Tuesday, July 16, 2013

right where i am: four years, six months, seven days

I am late to this link up, but I still wanted to write a "right where I am" post, for my own sake as much as being part of the group!

She is warm on my chest, breathing slowly, her lips still placed carefully against the top of my breast, staying close to her precious milk. Her soft, furry head is tucked under my chin and her body melts into mine. I am drinking these moments in...the quiet ones in between our normal chaos.  In these moments I want to freeze time, to have this sweet baby sleeping on my chest forever.

In these moments I feel myself affirming to myself: She is here. She is breathing. She is okay. 

I still struggle with the last one. My old friend anxiety comes to visit sometimes, and with frantic googling, I have found a hundred things that could still be wrong with her.  I came across a study, months ago, that showed that women who have chosen to end pregnancies for medical reasons still show significant signs of post-traumatic stress even three to seven years later.  That was validating, in a way. Recognizing that helps me to keep those thoughts at arms length (almost) and realize that it is not mother's intuition (probably) but just my poor, traumatized brain, trying to be one step ahead of the game.

I figured it out the other day, why I had gone from feeling blissfully happy with my life one day, to being reduced almost to tears with fear that my baby had some rare genetic anomaly the next.  It was because I finally let myself love her.  Not the automatic love that began from the moment I knew she existed, but that big, giant mama love that is reserved only for your children. The kind that is so all-consuming that it almost hurts. 

I didn't even know it, but I had a wall up...a big one. It took weeks to break it down completely.  And when I did let the big love in, my trauma sensors went off. Because I let myself love a baby girl like that once, and then everything went wrong. There is still a part of me that doesn't believe she will be okay because she's a girl.  I'm sure to some people that seems ridiculous, but this part of my brain/heart/soul is not at all logical.

But she is okay. She is beautiful and healthy and growing and smiling and kicking. Though I feel a bit strange admitting it, she is filling some of the holes in my heart that my first rainbow boy just couldn't. She is not a replacement for her sister, but it feels like a second chance at all the hopes and dreams that came with having a daughter.

I have a sense of resolution with her...like we were missing her all this time without even knowing it. We all wonder about souls and bodies and whether Layla's has returned to a new body.  She does feel so familiar to me, but of course we will never know in this lifetime. Ironically, all of us in the 'inner circle' (those at Layla's birth) have accidentally called her Layla at some point. It's strange...or maybe not so strange. I think it's sweet that our first girl is real and remembered enough to be mixed up with her sister.

I was interrupted, both children waking from their naps, and we are quickly returning to our regular level of chaos. Two babies constantly needing me in different ways, and those needs rarely mesh well. At the end of the day I'm exhausted, but it's a good exhausted, like the feeling you get after a good workout.

And, four years, six months, seven days after the worst moments of my life, I can finally say...I'm happy. :)

Saturday, March 2, 2013


It has taken me four years to find the words to write this story of Layla's birth.  Suddenly they were just begging to be written. As I approach another birth that I hope will be so very different from this one, I think it was necessary to get this experience into words. It is kind of disjointed and written just as the words came to me...otherwise I probably would have given up again. I have tried so many times to write it beautifully, poetically, but I think the fact is that it just isn't beautiful. It still hurts...a lot. So raw words with tons of bad grammar it is...  (I also just realized it has been almost exactly 4 years to the day since I started this blog. Wow.)

We are ushered into a room at the end of the hall, a healthy distance from the nearest "normal" laboring mother. A gown is neatly folded at the end of the bed and I am instructed to put it on and get into bed.  I oblige, even though I really don't want to.  We wait.

The nurse comes back to ask me about 100 questions, tapping away on a keyboard as I answer things I feel I have answered a million times in the last few weeks. She gives us an overview of the plan and leaves again. We wait. And wait. I flip through my own file, thick as a short novel, not sure if I'm supposed to be looking. I hope to find ultrasound pictures, but it is full of medical terminology, outlining in detail the nitty gritty details of my baby's diagnosis. There are a few things there that I hadn't been told, at least not in detail. Then there are the pages sent from my midwife, a little bit less formal than the pages from the perinatologists, reminders of the sweet natural birth I would not get to have. Not with this baby.

My mom arrives. I start to breathe a little easier. The nurse arrives again to administer the little white pills that will begin the process.  There will be no fetal monitoring, for obvious reasons. I'm relieved.

My midwife arrives, bringing with her a sense of...peace? Comfort? Something.  She stays with me as my husband and my mom venture off to find food. We laugh together.  I notice the stark contrast of laughter against the ache in my heart.  It is my first glimpse of what will become the new normal -- life, laughter...in spite of this.

