Wednesday, August 31, 2011

still life with circles

I came into this post from today to edit it more precisely to say I wasn't leaving forever. I seriously get literary dysentery when I get anxious and depressed. And it was confusing what I was trying to say. I don't know what the fuck I am doing right now. I am incredibly unnerved by all of this stuff. I came in to edit, then I accidentally erased the whole post. There is not a copy in my reader, or in a Word file. So, I don't have it any longer in any draft whatsoever.

Probably for the better.

What I wanted to edit into the post was just this: I am not leaving this space forever, or committing virtual suicide, or real suicide for that matter. I just need space to breathe for a few days. Today is my fifth wedding anniversary. My husband and I are going away this weekend without the children, for the first time, well, ever. I am nervous and excited and also really torn up by all the dramaz.

The previous post said this about fifteen times longer than what I want to say now: I deactivated my Facebook account, because my colliding worlds were unnerving me. I'm not sure if I will ever go back. But I loved connecting with all of you there. I am going to resume answering questions and posting like normal on Tuesday. I appreciate all the emails, more than I can ever ever express.

question eleven: the kids

In this collection, Jen asked me about Beezus and Thor, so I answered her questions and posted some pictures of them. Just thought I would put that out there, if you want to skip this post.

 Here We Go AJen: If I think of a better question, I will come back later, but for now I want to hear about what Beezus and Thor are up to lately. What are their favorite things? How do they do sharing a room?

Jen, thank you for asking about Beezus and Thor. They are doing really good. Thor is one year and five months old and Beezus is four years and five months old. Well, they were doing good. A few days ago, we pulled about a dozen deer ticks off of Beezus after a hike in the woods. They had been on there for a few days. Deer ticks are the size of poppy seeds, and I had no idea they were behind her ears, and in her hairline and under her arms. All being said, she is not sick and she is acting fine, but she is being treated for 21 days with antibiotics for Lyme's disease. Knock on wood, she has only ever had antibiotics once in her life, so I am hoping this knocks out the nasty Lyme's disease. She is very good-natured about the whole ordeal, and I kept a deer tick in a babyfood jar to show the doctor. Turns out it was still alive and now a kind of morbid pet.

In the last few weeks, Beezus and Thor have really begun playing together, which is amazing. Someone gave us one of those Flintstone-looking cars, and they have been playing with it non-stop. Beezus gets the bike pump and pretends he has come into her gas station, and he pays her. That is their favorite combination toy right now. Beezus likes to play coffeeshop too.

Beezus is really into getting ready for her first year of pre-K (tomorrow, gulp) so she loves her unicorn bag and working on her letters. She is getting pretty good. She also draws rainbows all over the friggin' place. Thor is obsessed with hammers and fixing things. He is always carrying around a little hammer, thunking people on the head, putting spells on things (He makes this whooosh sound and aims it at people, for some reason), and just hammering whatever needs to be hammered.

Thor's hammer. I know. Heh heh.

They are doing great sharing a room. It was kind of challenging to find a decor that is both boy and girl, but I think we did a good job. Thank the heavens for Ikea, because they do this sort of thing really well. We found Ikea bunk beds at the Re-Store for fifty bucks, and that is how the bunks came to be. We have a bungalow, so we have two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs. It is our master bedroom, a jack and jill bathroom, and then their room. So they are sort of forced to share a room for a good long while if we want to all be on the same floor. And we do. Their room is also not the biggest room, nor is it the most ergonomically sound room. There are three doors, for example.--bathroom, closet and hallway door. We kind of had to go bunks.
Both of them are good at falling asleep, so we let them each pick a book and we read together, then into their own beds. Beezus is finally starting to say "Come on, Thomas, let's go into our room" rather than "Come on, Thomas, let's play in MY room." They are usually asleep in a few minutes after lights out. Thor rolls out of bed an awful lot, but he is only a few inches off the floor, so he doesn’t even cry.

Beezus never stirs when he cries or wakes up, so for her, life is same old thing, except she is higher off the ground. I think it is good because the height of her bunk gives her privacy and a whole new level of protection from the Thor's breaking-precious-things superpower. Usually, if he rolls off the bed into the pillows, he will just sleep on the floor for a while. I come in and check on them before I go to bed, and then I realize he is on the floor. I think I mentioned that I found him asleep in the bathroom one evening. He was crawling into our room, or sleep crawling and just fell asleep on the rug in the bathroom. At some point in the evening, he either screams, "MAMA! Go!" Because he wants to sleep in our room and have the Panamanian buffet all night. Get all chi-chi faced. Or he just gets up silently, walks into our room, and tugs on my arm until I pick him up. So sleep is still slightly challenging with him, but it is better in his own bed. He seems to respect and love the space he has, and they love sharing a room.

I am really enjoying blogging about every day life with them on still life everyday, and the projects we do. I still might do a post on still life everyday about decorating their room together, because it was a fun project. The cool thing about their room redesign is that they have a table up there to color and write, and I can close the doors to the hallway and take a shower. They don't even notice I'm gone. I often walk out and Thomas is sitting at the table reading a tall book, and Beezus has a pad of paper and they are playing restaurant. Thor always throws his food at the waitress and she cries. It is like the first place I worked in college.

Here We Go AJen: How do you feel about the spacing between Lucy and Thor? Do you think it was too soon, not soon enough? And did the spacing between Beatrice change that at all?

It's a great question. I began trying to get pregnant with Lucy when Beezus was nine months old. I am an identical twin, which I am pretty sure I state every friggin' post, and I wanted Beatrice and Lucia to be close. See, I always wanted girls. Two girls. It was how I saw myself as a mother. It didn't even occur to me that Lucy could be a boy. I knew she was Lucy from the moment I knew there was another member of our family. When she died, I grieved very deeply for the loss of that closeness in age, for the kind of relationship I imagined they would have. It just breaks my heart that Beezus lost her sister. And that she will never grow up with a sister. That she won't share clothes with her. That she won't get to call her and bitch about me.

The MFM, Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor, or the high-risk OB that does not deliver babies (Shout out, ELAINE!), told us to wait six months before trying again, but a year was better. As you probably all know, I am 37 years old, I was 35 when Lucia died. And putting off having another child seemed slightly illogical, even though I didn't want to go into a pregnancy right away. I think being pregnant six months after Lucia died was confusing and hard emotionally. And yet, I was also in the throes of grief and probably was already confused and emotionally hard. I don't know. 

In some ways, I feel like if I waited any longer, I wouldn't have had another baby at all. So, in the end, I guess the answer to my question is that six months was a good amount of time to wait. Lucy and Thor are one year, four months apart. And Beezus and Thor are exactly three years apart. Three years and five days. That turned out to be an incredibly nice time spread between children, because Beezus was never jealous of Thor, or never lashed out at him. She also never remembers a time without Thomas in our lives, or definitely without Lucy. I love watching them play together now. It makes me miss Lucy in a whole different way. Both comforting and heartbreaking.

And so, some pictures of the kids...

This is a picture after the rains. Beezus was jumping in puddles, and Thor is cleaning off the bottom of his feet from the little maple pods. He is not a happy baby and will soon thunk someone on the head with a little xylophone hammer, I suspect.

And there is my boy after fingerpainting his belly, and what a belly, eh?

And a picture of them together, after eating breakfast bagels. The boy ate it upside down and I had to clean cream cheese out of his nostrils and eyelashes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

questions four to ten: random bits and the winner.

This is a collection of random questions asked of me. And I also randomly drew a person from the questions post. And that number EIGHT and that winner is SARA from Heart Heal Hope, who I adore. YAY! You get to choose either-- They Were Still Born, which my essay "Mothering Grief" appears in, In the Midst of Winter, or GNOMES. Just email me, love, and I will get it off in the mail to you soon. Onto the questions...

Monique: Who has been the kindest to you in your life? Pre & post loss, b/c I imagine there is likely a difference.

Wow, Monique, this is a great question. And really difficult to answer. I have had many kind things done for me. Stuff that still give me chills, breathtaking one time incidents done by people who had nothing to gain. Currently, I have someone who is anonymously sending me awesome things to read--an event flyer to an art show in San Francisco by Yoshitomo Nara, one of my favorite artists, and Francisco Goldman's new book. While those incidents are great anecdotes, I have been surrounded by kindness and love in my family for my whole life. And so, I think I have to go with my family, both before and after. Their kindnesses are so usual and daily that I tend to just see their kindness as part of the fabric of my life.

My twin sister and my mother are there unconditionally for me and my family. They both mourned Lucia’s death deeply and still mourn her. So, even if those I feel uncomfortable in the rest of the world, some days, in my family, my sister and mother treat Lucy like a normal part of our family. We had some difficult moments, my mother and I, after Lucia died, because my mother was so grief-stricken and so was I. We are a little too similar emotionally. Too self-reliant. But we moved through it, somehow, and are in a good place.

