Sunday, August 31, 2008
Later on the afternoon of the 9th, FIL & stepMIL arrived, with Mom's suitcase. FIL had been so happy about this pregnancy. He would greet me by patting my belly and, with a huge grin, ask "How's my baby??" As he came up the steps now, with an expression of sorrow on his face, I put my arms around him & started sobbing again.
We also picked up the wallpaper border we had ordered from Sears. I put it, unopened, into the closet. It remained unopened for five years. I joked that they had probably gotten the order wrong. I decided to finally open it on the five-year "anniversary" date. It was the right one. ; )
Flowers were starting to arrive. The very first bouquet -- a dozen pink roses in a vase, from my godmother (my mother's closest cousin) -- had actually been delivered next door while we were still at the hospital. The neighbours, who had just moved in that February, and whom we barely knew, then sent us a bouquet of their own. I called my laywer/college roommate girlfriend -- Dr. Ob-gyn had delivered her son -- to tell her what had happened, and she also sent a beautiful bouquet of all-white flowers.
One day, a florist's truck stopped, and the delivery guy carried an absolutely humungous bouquet. "Only a bunch of guys could send something so big & ugly," dh said (meaning the guys he worked with!) and he was right! I didn't think it was that ugly, but trust a bunch of guys to go for the big gesture. ; )
One day, early on, a courier truck pulled up & handed me a big brown package from my office. I couldn't believe it -- they were sending me work??? Then I opened the package. Knowing my love of reading (& that I'd probably be off work for awhile), they had chipped in & sent me a selection of books instead of flowers. I was touched. The only thing that bothered me was the card was simply signed with the name of my department, instead of having everyone add their signature & message, as I knew I had done with other sympathy cards, when people's parents had passed away. It was as if nobody knew what to say in this situation, so they went for a generic signature.
The calls continued to flow in. My aunts & uncles called, as well as dh's. Cards & notes started arriving too. The very first one I received was from the secretary to the CEO of the bank I worked for. She had previously worked as the secretary to an executive whose office was adjacent to my department, so all of us knew her, & someone must have told her. To say I was touched is an understatement. I also received a card from the HR vice-president I had been working with on a project just before I left, and from a member of my lunch hour Toastmasters club. All totally unexpected.
The mother of my three best friends from childhood -- sisters who lived across the street from us -- called. Her youngest daughter had had a twin, stillborn at birth. Back in the early 1960s, it was not common to see your dead baby, but another neighbour had encouraged her to do so, and she spoke about how glad she was that she had. I knew that my friend had had a twin -- had visited her grave in the local cemetery -- but had never heard her mother speak about the experience. A few days later, the middle daughter (the one closest in age to me, now the mother of two adopted children) called. At first I didn't recognize her voice, but when I realized who it was, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I knew she would listen to me, just as she had during so many late-night slumber parties growing up, and she did. "Oh, it's so SAD!!" I sobbed into the phone.
And I started encountering people I knew who had to be told what had happened. My mom needed a trim, so I made her an appointment with my hairdresser at the mall. As we walked in, she started to exclaim over my belly, which was larger than when she'd last seen me -- but I sadly shook my head & told her what had happened, and her expression changed to one of shock and then sadness. She told me she had had a miscarriage at five months, a few years before her daughter was born. She took an unusually long time at the end of the appointment, spraying & teasing my mother's hair -- until the shampoo girl arrived, bearing a bouquet of flowers for me. She'd slipped her some money & stalled until she brought them back.
On Monday, August 10th, the assistant curate from our church came to visit us. Reverend E. was a good-humoured woman around the same age as dh & myself. We talked about what had happened, about how she had become a minister, and what sort of a service we would like to have. I can't remember exactly when we decided on the date, but we eventually setttled on Wednesday, August 19th, which would give time for my father to arrive.
On Tuesday, August 11th, we went to a local funeral home to make arrangements. We had decided to have her cremated. The man we talked to spoke very softly and kept referring to "Kathleen." That was her proper name, but to us, she was "Katie," & it felt very weird to hear her referred to in that way. He asked whether we would like to see her again (we said no -- now, of course, I wish we had). Would we like her dressed in a specific outfit or wrapped in a special blanket? We said no. I had nothing to dress her in (what would fit a baby so small, anyway?). I was not about to give up the little white crocheted outfit the hospital had given us either -- I had so little that was HERS.
Then it was time to pick out a container. He asked whether we'd like to go downstairs to where they kept the caskets & urns. I paused and looked at my mother, & she asked whether they could bring some urns up for us to look at. So they did. I remember one that was shaped like a fish!! OK, fine, if you're a big hunter/fisherman, but...!!?? My mother cleared her throat and said, "Umm, don't you have anything that would be more suitable for a baby??" They finally brought up a pink marble urn. I knew it would probably be way too large for the few ashes that our 4 oz. daughter would amount to, but it seemed the best choice. He asked whether we'd like anything engraved on it. I asked for an angel, and her name & the date. I also asked whether the urn would be tightly sealed, and he assured me it would be. I had nightmarish visions of every sitcom I'd ever seen where Aunt Gertrude's ashes got spilled all over the living room & then vacuumed up.
As for where to put the ashes, they directed us to a cemetery a few miles up the road. Cremation did not bother me; having my daughter's ashes flung to the four winds, with no marker to show that she existed, did. The genealogist in me appreciates cemeteries & having graves to visit. ; )
The funeral home called ahead, & a "counsellor" (salesman) was waiting for us when we got there. He pumped our hands & said, "My condolences," in a matter of fact way. I had the bizarre sense that I was talking to a used car salesman. He showed us some of the options. First, there was a section of the cemetery known as "The Garden of Angels," specifically reserved for infants. Dh & I looked at each other. It just seemed way too sad a place to put our daughter.
There was also a section of plots, close together, specifically for cremation urns and, close to that, a cluster of columbaria (sp?) -- granite walls with niches to hold up to two urns each. This was where we decided Katie's ashes would rest. The cemetery was relatively new, but located along a ravine, and full of trees. Dh & I knew it would be a beautiful place to come visit our daughter.
We went back to the office to deal with the paperwork and to receive our FREE estate planning booklet -- as many as we'd like! Take one more for your friends & family!! The salesman pumped our hands again as we left. Once we were safely in the car, we all looked at each other & burst out laughing. What a totally bizarre experience. Then I my gasps of laughter turned to sobs. My mother reached up from the back seat & patted my shoulder. "What an awful, awful thing to have to do," she said -- meaning having to make funeral arrangements for your baby. Thank you, Mom. (He was still there when we went back recently to purchase a niche for ourselves!!)
My dad finally arrived -- as originally planned, pre-loss -- on Tuesday, August 18th. The night before, I remember sitting quietly at the dinner table, and my mother asking if something was bothering me about my father coming, because I was so silent. I started crying & whispered, "It wasn't supposed to be this way."
Katie's funeral was at 2 o'clock the day after Dad arrived, Wednesday, August 19th, at the beautiful little Anglican church dh & I attended. I wore one of my maternity dresses (navy gingham, small check). It was just me, dh, my mom & dad, FIL & stepMIL, BIL, SIL & our two nephews, then aged 6 & 9. The funeral home had offered to send a limousine, but we said we'd drive ourselves. (I've always wanted to ride in a limo -- but that wasn't quite the way I had pictured it...)
We walked into the church. The pink marble urn we had selected was sitting in the middle of a pedestal, with a wreath of pink roses surrounding it, and two sprays of pink and white flowers on either side (which we left for the church to use at the next service or to take to a shut-in). There were two large bouquets on the organ nearby, sent by dh's partner at work (who had lost a little girl five years earlier) & an associate he had never met but spoke with on the phone nearly every day. I walked up to the urn, fingered it & admired the flowers. The engraving of the little angel, name & date, was perfect. "It's beautiful, thank you," I said to the funeral director.
I heard one of our nephews whisper to his mom, "The baby's in there??" I think they envisioned us stuffing the body inside, lol. I watched them during the service. The younger one's feet barely touched the floor, & he swung them back and forth. I thought how awful it was for someone so little to learn about death in this way.
The service was very short. We sat in a semi-circle of chairs near the front, near the urn. A few readings, a few prayers, a few words from Rev. E. Then it was time to make the trip to the cemetery. I remember dh carrying the urn out of the church. We may have taken it in the car with us, but I don't remember.
At the cemetery, the niche was open. Rev. E said a few more prayers, & dh put the urn inside. Then he reached into his pocket & pulled out a toddler's board book, and put it into the niche beside the urn." It was Classic Pooh, in keeping with the theme of her nursery: "Pooh and Some Bees." "After all, he said to me when he bought it a few days earlier, "she would have grown up in a house full of books." I slipped in a letter in a sealed envelope that I had written a half-hour before we left. The funeral director handed each of us a pink rose, broken off the wreath that had surrounded the urn at the church, and each of us placed one inside.
My dad's shoulders heaved with sobs, which broke my heart.
Rev. E hugged me. "I'll stay and watch them close up. You go on back to the house, I'll come later."
Back at the house, we had a couple of sandwich and veggie trays we had ordered, and some angel food cake with berries. Our nephews wrestled for the Nintendo controls while the adults chatted. A sense of semi-normalcy once again prevailed. We went out for dinner that night, too tired to cook.
