the first year

When Joseph died at the end of 2012, we couldn’t say that 2012 had been the worst year of our lives. It was the year we conceived our baby, the year he grew in my belly, the year we fell in love and felt such hope. It was only the last few days that were a nightmare.

We looked ahead to a bleak year. A do-over. A dark year of grief, disoriented to find ourselves plopped back down in the life we had before Joseph, empty-armed. We thought, “2013 is going to be the worst year of our lives.”

To soften this, we tore strips of pastel papers, decorated a jar, and labeled it “2013: The Year of Growing Things.” All year, we have written on the papers and put them in the jar. Visiting the butterfly house on Joseph’s due date. Planting his camellia. Visiting our friends-turned-family (“frambly” we say) in California. Buying Joseph’s bench. Conceiving our second child.

I can look back on 2013 through this lens. The good things. The small accomplishments. A hug on a bad day. The hope and promise that planting represents.

It isn’t the lens I always see through. It has been a truly hard year. But A. comes home from a Winter Solstice yoga class talking about survival (among other things). She says, “We’ve survived.” And I know this to be true in the deepest part of myself. It’s what we started off saying, when we emerged from our cocoon of winter grief to walk about in the world again, when people asked us, “How are you?” we often replied, “We’re surviving.”

We have survived this year, and we continue to survive. As soon as Anne said it, I heard it as a refrain in my head, saw it written out between moments and memories of this past year. I wrote a poem, and you can read it here on Glow in the Woods.


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© Burning Eye


Waiting, me desespero

me desespero—I despair

I spend hours on the internet, tugging at my lifelines. I check my email, waiting for the latest letter from one of the babylost mamas I have been writing with. I check the babylost blogs, waiting for a new post. I read the forums, trying to recognize myself in the aches and pains and hopes and joys of these other parents.

My heart breaks over and over for their stories and my own. I wait for the time when each break hurts a little less.

* * *

The waiting started six months ago. A bed, a tan wall, a spider in the corner by the ceiling. Waiting to feel our baby move.

Moments stretched long and gaping in my heart:

Waiting for a heartbeat.

Waiting for the world to just come and crush me and finish it.

Waiting for dawn.

Waiting for labor.

Waiting for the burn and ache of birth.

Waiting to see him. Waiting for them to take him away.

Waiting to be discharged from the hospital.

Waiting for my milk to come in. Waiting, waiting, waiting for it to dry up.

Waiting for my belly to deflate, the bleeding to stop, my muscles to tighten, my body to heal.

Waiting for my period. Reciting the names of my hormones in every possible order, trying to guess which one is surging: estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing, prolactin, follicle-stimulating.

Waiting for this migraine to go away.

Waiting as anxiety to creeps in and slowly tightens its claw around my throat.

* * *

I am waiting to feel God.

I used to be able summon God’s presence and lean back into the arms of God whenever I needed to. My sister says she admires me for my close relationship to God, and I feel like a phony. I am not close to God. God does not feel nearby.

I try to find God in other people. In the sympathy cards and emails. In the kindness of my coworkers. In the incredible unconditional love I feel from A. I sit on my stool and try to pray and the whole time our cat Isabel is bumping into my knees and my open palms, purring and rubbing herself all over me. Maybe our cats are God, A and I joke.

A wise friend tells me that whenever we think we have comprehended God, something happens to show us that we haven’t, and we have to widen our concept of God. We get stuck in thinking God is this or God is that, when God is so much more than we can conceive of.

God and I are playing Blind Man’s Bluff. I am the Blind Man, and I’m standing very still. I’m waiting for God to come closer, to feel the passing stir of air before I reach out and grab hold and cry out in triumph.

* * *

I wait, too, for the words to seep into my veins and creep down to my fingertips. I wait for the dusty charcoal lines and figures and shadows to order themselves behind my eyes. Sometimes, now, the images are in color.

Hope is a color.

* * *

I paint another stormy Frida sky.

I am sitting and writing in my journal, writing about this waiting, when I see the sky of my limbo, dark clouds blowing swiftly across a vast, empty plain. Dark above, dark below. I lie at the left side of the painting, on the horizon, resting my head on my outstretched arm. But I am not resting. My eyes are open. My fingers clawed into the hard, black ground. I press the weight of my legs into my toes, which are tucked under, as if ready to spring up and take off running.

This is what I would like to do. Run blindly into the flat and infinite right side of the canvas. See what is there just out of the frame. My body itches. A deep throb settles into my calves. Sitting still too long, my hips and my forearms and my fingers fall asleep, numb and needling until I shift position.

But there is nowhere to go. The future does not exist yet, no matter how hard I will it here more quickly.

I am a failure at one-day-at-a-time. All I want is for this day to end, and the next, and the next, until there is magically, miraculously, a baby growing in my womb again. And then, once I know it is there, fast forward through the terror of pregnancy until that baby is born safe and alive in my arms.

The thought of being able to try again gives me hope and makes me tremble with fear. My soul splits and half is giddy and half is knocked low, weighing me down. My attention darts back and forth between them until I am exhausted and confused.

The waiting has a purpose now, but purpose doesn’t come with control. I am at the whim of the thermometer and cervical mucus and pink lines and FedEx and plane travel.

There is absolutely nothing else I can do except wait.


© Burning Eye


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




Waiting for labor to begin.


The hours of intake, paperwork, bloodwork, nurses and midwife and doctor in and out.


Questions asked, answers recorded, medications tallied.


My body readied:

veins pinched,

hand pierced,

saline lock inserted.

Cervix checked, measured, discussed.

Ripener placed.

Contractions monitored, green line spooled across a slowly ticking black screen.


I marked time with vitals:

the crinkle of the blood pressure cuff, the beep of the thermometer.


Faced with a whole night of this, seconds magnified to hours, minutes stretched long and dark and gaping.



my body,

my labor,

my baby, life, future

—taken from me.


Absolute defeat.








for a chance at new life




Still, the midwife tells me not to track

body temperature,


changes in the cervix,

not to look for patterns where they can’t be found.


My only course of action taken from me,

another defeat.


Three cycles. She ticks off:




Assuming February, optimistic that this will be the month I bleed. But I am still waiting.


Time opens its dark maw.

Months as years.

I mark its passing in the drops of milk I find on each nursing pad,

hoping for one less tomorrow,

hoping for blood in my underwear instead.


I hold on to April.

Clutched in this dark winter, I wait for spring.


© Burning Eye