Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Retreat announcement

Babylost Mama Retreat
Ocean City, New Jersey

November 20-22, 2009

Ever dream of a weekend around women who just get it? Connect with a group of women have recently lost a baby just before or after birth. Though we are just women brought together by our grief, we have found a community of friends. Together, we have organized a grassroots retreat for healing, listening, sharing, connecting, and relaxing.

There are no counselors or leaders for this retreat—just women in mourning. Our retreat will be held Friday evening through Sunday, November 20th-22nd, in Ocean City, New Jersey. We have reserved a large gorgeous Victorian. Ocean City is located about an hour and fifteen minutes from Philadelphia and two and half hours from New York City. If you fly into Philadelphia or Newark, let us know what your flight schedule looks like and Angie or Molly will try to arrange a time to pick you up and drive you to the house.

ITINERARY: We have scheduled a loose itinerary for our weekend, though participants are asked to sign up to help with meals and food costs. Each meal will be “hosted” by one or two participants who will share costs and planning for that meal.

Arrival Friday afternoon and evening.
Friday night dinner is followed by candle lighting, welcome and story sharing.
Saturday morning will be a day of activity and relaxation.
Breakfast is followed by a craft time. No artistic abilities are needed.
Lunch will be followed by afternoon lounging/naps and massage. Evening finds us with a relaxing dinner and more story sharing.
Sunday morning begins with yoga, followed by brunch. And our goodbyes.

WHO: This retreat is for any women who have recently lost an infant before or after birth (stillbirth, infant death). It is organized by babylost mamas Angie Y. of still life with circles and Molly of the Unlucky Lottery. It is not affiliated in any way with any official corporate or non-profit group or religion. One thing to note is that a number of the attendees are pregnant, or trying to conceive.

COST: The price is $150 per person. This includes two nights accommodations. Meals and drinks are not included. We are sharing costs of meals; thus, you will be asked to contribute creatively, monetarily and labor-wise to one meal for the group. If you are flying into the retreat, arrangements will be made with you about the meal portion.

Optional extras (prices not yet set, but will be emailed later):
Massage. We are organizing a time to visit a salon with prenatal massage, massage, facials, and other spa treatments. This is optional, and prices are based on salon-set prices.

JOIN US: We have limited space. We are keeping this group relatively small, and participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. For questions, I would be happy to answer via email at uberangie (at) gmail (dot) com.

My deepest apologies to Monica for ripping off her format (and some of her sentences), but it worked really well for communicating the information. AND thank you for giving us the inspiration to organize our own East Coast retreat when we were ruing not being able to attend the West Coast retreat. Thank you, Monica.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I promise.

I feel this weight of anxiety on me right now. And not one overwhelming anxiety, just a thousand tiny ones. A bill coming up in three days which I haven't paid yet, for whatever ridiculous reason. Mailing out paintings. A bee in my bonnet over something that I should have let go of by now. Deadlines for writing. Painting calaveras, and skeletons. Health issues. Unsent emails that may or may not cause conflict. My weight. Anticipating my daughter's year anniversary in THREE months. I have so many appointments coming up, I feel overwhelmed and excited about them. I like taking care of business, and yet I get all twitchy and anxiety-ridden when I have stuff on my calendar. September was a virtual deluge of social engagements. Taking us out of our fortress of solitude and into the world of functioning adults always makes me pouty and weird. Why do I ever make plans? No, really, I dread them until I go and have a fine time, but the weeks of build-up chap me. The truth is, no matter how much I claim to be anti-social and introverted, if you ask me for lunch, I am usually busy. I always have stuff on my calendar. How does that happen when I am allergic to the whole making plans thing?

Lately, though I've been immersed in painting and writing. It feels good to be exhausted from creativity. To feel you have earned two hours of mindless television reality shows is a wonderful feeling. AND YET, anxiety sometimes makes me feel like I have this intuitive portent of impending doom. My thinking falls squarely in the apocalyptic these days. I go from fine-fine-fine to THE SKY IS FALLING. It doesn't help my husband is in a futuristic sci-fi phase of his reading.

"Can we get a crossbow? And a gigantic cistern for water?" He paused, stared off into space. "Oh, and a generator. We totally need a generator."
"What the hell are you reading?"
"It isn't about that, Angie. I just think we need to be prepared. Just in case. Why, does it bother you if we become a survivalist family?"
"We live in New Jersey, dude. Our neighbors will steal our stuff, and eat us within the first month. We need a compound if we are actually going to survive."
"Speak for yourself, wife, I will have a crossbow."

Still, the other day, while anxiety-surfing and being unproductive during naptime,I saw this new addition to my studio on Etsy. It was an impulse buy, much like the psychic reading I had a few months ago, but what can I say? It spoke to me. Please ignore the chaos of my studio space.

The print is entitled, I promise. It came with a postcard of a forest that simply read:
you are lovely.

Why, thank you. I feel better already.

*If anyone is interested in this poster, I bought it on Etsy here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A conversation

"Mama, what is your name?"
"What do you think my name is?"
"But my other name. The one daddy calls me."
"No, my name is Angie."
"What is my daddy's name?"
"What is my Kelly's name?"
"What is my abuelita's name?"
"What is my MomMom's name?"
"What is my sister's name?"
"Your sister?"
"My sister."
"Yes, Lucy. And she looked just like you."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Día de los Muertos

Many moons ago, when I was an undergraduate (it was many moons ago, but not as many as it should have been if I hadn't quit college to move to the desert and gone on vision quest for five years. Totally not the point), I took a class called Death and Dying. Pretty standard prerequisite class. I think it was in my department, Religion, but may not have been.

Of course, it was fascinating, and about the way different cultures and religions deal with death, end of life issues, depression, loss and, of course, grief. One of our projects was to write a paper about a death we experienced in your family, or to interview your parents about end of life issues, living wills, and get them talking about what they want for their death. It was a way to begin a conversation that is difficult to have, especially for undergraduates navigating this new freedom and independence, but then really you turn the conversation into a deeper understanding of your own relationship with death. I think we were to touch upon culture, religion, philosophy and psychology. And so, I visited my mother, plopped a tape recorder next to her, and began asking her questions. I plied her with wine.

