Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sleep over

My mother did not grow up in the United States. She came here when she was eighteen, and had already developed a strong sense of pattern. It meant that there were certain things that my very American childhood lacked. Not love. But concrete "American" things that my immigrant mother simply did not understand. Pancakes, for example. I didn't eat pancakes, well, ever. My sister used to rebel and order them if we ate breakfast in one of those great old school Pennsylvania diners. My mother would peer over her menu, and shake her head, "Eat eggs. Pancakes won't fill you up. It is all sugar." (I know, I know, it doesn't make sense to me either.)

Bunk beds. My mother still rants about how American, and silly, they are. "Why buy beds that adults can't sleep on?" As twins who watched the Brady Bunch obsessively, bunk beds were like the coolest thing ever. We planned who would sleep where, and what we would do. We talked about how we would arrange our room. I would lean over the top and flip down. We'd whisper to each other in the dark and not be afraid of night.

Peanut butter was in our house, but not a mainstay. My dad insisted on it, because the lunch he would make for us if my mother happened to be out at the noon hour was always the beautiful, delicious, and mostly elusive Fluffernutter. My mother didn't really get the pb thing. She was really big into ham. She still is. She constantly is giving people hams. If you are having surgery, she will bring you a ham. She will even prepare it for you. Sam and I dubbed her Indian name, "Travels with Ham." I tried to see it as cultural, understand her point of view, but truth of it is, I really wanted a PB&J and some Twinkies in my brown bag in the cafeteria. Every snack was always off-brand and out of date. She grew up very poor, as did my father. They were a strange dichotomy of successes convinced this was the last hurrah before it all hit the shitter. They stockpiled for the apocalypse. So, we were not allowed juice boxes, or sugar cereal, or Twinkies or Oreos. Everything was Little Debbie, or out of date Tastykakes. And stacks of it.

Now, we call my mother's pantry, "la Tiendita," which means the little store. I kind of believe my mother is verging on being a hoarder. Of cheap food. She actually buys food and crackers and edible shit at TJ Maxx now. She is terrified of running out of food, so she buys too much. She cooks too much. She gives too much in plastic containers for leftovers for the week. But as I said, it is always off-brand, out-of-date, marked with orange stickers and pen marks. My mother once sent me home with a can of crab meat (this was a year or so ago), and when I planned a meal, I flipped the can over to check the date: 2006. Yes, she had canned crab in her fridge for two years. If that doesn't shriek of botulism, I don't know what does. I am kind of glad I am the one to receive that can, because I am not sure my mother would have noticed it herself, and possibly poisoned the lot of us.

But perhaps the most vexing of the "American" things my mother didn't get was the sleep over.

My mother simply just didn't allow us to sleep over.  She would lecture us about all the trouble we would be to the other person's parents. Or how much money it costs to feed two EXTRA girls. She would tell us that bad things happen in other people's houses, and bad people invite little girls to sleep in their home. But truthfully, she just didn't get it. "Why do you need to sleep somewhere else? You have a bed here. And your best friend." And my sister and I would side glance to each other and say, "But I haaaaaaate her, Mami." Fingers crossed behind our backs.

And it was weird. People didn't understand when we said no, or why our mother didn't allow us to sleep over. We missed inside jokes from birthday bashes on Monday morning. We whined about it. Eventually, she relented here and there, and those were just the best nights ever. Sleeping bags. Frozen underwear. Light as a feather/straight as a board. Corey Haim in Tiger Beat. I mean, I felt like I fit in during those nights, even when parents treated us strangely and asked us what kind of food we people eat. I remember one father sneering at me and grumbling about having a black kid sleep in his house.

Growing up brown in rural Pennsylvania does have its downsides.

Still, I had this list of things I would do for my children when I became a parent. Make them pancakes. Pack peanut butter and jelly. I would buy them bunk beds, and let them sleep over. So, imagine my surprise when this week Beatrice begggggggggged me to sleep over at my sister's house for my niece's birthday. She is only two months older than Bea, so two three year olds (well, Bea is almost three) wanted to have a sleepover.


Already? Already she is asking to sleep over? The truth is I forget about peanut butter. I forget it is an option. I make the same damn sandwich my mother made for me--American cheese and mayo. We don't eat meat most days, or it would also have ham. I make her snack on carrots and sprouts. When I do buy sugary treats, I buy all the crunchy organic version of things like Oreos for Bea, made with rice syrup and tasting vaguely of wheat germ. I have never made pancakes, in fact, the only times I have tried have been miserable failures, and when I eat them, I run out of fuel an hour later. Bea has eaten almost no fast food, and doesn't even know what a McDonald's is. Sam built rails on the bed he grew up with, and eh, voila! there is Bea's toddler bed, childhood bed, teenage bed and then adult visiting bed. No Dora racecar/princess bed that she covets at the baby store, or pink sheets with Tinkerbell. I am not wasting money on a bed that she will only use for a few years. I get it. I get my mother. I stand horrified as I get it.

Beatrice took her sleeping bag, and striped pillow, and wanted me to leave when we got to the party. "I sleep here tonight, Mommy." She is almost three and it was snowing. And she felt warm to me. And I found a  thousand excuses to take her home with me right then. But I let her run into my niece's bedroom with her new toys and play. I sat in my sister's driveway with Sam and we cried for a good half hour. My mother was staying at my sister's house. I trust the adults in that house more than anyone in the world. I just don't want to be away from her. I like Beatrice. I like our nighttime routine. Nothing about having a child is an annoyance to me, not any of it. Sam kept saying, "We don't have to be brave, Angie. I can go and get her."

There is this feeling in me that I need to let her be a child who can exist far away from me. I made her a promise I should keep. It was something she wanted, and I wanted to trust that she would be fine without us. I want her to be comfortable sleeping at my sister's house if I have to go to the hospital to deliver. The only time she has slept with neither Sam nor I has been when I was birthing Lucy. And we came home desperately sad. I don't want her to fear that sleeping somewhere else means that bad things are happening to Mama. And yet, it is the opposite of my instinct; to leave my daughter somewhere while I go home. I closed the doors to her room, because I cried when I looked in and didn't see her. I want to keep her in my pocket, wrap her up tight in sweaters, the smell of us mingling together, keep her close to my body. And yet. And yet, I also want her to be an independent, confident, lovely adult who knows that even if we are apart, we are together. A brave girl who trusts that her mother will always come for her.

There was an eerie quality to the quiet of the house last night. Our quiet is somehow louder when we whisper for fear of waking her. But last night, we talked. Out loud. We watched television. I wrote blog posts for 365, and we argued with the Comcast dudes about our wonky on-demand. We were in bed by 9p, arriving home after the party too late, too stuffed and with the roads too icy to try a date night.  We just read in bed, interrupting each other to talk about Beatrice--the funny way she says things, of how she pushed us toward the door when she arrived, of her button nose, and smile. I am going to pick her up now, giving her sufficient time to enjoy the morning of a sleepover with strange breakfast foods and wrestling in jammies, even if I have been ready to go at 4:30 am--to apologize to my mother.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Update and GIVEAWAY winner.

And the winner is (drumroll, please)....

Mrs. Spit. YAY! Bees. I love doing bees. But then, I got kind of, you know, bummed by the whole one winner thing, so I decided to pick another winner (drumroll)
YAY, Erika P! Hooray for both of you. Email me your snail mail addresses and I will start felting. And you never know which needle felted items may end up at your home, so stay tuned. I almost just went with making all fourteen of them, because apparently I am crazy. But you never know, if my nervous energy gets the best of me, I might just email you for your address.

As for the first meeting with the new doctor, all in all, it was fine. My midwife emailed her with all the details of me and my case. I have no idea if it was one of those emails with a huge red exclamation mark next to it, or just a normal newsy one, but she was kind and responsive. Turns out she also lives in my little town as well. That was a nice surprise, and also she looked vaguely familiar, so that was comforting.

Yesterday, I woke up unable to calm myself. My heart was beating wildly, so I knew it would be a shitty blood pressure day. I meditated. I painted. I sat and watched some crappy television at my sister's house while the kids played in a far away room. I drank chamomile tea. I even headed downtown two hours earlier, got myself an incredible lunch salad at one of those chichi places that charges too much for meatloaf and the servers wear t-shirts and jeans. (IT IS MEATLOAF, people.) I finished my book, and drank more calming herbal tea in the bitter cold.


