Posts Tagged ‘fear’


Mumblings on writing and work

January 13, 2012

Angie, at Still Life With Circles, has an excellent post up on writing and procrastination, both subjects near and dear to my heart, and especially relevant to me today.

You see, yesterday I finished a full draft of an article about some library survey data and what one of the trends means for academic libraries. It probably sounds boring as hell, something common to most academic writing unless your own work/research is related to said writing. It isn’t the article I dream of writing, the one that will have a major impact on library services and make me an instantly recognizable figure at fancy national conferences. But it’s a fully drafted article. I wrote it with a colleague and after we hear back from some other colleagues who’ve volunteered to give us some feedback, we’ll submit it to a journal.

The journal will publish it, because it’s already good. By the time we submit, it will be better.

I can write, you see.

It’s something I do often at work. I advise on system-wide emails, take others’ ideas and my own and create policy statements or guidelines, put together web pages so library users will (hopefully) have some online resources that are helpful and clear and readable. I translate tech speak to human speak. I like doing this, these forays into language, into this deeply important aspect of what it means to be human. I like that this is part of my work. I can conduct rigorous research and incorporate various theories, the brain children of others, into my own work and words. This little article, it is good. It may even be moderately important. I’m pleased with it.

And yet…

The article I really want to write, the one incorporating years of research, is the one I’ve been putting off and putting off. I stared at my notes. I took more notes. I did something else. I beat myself up about not writing it on a daily basis until my interesting article idea became a nightmare, a stone around my neck, and a clear indication of how badly I’ve been broken.

Because after my administrators sat me down in their offices and told me that they like me, like my work, but that I needed to write and publish or they wouldn’t be able to hold onto me, procrastinating that one thing I needed to do, especially since that one thing was something I’m generally interested in and good at – well, that’s something I can only explain by being broken. Every time I tried to piece together some writing that would, well, save my job and grant me some security, I came face to face with how much harder writing is for me after Teddy’s death. I saw the breaks and cracks and holes where my talents and ambition and fortitude used to be.

Writing this other article, this article that wasn’t as important to me as my own pet research project, this article that I wrote with someone else and therefore had small deadlines for which I needed to be accountable, it helped me fix part of myself.

I didn’t know I could do that. Last month, I was thinking along these lines – Hello, my name is Erica and my son died and now I am broken. Also, my family is broken. Also, the world. And now I suck at things I used to be good at.

Today, I am thinking like this – Hello, my name is Erica and my son died and now I am broken. Also my family is broken. Also the world. And now I need to work extra hard to do some of the things that used to come easy to me, and I hate that and may never stop resenting it, but I’m getting better at it, at fixing parts of myself, at bringing bits of myself back or making new bits of myself to fill in holes that need filling.

I’m writing that pet article. Right now, today. I grind the words out and they hurt, but they’re good words. I’ll have it drafted within 10 days, even with beginning-of-the-semester business.

It only took me three and a half years to get here.

By the time I’m 60, perhaps I’ll be fully functional. Maybe I’ll stop thinking of myself as broken. For now, though, it’s a huge relief to realize that I’m not broken beyond all usefulness or repair.

I want to know – where are your broken places, the things you used to be good at that were/are hard or impossible to do? Have you been able to fix any of these places or find ways around the brokenness? Do you think being broken will ever, well, suck less? Or do we just learn better to deal with it?



October 8, 2009

I’ve never had this before.  At this point in my pregnancy with Teddy, I was already worrying, fearful, looking up words like congenital diaphragmatic hernia and ECMO in medical databases and on the web.  I was hoping these words had nothing to do with me, but I was still afraid of them.  Yesterday I had the strange feeling that something was missing from my pregnancy with Dot, and I realized that this time we may not have to drive to the perinatologist’s office even once, never mind once or twice a week (knock on wood).  And I realized that part of what’s missing is the fear, the particular brand of fear that hits when you hear “we think something may be wrong with your baby.”

I still have plenty of other fears.  Fear seems to be the price that babylost moms pay when entering into new pregnancies, and I don’t get any sort of special pass.  If special passes were handed out at all (and it’s appallingly apparent that they aren’t) there are more deserving candidates, anyway.  I fear for Dot.  I worry about what I can feel and what I can’t, when she moves and when she doesn’t, about all the things I can’t control.

These fears are constantly in the background, but they often bubble up to the surface, too, like swamp gas, bursting with nasty splorts and splats and releasing noxious fumes into the atmosphere of my attempted peace.  Your baby may die wafts through my waking thoughts, my dreaming nights.

