The last one

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

It was sunny today, hot and bright. Much like 9/11/01 and most September days since, being as it is the waning days of summer. The oyster and I went to her first music class this morning and unsurprisingly she got right into the dancing. But while the other toddlers floated like butterflies to the classical flute music, the little oyster dropped her own beat and it was Hammertime. I’m looking forward to our Thursday mornings this fall.

“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

I don’t know yet how we will teach our daughter about 9/11. At two years old, this is simply another day for her and of course it should be at her ripe old age. But how do you teach someone to never forget when there’s no memory of what we’re to remember in the first place?

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

The morning radio show the husband listens to took calls about 9/11. One listener’s 6th grader has an assignment to interview someone who remembers that day. None of those children were alive when the planes went down, none of them remember the silence in the skies for days and days after, all of them know a country at war and pat-downs at the airport. How many have been to Section 60? Who can say.

“I don’t much care where” is a lazy proclamation, not a carefree anthem. When we teach our daughter about 9/11 and Section 60 and freedom and living and making a future informed–even emboldened–by the past but not crippled by it, however we do that, she won’t be able to say “I don’t much care…” because that fatalism is trumped by the vow to never forget. I care which attitude we impart, in all things, big and small.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

It matters to me which way we go. It matters to me that we walk boldly and humbly in a direction, with no guarantee of arrival but an understanding of the admonition to get moving.

“–so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

We can’t always see which way we ought to go from here. When the time comes to teach our little girl about 9/11 and remembering, I know where we want to get to: To an understanding of life in the midst of loss, love and good in moments of terror, redemption in the face of evil. These are lofty goals, I know. But we are going to walk long enough that in the big things and in the little things she understands that the billowing black smoke behind us may always stay with us in some ways but that the end of one thing makes room for something new.

never forget

An unexpected type of vigil

In 2012 the husband and I went to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day and I blogged about it. Yesterday was Memorial Day 2014 and we went with the parents, who are in town, and the little oyster, who wasn’t yet born in May of 2012. This time Arlington had a very different feel. Actually, I bet Arlington had the same feel last time we were there but this time we were tuned in to it. In all honestly, I was looking for it.

arlington 1

These are in Section 66, where one of the dad’s Navy buddies is buried. I remember stories about this guy, and it was something to see an Arlington National Cemetery stone with a name you recognize. I can imagine what it was like for the dad, who knew the man behind the name.

arlington 3

Still, in the early afternoon we were the only ones in Section 66, and Arlington was not strapped for visitors yesterday. Section 66 was quiet, serene, sad. Not just because it’s a cemetery, but because it was quiet and serene. Those who have lost the men and women buried in Section 66 were not there this Memorial Day. Going by the dates on many of these particular stones, these men and women passed away not in combat, but of old age or illness later in life. No doubt they are missed, but please let me be so bold as to say that these things, old age or illness late in life are exactly how we want to let our loved ones go.

arlington 2  arlington 5

But if Section 66 is sad because it was still and alone, Section 60 is heartbreaking because it is busy and full of life and death, side by side. Section 60 is where Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are being laid to rest.

I recently read a beautiful and devastating memoir called Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson. The author’s husband, Miles, was an army pilot who died in Afghanistan when his helicopter went down a few months after deploying. Miles was 24 and at 26, Artis was a war widow. Miles’ ashes were scattered on his parents’ property in Texas but the other soldier who died in the Apache crash was one named John Priestner. He is buried at Arlington. Volunteers hand out roses to Arlington visitors. Obviously I didn’t know Miles Henderson or John Priestner, but I knew their story from the book and I wanted to lay my rose by John Priestner.

In the book, Artis Henderson talks about sitting with John Priestner’s wife Teresa at her husband’s grave on Memorial Day(s). And yes, by the time we got there in the early afternoon, a flower arrangement bearing a little ribbon that said “husband and father” was there. Again, I don’t know these people but I know their story. John Priestner and Miles Henderson are not mine to miss, but I laid two roses at Priestner’s headstone for them anyway.

All around us in Section 60 were families, there to spend the day with the husbands, sons, fathers, sisters, daughters, and deeply loved ones. And it was loud. It looked like a picnic, with so many people there and so many in macabrely festive shirts–the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) does a weekend seminar for surviving military families and the bright red shirts they get were everywhere. I recognized the acronym from Henderson’s book. The number of little kids in TAPS shirts was heartbreaking.