Not one to sit around the house, my dad immediately started in on a few projects: painting the backyard shed and putting up new wallpaper in our bathroom. To thank my parents, we decided to take them on an overnight jaunt about a 60-90 minute drive away, where a native band had recently opened a new casino. My parents love casinos. Dh hates them, & was in a sulky mood the whole trip. We argued in our hotel room. I felt like I was living in a nightmare. In retrospect, a family excursion to such a frivolous place that he didn't appreciate at the best of times probably wasn't the best idea when we were both newly grieving.
Back home, our parish priest, recently returned from the conference in England, dropped by to visit, as did cousin/neighbour & family, recently returned from spending several weeks with the wife's sister and her new baby boy, born the day after I delivered.
Mom & Dad left to return home, as originally planned, on Friday, August 28th. I plunged into writing thank you notes to everyone who had sent us flowers & cards, or helped us in some way over the past month. It was therapeutic to be able to write the words, "our daughter."
On Monday, August 31st, dh returned to work. I was on my own.
My SIL is away right now -- which does not happen very often! -- so it was a little strange not to have her there to chat with (although BIL and our nephews were there). Also missing from the party was doppleganger cousin's pg wife, who is due Sept. 17th!! -- their little girl was sick, so she stayed home with her.
There were only two sad/bad moments during the day, when it really hit me that our daughter should have been there: first, when we were taking the traditional annual group photo of all the kids (and even then, it didn't quite hit me until I looked over at dh, & he was looking at me with these sad eyes). Second, when the hostess's 6-year-old daughter gleefully modelled a new dress (with matching hat) that dh's aunt had sewed for her. She looked so cute. Totally choked me up.
Probably the most fun part of the day was meeting the very latest addition to the clan! Cousin/neighbour's youngest daughter (now 15) has been dog crazy almost from the day she was born, and has been nagging her parents for years to buy her a dog. She wanted a black Lab, but her mom (not a big dog person to begin with) said no, it was too big a dog for the small house they live in.
Recently, she was watching "Lady & the Tramp" for the umpteenth time & asked about a cocker spaniel. That was more acceptable to her parents, so they did some research & went last week to get a puppy from a breeder. She's 12 weeks old and has a lovely gentle temperament. Even dh, who is afraid of most dogs, thought she was sweet. The kids had so much fun with her.
I don't feel comfortable publishing any photos of the kids, but dogs are another story!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It's been a busy two days at the office -- a taste of things to come. September through March (year-end) tends to be the busiest season of the year at my office. My company's third-quarter results were released today. Yesterday, I spent most of an absolutely brutal day holed up in a boardroom with a co-worker, taking turns proofreading long columns of numbers aloud (this being Canada, both the English AND French versions!)(another pair of proofreading coworkers had an even worse deal -- both numbers AND (English) text!). It turned out this document was 38 pages long. Same time last year it was 27 pages, & two years ago it was 23 -- no wonder!! By the end of it all, my voice was shot & I was totally useless for the short time left in the work day.
Stayed up waaaayyyyy past my usual bedtime last night nurturing my inner political junkie, watching Ted Kennedy & Michelle Obama speak at the Democratic convention in Denver, and am paying for it today. (Why is U.S. politics so much more interesting than what passes for politics/politicians here in Canada right now??) Would love to hear Hillary Clinton tonight, but not sure I'll make it before I have to crawl into bed. Why does the coverage start so late?? (10 p.m. my time.) I suppose the networks find the advertising revenue at 8 or 9 p.m. is more lucrative when they schedule something like "Big Brother" or "Dancing With the Stars"...!
(Which reminds me of a sort of funny, politics-related story related to my great-great grandmother's letters, which I posted for Show & Tell a week ago. My American-born mother is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican -- but when I came home a few weeks ago, she was sporting an Obama button on the side of her purse!! She said she got it when they were at a family reunion, from her cousin's wife, who is a bigtime Obama supporter. I think she kind of liked shocking people with it, lol. Anyway, when we stopped at the office of our distant cousin to pick up those family letters, we were waiting in the foyer for him & I hissed at Mom, "TURN YOUR PURSE AROUND." I didn't know this man's politics -- although from what little I knew, I could hazard a guess that he was probably not an Obama fan! -- but I wasn't willing to risk him taking offense & not handing over the letters after all, lol.)
Lots of comings & goings at the office. My immediate boss is on holidays this week. The summer students are heading back to school. So is the young assistant we've had working with us for the better part of the last 5-7 years. She's very good at what she does & I will miss her. Another coworker from the 20-something set is also leaving at the end of the week for a more prestigious job. We've had three new people (replacements) join the department in the last two weeks, with a few more to come.
And then there's my pg coworker, who is counting down the days until mat leave (due date is Oct. 3rd; last day is Sept. 12th or 19th) -- & telling everyone about the pink nursery she's decorated. :(
StepSIL (married to stepMIL's youngest son, both aged 41) had her baby on Sunday, a day earlier than scheduled (a boy). StepMIL is over the moon. I think she had given up on ever being a grandmother. We will be expected to go visit & bring a gift soon.
And of course, it seems like every other woman I pass by these days is hugely pregnant.
Dh's cousins' annual Labour Day weekend barbecue is this Saturday. On the one hand, I do enjoy getting to see everyone (we so seldom all get together these days). On the other hand, we are now the one & only adult couple in the entire extended family that doesn't have kids. Doppelganger cousin's wife (who will be 45 in December) will be hugely pregnant with their second -- not sure of the due date, but it should be soon. Their first little girl is not even 2 yet. Dh adores her. She's very cute, but seeing him with her always makes me a little sad.
Two cousins are teachers, another is a teacher's aide and another works for the school division --so the "back to school" talk is always overwhelming. Not only do I get to hear all about their own kids, I also get to hear about everyone else's, lol. After awhile, I tend to get bored silly.
It's been 25 years since I was in school, and I find I still kind of miss that "back to school" feeling. I guess most people get to relive it with their kids. It feels like everyone else is on the move with their lives in some respect, starting some exciting new chapter in their lives, except for me. I'm not really sure where I should be, or want to be moving on to (except maybe early retirement, lol). And I'm really not that good with change, generally speaking. I just don't like the feeling that everyone else is moving on & leaving me stuck in the dust.
Dh just read some of this post over my shoulder & sadly said that I sounded like a bitter, unhappy person. :( I hope not, since that's not how I generally think of myself. But a girl's gotta vent once in awhile, doesn't she?? And this blog is one of the places where I feel "safe" doing that.
I find that I can usual handle any one or two of these things as they happen, one-off. But it can be very draining. And then when everything starts piling up all at once...
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Just reading the review, however, reminded me how universal the experience and emotions of the bereavement experience can be. There are differences, to be sure... but at a very basic level, so much is the same. Substitute "grief" for "loneliness," "child" or "baby" for "husband" and "wife" for "mother," etc., and there's not a whole lot of difference. I've boldfaced some of the passages that really hit home for me -- being left out of the conversation, for one!
The last line, in particular, about most likely never having another soulmate (baby) -- but being OK regardless -- I found particularly relevant, as I continue down the road of childless/free living after loss & infertility.
See what you think:
*** *** ***
The Unmerry Widow
Anne Roiphe describes her life after the death of her husband
By MAGGIE SCARF
Published: August 22, 2008
In a little-known essay called “Loneliness,” the psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann once remarked that it’s difficult for most people to retain vivid recollections of times when they were very lonely. This isn’t because the experience isn’t striking; it’s because it’s almost unbearably so. Loneliness presents a threat to a person’s integrity and well-being, to the very sense of who one is. “Loneliness is so awful an experience,” Fromm-Reichmann observed, that “most people will do practically anything to avoid it.” But loneliness makes up a large and unavoidable part of a newly widowed woman’s life. So, paradoxically, does the wish to be left alone with one’s grief, as Anne Roiphe tells us in this raw, painful and yet occasionally comic memoir of the year and a half following the sudden death of her husband.
Herman Roiphe, a psychoanalyst, suffered a fatal heart attack in December 2005, when he was 81. “Epilogue” is Anne Roiphe’s description of the aftermath of their happy, 39-year marriage. As readers of her novels and her previous memoirs will expect, she isn’t reticent about taking off the bandages and showing us the extent and depth of her injuries.
Roiphe is now the extra woman in the coupled world she and H. (as she calls him throughout) formerly inhabited. While her old friends talk about travels they have planned or just returned from, she’s left out of the conversation. She isn’t going anywhere. She doesn’t feel fully present in the group. She’d rather return home and get under the covers, with the cat lying beside her in the space H. used to occupy.
The pressing need is always to retreat to her safe base, even though that’s where the silence of her single status awaits her: “If I am at dinner with a friend I keep glancing at my watch, how soon can I leave, how long till I am back in my apartment. If I am in my apartment I am anxious. I should go out. I need to be out. I need to go somewhere. If I am downtown I worry about the subway on the way home. Will it come? Will I be safe? I go to the theater with friends. I want to leave at intermission. I can’t concentrate. I am worried about how I am going to get home. . . . This anxiety, anxiety about nothing, no reason or sense to it, flows in and out of my mind all day.”
