Archive for September, 2008



September 30, 2008

Before my wedding, I described the town where I grew up to several friends who’d be visiting it for the first time and joked that I was related to half of the town. This isn’t quite true. I’m probably only related to a third of the town. Suffice it to say, then, that it’s a small town and my family is well known within it. I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents had received more condolence cards after Teddy’s death than N and I have.

Mom tells me about some of the cards as they trickle in, and one in particular, from an older couple, speaks to me right now. The couple who sent the card is well known in my home town, too. The woman has the reputation (probably easier to get in a small town than anywhere else) of being a bit odd, a bit off, a bit difficult. Her husband is generally admired (and pitied, though people don’t say this out loud and may not even think it in such direct terms) for being patient with his wife, for standing by her.

In their card to my parents, the woman of this couple wrote very simply that they had lost their first child, their first son, when he was born. She then wrote, “It hurts.”

It hurts. I can’t get past the present tense of it, the starkness of it, the perfection of this tiny sentence. Why is it that this simple acknowledgment is more comforting to me than talk about angels or about how our Teddy changed lives in his short time with us? Why is it that “it hurts” speaks so eloquently to my own grief?


My superimposed life

September 28, 2008

The way things should have been is superimposed on the way things are, and the shadow of what I want looms so large over this reality that sometimes I can almost taste, smell, and hear what I don’t have. So much potential and so many moments have been lost that the moments I am actually living are all haunted by what could have been.

Yesterday, for example, felt something like this:

I wake up in the morning, gasp when the loss sinks in again, stumble downstairs to get coffee. I can drink as much coffee as I like now. Still not sure how I feel about that.
I wake up in the very early morning to the sound of Teddy making pre-crying noises, reach over to the co-sleeper and pull him to me for his early morning feeding. N stirs but doesn’t wake up and I wonder if it would be mean to nudge him so that he can do the diaper changing this time.

I pack N’s backpack with books to return to the library, and then walk down the hill with Mom and Dad. When I check out some DVDs and a couple of books I run into one of N’s colleagues at the desk with his two children, who both want to carry their books home. He says hi, and I say hi, and I hate thinking like this but don’t know why his children are here and our child is gone.
I pack N’s backpack with books to return to the library, and then show off the baby sling we picked up in Portland. Dad slings the backpack over his shoulder and I get Teddy situated in the sling before we walk down the hill to the library. I hunt for lullaby collections on the CD rack and talk to Teddy about all the books we’ll read to him. I nod hello to one of N’s colleagues at the desk while asking about the library’s Mother Goose story times.

Dad and I sit on the sofa, watching the Cubs game, both of us wishing we knew what to say to each other, both of us so afraid to talk about Teddy that we just don’t. Cubs win.
Dad and I sit on the sofa, watching the Cubs game. Teddy is in my arms, sporting his Cubs cap. He holds on to Dad’s finger, tight, tight, and we joke about whether or not it’s a good parenting move to raise this little boy up as a Cubs fan.

We go to dinner with my parents, and I try to not think about the adorable tow-headed tyke in the booster seat at the neighboring booth. I drink too much sangria
We sit down to dinner with my parents. Mom has generously cooked for us, which is good because N and I are still tired and adapting to having a baby in the house. We wait and wait for Teddy to nap before we can eat and Mom scoops him up when he fusses. The help is nice, but we’re kind of looking forward to having T all to ourselves again. I sip some wine from N’s glass.

After dinner we play cards with my parents and there is a bit of joking about how Mom and her friends don’t talk so much about their kids now as they did when we were all in college. I say, “Maybe we need to lead more interesting li..” and then stop before I can tempt the fates further.
After dinner we play cards with my parents, having finally coaxed Teddy to sleep. While we play we talk about babies, about how my brother and I slept when we were tiny, about late night feedings and walking the floor singing lullabies, about never-ending laundry. We laugh at the story of the first time N was peed on, changing a diaper.

