Who is ‘me’?

It’s hard to write with a living baby in my life. Aside from the obvious–that there’s just no time–I’m just not sure what I need to say. What I need. What I want. Who I am.

“How are you?” a friend asked, a few weeks after Margot was born. And I jokingly responded, “Who is ‘me’?”

I’m struggling with my sense of myself. I’m struggling with my sense of Joseph. Who am I, now that I’m a mother, when I was a mother before but this is so clearly a different animal altogether? Who is Joseph in my life now, now that I watch his sister grow and every day become more and more a part of our lives while Joseph stays still, always no days old, in the past?

This is what I always wanted. This motherhood.

I’m having trouble squaring that with the fact that Joseph was what I always wanted. My firstborn. My first baby.

His death has changed who I thought I’d be as a mother. Small ways I am uncovering little by little. Once, twice, three times a day I look at Margot and go cold with fear, sure she isn’t breathing, certain she has died.

Another loss–who I thought I would become.

One, two, three days go by when I don’t think of Joseph. Not that I forget him, but that he is not in my present. I don’t sit in the glider and look at his urn or his butterfly or the photo of me eight months pregnant, a few days before he died–we moved his ashes. I don’t clasp his name around my neck every morning–Margot is grabbing; she rubs her face against the chain, too, pushing it hard into my skin. I don’t go out the back door much anymore–I park in the front–so I don’t see his bench and his camellia and the arbor every day.

Who are you, Joseph? Who are you to me, now?

A says when she reads about new losses on the Glow forums, when she hears the shock and confusion and despair of those early days, she wants to say, “Trust the process.” Grief comes and lives differently in each of us. You’ll find your way. Things will become clear, in their own time.

So that’s what we are doing. Trying to trust that Joseph’s place, his new shape, will become clear in our lives now that Margot is here.

 

© 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

Dreams

I dreamed I gave birth to a baby girl. We were in Baltimore, visiting family. I do have family in Baltimore, but in the manner of dreams, it wasn’t the family that actually lives there. I went into labor early, unexpectedly, and they took me to the hospital.

The next scene in the dream, our baby girl was in the NICU, tubes taped to her nose and chest. We took two pictures of her. Then my family drove me home.

All the way home, to North Carolina. We got there late at night. I went to show the photos of our baby girl to my parents.

And then I realized, We left our baby girl in Baltimore.

And, We didn’t hold her!

It’s okay, my sister said. They’ll send her down here to the hospital.

But you can’t mail a baby! I said.

How could we have left our baby girl in Baltimore? How could we have come home without her? How could we have left her in the NICU without ever holding her? All we had were these two pictures on my phone. I swiped back and forth between them, over and over. We’d just have to drive back to Baltimore. Tonight. Right now.

 

I didn’t dream about Joseph being born. Not that I remembered once I awoke, at least. I dreamed once that my belly was transparent, and we could see through into my womb. But wait! I said. We don’t want to know if it’s a boy or a girl! So I didn’t look. I walked around carefully not looking. In the images I remember of the dream, we are all chest-up, like a photograph. So I wouldn’t have seen anyway, even if I looked down.

I also dreamed about houses. These were the most vivid dreams of my pregnancy. Most of them featured a second home we’d forgotten we owned. Empty. Sometimes ramshackle. One, missing a roof. Oh, no, I thought, we’ll have to pay for a new roof. Ugh. Another, we’d forgotten to mow the grass of this second home and I was worried the city would fine us. What would we do with these second houses? I wondered in my dreams. Which one would we live in?

 

I don’t believe my dreams are prophetic. I don’t believe that because I never saw Joseph in my dreams, it meant he was going to die. I don’t believe that because I dreamed this baby was a girl, she will be a girl, or that she will be born preemie.

What are dreams? This, like so many of the things I used to believe, is in limbo. My dreams are sometimes fantastic adventure, sometimes surreal stories where one person melts into another. They are projections of my hopes, and manifestations of my fears.

A whole new set of fears for this pregnancy. A whole new world of worry, and nights, whether dreaming or lying awake, full of unease.

© Burning Eye

Dear God,

We had the assignment in our support group to write a letter. I wrote my letter to God. I read it last night. Not sure how they took it. It was a very emotional meeting, listening to all their letters. Some to their babies, some to relatives. Lots of tears.

 

Hey, God.

This is the way a friend used to start her prayers. Her gentle voice emerging from our silent circle when we closed our Sunday evening gatherings. Hey, God. So familiar, so personal.

This is the way I used to feel about you.

Now I feel more like Margaret in that Judy Blume book, asking, “Are you there, God?”

Where are you, God?

I used to be able to feel you when I needed you. I used to be able to close my eyes and lean back into your arms. Now I close my eyes and I search for you behind me; I begin to settle back, testing… But I stop, pull up short. It’s like those trust falls. I don’t trust you’re there to catch me.

 

Hey, God!

Fuck you.

I am Jacob, ready to wrestle my angel.

C’mon, I’ve got my boxing gloves on, I’m dancing on my toes, back and forth, back and forth. Ready to tear into you. I’ve worked myself up to this, trained for the anger, fed this fire in me and I’m just waiting to sink my fists into you, let my feet fly, yell and scream with all the fury I can summon.

I know you can take it. I know I can rail and rage against you and you won’t feel a thing. That’s why I need you, God. You can contain me. You can fill me when all else drains away.

What the hell, God? Where are you?

 

Hey,

I am trying to find the right metaphor:

Are we still playing Blind Man’s Bluff? I hear you, I sense you out there, dashing just out of reach. I flail my arms out, casting about for you. I’m getting tired. I’m frustrated. I’m ready to take off the blindfold and let someone else be It.

Are you the horse I have fallen off of? Do I just have to pick myself up and get back on? Wait, why did I fall in the first place? Usually one falls off a horse because the horse throws the rider. It hasn’t been long enough that my broken bones and bruises have healed. I haven’t forgotten how much that fall hurt. I haven’t forgiven you yet.

Are you the ocean, and I am a drop of water? Are you everywhere, within me and without?

Are you the waterfall? Has your torrent slowed to a trickle? Or have I been sitting under you so long my shoulders are numb and my lips are blue and I’ve forgotten I’m soaking wet?

Do you come disguised as a visitor, a friend, a listening ear, a few gentle words that arrive by email?

Are you love?

Are you Light?

 

God,

I don’t know what to pray anymore.

I used to pray to you for protection. I used to ask you favors. I used to pray that you would help everything turn out alright.

Now I’m at a loss for words. They feel futile, anyway. The only prayer I can pray since Joseph died is come holy spirit. And I speak it, and I sing it, and I chant, and I wait in silence, and you don’t come to me. You don’t come.

I contemplate atheism. I take comfort in science, in the laws of nature, the cycle of life and death. Yet I still believe in you. I still know you’re out there, creator, sustainer, redeemer.

But I need you to meet me halfway. Or more than halfway. I used to sing your praises, worship you, give all to you. But for now, I am the least of these. I need you to feed me, to give me drink, to clothe me. I need you to invite me in.

 

I am so weary of all this waiting.

 

© 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