The Loss of You

Seeing the way your face changes, loses its newborn wrinkled alien-ness. The way your eyes lose their puffiness, how your nose stretches out. Your cheeks filling out, fattening up. Your face smiling, first involuntary, then on purpose, at all the delight in the world.

Your face at six months, seven months, taking on its new shape. Theorizing which features come from me, which come from our donor, joking which ones come, impossibly, from your mother.

Your face at one, snaggle-toothed, awkward. Watching it resolve into itself, your mouth forming words, opinions, wants. Your determined look as you put your head down, ball up your fists, and run that blind, head-first little-boy run.

Your face at three, four, five years old. Counting freckles. Searching for dimples.

Your face lengthening in adolescence, a darkening upper lip, the first hairs of a beard perhaps. Watching you rub your chin proudly.

Your face as an adult. Seeing who you become. Looking backwards at baby pictures to find the face of who you were always waiting to be.

Knowing you.

© Burning Eye

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Medusa

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I am Medusa.

Grief, the hundred screaming snakes of my hair.

I am contagious.

The death that came from me is contagious.

Don’t speak to me. Don’t look at me. The baby in your womb will turn to stone.

 

Don’t believe me.

I cannot turn anyone to stone.

It is all myth.

The monstrous daughter of brother-sister sea gods. Or perhaps once a beautiful maiden cursed by a jealous Athena. I have read that she was African, a symbol of the divine feminine, a dred-locked mother goddess defiled and turned ugly by a conquering patriarchy.

For days a line of Saul Williams’ slam poetry runs through my head:

a symbol of life and matriarchy

                        severed head

                        Medusa

A symbol of life.

I gave my son life. The shadow of Death is so dark, so enormous, that I don’t remember this often enough. I gave our son life. I gave birth to him.

 

I am Medusa.

Exiled, reviled.

I am made ugly. Grief has stripped me of my skin, exposing tendon and muscle and blood. I remind you of your mortality.

That is the secret, how I turn you to stone.

First I steal the words from your throat.

 

I find her name on a blog. A network of blogs, really. A thread I can follow in this darkness of grief until I find another like me, and another, and another. A whole blind world of families with invisible children.

On this blog, they call themselves medusas. They say they are a glow in the woods, a cabin of refuge where they invite us in to take off the hat that hides our snakes. A place where we can look one another in the eye without flinching.

I put on this identity like a well-worn shirt. Familiar. Warm. A perfect fit.

During the day I cover my snakes with a hat. I keep in the keening, the wailing, the cries that echo inside my hollow shell. I lower my eyes so others can’t see the sorrow, the exhaustion, the red rims of my lids—not that anyone gets close enough to see. I understand it must be this way. I understand this ugliness is frightening. I am scared all the time.

 

You avert your eyes. Paralysis creeps through your eyelids, your lips curled in an awkward, sympathetic smile.

You try to hold up a mirror.

You change the subject.

You angle a foot away from me, about to take a step.

Medusa, your silence accuses. Denying me motherhood.

I am Medusa.

How dare you treat me like I am Medusa.

I exist in this limbo of contradictions. Claiming, rejecting. Straining towards the past, yearning for the future. Afraid to remember, afraid to forget. Numb yet drowning in a sea of jumbled emotions. Helpless, strong; darkness, light; yin and yang.

I gave birth to death. Surely that endows me with some mythical powers. Surely that elevates me to the status of some goddess.

I choose Medusa.

 

© Burning Eye

Spring

I resent spring.

 

The new buds of leaves. The greening. Bright flowers opening everywhere, bursts of azaleas, yards splashed with buttercups. The cakes of oak pollen that clutter the streets.

 

Seasons are changing and time is moving on and it’s leaving me behind. No, time is taking me with it, and we are leaving Joseph behind.

 

It is my birthday again. I am turning 32, and this is the first year since I was a child that I don’t want to turn a year older. Not because I have any stereotypical panic about aging—I’m not the type to turn 30 every year for the rest of my life—but because I don’t want to turn 32 without our baby. I don’t want to be a year older than when he was in our lives. I don’t want to be yet another year older when we finally, hopefully, have a living child that we have spent years preparing for.

 

This is the first birthday, too, where I feel old. Not old with excitement like when I turned 13 or 18 or 21. But old like I have aged years in the past four months. I have aged years. Every day since Joseph died inscribes the line between before and after more deeply, separates more clearly that younger, innocent self from who I am now.