I help Mom make up the guest bed and then head upstairs where I read until 1:00 a.m., wishing I were tired enough to go to sleep without thinking about Teddy being gone. I start crying in the middle of a chapter and can’t turn it off. N holds me till I can stop, and I get up, use the bathroom, cry a bit more, blow my nose and return to bed, wishing that crying didn’t involve so much snot. Finally we fall asleep.
I help Mom make up the guest bed, and then Mom and Dad walk upstairs to say goodnight to their grandson. The four adults stand around for a while, smiling at the beauty that is a sleeping baby. After the new grandparents head downstairs to the guest bed, N and I lie down together, tired, happy, grateful, catching some sleep while we can.


Me and Greta Garbo

September 26, 2008

I’m trying to prepare, mentally, for going back to work. I’ll be back on October 1, and am dreading it as well as looking forward to it. Not looking forward to it in an “Oh boy! This will be fun!” way but I think I’m ready to take this step toward whatever will pass for normality in the world I find myself in right now. Plus, we need the paychecks. Plus, all of my accumulated leave days have been spent on bed rest and recovery time. Plus, I’m running out of West Wing episodes to watch.

I’m mostly functional now. I can hold myself together most of the time, and for the last week I’ve only cried in the privacy of my home, but going back to work will be made easier by the knowledge that my office has a door with a lock on it. I’ve also started to think about what grief looks like in public, what it’s expected to look like. I suspect it isn’t expected to look like me.

A friend from work took me out to breakfast this morning, and it wasn’t as hard as I’d feared. We ate omelets and chatted about work, and we even talked a bit about Teddy’s birth, which is somehow easier than talking about Teddy himself. I’m sad about that; he was such a beautiful and special little boy, but every time I try to talk about him or think about how dear he was I start crying. Hopefully it won’t always be this way, but for now my memories of him can be accessed only through tears.

Leaving the breakfast place, we walked into bright, pure sunlight, the kind of sunlight you only see around here in spring and autumn. My friend held her face up to it, having what she calls a “sunflower moment,” but I’d forgotten my sunglasses and bright light hurts my eyes lately – a side effect of all of the crying, I think – so I squinted and watched and thought,”No sunflower moments for me.” And this is more true than I’d like: I’m not ready for full light right now in many respects. Shadows are more comfortable, and while I’ve never minded rain, at this point in my life, truly, I wouldn’t mind if it just rained all the time.

I wonder if I could wear my sunglasses constantly when I go back to work, hide my eyes, protect them from violent light, keep people from knowing when I’m tearing up, when I’m on the edge, when I’m fighting to focus. I wonder if I could use them to hide the lie when I answer “fine” to the inevitable “How are you?” or to shield myself from curiosity and speculation.

Perhaps I could even perfect my “I want to be let alone,” and develop an air of mystery, like Greta Garbo. Harder for me than for her, since she was willowy and glamorous and I am decidedly un-willowy and not at all glamorous. As it is, I look like a comfortable sort of person, like someone who’d give you her pocket change and/or directions to the bus stop. There’s something bleakly funny about being a roundish sort of “jolly” looking person while feeling so decidedly not jolly. To pull of the proper appearance of tragedy, I should really lose roughly 40 pounds, grow three inches taller, and wear better clothes and less comfortable shoes.

So much real tragedy, happening to real people, is not at all cinematic. I marvel at all of the actors who are able to cry beautifully – how the hell do they pull that off without their eyes turning red, their noses running, and their faces turning blotchy? I wish I could cry like that; it looks like you wouldn’t use up as many tissues or hurt your eyes as much.

What I want, of course, is some sort of sunglass suit, so my grief and me would be hidden from the public even when we went out into it, and even if such a suit were available, it probably wouldn’t be healthy to wear it for long. I’ll go back to work, I’ll talk to people, and it might suck, but I’ll get through it.

And if I have to, for a while, I can wear sunglasses. Me and Greta Garbo.


My dad

September 25, 2008

My parents will be arriving tomorrow for a visit. It will be good, and not only because I think they’ll re-stock our fridge and feed us (I am so apathetic about what we eat now that I feel like I should be getting some kind of domestic demotion). It will be good because I really need to see my dad.

