Friday, December 31, 2010

The year in review

As I sit here with Elizabeth nestled on my chest, it is hard to believe this year began without even the tiniest presence of her, not even a glimmer. Yet here she is, solid and warm and snuggly.

In some ways it was a year of waiting—waiting for Brian to finish with school, waiting to be ready to try again, waiting out my pregnancy. All that waiting was worth it. Brian graduated in May and has been working as a nurse. He's still hoping for a full-time position in a hospital that will give him the experience he feels he needs, but for now he's working, gaining experience, feeling like he is doing his job again after two years of school. Since he's been out of school, we've had more family time for walks and hikes and visits and meals and play. And of course, Elizabeth is here and healthy and settling right in to our family.

Waiting for her had me looking ahead but also had me firmly planted in the present, watching, soaking in Kathleen and her rapid change. At the beginning of this year she was just starting to totter about. Now she runs and jumps (with both feet off the floor) and dances and climbs. She shouts, "Mine," and sometimes shares. She reads, cooks me water on her play stove, delights in her swing, and wants to hold her baby sister. She seems to have gotten bigger and sturdier in the past two weeks as we remembered just how little newborns, even those who start out over 8 lbs, are. I can hardly comprehend that two years ago she nestled on my chest like this. Two years ago, she was this small. Two years already—just two years.

As this year winds down, I am remembering how to be ambidextrous—how to cut my dinner, sign my name, and do most anything with my left hand if the baby is sleeping or nursing on the right. I've learned that football hold is good for avoiding pressure on an incision, but also for making more room in a lap. Along with Good Night, Moon and The Big Red Barn, I've now memorized The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Kathleen's current favorite (bunny book!). I'm finding time in my day for two little girls who need to eat and be held and changed and sung to. We are shuffling things around making room for baby gear and two sets of diapers and 0-3 clothes along with 2T clothes. We've made room in our house for two and room in our hearts for three.

I'm sure there are things I'm forgetting about 2010, but as I sit here with this snuggly girl breathing sleepily on my chest listening for my big girl to wake up from her nap, I know I remember what matters.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Red birds and stars

There is so much to tell, but somebody is beginning to stir and will need to eat soon and then I will gladly go to bed until she begins to stir again.

I'm so glad to be home and settling in. A week of doctor's visits and heel sticks is over, the phototherapy equipment just needs to be picked up, and her jaundice is a thing of the past. Today her weight is back up again and we are in the clear until her one-month appointment. I am thankful for this.

I'm thankful too for these red birds and stars that made their way to me over the past month.

Sierra's mom, Erika, saw this cardinal and thought of me and Henry. I love the smoothness of it, the heft of it in my hand and the way the stone takes on warmth. It came with me to the hospital, a talisman to get me through the 17th.

I participated in Jenni's ornament swap. This arrived in the mail while I was in the hospital. My parents were intrigued by my package from another country and brought it to me. This heart-centered star is my ornament from Marie-Josée with wishes for comfort, peace, and joy. 

This lovely red bird ornament came from Liam's mom Amy. It was a surprise on a day I needed a lift. We didn't do a tree this year, but this little red bird has greeted me each morning when I turn off Henry's memory lamp and again in the evening when I turn on the light. 

Thanks to every one who has made my dark season a little brighter.  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Here and healthy

Elizabeth Ann was born alive and well on Wednesday. They gave me a mirror so I could watch over the drape as she she came out. With only her head out, she started screaming. Once the rest of her was out she was screaming and squirming hard.

Her birth deserves a fuller story, but I'm not up to telling it right now. I just wanted those of you who don't know me elsewhere to know that she is here and well.

Today I'm straddling the line between my baby born just yesterday and my baby who died three years ago tomorrow. I'm tired, so there is more to say, but it will have to be said later.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Almost time

It seems ages ago I found out I was pregnant, and yet I wonder how it is December already. The day after tomorrow is the big day. It hasn't really quite sunk in yet.

There is a bassinet in my dining room, a pile of newborn diapers in the bathroom. I'm sorting through slings and swaddles and tiny sleepers, making room for a swing. My freezer is stocked with meals. I have piles of things ready to go in they suitcase in my room. My parents will arrive tomorrow night to take care of Kathleen. I'm prepared.