 

I look at myself in the mirror and see how much I have aged. I see what my mother meant when she told me, some twenty years ago holding her hand against mine, how young and beautiful my skin was. Now I have her skin. Now I have her slow speckling of silver hairs shining stronger against my dark hair.

 

April 25th, my birthday, is four months since Joseph died. April 27th is four months since he was born. April 26th is one year since my last period before I conceived him, that date he was measured from as he grew.

 

A year ago, springtime, I was going to the doctor for an ovary check. A year ago, springtime, I was filling my prescription for Clomid, swallowing the first of 5 pills, nervous for how it might affect my already edgy mood. A year ago we were sending the sperm bank our request for release of vials, and I was being lectured by the horrible woman who runs it about getting the request in on time, as if conception conforms to their FedEx schedule. I was charting like crazy, peeing on two different kinds of OPKs to be sure, really sure, of ovulation. We were awaiting the arrival of the mushroom-shaped shipping container, taking photos of every step, every little frozen vial that steamed when it hit the air. The expensive OPK smiled at me one morning, and then we were inseminating; I was calling in late to work, giddy. We were calling the doctor, scheduling an IUI, calling out sick to work, hauling our heavy liquid nitrogen canister, lying back on the exam table trying to relax. You did everything right, the doctor told us, a year ago, springtime.

 

Joseph was conceived on May 10th. I knew I was pregnant within a few days, though I doubted so hard I convinced myself I didn’t know. But we knew. We knew our baby was there and celebrated him every single day of his life.

 

I have always loved spring.

 

The bright chartreuse popping out on the branches. The slow wave of buds opening, daffodils, forsythia, tulip trees, then dogwoods, redbuds, cherry trees. Propping the doors and windows, bare feet leaving prints in the dry dusting of pollen that coats the hardwood floors.

 

Maple seeds swell and samaras helicopter down. New trees sprout out of every hole the squirrels have dug in our pine straw, some hickories, a stray holly, dozens of bird cherries, the persistent mulberries.

 

Blossoms fade, turn brown and slough to the ground, hiding in last year’s leaves.

 

This is just the muck for planting new seeds, my mother has told me at every difficult time in my life.

 

Mud, darkness, dormancy, hope.

 

It is springtime.

 

*                 *                *

Also remembering my friend’s baby Finn today, who shares my birthday, and holding them in the Light.

 

© Burning Eye

 

 

Death

Today my writing is at Glow in the Woods. I am so, so honored that they are publishing a piece I wrote about Death today. If you haven’t been over to Glow yet, please visit their site–it is an incredible community for the babylost, and I would be doubly lost without it.

This is a sketch I did of Death, after the conversation referenced in my post on Glow. I’ve done several now, but she’s my favorite one. There’s something in her face I accidentally got just right and can’t seem to capture again.

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Hope

I know mothers who have lived a nightmare.

 

The mother who fears her adopted baby will be taken back.

 

The one who waits and waits and no adoption ever comes through.

 

The mother whose baby never wakes in the crib.

 

The one whose baby dies in childbirth.

 

And others, mothers who could say, “I am a mother”

With no living proof.

 

This was my worst nightmare. For a child of mine to die.

 

I think about my ancestors, those strong Nebraska farmwives, those unknown Texas

housewives, who watched baby after baby, child after child, succumb to all

the fragile limits of mortality.

 

Now I have a new nightmare—that theirs could become

my own, one more stone on my chest.

 

I hope this is the only worst day of your life, my mother wishes me, on the day

I give birth to our baby boy

who had already died.

 

© Burning Eye

Storm Comin’

When that storm comes, don’t run for cover

When that storm comes, don’t run for cover

When that storm comes, don’t run for cover

Don’t run from the comin’ storm ‘cause there ain’t no use in runnin’.

 

When that rain falls, let it wash away

When that rain falls, let it wash away

When that rain falls, let it wash away

Let it wash away, that fallin’ rain, the tears and the troubles.

 

When those lights flash, hear that thunder roll

When those lights flash, hear that thunder roll

When those lights flash, hear that thunder roll

When you listen to that thunder roar, let your spirit soar.

 

When that love comes, open up the door

When that love comes, open up the door

When that love comes, open up the door

You gotta stand on up and let it in, let love through your door.

 

When that storm comes, don’t run for cover

When that storm comes, don’t run for cover

When that storm comes, don’t run for cover

Don’t run from the comin’ storm ‘cause you can’t keep a storm from comin’,

No you can’t keep a storm from comin’

No you can’t keep a storm from comin’.

