Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Don't get me wrong, we had a great Christmas. The kids were adorable, and even though we had fewer gifts under the tree due to the loss of my income this year, we seemed to enjoy it more than usual. I can honestly say that I'm grateful for every damned, sleepless, stomach-churning moment. And sitting in front of the TV watching Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve tonight may be lame, but it feels like progress to me. After all, last year Little A and I spent this night together at Children's hospital, Big A spent it sleeping at her aunt's house in Sonoma, and DH spent it by himself. (Poor DH ... I can only imagine how lonely he felt that night, coming home from the hospital to our empty, cold house.) Now we are all together under one roof again. Thank God.
I would like to say that since Little A didn't die -- something I really feared could happen last December -- the rest is just gravy. But I am a small and bitchy person who bounces between immense gratitude and equally huge pissiness. Because Jesus H. Christ, 2008 was hard. Financially, professionally, physically, and emotionally difficult. Something had to give this past year, and over and over again, the thing that gave was me. I'm heavier, wrinklier, drabber, and poorer in so many ways. So while I'm glad it wasn't worse, it could have been a damn side better. Really.
I don't usually do resolutions, but this year I'll bite. In 2009, I want to hunt for joy. Too many of the past few years the Wabi-Sabis have measured the worth of their years with the yardstick of past horrors. And I am really tired of saying that a year must fall into the good category only because I somehow survived it. I am ready for a good year by anyone's measure -- even the happy oblivions who skip through life. I want one of their good years.
It's time to try for something new and different. But after being in crisis mode for so long, I fear my horizons have narrowed to the point where I don't even know how to dream big anymore. I'm actually having a little trouble figuring out what might bring the family more joy in the coming year. It's a little alarming.
So help me out: When was the last time you were deleriously happy? And is it something you willfully made happen, or was it happenstance?
Friday, December 5, 2008
So, we're left assuming that this weird patch of lung is scar tissue that developed during Little A's back-t0-back bouts of pneumonia last winter. Scar tissue is great news, as it can reverse in small children. So we'll continue to carefully manage her asthma and try to limit the amount of colds she gets (ha, ha, ha on this last one ... hoo, so funny).
After I talked to the pulminologist I hung up and skipped around the house and high fived Little A 50 times. There is nothing like a toddler to happily indulge a giddy adult in the high fives. Then I put Little A down for her nap and in the silence of the house, found myself crying.
Three years ago today I sat at the desk where I now type this post. The phone rang, and as I stared out the window into the backyard, a perinatologist I'd never met before told me that the baby in my belly had a 1 in 5 shot at having either Trisomy 18 or Trisomy 13. And so it began. The waiting, the hoping, the crushed hopes, the termination, the complications, the marital strain, the depression, the subsequent pregnancy, the pain, the worry, the uterine rupture, the joy of Little A, the medical problems of Little A. Had that call not come in December 2005, what would my life look like now? To be honest, I don't even know how to imagine that scenario anymore. It's all too strange too contemplate.
They say it's not uncommon for people to associate sounds or smells with the moment they receive terrible news. For me, the thing that always pops into my mind when I think of this day in 2005 is The Epic of Gilgamesh. For some reason -- probably because it is shorter than most other Penguin Classics on my shelf -- I happened to be rereading Gilgamesh around the time of that phone conversation. And now the call and the poem remain linked. Especially the passage about Gilgamesh's best bud Enkidu, who dreams of his own death, of going to the palace of the Queen of Darkness, which is described as the house from which no one who enters ever returns, down the road from which there is no coming back:
There is the house whose people sit in darkness; dust is their food and clay is their meat. They are clothed like birds with wings for covering, they see no light, they sit in darkness.
It sounded so familiar to me, that Palace of Darkness. I lived next door in the House of Grief for a really long time. Food's just as sucky as it is at the Palace, and the lights are out, too.
But at least the road from the House of Grief runs in two directions. And sometimes you get to walk back out of there and into a real home. You get to turn up the thermostat, flick on the holiday lights, and enjoy a nice cup of tea while you bake cookies. And if the wind is blowing ominously outside, maybe this time you can just ... shut the damn blinds and ignore it, and not have the weather serve up a tornado while you're not looking.
Sometimes you can do this. And today, I am so thankful for that.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
We should find out the results of the CT scan by Friday. I'm hoping the pulminologist is just test happy and abusing our good health insurance. In that case, the results should be that her lungs don't appear to have any growths or congenital anomalies. Then all of her respiratory problems this year could be safely chalked up to her asthma.
Maybe I should be more worried about the results. But for some reason, I don't feel worried. And I'm just going to go with that for as long as I can.
The other scan that occured this week was on me. My quest to figure out what the hell is wrong with my body continues, and so today I got a pelvic ultrasound to check for cysts, fibroids, and other oddities in the nether regions.
This is the first pelvic scan I've had as a nonpregnant entity, and I'd been hoping that the drink-a-bucket-of-water prep was something only pregnant ladies have to do. But nope, all women need full bladders for pelvic scans. Lucky us!
I have what one medical professional once dubbed very efficient kidneys. Which is a nice way to say that my digestive track, it processes water like Niagara falls. I can (must) pee out a glass of water within ten minutes of ingesting it. So when told I was to drink 48 ounces of water 90 minutes before the test and not pee until afterwards, I practically fainted at the thought.
So, I cheated on the prep. I scaled the water back to 32 ounces and drank it less than an hour before the scan. But even so the tech informed me that I had too much fluid in my bladder, and so I had to go to the ladies room to get rid of some. I'm not sure what was more satisfying --peeing out a fish tank's worth of water, or the feeling of vindication I had in blowing off the exact test instructions to begin with.
Anyway, the good news is that there wasn't anything noteworthy on my scan. Since my pain does seem more stomach/upper GI related than gyno, that isn't a big surprise. But still, it's nice to hear that I can cross some stuff off the list of possible problems.
Next up: food allergies? Can a person become lactose intolerant at the ripe age of 37?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Big A (to Little A): "Stay here. Smile for the camera! Mommy is taking our picture when we have fashion!
Little A: "Wuh dat?"
Big A: "That's when we are fancy and beautiful. Did you know those boots you've got on used to be mine when I was a toddler?"