Still somehow it seems surreal, hard to believe that in a few days there will be four of us living in this house. It isn't that I can't open myself to the possibility that everything will be okay, that the baby will be alive and healthy and come home in a normal course of time. No, it's simply that the change hasn't quite sunk in. I keep talking about Kathleen and how she doesn't know what's about to hit, how things are about to change. Maybe she isn't the only one.

It seems so long ago that I watched the light turn from gray to pink to yellow with her during early morning feeds. I remember—almost—the sleepless haze of those days. With just her, it was hard, but easy. I simply fell into her rhythm. Now she has a different rhythm, and falling into the baby rhythm of wake and sleep won't work. I wonder how it will, and I remind myself that people do this all the time.

I've spent nine months knowing I was going to have a baby, waiting, waiting, waiting, but here, two days before the birth is supposed to happen, I find myself filled with wonder that this is it, the time is here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A birthday before a birth day

Kathleen is two today. I had planned a brunch with family and friends from our neighborhood and was trying to keep it low key and say yes whenever anybody asked if they could bring something. It was something I wanted to squeeze in, a birthday celebration in these last days before a birth day.

Monday Kathleen had a fever, a runny nose, and hacking cough. I rescheduled my Tuesday OB appointment.

Tuesday Kathleen had a fever, a runny nose, and hacking cough.

Wednesday Kathleen didn't have a fever. She still had the hacking cough and the gunk from her nose was green and there was some new gunk in her eyes. We went to the doctor. Wednesday Kathleen had an ear infection, pink eye, and a cold. I rescheduled my Thursday OB appointment. Brian came home from work with a hacking cough and a headache.

Thursday Kathleen was still coughing and still had a runny nose. Brian came home from work with chills, the hacking cough, and a headache. I cancelled the party. I let it go.

Friday we were back at the pediatrician for Kathleen's 2-year check up. He thought she might have a sinus infection. Fortunately she's already on an antibiotic for the pink eye and ear infection. Brian came home with a cough and sore throat. I finally saw my OB. Everything is looking good.

Saturday we got up. I took my time making blueberry pancakes and sausage for Kathleen's birthday breakfast. Her appetite, off all week, seems to be back. She was delighted with the two balloons I bought her. She was almost as happy with her new doll.

Friends stopped by with cookies. Another friend stopped by with a present. We walked around the block and stopped to wish a happy birthday to our 90 year old neighbor who shares her birthday.

And tonight dinner and cookies with our friends down the driveway. Low key, easy, and just right for a second birthday.

We've both changed a lot in these two years. I'm still amazed we are here.

Happy birthday to my sweet two year old!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The countdown

Just over a week until this baby is born.
If all goes as planned.

I feel the need to add that disclaimer. I usually say, "December 15—or early if the baby has other ideas," but lately I've been worried that it might be later. I've been fighting off a chest cold/asthma flair up. I feel like I've turned the corner, but I'm not 100% yet, not even 90%. I'm tired and coughing more than I'd like, certainly more than I'd like to be doing after abdominal surgery. Then Kathleen woke up with her nose running all over her face and had a fever by mid-morning yesterday. No fever so far, but green snots galore. I'm wiping her nose constantly and washing my hands obsessively and eating chicken soup and drinking orange juice and hot tea with honey and waiting to see how I feel a week from tomorrow.

My back, which bothered me since the earliest days of my pregnancy, seems to have decided it's okay. Aside from the coughing, I'm breathing easier. Sleep is elusive, though, but I'm trying to rest when I can.

That's the physical.

As for the emotional, that seems to be mostly okay too. I have moments of panic—that they won't do my c-section as scheduled, that the baby will need to go to the NICU and they won't let me in because of my cough, that Brian will catch something from one of us and won't be able to be there, that my low weight gain that my OBs have commented on but aren't worried about is actually a sign of something bad . . . mostly these thoughts stay in check except in the middle of the night when our demons are strongest.

December hasn't really hit me this year, but perhaps that's because my calendar ends on 12/15. I can focus on that mid-month date. I can spend less energy on the lead up to 12/17. There is no pressure, internal or external, to have a holly, jolly Christmas. I'm having a baby on 12/15, whatever I do for Christmas is enough. I can cut myself a little slack this year, as I did the year Kathleen was born. Other years, though, I don't want it to be like this. I want to put up a tree, bake cookies, sing carols, wrap presents, feel the magic and the joy and the anticipation.

