I know the situation doesn’t warrant the kind of anxiety I feel, and yet, when I honor my soul, I must honor the grotesque and the beautiful alike.


As the days grow closer to Mother’s Day, I miss Lucy more and more.

I am dreading this weekend. I want to plant a tree or get a tattoo. But I suspect I will spend the day in bed.

Today I received a beautiful note from someone I once met. It was last spring, and we were heading to the Farmer’s Market in our little town. A women in line for the Mac machine was riding a Townie. The townie is officially my maternity bike—the bike I ride when I am pregnant. Townie people form a sort of cult. We thought they were dorky, sure, like everyone, but once we rode one, we recognized how wonderfully comfty and plush, and fast they are. Dorky and comfortable trumps cool and painful. Somehow we ended up talking to her about kid bike seats, canvas bags, high chairs, fixies, home bike shops, camping—all within a ten minute conversation in line for some cash. We ran into her a few weeks later at the market, and she had her beautiful daughter Angelina with her. Turns out she had heard of us from dog sitting for her neighbors. I looked for her every week at the market and we learned more about what we had in common. We made empty promises of surprise drop-bys, but our two year olds probably got the best of us. Last week, Sam, Bea and Jack ran into her on the street. She asked about the baby.

Sometimes I feel guilty how negative I am on my blog. How down with people I can be. But some people—my friend Laura, this woman I once met at the farmer’s market—just say perfect things at perfect times…there are good eggs in the world, and sometimes I think we need these people in our babylost village. The compassionate ones. The beautiful ones. They need to remind us that the outside world isn’t a scary place. It is just a place of the mostly oblivious, but well-intentioned people who have mostly been sheltered from suffering. I vacillate between thinking they give me faith in the world, and thinking they are the delicate souls we need to protect. But still, after hours of fantasizing about a world with all babylost mamas, I remember how much I appreciate the souls who shouldn’t ever get it, and yet somehow do.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The healers

A few days ago, I received an email advertisement from my prenatal massage therapist advertising massage services on Mother’s Day.


Some things make me livid, some things just make me so very sad, and some make me wrestle with philosophical questions. There are still others, like this one, that make me feel all three.

Throughout my pregnancy with Lucia, I attended prenatal yoga, and a few sessions of prenatal massage—all through the same studio. I sought healing energy and love from every corner of my world. I wore long flowing dresses and walked in the grass barefooted. I stopped drinking caffeine, ate a mostly vegetarian diet. I meditated, wrote poetry…I tried to connect with Lucy in so many ways, because all day I chased Beatrice. Some days, I would sort of forget I was pregnant. The massage and the yoga were these times of the week that were solely ours—Lucia and Mama. I felt very earthy and lovely. It is when I reveled in being Mother Earth Goddess, and rounded and beautiful. I was able to grow beautiful baby girls, and it made me feel like magic.

As I rode my bicycle to yoga or massage, I would think how incredibly happy I was, on a deep fundamental level. Every cell of my body was contented. I talked with the massage therapist as she worked about birthing naturally, about yoga moves to release stress, and what acupuncture could do for labor. It felt vital to Lucia’s health and well-being that I love my shape and my rounding belly. The massage therapist’s touch was part of that acceptance; much like the movement and meditation of yoga was a part too. These were the memories with Lucia that I drink in these days. I just want to tap into and absorb all that healing, lovely energy. I miss that feeling of my daughter. I miss the cellular happiness. I miss Lucy and I alone together drinking each other in. I miss imagining her with me on summer afternoons making sun tea, and laying in the grass. I would say to her, “When you were in Mami’s belly, we would ride our bicycle to yoga, and stretch like this.” And I would reach my hands over my head, “And you would always kick when I was in this position. That is your favorite pose, Lucy-girl.” And I would touch her button nose, or kiss the very bottoms of her feet, as she shrieked and giggled.


After Lucy died, I sent an email out to everyone in all the realms of our life. We didn’t want to run into anyone anywhere who didn’t know. Funny, it was the worst thing I could imagine at the time, having to tell someone in the supermarket that my daughter died. Now, it just seems like an everyday occurrence, and I feel like an old hat at being able to articulate the words, “My daughter was stillborn.” We received many emails of condolences. As you know, the ones that were most surprising to me were the ones that weren’t there. In particular, I was surprised to not receive condolences from my prenatal yoga instructor and my prenatal massage therapist.

I considered both of those women part of my holistic maternity care team. In terms of my mental health, I saw them as vital as my midwife in many ways. I adored the care and attention they gave to me and Lucy. When she died, I thought they too would be sad. I actually imagined them to be first with a word of soothing and healing grace. Maybe I imagined them as the only ones able to manage this complicated terrain. Certainly, they dealt with death in their practices before, right? Or maybe not, and so I ask this question:

How do you soothe women and nurture new life if you cannot handle death?

I am not the first women in the world to have a stillbirth, or to lose a child. After many weeks, and my sending the yoga instructor two more emails about continuing practice, as well as contacting another instructor in the studio, I received an email from the yoga instructor with a long explanation and many excuses about why she didn’t say she was sorry earlier. That is always charming, no? “I wanted to give you space to grieve.” (Yeah, because emails with a simple “I’m sorry” are always so disruptive.) And she tried to give me ten free sessions to make up for being inconsiderate, I guess. About a week after she sent an email, I was still debating whether I would return to her studio. Something about her email made me uncomfortable. I needed a safe place, and I still wasn’t sure her studio could provide it. Then, I ran into her at Target. She was shaking when she saw me. She absolutely looked terrified, out of her element, unable to deal. She gave me a quick hug, and then, her son wandered a bit out of reach. She shrugged her shoulders, and chased her son off in another direction, as I stood there. There certainly could be a thousand reasons for what she was going through that day, but I don’t have time to imagine any of them. I haven’t returned to her studio. She is a good instructor, but as time creeps along, I have come to realize that I want my teachers to be compassionate and most importantly, I want them to be brave.

