heavy

The news comes in the morning:

We lost him.

They did an emergency c-section.

 

It is pouring outside and I

Am nursing our baby

who shared his due date.

She, 8 days early,

Alive.

He, 2 days late,

Dead.

 

Their nightmare opens wide before me

A ton of bricks falling in slow motion, all day,

Piece by piece

On my bruised, heavy heart.

 

Over and over

I relive our own shock,

Our own early days.

Hearts, breasts, eyelids swollen from weeping.

I hear the echo of myself wailing.

 

As if, in reliving,

I could save them from the pain.

 

I go to sleep and wake again.

He is still dead.

 

I nurse our daughter again, alive.

He is still dead.

 

This world is wholly unfair.

One dead, one alive.

 

They will wake each day to the loss of him.

Each day a new insult:

The box of Enfamil samples on the front porch,

The coupon in the mailbox for nursing bras,

The email discounts on their baby registry.

 

I’m sorry, I whisper to each of them in the dark.

Because there is nothing else I can do.

 

© Burning Eye

 

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today, 1/31

My sister calls to tell me being an adult sucks. She says, You’d think things like addiction, losing your job, and babies dying were rare events. But they’re not. They happen all the fucking time.

Her dog is dying. Died. Today.

Today, your due date, Little One.

Due date, shmoo date, my brain retorts. It shouldn’t mean anything. This date was always hypothetical. My sentences cycle into the conditional tense of some parallel life that I can barely imagine. Yet I try. You would have been two, if you’d been born today. We would have already experienced these firsts I have with your sister. I would have been a different kind of mother. I might have—maybe, probably—been pregnant again, or you might have even had a brother or sister that could not now possibly exist.

It feels as far away from now as a distant star. Something incomprehensible, like how we see its light even if it died millions of years ago.

Two years ago today we drove ourselves to the butterfly house and stood, fragile creatures that we were, among them and saw your paper kite butterfly for the first time.

This morning as I am getting dressed your sister fingers the black lacy lines of your butterfly tattoo on my shoulder. But it just feels like skin and she quickly turns her attention to the more interesting bumps and moles on my chest.

Your new cousin was born this morning. Another little girl. We get the news at lunch, and a picture. I search her face for you.

I will always be doing this. Looking for you. Wondering. The way expectant parents do, only your gestation has become my whole life.

It could just be a day, A says. I think she is trying to say today doesn’t have to mean anything.

But it’s too late.

Today, already, a birth, a death. When two years ago there was nothing. It was all over by then, your birth, your death. Our lives, already derailed onto those parallel tracks, and us, already hurtling here, away from you.

I realized last night I no longer relive your death every day.

But I do say good morning to you every day, and you and I, we say goodnight to your sister each night. I think of you, not so much as you would have been, but as you were, so briefly.

A faint glimmer of starlight still reaching me.

this time of year

I’m having a particularly hard day today.

Trying not to think back to those days leading up to Christmas, when I knew something was wrong but didn’t know I knew. Trying not to think about which day was which, what I did on the 22nd, or the 23rd, or the 24th. It’s enough knowing that on the 25th I felt my little boy’s last movements. It’s enough knowing that on the 25th we learned he was dead. Enough knowing it’s been two years now.

No, it’s not “enough.” It’s too much. Some days it’s just too much.

I have a poem up on Glow this week. A small thing. A quiet thing. I have so much to say, but it’s all jammed up in my head. Beginnings of sentences. Middles of tirades. Ends of sobs. None of it feels new. And I am reminded that this is what trauma is–a wound that may heal but leaves a scar that aches on rainy days. And that there are triggers that take me right back there. To the grief. To the loneliness. The isolation. The touch of death in my womb. The fear that I could spread it.

Being there–here–is so familiar.

I guess some days I feel like I’ve really reached a place people call the “new normal.” Our little family is doing well, me and A and baby M and our absent little boy. But “normal” implies somewhat like everyone else, and days like today I remember that we are not like everyone else. We are apart, the babylost. Forever changed.