I start to feel crampy. With another dose of pills administered, my toes start to curl with the pain. My midwife rubs my back and asks the nurses for a heat pack.  They bring the worst excuse for a heating pad I have ever seen. It is water-heated and barely warm. We all scoff at the lack of such a simple comfort measure.  At some point we all eat chinese food.

Soon after, the pain is becoming unbearable. It is constant, unrelenting, nothing like contractions were supposed to be.  The nurses give me options for pain relief. I don't want an epidural for some reason. Partly because I don't want to pay for it. They give me a shot of something or other. It makes me feel dizzy for a few minutes but does nothing for the pain.

At some point, my midwife has to leave. She has another mama in labor, and I am taken care of here. Shortly after, I cannot take the horrible constant contraction anymore and I ask for the epidural.

We have to wait of course.  I have to have fluids, etc. This is the first time I've ever had an IV. By the time the anesthesiologist arrives, I am nearly in tears. This is horribly, terribly unfair. My heart aches too much to bear this physical pain for another moment. I do not want to hurt anymore.  The epidural insertion is miserable. I cling to my husband as the numbing shot stings through my spine and the doctor has to try more than once to get the needle in the right place. Once it is done, the nurses help me back onto the pillows, and I feel the warm, sweet relief flowing through one side of my body and then the other.

I still don't like it very much. The numbness in my legs makes me feel slightly crazy, but it is better. So much better.  The details start to blur at this point.

At some point, my dad arrives. I hadn't realized how much I needed him there, but I did. This is too big, too important for him to be in another state. My mother in law is also on her way, from a snowed-in Seattle.

Somehow, we sleep.  My body shakes with uncontrollable shivers all night...maybe from the epidural. Maybe the other drug.  The blood pressure cuff on my leg tightens every half hour or so, and even though I don't feel it much, it seems to wake me up every time.

The next day is extremely fuzzy. I remember the sunlight in my room. J and I trying to watch shows on the laptop, but I can't stay awake. My mom sitting beside me, talking to me, but I can't keep my eyes open or follow her words.  My husband, his mom and my dad leaving to walk somewhere and me worrying that they would not be back in time for the delivery.

People come and go from my room constantly. Nurses, the chaplain. The doctors seem to rotate shifts every five minutes, but of course it is just the drugs and labor clouding my perception of time. One doctor makes a point to tell me that everyone that would be in my room fully supports my decision. But that there are some nurses who choose not to participate. Fiery anger rises in my throat and I want to tell him I will gladly trade places with any of them for a moment. Let them walk in my shoes before judging my experience. I am still angry with this doctor for even mentioning it. 

Suddenly, it is dark. I start to feel pressure and a bit of panic. My mom rushes into the hallway to collect the nurse who had just recently left the room. She checks me again...nothing yet.  She says I can start pushing if I feel the urge.

I do. Everyone is around me except my dad, who fled as soon as I announced that something was happening. I don't hold it against him. I would run too, if I could. My body begins to bear down and the nurse coaches me as she holds up one of my legs.

But there is an internal battle raging in my body.  It is suddenly inevitable that it must release this pregnancy, and yet it is not ready to let her go.  My instinctual mother knows there is nothing right about this...that she will be gone once I push her out.  But I push, even though I don't really want to.

Things are happening slowly, and we realize I am pushing her out in the full amniotic sac. The nurse tells me that this time I can push "for real" and "curl around my belly." And I do. Even though I don't want to.

With the final push, she is born, placenta and all.

I feel immediately...empty.

Everyone is crying. The nurse whisks her away to the sink. I want to see her then, but I am too tired, too sad, too scared...to ask. So I let her take her to the other room and prepare her.  The doctor checks me, checks the placenta, and then leaves.

Everyone is still crying. I want my dad back, and my mom finds him again. He had been at the chapel and returned with a quote he had seen. "Today we weep, tomorrow we rejoice."  He chokes out the last words in tears.  It is the first time I've ever seen him cry.

The nurse returns with a bundle and lays my tiny baby in my lap. She is smaller than I imagined.  The nurse asks if we want to see her defect. I'm sure this is an important step psychologically. I do, of course. We turn her over carefully and look at the red wound blossoming over half of her spine.  The nurse confirms that it is "huge" for her gestational age.  I won't look again.

We spend time with her, passing her around. Everyone cries. I am acutely aware that this is just her body...that her spirit isn't here.

At some point, I am unhooked from almost everything (except that blood pressure cuff), a mean nurse comes to "massage" my uterus. I cry from the pain. And then we are left to sleep.

