Monday, April 26, 2010

Impossible things

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
(Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 5)

I realized this morning that I am living six impossible things before breakfast. 1. I have a living child in my lap. 2. I suddenly find the screaming of a newborn relaxing and restful. 3. I appreciate near psychosis-inducing sleeplessness. 4. I find myself welcoming questions about my dead daughter from complete strangers. 5. I am drinking my third cup of coffee without shaking like a little chihuahua on speed. And 6. I am enjoying Weetabix with soy milk even though it tastes like tree.


After Lucy died, I really resented the fact that I could sleep through the night. As a lifelong insomniac, I suddenly could close my eyes and wake up nine hours later, refreshed. Birth recovery was much easier with sleep, I found. I could sleep whenever and wherever I wanted. Perhaps it seems strange that an insomniac would not suffer from renewed sleeplessness when her child dies, but I could just sleep and sleep. Maybe it was suddenly the thing that kept me up at night--the fear of one of my children dying--happened and now that worry was gone. Or perhaps it was just depression. Perhaps it also seems strange that an insomniac would not appreciate the sudden ability to sleep, but I would lie in bed in the morning, tears welling in my eyes, and think, "I shouldn't be rested. I should be up all night, exhausted, short-tempered and glaring at Sam's body in repose as I feed our screaming child." But it was just another shitty day in paradise and I felt pissy for complaining about all the amazing sleep I was getting.

I am not getting any amazing sleep right now. I don't mind. Sleeplessness is just another impossible thing that will end one day. I am inarticulate. I fall sleep sitting up with the baby on my breast until the kink in my neck pains me awake. My brain is set on the half-assed setting. I do miss my usual whole-assed thinking, I admit, but luckily, I am not running a large government agency or something. I admit the sadness has settled back in my bones, like the adrenalin and endorphin rush has ind of dissipated. There is no one thing that has knocked me on my ass. It is a sadness cocktail of hormones, daughter-death, and sleeplessness. But as impossible as it is to believe, I am enjoying all of this, even the sadness. The sadness connects me to last year, to Lucy's death, to mourning the last aches of my child-bearing years. The sadness and heartbreak is appropriate and real and part of it all, even though I simultaneously am reveling in and appreciating the impossible joy of birthing a child I didn't think possible.


When our doorbell rang, I had this image in my mind of the two Jehovah's Witnesses with whom I had a long conversation in January. Back then, I was massively pregnant and opened the door and listened, smiling. And the woman's faced lit up when I told them my second daughter died as though she hit the conversion jackpot. I listened respectfully, and told them I had a complicated relationship with God and religion right now. She promised to come back again when we could talk, after I read the booklet she gave me.

I did read the booklet, as surprising as that sounds, and I was ready to respectfully disagree. But not then, after an afternoon of bleary-eyed bliss with my family. I couldn't get into it, and so in my most proud, adult way, I tiptoed to the door, and peeked out the corner of the window. It was my neighbor. She was holding a box, and I invited her into our house, despite the mess and my dark-circled eyes.

We sat together at the table, as I untied the ribbon, and she sat with her ten-month old son bouncing on her lap. I couldn't control the tears when they came. It was a necklace. With all my babies' names on it. Each had their own unique medallion--Bea, Lucy and Thor. Together. All three of them. I haven't cried much since Thor was born, but this was a long, hard sob, and I repeated, "You remembered my Lucy. You remembered all my babies." And she cried. And we cried together.

I have spent a year trying to hammer my old square-pegged friends into round holes. With each bang, I declared that they should be there for me right now in the way that I need them. With each bang, I feel lonelier and more sorry for myself. With each bang, I became more self-righteous. With each bang, I grew angrier. With each bang, I became less of the qualities I once embraced. The early words of my dear friend echo in me, "Such is a bitter lesson for the strong, because we are strong does not mean that those around us, though they may revel in this quality, will be equally strong when we need it." It became a refrain as I hammered and watched friends break apart and away from our grief.

After a year of banging, I stare at the hundreds of splinters on the floor around me ignoring the round, beautiful, strong pegs tightly in the holes throughout my life. When she left a few minutes later, I cried more. This neighbor has mourned with me, every day this year, without fear. Her children are my children's ages, and she had every reason to smile from across our cars, make nice and not talk about the uglies of grief. But she didn't do that. She talked about our grief, about my children, about my fear, about my anger and ugly emotions, about my family. She never flinches at Lucy's name, or turns away from hearing of her birth. She didn't pretend to know what to say to make everything better, she just was present, asking questions, listening. The ease in our conversation has always been there--drifting between tears, humor, grief, gossip and chit-chat. At the end of our driveways, she became the friend that I missed in the people I have known for decades.

