To our unborn child, whoever you are:
It feels strange to be doing this, writing a letter to the thing jumping around like popcorn popping in my belly, but you have hijacked my thoughts today. Tomorrow we will get to see you again, thanks to the fuzzy black and white magic of ultrasound, and as the hours tick closer and closer to that moment, I cannot think of much but you.
The first time we saw you, you were little more than a tiny seed whose
heartbeat was so faint it could barely be picked up by the ultrasound
machine. The next time, you waved your tiny little arm at us. And the
last time we saw you, you were doing upside down aerobics, an honest-to-goodness bouncing off the ceiling type aerobic routine.
Tomorrow we'll see you again, and this time we will look at the chambers
of your heart and watch the blood flow into your little organs. Right
now both my heart and yours beat within my body, and though my heart aches to
know that yours is strong and healthy, right now you are as much a
mystery to me, as much out of the reach of my hands, as I am to you.
Tomorrow we will take a look at that heart, at your finger and toes, at
all the pieces of how you are put together.
I have spent so many days afraid that these glimpses
will be all we ever see of you. Every time we've seen you, I've cried
out of relief and joy that you were still alive and moving and growing. Still with me, still with us.
On many of the long, anxious days since I learned you were growing
inside me, I have simply prayed, "Let this child live. Lord, let me
meet this child."
You hear people say, "I don't care what we're having as
long as it's healthy." But that's more than just something you say when you've experienced loss. It's more than just something you say when you've
had a surprise diagnosis at your child's birth, when you've spent long hours on the
inside of the NICU and met pediatric specialists and watched the
monitors, willing your child's stats to go up. The hope is not entirely
gone after that, but yes, much of the innocence is sucked out of the
process once you've been to the other side of "as long as it's healthy."
Tonight I pray hard for the best, wondering if we will get to
meet you and who you will be if we do. Soon the doctor will measure your limbs and map the arc of your spine and look into the
chambers of your heart. And I pray, I do, that you pass every one of their tests with flying colors.
But, if you don't, if we find ourselves one more time on the wrong side of "as long as it's healthy," then let me tell you, little one, you are in the right place. We will walk with you in that path, or we will carry you as the case may be; we will hold you in love or in grief and we will love you for who you are, whatever and whoever that is. If you don't pass their tests, we will hold each other and cry, and then we will stand together for you, whatever you need, whatever may come.
I'm not done praying for the best outcome for you, and I suppose I never will be. But I'm trying to remember, trying to learn and relearn, that I am not the author of your outcome, or of mine, and the one who is has us both wrapped up in a plan that maybe neither of us will ever understand. I'm trying to remember that even though I don't know the plan, I trust the one who wrote it. And I believe He gave us to each other for a reason.
So, you dance like popcorn in my belly, and I'll try to get some sleep tonight. And tomorrow, I'll see you again and know one more small slice of our story, the chapter that began with you and will end wherever it ends, though neither of us can see it from here.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
So it is, I have learned, with the page and me. The more I write, the more I have to write. And the less I write, the less I can think of to say.
You would think, after launching this blog at a time of grief over a lost pregnancy, after talking about the often unspoken aftermath of miscarriage and the slow return to feeling like some semblance of myself; you would think after leading with that massive dark cloud, I would run back here to talk about being pregnant again. You would think I'd have plenty to say. You'd thing it would feel like picking up a conversation right where it left off.
But instead I have gone quiet, and the words that were once my comfort feel foreign to me now. In truth, I have been holding my breath, waiting for another round of sorrow to find me, fearing the worst and terrified to give words, give life, to that caustic venom of fear.
I sit here caught between the miracle and the messiness of it, alternating between thinking how there's a tiny thing inside me sucking the energy right out of me and thinking there's a tiny person inside me who can now hear my voice, can now smile and frown, can now perceive light even though eyelids that won't open for two more months. I sit here feeling the first stirs of movement, the faintest signs of life bumping almost imperceptibly around inside my abdomen. I sit here all by myself and not alone at all, two hearts beating away as I sit in my office chair and use my lunch break to look for the words I've lost.
And I sit here listening to the Wailin' Jennys sing about coming "By Way of Sorrow" over and over again. I wonder if this maudlin and yet strangely hopeful lullaby will be the first this baby hears me sing:
"You have come by way of sorrow,I sit here thinking how grief gets into everything, like one drop of red food coloring that colors everything, turning everything pink no matter how much you water it down or thin it out with joy and peace and laughter. There is no way to remove the mark of grief on our lives. But that's only part of the story because there is also no way to remove the buoyancy of hope, even when I try to tamp it down, even when I beg the hope to stay packed away because I cannot bear the letdown if I get carried away, pulled up in its ascent and then dropped back to the earth again.