Layla's body is beside me and I am terrified to move. All night I am aware of her presence.  That, along with the incessant blood pressure cuff and the labor and delivery bed that was clearly not ever made for sleeping, makes for a restless night. But somehow I do sleep, because suddenly it is morning.

A small box has arrived at my bedside, full of pictures, a mold of her feet, a tiny blanket and gown. There is a set of ceramic hearts, one inside the other. I tie one around her neck and the other around mine. I wrap her in the tiny blanket.

And suddenly it is very real that she is mine. My baby. And she is gone.

I cry more, holding her close to my heart and rocking. 

It is time to go home. The nurse shuffles us through paperwork, a shot, and then asks if I am ready to hand over my baby.  I do, even though I don't want to. It is this moment that tortures me more than any other in the following weeks and months, but at the time, I do not cry.

I get dressed, my husband takes our bags to the car. The nurse wheels me out to the elevator.  We stop to give a largely pregnant woman and her family directions and I feel so small, wondering what a mess I must look. They glance in my direction, wondering, I'm sure, what on earth had happened to me.

I climb into the car and we begin to drive.  The brown brick hospital building shrinks behind us, and I let the distance stretch between Layla and me, even though I don't want to. I so don't want to.

We merge onto the 405 and start to halfheartedly sing the old death cab for cutie song from a simpler time in our lives. It is the first time I know that somehow, it will be okay.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

your body remembers

I started counseling this year. Finally. It started when I had some extreme anxiety this summer and then I got pregnant, which brought another wave of intense emotions.  This pregnancy has been so similar to Layla's in so many ways and the dates are so close that I am going through my usual "anniversaries" almost as pregnant as I was when they originally happened.

Many times I have broken into tears in her office, not realizing that there was grief at the bottom of everything.  I told her that 4 years later, I forget about that ache sometimes. She said..."but your body remembers."

I knew this, and yet I thought maybe I was making it up, maybe it was just all in my head.

I have been feeling so much better the last couple of months. No anxiety, a lot more positive. But the day after Christmas, something changed. I felt so sad for seemingly no reason at all. I have been irritable and angry and wanting to spend a lot of time in my bed (which is unfortunately next to impossible with a 3 year old).  Last night I slept horribly and woke up anxious and on the verge of tears. 

Today I had to reschedule my next ultrasound, and it wasn't until she said "okay, we'll see you on January 8th" that I realized.  That's the day before Layla's birthday.  My body remembers these days, the agonizing in-between.  We had our first ultrasound the day after Christmas. The diagnosis on the 29th.  The decision, sometime around New Year's day.  And then the wait. The horrible days of knowing what was about to happen and feeling her kick and wanting to wish it all away.  January 8th is the day we drove to the hospital.

It's harder this year, because as I'm feeling this new baby girl kicking,  learning her schedule and starting to "know" her personality, I am painfully reminded of how real our first baby was when we said goodbye.  How fucking awful it was to walk into that hospital and agree to end it, to let her go.

But this is the pain I chose to live with. I chose to hurt so she would never have to. But oh my, sometimes it's hard.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I am sad, sad, sad.  Today the email popped into my inbox, "Your Pregnancy: 19 weeks."  And as I read about tiny hair buds and the ability to hear, the tears came. I know, painfully well, what this baby probably looks like. Or at least what she will be like in 2 weeks.

This time of pregnancy is hard. This time of year is hard. I forgot that they would coincide this year. 4 years have passed, and yet it's all still there. Four years ago, on the day after Christmas, we went to our first ultrasound. I was 19 weeks along. I left terribly upset that the tech could not tell us the gender and that she had seemed passive, avoiding our questions. We didn't know for three days that something was very wrong.  Then came a whirlwind of trips south, and bad news became worse. Then, at 21 weeks, I pushed out a tiny baby girl.

She was so small. Smaller than I thought she would be. She fit mostly in my palms, with long, gangly arms and legs.  I remember the tiny traces of hair just barely visible on her head, her tiny, perfectly formed nose and mouth and feet that looked like miniature versions of mine.  Her skin was so thin it was almost see-through, revealing tiny webs of blood vessels just below the surface.  We looked briefly at "her defect" (as the nurse put it), a large lesion that split over half of her spine, but it was easier to admire the rest of her. 

I didn't know what to do with her at first.  She was my baby and yet I felt like she wasn't there, not really. Her spirit was long gone. The nurse commented that it looked like she had been gone "awhile." (I still wonder to this day what that meant. Does that mean she had gone before the induction even started?  I will never know.)  It wasn't until the next morning that the reality hit. She was really my baby, and she was gone.

