Wednesday, April 30, 2008


As of ten days ago my younger son has caught up to his big brother. It is supposed to take kids years, decades even, to catch up. Even in high school, even for kids separated by no more than a year, there are skills, knowledge, emotions, physical development milestones, the bright line of going off to college or other freedom after graduation measure. And yet, at precisely 20 weeks gestation, my younger son caught up to his big brother. They are both now legally people. If he doesn't survive, his status will be exactly as his brother's is. We are now on a plateau characterized by this simple statement. Hopefully, a very long plateau of gestating.

Essentially, from here on out, everything is gravy. I like gravy. But it is very much screwing with my mind that if he makes it, by that very accomplishment he will pass his brother. And will keep going. A is no longer my youngest child or my only son. He is losing descriptors, narrowing them down towards that very simple one-- my son who died. I need to find new ones. I do not want A boxed in.

Make no mistake-- I jonesed for this plateau, and am glad to have made it. But my friends who warned me were right-- it comes with its own set of head and heart games, mindfucks all its own and festively unique. Here we are again. Monkey pressing her hand on my belly for her brother to kick. Same hand, slightly larger. Same belly. Different brother. Will this one get to grab her finger? Monkey holding on to my midsection so I can brush her hair with a better leverage. Her face used to be right level with the belly, pressed against it as I brushed. This time it's much higher, above it. Inescapable.


Today is fifteen months. A year ago today I wrote this. Last year I used to feel the monthaversaries approach, the funk settling over me as the months headed towards their conclusions, and my dates. I noted to myself that last month, at the fourteen months line, I didn't feel encumbered by the dates, and I wondered whether the one year mark had released me from the countdowns. Today I am decidedly unsure of it, the funk of the last week or so articulating itself inside of me as that bone-deep sadness and longing it turns out I still know well.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ok, but the cab thing was just gratuitous

I am generally not the type to look for validation in the weather, or even for coincidences. But I do have to admit that when the first, heavy, cold, but still infrequent rain drops started to fall as I made my way across the other campus to the shuttle stop it sort of figured. Because this morning it looked like it could go either way and because if there is sun, driving without sunglasses ranks very low on my list of fun things to do, I put on my new oversize sunglasses. But I didn't bring the umbrella for the other eventuality. So I was standing at the shuttle stop, with my sunglasses on and no umbrella when it occurred to me that while last time I was on this campus I caught the shuttle back from this exact spot, the same stop I used to get off the shuttle earlier, this wasn't the endpoint stop on the route, and that, therefore, since the shuttle wasn't sitting at this stop at the time of its designated departure for the campus containing my office, I missed the sucker. As I walked towards the endpoint stop by the library so I could wait out the thirty minute interval in the presumably dry lobby thereof, raindrops falling on the outside of my fancy new oversized sunglasses, crying seemed both redundant and overly dramatic.

This is a good time to mention that missing the shuttle was in no way causing me to consider relative merits of crying anyway vs. toughing it out-- I wasn't running late for anything, so it would've been ok to chill for extra thirty minutes. What was making me teether on the brink was feeling that if I let go I might not stop. And that, that would be embarrassing. On the street in broad daylight and all that. That feeling was in turn brought on by a phone call with an employee of the cemetery we met yesterday when we stopped by the office to inquire about the particulars of the regulations on the grave markers.

The guy, let's call him Mr.Awkward, started by batting 1000 on the open mouth insert foot scale when he answered my question on the permissibility of a free-standing vase above the marker with "I am just letting you know that free standing vases are about a thousand dollars." That led me to immediately inform him that he was being highly inappropriate. He didn't apologize. Whatever. So while he is looking up our information in the computer, I decide to ask, just to make sure, about the proper position of a grave marker. Does it go over the head such that if you are reading it you are looking at the feet? No, the other way.

Cue panic. Because, see, three weeks ago, A's marker was moved. But when I went to the office and the lady came out to look at it with me, she moved it back. After consulting the map of the section in their book, Mr. Awkward says he will go look in the morning, but assures us the marker must be over the correct space, just the wrong part of it. Five minutes later, as we are standing in the section, it sinks in for me that no, it's not over the right space. It's over an empty space. The right space, I become convinced, is next to the new baby, and has been unmarked for nearly fifteen months.

This morning's phone call, the one that had me tethering on the brink, it proved that I was right. Mr. Awkward told me he moved the marker and the flowers we left yesterday, but again he couldn't find the word sorry. He kept saying "ok." I asked him whether that was all he had to say, told him that I was extremely upset, that I do not understand why the call didn't start and end with apologies, that it is unconscionable that people have been walking over my son like there is nothing there for the last nearly fifteen months, and demanded a meeting with the president of the cemetery. Mr.Awkward promised that the president would call me back. By the time he did, near the end of my sojourn in the library lobby that was, as predicted, dry, I was just about ready to loose the whole not crying battle. Mr.President, however, both started and ended with profuse apologies, volunteered that he already told Mr.Awkward that his remark about the cost of the vase was out of line, and otherwise tried to assure me that at least he, and actually the whole entire organization, do not think my son is unimportant.

I insisted on a face to face meeting because I have way more to say. About that lady who just moved the marker back three weeks ago without checking the map before or after she drove out with me, and who never called me back even though she promised. About how the thing so many of the bereaved parents struggle with is how our children don't seem to matter to most anyone, and about this is one place that should never ever reinforce that feeling. Speaking of which, I have things to say about the general state of that section. The lawn is distinctly sad in parts of it, and it is luscious everywhere else in the cemetery. So Thursday, when we see Mr.President, I am going to be reminding him that grieving is for the living, and that dignity is not optional in his line of business. And if I have to, I will mention my willingness to contact both the Jewish and the general circulation publications in the area about the story.

