Archive for November, 2008


Kicked when down

November 30, 2008

I’m delinquent in writing about what I’m thankful for, and won’t be writing about it in this post, either.  My grandmother is dying, has stopped eating or drinking and is expected to go in about a day.  She never liked the nursing home and hated many parts of growing old.  This isn’t unexpected, and in so many way’s this is the release of a spirit too long held captive by a breaking body.

But she’s my Grandma, and I’m not ready for her to go, especially not now.

I know that what I want when it comes to matters of life and death doesn’t mean much, that the world doesn’t owe me just because my son died, but I feel like it should owe me.  If not protection from all big future sorrows, surely I should get at least a little time to gather my strength and heal a bit, a little time to catch my breath?

And one of the things people will say to comfort us, “She had a long, full life,” has, as N puts it, a devastating right hook.  A long, full life. Oh, God.



November 24, 2008

It’s not so bad all of the time now, or at least it’s bad in different ways than it was just a month ago, but today I’m right back where I was just after Teddy died. I just want him back. With everything that is in me, I want him back. Today, this seems to be all I can think of.

My family is asking for ideas for Christmas presents, and it just seems so fake, to ask for wool socks and dvds and tea. I can use those things, and it will make them feel better to give me something, but it’s all dust and ashes, really.



November 21, 2008

When I was growing up, my family celebrated Advent, lighting the advent wreath candles and sitting around the wreath for devotions and family prayer.  Candles were special then, part of celebratory holiday dinners, things that came out for birthdays and for the holiday season.  Candles are still special to me, but I indulge in them more than my family ever did.  I can (and do) light them whenever I want, and these small acts of lighting up the darkness are sometimes comforting when not much else is.

The holiday season is already hard for me, for us.  The anticipation of Thanksgiving, which many months ago we thought would be so much happier, is partly full of dread, and partly full of resentment.  You want me to be thankful? Really?  Because it could be worse, can always be worse, but it could also be better, so much better.  I am thankful for things I didn’t want to be thankful for.  That we have health insurance that’s covering more than I’d thought, that the kind woman at the funeral home finally found Teddy’s death certificate for us, that we aren’t heading off to the family Thanksgiving at our in-laws’ with their brand new nursery for their expected baby boy.  My thanks are real this year, but bitter.  I resent them.

And Christmas – an entire holiday wrapped up in the birth of a baby.  So in addition to all of the “you will be happy” lights and media and music of the season, and the reminder that there won’t be any “baby’s first Christmas” experiences, ornaments, or outings for us, there are going to be little Jesuses everywhere.  I already hate thinking of how that will feel, of how it will feel to me to be a Scrooge, a Grinch, a jealous step-sister during this time of year I’ve loved so much in the past.  And I’m not at peace with God yet, not especially interested in the deeper meaning of the holiday, the meaning I’ve been taught to treasure from my childhood.  If we stay home with a freezer stocked full of Ben & Jerry’s, maybe we can numb ourselves into a sugar coma until it’s all over.

Advent, though, resonates with me this year.  Advent wreaths, in some incarnation, have been around for a long time.  Before Christianity reached Europe, people would light candles placed around wreathes and wheels as signs of hope that the dark days (and northern Scandinavia can get very dark in the winter) would end, that light was coming.

This is an old, old hope, from days when babies and mamas died often, from days when a really bad winter could destroy you utterly.  This year, I connect with that so very strongly.  Here I sit in the dark, lighting candles in the hope that a greater light is coming, in the hope that there might be joy and warmth and comfort in the days to come.


The parade of doubts

November 19, 2008

The congenital defect that led to Teddy’s death occurs in 1 out of 2,500 births, which is uncommon enough to make me feel failed by statistics, while still being far too common.  Some of these cases of CDH, like Teddy’s, are diagnosed in ultrasounds, usually well into the second trimester.  Of children born with CDH, about 50% survive.  There are different statistics (ranging from 20% to 80%), and different ways of framing those statistics, but this is the one I heard most often.

Perhaps 50% has stuck in my brain because it’s such a flip of the coin; not the worst odds in the world, but just by looking at the figure you know that someone will come down on the wrong side of those odds half of the time.  One death for every survival.  We wanted to be on the other side of that 50%, but we knew we might not be.  After week 29 of my pregnancy, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to waltz into the local hospital, excited and happy, and leave the next day with a healthy baby boy. We knew we were in for big-time grief or the long haul in a NICU.  And even knowing that, Teddy’s death was the worst kind of surprise.

“It’s not your fault,” is something we heard from every doctor we talked to.  I remind myself of that on nights when I can’t sleep, and sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t, because they don’t know what causes a congenital diaphragmatic hernia.  No one does.  So there may be something I should or shouldn’t have done, should or shouldn’t have eaten, something I could have controlled or fixed if I’d known what it was.  And telling myself that, even if there was something no one knows what it is, doesn’t always help.  It seems as though it shouldn’t have taken much to end up on the right side of those odds, to have nudged us over into the happy 50%.