I talk to my twin sister every day at least once. Most days, three or four times throughout the day, and we play Scrabble on Facebook, and sometimes we even email. If I have an event, she always offers to go with me, just to hang out and drive with me, or soothe my nerves. She also makes me granola every week or so that is gluten free and delicious. She sews for me. I drop my children off whenever I need, and she is always enthusiastic to have them.

In fact, both my mother and sister act like I am giving them a gift when they watch my children or do me any favor. If they find me difficult, they never let me know. And I must be difficult. I also talk to my mother at least four times a week, I think. My mother is incredibly generous and loving. As an adult after my divorce, we became quite close and spent most weekends together drinking wine and gossiping. I can’t catalogue all the things they have done for me. But let’s put it this way, if I wrote a blog post complaining about my mother (And she does drive me crazy some days.) and she read it, she would probably say, “Oh, Angel, you are such a good writer. You really should write a book.”

Nerissa: My question is this. I vaguely remember a post in glow shortly after I contacted you. Did you date a boy named Holden in high school? And if so did you mention his name just for me? I felt like you did. Just because we love to see and hear our babies names so much.

Yes, I did date a boy named Holden when I was in college. He was a wonderful guy--smart, handsome, funny. He was on College Jeopardy. I loved his name because I loved the Catcher in the Rye and was vaguely obsessed with J.D. Salinger. And maybe I did mention his name because of your Holden, Nerissa. Your Holden and my Holden are the only two Holdens I have ever met. Beautiful name. Beautiful boy, yours I mean.

Mary Beth : OK, this is a random one: I love your Lucia tattoo and have been contemplating getting one myself (well, a Calla one, obvs!). ANYWAY, how much did it hurt to get it in that particular spot? I have no other tattoos, andI like that spot, but I think it's going to really be painful.

Actually, it wasn't that painful at all. I have one other tattoo on my back in between my shoulder blades. I see tattoos there quite a bit now, but when I got it done in 1995, I didn't know anyone with a tattoo there. That was painful when it went over the spine. I played chess the whole time I was being tattooed and every time the tattooist hit my spine, my hand would make this weird involuntary movement that knocked all my chess pieces off the table.

I know we aren't talking about that tattoo, but I never get to share that little weird anecdote.

My wrist tattoo took ten minutes, perhaps less. It cost me $50, and it hurt like it hurts when you get a sunburn, only concentrated in one spot. I have a high tolerance for pain, so perhaps I am not the person to ask. But I can only say this, I love it. I love having it. I love seeing her name right there. I only wish I had figured out a way to do all my children. I only have two wrists.

Angie: When are you coming west?

How I wish I could. Can we set up an Angie out-west fund?

Maddie: When are you coming to Australia to visit? Loving your wise words always.

How I wish I could. Can we set up an Angie to Australia fund?

Heather: Do you have any pictures of Lucy that you display openly in your home?

No, I don't. Well, I have one little itty bitty one in a Dia de los Muertos ofrenda-like frame that I have in my studio. I close it up when I am not painting, but when I paint, I open it up. I have a picture of me pregnant with Lucia, the one in the about Lucia section, framed and in my bedroom. But my husband feels like he can't see her picture everyday, and I have tried to respect that, even though it breaks my heart into a thousand pieces.

loribeth: I'm curious: did you ever study art at school, or is it simply something you do?

I did go to art school from the time I was in second grade. Everyone I knew had their thing. My sister loved ballet, but I just didn't know what my thing was. So my mother sent me to the local Art Museum's classes, and I did that for a few years until I found gymnastics and that became my thing. In college, I first majored in Film, then I dropped out and traveled around. I moved to Tucson, Arizona, and began working with an artist there as a kind of assistant, finisher. I painted the mural she designed, or she did the lettering and I painted. I also worked with her to come up with freelance designs of logos and other things. I designed a band logo, and then they tattooed themselves with my design. It was cool. I think about five people have tattoos with doodles I made. I designed a logo for a dude who invented a home coffee roaster. I was paid a hundred bucks and got a free roaster, which I still have. I always did art in one way or another. When I finally finished my degree, I did take a few more drawing classes. I always thought deep down I was a potter, even though I have never thrown a pot in my life. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

question three: pregnancy after loss

Angie: Pondering how to word my question just right so I'll get a mile long post with all life's answers on how to survive pregnancy-after-stillbirth without dissolving into the schizophrenic bag lady on The Simpson's who throws live cats at people.

So here it goes, how did you do it? At what point did you and Sam finally realize Thor was Thor and not Lucy? (Kevin and I are constantly calling Little Kevie Aiden). What additional testing/medical attention/medical intervention did you receive as a result of having a prior stillbirth?

Oh yeah, what books, websites, meditations, internet life coach can you recommend to help ease my anxiety and nerves??

Angie, how did I do it? I have no fucking idea. It was so incredibly hard. I am pretty sure I did turn into the cat-throwing lady on the Simpsons. I was not one of those approachable lovely mother earth goddess pregnant ladies with a touchable belly. People didn't ever say, "OH, how gorgeous you are." Basically, I stared at everyone with daggers--Touch me and I cut you, bitch. I may have even cut a bitch. I don't know.

I will start with the questions easiest to answer: What additional testing/medical advice/medical intervention did I receive? For some background, Lucia died at 38 weeks of pregnancy. I had no issues during my pregnancy. I was in a car accident at 29 weeks. It was a minor incident, but I went to the hospital for 24 hour testing and I seemed to be in labor. Lucia's heart rate dropped when I first got there, but then the labor stopped, and the baby was fine. I heard her heartbeat all night. The doctors all cleared me and basically told me that if anything was going to go wrong, it was in that time frame. I had nothing to worry about. It was during that time that we discovered that Lucy was transverse, meaning sideways in me, and that I might have to have a version. I read up on some yoga moves to help her turn, and did them, and well, she turned around 33 weeks.

At 38 weeks, during a normal weekly visit, my blood pressure was a little elevated. 130/90, so I went into the hospital for monitoring. Honestly, I thought I was in labor. My contractions were fairly close together. My blood pressure went down when I rested, and then sent me home. Lucia died either the next day or the day after that. When Lucy died, we opted for all the testing. The one thing they saw when she was born was that she had a marginal cord insertion, but the midwives assured me that it had no effect on her growth or death. Lucia was 6 lbs at 38 weeks. Beezus was born at 37 weeks and was 7lbs. 2oz. I will just say that with Beezus, I had natural childbirth in the birthing suites. I was induced with Lucia and had an epidural.

Anyway, beside the point, but I thought I would mention it since you asked me about medical intervention. To me, it seemed like Lucia's growth slowed down at some point. She was measuring ahead until 34 weeks, then behind after 35 weeks. Of course a ton of theories went through my mind in the six weeks until we got all the chromosonal and autopsy results--the car accident, the version, the marginal cord insertion. At six weeks out from her death, I met with a Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor who would become part of my care team in my pregnancy with Thomas. At the time, he said they found no reason for her death. She had an 8% placental infarction from the car accident. To have any effect on a pregnancy, it would have to be somewhere around 80%. The marginal cord insertion wasn't the issue. Because she was born vaginally, it could have been that she was cinching her cord when she turned, or as the midwife described, she could have been grabbing it. In her hand. Squeezing the life out of herself without even realizing it. It still makes me shudder to think of it. If it was a cord compression, or something like that, the vaginal birth happened and the cord became uncompressed, so they couldn't tell. There seemed to be a post-mortem clot coming from her body into the placenta. But from the 23 blood vials drawn on me, and her autopsy, they found no virus, no chromosonal issues, no genetic issues, no evidence of trauma. She just died. The best thing the MFM said was that I was a healthy person and there was nothing I could have done.

During that meeting, we discussed the care I would get in my next pregnancy. I would keep my midwife and also work with an MFM. It is the practice of my midwifery group and the MFM to induce pregnancy the week before death if the baby was full term and has an unexplained stillbirth. They do this for the mental wellbeing of the mother and the physical wellbeing of the child. My understanding is that inducing at 37 weeks is kind of unusual for practices, but it is really one of the ways I thought I could survive her pregnancy mentally. So, I was asked to wait six months before trying again. I did. When I became pregnant, they discovered my thyroid had become extremely underactive. At about six weeks, I began bleeding from a subchorionic hemorrhage. That continued for six weeks. I did opt for testing, which I didn't for either of my other children. I just wanted to know everything. I did the 12 week nuchal scan, then the 16 week quad screening. Thor came up with the markers for Down's Syndrome, and we opted to have a amniocentesis at 20 weeks.

My care plan, I should say here, was discussed and decided upon during my autopsy findings with the MFM. I would see my midwifery group once a month until 28 weeks, then I would see them once every two weeks, then at 32 weeks we would start non-stress tests (NST) every week. I would meet with a genetic counselor early in my pregnancy and do an entire genetic work-up for our family and talk about risks. And I would meet with my MFM at 12 weeks, 16 weeks, 20 weeks, 28 weeks, 32 weeks, then once a week at 32 weeks for NSTs. So at about 32-35 weeks, I began having three appointments a week, one with my midwife, one NST with the midwife and one NST/ultrasound appointment with the MFM.