Here's the thing I am still working on in my head, though. Monkey has incredible spacial memory. The second time she was ever at the cemetery, she headed straight for where A's marker was. I will now have to explain to her why it's not where it used to be. I can't see telling her how badly the cemetery people actually screwed up. So I think I will take my sister's advice and tell her that it got moved from his head to his feet. This will be the very first lie I ever told her. Ever. You better believe Mr. President will hear about this as well.

So you think this might be enough for one day? I thought so. Got back to my office, met with a student, picked up my newly arrived new printer, stopped by the boss's office for a few words. And then I missed the shuttle to my car. By a hair. I mean I ran towards it, the driver saw me, and he still pulled away. The next shuttle was in thirty minutes, I was going to miss the school pick up. So I hatched an intricate plan. I took a city bus to where it diverges from the shuttle route, by a mall. I figured there is a supermarket there, so there will be cabs, and I will make it to the garage and my car soonish. Unfortunately, my plan didn't account for finding, upon getting off the bus, a lot of rain and no cabs. I tried to catch one for a while, fought self over the crying thing again, then called JD to call me one (and to call the school to tell them I will be late). They said ten minutes. Twenty minutes later they told him any minute now. Five more minutes later they told me "I won't lie to you. I have no cabs. I have your order, but no cabs." Excuse me? You won't lie to me? So then I did what I should've done in the first place, and would've definitely done if it wasn't for the rain-- I walked. After all, it's less than a mile.

In the middle of the wet and crazy things started to look up when Monkey's classmate's mom called to ask if she should pick Monkey up. I could also hear the kindergarten cheering section's hearty support for this particular idea. When I finally arrived at their house, still pretty wet, there was tea and adult conversation, seeing as Monkey was hiding upstairs to avoid having to leave. The host kid came downstairs to ask if Monkey could spend the night. Instead, eventually, I left with both girls. Some errands later we were all home, them playing, JD and I cooking.

This morning, what seems like eons ago, I freaked him out by sending him an email asking him whether he knew what today was. Not exactly my fault-- I myself only realized what it was after I wrote the date down. Eventually he remembered too-- fifteen years since the morning after the evening he arrived in the US for the first time, when we met, as agreed, by my dorm, three and a half years and an ocean after seeing each other last. The food tonight was really good, and after the girls went to bed there was desert. I even had a few drops of wine. But I still maintain the cab thing was gratuitous.

Friday, April 25, 2008


The very spirited discussion about parenting we had in the book club post last week reminded me of something I've been meaning to bring up. There is a story and a question (or five) here, and since I enjoy talking to you all rather more than just howling into the winds of the internets, I would be much obliged if you could answer me that question. K?

So the story. Way back when, before I saw Dr.Best for the first time this pregnancy, I had to talk to an intake nurse-- apparently a new-fangled addition to the Order Things Are at the practice. Ostensibly, the purpose of talking to her was for her to update their records with anything medical or otherwise relevant that happened since the last time I was in their care, i.e. after that six week appointment I had after A's birth. Point being, she had the records, and she started by ascertaining that this was in fact my fourth recorded pregnancy, first ending in a miscarriage, second in Monkey, third in the stillbirth for which she expressed appropriate and obviously sincere sympathy. Which then brought us to this here fourth pregnancy, about which she said "So we can thank your little guy for this."

I couldn't formulate right then why that made me supremely uncomfortable, why it made me go cold and stiff, so I went with "that's not how I think about it," and she went with "Awww..." indicating either that she believed me misguided or that she felt sorry for me, but definitely not that she was sorry to have said it, and we went on with the rest of the intake interview. Which was ok. After I hung up, I was still thinking about why that affected me so much. I found it, and fast, which reinforced my belief that you should never depend on me in a firefight because I apparently freeze, but you can depend on me to analyze it to death afterwards. Or pre-analyze it, actually, I do that too. This is why I have a whole list of responses stored up for the stupid things people in general and certain people in particular might say to me in the near future-- makes me feel a lot more secure.

So what I figured out is that the philosophy, the belief behind that particular statement, or at least the logical extension of that belief, is the polar opposite of the way I parent. I don't believe my children owe me anything. I don't believe they are responsible for my happiness, now or in my sunset years. This responsibility, of ensuring we achieved the most important goal (ha! try the only goal) in our lives at the time--getting knocked up-- it's huge. I would never ask my living child to assume responsibility for anything remotely as significant to me, so why would I place that on my dead one? And if we didn't get knocked up, when we didn't for six months after starting to try, if I miscarried, would, were those things A's fault?

I know people don't mean that. I know people don't extend their thought to the logical conclusion as I just did here, but I seem to need to do that. I am very much into the logical extensions these days. As an aside, this logical extension business is also why I can't deal with people crediting God with answering their prayers and giving them X they asked for, where X is the miracle baby, recovery from major illness, safety of a loved one, or just about anything that isn't peace and wisdom. Because I absolutely have to flip what they are saying in my mind and see it as an indication that unlike their deserving selves, everyone who didn't get these same things must not really deserve them.

I also realize there is no law that says you have to parent your dead children to any appreciable degree, or to parent them in the same way as you parent your living children. As I said multiple times in multiple places, I really do believe that we each do what we need to do to keep moving.

And here comes that question. Ok, questions. How do you parent or hope to parent? What about the way you or someone you know was parented influences the way you do or hope to one day do things as a parent? If you have a dead child, do you parent them? How?