Little A: "Lez GOOOOO!"
Big A: "Geez, you sure are in a hurry."
Little A can't even speak in proper sentences yet, but that doesn't stop these two from talking, joking, and bickering every conscious moment they spend together. Growing up the only girl in a household of boys, the early-sibling communication style I became versed in was the thwack-and-run-for-your-life variety. So the chatter of girls is something that still surprises me.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Crazy is just an ordinary day for a OB-GYN . Running that kind of practice has got to be controlled chaos at best. Pregnant bodies do not always cooperate with regularly scheduled appointments. I keenly recall that back when I was a pregnant body, there were many snafus, dilemmas, and emergencies that led my appointments to be canceled because I wasn't allowed to leave the hospital to trek over to the OB office. As such, whenever I made it to a normal appointment it felt like a victory. I never complained about Dr. H running late -- and there are times she runs extremely late. I was just glad not to be the cause of her lateness. And although I've heard other patients exchange irritated words with office staff at times, I always tried to be the friendly, polite, understanding patient. I didn't want to be the person the staff hates.
I realize that my car breaking down on the way to the OB-GYN office does not fall into the same category as a baby sticking out the wrong end of my uterus, or someone hemmorhaging through their belly button. But it's still completely out of my control. And Dr. H's office is the first call I made (before the tow truck, even) to let them know I wouldn't be there. What else, exactly, did that receptionist expect me to do?
And hey, if it weren't for all THE UNEXPLAINED, CONSTANT PAIN, I'd be more than happy to drop this whole appointment thing like the receptionist insinuated I ought to do. But I don't really think it should be up to her to decide if I get an appointment or not on the basis of her being annoyed with me.
So rather than let it go, for the first time ever, I snarked back at someone at a doctor office.
"HEY ... Do you really think that I enjoy standing next to a highway ... especially when I'm paying for a babysitter just so I could visit your office? You know, I'd say this is even more unpleasant than the pelvic exam I am now going to miss. And it's at least as inconvenient for me as you!"
Silence on the other end of the line for a moment. Then, "Can you see her the day after tomorrow at 3:15?"
So today I'm thankful for PMS. Because sometimes it helps get things done.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I have been feeling on edge and punk in the past month, but given the mystery illness, that wasn't terribly surprising. But it occurred to me that most of the anxiety focused around Little A. Since we are also sorting out her health issues at this time, I figured maybe that was also normal. Still, I didn't understand the intensity of my freakouts. Little A has been doing well on her new meds and there really isn't much reason to be anything other than optimistic about what lies in store for her. So why was my heart hurting so much whenever my little girl toddled by?
While folding laundry the other day I finally figured it out: This black mood had started the day I took the bin of 2T and 24-month clothes out of the garage and incorporated them into Little A's general wardrobe. It's those clothes. The ones Big A wore three years ago when I was pregnant with my angel baby.
I have a hand-me-down hangover.
Who knew that such strong anxiety and grief could imprint on little dresses and pants? There is one particular outfit that looks adorable on Little A (much as it did on her big sister) but every time she flits by wearing it, I'm hit with the knowledge that this was the play dress Big A wore on Christmas 2005, which was just two days after my pregnancy termination. It was all I could do to keep from hurling myself out the picture window that day, and most of the events of that time are thankfully lost to the fog of despair and vicoden. But oh, that dress -- that I remember all too well.
It pisses me off! Not only because Little A looks so adorable in it, but because now that I'm a SAHM, my budget doesn't allow for me going out and buying an equal-but-different dress for Little A. So I'm in a conundrum: do I suck it up and deal with the sadness over seeing the clothes again, or do I donate the old clothes, and hope that people give Little A outfits for Christmas?
Strange and arbitrary. That's what grief is three years after a loss.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Good news: CT scan rules out big honking tumors, cysts, abscesses, and pancreatitis. Other tests seem to rule out gall bladder issues and hepatitis. Bad news: well, the pain of course, but also the fact that nobody knows why I woke up Sunday night doubled over and vomiting, and have spent most of the rest of the week that way, too. The three best guesses at this point are endometriosis on a kidney and my intestines, a virus, or a small kidney stone that isn't showing up on the scans. If I had to pick the most likely culprit, my hunch is the endo. But since endo is chronic and complicated, I'm crossing my fingers and saying GO, virus!
In much happier news, I found out this week that a dear friend of mine is pregnant after struggling with secondary infertility. I'm soooo happy for her. That made me smile all day yesterday, even through the continuing saga of the endo/kidney stone/virus stuff. Here's hoping she has a safe, boring nine months with the little bugger safely snuggled away on the inside.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Since avoiding the election is obviously impossible, DH and I decided to drink the Kool Aid and throw a small election night party. Because regardless of who wins, I think we can all agree big drinks are in order at the end of this damn thing.
Speaking of election-themed parties ... hopefully our beverages won't be quite as putrid as this.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Here we are again on the cusp of so much: Halloween, the end of daylight savings time, the presidential election, Big A's birthday, and the first real rainstorm of the California wet season. The pumpkins not yet cut into jack o' lanterns, and the new moon waxing, but hidden behind thickening clouds.
The world wobbles on one foot, ready to plunge in some direction at any moment. Are you feeling it, too?
I cannot think of a nice way to transition, and since I'm kind of time strapped this morning, I won't even try. I'll just say thanks to WhichBox for nominating me for a I Heart Your Blog award! (Mutual admiration society on that one, Which.) Below is the related meme, which says to answer questions with one word. Ha! I'll do my best ...
