Archive for April, 2010
It’s Spring here, beautiful Spring. Sunshine and mysterious breezed that carry the scent of flowers so that even when you can’t see the flowers you know they are just around the bend in thr road, just up the hill, just across the street. Trees are flowering and budding and I find myself feeling ridiculously happy to be part of life again.
During one of the first few days after Dot’s birth, I was holding her in the hospital bed. I was still tired and on painkillers, and in the dim light of the hospital room I looked down at her face and saw her lips turn dark, her little partly-open mouth fill with blood. Just as I started to panic, I realized I’d been hallucinating or having a waking nightmare, and that she was fine, just fine. And some time just after my heart began to beat again, I knew, somehow, that this feeling was something I’d be dealing with for a while.
We have a staircase in our little rental house. The stairs are bare wood and the railing is lower than it should be. When I walk down the steps I grab onto the doorknob of the door at the top of the stairs, take two steps down, and then grab the railing with my other hand. Not something I can do when holding a baby. I fear that staircase. I push the images of falls out of my head and bite my tongue before I can tell N to be careful when he carries the baby down the stairs, afraid that if I say anything it might somehow make him trip and fall, with Dot, onto the concrete basement floor.
We live on a steep hill. There are days, bright and beautiful days when I am the woman I used to envy after Teddy died, the mother with a stroller, singing to her baby as they take their walk in the spring sunshine. Except that I keep imagining what would happen if I let go of the stroller while we’re walking down the hill. I keep imagining my child careening into the high-traffic street below while I run screaming after her, powerless to stop disaster.
I’ve been taking pictures of Dot, but am starting to avoid photos of her while she’s sleeping. She’s beautiful while she sleeps, but the photos don’t show that she’s breathing, and when she’s asleep she looks like her brother to me. She looks vulnerable. In some of these photos I can’t tell, just from looking at them, that she’s alive. So I try for shots with her eyes wide open, with her hands reaching for things, photos that show vigor and breath and life.
This sounds more frightening and crazy than I mean it to, more dark than it really is. These fears and thoughts are blended into days of much happier and more mundane thoughts about what to make for dinner, about the politics of my workplace, about whether or not I should wash the rest of the six month baby clothes yet because live babies grow out of their clothes and isn’t that amazing? The fears represent only a fraction of what goes on in my head and heart. But I resent having them at all. My mother is the champion worrier in our family, and I’d always meant to let her keep the title. I wanted to be a cool mom, a mom who didn’t care if her kids went outside without a jacket. Now I worry that I’ll be lucky if I can let my girl go outside by herself at all, even if she’s wearing a catcher’s mask and football pads or a helmet and a protective bodysuit of bubble wrap.
I’m grateful she won’t be capable of opening doors for a few more months at least. I have some time to order football pads and bubble wrap.
It’s a little like the story of the fairy ointment; once rubbed into your eyes it gives you the ability to see fairies. But after you use it once, you can’t wash that way of seeing off or make it go away. Maybe seeing death is something like that. Having seen it once, I now see it everywhere even while I try to hide from it. It peeks out at me from behind the tulips, hangs from the tree branches covered with bright green leaf-buds, taunting me with it’s proximity. I refuse to make eye contact; I move on, hoping like mad it won’t decide to take another one.
I’m a bubble bath girl at heart, but finding time for bubble baths has never been all that easy. When I was living here and N was still in Chicago, I’d take weekend afternoons, especially in the colder months, and soak for hours. With a book in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other and I’d lose myself in hydrotherapy and fiction, periodically draining cooled water out and running more hot water in until I’d exhausted the supply of the poor water heater and realized it was time to leave the warm, steamy bathroom and re-enter reality.
It may be a long time before I have a bubble bath again, and that’s okay. I enjoy showers, too. I appreciate them even more now that they are hard to come by, between work and Dot and housework and the serious business that is pumping. I breathe in steam and the white noise of the water and relish these moments that are all mine, all for me.
