Archive for September, 2009

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Superstitious

September 28, 2009

I knock on wood, I throw salt over my left shoulder when I spill some, and I try not to be too obviously happy when I’m happy.

I worry about the wrath of the gods, even though I doubt that, should they exist, they indulge in wrath.

And seriously, CDC, I understand that vaccines have come under a lot of fire and it must be driving doctors all over the world absolutely crazy, and I’m a get-vaccinated kind of girl myself, truly I am, and I’ve never considered Jenny McCarthy to be an expert on anything except maybe Jenny McCarthy, but can’t you hire someone who is good at PR so that articles like this, from the New York Times, don’t make me wish I could crawl inside a plastic bubble for the next five months and avoid both H1N1 and the vaccine for it?

Because first paragraphs like this are not fun to read when pregnant, especially when pregnant after a loss, and may not open the minds of pregnant readers in a way that makes them receptive to any good points the article may go on to make:

As soon as swine flu vaccinations start next month, some people getting them will drop dead of heart attacks or strokes, some children will have seizures and some pregnant women will miscarry.

Cheery, huh?

I realize it’s an attention-grabbing first paragraph, and is therefore doing its job, but as I try to read the article objectively and thoughtfully, I keep getting hung up on my own fears and superstitions.  Not that I want to be hospitalized with a distressed respiratory system and a hard-to-control fever.  And as I work in a public place with lots of contact with students, I’ll probably listen to my doctor, who has earned my trust, and get the damned shot.  I have already had the regular flu shot (like I said, I’m a get-vaccinated kind of girl), after all.  But in my current state of mind, the fact that the CDC is getting ready to defend itself before H1N1 vaccines are publicly available seems more worrisome than reassuring.

I keep hoping I’ll become saner, less afraid of outside forces I have no control over, less timid and less silly.  And maybe after Friday’s u/s I’ll breathe a bit easier, but maybe I won’t.  I wait for calm, for the ability to let happiness come without feeling as though happiness is just a kind of bait for disaster.  Some days I think I’m getting there.

But today isn’t one of them (thanks, New York Times), so if you’ll excuse me I’m going to knock on some wood, drink some orange juice, wash my hands, and run around my bottle of hand sanitizer, three times, widdershins.

Then I’m going to try to laugh at myself, which might be the only magic trick I know that really seems to work.

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Belated anniversary

September 25, 2009

The good kind of anniversary, that is. Three years ago Wednesday, N and I gathered family and friends around us and promised to love and support each other, to become family.

It’s the “leather” anniversary, for those who care about these things, but leather furniture isn’t practical for a couple with two cats and a budget, neither one of us needs a new wallet, we both prefer to shop for our own shoes, and I can only think so much about leather attire before my mind wanders off into amusing hinterlands and I have to laugh about how my round (and very vanilla) self would look in a leather dominatrix outfit, belly bulging.  Catwoman meets the Venus of Willendorf.

I think we were, in our own minds and hearts, married before our wedding day.  We married when N agreed to follow me out of Chicago, and again when he showed up at my door in a moving truck with all his earthly possessions, leaving the city he knew so well and risking life in a strange new place to be with me.

One of the benefits of marrying later in life is that (and you may disagree as to whether this is a benefit, but to me it is) my wedding day wasn’t intended to be the most important or the best day of my life. I wanted to celebrate the beginning of my life with N, and I wanted all of my favorite people to celebrate with me, but I also wanted to focus more on the marriage and on life with my chosen partner than on the celebration of it.  And maybe I had some idea, even then, that we’d re-marry each other again and again as the years went by.  (It was a darned fine celebration, don’t get me wrong.  It was straightforwardly joyful, and fun, and it’s nice to know that, of all the weddings I’ve been to, I had the very best time at my own.)

Sometimes, when we are feeling especially giddy and pleased with each other, one of us will say, “I’d marry you.”  It’s a favorite running joke, and also, I think, an affirmation of the promises we made to each other.  When we hold each other and hold each other up, that is another affirmation of those promises.  We hold each other up a lot lately.  We are grateful, and sad, and grieving, and lucky.

It seems strange that we’ve been through so much together since that day.  We had no idea about Teddy then, no idea that we’d welcome a new member to the family we’d created just to say goodbye to him less than a day later.  So much life and death and love and joy and pain has been wrapped up in these three years that our new running joke lately is to say we’ve been married for 30 years.

But this weekend we’ll celebrate.  It’ll be a celebration colored by Teddy’s absence, no matter what we do, but I already know that at some point I will look at N and smile, and say, “I’d marry you.”