My mother with wine is legendary in my family. Many of my cousins actually used to bring their dates/potential future husbands/interests over to my mother with a bottle of wine, and let the wild rumpus start. Oh, it always started benign, questions about their job, their family...she is very open, accepting and loving until she turns into Black Katharine, as my sister refers to her two glass of wine persona. To me, it is hilarious, but I can see how intimidating it might be to have a small Panamanian woman psychoanalyzing you and telling you that you do not have the right disposition for marrying her niece, even if you have only been dating for two weeks. She once told my cousin's date that if she kept wearing those white dresses and getting all Sharon Stone at Panamanian parties, people were going to think she is a slut. At that moment, my sister, my closest cousin, and I all stood up at the same time, grabbed our wine, and left the room with a sort of deer-in-headlights look. "Oh, I cannot wait to hear the fallout of that one." Part of what my mother said she loved about Sam was the first time we were all sitting around with some wine, and my mother started in, Sam leaned back in his chair, smiled, and said, "Bring it on, Linda. I will answer any question you want. I love your daughter, and I can take it."

Still, my death and dying project ended up being one of the most amazing conversations I have had with my mother. Perhaps the wine gave my mother an ease to the emotions and the memories, or she had been waiting to talk about her family when we were ready to begin asking questions. I had never asked my mother about the death of her father. I was six or seven, I think, and she left for two weeks alone to Panama. My sister, father and I stayed home. I have vague recollections of crooked braids and dresses with sneakers. But it never occurred to me to find out what her experience was like. I don't really think it occurred to me to ask her about her family much at all before the paper brought it up. What I loved about our conversation was the rolling way she talked about her family and grief, and how it interspersed with her childhood. It began my fascination with my family history, collecting the stories of my mother and her sisters, my grandparents and my grandparent's parents, and my lineage.

My mother grew up across the street from a cemetery where she spent long afternoons with her brother, sister and a slingshot. This past August, visiting her childhood home again, I was reminded how far she had come from her roots. Her father was a tailor, and her mother stayed home with the eleven living children, in what was at the time a two bedroom house. She is second youngest. I have seen one picture of my mother as a child. She was in a white dress, kneeling in the dust out in front of her house with her brother next to her, and her two older sisters standing behind her. She looks exactly as she looks in her adulthood. Beautiful. Strong. With a laugh in her eyes. My eyes.

This post is rambling, so bear with me...part of what fascinated me about my mother's story of her father's death was the funeral rituals. Panamanians, like much of Latin America, lays the body in the home for a number of days where mourners come to sit and pray the rosary together. On the day of the funeral, a procession walked to the cemetery from the house with the body. I think things have changed now, but at the time, they walked. For a week following, rosary is done every night in the home where you eat only certain foods. A soup. Hot chocolate or coffee. Some pan dulces. After the week was up, and the soul returned to heaven, the mourning period continued for a year. In our conversation, she then mentioned returning home for Día de los Muertos the following year, and remembering her father with the rest of her sisters. One thing I remember her telling me was my grandfather's drinking buddies came drunk in the evening, and sat around his grave telling stories, and pouring Seco into the is an image I have always loved.

This year, Mother Henna is hosting a Día de los Muertos art swap, and I have signed up to participate. I am beyond excited to explore this part of my history, especially as I mourn my own daughter this year, my father-in-law and my grandmother, and, of course, my own abuelo, who I never really knew in real life, but whose stories I have been collecting for years.

So stayed tuned: On October 31st, I will be posting the art I created and the art I received, and on November 2nd, Panamanians celebrate that day, I will post my own Day of the Dead art. I think Kara has some more openings for this art swap, so check out the link to participate. Also, taking some suggestions for Día de los Muertos art subjects, especially as it relates to babyloss. I have quite a few ideas already, just a matter of sitting down with some brushes, and getting to work.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Silas Orion

I remember where I was when I first read the birth story of Silas Orion. My husband and I cuddled together on our couch, lit by the glow of the computer screen and Lucy's candle, reading and crying. Silas...of the trees. Orion...of the stars. I just loved the image of Silas amongst the trees and in the stars. Both of this earth and of the sky. Both of the day and the night. But this idea of the trees...I glanced over to my left, hanging in my sitting area was a linoleum block print I made a long time ago. I have never titled it, though I wrote on the folder with its sketches, Of the forest. And I thought maybe I should change this to Of the trees, or simply just Silas. Maybe this piece should be for him, because since I read his story, I would glance at that print and think of him.

Still, despite how fortunate I feel to know beautiful Silas through his parents, I wish I didn't. I wish life were different and we met through coffee, or yoga or some strange beautiful circumstances that brought us together with our babies. No matter how much I will it, I cannot change this year. And so I will simply remain grateful for what Chris and Lani have given me this last year. Lani's energy and love, beauty and honesty, moves me and gives me strength. Chris' voice in this community is so very needed. My husband reads his words, and nods, and says, "Yeah, honey, that." And for some weeks, that was all we could do. Use Chris' words to understand each other. Use Chris' experience, grief and pain to start a conversation for which we couldn't find the words. This is the heart of compassion, Chris and Lani, to use your suffering to ease the suffering of others. Silas is incredibly lucky to have both of you as parents.

And so, this day, Silas' birthday, which is all tied up with New Year, makes me pause, stare at Silas' print, and imagine what this first year of Silas was like for Chris and Lani. I shed a tear. Light a candle. Hold you both tightly in my heart today and send my love into the universe for a different kind of second year of Silas.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Last year, my husband and I renovated our old Bungalow kitchen. Ripped out three walls, and all the cabinets, and replanned the flow of our home. My husband built all of our new gorgeous cabinetry. His uncle asked, "Oh, like from Ikea?" And my husband said, "No, like from wood and nails. No Allen wrenches were involved."