I certainly appreciated my neighbor before the necklace, but something changed that day. Instead of seeing myself bereft of all these long, ill-fitting friendships, I suddenly saw myself full of unlikely friendships and alliances that were deeply fulfilling. It is a fortunate place to have friendships that are so ingrained in your life and heart that you can take them for granted. For as lonely as I have ever felt, I was always greeted with warmth and love when I walked out my door and locked eyes with my neighbor.

I expected something that afternoon. To sit uncomfortably with strangers respectfully disagreeing about the nature of the universe and man. I never expected my Lucy to come into my afternoon and remind me of my belief in the goodness of people. I never expected that the impossible peace I have sought in the deficiency of others could already be in my life.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The invisible woman and her rock

I have thought a lot about all that I have read and experienced in the last year, learning about grief, about dying and death, about living. I have read about the journeys of hundreds of women living after the death of their child or children. Some people get angry. Some turn inward. Some turn towards God. Some turn away from God. I don't know which I am quite yet. All of it? At different times? I sort of seem like more of me. More obnoxious, introverted, selfish, self-absorbed, more compassionate, more kind, more patient in some aspects, and less in others. More annoying and less present. And less annoying and more present.

I have a newborn now. And that is all anyone sees, as though the last year and four months of submerging in grief were a tour in the Nam. I remember being a few months out from Lucy's death, and walking through the market--an invisible depressed person. Two months prior, all people saw was a beautiful 20 month old with crystal blue eyes, and a pregnant mama, and then, Lucy died, and we became mostly invisible. I was one of those quiet, fat, middle-aged women that no one noticed. I didn't smile. I didn't engage in eye contact. I didn't flirt. I didn't make chitchat. I was just another extra in the movie of life. Another grieving person with no scene to fit into.

Now, I am a new mother, and people offer unsolicited advice as though this is my first child. People approach me beaming, peeking in the car seat, "Let me just see the baby for a second." Pregnant women ask me for car seat recommendations, and about my sling, and his weight now and at birth, and make allusions to how much my hoohah must have hurt. And I search behind their warm, open faces for the women ignoring me, squeezing their husbands hands a little tighter, holding their breath until I pass. Those are my people, even if they want nothing to do with me. I just want to cry with them and stop talking about this nonsense. I want my arm to gesture over Thor and Beezus and say, "This is not my whole story." I have never wanted a "My baby died" t-shirt more than now.

Last year, I resented the invisible woman, and now I cling to her. "Remember her?" I think, "She was so honest." She was the embodiment of Grief. That woman looked like me, lived in my house, but I didn't see her as me back then. I could almost sit back and watch her--dark circles under her eyes, drooping, baggy clothing and unwashed hair, like the scene in Annie Hall where Annie gets up during sex to draw. It was like that, getting up out of my body and watching myself shuffle through the market shopping for spinach and bread. But now, I can see that she is just as much me as this new mother, perhaps more so. When I find myself now succumbing to people's expectations of a doting new mother, ignoring their little barbs about sleep and two babies, and how we now have the perfect family ("One boy. One girl."), I say a silent prayer:

We were perfect then too. Two girls is perfect too, even if one is dead, because it is our family.


A older woman approached me last week in the popsicle aisle of the market. "Oh, my goodness, he is new. How old is he?"
"Ten days." I said.
"Well, enjoy it. It does go fast."
"Yes, I know."
"Is he your first?"
"No, no, he is my third."
"Oh, well, I should have talked to you a while ago. I would have stopped you at two. Now, you and your husband are outnumbered and you can't win anything now. Why, I just told someone at my church, I'd like to stop everyone at two, because after that, it is just impossible. I have five and well, you have to stop at two..." Blah, blah, blah...And she kept talking like this as my heart became more and more wrenched in her words, albeit, her kind, ignorant words, and I spat out my vitriol and tried to stop her incessant chatter.
"Well, my second child died, so we will only have two at home, so we aren't quite outnumbered, but how we wish for our three to be with us." She apologized, and blessed me and God is blessing me, she told me, and then she proceeded to follow me for another few aisles, and tell me about newborns, and sleeping, even as I said, "Oh, I don't mind the not sleeping, or the crying, as long as he is here." And I grew weary and resentful of her inability to take a fucking hint. "Don't you get it, lady? My whole perception of life is on a different planet than yours." My story is not simple anymore. Chitchat feels so unkind now, even when I know it is well-intentioned, even though my story is happy too.