And still, the fear I taste now is a different flavor than the fear I felt before, strange because your baby may die is the root of my fears now, just as it was then.  But what I fear now – all the possibilities of things going wrong – maddening as it is, is different than they think something is wrong with my baby, and from something is wrong with my baby and he may die because of it. There are days when I really prefer the fears I have now over the ones I had before, when I’m relieved to be dealing with these new fears instead.

Then again, there are days where I just want to scream because I’m so used to being afraid for my children, more used to it than anyone should be.  I know I don’t get a free pass, but I really, really want one.  I peek in at a pregnancy chat board (I know, I should know better) and read posts with titles like “My biggest fear may come true – my doctor thinks I need a C-Section,” and “My biggest fear – pooping during labor” and I cackle like the embittered old hag I am and think bitter thoughts like, “If you only knew, you foolish little idiot.”  And then I shake myself off and hope they never know, not really, and I think wistfully of the first 20 weeks of my pregnancy with Teddy when I was a foolish young idiot myself.

I hug my fears to myself and wait for Dot to kick again, and hope like mad that this time is different, new.


My chant

October 1, 2009

Ultrasound tomorrow, and this is all I want to hear:

Everything looks good. Everything looks really good. Everything looks normal. Everything looks fine.

I’ve said it before but good, fine, normal – these are my words. I want to hear them until I can forget (for a minute or two at least) that other words exist.

N and I were talking about this and he reminded me that, even if we hear those words, it doesn’t guarantee anything.  I was surprised by how angry I was at him for being so right, for reminding me of what I don’t want to remember.  Not that I was really angry at him.  I am angry that “nothing is certain” seems to be a lesson I can’t escape.

Even knowing that nothing is certain, I’m still out for all the encouragement and hope I can get.  So to bridge the time between now and tomorrow at 1:30 or so, I’m going to keep chanting away in my head.

Good. Fine. Normal. Good. Fine. Normal. Good. Fine. Normal.




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.


Heartbreak averted

August 13, 2009

This baby I’m carrying doesn’t like being tracked by doppler.

After spending half an hour in the waiting room before my appointment (extra fun when you can feel anxiety building with every passing minute), I sat through the routine questions and chart updates.  Then my doctor pulled out the gel (N and I keep joking that we should have purchased stock in gel.  It seems like I’ve been through enough of it in the past two years to single-handedly support the industry that makes it) and started hunting for baby’s heartbeat with the doppler.  My heartbeat was very loud, but baby’s couldn’t be found.

And after several minutes, still couldn’t be found.  Again.  And while the doctor was reassuring and seemed to think that everything would be fine, it felt like she wasn’t quite so reassuring as she’d been when this happened at our last prenatal appointment.  She stepped out to warm up the ultrasound machine, while N and I stewed and sweated in the exam room.

It felt like hours before we were able to move down to the ultrasound room, though it was probably only minutes.  Then, after what felt like a another small eternity, the inside of my uterus showed up on the screen with a still, tiny figure floating in the middle of it.  I couldn’t see the heartbeat or any movement; I was certain we were doomed.  And, just then, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, kick! We watched him/her wiggle enthusiastically for several minutes, obviously and emphatically alive.  My doctor speculated that this child of mine may have been moving around too much for the doppler to pick up the heartbeat. I’m so relieved I can barely function.

As we walked into the parking lot I looked down at my belly and said, “Kid,” in the sternest tone I could muster, and N put his hand on my belly and said (to my belly), “We’re so glad you’re okay.”  Then, to me: “No scolding the baby just yet.”

He’s right, of course, but even if things go really, really well, I think I’ll have a head full of white hair before this child even hits the teenage years.

I should be so lucky.


She said, he said

August 7, 2009

Talking to my mom on the phone last night, it becomes clear that she is aching, positively aching, for me to be okay again.  She doesn’t want me to be afraid and she hopes that I can find peace in this new pregnancy.  She’s found peace with it, she says.

And even though I know all of this comes from love, deep love, love for her own child, I nearly snap.  I nearly say, “How nice for you,” in my most sarcastic tone.  I nearly say “Well, of course it’s easier for you.  Your baby didn’t die in your arms.”  Instead I tell her that I’m trying, that I’m trying to accept the fact that I will be living with a lot of fear for a while now, that I know she loves me and sympathizes but that I don’t think she quite understands, and that really, I’m glad she doesn’t fully understand.  I hurt her, but I don’t mean to.  And I don’t hurt her as much as I could.

I feel guilty after talking to her, for hurting her feelings, for not being able to make her feel better by feeling more at peace myself.  And I feel a bit angry with her about this, which, of course, makes me feel guilty again.

