“And”

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Content note: pregnancy, children, loss – none recent

This weekend, we tore up some of the scrotty grass that’s never grown well next to our patio in the back and put in hostas.  I pulled out the dead hydrangeas from the back bed and planted shade loving coral bells.  We went to visit college friends and as we sat, I had one of those moments that might be called transcendent or even holy, where for just a second, everything was right with the world and good.

The new life, both literal and figurative, was all around us.

I came home, checked my calendar, and realized that it’s not all that much longer until my saline infusion sonogram for this final transfer.  And before I knew it, this morning I was ugly crying, the one that isn’t a couple of crystal tears decorously sliding down the cheeks, but the red-faced, sobbing, snotty Kleenex filled kind.

That’s life, though, isn’t it?  At least after a certain point?  Where the most extraordinary exists among the prosaic of every day and the deepest, darkest muck that can be dragged up?

I am so incredibly, amazingly thankful for my girls.  And I am so terribly sad that I never got to meet the three that died and were miscarried early, long before they truly lived.

I honor the truly ordinary, uneventful pregnancy I got the immense privilege of experiencing.  And I grieve the long weeks of waiting, of fertility treatments and IVF, of hope mingled with sadness, of ultimately having three others over far too early.

I get the loveliness of watching my older daughter survive and now thrive.  And I mourn that she lost the last weeks in pregnancy that she should have had, that she went through so many painful procedures, that we were separated by plexiglass walls and nights apart at the beginning of her life.

I can’t even express how much gratitude I have to see the girls treasuring each other and also fighting – as siblings do.  And I can feel my heart breaking again and again and again that my sibling is gone, that a person I held as he came into the world left it long before me in such a terrible, senseless way.

I hold my dear ones close, their precious selves tangible and messy and wonderful and alive.  And I cry remembering the unnatural coldness of my brother’s still face, the benediction of viewing him in death, the slight smear of blood that transferred to my hand when I put it on his cheek.

I am fiercely glad for my marriage and the love my husband and I get to share every day.  And I mourn the things we have both broken over the years, some of which are still being repaired.

I am grateful for the chance to complete this final cycle, to close out this particular road, to know that no matter the outcome, I am truly fortunate and ready to live this good life I have.  And I am anxious, struggling with the months of waiting in the lead-up, dreading some painful procedures, and worried about the potential for more hurt.

For the last several months, I’ve been veering back and forth between the extremes, saying how I’m fine (true) and FINE – F*cked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Egotistical * – (also true).   It doesn’t sum up neatly, the pros and cons on the paper don’t cancel each other out.  They’re all true, all a part of what poet Mary Oliver termed “your one wild and precious life”.

I am, without a doubt, in today’s parlance, a hot mess these days.

And…it’s an absolutely beautiful mess as well.

*credit to Louise Penny

This post is a part of Microblog Monday.  If you want to read more or add your own, please head over to Stirrup Queens’ blog.  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.  

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Meditations on Moving

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One of the few authors I’ll spring for straight up (instead of waiting at the library or until I find it on sale) is Louise Penny.  I’ve written a few (okay, okay, probably more than a few) times about how much I love Penny’s mystery novels here.  She’s one of the authors writing today that I really want to meet, though I’ll admit that I’m a little terrified that if I did, in fact, meet her, I’d just fan-girl all over the place and embarrass myself.

In any case, Penny’s latest, Kingdom of the Blind came out last week and I’ve spent the last few days reading.  Yet again, I’m struck by Penny’s ability to get to the heart of life, living, and human emotions.  One of my favorite parts of the books are the author’s note at the end, where Penny writes so evocatively about her own life and struggles.  For a number of years, Penny’s husband Michael suffered from dementia and died in 2016.  Penny has also been open about being a recovering alcoholic and the incredible loneliness, anger, and sadness she felt for so long as well as many wonderful things she values in her life now.

“A funny thing happened on my way to not writing this book,” Penny notes, “I started writing.”