During my pregnancy, I developed very pronounced "white coat syndrome"--when I went to the midwife, my blood pressure went up. Every heartbeat check was met with almost a full blown anxiety attack. You would have never known looking at me, but I was in shock and losing it inside. I cried often on my way out from just sheer release of emotion. At 28 weeks, because of continued elevated blood pressure, the midwives could not continue my care, so I had to switch providers to the obstetrians in the same practice. One thing I should say is that I go to a midwifery practice, and they usually do not let you only see one midwife, but one midwife did see me the whole time. I just scheduled with her only. She also gave me her personal cell phone to call her if I was freaking out. I never called her, until the hypertension diagnosis, but it was nice to have that option.
At 28 weeks, switching providers and being diagnosed with hypertension, I bought a home blood pressure cuff and was put on modified bedrest. It didn't work too well, because Sam had surgery at that time and I even had to help him to the bathroom.

To summarize, it was hell. I am still recovering from pregnancy after loss. I pulled away from most of the people in my life because there was simply nothing to say. I didn't want to hear assurances that everything would be okay, and I didn't want to talk about everything that could go wrong. And everything was seeming to go wrong. And everything went right, because Thomas was a big, healthy boy. The extra monitoring helped me a great deal, so ironically, the last weeks of my pregnancy were the most comforting. I heard his heartbeat three times a week, I could get him to move on demand, and I slept mostly downstairs away from everyone. I didn't buy a home doppler, because I would have made myself crazy, so I forced myself to trust my care team. Thor moved well for all the NSTs, and those really eased me. At some point, I had to concede that I was doing everything I could possibly do. When I went in at exactly 37 weeks, I was already three centimeters dilated and having contractions every two minutes. I gave birth ten hours later. Thomas was born at 8 lbs, 3 ozs. He was ready to come.

So how did I do it, emotionally? I stayed maniacally busy. That is part of what helped at the end, the three appointments kept my brain off of the thought, "Is he dead yet?" I started still life 365 at about 24 weeks, because I wanted something to do everyday. I wrote a lot. Many of the women I connected with early on had their rainbow babies around the same time I was pregnant, and my dear friend lost her rainbow baby during that time, so I was grieving for her, happy for the others. I didn't connect with the pregnancy and Thomas, to be honest. It felt otherworldly. Yes, I was pregnant, but I didn't really think there was a baby in there. I don't know how to explain it. I gave birth to him April 1st, and it wasn't until February that I called him my son. In that two month period, I began connecting the fact that I was having a son, a loved being, rather than just hosting a death, if that makes sense.

The worst casualty was my marriage, I guess. I took a lot of my anxiety and anger out on my husband, and didn't think I could ever forgive him for electing to have surgery two months before Thor was born, after I was told I was on bedrest, which I wasn't able to do. I just felt he robbed me of the ease to follow my doctor's orders. He was out of work for six weeks, completely on the couch for four of them, unable to help with Beezus and whacked out on pain pills. Honestly, he just got the brunt of my anger, all the time. I really thought that our marriage was over because I would never forgive him. Two months after Thor was born, we decided to go to therapy, because I really didn't think I could stay married with this much anger and resentment.

It was the best thing we have ever done. Almost immediately, I stopped feeling anger and resentment. It was incredibly important to take time for us again. And I think that was what was lacking during my pregnancy, time to just be together. His surgery meant that I was taking care of him and that was one more person/thing demanding my attention. Honestly, I have issues asking for help and vulnerability. And what I really needed was help. He promised me in the beginning of us trying to get pregnant that I wouldn't go through every ultrasound or appointment alone, but I did. I don't think he came to one NST, he certainly only came to one ultrasound to find out if it is a boy or girl, and when you find out your child is dead by ultrasound, that whole experience is like walking into a nightmare. I needed support in ways I never needed support before, and instead of asking, I simply started resentments for all the ways in which people couldn't be there for me. They aren't my proudest, most mature moments. As I have said often in this journey, I did the best I could with what I knew about the world and myself.

So, anyway, during the pregnancy, here is what I thought: 1. I wouldn't be capable of loving Thor because I was so anxiety-ridden and angry that I couldn't forgive the baby, 2. I would divorce my husband because I was so anxiety-ridden and angry that I wouldn't be able to forgive him, 3. I would never love the baby because he wasn't Lucy. After he was born happy and healthy and very Buddha-like, I found that none of those things were true. He was his own little being, different and separate. I found that happy and sad were not opposites like light and dark. Happy and Sad can exist together. When I was a kid, I always thought vanilla and chocolate were opposites. You could only like one or the other, but the truth is those flavors go perfectly together. And happy and sad were emotions that suit each other quite nicely. I was so happy, so full of gratitude. I had no expectations of who Thor was, because I hadn't connected to him, except I did, in spite of myself. He would poke me when I poked him. He did that every night from like 28 weeks on, and so, I would play with him and laugh even though I really didn't want to laugh. When he was born, he did the same thing, and I found that I didn't blame him. He was just a little ball of love, and I loved him.

I fell so deeply in love with him so immediately, I couldn't imagine life without him. But I also missed Lucy. I really felt Lucy's death in a different way. She is dead. Never coming back. Not in another baby. She is who she was and she died. I had to let go of expecting her to be Thor or Thor to be her. I think it is in the same way that you can separate out different three year olds--they share a quality, but they have different spirits or ways of being. In the belly, Aidan and Kevie might have similar ways of being, but they are different people. When you see Kevin, you will see the difference in a way you simply can't right now If that makes sense. And so, the two felt so distinctly different. I'm not sure I am describing it well, or articulately, but suffice to say, they have been their own people, loved in their own ways.

Angie: Oh yeah, what books, websites, meditations, internet life coach can you recommend to help ease my anxiety and nerves??

The books I read were all diversionary, none had to do with stillbirth. I read Sookie Stackhouse series, Harry Potter, fanastical and fun reads. I also read every book by Ann Patchett and Elizabeth McCracken. Basically, I did not read about pregnancy ever. I did buy the book Pregnancy After Loss, and I paged through it, but I couldn't read it. I read websites that made me laugh, like Hyperbole and a Half. I didn't even connect with the other women who were pregnant at the time, because I couldn't talk about it. I felt both incredibly fortunate, but more scared than I had ever been in my life. At the time I was pregnant, Carly was pregnant and started a website/journal of her pregnancy ( I would recommend it, if you haven't seen it. She is very positive. I couldn't be there too often, not because it isn't amazing, I just wasn't in the head space where I could read about pregnancy. I really connected with the things Tash said during her pregnancy, so I loved all her posts about pregnancy after loss too--she gave birth to her son a month after Thor was born.

I did buy and use a number of meditation CDs during my pregnancy--Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness of Beginners, and also I used Good Medicine by Pema Chodron in 2009 and really started practicing tonglen meditation. I often practiced tonglen for women going through stillbirth and pregnancy loss, because I understood that pain and could easily take in their suffering. It also helped me let it go after meditation and maybe release a little of my own.

I also did prenatal yoga most days with a DVD by Shiva Rhea or I did a DVD called Prenatal Fitness Fix with Erin O'Brien, which is awesome. She is really amazing. I also bought this prenatal fitness DVD by a woman in Cirque Du Soleil.  I would say connecting with women through art and writing, though, was the most important thing for me.

Working on grief and being present with those feelings were important parts of my pregnancy, so I continued it. I always thought I would pass off still life 365 at some point and maybe to someone also going through pregnancy or trying to conceive so they could just get out of their head. It helped me a great deal. So did writing about this, so thank you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

question two: dealing with living children and grief

Kate: My question, something that's been troubling me since my son was stillborn last year, is how will I explain this to any future children we're lucky enough to have? I know you have young kids, so I'm wondering how do you explain Lucy's death to them? Drew was our first, so I'm just wondering how I will explain this to any brothers and sisters he may have.

I guess I'm just anticipating the worst in the sorts of things kids say. I worry that they're going to ask me why Drew didn't want to come live with us, or why God didn't let Drew come home with us... and I know that I can't get away with the "I don't know" "or just because" answer forever.

Like I said, I currently do not have any other children, but we hope to and this is something that troubles me. I'd love to hear how you discuss Lucy and her death with your living children.

Thank you for your time and for all you do.

Sarah: I have to repeat a question already asked multiple times. How do you explain Lucy's death to Beezus and Thor? My husband has 3 kids with his exwife. Parker was our first. Benjamin was born 49 weeks after his big brother was born/died. Benjamin knows about his brother, even though he's only 1 y/o. How do we explain it to him as he gets older and starts asking questions, and to their older brother and sisters when they see Parker's pictures and start asking?

Thank you for all that you do!

Kate and Sarah, thank you for these questions.