This year there will be only Henry's little tree, a few presents wrapped, and anticipation, but not of the holiday, but of a birth that comes ten days before.

A week from tomorrow. If all goes as planned.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Each Thanksgiving, I stand there again in the hallway right outside Henry's room. Ready to go to Thanksgiving dinner, eager to see my family, filled with guilt about leaving Henry. He doesn't know it is a holiday, that he should be seeing his cousins and grandparents and wearing a pilgrim hat. I'm standing there talking to Magie's mom, admiring her coat, talking about how we won't count this Thanksgiving, how next year will be the "first" Thanksgiving for both our babies. We were so sure they would both be home to celebrate the next year.

Neither of them made it to Christmas.

I'm thankful for many things. I don't spend all day stuck on this memory. I don't only lament what I don't have. I do give thanks. Henry taught me that. I was perhaps my most grateful when he was in the hospital, when we didn't know what was wrong with him, when every day seemed bleak and improvements seemed miniscule and setbacks huge. Each night I prayed for him, and I always began with thanks—thanks for another day, for better sats, being one step closer to extubation, a card in the mail, an email, open eyes, a smile.

It is easier when the daily challenges are more mundane to forget about the little reasons for thanks. Perhaps because nothing is all that bad, nothing is all that great. I like to think I am more aware of the small joys and blessings around me. Maybe. Most days.

Kathleen woke up too early this morning. She was cranky all day, throwing tantrums off and on. And yet, I was thankful.

I was thankful to sit with her,
to hold her,
to read to her,
to kiss her head,
to have her shout, "Bye! Ta ta! Cheerio!" as I tucked her in for the night.

I'm thankful for a warm home,
a comfortable bed,
and a full belly.

I'm thankful to have work that I (mostly) like,
and for three days off,
and for a break from that work starting a week and half from now.

I'm thankful for the blue skies today,
the November chill,
and the smell of smoke in the air.

I'm thankful for a close-knit neighborhood,
friends near and far,
and the amazing people I've met because of Henry.

I'm thankful for Thanksgiving traditions, 
for two families that I will happy to see tomorrow, 
for family that acknowledges the missing among us. 

I'm thankful for my baby boy whose smile still warms me,
for my baby girl who amazes me with something new every day,
and for the baby I have yet to meet.

I'm thankful I'm not standing outside that hospital room this year,
thankful for having survived year one and year two,
thankful to feel the sharp edges of grief softening, slowly, yes, but softening still.

Thank you for reading here,
for bearing witness,
for supporting me on this journey.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


We're in the home stretch here. 

Physically, I am ready for this pregnancy to be over. Physically it has been harder for me than either of my other pregnancies. I know I complain about my back a lot, because when I grimace or groan now, Kathleen looks at me and says "Back." Yes, my back hurts. My legs are tight. I've felt like I was struggling to breathe since the earliest weeks. More and more foods seem to bother me. This is mostly new for me. 

With Henry, I felt great. I walked, did yoga, swam. I glowed. 

With Kathleen, I walked and meditated and meant to start swimming. And probably the fear and anxiety and grieving kept me from noticing much about the physical. 

Emotionally, I'm in a much better place than last time, but physically, I'm done. But . . . 

I'm so aware of these last weeks. This baby seems to move so much more than Henry and Kathleen did. I remember being in the pool during the last week before Henry was born, floating in the water while he floated in me. I remember a sudden awareness that soon he come out, that the quiet closeness we had, just him and me would end, would change into something very different. I'm aware now that these few weeks will likely be the last time I feel a baby move within me. Given my age and the fact that after this birth I'll have been cut open four times, I just don't see another pregnancy in my future. So this is it. The last time I feel the strange, amazing sensation of another life moving within me. 

I try to pay attention, to really feel it, so I'll remember it. I probably won't. But right now, I'm aware. 

I'm aware too of my little girl of the here and now running around asking why. I'm aware this is the end of our time of just us. I don't remember being an only child, don't remember my sister being born, and likely Kathleen won't either. She doesn't know how her world is about to change, but I am. I'm aware of this time with her. 

When she says, "Seat!" or "Rockee!" and points to my chair, I'm more likely to sit at least for a few minutes, through one book, even if I'm in the middle of getting dinner ready, even if it's early morning and I'm chilly without a sweater. I sit and feel the warmth of her body, notice how tall she's gotten, how long her hair is. I am aware of how quickly she is taking things, learning, changing, growing. I look at pictures from earlier this year and wonder if it is the same little girl. 