“How could I go on when half of me was missing?  I could barely get out of bed.” She continues.  “But then, a few months later, I found myself sitting at the long pine dining table where I always wrote.  Laptop open.”

I relate to that in such a big way.  While I’ve never lost a spouse, I have lost loved ones, as well as other, less tangible bits and pieces along the way.

It’s hard, losing, whatever that loss comprises.  Especially at this time of the year, when everything seems suffused with traditions and the place at the table seems all the more empty than usual.  When it’s impossible not to remember and the commercials and pictures and expectations are designed to evoke emotions that often I’d rather leave in the background or unexamined.

Sometimes living, moving, feels a bit like a betrayal.  With an ache that has the sharpness of a gunshot echoing from 2015 and holes that rend the threads to keep weaving it all together, it feels impossible to tie the knots and work to keep creating.  To set the empty place and also hold the feast.

That’s been a struggle for me lately, even though my grief isn’t new.  I’ve reached that sort of half-mourning stage, where the sadness doesn’t seep into every moment or corner, but comes out at both expected and unexpected times with a startling strength.

I’m grateful to Penny for not denying the darkness, but also for the joy she takes in how moving forward encompasses her loss: “Far from leaving Michael behind, he became even more infused in the books.  All the things we had together came together in Three Pines.  Love, companionship, friendship.  His integrity.  His courage.  Laughter.”

In so many ways, that’s what I’m seeking.  Not to leave behind, but to hold the love and live.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more, please head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.  

Sometimes, You Can’t Run After Them

Content note: parenting, miscarriage

My older daughter loves books.  Upstairs, downstairs, board books and picture books abound.  I periodically go through and put them back in some semblance of order, only to have them joyfully pulled off the shelf a few minutes later for reading.  There are classics and newer titles and everything in between.

There is one board book, however, that doesn’t belong to the girls, that never is pulled from the shelf, that I have never read to either daughter.

I bought it nearly four years ago, one burst of optimism in a lot of nagging fear and doubt.  I never could get into buying baby clothes – that felt wholly overwhelming to me for something so tentative – but I did purchase a tiny set of board books.  The other two I threw away after it happened, I was so sad and so angry, but one I slipped into the box that held a positive pregnancy test, ultrasound photos, the embryo photo, some cards, and a few sprigs from the bouquets I received.

I don’t feel pregnant, I told my doctor at the time.  I’d never been pregnant before, but I knew, knew somewhere deep inside that something wasn’t quite right.  I found out that I’d miscarried the first one on a December morning when the ultrasound screen showed the pooling blackness of a gestational sac with something inside but no flickering sign of life.  The second one though.  The second one had a perfect heartbeat.

I hoped that the feeling of this is not right had been the first one passing, but I still didn’t feel good.  Or rather, I felt too good.  Not a wisp of nausea (but my mother had never really suffered from morning sickness and these things are often hereditary).  No breast tenderness (not everyone gets that).  No reaction to strong scents (well, it doesn’t usually set in right away).  Not overly tired (no more than usual).

But everyone told me that if you saw a heartbeat, your chance of miscarriage was drastically reduced.  I bought the books.  The Runaway Bunny seemed particularly apt.  If you run away, I will run after you, the mother bunny promises her little bunny.  I had run after this child, first with all the poking and prodding, then medications, and finally the IVF.  Right then, it seemed perhaps I had finally caught this baby.

Even then, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling.

I wasn’t surprised the day the ultrasound revealed the absolute stillness in my womb.  Devastated, but not surprised.  The babies were gone, but I could not run after them.  I could not turn into a fisherman or a mountain climber or anything else like in the story to bring either of them home where they belonged with me.

I let go in the end.  I had to.  Unlike the fictional mother bunny, I didn’t get that choice.

I tucked the book into the box a few days later.  A small gift, a book I wanted so badly to be true.

I could not bring them home.  The only thing I could do was send my love.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. 

Where We Are Now

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your thoughts and comments and prayers.  They are appreciated beyond anything I can possibly verbalize. 

