Archive for January, 2009


Social networking surprise

January 30, 2009

This is my second post of the day, which is unusual for me, but something happened today that I needed to write out, and this is the place where I do that.

It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with balancing work with the rest of my life.  I’m better than I used to be – I don’t cry in my office as often, aren’t as likely to lose it in public or among colleagues – but the grief still oozes out at times, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes more dramatic ways or in ways that have me hiding in the bathroom practicing yoga breathing.

Like many of my coworkers, quite a bit of my family, and several friends, I’m on Facebook.  Today, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into, I posted the following status:


Five minutes later, one of my favorite coworkers ran into my office, nearly in tears, and gave me a hug.  She told me she had dealt with infertility for 8 years, and while she knew it wasn’t the same, she knew, a little bit, about this kind of hurt.  And she said she wanted to give me a hug every time she saw me.

So often social networking seems to connect people in entirely shallow ways.  I knew you for two minutes in college and now you’re a “friend.”  We are fans of caffeine.  We are glad it’s Friday.  These connections are fun, and, for the most part, light and frothy.  Today, however, my social networking play led to a real connection.  It helps to know that this person I only know from work wants to hug me and hates that I’m hurting, and I’m touched that she shared her story with me.

I need to be careful, obviously, about what I post in public forums (this blog is public, but no one at work knows about it so far as I can tell, and I’m not publicizing it’s existence), but I’m so grateful for that hug, for my friend’s warm and open heart.


Grief kit

January 30, 2009

I’ve been thinking a great deal about philosophical, spiritual and emotional aspects of grieving and probably will be for a long time.  This process I’m going through isn’t something you just get over.  And I’m (maybe perversely) glad of that, that I can’t just dust myself off, say, well, Teddy’s gone now, onto the next thing. I am marked, physically and in the core of my being, with tracks of his presence (dear, dear presence!) and of his absence, which looms so large some days that breathing still (still, still) seems like work.  I’m changed, and changing, and so is N, and so is our marriage.  I don’t know quite yet what or who I, we, will be.  Which is one of the reasons I come here to write, of course.

But I do know some practical things about grief.  Some humble, bodily aspects.

You need really soft tissues if you’re going to be crying for days in a row, or your nose becomes chapped.  Depending on how sensitive or prone to breakouts you are, tissues with lotion may be good, or not.  But the tissues have to be very soft, not the cheap ones you find in workplaces across America, and definitely not the toilet paper you find in workplaces across America.  So, really soft tissues go into my grief kit.

And then there’s a need for more tissues, for travel packs, which are very useful when you venture out in public.  Because while there are worse things than blubbering away in the produce section of the grocery store (or in the public library, or on your way to work) without tissues, it is still highly unpleasant.

You need a good moisturizer, too – something that helps protect and heal the snot- and tear-smeared skin on your face without causing acne break outs.  If you burn easily like me, you want sunscreen as well, but that part is probably optional.  So, good moisturizer, into the kit.

And a good water bottle, or tea, or a healthy supply of your favorite drink, to help rehydrate you from all the crying.

Food – one of the best things my Mom did after Teddy died was to stock our freezer with the same kinds of meals she makes and freezes for harvest lunches and dinners, and then to stock our fridge with staples so if we didn’t want to go out or to cook, we could toss something in the oven or fall back on scrambled eggs and toast.  And friends from work kept bringing by truly excellent hot (and cold) dishes.  Mom is a champion cook, but the next time someone in my life goes through a big loss, I will at least be aware of the value of a frozen lasagna.

Distractions.  Things that give the brain even the tiniest of vacations – episodes of Monk work for me, as did West Wing, and several largely frothy novels.  People shouldn’t sneer so at escapism – it’s not so shallow as is commonly implied, and a little bit of it can allow you to pick yourself up and carry on when you think you can’t.  So, DVDs, books, etc. – into the kit.

If you were making up a grief kit, what would you put into it?


Grief and metabolism

January 28, 2009

I’ve been feeling down for a while now, which hasn’t surprised me at all, but I’ve also been, well, gaining weight (no fun post-baby) and dealing with more headaches and dry skin than usual. None of this really seems especially odd – I know I’m an “emotional eater,” and I’ve certainly been emotional lately. I also haven’t been putting a lot of time or energy into taking care of myself, and being tired a lot of the time just seems part and parcel with grief.

A couple months ago my doctor doubled my thyroid meds, and after a while I felt no difference but didn’t say anything because I wasn’t expecting to feel much of a difference.  I don’t know how I should feel right now.  My control groups are off.  The symptoms for hypothyroidism tend to be things like tiredness, memory loss, depression, dry skin, which sound familiar.  They sound, in fact, like symptoms of grief.  How does a completely healthy person feel when grieving opposed to someone with hypothyroidism, after all?