And it will be true.

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Not about me

September 22, 2009

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about what I wished I could say to people around me, who loved me, who worry about me.  It’s not about you, I wanted (and still sometimes want) to say.

And, when faced with the grief and troubles of others, I try to remind myself, over and over, that it’s not always about me, either.  One of the limitations of being human is that I see the world through the pair of eyes I was given, that I filter events around me through my own experiences, that I can only understand with my own, particular mind.  Being embodied means, among other things, being limited.

While I’m myopic as hell (seriously, you can ask my optometrist), I like to think I have a reasonably good mind, and that my experiences are worth something, and that I can keep pushing at my limitations, keep expanding my understanding, comprehension, and compassion.  I don’t for one second think that Teddy’s “purpose” was to teach N and me valuable life lessons.  I think his purpose was to grow up and be whoever he would have been, and that this purpose was thwarted.  I’m bitter about this.  I hate it.  But I’d be worse than an ingrate if I didn’t admit that he’s taught me a lot, both with his precious presence and aching absence.

Because of Teddy, I feel and fear more deeply, trust less easily, and hope more fervently.  Some of these changes are clearly gifts: I notice small beauties – the way early morning sunlight angles into the yard and through the kitchen window, tentatively, as though it doesn’t really want to wake us up; or the notes of music in a good friend’s laughter – partly because I keep wishing he were here to know them, too, but partly because it’s still so surprising that there is so much beauty in a world without him.  I keep waking up to the fragile joys around me, surprised and (usually, mostly) grateful that they’re here.

Some of the changes, the distrust and the fear, don’t feel like gifts.  I like to think I learn from them, but often they just hurt, limit my understanding, drain my energy, and make me cranky and angry.  I’m sure I’m learning from this, too, but I don’t enjoy it.

I have to remember that, just as my mind and experiences can broaden my understanding, they can also hinder it in ways I don’t understand.  I know I have new blinders now, new pet peeves and frustrations, new hard places.  And, knowing this, I also know that I have to be able to at least occasionally put myself to one side.  Sometimes I have to work very hard to remember that it isn’t about me.  Sometimes I forget and put myself center stage when I shouldn’t, even in my own mind, or I take things personally that I shouldn’t.

It’s a tough balance to strike.  Some days everything feels personal.  Some days I feel like there’s just so much malice and random hurt in the world that I’m crazy to think I can protect this new life.  We have our “big” ultrasound in very early October.  This is the same ultrasound where, with Teddy, it was seen that something wasn’t quite right with the position of his heart, where the term congenital diaphragmatic hernia was first introduced to my vocabulary.  I’m happy with a strange and tentative happiness, but it feels so ephemeral some days that it’s frightening.  And I feel so very open to being hurt.

Wavering between being happy about my growing belly and being afraid that I’ll pay for this happiness later is tiring, superstitious work.  Every cloud formation and falling leaf feels like a portent I can’t read.  Here again, I try to cling to the idea that sometimes clouds are just clouds, sometimes leaves are just leaves.  Sometimes it’s not about me.

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September 16, 2009

more roses

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, didn’t enjoy my morning cup of tea, almost forgot to brush my hair before heading to work.  I felt wrong, and off, and off-balance, and as I was grabbing my jacket on the way out the door, I realized why.

It’s the 16th again.

I didn’t think about it much, or consciously, but somehow I expected that, after a full year had passed, I wouldn’t have to pay attention to the month markers, that they wouldn’t hit me, or would at least hit more gently.  If I had thought about it, I would have told myself that this was naive and irrational, that I already knew that there is nothing magical about one year, and if I’d told myself these things, maybe I would have been a little more prepared.

So here I am, having a quiet weep in my office.  It helps, in some ways, to know what it is that is making me feel so blue, but the floodgates of memory have opened up again, and this is always a bittersweet, hard thing.

Thirteen months since we said, This is too much.  We don’t want any more pain for him; we don’t want any more cold pads, or surgeries, or drugs.  We want to keep him as long as we can but because we love him, we have to let him go.

And it’s been a year since that first month’s anniversary, when I couldn’t believe how much time had passed, when I was so afraid of all the days laid out before me – days without Teddy.  Today is not that bad.  I’ll keep telling myself this, and maybe it’ll help.

But it still hurts.

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The crone reflects

September 14, 2009

My pediatrician told my mother once that I was “three going on thirty,” but the first time I really knew I was getting old came about five years ago.  I was working as a graduate assistant in a library and felt the urge to tell an undergraduate sporting gym shorts and a tank top, in November, to make sure to wear his jacket when he headed outside.  You’re old now, I said to myself.  There’s no avoiding it.

