Archive for March, 2011

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Fear of the yawn

March 31, 2011

This past month I’ve been sleepy, tired, dragging. Not in the mornings, but in the afternoons, I find myself yawning and hunting down caffeine as I used to do in my heyday of all-night paper writing and reading. I’ve had a heightened gag reflex, too, which could be explained by a recent bout with a stomach virus, but I found myself turning my frequent need to yawn over and over in my head, worrying at it because I couldn’t dismiss it.

It felt like I might be, well, pregnant.

I was terrified.

I haven’t had my period since before I was pregnant with Dot, and I never thought I’d miss it, but even though I take birth control daily, I feel like I’m flying blind in terms of what’s going on inside my uterus. I keep a few pregnancy tests around so that I don’t end up as one of those women on “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” and end up giving birth at the reference desk of my library while horrified undergrads avert their eyes. Yes, I’m aware that my brain sometimes offers up very unfortunate fantasies.

Being pregnant is a great gift, but for me it is also 1) scary and stressful as anything, 2) financially inadvisable at this point in my life, 3) something, it turns out, that I’m not very good at, and 4) something I don’t want to do again until lots of other people have been pregnant first.

N tells me that a hot topic among some philosophers right now is the artificial womb, a place to grow babies without relying on women’s bodies. This seems like the stuff of science fiction, considering how much we don’t know about what goes on inside the uterus, but I can see the appeal. No bedrest. No pre-eclampsia. No preterm labor. Fewer surprises. There’s a special kind of anxiety produced by having such limited control over what is happening within your own body, and a special kind of sorrow when things don’t go well and even though you are so intimately and physically involved with the things not going well, you cannot fix them. I hate that feeling so very much. I’m not ready to face the possibility of feeling it again.

Dot is in daycare, and it’s good daycare, and it eats up half my monthly salary, and it’s worth it because she’s close and her caregivers are loving and conscientious and she enjoys the other kids there, and it’s the next best thing to keeping her with me all day. But if we had another infant now, either N or I would have to give up working outside the home to work inside it and we’d have to figure out how to make ends meet on one salary. Not impossible, but not easy, either. And I have a feeling I’d be back to one shower a week. If I was lucky.

Also, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not good at being pregnant. I’m jealous of those who are. I’m happy that I carried two babies to term, and I’m really happy that Dot was born healthy and screaming, but Teddy had a hole in his diaphragm (my fault? who knows?), and with Dot I had hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and (suspected but not confirmed) gestational diabetes. If I do this again, this great gamble, this business of life and death, I want to be in better shape – better rested, more fit – for many reasons, not the least of which is I’d like to be able to absolve myself of as much blame as possible if something goes wrong.

And my brother and his wife have been trying and trying. It’s starting to get frustrating for them, although they don’t discuss it much. If anyone in my family is going to be seeing double blue lines, it should by my sister-in-law, who is loving and fun and has her act together. In my afternoons of yawning, I worried about getting together with the family this summer and how hard it would be if I were pregnant and she weren’t. So much heartache and longing and preparation and money and time go into building families. I know so many people for whom this has been a heart-wrenching struggle. I don’t want to be the stupidly fertile woman who gets carelessly knocked up.

I thought about all of these things and then reminded myself that, if  it turns out that, in spite of birth control and the severely limited sex life that results from our daughter sleeping in the middle of our bed, I find myself pregnant, I will make the best of it. I will manage the fear, and we’ll figure out the finances, we’ll figure out how to introduce Dot to the concept that she has to share her parents, and I’ll be closely monitored for hypertension, pre-e, etc., and I will count it a gift and a blessing, and love will pour out for the new little one.

When we returned from our Portland trip, I looked through our book of baby names and wondered if I might be carrying a little Basil or Calvin or Dorothea.  then I took a pregnancy test out of the closet and discovered in a matter of minutes that I am not. I expected to be happy, relieved, and I was.

I was also disappointed and a little sad.

I would like Dot to have a living sibling, someday. Someday when I’m braver and more physically fit and energetic. Someday when my brother has a child, too. Someday when Dot isn’t in the priciest years of child care, when she has soaked up enough love and attention to be ready to share. Someday when we have an established bedtime routine. Someday…

Perhaps by the time it really is someday, it will be too late.

That’s not entirely all right. I knew that for certain as I felt that wave of disappointment crash over me, even though I knew that not being pregnant is best for me and my family right now. But…if someday never arrives, it’s not a tragedy for me, either. Right now I dream of two, but I think if I had two, I’d dream of three.

No matter how many children I have, I will always be missing one.

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Words

March 25, 2011

She wakes up in the morning and waves at me enthusiastically, then makes her baby bird noise of “ah, ah, ah” while pointing at things. “Light,” I say. “Window. Kitty.”

“Ki-eee!” she crows, and takes off after the cat, who pauses somewhere between bemused and horrified as this loud and busy little person clambers toward her.

I keep track of all her words.

  • Kitty
  • Mom
  • Daddy
  • Star
  • Duck
  • Roar
  • Moo
  • Quack
  • Arf
  • Moo
  • No, no
  • Peekaboo (Eeee-boo!)

