ruby grace


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.

s had a tough day on friday. he doesn’t work fridays, and he was home alone (unless you count the dogs and cats) from roughly 9-5. when m and i got home in the evening i found, much to my surprise, that the day’s dishes had accumulated in the kitchen, m’s toys from her post-breakfast play were still strewn about our living room, and our bed wasn’t made. very unlike the super-skilled SAHD i’d come to know and love…and rely on. without pointing out that something was obviously wrong because WHAT THE HELL HAD HE DONE ALL DAY???, i just asked s if he was doing ok. i dunno, he said. and the conversation was dropped.

later that evening, once dinner and bath and bedtime were over and we were settling in for a quiet evening of catching up on “the wire,” s came over and sat next to me on the couch. he put his arm around me and stared out the window, and said, very quietly, i can’t get excited about this pregnancy and i’m so sorry. i feel just awful. but i feel exactly like i did while you were on bedrest with ruby. i feel like i’m just waiting for our baby to die. he leaned his head on my shoulder and we cried, together.

he told me that he’d googled “deadbabymomma” and come up with a kajillion hits. then he googled “deadbabydaddy” and came up with nothing. NOTHING. where are the dads, he asked my soggy shoulder. where are the people like me?

where are they indeed? can anybody help my guy?

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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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there were many joyful things about this last weekend (surprising my grandmother at her 90th birthday party, waking up to a beautiful snowstorm, getting to slc and home again safely) and many exhausting things about this weekend (a toddler with a fever, a toddler who wouldn’t nap, a toddler who screamed at the top of her lungs for a full 30 minutes on the plane) but i am most struck by two very sad things i learned.

#1: i was without a book and so read the slc newspaper back to front, including the obituaries, where i read about a 21-year-old woman who “passed away peacefully in her sleep along with her unborn son.” thinking about everything her family lost was hard, but not the end of it.  the obit went on to describe the baby’s physical characteristics — whose ears he had, and whose hands — in a way that made it very clear he was delivered.  based on the opening sentence, it appears he was delivered post-mortem. i had to put down the paper and close my eyes and breathe deeply through my mind’s wanderings as i wondered what the phrase “passed away peacefully in her sleep” elided (pre-eclampsia? blood clot/stroke? dumb bad luck?) and imagined all the various reasons the family would have chosen to deliver the baby (in particular, i suspect, to be able to more fully mourn him), and contemplated the woman’s husband’s decision to agree to cut open his dead wife in order to see his dead child. who ever  thinks they’ll have to live through something like that?

 #2: i learned that one of my youngest cousins (j) had a baby girl who died under suspicious circumstances at her babysitter’s. one day j and her husband took the baby to the sitter’s house and then went to work. somehow during the day the baby died. j was at work at the time of the  baby’s death, and so had an alibi that kept her from being a suspect, but apparently her husband was driving between work and home at the time of death, so he was under suspicion. as were some neighbor kids who may have had something to do with it. i wanted to know more details, but there are some things that are just too hard to ask a 90-year old woman.

there are times when i think nobody understands the depth of my own personal sorrows. and then there are times when i am so glad that my sorrows are not as deep as other people’s. and while it’s good to be reminded of that, it’s just wrong wrong wrong that there is always somebody, some family, some heartbroken woman with a sadder tale to tell. it’s as if grief has its own version of infinity, where the longer it goes on the worse it’s getting for somebody, somewhere.

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