I love my kitchen, which is now a warm open space connecting to our dining room. It is exactly the space I imagined, even down to the farm sink we found on a popular free classified ad site for a third of the going price. My fairly tall husband built the cabinets to the ceiling, which means I am constantly standing on chairs. Even the low shelves feel tall to me. I have actually looked into permanently installing library-like ladders to run the circumference of my kitchen. It is not practical. Go figure. So, during the day, there is a pile of dishes on the counter, waiting for Sam to put in the high shelves. I sometimes stand on the stepstool, and tiptoe to get them in, and those unseen things blocking my way...I end up getting a snout hit of tupperware. But this morning, while making my juice, and looking between the glass bowls sitting in wait to the tippity top of my cabinets, I thought about those crevices. Sometimes I feel like my brain is like that, like I cannot peer into the very top of my thoughts. It reminds me of trying to remember my dreams in the morning.

Dream interpretation is sort of this passion I have. I love hearing and analyzing dreams. I once used a dream machine my friend's father invented. You literally sort of experience this sensory deprivation, and the lights on the inside of the eye covering recreate REM sleep, in its different forms, and the sounds you hear are just whooshing, like your blood coursing through your veins. It was wild. There I saw a vision of myself in the desert. Six months later I was living in Tucson. There is a lot of story in the middle of that, but suffice to say, it sort of clarified my desires for me.

Yesterday, I had an elaborate dream of putting together a room-sized jigsaw puzzle. It seems sort of obvious what this dream means, I need to figure something out in my life. The little details of a dream are what sort of obsess me. I was in a gorgeous puzzle store with floor to ceiling shelves filled with puzzles. Everything was wood, and extravagant. Some of these puzzles were blank--a thousand piece puzzle of a white field, or black field. There were no puzzles that were uncomplicated or kind. But the part of the dream that seems significant was that I kept trying to move the puzzle. I would construct an entire corner of this large puzzle, and then have to bring it over to the main puzzle, and it would fall apart in my hands. As I constructed the jigsaw, it formed a photograph of New York City on a clear, perfect Autumn day. The twin towers stood. I worked on the top of the puzzle, so I was building the skyline, but the main focus of the puzzle had not yet been constructed. There was an incredibly handsome Japanese man helping me with the puzzle. (He may be a red herring.)

This morning, I woke remembering a dream of a green river and snaking roadways, phone calls and my cousin's fangs (No, in real life, she is not a vampire.) Insurance companies and water coolers.

The funny thing about the dream obsession interest is that I own two books. One is sort of some house book from a large book chain called 10,000 Dreams Interpreted and the other is a Dream Encyclopaedia that I bought for a friend's birthday gift, and ended up keeping and replacing with a gift certificate. In the back, it has a dream dictionary. The former book is crazy. It is a dream dictionary that portends the future through your dreams, though to be fair, it says that nowhere until you look up a benign dream like "lettuce". And I quote, "To buy lettuce denotes that you will court your own downfall." Or you know, you are hungry for salad. The latter book is more of a psychological interpretation of your dreams.

Ho, ho. You can imagine the fun I have with these, right? I wish I could pretend that I use the latter book more often than the former...but I get great pleasure during my morning coffee to receive a phone call from my sister that begins not with "Hello," but with "I had a dream about crickets." Not a good dream, in case you are wondering.

So, as you can imagine, I am very open to speculation about the puzzle dream if anyone is so inclined.


Very often, I write posts that I never publish. They are sort of snippets, not fully formed ideas. Or sort of goofy. Like I once write a whole blog post about ridiculous conversations I have had with Sam. But this one is a post I had in edit mode since June 13th. I don't know why I didn't publish it, maybe because it was a dream, but since we are talking about dreams, I am cutting and pasting it here.

I step off the elevator. "You are late." My mother-in-law looks at me and walks in the other direction. "Come. Everyone is here for you."

Why is everyone here for me?

And it is a party. A baby shower party, and I look down and I'm not pregnant. And I look at my table of people, Sam, Beatrice, and then there is a little girl with black hair and dark eyes...Sam calls her Sofie, and she reaches up to me and says Mama. And..."A boy? You are getting a boy? What are you naming him?"

What are we naming him? Are we adopting a boy?

I begin writing names I love. One stands out in red and I circle it. The names of our fathers.


My eyes pop open. Beatrice. She is caught between the bed and the wall. No, maybe her leg is pinned in the bedrails. Or, she fell out of bed and is wandering around her room in pain. What is happening? And before I process completely, Sam has jumped out of bed and run into Beatrice's room. It begins again. "Ow. ow. ow. ow. ow. Oooooow." It is coming from the window. Is there a child wandering lost? No, wait, of course, this happens every year.
"Bea is fine," he says. I glance at the clock. 5:15a.
"A cat in heat," I say. "It must be a cat, because only two creatures make such a heartbreakingly creepy sound. Children and cats."
"But why do they have to say OW?"
"I don't know. It is fucking creepy. I just dreamed we adopted a baby."
"Really? Just now?"
"I wish I could dream about Lucy."
"Yeah, me too. I haven't had one since she died."
"Me either."

EDITED TO ADD: As some people are pointing out, maybe I did publish this one, then took it down? I have no memory of that, but didn't want to seem dishonest or weird about it. It was in draft form from June. I just have a shitty memory right now. Hope it doesn't matter that much if it was published for a moment in June, and then republished now...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The last few days

I admit I never do the "What would Lucy be doing now?" thing. It is not my nature. It means I have to pretend she was born perfectly fine. Since I don't know what killed her, I don't know that even if I turned back time and made them induce me when I know she was alive, that she would have been fine. So, before I even get to the point of imagining a tottering baby girl, I am caught in the logistics of my fantasy world.

Sometimes I wish I could imagine her in some other state than dead newborn, like kindergartener, teenager, even mother...but I just can't. I don't have the internal workings for that, just like I also do not understand how men or women can picture different men or women naked. I cannot picture random strangers, or even people I know, without clothes. I get caught up in the idea that perhaps, somewhere, they have a scar I do not know about.

Still, nine months seems to have a kind of significance in the first year after loss. I didn't really worry about the build up of this day, just that autumn equinox was coming. A change of season means my Lucy blows her beautiful wind over me, reminding me that life is moving forward. Her loss on winter solstice somehow connects all change of seasons to her.

