Helping, Talking, Turning

Ellie (like most toddlers, perhaps) is nothing if not “helpful.” She will helpfully bring you your shoes as you’re getting ready to go outside (and then another pair, and then another), shouting, “SHOES” until you put them on. She was also very helpful, when, during daycare pick-up the other day, I spilled some water out of the sippy cup I was filling for her. I tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve been rushed by seven toddlers, arms outstretched, all,  J’ACCUSE! style. Ellie very helpfully lead the mob as they shouted, “UH-OH!” You could practically see the little pitchforks in their chubby hands.

Ellie helps so much at daycare that the lead teacher in her room started calling Ellie her assistant teacher. She SCOLDS (!) the teachers if they put the wrong bib on the wrong child at lunch. Also, the other day, when a kid from the preschool came and pooped in Ellie’s classrooms’ bathroom, Ellie helpfully dropped a dime on him when the teacher was trying to figure out where that smell was coming from. She totally named names.

Ellie has a fierce sense of justice. When some cruel act is perpetrated (for example, when her mothers change her diaper) she does not shy away from telling you, in no uncertain terms, what the fuck is up, and it is not this diaper change MOM.

But that sense of justice also has a tender side: yesterday at daycare, a kid was in one of those little cozy coupe cars and it started to tip over. Ellie SPRINTED across the playground and held the car up, shouting, “HELP, HELP!” until a teacher got there.

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Oh the WORDS this child has now! And not just words, but whole sentences! Last week, during a diaper change, she was kicking and screaming (see: injustice, above) and kicked the box off wipes of the changing table. She stopped mid-scream and said, “Uh oh. Tissue [her word for wipes] fell down.” Right, it sure did. And how do you think that happened, Ellie?

She’s also strongly into ‘no’ right now. ‘No’ is the answer to every question, even if she really means ‘yes.’ And sometimes ‘no’ is the answer even if we haven’t asked a question (she volunteers ‘no’ preemptively). She also likes to draw out the word, enunciating slowwwllly for the clowns she lives with who can’t seem to keep a firm grasp on the obvious.

I watch her on the video monitor after I put her to bed. She points around the room, naming things, and then telling it, firmly, NO. NO, bear. NO, tissue. NO, Elmo. No no no no no. Eventually she lies down and strokes her soft blankie. “No.” She whispers. “No.”

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It’s finally getting a bit cooler outside, and the first leaves are starting to turn. Ellie and I took a walk last weekend and she had fun stomping on the few leaves that had fallen. I was watching my child, my real, live, living child as she tried (unsuccessfully) to jump on the leaves to achieve greater crunch volume, and had one of those mind blown moments. One of those heart bursting moments. Look! I have a child! And she is perfect.

And yet, there’s some dissonance as we get into the Fall. The leaves that my child so happily stomps are a vivid, nauseating reminder of one of the worst days of my life.

But this year is not last year, or the year before. Just as the seasons change, so do the years. I don’t know if I’ll ever “get over it,” if such a thing is even possible. But each year that passes makes the pain a little less sharp and and little less jagged. The serrated edges are being worn over with time.

This year, like last year, I’ve got my Ellie. A living embodiment of my heart’s desire.

This year, I won’t even be home on the anniversary. I’ll be out of town at a work conference. Maybe that will be better.

And, this year, I can well and truly say: fuck those leaves. This year we’ve got a lawn service.

Remember November

November is a bad month for me, because it’s the month I lost my first, desperately wanted pregnancy.

November is also a beautiful month for me, filled with gratitude for the honor of watching my daughter grow.

I wrote THIS last year about the miscarriage, and it still rings true for me. Memories are still triggered that bring back the drowning feeling of despair. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance as I bathe my daughter in the tub that two years ago I floated in, feeling the waves of pain envelop me. As I rake leaves in our backyard and remember wondering what “it” would look like, even knowing my daughter is napping inside.

I am so, so grateful for my girl. Beyond grateful. Privileged and in awe that she is here.