High for me, but not too high. Not pre-eclampsia high. But again this nurse will not put me in the bigger cuff. She argued with me. "You are just not that big, honey." Perhaps she is right, it is her job to measure these things after all, but I come from a long line of people with low blood pressure and big arms. When the doctor came in, she sat with me and talked. It was nice. We went through my recent records. She thought the protein was too low to affect me in a concrete way, so she said, "We are kind of ignoring that because it is on the cut-off." She called  me a gestational hypertensive, since pre-eclampsia in later pregnancies where there was never pre-eclampsia is incredibly rare. I did not want to remind her of Michele Duggar's 19th baby, but that was sort of there in the back of my mind. I have to monitor my blood pressure every day at home, eat low sodium (my vice is salt, I admit. OH, and coffee) and kick count. All of that is just fine with me, to be honest. No more Amy's Lentil Soup for lunch, but that is fine. All the joy has left my eating habits a while ago.

She kept asking me about my schedule and who can watch Bea. She told me I need lots of rest, yet I should still workout. But she didn't say bed rest. With no guidelines or specific parameters, I really don't know what that means. I stay home painting with my daughter most days. We take a nap. It isn't like we are constructing a large gnome village in the backyard most days. She is a toddler and it is winter. Our time involves lots of alphabet projects, crafts and reading. Still, rest. Check. One (or two) more baths a day falls under the umbrella of rest, right? All in all, it was fine. I have to go back Wednesday for another BP check. She did say that if I show any signs of pre-eclampsia, meaning my blood pressure goes up, protein shows up in the urine dip at the office, the baby is out. Scary, but  hopefully, as unlikely as she says. No glucose results, which is weird as that was a week ago. So, that is that.

I was comforted by not having to go to the hospital. Thor's heartbeat was fine. That is all I can hope for these days. Maybe next time my blood pressure will be lower. She thought that I might have a very real case of white coat hypertension. So, I am sort of interested in having my blood pressure tested at home everyday.

Thank you, all, for your love and support this week. Sometimes they just hit you upside the head, as my grandmother would say, and you holler for days. XO

And JUST because this picture makes me indescribably happy, I am posting a recent stand off picture of my almost three year old and me. Beatrice refusing to get dressed in 20 degree weather. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Newsy post and a GIVEAWAY

Thank you all for the love and support this week. It has been a rough week for more than simply the friend-thing. Finally heard about the insulting settlement offer the insurance company tossed in our lap for the car accident I was a passenger in at 29 weeks pregnant with Lucy where damage appeared on the placenta, but was not the cause of death. Insulting is a kind word. Tomorrow I meet with my new OB for the first time. Both anxious and excited to see what she has to say, and to hear Thor's heartbeat. Even though I can feel him moving, I am still not convinced that everything is fine until someone wearing a stethoscope says it is so. And even then, they have been wrong before, you know. The main wild card is simply what happens now--we shall see.

I am not in terribly dire spirits anymore, but still sort of this general greyness hanging over my head. And's to the good stuff, I have some announcements.

ONE: Community Poem deadline on still life 365 is tomorrow! There is still time to submit your command for healing. Just know that I am under the belief that we never quite heal from our baby's death, and like Elizabeth McCracken, I believe that "closure is bullshit." So this is perhaps one of those challenges that will be a bit more radical. The directions are right here, and you can submit on the comment section of that post, or this one, or you can email me at stilllife365days(at)gmail(dot)com. The new Community Poem goes up on February 1st, so you know, comments will be closed at 12 pm or when I get around to it, because I need time to compile it.

TWO: Whenever I am a bit down, I like to do a giveaway, or some random act of kindness or weirdness for someone else. Tomorrow IS Friday, after all.

As many of you know, this week was deemed the most depressing week, or last week was, and this one isn't any better, really. It is still grey and wet and cold and it has gone on FAR too long and with WAY too much bad shit happening to beautiful people. And so, in the spirit of banishing the bullshit, I am giving something I made away! YAY!

Something needle felted, but what? That is is up to you. You get to decide which design and form you would like in your comment. The winner will get something made especially for them.

You can pick a needle felted heart, either with funky colors (your choice) or your baby's name (no need to have had a baby to enter this one)

I can make this is a bunch of styles and with any colors that are meaningful to you.

These two I made for my beautiful friend Sarah with her babies' names.

OR you can choose a Dia de los Muertos calavera, these styles are pretty much set, but showing you that there can be two different ways the same calavera style can look.

 OR you can choose some SUSHI

OR you can choose, to be a bit cheeky, the anatomical heart, which is as anatomically correct as you can get with a needle and some roving. I did have my husband's medical textbooks out on the couch next to me, needling away.

OR you can choose a Friend of the Bees piece.

In the comment section of this post, please let me know which one you would like. The sushi would be for EITHER the roll, OR the tamago nigiri, OR the salmon nigiri.

You can choose to have any piece either as a magnet, or a pin, or just the way they are--unadorned.

Anyone is welcome to participate. No need to be a babylost mama, just a reader. If you choose the heart, please specify what you want the heart to look like, or to say, if you want someone's name on it, or something Ghost-ish like "Ditto", and what colors you would like. If you choose the sushi, indicate which sushi is your favorite. Sushi looks really cool as a roll, cut and sliced, then made into magnets. I did that for forward tumble and was very pleased with the outcome. She took an awesome picture of it. If you choose a Friend of the Bees, indicate what color you would like as a background. The anatomical heart and the calavera are what they are. Sorry. I am good, but I cannot change the form of a heart, but still tell me if you want it as a magnet or pin.

So, okay, again the choices are: heart, anatomical heart, Friend of the Bees, Calavera or Sushi. Here are some color choices (who knew this picture would have more than a show-off to Jen?)

Those little packages have variants of teal/aqua, bright red/orange, purple/magenta, and some other ones I can't remember and am too lazy to look at right now.

Good luck. I will randomize a winner either Friday night, or Saturday morning. I will close comments when I do it! Hope this is a good giveaway. I might choose two if I am feeling it.

(Y'all know what is going on here, right? I need needle felting projects for my nervous energy.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Screen

I feel so fucking damaged.

That is all I keep thinking this week. It is a refrain. Damaged. So fucking damaged.

A very close friend said she had to step away from our friendship this week. I am left reeling, confused, unsure of what I did. When you first alienate someone with your grief, you say, "Perhaps it is about them." You invent stories about their decision and their issues. Then the second, then the third. And you have to start saying, "What am I doing here? How am I pushing these people away?" I am an analytical sort. I like to tinker, take things apart, and then put them back together. I have done this with my psyche, for years. And yet, this flummoxes me. I read my words, my actions, myself, and I see a selfish person, yes. A self-involved person. Someone who takes space when I need it, who asks for a friend when I need that. A year of narcissism and grief. Lucy's year. But I listened to others talk of their lives, their marriages, their troubles with success, too. This year, I have never tried to hurt a friend, never been insincere or unkind. I have not been malicious. But I recognize, there are far more ways to hurt someone than on purpose.

Sometimes I think grief is a filter for everyone's best and worst attributes. At times, I have been at peace with the death of my child, framing myself amongst a long list of suffering and bereaved mothers, immune to the "why" questions. Other times, I feel so picked on by the universe. I feel selected and punished. This grief has eradicated my brain to mouth plumbing catch. I am not afraid of alienating someone now with my grief, because I already see them as so very different than me. So I just put it out there most days. "I am sad today. Sad because my daughter is dead." I am not afraid to disagree with someone who tries to inform me of issues around loss when they themselves have not lost a child. I grasp the immediacy of my emotions, because something about them feels important now.

When others walk under this lens, it also exposes a deep part of themselves. Like airport full-body scans, the roll of birthing fat tucked under your "Not Your Daughter" jeans becomes evident to the person behind the other side of the monitor. That screen is suddenly there, whether you like it or not, when your child dies.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the screen." It scrawls across the projection people put out into the world, like the metatext of daily life.