1. Where is your cell phone? Misplaced
2. Where is your significant other? Work
3. Your hair color? Faded
4. Your mother? Dead
5. Your father? Mellowing
6. Your favorite thing? Jewelry
7. Your dream last night? Forgotten
8. Your dream/goal? Serenity (the state, not the pad.)
9. The room you're in? Office
10. Your hobby? Knitting!
11. Your fear? Port-o-Potty during earthquake
12. Where do you want to be in six years? Mexico
13. Where were you last night? Couch
14. What you're not? Reassured
15. One of your wish list items? Cashmere
16. Where you grew up? Burbs
17. The last thing you did? Email
18. What are you wearing? Glasses
19. Your T.V.? Old (enough to drive)
20. Your pet? None
21. Your computer? PC
22. Your mood? Hopeful
23. Missing someone? Always
24. Your car? Mini
25. Something you're not wearing? Socks
26. Favorite store? Anthropologie
27. Your Summer? Restorative
28. Love someone? Many
29. Your favorite color? Aquamarine
30. When is the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? Summer?
Sara at Streaks on the China
Beruriah at Further Records
Lori at Losses and Gains
Saturday, October 18, 2008
So I'm saying up front that when candidates talk about abortion, I listen on the small scale. I think of myself, of my medical termination for trisomy 18, and of all that I went through almost three years ago. Then I try to relate whatever they said to me.
I'm having a really frustrating time this fall. A lot of extra stomach bile and swearing. Too much teeth grinding, too.
Just once, I want to hear a candidate -- any candidate -- acknowledge that not every abortion is for an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. Each year thousands of people terminate beloved, sought-after pregnancies for fatal or extremely serious problems. But since most people seem unable to imagine these sorts of problems until they touch their own life, the stories must be pointed out. They must be proven true, lest they be shrugged off as fictitious, or as an excuse for something else. (Hellooo, McCain, hellooo? I'm talking to YOU here, mister.)
I would also like anyone who utters the phrase "late term abortion" to immediately add, "of course, the vast majority of these are done for very serious medical problems I know nothing about, so I won't presume to try to moralize or legislate about that." Oh, and before anyone laughs at the idea of mental distress being a genuine reason for abortion, how about having them live through clinical depression for a day and then decide afterwards? (Hey, a woman can dream.)
And Palin -- I've got a huge list of disappointments and issues for Palin. But for starters, it would have been so nice to hear her say, "Regardless of my personal choice when it came to carrying my youngest son to term, I want women to know that I understand the anguish of receiving hard news after amniocentesis. A lot of women go through that, and it's just heart breaking."
Maybe that's slim common ground with Palin ... but it's something. And it would be the start of a genuine conversation that otherwise isn't happening today.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Not quite the high-five fest I was expecting.
Hearing that a doctor thinks your child's lung is partially collapsed all the time does not make for a happy mommy. And a syndrome is extra difficult to contemplate. I'm not a medical professional, but it seems that the word "syndrome" is medical shorthand for "this grab bag of weirdness impacts the same body part, so let's call call it a single disease, even though it actually has fifty causes and can range from being a little bit annoying to requiring a surgeon to cut out part of your lung."
Because Dr. Newbie is in his fellowship (aka still training for his subspecialty) he needs to check in with the attending pulmonologist at the end of our appointments. And many times, what the other pulmonologist says to me doesn't sound the same as what Dr. Newbie says. It's terribly confusing to get conflicting explanations in the same appointment. Especially now that we're dealing with tracking down a less-than-straightforward diagnosis.
I balked at Dr. Newbie's idea of immediately putting a scope down Little A's lungs to have a look around. When the attending physician arrived, I explained that I was concerned because I kept hearing the same phrase from everyone involved: To be on 'the safe side."
- I had taken Little A to the pediatrician before vacation for an iffy cold that in retrospect, would certainly have cleared up without any intervention. I did it "just in case."
- Her pediatrician sent Little A to be Xrayed this last time despite the fact she didn't hear clear crackles or wheezing in her lungs. "Because of her history, let's be cautious," she said.
- And now the pulmonology dept. is saying this latest Xray is evidence that, just to be on the safe side, we should do more testing.
Off to email the pulmonologist some pointed questions. More on this soon ...
Friday, October 3, 2008
So, Disneyland. I'd never been there before. I believe there are two types of Americans: those that naturally embrace all things Mickey, and those that squint and back away from the cartoon empire as if it emits toxic fumes. Prekids, I was a big Disney hater. The parks, movies, DVDs, and merchandise tie-ins are so massively hyped that it seemed like a huge, embarrasingly obvious racket to me. I just didn't get how anyone would want to go there. It didn't help that since DH is in the entertainment industry, we know people who have worked for The Mouse and oh, the stories of hardcore corporate craziness I have heard. So going to Disneyland in my twenties or early thirties made me grunt and roll my eyes. It was not going to happen.
Of course, motherhood changes you. Alters your body, makes you accept things you never thought you'd accept, makes you utter ludicrous statements on a regular basis. Just the other day I found myself saying "We do NOT wash each other's butts!" Shortly before that, "You cannot marry daddy. He already has a wife." But even though strange announcements are fairly routine around Chez Wabi, this latest one still feels odd when it comes out of my mouth:
I am a convert. I love Disneyland. I want to go back.
Now, I expected Big A would want to move there. She's almost five, deep into that frilly princess stage. (Ah, the princess stage. This is another one of those things I was initially horrified by, but now just find routine.) And Little A is a generally affable little imp, so even though she is too young to know the various characters and stories involved in Disneyland attractions, I guessed she'd like it all.
But me? I figured I'd just grit my teeth and be there on the girls' behalf. The lines were going to bug me, I knew I'd be hot and annoyed by people in the crowds. I didn't expect that I'd find going to Disneyland so pleasant myself: That walking by the uber-romanticized buildings on Main Street would still feel cozy and fun; that the parades would be delightful to watch, and that the rides would be as fun for me as the girls. And the lines? With a little planning, they turned out not to be a big deal. In a nutshell, I discovered that despite the nonstop merchandising and inflated prices, despite the fakeness of every single thing there, I had an authentically great time anyway.
I read somewhere that Disneyland averages 30,000 visitors every day, and that as many as 50,000 are in the parks during the summer and on other holidays. But the interesting thing was that I didn't see a lot of the typical ugly scenes of family stress/hunger/tantrums/arguments that one usually witnesses with that many people hanging around together. I wonder why it is that everyone seemed to be on such good behavior (my family included)? Is it park engineering? People's expectations? Some sort of happy gas?