 

“Storm Comin’” by the Wailin’ Jennys

 

The day before Christmas Eve, I was wailing along with the Wailin’ Jennys as our car climbed the last mountain pass on I-40 on the way to Black Mountain. I was thinking about our baby, one hand on my belly as I sang. What a storm our baby would be in our life! What love! Our life was about to change forever—not in that head-shaking regretful way people were saying to us, but in a good way, the best way. We were ready for our baby.

Let that storm come. I’m gonna open up the door.

Two days later, our baby was dead.

For a few weeks after Joseph died, I couldn’t listen to the Wailin’ Jennys at all. I couldn’t do much of anything, except, oddly, make lists of things that needed to get done. Daycares to be called to cancel our spot on the waitlist. Replace the thermostat. Write lesson plans, and, oh yeah, don’t forget to tell the sub about the roaches. And give her the combination to the lock on the closet. And tell her where to find the math books.

But the song has been creeping back in. Seven weeks after I gave birth to Joseph, I can’t get it out of my head. What a different storm that has unleashed its fury over our heads. I can see its clouds for miles out still, rolling towards me, black and low. Helplessness my lightning, anger its thundering echo. Emptiness and sorrow my rain.

I can’t keep the storm from coming.

But what of love?

Now, I drive home from school on the highway, belting out this song at the top of my lungs, crying and dabbing at my tears underneath sunglasses, thinking of love. How much I loved Joseph every day he grew inside me. How much love I had been saving up for him once he was born. How much I still love him and how fucking unfair it is that he’s not here to receive all this love I have to give him.

I am trying to figure out what it means to open my door to the love I still have for our sweet little boy. How do I love him when he’s not here? Early on, I read some advice that I should still use all that nurturing energy I had stored up to nurture him, my absent baby. I didn’t understand what was meant by that. Was I supposed to carry around a substitute, hug a blanket or stuffed animal? Later someone else put it to me in terms of honoring Joseph’s place in our lives. Talking about him, remembering him, loving him. I think about it every day—this nurturing, this honoring. But I still haven’t figured it out. I haven’t figured much out at all.

But I do leave that door open. And I have come to expect that when someone else’s love comes in, it is a flash and a roar and a washing away that brings me to my knees in tears. I do know that love flows both ways, and when I let others in, I swell with their love and it magnifies my own.

Maybe that’s God, A said, of the signs of love we have received—the cards, flowers, emails, phone calls, prayers, the arms of light that reach around us and over us and under us.

It is a powerful god. I want to think of it this way, when I am wondering who and what and where the God is I used to think I knew. I want to think of God as this love, reaching through others to help hold me up when I’m not strong enough to stand on my own.

© Burning Eye

Lifeboat

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A is my lifeboat. A lot of babylost mamas say their spouse is their rock, but a rock is too hard, too rough, too heavy to be a metaphor for A. So I say she is my lifeboat. It is because I have her that I know I will live. Because we love each other, cling to each other, I know we will survive. We are both soft, bouyant, both adrift in this sea of grief.

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In this one, we are afloat in a bathtub. One evening when I could do nothing else, she held me in the bath.

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Little by little, I have overcome certain fears. Fear of leaving the house. Fear of running into someone I know. Fear of being asked where the baby is. Little by little, I have connected with other babylost parents, and I don’t feel so alone. Now, in this sea of grief where A and I embrace on our raft, there are other rafts, too. There is company in this lonely journey.

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© Burning Eye

Babylost

Babylost

 

that’s what they call us

invisible mothers and fathers who have birthed death

 

the word surfaced to fill the void left by language

in a culture that has no label for us

not so much because the measure of our loss is less

but because they do not know how to look us in the eye,

or speak our names

 

Babylost.

the baby is lost.

not I lost the baby like I lost my carkeys but

a switching of subject and object—

the baby is lost to me

my baby is lost to me

I am lost to my baby

 

I am lost.

 

Loss:

the act of losing possession, or

the harm resulting from, or

the state of being without something one has had, or

death.

 

what is life now

where do I begin

who am I without the baby

 

Lost.

A babylost mama, they call me

in the underground online,

the club I never asked to join.

an identity, a definition, to wrap myself in

 

I have a word now.

That is where I begin.

 

© Burning Eye

I’ve written Joseph’s death-and-birth story. I first wrote it all down in the hospital, the day after I delivered him, but that version is private. I’d been putting off writing a public version for weeks. I’m not sure why. But I’ve done it now, and it’s up under “Our Story.”