Like I said, I would be much obliged to see your comments. You know you have nothing better to do this weekend anyway.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Colors, primary and otherwise

We went to the park last Thursday. JD and Monkey called from their way back home to declare that we are all going, and I can just walk while they ride their bikes. So we did, I did, they did. It was all good and maybe even a little great, except for the part where we forgot our camera and the bread products I intended to feed to the ducks so as to get them out of our house before Passover. By the time Monkey and I got to the same park yesterday, the colors were much brighter and in many more places. The spring is now here, for real.


Check out the fish. Trippy, no?


We brought the bread this time too, and even the long-distance lens for the camera.


And so it was, as I was watching Monkey dole out the baked goods so very generously,


and then putting the poor bird through the after snack exercise routine,


that I had my own wise son moment. I realized the application of the mysterious prohibition on deriving benefit from one's hametz (leavened bread) was not all about rabbis sitting around with nothing better to talk about. For we, both of us, were clearly deriving benefit from the hametz we didn't get rid of in time.

When all the bread was finally gone (and all the birds likely fit to serve at a holiday meal, because, dudes, given the volume of bread we showed up with, they must've been stuffed), we were finally free to move about the premises.


Monkey ran around, and I got some shots.


I actually spotted this tree last week, and made the mental note to come back with the camera. I am not sure how or why I never noticed it before, but I am happy to have found it now.



I was busy shooting the weird shapes when Monkey called to me from right inside the skeletal canopy. Mama, look-- somebody wrote on the tree. Many somebodies, it seems.


And what is this about?


A very stubborn leaf, message of a spring and a fall gone by, it appears. Telling me the tree is likely going to be covered in green, and soon. The pity, really-- I am guessing it will look gentrified and so much less impressive then.

Friday, April 18, 2008

All clear, for now

The scan went well. Everything is where it should be, in appropriate numbers and sizes. Blood flow is good, the cord is good. Can't get the size on that thing, but it didn't seem like there were any knots on it for now. Placenta is on the front but "far enough" away from the cervix. The cervix is 3.2-3.5. We get to look again at everything in about a month.

We got a glance of the nose and the mouth at one point, as in the flesh rather than the bones. He has his brother's nose, I am pretty sure. JD says he didn't catch it, but he was also busy explaining to Monkey what was where. The tech didn't print that one, so I don't have proof. But I guess this is just one more mindfuck to steel myself for. He was also not a big fan of that probe. The tech couldn't feel it, but I sure could. Too bad, kid. The mean parents and doctors have plans to subject you to that particular indignity many more times.

Apparently, while I was in the bathroom, Monkey informed the tech that she had a brother before, but he died, and she hopes this one doesn't die. Some of the shots, like the butt up, knees bent shot we did get a print of amused her to no end. Little feet and little fingers made her happy. The skeletor face shot was a little scary, she said. She kept leaning in and touching my face, ever so gently. We came separately-- logistics and all-- and when she walked in with JD, I could tell she was a little scared and nervous. She recognized the place after they got off the elevators (from the one time she had been there before, for A's anatomical scan), and from then on, though she had moments of giggling, it was pretty clear she was bracing. Damn, a six year old, bracing. This shit sucks, can I tell you? She even asked the tech whether "he is ok," and JD told her the lady can't tell us, it's the doctor's job.

We all seemed to hold our breaths through the scans. Dr. Best was running the ultrasound show today, so he came in and did some looking himself, after the tech. He introduced himself to Monkey, who hasn't met him before, but once he got the probe, he was concentrating so hard I was getting worried something was wrong. There was no customary banter. I like my banter, it reassures me. In its absence I was running through all the bad things one can see on the ultrasound in my head, trying to decide whether what I was seeing was normal. Heart-- pretty sure there are four chambers, and it doesn't look lopsided. Brain-- looks pretty even, no holes, spine-- seems closed at the bottom. What else, what else?

And then he spoke, and said "looks great." Monkey apparently didn't think that was specific enough, because she decided to ask her own question: "Is he ok?" Only she asked so softly, Dr. Best couldn't hear. JD asked for his attention, though, and when the answer was "Yes, he is ok," you could see Monkey transform. You could see her transform into a kid again.

The transformation was quick, immediate even. And that is what I am choosing to concentrate on tonight. Yes, she is aware of things six year olds should not know. Yes, she is deeply affected. But, if things are ok, she can still exhale it all in one breath. She is still a kid. It helps to remember that.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The box

It was getting well and truly ridiculous, so Monday night the box finally came down. The box and a small wicker basket, actually, but I've been calling that stash "the box" for a while now. My maternity clothes. Ok, I had to send JD to break into it a couple of months ago for my big bras, but I haven't touched it in well over a year. Still can't bring myself to hand up the clothes, to make the switch, to acknowledge the new closet order. Maybe this weekend.

So I have been wearing maternity since Tuesday. Physically it feels so much better-- no pinching, no squashing. But it also feels like announcing, and that is by no means comfortable. So I have been walking around wrapped in a giant scarf-shawl thing, and mostly hiding in my office at work. Seems like a reasonable compromise.

Natalie recently talked about how hard it is to tell people, to catch a glimpse of their anticipated joy on your behalf right before you have to tell them of the tragedy that befall you and yours. It wasn't until later that I realized that a not insignificant part of the reason I am uneasy with being obviously pregnant is that it's going to force me to tell the story, to break the news so to speak, to people who don't yet know. Not looking forward to stupid things people might say is one thing, and that is still very much on my mind, but it seems I have another concern. I am apparently also not looking forward to being the designated buzzkill.