© Burning Eye

expecting

“I didn’t know you were expecting again,” she says.

 

I put my hands

to my twenty-seven week belly.

 

Expecting

to feel my baby’s last kick,

the deep abyss of stillness that follows.

 

Expecting

the hollow silence

underneath my lone heartbeat.

 

Expecting

every day

my daughter will die like her brother.

 

My friend’s baby—

a rainbow—

over a year now,

pulls on her legs,

gives me a suspicious look

over her shoulder.

 

“Yes,” I say.

 

I rub my hands over the skin where

my daughter sleeps underneath.

Later, she will wake up,

gently kneading hands or feet,

crossing or uncrossing legs,

pushing into my right side

like her brother used to do.

 

For a moment,

I will be reassured.

 

Expecting

her first cry

as she is placed

on my chest,

new and wet.

 

Expecting

to swaddle her,

name her,

bring her home.

 

Expecting

my daughter to live.

 

“Yes,” I say. “Yes. I am

expecting.”

 

*        *         *

One more week. Or less. Expecting–wishful thinking, really–each day to go into labor. Saturday is Week 39, our voluntary induction day. It’s time to meet this little girl on the outside.

 

© Burning Eye

the babies inside me

At the end of yoga class, I lie in sivasana and think about this baby I still carry inside of me. I wait for the baby to kick. I worry about the blackness that would fill me if this baby, too, died. I squeeze my heart and eyes, hands around my belly, trying to shut out fear. I imagine the birth, holding my new baby on my chest, handing our baby—a living, wiggly miracle—to A.

We are so focused on this baby, on making it, putting one foot in front of the other. Some days Joseph is more present than others. He is a part of me that lives on a parallel plane just below my visible reality; the shadow that grows or stretches or shrinks with the angle of the sun.  I dread the weight of his loss when our daughter is born. The seeing, knowing, experiencing just how much we have lost that I’ve heard other babylost parents talk about. Losing him all over again.

Some days it is too much—the curtains I make for the nursery that I never made for Joseph; the crib we never assembled for him that now sits in the corner of the baby’s room—and I have to close it out. Disconnect the pieces of myself and fill my mind with something else. I cannot indulge the sorrow that wells up in me, as I did those first months after he died. I do not submerge my body in the bath while I weep. I do not sit, hands and fingers covered in charcoal dust, and contemplate the darkness I have just spilled on the paper. I do not read, and read, and read about grief and mourning and all the babies who have died. But sometimes I sit in the glider for a few minutes, just sitting, rocking, holding Joseph in my mind.

The yoga teacher rings a chime. I take her deep breath in, her soft breath out. I rouse myself, sit slowly up and put my hands in prayer position. She says, And bow to honor the babies inside you.

And I smile, an inward smile. I look down at my belly, where my daughter resides, and then at my heart, where my son is. One a temporary home, the other a permanent dwelling. I close my eyes and feel my blood pulsing, carrying with it fetal cells from both my babies mixed with my own genetic material. Endlessly circulating.

I touch my forehead to my fingertips and bow. I carry both of you,I whisper to them.

*               *                *

I am sad today. I sit in the glider and look at Joseph’s portrait. I am reading the poems in To Linger on Hot Coalssome of which are mine. Revisiting some of that early grief. Letting the grief of other mothers in just a little.

And I realize it is the 27th again. Joseph’s fifteen month stillbirthday. I don’t understand how these anniversaries seep into our unconscious. Why today? Two days ago, my anxiety spike as this baby slept peacefully away in my womb, ignoring my increasing pokes and prods. It was the 25th, the fifteen month anniversary of Joseph’s death.

Joseph, I miss you so much.