If anyone has any theories on this, I'd love to hear them.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Even better: after chugging along at 60 breaths per minute for a day, her respiration rate dropped back down to about half that last night. And she finally ate. It was ice cream and not her dinner, but whatever. She took in calories. After a bumpy couple of days, I think my girl is licking this infection on her own. I'll give her the antibiotics anyway, since she also had a developing ear infection. But as a mom, my anxiety level with Little A's health tracks closely with her breathing rate. There's nothing like a gasping child to get me all nerved up! So now I feel better too. Even though Little A gifted me with a cold of my own, and now Big A is now complaining of a sore throat, I feel better.
We may have to pack lots of tissues and Tylenol for our trip, but now it seems we will be packing. Hooray!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
On the doctor's recommendation, I took her home for a power nap after the appointment rather than going straight to the hospital radiology department. Hopefully the nap improves the odds that she'll stay calm during the chest Xray this afternoon, and we'll get a nice, nonblurry shot of her lungs. Right now we have no idea if the fast, shallow "belly breathing" I've watched her do in the last 24 hours is just a bad (but nonserious) cold, or something else that requires aggressive intervention.
It feels like eerie deja vu from the first time Little A got seriously ill last December. That time her illness began when we were about to go to Lake Tahoe for New Year's weekend and stay at a house we rented with friends. So in addition to being frantic about Little A's wheezing and coughing, I was worried and conflicted about whether to cancel the trip, and how that might impact Big A. We decided to postpone leaving by a day, then traveled after the pediatrician gave us the ok. But despite all our precautions, Little A ended up in the hospital for a week anyway, after a terrifying experience that cut the trip short.
This time instead of a Tahoe house rental, the illness coincides with an impromptu trip to Southern California that is supposed to begin this weekend. Sitting on my desk is an envelope containing nonrefundable Disneyland tickets that I only purchased a couple days before Little A got sick. We also have nonrefundable hotel reservations for inside the park and nonrefundable hotel reservations in San Diego for a few days after Disneyland -- a real splurge for us. Big A is apoplectic with excitement over this trip, and frankly so am I. We haven't gone on a real vacation that lasted more than a couple nights away from home in years. The idea we might have to cancel this due to a medical emergency so similar to the one that ended the last big getaway we tried for is something I'm trying not to think about. But of course, that just means the possibility of canceling the trip is the second-most frequent thought on my mind today, right behind "what's up with my girl's lungs this time?"
So. Off to radiology now -- wish us luck!
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Big A: What are you writing, mommy?
Wabi: A note to the babysitter about what you and Little A need to do at bedtime.
Big A: Oh! Write this down: "Big A can go to bed whenever she wants, and that's ok!"
Gotta give her points for trying ...
Friday, September 12, 2008
I'm loving being a SAHM so far. Of course ... two weeks in is just the honeymoon period. Especially since DH is home with me this entire month!
Usually when DH is home for a month, it's a stressful, dicey thing that has to do with him getting laid off. The video game industry is famous for its lack of job security, since many companies slash staff between projects. You work like crazy, and then you look like crazy for work. But this time it's a little different. After working six days a week for about five months in a row, DH's project finished in time to ship for Christmas. (Not finishing in time for the Santa retail season is the kiss of death for any game.) The company thinks the game is going to sell very well, and decided not to lay anyone off between projects. Instead they shut down for a month.
I love having regular family dinners with DH again and having leisure time that is actually relaxing. The girls are over the moon to see their dad more, too. Yet being the crankypants I am, I also can't help muttering a little bit under my breath about how all this came about. Reasons for eye rolls include:
1) No advance notice on having September off. There were rumors of it happening in the last couple weeks of August. But we didn't know for sure until two days before it started. So long-term planning for any travel during September was impossible.
2) The company continually insists on calling this "comp time," even though nobody has a choice in when or if they take it. Doesn't sound like comp time to me -- it's really a plant shutdown between projects to save the company some bucks. Yet the company brags about how they are the most fabulous, generous, wonderful employer in the world for "allowing people to take off September." Pay no attention to the fact that everyone just worked through the three last national holidays and about twenty Saturdays without any overtime pay at all. Time off now is nice, but doesn't match up to what was given by employees in the last few months. Not by a long shot.
3) Last and most important: Can you imagine explaining to a not-quite five year old why Daddy, Mommy, and Little Sis get to hang out together at home every day while she must suddenly attend Kindergarten five days a week? So much for making that transition to school easy.
At any rate, it was a very good summer, and despite my always-at-least-residual crankiness, it's a good fall so far as well. I have a post brewing about Sarah Palin as well as other topics, both large and small. I feel recharged. I think my 'blog vacation' is officially over for awhile.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
"She had a good day," Susanne says as she cradles the baby and smiles at her warmly. "I'm just so THRILLED she's finally taking the bottle! The first couple days can be hit or miss for babies who are used to the breast alone."
I nod, remembering that particular hell when Big A started daycare. Just then the mother of the new baby enters and the baby throws off the bottle and lunges for mommy with a joyous chortle. I say hello but must turn back to my brood rather than make more small talk. Big A holds her sister's beloved blankie over Little A's head just beyond reach, and Little A is ready to poke every finger through whatever orifice she hits first. I separate and haul both kids toward the door, tossing a goodbye over my shoulder.
When my head is turned toward them, I watch as Susanne asks the new mom if she can give the bottle to someone else. "It's seems such a shame to waste it!" She says. And next moment, another child who happened to toddle by is happily guzzling the beverage.
I'm curious: What would you do?
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
"Oh, oh, oooh!" shouts Big A, overcome at the sight within the box. "Oh my GAWD. It's soooo sparkly."
"Oh my goodness," I correct. But I skip the language lecture in favor of pulling out another drawer. One by one the pieces come out: Pink and blue beads, faux pearls, rhinestone bracelets, silver chains and golden bangles.
My mother's old jewelry box, guarded so well from a greedy daughter for many years. "Don't touch," she scolded when she caught me going through it. "Those are mine," she'd seethe. "You have no respect! You just break things."
Like a crow, I adore the shiny. So as a child, sometimes I snuck my mother's jewelry box into my bedroom. Sitting with my back against the door, I'd run fingers through the gold plated ID bracelets and costume gems. Once, calamity -- a stone was lost from an earring, so she knew. Whether it was the necklaces in her box or souvenirs and trinkets in the attic, she always seemed to discover my rummaging. "Stop snooping!" she'd growl, utterly frustrated.