I worried about this part of my parenting from the moment I found out Lucy had died. Not only did I lose a child, but my daughter lost her sister. And now my son has lost a big sister too and I am in this position in a different way. I struggled with the questions of why this happened, because there was no medical reason for her death. I had no idea how I would answer such blunt questions from people who I suspected were looking at me to be strong. Beezus was twenty-one months. When I arrived back home from the hospital, I explained what happened. She didn't really seem to get it, though she never asked me about the baby after I told her Lucy died. It was like that was enough explanation for her at that time. I cried a lot in the early months and I talked about missing Lucy, because I just couldn't NOT talk about her, and so Lucy became part of our lives, because she is a part of our lives.

I wish I could say it was a very mindful process. It was and it wasn't. It was because I thought about it a great deal, but then the other part is that I also had to be very present with my grief. I worried about my crying and the association of Lucy with grief. I was so torn about it, because I was raised in a home where you just didn't see parents cry. I worried a lot about the effect of that on my children, and the other end of that is that I worried that they would be jealous of Lucy because her grief demanded all of my attention. One day, I asked Beezus if she knows who Lucy is, and she said, "Lucy is Mommy crying." Because all she knew of her sister is that I cried about her.

As she has gotten older, my grief changed and so has Beezus' understanding of Lucy. We have had more candid and deeper conversations about her. That didn't happen until she was three, so there was almost an entire year of virtually no mention of Lucy by Beezus. I think that developmentally between two and three, children begin to become less ego-centric. They start becoming more empathetic, and that is when their questions become more formed. That was my experience, at least.

I bought a few children's books that help when I feel out of my element. One is called When Dinosaurs Die, and it is a general book about death, not just about stillbirth or infant death. It talks about what people do when others die. When I was pregnant with Thomas, I bought it for Beezus, because she was asking me more about what dying meant and who died. And it just kind of does a good job of explaining that people die for lots of reasons, and death makes us feel all kinds of ways, like angry, sad, like we don't want to do anything. Another I bought when Lucy first died was called Something Happened, and it is specifically about stillbirth/infant death. I would suggest that to someone with living children at home who came home without the baby.

How did I bring Lucy up to them? I just do. I never had to have a sit-down conversation one day, because she comes up naturally throughout our day. I just bring her up when she occurs to me. When Beezus was younger, I found that talking to her while we were coloring was good. So, I would ask, "Do you know who Lucy is?" And then just briefly say that she was her sister who died. One way we have integrated Lucia into our lives organically is have some very regular rituals in our home around Lucia. We have, for lack of a better term, an altar. It is in our living room, and where we sit and talk in the evenings. Most people don't realize it is the place where we put things that are meaningful and connect us to Lucy. We call it Lucy's altar. I guess that is what I meant about bringing her up when I need. The kids don't need to be purposefully told about Lucy, because she is part of our daily life. "Let's light Lucy's candle." Sometimes I say, "I miss Lucy right now. I think I will light her candle and meditate a little." Lucy is so interwoven into our daily lives that it doesn't seem weird to talk about her.

The other day Beezus woke up in the morning and said, "I had a dream about our whole family going to a carnival. Well, everyone but Lucy and Jack, they stayed at home." And Thomas said "Luuuuz" the other day when we were talking about Lucy. Beezus is at a point where she includes Lucy in all of our family conversations, and she is starting to say that she misses her and having a sister.

I think the way you talk about Drew, Kate, and you talk about Parker, Sarah, and death in general will dictate how your children talk about death and their sibling. I try not to make Lucy be a big dramatic ordeal. I just talk about her, and so do the kids. When they bring her up, I usually don't cry. Sometimes my husband does, though, which is just where we are in terms of expression our grief. And to the questions about death, in our house, we sit with uncertainty, which also did not feel comfortable for me at first as a parent. I was raised in a Catholic home. Most of my theological questions were answered "Because that is how it is". I am raising Beezus and Thor with both a Christian and Buddhist understanding. I answer "I don't know" a lot. But I am comfortable with that answer as a parent. I can only teach them how I made sense of everything.

Honestly, I find it so much easier to talk to children, not just my own, about Lucy's death than to talk to adults, because children are so honest and not weighted with preconceived ideas of death and karma and all that stuff. I remember the first person who came to visit after Lucy died brought her four year old son. And he said to me, "Did you know that Lucy died? It is very sad. " And it made me cry, but also so grateful. How I wished adults would have said something like that to me.

I am just thinking about these questions you bring up. "Why didn't Drew want to come live with us," or "why didn't God let Drew come home with us?" They are profound spiritual questions, and even the most seasoned theologian, I think, would have a difficult time answering them without "I don't know". If Beezus asked me these questions, I think my answers would be, "I don't know, honey. But I think Lucy wanted to live with us. Something just happened. Something the doctors do not understand. Adults try to make sense of the world, but sometimes things are also hard for adults to understand too. My love, God cries with us about Lucy's death. God is sad with us. We loved her very much and she would have loved living with us. But she died."

But I think it is good to be as honest as I can with my children about this part. But part of what I found is that talking about Lucy has been much easier than I anticipated. I think the key is letting the kids lead the conversation based on their maturity level. You may never answer any questions about God and the baby's death. I never have, even though we talk about God and pray in our home. I bring Lucy up sometimes when Beezus says something about her. And I say, "If you ever have questions about Lucy and why she died, you can talk to me about it. Or if you want to look at pictures of her, you can." Beezus does ask me why Lucy died, physically why (Was she sick, mama? Was she hurt, mama?) and I answer all her questions as honestly as I can. I want to reassure her that Lucy died because people die, not because she or we had any control over that.

As my children get older, their questions about Lucy will become more complicated and their grief more palpable, I think. But they will always grow up with Lucy and her death. That is just part of who they are. I wanted to link to this post I wrote before, since I write about this topic as it comes up. Esperanza wrote a beautiful comment about this from the sibling perspective, which is definitely worth a read.

Michelle: my question is do you ever deal with feelings that you just can't take care of your living children because you are trying to take care of your dead child? i am really struggling with this right now as i am the only one who seems to remember xavier. i feel like i have to mother xavier because he is dead and there are others that can 'mother' my living children for me and it breaks my heart that i struggle with this.

Oh, Michelle, your question hit me in the gut. Yes, absolutely. Particularly in the beginning. I haven't felt that way in a long time, come to think of it. Sometimes I feel like I spin my wheels in my house trying to integrate Lucy, or I should say, I feel like I used to spin my wheels. I don't know when it happened, somewhere between 18 months and two years where Lucy's death and my mothering her became integrated into our life. It felt natural and like I wasn't two mothers torn between two ways of being--grieving and mother, or mothering Lucy and mothering everyone else. Rather, I felt like one mother now. But I so frequently get frustrated that I seem to be the keeper of grief in our home. The one to establish rituals. The one to remember Lucia. I guess I mean that my husband does not feel the same impulse to remember and honor her. I asked him once why and he said, "Because you do that for us, and I appreciate it."

Renel: Do you ever wonder how your life would be different or your grieving would be different if you did not have your little boy? How do you think your pregnancy or more so your birth and alive baby after your loss help you heal or do you think it did help you heal if even in a small way? Do you ever feel like you want another baby because there will always be one missing?

Renel, thank you for your comment and your questions. I struggled a great deal with whether or not I wanted to have a third child after Lucia died. I just couldn't imagine him not dying in the womb again and didn't think I could effectively parent Beezus if I lost another child. I was convinced I would have no marriage left. When we finally decided to start trying again, I was sure it wouldn't change anything. So, yes, I do wonder how my life and my grief would be different if I didn't go through pregnancy with Thor.

I can say this: going through pregnancy after loss was the most anxiety-producing, hardest thing I have done aside from losing my second child. It changed everything about me. It took me a long time to recover from that nine month concentration of pure anxiety, fear and hormonal surges. I lost the last of the friends I had during that period, because I simply could not talk to anyone. I couldn't hear platitudes or comfort from people who didn't know what this was like. And unfortunately, pregnancy seemed to break the filter between what I was thinking and what was polite to say. I grieved for Lucy and felt almost no connection to the new pregnancy.

When I went into labor and went to the hospital, I thought I would be a heap of posttraumatic stress, but I wasn't. I began to feel real joy. This was it. This was the end. Whatever happened from this point on, it was out of my hands. I had done everything I could do for this baby. I went to every appointment. I took care of my body. It was then that I realized that control was a complete fucking illusion. I realized that before, but I truly surrendered my will then. I did everything the same as with Lucia, save the extra monitoring. I sort of fell into this sort of resignation that if he dies, he will die without regrets from me. And in that way, I felt free and slightly healed. The period after Lucia died until going to the hospital to give birth was marked by me in a raw state of self-loathing, anger at myself and replaying the ways in which I could have saved her. I cannot control anything in my life and I was going to have a baby. It started sinking in. Thor would be here. It was a gradual to move from grieving Lucy to welcoming a new baby.

Lady Mama wrote a comment on my blog a few months ago which said, " Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different." And I think that is it. I began to forgive myself. It didn't just start in the hospital, but I realized it in the hospital. Lucy didn't die because I couldn't love her enough. Lucy didn't die because I did something wrong. Lucy just died.