In a much earlier book, the novel “Torch Song,” inspired by her disastrous first marriage to the playwright Jack Richardson, Roiphe informed the reader that she had learned something important about disasters: They had their rhythms. They built, they rose to a peak and then they subsided as “adjustments” were made — as discarded partners found new people to love. But the situation of a woman nearing 70, alone and mourning a long-term mate, is a calamity not easily resolved.
After some months had passed, Roiphe’s daughters placed a personal ad in The New York Review of Books. It described her as an attractive writer, someone who loved the ocean and books. This ad flattered her, even if she found it somewhat embarrassing. It did, however, prove effective, hauling in the first of the many fish (some of them distinctly peculiar) she was to encounter as she tried to get on with her life in a way H. would have wished — to find new love and new pleasures in the years she has left.
The writer’s first “date” — a short, thin man with a white mustache — joins her at a bistro a few blocks from her apartment. The man turns out to be a lover of Proust, Stendhal and Thomas Mann. He loves Melville too, and they fall into a discussion of “Billy Budd.” As the conversation moves along, they talk about the fighting in Iraq and discover that their political views are comfortably similar. Yet all the while the stranger keeps moving closer, his hand approaching Roiphe’s left breast. She keeps shifting backward, staying out of reach. This dance continues until finally the man calls for the check. Then they stand and — in full view of the other patrons — he grabs her and kisses her so hard she can barely breathe, rubbing his hands along her spine and down the front of her blouse: “Then he stops. ‘Was that good for you?’ he says. ‘It was good for me,’ he adds. I laugh. This was not a nervous laugh. ‘Are you laughing at me?’ he said. ‘I am,’ I said, and that was that.”
As this and a series of future disappointments are to demonstrate, “adjustments” to the loss of a beloved partner are far more difficult later in life.
At the outset, we’re told that “Epilogue” isn’t meant to focus solely on the grief and loss associated with becoming widowed. Rather, Roiphe’s goal is to detail the bereaved person’s efforts to restore the rhythms of a normal, everyday existence after the loss of a spouse. Time is said to be the widow’s friend, as Roiphe notes (adding wryly that she isn’t so sure that’s the case). Yet it’s true that as the days and months pass, the worst symptoms of her shock and panic recede — the crazed insomnia, in particular. There are even moments of great fullness and joy, when love for her daughters and their families seems to banish her numbness, fragility and fear. But at other times suicidal reveries come to preoccupy her, and she broods over possible strategies for ending her life.
Roiphe wants to avoid the trap of self-pity — “the graffiti,” as she puts it, “of the heart” — and yet her thoughts keep trekking back to the happier times when her husband was alive. She thinks longingly of a period of young parenthood during which they and their little daughters spent each Saturday afternoon at the zoo. “I thought I would spend every Saturday of my life at the zoo,” she writes. “But that phase passed, and other phases passed, and now I am looking at the hours of the day as if they were endless dunes in an endless desert. There is nothing to do but start forward.”
In other words, she’s going on simply to keep going on. Intended to be the story of the remaking of a survivor’s life after a cherished partner’s death, “Epilogue” is instead the moving, immeasurably sad story of the aftermath of an irreplaceable relationship. “I do not have my soul mate,” Roiphe realizes, “and most likely will never have another but I will be fine. . . . I will be sad often but not always.”
Maggie Scarf is the author of the forthcoming “September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years” and an updated edition of “Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage.”
A version of this article appeared in print on August 24, 2008, on page BR18 of the New York edition.
Monday, August 18, 2008
The latest selection for the online Barren B*tches book club is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book had been in my "to read" pile for some time (familiar story...!), so I was glad when I heard it would be a future book club selection. I had heard mixed reviews on the book -- people either seem to love it or hate it.
Dh actually read it before I did! He said the Italy part was interesting (full disclosure: his background is first-generation 100% Italian-Canadian) but after that, he thought she whined way too much & it got boring. (I tried to persuade him to do a guest review here, but he wouldn't bite.)
Maybe it's a guy/chick thing (although I know women who didn't like it either), but when I finally did read the book (finished it on my recent vacation), I did find myself liking it. There were many passages that "spoke" to me, & to my infertility journey specifically -- such as her visit to the Augusteum in Rome in Chapter 25, her musings on whether to have children in Chapter 30 and the importance of rituals in Chapter 60, and the awkwardness of being asked extremely personal questions ("Are you married?") in Bali in Chapter 76.
On to some of the questions:
At the start of the book, the author states that she will not go into the details of her divorce. Could you accept this and move on to the rest of the book, or did this lack of explanation influence your opinion of the entire book?
I was surprised, reading some of the first-day book club posts, that the lack of details on the divorce bothered some people so much. I never gave it very much thought, & I really don't care whether they fought over the wedding china or the house or what have you.
To me, it was quite clear what happened on a fundamental level: they married young &, as the years went by, found themselves moving in different directions: he wanted kids & the big house in suburbia with the white picket fence, etc., & she realized that she didn't. That doesn't make him right & her wrong, or vice-versa -- different people have different life visions & that's OK (otherwise, the world would be a pretty boring place). And dreams can change as your life circumstances change, and you gain maturity, perspective and greater self-knowledge about what makes you happy. It's sad when it happens after two people have been together for a long time (& sadder & more complicated still when there are children involved), but it does happen.
It's one thing to disagree about petty details like what brand of toothpaste to use and who should take out the garbage this week; quite another when it comes to fundamental questions like having kids and kind of lifestyle you want to lead. Either you have kids or you don't -- there's not really an in-between option (we'll try it out for awhile & if we don't like it, we'll send them back!). And I certainly wouldn't recommend going ahead and having them in the expectation that it will be different with your own kids (maybe it is -- but what if it's not?) and that a reluctant partner will come around eventually once the baby is here.
When my IRL (in real life) book club discussed this we had widely differing opinions on the tone of the book. Some thought it was "all about me, poor, poor me!" and "whiny" while others saw Gilbert's self-focus in as a fascinating journey to becoming a better person. What would you say?
As I said at the outset, dh thought she was "whiny." I was able to relate to a lot of what she had to say. Not everything, but a lot. Reflecting on my life is part of why I blog and have kept journals over the years, & I suppose some people reading what I've written might think I'm being whiny at times too. Who was it who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living"? Granted, one can certainly become entirely too self-absorbed, but it seemed to me like Liz had lots of friends & she does refer to the wisdom she gained from others throughout the book.
In the end, is Gilbert a better person? Why/why not?
"Better?" It's hard to say. I would certainly say she is happier and more at peace with herself.
Elizabeth Gilbert's spiritual crisis was brought to a head by a failing marriage and the dawning realization that her desires were not nearly on the same track as some seemingly powerful, external expectations about how her life should unfold. What defining 'disasters' have triggered you to course-correct your life? Did the crisis(es) sneak up on you or did you see it (them) coming, but deny it for a while? What expectations did it force you to challenge -- either your own or external ones? How hard was that for you personally (as in, are you the kind of temperament that is naturally rebellious? Or not so much? Do you have a hard time letting go of control? Or are you at ease with improv on a grand, spiritual level?)
I hesitate to describe the loss of my baby & later decision to stop infertility treatment as a "disaster" (my daughter was definitely not a disaster!) -- but that period of my life it was certainly a crisis and a turning point. I was absolutely in denial for a long, long while -- throughout my pregnancy (thinking that the drs would work miracles & she would be OK), and then during treatment (of course it's going to work...!), and even long after treatment, when I continued to hope for a miracle pregnancy against all the odds.
I most certainly would not describe myself as rebellious. ; ) (That's my younger sister!) I've always been the conventional, traditional one -- definitely not one to break the mould. I don't necessarily think of myself as a control freak -- but I always used to believe that if I did all the right things, didn't rock the boat too much, met other people's expectations, that the universe would unfold as it should & I would be rewarded.
The last 10 years of my life have shattered my long-held beliefs & expectations of how my life was going to unfold. In many ways, it's unfolded as planned (good education, good job in a field I've always wanted to work in, wonderful husband, nice house...), but in others (i.e., children), it has not. It is hard for me to buck the social norm & accept that my life is not going to work out the way I had planned -- particularly when so many other people take their families & their ability to have children for granted. I never really saw myself as a trailblazer, but I kind of see myself as one these days. It's still expected that most women will be mothers, but more and more of us will not be, whether it's a road we've deliberately set out to travel on (like Liz Gilbert), or one that we find our cumulative life choices have led us down.
In chapter 13, the author talks about what type of traveler she is and other traveling personalities. What type of traveler are you? Does it vary based on the trip or do you approach every trip the same way?
One of my life's regrets -- and one I hope to remedy in the coming years! -- is that I have not travelled as widely as I'd like. That's partly a function of starting out my working life with just two weeks of holidays (I now get five) & living 1,500 miles away from a family that likes to see me a couple of times a year, & vice-versa.