I’m glad Mom’s found peace.  At this point in my life, I’d be glad for anyone who has.  But her peace isn’t mine.  She may never quite understand or accept why this has to be.  And, knowing how much I’d have given to make Teddy safe and happy, I can imagine how it hurts her to see me struggle.  But I can’t feel something I can’t feel just to make her happy, and I deeply believe that peace and acceptance will find me (or not) in their own good time; I won’t try to force them in case they run away from me like spooked wild horses.


Since we are staying in a hotel room until this weekend, phone privacy isn’t really something we do right now.  N caught a lot of that phone conversation, making worried faces at me as I spoke to Mom (and probably as he watched my face while she was speaking to me).  After I said goodbye to Mom, we talked about it, about new pregnancy fears, and about how much we miss Teddy.

He voiced his fear about what would happen to him and to us if something goes wrong again, about how he does’t think he’d be able to do anything – work, family events, socializing – for a long time afterward if we lose another child.   Hearing him speak aloud the worst thing that could happen made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my gut clench into a tight, unhappy ball, but it also clarified my feelings about the immensity of the gamble we are taking.  It made me realize how real my fears are; they aren’t foolish or flighty or falsely inflated, or things that can be pushed away by force of will.  They’re reasonable, experience-based, and they’re going to be with me for a while.

And we miss Teddy so very much, both of us.  We know this.  I know this.  But it’s sometimes good to hear N talk about how grief can overwhelm him at any place and any time, about how he’s decided not to fight it.  It was good to hear him say, He was so beautiful, and, I’m glad we were able to take him out into the garden. We don’t cry much around each other any more, but we cried together a little last night, and it was sad and sweet and healing.

It’s a relief, an absolute relief, after talking to someone who doesn’t – quite – understand, to talk to the person who does, absolutely.  It makes me want to write, I’m so lucky, in spite of everything.


Called out

July 14, 2009

My mother called me out last night.  With motherly precision and insight, she gently and kindly, um, nailed me.

I had called to let her know I’d arrived home safely from my conference and that the conference had gone well.  We had started talking about other things – my newfound fear of flying, how good it was to be home, upcoming moving arrangements, and she told me, hesitantly, that she had a B.aby Ein.stein lullaby CD that she wanted to send to me so that I could play it for the new baby.  I hemmed and hawed a little, but finally said, Okay, please send it and I’ll try to listen to it. And she said, I know how you bonded with Teddy right away, and I think this baby deserves that, too.  Maybe the CD will help.

At this point, talking became very difficult.  This is the kind of statement that, normally, I’d resent terribly, but I’d been thinking along similar lines myself, and here Mom just put it into words in a way that I couldn’t ignore, knocking the breath right out of me.  She’s right.  I hate it, but she’s right.

I’m so damned afraid.  It eases sometimes, but so much of the time I feel as though, if I acknowledge that I might be lucky, all luck will run away from me.  I’m afraid of miscarriage, of another congenital defect, afraid that my body will fail this small spark of life before it gets a chance to be a person.  I am, in fact, so afraid, that I have a very hard time thinking of my little embryonic blob as a baby, of attaching myself to this child by giving into hopes and dreams as I did with my firstborn.  When I was pregnant with Teddy, I spoke to my belly all the time, long before he could hear me.  The only thing I seem to be able to say to my belly now is Are you okay? Please be okay.

It’s confusing and scary, and seems to be yet another avenue by which guilt can find me.  Does this baby deserve love?  Absolutely.  S/he deserves love, and dreams, and hopes every bit as much as his/her brother did.  One of the things that I’m so grateful for, is that we loved Teddy as hard as we could for the brief time that he was with us, in my belly and out.  I’m convinced that he felt that, which has helped me overcome more than a few sleepless nights.

Now, I stumble where I used to fly.  I love this new bit of life, with it’s beautiful heartbeat and terrifyingly beautiful potential, but with a tentative and fearful love.  What kind of beginning is it for such a precious and wanted life, to be stinted of open-hearted joy and unconditional love because of my fears?  I hate to think that I’m neglecting my second child, already, or that I’m so damaged I won’t be able to love and care for this one properly.

Teddy wasn’t here long enough to be loved the way I wanted to love him.  I don’t get to watch his personality form, to know what his voice would have sounded like, to wonder what path in life he will choose.  If this new child makes it, grows up, s/he will get all of those things that Teddy never will.  And I want, fiercely, for this little one to have all of that, but it’s hard not to be sad and even a little jealous on Teddy’s behalf because of this.  Even though I know better.

I think the balance will come.  I don’t know if it will come with a Ein.stein CD, but lullabies seem as good a place as any to start.