I'll be honest. I repeated those words over and over for sixteen months, but it took me a long time to get it. I still struggle sometimes with it, and with that understanding.

When Thor was born, he was always his own being, and I never really conflated Lucia and Thor. I will write about that more with Angie's question, but yes, there was something that changed in me when he was born alive, though I don't know if I would call it healed or healing, because there is always the wound of Lucia's death. Thor's birth did nothing to that pain, but the joy it brought helped me be very present with my gratitude and joy instead of always tempering in mourning, if that makes sense. I felt gratitude, so much gratitude that this baby needed me and I could love him. I channeled Lucia love into my children. I also will say that in the first three months, there was nothing that felt overwhelming to me about having a newborn, which was a very different experience than bringing Beezus home.

I think what was healing is that my family felt complete--Beezus, Lucy, Thor. I couldn't imagine life without the three of them. I don't know what I would have felt if Lucy lived, if I would have had a third child, because life didn't work that way. Thomas is here, and it is exactly as it should be. But, yes, you nailed it with your last question. Sometimes I think, we should have another baby. And I realize it is always that desire to fill the hole that Lucy's death left.

I hope this was helpful and not scary. I also invite all people to answer these questions either here or on your own blog. I would love to know how others would answer these questions. You can link your answers in the comment section. Next up might be a lighter post with random questions.

Friday, August 26, 2011

question one: karma

Okay, y'all have given me some incredible questions to answer. So, I am answering one theme of questions at a time. You can still ask me questions. I will be answering them every day next week too. I will select a winner next Tuesday. 

This is one I have been meaning to write about anyway, so I am starting with this. It got very long very quickly. 
Sarah: OK. Since you asked. I'm still struggling with the concepts of karma and past actions creating future consequences (all because of what that psycho beast told my hubby...) and wondering if you can give a little mini lecture on the concepts of karma and how babies dying has NOTHING TO DO with our karma???

And on a lighter note, do you know anything about pickling? I've always been nervous about CANNING since I fear the botulism...but does pickling carry the same threat? (Don't worry if you have no idea, please don't do any additional research; I'm merely asking because you seem crafty in the way that you'd know a thing or two about pickling.)

I also fear botulism, so I know nothing about canning, but mercifully, Sara wrote something in the comments of this post. I have made pickles. I ate them in one sitting, so I figured the botulism scare was not warranted. Sorry I am not better at that question.

Nerissa asked this karma question too, for a very similar reason, someone told her that her child's death was karma. And so, this is the first question I am tackling. I hope Buddhists come school us if I am way off base here, but this is my understanding.

Firstly, I just want to say how horrible I think it is that anyone would suggest that anything you or your husbands did could cause the death of your children. That is an unforgivable thought/comment/statement. It not only reflects absolutely no understanding of the concept of karma, but on how the person saying it is just a motherfucker.

About karma, the actual theological concept...this question you ask was one I was totally obsessed about in the early months of my loss. When I finally worked up enough nerve to ask my Buddhist therapist and my Buddhist friend and writer, they both answered with a resounding and vehement NO. Karma does not work that way. In Buddhism and in Hinduism, the victim is very rarely blamed for their own suffering. So, I do have an answer for both you and Nerissa. It is very long and involved, and I will put a little asterisk where the exact answer comes.

First, I wrote about my experience asking about karma here at Glow in the Woods.

So, I have done quite a bit more reading on the subject and research since that piece. Karma, from a Buddhist or Hindu point of view, is a very complicated concept. One that I can't begin to fully understand and one that Buddhist monks spend their whole lives trying to make sense of. But the word has been bastardized in this society by the commoditization of Buddhism so that everyone thinks they understand it. I blame the John Lennon song Instant Karma. Because that is the idea that people are throwing around, instant karma--the idea that if you do something that immediately you will pay for it. Like Newton's third law of physics, each action has an equal and opposite reaction. Karma doesn't work that way, though it does refer to the relationship between our actions and the resulting force.

Here is the very religion-major answer to what karma is. Literally, karma means "action". Karma is all of our actions in our lives. These actions have judgments on them--good, bad or indifferent. Walking down the street, indifferent karma. Walking down the street punching people in the face, bad karma. Walking down the street helping an older person carry groceries, good karma. Intention is also a very powerful concept in Buddhism. So, karma has a kind of implicit understanding that it is action with intention.

Okay, I should back up a little bit and give a little background of Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths are the basic tenets of Buddhism.
1. Life is suffering.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment. We are attached in certain ways: desire, passion, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity. It is also called craving and clinging.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering is the Eightfold Path. The eightfold path is right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood(work), right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
Buddhists and Hindus believe that you live many many lives. The cycle of rebirth is called samsara, which is basically a cycle of life and death. You are born, you live, you die, then you are born again. The specific circumstances of that birth, life and death are always different.You are given many different types of lives to live. One you may be famous, others a beggar. A doctor, then a murderer. With each action, wholesome karma or bad karma, there is a kind of soul movement both from that point on in time and into the next life or the one after that or the next one. Buddhism and Hinduism understand this as karma, you are literally carrying over your life lessons and your life attachments and bad karma from another life. Karma moves the wheel of life, they say.

Since life is suffering (Noble Truth number one), samsara is a cycle of suffering. Beings crave escape from that that cycle of suffering. We try to get out of suffering in many ways--drinking too much, being attached to worldly items (materialism), eating too much, saying cruel things to people, being attached to other people, sex and love, lashing out at others when we were wronged, watching television all night. I guess part of what you can say is that we get attached to things and feelings that are impermanent, and by attaching ourselves to things that can't stay, we suffer more.

We all have the same goal. To stop suffering. For ourselves and eventually for others. Our own attachment to things, diversions, our ego, our attempt to escape suffering, that keeps us committing wrong action, or bad karma. An example of this might be if you fall in love with a married person, your intention is love. Where is the sin in love? But you are hurting someone else in the process, the wife. You know he is married and you choose to pursue this relationship, because all that matters is your happiness and your own escape from suffering. And so, every action is supposed to be mindful. Mindfulness is important in Buddhism. We must be mindful of the consequences of each action. If we ignore the suffering of another human being for our own gain, or our own impermanent attachment to the pleasure of love and sex, we amass bad karma.

Except "bad karma" is not really like points or something. It's not like there is a karma bank where all your good deeds are stored, and you just subtract from that when you do something morally questionable or vice versa. It is like something that keeps you stuck in the cycle of suffering, personal suffering. It is a constructed suffering, because thinking that love/attachment to a married man is going to get you out of the basic suffering of life, or in the very least make you the least bit happy, is ignorance. It is attachment to illusion. We usually don't know when we are ignorant, because we are too unknowing to know better. This is why karma hangs around for lifetimes, because the lesson might not fit that life, it will move into the next when you are ready. Because your mind is still stuck in this place of attachment, you will be stuck in this place of suffering. So, you are born again into another life, going through different choices, but that have the same basic structure--where are you going to get attached to illusion. Maybe in another life, you are the wife, or the husband, or the child in a home where a father is engaged in an affair.

You hopefully grow. You learn. You start doing wholesome karma. You stop making shitty choices and hurting other people. You lessen the ambient suffering in the world. You enter into the stream of nirvana. You gradually become "enlightened." It happens over lifetimes.

The idea of karma is that you carry with you a kind of imprint of your actions. Or rather those actions, or karmas, move you into situations in which you deal with your wrong action, help resolve your negative impulses, or the impulses to continue suffering. We are not enlightened enough to understand the complexities of the way karma works. And no other human is enlightened enough to fully understand the complexities of karma, ergo, no one can say that one's suffering is a result of karma. Period. End of story. We simply cannot understand why we suffer when we suffer in the way we suffer. But what we do with that suffering is the crux of karma.

So, when we think about the death of our children and karma, we wonder what we did to cause that death. Karma just simply does not work that way. Lucia. Otis. Holden. They were beings with their own lives, and their own karmas. In Buddhist thought, death of other people is not a suffering inflicted upon others. It is a fact of life. Everyone dies. Some young. Some old. It had nothing to do with who we are as people. It might seem that way, because babies in particular, come into their being slowly , gradually, over time. Zen Buddhists believe that the being flows into the body, like water, from conception until the child is about six. So children are called mizuko, water children. Because their being is still liquid and flowing into them.

Still, our babies' deaths were not a result of our bad karma. They were simply deaths. What we do in the wake of great suffering, the ultimate of suffering, the grief associate with losing a child, is what will define our karma into our next life and into the future of this one. Each person is supposed to live his or her life with compassion and love, kindness and wisdom, taking the higher road, being the bigger person, letting go of your attachments that keep you bound to this cycle of birth and rebirth. That is the eightfold path. And so your actions, how you treat others in your life, kind of imprint on your soul, even though ego and the soul are seen as constructs of the human mind.

