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dear effie, dear little girl,

     every year that i write these letters i feel further away from you. it’s so hard to believe that it has only been four years since you left us — i remember all too clearly, as if it were last week — and yet it feels so long ago. so many lifetimes ago. so much grief ago.

     today is a very different day from the last one we had with you. it was gray — rainy, then snowy — not the kind of winter day that draws you outside to play. i exercised, and my tummy is probably about the size it was when you were there, taking what would have been your last breaths. i was tired from being up with your brother during the night, and i half-wanted only to be home, snuggled in the house with my family. and then, of course, there is a family.

     such a very different day.

     i have learned so much in the years since you came, then went. changed so much. seen so much and loved so much. and through it all: you. my oldest daughter, my firstborn, the little girl who turned me into a mother, who helped shape me into the mother — the woman, the person — i am becoming, spend every day being.

     it is true that i don’t think of you as often as i used to. as often as i would like. as often as i think i should. but i like to believe i think of you exactly the right amount: as often as i need to, as often as i should. it’s strange — lovely in its own rough way — how you have woven yourself into the fabric of my life, of my being. how much you are part of the tension, the pull, that is my every day. how easy it is not even to notice. and how hard it can be, sometimes, when i do.

     i still haven’t learned how to talk about you to others. i still haven’t learned how to bring you up, how to hold people accountable for your memory. how much i wish in those moments that i had had the courage to name you. the courage to take a picture. the heart to create different memories than the ones i have. instead, what i have of you is so private: the moment of your delivery. your still body in my arms. your tiny perfection.

     there is, in all of that, an intimacy that i treasure for being mine. as i treasure you.

     your brother and sister are having rough nights. neither one wants to stay asleep. they both want to be held, to be snuggled in close. it’s fitting, somehow, that they are crying for me even as try to give you my undivided attention. this is how my days, without you, go by.

     i love you.  ~~scribblette

long ago — the absolute ages and ages i spent in grad school — i started to hate february. after the post-holiday let-down and the beginning of a new term, february felt eternal: dark, dreary, and bitterly cold at a time when i wanted to feel all fresh and new. i could get through january with nary a blink, what with all that syllabus prep and paper writing to wrap up. but february? kicked me in the butt, year after year.

and so it goes. this february started with the premature birth of our friends’ twins, who are doing remarkably well in nicu. they’re doing well, their parents are holding up, their mother is recovering….

and yet i feel like an accident victim. i feel like a trauma patient. i feel like my heart has been yanked from my chest, kicked around a few blocks, and stuffed back in the wrong way up.

boo at my side, i lay awake from 3-5 this morning thinking about this.

mae was due this time last year. this time last year, i should have been nursing a newborn, bitsy should have been meeting her new baby sister. instead, this time last year i was laid low by  twin-induced morning sickness, only to learn that one twin had vanished.

effie was born this time four years ago. mac and i awoke in the hospital on a bright, bitter winter’s day and our tiny daughter was resting in my arms. i had slept all night cradling her shrouded body.

this year i should be celebrating my third daughter’s first birthday. cupcakes! balloons! in february! who’da thunk? barring that, this year i should be nursing twins. mine.

so.

i’m happy our friends and their twins are safe. truly, i am. i’m not sure i could bear it if they weren’t. but the babies’ safeness, and their tininess — their very breath — is a reminder of february’s cruelties. even with my lovely little boo, sleeping soundly next to me, breathing in and out all night long.

when i was pregnant with effie i had a few plans. not many — i’m a girl who prefers to wing most things — but a few. and one of them was to buy her this little stuffed frog. i saw this frog every time i shopped in my neighborhood, boutique-y type grocery store, and i was entranced. this frog was meant to grace my baby’s crib, and so this frog became the centerpoint of my extremely minimal plans for nursery decorating. i loved his size, his sorta-bright green color, his floppy arms and legs. every time i shopped i headed over to the especially-boutiquey section of the store to make sure my froggy was still there. he always was.

the morning after effie had arrived i knew i had to give her up. i had to empty my arms, i had to put her down, i had to hand her over to someone in the hospital, someone who wasn’t mac, someone who would take her from me, forever. i was really, truly losing my baby girl. furious that i had nothing to give her — desperate not to send her on her way without something from her mama — i sent mac to the hospital gift shop. and then once we had given her our gift and said our goodbyes and handed her to the nurse (“are you sure you’re ready? you can have a few more minutes.” “if i don’t give her to you now i am going to take her home with me.”) i could not bear the feeling of my empty arms, so i made mac take me to the grocery store where, holding his arm for support, i limped on a leg still numb from a botched epidural, wound my way to my little froggy guy, and headed — numbness, tears and all — to the register to pay. not a few women stared at me, sensing and shying away from the weight of my disaster.

and so i had my guy. i named him. i took him everywhere with me — not just the toilet, the bathroom, the kitchen, the quickly-depleting liquor cabinet — but everywhere. every public space i went, he went too. i thought i should be embarrassed, and eventually i became shy, but at first my need to hold a baby was so strong that i could not even bear the thought of putting him down.

and so my little guy became our talisman. after seeing a show on the discovery channel about hippos and learning that for some cultures they are the protectors of infants and pregnant mothers, i bought the little frog a hippo friend. after a particularly breathtaking hike with mac i bought the little frog and hippo a moose friend. and when i had the positive pregnancy test that told us bitsy was coming i bought a little giraffe friend to present the pee stick to mac.

during my pregnancy the buying frenzy continued: a lamb, a tiger, a duck, a goat, a mouse. a lion, an elephant, a bunny. eventually we had more little guys than we could name. and when bitsy arrived, they all became hers. her guys.

