Friday, May 30, 2008

Decision or Retreat?

I haven't posted nearly as much this year as I did last, and the main reason for that is illness. Most families I know complain this has been an especially harsh cold/flu season. Even so, we've been harder hit than most in 2008. I rang in the New Year sitting next to Little A's hospital bed and that's been the theme of life ever since. January had two hospitalizations for Little A, and since then things have been less life threatening, yet serious enough to interrupt daily life. Pneumonia, the common cold, lingering fevers, conjuntivitis, earaches, asthma, etc. have kept us visiting the pediatrician's office well over a dozen times in five months. Both kids were Xrayed to assess pneumonias, both have needed antibiotics. Additionally, Little A has semi-regular pulminologist appointments and has been on at least seven different respiratory treatments as we search for the right drug combination to keep her asthma at bay.

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

6 X 6

The lovely ladies over at Glow in the Woods have posted 6 X 6, a self-serve meme for deadbaby-related questions and topics. I thought I'd opt in:

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

Near Misses

The past month has been chock full o' mostly normal stuff for my family. Taxing enough to keep me away from blogging for awhile, but nothing remotely crisis-like. Yet streaking past my windows are a series of red-hot comets of doom and despair. Disasters for others, near misses for us.

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

Update on Unwelcome Blast ...

Dear C.,

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 r@p.e, 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 r@p.e 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 r@p.ed, 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.