I consulted a psychic once, who told me about the idea that stillborn children are enlightened beings on their last life, healing the last wounds by living a life of pure love and compassion, both giving and receiving it. The experience of being in the womb is the last comfort of unconditional love they are given to move them into the Enlightenment, or be released from the cycle of birth and rebirth. See, Buddhists don't believe in the self. The ego is an illusion. Something our karma constructs to make sense of itself. Really we are all one. When we inhabit a body, we are like a drop of water. We think that being a drop of water is all we are. Just one drop. It is part of what keeps us bound in our body, the construction of ego. When we achieve enlightenment, it is as though we drop into the ocean. We are still the drop, or the conglomeration of our karma, but we also can never be separated from the ocean again.

Buddhism teaches that to escape the cycle of suffering you must achieve a kind of wisdom and compassion and understanding through your lives. It lays it out quite directly in the eightfold path what you can do to manifest good karma. Be good. Grow. Learn about the ways in which you are hookable, or stuck in the cycle of suffering. And above all, be kind, dammit.

Or if you will, self-improvement and mindfulness. If you get to a point where you understand the illusions that you live with, you understand that your ego is an illusion. The self is an illusion. The attachment to who you think you gets very complicated very quickly. If there is no self, then how can you carry karma with you life after life? If there is no soul, then how does one suffer? These are the questions Buddhists wrestle with when we start talking about karma and suffering and ego and egolessness.

One thing I thought I would throw in there is the idea of a Buddha, which is someone who is enlightened, who has grown wisdom through lifetimes. They say that person is released from the cycle of samsara or rebirth. But there is a concept in Buddhist of the bodhisattva, which is an enlightened being who chooses to return to the cycle of birth and rebirth to teach others about the Four Noble Truths and guide other to enlightenment. It is the ultimate selflessness and compassion to willingly choose to go through suffering for the betterment of other beings. Jizos are bodhisattvas. And mizuko jizos are bodhisattvas who help guide the beings or souls of stillborn children into their next life. Or out of the cycle. Cool, huh?

I hope this helped. Believe it or not, I edited it almost in half. I felt like I had to give a lot of background to get to the meat of your question. If you made it this far, you should get some kind of karmic medal to pin on your ego-less chest. Next question I will answer will be about how I talk to my children about the death of their sister.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

news, giveaway and ask me something.

Good aftermornevening, Hedgehogs. My loves. A post with some news bits, call for questions and a giveaway.

News bit number one:

MISS Foundation is planning a local walk in the Philadelphia area on October 15th. Location still undecided and plans are just being made, but I think it would be awesome to mobilize the babylost community in the greater Philly area for a Kindness Walk. More details to come, but we do need volunteers to put some time and energy into getting the word out about the Walk, to participate and to head committees. Please email me at uberangie(at)gmail(dot)com for more information.

News bit number two:

I am planning on having a babylost Open House. I will be displaying some artwork and the travel journal at my home and serving food, drinks and snacks all day. It is October 1st and a rolling time start (2p to whenever), so you can come and go as you please. Others in the area have offered to host people coming in from out of town, if you want to stay in the Philadelphia area. Children, husbands/wives and friends are invited and welcome. I am planning on some kid-friendly activities. I will be setting up both inside and outside and it is very casual and laid back. Please email me if you are thinking of coming. I am sending real invitations out this week to people in the area, but would love to include anyone even thinking of coming to Philadelphia for it. It is worth a weekend in Philly in October to meet me and others in this community. Again, email me at uberangie(at)gmail(dot)com. Or if you prefer the phone, email me. (Just a little joke.)

Pointless diversion number one:

SNEAKY HATE SPIRAL. (putting this up because I heard La Bumba this morning, and the dog killed a baby rabbit, and we had to bury it with a little stone that Beezus wrote "BUNY RIP" on and I could have easily slipped into a sneaky hate spiral.)

News bit number three:

I am going to be doing a reading with Janel Atlas, editor and contributor of They Were Still Born, and Jenell Williams Paris, another contributor, on October 11th in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania at the Elizabethtown Public Library. The event starts at 6:30p. I'd love to see you there and talk to you. There will be books for sale at the library and we will answer questions.

Speaking of questions, I am opening the floor to all of you to ask any questions for me to answer on my next post. They can range from anything about my blogs--still life with circles, still life 365 or still life everyday. Or grief and loss, or events coming up, or writing, or parenting, or right where I am or recovery and alcoholism or anything really. I love answering questions or having discussions on different topics. So, bring it on.

And that brings me to the next part, which your question in the comment section of this post or just post a comment here, and you enter to win a copy of the book They Were Still Born, which my essay "Mothering Grief" appears in. If you already have the book, you can choose to receive a book I happen to love called In the Midst of Winter, which is a collection of poetry and writing about grief. If you are not babylost or just not interested in any books about grief, then you can opt to receive...wait for it...GNOMES! The seminal work by Wil Huygen about our cone-hatted friends of the garden and wood.

Okay, I think that about covers it. Hope to see/meet each of you in person at one of these events at some point. And definitely psyched for some questions. I will post a winner and answers to questions on Monday. And don't forget that today, I am writing over at Glow in the Woods, so come over and join the conversation.

short story

Today, I am over at Glow in the Woods rewriting my long story into a short story. Pop over for a read.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the telephone

I loathed the telephone.

Eight months ago, if someone asked me to call her or him, I would groan inside.

Seriously? Can't we just email like civilized people?

Sometimes I still loathe it. Except that when I first sought help with my sobriety, someone gave me a list of phone numbers and told me to call three numbers on the sheet every day. Three.


I didn't think it would help. I mean, call a complete stranger and talk about how hard it is not to drink? It seemed like madness or torture. In the early days after I quit drinking, I would stare at the phone and wonder who I should call, and what I should say. So confused and ashamed, I usually called no one. I finally asked someone what I was supposed to say when I called.

"Say, 'I'm calling you because someone told me to call three people on this list to stay sober and I'm doing it.'"
"Well, that's a little rude."
"No, it isn't. It is honest. Pretending you have crap to talk about is both lying and thievery."
"Remember that five minute, bullshit story that girl told us a few minutes ago? She stole five minutes of my life I will never get back. When you call, be honest. People will appreciate not having to chitchat. Then they will pick up your calls. One day you may call because it is the thing between you and a bottle of booze."

I didn't want to drink again. And I hadn't managed to remain sober out of my own stubborn will. I mean, I had for a while, but not forever. My father is an alcoholic. My uncles. My grandmother. On both sides, this disease runs rampant. I knew exactly what tomorrow was going to look like, a year from now, a was not going to be pleasant for me or my kids. Alcoholism is not a tidy, quaint way to die.

All of the alcoholics in my life were exactly like me--isolated and isolating. I realize now that that is part of the disease of alcoholism. The drink wants you alone, sad, full of resentments. The drink wants the drink. Nothing else, and it will take out anything in its way.

I guess it should be no surprise that after Lucia died, I couldn't reach out to friends, and I let their inability to reach out fester in me.  When my friend said it was my turn to call six months after she stopped talking to me, but failed to tell me she was mad at me, or there were issues between us, I felt righteous indignation. She didn't tell me she was upset, or it was my turn to call, or that I should reach out to her. And it didn't occur to me that I should call her. My daughter died. I shouldn't have to call anyone particularly when I loathe the telephone. And it is all about what is comfortable for me. (That is sarcasm.) I thought everyone wanted to talk on the phone but me. I have come to realize lately that people call because they want to stay in touch, not because they love the telephone. (Yes, I'm a fucking idiot.)

I was given the gift of desperation. I was desperate for sobriety, for changing who I was. See, as much as I talk about my friends, something I realized after Lucia died was the only common denominator between any of them was me.

My daughter died. That fact did not relieve me of the necessity to be a decent human being and a good friend. I wanted my friends back. I wanted me back. I wanted to stop feeling the way I was feeling--angry, resentful, sad, alone, lonely, isolated, isolating.

We hold on to things that allow us to drink.Let go of resentments and you begin to let go of the things that justify addiction and alcoholism. And so I called three strangers every day.

It wasn't so bad.

In fact, it was good and a good skill to hone. Now I pass my phone number out to anyone who will take it. I really don't mind the phone anymore. I even email my phone number to women and men who just come into this community, because hearing a living human being breathing on the other end of the phone, who cries with you, that is fucking important some days. Sometimes when I would call people from my list, they would talk about themselves the entire time, and that was a gift. Other people struggle with alcoholism, most of them struggled with grief too. Grief and alcoholism tie together in an ugly, whopperjawed grey-colored bow.

That is one thing I wish I could have reiterated over and over again to friends after Lucy died--that I really wanted to hear about them. All the time. I wanted to be trusted to be a friend again. It is a space where I am most comfortable--to listen, rather than talk. I am not built for sharing my emotions. My people are stony and hardworking. That is why the blog became such an important part of my grief, because the computer gives me enough distance between you and me to share what I am feeling. To cry without the gawking.

But the phone, the phone has taught me to listen as well as talk. To be a better friend. Sobriety has given me many gifts, constant stream of gratitudes, but the most important is that I am learning how to be more human. And I believe the phone has given me a gift of being able to express my emotions in real life a little more easily. To sit with my own emotions, not just other people's.

