earl


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.

i’m determined to keep 72 hours between my tests (the deadbabymomma’s version of a hairshirt), so in the interval, some more history:

spring 2005

earl’s delivery was very easy, but my recovery from it was hell. i had only started wearing maternity clothes 2 days before she was delivered, so my shape and size hadn’t changed much. i had gained 8 pounds total and they were all in my belly, so i figured they would slide off easily and i would quit looking pregnant and boy, wouldn’t that be great because then people would quit asking me when my baby was due. ha. for the next three months i lost and gained back those same 8 pounds roughly every week. i still needed my maternity pants. that sucked.

but that was nothing compared to the bleeding. my post-partum bleeding had practically stopped after 2 weeks when i saw my ob, which he considered great news. but instead of actually stopping it kept going and going…and going. my uterus, like my weight, was totally out of whack for the next 12 weeks. yes, that’s what i said: twelve excruciating weeks — 94 days — of non-stop bleeding.

nine weeks into this ordeal i went back to the doctor to ask, tentatively, if what was happening was, you know, normal. he smiled his smile at me and said “no, not really,” which i heard as “good god you insane woman why didn’t you call me four weeks ago?” he put me on a 5-day course of progesterone to stop the bleeding.

it didn’t.

one week after i stopped the progesterone, still bleeding, i started another 5-day course of progesterone. to stop the bleeding. which it didn’t do.

but the third time worked. only by now my doctor had decided that the best thing to do, since i was obviously in distress and had to fight tears every time i sat in his office and saw all those pictures of living, full-term babies and their exhausted but elated parents all over his walls, was for me to get pregnant. and since my cycle was obviously not reliable, he decided the best way for me to conceive was using fertility drugs. and he thought we should start NOW because not only did he think it would be nice for me to be pregnant before earl’s due date came around (it was still two months away), he himself was leaving on vacation soon and thought ideally i’d be pregnant before he left. that way he wouldn’t have to monitor my meds from afar.

his decision was confirmed when he started staring at my ovaries and saw those tell-tale “pearl-like” strands of eggs, all underdeveloped, in both ovaries. he had been treating me with progrestone based on the diagnosis of luteal phase defect; now, he told me, i had polycystic ovaries. this would make it even harder to get pregnant. the meds were definitely a good choice for a woman like me.

i’ll make the shameful confession that i had a hard time wrapping my mind around this. i wasn’t infertile — i’d been pregnant four times in less than two years. how were drugs going to help me? i needed help keeping the babies i’d conceived, not conceiving in the first place. i was still learning the ropes of my “new normal” as a the mother of a dead child. i was. not. ready. for my new normal to include infertility.

but i liked my doctor and while i was his patient i dutifully did everything he told me to. so i started clomid and then upped the ante with gonal-f shots. he didn’t like the looks of my lining on day 17 or so, but decided a few days later that it was time “to have relations.” which we did (me & s, not me & the doc), also (and sadly) pretty dutifully. we really thought we’d get pregnant — remember, doc, conceiving is not our problem? — but we sure as hell didn’t like being told when and how to do it.

i know there is a lot of research (some real, some really bad) about the ways our minds influence our bodies. when it comes to fertility i believe some of the hard science — like since the hypothalmus has a both a role in fertility and in regulating stress, then *actually* reducing various kinds of stress can improve fertility. (in this, i really really trust alice domar and not well-meaning fertiles who tell us just to relax. SO not the same thing.) anyway — when i’m being rational, i do not believe that having a bad attitude about sex, or medication, or about life in general, can prevent pregnancy. (too bad, though, ‘eh? there would be WAY fewer unwanted babies in the world were that true.)

and yet. yet there was a part of me that june that thought i was somehow to blame when i didn’t show up pregnant. i mean, i had taken the meds! i had science on my side, for godssakes!

sometimes i miss those long-lost days of innocence. of thinking things might be easy, or predictable. of easy diagnoses and sure-fire treatments. not that they did any good — more on my pcos status in another post, i promise — but still. it was easier to hope with stats on your side. i miss that ability to hope.

i have a hard time explaining why i want to have more children. i can explain why i want more children in my family, and there are many very good ways (some of them even legal) to make that happen that don’t require me to get pregnant again. but i want to conceive and bear more children. and i want them to live. and it’s really hard to explain why. there is something almost primal in this impulse. probably not even almost — just primal.

after earl died i wanted to sell our house and buy an old, run-down victorian and fill it with grubby children who ran around and jumped on furniture and pulled the dogs’ tails and drew on walls with permanent markers. i thought i would die if i couldn’t have that. i thought i would die if i weren’t surrounded, immediately and for a very long time, by the sounds and sights and smells of children. my children.

i wondered then, and i wonder now, how much of that longing is evolution at work. true, thousands of years ago i would be dead by this age, but even 100 years ago, well, ok, i might be dead, but it is also likely that i would have had those dozen children, and that some of them would have lived, and some of them would not have survived pregnancy, and some of them would not have survived more than a few years of life. and that would all be normal, and many of my friends would have had the same experience, and i wouldn’t be weird or outcast or so damn scary to people.

and people would have come by, and we would have had wakes, and casseroles, and gravestones in the yard. all those lives and deaths would be part of us. part of our community. part of our daily vocabulary. and through it all, women would have kept trying.* and here we all are.

and so sometimes i wonder if i want to try simply because i am a human after, i dunno, a really long time of evolution at work. this is more than just my biological clock ticking — i have managed, after all, to preserve my genes for at least one more generation. i could stop with all that nonsense and have fulfilled my species-specific drive to procreate. but i don’t want to. instead i want to try. i want to try and succeed.

i think somehow this is what my brain has evolved to want.

i’m a smart girl. i know it’s dangerous, and my luck often runs bad. i know that all the rest of my children (should there be any) might start out dead. and yet it doesn’t matter that i know this intellectually. somehow, some other part of my brain is at work and it’s kicking the intellectual part of my brain’s ass.

and that’s why i try.

*ok, i know that’s a little romantic and that many women had more children than they wanted or was safe. but go with me here. unless you’re an historian, in which case i apologize for my sloppiness. {grin}

every holiday season i buy a few new ornaments — usually but not always during the massive sales that start december 26. but in december 2005 i paid full price (a whopping $5) for a capital letter “e,” which s and i hung together in earl’s memory.

ears-e-xmas-2007.jpg

it didn’t occur to me this year until almost christmas day to go back to restoration hardware (so much for living green and shopping locally) to see if they had letters again. they did! and m and i picked out a nice capital letter “r.”

rubys-r-xmas-2007.jpg

instead of a tree — which was far more than i could wrap my arms around, what with falling needles and months of vacuuming and a very toddly toddler (made more so by the fluid in her ears, a special gift from her sinus infection) — we hung garland over the arch between our living room and dining room. we hung ornaments on the garland, and found that we even started to feel festive, not to mention relieved that the fragiles were out of reach of the grasping, smashing fingers of a 16-month old. we hung the r and the e first.

it turned out to be an ok christmas after all.

peace-garland-xmas-2007.jpg

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.

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.

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