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

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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

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.

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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

bed rest with bathroom privileges

I come to the hospital to get a chest x-ray. The midwife I have just seen at the office tells me the quickest way to get it read is to come to Maternity Admissions, so I drive over in the rain, call A on the way and ask her to meet me there in an hour with dinner. I expect them to set me in a triage room, run all their tests, and tell me everything looks fine still, it’s still just a virus, and send me home. Hopefully before midnight, because I am planning to get up and go back to work in the morning after a week and a half out.

I have been sick for nine days now, low energy and running a mild fever that seems to creep back in any time I try to stop taking ibuprofen. At first this is my only symptom, that and the aches and chills and muddled brain that come with a fever. The cough creeps in, and I am sure it is just acid reflux, that it’s only the air turning dryer with the coming winter. My lungs start to hurt and I am up more in the night coughing. By Tuesday I am winded walking a few steps and struggling not to cough with each breath.

We have our anatomy scan in the morning. Count the baby’s toes, fingers, ribs. Watch it open and close its mouth and smoosh its face into the placenta. Watch its heart beating (beating!). Watch it turning and rolling and scrunching and stretching. “Baby looks beautiful,” they tell us. Everything is developing normally.

I go home to take a nap before heading in to the midwife for the third time this week. I feel better already, knowing I have an appointment. I feel silly, like suddenly I don’t really need to go in. It’s daytime, and all my middle-of-the-night fears have dissipated. But I remind myself they told me to call if new symptoms developed.

“I’m worried it could be pneumonia,” I tell the midwife. The latest in my series of 1am self-diagnoses. Listeria, toxoplasmosis, mono.

So I feel a moment of triumph at the hospital when the curly-haired nurse who attends me pops her head into the triage room open and whispers, almost cheerily, “You have lower right lung pneumonia. They’re going to admit you!”

Ha! I think. I was right!

And then, as we wait and stillness settles in, I think maybe I’ve misheard. Maybe they got my chest x-ray mixed up with some other woman’s. The nurse comes and starts an iv, eyeing my veins with a gleam in her eye. “What a juicy vein!” she chirps. We wait for the midwife to come in and confirm the pneumonia. I could be in the hospital a few days, she says.

A goes home to sleep, and I spend the rest of the evening and into a sleepless night in shock. At 2am tottering to the bathroom to pee yet again, dragging my iv pole with me, I’m no longer vindicated I have a diagnosis. I’m thinking about what it means to be admitted to the hospital. Stuck in one room. Interrupted every hour or two for a check of my vitals, or medication, or, it seems, just to be interrupted. I’m not really sure of anything at all, the midwife had been so vague and brief. Why am I getting an iv? Why are my legs wrapped up in inflatable compression sleeves? What does it mean I’m on bed rest with bathroom privileges? Do I really have pneumonia? What is pneumonia anyway? Is the baby alright?

I sleep a half hour here, a half hour there. I wake up and watch the sky get lighter. The view is familiar, only 3 windows down from the recovery room where we stayed after I gave birth to Joseph. I remember being wheeled down to the hospital lobby, walking out through the glass doors with empty arms. The memory cuts deep, a sharp knife. If I had any breath, I would cry.

After the anatomy scan, I had gone home and sat in the glider and wailed. Trying not to cry so hard that I coughed too much. I felt awash with stress and anxiety, and relief. A conviction: This baby is going to be okay. Paralyzing fear: There’s nothing we can do to make sure this baby is going to be okay. And grief renewed: This baby is not Joseph, not my firstborn little boy. I’m never going to get him back.

I watch the shadows shorten outside the hospital windows. Car windows glimmer on Green Valley Way. The sides of the buildings brighten. As I wait for A to come visit, to bring me comforting things from home—a blankie, my body pillow, ultrasound photos of our new baby—I rub my belly and think, I wasn’t alone at the hospital last night. I’m not ever alone anymore. I have this living, kicking, growing companion in my belly. I start to talk to the baby. “You and me, baby, we’re going to be okay.”

© Burning Eye

Absence

I go back to prenatal yoga and Joseph’s absence is everywhere.

I already know what I am going to say. As we go around the room, the other women share how many weeks, boy or girl, first or second and how old their little girl or boy at home is. I have thought about this since the day Joseph was born. Fixated on it. Wondering how in the world I would ever talk about my son’s death. If I would even want to. What would feel like a lie, and what would feel like just enough of my story.

