Life, Persistent, Persistent Life

I used to resent it when I was younger. This way life has of carrying on in spite of things. I took it then as a sign of how little anyone else cared about my suffering, all the teenage weight of angst that I bore, and I hated it. I just wanted the world to stop and let me have my break down. Now, I find myself grateful for the persistent way that life has of pulling me along with it, into the bright light of day.

The last time I saw my great grandmother alive, about a year before she passed away, she told me, "Oh, I'm so tired these days dear. This morning I didn't think I would get up. But then they brought me my breakfast, and it smelled good, so I sat up and ate it. And then they helped me go to the bathroom so I figured I might as well get dressed. And then you came to see me, so it's good that I got up today." We joked that living was such a habit for her that she couldn't figure out how to die. I think I'm starting to get what a blessing it is, these inescapable details of being present here, in bodies that require attention, in relationships with people who require our attention. The practical upshot of these bodies of clay is that we are forced to attend to life, even when we would rather not.

There is a toddler who needs a bottom wiped, a 5 year old copying words she can't read out of a book so I can read them back to her. A seven year old who needs comforting. There are bunk beds to paint and rooms to rearrange, and all this continues in spite of and through sorrow and joy.

We buried Shiloh yesterday afternoon. Our family, and the GH's, took a moment from our labors in painting, building, cooking and gathered at the front of the house, in the quiet spot near the porch swing that my MIL had newly prepared. The tiny bit of flesh that once housed Shiloh was wrapped in linen and tucked away in a cedar box crafted by a loving father who waits to someday join his child. The GH wept for the first time since this began as he pressed handfuls of earth back into the hole. We cried and embraced, and grieved for what might have been, as we planted flowers in the dirt above and placed a paving stone bearing Shiloh's name to mark the place.

Then it was back to work, a meal, dinner clean up, finish the painting, and bedtime. These simple tasks an insistent reminder that life will go on, and there are gifts everywhere. A hummingbird floating in front of the kitchen window for several minutes, evening breezes, siblings gathered round table together, warm sunshine, cool earth, savory food. There can be such pleasure in living.

Last night just before going home I snuck out the front door again. (No one uses the front door at my in laws house, only the side doors.) There around the paving stone were smaller stones and flowers, arranged by the Girl when no one was looking. I realized that even this, the need to make a space for Shiloh's remains, is a blessing, for all of us.


This is probably a mistake

Don't write it. It's too horrific.

What do I do with it then? What do I do? I didn't know what to do.

You should have left it there. Let them send it to pathology. Then there would be nothing to tell.

But I would know. I couldn't forget. I was all alone in that room, and there was all the blood everywhere, and the smell. I didn't have a phone to call anyone.

You shouldn't have looked. You should have just let it go. Now what are you going to do with it?

But it could have... I might have seen... I had to know.

And now you know. Is it any better?

Than not knowing? It's too late to find out.

You were laughing before this. You were getting through.

I thought it was a funny joke. An OB who couldn't find my cervix. I thought it would turn out to be a big deal over nothing.

You didn't notice how nervous she was? She just kept talking and talking...

I had never met her before, how was I to know?

and the cupboard doors banging and the scrambling around to find things.

Well, I did notice that, but I still thought we were in a comedy. There was the speculum hanging out of me, and her having no idea what to do. I thought it would be one of those uncomfortably funny posts. Where we all have a good laugh at my discomfort. And when I mocked her for her terribly technical use of terms, "Some stuff hanging out of your cervix", I thought that would be funny too.

when did you know?

When she asked for the specimen jar.

You didn't have to ask...

Yes I did. I needed to know if it was a... a body.

And now you know too much.


Now you have a mental image that haunts you.

It was not a good time to have the background in birth that I do. Because now I understand what could make an impassive OB almost lose her cool.

Her voice kept cracking. She kept saying necrotized over and over. She ran out of there as soon as she could.