I've never done the backpacking thing, & I don't think I'd be comfortable with that. (For one thing, I always overpack. I much prefer my nice suitcase with the wheels & telescoping handle.) I don't think I'm a tour bus kind of traveller (although a guided tour of a new city is great to scope out what's available & where you want to return to spend the rest of your time), but I'm also not a "let's go to Africa & bum around" type of person either. I've always wanted to travel across the rest of Canada, to certain places in the States (I want to see the glaciers in Alaska before they all melt...), maybe a Caribbean island or four ; ) and go to Europe -- all over Europe. But I've never had a burning desire to go to visit some of the exotic places in the developing world that my boss has been to, like Thailand and China and Peru. I can put up with some inconveniences (more so than dh can, I think) -- I used to go camping in my youth -- but these days, I prefer a nice soft mattress, preferably in a hotel with a spa & room service. ; )
Have you had a breakdown like Elizabeth Gilbert's scene on the bathroom floor (near the beginning of the book)? How did you come out of your crisis? Did you adjust yourself to the situation, did you change your situation, or did you find a third alternative?
Not so much a breakdown -- but I did start having anxiety attacks, shortly after my last IUI failed, seven years ago. I have not had an anxiety attack in more than six years now (knocking wood...!), but it was a scary time in my life. I knew I couldn't do infertility treatments anymore, but the idea of a childless life terrified me.
Time has been a great healer, as has the childless friends I have found on the Internet, & several sessions with a couple of sympathetic counsellors. I came to realize that my life was pretty happy before loss & infertility took centre stage, & the same things that made me happy then (dh, my family & friends) make me happy now. It is just a different life than the one I thought I would be leading. I was ready for my life to take a different direction, only to find myself in more or less the same place as before (at least when viewed from the outside). If I still want it to go in a different direction, I know that I can't rely on a child (or anyone else, for that matter) to take me there. It's something that I will have to figure out for myself. And that's what I'm trying to do. ; )
Which of the three settings (along with associated activities -- eating, praying or loving) resonated most for you? Why?
Definitely eating in Italy. ; ) Can I say that I think I deserve a medal for actually LOSING two pounds while reading this section of the book?? I found the India/pray part somewhat interesting, probably the part of the book with the most substance. However, while I love yoga -- it's incredibly relaxing -- I find it hard to relate to gurus & ashrams & such. (I keep getting visions of the Beatles & the Maharishi.)
In one passage, Gilbert describes the typical life experience: "first you are a child, then you are a teenager, then you are a young married person, then you are a parent, then you are retired, they you are a grandparent--at every stage you know who you are, you know what your duty is and you know where to sit at the reunion...watching over your progeny with satisfaction. Who are you? No problem--you're the person who created all this...If I have done nothing else in this life, then at least I have raised my children well." If you're an infertile person, possibly or definitively unable to have children, how did this passage make you feel? What emotions or conflicts did it evoke?
I have felt the same way many times. To a certain point, my life went according to the usual script; then it started veering off on tangents into unknown territory. It's scary sometimes. But it also means that I'm free to write my own script and move my life in a different direction.
As I said before, I'm not really a trailblazer, and I'm sad that my life is not going to include children, let alone grandchildren. I think I will always feel like I missed out on something very special. And I don't think I'll be donating all my money to charity & going to live on a beach in the South Pacific or anything like that. ; ) But I think it I can set my sights beyond the things that life has denied me, there are possibilities out there waiting to be explored.
Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens (http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/). You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Baby Trail by Sinead Moriarty (with author participation).
Sunday, August 17, 2008
I have something very, very cool (I think, anyway!) to share for Show & Tell this week.
As I've written in the past, genealogy is a subject that has fascinated me since I was a child. My great-great grandparents & their children were among the early settlers of the area where the states of N.ort.h D.ak.o.ta and M.inn.esot.a meet up with the Canadian border, along the R.ed Ri.ve.r V.alle.y (of the North), back in the late 1870s. How do I know this? My great-great grandmother, and later other members of the family, wrote letters to her parents & younger sister, who remained behind in a small town north of Toronto (not too far from where I live today, coincidentally).
When the (childless) sister died in the late 1940s, one of my grandfather's cousins travelled to Ontario to help wrap up her affairs, & rescued the letters she had lovingly saved over the years from the rubbish heap (or so the story goes). The letters begin with the very first letter sent by my grandmother after they arrived in the R.ed Ri.ve.r V.all.ey in the late 1870s, and end shortly after her death in the early 1900s (with some gaps, including several years in the late 1880s & early 1890s).
In the mid-1950s, my grandfather's cousin agreed to loan the letters to a local college to be copied (by typewriter!) for their archives. Everyone in the family got mimeographed copies, and the originals were returned to him. We've had little contact with this branch of the family over the years (even though they live in the same area where the family settled & where my mother grew up), and every now & then, someone in the family would wonder what had happend to the letters & whether this family still had them.
My grandfather and his cousin are both gone now, but a few years ago, a local history buff learned of the letters' existence & began inquiring about the whereabouts of the originals. My mother took it upon herself to stop by the cousin's son's business, introduce herself and express an interest in the letters, if they still existed. All of us felt that the letters were valuable documents, not only from our own family history perspective but as historical documents in their own right, & should be properly preserved.
The cousin was cordial -- said he was sure they were in the house somewhere, he would have to look for them. Every now & then, my mother would stop by again to say hello & reiterate our interest in the letters.
I was visiting my parents last week, & my mother & I planned to go down to her hometown for a day or two to meet up with (another) distant cousin, who was travelling in the area & doing genealogical research. The night before we went, the phone rang while we were playing cards. It was my grandfather's cousin's son. He had found the letters, and would we like to come get them the next time we were in the area?
The letters were, of course, technically his -- but he seemed agreeable to turning them over to us, and to having them properly preserved. He also expressed an interest in having them scanned & receiving a copy. (We said we were sure that was possible.)
The next day, mom & I stopped by his business & he brought out an envelope. I have read & re-read the typewritten transcripts of these letters since I was a child -- I know some of the passages practically by heart. I was in near tears as I gingerly turned the pages that my ancestors' hands had touched more than 100 years ago, & read the familiar words in their own handwriting. One thing surprised us: the pages had been handstitched together to form a sort of a booklet. Obviously they had been well read & treasured by the recipient through all those many years.
After we had looked through the letters -- and thanked him profusely -- he put them back into the envelope & handed it to me (!). In the car, Mom & I laughed: now we finally had the letters, & we were almost afraid of the responsibility of having them in our possession!
When I met the visiting cousin/genealogist for the first time about an hour later, I couldn't wait to tell her what we had in our motel room! That night, we all carefully looked through the letters. I opened the curtain to let in the natural light, turned off the flash on my camera, set it on macro mode, & took some photos of various pages with different people's handwriting -- my great-great grandmother & grandfather, their son (my great-grandfather) as a little boy, and his siblings. One letter, from 1886, had special meaning to me: it was penned by my great-great grandfather to tell his in-laws that his wife -- then about 45 years old -- had delivered a stillborn baby boy -- apparently the second stillborn in recent years. She had been very ill after the delivery, but had been spared to her family.
The next day, we took the letters to the county museum, unannounced. The manager there was just as excited as we were when we told her what we had to donate. She told us the letters were going straight into the safe (!) & she would begin the process of preserving them (encapsulating them in archivally safe materials) the next day -- after which they will be scanned, and will be available for anyone who visits the museum to see.
Here is the first page of the very first letter, in my great-great grandmother's handwriting. The year is not on it, but I believe it was 1876 or 1877:
And a later letter, with Great-Great Grandmother's signature:
Is this not amazing stuff??
Back from vacation, to a pile of unread e-mails & blog posts! I did manage to read & comment on a few blogs while away (and finish "Eat Pray Love" for the book club next week), but there's lots to catch up on!
Until I do, here is a pre-vacation post from my drafts folder that I finally managed to finish up this morning. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.
*** *** ***
Dh loves to watch diet/fitness makeover shows, like "X-Weighted" (on the "Slice" network in Canada). What happens on these shows is they take initial weights & measurements, run the person(s) through a fitness test, inspect their refrigerator & cupboards, & then start them on a diet and fitness regime. Often, there are psychological issues that need to be tackled as well. Three to six months later, they run the subject(s) through the same fitness test, weigh and measure them again, to see what progress they've made toward their goals, and give them a makeover.
"One recurring theme on the shows is recent bereavement: On Stuck, Mary is grieving the death of her brother just like Tammy on X-Weighted, while the recently divorced Margaret and her daughter lost their son and brother when he interrupted a break-in at their house. These women don't need tae kwon do; they need therapy. When Tammy, now suffering from the added blow of her grandmother's death, finally calls in a grief counsellor on tonight's episode of X-Weighted, I could have cheered."
I was never "fat" growing up -- although of course I moaned over my weight all the time (silly girl!!). I'm not sure whether I gained the traditional freshman 15 when I was in school, but I did gain weight over my university years, and then more after my marriage. When I turned 30 in January 1991, I was a good 30 lbs over my pre-marriage weight. I looked at the photos of me with my birthday cake & realized there was nothing I could do about growing older, but I could do something about the way I looked.
So I joined Weight Watchers, and by October, I had lost over 30 lbs, reached my goal weight and become a lifetime member. (WITHOUT doing much in the way of exercise.) I was a size 10, and even got into a size 8 Gap denim mini-skirt for one brief shining moment.