When the doctors came to see us on Jan. 23 after I was transferred to a larger hospital by ambulance due to suspected preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM), there were only a couple things to really say. First, the OB who was on call over that weekend told me that the priority was going to be my life. If it was a question between my life and the baby’s life, he said, he would do what it took to save mine. This wasn’t up for dispute, he told us.

The second came from the high risk OB/maternal fetal medicine specialist (MFM). I was definitely ruptured, there was very little fluid, and I would go into labor or get infected within around 48 hours. 75-90% of women go into labor within 48 hours of rupture, and the rest generally within a week. The baby would not make it. We needed to get ready.

It was, without any exaggeration, one of the worst moments of my entire life. We talked with various people, trying to make some semblance of order out of the chaos. Did we want to bury our child or cremate? Where would we inter the remains? We hadn’t decided on names. What did we want to call him or her? Were we far enough along that we would need a death certificate in our state? Was there someone who could come baptize our baby when he/she was born? What about photographs?

Nightmare. Total, complete, and utter nightmare.

My parents came. Arthur’s parents were already there. We all waited. Prayed. Tried to find ways to say our good-byes.

No labor. No infection.

48 hours passed, then 72, then a full week, then a week and a half. Every day, the doctors told us to prepare to go into labor.  The baby maintained a heartbeat. A small pocket of fluid formed around the umbilical cord.

As of today, I’m 23 weeks. Still in the hospital. The MFM said today, I get steroids to try to mature the baby’s lungs. Technically, 24 weeks is viability, but at 23 weeks, NICU starts to attend births to make an evaluation of whether or not to intervene.

On the one hand, we now have a slender chance of a live baby that will rise if I can stay pregnant for at least one more week and continue to go up if I can stay pregnant longer.

On the other, our best hope is for an extremely premature birth. About the longest I can hope to stay ruptured, out of labor, and uninfected is probably to around 28-30 weeks. More likely, I will give birth between 23-26 weeks gestational age. If, by some miracle, I stay pregnant to 34 weeks, the doctors will induce me because at that point, the risk of infection outweighs any benefit the baby might get from staying in the womb longer.

I hear people talk a lot about 24 weeks as a sort of magic line in the sand, and in one way, it is the general dividing line between viability and not. However, at 24 weeks, the best statistic I’ve seen for a live baby is around 50/50. While it’s certainly far better than a zero percent chance, it’s not a terribly reassuring number, and it does not take into account the number of those babies who survive with long-term issues.

So now we have discussions about resuscitation, ventilators, intraventricular hemorrhage, necrotizing enterocolitis, hypoplastic lungs, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, and retinopathy. And we still have to consider all of the earlier questions about what we do if our baby does not make it.

No parent should ever have to make these decisions or have these discussions about their child.

My emotions rollercoaster constantly. Some days a miracle – and right now, we need a bonafide, capital-M Miracle on the blind-shall-see-deaf-shall-hear sort of scale for our baby to come out of this alive and healthy for the circumstances – seems almost within the bounds of possibility. Other days, I am barely able to stop crying because there is still such a long way to go and we have no idea what kind of damage may have been done to the baby’s lung development with so little amniotic fluid.

Mostly, I try to focus on the moment. I love this baby so fiercely it is almost painful. I’m grateful for every heartbeat and every tiny flutter of movement. I sing to the baby, often Stevie Wonder’s song “You Are The Sunshine of My Life”. Arthur comes and kisses my belly and tells the baby how much he loves him/her. We hope that somehow, the baby hears and knows all this.

We don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t know if we will have only minutes – if that – with our baby or days or years or a lifetime.

All we do know is how much we love this child, no matter what happens.

So we wait, watch, pray, and hope.

You Don’t

Trigger warning for anticipated loss.

I’ve heard people ask the question many times when a terrible event has befallen someone else: How do you live through it?

The short answer: you don’t.

The longer answer is this: you die a hundred, a thousand tiny deaths. And the next day, and the next, over and over and over.

You die at 1 am, when you wake to the first trickle of fluid.