Teddy’s birth was hard.  I didn’t react ideally to the pitocin and the contractions were long, which is why we eventually had the c-section anyway.  If he hadn’t turned that last week, if we’d had a scheduled c-section with none of that stress of if I’d asked for a c-section at the first signs of it, would his chances have been better?  What if I had refused induction altogether and shelled out for hotel money to keep us in Portland until I went into labor on my own, giving Teddy another week or a few more days of safety to grow in my womb?  I don’t know and I’m afraid to ask.  We all did what we thought was best at the time, but what if we were wrong?

What if all that’s standing between my current sad self and that other, happier imagined me who is holding a living, squirming baby in her arms is a plane ride taken at the wrong time or drinking from a water bottle with BPA or avoiding food coloring or walking up the hill to work at the wrong time on the wrong day or asking for a c-section?

There are days like today where I feel like such a failure of a mom for losing my baby.  The voice in my head telling me, “They said it wasn’t your fault,” becomes shrill and desperate, never quite convinced.

What do you regret when you don’t know what to regret?


It’s a bird, it’s a plane…

November 18, 2008

No, it’s Grief Girl!  Able to scare coworkers away after only seconds of conversation, able to hide in her dark office for hours, skipping committee meetings, Grief Girl possesses the ability to make you feel uncomfortable and guilty for every good thing that’s ever come into your life.

Guaranteed to put a damper on any party or social gathering, Grief Girl may lure you into complacency by laughing, but don’t be fooled.  One mention of babies, holidays, workplace childcare, or asparagus and she will dissolve into tears, rendering you helpless before her.  Your only real defense is to throw Kleenex and run for the nearest escape route.

Which is to say, gosh I’m fun to be around these days.


Three months

November 17, 2008

Saturday was the three-month marker of Teddy’s birth, and Sunday the three-month marker of his death.  His loss weighed heavily on us all last week – something felt especially wrong and I couldn’t figure out why until I looked at the calendar and made myself process the information I’d been trying to fend off.

We try to lighten each other’s darkness, N and I.  We go on drives, go grocery shopping together.  I light candles, he plays music.  Last night I flung flour and powdered sugar all over the kitchen as I made carrot cake.  We look up poems that speak more beautifully and clearly of grief and hope than we can right now.  This is our latest poetic touchstone:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
~~~Tennyson (from Ulysses)

Today after N kissed me goodbye as I was heading out the door to work, he said, “Much abides.”  And he’s right, and I can see him straining to believe that, to hold onto it, just as I am.  We cling to each other, and it helps.  I’m not sure that we are quite “One equal temper of heroic hearts,” but I know that, hard as it is to bear Teddy’s death, it would be unimaginably (by which I mostly mean that I don’t want to imagine it) harder without N.

The good news is that we have made it through three months, which has seemed an interminably long time.  The bad news is that three months isn’t really all that long, we have a lot of difficult “firsts” in front of us.  It may be our first trimester of grieving, but grieving, unlike pregnancy, doesn’t have a due date, and while, truly, much abides, much was taken.  We can’t forget that, but sometimes I need to remind myself of it in a new way, in the way that allows me to be gentle with myself.  Much was taken, give yourself time.

If we can just get through Thanksgiving, my brother’s wedding in December, and Christmas, I will breathe a little easier, maybe.



November 14, 2008

I used to put my hand on my belly and sing, mostly in the shower but sometimes in the kitchen and sometimes while sitting in the comfy, stuffed reading chair in our living room.  My mother sang us lullabies when we were little, and during those first happy months of pregnancy it never occurred to me that I might not get to spend several sleepless nights trying to sing my baby to sleep.

The day after Teddy was born, when we were holding him and knowing we had to let him go, I managed to keep my voice from quavering into sobs for a few verses of “Hush, Little Baby.”  I wanted him to have at least one lullaby.  He wasn’t responsive to us when we held him; I think his little body was putting all of its energies into just breathing.  But I like to think that he heard me.

A few nights ago, N and I were channel surfing and caught the end of the James Taylor: One Man Band concert on PBS.  The last song, “You Can Close Your Eyes,” hit me straight in the heart.  It’s such a beautiful and simple lullaby, exactly the kind of thing I used to imagine myself singing to Teddy, and the last verse is full of what we wanted for our son but don’t get to have.

(This isn’t the version from the concert we saw, but I have a thing for Iris DeMent.)

It wont be long before another day
We gonna have a good time
And no ones gonna take that time away
You can stay as long as you like

If there is a heaven, it’s the place where that last verse is true.