 

© Burning Eye

moments, waiting

I have a dream that I am driving home in the dark when I realize that I have left the road and am driving on the ties between two sets of railroad tracks. I can see the texture of the railroad ties more than I can feel them under my tires. The tracks stretch out in front of me in a slight arc towards the right. On either side of the bank is a winter wood, grey and brown trunks amidst a bare scrabble of saplings and brambles. Through the trees on my left, I can see the headlights of cars on the highway—the right road, the one I’m supposed to be on.

At least I’m going in the right direction, my brain says, before I think, No, no, no. I’m not supposed to be driving on railroad tracks!

I look behind me, unsure of when I left the road, how long I’ve been driving in these dark woods. I could just reverse. No, what if there’s a train coming down one of these tracks?

I try to see the ground beneath the trees. I wonder if its swampy, if my car will sink into ruts and get stuck. I consider calling my dad, calling the police, letting someone know my predicament.

Slowly, I turn the steering wheel and descend down the gravel bank. My car becomes some kind of super-strong all-terrain vehicle. I do not sink into mud. I crunch through leaves and over logs as I make a wide arc to turn around, heading back towards the tracks.

I look both ways, like I’m going to cross the street. I see a light coming, far away, but quickly. I wait. The train rushes past and I am relieved to be off the tracks. A minute later, another train comes from the other direction.

After this one passes, I realize I have noticed something. I think, There is enough room that I could drive on one set of tracks while another train runs on the second track. I feel reassured, pull forward and turn left, heading back the way I came.

*            *            *

I take Joseph to be framed. His portrait. But this is how I think of it: I take Joseph to be framed.

I carry him to the car, unsure of how to situate him. Face down? Face up? I end up propping him upright behind my purse in the passenger seat. His first ride in the car.

We drive to the frame shop, go in together. I put him on the counter and am pleased that the woman treats him gently. She lays out mats and frames, to match the softness of the portrait, she says. He begins to come together. Slight gray mat hugging him in close. Curved black wood cradling the outside.

Is this your baby? she asks.

Yes, I tell this stranger. He was our first. He was stillborn. I do not say how hard it was to bring him out of the house. I do not make the vague threats I want about what I’ll do if they damage his portrait in any way. I think she understands.

She asks if a week is okay. It’s okay, I nod, even though I’d rather wait and watch while she does the job, take him right home with me afterwards. Like we’ve gone for a haircut.

Do I say good-bye to him? Not out loud. I leave him sitting on the counter and walk out the door.

*            *            *

I get home and there is a wasp with purple wings dying on the deck. It turns somersaults, flashing its metallic purple to the grey sky.

*            *            *

I stay home now, alone, but I am never alone. The baby kicks in my belly, readjusting, pushing my ribs so I sit up straight. Bumble Bean is growing, healthy. This morning I get a swift, hard kick that wakes me up. Nothing like the last few days of Joseph’s life in my belly. The slowness I perceived but didn’t understand. The small shifts, less and less frequent.

I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about it. But I do. Every few hours I cycle through this remembering, unsure if I should cut it off, wondering if it’s a betrayal if I do. All the while anxious to get back to the moment where this baby fills me with hope.

I can’t help but wonder, as we watch Bumble Bean grow on the ultrasound screen each week, what we missed with Joseph. Why he was so much smaller than this baby. Why he died. We didn’t watch him so closely. We didn’t know.

We won’t ever know.

*            *            *

Another dream:

A nurse in pale blue scrubs stands at my bedside. There is something familiar about her slightly-curly, blonde hair; something in the shape of her face I recognize as she bends over me imperceptibly to rouse me. She calls my name softly in a singsong voice, then says, “It’s ti-ime.”

© Burning Eye

Dear Death,

I wrote this strange little thing last night. Thinking of Death again in a conscious way. I’m not sure what I think of it, but here it is.

 

Dear Death,

How have you been? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. I wonder, is it that we’ve just missed each other? Are you there in the crowd but I can’t see you over other people’s heads? Have you just left the places I am entering?