I know that what we have will not be lost by bringing other baby into our home and hearts and family, but our routines will change. Love may expand, but time does not. It will be different. I don't think that is bad; I'm simply aware of and cherishing what we have right now. 

In a few weeks, things will change. Right now, I'm ready for what is to come but not rushing to get there, just here enjoying what is. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Headstones and hospital programs

Friday we drove up to visit my parents, but really to look at stones. We still, almost three years later, don't have a headstone for Henry. Making that decision was more than either of us could handle when Henry first died. Then grief was heavy, Brian was in nursing school, I was pregnant, we had a new baby, Brian was still in school . . . we didn't have the time to look or the energy to talk about what we wanted. Still it bothered me that he did not have a marker, and we finally started talking about it this year. We talked about getting a piece of granite from my hometown. I never got to bring him there, so we thought we'd bring a piece to him.

While my mom chased Kathleen around an very old cemetery, Brian and I poked through a pile of stones in the yard of a family friend. I wasn't sure we'd find anything. I kept telling Brian we could always get a stone from someplace else if we didn't find what we wanted. Then he found it. Not too big, not too small. A flat face for his name, curved on the back, not quite a perfect arch at the top. It looked natural, but workable—just what we wanted.

We still need somebody to carve and install the stone, but we are one step closer to having a marker on his grave. One step closer, maybe, to keeping people from driving over him. One step closer to anybody being able to find him.

Saturday we left Kathleen with my parents and drove into Boston for a program that Children's runs each November for grieving families.

The timing good for me. It feels right to go back in the fall, during the time that I lived there with him. It feels right to make space for him, for grieving, for talking about all of it, right before we head into the darkest days for me.

Strangely, it feels something like a reunion. We saw our chaplain and the woman I knew best from the family life center and the psychologist and a couple from our grief group and a mom who had helped me a lot while Henry was in the hospital and another mom who was in our small breakout group last year. There was that odd happy to see people feeling, despite our reason for being there.

It was an exhausting day, but a good one. I talked about the things that seem like the big issues right now for me: telling new people I meet about Henry and December. I cried the hardest talking about what I want for Kathleen and this new baby—fun birthdays, happy Christmases—and my fears that the weight of December won't let me give them that. These are the things I struggle with right now.

When we left our house on Friday, I thought of it as a grief weekend, thought it might be kind of depressing. It wasn't though: we found the stone; I talked to people have I haven't talked to in a long time; I talked about Henry. It was sad, exhausting, but not depressing.

The moment that sticks with me most clearly isn't sad at all. Friday evening we brought Kathleen over to see my grandmother. She was shy for about the first five minutes; then she was running around with her cousin like she owned the place. When it was time to go, I told her to go say goodbye to Big Nana. Kathleen ran right over to her and gave her a big hug and loud kiss, and my grandmother gave one of her famous neck-breaking hugs and sang "I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck. You bet your big blue eyes I do!"

Going to look for the stone, the extra night with my family was a last minute plan, but when I think of this weekend, the first picture I see is Kathleen with her arms around my Nana and it makes me smile.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Surprise excitement

We took Kathleen trick-or-treating on Halloween. She didn't quite catch on to saying trick-or-treat, but she got the idea of grabbing some candy out of an outstretched bowl, and after the first few houses started saying "thankyouwelcome" after she did. We went with her friend from our neighborhood and saw lots of people that she knows. I think her favorite part was walking outside in the dark and holding the flashlight.

That's when I decided I would get her her own little flashlight for Christmas—perfect stocking stuffer.

And I was excited by the idea. I love the idea of filling her stocking this year, watching her opening her presents. It was a switch from the dread I've had facing December. I've worried about giving her the happy birthday she deserves. I've worried about sharing the anticipation and joy I used to feel about Christmas with her. I wasn't sure I could pull it off.

I'm still not sure, but I have a glimmer of hope. Maybe instead of giving her the joy and excitement, hers will carry me. I am beginning to see that she might lead my way, carry the light for me through the dark.

Maybe it will work that way. Maybe it won't, but December feels a little more doable.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Easier, but . . .

