Archive for July, 2010


Birthday present

July 22, 2010

Today is my birthday, my thirty-sixth, which means I am three dozen years old, which feels as though it should be momentous, but mostly, well, isn’t.  Too much else is going on.  When I was young, I would have been horrified at the thought of my birthday not being a big deal, but today I find it soothing.  I’ll finish up at work, N will give me a present and make dinner.  I’ll try to get Dot to sleep so that we can watch Enchanted April and maybe make out a little on the futon.  An embarrassment of riches.

Though perhaps I should mention that I count as good any birthday that doesn’t involve anything as horrible as me staring at a reality tv show in a futile attempt to combat the despair of being on bedrest due to CDH complications.   I still think of that woman I was then and I wish I could fold her in my arms and tell her, You’re right; it’s bad, really bad, and it’ll get better and then much worse.  But even though it’ll be horrible, you’ll somehow get through it.  And you’ll never have to do this again.

Knock on wood, of course.

I used to think that the universe gave me presents.  Sunsets, birdsong, smiles in corridors, signs of hope, rain when I was sad.  Now, I’m suspicious of any such thoughts.  Sometimes I am thoroughly scornful of them.  Yet every once in a while I catch myself wondering.  Maybe the universe, or my fairy godmother, or some benign spirit is capable of gifts, but only small ones.  Maybe the life and death stuff has to be set at random for some reason I don’t/won’t/can’t comprehend.  In any case, I’ve received a small and sparkling birthday present.

I had no idea who Regina Spektor was until yesterday, when N called my attention to a song a friend had put on a mixed CD for us.  The friend is also the chair of his department, and also (and perhaps not irrelevantly) the father of another baby boy who died too soon.  I listened to the song in the car, to it’s playful piano and almost-but-not-quite-cheery tune and I smiled.  And then I focused on the lyrics.  I listened to it again.

And she was singing to me, singing for me as I try to cope with memories and travel planning and missing Teddy like crazy and being relieved that I don’t have to lie on the futon and stew in despair again.  This song felt like it was made precisely for this summer with August staring me down and asking me how much I can take.  How can I not love a song with lyrics like this?

This is how it works
You’re young until you’re not
You love until you don’t
You try until you can’t
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again

And I wanted to share it, in case you needed something like this today, too.

On the Radio


Planning the pilgrimage

July 19, 2010

How do I go about choosing a hotel for a trip to the city where my son was born and died? I feel like I should put together a special list for any concierge who may have to deal with me, but one of the real down sides to breastfeeding my living child is that I really can’t request a bottle of Scotch and a private balcony with a whirlpool tub. But perhaps warm cocoa, fresh-baked scones on demand, a quiet room, and extra-soft tissues would be possible.

It was looking like maybe we wouldn’t go to Portland, City of Roses, city I love and want to be able to visit again – perhaps someday without such weighty grief.  We’d planned on it but as August drew closer, we weren’t sure we could do it.  To combine a really hard anniversary with a long car ride, visits to places where we walked and waited, hoped and howled with despair with a bit of vacation (one of those places we walked, for instance was the really beautiful Japanese Garden, and another was the Rose Test Garden which makes me long for my own plot of earth to fill with roses).  It’s a big undertaking.

I’m going to plan it out, to map out where we will go and what we will do each day so that we don’t have to sit around in a hotel room, wondering when we should visit the hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, the gardens.  I’m going to plan and overplan, going to have plans B and C and D waiting in case we break down, in case we aren’t able to move with agility through air redolent with memory.  I’m going to do every thing I can to make this trip one of healing.  If we walk through fire, at least it should be fire that cauterizes a few of our wounds.  I know, however, that no matter how I plan, it could all end up to be a crazy please-come-get-us-because-we’re-too-messed-up-to-drive-home disaster.

So many memories to face, and so far to go to face them.  I expect that some are going to hit us over the head and make us wonder why we came, that some memories that throb and ache are going to bloom once we place ourselves where we once were, and who knows what strange flowers they’ll become then?