Every time I stand in the shower now, though, and I mean every. single. time., I remember standing in the shower in the weeks after Teddy’s death when I’d weigh the doctor’s advice about not getting too much warm water on my breasts with my strange but strong reluctance to let my milk dry up completely and the fact that warm water was comforting even if it was only a small, physical comfort. I stood under hot water more often than I should have, but my milk dried up anyway.
“Dried up” is such a sad phrase, too. It makes me think of drought, dust bowls, and death.
It occurs to me that too much of my knowledge about breastfeeding and milk supply comes from those days of learning how to stop my milk from coming in. I took a real and vicious pleasure in throwing away my sports bras in our last move.
These days, when I step into the shower, I let hot water pour over the front of me and it feels sweet and triumphant and somehow rebellious. At the same time, I cannot make those past showers, that loss of motherhood and milk, go away.
Sometimes when I’m nursing Dot, I find myself wishing I had even one memory of nursing Teddy, of that closeness and connection. Because figuring out breastfeeding was difficult and sometimes maddening, but being able to do it is sweet, sweet.
He would have been 20 months old on Thursday. I suspect I’ll be missing him every time I shower for the rest of my life.
I didn’t go to church this Easter, didn’t listen to a volunteer brass section playing “Jesus Christ Has Ris’n Today,” didn’t sing hymns or sit with my parents in a building filled with happy Lutherans, people who know there’s a resurrection and a heaven and consolation.
I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever do those things or feel anything close to those things again. It’s okay if I don’t, but I miss that possibly dead part of me quite a lot some days.
We almost refused to have Teddy baptized, and if my mother hadn’t been with us to want it so very badly, if N’s father hadn’t been there to do it, we may have missed out on what turned into a meaningful and beautiful moment with Teddy & our family. I still miss God, but I can’t reconcile his/her existence as I once thought of it – caring, involved, sympathetic, personal – to the death and pain in this world, to the fact that babies die, to the fact that my baby may have felt pain and confusion before he died. Boring old “problem of evil” Philosophy 101 stuff resurfacing, really. I think I wrote a short paper on it in college.
N, who is a real philosopher, has been dealing with all of this, too. I don’t write about him here often because I try to be protective of his privacy, but one of the down sides to our educations, and to his especially, is the inability to be comforted with ideas that seem to comfort many other people. He works hard to be strong for me, to be strong in general, but sometimes I see him grappling with his grief, with the lack of comfort, and while I hurt for him, I also feel less alone in my own grappling. I’m lucky and unlucky that way.
My parents were here over the Easter weekend, to see the baby and help us out for a few days. At Easter brunch, we talked about Teddy, and N talked about how much he misses him, how Dot reminds him of what he’s missing, of how, if there’s a heaven, it is a place where he gets to watch his son grow up. He choked up, and suddenly there is was, GRIEF, sitting at our table, dimming the glow of the bunch of daffodils Mom brought me to mark the holiday. And my heart broke, all over again, for N., who hardly ever talks about his grief, and for Dot, who’ll never know her big brother, and for all of us with holes in our hearts that cannot be filled. And because it was Easter, I wondered why and why and why all over again. The whole apple of knowledge story just doesn’t explain it for me.
If there’s a good answer to the problem of evil, we haven’t found it yet, and since I live with an expert, well, I doubt there’s a good answer out there or he would have shared it with me. Sometimes I get the words, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something,” stuck in my head. Which is sad because there are so many funnier and more quotable lines in The Princess Bride that I never thought I’d be stuck with this one.
And then Dot smiles. And my heart melts and oozes onto my shoes – a golden puddle of love. And I realize that life isn’t pain, at least not all of it. At least not all the time. I still think so often of the smiles I’ll never see, of the much-loved boy who’ll never spend an Easter with his grandparents, or join us on a walk in the park on a breezy April day, who never got to keep us up late at night. My boy, who never looked into my eyes to see my heart breaking as he slipped away.
My heart is a broken, melted, gooey mess.
Incidentally, what Princess Bride quote would you like to be stuck with?