She left all the bloody things lying around.

Did it hit you then?

No, I was too busy trying to decide what to do with the specimen jar.

Why didn't you leave it? It's not your baby any more.

No, but it was for a while.

And now you have a half rotten fetus in your fridge.

Yes. We're going to bury it.

Where will you put it that the dogs won't dig it up? The balloons you released as a memorial were a much nicer image.

But this is true. I would have figured it out anyway.

True. Your baby spent a week dangling from your cervix and rotting away inside you, you kept wiping away black rotten strands of your own child's body until you realized that it wasn't just blood clots and called someone. True is ugly. How will you go on now?

I don't know. I will, because I have to. Beautiful is true as well. Little's downy head with her fist tucked next to her cheek also came through my cervix. I can think of that instead.

It doesn't always work.

But it helps. Life and death hold hands sometimes.

You still can't say it without crying.

No. Not yet.

Don't publish it, you're being melodramatic.

That's what kept me from calling the doctor for 3 days, the thought that I was imagining it because I knew it was possible, and that I was being overly dramatic.

Well, if you had waited much longer you probably would have gone septic.

See, melodrama might have saved my life.

Now you're being dramatic again.

I guess, except that it's true.

No one wants to read this. It's too horrifying.

But it's true. Do I just pretend like it didn't happen? We're not good at pretending things, you know that.

Maybe, just this once, it's better to let it be.

Maybe... I... I don't know. I can't sleep. Maybe writing it will help me to let it go.


What to say when someone miscarries.

Because I'm analytical, even when I'm in the middle of life altering events, I tend to make observations and file them away for later when I have time to think about them.

A lot of people I love have had miscarriages before I did. I've cried, and wondered what to say, and prayed for them, and wondered what on earth I can do to show my friend I care.

Some of this was in a way helpful while I was going through it. Just as when in labor it often helps to think of all the women who have given birth, who are giving birth right now, there was something about my awareness that I'm not the only one this has happened to that made it easier. That miscarriage is, in a way, commonplace, doesn't make it any more right. But knowing that it happens, and that people get through it somehow, did help in a way.

But since I have now been on both sides of this situation, I found myself paying attention to which responses were the most helpful, because it was answering a question I've had for many years. What do you say when someone you love has a miscarriage?

(I want to take a second, again, to say thanks to everyone who commented. You are all good at this I guess, because your comments were great.)
  1. I love you.
  2. I'm here if you need me.
  3. We're thinking/praying about you.
  4. I'll watch your kids/cook you dinner/come over if you need a break/etc.
  5. I'm sorry to hear that.
  6. Talk about other things if your friend shows they want to.
What not to say.
  1. Any variation on the theme of, maybe it's for the best that your baby died, and speculation as to why that might be. You may need to try and make sense of it for yourself, but do not do it aloud in front of the bereaved. It's just not helpful.
  2. Don't ask how it affects any other plans you know the family has. Even if you are dying to know.
The end.

I hope this little list will be helpful for someone.

If you have anything to add in the comments please do so. Especially if there was something especially meaningful and helpful that someone did for you.

I just remembered this to share with you. We have been going to the same store for so long, several times a week, that a cashier sent home flowers with my husband when she learned what we had just been through. I thought that was very thoughtful. Especially given the nature of our acquaintance. We might just be forming a community after all, even in SoCal.

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Saying Goodbye

We named our baby Shiloh, which means "His gift". I wanted for us to always be reminded when we remember this child, that his/her short presence here with us was a blessing. I know this for sure.

I do not wish for a second that I wasn't pregnant at all in order to be spared this pain. The time that we were expecting, the work we did in our hearts to welcome this baby in, the joy we felt together in anticipation, I wouldn't trade any of it even if I knew the outcome from the start. I know that the presence of Shiloh healed us in some way, of our fear of another pregnancy for one thing. It only strengthened the ties we have with each other to have, and to lose, a child so dearly loved.