I almost saw you a few weeks ago. You were at the house of the son of some friends. But by the time we went to see them, to sit with them in the wake of their grief, you had already left. I recognized the traces of you in their faces, their words, the way they spoke so matter-of-fact about their grown son and arrangements and their other children and the ways to carry on.

I remember those early days. I know it’s strange, but I yearn for them sometimes.

Your absence has left a particular emptiness in the house. I almost miss you. I had gotten so used to having you around, your presence following me in every room. Sitting across the table from me. There was a certain way I felt when you were here, both comforted and disconcerted.

I really feel like I was just getting to know you when you started to fade. You were away for longer and longer periods, and then you were here so rarely that I barely noticed when you had finally gone.

I think of you often, mostly in the middle of the night, when I get up to pee. I lie back down and wait for my baby to kick so I know you haven’t been to visit while I was out of the room. Oh, Death, this baby is going to be beautiful! You would think so, too, if you were here. But I expect you’ll stay away.

To be honest, it makes me nervous when I don’t know where you are. I worry you’ll drop in on me unexpectedly. Maybe try and call before you come next time. Or write.

I know I’ll see you again sometime. I hope it will be a while longer yet.

Take care,

Burning Eye

 

© Burning Eye

 

Advent

A. turns to me in bed and asks, “How do you explain nostalgia to a child?” I wait to see where she’s going with this. “Like, how are we going to explain to our children why we have so many crèche scenes? Neither of us is exactly religious.”

I wonder in the darkness if I should quibble with her characterization of me. Am I religious now? I certainly used to be. I decide not to derail the conversation and turn it towards my idle curiosity about my own faith since Joseph died.

We have just put up our Christmas tree, strung lights, unwrapped some of our ornaments—there are two new ones this year for Joseph—and found places for the four manger scenes around the living room. The beautiful pop-up crèche advent calendar that A’s dad gave us this year already sits on the coffee table.

A reminds me every year or two that her mother used to put their Wise Men figurines far away from the stable, and move them closer every day. They had several crèche scenes, as did my family. We each bring different childhood traditions to our Christmases together, but this is one thing we have in common.

My parents had a little crèche from Latin America when I was little. Its doors opened and closed on paper hinges. A lover of all things miniature, I was drawn to the ornament and played with it each year, opening and closing the stable doors on the colorful little family.

We also had a larger crèche of hard wax figurines that got unpacked out of a rickety wooden stable year after year. They were old, my grandmother’s, and some of the detailed coloring was scratched off. One of the shepherds was continually losing its head, which I tried multiple times to melt back on. The one angel that ultimately remained was missing her feet and wouldn’t stand. But still, I loved it. I played with it like a dollhouse, arranging and rearranging, strewing dried pine needles across the stable floor for authenticity.

“Well,” I say to A. I don’t really have to think about it, but I am surprised I already know the answer. “It’s about family. A new mother and father, a baby born. Christmas is about family. ”

 

I have always loved the Christmas story. Though from year to year, my relationship to it has changed—I cycle through folktale, pagan origins, Biblical scholarship, fervent religious belief in the birth of a great Light in our world, which I’ve sometimes called Christ. I am drawn to Mary, a young mother pregnant for the first time, afraid, tired, unsure of this burden God has given her. I feel tenderness toward Joseph, the man who has taken Mary and all her controversy into his house to care for her and protect her and be a father to this prophetic child. I admire the incredible faith they both had.

When I found out I was pregnant with our son, I dug out the journal I had been saving for this occasion since I was 18 and turned to the inside flap where I wrote out the Magnificat. My soul magnifies the Lord. I felt blessed. I was so happy. My journal from those months, when I wrote, was full of God. I was full of God, full of love, full of faith. Being pregnant felt like the star on top of the tree, the final piece of my life’s dreams falling into place.