Pilgrimages aren’t supposed to be easy.

There are good memories, too.  It seems strange to say that, and they hurt, too, but they’re there.  Memories how relieved I was to talk to doctors who weren’t afraid my water would break at any second because I was finally in a city with a good NICU, memories of kind, kind nurses and of friends made at the Ronald McDonald House where we felt like our fears and grief were shared and understood.  Memories of walking around the adorable Nob Hill neighborhood, eating a phenomenally decadent dinner at Papa Haydn (the most beautiful desserts I’ve ever seen), taking a crazy leap of faith and buying a baby sling at the Saturday market.  Memories of seeing the beautiful Children’s Hospital garden with it’s statue of the Tin Man for the first time.

We will visit the places we went with our boy safely inside me, and perhaps the fact that the gardens are still beautiful will soothe us.  Maybe breathing in air scented with thousands of roses will provide some sort of balm for the soul.  I wouldn’t be surprised; roses can be magic.  We will bring things to the Ronald McDonald House that sheltered us, we will see the brick in the hospital garden with Teddy’s name on it, the one that says, “our Huckleberry,” and we may sit for a minute or two in the shade of the plum tree where we held him as he took his last breaths.  We will remember and honor his beautiful small self and his all-too-brief life and it will hurt.

We will walk in the footsteps of the people we once were, the people who were prepared to do anything and go anywhere to give their baby the best chance. The people who laughed and hoped and feared.  The people who clung to each other and choked out the words needed to make terrible and necessary decisions.  The people who sat devastated and speechless in a world where nothing made sense.  The people who, in the face of devastation, put on brave faces for their family.  That was us.  We are so different now, a different family than the one we hoped and worked for that summer.  But I want to honor the people we were, to honor their hopes and fears and bravery and despair.

Wish us luck.

What are your anniversary plans, if you have them?  Do you try to make the days easier and/or more meaningful, or do you just ride them out as best you can?



July 17, 2010

We’re turning Dot’s room into, well, Dot’s room.  N’s old desk has been turned into a changing table, we are clearing my old clothes out of her closet, and my desk now resides in the basement office.  It’s starting to look like a baby lives in our house instead of looking like a baby is visiting for a while.

When clearing out our bedroom closet to make room for things turned up in the shift, N took the white box out from the shadows, dusted it off.  It has more tape on it than any other box I packed for last summer’s move, and written on each side in big, deliberate letters, is the word “Fragile.”

Fragile.  Teddy’s Things.  Fragile.

I want to open it and I fear opening it.  I know all that’s inside, the casts of his hands and feet, the candle with his name on it, the memory boxes from the hospital, the blanket he died in and the clothes we dressed him in after he died and that somehow I thought would be cremated with him – little pajamas with moons and stars on them.  I want to integrate these things into my daily life somehow, but I don’t know that I have that much – grace? peace? strength? acceptance? – yet.

The ultrasound pictures will go in a book someday.  Someday when I have time to put it together, a record of a too-brief life, something his sister can look at when she starts asking about him.  But where do you put the plaster mold of your dead son’s tiny hands, the one with the pinky finger that you broke off when unwrapping it when you returned from the hospital in 2008 without your baby?  That pinky finger still calls up a well of pain from somewhere in my gut every time I see it.  It seems so unfair that the few mementos I have are so damnably fragile, so easily cracked and broken, so hard to protect, to keep, even to dust.

I fear that box, fear that opening it will release a breath of grief and that once I inhale it, the tentative steps I’ve taken forward from the moment of Teddy’s death will be revealed as weak and fumbling, that I’ll give in again to tears that won’t stop or worse, to dry and dull despair.  I fear that I’ll be torn between wanting to remember as much as possible and wanting to run from the memories, that I’ll end up packing everything back up and hiding it under the basement stairs behind the cat food and cleaning supplies.