You have come by way of tears,
But you'll find your destiny
Meant to find you all these years."
From the moment I got my drugstore prophecy, two pink lines and a racing heart, I have begged to keep my feet on the ground. I have tried so desperately to stay tethered down here where the fear and the grief live, down on the hard earth, because it's so much easier to live here than to fly up and off in a whirl of excitement only to bruise my tailbone on my way back down. It would be so much easier not to get my hopes up, but up is just kind of what hope does.
And though I have not had the words for it yet, not perhaps until today, I dream with aching arms of holding this child. I will its existence with prayers more fervent than I have ever spoken. I look at pictures of nurseries and read reviews of baby products online, painting an elaborate picture of how this child will be welcomed home: dressed and cradled, laid to rest, nursed, bathed, rocked, carried. All the ways it will be loved.
So I will sing about coming by way of sorrow, and I will marvel that this baby might be hearing the tune. I will sing about the fear and the sadness, but I will also sing about the hope, and I will remember that neither one is the final story. I have come by way of both just as, Lord willing, this child will come by way of both. Born of pain to our tears of joy, the first step in a cycle that will always include both, as long as we are in this world. And as I sing, I will hold out the last verse, the verse that I pray is a forecast for us and for this child:
"All the nights that joy has slept
Will awake to days of laughter.
Gone the tears that you have wept,
You'll dance in freedom ever after."
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Monday, January 6, 2014
It can feel like the new year crept in, stealthy like a cat, when you no longer stay up to witness its raucous arrival. Sometime during the night, the old year slipped away and the new year padded into place so softly I didn't even stir when those who were watching its arrival sent fireworks up to welcome it. It all happened so quietly, I did not even dream of new beginnings or wake feeling I had missed something in the night.
Sure, that means I'm getting old, and all this raising children and rushing out the door before dawn for work have marked me. I am not who I once was, not the night owl who would never miss an opportunity to wear something sparkly and drink champagne, not the girl who had a new scheme for every new year, always a new resolution that read like a manifesto designed give purpose to my year.
Don't worry, this is not an existential crisis. This is a love song, of sorts, for the soft mid-morning of my life. Sometimes I miss short skirts and champagne and the way the downtown streets at night are somehow cheerful with the reflection of streetlights. I miss sleeping in on days I don't have to work. I miss eating dinner in front of the t.v. because the table was where we piled everything we didn't feel like putting away and there was no one we were afraid we would corrupt with that behavior. Sometimes I miss the freedom of those days, but mostly I am glad to have lived them and moved on to something else.
Out with the old, and in with the new.
On the New Year's Eve, Lincoln fell asleep in my lap. We were watching one of the pre-ball-drop shows that switch from performances by pop artists none of us recognized to shots of cold New Yorkers clustered together behind celebrities who are paid to fill the air time with nonsensical (but forcefully cheerful) banter. Nico was curled up beside me under a blanket, asking over and over again if we had to watch that annoying show, and Linc came climbing up my legs to take "his" spot on my lap. Bit by bit, Linc began to grow still, began to lean against me, began to blink for long seconds. I watched him fall into sleep, his body growing soft and heavy in my arms, and let him sleep against me for a while, remembering how many times he had fallen asleep in my arms and calculating how few were the times that remained for that particular sweetness.
Nico lasted another hour, never giving up the argument that there just had to be something better to watch, but eventually he was slumped against me, eyelids heavy, too tired even to lobby for a better show to watch. He climbed up in his bunk bed, said goodnight to his fish, pulled the blanket up under his chin, and told me "Happy New Year" no less than three times before he would give me a goodnight kiss.
In the morning, I woke to the sound of the bedroom door clicking open, and by the time my eyes were properly open, Linc had climbed up in the bed and wriggled down under the covers. He put his tiny, warm hands on my face, said "mom mom mom," then planted a New Year's kiss on my forehead. Sam woke just long enough to ask if the fireworks had kept me up in the night, but no, the new year had crept in unannounced.
There will still be champagne toasts for me, and late nights, and shiny downtown streets. Maybe even next year, I'll have those things. But, this year, I can't help but reflect on the way the new year tiptoed in, on the way it sneaks by now that I am not always looking for a fresh start or a way to fix myself, now that I'm not cooking up manifestos about all the things I will get accomplished this year. Sometimes it seems, in retrospect, that all the glitter and noise were just a way to cover up the sad death of another year in which I felt like I had gotten it all wrong. Because the way I made resolutions was like a desperate person trying to catch the rope that would pull her out of her own mess. In the year that was dying, I had never been enough, but in the year to come, I just knew I would be, I could be.