I took this video of Section 60 when we were there yesterday.

The faces around me were the last ones these brave souls pictured, if there was time. These children, spouses, their photos were the ones tacked up next to bunks in the desert and then taken down by buddies, packed up, and sent home. As if what any of these people wanted back were photos of themselves.

When I picture someone keeping vigil, I tend to think night, candles, silence. But all around Section 60 were vigil-keepers, prepared for the day with coolers and umbrellas. They were dressed in red, white, and blue, some sitting quietly alone or in pairs in front of head stones, others in groups, talking, taking pictures, telling stories of the life carved into marble at their feet. Some appeared to be catching up with neighbors, people they likely see every Memorial Day and only on Memorial Day, when they spend hours side by side keeping vigil.

Some headstones hadn’t arrived yet, and little plastic placards were stuck in the ground to hold the spots. I crouched down in front of one to see what it was about and saw these placards list the date of interment. One of the dates was 5/23/14. That was Friday. I remember what I was doing on Friday. On Friday I was picking strawberries with my daughter. I wasn’t burying my loved one at Arlington National Cemetery. And I certainly wasn’t saying goodbye to a soldier born in 1984 0r 1985 or 1989. Or 1992. 1992? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

And yes, I cried and yes, I felt bad for crying because I did not lose these men and women as their families in front of me have. I saw other people crying, sitting near stones or walking away from them, and I wanted to hug them all and thank them all and take them all away from there and also make it so they never had to leave there if they didn’t want to.

The cemetery itself is beautiful and beautifully kept. As soon as someone is laid to rest, fresh green turf is rolled over the spot. Even though only a few spots in a row may be filled those spots are covered in rectangles of grass, flat and neat, like green beach towels laid across sand. These lives may have ended unfinished, but the burial of these broken bodies is meticulous and complete.

I bet when a military wife gets her husband home safe from a deployment she feels blessed. Maybe she would use another word but I think the overwhelming feeling must be along those lines. Last time we went to Arlington we went to see the history. This time we saw current events. It hurt my throat. It hurt my heart. Instead of feeling blessed, I felt spoiled.

arlington 4

A note to my daughter as she goes to bed

Each night as I lay you down to sleep I wish out loud, softly, for my beautiful girl to have beautiful dreams. This is how I fall asleep, too; thinking of beauty. But I have noticed over time that the beautiful places and times I picture in my own head to accompany me to my dreams have gotten closer to home.

delight

Faraway tropical beaches have turned into the trees on our street in early spring, drenched in delicate white blossoms.

Peaceful waves on pale sand have become the bold green of our trees and grass during a summer morning thunderstorm.

The imagined warmth of the sun on my back as I rest by the ocean is replaced by the day’s real memory of your uncontrolled giggles when we “surprised” ourselves in the mirror, over and over and over.

lol

The picture I have in my head of a magnificent Hawaiian sunset over a tranquil inlet fades and drifts away, replaced by the blazing colors of our day, our life.

 

major lol

The beautiful dreams I wish for you may take these exotic forms. For me, beautiful dreams are much closer to home now. They are home. And each night when I wish you beautiful dreams and I am touching your sweet cheek and listening to you breathe easy in your sleep, I am giddy with excitement over what beauty we will fall into tomorrow, here, together. Beauty I can take with me to my own dreams as I send you off with a kiss to yours.

sleepy

 

 

One year in, or, our new strapless high chair

This month makes it one year since I left work and started staying home full-time with the little oyster. You may have noticed the serious decline in regular posting, which should lead you simultaneously to

1) awe of my most excellent and complete dedication to my current life situation and

2) suspicion about how I spent some of my working hours on the Hill

But that’s not for here.

May 2014 finds us surrounded by pregnant friends and neighbors, and I do mean surrounded. I didn’t know it was possible for so many women to all have babies in the same calendar year. I didn’t realize I knew so many women. But again, that’s not for here.

