born still


ruby and i should be in the hospital, either getting ready to meet each other or getting ready to come home. she should be snuggled up in the rose-colored blanket i knitted for her while i was on bedrest, wearing a matching knitted cap to keep her li’l fontanel warm. she should be gripping one of my fingers as she nurses at my breast, which may or may not be producing milk yet, but which would be providing some form of sustenance and, at the very least, some emotional comfort. she should be crying through the night and being swaddled and shooshed by her now-expert-at-all-things-karp daddy. she should be soiling diapers and spitting up on me and wrapped in a sling around my torso. her big sister should be practicing her gentle touches and throwing temper tantrums because she doesn’t want to share her mom and dad, and learning to share her bedroom (if not her stuff) with her little sister. her grandparents and aunt and uncle and baby cousin should be preparing meals to bring over so s doesn’t have to do everything on his own. her long-distance friends and family should be showering her with love and us with well-wishes.

instead.

instead she is dead. her ashes are on our mantlepiece, still in the pathetic white cardboard box we received them in from the funeral home because we can’t find a more appropriate container that we actually like. her hand-knitted blanket is folded up underneath the box of ashes. next to the blanket and the box is the picture of ruby that we took with us to the compassionate friends annual memorial service, which was a different sort of misery.  ruby’s newborn clothes — all inherited from her big sister m — are still in m’s bottom dresser drawer, exactly where i put them last august in a fit of what i thought was excellent advance planning. her premie-sized knitted cap is being worn by her good luck totem, shackleton the jellycat penguin. shackleton and slim piggins, her good luck pig from her aunt and uncle, are sitting in the cradle in m’s room. her handmade quilt, which matches the one i made for s and me, is folded up in the bottom of the cradle.

it’s all part of the big mess that has become our lives since may 2007, when we moved 700 miles, bought a new house, i started a new job, and we found out ruby was coming.  i’m sure i’m wrong about this — please let me be wrong — but nothing has been good since then. we are struggling to make sense of our new lives. we are struggling to settle into our new house, our new city. we miss our friends, our old routines, the comfort of familiarity. i miss being happy. i miss me.

but today, more than anything in the world, i miss my little daughter. i miss the baby i should be holding and nursing and and and. i miss ruby.

since m has been around people have been telling s & me what good parents/how calm we are. always the two things together. and for a long time (well, ok, she’s not even 17 months yet, so i guess not that long) i imagined that motherhood had “done” something to me — made me different somehow. better. calmer.

but it’s taken me this long to actually wonder if it’s not parenting a living toddler but missing two dead infants that has done something to me. and if that something isn’t calmer, it’s numb-er.

i’d like to claim calm — what a nice change that would be. and what a great payoff for the hard grief work i did after losing earl, and for learning to practice mindfulness, and to pay new and different kinds of attention to my mind and my body and their many relationships to each other. but i don’t think i can claim calm, yet.

this first hit me several months ago, reading one of tash’s posts. i don’t remember which one — i’ve revisited to check and am still not sure — but i remember thinking “holy shit this is one mad mama” and then realizing that i’m not as mad as she is and then wondering if i should be and what was wrong with me for not being more pissed off. but i was exhausted and m was sick and the holidays were approaching and i had just gone back to work and i really didn’t have it in me to be more mad. madder.

and then a variety of other things happened and i coped and i breathed and i remembered my pilates posture which helped get more oxygen to my lungs and brain and then i even lost a little bit of my belly’s ruby-weight and i thought so this is how it is, the second time around. i’ve already built my house of pain, and now all i’ve had to do is remodel a bit and add a room. i didn’t have to go out and interview architects and hire a contractor and pour the damn cement foundation myself, one lousy gallon of cement at a time. i know how to do this. it’s not easier this time, really, but it’s not as hard. somehow.

but then last sunday we went to our friends-the-inlaws (man oh man did i NEVER think i would EVER in my life say that, but i can say it and mean it now and i really like that) to watch the packers TROUNCE the giants. it was a home game, at lambeau field, in the bitter-freakin-midwestern cold: it was packer heaven. so sure were they to win that we had already made plans to drive 12 hours to spend superbowl weekend with friends of ours just to watch the packers play.