Now, you are that man: the screener. At first, you see friends slink away, say nothing, not even a bloody "I'm sorry." You question why they aren't there. And then you notice the frame of the screen. Hidden carefully behind irreverent jokes and witty charms, you suddenly realize how afraid that person is of death and of losing their loved one. That their lack of communication isn't about you, but about them and their fear. Like the naked screen, you see all their actions, their bravado, their false arrogance, as their carefully constructed ruse to hide the total normal fear of their world crashing around them.

This was not my friend.

Yes, we have had a relationship fraught with drama. After Lucy died, months after our friendship fell apart, she came back into my life. She wrote me a letter of apology. She told me how much she wanted to grieve with me. She was not afraid, she said, of this emotion. It has been almost a year since I received that letter. It took me a while to open back up to her. Our break-up came at a bad time--my pregnancy with Lucy, a car-accident that left me with a broken collarbone and absolute fear of the mortality of my child. I blamed her, irrationally and unwittingly, on Lucy's death. The stress and strife of our friendship breaking down, and yet, the truth is, she was always one of those people with whom I could completely open up and be honest. She looked at my ugliest emotions and said they were beautiful. Slowly, I began trusting she was here, not reading my grief through her lens, but trying to love me and support me. To be my friend in a way she could not be months earlier. When I looked at her through the screen, she looked beautifully unadorned.

That screen, the full-body scan screen, it shows us so much: narcissism, resentments, grief-mongering, bravery, kindness, compassion, love. That she is walking away now feels so frightening. Part of my hesitation in letting her into my life again in the spring after Lucy died was that I couldn't bear another loss. I had lost this friend in the fall, then my father-in-law, then my daughter, then my abuelita. One more loss, I thought, would be it. If she was here, and then our friendship suffered the same fate again, I'm not sure what it would do to my trust, my vulnerability, my ability to be a good friend to anyone. I already knew what it was like to lose her once. Terribly painful and difficult, not just for me, but for my husband who endured my sleeplessness and crying.

Sometimes when your worst fears are realized, you are left in a place of emancipation: freedom from the fear of losing your closest friends. Here I am. But what is left of me? Where once I was an exposed heart, absorbing the suffering of others; suddenly I am a person with a heart two sizes too small.

I try desperately hard to not write about people who read this space, even though it can mean leaving out large, important parts of my life. She used to read here. And I feel terrible writing of this, though I do not think she has read my blog in a long time. I am still going to omit the details of our exchange. I can only say that I have never felt so gravely misunderstood.  I wanted to see her simply naked on that screen, and yet, I cannot trust that what I saw, or now see, is the truth of our friendship.

I am reminded of this quote:
This is where tenderness comes in. When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut doors and feel resentful or we can touch on that throbbing quality.... There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness.

Pema Chödrön
Nothing is working. Things are shaky. I feel groundless, and yet, today, somewhat free, tender and throbbing. Sometimes someone's lack of trust has nothing to do with your trustworthiness. For now, I am feeling on the verge of something great, a revelation of importance. I have set up a mirror on the other side of the screen, trying to find my hidden bombs.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Karma, redux.

A few months ago, sweet/salty kate and I exchanged an email about the idea of our babies being bodhisattvas, Buddhism and karma. I told her a bit about my experience with my Buddhist therapist, and she asked me to share some of that experience on Glow in the Woods.

Go and check out my guest blogging experience today at Glow: the inescapability of karma, maybe.

Friday, January 22, 2010



The dog is standing with hair on end staring into the dark of the bathroom and the open door of the girls' room on the other end.
"Mommy, the dog is barking at a people."
"Honey, there are no other people in our house. We are the only ones."
"Mommy, the dog is barking because he is scared because we are the only people."

I stare into the dark rooms allowing my eyes to adjust to the light. I tiptoe into the room, the dog hovering at my right, the girl at my left. Oh, please let it be a ghost. Please let it be her.
A balloon hovers at person height, not quite enough helium to stretch to the ceiling, and not empty enough to fall to the floor.
I know how you feel, balloon.
"It is only your balloon, love, scaring him because it looks like a people." I swat the balloon into the corner. Adding "Banisher of Invisible People" to my job description.

Sam works twenty-four hour shifts. As Beatrice puts it, "It's just you and me now, Mommy."  I hate to admit that I become like the dog, poised and waiting for trouble in the most benign of places. I am restless with Sam gone, even though he works overnight once a week. After all, I should be used to it. But I imagine all sorts of horrendous scenarios in my head without him here. We live in a house with no locks on any interior doors. But I have mapped out our hiding spots, cubby holes, and places I may be too big to fit into anymore. I carry a phone with me to bed, and make sure my hand can reach our billy club. I wake through the night to phantom noises, and creaks of our settling house. Beatrice and I whittle our time away painting, eating carrots, watching movies, cuddling in bed together.We eat frozen berries on the couch and watch cartoons. We sing songs when we walk into unlit rooms, and take a bath together. I let her sleep with me. We stay up too late and tickle each other.

The girl won't use a pillow to sleep anymore. She rests her head just below it, and searches the sheets for my hand. She doesn't want me to read her stories, or sing songs. She just wants me there. Lie quiet and still in my arms. She readies herself to sleep and searches the knots in our pine ceiling for cats.

Time is much too fast. I want her forever here in this bed, almost three. Saying "mine" instead of my, and calling a person "people". It seems impossible not to be able to bottle this time. To not be able to pick a moment to live in forever. Would we let our life go by, anyway, waiting for a moment that seems more perfect? I wouldn't. I would pick this one. One with us together in bed, cuddling and giggling and loving and being happy. "Being with you, Mama, makes me so happy," she says. And I tear up. "Me too, love."

I admit last night lying in bed, trying to read, watching Beatrice sleep, I found myself terrified of mortality. Mine. Yours. My parent's. My child's. Now, my children's. I doubt. Often. I doubt, constantly, even. I doubt my abilities as a parent. I doubt my diligence in pregnancy. I doubt my beliefs and my unbeliefs. I doubt my truths. I doubt justice. I doubt my knowledge. I doubt myself. Just last night I first called Thor "my son." It was a sea change in me. Suddenly upon me in a great motion, he is my son now. I whispered into the phone to Sam, "I don't remember when my son last moved,"

I don't remember when he did any of those things, yet I know he has. How could I be so careless? So careless as to let Lucy's death not affect a hypervigilance about his movements, and yet, I wait. I push him desperately hard. I drink cold water. I finally head downstairs, eat some chocolate in lieu of juice (poor me) and turn on television. He wakes in me, and kicks. He wants to play now, and I poke him and he kicks my finger, and he turns himself, and tickles my spleen. He is so active that I forget that I doubted ten minutes earlier.

Is that enough to remind me, for now, that he may not die?

But he may die. I may die. Suddenly. Unable to make peace. I drown the thoughts with reality television and lemon water. I just want to know who is right, I think during a commercial. The Buddhists? The Christians? The Zoroastrians? The atheists? Sometimes I think my fear of nothing is less than the fear of something unbelieved. I am full of doubt, hair standing on end, growling into the abyss.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A new day

It is a new day.

I feel better today. Not physically, still have this sore throat and cold/ebola thing and my itty bitty gigantic pulsating splinter hole, but emotionally I feel better. Thank you for letting me vent and be in a public state of despair. To be honest, I called the midwife I see for appointments right after posting. (I go to a midwives group with twelve midwives, and since Lucy's death have seen the same one for consistency of care and because she was there attending to me after Lucy died, though she had cared for me in all three of my pregnancies.) She had given me her personal cell number. As she walked down the street, I explained what happened. She is very level-headed and overly cautious, but kind. She is going to call me this morning when she is in front of my chart with actual numbers for my urine test. And to check they did a UTI culture when I was in the hospital.

When I asked her point blank, "What is happening? Do I have pre-eclampsia? Do I have gestational diabetes? What is going on?" She said that there was no way they would diagnose pre-eclampsia without elevated blood pressures, but that spilling protein is a sign of something, and the one they worry about the most is pre-e. It puts me in a high risk category, though with my loss, I was already there. She basically told me that protein means something is going on: UTI, diabetes, or pre-eclampsia, though I could just be spilling protein. They can monitor the first two, but the last one is so serious they defer to the doctors for my care. All in all, she assured me that if the protein was because of something not pre-eclampsia, I would more than likely transfer BACK to the midwives.