However, after my blood work for THS levels last week, my doctor let me know that my levels are worse than they were before we upped the meds the last time and that my thyroid has “pretty much conked out” (not precise medical terminology, but pretty darn descriptive) which apparently isn’t uncommon in postpartum women.  We’re upping my meds again, and I’m hoping for a noticeable difference, but not sure what the difference would feel like.  Will I be less burdened by Teddy’s death if I’m healthy, or feel more up to carrying the burden?  Or will the lab numbers just show that I’m back in something called a “normal range” with no noticeable difference at all?

I’m partly relieved at the idea that taking a pill could make me feel better, that there could be a bit (even a tiny bit) of a reprieve even while another part of me doesn’t want to give up feeling tired and beaten.  It’s just fear, I think, that I’ll loosen my grip on what I have left of Teddy.  It’s a fear I need to give up, and a grip I need to give up.  I can’t love him more by suffering more, even though it sometimes feels that way.  So I’ll take any medical relief I can get.  Besides, we really would like a chance at this parenting a living child thing, and we can’t attempt that until my metabolism is regulated – hypothyroidism during pregnancy is no joke, and should I get pregnant again, I’ll be on tenterhooks about doing everything right anyway.  So not only will I take any medical help with this that I can get, I’ll tell the self-martyring bit of me to shut up for now.

A bit more courage, a bit more energy would be nice.  I’m just not sure any sort of drug can provide that.


Could’ve been worse

January 27, 2009

I made it through my library conference, carefully avoiding the discussion group on “Balancing Baby and Books” that I’d attended with such secretive excitement last year.  The traveling part was awful because of (surprise) the winter weather, but it wasn’t awful in an unexpected way, so I handled it.  What was hard was answering the question, “How’ve you been?”

It’s a hard question to answer both honestly and professionally.  It’s the kind of question professionals and coworkers ask each other when they’re trying to be more than just professional, the kind of question that walks the line between work and personal life.  It’s the kind of question that, when rattled off carelessly, made me want to answer, How’ve I been?  Seriously?  My son died and I can no longer visit the exhibitors selling books for young children or look at my pregnant colleague’s belly without crying.  That’s how I’ve been and how I’m doing.  How are you? I didn’t say this, of course. I said “I’m hanging in there, how about you?” to the people I don’t know very well. It’s the kind of omission that feels dishonest but gets me through the encounter. And it’s almost true. I’m managing to function, obviously. Most of the time.

But it’s impossible for me to answer “How have you been?” without mentioning Teddy when the question is asked by someone who legitimately cares.  And I’ve been on a certain committee for three years now, so people on that committee cared.  Several of them knew I was pregnant.  “How’s the little one?” is another brutally hard question to answer, and not just for me, but for the person who asks.  I cried a little in that committee meeting, and was thrown by how well the people I cried in front of reacted.  They were kind, and sorrowful, and fetched me kleenex and water.  I felt them caring, and it helped.

I feel guilty for springing my grief on them, though.  Talk about your nasty surprises.  Several of them said, “Oh, I didn’t know,” making me feel extra guilty because I’d agonized for weeks over whether to send a discreet note to the committee listserv, or to individuals, or just to the Chair.  I had asked a close friend and local colleague for advice, and was told, essentially, don’t say anything about your loss unless they ask, and the implication was that saying something about Teddy’s death would have been unprofessional.  But I knew, in the back of my brain, that this was wrong, knew somehow that I’d be faced with the choice of unprofessionally notifying my colleagues of my grief or reacting very unprofessionally when asked about my baby.  I knew my fellow committee members pretty well, knew they weren’t going to completely ignore my personal life, especially since I missed my last conference because I was pregnant.  I should have shelved my colleagues advice in my mental well-meaning-but-not-quite-right file, and let people know I was grieving beforehand.

Grief is sometimes especially hard to carry at work.  I’ve yet to fully develop the ability to push it to the back of my mind until after 5:00 pm.  Grief Girl can still appear dramatically at inopportune times, demanding tissues and breaking through my professional facade as if it were made of spun sugar.

I want my black arm band, my brand of grief, some signal to warn those around me that certain questions may not be answered in the ways they expect, that I’m not yet as strong as I used to be.

I’d also like some way to let people know that I’m not just fat, that this is baby weight and grief weight, but I don’t know that, in the history of sumptuary laws or fashion, there’s ever been a formal signal for that one.


Cracked world

January 22, 2009

When I was in high school, I took confirmation classes so that I could be confirmed in the Lutheran Church (the “liberal” ELCA branch).  In addition to memorizing bits of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, our pastor had us read a very mild sex ed sort of book, and another book called Bright Valley of Love, about (very loosely) a Christian community for disabled children in Germany during World War II.