I don't know whether this is the maternity clothing, the anatomical ultrasound we have tomorrow, or approaching 20 weeks, but I have been obsessing more than a little with various going to shit scenarios this week. A somewhat significant chunk of the obsessing has been about whether if things were to go to shit now I could hold off delivering until Monday, when we would officially be over 20 weeks. Apparently I am way too attached to let anyone call my son a miscarriage. Veterans of subsequent pregnancies, tell me please, is this normal or am I bringing the crazy extra hard this week?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book Club: The Mistress's Daughter

It's time for another installment of the Baren Bitches Book Brigade. Today's book is The Mistress's Daughter by A.M. Homes. Please hop on over to Mel's for more discussion of the book-- Group A and Group B. There you can also find the online interview with the author. (And you can sign up for the next book on this online book club: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (with author participation).)

A.M. Homes writes with economy and clarity that sketches scenes and people with unnerving brevity, precision that can make you chuckle or shudder, or move instantaneously, from one of these reactions to the other. I have to say that, perhaps for that very reason, I found the book at times both challenging and difficult to read. The details about her adopted family she chooses to highlight in the early parts of the book made me uneasy, made me want to ask her a million small questions, to tease out a million small details. Experience is inherently subjective, and that is usually good enough for me. With this book, however, I often found myself wondering what a given situation looked like from the other side.

It was very interesting for me to observe that as the book went on, and as the author delved deeper and deeper into the stories of people who shared some of her DNA, and people who only shared last names with the people who shared some of her DNA, she also seemed much more comfortable claiming her adopted family as her own. She seemed more comfortable in her own skin, and in claiming what is hers from every part of her identity. In the interview, she talks about now being the person her adoptive parents hoped she would be, and that made me smile. But even beyond that, she seems much more at peace with herself and her story by the end of the book, much more integrated. Thinking about this point, I wonder if this is why the early part of the book was such a tough read for me-- there the author is very raw and exposed, jagged, conflicted. It's as if I feel awkward looking at a person who presents her own vulnerability to thoroughly, as if I am afraid that the very act of looking is somehow violating, or that it can hurt. A.M. Homes of the latter chapters seems a much sturdier being, if not healed then integrated, ok. I wonder, also, whether she could've gotten to that point had she not gone through the process of learning, and rejection, and hurt, and learning more that was set in motion by her birth mother looking for her.

Our community often speaks of the injustice of the homestudy process. From our parent-in-waiting eyes, is seems incredibly unfair that some can become parents at the drop of a trou, while infertiles to have to go through the judgments by a third party of their innermost selves to prove themselves worthy. Homes' book, however, shows not the parent perspective but the adopted child's. She talks about the effects of coming into her parents' home just months after their son died, about the burden she felt to heal her family. "I grew up doused in grief." She wonders (a few times) why an agency would give her parents an infant so soon after a child had died. Does reading from the adoptee perspective change your opinion on the homestudy process? Who is responsible for making sure hopeful parents are ready to parent a child borne to others? To what degree should hopeful parents be cleared of their grief, and who should determine this? How should it be determined? Should people stuck in grief NOT pass a homestudy? How should the desires of the hopeful parents be balanced with the rights and needs of the child?

Unsurprisingly, this was the part of the book I had the toughest time with. I wanted to stand up for the adopted family, for A.M.'s adoptive mother. I felt personally judged by that psychiatrist who asked A.M. whether she found it strange that an agency would place her with a family that lost a child six month before. Why was it strange, I wanted to know. Does loosing a child permanently disqualify one from parenting again? From parenting adopted children? From parenting until the parents are "cleared of their grief?" And what does that even mean to be cleared of the grief? I resent the hell out of this. I am grieving, and parenting. And if I should be so incredibly lucky as to have this pregnancy end with a live birth, I will parent both an older and a younger sibling of my dead child. I've been at this long enough to know that I will never be "cleared" of my grief. It is a part of me. Does that make me "stuck in grief" or just a parent?

That said, I work hard to make sure Monkey doesn't think she has to make up for her missing brother, and I think we have by now established that. I will work equally hard to make sure that my subsequent children do not think themselves replacements. This was one of the things I wanted to ask the author as I was reading-- what exactly made you feel like you were responsible for healing your family, what made you feel like a replacement? In the interview, A.M. Homes says that her mother tried to shield them from her grief, but that it was still there. So I wonder, still, whether the perception was due to the author being a sensitive and attentive child, placing emphasis on her adopted status, wondering about her place in the universe and in her family, or whether it was in fact something her family did or said.

In the case of the homestudy process, I would argue that setting the bar at "getting over" the grief is unrealistic and harmful. And what grief are we talking about? Would dead child grief be permitted, but years of IF grief would not? Or vice versa? I call bullshit. There is a world of difference between making peace with your grief, learning to live with it and "getting over it." Looking into what role in the family the prospective parents envision for their adopted child is fair and necessary. There is a huge difference between hoping for joy a child would bring to the family and hoping that child would make everything ok. They won't, because they can't. Not everything can be made ok. Understanding unique challenges of parenting an adopted child is important for adoptive parents, whatever led them to the homestudy point. Assuming that parents who lost a child and are trying to add to their family in the aftermath are in fact looking to replace their dead child is absurd and insulting, and extremely unproductive.

Why do you think the author's biological father went through the DNA testing if he was still going to go along pretending she didn't exist? How did you react to that emotionally as the reader?

I also felt uneasy about the author's attachment to her biological father in the first part of the book. It seemed to me that she was overlooking many faults, raising and then dropping tough questions. It isn't until a friend asks her many years later why she is surprised by his behavior that A.M. Homes comes to see the pattern. She then constructs a blistering series of questions, a mock deposition of her father, hitting again and again questions of how he sees his own identity, his own morality.