I am learning.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I test the floor. Oooo, ouch.
Wait. Breathe.
My back shoots a pain through my mid-section, down through my legs. My knees click, crack, pop, crunch. My hips locked into the cowboy position. I grab for the boy and he crawls across the bed giggling. I grimace and make my way across the bed to catch him.

I want to play, baby, but it hurts. It hurts.

I hobble and wait for him to come to me. By the time I reach the stairs, my walk feels stronger. Thankfully. I take each step by holding on to each wall surrounding me. I was an athlete once. Strong. Formidable. I played football and gymnastics, and rode my bike impossibly long distances with only a little talcum powder and some water.

It is my shoulder, and my back, and my knees, and the bottoms of my feet, and my ankles, sometimes my wrists. Basically, it is my joints. All of my joints. I've been poked. Prodded. Made to walk in a straight line touch my nose. I had to stand absolutely still while a doctor watched me. I have had blood drawn. Pictures taken of my insides. Months and months of testing, and I know that I do not have lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme's disease or Multiple Sclerosis, celiac disease, or Epstein-Barr.  I have nothing, but pain, extremely painful pain.

About nine months after Lucia died, when I was doing bloodwork in the early part of my pregnancy with Thor, I found out that I had thyroid disease. My nutritionist told me that endocrine systems break down in trauma and grief. I had nothing but trauma and grief in the those months. I held onto her in my joints, I thought. The pain manifest in the spaces between my hard bits. That is where she snuggled up, in the soft, delicate parts of me. Every movement a reminder of the pain of losing my daughter. The pain of birthing her dead. The pain of parenting a sister-less girl. The pain of babyloss. I didn't mind the pain as much as you would think. It seemed inevitable.

The best I can do is cut out the wheat. Somehow that helps. My endocrinologist thinks improving from not eating wheat is a psychosomatic reaction. He's a number guy. He thinks the nutritionist is bunk. The thinks the anecdotes on the internet are hogwash. When I tell him of symptoms that haven't improved after taking my medicine, he says that it is another disease and he cannot help me. There is no research, he says. But on the internet, I find women and men with Hashimoto's disease talking about how different their lives are after cutting out wheat and gluten. And I am one of those women, I guess. I have been eating like this since February, and it has changed my joint pain tremendously. Psychosomatic or not, I feel better. I can walk without debilitating pain. I can carry my baby down the stairs.

This week I had a cupcake that my mother left in my fridge. I don't know why. I just saw it and thought, "Mmm, cupcake." I ate it and couldn't move that night. I cried in pain. And so I suppose I know now. Cupcakes are not good.

The only downside is that I eat nothing fun. No baked goods. No buttery croissant on a Sunday morning. No tiramisu after a nice manicotti. No cheese sandwich for lunch. No crunchy ciabatta with pesto and fontinella. The doctor also suggested that I cut out the dairy and the meat. (Did I mention that?) No wheat. No milk. No meat. (I didn't eat meat most nights anyway, but whatevs.)

I have been daydreaming about smoking cigarettes. I haven't smoked in years and years, and lately the smell, the ritual, I have been romancing it all. I won't smoke, but I am romancing it. I watch them outside of meetings, inhaling, talking, laughing, relaxing. There is no buffer between me and the world anymore, or me and my stress. I don't take a moment to go have a cigarette and think on it. I don't sip a bourbon pensively when I get a testy email. I don't drink to cushion those emotions. I don't smoke to breathe deeply and take a moment away from my desk and my life. I don't stuff carbs into my face when the kids go to sleep. I just feel it all. Every. Little. Thing. Like my chest cavity was wrenched open in a Y shape, and my heart is exposed .

Here is everything, World. Be gentle.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the rain

I love the rain--the sound, the smell, the feel. I love it more than anything that isn't mammal. Sometimes more than some mammals I know. It feels like a thing to me, like a breathing thing, alive and magical. Maybe it is a residual effect from living in the desert for five years. I understood why societies worship the weather and nature, particularly when you live in a place not designed to sustain human life. Rain brought everything back from the brink of death. The desert after the rains is green, flowering, aromatic. 

I grew up in a place with moss and ferns and bunnies. A hike through the woods had you occasionally glancing at the forest floor for roots and loose rocks. I moved to the Sonoran desert when I was 20, and lived there for five years. In the desert, every thing is designed for survival and protection. Hikes through the desert are filled with heat, snakes, scorpions, dehydration, heat stroke, javalina, large cats, disorientation.  Toads exude psychotropic poison that make you freak the fuck out. Spiders the size of your hand poise to attack from the inside of your shoes. Your senses are heightened. It feels important and exhausting to be in the desert, because you learn how you are wired. Fight or flight. Alone or part of a tribe. Everything is raw and spiny and poisonous and designed for only its own survival. I began to worship and hang my life on the weather, the moon and the winds.

In the Sonoran desert, there is a type of cactus that is just a ball of spines. They call it a jumping cactus. Spines in every direction, free from the confines of roots. It just rolls, jumps, waits for someone to stick to. My dog stepped on one during a hike, and then bit into it to remove it from his paw. It took us three hours with doggie valium and pliers to free the spines from his tongue and mouth. I remember holding him in the back of the truck as he whimpered and growled, while my ex-husband wrenched the thorns from his jaw. You don't just walk after an incident like that. You treadly lightly, come prepared, expect the jumping cactus.

You can fry an egg on the sidewalk in three minutes during a Tucson summer. You can roast pork butt in your car while you work all day. But then monsoon season rolls in. The storms blow through town. And the egg washes away into the street, through the gutters and into the fast moving arroyo, haunted by La Llorona. As you stand in your yard, rain washing over you, you can see lightning hitting the different parts of the city. It looks like Thor throwing bolts at the impious. When the rains come, people rejoice. They stand in their yards in August and let the rains soak them and wash everything away-- the anger, the vulnerability, the need to be poised for attack. Everything is okay when the rains come.

Everything will be okay.

The storm woke me this morning on the heels of a the Sturgeon Moon. Thunder rattled the house, and Jack started barking. My first thought was that a tree fell into our living room. I always go to the worst place first. The dog just barked after a loud thunderclap and I imagined our Japanese maple uprooted and thrown through our lounge. I ran downstairs and the dog was standing in the kitchen staring at me. We regarded each other. I wondered what he thought of the noise, if he thought a tree fell through the upstairs. I opened the back door for him. He poked his head out, sniffed, then came back in, refusing to leave the dry house, even though he hadn't been out all night. Fairweather dog.

Many years ago, when I just left my first marriage and alone for the first time in four years, I had a boyfriend who was full Native American of two different tribes. He taught me about the moons, their names, and the stars. He considered me half, since my mother's people were Central American Indian.

We are both of Aztlan, sister.

But neither of us were truly from the desert where we met, yet it was the first place where we felt at home in our lives, surrounded by people who looked like us. Aztlan, we called it. The ancestral home of the native peoples. We lived in the country of Aztlan. All us brown folk of the same tribe. Nothing could hurt us there, I thought. He wore a long braid down his back, sometimes two. When he dressed for work, he tied a bowtie and plaited his hair and wore a corduroy jacket with elbow pads. Most evenings, we poured some bourbon and listened to AM radio on a transistor. We would sit on a blanket in his backyard and watch the stars. He was a philosophy professor and we enjoyed sparring about God and relativism. We played Scrabble for hours, and danced in the moonlight. I couldn't imagine being happier until I wasn't.

The switch flipped on night. I turned off the happy. He dropped me off at work the next morning, and I knew we were both too proud to ever talk again. He repeated the argument from the night before, "Marry me, or never see me again." And I knew the time was not right. I knew I was too muddled to be anyone's wife. But all I wanted was him.

Give me a year. A year for my broken heart to recover. 
Now or never. It should already be healed by our love. By the fate we share. We are both of the Moon. We are both of Aztlan.
But love doesn't work that way, I pleaded.
But I don't work your way, he said.

And he drove his truck into the sunrise. I missed him before his truck was out of view. I missed him before that even, when we sat up all night and he gave me the ultimatum. It was five thirty in the morning when he drove away. I had insomnia for weeks before I met him, and in the months we dated. So, everything felt like a dream. He would sleep and I would smoke cigarettes and read and watch him sleep. I always drifted off after work in the hot desert afternoons, sleeping for four hours before he came over after his day. Sometimes I would fall asleep at four in the morning, and wake again at five, tired and spent, afraid I was going insane from the lack of sleep. I couldn't make decisions without real sleep. I could be married before I was divorced.

I worked that day, bleary-eyed and confused. I told no one of the night before. I just worked in a fog, the heat and hurt permeating my being. I refused all the offers of drinks after work, and walked home in the hot desert sun. The heat rose off the road creating mirages of puddles. The humidity had risen that morning. When I was half way back to my little adobe house, the sky opened up.

