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from glow in the woods for the new year:

Join us for a Winter/Holiday/New Year’s 7×7, won’t you? Here are the questions:

1 | Welcome to 2009. What have you left behind in the year just past?

pregnancies. i am finished being pregnant and am so happy to be done with that — the pregnancy sicknesses, the post-partum weight fluctuations, the agony of worrying whether my baby is going to die, the sorrow of babies dying.

What do you hope to find in the year to come?

more joy. myself. more joy in being myself. just today somebody told me i looked nice. “what’s the special occasion?” she asked. “nothing,” i said. “it’s just time to be me again.” it’s hard to explain to people who don’t know. but i know you all do.

this is not to say i wasn’t me in 2008. but i was a version of me that’s best consigned to history.

2 | We’ve just come through the season in which our culture touts cheer and peace and family togetherness rather relentlessly. How did your child’s death impact your experience of the “holiday” season, personally or culturally?

two christmases ago — three, now, i guess — my f-i-l made an ornament for each grandchild. almost. effie did not get one, although he did confess to me in private that he wanted to make one for her but wasn’t sure about it. now, of course, there is mae, too, who needs one. i’ll always be a little sad when the grandkids’ ornaments come out and only the living are celebrated.

in christmas 2007 mac’s family gave us lots of space, knowing our grief from mae’s death was fresh. not so this year. i am learning that the grief that swells up during the holidays will take other people by surprise, and that i’ll have to be forceful about making space for it, and finding ways to make others let me make space for it.

in all previous years, though, i have missed the girls who were not with us. not so — not as much, at least — this year. i have a feeling that my family is complete. missing some pieces, but complete. and, as i’ve said before, if i had mae i wouldn’t have boo, which makes it bittersweet to mourn her.

3 | If you celebrate in any way through December, are there ways you include or acknowledge your lost baby/babies?

effie and mae each have a special ornament. those are the first to we hang every year.

i would like to do something that remembers them, especially as boo and bitsy get older and can participate. but i want to find something that creates a nice balance between morbid and sentimental on the one hand, and heartfelt and maybe even sad on the other. i don’t want bitsy and boo to grow up feeling like we’re always talking about dead sisters they never knew. but i want them to know to remember them. i guess i’ll be learning how to do this for the next, oh, lifetime.

4 | Through the year are there any holidays, seasons, or parts of what were once cherished rituals that have changed for you because of your child’s death?

actually the living children have made more of a change here than have the dead. mac and i used to have very private, homey christmases. now there are kids and cousins and aunts and uncles; it seems unkind to say “we’re staying at home by ourselves all day long” when folks have traveled a long way to see us.

but being in family crowds makes it less possible, or at least comfortable, to remember the girls. the rest of the family certainly doesn’t want to be reminded. i think they would be respectful, but also a little confused. and frankly, that just isn’t worth dealing with.

so for now, i’ll take my quiet christmas morning with my kids, my louder christmas afternoon with extended family, and quiet memories of effie and mae. that seems to jive with the dailiness of being a dbm, after all.

5 | Do you do anything to remember your baby/babies’ birth and/or death day? Or will you?

on the girls’ birthdays we write them letters for their scrapbooks. i am surprised, when i write, how easily the tears flow from missing them, since i no longer cry about them on a  regular basis. it is lovely, too, to look back at what i’ve felt in previous years — good reminders of where i’ve been and how i’ve changed, and how long and deeply i’ve loved them.

6 | Is there anything about the winter season (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere right now) that lifts your spirits? Is there anything that especially brings them down?

the fading light is hard on me. it is hard to get up in darkness and go to bed in darkness, especially since i’m in a psychological space where that isn’t comforting. i want light. i want my girls, but i’ll settle for light. in the winter i have neither.

7 | During your hardest times, how have you found your way forward?

mindfulness. when i forget to mindful i am difficult to live with, even for myself. and i’ll be honest: there was a lot of that going on in 2008.

the other morning, heading to my favorite work-away-from-work haunt, i was plugging my meter when a lively and lithe youngish woman (maybe my age, maybe a year or two younger) parked her car, hopped out and plugged her meter too. i only noticed her in that offhand way you notice activity around you, but since i turned my back on her and headed down the street much sooner than she did i was a trifle surprised to see her bop past me. she was walking at what struck me as a normal, healthy, active rate — the pace of a woman with some strength in her bones — and i found myself trying to remember what it is like to not-lumber around. as she passed, i became entranced by her hair — gorgeous, long auburn locks with a gentle wave to them. i noticed, gazing at her backside, her, um, backside, which was a nice size and a nice shape and was covered in well-fitting but probably not expensive trousers. good god, i thought to myself, i will never again be that woman: the woman who looks put together, the woman who is fit, the woman whose body is not exceeding what appear to be its natural bounds. and i was ashamed of myself, and a little sad, that during the time i had been that woman i hadn’t fully appreciated it.

my red-headed friend ended up in front of me for coffee. well, not so much in front of me as to my side — a vantage point from which she turned to me, smiled shyly, and said “i’m sure you’re tired of answering this, but when are you due?” “three weeks,” i told her. her eyes widened. “wow,” she said. “you look great.” i smiled and said thank you. “i was where you are, almost exactly two years ago,” she continued. “uh, WOW!” i answered back. “YOU look great.” she laughed. “oh, my two year old is FAST. i spend all my time running after her. literally.”

from envy to hope, just like that.