I say my name, that I’m 16 weeks, that this is my second.

The teacher, who is wonderful, who knows all about Joseph, moves on.

The second week I am back I tell them I think we’re going to find out if it’s a boy or girl and not tell anyone else. The room erupts in conversation as the other women tell stories of people they know who. They all imagine it will be so hard. They say things like, Oh, well, you’ll have to be careful how you decorate the nursery, and, You’ll still have to shop neutral colors. They don’t know these things don’t matter to me. They don’t know I think it will be easy to lie because I don’t want to talk about this pregnancy much anyway.

Throughout class, the women talk about what their toddlers at home will be for Halloween. I thought last Halloween was going to be our last without children, I remember, and am surprised I had forgotten.

I think about how I started going to prenatal yoga last October, at 20 weeks. How strange it was for me to be in a room full of pregnant women, bellies of all sizes sitting awkwardly in our laps.

Now, this year, it is familiar, yet strange for different reasons. I have mostly avoided pregnant women for the past ten months. I look the other way when I pass the two other pregnant teachers at my school. One of them is due a week before me. I haven’t spoken to her since I found out. I am afraid of all this talk about pregnancy, about babies coming, as if it’s a sure thing.

The yoga women talk about their first labors. I chime in sparingly, afraid they will stop and ask me a question about the baby I gave birth to. Where is he. How old is he. He would be ten months, I think. And yet, he wouldn’t have been. He would have been nine months old, if he’d lived, if he hadn’t been born early. And I wouldn’t be pregnant now, again, so soon.

How strange it is that I am pregnant twice within a year. I am careful to avoid using indicators of time when I speak.

At the beginning of every class, the teacher reads us a birth story. The women from yoga who have already given birth send them to her. As she reads, she explains things to us, educates us about the specifics of this and that. She used to be a labor and delivery nurse; she’s seen it all.

I think, after my second week back, that going to prenatal yoga is kind of like cognitive behavioral therapy. Talk of pregnancy and labor and birth in small doses in a safe space. Reminders of the hospital: fetal heart monitors, nurses, dilation,  effacement, induction. Reminders of the early signs of labor I never experienced. The hospital bag I never got to pack.

I decide this immersion therapy is good for me. Good to focus on the changes in my body. Good to be reminded to breathe. Good to strengthen my muscles and practice opening.

Good to remember that I’m carrying a baby. A baby, who is alive today, whose heartbeat I chase every few days with the Doppler and tap out with my toe, not counting, but putting the rhythm in my body where I will remember it.

My body remembers.

It remembers the way to bend forward with enough space for my growing belly. It remembers holding a squat, breathing hard, lifting my abdominals around the baby to support it. It remembers to lunge wide, to put my hands on the inside of my knee, not to arch up too far or my skin and muscles and ligaments will stretch painfully.

And it remembers the weight of Joseph, where he sat, the way I moved with him and around him.

In savasana I put my hand on my belly and try to bond with this baby, to think of it growing and wiggling in my belly where I can’t yet feel it. And all I think of is Joseph. His absence. I don’t want this baby, I want Joseph, my firstborn, my little boy.

I go home and climb in A’s lap and sob.

© 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

8 months/35 weeks

Dear Joseph,

 

I am missing you today. I feel your presence, under my ribs. That warm glow in my heart. It’s cheesy, I know, but I’m glad you’ve taken up residence there, internal, so close to me.

This week is 8 months. 35 weeks that you are gone, the same amount of time dead now that you were alive. What does it mean, this equivalence of life and death?

I have always kept track of time this way. I remember when all of a sudden I had known your mother for as long as I hadn’t known her. Time goes on, and now that balance is tipped, weighted in a favorable direction. I’ve known her more years now.

Time will go on and your death will go on. Unstoppable, unavoidable.

These days feel significant, but they are days just like any other days.

I miss you.

 

We got to see your little brother or sister today. Eight tenths of a centimeter long, a little flicker of a heartbeat. Nothing else distinguishable yet.

I was so nervous, waiting for that appointment. Wondering if the ultrasound screen would give me flashbacks to the day I saw your heart had stopped: the horrible stillness of that tiny black hole. But it was okay. Anti-climactic, actually. I feel both relieved, and suddenly more anxious. I am growing another baby, who is alive today—but life isn’t guaranteed, I am painfully aware of that now.