At the same time, I want to open it.  I want to indulge in some remembering, to run even the really terrible images through my head one more time, to cling to every last scrap of Teddy that is left to me.  I want to hold as much of him as I can, in my head, in my hands, and I want to see if I can take it or if I’ll fly into a thousand pieces.  I want to dare the summer to do it’s worst, to roll me over with flashbacks to doctors’ offices, ultrasounds and MRI’s, and to the desperate intensity of the NICU two Augusts ago.    I want to see if I break, and if I do, I want to put myself together, again.

Then I worry that I won’t be able to.

Fragile.  Teddy’s Things.  Fragile.

The box says fragile, but I know the fragile thing is me.


She shouldn’t be mine

July 13, 2010

We’ll be paying off the new car for five years.

We don’t own a house.

I am still paying off credit card and student loan debts from graduate school.

N is still working on finishing his dissertation.

Teddy was unplanned, and while he was very much wanted, I spent most of the early days in my pregnancy with him wondering if we could possibly pull it off – parenthood, that level of responsibility for another human being, trying to save for college while trying to save enough for the down payment on a house.  I worried and worried about whether or not it was the right time.  This, of course, would haunt me later.

I grew up firm in the knowledge that responsible adulthood looked something like car, marriage, house, kids, in that order, and even while I changed my views on this in college, and even more so in graduate school, my conscious beliefs are still fighting with the old, entrenched ideas of what and who I should be.

And they aren’t just my ideas.  I’ve heard others talk about how it’s irresponsible to have children when you can’t afford them, about how people on welfare should just stop procreating already, about how you should feel ashamed of yourself if you don’t give your kids the best, starting with a nursery that may be the best-decorated room in the house and the stroller that costs more than my first car did (it was a clunker, but still).  I remember comments in my own family when an aunt and uncle had children before they’d attained home ownership.  I remember my mother asking me, when we first knew of Teddy’s CDH, how we could afford treatment.

I try to fend off the guilt and the shame and convince myself that giving Dot the best of everything means far more than giving her designer clothes and fancy toys, but at the same time I wish her college fund was a little bigger.  I also wish I was more together.  It’s fine to tell myself that I should be able to feel how I feel, but I don’t want how I feel to interfere with Dot’s well-being, ever.  I don’t want to alienate her friends’ (or potential friends’) moms, for example.  I still don’t know how I will tell Dot about her brother in a way that won’t scare her.

On very bad days, I wonder if maybe I didn’t get to keep Teddy because I wasn’t ready, wasn’t responsible enough or stable enough or good enough.  And on those bad days, it seems unsurprising that I couldn’t keep him, no matter how much my heart wails, but I really was ready.  I was so, so ready.  I WAS. On those very bad days I look at Dot and think, she shouldn’t be mine.

Thinking this makes my heart clench itself up in my chest and sends me looking over my shoulder for bad omens.

If life had gone according to plan, I would have waited until we owned our own home, until N and I were both tenured and established, and we would have become parents somewhere between vacationing in Iceland and finishing planting the rose garden in our front yard.  As it happened, I’m turning 36 in a couple of weeks and waiting for the house and the rose garden (never mind Iceland or even a dishwasher) just didn’t seem like viable options.  To quote one of the many songs that makes me cry, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

And here Dot is, and we’re sinking our rainy day/fledgling house down-payment into her daycare, and there’s a dent in our new car already, and we’re debating whether or not it would strain our relationship with our landlord to ask if he could please finish dry-walling our basement, and as August approaches I realize I am still full of holes and aches and skittishness.  While I don’t think any of this makes me a bad parent, I do wonder if perhaps it was unfair to Dot to bring her into what seems to be a messy and chaotic chapter of my life.

I’m beyond grateful that she’s here and amazing and ours, but there are times when it all feels like a glorious mistake and I fear that someone will notice and show up to remedy it.