It is my great honor to welcome my first guest post on still life with circles. Very early in my grief, Danielle and I began exchanging emails. She was and still is a frequent commenter on my blog and several others in the community. Her insights, wit, compassion and kindness instantly drew me, and many of my friends, to her. Her first son Kai died a month and a half before Lucia, and we quickly began writing long emails to each other about where we were in our grief. There is a respect and love between us that makes it easy to be friends even in the hardest of times. And there have been hard times. Danielle lost her second son a year and two months later. Sometimes, in our friendship, when those moments get too hard and things are too sucky, we just read a book together, and that helps me more than anything I could imagine. I feel privileged to call her my friend.
Despite many of our urgings, Danielle does not have a blog. I definitely understand her reasons for needing that privacy. On more than one occasion, I have extended my blog to her to write about where she is and to process things. But she never bit. This week, however, she emailed me with her contribution to the Right Where I Am project. Her insights into grief and her journey in particular are touching, hard and important. So, I thank her from the bottom of my heart for sharing right where she is with us all.
I am on an airplane with my husband. In my carry-on are two books, a candy bar, the work I will not do, alcohol wipes, a syringe, and medication wrapped in an ice pack. In a minute, I will have to wake up the sleeping guy with the headphones so I can go to the bathroom and inject myself in the leg. I can’t quite believe I am doing this again, doing this still. Though I am pretty adept at the whole shot thing, I don’t quite trust my aim if there’s turbulence.
It’s been over three years since our first appointment with the reproductive endocrinologist, followed two weeks later by the minor surgery that I thought of then as the hardest thing I would ever have to do for us to become a family. In total I was under anesthesia six times in two years, landing in the emergency room or reeling dizzily for weeks afterwards each time. Counting acupuncture, blood draws, and the four rounds of DIY injections at home, I have been stuck with hundreds of needles. We have spent close to a college tuition for the child we do not have on fertility treatments, herbal supplements, therapy for me, therapy for Alan, therapy for us. We have conceived, lost, and mourned two sons. We are still not a family.
Right after we lost Kai, the fact that the world kept going while my own life had gone off the cliff was more than I could get my head around. I developed an intense, personal hatred of people carrying coffee cups from Starbucks, because they were FUCKING DRINKING COFFEE while I was standing next to them, shredded, on the subway platform. I stopped answering the phone, because questions like “How are you?” and “What’s new?” were impossible for me to answer except through the lens of grief. I developed a one-shouldered shrug, which I used to respond to any question about what I wanted to eat, do, talk about. I screamed and cried myself hoarse in the shower. And on the day we were told that we would never know what happened to Kai- that there was no answer except “likely sublinical infection” (read: black magic)- I wanted to die.
I could tell you the story of how it slowly got better, because it did. I could tell you that while I was in the very hardest and ugliest phase of my grief, I also went to work every day, formed new friendships, went on vacation. I could tell you how possibility came back, a little at a time, and carried us through a whole new set of fertility issues and straight through to IVF. But then I would also have to tell you the story of Chip. He brought light and hope back into our home from the day we knew he was coming until the day we knew he wasn’t. Chip was diagnosed with trisomy 13- a 100% fatal genetic disorder. We said goodbye at 13 weeks, and I went immediately from numbness and shock to white-hot anger. I am married to an extraordinarily kind and patient man. If I weren’t, that anger would have burned our marriage to the ground.
Some days the grief about our children and the grief about our infertility are one and the same. Some days I miss them separately and specifically, for different reasons- our two sons, and the embryo we fell in love with too soon who never turned into our daughter. Some days that missing feels like rage, or fear, or disgust with myself. Sometimes it feels like compassion for Alan, who didn’t get to be the wonderful father he was made to be, or for my mother, who keeps Kai’s ultrasound photo in a frame at her bedside. But mostly I just wish they were here, and I am sad to realize as I write this that I have no real idea what my life would be like if they were.
There are other things now, things that are not grief and anger. There is gratitude- for health insurance, for extraordinary women from different parts of my life who have offered to serve as egg donors or gestational surrogates, for friends who actually seem to like me this way. There is wonder- at big things like waterfalls and small things like figuring out the trick in the Sunday Times crossword. There is wistfulness- for once-cherished friendships that didn’t make it, for the part of me that used to care passionately about supporting Latino playwrights and visiting my grandmother, for a time when I truly felt like a part of this community in a way that I no longer do. There is release- in near-hysterical laughter, in dancing, in the love of my husband. But there are no children. There is no family.
I am OK most of the time. I care about people other than myself again. There are things I want to do, and when I don’t do them it’s because I don’t have enough time or enough money, and not because they don’t matter. If you had asked me at any point along the way, I would have said that I could never feel this OK again. I was wrong. That said, OK is not happy, and I don’t think I will ever be truly happy without a living child. I hope I’m wrong about that, too. I hope I don’t have to find out.