So what is for here, eh? What’s for here is a check-in on the staying-at-home thing, brought to you (obviously) by me. That and an exhortation to other parents to just consider their options. Let’s proceed. I’ll begin with a tale. Actually, it’s a parable, but not a biblical one, obvs. I was going to use fable as my term of choice but since this story is sans anthropomorphic animals and plants, yet still contains a moral, we’re going to use parable.

Once upon a time the oyster was born and started to eat real food. When these days came, her mom bought for the oyster a white plastic high chair with a white plastic removable tray. The chair was $20 and the tray was $5 and both items fit the bill and the budget (three cheers for Ikea).

The little oyster has always been a good eater and to her a high chair is a valued vehicle for partaking of comestibles, not a trap to escape from. For this reason the little girl’s parents never buckled her in.

Until one day her mom did. That day the little oyster choked on some food–the silent, gagging, turning-colors choking and guess what happened? Her mom couldn’t get her out of the damn high chair with the stupid buckle and ended up pounding on the little girl’s back while she sat there, until she gagged up the food. Chewed and regurgitated food went everywhere but the oyster recovered just fine. As her mom cleaned the high chair, the only thing that really made her gag was scrubbing the buckles and straps with their fibers and nooks and crannies. Ew. From that day on, the straps were pulled tight beneath the chair and tied to one another, out of the way.

The little oyster, good eater though she was, would still occasionally miss a piece and her mom or dad would later find some brown banana smashed into a useless buckle, or the remnants of tikka masala* soaking into a cloth strap, requiring much scrubbing.

And then, one rainy Wednesday before lunch, a year into their relationship with the Ikea high chair, the little oyster’s mom had an epiphany:

I don’t have to deal with this. There’s something I can do about this. I would never have to clean around these blasted things again, they would never poke my daughter in her meaty thighs and leave marks on her during lunch, and the high chair would be more comfortable for her, easier to wipe for us, and more sightly, come to think of it, with no straps and buckles dangling underneath like assembly-required dingleberries. Just because these straps have always been here doesn’t mean they need to stay. Eureka!

So I cut them off.

problem solving

The moral of the story is this: Just because something is a certain way right now doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. If you don’t like the way things are, change them. Buying a high chair with straps, never using the straps, and keeping the straps attached for a full year before realizing you can just cut them off and make everything the way you want it is called problem solving. Slow on the uptake, sure, but also problem solving.

In an email to one of my book clubs recently I made a comment about day drinking. One of the ladies, who is expecting, wrote back with an LOL and her hope that I was enjoying a nice, crisp glass of something white. I was. And the windows were open, the grass had just been cut and the scent was wafting in, the oyster was napping, and I was catching up on emails. It’s not a bad life, I told her. She said to be careful, I might tempt her into being a stay at home mom yet.

But my intention isn’t/wasn’t/never will be to tempt any mom into staying home full-time. My intention is to encourage moms and expectant moms to consider their options and also consider that the decision you make this month can be changed. You can cut off the straps if you find they’re worthless, even a year later.

I didn’t leave work right away when the oyster was born. I didn’t plan to leave work at all, actually. I had 9 weeks at home, the last 5 of them working from home. Know what’s hard? Working from home with a newborn. Then I went back to work in the office and it was a delightful break but then it got harder to leave home and then I wanted to be at home with the oyster and then it got a lot harder and I knew I had to be at home with her or everything else in our family was going straight into the crapper, and fast. My heart wasn’t in it, and a paycheck and resume bragging rights weren’t enough to keep me there.

For us, having more dollars didn’t add value to our family. The husband and I had discussed our priorities, set goals in keeping with those priorities, and take steps to meet those goals. So a year ago, we cut off the straps and I haven’t regretted it for a single hour since.

I think a lot of parents are afraid of what people will say or think of their strapless high chairs, so it’s just easier–in theory–to keep the straps on and work around them and clean around them and let them dig into the baby’s legs and gag when they smell like old food and pretend you don’t see the ugliness of the useless things tangled under the high chair seat, as out of the way as they can be while still being there.

I also think a lot of people don’t consider that no matter how long you’ve had the high chair, you can always cut off the straps. It’s okay to change your mind. If you honestly want your high chair to be strapless, you’ll do it and you’ll make it work. Now, next month, a year later, it doesn’t matter. Maybe you’ve planned your whole life to put your child in this high chair and you’ve never considered what life may be like if you didn’t have to deal with the straps and all they require. Well, consider it. And if you find that the straps are useless and you’re only keeping them because you care about what people think of strapless high chairs, do yourself a favor and stop caring. If the straps are in the way, just cut them off.