I managed to keep the weight off for several years before it slowly began creeping back on. By the time I got pregnant in early 1998, I was almost 20 lbs over my goal weight. I gained another 15 or so during my pregnancy. After my daughter was stillborn, the weight eventually shifted and I lost that "pregnant" look, but it did not come off, & I actually gained several more pounds. I went back to Weight Watchers, knowing that any weight I lost would only help my efforts to conceive again... but my heart just wasn't in it.
In January 2007, I got on the scale & realized I was at my heaviest weight ever. Even my size 16 pants were getting tight on me. Back to Weight Watchers I went. I did manage to lose almost 15 pounds (& get back into size 14s) by the end of that summer by attending meetings & keeping my food journal, eating better and doing lots of walking. About half of it crept on again during the winter (when I'm under more stress and find it harder to walk regularly) -- but I'm almost back to where I was last summer now, & hoping to lose another 7 or so to reach my WW initial 10% goal before winter hits again. Needless to say, developing high blood pressure over the past year and being put on medication recently has been a real wake up call & motivator!
I don't think I'll ever be my original WW goal weight again (which would mean losing at least 40 lbs more)... but getting back within the goal range for my height (which works out to a healthy BMI) is certainly do-able. It would mean losing about another 25 lbs. It's easy to brush these things off when you're younger & feel invincible -- but it's true -- it really does become more difficult to lose the weight when you get older & your metabolism slows down. And you really do start to see the impact the extra weight has on your health, never mind the way you look.
Perhaps, too (after 10 years!), I'm finally starting to gain some emotional distance from my pregnancy. I remember another bereaved mom once writing on a board or e-mail list I was on that she thought her inability to lose weight was her body's subconscious way of trying to hold on to the physical memory of pregnancy. I thought there might be some truth in that.
What do you think? Have you found weight to be a struggle since infertility &/or loss became part of your life?
Thursday, August 7, 2008
I've been wandering around in a fog for most of the week. I think it's due to a combination of (a) this week's significant dates, (b) general vacation laziness (lol), (c) the blood pressure medication I started a couple of weeks ago, and/or (c) AF (!), who decided to pop in early (for me = day 29). Her last visit was late, so I guess she's trying to even out the schedule! I have been very crampy (more so & for more days than usual -- the bp meds, perhaps?) & very, very tired. I was feeling very fatigued the first week I started taking the pills, started feeling better, and then AF arrived & I'm back to feeling fatigued again. The whole week has taken on a sort of surreal aura. We haven't been doing a whole lot, but I'm very glad we took the time off & stayed close to home.
Phoebe was asking how it feels to write about all this now. It's been very cathartic. I honestly feel like the hard part has been writing it all out, and the rest of the day will be OK. Sad, but OK.
On Tuesday (the 5th), dh & I did something we have been talking about doing for the last 10 years. Ten years ago, we didn't have the money to buy the niche alongside Katie's at the cemetery (in fact, we financed her funeral on our credit card). Ever since then, I've been saying to dh that we needed to do this: "Some day, we're going to come here & someone else's plaque is going to be up alongside hers, & we're going to regret it."
So I called the cemetery office & said we'd like to come down that afternoon & purchase a niche for ourselves, preferably the one next to our daughter.
We were in for a shock. Not only is the one next to our daughter taken, in the cluster of columbarium structures (columbaria?) where her ashes are interred, there are exactly two spots left. Everything else has been pre-purchased.
They've built a new group of columbaria very close by, and the salesman (the same one we dealt with 10 years ago!) suggested that we could buy two niches over there & move Katie over to be beside us. But the idea of moving her -- opening up the niche, with her urn and all the things & flowers we put in with it, where we've visited her every week for the last 10 years -- bothered me a whole lot more than the idea of not being side by side -- so we wound up just buying a niche for ourselves in the new columbarium, & will leave her where she is. It's close enough.
Our traditions for the 7th (today) have usually included putting an In Memoriam in the local paper (done, although I'm not sure I'll continue that after this year), taking pink roses to the cemetery (later this afternoon), and ordering in Chinese food, since that's what we did when we got home from the hospital. Since we're going away, though, we didn't want to have to deal with scads of leftovers (their "dinner for two" easily feeds four or five people), so we're going out tonight to the Chinese restaurant we usually order in from instead.
Tomorrow we're headed out on the second part of our vacation, to see my family. I will have Internet access, & so will be able to access my blog & my Google Reader, although I probably won't be on the computer as much I usually am. Hopefully I won't get too far behind!
As we drove toward the city, I started noticing a certain rhythm to my period-like cramps. I looked at the clock. "It's funny," I said to dh. "I keep getting these little cramps. And they come just about every five minutes."
Dh started driving faster. I actually laughed. (We laughed more than a few times that day. It's still possible to find humour even in the strangest, most tragic situations.) "It's not BAD cramps!" I said. "I think we're fine!"
We arrived at the hospital, parked and went to the admissions desk. Told her who we were & why we were there. She asked us some questions, took down some information.
Then she said, "Private or non-private room? Private room, you have to pay."
"Excuse me?" I said. "My doctor told me I was told I was GETTING a private room."
"Private room, you have to pay," she insisted. (English was obviously not her first language.) "Maybe your work has insurance?"
I wasn't about to start calling the office to discuss what coverage I had under my benefits program. Dh took out his credit card. "We'll settle this later," he said. (We DID wind up getting charged! -- I called Dr. Ob-gyn's office and they had the charges reversed.)(So much for universal health coverage...!)
We followed the directions she gave us, and presented our paperwork to a nurse at the desk in what turned out to be the maternity ward (!!). She gave us a funny look. "I don't have a bed for you," she said.
I started crying. I'm in labour with a baby I'm not taking home, I get asked for my credit card for the privilege of delivering her, and then I get sent to the regular maternity ward, where they tell me they don't have a bed for me and are not expecting me. Crap upon crap upon crap. I DON'T NEED THIS RIGHT NOW!!!
She took us to quiet little lounge nearby & said, "Wait here." She returned a few minutes later & escorted us to another wing on the same floor, where they WERE expecting us and I DID have a private room. It was in what was called the antepartum ward, right next to the NICU, where they regularly handle stillbirth inductions, medical terminations & high-risk pregnancies. (This being a big city hospital where they handle these sorts of situations regularly. It wasn't until I started attending support group and heard about other women being housed on the "regular" maternity wards that I realized just how lucky we were.)
I sat on my bed & tried to read while dh paced up & down. There was no TV (we'd have to pay to have it hooked up, & the guy who did that only came around once a day). Dr. Ob-gyn came to see us, & took umpteen vials of blood from me. He said they would give me the pills to begin inducing labour later in the afternoon, although I was already slightly dilated. The anesthesiologist came by to talk about the kind of pain medication he had in mind for me. The social worker came by to introduce herself and to give us an information package with pamphlets and handouts on everything from local funeral homes to local support groups, suggested books to read, and how to stop lactation.
The Protestant chaplain was on vacation at the moment, but we were agreeable to having the Catholic chaplain drop by instead. He was a kind young seminarian, no older than we were. We both liked him instantly. He told us it wasn't the practice to baptize stillborn babies, but they did have "naming ceremonies." Would we like to do that? We said yes, & he said to have the nurses call him, day or night, and he would come to do it for us. He also offered to call our parish priest for us. I knew he was in England for a conference, but I gave the chaplain the name of the assistant curate, a personable woman about the same age as dh & me.
My mom's flight arrived at 2:23 p.m., but by the time she picked up her luggage, met FIL & battled the Friday afternoon traffic downtown, it was 4 or 4:30 by the time she arrived at the hospital. FIL dropped her off at the corner with an overnight bag, & took her suitcase back home with him. (We had told everyone we didn't want anyone else to come to the hospital -- I just didn't think I could handle it.) I was relieved to see her walk through those doors.
"How many other hospital rooms have we been together in?" she laughed sadly as we hugged, remembering, as I did, the many times I stayed in the hospital as a child, having various tests done for my bladder condition (which I eventually outgrew). I was aware, as she hugged me, that she hadn't seen me since Christmas, hadn't seen me pregnant. And now here I was, giving birth to her dead grandchild, prematurely.
She told me she'd sent my sister to the small town about an hour & a half from where she lived to tell my grandparents, who lived in the seniors' home there, about what had happened. News travels fast (especially when small towns are concerned), & she wanted someone to tell them personally. I hadn't even thought about how my grandparents should or would find out, & my heart absolutely broke at the thought of my sister -- who is not one for huge displays of emotion -- but who had been so excited at the thought of becoming an auntie -- having to do this awful thing, because of me. (She called me a night or two after we got back home. She couldn't even talk, just sniffled while *I* did all the talking!!)
Shortly after she arrived, I went the washroom, & panicked when I wiped myself & came up with a large, bloody, gelatinous mass. I asked my mother to ring for the nurse & showed her what I had found, but she seemed unconcerned, so I flushed it down the toilet. I later figured out that it was probably my mucous plug.