One thing that sounds stark and dire in my last post, which I did not intend, was that the midwives were abandoning me. There are OBs associated with their group, in the same office, accessible with the same phone number. I will be seeing one from that group, hopefully the same one as my lovely friend Sarah sees. It isn't like I am suddenly out in the cold with no care. I am sorry to give that impression. My midwife said that on my first appointment, she would stop in and talk to the doctor and see if they can't co-manage my care.

All in all, FREAK OUT last night. Calmer now.

This is all for getting Thor out. The truth is the midwife who called me last night, not my regular one, told me that this means I will have regular NSTs and more monitoring. When I talked to my midwife, I was already on that path with regular NSTs and fluid checks twice a week starting at 32 weeks. It is probably the same course of action.

Thank you for all your loving support and for watching my back, internets. Y'all rock. And to leave you with something a bit lighter, and for the colorizers out there. Here are some of my mad organization skillz, yo.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010



I just got a call from my midwives group. They can no longer manage my care because the protein in my urine was elevated, and with one high BP reading and my loss that means I have to transfer my care to an OB. I guess they are telling me that I have pre-eclampsia. The midwife didn't say that. She just said she can't care for me anymore, and I sat there stunned as she said she'd love to know about my baby when I deliver.


Newsy bits

There really is nothing dignified about carrying a gallon of your own urine down the street.

I tried to dress it up a bit, put it in a brown paper bag, but really it is still piss. And I am still very pregnant, lumbering even, while carrying a load of it. I am sort of keeping my fingers and toes crossed that there is no protein. There hasn't been any on any of the times I have had my pee dipped, but still, I found my heart beating wildly as I entered the midwife's office. "Please let everything be fine. Please do not send me to PETU again. Breathe deeply, Ang, you are making your blood pressure go crazy."

My follow-up blood pressure check was fine-120/70, which is where it normally is when I am wearing the correctly sized blood pressure cuff. I asked them to put me in the bigger cuff, because you know, my guns cannot be contained in the petite cuff. Bench pressing a two and a half year old does that, as well as just being a brute force to be reckoned with. We are constantly putting on gun shows in this house, showing off our wares, flexing our sexiness. Beatrice's refrain right now is, "I'm going to be strong like my daddy." And of course, indignantly, I say, "What about strong like your Mama? Check out those muscles. Go on touch the arm. Don't hurt yourself, kid."

Still, let's face it--I am a woman of advanced size. Or parts of me are. Us Estrada women have large arms. It is who we are. No need to protect my delicate ego with a smaller cuff. It is like women who I see alking through the summer with their heels hanging off the end of their slingbacks. "You are a size 10, dude." I own the arms and shoulders. They are mine. They are large, and let's face it, they make me in charge. I can lift more than your average bear, well, okay not a bear, but woman of my height.

Proving the point, we spent the day rearranging our house yesterday and transforming our office/television/book room into a craft and art studio (with computer) for Beatrice and me. I sent my booklist to a local used bookstore and the owner wrote back that he was interested in quite a few books and would email me a list in a few days. It is really happening. I am really shedding the books. I feel giddy and scared all at the same time. I sold some Ikea book shelves on c-list. Sam has gotten drunk on the craigslist selling power and wants to sell our matching black leather chairs now too. They have always been a bit too small for him, but just right for me and Beatrice.We usually spend our Spring Cleaning time rearranging the furniture in our house. It gives us two less options, but I am in a purge phase. And I am tempted to go through my basement, and my clothes, but I imagine I will have three outfits left.

Today I have been colorizing* (That word is for you, Jen!) Bea's paints, and markers, and organizing everything into neat bins as I make the room our very own. Pulling up the rug after a rather unfortunate accident involving a falling and twirling jar of magenta paint, I sustained my first art room related injury. I got a 1.5 foot splinter into my foot to the hilt. It dropped me. And I yelped, and Bea sort of ran back and forth quickly like a trapped mouse. I asked her to go into the bathroom, get the basket with bathroom crap in it, and we searched for a tweezer. No luck, so I scooched into the light and pulled it out with my rather blunt and manish fingernails. It happens to only FEEL like 1.5 feet. Perhaps it is more like a half inch, but still OWIE. I am still limping and complaining. Not to mention, I seem to have a rather fierce sore throat, cough and runny nose. My splinter injury trumped the cold, but now I have two possible bitch focuses for the day. Awesome.

Does one get sick when one goes to hospital? I mean, I was there for eight hours perfectly healthy on Thursday, and now, I seem to be developing what is clearly ebola, evinced by the fact that I am still surfing the net and arranging construction paper all while singing the alphabet song.


I have other things. Larger things. Painful things. But for now, this is what I got--a bit of goofiness and sick eyes while immersed in art supplies. There are worse things.

* By colorizing, of course I mean, putting them in the correct color order according to the color spectrum of ROY G. BIV, my favorite imaginary dude besides Santa.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


It has been a strange day.

I have spent the majority of today at my computer, nose in an Excel spreadsheet, typing in most of the books I own. I have decided to purge. To stop coveting things, in particular books. I want to sell them, perhaps. Donate the rest.

"You will not read that book again, Angie. Let it go." I chastise myself.

But it is hard to let it go. These books have been with me for years. I remember leaving Tucson after five years there, and packing my little Honda CRX with all my belongings. I donated most of my clothes but a travel backpack. My guitar. A boom box with a book of CDs. My lucky pillow, and the rest of the car was books. I even forgot my box of kitchen items, including a well-seasoned wok. It has been an interesting journey through my books. Mostly, I remember where I got each book. I have been pleasantly surprised and self-impressed at the amount of them I have actually finished. That usually involved me holding a book I maybe only read a few pages into and asking myself, "Should I save this to actually read?" There were remarkably few I hadn't read, and none that I felt moved to now read. It did occur to me that I couldn't remember which Kundera book was which, just that I read them, and it involved him having sex. At one point in my life, I made it a point to read them all, because I was moved by his writing. I just don't really remember them anymore. It reminded me of that Woody Allen joke about taking a speed reading course. "I read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It's about Russia."

I have always wanted to be surrounded by books. I love the look of them, the smell of them. I like them stacked on desks, or alphabetized on shelves. I always imagined my home having the library my house growing up lacked -- a gigantic comfty chair and ottoman, and a place to put my coffee. From what I could tell, my father read three books my entire childhood: The Old Man and the Sea, Chuck Yeager's Autobiography and Lee Iacocca's autobiography. They sat next to the bed for most of my childhood under his carton of cigarettes. I think my mother read. I know she reads now, voraciously, but then, I don't remember. I have absolutely no memory of either of my parent's reading me any book. I never sat on their lap to hear a story, or they never sat on my bed and read us to sleep. They said, "Time for bed. Good night." And went back to whatever they were doing. I think now about our night routine with the three books, and long fairy tales, myth or folktale read to sleep. It isn't a mystery that you give your child that which you lacked.

No matter the psychological reason I have gotten to this place of owning 500+ books, the library situation in our house is not really working. We need an art studio and office. We currently do crafts and art on the dining table, and in the rush of dinner and meltdowns, our paints get pushed to one side of the table while we eat around paint splatters. It isn't working for anyone. These books sit there in prime studio space and mock us. "We looooove your space. Sure, we do nothing but make you sneeze, and we couldn't care less, Philistine."

I also am nesting.

I just want everything to look Scandanavian in here. Sparse. Organized. Less clutter in my periferal vision. I have always bought a book instead of rented it, or borrowed it. I don't like the pressure of having to finish something. And I admit I sort of resent being given books to read. When I am on an Icelandic literature kick, I cannot estimate when I will be in the mood for a book about Chinese foot-binding. It has worked for me, the buying book thing. Some books, I noted today when I was typing the title into my database, I have lent out a dozen times. Some I have reread through the years, and others have highlighting in them, and notes in the margins from university. I found love letters, old bookmarks, photographs, flowers from my high school boyfriend, even a card from my husband written in the first weeks of us dating. He called me "babycakes."