You die at 1:20 when the second issue of fluid is a gush, and it is too clear to be the usual blood.

You die at 2 am when you realize that you don’t want to wait to call the on-call doctor and tell your husband to drive you to the hospital immediately.

You die when you soak enormous cloth hospital pads, the ones that are heavy and two feet by two feet.

You die when the bleeding starts after that.

You die when the doctor has you transferred by ambulance to a higher level hospital with more specialists.

You die when the doctors there tell you that the amniotic sac has ruptured, there’s almost no fluid left, and you’re only 21 weeks along.

You die when you are told that you will most likely go into labor soon, either from infection or nature.

You die when you have to tell your family the prognosis.

You die when you and your husband have to pick out names for a baby who will never answer to them.

You die when you feel the long awaited kicks and movements.

You die when your husband gently kisses your belly and whispers “I love you baby.”

You die, waiting and waiting and waiting, praying for a miracle, knowing that a truly happy ending is next to impossible now.

You die, knowing that there is a more terrible hour coming, the one where you will have to say goodbye. The one where there will be the real, literal death of the baby you wanted and loved so very, very much.

The tiny moments and horrors and bittersweet beautiful shatter bits and pieces of you. The sitting in a hospital bed, still pregnant, waiting.  Knowing.  And someday, some impossibly far-away day when you emerge raw and new into the watery, thin grey light of returning to some semblance of living, the person who you were will be long gone.

In Memory: National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

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I have a guest post over at Blogher today – National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day – about the miscarriage and loss of my first pregnancy.  Miscarriage is often a devastating event, yet so rarely spoken about in our society.

I remember today the loss of my babies.  I lost twins in my first pregnancy in December of 2013, initially a blighted ovum/vanishing twin, then the second twin with a heartbeat.  I also had an ectopic pregnancy in April of 2014.

For everyone remembering their lost little ones today, my heart goes out to you.

We remember.

On Living With Ghosts

The first time it happened, it surprised me.

It was a few weeks after my D and C, in the grocery store.   There was this baby crying. I didn’t see the baby at first, further down the aisle in a carrier with its mother, but at that moment sense of presence so powerful swept over me that I found myself staggering toward the door, shopping list forgotten. An irrational part of me almost felt as though if I turned around, I might actually see my own lost child.

I stepped out into the freezing winter air, and the feeling was gone as abruptly as it had come.

This week, the first unfulfilled due date materializes. With it comes the what-ifs that I can almost see but as I reach out simply vanish into thin air leaving me to wonder if they were ever there at all.

Such, I suppose, is the nature of ghosts.

I catch little glimpses occasionally, hear the bell-like laughter of a small child, feel the quiet heaviness and ache of a sleeping baby on an arm unable to be moved without waking the little one. It is always brief, only happening around the periphery of my life or in those rare unguarded moments.

Apparently, this is not a unique scenario. Author Hilary Mantel, in her excellent memoir Giving Up The Ghost writes on her own infertility and notes that children’s “…lives start long before birth, long before conception, and if they are aborted or miscarried or simply fail to materialise at all, they become ghosts within our lives.” Similarly, Barbara Kingsolver captures that sense of memory as well in her novel Animal Dreams writing of miscarriage: “But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she’ll know.”

For a time, I feared these ghosts. Like most of their kind, they have a tendency to pop up unexpectedly, to startle. And of course they bring with them almost unbearably painful memories simply by the fact of their existence.

Yet after awhile, I began to not only become used to their comings and goings, but to find the sweetness in the bittersweet. There is a small comfort in their presence, a fierce realization that I truly had my babies with me, even if only for a very short time.

At some point, further down the road when I am more healed, I know the ghosts will begin to fade. They will never entirely leave me, but their appearances will become less frequent, harder to spot, more subtle.

Right now, I am glad they are still with me. Grief, in my experience, is such a solitary road and I am grateful to have these travel companions on it for just a bit longer.

They are my reminder that my baby was here.

And how very much this week I miss him.