I never thought this space was Lucy's space.

This blog is my space. It is why I named it something not Lucy-centric. I don't pretend Lucy lives here. Lucy is dead. Tragically, heartbreakingly dead. It is a strong, black period on the end of every sentence I write. This is where I process that fact. I pissed in the corner a long time ago and wrote about gnomes with almost no thought to my dead daughter. But in the way that nothing is wholly your own when you are a mother--not your body, your time, your conversation, or your diet--this space is Lucy's space too, if she wants it, and Bea's and Thor's and my husband's, and even the fucking dog if he happens to carry a corned beef into the art room after rummaging in the garbage and make me spaz out like a banshee on crack cocaine, not that that happened yesterday when I cleaned out our fridge. It is that damned dog's space too, when he demands it. Not that he does much, but you know what I mean, nothing is mine, even if it has my stink all over it.

After babies are born, people wonder what their blog space offers them. To me, I still need this space. I still grieve. I admit that my grieving and my mothering Thor are completely separate affairs. But I understand the need to create something new and different after the loss of a child and the birth of a new one, but here, I don't see this space as only Lucy's space. I will keep writing about my life, the life after the death of my Lucy, after the birth of my Thor. I have to be true to my own experience of the universe--live daughter, dead daughter, live son. The Lucy hole is not filled and never will be filled. I will always mourn my second daughter, I suppose. Perhaps not sobbing, tearing at my hair and making clicking noises like the old burqa-ed ladies, but I still internally click. Constantly.

I do not see grief in the same way as I did a year ago, or six months ago. Grief is not my shroud. Grief is my lens. I see the world in terms of suffering, of struggles between life and death and coming to terms with our own mortality through the mortality of those we love. Or maybe not simply my lens, perhaps more like grief is me. It is not a separate entity that has entered my previous innocent Angie shell. I am not a medium for Grief.

I am not raw, but I am not healed. I have accepted that she isn't coming back, and that will always make me sad. I will always have a sadness, because I will never have a second living daughter. She is dead. There is the period again, right at the end of everything. In some ways, I will never be cool with death. I will never be comfortable with the dying aspect of life. It makes it all so absurd and surreal and fucking difficult. I hate to get all existential on your ass, but you know, all so Sisyphean. Rock up. Rock down. Repeat.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

With Thor home

My ass hurts.

It burns with the intensity of one thousand Mayan suns. It all began when I stated the other day, rather brazenly, "I feel great, like one of those farmer's wives who has a baby at dawn, and is harvesting by 3pm. My ass doesn't even hurt." And within three hours, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent God of the Sun, pointed his snake-y tail at me and punished me for my arrogance. You think I would have learned by now. My ass wakes me more than my son does. To remind me of birth. To make me shift to my side. To drive me certifiably insane. I called the midwife hotline yesterday for some tips because I have inserted, applied, cooled, bathed and there has been no respite. And I got the overanxious midwife who suggested that if the pain doesn't subside by Sunday, I should think about going the hospital.

Oh fuck that.

"Sam, can you die from hemorrhoids?"
"Are you sure? Because it feels like I am dying in my ass."
"You really can not."
"So, do I have to go to the hospital like the midwife said?"
"Oh hell no."
"Are you sure because I will endure that level of embarrassment if I could possibly die, but anything less..."

That is my only complaint, overblown and dramatic as it is. My ass hurts. My boob has healed and developed her necessary callous. My other bits are healed. But my ass...oy vey. But that's it. I thought I would get it out of the way, the ass complaint, because this post is really not about complaints. It is about Thor.


I am under no illusions that this babymoon will end, but I am hoping it doesn't. Thor is amazing in his little beingness. I vaguely remember the witching hour settling in our home somewhere around three weeks, and the incessantly crying lasting for two hours and fifty-nine minutes, about one minute less than being colic. But until then, I am going with the perfect baby theory.

Thor's birth was perfect, like all my children. I went in. He came out. But so much in there was kind and gentle. Loving and supportive. I remember thinking with Beatrice that there were all these strangers attending my daughter's birth. They treated me like another person having a baby. Nothing was special about what we were doing. They were a bit, I don't know, dismissive. We were left in our suite to fend for ourselves for the most part and the midwife and/or nurses came to check on us every three hours or so. I didn't know my midwife, or the nurses in the room. I can't remember anyone's name. I pushed the baby out. I remember being reminded over and over again that others were waiting for one of the two birthing suites. (Read: Come on, lady, have this kid already.)