And then there is this email, entitled “Mother’s Day.” It is the first email I received from the massage therapist since Lucy died. An advertisement for Mother’s Day massages? Are you fucking kidding me? At least, if you are going to ignore the fact that my daughter died all together, take me off your fucking spam list for prenatal massages. Plan on me not coming back to your studio.

And so, I think it begs the question of how you deal with the beginning of life, if you cannot deal with the end of it. How do you soothe people when you ignore a huge part of this human experience—death, grief, mourning, and chaos? Can you be a healer, if you don’t know how to sincerely say “I’m so so sorry?

Monday, May 4, 2009


When I was younger, I wanted a tattoo of Coatlicue on my forearm. With her many snaked skirt and her necklace of human hearts, she gave birth to the moon, the stars, and the God of War and the Sun. Though she is Mother Earth, she is most often depicted as deadly rather than benevolent, because as all live by her, all die by her.


Sometimes I wonder if all my scars came together and formed a picture, would it be Coatlicue after all these years? Or would my scars form an elaborate series of pictures stretching from my ankles to my collarbone, like the 17th century Ramayana prints showing birth, war, death, sex, sadness, travel, life? For now, I am left with stretch marks.

On my deflated belly, still soft and lumpy from birthing two children in two years, there are small pink lines scattered from my ribs to my hips. As I stepped from the shower the other morning, I glimpsed them in the mirror. Like small exasperation marks over my middle. I stretched my hands out, and I saw that the pink marks on my brown skin formed a pink heart, right over my belly, right where my babies were housed, where they thrived, where I fell in love with them, where one of them died...this is now the story written on my body. Love and pain. A map to my insides. I cried and traced the outline of them. If shame of my fat didn't keep my shirt down, I would show the world the pattern of love etched on my abdomen.

"See this heart? My baby died here," I would tell the cashier at Wegmans. I earned this heart, broken or not. And no matter how much I am shamed by my fat, I also think my heart scar is grotesquely beautiful, like a Dali painting.

The talk on Glow in the Woods this past month focused on the body, and I hated it. Not the words. The beauty of the contributions often moved me to tears, but I hated having to think about my body. This month I wanted to participate in the 7x7, and yet, every time I began thinking about this dysfunctional relationship with my body, I wanted to drink heavily. I hate my body now. I worked so hard in my adult life to accept my curves, my strength, my large breasts, my muscles. Certainly, I am not the only woman with a complicated relationship with their body, but by my 30s, I had come to a place of love for my body, even though I suddenly grew hips, and sizes beyond my control, and at times, or often even, coveted other body types and longed for my twelve year old flatness. Suddenly, my daughter died, and our relationship, the one between me and my body, had become passive-aggressive, nasty...we kind of began hating each other again.

See, I have this weight that I cannot lose. I have little to no appetite, and still, I count my calories, write everything down, analyze my carbohydrate to protein ratio. And according to my scale, I haven't lost any weight in two months. I've seen doctors and therapists. For what I eat and have eaten for the past four months, I should weigh 50 lbs., instead of having 50 lbs. to still lose...and yet, my body holds on to this fat as though it were my Lucy. I want to explain to my body, "This fat is not the baby. This reserve is not feeding the child. Let it go. Let me be the body I feel inside--frail, flat, gangling, awkward." And yet, this body is ungainly and large, and able to nourish a baby and a two year old. This body is not me. I was an athlete once. Now I am the personification of Mother Earth goddess--large breasts, wide hips, strong thighs. Sometimes I fear that I summoned her, Coatlicue, by imagining her image on me. I imagine she devoured me, took my baby and left me marked with the vestiges of fertility goddess and a large intricate scar on my belly in the form of love.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


I am honored to be a Feature Poet in the May/June edition of Exhale. For those of you that don't know, Exhale is an online publication written by and for women who are experiencing or have experienced infertility or miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss. They have published two of my poems: "Anti-Prayer" and "Winter Solstice".

Go give Exhale some love, and while you're at it, give yourself some love too (from me, of course.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009


With every fallen eyelash, shooting star, four-leafed clover, truckload of hay, my wish (I feel I can share this now) was "Please let my baby be born healthy."

I realize now it should have been, "Please let my baby be born alive and healthy." Does that violate the rules of wishing--two adjectives? Because ostensibly, according to all the pathology and autopsy reports, she was perfectly healthy. She was dead, but healthy. I need to be more clever in my wishes and outsmart the universe. I thought alive was a given with healthy, but apparently not.

At times I am at peace with there being no reason for Lucy's death, and other times, it feels like I am still waiting for a reason. I used to imagine at death's door, all our questions got answered. Eventually, I came to this place where I realized that there was no question that would be important to know after I died. I wouldn't really care who shot JFK, or who stole my sticker book in the third grade. But, now, I have one. I want to know why Lucy died. I don't want to know on a metaphysical level (well, yeah, I do), but I mean, I want to know on a physical level. What was the mechanism that killed my daughter? Why did her heart stop? Why didn't she live longer than 38 weeks in my belly? What is the medical reason?

Without a definitive answer, I feel like Lucy has been kidnapped, rather than that Lucy is dead. I'm just waiting for her to come home, for the police to call and tell me they have a lead. I am in this endless anticipation of finding information out, because I cannot believe or accept that this is it. This is life now. I went to the hospital one day in December, and came home a day later without my baby and that's it. Her life erased. Her face gone. Her body ash in my secretary.

I wish...