I was old, and I wasn’t, as it turned out.

This morning, a fire alarm went off in the library where I work.  It was early, so not that many students were in the building yet.  As I walked to the door, encouraging the more reluctant ones to leave the building, a voice came on over the intercom: “This is not a drill.  This is an actual fire.  Leave the building now.”

Most did.

I stood outside with my coworkers and watched the firetrucks arrive.  And then, after the firefighters went into the building came the expected but somehow still surprising moment when students who’d decided to work through the incredibly loud alarm sauntered out of the front doors.  This happens every time the alarms go off, whether it’s just a drill or not, but today it hit me really hard.  I thought of how much these kids would be missed if they died in a fiery blaze of tinder-dry books and old journals, of how guilty everyone who worked in the library would feel about not getting them out, about what a stupid and senseless waste it would be.

While I was worrying about the lack of self-preservation skills, I also have to admit marveling at the innocence and arrogance these kids possess.  They believe that whatever they’re reading or writing or talking about is more important than their safety.  They believe that whatever happens they will be okay, even while listening to the voice saying, “This is not a drill.”

And, of course, they were right.  The small fire (something to do with an elevator) was extinguished; we were allowed to re-enter the building and resume the work of the day; the firefighters packed up their axes and drove off in their fire trucks, and the day returned to normal.

I don’t remember feeling especially immortal at 18, but I had some of this assurance that I’d be okay, no matter what.  I had some of that five years ago, biting back the urge to tell that kid to wear his jacket.  Now that I’m older still, more battered, and wiser than I’d like to be, I stand back, watch, and worry.  My life has so much fear in it now that it’s amazing to see such fearlessness.  I’m jealous of it, but I’m also a little angry, and I’m scared all over again.

I miss Teddy so much; I don’t want to miss anyone like this again.  However, one of the things I know about motherhood is that it’s a complete risking of your heart.  I’ve signed up for this again, and I’ve done it knowing what’s at stake.  Some days I have to wonder if I’m right in the head.

What if this baby makes it?  It’s hard enough to know that this child could be born healthy and then be lost to an act of nature, a drunk driver, a virulent strain of flu, or to human carelessness or cruelty, but what if s/he is fearless and doesn’t believe in fire alarms?  What if my old and creaky soul isn’t brave enough to parent in a way that celebrates fearlessness and confidence while also making damned sure my kid knows a little about self preservation?

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Happy little things

September 9, 2009

Yesterday’s appointment went well.  Baby’s heartbeat was strong and immediately picked up by the doppler (along with the sounds of much kicking).  I also received a flu shot and then fainted after they drew my blood for tests – not so happy and made the appointment much more exciting than it needed to be, but even when feeling most unsteady, I kept thinking about that heartbeat and how wonderful it was to hear it.

And, family called this morning to share the news that we have a new niece, born early today, beautiful and healthy.  Everyone is doing well, and I’m expectantly awaiting photographs.

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New territory

September 8, 2009

I spied it this morning, as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, stripped and ready for the shower.  Pink and distinctive, familiar and yet new.  Frustratingly new, in fact, this bright and shiny stretch mark.

My first thought was, Little baby, couldn’t you just use one of the hundred plus (how I wish I were exaggerating) old stretchmarks? My poor belly is positively riddled with old stretchmarks.  They’ve faded and turned the color of old scars, but they’re  still very much there, adding interesting texture to something that media is constantly telling me should be smooth.  On days when I am giving myself a hard time and feeling especially full of pity, I tell myself I look like the “before” picture for a liposuction clinic ad.

But the other side of this truth is that as I was falling asleep last night it suddenly seemed nearly unbelievable that I’d had a living baby lifted out of my womb only to lose him less than a day later.  Disbelief mixed with sleepiness in such a way that I wondered for just a second how this possibly could happen.  I wondered if Teddy had ever really been here at all.  And then I thought, I have proof.  Not just pieces of paper; I have scars and stretch marks. Teddy will never leave footprints in the sand or in wet cement, will never make me one of those sweet plaster handprints while in preschool, or color on my walls.  But once upon a time he claimed my body as his home.  He marked it, and it remembers him.

My second thought this morning as I stared at the pitiless mirror was, Growth is good.  Keep growing.

Keep growing little one.  I’ve done this before, but not with you.  I’m your home and this is our new territory, so blaze your trail, mark me as you like, and I’ll be grateful.