And it was snooping. No postcard or scrapbook gone unread. I tried on every shoe, robe, and dress at the back of her closet. I knew where she stashed the Christmas presents every year. I could find the shoe box where letters she wrote to my father before their engagement were stacked. Curiously, I never found the letters he wrote to her. (Did she not bother to save them?)
To her it was all rudeness and invasion. My mother was stingy with so much more than her things. And so I went looking for some clue and trace of what I needed in dusty lockets and books instead. Then suddenly she died when I was 22, and the jewelry box was all mine.
Not quite knowing what to do, I packed it away and barely looked at those things over the past 15 years. Until yesterday, when for some reason, it just felt like it was time to take it out again.
So the girls will now enjoy my inheritance. And God willing, we will build a different one together.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Are you "out?" To everyone or a select few? And which -- or how much of your -- story do you tell?
This is the question Tash recently asked at Glow in the Woods regarding what portion of the story of our baby loss we share with the real world. For anyone who ended a pregnancy early for medical reasons, this is one of the core, lingering conundrums. You think about it hard from day one. Actually, given the nature of medical termination, you usually think about it before day one. The lead up to a second-trimester termination generally includes at least one or two days of prep, plus many tortuous phone calls with doctors and hospital or clinic staff to set up appointments. And the question gets into your head early on and clings: What in God's name can I tell people about all of this later?
Two and a half years since my termination, I still grapple with the concept of "out." I personally count four tiers of knowing my story in the real world:
Tier One: The most trusted. These people know everything about my baby's diagnosis, what went into my decision to terminate, as well as all the crazy woe that came later on. Plus, they know the horrible strain all of this put on my heart, body, psyche, and marriage.
Tier Two: The mostly trusted. These people know about the termination and probably also heard that my uterus ruptured later, but don't necessarily realize the connection between those events, or that I can't have kids anymore. Not every detail and no major emotional baggage has been shared, but I trusted these individuals enough to tell them the basic framework of the whole complicated story.
Tier Three: The suspect. Either I don't know these people well enough to gauge their philosophical stance on abortion, or I know for certain they are antichoice. I may not be close to these folks, but they are still entrenched enough in my life to require some explanation as to why I suddenly wasn't wearing maternity clothing anymore, or why my subsequent baby came so early. For them, I created an artfully edited version of the story that isn't false, but allows people to incorrectly assume that my loss was a stillbirth or miscarriage.
Tier Four: The blissfully ignorant. These are mostly people I've met since Little A's birth who have no idea of my pregnancy woes. It's not a secret, but it just hasn't come up, and I haven't volunteered it.
In the early days after my loss, Tier 3 was the group that caused me the most tension and sadness. No matter how you lose a baby, you feel flayed and exquisitely sensitive to how others perceive what happened in the aftermath. People routinely say things that they think will help but inadvertently hurt. This problem magnifies significantly if you terminate. Because in addition to the kind-hearted blunderers, there are also the shunners and the snubbers. These are the people who feel that the manner of your loss negates all rights to condolences. In fact, some people feel that a termination requires insults and condemnation. Which is bad enough on any ordinary day, but downright impossible to contemplate in the wake of your shaky new grief.
So, everyone who terminates has a Tier 3. What varies is how many people get put there, and for how long.
Now, my Tier 3 is likely very tiny compared to many other women. That's because here in the Bay Area the vast majority of people are prochoice. There isn't much risk in being open with my story. The most push back I get is on this blog. And when the occasional anonymous wing nut stops by to comment, I hold the power to delete, which really takes a lot of sting out the random trolls. So my situation is much easier than someone in Topeka or in Oklahoma City. There a woman may very likely have a friend or relative call her a baby killer to her face after a medical termination. And there just isn't any magic button in real life that can erase that.
Yet even in my "safer" locale, the specter of snubbers and shunners falls over me every time I consider telling my story. I have to really think about what the long-term implications of talking with some one could be before I open my mouth. It's always a gamble, the revelation.
And as much as I try to keep it at the personal level when I talk about my baby and my decision, inevitably it's also more than that. It's where the personal, political, and religious intersect. For always, whether I like it or not.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Big A: So I don't get squished?
Big A: So I don't die?
Wabi: (Deep sucking in of breath) Exactly.
Big A: If I die, do you just start over with another new kid?
Wabi: ... No. It doesn't work that way. You are not replaceable. Besides, I can't have any more children.
Big A: Never? Why not?
Wabi: I got a little bit broken when Little A was born, sweetie. I'm ok, except that I can't have babies anymore. But even if I could have more children, you are still not replaceable in any way.
Big A: Because I'm special?
Wabi: Yeah. So please, try not to get squished, ok?
Big A: Well all right, momma!
Friday, July 11, 2008
As a working mom, I have found quality time to be the very rock that Sisyphus pushes up the hill. Maybe if you have smiley, cheerful kids made out of plastic, quality time is great. Especially if Mommy takes enough uppers to be perky and patient all the way through 8:30 p.m, because then the family can bond over dinner and roll right on to the nightly bedtime routine happily. But me, I am amphetamine-deprived, and my kids, they are the normal, made-of-meat variety. We all arrive home on worknights in a precarious state. It does not take much to push three hungry and tired females into being cranky. And once cranky, it's just a little hop over to someone (everyone) becoming screechy. And there might have even been a little biting in the dinnertime mix. Because toddler Little A, she is not above taking an angry chomp out of mommy's shoulder, should that sippy cup of warm milk not fly out of the microwave fast enough. That child is silky angel hair and sweetness most of the time. But you do not screw with Little A's hunger, if you know what's good for you.
But then the summer solstice hit, and life suddenly shifted. Work started to wrap up. The crazy patchwork of childcare we'd put together for both the kids in the past year also got cut back and simplified. Plus it is July, when colds, flu, and pnuemonia take a plane to the other hemisphere. So nobody is sick, and the doctor's appointments are also fewer and farther between.