It seems like there are so many now. She picks up new sounds and plays with them, mimicking us and watching our reactions, pointing at her picture books. She signs a little, too, for which I’m grateful. She is very good at signing “more,” and “milk,” which are very useful, and we’re working on “please,” which will be useful in a different way, someday.

Last night we had an uncharacteristic episode of screaming. No fever but clearly some pain. I cling to the hope that it’s not another ear infection since we’ve only recently recovered from the last which landed us in the emergency room with a fever that wouldn’t drop, and had me calling my doctor late at night, for which I always feel guilty even though I shouldn’t. I’m entitled to a little parental caution just by virtue of being a parent, and Teddy’s death somehow entitles me to an added dollop of parental paranoia, too, and my doctor is sympathetic, but I don’t like waking people up. Last night, as my daughter screamed and clung to me with both fists and I reassured myself that it was much more likely to be gas than meningitis, I found myself fervently wishing she could tell me what was wrong.

I never say “I can’t wait until she…” because I can wait. I like watching her as she is now, reveling in this time which will never come again. I can definitely wait.

At the same time, I also never say “I wish she could stay like this forever,” because she’s supposed to grow and learn, and I’d be devastated if she didn’t.

But I am looking forward to the day when she can tell me what hurts, what scares her, what she wants, what she did at school. I watch her discovering language, putting together the many different images of picture book cows and toy cows and realizing they are all, well, cows. I listen to her play with noises. She pretends to sneeze and I say, “bless you!” and she grins. She’s figuring out that these noises mean things; she’s playing with their patterns and watching everyone around her to see our responses.

It’s amazing.

But the day is approaching when she’ll learn, “Teddy” and “brother.” I want to make these words sweet to her, without hiding the sadness in them. I want to be both reassuring and honest, and I don’t know how to do that yet. I have time, but she’s a verbal little creature and some days it feels like my time is running out.

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Journey to Portland

March 21, 2011

We set out later than we’d planned, driving under a blanket of clouds toward where the sun was setting. Dot signaled her appreciation of her new (forward facing!) car seat by napping in it, which made me feel comforted somehow. There will be difficult days ahead as we explain that she has a brother, that we love and miss him, days when she has to come to terms with how she feels about all of this, too. But for now, she feels safe and loved and the momentous nature of the trip is not even on her radar.

Portland Bound

Portland Bound

We drove into Portland in the dark, passing by streets we traveled often, once upon a time, when we carried so many hopes and fears here. We were welcomed by kind and efficient hotel staff and watched Dot’s exuberant discovery of a toilet paper roll that she could reach without assistance, and laughed as she ran through the room trailing toilet paper and giggling. We fell into soft, clean beds and woke to rain. We found our donuts, returned to the book lovers’ paradise that is Powell’s, foraged for snacks and lunch at Whole Foods, napped, bathed, and met N’s friend and his wife and watched as Dot charmed them. We brunched, returned to the Japanese Garden, had tea in the quiet, lobby of an old hotel, surrounded by dark wood and cushions. We walked by parks and museums.

And, on our last day, we made our way to the children’s garden where Teddy took his last few breaths.

It is so different in the spring. When last I was there it was mid-August, lush and leafy, and so warm that I remember sweating even in the shade, even in the thin, cotton hospital gown. Now it seemed so much less shaded, so much more open, gray and bright at the same time. Dot was asleep on her daddy’s shoulder as we entered. We walked to the place where we sat with our son as he died and we sat on the same bench, under the same ornamental plum tree, now bursting with pink blossoms. We cried and clung to each other as Dot slept on oblivious. It felt like forever, not long enough and too long at the same time.

And who knows how long we would have sat there, lost in the flood of memories, plum blossom petals drifting down on our heads and shoulders, if we hadn’t been called back to reality by the decidedly earthy and mundane smell of a fresh diaper. Which is some sort of perfect metaphor for life, isn’t it? The divine and the ridiculous, the sacred and the profane? And thank goodness. Because as much as I needed to lose myself in those memories, I needed to be pulled back to the present. This present, where I miss my little huckleberry every day, but where I also watch his sister grow into this amazing, joyful, immediate (and occasionally smelly) little person.

We passed the Tin Man. He looked enigmatic and sad, holding his flower pot and red shoes. I thought about kicking him, but in the end I didn’t. I still wish he had meant what I’d hoped he meant, but maybe I’m starting to accept that there was nothing I could have done that would have saved Teddy. Maybe this is why I felt sorry for the statue who’d betrayed my hopes, my last feeble belief in miracles.

Poor Tin Man, it wasn’t your fault. Nor mine. Nor mine.

Tin Man

Tin Man

Oh, darling boy, I still miss you so. I wish I could hold you again, that love had been enough to help you breathe, that you were in the back seat, too. I will always love you, always miss you. I will always want you back. That’s just part of who I am now.