Thor's birth felt like being surrounded by family. Some people remembered us. Others visited us. My old midwife was on-call that night, and stopped in to talk to us. The nurses heard our story, and kept vigilant. One sat and drank her coffee break with me as we talked Etsy shops and needle-felting. It was this wonderfully convivial atmosphere. Just up enough to keep the demons that kept repeating in my ear "He can still die" at bay. Mostly. When a monitor slipped, I could feel that suffocating presence behind me as I repositioned, pushed the monitor into my belly and waited. Where did he go?

Please do not die now, Thor.

And then my light manner changed, and the nurse would bounce up and say, "This child is fine, he is moving beautifully. He just moved off monitor." They could see Black Katharine below the surface of my laboring-together-soul sistah-earth-goddess-mama exterior. We didn't much mention her--the evil Angie. Sam played the role of hysterical person. He was anxious from the moment we got to the hospital. He was convinced that Thor wouldn't survive the night. He feared.

I willed my body into labor before I got there. And it was happening. I was dilated and effaced. It calmed me to know I wasn't forcing Thor to enter the world without my body and his body being ready. And ten hours later, as I labored through the dark of the night, I had him in my arms. I didn't cry. I didn't feel anything but a huge sense of relief that he was here and the intensity of the pain and labor was over. Even as he lay in my arms, I thought of what Beatrice had asked, "Is Lucy going to be born too?"

Of course, my worrying has just began. I am forever checking his breathing, her children are burdened with overprotective parents. I felt like this pregnancy was one long freak-out, but really, parenting is one long freak-out. At least for me. But that is okay. It is who I am, and I love hearing my daughter say to the dog, "Be careful, Jack the dog." Because on some level, I know she is hearing me when I warn of shoes strewn across the floor and jumping on the couch.

We spent a day in the hospital. As we settled into our room, and our roommates checked out, my family arrived. My mother and sister with little Bea in tow. And they cuddled Thor, and carried him to the window. As you know, I am not one for omens or signs from Lucy. I don't feel her around me. That is specifically the problem. I miss her desperately. I miss her completely. I miss her presence. I can feel my Beatrice in the room before I see her little face. My Thor kicking in the co-sleeper has a palpable presence. But my Lucy was a shell of herself from the time I first held her to now. She is simply not. That is what is heartbreaking to me. That is what makes me feel like an inadequate babylost mama. I want to feel her all around me, and I don't. And as I sat in the room, my sister screamed, "Look! A lady bug!"

I once wrote about my experience with ladybugs. One of the best days of my life involved lady bugs, and here I was in a sealed hospital room with my sister. (The ladybugs happened with my sister.) And there were five ladybugs on the inside of our window, flitting around in the unseasonably warm sun, landing on my Beatrice, delighting all of us. My mother and sister commiserated about it. "It is Lucy." And I sat stunned and silent. Can I be wrong about the signs?


I didn't cry until I left the hospital.

It happened as our day nurse helped me load my wheelchair. And I said, "I haven't cried yet." And she said, "Why would you?" And I explained about Lucia, and our stillbirth. About wanting to go home and leave with a baby. She teared up. She said she had no idea. And as I talked, the nurse that attended Lucy's birth walked in. I cried uncontrollable tears. They suddenly overtook me, and I felt like a fat, blubbering idiot. I wept and said, "It's you." She said a blessing for our Lucy. She did the most valuable thing for me that Winter Solstice. She listened to me wax philosophic. She agreed with me that the world was chaotic and cruel. She sat and held my hand and was simply present, for however long I needed, until I caught my breath again. I meant to write her a letter. I meant to share my journey. But nothing seemed adequate. There is no Hallmark moment for "thank you for being there on the worst day of my life". And I couldn't find the words to write what her presence meant to me. It all sounded so melodramatic and overwrought. When I think of Lucy's birth, I think of her face, sitting, hands on her lap, between my stir-upped legs, waiting for me to birth my dead daughter. She nodded and waited with the midwife. Uninvolved in Lucy's birth. They didn't need to be on top of me. There were no monitors. Lucia was already dead. She turned the lights down. It could just be dark and silent and the midwife and nurse could just testify to our daughter's only time in the world. She was a witness to my daughter's life and death. A witness to my own strength. She saw what Sam and I had to do. And here she was, just as I was leaving the hospital with my Thor fifteen months later.

She said she couldn't remember my name, but the second she saw me, she remembered Lucy. Lucy. She called her by name.