I was pregnant through Advent. Like Mary, expecting a baby. Christmas was exciting. We bought our first real Christmas tree, and dreamed about how this would be our last Christmas without children. Maybe next year we wouldn’t travel, we’d make our family come to us. After all, having a little baby entitles you to certain privileges.

IMG_1504

When we decorated gingerbread cookies with my dad, I did myself as Mary, in her typical blue robe and blue veil. I added a little icing baby floating in my belly. (Decorating elaborate cookies is one of my favorite family tradition.)

 

How different I feel this December, pregnant again a year later. I am tentative, protective of the little sparks of hope I sometimes feel. Nowhere in my journal or my letters to this new baby do I talk about God.

It is painful to think of Christmas as the birth of anything good in the world. My first baby died on Christmas day. It is hard to think about Mary, her joyful song to God, awaiting the birth of her own baby, year after year throughout history. And yet, I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Remembering that she, too, lost her son. The baby she carried and birthed and raised. Something in this knowledge softens me towards her. Something in this tragedy makes Christmas a little more sorrowful.

 

This year, we buy another real Christmas tree, hang a wreath and stockings. I listen to Christmas music all day. I play my flute for the first time in months, drawn to Advent songs in the Methodist hymnal I grew up with. This nostalgia for the Christmas season is powerful. We are both surprised by how these parts of Christmas come so naturally, so easily.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how to think of Christmas right now. I am afraid of it. I am afraid it will pass like any other Christmas, that I will unintentionally shut down emotionally just so I can hold it together. I am afraid I will be an emotional wreck, that nothing we do to honor Joseph will feel right, that I’ll get angry, I’ll be inconsolable. I am afraid to feel relief when this first stillbirthday passes. I am afraid to remember, afraid I will forget.

 

And in the midst of all this, I wonder what this Christmas means for this new baby who thumps and rolls in my belly. I dare to hope that this time will be different. That the earth will turn again and Light will be reborn in our lives.

© Burning Eye

Learning to Trust and Accepting Help

I just dropped off a prescription for Zoloft. My first psychiatric medication.

I didn’t go to the psychiatrist with the intent of starting a medication. I didn’t even go thinking I wanted immediate help with anything. It was more of a preventative visit. In case later, some vague time in the future, I felt I was ready, felt I needed, medication.

I never leave a doctor’s office feeling confident I’ve made the right decision. Was it even me who made the decision? Or was I just swayed by the doctor’s powers of persuasion, their particular take on a particular strain of research in their specialty? Is it their poise, the number of degrees framed on their wall, the fact that they have the title Dr. in front of their name?

I don’t have a good track record with this. I am a pendulum, swinging between utter trust in Western medicine to a complete mistrust in chemicals and a reliance on acupuncture, more natural things like herbs, or a stubborn refusal to pursue treatment of whatever condition. “I’m taking a break from doctors right now,” I’ve said before.

Until I go to the next one, and try whatever medication they’re suggesting, even as I say, “I don’t like taking medication.”

“Oh, you’ll be a great candidate for molecular therapy, when that is fully developed,” one doctor said to me as he wrote me four prescriptions, one for a narcotic, to knock my chronic cough to its knees.

I got a little excited when he said that. The evolution of medicine is fascinating to me. What we know now that we didn’t used to know, and all that we still don’t know. Molecular therapy. I can only imagine what this doctor meant. I picture, in the sci-fi-sounding style of its name, the fictional journey the healer Madrone made in The Fifth Sacred Thing as she went, in a trance, down to the molecular level to fight a synthetic virus.

And at the same time, part of me rejects fully this tinkering with our bodies in this way, however un-physical we may actually be on a molecular level. This is who I am, all my thoughts and emotions, hormones and neurotransmitters. Do I really want to mess around with who I am?

 

“Tell me about that,” the psychiatrist says when I say my first son was stillborn 9 months ago and I am 12 weeks pregnant now.

Every day I relive Joseph’s death.

            Every day I think this baby is going to die, too.