All of this has made a huge difference in our lives. That elusive quality time I have been fighting for? It now exists! Ironically, I got here by spending huge quantities of time with the kids. We've picnicked at the ocean, visited the zoo, tromped through the science museum, hit the amusement park, camped in the Sierras, gone swimming in our pool, wandered on the hill trails around our house, skipped along the bike path, watched parades and fireworks, and worn an entire extra-large box of sidewalk chalk down to the nibs. We've eaten more stone fruit, strawberries, turkey dogs, and ice cream than I fathom. Labor Day is over six weeks away, and we've already gone through two bottles of sunscreen. I'm lining up the empty coppertone tubes on my bathroom windowsill as trophies to the fun.
And the housework? It's as piled up as before. But now it doesn't vex me quite so much. There is a huge difference between trying to find the time between work phonecalls to launder your daughter's blankie quickly because she won't sleep in the hospital without it and trying to get the beach towels clean so you can head out tomorrow for another day in the sand.
Long story short, the not working for awhile thing? It's working out.
Maybe come September when Big A starts kindergarten I will again feel the tug of work and need to change things up again. But that's September, maybe. For now, I feel like I can rest, play, and breathe. Finally.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I've thought a lot about big-picture events and quests with a capital Q since reading the book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm probably I'm the last middle-aged American woman to read it, but for the benefit of the three other people hiding under a rock, it is a memoir that chronicles a year of traveling and spiritual exploration after the author's soul-sapping divorce.
I'm shocked at how much I liked the book. I was cautious going in, because I heard the author was on Oprah promoting the story, and that Julia Roberts will star in a movie version. The book's press gave off the faint stench of The Secret, which really is just Social Darwinism respun in less harshly Victorian language (If your life is awesome, it's because YOU are positively special and earned every last orgasm and gold ingot! And if your life sucks, it's because You are negative and dragged those problems right to yourself like a magnet. Got that?)
But by just a few pages in, it was obvious that Gilbert wrote a memoir, not a smug how-to book. She isn't holier than thou or rigidly dogmatic. She's funny, open minded, and as enthusiastic about food in Italy as she is about meditation in India. Reading about her path from lost to found really did inspire me.
And here I am, recently awake to the fact that I am relatively at peace with my dead-baby-and-pregnancy-calamities saga. It took two and a half years, so it's not like it was an overnight change. Yet it feels so markedly different. It's like I've been staring for eons at the random dots in one of those Magic Eye books, and suddenly the big-picture just popped out at me.
For anyone newer to their grief, I would hasten to add that "at peace" doesn't mean I want to turn away from my loss, or distance myself from others out there for whom this is not as settled. I've been struggling to figure out a metaphor that explains the difference between how I felt before and how I feel now. The only one that sort of fits is that of the leg amputee.
We've all heard the death of a child being referred to as similar to amputation, right? It's permanent and impacts every step. The underlying truth is that you would always prefer to have your old leg back, where that an option. And in the beginning, even as you make progress at adapting to being one-legged, the lost leg is always keenly on your mind.
Being at peace is not getting your old leg back. Instead, it's akin to receiving a high-tech prosthetic. After being in a wheel chair and then on crutches, it feels pretty magnificent to bound around as a biped. So you don't think about the fact that all things being equal, you'd still like that real leg back, please. You just enjoy the breeze in your hair, and maybe look to the road ahead.
For me, anyway, that's what peace feels like. For others who have got here (in any matter, grief-related or not) what does it feel like for you?
Friday, June 13, 2008
This week is the two-year anniversary of my estimated due date for my angel baby. In a different world, I would be ordering a birthday cake and planning for my second daughter's official entry into the terrible twos.
The most interesting thing to me about the anniversary this year is that I forgot it. It was only when I logged into an online support group discussion board I'm a member of and saw my name listed under the "Special Days to Remember" thread that the significance of the date hit me.
Maybe part of the reason I forgot is that my healthier pregnancies ended no where near their due dates. Big A was supposed to make her debut a week before Halloween but stubbornly refused to come out until after Election Day. And Little A arrived in a whole different calendar year than her EDD. For me, due dates have not held true.
And of course, there are no real memories to associate with this. Unlike my angel day, which is burned into memory, the EDD was a guess of an assumption that never came to pass. It is ephermeal as a spiderweb made out of clouds and cricket songs. It casts no shadow. It floats away.
In years past I would have felt guilty for not holding on to my phantom baby bundle tightly on this day. So much of new grief involves fighting the disappearance of your child. We wait for these key anniversaries not only to get past the pain they bring, but to experience the jolt. Sometimes the white-hot memory is less disconcerting than the feeling of the fire going out.
But once you cross the line between forgetting and forgot, it's different. I have no guilt. It's ok. I'm glad to be set free in certain ways. To no longer be waiting, and to finally let the baby be lost.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
And so it was not particularly surprising that being off my routine this week, I forgot to put the garbage cans out to the curb last night. It is a little more surprising and pathetic that I failed to notice all the cans of the neighbors out at the curb this morning when DH wrestled the kids into the car to take them to daycare. I only realized it was garbage day when the truck was roaring away directly outside my house. I ran downstairs through the garage in a halfhearted attempt to chase after the driver, knowing that once they get past your house, all you can really do is cram extra garbage into your over-full can for yet another week. Garbage trucks do not go back in Oakland. Since the hot summer weather has finally arrived here, I knew that it was going to be a smelly and possibly maggoty endeavor for the next week. Yech.
But the cans were not in their corral behind the row of cannas. At first I thought, "Wuh ... who would steal cans full of garbage?" Then the garbage man came around the side of the truck, carrying one large empty can in each of his huge hands.
"I got it," he said congenially.
"You got my cans out of the corral?" I stared at him like he was an alien.
"Sure," he said, shrugging.
So I'm having a Geggy Tah morning, folks. Whoever you are, I wanna thank you, garbage man. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Big A is not interested in learning how to frame a shot or work the flash. She just clicks away excitedly at whatever she likes. I find her photographs fascinating. Somehow they remind me of the smallness of her body in a way that the bigness of her personality sometimes makes me forget.
Do you remember the time when the world of your hallway and bedroom and pillows and sidewalk and street seemed so wide open and so huge?
Friday, May 30, 2008
There has been another casualty to all this illness: my job. I was working part time after my maternity leave ended when Little A was six months old. As a freelance editor, I'm pretty flexible with the schedule. I felt like I'd finally hit the right work/life balance after struggling with it for years in those first few months after I returned to work last year. But then we became the House of Plague.