After laying the oyster down for her afternoon nap I grabbed my book off the kitchen table and did a double take–there was something in her high chair! Wait, no there wasn’t…it was just the empty little slots where the straps used to live. It looks weird. It will take a day or so to get used to. But the straps are gone and I’m not looking back.

 

*Heck yeah my kid eats Indian food. Yours can, too!

Ever heard the one about…

“I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

Ever heard the one about the girl who got a brain tumor that accounts for less than 1% of all brain tumors and then she had a miscarriage and that turned out to be semi-molar, a complication that affects less than 1% of all pregnancies, so she decided to buy a lottery ticket because heck maybe that’s another 1% that wants her in its numbers??

All kidding aside (actually, if you take away my kidding I’ll shrivel up like the poor unfortunate souls in The Little Mermaid so forget that, kidding is back on) my follow-up ob appointment today didn’t go as we had hoped. In fact, it was the exact opposite of what we had hoped.

poor unfortunate soulsSeriously, take away kidding and sarcasm and this is me. And to add insult to injury, I’m probably the one in the back with the poufy hair.

The pathology report came back from my D&C and it showed that this pregnancy was semi-molar, like my ob had feared. That means, in summary, that Norbert never had a chance. On top of that, an interesting and also dagger-in-the-heart bit of information is that semi-molar pregnancies often happen when two sperms get to the egg. On a normal day that means twins. (Twins! Heehee!) On a shitty day that means a fetus with 69 chromosomes and a non-viable pregnancy. That was us. And less than 1% of all the other bumps out there. (1 in 1,500 in the U. States of A.)

So instead of hearing that this was just a shame and the husband and I can try again whenever we feel ready, I need to go in every week for a blood test to monitor my hormone levels. A semi-molar or molar pregnancy can act like cancer and tracking the hormone levels to make sure they come down is the only way to make sure my body doesn’t think it’s still pregnant and thus grow things, like placentas, unchecked. (Is anyone enjoying this science lesson or are you all just thinking TMI? Yeah? Too bad.) Once the hormone levels are back down to zero, I go monthly for blood work. If they stay at zero for six months, we can try again.

This hurts. This sucks. This is not what we pictured for our family.

In the car after my appointment I cried and with a Kleenex-worth of self-pity in my hand I couldn’t help but wonder “Why me?”

Why me?

Why…

Ann Voskamp says in her book One Thousand Gifts, “…that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To…God.”

So why me? Why not me? Others will feel this kind of soul-wilting hurt, too, and maybe through this I can learn to love them better. Come out of the furnace and say yes, there was a fourth man in there, did you see?? And if that’s the case, then with or without my wet Kleenex, I am learning how to be brought low {and)…how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I {am learning} the secret of facing…abundance and need (Philippians 4:12). Even in this, I can learn and maybe that’s why me.

Asking why me? doesn’t help because the answer isn’t important anyway. What’s important is taking the chance I’ve been given to see this tear not as a hole in the way things should be but a peek through what is to God because he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). That’s what I need to see. God and his faithfulness.

When darkness seems to hide his face,
I rest in his unchanging grace

Through every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil

I can’t accept that a pregnancy is a gift from God and then imply that when it goes awry God is nowhere to be found. I can’t pick and choose when I’ll see God in something because he doesn’t pick and choose when to show up. The variable is my perspective, the control is his unchanging grace.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us….

Rest in his unchanging grace.

Full

It is Monday afternoon after my string of ob appointments and I nap. The husband takes the little oyster to the store and comes home with milk, eggs, and a bud vase of luscious orange-red roses. Six large blooms, snuggled together in a bold eruption of color and scent. I set them on my bedside table so I stare at beauty before going to sleep and as I wake up. I am fully aware of each time I wake up. I don’t sleep well in the week after finding out we lost Norbert. But each time I turn over in the night, curling and uncurling my body, shoving my pillow back or up or away, I smell the bright roses in the darkness. The scent brings me peace. Not an overwhelming, flooding, everything-is-fine-now peace, but a whispering, trickling, everything-will-be-ok-again-someday peace.