lately i’ve been dreaming about boo, post-delivery. in my dreams he is a dark-haired, chubby beauty who never cries and who is several days old before i realize i have not been feeding him. so i take him to my breast and try to teach him to latch on. in one dream he is a brilliant latcher but there is no milk. in the other dream he gums me lethargically as i slowly realize i’ve been starving my baby to death. in that dream i march to the doctor’s office and immediately demand domperidone, insisting that they should have seen this problem coming because my breasts so obviously deflated at the end of the pregnancy. i am told not to worry and  to try a host of other remedies first — all of which i refuse, insisting that domperidone is the only thing that will work.

a few mornings ago, still sleepy enough to be amused at my dream-self for forgetting to feed the baby for several days, i told mac about my dreams. he looked at me half-seriously and said “y’know, your breasts have been looking smaller to me lately.”  can’t be true, right? doesn’t happen? it’s gotta be the ratio of belly-to-breast, no?

meanwhile my anxiety has extended itself to boo’s delivery. odds are good he will come to us via c-section, either the one that is scheduled or the one that is likely to happen when i show up at the hospital in labor. i find myself obsessing over whether i’ll get to see him in that first, crucial hour when newborns are calm and receptive. i love the idea that mac will have him during that time, and that they’ll get some kangaroo care — when i returned from bitsy’s c-section, this is how how i found bitsy and her dad — but i also want some of that time for myself. post-surgery with bitsy my o.r. nurse decided that i didn’t need to stay in the recovery room, so she took me back to my regular room almost immediately. i want the same thing with boo. i want to see this child, to hold him and gaze into his eyes, to feel him next to me. i can’t stand the thought of delivering him, and then still having to wait.

scary, all this wanting.

i have apparently hit that stage — evidenced by my belly, my posture, my facial expression, or something else equally ephemeral — where strangers feel like it’s ok to approach me as if they know me and talk to me about my obviously pregnant self.

item: v. friendly cashier at the coffee shop looks me over and says, hands making a mounding motion over her own tummy, “when are you due?” i tell her. she says “i don’t know much about babies. but you look full of baby.” yes indeed i am full of baby. apparently that is more visible than the piss and vinegar which i fear i am also quite full of.

item: while picking up my heparin the woman in front of me in line turns around, gives me a huge smile, and says “you’re all belly!” i know she means it as a compliment, but since i also have newly acquired girth around the hips and upper thighs (which now rub obnoxiously when i walk) and an extra fold under my arms, not to mention varicosities of the internal and external sort, anti-clotting medication-induced bruises, and nipples that now point downward, it is all i can do to keep myself from explaining to her the many, many ways i am indeed NOT all belly.

item: woman downtown turns around to look at me (notice the pattern here), gives me a big smile (again with the pattern — i must look like i need softening up), and asks when i’m due. i tell her. “oh! those were the days. well, you’ll be glad when it’s over.” i will, indeed, be very glad not to be pregnant any longer, or ever again. but glad when it’s over? let me see a living, breathing baby on the other side of this before i tempt the gods with that one.


*ages ago, studying for the gre, i learned “fulsome” as a negative adjective. apparently today it is enjoying something of a renaissance as a positive adjective. perhaps both i in my copious bodiliness and my new friends in their flattery are both variations on this ambiguous theme.

a response to tash’s recent post at glow in the woods:

effie, like all of our children, had in in utero nickname. it was funny, not particularly appropriate, and we loved it. we had more or less decided on a girl’s name (although we didn’t know her sex and knew we’d need to come up with boys’ names eventually). the name we were leaning toward was a combination of a name we loved with an important family name. when effie was delivered and we learned she was a girl, i took one look at her and said to mac, “i would have named her ‘x’.” “yes,” he said. but we couldn’t. she was so tiny, and the name felt so big, too big…it just wasn’t right. so her nickname became her real name.  she was delivered so early that there is no formal documentation of her (non)existence: no certificate, no social security card. her little baby bracelet simply says ‘baby girl,’ and that’s because we were too shy about what we chose to name her to tell the nurses what her name actually was.

with bitsy we felt that we had learned one relevant lesson: the baby will have a lot of say about her name. so even though we knew she was a girl, we went to the hospital with a list of about a dozen names. sure, there were clear frontrunners, but there were some darkhorses as well. the names we would have given effie — first and middle — were nowhere on the list. they did not seem available to us, although of course they were. but considering them as names for bitsy felt too much like telling bitsy she was a replacement baby. so bitsy got a fresh list, which included names i’m sure i never would have considered for effie. but one of the names was also an important family name, and that was one of the names we chose. i felt that bitsy’s life was an extra-special gift and we needed to honor an extra-special family member by using her name.

when we were pregnant with mae, though, we considered returning to the names we had originally chosen for effie. we talked about using one, or both, or using them in different combinations with other names. there seemed to be some psychological space to go along with the chronological distance between effie and mae, which made recycling the name seem possible. but long before we had settled anything my water broke; the instant i found out she was a girl her name came to me, clear and strong — and it had been nowhere, nowhere, on any of our lists. i cried when i told mac what it was. and we agreed to treat it as her nickname while we were waiting to see whether she would live. by the time she was delivered i was so used to talking to her and calling her by her name that there really was no other choice for me. there is a small family connection to her name, but more than anything her name means something deeply personal to me. it has a lyricism to it that still has the power to make me cry. and she was delivered late enough that we have formal documentation of her name, something for which i am so very very grateful, and which brings on twinges of guilt for what sometimes feels like a failure of courage in not-naming effie.

now that this last baby is a boy, i also find myself grieving effie’s “lost” name. we’ll never use it. and i’ll never get to name another girl. i’m not sure why that makes me so sad.

April 2019
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Your Word is "Why"
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