The ultrasound tech called your little sibling a peanut. But I’m not sure that’s right. Your mother and I search for suitable nicknames. It suddenly seems urgent that we have something to call this one other than Baby, because that was what we called you. It’s silly—of course this one is a baby, too. But you were Baby, and this small creature growing in my womb is not you.

You are underneath every part of this pregnancy. Every physical sensation brings a memory. In every moment of excitement and worry, you are there. I like to think of you as watching out for this little sibling, whispering older brother wisdom in my womb. Your cells are in my blood, which means they are in this new baby’s blood, too.

I put my hand on my belly. We are going to be okay, I think. All of us. You, me, the new baby. I cling stubbornly, blindly, to hope.

 

I love you so much.

Mama

 

© Burning Eye

Building

I feel, in a way, as if my life is starting over. As if, almost seven months after our baby died, I am opening my eyes and starting to look around at what is left of the wreckage. As if I sit in the rubble of my house after a storm has leveled it. Over there, I see a shred of cloth—the color catches my eye, and reminds me of something. And there, a photograph of someone I knew. A family member, maybe. The lid of a box that once held memories. A scrap of paper: musical notes, or words. Did I write them? Were they written to me? Maybe they have nothing to do with me.

The land around me is flat, empty. I have painted this landscape before, terrestrial. I have smeared the charcoal waves of this landscape, aquatic. Anything upright stands stark, conspicuous, against the sky. I can make out figures now, other people. The ones closer to me are clearer, and I am beginning to see who is still here. Some of them are silent. Some call my name. Some call Joseph’s name, and my heart smiles and blossoms and weeps.

 

It is hard to explain, I think. On the surface, the world I dwell in is not empty. I still go to work: I teach, I counsel, I console, I cajole, I entertain, I perform, I listen, I give. I still do the dishes, the laundry, care for the cats, go grocery shopping, keep appointments. I write, and write, and write. I read novels and curl up on the couch and watch more t.v. than I have in all the rest of my life put together, or so it seems.

And I have never been alone. I have A, and a loving family, and friends who have looked me in the eye and been brave in a way that I know I couldn’t have been if this had happened to them first.

But there is this persistent sifting of things. A slow, quiet shuffling of position, seaweed and driftwood in the calm swell of waves, rising, falling out of sight. I am waiting to see what washes onto shore.

 

What do you value? the grief counselor asks me.

I misunderstand. Well, I’m trying to work on my novel.

She explains. That’s more like a goal. The value behind that might be something more like, ‘I value an outlet for my creativity.’

Oh.

Ah.

 

It’s like she turned a light on in my head. I had been thinking, What things can I busy myself with until we are pregnant again, until we have a living, breathing baby?  Now, I have a way of asking myself, What in my life-without-Joseph still has meaning?

A week later, I am still thinking.

The grief counselor gave me a freebie with the bit about creativity. As I sat in her office trying to think fast, like this was some kind of quiz, I came up with, Um, well, I guess, I value A. Wait, is that too specific? I value my family. Ah, yes, that includes A, but it also includes Joseph—the time I spend thinking about him, talking to him, writing, doing art, mourning—and the rest of my family, and A’s, too.

So that’s two.

I recognize that, even in my moments of extreme introversion, I value friendships, too. I value making connections with other people. Having coffee or taking a walk with a friend. Writing long emails back and forth with those far away. My blog is a way of connecting to others, as is my writing at Glow, and the time I spend on forums.

I realize a fourth is currently being fulfilled by my job teaching elementary school: I value working to make the world a better place. On my heroic days, I value saving the world. On my discouraging days, I value ‘each one, teach one.’

A and I have a spontaneous dance party in the back room of our house, just the two of us. It is the first time I’ve danced since Joseph died, and I think, Aha! I value dance! And then I admit to myself that this is a bit narrow, and I need to expand it. I value moving my body in ways that make me feel strong and healthy. Maybe, thinking of it that way, I won’t drag my feet so much on days I go to the gym to exercise.

All of this has given me a sense of building up. Additive, not negative. That I am reconstructing my life one small bit at a time. I am noticing that many of the pieces I need are right there, within my reach. That scrap of paper, that photograph, that shred of cloth.

I don’t know what I’m building.

But at least I am building.

 

© 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.

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© Burning Eye