Despite my meltdown of the last couple of days and the angst about scheduling my c-section, this pregnancy has been much easier than my last.

I can actually look ahead and think about having a baby.

Last time I couldn't order diapers or get clothes out of the attic or imagine bringing a baby home, certainly not right away. All I could do was fill up my freezer, easy meals would be good no matter what. When I packed my bag for the hospital, I wanted to bring a bunch of extra clothes in case we didn't come home right away. Brian had to convince me to just put a pile out on my chair for somebody to pick up if they needed to. When I went to the hospital, I made sure I had Carol's number. Just in case.

This time I have diapers back from the friend we borrow from, and the newborn clothes are in the closet. I'm trying to figure out where to fit the swing amid Kathleen's things. I've found coverage for my one on-going freelance gig. This time I'm not thinking about bring stacks of clothes for my self, but of packing my Henry book and the yellow blanket to get through the 17th. I'm thinking about having Kathleen come to the hospital to see her new brother or sister. "Bay-beee," she'll say. "Eyes! Noooose!" It is one of those bittersweet moments, and I fully expect it to happen.

I am better able to believe that this baby will be born alive and healthy, that we will stay in the hospital only the normal number of days post–c-section. So the anxiety sneaks up on me sometimes. Of course it is still there, but so is hope, a calmer, brighter hope than last time, a less desperate hope.

I actually had that OB visit today. Everything looks good, sounds good. Baby is moving, moving, moving. "Everything is okay." It's what you want to say when come through the door after an OB appointment, whether you're crying or not.

Today, everything was okay. The baby seems fine. I baked cookies. Kathleen pointed to the stool next to her and told me "Seat," so I sat with her while she colored. The sun shone. Today I held it together and it wasn't so hard.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meltdowns and Venting

Last night, I broke down crying. Brian asked what was wrong, if it was the anniversary of when Henry coded and ended up back in the CICU. I really didn't know, but that's where we were this time of year. Either he was struggling and heading toward that code or he had coded and we were back to square one, but all more worn out.

Last night, I slept with Henry's blanket, the one my grandmother knit, the one we wrapped him in after he died, the one I slept with every night for the first year after he died. I haven't slept with it for a while. It's been tucked at the foot of our bed, unused, but last night I felt the need to curl up with it again.

Yesterday afternoon, I started losing it. I was irritated and angry at Brian for taking more time with a project than he anticipated. I was feeling overwhelmed by work and frustrated that I was stopping to take care of Kathleen while he worked on it. I felt guilty for not enjoying the time with her because I've been feeling like I don't get as much time with her lately. I stepped outside to take her for a walk, and I started blinking back tears.

My neighbor, J., saw me having a hard time. "Take some time," she said. "Take a walk, do what you need to do. Kathleen's fine with us." So I did. I drank some water and blew my nose and walked around the block. I came back borderline composed. She had a visitor, a woman and her son. Her son is three. I thought yesterday that his birthday was the same as Henry's, but I think now that her son was two days younger. I remember J. running into this woman in labor when she came to visit me as I waited to be discharged. I remember meeting this woman at the baby group and putting that together. She introduced herself, and I told her my name and started to say, "We've met" and she overlapped with "at the baby group." I don't know if she knows Henry died. I'm guessing she does because she didn't ask about him. We talked about due dates and waiting to find out if you're having a boy or girl (she's pregnant again too), but all the while I was half watching her son, knowing I should have a three-year old.


"Everything is okay." 

This is the right thing to say immediately upon walking in the door when you have gone to an OB appointment and come back crying. 

It is true everything is okay, or if it's not I don't know it. I didn't actually see my doctor today. I drove the 40 minutes or so down there, found parking, waddled, back aching into the office, tried to check in. And they told me my appointment is tomorrow, which I know it wasn't.  I insisted that my appointment was supposed to be today, and then I burst into tears, because I have better things to do than waste an hour and a half going to a non-existent appointment, only to do it all again tomorrow. They told me they could probably squeeze me in this afternoon, but somehow driving home and then driving back this afternoon felt worse than just going back tomorrow.  I drove home crying and cursing and knowing that I should really calm down. 

I've been stressed and overwhelmed lately, trying to get my work done, trying to get ready for this baby, trying to spend time with Kathleen, trying to enjoy the fall. This wasted trip didn't help. It also doesn't help that simply driving to my appointments galls me. Spending 40 minutes in the car each way, when if I went to my first practice I'd spend 30 minutes total getting to and from my appointments irritates me. It's one more reminder that my baby was born sick, that I don't have enough trust to deliver in a hospital without a NICU. 