I see him as a man who might have lofty ideas and good intentions, but prefers to do what is easy. Seeing Ellen for seven years was not too hard, and fun, I am sure, so he did it. Leaving his family to marry her was hard, so he didn't. He called Ellen's mother to ask for her hand, but then didn't do a thing. He may have wanted to marry Ellen, but doing something principled, something hard to accomplish, giving up his lifestyle perhaps, having to pay alimony and child support to his wife and provide for his new family, that would've been hard, and there were only so many slices of the pie, as his lawyer said. Did he promise Ellen to ask A.M. for the kidney? Promising was easy, so he probably did. Following through would've been hard. Giving blood and paying money for the paternity test was the easy part. Following through on the results, telling his other children what happened, standing up to his wife to insist that while he undoubtedly wronged her, his daughter did not, all of that was hard. In the end, he seems to me a sad man, a man who constructs his own mythology to justify his inaction, who can convince himself to think that having his daughter call him in the car because his wife is not often there is as good as inviting her to family holidays, to claiming her as his daughter outloud because he is very practiced at this sort of thing, at convincing.

Genealogy -- the quest to learn more about her birth family's history -- forms a large part of the latter half of the book. On page 152, the author notes, "I remind myself that the quest to answer the question Who am I? is not unique to the adoptee." How much do you know about your own family history? Is it something that interests you? How has it influenced your decisions related to infertility treatment (if at all)?

My decisions about dealing with IF were much more about wanting to experience pregnancy than about DNA. My thoughts are a little more garbled now. After A died, I also realized that I hoped to one day give birth to another boy (but I also thought that our next baby would be a girl).

Genealogy, though. For us looking for our roots is complicated by the move from the Old Country. There are branches of the family that left many years ago, and are not easy to find. There are probably family stories that are now lost forever. I tried to have my grandmother write some of the family history down, but her mind started slipping just then, and it has not worked. Tracing our family history in the paper chase way is something I am vaguely interested in. The stories are much more what I would like to retrieve, somehow. Thinking that they are gone is so sad that I try not to focus on that thought much.

The other thing that does interest me is the much more longer-range view. The literal things our DNA can tell us. What is in my mitochondrial DNA? What is on my father's Y chromosome? Are we really part Sephardi as our last name suggests? What is in his mitochondrial DNA? Can we find the son of my grandfather's brother to see what we can know of that paternal line? Can we find any offspring of his sister's to learn of their maternal line? Both of my grandmothers' fathers' information is gone-- no surviving sons for either of my great grandfathers, no male heirs for their last names or their Y chromosomes. This project we can actually do, and are about to start. My sister caught a break from her grad school and is about to have her mitochondrial DNA (same as my mitochondrial DNA) sequenced. I guess we better start that fund to pay for all the other tests we want to do.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reverse Pain Olympics

Yesterday was my one year blogoversary, and this is my 200th post. I didn't plan it this way, but see below re: blog neglect in the absence of the second driver in the family. I meant to write this yesterday, but got hit with the worst migraine I had in months just as I was getting ready to start. Booooo. So here I am this morning, writing in the quiet house. Let's see how long I get before it's no longer quiet*. So I have been thinking about this topic, this Reverse Pain Olympics, for many months, on and off. Have meant to write about it at least half a dozen times. I guess today is as good as any other day.

Many moons ago, and in web time something like eons ago in fact, there was great unrest in the internets, all about who had it worse, or the worst. Pain Olympics. I noticed, though, that ever since the very beginning I have been engaging in my own private Reverse Pain Olympics. Not denying my pain in any way, but more of "this could've been so much worse."

We had great and compassionate care in the hospital, and even then I was thinking "wow, how much worse could this be if we were surrounded by insensitive boobs?" And sure enough, just click around and you will see enough stories of insensitive boobs mascaraing as medical professionals to fill your indignation quota for the year.

Yes, we had to explain to Monkey what happened, we have had to support her, validate her grief, even on days when what we really wanted to do was crawl into a very small hole and stay there. But we have her, she is here for us to support. We didn't have to wonder, as so many other bereaved parents do, whether there would ever be a child in this house. She doesn't make up for the loss of her brother, and since she had never before seen us crying or even just that sad, we had to explain to her, and keep explaining, that she isn't responsible for making us feel better, that sometimes shit happens that is so big that it makes you sad for a very long time. But she is here. She is here.

Most of our friends have been very supportive. They made it completely ok to talk about my pregnancy, some asked to see A's pictures. They made it so comfortable, in fact, that when it came time to venture into the wider world, I didn't really want to. I know that is not unusual, but I think in my case there was this added benefit of being so comfortable in my slightly-larger world that made it hard to want to push the boundaries wider, where the reception was less likely to be so humane. Do I even have to mention how many others have felt lonely, abandoned, complete outcasts even among the people who used to be friends or family?

There is more. But listing examples is not so much the point here. One of my points is that nobody else is allowed to say these things to me in the "at least you have X" format. Because when others say it, especially others who are not bereaved parents themselves, it sounds belittling. It sounds like they are ranking, and find my story not tragic enough. Like they find my pain lacking. And I know, I know that in reality it's about them, not me. It's about their inability to deal with the bad things in the world, about making themselves feel better by not having to feel so bad for me. But it still pisses me off.

Slightly more recently, last summer I think, there was another tiff in the blogland. A popular magazine launched an infertility blog, one of the writers of which, having gone through IF treatments, started her first entry with something very much like "Hi. I am So-and-Such, recently back from maternity leave." Open new post window, insert foot. Some readers took offense, the magazine didn't react too well, and the whole thing went on in circles for what seemed like a while.