There is something about these weeks of pregnancy, having that acute awareness of just how tiny and fragile this baby still is, how much she probably looks like my tiny girl....it hurts. It feels vulnerable. And just like with Orrin, there is grief too...injustice that they are healthy and she was not.

This is supposed to be a happy week. We are preparing for a birthday this weekend, celebrating the boy who is currently fighting bed time and giving me absolutely no time to be sad. No time to do much of anything, really.

I kind of just want to cry for a couple of days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I feel pulled to this space although I am not sure what I need to say...

There is another baby growing.  It has been hard. Maybe even harder than Orrin's pregnancy, for some reason. Maybe because there have been more similarities, because the dates line up so closely, or just because it has taken a toll on my body in almost every way. The anxiety has been intense, putting me firmly back in survival mode. In some way, it feels like I have so much more to lose this time.  I was only just finding my way in the new normal, feeling comfortable in the life that blossomed in the aftermath of her death.  I felt terrified that it would all happen again and I would be pulled back to that very dark place.  And so I have put up walls, lived somewhat in denial of this new life in my belly. If I am being honest, sometimes resentment creeped in as well. In the hardest moments, sick, tired, anxious, unable to eat, I wondered WHY on earth I ever thought it was a good idea to do this again. Especially since there are no guarantees.  Other people reassured me it was "worth it in the end," but I challenged them silently.  I went through it all once upon a time and all I got was a box of ashes and a hefty dose of grief and trauma.

Yesterday we went to see those same doctors that have delivered us both the best and worst news.  We were ushered into the same room where I got the diagnosis with Layla. I had to lay on the table, waiting, with my heart pounding so hard that my body shook with each beat.  As she started the scan, I saw the baby's feet moving with my pulse.  Then she smiled and reassured me as she looked at the spine and the brain and saw absolutely nothing abnormal.  I wasn't totally convinced until the doctor came in. I realized later that he looked different because he was smiling this time.  The strongest memories I have of him are of his somber face giving me the worst news of my life. He gave us pretty much an all clear on neural tube defects, but of course it's early and they can't see the heart well enough yet. One more big thing to worry about, but then we'll be done.

And...we found out that baby is another girl.

I was not surprised, as I've had a feeling from the very very beginning.  It seems I have connected with this little soul despite my best efforts. I have dreamed about and wished for a girl since the day I found out I was pregnant with Layla. After we lost her, the wish turned into what felt more like a need. A desperation of sorts that left me breathless every time someone else would announce that they were having a girl.

I finally got that moment that I have dreamed about for almost 4 years, and yet...

It is not what I expected. I am so, so happy. But I still have that disconnect. I still don't really believe that it's actually a girl and she's okay (so far).  I feel strange that people are congratulating me on having a girl, as if she is the first one.

Honestly when I really think about it, I just start crying. I don't really know what the tears mean. I'm happy and yet it's so complicated. This baby is also due in May, only 2 weeks before her sister was. In some ways I feel like it's almost as if I am fixing history, but then I'm not.  I wonder if maybe this is her soul coming back to a healthy body, but I'll never really know.

I don't want this girl to mean that Layla didn't matter.  I think, in some small way, it would have been easier to accept if it was a boy.  I know that I can grow and carry and birth a healthy boy.  In my world, boys live, girls die. Everything has felt sort of 50/50 during this pregnancy, based on my past experiences.

I just want to feel like I can be a normal, happy, pregnant lady who just found out that she's having a daughter. Another daughter. See? It's complicated. It's messy. It's socially awkward when people tell me I'm so lucky to have "one of each."

I can't wait for her to be born. Pregnancy makes me crazy.

Friday, May 25, 2012

right where I am: three years, 4 months, 16 days

Year two of the Right Where I Am project already. Here is my post from last year.  
And here is the link up.

Three years is different.  This is the first May since we let her go that hasn't left me breathless with longing for what might have been.  Her due date passed a few days ago, and it just barely registered when I noticed the date, just a flutter of a thought and then...gone. No sadness. No feelings of emptiness or a birthday missing on the calendar.  This is the month she would have been born, but she wasn't, and that has somehow become normal. Somehow okay. Maybe this is what they meant by that stage of grief called "acceptance."

This isn't to say that I don't think of her anymore, because, oh, I do. I think of her daily, still.  I think of her every time I see a little bird watching us, or when the sky above the ocean turns brilliantly pink.  I think of her when I am in the shower.  I remember, endlessly, it seems, that moment when I first felt something was wrong.  I roll it over and over in my head, trying to pinpoint the moment when I could have done something, could have changed everything.  But I don't want to anymore, not really.