I messaged a friend about my woes, and she said it must be hard with my memories this time of year and pregnancy hormones and anticipation/anxiety about the next couple of months. I was strangely relieved to have her put all that together. This time of year is more stressful than I realize. I'm not constantly replaying the memories of Henry in the hospital, but it's there. That's what this time of year is for me now. This pregnancy is easier in many ways than my last, but I still dread going to appointments, worried what we might discover. I've resigned myself to my scheduled date, but in the back of my head I see myself lying in my hospital bed on December 17, images of another wing, another floor, another bed with a little, still body in it. Throw hormones into that mix, and I'm a mess waiting to happen. 

When I was pregnant with Henry, I was the master of letting go. Before I got pregnant I overdid all the time. I made long lists and made sure I finished them. When I was pregnant with Henry, I threw them out, or I made lists and then looked at them and realized that I didn't need to do most of the things on them and I let them go. I rested when I was tired. I took care of myself, and I let go of expectations—mine or anyone else's. 

I'd like to do that again, but I can't quite seem to get there. So I get stressed and I meltdown and I hate feeling so out of control. This is where I am right now—taking deep breaths, trying not to let it all get to me. 

I came home from my non-appointment, too irritated to focus on work, so I sorted papers to clean up my office. While I did, Brian put Kathleen into her Halloween costume for the first time and she walked around the house roaring. And I couldn't help but smile. I need more of this. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Among the Stars

Henry among the stars

This showed up in my inbox today from Jenni. Henry among the stars. 

Two summers ago, when Henry's loss was still very fresh and very new, when my belly was beginning to swell with the growing baby who I didn't yet know was Kathleen, Brian and I went up to Maine. We spent a week with our neighbors in their rustic A-frame. We walked and canoed and ate well and rested. One night after dinner, we went out for a late canoe. It was clear with little light to obscure the stars. As I looked up into the darkness and felt the immensity of the universe, I felt tears rise, thinking that Henry would never see this, never experience this. And then that feeling eased and I knew, understood, that he was part of it. He was experiencing it more fully than I could. 

There are images we create to comfort ourselves (Brian's sister holding Henry). There are things we say to try to find a bit of peace (he's always with us because we carry him in our hearts). I don't know where Henry is or what he is or how to picture him, but sometimes I get a moment like this where I just know he is part of something bigger, not among the stars but of the stars. 

Thinking of my boy tonight and Jenni's Angel Mae, and all the other babies I've met who are among—or of—the stars. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reality TV

I should know better than to watch medical dramas. I surely should know to avoid medical dramas about sick babies. It wasn't a reality show. It wasn't even a character-driven drama. It was an old episode of House. It was more about the medical mystery than the hope-fear-loss-saving. But there were still trigger points for me.

A baby actually dies in this episode. Chase doesn't want to stop shocking the baby, but House calls it. Time of death . . . They don't actually say that, or maybe they just refrain when one of the parents is standing right there. I've watched too many medical shows and movies. When Henry died, I kept waiting for somebody to make it official: Time of death . . . but they never said it.

Cameron takes pity on parents staring through glass at their sick baby. "Imagine not being able to hold your own baby." There were two days at the beginning of Henry's life when I didn't get to hold him, and far too many when he was too unstable or too connected to machines to pick up. And then of course there are all the days since December 17, 2007.

And then there were the times I did get to hold him, hold him down, hold him still while they tried desperately to find a vein they could get blood from. I remember him, red faced, tears running down his face, and absolute silence because the tubes in his throat didn't allow him to scream. My poor little pincushion.

We have two seasons of House on DVD, and I will probably continue to watch them, but perhaps I'll skip the ones that mention sick kids in the episode description. It hits far too close to home.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dates and decisions

I had an OB appointment today. Everything looks good: heart rate, measurement, my weight, my blood pressure. I'm waiting to hear on the glucose screen.

"So let's talk about dates."

We've talked about dates before, but now we're at the point where we could actually schedule. My due date is December 22, and since I've been cut open three times already, we know it's a c-section. The plan is for somewhere in the 39th week. Which means December 15–December 21. At my very first appointment, I told my doctor I couldn't have this baby on December 17. And I've said that again every appointment since.