It was like a blanket of rain dropped to earth covering everything. And I ran. Feet pounding. My bag soaked. Being caught in the rain makes you feel wetter than if you were naked in the shower. Your soul feels drenched. Your bone marrow feels wet. I was wholly present in the run. I was in my body once again. I stopped running at the awareness of it. I remembered this Buddhist saying about walking in the rain being unpleasant only if you are trying to stay dry. And so I let myself be wet and free and light and alone. I cried, but not out of sadness exactly, maybe out of surrender, out of fear, out of the battle between me and my nature. I cried and laughed and cried. I missed him, but I knew I would survive.

I am nothing but a jumping cactus some days. Thorny. Unattached. Readying myself for the next passer-by, until the rain transforms me into something resembling human. I thought about all this today when the rain woke me and the dog barked.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I miss my friends.

Strangely, in the earliest of days, I missed so much of myself that wasn't even really gone yet, or maybe that I never really had. Things like my confidence, and my security, and my innocence. And now, I really don't miss any of those things anymore. What right did I have as a thirty-seven year old woman to still have innocence? And my confidence? Nothing but a thin veneer between who I was and who I thought I was, smashed at the first five pounds to get tacked on to my hips. And security, an illusion I should never have mistaken for truth in the first place.

But the things I miss now are people. Lucia Paz. Then the list of friends from childhood on up to and including the ones I have met since Lucy's death who fell away in my lost years after my daughter's death.

Sure, people change. Paths diverge. Friends grow apart. Perhaps we would have grown apart whether Lucia died or not, maybe her death just sped up that process. All I know is that my daughter died, and I lost most of my friends. It is like there is this exotic city of my past lives. Every dude I made out with, every friend who I traded clothes with, every person who made me laugh while we shared a beer, and every one who I ever thought would be there if the shit ever really hit the fan all took up residence in this mysterious city of the past. Daughter death is like the neutron bomb that went off in that city. It looks untouched, and pristine from above, but no one is left. My memory of those people are lovely and beautiful, but our friendships died with my daughter.

That first year after her death, I was too mean. Too angry. Too self-righteous. Too afraid of the phone. Too sad. Too needy. Too selfish. Too integrated in the blog world. Too everything. And one right after the other told me I was too much. I believed them.

Darkness and anger bubbled under my skin. I was a monster. A damaged soul. People say you must be a friend to have a friend, but I was incapable of being a friend. Ironically, the only two people who remained my friends were my ex-boyfriend and my ex-husband. Perhaps it is because they saw me angry, self-righteous, afraid, sad, needy, selfish and jealous before. Ugly Angry Angie, or as my sister calls me Angsty, was the Angie with whom they were already acquainted. It didn't shock or disturb them. Sometimes the words right before someone walked away still haunt me. A friend's parting email was so disturbing, I still think about it and try to do the opposite of what she accused me of. I guess it has become my new ethos: Do opposite of what she thinks of me.

This is the thing. I get it. Who wants to be friends with someone so sad, who is easily hurt, who takes things so personally and so seriously, who finds society at large to be largely unbearable? Even if it is just for a year? I suspect most people couldn't bear the relentlessness of it all. Because sadness was fine. Most people can abide sadness, and justified sadness at that. But what about the hypersensitivity? Or the sarcasm? Or the anger? Or the nasty streak of jealousy? Or the quick temper? Those people walked away from our friendship for self-preservation. I get it. I can't blame them. It was okay to not want to be part of this grief and death and messiness or part of my dark complicated life. I didn't want to be part of it either.

I wish I had known just how long that would last, so I could send a memo around.

To: Friends.
Re: Grief.


I am sorry for being an absolute fucking bitch. I forgot your birthday, didn't ask about your son/daughter's party/first day of school/recent head cold/psychological examination, or your mother/father's illness. It was wrong of me. Grief has invaded my body. I am incapable of even the most benign of human activities and the most base of all human compassion. I will emerge in precisely eighteen months, three weeks and two days and be able to call/hang out/attend your baby shower/have a drink/be a friend. Just hang in there.


I am not that person anymore. And I don't know how to bridge that gap between then and now. I don't know how to deal with the wreckage of the first year after my daughter died. I just don't. I remember getting a letter six months after Lucy died. It was a letter of condolence and apology from someone I knew for fifteen years. Apology for the lateness of condolences. It was honest and beautiful and made me cry. It was comforting to receive the letter, and yet I had no idea what to do after I read it. I still have never really talked to that person again. Not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't know how to reach out afterward. Was that my duty or his? I can see now it was probably mine.

Grief is insidious for those confusions. I sat paralyzed by uncertainty and confusion of protocol, knowing what you would and should do with all things being equal. But nothing is equal. My kid died, so I just sat and waited for someone stronger than me to help figure out what I was supposed to do. And no one did. Grief and death and fear of everything made it abundantly clear that I knew nothing about living. That my entire theological and emotional basis was contingent of everything working out in my favor.

I have no resolution to this post. Just missing, so much missing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

on writing and the drink.

Sometimes a bourbon is just a bourbon. And I want one.

Sobriety gets all muddled up in seven months, like a perfect mint julep. And what I mean by getting all muddled up is that in the beginning of sobriety, quitting drinking was just about me not buying whiskey and drinking it. A few months later, my drinking became about my childhood. A month later, drinking was about my long list of character defects. Throughout those months, I tried to find my vacant spiritual center and remain grounded. So, in the end, the majority of my sobriety has not been about drinking at all. I can see as the time moves forward, and the obsession to drink lifted that drinking was but a symptom of a larger problem. One of spiritual bereftness, soul-emptiness, about the spaces I tried to fill and the emotions I try to drown.

But still, every once in a while, it is still just about the drink. And how I want it and can't have it, and how that fact seems fucking unfair. It seems unfair in the way that anything else in the world is unfair, which is to say, it really isn't that unfair. Losing a child is unfair. Getting cancer is unfair. Not being able to drink is just what normal people should do. Alcoholism is a disease whose only treatment is total abstinence.

Being sober for seven months isn't the longest stretch of sobriety I have ever had in my life, but I suppose it is the most intentional of all the stretches. It is the most personal. The most concentrated period of psychic and emotional changes I have ever gone through, if the moment when my daughter died doesn't count. I started quitting drinking the first time I drank. I didn't understand what alcoholism meant as a teenager. I just thought that my off switch had been obliterated by the awesomeness of bourbon, or more likely, I was never born with an off switch. I swallowed who I was with the Maker's Mark until I fell asleep, or fell on the floor. I didn't realize until seven months ago that drinking until you fell asleep meant you were drinking until you pass out. Funny how framing a concept frames how you feel about yourself.

I didn't drink because Lucia died. Lucia died, and I didn't know what else to do but drink. That is something I learned in sobriety. Drinking was all the emotional coping I was taught. Drink until it stops hurting. Drink until you are present with only the sensation of drunkenness. Drink until you write a novel.

There is a long list of writers who are alcoholics or addicts. The names of my first loves of literature: Paul Bowles,  Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, William Faulkner, James Joyce...the list is unending.

Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk. Edit sober." That was my mantra, my ethos of writing. I wrote drunk, then edited sober. I edited hung over, which gave me the restless, irritable eye of a critic. I wrote, so I could drink. Eight months ago, I thought that I drank so I could write.

When I was eighteen, I worked at a beautiful cafe in the gay-borhood, as it is called. It was a beautiful amazing space, full of copper, French doors and industrial steel. We played Annie Lennox and ordered muffins from the finest bakery in town. The coffee was roasted to perfection and served in Norwegian-designed little mugs for too much money.

I drank a lot in those days. I was single and it seemed victimless. Every morning I walked the six blocks to the shop before the sun rose. I was still drunk most days, or at the least, hung over. I drank forty ounces of Crazy Horse malt liquor, which cost $1.95. I was nineteen. I bought my drink at the corner store called the Cop Shop, which wasn't called that because police officers hung out there. I would bring my liquor home, sit on my dirty twin mattress covered with an American flag my father gave me from his service in Vietnam and write short stories and long missives on the back of flyers from the local cafe. I would take them by the stack to write. I had an old typewriter and sometimes wrote by candlelight when the bulb overhead cast strange shadows on my paper. I wrote short stories about people doing ordinary things. A story of a girl falling in love with a statue. A girl taking a cab until she ran out of money. A novel about an artist and a benefactor. I thought I was Jane Bowles. or I wanted to be.

One morning, while I arranged the scones in the bakery case, the cafe manager asked me, "Since you are a writer, does that mean you are an alcoholic?" And I shrugged. "What is an alcoholic? Someone who drinks to write? I guess it does." And then she asked me if I could shower before work, because I lived in a nigh-squat and rarely had hot water. She was getting at the fact that I stunk because I drank too much."Yes," I said,  "I will be a better drunk." And she laughed and thanked me.

I thought about that conversation a lot in the last seven months.That was twenty-one years ago. twenty-one. I am still learning how to write sober. I am still learning how to think soberly. I think my writing is better, maybe less free emotionally, but better.

I am still trying to be a better drunk.