Out with the old, and in with the new.
The new year is less than a week old, and don't let my quiet observation of its entrance make you think I have anything but high hopes for this year. As this year unfolds as gently as it entered, quiet, with a steely cold today, I think about being in the soft mid-morning of a life. There is a steady kind of joy in these days, a warmth of everyday comforts, the weight of a child leaning against you, the constant, poignant realization that they are as small and as innocent as they ever will be, right now, in this moment. I have not smoothed all the rough spots, and I have not even once gotten it all right for even one fraction of a second. But, I have found a kinder mirror, I have spent years cultivating an inner solace, and I have perhaps matured a bit past the fascination with quick fixes and schemes to get it all right this time around.
This new year crept in quiet, like a cat, and I am still waking up to it. Yes, yes, I missed the fireworks and the noise and the glitter and the champagne. But, this is a love song of sorts for the early nights and the early mornings, for the sloppy, wet New Year's kisses that come too late. This is a celebration of sleeping through the party but being more present than ever for the celebration. In with the new.
Happy New Year to you all!
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Friday, December 13, 2013
I've bristled at the story of Job ever since I studied the book in my sophomore English class at USC. When my professor announced that we would be studying Job, as in the from-the-bible book of Job, the one wedged in between Esther and Psalms that I'd heard countless sermons on over the years, I just assumed he would turn out to be like half of the teachers from my bible belt upbringing, who would sneak in Christian content whenever they could get away with it. I certainly was not prepared for his unemotional bible-as-literature approach or his scholarly arguments about how Job could not possibly have been written by a single author.
Up to that point in my life, the bible had always been treated as a sacred thing, and the most outspoken doubts I had heard about its accuracy or relevance came from my own brain and were smashed down as quickly as they came up. But that semester, I read through the book of Job and tried to absorb it simply as ancient literature, as I had the Iliad. For all my professor's animated arguments about dual authorship, I can't for the life of me remember why he was so convinced the book must have been written by more than one person. Even at the time I wasn't particularly swayed by or even concerned with his argument.
What stuck with me, though, was a comment by a classmate who sat near me. She said that was the first of the bible she had ever read, and she couldn't get past the fact that God gave Satan permission to basically torture his most faithful servant. She wanted to know if that's how Christians thought it worked: when bad things happen to you, it's because God gave Satan permission to strike you down.
"Oh no," I told her, "I think that was just a one time thing. Besides, God gave him back everything he lost and more in the end."
But, she pointed out, that's not exactly how it was. Poor Job didn't get back the same family. He got a new family, which would be better than nothing, but he still had to live with the loss of his ten kids and probably at least one wife (they did like to take more than one wife back then). I mean, sure, it was decent of God to make him rich again and give him the exact same number of kids, even with the same gender breakdown of three daughters and seven sons, but that still wouldn't undo the grief of losing the first family.
When I go back to Job now, I always think about that conversation. But, over the years, I've realized there's something else about the book that gets under my skin: I am no Job. My default response to suffering is to shake a fist at the sky. I cannot even imagine reacting to the news of the death of all ten of my children by falling to the ground and announcing "may the name of the Lord be praised."
One year ago, I absorbed the news about the shootings in Newtown as if I had been dealt a physical blow. Never has a news story affected me in that way, and I think about that town and those families more often than I think about many people I actually know in real life. I am not connected to their stories in any way, and yet I feel bound in grief to them.
When I heard on the radio the other day that the families of the slain planned to honor the anniversary of their deaths by asking everyone to perform an act of kindness in their honor, I felt momentarily in shock at the grace and hope and beauty of the request. I felt, too, a swell of confusion at how any parent whose son or daughter had been gunned down could still believe in the goodness of people, could still retain enough innocence to suggest kindness as a response to what seems to me like the overwhelming evidence of evil.
I am no Job. When I sit in the ashes of grief, tending my wounds, I find that it is so hard to see past myself. What does it take, I wonder today, to be willing to praise the name of the Lord in all things, in the deepest dark hole of despair? What does it take for the parents of murdered children to advocate kindness? How do I begin to learn to give thanks for what is, even when it is so far from what I wish it would be?
I have spent so many days wondering what the holidays will be like now for the families of Sandy Hook. I have imagined them unwilling to put up Christmas trees or gutted right through by the sight of twinkling lights. Not once did I imagine them thinking of the rest of us, able to see past themselves and wondering how to use their unwanted spot in the limelight to fight off the darkness.