But I just wasn't so hung up on this month anniversary, until this weekend. I walked in the room to find Beatrice and Sam watching videos of Beatrice from her first days to this year. We post videos on yo.u for Sam's distant and spread out family. And when we got to nine months...the tears began. Such a concrete reminder of what Lucy was missing, what she would have looked like, what I wish I could see her do, but I also couldn't turn away. I wanted to move forward, see Beatrice grow up into the sassy two year old she is. I just miss, Lucy. I miss what I don't know about her.


We attended an actual wedding/public event on Friday night. It has happened a few times this month, but this one was an evening wedding. The bride started as a work colleague and ended up a close neighbor. And one of those amazing neighbors who leaves loaves of banana chocolate bread on our porch with a note, "Made some bread for Bea. Love, K." She is amazing. I was telling my husband on the train ride home that I always thought she was like a perfect woman. Elegant. Graceful. Tough. Adaptable. Easy-going. Serious. Fun.

The wedding was gorgeous. Basically, I weep from the first indication a bride is in the room. I think that might be my only psychic ability. I am like the K-Mart blue light going off, I begin weeping and my husband looks around the room, "Where is she?"

I have no idea what I thought would happen at this wedding. And I have no idea why it didn't occur to me that I would be grilled asked questions about the last two and half years of my life. I mean, I sat at a table filled with people I had spent many many years working with in a very corporate, very professional work environment whose last experience with me was my baby shower for Beatrice. The next day, I gave birth to her.

"So, what have you been up to?"

Crying? Mourning? Cursing God? Finding meaning in this world? Mostly I just sort of smiled and said, "A ton and not much." And they ask me what I'm doing and I say staying at home with my daughter. I always feel like they are waiting for more information. I also paint. And write. Edit. Grieve. Read a shitload of books. Walk the dog, and recite the same damned children's book fifteen times a day, sing songs about spiders and stars...and yet, what do I say? Overlord? House goddess? I'm the mommy?

After the first time, I just sort of hung there, awkward and self-conscious, because then the inevitable question after someone asks a stay-at-home mother what she does is "How many kids do you have?"

Even if I say one, they inevitably follow up with, "I thought you had two? Weren't you pregnant?" And then the story. And then the isn't easy to talk about your baby's death at a happy lovely event. I feel totally practiced in the market. Near the fish monger, I can say it in an elegant, kind, compassionate way. I nod and listen and share. I am out of my element in evening wear with "We are Family" blaring in the background. I could only say, "Our youngest daughter died last December."

The above paragraph makes what I said sound somewhat coherent. Never did I say anything that didn't sound like a rambling messy emotional blah when talking about Lucy. And I would hold Sam's hand very tightly, close my eyes and think:

I'm sorry, Lucy. You are more than that one sentence to me, love.

When Lucy died, I didn't know what to do. I had researched announcements before her birth. I just wanted to do something beautiful and lovely and cool. In fact, I held off on Christmas cards, because I wanted something to announce her birth as well as blessings to our friends for a beautiful new year. But after she died, I just couldn't mail anything to anyone. So, I sent an email that said we had sad news, and we need some days to receive calls and visits, and please no flowers, especially white ones, and we want to hear your news too, and we will need you, but give us time to process this new reality, and please please we beg you, friends, tell everyone who ever knew us so we don't have to speak this out loud again.


So many of these people were people I spent my single years with, hitting happy hours, lingering in cubicle doorways with lattes and one-liners, sharing emails about some jackass at some meeting. It felt so strange to have left that job one person--a creative, funny, light-hearted person--and been seen years later as a grieving, broken mother. I think for me the most awkward part of the night was not telling people Lucy died, though that was certainly awkward, but was this strange interaction I had with someone who friended me on FB before Lucy died. Turned out that we were due within weeks of each other. As you can imagine, I was incredibly happy for her first baby being healthy and happy only a few weeks after my baby died. But I couldn't see the constant updates, the pictures of her girl...the new family obsession. I hid her for a while. Every once in a while, I would check in, make sure everyone was healthy, and then rehide. Anyway, she said something about FB, and catching up on our lives, and I said, "Yes, it is good for that, even if Facebook is a little lame." And she looked at her husband and said, "Well, I don't think it is lame. I don't think it is lame at all."

Slap me across the face. That is what it felt like. I wanted to explain. I am not a horribly negative person. Honestly. Fac.ebook IS lame if you are mourning your child. It IS lame if you have to read people complaining about their baby's gender, or naptime when yours just died. It is lame when you are dealing with questions of grief and mortality and someone is updating you on their breakfast menu. And yet, FB also saved my sanity some days. I played Scrabble instead of lie on my bed screaming for three hours while my two year old slept. I spent insomniatic nights taking hundreds of shitty quizzes instead of reliving the moments I found out my child was dead. So, yes, I think I have some right to call Facebook lame, yet still appreciate its existence. But instead I just turned red and felt stupid, and wanted to cry, and decided to leave before the cake. Bad form, perhaps. Self-preserving, definitely.

The awkward moments of telling people about Lucy came and went. The mothers I told wept, and the fathers pursed their lips and nodded. No one asked us what happened. No one asked us to explain. They just said, "Sorry, so so sorry." Everything but us was appropriate. And we said, "Sorry, so so sorry too." And we tried to pretend that Lucy's death didn't just stamp us as the people you don't want to end up sitting next to at a wedding. Incidentally, I had a lovely conversation sitting next to a woman who was 36 weeks pregnant.

But most people, staring open-eyed at me after the question, "What are you doing now?" Just got the standard line.

A ton and not much.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Right now, there is this heavy humidity hanging over this loss corner of the blogosphere, like before a storm, where the heat is oppressive and the air thick. The clouds need to just open up and rain.

I believe that our community is facing a deep existential crisis. From what I can see, we are wrestling with some deep questions about unconditional support, about what is acceptable and what is not, about where empathy ends and self-preservation begins. We have an inclination to accept people unconditionally in this community. It is a good instinct, except when someone pushes the bounds of decency.