and from fairly early on the game it was evident that they were not going to win. they were outcoached. outquarterbacked. outreceived. totally, maddeningly, almost freakishly outplayed. before halftime i said, cavalierly, “oh, yeah, well, they’ll come back for the second half. it’s what they do.” at the end of the third quarter i said “awww, there’s plenty of time. fifteen minutes on the playclock is more like 45 minutes of air-time. there’s nothing to worry about.” in overtime, just as tynes went out to kick what would be the winning field goal, i said “he won’t make it.” and then he did. and the game was over. and the packers had lost.

then yesterday i realized that while i had been sitting calmly on the couch, m’s sleeping toddler-body curled around my shoulder and chest, s had been up and down, banging his head on the floor, yelling at the tv, throwing his hands in the air, dropping his head in his hands. he had been feeling the game we were watching. i, on the other hand, had been feeling something else. something, maybe, close to nothing.

in fact, i realized that i felt exactly the way i had felt after my water broke with ruby and i was put on bed rest. totally fine. everything would be fine. everything would work out. everything would be fine. just relax and love the baby. everything will be fine.

and it wasn’t. and it isn’t, although it is, but it also really, really isn’t. still, i can’t seem to quit saying it, and feeling it. everything is fine. (is everything fine?) then today, reading tash’s current post (aha! this one i can link to) i realized just how mad i am not. and i thought, for the first time, that maybe that’s not such a good thing. maybe i’m not calm, and practiced, and zen. maybe i’m numb. maybe remodeling the house and adding a room on the back isn’t nearly as fucking easy as i’ve been thinking it is.

the thing is, i don’t know. and i don’t know how to figure it out.

the timing on this is all wrong, since this is, by all rights, a february poem. but i find that the more i miss ruby this christmas the more i miss earl, and this poem was a gift to her from our dear friend and poet km. earl was delivered on the 21st of february, so today i remember her. my big girl. i miss you, sweet child, my first born.

Mid-Winter Grace

In February
the sky is brilliant blue and cold air,
sound travels faster: someone reports a chickadee calling from half a mile away.
Tress, undressed in this season, appear like the inside
of our lungs or a pocket of capillaries.
We belong to this place, our bodies modeled on earth,
or earth on body — who knows?

There is bodily loss and longing here
in the middle of winter,
the glory of a holiday worn off
and spring joy still too far ahead
to grasp: a hand always waving goodbye
but never actually leaving.

Consider, though, the cold air,
how it makes planes and birds rise faster
there’s more lift,
or less pull to earth.
And that sound of another calling out to you,
are you okay? take my hand.
It comes faster in February.

after my third miscarriage dr h did a basic blood panel and discovered that i have an elevated titer of anticardiolipin antibodies. he put me on baby aspirin for my next pregnancy.

but i pprom-d with earl and lost her, so dr h sent me to a rhematologist (dr r) to see if he’d missed something. dr r did a workup and said no. this was both relieving and baffling. clearly there is something wrong with some part of my system, and someone, dammitalltohell, should be able to find it.

later, after i pprom-d with ruby, dr l thought i should consult with a perinatologist who suggested a) we should get me checked out for ehlers-danlos and/or marfan syndrome(s) and b) we should get the dr r’s report to see what tests he did to see whether we need to look harder and further.

three weeks, four phone calls and two faxes later the dr r’s report (back from 2005) is finally in my hands. and everything is negative. the report even includes the comment that i have no apparent connective tissue diseases, which i am assuming is shorthand for eds and marfan’s.

so that’s good, right? right?

except that i don’t know whether dr r looked for “everything” — what the hell is “everything” anyway? — so maybe it’s neither good nor right. and it’s all getting a little scary, since, oh, the zero trimester could be ending any day now.