At first the problem was mostly financial: daycare is expensive, and I pay for unscheduled absences due to sickness even when I am not billing anyone due to caring for sick kids. And while the occasional fever or case of pink eye isn't serious, it does keep the kids out of daycare or school for a day. With the run of luck we've had, those days rapidly added up. For many months, I was actually running in the red, financially speaking.
But I was still keeping up with the actual work load and enjoyed it, so I wanted to soldier on and get past what I kept thinking of as a bad patch. It would go back to normal soon, I kept telling myself. But one messed-up month turned into two, then three and four, five and six, etc. Here we are at the end of May and the kids are both home sick with chest colds and fevers for the umpteenth time. And I have to conclude that this -- being home sick with the girls, juggling doctor appointments and weighing treatment options -- this has truly become more of a job than my regular job is. Long ago I slipped into constant catch-up mode with work. It is no longer very enjoyable, because I just feel so frantic and under the gun all the time. And feeling that way only makes concentrating during those rare days where I actually get a full work day in all the more difficult.
So of course I've been mulling over quitting my job. But it seemed impossible at first. We needed my salary to pay for Big A's kindergarten tuition starting in September. DH's work was looking like it might dry up in the next few months, too. How would we get by?
But a long-term freelance project I've had is concluding, and I suddenly found myself with the prospect of having no work at all this summer. This is the first time I've been completely unemployed in years. Even when I was on maternity leave, I had work lined up for afterwards. I don't know if the folks I usually work with are just at a point in their projects where they aren't hiring for new jobs, or if people have decided they don't like my chaotic schedule due to the sick children. (Maybe a little bit of both?)
At any rate, I was half-heartedly updating my resume and trying to scrounge up job leads for the summer when DH suddenly got a raise that would (if I cut our household budget carefully) pay for that pesky kindergarten tuition I was worried about. So, that's it. I can wrap up current projects and just ... stop. Quit.
Part of me is incredibly relieved that by sometime in July, I'll be out of work. I'm burned out from the struggle to keep up. I'm also more out of shape physically than I've been in years, and looking about five years older than I did five months ago. I need to take better care of myself, and suspect that until things stabilize more on the health front with Little A, my job, which sucks up most time not spent with the kids, makes that impossible. We are lucky to be able to eke it out for awhile without my salary, and so I should probably take advantage of that.
And yet another part of me is scared shitless to give up work, even if only for six months or a year. I'm afraid my life is retracting and that I won't be able to easily get back into the swing of balancing a career and family again later on. I feel like I've failed in numerous, hazy ways. I also don't know if staying home with the kids full time will drive me stark raving mad, either. What if I'm not wired to be a SAHM? Will I feel stifled or isolated?
I'm veering off the road I know and plowing into uncharted territories. Here's hoping it all works out.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
1) In a word, how would you characterize yourself before your loss, and then after?
Before: Lucky. After: Cracked.
2) How do you feel around pregnant women?
It's been over two years since my loss. I feel pretty ok around pregnant ladies most of the time now. Having living children undeniably helps me on that front because they are the band aids that cover my old wounds when I go out in public. Socially speaking, they buffer me from a lot of questions and interactions that previously hurt. For instance, nobody asks a lady who is nearing age forty who has two small kids if she plans to have more children. People assume the baby making went ok for you, and that you are now done by design rather than because of medical mishaps. And most of the time, these assumptions are exactly what I prefer. It's very relaxing, to pass as "normal" and not wear my gored heart on my sleeve. That feeling of naked emotional exposure that comes with early grief was terribly disconcerting for me. I'm glad it's mostly gone.
Occasionally a naive, lucky pregnant lady yammers on a little too long about hating stretch marks or about how their 27-page birth plan is going to ensure a drug-free birth, and at those times I still feel exasperated at the inequities of the universe. But the anger I used to feel for the actual women has gone away. I think it's because I know it could all turn on a dime for them. It did for me.
3) How do you answer the 'how many children' question?
I only tell about the kids who were born alive in 95 percent of the situations where that question gets asked. That's no disrespect to others who count differently. It's just how I happen to do it.
4) How did you explain what happened to your lost baby to your living children?
Big A had just turned two when we found out her in-utero sibling had Trisomy 18. Big A was young enough to not understand the reason for Mommy's growing belly, and we hadn't told her she was going to be a big sister before I terminated the pregnancy. We continued avoiding all dead baby discussions with her in the immediate aftermath.
Some might say this was good for Big A because of X reasons, while others might counter that it was bad for her for Y reasons. But why I chose that path had nothing to do with Big A, pathetic as that may sound. I just wasn't up for explaining how babies were made in the same conversation where I explained death to a 25 month old girl. Big A's age allowed me to punt, and so I did.
That said, I've always viewed Big A not knowing about her lost sister as a temporary situation. Some day both Big A and Little A will know about their other sister. I think I'll tell them about her existence first, and then when the girls are older and more sophisticated, I can explain about the termination part.
5) What would another pregnancy mean to you, and how would you get through it—or are you done with babymaking?
Little A is my "happy ending" -- a pregnancy after the loss that resulted in a live baby. Unfortunately her pregnancy was a complicated nightmare that ended with my uterus being so damaged from the rupture that I can't ever carry another child. I'm lucky to be alive now, and Little A is even luckier on that front.
If I'd known in advance how dangerous another pregnancy would be, I never would have attempted it. My parenting of Big A suffered greatly when I was so ill during pregnancy, and the idea that I also nearly orphaned the girl just because I had the urge to have more kids seems utterly ridiculous.
Yet I got away with it -- somehow, I got my Little A even though it all went so wrong. That contradiction is the duct tape that holds my life together today, actually. Because I don't feel like the world owed me this child. I don't think she is any sort of cosmic payback for what came before. But she's here, she's awesome, and I'm going to enjoy the hell out of being her mommy for as many days as I am lucky enough to have her. I own my relationship to the world in a different way because of her existence.
6) Imagine being able to step back in time and whisper into the ear of your past self the day after your baby died. What would you say?