I was sitting on my bed at around 5 p.m., eating the tray of chicken & rice they had brought for me (I don't remember mom or dh eating -- dh probably said he wasn't hungry), when all of a sudden, the cramps started getting a whole lot more painful and frequent. I started eating faster, because I knew it was likely the last food I'd be having for awhile (a memory that makes me laugh even now when I think about it). (Dh marvels at my ability to be hungry & eat in any situation!)
Eventually, I had to call the nurse. Of course, the anestheologist was nowhere to be found (!), but they gave me a shot of something (demerol?) to help take the edge off until he could come. Dr. Ob-gyn had already left for the day, but the dr on call (an absolutely wonderful young woman
-- who told me she'd been a grief counsellor before going to medical school!!) came in to examine me. She knelt down until her face was at the same level as mine, as I was going through a contraction, & said to me, "You tell me when you're ready to listen." When she examined me, I was 3 cm dilated. No need for induction -- I was obviously on my way!
The anesthesiologist finally arrived at about 6ish, I think, & they hooked me up to an IV & taped a pump mechanism to my hand (I could see the faint scar for several years afterwards, & was actually sad when it finally faded from view), & before long, I was in lala land. I could hear people talking around me, but was pretty much out of it & feeling absolutely no pain. He told me I could squeeze the pump to medicate myself, but it would only actually dispense the painkiller no more than every five minutes, so I wouldn't overdose. Dh said it was actually kind of funny watching me, because I would get this little smile on my face every time I squeezed the pump!
Mom called Dad, and held the phone up to my ear. "Can you say hi to Daddy?"
"Hi Daddy, I'm OK, I'm just kinda doped up," I mumbled. He didn't respond.
I guess they thought it would take hours & hours, & dh & mom were settling for what they thought would be a long wait. At one point, I turned over, from my side onto my back -- & I could feel something move "down there." I remembered my girlfriend telling me that when she was pregnant, the baby "dropped" nearly a month before she delivered him, & it was like carrying a bowling ball between her legs!! I figured this is what was happening, that the baby was dropping into position in my pelvis. I tried to tell my mom that I could feel movement, but I don't think I could communicate very clearly.
At about 8 or 8:30, the nurse came in to check on me. I remember hearing her shocked voice saying, "Oh my goodness, she's delivered!" Within seconds, the room was full of people, & they were taking me off the IV pump. I was dazed and confused. The dr swooped in & told me to push. One push, & I felt something warm & wet, & it was all over. I begged them not to show me the baby just yet, because I hadn't decided whether I wanted to see her.
They cleaned me up, propped me up in bed, & one of the nurses brought my mother & me cups of tea. They asked us if we'd like to see the baby. By now, I knew I had to see her. I thought I would regret it if I didn't. Dh had initially been adamantly opposed to the idea, but suddenly he changed his mind and said he'd like to see her, too. I think my mother wanted to see her all along, but she said she'd go along with whatever we wanted. I did ask what she looked like, & the nurse only said she was very small.
A little while later, two nurses appeared at the door, carrying a bundle of blankets. "Here's your baby," one of them said to me with a smile. She unwrapped the blankets & handed me a tiny white, nearly weightless bundle. "Oh my baby!" I said as I looked at her.
She was wrapped in a blanket, but over that, she was wrapped in a beautiful white crocheted shawl & a tiny crocheted cap was perched on her head. She was so very tiny (no wonder it didn't take very long -- I didn't have to dilate very much for her to get through) -- and very red -- but her little facial features were perfectly formed. Her little head was larger than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball. The crib card the nurses later gave me said she only weighed 125 grams, or about 4 ounces -- definitely not your average six-month baby.
"Why is she so red?" I asked. "It's a process they go through," was all the nurse said.
I didn't unwrap her -- didn't even realize that I could or should -- and no one suggested it. But mom, dh & I spent awhile -- one hour? two? taking turns holding her, staring at her face, trying to memorize her features. She was real!! I remember looking at her & thinking, "Look at what we made together! We did this!!" She was dead, but she was a real baby -- just a very, very small one -- and she was a child of God. She was beautiful in her own sweet, sad way, and I felt a sense of pride, as well as sorrow.
My mother took her in her arms, & instinctively started rocking her, back & forth, & patting the little bundle. "Poor wee tyke," she murmured.
The young chaplain returned, and we had the naming ceremony. One of the nurses attended too. He read the Bible story of Jesus saying, "Let the little children come unto me," which made me sob, and blessed her, bending over her & making the sign of the cross on her forehead with a look of love and tenderness on his face. He gave us the candle that we lit during the ceremony, and a New Testament with the passages he had read bookmarked.
And we took pictures. The social worker had suggested we bring a camera but I thought it would be too morbid. Of course, now I could kick myself. The nurses did take a few Polaroids for us, which are lousy, but precious, because they're all that I have. They also took photos with a 35 mm point & shoot -- which jammed. (I asked them to please let us know if they were able to get any pictures from that film, but never received any.) I didn't think to send dh to the gift shop downstairs for a disposable (if the store was even open at that hour). There are lots of things I wish we had done differently, but I try to tell myself we made the best decisions we could under the circumstances.
By now, it was late, probably 11 or 12 o'clock, and I was getting very tired. Dh or my mother had been holding her & gave her back to the nurse. "Please, can I just hold her one more time?" I begged. I HAD to be the last one to hold her. "Of course," the nurse said, handing her back to me.
I took one more look at that wee red face. "Goodbye, baby. Mommy loves you," I said. I kissed the tip of my finger & pressed it to her forehead. It was cold as ice. I handed her back to the nurse. (Dh said he saw her cover Katie's face with a blanket as she left the room.)
I was exhausted, but it was hard to sleep, with the comings & goings of the nurses in the hallway. Also, they had me hooked up to an IV drip that the nurse said would help my uterus to contract. An entrance to the NICU was directly across the hallway from my room, & every time the door opened, we could hear the beep-beeps of the equipment. They brought in a reclining chair & dh & my mom took turns trying to sleep on that and on the sofa in the lounge. I got up once to go to the washroom. I rang for the nurse & she helped me wheel the IV over to the bathroom door & helped me get back into bed again.
The next morning the dr on call dropped in to say hello. It turned out to be the high-risk dr that dh had spoken with on the phone when I got sick on our wedding anniversary in early July. "I'm very sorry about your baby," he said.
He also turned out to be a specialist in placental disorders, & seemed keenly interested in my story, especially when I mentioned IUGR & the clot on the placenta that had appeared on the ultrasounds. He said he'd like to examine the placenta. "Placental insufficiency is very rare," he said, quoting some statistics. Dh kind of took offense at what he was telling us ("great, we just won the lottery") but I was thinking he might be someone who could help us in a future pregnancy.
Dr. Ob-gyn arrived, wearing shorts (!) & looking like he'd just wandered in off the tennis court, and I introduced him to my mother. He told me to walk around a little & see how I felt, & I could leave whenever I felt like it, which was by early afternoon. I hated to leave in some ways -- it had hardly been 24 hours since I arrived, & my baby was still somewhere in the hospital. I think they may have asked us if we'd like to see her again, but I said no. I felt like that was over & done with the night before.
The nurses brought us the little outfit she had been wearing the night before, and a folder with the extra hospital bracelets (never worn) to match the one on my wrist, a pink crib card with her stats written on them (even though she'd never been in a crib), and a "Certificate of Life" which included tiny, smudgy foot and handprints, barely as large as my thumbnail.
They also gave us six Polaroids -- one of me & Katie; one of me, dh & Katie; and one of me, dh, Mom & Katie, and three of Katie herself. She was lying on a metal tray, still bundled up, with her little red face barely visible. The nurse's hand holding the tray is gloved, and there is a bag in the background clearly labelled "SOILED LINEN." My support group facilitator, who helped train nurses & other professionals who assist bereaved parents, told me she'd like to use my photos as an example of how NOT to take them. A few weeks later, there was a story in the newspaper about a local hospital (not the same one) which had LOST the body of a stillborn baby. It eventually turned up in the laundry (!!). I have heard other similar stories over the years (more than I care to think about), & needless to say, every time I look at those three pictures, I think,
"There but for the grace of God went my daughter." They're lousy photos in every respect, but of course, infinitely precious, since they're the only ones I have.
It felt strange walking past the nurses desk and out of the hospital. It was Saturday -- Jewish Sabbath -- and the elevator stopped on every floor (so that observant Jews would not have to "work" on the Sabbath by pressing the buttons). Dh went ahead to bring the car around to the entrance. It was another grey, humid, clammy afternoon.
Not surprisingly, nobody felt like cooking when we got home. My mom suggested we order in -- and so having Chinese food delivered has become a regular part of our "anniversary" ritual almost every August 7th since then.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
I can't remember if it was the night before or that day, but my mother called me. "I'm coming," she said. "I'm not sure how, but P. (who worked in the travel office that shared office space with my dad's real estate agency -- gotta love small towns...!) is working the phone to see what's available & whether we can change my airplane ticket." I felt a huge wave of relief, knowing that my mother would be coming soon to take care of me.
(P. -- who sadly passed away a few short years later -- managed to get my mother on a Friday flight that would get her into Toronto by Friday afternoon. We asked FIL to pick her up & bring her straight to the hospital. My mother was told to bring her old ticket & be prepared to pay a fee for changing her plans. When she got to the counter, there must have been some notes on the computer, because the girl said to her, "Oh -- you're going to be with your daughter." "Yes," my mother said, "it's not a very happy day." "I'm not going to charge you," she said firmly. My mother wrote a note to the airline later to say how much she appreciated this.)