I do not remember if it was a good book, but because of the subject matter and when I read it, parts of it stick with me.  The main character, at a particularly painful moment, says, “The world is cracked.” And it is cracked.  I see the cracks everywhere now, and while Leonard Cohen’s hopeful refrain of “that’s how the light gets in” seems to bring comfort to many, I’m not sure that light is what I see in the cracks, at least not yet.

One of the small comforts of my winter has been filling two bird feeders in our back yard and watching the flocks of house finches, junkos, sparrows, and the occasional brave nuthatch or chickadee filling their bellies there.  Because of the hungriness and cleverness of the squirrels in the neighborhood, I’d started leaving some raw peanuts out for them, too, at first so they wouldn’t steal all the bird seed, but now I enjoy watching the way they hide the nuts in the snow, dig them up again, and eat them with obvious relish.  Recently, a bevy of quail (with charming, silly feather topknots) has started coming into the yard to gather up some of what falls under the feeders.  It’s quite the mini Wild Kingdom out there, and it makes me feel less lonely and useless to feed these small, wild things.

Which is why, probably, seeing a couple of neighborhood kids sauntering around the alley with a BB gun, shooting at birds and squirrels (and they killed at least one bird while I was watching from the window), was more heart-rending than it usually would have been.  I grew up in a hunting family, so I know about guns, their fascination, their use.  But I have no patience for anyone who kills an animal (even a sparrow) for sheer amusement.  And what makes this so personal and horrible is that I’ve lured a whole community of innocent creatures into my back yard, into the proximity of these idiots who are just killing things to kill them.

I also don’t want to get on their radar any more than we already are, so I let my neighbor yell at them while I hid upstairs in a most cowardly fashion.  They’ve already, apparently for kicks and giggles, cut the string of white lights I had in the back yard into tiny pieces and trampled it into the ground.  We think they did it because N, who has become a sort of den father (more like a den uncle, really) hadn’t paid them any attention for a while, but we aren’t sure.  I know one of them has a dad in jail and was expelled from school (rather than being provided with any help or counseling) for writing violent poetry.  I know they haven’t been given a fair chance in life, that they don’t even think of college as an option, that they’re not bad kids but that they may become bad kids.

And it’s horrible to think this way; it’s one of the reasons I’m glad I don’t control the universe, but why do these kids get to be here, to walk in the cold air, laughing at fools like me who get worked up about the fate of birds and squirrels, while our Teddy couldn’t even stay with us a full day?  Why don’t they get parents who are able to take care of them and make them believe they have futures worth finding when my boy gets no future to speak of?  Why couldn’t one of them have died instead?

See?  I told you it was horrible thinking.  However, having thought it, I feel I have to recognize it, own it, and eventually do something with it.  If nothing else, these thoughts are a clear sign that I’m still very angry, even though I thought I was leaving anger at Teddy’s death behind me.  And anger is frustrating because there’s not much to do with it besides acknowledge it and wait for it to fade.  I’m angry at the lost lives of small creatures who’d come to trust me, at the way a very small pleasure was turned into a small heartache, at the stupid waste of human potential I see around me, and at the random horror of my child’s death.

The world is cracked, and just now I feel too fearful, tired, and broken to mend even the cracks under my nose.  I think bravery will come, that hope will revive, that eventually I’ll be able to recognize the wrongness of the world without falling apart, without taking it all personally, but for now I just wish that all manner of things were different.


Brief reflections on my doctor’s office

January 21, 2009

A little over a year ago now, I found out I was pregnant and went on a search to find a physician I liked and trusted enough to handle my prenatal care.  After a few interviews, I found a really wonderful family physician and a really wonderful family practice.  They’ve taken very good care of me, even when that care involved sending us elsewhere.

But something about this new year has me constantly looking back, remembering when.  I used to love going into that office.  Usually N would come with me, and we’d bemusedly read the baby and parenting magazines, and then go back to the travel magazines.  When heading through the hallway for our appointments, we’d look at the colorful photo collages of new parents with new babies and wonder what our photo would look like.  We loved to hear Teddy’s heartbeat, that sound like galloping horses.

We were anxious about being new parents, but we were happily anxious, expectant, hopeful.  N joked with the doctors and nurses and we both asked lots of questions.  We wanted to be good at this parenting stuff.

Today I went in for a brief blood draw and was probably there for less than ten minutes, but there they were sitting next to me in the waiting room, the ghosts of who we used to be.  I miss them so much.


Times I wish I was sharing

January 20, 2009

Today, watching President Obama give his inauguration address, hearing the Rev. Joseph Lowery give his benediction, looking at the ocean of people gathered to watch history change in Washington, D.C., I couldn’t help but wish that Teddy were here to share it with, that my hopes could be given a more corporeal focus, that he could be part of the changes that are coming.

Just part of loss, I know,  wanting to share things with someone who is gone.  How do I bear that, and honor it, for the rest of my life?