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when you run your url through this site it will not only rate your blog, it will tell you what terrible/wonderful things you did to earn your rating.

my sins? i wrote “death” five times, “dead” three times, and “bitch” once. i’m pretty sure i meant to say “bitch” more than once — god knows i’ve thought it more than once. and what about “whore”? “whore” seems to me to be a bad word. sure as hell isn’t angel, anyway. but it doesn’t even make it onto the list of naughty things i’ve said. maybe i’ve been wrong all along, and whore isn’t a worse word than either “death” or “bitch.” (i’m pretty sure that the little tool does not account for context, so i doubt that the censors excuse me just because i use the word when talking about a toddler’s shoe preferences.)

i’m fascinated by three different bits of the algorithm of grammar implied by this tool.

first: can’t these tools do more than simply count? back when i had only said “dead” 3 times i was pg-13. i am not lying. what good are all of our technological advances if they can’t even give us a good look at one of the tools that all of use every day just to stay alive? or at least to stay human. (or am i misremembering my fourth-grade science, that language is one of the things that sets us apart from other mammals, or at least from other mammals with opposable thumbs?) ok, what i really want to ask is “why are these tools so dumb?”

second: when you describe something terrible, as long as you use nice words, well, then what you’re saying must be nice, right? because we all know that meaning is always explicit and language is always transparent. and bad words live in the ether, or our minds, or our mouths, as bad words, and good words are always good words. no mixing and matching. no subtlety, for chrissakes.

third, and something that deadbabymommas everywhere know: death and dead are terribly bad words. they are scary. and people should be protected from them. and should shun women who use them too often, especially in public.

dead dead dead dead dead dead dead. two of my daughters are dead. their deaths sadden me. their deaths depress me. their deaths leave a pit in my stomach and make my breath catch in my throat. their deaths leave me with phantom-baby-sensations in my empty arms. their deaths terrify me and make me worry that the rest of my family will die and be dead and there is nothing i can do about it.

count that, f*cker.

our evening was cut short by the drama of toddler vomit. this may be just as well since i was starting to feel a little prickly at the service. i know intentions are good and in this, of all places, it truly is the thought that counts. but i can’t help but think — as i did at the memorial service we attended for earl in 2005 — that parents of dead infants should have separate services from parents and families of older children. it’s just very, very different.

i have written before about grief’s sameness — and i still believe in that idea, that the way grief bears upon our bodies is the same (largely) regardless of the source. the depth and longevity may differ, of course, but the pure physiology of grief persists.

nonetheless, the source of grief does make a profound difference. i remember well the night i learned of my maternal grandfather’s death. his was the first death i experienced as an adult; he was my first “close” family member to die. his name was matthew and i was very fond of him even though i barely knew him. one night my mother called me to tell me he had died. i was in my small garden-level apartment in seattle, lying on the floor talking to a friend. after i got off the phone with my mother i spent the rest of the night sobbing. i had only seen my grandfather half a dozen times in my life. i hadn’t seen him in about 10 years. he didn’t even live in the same country as i did. and yet i could not still my wracking body.

the next day i bought some memorabilia, having none that were “genuine”: a sweater knitted in scotland and a celtic brooch. i wore them every day for months.

but my feelings of experiencing his death were relatively brief. for several days i walked everywhere, leaden-limbed and red-eyed. my heart felt ripped open, my insides gutted. and i knew that my sorrow was almost all for me. matthew had lived a long, full and happy life. he had children who loved him. he died at home. so i cried that someone i loved had died, that i would never see him again, that i would never get to know him better, that i had lost my grandpa.

losing an infant is nothing like that. sure i cry for me, but i also cry for s, and for m, and for the babies themselves. i cry that we will never have a complete family photo. i cry that my daughters won’t know their sisters. i don’t get to say “i wish i’d seen your smile one last time” or “i’ll always remember your voice.” i don’t have memories of ruby or earl looking at me, of feeling their breath, of watching them sleep at night. i never had conversations with them. i’ll never know a damn thing about them, except that they both had their daddy’s hands and feet and my ears. when i miss them it’s not only because they’re gone, but it’s also because it’s hard to remember that they were ever here. evidence is scant, and too few people care to help me remember anyway.

i can only guess at what it’s like to lose an older child. somewhere, i suppose, between my experiences with my daughters and my experiences with my grandfather. so a memorial service that opens with songs that have lines like “if i knew that would be our last walk in the rain…” are inappropriate for parents of dead infants. we never had walks in the rain. we don’t miss what was and wish for more of it. we don’t have any idea what we’re missing.

thinking of you tonight: aurelia, carole, cecily, meg, tertia, and other moms whose names i don’t know.

kisses sent skyward for ben, earl, joseph, georgia, matthew, mira, maddy, and ruby grace.

please do:

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