Me: Thank you for my roses. They help me smile a little bit.
The husband: That’s not why I got them.
Me: What?
The husband: I got them because I love you.

blessing 2

When the husband and I got married we used the traditional wedding vows in our exchange, except for one small adjustment from the generations before us. Instead of concluding with “until death do us part” we instead promised to honor our vows “until God parts us with death.” God dictates life, death does not. We trust fully in this.

My body has stopped bleeding for this tiny life that was lost. My heart, too, is healing but in a new shape, and softer. The invisible mark Norbert left won’t be like a regular scar, a stretch of flesh that reacts by healing harder than it was before the hurt. Instead this scar will be a softer spot. For lost babies, for mamas who love and then lose them, for tears that are cried alone and for feelings that are swallowed because…the words aren’t there? Because no one listens? Those are not my burdens and I ache for those who carry them.

Both of our moms came, back to back. I needed their company more than I needed someone to unload our dishwasher. I needed someone to chat with the husband over coffee and to chase the oyster while I took my time getting around the house. They were, and they did. The little sister brought hugs and Chanel eye cream. Flowers, cupcakes, cards, meals. No one intended to fix this with their gestures and no one did. The gestures alone were a gift. Faint comfort felt fully.

It snowed. A heavy, lasting, whimsical, Hogwartsy snow that I watched from our comfy chair in the corner. A frozen balm just for my soul maybe.

Three weeks on I don’t wake up in tears each day. I don’t cry myself to sleep each night. I am viscerally aware that healing is underway. I am fully trusting that this baby, who was not named and was never met but whose days were numbered and known from the start, lived exactly as long as God planned. We were never meant to hold this child and for what reason I don’t know, but for some reason.

I don’t wake up in tears and I don’t go to sleep in tears but I wipe tears when the little girl at the playground talks about her baby sister coming this spring. I sniff tears when I tuck away the booties crocheted for Norbert. I swallow a lump when a friend says this baby has already heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant” but that one, that one is a good lump, a humbling lump, a this-story-doesn’t-end-with-me-and-my-sadness lump.

I grieve the loss of a new life I loved. Our baby. We both mourn the loss of possibilities. The husband and I look forward to the children we’ll have in the future but there will never be this child. The shift of the road ahead is permanent and maybe if I picture it not as the road ahead but as the way forward, I can see it with eyes that take in the scenery while it’s there to be seen and not with eyes that are tempted to look back and dwell. I expect to always feel this loss; fully in some moments, faintly in others after more time.

Besides. All good things are from above, the book of James says. I believe it’s true. My heart is cut and it is dented, but it is still full of good things from above.

little boots

blessing 4

blessing 3

Feelings

The pre-op nurse called me from the waiting room and walked me into the same-day surgery wing. “It’s a requirement of anesthesia that we do a urine pregnancy test,” she said, stopping outside the bathroom. I felt sucker punched. All my air whooshed out and a dozen questions, questions I wanted to snap in my meanest voice possible, filled my head. Don’t you know why I’m here? Didn’t you look at your chart? Are you kidding? Is this a joke? Don’t you know my baby is already dead? I stared at her.

“I’m here for a D&C,” I croaked at last.

The hint of an embarrassed smile crept onto her face, as if, of all the reasons I could possibly be there, surely this wasn’t the one. Surely she hadn’t just told the lady with the miscarriage to take a pregnancy test. I went into the bathroom and when I got to pre-op bed #9, she apologized.

I am sad.

The word devastated, which I have also used to describe how the husband and I feel right now, conjures up in my mind images of far away earthquakes and floods and the messy aftermath of lives changed forever, sometimes destroyed, with clean up and recovery and time needed for all of it. And then I realize that yes, devastated works here. Devastated a lot closer to home.

Miscarriages are not uncommon but it never ever crossed my mind that one might happen to us. Suddenly the blogs, the books, the supportive posts people write to those who have lost babies apply and we’re part of a club we never knew we’d qualify for and never asked to join. No one asks to join and no one ever leaves. Miscarriage is Hotel California for really, really sad people.