But having Ellie also brought into sharp focus what I lost, and what could have been

fall-leaves.

Gratitude

I’ve been pretty unhappy lately with the various physical realities of being pregnant. I’m super uncomfortable almost constantly; my back hurts, my hips hurt, I can’t breathe, I can’t sleep, I’ve gained too much weight, I have terrible heartburn, blah blah blah. But then I remember how I felt last year at this time. I had experienced my miscarriage  a few weeks prior and it was one of the worst Thanksgivings I can remember. I kept having to run outside at my sister in law’s house or camp out in the bathroom to cry, deep, soul ripping sobs. I felt sick, both in my body and in my heart.

And now look where I am. How privileged am I, that I have the opportunity to complain that I can’t take a full breath…because I have a baby inside me! How wild, and terrifying, and astonishing and dream-come-true.

You know that super sappy thing people do on Thanksgiving, where they go around the table and everyone says what they’re thankful for? Here’s what I said:

“I’m thankful to this family [meaning, Tammy’s family], for welcoming me and loving me. I’m thankful for my Tammy; she makes me happy every single day. I’m thankful for our baby. I’m thankful that we have the means and opportunity to grow our family.”

And now that I’m here, on my blog, I have to add that I’m thankful for all of you. Thank you for welcoming me into your community. Thank you for the support and advice. Thank you for sharing your stories with me, and allowing me to be a part of your journeys.

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving.

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.

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.

Nuchal Translucency and Facebook

We had our nuchal translucency scan this morning, and it went swimmingly. The neck measured at 1.something, which is good (they want to see less than 3, although the tech told us most Down’s babies measure closer to 6). We saw the nasal bone (also good because Down’s babies often don’t have a nasal bone at this point). The abdominal organs are almost all in the abdomen now, having migrated from the umbilical cord. The heart was beating at 161. We saw two hemispheres of the brain. Saw a genital nub, but it’s too early to tell if it will grow larger into a penis or shrink into a clitoris. We saw little webbed hands, and wee tiny feet that waved and kicked.

Because I’m still under 30, my risk of trisomies was low to begin with, but now it should be even lower with the reassuring scan.

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Most of us know how hard it is to be ambushed by Facebook announcements, especially as they seem to come in groups, just after your latest BFN or right around the due date of a miscarriage. Facebook has impeccably shitty timing.

For a long time I promised myself if I was ever lucky enough to get and stay pregnant, I would just skip the cutesy/smug Facebook brag. (And side note here, getting pregnant does not, at least for me, make me like the announcements any better. Seriously, y’all. You’re fecund. We get it. How marvelous for you, etc. Shut up with the beribboned, sparkly announcements)

But now I find myself trying to figure out how to let people know what’s going on in our world. We’ve told our families and close friends, but I do want some way to let less close friends know, many of whom are scattered around the world. I considered phoning (don’t have most people’s numbers, and hate talking on the phone) and email (ditto on not having many emails, and that seems kind of cold, no?) and have come full circle to Facebook. Dammit, Facebook is friggin convenient. How annoying.

But I need help figuring out what to say. I obviously want to be as sensitive as I can to those struggling, and I’d like to acknowledge our own struggle to get where we are. I’m considering the following, but would appreciate any insight, recommendations, edits, additions, etc.:

“Tammy and I are absolutely overjoyed to announce we are going to have a baby. We are so grateful to our doctors, nurses, and embryologist for helping us get this far. Below is a picture of our embryo at 5 days past fertilization, and our fetus at almost 13 weeks gestation. I am due in January, and we cannot wait to meet our little one.

And with the announcement, post a side by side picture of the day 5 blast with our most recent scan.

One final note, those friends/family members that I know would react to the announcement with complicated feelings have been told already, via the medium we thought would be easiest for them.

Thoughts? Skip the pictures? Or skip the embryo picture but include the fetal scan? What would you want to see, and not want to see if you were reading my page?

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.