A Light in the Dark

A year ago this month we lost our first pregnancy.

This is a strange time of year for me, because of it. I was thinking the other day about how I really need to rake the leaves in the backyard and then I remembered, Oh! I was raking leaves the day before I started to bleed.

I had known it was coming – my hCG had dropped to 7 at my Thursday morning blood draw and the nurse told me it was a matter of days, if not hours. I took that Friday off from work and did chores all day, desperate for something to do, desperate for something to break through the heavy numbness that had washed over my body, and then sickly horrified when the next day something did.

That Friday when I got back from the grocery store, I headed out back and slowly, carefully raked the rotting yellow leaves into piles. As I raked, my thoughts skittered around in sharp jerks. I thought about those monks that created meticulous sand gardens only to destroy them. This thought was both strangely comforting and vaguely irritating. I thought about ladies in Victorian novels that were always dying of a broken heart. Previously this had seemed like a slightly pathetic yet amusing literary technique, and my know-it-all 10 year old self was smugly sure this wasn’t an actual, medical possibility. Now I questioned that former certainty. I thought about death. Would it hurt to die? Probably, I thought with detachment, it depended on how you died, but I wondered if your body reached a certain point and no longer felt anything? I hoped my baby wasn’t feeling anything. I hoped my baby was already dead, and my body was able to comfort it before it left, in the only home it ever knew. I wondered if a miscarriage would hurt, even one this early. I wondered if there would be anything to see. Would “it” come out resembling anything? Or would it just look like a period? It was awfully small, I thought, doubtfully.

Interspersed between these thoughts I was chanting over and over to myself. With each stroke of the rake I thought, “I’m sorry, baby. Mommy loves you. Mama loves you. I hope you’re not in pain. We’re so sorry. We couldn’t keep you. We couldn’t save you. I’m so sorry. I hope you’re not in pain. I love you. I’m sorry.”

I didn’t cry at all that day. I’d cried so much in the days preceding it that my body felt like a dried up and brittle husk. Each gust of the November wind threatened to shatter me into a thousand pieces.

I woke up early Saturday morning and thought for a brief moment that I was dying. The pain in my abdomen was strange and intense, but the pain in my chest gripped me so hard I could barely breathe. There was a howling in my head that seemed to echo around and around in my body.

I woke Tammy up at 5 and asked her to draw me a bath. My brain was only working in short bursts, and I could only seem to think one step at a time. All my brain could do was signal to my body to get somewhere warm, and float. So I did. The pain was coming in waves and I thought, how curious! I’m in the water, and the pain is like waves! My thoughts were stopped short by the realization of what those waves were. I lay there in the rapidly cooling water and thought, dully, “this is it.” I wasn’t bleeding yet, but I knew.

The howling and the waves of pain intensified as I stood up out of the now cold bath, and the first trickle of bright red blood ran down my leg. I watched it hit the tiled bathroom floor and said softly, “goodbye, sweet baby.”

Then I went back to bed.

Advertisements

The Measure of a Woman

I never really knew my grandmother. She died when I was a kid, but I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t sick. She had Alzheimer’s.

GrandmaGrandma, going fishing, probably around 1935.

My only real memory of her revolves around this antique doll she kept at her house. My sister and I were playing with it once, when I was about 6. She saw us playing with the doll and came running into the living room. “Stop that!” she shrieked. “That’s MY doll!” She snatched the doll out of my hands and whacked me aside with it. She thought she was a little girl again, and some other kid was stealing her best toy.

My other memories of her are a hodgepodge of her laying in the hospice/elder care home we moved her to when my Grandad could no longer take care of her. Her Alzheimer’s was in a fairly advanced state at this point, and she no longer talked or walked. My mom would bring my sister and me to see her once a week, and we would shuffle in, awkward and unsure. We’d say a few things to her, prodded by our mother, but Grandma never looked at us or responded. I was always relieved to get out of that room. I felt like I had escaped some looming terror.

She died of pneumonia following a stroke when I was ten years old.

The grandma that I didn’t know was a study in contradictions. Born on a tobacco plantation in southern Maryland, she was raised to be a southern lady and was bewildered by the changes that the 1960s and her hippie children brought. She was shy and gentle, to the point of running from cameras and never standing up for herself when her husband bullied her. But she also left home before she was married, and lived on her own during World War II. She moved to Baltimore and ran a steel mill and played the drums in an all women band. She later married a divorced man (my Grandad, who converted from Catholicism after his first marriage so he could re-marry) and became a military wife. She never worked outside of the home again. I wonder if she used up the last of her will to rebel before she married, or if it slowly leaked out of her like a deflating balloon as the weight of life bore down on her shoulders.

Grandma & Grandad

My grandparents, sometime in the 1940s, before they married.