Sad, heartbroken, devastated, crushed. All words people use to describe how they feel after a miscarriage, all words other people use to assume how you’re feeling. They’re all accurate of course. They’re all exactly how I’ve felt since Monday morning and will continue to feel for who knows how long?

But I wasn’t ready for the other feelings that have surprised me this week. I haven’t read about them in other blog posts. I didn’t expect the shreds of optimism on my way out of the ob’s office after the first visit, praying silently to God, the Author of Life, to breathe life back into my small baby. He has raised from the dead before, why not now? Why couldn’t there be a heartbeat at our next sonogram?

I didn’t expect to remember my new pink planner in my purse and feel stupid. Stupid that I brought it along to plan my next visit. Stupid that I didn’t know my baby had died and I wouldn’t need another appointment. Stupid that I had other things written in there this week–coffee, book club, brunch–that only a stupid person would have planned.

I didn’t expect the relief that was almost physical when my ob and the sonogram nurse referred to our lost child only as “your baby” on Monday. Nothing scientific or medical, just “your baby.”

I didn’t expect fresh tears at every. single. post. on my Facebook wall. And I didn’t expect 60 comments, plus private messages, emails, and texts.

I didn’t expect that my feelings–of all things, my feelings!–would be hurt when I read about the actual surgery. The other times I’ve had surgery, I’ve gotten something out of it. With Martha, peace of mind and ultimately a good diagnosis. With my emergency c-section which was a disaster for all intents and purposes, we got the oyster. This time, a less physically invasive but more psychologically violating surgery would take something from me and give me nothing back. It would take something I had already lost, meaning twice in one week I was losing our baby, whom we had loved so fiercely and wanted so badly.

When I woke up from anesthesia after Martha surgery I was panicked and I cried because I couldn’t form words in my head and I was scared that I had lost speech. When I woke up from surgery yesterday I cried, too. But I cried because I wanted my baby back. I cried because I was sad. And then I cried because my post-op nurse was pregnant and my baby was gone from my body.

When we left the hospital I felt negligent. I felt wrong leaving behind the child we love and will never know on this earth. The child that on Monday was “your baby” but now, to the hospital and the lab doing the biopsies and tests, is “the specimen.”

I know my body will heal the fastest. Physically I feel scraped, emptied out. I didn’t know my body could make the colors that I saw on the hospital bed sheets when I stood yesterday to put on my own clothes. I was fascinated and disgusted all at once. I felt bad for the young woman I saw changing sheets in the other recovery bays.

I felt sad surprise when today I put on my jeans and already they button again.

I feel peace from the prayers offered up for us, for the Bible verses and truths friends have reminded me of. I feel like, while I’m not starting to heal yet, I will. We are devastated but we are not destroyed.

I don’t feel angry. Anger isn’t helpful to me. For a few minutes this week I have felt bad for myself. In a lighter moment, I felt like Neville Longbottom. Why is it always me?

neville

This week a trifecta of my biggest fears–losing a baby, missing the miscarriage, and needing a D&C–came true. I don’t deal well with loss and healing will take me a long time. I will not compare my grief to the grief of others. I don’t feel like we should be less sad because our baby was so young and small. I don’t feel like we should recover quickly because our child never got born.

When I feared losing a pregnancy, I thought the idea of death being so close to us would unhinge me but it didn’t. Death came to our family, to our home, and to my body, but death does not have the final say. The only home our child will ever know is a perfect home in Heaven. In fact, by the time we even knew our baby was gone, Heaven had been home for almost three weeks. Sometimes this gives me the kind of comfort a mom needs; sometimes I feel stupid again. How could I not have realized?

I ordered a book about healing from miscarriage and I feel bad about it. The book will help me, I’m sure. Words help me, whether they are my own or others’. What I feel bad about is the title, Empty Arms. My arms aren’t empty. I do have a child. I just don’t have the one we were expecting right up until Monday morning.

And I feel like I couldn’t survive this if we didn’t have the oyster. Her chubby legs and soft cheeks, the way her eyes get squinty when she smiles, her loud voice and sweet, tentative steps, these are the things that distract me from grief. Not because grief is bad and I need to turn my face away from it but because grief is not the whole story and I need to acknowledge that there is joy living alongside it.