I would tell myself, "Today is Christmas Eve. By this day next year, there will be a healthy baby in the bassinet by your bed. This era of waiting and wondering and worrying about these particular issues will be over. You will hang a lantern in your window to remember your dead, and hang two stockings on the mantle to celebrate the living."
But I do not think I would have believed myself. I probably would have thought I was one big, fat, equivocating jerk!
Thursday, May 22, 2008
First, that horrible earthquake in China. The news reports of broken schools and buried children are too much for me as the parent of small kids. Add in that I live one street away from a major fault line in the Bay Area, and I can't help but cross myself and pray hard for everyone in Asia impacted by that quake.
There are also the smaller, more personal difficulties of friends. First, I fear one of my best friends is sinking into the world of secondary infertility. Her first pregnancy came at age 36 and resulted in a healthy baby (delivered vaginally and drug free, just for icing on the whole pregnancy cake). But after a year of trying for baby #2 unsuccessfully, I can see her confidence eroding. Her smile stretches too tight when news of other people's easy pregnancies come up. She just got a referral to a fertility specialist from her OB, but she hasn't filled it yet. I don't think she's quite ready to accept that what came so easily before is no longer easy. She's hoping a few more months of trying without intervention will work out. And for her sake, so do I.
Then there is the elderly couple next door. The other day I came upon the man bent over his push mower awkwardly. I was ready to jump the fence and check his pulse, but suddenly realized he was crying. "My son," he choked. His 43 year old son just received a diagnosis of malignant melanoma the night before. The biopsy alone left 30 stitches, and more surgery and radiation await. It doesn't look good.
My neighbor's son has a six-year-old boy. Which reminds me of another comet that streaked by: A good friend (the best man at my wedding, actually) just lost his only sister to cancer. Holly was 35, and is also survived by a six-year-old son.
So, near misses. They remind me that I should grab that bottle of bubbly and celebrate the days where wiping noses, dirty laundry, and work-related annoyances are all that occupies my mind. Whoo-hoo, good times! But they also remind me that when you're in a stronger place, you ought to reach out to others who are under siege.
Which leads to a question: What are some practical, little things that a friend or neighbor can do to let someone know they care? I know I could go the card route, but really, I was aiming for something noncommercial and more personal. Is saying it with home-baked pie ok? Something else? Everything I come up with seems so small and ridiculous in comparison to what has happened. Suggestions greatly appreciated!
Monday, May 5, 2008
I am surprised you emailed. The last time we spoke was before the nasty R./Z. business, which I'm sure you heard about. But you never contacted me after the firstname.lastname@example.org, which I took as a comment unto itself.
It goes without saying that life evolved into something entirely different for everyone since then. I don't feel particularly haunted or grudge-filled by the distant past. Regular life is just too chock full of other things to dwell on what happened so long ago.
Yet when I do look back, which I can't help but do now with your email sitting in my box, the truth remains that I was hurt badly back then. Being dropped by friends was an extra betrayal on top of a trauma. Given Z.'s personality and her issues with men, in retrospect I can see that she was going to rationalize a way to stick with R. no matter what. This has been an enduring lesson in judging character and choosing friends more carefully.
But you, C., I can't quite figure out. Because if I you think I'd lie about something as serious as a r.@pe, then why would you care to check in with me now? Yet if you suspect I spoke the truth, then how could you wait so long?
I doubt very much that C. will email back. I actually don't care if she does or doesn't. Ultimately writing back was for me, not her.
I lost a lot of self respect when I didn't report the email@example.com and pursue charges when it happened. At the time it was all I could do to hang on and do ... nothing. (Nothing being not drinking myself into a hole, and not killing R., or committing suicide -- all of which I contemplated for a time.) To go to the hospital, to talk to police and go to court would have required family support or other sane adult guidance that was completely lacking in my life. So when I lost friends in addition to being firstname.lastname@example.org, it was even more overwhelming. It cemented that secret belief I had that I must be at fault. I slunk away with my tail between my legs when people turned away. I didn't stick up for myself.
So both sending the email and not shrugging off the past hurts -- that's a big difference between now and then. It's like the 37-year-old me just told the younger me "Psst -- They are never going to apologize but you are still going to be ok. You will figure out how to live with the wrongness without having to rewrite your part of it so you are responsible for the horror."
Ever since baby loss woes splattered all over my life I've felt more of a mess than together. I still feel, sometimes, that I am waiting for the answer to the question why did this all have to happen? I still struggle with the idea that so much of it was beyond my control, and suspect I must be to blame. So it's comforting to look back at this early period of my life and realize I'm actually different now than I was then. Certain key questions that hung in my mind became resolved without any particular answer.
I can live with that scenario. I am living it now. And maybe I even gained a little something extra for the effort, beyond the damage and the dust.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I wish I could write a generic version of exactly what happened between C. and I, so that people could understand the nature of my dilemma now without baring the naked, ugly details. But to simply say "C. betrayed me" doesn't do it justice. I think I have to give the skeleton of the details for perspective. Which makes me feel edgy and a little flummoxed ... but here goes:
C. and I were pretty good friends throughout high school. In college I was roommates with another of our mutual high-school friends, Z. During one of those stereotypical train wrecks of a party in my junior year of college, I drank waaaay too much and passed out. While unconscious, Z.'s boyfriend email@example.com me*. But Z.'s boyfriend denied the se.x wasn't consensual. Z. believed him. One long-term aftermath of this was that my old high-school clique split into two factions: one that still associated with Z. and immediately dropped me, and one that shunned Z. out of disgust, since they believed I wouldn't lie about the r.@pe.
C was part of the Z. camp. I never actually heard that she called me a liar directly, but even so, she never spoke or wrote to me again after she found out about it. That's pretty much calling me a liar with her actions, if not her words. And now there is a breezy, dippity-do-dah type email in my inbox from C. saying "Hi, at last! I was wondering where you landed and now I see it's the West Coast! I'm doing blah-blah-blah in X state ..."
How is one supposed to respond to an email like that, given what went down so many years ago?
Really, I'm at a loss at the moment. Opinions would be greatly appreciated.
*Also stereotypical was my 21-year-old reaction to the r@.pe. I didn't go to the ER for an exam and never reported it to the police. So it was my word against his when I finally shared my story with friends.