Perhaps that's why we were given the story of Job, because it is so hard for many of us to see past ourselves when we find ourselves in the ashes. Perhaps we need to see that healing comes when we turn our eyes away from our own wounds and see that, even in grief, our lives are a strange, aching, haunting, beautiful gift. Whether we take one breath or seven hundred million, the experience of living itself is still a gift, something that should fill us with wonder and make us fall to our knees in praise.
The gift of our existence is not a life of ease, not a promise of prosperity. The gift of our existence is being wrestled from the womb of an imperfect woman into an imperfect world, coming in and going out wailing and covered in grime, and in between never quite getting the balance of the long, slow days and the short bursts of moments that can only be described as wondrous. The gift is living in a machine so mystifying, the sparks of neurotransmitters firing in our brains can feel like a glow in our chests when our eyes detect the familiar shape of a person we love. The gift is knowing love, even though we may lose it, and the gift is also knowing we may lose it but wanting it anyway.
I may not be any kind of Job, but I am learning, bit by bit, that words of praise can come even to a mouth caked in ash. I still mourn, and I still stand with those who mourn, but I am beginning to glimpse the wondrous flare of choosing to kneel in praise, right there in the ashes, kneeling to praise the gift of this life I have been given, and to praise the gifts of life that were given and were also taken from us. I am no Job, but I have been tempered by the fire of pain, too, and I am learning to be thankful, even for that.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The Christmas tree went up last night, and I admit there was the tiniest bit of rebellion in the act because I get so tired of hearing all the outrage about how Christmas is encroaching on Thanksgiving. I mean, Christmas is my favorite holiday, my favorite joyful, sparkling piece of the year, so I guess I'm not too concerned with its slow and steady expansion over a holiday that seems to me to be just one overblown meal planned and cooked for days and eaten in half an hour.
Yes, the Christmas tree went up last night, and I'm not sorry. In fact, I think I showed some fairly impressive restraint in leaving the rest of the trappings boxed up in the garage. But the tree is up, and I can smile just thinking about all those twinkly lights reflecting off the windows in the room. This time of year, I just feel I need a dose of that shiny cheer. I touch the ornaments we have collected over the years with a kind of reverence, remembering with each one the time in which it was acquired or made or received. I walk around and around the tree, making sure the decorations are spread evenly, that the red is not too bunched and there aren't too many angels hovering in one spot.
The winter is a dark and sterile season, when the trees drop their leaves and turn to skeletal forms that shiver in the biting wind. The grass turns brittle beneath our feet. The sun sleeps long nights and, when it awakes, offers only the watery light that feels thinner than the summer days somehow. We are entering a dark and barren season, and often I think of the Christmas lights as powerful weapons against the dreariness of this time of year.
But today, I was thinking about how maybe that's the easy way out, diving into the brightness of the next celebration before sitting with the simplicity of the one at hand.
Because what this holiday asks of me is both much more simple and much more complicated. A day of giving thanks is so very straightforward. It doesn't require gifts or wrapping paper or special songs or trees or lights. It just requires me to be grateful for the things that I have received. But as simple, as perfectly straightforward as it is, it can also be, or at least I can make it feel, rather complicated, too.
I can so easily turn this day into a list, a list of all the things that I have been given for which I feel prompted on this one day to say thank you. And so I make my list, and I read it off, and I dutifully say thanks for this and thanks for that. But really, I am thinking of whether the turkey will be done on time and whether someone will need to make a run for ice before the store closes. Really, I am just going through the motions like a child who recites a prayer he has heard his parents say, knowing the words but faking the meaning behind it.
The honest truth is that it's easier for me to dive into the glitz of Christmas than to wade through the slow and methodical process of cultivating real gratitude, the kind that doesn't just show up once a year but that underlays everything that I do. It's much easier for me to gloss over Thanksgiving because it reminds me how much of the rest of the year I spend not giving thanks. It reminds me that I struggle with a very immature kind of entitlement that makes me believe I deserve all that I have been given and that I have a right to mourn all that I wanted but didn't get. It's a complicated day for me because I can say thanks with the best of them, but I struggle with being able to live it the rest of the year.
The Christmas tree is up, the lights are reflecting off all the windows, and I take great comfort in how the glow seems to ward off the long, dark nights. I am for merry and bright, I am for holy jolly, but perhaps I can also be for the stillness that comes before the lights and the carols. I am thinking today about how to begin the quiet work of being thankful, not the flashy celebration of the next holiday, just the simple reverence of learning to be thankful in all circumstances.
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