Fog

On December 1 the husband and I were thrilled with a positive pregnancy test. Baby #2! An August baby! We couldn’t wait. Our insurance had changed since the oyster was born so I had to find a new ob. I did, and within days had scheduled an appointment. We all went to it a few weeks later.

December 23 I had a sonogram. I went by myself and on the screen, there it was. Our little baby. A tiny bean, wiggling back and forth already. A healthy heartbeat of 146 bpm. Placenta in a good spot. The sonogram lady printed me two pictures to take home. I put them on the fridge. Norbert, we called our baby.

Our Christmas tree was up. We placed a “Baby’s 1st Christmas” onesie under it and texted the picture to family, saying “look what’s under our tree this year!” We told my parents it was on back order and wouldn’t arrive until August. It was a fun Christmas, although all-day-morning sickness was kicking my butt.

January 13 was my next regular monthly ob appointment. The husband stayed home with the oyster and would just go to work when I got home. I packed my blue Norbert folder for all the papers I would get at this appointment. I packed my new 2014 pink planner, to schedule my next appointment. I asked all my questions. We talked about screening tests. She got the doppler to listen to Norbert’s heartbeat.

I felt like she was taking a long time with the doppler. Poking, pressing, moving. She had me shift. Poking, pressing. The oyster never took this long. But I still have belly fat from carrying the oyster, that couldn’t be helping. She took my pulse to see if that’s what she was hearing. I stared at the ceiling. She shut off the doppler.

I’m going to get the sonogram machine, I’m just not getting what I need to get.

But I have a lot of belly fat. That’s probably why, I thought.

The sonogram machine warmed up and again she was poking, pressing. I stared at the screen. I watched, like she was.

I need to do an internal sonogram, is that ok? Baby just doesn’t seem to be cooperating.

Well maybe it’s an anterior placenta, I thought. The placenta is just blocking the baby from the sonogram machine.

I stared at the screen with my heart beating faster. Poking, poking. My heart slowed down.

Please, please just be an anterior placenta.

I looked at her. She was frowning but I wasn’t worried until she called me sweetie.

How many weeks are you again, sweetie?

Eleven. Please be an anterior placenta. Please.

This is an 8 week baby. I’m not hearing a heartbeat. I’m so sorry.

She helped me sit up and she rubbed my back while I cried. She held the Kleenex. She told me she wanted me to go to one of the other locations for a better sonogram. Even though she said it was to confirm what she saw, I thought maybe the equipment was faulty. The better sonogram would show a wiggly little baby, 11 weeks along. I picked up the husband and the oyster.

Do you see these flashes of color?

Yes.

Those are reading blood flow. The big flashes, like here and here, are your blood. There should be a flash where the baby’s heart is beating.

But…it’s just dark there.

I’m so sorry. Your baby doesn’t have a heartbeat anymore. I’m measuring 8 weeks, 4 days. I’m sorry. We don’t know why these things happen.

They sent me back to my ob to talk about what we would do. I could wait. I could take meds to make the waiting shorter. I could have a D&C. Those were the options.

Which one is the least traumatic?

Well, there’s physical trauma and there’s emotional trauma.

The husband asked, Which will hurt the least?

D&C. But there’s something else.

What?

The second sonogram showed that the placenta is cystic. We don’t know if that’s why this happened, or if it’s just the placenta deteriorating because the baby didn’t need it anymore. But if it was the first, it’s possible the pregnancy was semi-molar, in which case we’d advise you not get pregnant again for six months. We’d monitor your hormone levels and if they were normal after six months, that would be fine to try again. If not, you would need to wait another six months. But the only way to diagnose this is with a D&C.

Ok.

We scheduled it for Wednesday, today.

There is a thick fog this morning. Heavy, gray, settled soundly on all the things I can see from my window. The ground is wet, the grass is wet, everything is soaked with the grayness of it.

But it is not raining.

Christmas by candlelight

Last night was the Christmas candlelight service at our church. I hadn’t been feeling so great all day but really wanted to go, so the husband, the oyster and I laid around all day (accompanied by Harry Potter and a few mugs of tea) to save up our energies.