I just let out everything I could. "I have wanted to write to you. I have wanted to thank you. I meant to send you my writing, to share with others who have stillborn children. I meant to talk to you about grief. I meant to tell you how you made the worst day of my life beautiful. "

"You made Lucy's birth beautiful, because you were open to seeing the beauty."

Isn't she wonderful?

I scrambled as she gave me her email address, and we hugged a last time. The nurse pushing me towards the exit wiped away her tears, and I tried to explain, but stopped and collapsed with Thor into the wheelchair. And as she moved me out the hospital door and into the sun, I wept again. After Lucy's birth at 5:30pm, I begged to leave. They made me stay until midnight, and so we left the hospital in the middle of the night. The darkness and cold of deep December stung our face. I walked to our car in the parking garage, and climbed in. My eyes fell upon the empty car seat, and I howled again.

And this time, we loaded Thor into the same car seat, in the back of the same large car we bought for our children. And I howled again. Real tears for Lucy. Real tears for Thor. Both ecstatic and downtrodden. Tears for all that has changed. Tears for all that is the same.

We have lost so much.

I thought that is all I would feel with a newborn in our house. I thought I would see him and think, "But he isn't Lucy. I want him to be Lucy." But it isn't like that. I am focusing on the joy of this little being, rather than the grief of our lost child. It is different than I thought. I miss Lucy, but separate from reveling in Thor. Lucy's death is a concrete reality to me now. It has been for a while. Thor's birth is too. I don't look at Thor and think of her. This baby is his own little being. Our little Viking. Our little Buddha. He lays cross-legged, his legs pulled up and resting upon one another. And I understand the weird knobbiness in my belly. He looks so wise and vulnerable. He is like my grief--wise and vulnerable, needs nurturing and attention. He finds Beatrice from her voice, and just stares at her, connecting the neurons of her voice and her beautiful face. And she screams, "He is looking at me. 'Hello, I am your big sister.'" And a tear runs down my face. So much she has lost that she simply cannot understand now. Since Thor has come home, Beatrice has asked me more probing questions about Lucy. She wants her picture in her Big Sister picture album. She wanted to know what happened to her body, and why we couldn't keep her. What would have happened if we had brought Lucy home anyway, even though she was dead. She could have slept in her room, Bea insists. She wanted to see her ashes, talk about her name, ask me about her size and her nose and her eyes, and her body. She asked me whether Lucy had a penis too, like Thor and Daddy, and I explain that she is a girl, and her heart seems to understand what that means.

Lucy's tree blossomed this week bringing with it unseasonably warm weather. Everything popped here, and the windows remained opened. I felt the breeze come through our little house with a sense of contentment. The wind chimes sound. I gave myself permission many months ago to not fall in love with him right away. To take time to bond and connect with him. I read that in all the pregnancy books, "It may take you a while to bond with your child." Okay. Sure, I felt connected to Bea and Lucy immediately, but maybe with a boy, with this boy, after Lucy's death, it will take me a while to trust his presence in our home. Maybe I just won't. Maybe because I cannot see him in our lives, I shouldn't put my guard down just because he breathes. "That is okay, Angie, you will," I thought. But from his first squawks, I couldn't help myself. I fell hopelessly in love again. I don't need protection from this love. This love is not dangerous. This love is filling.

Just when you think you have met all the people in your life you are going to love, another one opens his eyes.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Thor has arrived.

I actually went into the hospital on March 31st at 8p to be induced. And lo and behold, the God of Thunder has started his descent. And I was already dilated and a bit effaced, so I didn't need the cervadil (which in not cervadil anymore, but misoblahblahblah). I did get a shot of pitocin in the middle of the night to move me along a bit. I labored overnight, and delivered my little boy at 6:50am. He was 8lbs. 3 ozs. and 20 inches long. For 37 weeks, he was a big boy, which makes me happy.

I had a pretty amazing experience. Not the startling, grief-stricken journey I imagined. Oh, I had my moments when the midwives and nurses who tended to Lucia visited me. We all had a good cry. Pretty much I made every nurse I had cry with my history, especially as I as so profusely thankful to everyone who touched Lucy's life. That is what I felt when I saw women who labored with me during Lucia, just this profound sense of appreciation for witnessing her life. I had an amazing time with the nurse on night shift, talking and laughing, and in general, keeping myself distracted. Majorly distracted.

I will write more when I have slept, which I haven't really done for more than an hour since March 30th. Until then, I leave you with a picture of Thor and his knitted winged helmet baby cap: