Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's Good to See You

As I was getting off the phone with my sister last night, she said, "It's been really good to see you lately." She meant that she enjoyed the fact that we've been able to get together more lately, but also that when we do it is me that she sees, the Sara she has known all her life, the Sara she lived with for years after college, the Sara she knows better than anyone else in the world.

She was quick to add that while she wanted me to know how good it was to see that me again, she was hesitant to say it because she didn't want me to feel like I couldn't be sad or angry or anxious with her. Because she gets that mourning and missing don't end in a year, that having a new baby fills me with love and wonder and awe but does not fill the gaping hole left in my heart by Henry's death. And she knows that there will be times when this new me gets buried again, but lately she has seen me, and she's liked it.

I've kind of liked it too.

I've liked being Kathleen's mom and watching her change so fast. I've liked laughing and smiling. I've liked spending time with Brian, working in the garden, picking berries, playing cribbage, running, making jam. I've liked singing and reading. And I've liked being happy without reminding people that I'm sad too.

I'm loosening my grasp on my need to remind people that Henry is gone, that we still miss him. It's not so much letting go of Henry as trusting people to remember him. I do still speak of him. I do sometimes still compare Kathleen to him, but some days I simply say, "Listen to her laugh in the tub," instead of "She loves her bath, but Henry hated his." I'm tentative about easing up, though, because I want people to remember Henry, because there are still days when I am crushed by the weight of the foreverness of his death, but I need to let go a little.

My five-year-old niece was riding through one of the tunnels in Boston last weekend, and she said, "I remember this tunnel. I went through here the last time I saw Henry." She's five and she remembers this. I can ease up a little.

My sister and my aunt were talking about being second born, listing the people in our family who are. My sister added Kathleen to the list, Kathleen who will be the oldest in my family, but still my second born. I can stop holding so tightly to the reminder.

Yes, there will continue to be the awkward moments of people who don't know about Henry and the hurtful, unintentional comments that gloss over him, but mostly people remember. They remember him; they recognize that Brian and I are shattered but recovering and rebuilding.

I'm not the me my sister knew for years, though she thinks she sees me again, but I have incorporated some of the pieces of the old me into the new me, the me who is still emerging. I'm still getting to know her, this new me, as she steps out into the light and begins to open up again to the world.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

These Days

What I'm loving in these hot, sticky, damp days of summer:
watching my baby girl sitting up, reaching for books and toys,
seeing her splash in the tub or the pool to cool off,
feeling her solid little body nestling into my shoulder when she gets tired.
Yes, even on these hot, sticky, damp days of summer, I love to feel her snuggled in close to me, love to feel her heavy warmth relax and grow still pressed up against me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Unafraid

Tonight at dinner, there was a couple who knew Henry well and many of the nuances of his story and a couple who we had never met who had no idea we had another child. I was out of the room when it came up. Brian was telling the story of Kathleen's name and Henry came up. I suppose he gave the brief version of the story.

When I came back in the room, there was no uncomfortable silence over the room. There was no smoothing over of the "Well, look at the beautiful baby you have now," variety. There was no changing of subject. Instead there were a few questions and space talk about Henry. And later out on the porch, the woman asked me whether it had been hard to be pregnant again. She apologized and hoped she wasn't bring up something I didn't want to talk about. No, I assured her, it is nice to be asked.

It is nice when people aren't afraid to talk about my baby and my loss and the wonder of his life and my sadness. I'm always surprised when I find them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Weekend in Reverse

Today, a friend came to visit. I had volunteered in Dr. Olu's ABE class several years ago until she retired and moved back to Nigeria. I showed off Kathleen and we chatted for a bit. As she was getting ready to go, Brian shared the story of Kathleen's name. I lost the thread of the conversation for a moment, but the other woman there, a woman I knew from the same organization but hadn't seen in years, said, "Did your husband say something about a son?" It made sense she did not know. I thought I had emailed Dr. Olu at some point. I thought she had actually met Henry, but I wonder I'm mixing up memories of visiting her at the school after I got married and visiting the school without her there after Henry was born . . . I don't know. So I gave the short version of Henry's story. It is getting easier to tell his story, or it was easier today anyway. No tears. No need to lie down or retreat from the rest of the world for the rest of the day.

I told his story. But I still wish it had a different ending. No matter how good I get at telling it, I'll always wish for a different ending.

Saturday afternoon, Brian and I went for a paddle. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. Hot (a dip in the river felt good) and sunny. We worked hard paddling upstream, pausing only briefly to pull out the binoculars to study the bald eagle still in a tree above us. How much easier the return trip was.

We stopped in to change and see the girl before heading out to dinner. Oh, how she smiled to see me. We earned a good dinner: a beer and shrimp on the deck of a local brewery and then dinner at the Sierra Grill, where we had had my birthday dinner. Ribs with blueberry barbecue sauce for him; duck with Thai coconut sauce for me. And we split a peach lambic as part of our dessert. Yum.

It was good to get out, to spend time together, to remember things we love to do and hope to do with kids some day.

Friday, friend had extra tickets to the Green River Festival. I envisioned going with a hot, sticky, fussy, overtired, up-past-her-bedtime baby and it seemed less than appealing. Oh, and it was supposed to rain. Brian wasn't inclined to go. I checked the line-up and saw a number of familiar names (though only one singer I knew well). The friend with the ticket had to come to our town to pick up her tickets and stopped by and I was convinced to go.

And I had a great time. There were three of us and a two-year-old. I didn't until I started writing this realize that it was the three of us who were pregnant together when I had Henry. I did have my bittersweet moments watching the two-year-old dance. These lyrics struck me: "I wanna be ready. I wanna be ready. I wanna be ready when joy comes back to me." The music was infectious and joyful and I let it lift me. I stood outside in the rain on a summer night watching a tethered hot air balloon light up against the darkening sky listening to live music and it felt good. Good to be out. Good to be in it, not, as I felt so long, as if the world were swirling around me. Joy has come back to me. Grief and longing for my boy have not left, but joy is back. Sometimes muddied by sadness, but other times instead sharpened by it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A New View on an Old Loss

My cousin Peter died 12 years ago today. I've been thinking of him today and of my aunt too.

I was 25 when Peter died. I was shocked by his death, that he could go so suddenly, so young. One minute I was laughing in the hallway at work on the way to my desk to answer the phone. The next minute my brain repeatedly failed to comprehend that Peter, my cousin, was dead. When my mom said there had been an accident and Peter was gone, I ran through every Peter I knew, not understanding why she would call me at work about my landlord, their friends' son, a second cousin I did not know well . . . and then it hit.

I remember the silence in their driveway when we arrived. Silence in spite of the knots of kids that filled it. Silence where it was never quiet. It was a July, very much unlike this July. The heat and humidity were oppressive, the air heavy. To this day, I can't stand the smell of lilies, the thick smell that filled their house where they waked the body. I remember being with my cousins, but I don't remember much of my aunt at that early stage.

I remember though, years later, hearing her laugh, a real laugh that replaced the sometimes brittle sometimes overanimated laugh she had had since Peter died. I don't remember how long that was and it doesn't really matter. But that laugh stands out to me.

When Henry almost died in October 2007, when I really wasn't sure he was going to make it and my mom was calling our family and Brian's, I wanted my aunt to come to the hospital. Even as my mom was calling her to go be with my grandmother, I wanted her to come to me. At that moment, I wanted somebody there for me, somebody who would know.

I've been thinking about Peter's death from the perspective of a mother who has also lost a son, thinking of my aunt today on this day that will always bear a special weight. I'm thinking of her, holding her close in my heart.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summertime, or I love my neighbors

Finally, we are having some sunny days. It was perhaps a bit cool for July today, but it felt good to me. The air is dry (no rain!), the sky blue. Ah, summer.

My seven-year-old neighbor/mother's helper came down this morning to play with and read to Kathleen while I send a couple of emails and an invoice for work. Then the three of us took a walk around the block. I needed to get out into this day.

In the afternoon, I strolled down the driveway where my neighbors provided a blanket and entertainment for Kathleen, while I chatted and just enjoyed being outside. (This is what I expected. This is what should have been two summers ago. It was the only sigh in an otherwise lovely day.)

Julie opened wine, I brought cheese and crackers, and we had an impromptu cocktail hour before she cooked hamburgers for dinner. Then back down the driveway to our house where we lit the chiminea and got everyone sticky and sugared up with s'mores before bed time.

Kathleen went to bed easily and I came back out to enjoy the fire for a while. I watched birds playing chase, flashes of bright red and yellow that would not be ignored, and listened to the breeze in the trees. Ah, summer.

The fire has burned down and the mosquitos are starting to bite, so my outdoor day draws to an end. Hoping for sunny skies again tomorrow. Maybe Julie will bring coffee and I'll bring muffins and we'll have breakfast under the pear tree.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Three times today, Kathleen fell asleep, head nestled just below my shoulder. She went from restless hands and squawks to warm, quiet weight in my arms. I kissed the top of her head and rested my cheek or chin there, and I closed my eyes and sat with her. Eventually, I got up, walked slowly, carefully up the stairs and deposited her in her crib, where she took a much shorter nap than she needed. Since she was a few weeks old, Kathleen has napped best in her swing. My fussy baby would be relieved and quickly settle to the rhythmic motion of the swing, and she'd wake up smiling. But she is growing fast and the swing doesn't seem to be able to handle her weight, so I'm trying to wean her from this favorite place. (It's genetic. My grandmother thought my mother was awful for putting me in my swing, but one day they were trying to do something together and suddenly my nana wanted to know where the damn swing was.)

As for the regular kind of weaning, it's done. I washed my nursing bras yesterday and put them in a pile of things to pack away, things I'm done with for this baby. Kathleen has two teeth now, and she BITES! If she were getting actual nourishment from me, I'd try to stick it out. But I have never made enough milk, not nearly enough, and since I've been mainly providing comfort for a while now, she can suck—and bite—on something else.

We gave it a good run, Kathleen and I. For the first four months or so, she sucked long and hard from me before getting her bottle, but somewhere around four months she realized, "Hey, want my food the easy way." So she started taking the bottle first and then having some time on the breast. And slowly her willingness to go to the breast diminished until we were only doing it at night as part of our bedtime routine. Even then for the last few weeks she's been off and on, not satisfied. So it was time for both of us.

It feels like a rather small milestone of how big my girl is getting. In many ways it was harder for me when I stopped with Henry. Five weeks we lasted. Five weeks of pumping and pumping and pumping with brief stints of putting him to the breast when he seemed like he could handle it, trying to judge how tired he was getting, knowing he needed his bottles with his extra calorie formula and knowing that taking that in was hard work for him.

I cried when I returned the pump. I had to return it to the birthing center at the local hospiatl where he was born. I cried for the happy beginning we didn't have as I listened to an ecstatic new dad talking on his cell phone in the hallway. I cried thinking of the two days I lay in a bed in the hospital while my baby struggled elsewhere. I cried over my body's failure to do what it was supposed to do. And I cried because it was just one more piece that was not what I expected, what I wanted, what was supposed to be.

And then I went home and I tried to let it go. I still regret that I was unable to breastfeed Henry, but giving up when I did was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was literally getting drops when I pumped, unmeasurable amounts. Still I hated to give up, but I found myself talking to Henry, promising to pick him up in just three more minutes as I tried to finish out a solid pumping stint. It just seemed silly. So I turned in the pump and I picked up my baby. So many times in the later months of his life, when he was too unstable to move, I gave thanks that I did that, that I held my baby when I could, because we got to so many days when I couldn't. And of course now, I can never hold him again. Breastfeeding is best—but not always.

I knew that part of my problem in breastfeeding lay with Henry and part lay with me, so I resolved with Kathleen to do what I could to make the experience as successful as possible given underlying issues I had with producing milk. I put her to the breast early and often. I took fenugreek until I smelled like maple syrup. I ate oatmeal every day. I offered the breast first every time. I stayed hydrated and tried to relax. I pumped after or between feeds. I talked to lactation consultants who all said I was doing all the right things. And still my baby was hungry. So I gave her a bottle. And I was irritated every time I bought formula and it doubled my grocery bill. And I was touchy when I read or heard pro-breastfeeding stories. I wish it worked. I wish I worked. Because I liked it. I loved snuggling with my baby. I loved the that time of slowing down, the quiet mornings together, the way her hand rested on my breast, her eyes peeking up at me and then closing sleepily. And it was worth it. The extra long feedings, the pumping, the frustration were all worth it for those quiet moments.

So we're done now. But my girl still snuggles in to me, her body still and warm in my lap. We can still stop for a moment in our day and sit together and slow down the world with sleepy breaths. That's what we did today, and I loved it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stocking Up

Brian and I made big batch of chili this week. Today I packed up six quarts of it for the freezer, and as I did, I remembered last summer. I was so scared and anxious and hopeful about the little one growing in my belly. As much as I wanted the baby (now Kathleen), I couldn't bring myself to do nothing baby related. I couldn't clean and set up the nursery. I got as far as looking at cloth diapers online but wanted to throw up at the thought of ordering them. I couldn't organize clothes or find the car seat. I couldn't buy anything baby related.

Instead, I stocked my freezer. This was baby-related as I wanted meals on hand to make things easier once the baby came, but we would have to eat no matter what so I could fill the freezer and pantry without feeling like I was preparing for the baby. I got meat from a local farm CSA and stockpiled meat from the supermarket when it was on sale. I marinated chicken. I made lasagnas and stuffed peppers. I froze quart after quart of tomatoes. I blanched and froze green beans. I picked strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and peaches. I froze berries and made jam. I filled bags with homemade multigrain waffles and banana oat muffins. It was what I could do.

To my babylost mama friends who are pregnant again (there seems to be a big batch of you right now), I am so happy and hopeful for you.

I wish you healthy, happy, living babies. I hope you have safe deliveries and easy recovery for mom and baby. And I hope, that somewhere in the midst of anxiety and sadness, you are able to find some joy in the pregnancy itself. It's something I wish I had been able to do, to embrace the possibility more rather than the fear. Peace, love, and strength to you all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Love Like an Ocean

I got back yesterday from a few days visiting my parents. I grew up on the coast, spending every weekday at the beach every summer of my childhood. It wasn't until I grew up and moved away that I realized just how lucky I was. The ocean soothes me, calms me, sets me straight. If I go too long without seeing it, smelling it, feeling its rhythm, I get out of balance. So it was good to be there.

We went to the beach each of the three full days I was there and I soaked it all up. I played cold in the water with my nieces. I found periwinkles and crab shells and feathers with them. I ate sandy sandwiches with lemonade. And I walked with Kathleen up and down the beach when she got fussy. I thought about last year on the 4th of July when I walked up and down the beach with my cousin's baby girl, just a tiny two-month-old bundle, how she nestled into me and fell asleep to the sound of the waves, and how I felt the need to hold her and walk with her, but how it made me cry because I hadn't had the chance to walk like that with my baby. Henry never made it to the beach, though he heard about the ocean from me so much. Walking with my cousin's baby last year was a reminder of so much that had never been and never would be. Walking with Kathleen this year reminded me of that too, but also of what is and what is yet to be. In summers to come she will play in the sand and the sea, she'll take walks with her grampy and make sand castles with her nana. The tides will continue to flow in and out. The ocean will continue to stretch out its endless blue expanse. And my love will swell like the waves and stretch beyond where you can see for Henry and for Kathleen.

Henry out and about:

  • At dinner while I was visiting my family, my brother-in-law commented that he thought Kathleen looked a lot like Henry. I see it sometimes, certain expressions. A bit later, my niece said, "I miss Henry." I told her I missed him too. "But," she said, brightening, "now you have Kakaleen." From a grown-up, this would have bothered me, but from a five-year-old, I accept her thought process, her attempt to sort it all out.
  • My cousin told me about his bird feeder and how a cardinal came and sat with them for a while last week.
  • Last night at dinner, our friend's daughter wanted her dad to read to her. The book she picked was Hello, Henry. They had gone to the dump on Henry's birthday and visited the book discard area, where they found half a dozen Henry books, including this one, one of their daughter's current favorites.


Fourth of July

Kathleen 2009

Henry 2007

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Lifetime

Kathleen is 203 days old today. It's not a typical milestone, but it means she has now lived as long as her brother lived. When she wakes up tomorrow, something that despite everything I assume will happen, she will start day 204, something he never did. It will be new ground for us as parents, though it's really been new ground for sometime now. Kathleen has done so many things Henry never did.

She has tried about 10 foods, so far. She is working on sitting up and can do so unsupported very briefly. She has two teeth poking through on the bottom. She holds her pacifier in, grasps it and pulls it out, and is sometimes able to get it back in. She has seen the ocean.

And he did some things I hope she never has to do. He rode in an ambulance three times. He was on a ventilator numerous times He had open heart surgery and a lung biopsy. He was on a med wean to avoid withdrawal. He lay in a crib and I couldn't pick him up. He spent half his life in the hospital.

But both my babies have been here in our home. Both have sucked at my breast, though briefly. Both saw the rhododendron bloom. Both heard me sing a song just for them. Both listened to You Are My Little Bird. Both heard me read Good Night Moon and On the Night You Were Born. Both kicked at the baby kick chimes. Both smiled at their mama. Both of them are loved immensely.

One of my babies lived a lifetime in 203 days. One of them is just getting started. I hope it is a long, sweet life.