We had a little ceremony yesterday, with some family and friends that often gather together on Sunday evenings for food and fellowship. And so, in the evening, with the sun behind and the blue, cloudless sky above, we each let go of a helium balloon as we whispered goodbye to Shiloh. It seemed an appropriately ephemeral memorial, in keeping with such a brief life. We watched as the balloons trailed each other and were caught by a slipstream, forming spiral patterns high up in the sky and then clustering together and seeming to hover just above us for a long, long time. As they got farther up the sunlight reflecting off of them made them seem like little colored stars. We watched until our eyes watered trying to focus, and then they were gone, just as Shiloh is gone. I didn't expect it to be so beautiful. My main thought was to help the kids understand/gain some closure. I won't ever forget it.

I want to be clear. I'm not of a theology that believes God had some higher purpose and that's why my baby died. I'm not one of those who is comforted by the thought that God is in control and everything happens for a reason. I don't believe that.

Our Father who is in Heaven, holy is your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
My Bible says that the Kingdom of God, that place where there is no sickness or death, no sorrow or tears, is not fully come. It paints a picture of a war, a kingdom advancing, one battle after another. A struggle that is carried out by those who are alive in His spirit and choose to do His will, to participate in His kingdom, to love their enemies, to do good to those who persecute them, to choose constantly the path of selflessness, to lay down their lives and live them in Christ. The death of a child is never a good thing. Never "for the best". It's a sign that our world is still broken, still waits to be healed.
On earth, as it is in heaven...
But I trust in a God who is good, who has promised to redeem all things. I believe that. I know this peace I feel is from Him, and that He is carrying me through. I know He makes all things new.


Ode to a Genius Husband

Who asks, "Do you need me to come right now?" when I call him weeping because I'm bleeding.

Who, a day later when I really do need him, drops everything, leaves a major project at work hanging, and stays at my side for the rest of the day.

Who stops on the way to pick up groceries and plans meals for the next 3 days since he knows I won't be up to much.

Who makes killer margaritas, and keeps me supplied with them and chocolate ice cream to kill the pain until I am ready to lay in his arms and cry.

Who calls everyone and talks to them when I cannot.

Who holds me and says nothing trite or easy while we deal with this together.

Who tells his brother he won't let himself fall apart until he's sure I am OK. And then still doesn't fall apart, because he's already at peace.

Who watches the kids and deals with the neighbors when I realize I'm not ready for all that yet and go hide out in the bedroom to rest.

Who is right now watching the kids at the pool, after marinating the meat for chicken fajitas that he plans to make for dinner tonight.

Who gives hugs and back rubs and quiet moments of reassurance.

Who tickles and laughs and plays with our children, and says all the right things to help them through this too.

Who knows just what to say to make me laugh, even when I don't think I can laugh at all.

Who has been in every way there for me in exactly the way I needed him to be.

I'm so glad he's the one I'm living life with.


Again with the Unexpected

My baby is dead. It probably has been for 3 weeks. Yesterday morning I started to miscarry. Today a sonogram confirmed what we most feared, and suspected.

It makes sense of why I haven't had nausea these past few weeks. Why I haven't really felt pregnant at all.

I remember thinking when I wrote about this baby that I was being a bit presumptuous, assuming that a pregnancy meant a baby at the end of it. But I decided at the time, that even if something went wrong, it would be silly to pretend that there was no baby at all, just because it didn't live full term.

Yesterday was a surreal sort of day that started with me calling my midwife crying, and looped through things I never expected, like praying with my MIL and my midwife in her office. Or having the nurse at the pregnancy care center pray for me before sending me away, with a referral to a lovely family practice that took me in in a second and handled everything today. (My midwife isn't covered by insurance and miscarriages tend to be expensive. Thus the search for a doctor.)

Welcoming this baby, so unexpected, has been an exercise in trust, and saying good bye has been the same. I'm surprised that rather than asking "Why me?" my thought is more, "Why not me?" I've been very blessed thus far to have 3 completely healthy, complication free pregnancies. It's really only a matter of time before I experience the opposite as well. To live is to suffer from time to time, to love, to be heartbroken. No where is the fragility and triumph of life more apparent in our culture today than in birth. Death and birth walk hand in hand, and often happen in the same womb. I've been thinking about how odd it is, our culture, that resists the experience of death so strongly. In many cases it's led to good things, better medicine for example.

But I find this quiet acceptance I am experiencing, however foreign it seems to me at the moment, to be a more peaceful road than I ever imagined I would walk so close with death.

I am sad. I have wept. But I feel held. I feel unafraid. I don't feel alone. And that really is a gift I never expected to receive in a moment like this.

I want to thank you all who have been praying for me since this whole journey started. It means so much. It has helped me so much. Bless you all.


Avoiding Elephants

I want to write about today. But in order to do that I would need to mention the elephant in the middle of my room. And until I'm sure one way or another about the existence of said elephant, I don't really want to write about it.

So I'll settle for this. It's been a really hard day. Yet, I am in awe of how much I feel carried through it. I feel like I'm being held in loving arms and gently wrapped up in love and prayer. All day has carried with it little unexpected gifts, and I feel lifted by grace as I move through this.

I know that's terribly cryptic. I promise I'll tell you more tomorrow.


Hallmark would be ashamed

So I forgot what day it was until my friend at church gave me a hug and wished me Happy Mother's Day. It was happy. I saw a friend and her latest baby for a few minutes who lives on the other side of the country. (Hi Esther.) Then we went to the community college dance recital to watch my sil shake her thang on stage. Seriously, she performed a belly dance routine to Celtic music in a sort of fusion style that was kind of awesome. Also there were some tahitian dances, afrocuban dances, lame modern dances, some frightening amateur ballet routines, and by frightening I am referring in particular to the guy in the dance cup and the lycra pants, and some very entertaining hip hop numbers.

After that, because I am a good mom, I consented to going to Del Taco for dinner instead of going home to the dinner I had planned, because my kids wanted to go, and also my MIL was going with many of her children. The Boy got me a dolphin pendant on a string from the vending machine as a mother's day present, and the girl got a silly key chain. Obviously there was a lot of forethought and planning in these gifts. But, hey, they gave me the coveted vending machine items instead of keeping them and spent their own money, it's actually kind of sweet.

We came home to eat the cake I baked last night. My neighbor came over with a mixing bowl full of failed white chocolate mousse. She put in too much milk and needed to start over, did I think I could use it for anything? [I'm not the only one these kinds of things happen to am I? Tell me you have experiences like this too.] So I added some flour, sugar, baking powder, more eggs, and came out with a halfway decent, though dense cake. More like bread pudding. We ate that with fresh fruit when we got home from eating fast food tacos.

The GH and his sister started scheming about taking their mom to a movie tonight while we were eating dinner. He asked me if I would mind putting the kids to bed by myself. I didn't.
However, his mother's response to the plan, when announced, was to feel uncomfortable with him "abandoning me on mother's day" as to not want to do it. At this point I picked up the phone and said, "I hope I'm at least emotionally healthy enough that if I say I'm perfectly happy for him to go out with you tonight that I actually mean it."

"Oh, you mean he talked to you already?"

"Uh yeah, of course he did."

Then the GH got on the phone and continued to make fun of her by commenting on how odd it is that her first conclusion is that our relationship is so idiotic that that she would need to make sure it's OK with me. This is how we talk in our family. In her defense, we know she was trying to be thoughtful, but since she's the one who raised every one to say what they mean and only what they mean, no manipulating back talk, it's funny to us that she would assume otherwise.

There, I've just ruined all the humor in that interchange by analysing it. That's how I roll. We're probably the only ones who think that was funny anyway.