i have since given more of these little guys to friends whose babies have needed special protection. and i have bought them for my own: for poor mae, and again for boo. they are my way to ensure that i have something for the baby — that no matter when the baby arrives i have a material way to show my love, because sometimes, some terrible times, material ways are the only ways.

yesterday our newest friends were born: tiny twin girls, young enough to breathe but not on their own. they were born via emergency c-section and it appears that they will live. their mom came through delivery in good health. still: when i got the news — counterpoint to their father’s message of two days earlier that everything was perfectly fine, perfectly normal — that they were here, and early, and so very very tiny, i went into an emotional tailspin. i was not ready for these babies to be here. i had plans, but that was all. i had nothing. 

and it felt like effie. and it felt like mae. and suddenly i couldn’t see straight, and i could barely keep from crying. these little girls were here and they needed so much, so very much, none of which i could give them, and still i was unprepared. still i had nothing. how had i done this? how had i let this happen?

i left work, dashed home and grabbed bitsy. we headed to the nearest boutique-y type shop i know of that carries our guys. we bought two, one for each baby.

while we shopped i could feel my frenzy. years of sorrow and despair, never healed but always becoming more manageable, more quotidian, topped with recent months of sleep deprivation, colored by the fear of not having seen these babies, worry for their mama, terror, really, for what could be.  

and i felt what i have never felt before, but something that made all those jokes about retail therapy turn into sour truths. i could feel how desperately i wanted to buy things to make it all better. trains for bitsy, books for boo. gifts — inane, unnecessary gifts for my own babies. as if i could become prepared after the fact. as if i could purchase away the demons.

from jen, at glow in the woods:

Do you associate a certain place with your lost child, be it a city, home, or otherwise? How has that relationship changed since your loss?

effie died on a cold, crisp winter’s day. it was months before we saw signs of spring: rhododendron buds starting to color, bulbs nosing their way through the dregs of snow. but within days of her death i was craving grass. all i wanted was to sit on a patch of grass somewhere, somewhere in the sunlight. 

spring came with its rains and blossoms. snow melted to reveal greening grass underneath, but it was still wet and cold. muddy. i needed grass. i needed to sit in my little patch of earth.

i found this patch far from home a few months later when i went to a professional conference. i went to the conference’s opening activities and felt on the verge of a panic attack. i couldn’t introduce myself to all these people — to any of these people — without talking about effie, and maybe only about effie. but i couldn’t bear to open myself up like that, and i didn’t really think it would be appropriate anyway, and soon i felt like i would suffocate. so i gave up on the conference, and  instead spent a week with mac, hiking and sitting in the sun on gravel, on rocky mountaintops, in snow. and on grass. i found my grass.

and anonymity. nobody knew who i was and what had just happened to me, and nobody was failing to show me sympathy or care. we walked the city streets, invisible. at home we felt our loss was invisible, but here we were invisible. anonymity was more healing than i thought was possible.  it helped me step outside of myself, it helped me remember other versions of myself, it helped me not to burst into tears every time someone tried to talk to me.

between the anonymity and the grass i finally felt at home, at home in a place where neither i nor my children were known, at home in a way i could not have found anywhere else. and that sense of home will make that city very special to me, always.

this weekend i spent some time with a friend i only get to see a few times a year. one thing we share in common is a maddening mixture of hope for and frustration about the work we do (and, particularly, the institution for which we do it). another thing we now share in common is terrible grief.

 

a few months ago my friend’s mother died. this past saturday, as we walked around town in a spitting rain, we talked about how difficult it is to manage an unpleasant work environment when your head and heart are lost in personal despair. how challenging it is to be patient with people’s pettiness, or to tolerate their trivialities, when something that feels — that is  — so much more significant consumes your every waking hour. after mae died, i confessed to my friend, i almost had to quit my job. i couldn’t bear coming to work day after day with people who never expressed sympathy for what i had lost (i used to walk around thinking to myself  “don’t any of you realize my daughter just died? can’t any of you even try to imagine what that feels like?” it appeared they couldn’t. or wouldn’t dare try.) i couldn’t bring myself to care about their concerns about their time cards, or their latest purchases from avon, or — far more frustrating — their ineptitude at their jobs. (lest you think me unkind, i will just say that i do not generally think people — say, as a species — are inept. but i do work with an inordinate number of people who really suck at their jobs.)

 

one of the very challenging things about grief, in my experience, is the way that it shifts priorities and perceptions. for me, at least in the medium run (i won’t be so cavalier as to think i’ve hit “the long run” yet), those shifts have been Very Good Things. i have much happier ideas about work/life balance (if no better ideas about how to achieve it), and different ideas about how to love what i do, where i live, generally who i am. but those shifts came after some wrenching emotional tectonics — which included feeling i was in a world surrounded by idiots — thoughtless, soul-less people who lacked both the courage and the sympathy to reach out to a woman who had, just days before, held her dead child in her arms. (really, folks: reaching out is not that hard. it’s just not. get over yourselves.) see? it’s a tough place to be. and an easy place to slide back into. sigh.

 

so when my friend talked about leaving her job, about turning to her professional network to look for different opportunities, i was doubly understanding. we do work in a generally frustrating and unrewarding environment, and most happy people don’t want that for themselves. but it’s also very hard to manage that environment when your heart is deeply broken.

 

as i drove home from my visit with my friend fresh tears came. for my friend and her grief, yes, but mostly, i think, for mae. who will turn one next month, in some parallel universe — even if only imagined– somewhere. and it’s good, and it’s hard, to remember this.

 

 

 

 

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