I think the hardest part of today was finding the book Comfort by Ann Hood. I read that this year, after Lucy died. And I picked it up to read the introduction, which was so incredibly powerful, I was moved again to tears, gripped with the feelings I had right after Lucy died. The prologue of the book is the first thing the author wrote after her five-year old died. I think it was three months after her daughter's death.  And when I read her book, I was about three months since Lucy died. Let's just say, I could relate, but it also terrified me. I was processing the death of a daughter that I had never seen run, or play, or take a bath, or squirming up on my lap, and this book was about a five-year old girl. When I read Comfort, I didn't relate it much to Lucy beyond the prologue. I thought of Beatrice. Losing her, living without her. I felt small and vulnerable. The world felt dark and crueler than before I read the book. And I grew scared at the ways in which my life could be devastated even more than it already was.

My life itself reads like a series of distinctly different novels, and stacking my books is the same. What would you discern about someone by their books? I have an inordinate amount of books about boxing and viruses. About Nixon and the politics of the sixties. I have entire collections of authors, like Jeanette Winterson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ana Castillo and W. Somerset Maugham. I have books about Books of the Bible, about Nation of Islam and Muslim women writers, about Buddhism and Taoism and Atheism and sexism and classism and marionette-making. I have six translations of the Bible, even one in Greek, three Qurans and countless other sacred texts. I have travel books about New Zealand and Central America, and Mexico and Texas and India. And this year I collected books about grief. About surviving the loss of your child. I have books about explaining death to children, and explaining death to yourself. I have a baby name book with the cover torn out of it where Lucy's possible names were written. I have memoirs of surviving avalanches, child death, drug addiction, alcoholism and natural disaster. I have books about vampires and child wizards and artists whose sole purpose on my shelf was to distract me.

Now, I have a list of books I once read. I have a list of lifetimes I have lived and moods I experienced and changes in my being. As I pull all the essential bits of each of these lives into one spreadsheet, the boxes of books cease weighing me down reminding me of who I was, but this list is simply who I have become.

Friday, January 15, 2010


"And your second daughter was stillborn when?"
"December 2008."
"Heaven must have needed another angel."

My lips tighten into a strong, polite purse, and I force a nod. Do they tell all L&D nurses to say this shit to grieving women? Still, she is kind with a warm smile. Patient with my impatience.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but does my husband have to come now? Is this dire? Or fairly routine to be in the hospital for hours?"
"This is a no-apology zone, Angie. No more sorries. We are here to care for you and your little boy. Please complain if you want to complain. This is not dire. Do you have anyone to watch your little girl?"
"We could scramble if we need to. Do we need to?"
"Not just yet. You are fine. Your boy is moving a ton, and I can tell nothing is wrong with him by his wiggles. Zing us if you want anything, especially if you feel these contractions. They are coming every two minutes."
"I am not much of a complainer and I have a high tolerance for pain. I don't feel anything."

I am at their mercy now. I know they are overreacting to some elevated blood pressure, which wouldn't be high for other women, but is high for me of low blood pressure. I know we are fine, and yet, I would never contradict care and monitoring for this baby. I explain to them that I ran three blocks before getting my blood pressure taken. I explain that the cuff does not fit properly. I explain to them that I have been to three appointments today. I explain that I haven't had enough water, or food.  I think of Occum's Razor and let them put an IV in my arm, refuse me meals, monitor Thor for seven hours. Impervious to the obvious, we search for the worst case scenario and try to fix it.

"Your cervix is closed."
"So, now that my blood pressure is down, the contractions are slowing, all my blood work has come back clear, and my cervix is closed. Will I go home?"
"We are going to wait for another few hours to make sure your cervix is really closed."
"Okay. Do what you must."

Are you doing this for me? For you? For Thor? For malpractice? Or for all of the above? Circle one. Am I in danger? Can you be honest? Can you not underestimate my ability to deal with giving birth at 27 weeks? I have been expecting this to happen since there was a small pink little "pregnant" in a small little window. I overhear them with a woman who is at 35 weeks. She is there because she feels funny. Her baby isn't moving as much. 

"Okay, we think it is time to get this baby out. Your baby isn't moving like we want him to be moving. We are going to do an emergency C-section. You need to get your husband here."
"But now? Can't we wait another hour? I don't want to have a C-section."
"We should be seeing more movement after 20 minutes. His heart rate decelerated a few times. We think the time is now."

Tell her her baby is going to die if you don't do a C-section. Tell her. Tell her to sign a paper knowing her baby will die if you don't get him out. Stop with the euphemisms. She doesn't understand. A C-section seems like the worst thing to her right now. Tell her that she will recover from the C-section, but that she won't ever recover from the death of her child, especially if she refuses to get him out.Tell her that her child can die even right now while he is on a monitor. Even while she is watching.

After they convince her it is now, they roll her away.  I watch Pretty Woman and wait. I feel Thor kick and turn. He is breach, I found out yesterday, but he is good. I am good, except for a slightly elevated blood pressure, which will now be monitored often. Thor is measuring three weeks ahead of schedule, which sort of bodes well for getting him out at 37 weeks. I stare at the little 3-D image of my son in my belly that I received earlier in the day as the rhythm of his heartbeat echos in the curtained room. I have never had one of these pictures of any of my children. His nose is crooked and turned up, like Beatrice's nose, and his lips are like all my babies. They are like my lips.

"This is all for you, Thor. I would endure months of sitting in this bed, uncomfortable, knowing that I do not have to be here, if it means I get to kiss that nose every day of my life. Well, every day until you leave and make your way in the world. And when you call home, I will say to you, 'I wish I could kiss your nose, Mijo.' And you, exasperated and happy, will sigh, 'Mooooom.'"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The differences

We are just different.

My husband and I, that is. Grief makes that difference so stark. Oh, the early days, Sam and I both lost it at the slightest provocation. Now, it is different. Our grief has changed, and our grieving has changed. The quantity and quality of it. I am often moved when he brings Lucia up in conversation, and when he thinks of her. And yet, with all this talk about the photos of our babies, it reminds me that we have none up in our house. It is his trigger. He doesn't want to see her in our bedroom, or in our living room. He says it is too painful.

I understand that, but I do want to see her. I want it to be normal to see my daughter around my house. It don't want to gasp when I see her pop up in the little preview window on the computer. I don't want to shiver when I open an unmarked envelope in our photo box. I don't want to have my daughter be some kind of taboo. She was in me. She is part of me. Like Beatrice. Like Thor. Why have we made her so different?

In August, I wrote about my marriage.  We have an amazing marriage and life together. We laugh a great deal in our home, delight in our daughter in the same way, dream and deal with our grief in ways that complement each other, though we are different. I miss my husband when he goes to work. He is my best friend, staunchest ally, artistic cheerleader, beautiful muse, perfect lover and the reacher of things on high shelves. I hit the husband lottery. Sometimes I think the biggest issues in our relationship are that we are too similar, get our feelings hurt in the same way at the same time. But, some other moments, particularly surrounding our grief, catch me off-guard and I turn my head like the Victor dog. "Whaaaaaa?" He begins speaking a different emotional language than me, and I am suddenly aware that the babel fish has fallen out of my ear.

I have tried to keep Lucy close to me in other ways. When Lucy first died, I bought this antique glass pendant. I wanted a momento mori. I meant to put a bit of hair in it, and wear it. Even for me, it looked beyond creepy. I just am not that Victorian no matter how desperately I love the Mütter Museum. Then I imagined the questions I would get from strangers. I opted to write her name on a piece of onion skin and put a flower in there. The flower died, and the piece of paper floated sideways awkwardly. I wore it very briefly, like all my remembrance jewelry. I don't know why that is. My antique glass pendant is now rusted shut because I left it in the bathroom junk basket. I thought about and designed a tattoo. A friend once mentioned to me that if I had a tattoo of Lucy's name, I should get one of Beatrice's as well, and then that should translate to the jewelry. She has two living children and is very conscious of sibling rivalry. I can appreciate that. I would never want to make Bea feel like she is competing with someone who never is naughty. If I had all my children living with me, I would never tattoo just one child's name on me. But this is all I would have of Lucy--her name written on my body. Her birth and death date carved in metal around my wrist. A clump of hair. A grainy photograph of my baby covered in vernix, her skin torn across her face, in my arms as I weep. I wish I could explain it to her, but I imagine this is what everyone thinks when they see Lucy's name on my jewelry--they see the absence of Beatrice's name.

"Lucy is sick," Beatrice points to the computer screen.
"Yes. Lucy was sick."  Was she sick? Is that fair? And yet, she doesn't look healthy. She doesn't look alive, though she looks beautiful.

I understand that my husband doesn't want to walk into a room for his slippers and begin crying as Bea explains that Lucy is sick, or later when she begins to understand more deeply, that Lucy is dead. To think of all his daughter is missing. To think of all that he is missing. And yet I want to be surrounded by my babies, anyway I can. We stand at two sides of a large, plunging chasm. I would never want to hurt him purposefully, and he would never want to hurt me. And so we stand facing each other, arms extended, weeping.

Recently, when I mentioned my post about friends, Sam talked about how he has no male friends. None around here. He misses his brothers. He misses his frat bros, as I condescendingly refer to his other friends. And here he is living in a place where he never quite met people to hang out with. He moved here five years ago for his second graduate degree in nursing. Most of his classmates were female, and his male nurse anesthetist friends moved away from here after graduating. His workmates are like him--married with children, which doesn't exactly lend itself to hanging out. Philadelphia is one of those places where people are born, live and die. When you move here and meet locals, you realize their friendships were formed in elementary school. It is hard to negotiate the having of a beer. We have awesome neighbors who we have a beer with here and there, but it is different.

We recently bought a new computer with a video camera. I thought it would be cool to chat with my friends around the world. To hear them and see them. And after I set it up, I mentioned to Sam that I could try to chat with his brothers. As the fuzzy screen cleared, my nephew, niece and brother-in-law living across the country came into focus. And Sam's face lit up. I sat on the couch in the same room needle-felting and watching them. Sam spent fifteen minutes making goofy faces, and warping the image with some camera settings, pretending to pick his nose, as the kids and his brother laughed. He held up Bea's belly and tickled her. He made his smile gigantically warped and laughed. They joked about watching television together. They scratched their butt. Obnoxious words popped up on the bottom of the screen. They didn't talk about anything. They hung out together. Drank a virtual beer.  When he got off the computer, he gave me a huge hug. He teared up. "Thank you for doing that for me. I miss my brothers so much."

We are just different.

And that is okay.

I edited this post to read my husband and I are different, rather than men and women. I should not have made sweeping generalizations about men and women grieving differently, since the first two comments have mentioned that it is not like that for other couples. It is for us. So, I will keep this personal.

Monday, January 11, 2010

About the boy.

I have always found it fascinating to see the different ways people deal with the same situation. None more so than pregnancy. I have never been one to show my ultrasound pictures to, well, anyone but my husband and sister, and our mothers. I remember when I received my first ultrasound picture via email when I was a single lady working in a corporate environment. "Welp, that is the inside of my co-worker's hoohah," I thought. "And she is having a baby that looks like Skeletor." Imagine my surprise when I was at a baby shower with ultrasound cookies. Really? You would like us to eat your baby? With coffee?

During my pregnancy with Beatrice, my co-workers threw me a surprise baby shower on a Friday night in the guise of a "game night." I totally didn't expect it. I am not a "baby shower" type person; in fact, I think I was fairly adamant in demanding no shindigs in pink. But it was really lovely, and very me. Beatrice's name, spelled out in Scrabble letters, strung across my friend's living room. I got gifts like a towel with sushi all over it, which Bea still uses, and a onesie with Jimmie Hendrix rocking out that says, "Foxy Baby." It was perfect really. I felt loved.  The one game they organized was putting brown whiskeys or liquors in little baby bottles which each woman had to sniff and identify. I won the game, and the girls drank the whiskeys while I sipped lemon water. *sigh* I suppose that is what happens when you have a baby shower thrown by people who have never had babies.

So, really, my pregnancy after loss, at least in the way I talk about my pregnancy or share information, is almost exactly the same as before. Maybe a bit grumpier, less chatty to strangers, unable to make the requisite speculations about sibling rivalries, names, size, etc. But definitely, showing the black and white picture of my child in utero is going beyond my capability.  Only once, in an ultrasound room, did I think, "She is so pretty." And that was my Lucia. I just think ultrasound pictures of my children look sort of creepy. Oh, I have seen a ton of gorgeous ones in the last year on babylost mamas' blogs. And I sort of rue that my children always sort of give me the proverbial  finger in utero. "I'm not posing. No how. No profile. No cutesie shit. You get what you get and you don't get upset, Mama." I can barely get profile shots of them. But, that day, our twenty-week anatomy check of Lucy, her profile, her delicate features, for some reason, I could see them clearly, make out the contours of her face, and the ways in which she was uniquely Lucy. I was over the moon about having a second girl. I had a true sense of her--one that I still carry. I didn't say, "Oh, she looks like Bea, or your mother, or me." She just was Lucy. Perfect and lovely.

Of course, none of her ultrasound still shots that I carried home really looked like the beautiful ghost I saw in the machine, but I still saw her.

I have neither written much about this pregnancy, nor shared ultrasound pictures. What I am trying to say is that it is not really my way. The pregnancy is not something I have been obsessing on, per se. I feel totally the same physically, except for being lumbering, having headaches and having a kid kick me from the inside out while another kicks me from the outside in. I suppose you could say that I am resigned to allow what will happen happen. There is a kind of peace in that path. Of course, I am doing everything I can to give Thor a good start in the world. Mostly, I am trying to get healthy in my head, to remain calm, not to overreact to normal pregnancy pains and not to think so much about what life will be like if [fill in the blank] happens. I am 26 weeks, or 27. Somewhere in between the two. I am in this liminal stage between feeling more regular movement and the extra hard core monitoring (twice a week appointments starting in a few weeks). I currently check in every month, piss in a cup, stress about my weight, talk to the midwife about how friggin' hard this all is, and then climb back on the train.

To be frank, I am feeling a bit contented here. Just moving forward. I am not stressing just yet about the giving birth part or what Thor will actually wear when and if he merges womb-side kicking and screaming. I suspect he will be in pink for a few weeks. I am still afraid of premature labor and of counting chickens before eggs hatch, but he moves. When I prod him, or drink cold water, I can get that reassuring shift or fluttery stomach. Some days when I read the book Madeline, or sing the alphabet song, he giggles. That is the sensation, and I find myself smiling despite myself.  

He might actually kiss me one day. Play football and bring home a girl. He might be called something other than Thor. He might wear a suit and I might call him my Little Man. He might become an artist and a basketball player. He might smile at me after three exhausting weeks of constant breastfeeding and long nights. He might have my eyes or hair. He might live.

Beatrice puts her nose on my belly button and waits for him to kick her. "The baby kissed me, Mama."
"That's because he loves you, Beatrice."

Friday, January 8, 2010


"You know that post you wrote a few days ago about being a bad friend?"
"You mean the one I wrote this morning before you went to work?"
"Yeah, that one. Was any of that about me?"
"Um, no. But have I been a terrible friend to you, husband?"
"No, but I kind of thought it was funny that I thought some of that could apply to me."
"Yeah, That is funny. And kind of sad."
"I didn't mean it to be sad. I meant it to be funny."
"Well, it is true that I didn't go to any showers that you threw this year."
"No, you didn't. I do resent that."


This week is International Delurking Week, according to Mel. When I first set up my blog and the tracker system, I used to check it religiously to see if my mother who was reading my blog. I sort of figured out that since my mother can't really figure out how to sign onto her own email account, and couldn't have followed a FB link I had posted for a week if she wanted to, I really have no need to read the stats anymore. Every once in a while, though, I look at that map of all the dots from around the world, and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy and happy. Or I follow links of blogs I have never read before to add to my reader. I also get a great joy in looking at the search words that has brought someone to my blog. I think "Finger. Hand blender." made me feel less ridiculous in life, and "wacky doodle eagle fucker" disturbed me a bit (did all those words appear on my blog at the same time?). But in general, if you do not comment, I really do not know who you are. I would like to get to know you, though. I do become curious, what type of people read me? So, this week is a week to come out of the closet. Since I have written about my weird quirks, I am giving this brief prompt to write about yours. And comment, whether or not you comment regularly.

Many many years ago, after hearing about these friends of my ex-boyfriend for, literally, years, we were invited to dinner at their old, stately estate on the Main Line of Philadelphia. This is a gay couple, one of which is an actual rocket scientist and the other a professor of religious studies focusing on Catholicism. I had ideas, you know, of what they were like. They were devote Catholics who attended mass every Sunday, one sang in the choir and the other played the organ. They had been together for decades. I had an image of the sort of house they kept, what their interests were, and what their general house would be like. It was beautiful. Breathtakingly restored. Elegant. Regal. Exactly as I had imagined. When given the extensive tour of their home, I was led into the their bedroom suite, which was larger than my entire apartment. And what I found on their bedroom couch, covering their entire king-size bed, and on every horizontal surface of the room were hundreds of stuffed alligators. I mean, just all manner of alligator--stuffed animals from the carnival win to the lush velvet-y well-crafted toy. I asked them the obvious question, "So, you are into alligators?"
"Yeah, you know, it's our thing."

And well, you know my thing? So, lurker, tell me: what is your thing?

The Bad Friend

Make no mistake about it. I have been a terrible friend this past year too.

When Lucy first died, I used to visit a mothering board. In the loss section, someone posed a question about which loss and grief books were helpful and which weren't. I remember vaguely reading a review about one, I cannot even remember which one now, that someone said was more geared to counselors and therapists. And I do remember the review said, "It was upsetting to read things about the 'narcissism of grief,' especially because I am in the midst of it." That is when it first occurred to me that this grief was going to make everything about me. No matter how compassionate I wanted to be, I was going to see the world through my own lens of loss.

I think my last post sort of proves that researcher right, no? Everyone has their own shit with which to deal. I expected more at times. I expected people to do what I simply couldn't. So, here is a list of all the ways in which I have been a terrible friend this past year. I am hoping to purge my guilt a bit. And to acknowledge that I have not been perfect either. Feel free to add to this list in the comments.

I never sent out the memo that I had adopted Victorian mourning rituals.
I wore black crepe dresses and covered the mirrors.
I stopped my clocks at 5:40 pm.
I declined your invitation.
I didn't go to your party, shower or wedding.
I skipped joining the hundreds of people on to wish you a happy birthday.
I didn't want to make chit chat.
I forgot to ask you how you are doing.
I didn't call you back.
I wanted to go for a walk, but couldn't stop crying that day.
I know you would have understood if I had told you that, but I ignored you instead.
I didn't throw our annual Open House.
I didn't forget what happened between us in the past just because my daughter died.
I wasn't polite.
I knew what you meant, but I still was impatient with the way you said it.
I was grumpy when you asked me how I was doing.
I avoided you at the market.
I disagreed with you and never said anything.
I stopped waving when I drove down the street near your home.
I became too wrapped up in writing my blog and reading blogs that I didn't email you back.
I told you off, because you defended the people who never said "I'm sorry."
I wasn't there for you when you needed me.
I rejected your overtures to me, because we have never been close.
I waited for you to call me again.
I resented your pity and prayers.
I didn't make you a meal when your baby was born.
I hid all your activities on because they revolved around your pregnancy.
I missed your child's first birthday.
I punched a pillow when you said that your friend also had a miscarriage.
I forgot to send you a thank you card.
I made you feel like your problems weren't as big as mine.
I didn't go to your art opening.
I resented you saying you understood my loss.
I haven't looked at your children's pictures in a year.
I thought we were better friends than we were.

PS. Last night, I was sort of wracked with the guilt of leaving out the good friends. And there have been good friends. I have some left. I hope they know who they are. xo.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Brave new world.

Someone anonymously commented the other night that my writing has gotten better on this blog. How is it possible to be so enraged by a compliment, especially one that I hope is true about the writing throughout my life?

Why is it better? Because I am not so wracked with grief? Because I am able to think a little clearer without the refrain 'Lucy is dead' echoing in my brain? Because everything isn't so raw and tender? Because it is more palatable when I don't write about the fact that my daughter died every post?

Of course, the answer to all those questions is "yes". Yes, because the grief is not so raw. Yes, because I can breathe now. Yes, because I tend to fix my grammatical errors more readily. Yes, because my daughter didn't just die. Yes, because I am not a mess every minute. Yes, because I have written every day for a year. Yes, because my emotions aren't so dire. Yes, because I have become more than just grief.

Early in my grief, a multi-decade friend wrote on Facebook after a particularly goofy comment I made after months of silence, "Now, there is the Angie I know." There I am. There is the not-sad Angie. There is the light-hearted Angie without daughter death on the brain. There is the Angie without suffering. I was still there. I am still here.

The experience of losing my child affected me.

Is that surprising? If I wasn't outwardly affected, would people talk about my callousness or about my resilience? Wouldn't people wonder why I didn't cry and mourn so publicly? Would my morality be called into question? Instead, I am verging on the overly emotional/obsessed with my stillborn daughter. (By the way, I am also obsessed with my alive-born daughter too, but that is okay, right?) I am never quite healthy enough for regular society. Too much. Too little. I have given up the game.

My Face, as one of my friend's mothers accidentally called it, is one of those strange anomalies in life where you connect with all these divergent people in all these different spheres of your life. And while you can tailor your writings to whatever sphere you wish, mostly, you just post your life in a sentence or two to everyone. At least, I do. Too lazy to figure out who can handle what, I just put it out there. When your child dies, suddenly, you realize, like all the lights suddenly came on, that everyone is wearing clown noses and wacky wigs, and you no longer think it is funny.

On October 15th, which is Pregnancy Loss Remembrance Day, I was de-friended by two people. I don't really care about those friendships; we were not close in any meaningful way, but it was a stark reminder of how unpalatable my grief had become. I hadn't even grieved for a year at that point. I had posted a remembrance of my daughter as a status update, and a video from the Australian Stillbirth Foundation. Within ten minutes, I was short two friends. And really, that is part of what you learn that those friends, the FB friends, the people who forwarded "You know you are from Pennsylvania when..." emails, the people who never said "I'm sorry," they really weren't friends to begin with. They were the illusion of friends.

I feel like my biggest struggle of this new year will be in confronting and reconciling my old life, my old friends and my old way of being with who I am now. As the shock of Lucy's death becomes less, uh, shocking, and a new baby, hopefully, will enter our family, I know I will confront the inevitable decision of what to do about the people suddenly returning when good news has trumped the bad (if it indeed does). Ignore the silence of the last year? Confront them? Reject them? What? What is the most compassionate thing to do for all involved? Part of me feels like this year has taught me how important it is to be self-compassionate, and yet, that has felt somewhat not at all compassionate to most everyone else in my life.

We have no friends really. No one we hang out with as a couple. No one we meet for dinner or drinks. In my desire to be honest with this journey, I have driven our friends away, or they never really came around to begin with. I recognize my place in it, yet I cannot imagine doing anything differently. If I didn't speak my hurt, I would have been dishonest to myself. When I spoke it, I risked losing those friendships. When I balanced those two choices, I felt honesty was my only choice. I know those friends felt helpless. Though they did the best that they could, I had to say when I needed more compassion.

One friend kept sending me her new baby girl's pictures posing with their older daughter. When I didn't respond to them immediately, she retitled her emails to read things like "Patrick Swayze" and when I would open it, there would be a picture of her daughters. I asked her if she wouldn't mind just sending me an email asking me if I wanted to see them before just sending the pictures. I told her that some days I cannot bear to see sisters or babies or both. It breaks my heart, I told her, though I was extraordinarily happy for her beautiful family. I just sometimes need to process what I am about to see before I see it. She apologized and never wrote again. It has been six months.

But what should I have done in that scenario? Keep erasing the emails and not responding? Wouldn't she be hurt by my lack of response to her daughter? I wish I knew. I could only follow what felt most important to me, which is be honest with a friend about which I cared deeply, hope she didn't take it personally and that she would continue to include me in the baby's life.

I understand that others feel awkward and impotent, somehow unable to co-exist with my delicate emotions and my new state of being, or maybe my new impatience and bitchiness. Perhaps they are waiting for us to reach out again, or maybe they just saw our grief as too much to handle with the other stresses of their life. They weighed their choices too. I remind myself of that. I feel like I have entered a new world, one where I have to be true and brave even in the midst of my grief. Some days, though, I just do not know what the truth is anymore. Or bravery. Or what is is, if you know what I mean.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A birthday

I poured myself a bit more coffee than my one mug this morning. I ate left-over sopapilla for breakfast. I listened to Joan Jett at 5:30 am, and played with my new computer camera.