My mom says the one and only time she remembers her mother yelling at her as a child was this: It was the mid 1950s, and my Grandma was trying to vacuum the stairs. My mom was very young at this point, probably 4 or 5, and she was trying to help my Grandma, but was of course mostly in the way. My Grandma was probably frustrated and tired and worn out from caring for three small children while moving from military base to military base all over Europe. She apparently turned to my mom and snapped something like “S___ will you quit?! You’re in the way!” My mom’s eyes filled with tears, and she told my grandma that she was “trying to help.” My grandma turned off the vacuum, sat down on the stairs, and pulled my mom onto her lap. “Oh S___, I’m sorry. You’re right, you were helping and I’m sorry I yelled at you. Thank you for being my helper, and I love you.” She never yelled at any of her children again.

Grandma & Grandad w Grandaughters

My grandparents with my sister, me, and two of my cousins, sitting on the porch steps to my Grandma’s family plantation home in the 1980s.

But contrast that gentle love with the same woman who believed the sharecroppers that worked her family’s land were a different species, some kind of sub-human that should not have any kind of meaningful interaction with “her kind,” and was never able to reconcile her racist beliefs with the ’60s race revolution.

A woman who, along with my Grandad, paid off three different girls who got “in trouble” by my uncle in high school to “deal with the problem”. What exactly that means (adoption, abortion, etc) was never made clear.

A woman who donated so much blood during World War II that she became sick and weak, and her health never really recovered. She would remain fragile for the rest of her life.

And she was also a woman who had at least one miscarriage, and then a surprise baby at age 44. A woman wouldn’t let anyone tell my aunt that she was a “mistake,” and laughed and smiled as my mom, 11 years old, danced her baby sister around the living room, calling her “blondie angel,” and “my first baby.”

Grandma w Kids

My mom and her siblings with my Grandma in the early 1960s.

She was also the woman who never, ever said a word when my Grandad would say, at every meal “C____, get up and get me another drink!” despite the fact that to get the milk out of the fridge, he wouldn’t even have to get out of his chair. Every single meal, for years, my grandma hopped up without complaint, until my mom and her siblings started to talk back for her. “Get it yourself, Dad!” they would exclaim.

My grandma would have been 97 this month. I miss a woman who I never knew, someone who I never will know.

Happy Birthday, Grandma.

Ramblings

Tammy did not get that job that would have required us to move, after three rounds of interviews. On one hand, I’m incredibly relieved that moving is no longer on the table (for now), especially because my parents are closing on a house in our neighborhood on Friday. On the other hand, I had worked myself around to a place where I could view moving as an adventure and an opportunity for us, and a chance for me to stay at home with the baby in January.

Tammy’s getting more and more excited about having a baby. As she puts it “my excitement is directly proportional to the size of your belly”. Even I can’t deny that I have a distinct bump that can only mean one thing. Random people have been more comfortable coming right out and asking me if I am pregnant, which is oddly discomforting. Saying yes feels almost…embarrassing, like I’ve been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Or like a teenager caught smoking or something.The flip side to this embarrassment is that I’ve become much more comfortable talking about the work it took for us to get pregnant. I drop IVF and frozen embryos into discussions of pregnancy and siblings like it’s no big deal at all. Look at me, normalizing IF and shit.

Speaking of normalizing, I’ve been working on acting like a normal pregnant lady who’s relatively assured of a baby at the end of this process. Tammy’s been painting the baby room, and we’re planning what furniture to buy. I’ve been researching day care options (OMFG expensive). I’m planning meals to make and freeze for the early days after the baby’s born and I even made my first one: tomato soup from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve made the recipe a few times before, but this was my first time making it with fresh tomatoes from my mom’s garden. I did the whole blanch and shock thing to get the skins off easily, which worked like a charm. The fresh tomatoes (as opposed to canned) made the soup taste much more…tomato-y, if you know what I mean. Not a bad thing, just an observation.

I’m planning to make a few more soups (potato, broccoli cheese) and casserole type things (lasagna (don’t have a link to the vegan recipe I use), chicken pot pie (again, don’t have a link but it’s from here, which I highly, highly recommend). Any other suggestions, especially healthy suggestions (note my decidedly unhealthy options above) for freezer meals? Keep in mind that I’m vegetarian and Tammy’s vegan, but I’m pretty good at veganizing recipes (i.e. subbing veggies stock for chicken stock, faux meet for real meet, almond/soy/rice/etc milk for cow’s milk, etc).

I have a few posts rattling around in my brain but the biggest one is about religion and faith*. So, obviously a very light post that is a breeze to write. Another one is my struggle to be sensitive to people trying so hard to get pregnant while celebrating my own pregnancy. So, also quite fun and light. Slightly less heavy is the post on the second parent adoption proceedings that Tammy will go through after the baby is born.

Happy Fall, everybody.

*Working title: “On Why I Burst Into Tears When Discussing God and Death, or Spiritual Malaise”

Childhood Neurosis

I’ve been thinking a lot about what our future kid is going to be like. What will their interests be, their personality, their likes, their dislikes?