The magazine editors, I am sure, couldn't see how some of the infertile readers could be so heartless as to reject this blogger just for having accomplished what they themselves were hoping to accomplish one day. These very readers couldn't see how sticking someone who was so glowing with her motherhood that it amplified the regular glow from their screen approximately fifteen fold in their tired and strung out faces was a tactful thing to do. After all, they argued, we have to deal with happy mothers and baby mania in real life. Shouldn't an infertility blog be a safe haven for us?

There were even words to the effect that anyone who has had a baby should be disqualified from calling herself infertile, and should certainly not bitch and moan about wanting more children when she has been already so bloody lucky once. You know that sat well with me. Excuse me, I wanted to say, but my infertility is right here every time I have to decide what to eat. PCOS, see, insulin issues, directly relating to fertility hormones. I took the bait, people. I was right there, running qualifying heats for the Pain Olympics. I stopped, though. I stopped just short of typing that angry comment, featuring both my food choices and my dead baby, and hitting post. Because what do I know of the pain of ten years of IF with no living child to show for it, with not even a pregnancy, not even a BFP?

It is easy these days to think myself not so badly off. I am 19 weeks today. My husband made it back from his business trip in one piece and doesn't seem to be suffering jet lag. I have a daughter who amazes and delights me every day (yes, frustrates too, but that's not the point here). I have a doppler for when the paranoia hits, and I have the world's best OB. I have started to feel movement.

But you know what? My daughter wanted to buy flowers at the store yesterday. What for, I asked. To take to the cemetery. Yup, that's what my living child wants to buy flowers for. And that still sucks. No matter what else happens in my life, it will never be ok that A is dead. It will never be a little thing.

So why do I play Reverse Pain Olympics? I think it's a defense mechanism. When talking about the original Pain Olympics Tertia wrote about how you don't want to be that one, the saddest story around. You don't want to win that trophy. You don't even want to be in the running for it.

But with a dead baby you are pretty much guaranteed a spot, at least in your real life universe. It's a part of what makes us feel like freaks, being the saddest story around. (This, I believe, is not unique to deadbaby freaks. IF, widowhood, cancer, surviving violent crime-- so much can qualify one for the saddest story trophy.) So we go online, and we find other freaks. And we feel better, because it turns out so much of what we feel is ok, is normal. This new definition of normal none of us ever wanted to discover, but the normal that is helping us find our way through our days and nights, somehow.

So is this a contradiction-- wanting to be acknowledged for the tragedy in our lives, and, at the same time, not wanting to be pitied as the saddest story around? Is this asking too much of our fellow human beings? Are most people capable of acknowledging our tragedies without denying us our dignity? I don't know. I honestly don't.


While we ponder those questions, though, how about a blogoversary present for me. Tell me, please, what are your defense mechanisms? (If they are of the mixed drinks variety, I would be much obliged if you included recipes. Merci.) What helps you muddle through?

*So clearly, given that I am posting this in the evening, I didn't manage to finish the post before the rest of the family woke up. At least it's still today...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Less than three... bookshelves?

JD comes back from his transcontinental business trip tomorrow night. In his absence, I had to outsource food production beyond breakfast and packed school lunch, and with that executive decision we did alright on our own this week. Blogging was the unintended victim. My apologies.

In the vain effort to catch up, I am doing two memes I got tagged for ages ago. In one post. Because there is no time like the present.

So way back in the stone age, two very lovely ladies, C and B, told me they less than three my blog. Awwww.... Which means they heart me. Go on, tilt your head. Maybe the other way. See it?

I less than three them back, of course. I also less than three so many of you it would take me till the morning to just list and link everyone. So how about I go with these five: Bon, Janis, Kate, Niobe, and Tash. Each has a voice that is unique, and melodic, and true, and strong, even when whispering, even when in pain or self-doubt. One day soon I will say more about them. One day. Soon.

Some time ago, you know, less than three weeks back (clear progress in how long it takes me to get to these), Niobe tagged me for the bookshelves meme, where you show off your family jewels. Books. I mean books. So here goes.

See the tuskless elephant acting as a bookend on my shelf of lefty political books? So? Funny, right? Always wanted to show this off to more people. The elephant came from Taiwan many many years ago when my mom had an extended business trip there. Well, it wasn't tuskless when it left Taiwan. Sadly, his tusks did not survive the trip. My dad tried to glue them back on, but no luck. He lived, forlorn, on my old bookshelf with not much to do. Until we spotted this lovely shelving unit in IKEA. Putting my books neatly on the new shelves, it occurred to me that there really was no better place for a tuskless elephant than that particular shelf. No? (BTW, I have way more lefty political books. Not all of them live in the same bookcase.)

This is JD's shelf in the bedroom bookcase. See the red On Food and Cooking book? My new boss mentioned it within my first couple of weeks on the job. It is basically the chemistry of cooking. Material science, if you will. Which, by the way, was JD's undergrad major. And is very much the way he cooks-- thinking about chemical properties of his ingredients and how they might interact. Makes for extremely yummy grill fare, if I say so myself. When he first got the book (as a Hanukkah present), I wasn't allowed to touch it-- he wanted it all to himself. I still haven't gotten a good look at it, but that has more to do with swamped than the restraining order which I consider lifted by virtue of time elapsed.

Our poetry shelf, in JD's office.

The corner of Monkey's bookcase. The diary was one of her birthday presents from a classmate. Nobody is allowed to read it. Except me.