I think of her as I watch this amazing boy blossom into a little person before me, not just a baby anymore. Her brother runs, he runs and tumbles and kicks with such force.  I imagine her spirit is nearby somewhere, smiling about this, the things she never would have done in that little broken body.  It is all because of her.  This is how it was meant to be, it seems obvious now.  He is very much here, and she is this abstract presence in our lives.  Not here, and yet so very much a part of the last 3 years.

Orrin and I were spinning in my chair the other day.  He stood on my lap and laughed as we spun faster and faster.  Then he got very serious and wanted to stop, pointing at the shelf where Layla's ashes and photos sit.  I said, that's Layla.  He said, oh...Layla.  Yes, Layla.  Feet, he said, pointing out the little plaster mold that sits collecting dust.  Yes, I said, she had the tiniest little feet!  And then he was back to playing.  I hope he will keep asking.

Somehow this didn't make me cry.  Grief is so different now.  Occasionally it rises in my throat and tears well in my eyes, but I rarely cry anymore.  Sometimes I miss the release of those gut-wrenching sobs that plagued me in the early days.  Now when grief visits, it sits on my heart, nagging in the perimeter of my thoughts, but I don't let it in much anymore.

In the beginning of my grief, I remember reading blogs of women that were years out from their loss and feeling horrified.  I could not imagine ever accepting this loss, moving on with a new normal.  I wanted to cry forever, because it was the only thing I had left. I clung to grief because it meant that she was real, she had existed, even when it seemed everyone around me had forgotten. But there was a moment (or a series of moments I'm sure) when I realized I could still love her and miss her and get up and move on, move past the grief. 

Perhaps the most important thing three years has given me is strength.  For the first time, I am talking about what really happened with people I don't know.  I am fighting for understanding and compassion for those of us who have made the most difficult, horrible choice imaginable.  I am admitting that something went very wrong, and we chose to let our baby go because we loved her. Not because she wasn't perfect, or because we didn't want her.  We loved her so much that we chose to spare her from a life of pain and suffering.  I am not afraid of anyone's judgement anymore, because I know it was the right thing.  I know it was what her spirit asked me to do, what she was preparing me for from the moment I had that rush of intuition in the shower at 6 weeks along.

I will love her forever for everything she has given me. Strength, compassion, empathy, wisdom, gratitude, a beautiful, healthy child and the knowledge I need to create more of them if I choose to. She is still my first baby, the one who introduced me to that all powerful mother-love that was bigger than I ever could have imagined.

I cried for you, and the sky cried for you
and when you went, I became a hopeless drifter
but this life was not for you, 
though I learned from you
that beauty need only be a whisper

Friday, February 24, 2012

grief: three years later

We visited the city she was born last weekend.  I never have a problem with the city itself, but there are so many memories that float to the surface when I know we are near the hospital.

Last weekend, we visited the mall that was the last place I visited before the hospital.  The nurse had called and told me our room was ready, hours ahead of schedule, and I panicked, asking for just a few more hours.  I needed to find something for her to wear.  A completely ridiculous task, in retrospect, since she never wore the little yellow dress we bought for her.  They don't make dresses for babies that small, for babies who don't live.  But still, I had to buy her something, for whatever reason.

We ate lunch at a table overlooking the ice rink.  I remember that last meal with my rounded belly in the outside world so clearly.  Below us, a tiny little girl in a tutu clung to her mother as they slid around and around the ice.  It was one of so many hundreds of things I hoped to do with my baby girl, and I remember sitting there, chewing, in this numb disbelief that it would never be, not with this baby. 

When we were there last weekend, this tiny little memory that I hadn't thought of for years came rushing back.  And Orrin was cranky and throwing a fit and I was so tired and I just couldn't shake the sadness.  I felt a little crazy, but I just couldn't stop thinking of that old me, sitting there eating lunch, about to do the hardest thing I have ever done.

It's still making me cry, to be honest, and I'm not even sure why.  The things that stir up the grief these days take me by surprise.  Little moments that have been tucked away to make room for the larger ones that have become commonplace in my consciousness.

There is one other moment that I always think of in Portland. 

We left the hospital and I was a complete mess.  I remember sitting in the car, zombie-like, feeling every inch of distance stretching between me and that brown brick building where I had left my baby.  And then, as we merged onto 405, Jesse and I started singing.
Misguided by the 405 'cause it lead me to an alcoholic summer. I missed the exit to you parents' house hours ago. Red wine and the cigarettes: hide your bad habits underneath the patio, patio. (obviously the lyrics were not relevant, but it was a song that has been in our lives from the very beginning)

I think it was that moment that I knew we would survive.