And beyond that, what things will they inherit from me, good or bad?

*********

I was kind of definitely a weird kid. I was anxious, even then, and lived almost entirely in a world populated by my imagination.

My mom and I had a good laugh about it recently when Tammy and I went to visit them. My parents are cleaning out their basement and they came across a lot of stuff from my childhood, including artwork, school pictures, and books. A lot of these things brought up memories.

Weirdo Kid Memories:
1) My sister and I each had a special “comfort item” that we slept with. Hers was a doll, and mine was a bear. We used to play together at night when we were supposed to be sleeping. We would pretend we were new moms, and we had just given birth (not that we had the slightest concept of how that process would work) to our doll and our bear.

The only weird thing about my sister’s doll was that it was bald.  Because she had thrown up on it so many times as a child, my parents had pulled the wig off it, basically saying, “fuck this”.

Anyway, we would play this game where we introduced our new kids to each other. Here’s how that conversation would go:

Sister: Sarah, come meet my new baby! She’s beautiful! Only problem is…she’s bald.

Me: Sister, come meet MY new baby! He’s beautiful! Only problem is…he’s a bear.

And then we’d play the game again.

2) I freaking LOVED the Little House on the Prairie series. The books, not the show. Don’t speak to me about that abomination.

Little House on the Prairie

(I also loved the spinoff books about Rose (Laura’s daughter) and Caroline (Laura’s mother.)

I went through a period when I was about 8 where I longed to live in “olden times”. I would steal one of my mom’s work skirts (calf length on her, beyond floor length on me), put on the prairie boots that were inexplicably in style at the time (and that I had successfully convinced my parents to buy for me) and run around the backyard pretending I was saving the crops from a looming tornado. Or frost. Or something. I also wore those clothes while making forts in the living room, and then knocking them down when the tornado came.

3) I had a dress when I was around the same age that I LOVED. Actually, I loved dresses my whole childhood and my mom had to FORCE me to wear pants when it was cold outside. I know. Worst lesbian ever. Anyway, this dress was old-fashioned, with a sash and smocking along the top. It was kind of maroon colored.

When I was in elementary school, we took a field trip to some local caves. Upon learning this, I instantly knew I would wear my dress because being in the cave would be ALMOST like being in olden times (no telephone wires, no cars, etc to ruin the illusion), and my dress would make things more authentic. I also had these stickers that were little paw prints of animals.

animal paw prints

Before leaving for the field trip, I accessorized my dress by sticking many of these stickers on my dress, reasoning that girls in olden times obviously had wild animals as friends. Perhaps people would even think these stickers were real animal prints and know me to be fabulously cool. I was so excited.

Of course, as soon as kids saw me they made fun of me. They said my clothes were dirty and ugly and that my mama should “wash me better”. While we were in the cave, I peeled off those stickers, but held on to them. That night in bed, I stuck them on my headboard. The see-through backing of the sticker showed the maroon fuzz that came off my dress. For as long as I had that bed, every time I saw the stickers I felt those kids mocking me, and was ashamed and embarrassed all over again.

Anxious Memories:
1) I had an immense fear of my parents death, and “what would become of me” (I picked up that phrasing from books). I worried constantly that they weren’t taking their vitamins. For a long time I thought it was normal for kids to worry about their parents dying, but I have since been informed this is not actually the case. My parents had to talk to me over and over about which aunt my sister and I would live with if they died. Far from reassuring me, for some reason this made my fear worse.

2) I also had a huge fear of fire. The area my parents live in often has droughts during the summer months, and sometimes the town will tell people not to water their lawns to conserve water. Combine this with learning about Smokey the Bear (and how one unattended campfire can cause a forest fire) and I was convinced our (brick) house was going to burn down every day.

Smokey the Bear(I took this sign a little too seriously)

To combat this, I ignored the town’s injunction over watering the lawn (rule bender, even then) and watered the…house. Yes, I would go outside and water our brick house during the summer. To keep it from burning down. No need to thank me, Mom and Dad. I’m here to help.

What kind of funny/weird/sad things do you remember about yourself from childhood? Do you think these memories influence who you are as an adult?

Last Night

I dreamed last night that Tammy was Sheriff Longmire, and I was Henry. Then Tammy/Longmire had an affair with…Tammy. I/Henry knew what was going on, but I’d had my tongue pecked out by a bird and couldn’t speak.

I woke up gasping for air.

I dreamed last night that a SWAT team was surrounding our house. The only one who knew was Baker, and he tried to warn us. But we just ignored him. We thought he wanted a treat.

I woke up and lay rigid, listening.

I dreamed last night I had a dead baby inside of me. I went into my OB appointment on Friday and the ultrasound showed that the baby died at 9 weeks. I had to go for a D&C. The doctor used a drill to cut me open and barbed wire to hold me open while they pulled a congealed mass from inside me. I wanted to hold my baby but no one would let me.

I woke up in tears.