As I say it, I wonder if I sound crazy. In spite of a firm scientific belief in mental illness, and a family history of clinical depression, I still carry this societal stigma of crazy.

I am sitting in the psychiatrist’s office crying. She comes around her table and hands me a box of tissues. Of course today I am feeling emotional. Of course today I cry at everything. See? Crazy. It was a day like this that my OB referred me to see the psychiatrist. A routine fertility visit to check my ovaries for cysts and everything the OB said, I cried.

I have this habit, anyway, of crying when someone asks me, genuinely, how I’m doing.

We talk a little more, about my emotional history, my family history, my medical history. Do I feel depressed? Well, no, not really, less and less as time goes on since Joseph’s death. But this fear and anxiety? It’s there every day, more and more as this pregnancy goes on. I’m horribly afraid, too, of postpartum depression if this longed-for baby is born alive.

I know all this is normal. I know that what I’ve been feeling, all these emotions that come along with grief, all this fear and anxiety about the future, and specifically about this pregnancy, it’s all normal. There’s nothing wrong with it. The psychiatrist doesn’t give me the impression that she thinks I’m crazy.

But as we talk, I start to see that maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe each day doesn’t have to be finding one distraction after another to keep the anxiety at bay. Maybe I don’t have to worry every single day that this baby is going to die, that this baby has already died and I just don’t know it yet. Maybe I don’t have to wish for a sedative, a cave to hibernate in until this baby can be born.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the diagnosis, the psychiatrist tells me. We talk about medications. How what I would prefer—to pop something like a Xanax every time it gets really bad (and I would decide, of course, when it was “really bad”)—is just a band-aid, and won’t help these pervasive feelings. Plus, taking it too often is not good for the baby.

She presents Zoloft like something to try. Start small, increase the dose gradually, check back in to see if I think it’s helping. It takes a while, 4-6 weeks, so it’s not the kind of thing you can wait and take when the anxiety is worse. She warns me that as my blood volume increases with pregnancy, I might find the dose isn’t enough and we’ll have to adjust. She speaks knowledgeably about the drug—she is a medical doctor, after all—and says we a lot. And if it’s not helping, or if there’s some effect that doesn’t feel good, I can stop taking it.

This is the permission I need. To ride the pendulum. To try it for a while—how long depends on the length of the arc of my swing—and ultimately reject it.

It might help with sleep, she says, and I perk up. I have been lucky to be a sound sleeper in my life, and I struggle to accept the realities of pregnancy insomnia. It might help with muscle tension, and headaches, she says. I feel a little spark of hope, too, that it might help me relax at school, and maybe not dread going in to work every day anymore. Maybe it could help me be nicer to my students.

I feel both hopeful and resentful. It’s a familiar mix of emotions, one I always face when starting a new medication.

 

At issue here is trust.

I don’t trust myself enough. I worry I’ve just let myself be talked into something unnecessary. I worry I’m giving in to some strange hypochondriac side of myself that seems to continuously create a need for doctors and appointments.

Don’t get my wrong, the medical issues I’ve dealt with are real—asthma, allergies, migraines, the kinds of diagnoses that require ongoing care, second and third opinions, alternative treatments, new medications.

But my grief counselor said to me, towards the end of our sessions together, that I fully inhabit whatever I’m feeling in that moment and forget that I won’t always feel that way. Emotionally, I am very successful at living in the moment. Including the moments I am sure this baby, like Joseph, will die. I forget that, as a friend put it recently, feelings are temporary.

I hate, too, that I have to trust someone else, albeit a professional, to give me a diagnosis. And one so bland in its name. I could diagnose my whole family, including my in-laws, with generalized anxiety disorder. We are all worriers. It’s what we do. What’s so special about my anxiety?

I have to trust that this psychiatrist is able to take my few words and compare them to everything else she’s seen and say, definitively, yes, this patient could benefit from medication. I have to trust that she might really be able to help me. That Zoloft might actually help.

 

© Burning Eye