Sometimes a post really embodies the extreme fringe element of our community's feelings. So many of us have had fleeting, and not so fleeting, thoughts about who has it harder, why isn't that person commenting or following my blog anymore, loss of hope, jealousy of pregnancy and parenting, deep questions about why me. I can say when I read that as a normal, daily moral crisis on someone's blog, I think, "Those feelings are normal. Accept them. Forgive yourself for them. Move forward." But when does it go too far? When does the anger, fear and vitriol become too toxic? When does the grief anger cross a line?

We all make deep choices about how we want to learn from our experiences of loss. Some of those feelings, while natural and normal, suck us into an abyss, obsess us, haunt us. But ultimately, we must choose where we want to reside--in the darkness or in the light. We can choose to transform our loss. In my case, the death of my daughter has made me feel more compassion. I feel more able to understand suffering in all its forms, not just mine. When someone tells me of their miscarriage, I don't hear a challenge. I hear someone connecting with my grief, my suffering, and my heartbreak. It is a gesture of kindness and empathy, not dismissal of my stillborn daughter. But then again, I am seeking connections, not rejecting them.

In terms of blogs and blogging, I have taken this philosophy. It is what I call the "Turn the fucking channel" (TTFC) approach. This blog is my space, and each blog is its writer's space to say whatever it is they need to say. It is also my choice about what I want to read. I have felt a great devastation for some of the losses in this community, especially this month. It has affected this community a great deal, and personally, destroyed what little faith I had in the universe. I am still reeling at the injustice of it all. But it is also difficult to read so much vitriol and violence in the wake of that loss, even as I am deeply empathetic for the grief from which it stems. I understand grief expresses itself in anger and rage, but when it edges into violence, I need to draw my line. TTFC, so to speak.

But in doing so, I don't want to walk away from this community, even if that move feels safest some days. It feels safest because I come to this place to be understood, to be gotten...I am fragile. Sure, I become steely and tough when I leave my little house, but when I come here, I give this space my worst moments, my most beautiful revelations, my most shameful thoughts. Though others have it worse than me in this chaotic world, I still need to speak of my suffering, acknowledge the grief, mourn my baby. To have my grief invalidated over and over again in a space I have freely chosen to read feels masochistic and cruel, even though I have gone there to give my support and love. I have read those words slack-jawed and saddened. I do understand where they come from--the depths of grief. That I understand, but when I read people normalizing such violence...have we gone mad? Have we forgotten who we are? Our children died. As a community, I am deeply troubled to see people echoing this violent language, and honestly, this bullying. No matter how shitty life has been, it does not excuse death threats, threats towards someone's fertility or babies, or even the comments that equally express rage and curses. (Not f-bomb curses, Lord knows I am not throwing any fucking stones about that, but literal curses--"May you suffer" curse.)

And yet, the beauty of this blog community is that in your own space, you are free to speak your mind, to reveal your pain, your anger, your hatred, and yes, even your violence, but I for one am too fragile to be part of it. I guess I am turning the fucking channel and walking towards the light, but not walking away from this community.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


This weekend, listening to NPR, I learned that someone you feel ambivalent about makes your blood pressure rise more than someone you actively loathe.

I have struggled a great deal since Lucy died with friends and support. Some people I wanted to be there weren't and others I didn't were. It felt so strange to reject support when I felt so fucking lonely. Or to send emails to people I still wanted in my life when I didn't hear squat. So much thought went into emails and correspondence in the early months. I think Catherine nailed it in her blog post about trust. Trusting others with your baby, with your vulnerability, with your memory and with your grief is so overwhelming and scary. It needs to feel one hundred percent safe to talk and share and be. I heard someone say once, your story and your emotions are gifts. You need to choose people who are worthy of receiving them.

When I began writing this blog, it felt like something "devastating" happened to me everyday. My daughter's death put me on a precipice and after that, everything felt like a strong gust of wind that may push me into the abyss. A new way to miss my daughter. Shopping became a testament to my strength and will. Something occurred to me in public that floored me and brought those searing tears of shame. Someone else's child. Some else's pregnancy. Someone else's failed comfort. My vulnerability was so obvious.

It's not really like that anymore. People ask me frequently now how many children I have, when Beatrice is getting siblings--I just have my answers ready. I steel myself for the most invasive questions when I go out in public. I am not getting tougher. Just more accustomed to this life. Sometimes, though, when those tough new moments come, I find myself back in that emotional abyss of the early days. It is like the cellular memory of my grief is just below the surface ready to cramp my muscles and leave me incapacitated on the floor. My post yesterday was one of those posts that set my flux capacitor for January 2009. It felt so painful and hard to write, and I cried through it. It probably doesn't seem like it. It was kind of goofy after all. But it was hard to admit the amount of time and effort I spent thinking about my weight, the way my behavior verges on eating disorder thinking, and, honestly, to admit the abuse I reaped on myself in the last nine months. So much shame is tied into our grief. The shame before our losses becomes multiplied. Part of me is coming to a place of peace, forgiveness and compassion with myself. It is both healing and incredibly painful. My father used to say to me when I would talk about fretting all night about a bad grade, or a lost basketball game, "If someone said to me what I say to me, I would knock that asshole out."

After all this time, I am still not exactly sure how to manage my relationships, repair old ones or start new ones. I thought I would have some insight by this point. I'm not sure how to pick up the pieces of lost friendships, how to move on and forgive someone who didn't acknowledge my loss, how to distant myself...I'm not even exactly sure how to survive for the rest of my life without my baby. Sometimes the idea that my baby is gone still knocks the wind out of me. My energy these past months has been focused on that, surviving her death and how that affected every aspect of my life.

The part that felt most difficult about relationships was the sort of drama of the early months. Like constantly something felt crushing and overdone. And they were things like someone's words, or an email or...I wasn't like this before. I rejected the theatrics, you know. "Save the drama for your mama" felt like an apt kind of thesis sentence for my relationships. I would sort of cull the dramatic sorts out of my life, and let go of small offenses by those I cared about. And suddenly, after my daughter died, it seemed like I embodied the drama. I remembered petty little grievances for months, and could not forgive. Upset by the clumsy way people announce a new birth, or ask about our lives, or complain about their newborn's sleeping habits. Now, I've just become incredibly ambivalent about most of my relationships. It just doesn't matter to me. That feels cruel.

And it is not even like I hate these people, or am deeply hurt by them, now it is just this "whatever" attitude has settled into my feelings. Why are they still in my life? And yet culling them feels like so much more drama than I want to take on anymore. So much fucking work to tell someone if you can't be there in my worst moment, I don't really want you there in my best. It is not part of the new Angie that I like very much. I was many things, but ambivalent wasn't a word I ever would have used to describe myself before.

But what I was talking about yesterday, and maybe today, is getting to this point where I do like myself. I do want to accept this person I am now. Not the person who would have cooed with Lucy, but the one who mourns her. Not the thin person, but the person who works hard despite the reward. Maybe the ambivalence is there, because the one relationship I need to focus on right now is a forgiving, compassionate relationship with myself. And after that relationship begins healing, the way to deal with this ambivalence will be clear, or maybe the ambivalence will change into an emotion I can actually work with. I want to be positive and up and not so dramatic and sad, paranoid and angry. These last weeks, I have wanted to bathe myself in light, because everything has felt so damned dark. And I acknowledge that I played a significant role in the darkness. Instead of distance, I jumped right into the abyss, a comfortable place I have known very well these past months. And so I sit cross-legged and repeat in this crazy person sort of way. "Breathing the love in(inhale), breathing the darkness out (exhale)."

Even I sometimes think I sound insane, believe me.


On a separate note, East Coasters, travelers and friends, some spots for the Babylost Mama Retreat in November (November 20-22) have opened up. Are you interested in connecting in real life for a weekend of healing, relaxing, sharing and listening? Please email me at uberangie (at) gmail (dot) com for some more information.

I'm sorry, me.

These last days since my diagnosis of hypothyroidism it is like the pieces of a gigantic post-Lucy puzzle are falling to place. I just feel less crazy. There really was a part of me that thought a piece of bread compromised my entire day of eating. Bourbon permanently changed my metabolism. I had that sinking feeling that my husband thought I was lying in my food journal and stuffing a gallon of Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip during work. I actually considered the possibility that I was one of those sleepwalking bingers. Or you know, the thousands of other shameful thoughts you get when you work as hard as you can work and still fail. "I deserve fatness," I would cruelly think. "I deserve failure. My baby died." I am just not used to that. Working as hard as I can and still failing. It was wearing me out emotionally and physically.

Learning that I did indeed beat the odds, and lost weight despite this crappy condition sort of makes me feel like my work was justified even if I am not where I want to be. I can do the hard hard work to lose weight, even when I only want to ingest ice cream and Maker's Mark. I did and do have amazing will power. I kept my diet going despite having no momentum, despite having lost no weight, I kept tight tabs on my food. I admit, I sometimes cried during dinner. "I just want a bowl of spaghetti. A gigantic bowl. Without measuring it. I want my old relationship with food back."

Sam often would look at me with his perfectly cut body, and say, "I don't eat what I want, Ang. Skinny people don't pig out. I just eat moderate portions." And often I thought two choice words in response. Yes, but you even get moderate portions. You don't need to measure every spoonful of food. You get to eat 2000 calories per day. You don't have to contemplate even an occasional indulge. Every forkful of ice cream opened up a floodgate of hateful thoughts. "This is why you are fat. You are weak." I didn't even remember how I ate before gaining weight. I only knew that my relationship with food has been permanently tarnished. I hated food because I loved it so very much.

The truth of this diagnosis is that it is so bleedingly obvious, I cannot believe that it didn't occur to me before my doctor's office called. I attributed most of my symptoms to grief. Depression. Sleeping a ton. Aches and pains. Not being able to get warm. I literally thought that my body was holding some of winter solstice in my bones. That the inability to get warm in July meant I was mourning Lucy, her deep winter death was now part of my being. I don't know why I thought that. Even in Panama, I kept saying to my mother, "It is so cold here. Isn't this the equator?" The only anomaly was the weight gain without actually eating anything. When I went to that grief counselor, I talked to her about my weight battles. Her dismissive response at first was "Every woman has weight issues." I finally said something like, "It is like my body won't accept that Lucy is dead. It is like I am holding onto this weight to nourish the baby who is supposed to be here."

And she nodded, "That is a very wise observation. Our bodies sometimes react in somatic ways to our grief." And so, there was the explanation of my weight--I was grieving. It all seems so silly now.

Ockham's razor.

Hypothyroidism, something that runs in my family, was the simplest theory, and yet, I opted for the complicated Freudian explanation for every ailment my poor body suffered. My brain really isn't as complicated as I had made it out to be. So often, I am given to these elaborate theories. Maybe it is my INTP nature, or my desire to connect everything to Lucia. I have found myself drawn into elaborate theories more than once in the last few weeks. And as I do, I have to keep remembering Ockham's razor, "All things being equal, the simplest theory is best."

Still, this diagnosis has given me permission finally to forgive myself for my abusive thoughts, for my weight, for my cruel shame, for the added pain of self-loathing on top of grief.

I'm sorry, Angie. I am really sorry I hurt you. You didn't deserve that after Lucy died. Lucy's death was enough. It was enough. I will not do that to you again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

To Salad, you bastard

Since July I have been on the Raw Food De.tox Diet. Uh, yeah. It IS as good as it sounds. This has been my breakfast now for two and half months--kale, celery, apple, lemon and ginger juice. Then I am allowed to eat fruit later in the morning. At lunch, I can have a salad, usually I put in spinach or arugula, onion, tomato, mushroom, olives, and maybe an egg or three. Olive oil and a splash of vinegar. Dinner is the same, except maybe a piece of fish, or a half cup of rice. FOR TWO MONTHS.

I feel like a monk. Or someone with an eating disorder. Except I am still fat.

The entire reason I kicked off this detoxification thing is that I hadn't lost weight since February, even though my calorie count wouldn't exceed 1200/day. This all seems crazy, I know, but it is true. I even factored in my wine(s) into my food journal. And sometimes Sam would read my diary and say, "Uh, you do realize your wine calorie count is equal to your food intake calorie count?"
"Hey, calories are calories, jackass. I have to count them." And really, seeing my drinking habits in numbers in a little green book was disturbing. So, I stopped the wine, and still, no weight loss.

Let's be fair, okay. I lost my appetite when Lucy died. I went with it.

So, when that didn't help my weight loss either, giving up the wine. It all felt so cruel. Dead baby and a postpartum shape. So, I began suspecting a food allergy. I was feeling kind of crappy in my GI system, and wanted to get the wine residue out of my system. My friend had been doing this raw food thing, and so I bought the book. I began eliminating all allergens--dairy, wheat, barley, gluten, soy. It left me the above diet. And in July I lost twelve pounds.

Finally, momentum.

I cannot tell you how fucking bored I am with eating. I mean, I subscribe to F00d and W.ine. Slack-jawed, mouth watering, saucer-like eyes, I would throw it across the room and just shriek. But I felt better, you know, a ton better physically. Slept better. Woke better. But, I would see a bowl of green, and just sigh. I'm not even hungry anymore. If I eat another leaf of spinach, I might turn into some fucking maenad and attack the wild animals in the woods, tearing them apart with my veggie-dulled incisors. And because of my ennui with it all, I decided I need some allergy testing. I needed to start bringing some things back into my diet, especially as my weight loss stymied again. I might as well eat something. I was becoming a raging nasty woman. I chased a squirrel up a tree one morning.

Yesterday, I finally got my results, and I am not allergic to anything. Nothing. I do have an underactive thyroid though, despite the fact that I was tested after Lucy died.

It explains so much. SO much.

I ate three pieces of pizza last night. Guilt-free splurge. It was heaven. I mean, I am still planning on the counting calorie, eating mostly raw, but I wanted to celebrate my newly-cleared-of-allergies body. But then, dinner conversation was mostly dominated with the real diagnosis. Hypothyroidism. It makes me feel less crazy. I was beginning to suspect that I was one of those sleep walking bingers. Sam felt vindication for me. "You even lost weight with this insane thyroid number." But then it sunk in, what does this diagnosis mean for pregnancy? For the rest of my life? Will I always battle about my weight, sleep, energy? Will I always be adjusting my medication? It is all so confusing and swirling. I am just trying to breathe, hit the library and remain happy that I have a diagnosis of something.

For now, I can say in all earnestness, "Salad, you can suck it for a while."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The ensō

Calligraphy by Kanjuro Shibata XX Enso ca. 2000

This weekend, I received a custom order for a mizuko jizo painting. When I receive one, I feel this sense of calm, knowing I get to descend into my world of painting and meditation, happy jizo faces, prayers for our babies and babyloss.

This was fairly straight forward custom order, except the person ordering wanted me to paint an ensō on the painting. She sent me a painting of one, and a wikipedia page about what they symbolize and mean.

Ensō is the Japanese word meaning circle, as the Wikipedia told me. And "symbolizes enlightenment, strength, elegance, the Universe, and the void." That's a heavy circle.

Actually, ensō calligraphy is something I have seen before and admired. If I had an aesthetic, it is this: a simple, broken circle. But could I paint one?

I paint watercolor, not Japanese calligraphy. My brushes reflect as such. But I practiced. I made circle after circle, as the wikipedia said, in one motion. One brush stroke. I had so much trouble balancing the water with my paint, not making it sloppy, not making it too dry. I shut the door to my studio space, or as others might see it my front porch, and groaned loudly.

"It's a fucking circle, Ang."

But it is not a circle. It is different. It is a meditation. As Wikipedia annoyingly pointed out, "Zen Buddhists 'believe that the character of the artist is fully exposed in how she or he draws an ensō. Only a person who is mentally and spiritually complete can draw a true ensō. Some artists will practice drawing an ensō daily, as a kind of spiritual exercise.'" Suddenly, my mental and spiritual completeness depended on the circle?

I take these sorts of things seriously, you know. Intent of a concept. If the intent of an ensō is to paint it in one brush stroke, that will be my goal. If the intent is to clear my mind, let the circle come from the brush, I will clear my mind. Of course, the lesson today is that some of my ensō were beautiful, but they were on my scrap sheet of paper. I had to produce the circle once, after painting the entire jizo painting. It was to be the last element painted on the piece. If it failed, I would have to begin my painting over again. A true lesson in impermanence. The quality of a painting is based on its weakest element.

I guess if I were writing some beautifully wise zen fable, I would either fail miserably, or clear my mind and do it beautifully. Eh. It turned out okay. It is a circle. A fat muddy circle that is done in more than one stroke, but not more than five. And yet, this is part of my completeness, that I am not quite perfect. It was too circle-y to not use, and not quite circle-y enough. It wasn't what I wanted it to be--the ensō above this post. One thing that I absolutely connected with in the wikipedia listing was this part describing the drawing of an open circle ensō:

"The principle of controlling the balance of composition through asymmetry and irregularity is an important aspect of the Japanese aesthetic: Fukinsei (不均斉), the denial of perfection."

The denial of perfection.

Drawing a perfect circle is somehow drawing this universe as perfect, drawing an imperfect circle acknowledges our limitations, acknowledges our losses, acknowledges our failures. Our very human limitations become a beauty. I've been thinking of my own limitations lately. My own imperfections as my strengths. Somehow I have a feeling ensō will be part of my future.

Friday, September 4, 2009

This week

This has been a fucking long week.

Yesterday, I went to the zoo with an very good friend and our babies. Whenever I am in crowds of people, I think, I wonder if I email with someone in this crowd. I wonder who has lost a child, who is part of my tribe, who has howled here and why. What is that family's story? "Do I read your blog?" I want to ask the woman who looked at me knowingly. "Do you have a dead baby?"

During my impressionable late teens, someone said to me that when each of us look in the mirror, we see our flaws, our sins, our scars...I always imagined I had a scar on my forehead from where a mop handle hit me at age 3, but truth be told, only I see that scar, you know, because I know I bled from that spot. Others notice nothing, except a dimple. The other part of that thought is that when other people see you, they see your good features. They see the person you put forward, make up, done hair, contacts...And what we do is compare our flaws with others' perfections.

The beauty about this community is that we talk about our flaws. We come out of our houses in our stained jammies, and with our glasses and sand in our red eyes. We call our flaws by their proper names, and in that way, we lessen their power. We make our flaws our distinctive features.


I try to be honest in this space. I have an almost fanatical devotion to my truth, and then every once in a while, my husband reads this blog and says something like, "The pilot never said the word 'emergency.'"
"On your blog post about our trip to Panama, the pilot never said 'emergency.'"
"That's what I heard."
"Well, he didn't."
"Does it matter?"

And that really is the truth about truth.

Addled and anxious, I heard something different than my calm husband. The end result is the same, we landed, but how we got there is different. Sam experienced some turbulence. I experienced the scariest, most nauseating turbulence of my life. According to Sam, Beatrice stayed in her seat. According to me, if Beatrice hadn't been strapped into her seat, she would have been thrown to the ground. See what I mean? I heard catastrophe, and Sam heard challenge. But that blog post wasn't about what the pilot said. It was about how I felt on our flight home--apocalyptic, scared, anxious, traumatized.

So today, I feel a swirling of guilt, sadness, anger, fear, curiosity...maybe it doesn't matter what the reality is, maybe it is simply each truth that matters in this community.


I see a lot of people retreating from our community right now. Confused. Protecting themselves. Exhausted from the sadness. I understand that impulse. It can be toxic to try to read so much suffering, and discerning the truth between words. I get caught in the thinking that there is one truth and one reality too.

And the other part of retreat is a simple reality of our community. It can be difficult to absorb so much grief and suffering when you are simply treading water in your own life. Besides our own grief, and the grief of others, between bills and work, and a marriage or relationship and a blog, children or much of our hearts are invested here, it seems so risky to get it broken for someone whose first name you might think of as phrase. When we are trying to rebuild our faith in the universe, it doesn't help to get it consistently shattered by tragedy.

What is this place, though? It is an idea. We imagine we are talking around a table, that someone has invited us into their home and is sitting with us. But let's be clear, we are looking at a projection of someone's world. We are looking at the person they chose to show us. I try to be faithful to who I think I am, flaws and all. Fatness and impatience. But I am sometimes much jerkier or actually much cooler than I let on. We all know this about ourselves, why do we not remember it about others?

It is beauty of this community, though, that defines us. Our compassion, our love, and our support of one another that truly matters. Despite someone's ugly thoughts, we still remember their past, their story, their vulnerabilities, their losses...we take into account why, and react with compassion. Wouldn't it be beautiful if we could react to the people in our every day life in that way?

So from my perspective, right now, patience, love, compassion, kindness, trust, and light, those are amazing qualities. This community is beautiful in its instincts. Giving that in the world, whether the person is deserving or not, is the real point. I don't think I will be the same person after this week. Part of my faith in humanity and the universe is both strengthened and shook. I just think that when we reflect on this week as a community, I hope we can see the lightness and beauty of our love rather than the darkness of our fears.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The day after

All of my words and energy feels used up in one moment. Gone. Then, renewed, I remember. I become a raw nerve ending--a ball of frenetic energy.

Pace the floor.
Send flowers.
Make food.
Hold my baby.
Light a candle.
Count to ten.
Write a list.
Do addition.
Look at the blog again.
Check FB.
Get some water.
Ask the same questions over and over.
Close my eyes.
Open them.
Check her blog.

Nothing will erase the hours since I heard. I will never make sense of our losses. I will wrap my daughter's death in a mythology that appeases me, but I will never make sense of it logically or emotionally.


Everyone seems tongue-tied right now.

Afraid to say the wrong thing. Afraid to say anything. In some ways, I feel like what the rest of my world must have felt when Lucy died. Inadequate. Privileged. Helpless. My instinct is to do. I can't even call anyone to say, "Let's organize some casseroles, people." I have learned some valuable things since Lucia died, not least of which is to sit and listen and weep and be. But even that seems impossible right now. Impossible.


I have had this constant refrain. Three. Three. My utter disbelief is shocking to me. Am I so desperate to find meaning in the world that I cannot process something so cruel, so chaotic, so random? In some ways, this is how I felt after Lucy died, like my entire understanding of the universe has been shattered. I felt small and vulnerable. I shook and became afraid. It makes me question all the reality I know. It makes me weigh logic and emotions in such a detached way that I have chilled my own core. I want a moment of clarity right now. A peek into a bigger picture. Something, anything, but this fucking abyss.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Today I was going to blog about my husband. It is our wedding anniversary today, and we have been married three amazing years.

But I just cannot.

I am bereft. So sad. The world is fucking unjust and horrible. And I have been sitting here in this semi-frantic state since I woke up and read the news that Mirne's third baby Jet died. I just want to run door to door and tell everyone. I want to scream from the top of our tallest buildings and say, "Fuck you, universe. You want to rumble? Bring it on."

I want to tell the world about Kees and Freyja and Jet. Their delicate beauty. The struggles their parents have been through. I want the world to know that just because we have had a tragedy, it doesn't mean we are immune from suffering. That no one can promise a live, healthy baby, no matter how much we deserve it. It is so unfair. It is supposed to be different. All of it.

I have to be honest. I had pure trust and hope. Even though I believe the world is a random chaotic shitstorm, I sometimes am given to bouts of hope and trust and thinking the universe is a just place. When I read Mirne's blog, I would sometimes pray, "Please, God, give her this perfect, living child. Give her no more suffering, God. Let her baby grow up to call her everyday with words of appreciation and love, and be strong and fit and beautiful and charming." Some part of me felt like it was impossible for her to suffer more. God and I have a strange relationship. I don't often pray. But I admit, I prayed for Mirne and Craig. I thought maybe, maybe if there is a God he can see that it is rare I ask. Spare Mirne and Craig from more suffering. Spare them.

I know there are no words of comfort. None of this is right or fair. But if Mirne reads this, I hope she knows we are here. All of us who grieve our children miss Jet, Freyja and Kees. All of us hold Mirne and Craig close. I wish I could come and sit and cry with you, Mirne. Sorry does not begin to describe how I feel, and yet, it is what I have. I am so so sorry. I will weep for your babies for the rest of my days.

As Bir wrote on Facebook, I feel so inadequate. Yes. I feel so fucking inadequate.