I guess I should be tagging people for this. I am nosy, so here goes: B, Jenny F. Scientist, and Kate even though her blog is private, because I want to know what the academics will admit to having on their shelves. Personally, I also think that Amelie's entry on this was a bit one-sided, so, Amelie, if you are game, please consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


One of the things that drove me batty early on was this thought of how few people even know of A, let alone love him. All these people I saw going about their business, taking their kids to school, shopping, eating, going to class-- none of them knew that my world stopped and broke because a tiny beautiful boy with long fingers and curly hair died. They didn't, and would never know who he was. "You don't go around telling everyone you meet about Monkey" said my sister. Yes, but that is because she is right here in this world, and she can make her own impression on it. He will never grow up to do that for himself.

I knew of a few bereaved parents before A died-- three whose blogs I had been reading on and off for years, one couple in real life, and some who were acquaintances of friends or family here and there. After I started reading and then writing last spring, I "met" many. And then met several in real life.

Something happens when we do that, when we meet, be it in person or online. We amplify. We learn of and carry with us each other's children. We remember them, we learn to hold each other's hands, most often virtually, in anticipation of the anniversaries or just because. Yes, there is great relief in being understood and not judged for all these emotions that come with being a bereaved parent, in being told and this too is normal. And yet, I think, there is a separate relief in feeling, even if we can't articulate it, that our children are remembered and thought about. Not just us and our grief, but the little people whom we grieve.

After I saw my doctor on Thursday, I went to the cemetery. It is only a couple of miles away from my doctor's office, no more than a five minute drive. The sun was shining, although it wasn't exactly warm. It was a crisp kind of a spring day, and for some reason, no matter how craptacularly I felt, I also felt pulled to that cemetery. When I got there, I could tell that something wasn't right. There was a new marker next to A's. But before I could bend to read it I realized that A's marker wasn't in the right place-- it got moved by a row. It must've happened when they were preparing for the new funeral, but it had me upset. I went to the office, and the lady there came back to the baby section with me, checked to see that I was right, and moved the marker back. There was even an imprint in its old spot, so it wasn't hard to do. But it made me think about the impermanence, about how we still are the small lonely voices for our children. And on the very practical side, about how JD and I absolutely must solve our aesthetic differences on the design of the permanent marker and have it made and installed, because the granite base with bronze plate on top is a lot more permanent than the little metal marker in its humble green frame. Afterwards I read the new boy's marker. Friday, March 28th. Less than a week at that point. Different funeral home, different frame.

It's been a tough winter in blogland. Tough fall that brought many new dead baby blogs, tough winter that brought more, and that made too many infertile bloggers into dead baby bloggers. Today was Natalie's due date. Today was also the memorial ceremony and tree planting for Natalie and Den's beautiful first born son, Devin. Today, at 6:58pm, the time of day when Devin was born and the time when a cherry tree was being planted for him many miles away, I lit some candles.


For Devin, for Natalie and Den. For all our babies, for all of us. And for all those babies and their parents whose names and faces we don't know. Because all our children are loved, and they all matter.

Friday, April 4, 2008

On the perils of watching too much television

The virus is still having its way with me, which is not what I would call fun and leaves me not a little bit cranky. So JD wasn't exactly surprised to find me yelling on Thursday night, but was a bit surprised to find that I was yelling at the TV. I crawled upstairs in time to catch the tail end of Countdown with Keith Olberman-- normally the one and only TV news program I watch, and then, stupidly, left the TV on. Over the next hour I mostly read blogs but I did, once in a while, tune in to what the talking heads on TV were saying. The program that follows Keith is called Verdict with Dan Abrams.

The bits I caught weren't bad, until they got to their second to last segment, on the transgender man who is currently more than 6 months pregnant. I could now tell you all the things that were wrong with it, from the sophomoric reaction of the host to saying in a teaser that the couple talks about being discriminated against by a number of doctors, but choosing to, in the body of the segment, to play clips of their Oprah interview that have to do with the mechanics of home insemination and focusing their commentary on the ewwww factor. But if I did that, this would be one looooooooong post. So instead I tell you that it was bad enough to cause me to shoot off the following email to the show (and I never ever do things like that).

I was extremely disappointed with yesterday's segment on the pregnant man. The host declared that he didn't know where to begin with this story. How about "a man and a woman marry and want to start a family. Unfortunately, due to prior medical condition, the woman had a hysterectomy some years ago. Luckily, the man happened to have the necessary biological machinery to conceive and carry their child."?

Much, much worse were your so-called experts, one of whom declared and the other agreed that "the real father is missing." Under what rock did you find these "experts"? Millions of couples in the United States and all over the world facing the diagnosis of the male factor infertility have turned to donor insemination as a means to build their families. Would your experts tell these couples that the "real father" is missing in their families as well? Would they tell children conceived with the help of donor egg that the woman who gets them dressed and fed every day is not their "real mother?"

Your whole segment was sensationalist and unworthy. This family, as any other family, deserves dignity. Instead of turning their story into the circus that you did, you could've focused on the unfortunate treatment they received from many members of the medical profession. You could've tried to educate. Instead you chose to gawk.

What do you want to bet they won't read this one on the air?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Here we go again

I am sick as a dog. Saw my GP today, who thinks it's the nasty flu-like virus that is making rounds. She has me on a nasal spray, antibiotics for if bacteria show up, and Robitusin, all of which I also called and got cleared with my OB's office.

It started yesterday with coughing that was bad enough that by the evening I started to worry that it might be bronchitis. The bacterial kind. Which is, for someone with the history of bacteria getting into the intact sac, a cause for concern. I called the practice, and the doctor on call said it was fine to wait to see my GP in the morning. I didn't really want to go to sleep last night, mostly because I knew that with that much coughing I wasn't getting a good night's sleep anyway. I finally did crawl up the stairs at 1:30.