Because of harvest, Dad wasn’t able to visit us when we were in Portland or be there to meet and say goodbye to Teddy, and I haven’t seen him since we first found out about Teddy’s CDH. I know he wanted to be with us, and that he was distracted during the harvest months, which is worrisome – no one grief-stricken should be operating heavy machinery.

I look like Mom, but I tend to act like Dad – generally reserved, undemonstrative, and stoic. This is some sort of cultural inheritance, I think, from our Scandinavian ancestors, people who did the hard work of farming in northern climates in the warmer months and then went a-viking in the off season because, hey, who needs any sort of break from hard work? There are even jokes about the non-expansive emotional expressions of my people: “Have you heard of the Swedish farmer who loved his wife so much he almost told her?” So, neither Dad nor I tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we don’t volunteer much information on how we’re doing, you know, inwardly.

I would still rather stab myself with a pin than cry in public, not that this is a choice I’ve been presented with recently (Could I have the stabbing myself with a pin option instead, please?). And I’m still not good about sharing my feelings, but over the past few years I’ve come a long way in this respect – one of the truly amazing things about being married to N is that he encourages me to communicate and generally refuses to let me persist in taciturnity. Some days this drives me absolutely crazy, but the outcome has been that N and I know each other pretty darn well and I know I can be honest with him, even when my honesty is ugly.

When we found out about our baby’s hernia, Mom spent a lot of time trying to say comforting things, and while comfort was her intent, listening to her going on started to make me frantic. Dad, on they other hand, basically said, “This is terrible, this is really hard,” and for some reason that helped me, just acknowledgment that, yes, this sucks, and that part of the suckiness of it was our complete inability to make it go away or make it better. It was mid-summer, and we had been wishfully thinking of a ceiling fan for the bedroom. Dad brought us one and helped install it – his way of offering comfort.

The day after Teddy died, my father went to dinner at a fast food restaurant with my uncle, who was helping with harvest, and somewhere in the line to the counter, Dad broke down crying. I hold that image in my heart and wonder at it, at how much sorrow Dad must have felt to let go that way in a public place. My tough, weathered, loving Dad.

Hopefully tomorrow I get to give him a hug.



September 24, 2008

So, I’m 34 years old and have two living grandmothers, which makes me lucky, I know. My dad’s mother has been in a home (there’s probably a better name for it – ‘home’ in this context seems to mock the meanings of ‘home’ I hold dear) for about three years now. I love my grandmother and it’s difficult to describe how she is now. The first phrase that springs to mind is “not all there,” which seems flippant and cruel somehow, but old age is flippant and cruel, too, targeting people rich in experience and robbing them of memory and voice. In this case, old age has taken away many of her memories, her recognition of family members, her ability to walk and care for herself, and a good deal of her vocabulary.

I suspect that she hasn’t known who I am when I’ve seen her for the past three years at least. This needs clarifying, too, because while she hasn’t known who I am in the sense of knowing that I am her son’s daughter and her oldest grandchild, she has always been glad to see me. Her face lights up when she looks at me, and it’s clear that, even though she may not know my name or who my parents are, she knows I am someone she loves.

When Teddy died, Mom discussed things with the nurses and they suggested not telling Grandma, with the underlying assumption that she wouldn’t remember I’d been pregnant (or possibly even who I was) and that talking to her about a baby’s death might upset and confuse her. So no one told her that she had a great grandson, that he died. The nurses made sure not to talk about it around her, and Mom called my aunts so that they wouldn’t mention it to Grandma when they called or visited.

But a couple of weeks ago, Mom received a call from the home, and one of the nurses explained that Grandma had been crying, crying every day, and that no one knew why, and one of Mom’s first thoughts was, “Maybe she knows about the baby.” So Mom talked to the social worker, who said that she should absolutely talk to Grandma about Teddy, and Mom did. She went into Grandma’s room and told her the story of the birth and death of Grandma’s first great grandchild, and Mom cried but Grandma didn’t. Grandma raised her arm (no small feat for her) to pat Mom’s hand, and Mom looked at her and asked if she had already known all of this, and Grandma said, “Yes, I knew.”