It is my birthday today. I realized yesterday that when I hear the date January 4th, I think, "Hey, that is my sister's birthday." And I am squarely channeling the Beatles when I declare to myself and the world, "Hey, it's my birthday too!" I am moving into my late thirties, which translates to mean that my husband works a twenty-four hour shift today. He'll be back tomorrow. I am looking at no downtime today. Errands. Visiting my father. No naptime. Maybe some art project for dinner while Beatrice nibbles on Mac and Cheese and carrots. No clowns or pony rides. Just life. Regular old thirty-something life.

I received the best gift last night. From myself. I slept through the night for the first time in over a month. All night. In my own bed. It was nice. I feel groggy this morning. How can I still be tired after eight hours of uninterrupted sleep without a single dream or nightmare? And yet my demanding body wanted more hours to rejuvenate. I aged this past few months of Christmas cookies and insomnia. Wrinkles around the eyes. Double chins. Bloated face. I want to look at myself again and see health, strength, sunshine instead of impending middle age and depression. I think I need a sleepcation. Somewhere boring and designed for optimal rest. Or someplace where I am forced to do manual labor for 10 hours a day. I may have hit on something there.

Today, for my birthday, I would really like to do yoga in the privacy of my living room without becoming an ersatz jungle gym. I would like to have a bath without a two year old throwing every bath toy at me, stripping nekkid and inviting herself for a dip. I'd love to have a glass or three of a dry white wine with crusty bread and cheese for dinner. I'd like to paint a picture without a dripping orange paintbrush plopping down right in the middle of the paper.

"But, Beatrice, it doesn't need to be more beautiful right now."

This birthday, I would like to wail and scream into my pillow because Lucy might have been born today, if that little turning wheel of EDD fate had its way. And yet, I am also grateful to have to move through today being responsible for other people. My father may not remember that I was born today. He will ask me about his laundry, and tell me to tuck in his sheets, and remind me for the thousandth time that he puts his shirts in the third drawer.

"I know. I put away your laundry every week," I will think. "Okay, Dad. " I will say instead. 

I am thirty-six. I am a grown up. People rely on me to do stuff. And that sometimes is the best gift in the world. I used to joke that I wanted "suck up and deal" to be carved in granite of my gravestone. I rarely do that these days. I suck up nothing. I crumble into a ball of overly sensitive messiness at the most benign of situations, except perhaps when dealing with my sick father, my husband and my toddler. And it gives me strength to face the other unbearable aspects of this journey.

Sometimes, when you turn thirty-six, you want to the world to stop for a minute. To take inventory of your losses and your gains. You want to recalibrate the measure of happiness. Despite the fact that I will not get any of the things I want today, or have confetti thrown over my head, I am happy because the people that rely on me the most, also are the ones that give me the most by the simple need of my strength and happiness.

"Why are you hitting me, Beatrice?"
"I don't know, Mommy."
"Please stop, Beatrice."
"Okay, Mommy. Mommy?"

"Yes, Beatrice."
"Let's play together. You be the baby, and I be the whale...'Hi, Baby.'"
"Hi, Whale."

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I will preface this post by saying that I recognize that losing my child has changed the way I parent. Though to be fair, I was just finding my parenting footing when my second daughter died. I have become much more strict about, say, jumping on the couch. We have done more Angie-friendly things around the house. For example, Sam built a balance beam for Beatrice that is an inch off the ground. We encourage jumping on the floor. If Beatrice climbs the tree in the front yard, she does it with a spotter. All in all, though, I try not to be too overly protective. I chide myself when I notice hovering. When people bandy around the words "helicopter parenting," I cringe. I do not want to become that mother.

I think falling, when done at a reasonable height or speed, can be a very good lesson. My girl was born with a healthy fear of heights and danger, for which I am incredibly grateful. It simply does not occur to her to stand on the table. She watches other children do it with her mouth agape, then she looks back at me with an amazement and fear. Having grown up playing sports and watching sports, I want her to have a sense of her body, understand her center of gravity, and learn how to fall. Just not too far.

I'm sure it doesn't help that my husband works in a pediatric operating room. He regales me with stories of childhood accidents. I don't exactly mind. I would rather he talk about his day than internalize his work experiences. He sees things that people are not supposed to see. Ever. But it isn't always comforting to know how many children are in the operating room for jumping on couches, playing ball in the front yard, getting hit by vehicles even though they knew they weren't supposed to run into the street, or even say skewered with a television antennae after jumping off the couch. I am reminded daily that life can change in an instant to well-meaning, wonderful, loving parents.

So, all that being said, let me just admit that I am a hysterical wreck when other children are visiting our home. I have this urge, like when we leave the dog alone, to put tables and ottomans on all the furniture. But I have a much stronger urge to shake other parents by the shoulders.

Do not test the Gods. Do not experiment with the universe. Gravity works. On your child too. No one, not even highly intelligent people, are above the laws of physics.

I have always been prone to fatalism and magical thinking. I tend to read my world like Greek myth. "Oh, that hubris is NOT going to end well," I lean back, fold my arms over my chest and shake my head. "Oh, Goddesses, be kind this time."  In the last year, I have tried to reject thinking around larger plans of the universe, or learning lessons or any of that kind of crap. If Lucy died of a childhood disease, I would be out campaigning, educating people on the symptoms, talking to Congress about funding research, or doing anything to prevent another family from going through loss. But we don't know why she died. Nothing I could have done or not done would have prevented her death, even counting kicks, (at least that is what we are told.) I cannot exactly campaign against the random cruelty of the universe. And yet, I feel like I am on exactly that crusade sometimes.

On one hand, I would not wish this type of anxiety and worry over children on anyone, and on quite another, I feel like begging other parents not to challenge fate on the matter. I don't want them to live in fear, and yet I want them to be mindful of how quickly their lives can change. I know it sounds like I will never be satisfied, and it is true. There is nothing satisfying about dealing with this loss--no matter how many people stop complaining and start enjoying their pregnancies or no matter how many people hold their children a little tighter. I want my baby back, and I would give a thousand lessons and all my wisdom for her life. But since she is gone and I cannot bargain in that way, I think maybe I want people to lose some of their arrogance about the safety of their children. I am beginning to despise in them what I despise about my former self.

My daughter is two and three-quarters, so we hang out with other toddler-aged children. People that allow all manner of freedom and folly. And I find my stomach in great big knots. Later I feel a great deal of embarrassment and shame when I reflect on their blasé attitude. I internalize it and feel judged. It is as though what I hear when someone is letting their kid jump wantonly on my couch swinging a bat is that my child's death happened because of something inherent in my character or person. People seem to interact with the world as though suffering will not touch them. Sure, my child was stillborn. She wasn't jumping on the bed when she died, but I see it all colored with the same brush. It can happen. That thing you think could never happen to you. It happened to me. Regardless of class, intelligence, health, body size and race, it can happen. You cannot outsmart your way out of an accident. To see someone flaunt their confidence in nothing happening makes me feel so very Other. So very flawed. I want to scream, "Loss is not specific to me."

Yet, it feels impossible to say to my friend, "Sure, that incredibly dangerous thing your child is doing will probably end well, but what if it doesn't?" In some ways, I feel like Cassandra, screaming a future no one will heed. Or perhaps that is not fair, I cannot say that my hysterical accident-prone mind is the future. For a hundred incidents I imagine in my head, it could be the one hundred and first that breaks a bone. For the amount of reckless abandon, a child might not get hurt. I just want to spare the world this experience of having to learn to live without one of your babies, or even to live with the guilt of seeing one of your babies hurt. I feel so impotent. So unable to speak the words. So afraid of becoming one of those harping snooty mothers that sees disaster at every turn, lecturing other more laid-back mothers. Yet, each incident sort of haunts me for weeks, even months.

I cannot rid the world of suffering. I cannot prevent pain and accidents. No matter how much padded my house becomes.

I tend not to make new year resolutions as such. Rather I tend to make challenges or set goals for the new year. This year, I am taking on the Creative Every Day Challenge, and still life 365, which is about infusing my life with more art, creativity, healing and love. But personally, intellectually and emotionally, I want to stop this cycle of judging others, or trying to control their fate, their words, the ideas about loss, their ideas about parenting, or worrying whether or not they judge me for my daughter's death. I want to redirect my focus towards caring about my own fate and my own blame. And then I really really need to work on forgiveness and compassion.