My mother said, "Do you want to talk to your dad?" There was a pause & then she said, her voice breaking, "Daddy can't talk right now." My eyes filled with tears at the thought of my father's grief (they still do at the memory).
I got in the shower & rubbed the soap suds over my belly, still round & pregnant looking. "This is my last day to be pregnant," I thought sadly. The dr had explained that he would induce labour by inserting some pills into my vagina. I knew the baby was gone, but the thought of taking action, of doing something that would actually bring about an end to my pregnancy (even thought it really was over anyway), filled me with dread.
Later in the day, I began to cramp and spot. I called Dr. Ob-gyn, and he said it could be that things were beginning to happen naturally on their own. "Should I come to the hospital earlier?" I asked. "Only if you start experiencing regular contractions," he said.
His receptionist called me earlier in the day to ask how we were doing & give us the details. We were to report to the admitting desk at 1 p.m. the next day, Friday, August 7th. She also told us that a social worker would be giving us a call.
I had a long, long conversation with the social worker, a lovely woman. I told her I hadn't been to prenatal classes yet, so I had no idea what to expect from labour & delivery, & she assured me the nurses (not to mention meds, lol) would help me. I asked her what I should pack, & she encouraged us to bring a camera. (We didn't, & I have been kicking myself ever since then.) I asked her when I should go back to work, & she emphatically told me to take my time, that it would probably take a lot longer than I thought it would to start feeling remotely like myself again. (Boy, was she right.)
Did we want to see and hold the baby? I wasn't sure. Is this something that was normally done in this situation? (I had no idea.) "Most parents find that it helps," she said. Would we like a visit from the chaplain? (We would. She said she'd arrange it.) She told me we'd be required to arrange for burial or cremation, & encouraged us to start thinking about what we wanted to do.
Earlier in the day, my mother had called me & asked, "Do you think, when Daddy gets there, we could have a little memorial service?" The thought hadn't occurred to me -- was it "done?" But why not?? I felt relieved when the social worker told us we would HAVE to arrange for burial or cremation. My baby would not be incinerated along with the hospital waste or placed in some mass unmarked grave where I would never know where she was. And the traditionlist in me liked the idea of arranging for a funeral or ritual of some sort.
Mid-morning, I realized that we had not had any calls from anyone else in dh's family. Obviously, the grapevine was not working. I took a deep breath, picked up the phone & called cousin/neighbour's wife (the one who was supposed to be throwing me the shower on the September long weekend). "I lost the baby," I told her flatly. "What??" she said. "I'll be right over." I calmly, methodically put on a pot of coffee.
She was -- even though she was busy getting ready to leave the next morning to drive several hours to be with her sister, who was expecting HER first baby any day now, & was several centimetres dilated already. (The baby, a boy, was born on Saturday, August 8th.) "I don't want any," she said when I offered her coffee as she arrived. We all sat in stunned silence in the living room, the conversation stilted. (I noticed the K-Mart flyer for Baby Week sitting among the papers on the coffee table & turned it over so that I couldn't see the cherubic faces.) She asked whether we'd like her to call the other members of the extended family. "Would you?" I said. I couldn't picture myself making any more phone calls.
She called us awhile later to say she'd made all the necessary calls. "I told them you might or might not answer, depending on how you were feeling," she said. Shortly afterward, the phone started ringing. And ringing. We answered some calls & let others go to voice mail. I let dh take most of them (especially since they were coming from his family). I remember answering one, from dh's aunt, an emotional Italian lady -- the soul of generosity (& a fabulous cook to boot) -- his mother's sister, who cooked & cleaned & fussed over dh, his brother & his dad after their mother's death in 1982 at the far-too-young age of 53.
"Why aren't you in the hospital??" she sobbed. "You should be in the hospital now." How could I explain to her that I was glad to have this time to absorb what had happened to us, to allow time for my mother to get here... one day more to have my baby with me?
Two of dh's other aunts called, both of whom had had stillborn babies some 35 years earlier (one his mother's sister in law, the other his dad's sister). We later learned that another of his father's sisters had also experienced stillbirth. Her eyes teared up as she told us, in Italian, "It was a little girl. I was seven months." Dh was stunned; he didn't know this. The silent sisterhood of stillbirth was revealing itself to us.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
My lawyer college roommate had left me a voice mail message with the name of a girl she'd known in law school who had a small family practice & could do wills for dh & I for a reasonable price, and I left a message to thank her.
I left the office around 9:45 (leaving my briefcase & its contents behind to pick up later) for my 10:30 appointment with Dr. Ob-gyn. Before heading to the subway, I stopped at the automated banking machine to withdraw some cash. I still have the time-stamped withdrawal slip. I look at the time & marvel. The dividing line -- the last few minutes of life as I once knew it.
I got to Dr. Ob-gyn's office, produced a sample to be tested, had my blood pressure checked & weighed in. I'd gained four pounds since my last checkup, about 15 overall since I got pregnant. I was handed a slip of paper (which I still have) with the date of my next (7 month) checkup written on it: Wednesday, September 2nd at 10:30 a.m. After that, I would start coming for checkups once every two weeks, and then once every week for the last few weeks of the pregnancy.
But one hour prior to that, I was to report to the lab to have my glucose challenge test, to check for gestational diabetes. The nurse gave me a handout describing what the test involved, where to go, & a lab requisition form. I was also given a handout describing a study that was being done at the hospital & asking whether I'd consider taking part.
Eventually I got called in to see Dr. Ob-gyn. He'd been on vacation, of course, and it felt like a long time since I had last seen him. We chatted about the amnio results and I told him that those three & a half weeks of waiting had been the absolute worst weeks of my life.
Then he took out his stethoscope, & went to listen for the heartbeat.
He kept moving the doppler over & over my stomach. He'd had problems finding it before. I showed him the spot where he usually found it, but still nothing, except -- for one brief, hopeful moment -- a sound that turned out to be my own heart beating. The minutes ticked silently on -- & on.
He asked me whether I'd been feeling any movement. "Yes," I said, trying frantically to think of the last time I'd felt that baby move. "Lots and lots?" he said, just a tad sharply. I had to admit I hadn't.
Finally he said, "Well, you can wait for the ultrasound you have scheduled this afternoon -- or I can send you upstairs right now. But you have to be prepared for what they might tell you."
Prepared? Who is ever prepared?
I called dh from a payphone en route up to the ultrasound unit. I tried not to sound panicked. I don't think it had really sunk in what might be happening. The dr had trouble finding the heartbeat before -- of course the ultrasound tech would find it.
"We're swamped here & we're short staffed -- I can't leave right now," he said, sounding totally stressed out. I told him that was OK and I would call him back. (Do you think we were both in denial??) I sat in the waiting room, drinking water, reading my book ("A Dry Spell," by Susie Maloney -- which I wrote about before here) and trying to keep the creeping feeling of dread at bay. (The book, a thriller full of the supernatural & malevolent spirits, didn't help.)
I told the u/s tech why I was there, and her face was very grave as she moved the doppler around my stomach. I kept asking, "Did you find it yet?" & she kept shaking her head. Finally she told me I could clean up and go to the bathroom.
Reality started to dawn on me.
Quietly, fearfully, I said, "Did you find it?"
Quietly, she said, "No. I'm so sorry. I'm not supposed to tell you anything, but I know I'd want to know."
I started sobbing as the realization hit me. She gave me a big hug. "Oh, I feel so bad for you!" she said. (In retrospect, I felt bad for her. She was just a young thing. How awful to have to deliver that kind of news.) She handed me a towel to cry into (!), & left me alone (!!)(as I sobbed in bewilderment, "Why is this happening to me???") while she went to talk to the radiologist. (In retrospect, I really don't think I should have been left alone, and that someone should have escorted me back downstairs to Dr. Ob-gyn's office.)
Somehow, I got dressed and found my way to the payphone to call dh. (I heard them paging Dr. Ob-gyn as I did, and thought, "They're paging him about me.")
"There was no heartbeat," I gasped. "I'll be RIGHT THERE," he said as he hung up.
In a daze, I stumbled back downstairs to Dr. Ob-gyn's office. One of his nurses was waiting outside in the hallway for me and enveloped me in a huge hug, as I sobbed on her shoulder. She told me that her sister had lost a baby, and that I would never forget this child. (Prophetically, she added, "People are going to say a lot of DUMB things to you.") I'll never forget that -- she was there with a hug the one moment in my life when I needed one the most. Thank God it was now after noon, and no other patients were waiting to see him. I was, not surprisingly, a wreck.
I sat alone in Dr. Ob-gyn's office, stunned at this turn of events. Dh finally arrived, out of breath. The nurse showed him into the office and closed the door to give us some privacy. He had gotten it into his head that the subway would be too slow (!) & had RAN the entire way to the hospital (about four or five subway stops). We clung to each other, sobbing and sobbing.