We don’t know how she knew; Mom thinks that it may have been some sort of extrasensory perception or some sort of connection with whatever is on the other side of death, and while part of me would like to believe this as well, I tend to think that Grandma had picked up some of the sadness around Mom, even though she didn’t hear directly about Teddy’s death.

There’s no point to this little story except that my grandmother grieves with me. I’m not sure whether it is comforting or not that this loss – to me so monumental – has ripples that have reached even beyond what old age has done to touch her. I’m sorry she hurts.  I’m glad she knows.


More late night ramblings

September 23, 2008

Happy anniversary, Honey. I should be in bed with you right now. I’ll be back soon, I promise.

Sometimes just before sleeping I find my brain haplessly drawn back to the hospital rooms, treading the weary memory paths of what came before and what came after Teddy’s birth. Sometimes my brain can’t get away from those rooms, in which case I may take a sleeping pill (over the counter variety) or not (usually not). Accompanying these memories is always a sense of disbelief. I still can’t believe he’s gone, that this happened to us, that this is my story. How is it that I’m now that woman, the one you feel sorry for, the one from whom you avert your eyes and think, there but for the grace…

I’m afraid to go back to work. The last time they saw me I was happy, if scared. Letting them see me, me seeing them, seems another way of accepting the reality of what happened. I am tired of this fucking reality, let me tell you.

I dream of not having him, of my empty belly, of searching for him in Morpheus’s attics, of having to explain to people that my baby is dead. My dreams used to be about saving the world (or at least small villages) by feats of swashbuckling. I miss my swash and my buckle, especially now that I’m filled with sorrow over all I could not save.

One of my sisters in law is pregnant. She’s lovely, they both are, but why do I keep thinking, Don’t let it be a boy?

Somewhere in my head Neko Case is singing, I’m so tired, I wish I was the moon tonight.


My philosopher

September 22, 2008

There was a point on the second full day of my induction, when our nurse, who had been with N and I through misoprostol, pitocin, erratic contractions, jokes, panic, hope and fear, turned to me and said, “You are a very lucky woman.” She was referring to N, who just before the last medical procedure had told her and the doctor, vehemently, “She is my life.”

She was right, more right than she knew. It’s hard to say most of the time without bitterness, but I am lucky – lucky to be N’s partner, to love him and to be loved back. He went through so much, in those few days, and perhaps he had the harder task of the two of us. I was able to do things, after all, or at least to have things done to me. N had to watch and wait and struggle with wanting to protect me and our baby when there wasn’t anything anyone could do to guarantee that we would be all right.

He did it all so well – held my hand, put socks on my feet, helped me to and from the bathroom after I’d been hooked up to monitors and an IV. He made friends with our nurses, made me laugh, kept me hopeful and strong before Teddy was born, cried with me after, and made phone calls I couldn’t make. My mom was there, and we were grateful, but it was N who stood between me and hysterical collapse, who made it possible for me to make thoughtful decisions, who made it possible for me to be completely present in our last moments with Teddy.

Two years ago tomorrow, on a mellow autumn day of windswept blue skies (and we were in Montana, where the blue skies spread before you in wild and awe-inspiring abundance), I married this amazing and wonderful man, my darling philosopher. This was clearly the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It was a happy day, and we were full of joy. I remember being surprised by how much fun we were having, by how happy I felt.

Last year, I knew marrying him was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Today…well, let’s just say that I am luckier than I knew. The things he has been through in the past few months, the things he has helped me through – no one should have to go through this, and he is doing it with selflessness and honesty. The depths of compassion, courage, sorrow, patience, and love I’ve seen in him leave me awestruck, humbled, and overwhelmed with love.

I wish that the ‘worse’ of ‘better and worse’ hadn’t come so soon or so dramatically, that he didn’t have to be in this dark place with me, that he didn’t have to hurt so much. But we are both here and he persists in loving me and propping me up even when I am a soggy, apathetic mess, and I am profoundly grateful to stand next to him.  Here’s to many more years together, my darling. You are my life, too.