We used the dopler last night-- Monkey's new thing is to ask for it before bed. Which, of course, didn't stop me from having some paranoid thoughts and some bad-bad-bad images (all about how afterwards they will be amazed how little time it actually took those stinking bacteria to get into the sac) when I woke myself up with my coughing at 4:30 in the morning. I tried to appeal to my reasonable side, but it was no match for the paranoid side. In fact, the paranoid side laughed at the reasonable side's puny arguments, and out came the dopler for the emergency almost-morning check. Got it right away, which was, shall we say, helpful.

On the funny side, the sound of the dopler got into JD's dream, and changed the whole thing around making it weirdshit enough to cause him to wake up. On the not-so-funny side, this incident probably serves as my final boarding announcement for the Primal Fear Airlines flight 666, destination: as yet unknown, flight time: nearly five months, we hope. I guess I'd better fasten my seat belt.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

MotherTalk book review: Road Map to Holland

Holland When MotherTalk sent out a request for reviewers for Jennifer Graf Groneberg's Road Map to Holland. How I Found My Way Through My Son's First Two Years with Down Syndrome, I asked to be included, because, I wrote in that email, I think I am trying to understand as many aspects of the mothering experience as I can.

Mighty ambitious of me, almost arrogant, don't you think? To think I can understand someone's experience, experience of which I share no part at all, by simply reading about it. Perhaps I should've said I want to catch a glimpse of a mothering experience not my own.

But I'll tell you what. If you would read this book to catch a glimpse, by all means, pick up a copy. If you would read it to gawk or to judge, then don't. Because this book is nothing if not honest, and as such it deserves a reader who comes to it with an open mind at the very least. It's not just a retelling of a story, it's a baring of a soul. Jennifer admits to shock, to pain, to wanting to run away, to exactly how much it took to bear up and face the life she didn't plan on.

Pregnant with twins, on advice of her doctor Jennifer forgoes amnio because all the markers in the screening tests look fine. The twins come early, and five days into a NICU life complete with long-distance commute, one of the boys, Avery, is diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Both Avery and his twin Bennett face health challenges due to prematurity, and Jennifer and her husband Tom (and their older son Carter) face life with a new diagnosis with long-term implications for Avery and for the whole family.

Jennifer doesn't snow us. She doesn't make it like all it took was love and a millisecond. Slow and steady, and, oftentimes, unsteady is how they made it. Like most of us, they didn't know more about Down Syndrome than they knew. At one point Jennifer tells us of the myth and facts quiz on Down Syndrome that she took, and failed. She describes a chance meeting with a person with Down Syndrome and not knowing how to act. She tells us of her lingering guilt over her actions in the early months of Avery's life. She also tells us of the moments of wonder and accomplishment, moments of clarity, and moments of insight. And, of course, love. You didn't think it wouldn't figure, did you?

One theme in the book that is sadly familiar to most bereaved parents, and to many infertiles is loss of friends. Only one friend Jennifer talks about becomes a former friend, abruptly and completely. But it's not a matter of quantity. It is a matter of rejection, and it cuts, deeply. On the flip side, of course, are the friends that don't flinch. Jennifer is rich with them, and I found myself glad for it. Not because it somehow makes up for the shitty friend, but because everyone should have friends like that.

Ok, time to fess up. There is an aspect of the book that challenged me immensely, and it is Jennifer's shifting attitudes on choice. The statistic is that 90% of women given the prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome terminate their pregnancy. It is no surprise that it bothers Jennifer, that it colors her views on things. She finds herself unable to go to the march for choice because, she thinks, 90% of women there would terminate a baby with Down Syndrome. I could let the mathematician in me argue with that-- it is a logical fallacy, of course. Supporting access to abortion doesn't mean one would choose an abortion for oneself, for whatever reason, and being against it on principle doesn't mean one wouldn't believe their own case to be one allowable exception-- just ask abortion providers anywhere. And even if it was true, even if statistics coincided, what? I decide, though, that it's not the point.

Jennifer comes back to that statistic, 90%, again and again. She calls women who choose not to terminate "our hope." Yes, she judges. And my heckles, they go up. I know women who chose medical termination, and don't think that in their particular cases it took less guts to make that decision than a decision to continue pregnancy would've taken. Hell, I don't even know that any decision of medical termination would be easier than deciding to continue would be. Avery is healthy. Some of the babies people I know terminated were anything but. Down Syndrome is one thing, and even that alone could be too much for some families to deal with. Down Syndrome with a severe heart defect that would necessitate surgery upon surgery with no guarantee of success but with a guarantee of plenty of pain for your newborn is a whole different thing. For some it would be worth it just for a chance, for others inflicting that much pain on their child is unbearable. An irreparable physical condition guaranteeing pain for life is a different thing still. I want to argue, I want to persuade, I even get that urge to judge her for judging.

Here's the thing I realize, though, a wholly unoriginal thing-- judging and screaming won't get us anywhere. Jennifer feels judged by the world, by her crappy ex-friend, by a thoughtless and stupid bakery clerk, by that very statistic of 90%. And so she judges back, probably without realizing it. Because her life is a good life in the end, and the instinct to prove it must be strong.

So I won't judge, and, if you share my leanings on the abortion spectrum, I ask you not to judge either. On this issue, I disagree with Jennifer, but I haven't walked in her shoes. She gives us complete honesty. Yes, even on this issue that she could've easily left out of the book, since she probably knows that many of her readers would be avidly pro-choice, just as at least one of her best friends is. So in that spirit, I disagree, honestly, but respectfully. For this is one thing I am taking away from this book-- if we are to glimpse each other's worlds, we should do that with respect and care.