I called my boss, choked out the words, told her I didn't know when I'd be back to work, probably a few weeks at least. It was a brief conversation -- what more was there to say? I could hear the shock in her voice. Dh called his partner at work -- a bereaved father whose first child, a daughter, had died after several days in the NICU, some 5 years earlier. He started sobbing as dh told him what had happened.
Dr. Ob-gyn walked in & patted me on the shoulder and remarked, "And you thought waiting for the amnio results was rough."
I also remember him saying, "We knew this baby had problems."
He also said something that has stuck with me. "This is a tragedy," he said emphastically, shaking his head.
"But someone has to move the process along -- and that someone has to be me." His tone was kind and slightly apologetic. I understood what he meant. I did not resent him for that.
He told us I would have to be induced, probably Friday. "I'm being selfish here -- I'm on duty Saturday, & I'd like to be there when you deliver," he said with a slight smile. (Don't worry, doc, I want you there too.) He told us to go home & he would call us later with the details, & would have a hospital social worker call us too. He told us we would have a private room with one to one care. He mentioned something about pictures and footprints, but it was all starting to become a big blur.
Leaving the hospital, I remembered I had left my briefcase & my precious Dayrunner back at the office. I always said I couldn't function without it... and right now, I REALLY couldn't function. We went back to our office tower. I gave dh my access card & sat on a bench in the concourse, while he snuck into my office (undetected, thankfully) and retrieved my stuff. Someone I knew walked by & waved but thankfully did not come over to talk. I waved half-heartedly back.
We got on the next commuter train heading out of the city in our direction (which, being early in the afternoon, was more than half empty), & sat staring out the windows in stunned silence. It was overcast, and lightly raining.
Then -- wouldn't you know it! -- one of the transit cops came checking tickets!! The commuter train system here operates on the honour system. You have to produce a valid ticket upon request. Transit cops walk up & down the trains, a couple of times a month (normally near the beginning & end).
Normally, dh & I buy monthly passes, which you simply have to produce on demand. However, since we were planning to be on vacation for most of the month of August, we had thought we'd save some money by buying 10-ride passes, which must be punched/time stamped before boarding the train. We weren't used to having to do this and, needless to say, we had other things on our mind when we hurried up to the platform that afternoon. Both of us were facing hefty fines (I can't remember what it was then, but it's currently in the neighbourhood of $100).
Dh took him aside & quietly said, "Look, we just found out we've lost our baby. You can give us tickets if you want, but we'll fight it every step of the way." The guy took one look at my tear-stained face & took pity on us. "Just cancel your tickets when you get off the train, " he said, and moved on.
We drove home. Dh called his brother & dad, while I made the hardest telephone call I've ever had to make in my life, to my mother.
My mother said to me, through her tears: "We'll always remember we had a little girl."
Monday, August 4, 2008
The story was all over the news for the next several days (& weeks, & months, as the trial played out) and, as I wrestled with my own grief over the loss of my baby, I couldn't help but feel keenly for another family whose own simultaneous tragedy was splashed prominently all over the media for all to see. Here I was, a mother without my baby; here was a woman without a husband, carrying a baby (approximately the same age my daughter would have been) who would never know his father.
The funeral was held on Monday, August 10, 1998 -- a grey, humid, clammy, rainy day -- in the suburb where I live. It has one of the larger churches in the area, which was needed to accommodate the thousands of police officers who flew in from all over North America -- one of North America's largest-ever police funerals. Even so, most of them wound up standing outside in the adjacent schoolyard. The service was broadcast on local television.
The following day, dh, my mother & I went to a local funeral home to make arrangements to have our daughter cremated, and for a memorial service. The funeral home sent us to the cemetery a few miles up the road to pick out a plot. The salesman mentioned they had handled their biggest funeral ever the previous day. "The policeman's funeral?" I said & he nodded.
I'm not sure how we found it -- I guess the freshly dug earth was a clue -- but we found the policeman's grave, shortly after our daughter's funeral. It's not very far from where she is, and a headstone appeared shortly afterward that is visible from the road. There is a granite bench there, inscribed with the names of his two children, & always an abundance of flowers & golf balls left there by family & friends.
In another coincidence, the park across the street from the community centre where our pregnancy loss support group meets -- in the neighbourhood where he grew up & lived -- is named after him. I've told this story to our support group clients over the years (most of whom also live in the area), & several of them have told me they knew him.
Every August 7th, when I take pink roses to Katie's niche, I draw one flower out of the bouquet & take it over to the policeman's grave. Dh thinks I shouldn't, that the family probably wonders where it's coming from -- but I feel compelled to recognize this family's loss in some way, tied in my memory so closely to my own loss.
His daughter would be a teenager now; his son (like my daughter) would be coming up to his 10th birthday this fall. As I mark my own 10th "anniversary" of grief this week, I wonder how they are doing. I have not forgotten.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
My husband & I set off down the road of childless/free living in the summer of 2001, after several years of trying to to conceive, both on our own & through fertility treatments, one surprise pregnancy that ended at 26 weeks in stillbirth, several rounds of Clomid, three IUI cycles using ever-increasing doses of Puregon & Gonal-F, and a prescription for Ativan to combat a sudden onset of anxiety attacks.
Blogs were practically unheard of back then -- but I did find a message board for women who were living without children, not as a first choice, that became my lifeline. The board opened my eyes to a whole new world of women who, like me, had once hoped and assumed they would be mothers, but found their lives heading in a much different direction. Together, we struggled to make sense of the new life we found ourselves leading.
There were women who, like me, had experienced infertility, loss, and even failed attempts to adopt before calling it quits and trying to move on to a different chapter in their lives.
There were some who had medical conditions that made it difficult, dangerous, or impossible for them to attempt or sustain a pregnancy, and also made them less desirable candidates as adoptive parents.
There were some whose husbands seemed agreeable to having children at first but, when the time came, suddenly announced that they did not want to have kids after all, sending the marriage into a tailspin. Or the husbands were clear from the start that they did not want any more children, which the wife accepted at first, and then (as her biological clock started winding down) gradually realized that she really did want one of her own. Their wives were then faced with a decision: do I stay in this marriage (which might still be pretty good in other respects), and try to accept never having children of my own? Or do I leave my husband and, in the few short years of fertility that are left to me, try to find a new partner who is willing to try to have children with me (assuming that we can)? Or do I attempt to become a single mother?
There were some who found themselves stepmothers to their husbands' children from previous marriages. Some of these husbands did not want any more children. Sometimes, the husbands were willing, but had vasectomies that could not be successfully reversed.
There were some who assumed they would be mothers whose lives were thrown into turmoil when their husbands suddenly left them, sometimes in the midst of infertility treatments.
There was another board for women who had made a deliberate choice to live childfree (with an emphasis on the FREE). (Our boards would refer people back & forth to each other, as appropriate.) Some of these women did NOT like children, and were not afraid to let people know about it. Others liked children a lot -- just so long as they were somebody else's. For whatever reason, they did not want to assume the responsibility of parenthood.
I already knew there were people like this (my own sister, for one). I grew up during the 1970s & 80s, when the feminist movement was in full flower and all sorts of choices seemed possible. I didn't think it was odd or wrong that some women might not want to have children. Heck, if you don't want children, then don't have them -- spare the poor kids. I actually have a great deal of respect for people who have thought these things through carefully and made an informed decision about their ability to be a good parent. I know far too many people who got pregnant, accidentally or mindlessly or far before they were emotionally or financially mature enough to handle the responsibilities of parenthood. Some of them even admitted that if they had to do it again, they wouldn't have children. (That was part of my reason for delaying pregnancy. I wanted children someday -- but only when I was sure I was good & "ready" for them.)
So there are many, many complex reasons why a woman might not be a mother. You would think that people would realize that -- but it quickly became obvious to me that childless/free (for whatever reason) people are a minority (in a society that currently seems crazy for all things pregnancy and baby-related) -- albeit a growing one -- and are susceptible to some of the same sorts of assumptions, misconceptions and mislabelling that other minority groups have experienced before us. And that it's very difficult to some people to think beyond the boundaries of their own experiences.
As I read the posts by childfree by choice women, I realized that, although we have come to this life from very different places, we actually have a lot in common -- certainly in the way we are viewed by the rest of the world (parents in particular) and pressured to produce children -- something we're either incapable or unwilling to do.
Many people assume that if you don't have kids, you don't want them (because of course, anyone can be a parent these days, with those miracle fertility treatments or through adoption!!) . If you actually didn't want children, it can be equally aggravating to have people think that it must be because there's "something wrong" with you (physically -- or maybe mentally). If you tell people you can't have children, it's sometimes assumed to be your "fault," because you "waited too long" or "put your career first." The word "selfish" is often used to describe childless/free couples, no matter what their story is or why they haven't reproduced.
There's a tendency in our "instant message" society to look for the simple explanation, the neat pigeonhole. If there's anything the last 10 years or so have taught me, it's that there's no such thing. I've learned not to make hasty judgments, at least until I've walked a mile in the other person's moccasins. I've learned that life is not always a black and white thing -- that there are endless shades of grey.
I've learned that life is a journey -- & you never know the twists & turns the road is going to take.
And I've learned that sometimes you have to make a hard choice -- and you find yourself wandering down the road less travelled.