Before he left the GH said, "I've been trying to think of something I could get you for Mothers Day, and I can't really think of anything."

I smiled and said, "I can't either."

"Yeah," he said, "that's what I thought."

"I mean besides fantasy items, like a day spa package, a resort vacation, things I would never actually want you to spend money on. I have all the stuff I need already."

"Here's something I can do," he said, taking me in his arms. "You are doing a really good job. You are a great mother. I'm happy that you are the mother of my children. I'm proud of you. I goof of with you and say silly things a lot, but I'm always proud of you."

And then I melted a bit, and maybe a tiny tear hovered for a second before I blinked it back and kissed him.

My children are sleeping. I'm going to watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

It's been a good day.


1000 Gifts-Week 24

I've missed a few weeks. Sometimes life turns you on your head and routines are disrupted. But through it all it's a blessing to be able to see just how many gifts each day brings with it.

Here are a few that I've been enjoying the past few weeks.
  • The Girl and Little whispering secrets to each other and giggling.
  • My dear friend and neighbor brought over an envelope a week after I found out I was pregnant. In it were several prettily made home made coupons for things like, "One load of laundry," or "One really long nap," or, "One take out dinner," to redeem whenever I needed a break. It was so thoughtful I cried on the spot. I haven't needed any yet, but just knowing that kind of care and help is nearby is a gift.
  • The GH holding the Girl when she's sick and getting her to smile.
  • The Boy still needs his mama. He seems so grown up sometimes. It's a relief to realize again that he's still very much a little boy, and he still needs mothering.
  • Little bursting in the front door after a visit at Beema's house and telling me all about it in short emphatic phrases. "Me back Mama. Me back, Beema's house! Me pway. Mama, chicken. outside. me dancing. YEAH!" etc.
  • The Boy offering to make me breakfast in the morning.
  • Birdsong in spring.
  • The GH being careful to keep in stock the foods that help me feel better when sick.
  • The bounty of needing to figure out what to do with leftovers.
  • I don't feel nearly as bad as I expected I would right now. There's been hardly any nausea at all, by comparison to my other pregnancies. I keep wondering if I'm really pregnant after all I feel so, normal.
  • A day sans l'enfants courtesy of my MIL and her desire to take all her grandchildren to Sea World together. It's very quiet here right now.
  • I'm finally at a place in my life that I no longer struggle with guilt when I say, "No, I just can't do that right now. I need to rest." I'm finally at peace with taking care of myself too.

The gratitude community is here.


Of teeth, toilets, and other boring stuff.

Um hi. You still here? I've been uh, busy. Birthday parties, the Girl has tummy trouble, friends moving away for good, and finding out just exactly how much it will cost to fix the Boy's jaw so his teeth come in straight. (Hint: less than a car payment...but more than we pay for the dental insurance that doesn't cover orthodontia.)

I'm not getting into a write during the day groove at all. I used to post in the evening, after the kids were asleep and I had the mental space to compose sentences. Now that I share with the GH, he uses his laptop at night, and I get it during the day. Slow to adapt, that's me.

I have a 1000 Gifts list coming soon though.

Tomorrow my MIL is taking my children to Sea World. That means I'm child free for several hours. The GH and I are even going to go out for lunch, by ourselves. Of course, they were originally supposed to go today, which was how I was going to recover from the week of tummy trouble and busyness and get the house caught up before friends come for dinner tonight. Time for plan B, which involves compelling small children to scrub out the toilets.

(Actually, last night while I was brushing my teeth, I heard a suspicious splashing sound next to me. As I had already taken out my contacts I couldn't tell exactly what was going on for a second. Little had her hand in the toilet bowl and was wiping it out with toilet paper. "I clean mama!" she exclaimed, with a brilliant smile, while I gagged a thousand times and washed her hands just about as many. Sweet and disgusting all at once. Only a two year old can manage that.)
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