I’m glad we went. I’m glad we found our way back to this place. I’m glad that Dot was with us when we did. I’m glad I didn’t shatter into a thousand pieces. I think it will be easier to return again, now that we know it won’t kill us. I think we’ll go back soon, and maybe I’ll bring a brush to clean up Teddy’s memorial brick. Or maybe I won’t.

There’s something beautiful about time and moss and tiny leaves.

Teddy's brick

Teddy's brick

 

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Westward

March 14, 2011

It is Spring Break, and if all goes well and we don’t back out, tomorrow we will drive West and spend some days in Portland. We will meet friends and visit the world’s best bookstore, and walk through the Japanese Garden in the spring time. N is excited to visit Voodoo Donuts and I am looking forward to some days of not cooking. Chances are good it will rain.

We will return, finally, to the hospital where Teddy was born and died. We will walk in the children’s garden and I will stand in front of that statue of the Tin Man and I will try to stare him down and fail. I will want to hug and kick that statue at the same time. I will sit on the bench where I sat with my firstborn as he took his last breaths, and I will carry my daughter to the place where his name is on the memorial and I will tell her, you had a brother and he was so, so beautiful.

I will remember who I was, who we were. I will send my love out to my baby boy and to that stunned and stricken couple and hope that love can travel backwards in time, that it can reach us where we were, not to make anything easier, but to offer some glimpse of a future that isn’t all one raw and gaping wound.

Maybe when we come back I will feel stronger, saner, wiser – I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just be less afraid of driving westward and less overwhelmed by the memories that are rooted there.

 


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Annual Review

March 4, 2011

Every year I write up my annual review for work. It’s a stressful process, now that I care about it again, but it makes me think hard about where I’ve just been and where I’d like to go. It helps me see patterns of behavior I need to work on or need to keep, and it reminds me of how much I get done in a year.

I’ve often thought I need to do an annual review of my personal life, too.  Here it is for 2010.

Major Accomplishments:

  1. Surviving bedrest in January. I was in denial about how hard this was, how much it threw me back to those days of bedrest with Teddy when everything seemed to be going wrong. I could have handled it better, asked for more help, opened up instead of closing down, but I survived it.
  2. Gave birth to a strong and healthy baby girl. With the help of N., and also of my good doctor and lots of kind medical staff at the local hospital.
  3. Learned to breastfeed. This was hard and the source of a lot of anxiety. I had a lot of help – the hospital’s lactation consultants, N., my mom, but a lot of it came down to me and Dot, figuring this thing out. We did, and I’m glad we did, but I’m also a lot less arrogant about “breast is best” than I used to be and a lot more understanding of why moms may choose not to breastfeed.
  4. Celebrated Teddy’s birthday by donating to Ronald McDonald House charities and by delivering anonymous chocolates to people at my workplace.
  5. Learned a lot about Work/Life balance, mainly that it’s really hard and that I can no longer play fast and loose with time management, but also that I’m happiest when I can focus on work while I’m at work and on home while I’m at home.
  6. Realized that grief is still affecting all parts of my life, including my work. I don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t be at this point, but just recognizing that I still carry it with me helps me make sense of why some days are more wearisome than I think they should be, which makes it easier to plow through, somehow.
  7. Learned to know my daughter. This isn’t so much an accomplishment as a gift, but it’s my favorite part of 2010.

Notable Challenges and Failures

  1. I refused to ask for help when I needed it, causing a lot of hassle for myself and, in one unhappy instance, for others. I need to get better at this.
  2. I kept thinking I should be “back to normal” now, forgetting that I don’t get to go back to that woman I was before Teddy was born. When I remember this, I’m better able to move through my days, less likely to be hard on myself.
  3. On several occasions, I failed to communicate clearly with N., expecting things from him without telling him of my expectations. We worked on this, and are still working, but if I could do 2010 over and make one change, I’d change this.
  4. I did not accomplish the scholarly publishing I need to do for work. This goes on the personal list because it’s the result of my failure to make myself a priority. Which also means that it’s connected with my inability to work a consistent shower time into our daily schedule. In 2011, I am going to make time for me, for work that doesn’t just benefit my workplace but that furthers my career, and for time to get clean at the end (or beginning, I’m not picky) of every day.

Goals for 2011.

  1. Move myself up on my list of priorities. Specifically, claim a daily shower time and carve out time for research and writing.
  2. Ask for help before disaster hits.
  3. Remember that I’m the mother of two children, and that while only one is alive, the other still needs thought and attention, and that it’s just part of life that I miss him on a daily basis, and that it’s okay if this makes me move a little slower sometimes.
  4. Communicate clearly with my partner, especially about Goals 1 and 2, and about parenting choices.
  5. Remember that consistency is good but that flexibility is necessary for survival. There are worse things than going to bed an hour late.
  6. Cook more, cook better. With a focus on moving away from prepared foods and serving up lots of veggies and proteins.
  7. Say thank you more often.
  8. Get in better shape before my incredibly mobile daughter whoops my ass.
  9. Swear more, swear better.
  10. Do something creative every week – writing, painting, storytelling, something.

Now that you’ve had time to reflect on 2010, how do you think you did? What would you like to do in 2011?