The husband and I don’t put the little oyster into the church nursery on Sundays for a few reasons but we had decided that we would put her into the nursery for the Christmas service. Since she doesn’t walk on her own yet, the husband dropped her off in the 0-1 year old room, where she was easily the biggest guest but also the most interactive. 🙂 When we picked her up immediately after the service ended, she was the last tyke in the room, sitting in the middle of the nursery and singing at the top of her lungs to the nursery volunteers. It seemed like a good time had been had by all.

And the husband and I had certainly enjoyed the service upstairs. Our church did the service by (mostly) candlelight, and in the Lessons and Carols format that was made popular in 19th century England. Just the right mix of choir and congregational singing, although it seemed that the congregational singing might last just a little too long for the husband’s candle, which burned down at an astonishing rate until he was left with just a flickering nub on the last verse of Silent Night, shielding this wee flame from the wayward draft that threatened it on the final strains.

And here below you’ll see the little oyster dressed up for the evening. I would have put her in a dress but her red shirt was so festive and she’s growing out of it, so I wanted it to make one last appearance. Alas, the ribbon barrette didn’t stay in her hair long and by the time it slipped down to around her ear and her shirt came untucked, she looked like she’d been into the eggnog. Remember how I said she doesn’t walk on her own? She doesn’t, but that doesn’t stop her from moving at a shocking speed, as you’ll see in our last photo.

First, a lovely pose.

First, a lovely pose.

 

Then, she's intrigued by Harry Potter.

Then, she’s intrigued by Harry Potter.

 

Finally, chaos.

Finally, chaos.

Happy then, happy now

us in the air

Happy then, happy now.

The husband: Where did you get those pants? I like them.

Me: Thanks! And Ann Taylor Loft, on clearance, and an extra 40% off of that.

The husband: Ok, it’s Ann Taylor Loft?

Me: Well, it’s Loft but it’s by Ann Taylor.

The husband: So they’re the same?

Me: No, they’re two different stores. You can call it either Ann Taylor Loft or just Loft if you know what you’re talking about.

The husband: Ok, I know it as Loft.

Me: That’s fine.

The husband: So Ann Taylor doesn’t own Loft?

Me: No, Ann Taylor does own Loft.

The husband: I don’t get it.

Me: It’s like the older sister/younger sister thing. Ann Taylor is the original, Loft is for her younger sister. I like both places.

The husband: So is there one for men? Like Ben Taylor? Or…Basement?
Our 5th anniversary is coming up next Friday. Five years! Next Friday! The husband and I can’t believe it and we wouldn’t change a minute of the last half-decade. A few weeks ago during the church announcements a couple introduced a class they’ll be teaching on marriage. The husband joked, “I’ve been married happily for 29 years, and this year we’ll celebrate our 33rd anniversary.” People chuckled. Days later the husband told me how tacky he thought that comment was and how unfunny for a husband to joke about being unhappily married for any length of time. Unhappy marriages and marriages in genearal aren’t a joke, he said.

Now, we’re all about having a sense of humor but once the husband voiced his opinion (I hadn’t thought about it) I agreed. The husband told me if that couple was really “unhappy” for 4 years of a 33 year marriage, that’s over 10% of the time. Kidding or not, it’s not funny.

I get it and I get what the husband was getting at. A derisive and cavalier attitude toward marriage devalues it and joking about being unhappily married, particularly in church, isn’t being funny or “honest” as so many people are obsessed with, it’s being immature and self-centered.

So, five years in, I was struck by how easily our conversation (see above) from last night, although about a very superficial topic, highlights some extremely simple how-tos of a happy marriage.* These don’t guarantee a happy marriage of course, but they will be present in one. Are we pros? Do we have this down to a science? No, of course not. But after being at this 24/7 for five years we’d be morons if we didn’t know how to get some things right.

* For the “your husband” side of things, my husband would have to start blogging. Or do a guest blog. Hint HINT.

1. Notice things about your wife.

“Are those new pants?”

2. Compliment your wife.

“I like them.”

3. Engage your wife.

“So it’s Ann Taylor Loft?” “So Ann Taylor doesn’t own Loft?”

4. Be honest with your wife.

“I don’t get it.”

5. Make your wife laugh.

“Like Ben Taylor? Or Basement?”

Happy anniversary, baby. Here’s to 5 25 55 a lot more years–I don’t want to put a limit on us.