I'd rather be home on December 17, home curled up on my own couch, with Henry's light on all day, and a candle, and maybe a trip to the cemetery.

The doctor tells me that they could possibly send me home on December 17 if I have the baby on December 15, but I know that I will spend the whole day getting checked and getting the baby checked and waiting, waiting, waiting for discharge. I've gotten discharged 48 hours after a c-section before, but I've never had to go home and take care of anyone but me.

So, could we do it earlier? Maybe the 10th or the 13th, but that would require an amnio, which I managed to avoid with Henry by going into labor and with Kathleen by having the doctor and I suppose the hospital cut me a little slack. Policies have tightened, I guess.

With Kathleen, I needed the extra days, the extra space away from December 17. I needed Brian to be there, not in the final days of class or in a final. And I worried that I was placing too much importance on that. The two or three extras days turned out okay for Kathleen, for which I'm grateful.

I wish I had a little more space this time, but I'm going with best for the baby and no amnio and remembering that December 17 will suck where ever I am. I put in my request for December 15.

And all this thinking, imagining myself on December 17 has left me tired, weary with the unneeded reminder that I had a baby and he died. I've tried not to think too much about December, but now I need to.

I think I can survive, even enjoy, most of the year now, but December with its birthdays and Christmas bookending the day he died, I just don't know how to face it.

A little ice cream, early bedtime, and going back to how I started: I had an OB appointment today—everything looks good. I'll just have to stick with that for now.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A change

Sometimes it seems so much of grief is waiting and anticipating and preparing for the next big event, reminder, or trigger, only to trip over something you never thought of. This fall, I find myself waiting, poking at old wounds to see if they still hurt.

I waited for the first day of school, wondering if I would see his ghost as we watched our friends from the neighborhood get on the bus. Instead, I was busy corralling Kathleen so she didn't run into the road. The bus pulled away and we went back to our breakfast. 

I waited to see how reliving "The Golden Age of Henry" would feel, the two glorious weeks we had with him home after surgery before he got sick. There was no oxygen. He looked good. We thought we had a fresh start. I was trying to schedule Early Intervention visits, opthamologist and audiologist appointments, and follow up cardic check ups. We were visiting with family and neighbors and friends. I took a deep breath and pushed those first hard months to the side. I waited for September 11 when those first hard months turned out to be the easy part and we entered the dark age, but that day came and went. I didn't forget, but I didn't find myself thrust back there either.

I played Henry's CD the other day. I hadn't listened to it for a long time. I wasn't plunged back to the CICU. I didn't cry, didn't even get a little teary. 

I know I'm not done, not "over it," but something feels different right now. For two years, I walked through Henry's life again, reliving it all from birth to surgery to new start to ambulance to hospital to home to singing his spirit out. This year is different, and I'm waiting to see what this new path is like, trying to enjoy the scenery and not worry about what might loom around the next corner. 

I find myself waiting to see how December will feel this year, how fear and anxiety might come to play in this pregnancy, how I will again balance deep hope and joy and the heaviest of grief as December draws near. 

And yet while I wait, I am here in these days, watching Kathleen dance in the rain, run in a crazy moth flitting pattern across the lawn, wave and blow enthusiastic kisses to everything from Daddy to the goats at the farm to the binky she leaves in her crib after a nap. It isn't a bad place to be. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

His name

As we come down the stairs in the morning, Kathleen points up to the ledge that runs above her to a picture she can't quite see, but knows is there. "Erri."

At night after her tub and brushing her teeth and getting diapered up and in jammies, she points to him again, this time on the bathroom shelf. She waves and blows effusive kisses. "Erri."

She knows his name, this brother she will never really know.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A friend

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with my friend Tricia (who I wrote about here). I was visiting her new home for the first time. When I visited her last in her old home, I was touched to see she had a picture of Henry sitting on a bookcase.

It's the kind of thing that could easily get tucked into a box and not make it out during a move. But there he was. She said that people see the picture and ask if it is her daughter (you know, the oxygen and all), and she tells them it's Henry. And when they ask who Henry is, she tells them he's a friend.

And she is an amazing friend, one I never would have met without Henry, and I'm so glad to know her.

Monday, August 23, 2010

15 minutes

"Here, watch this," Brian said, handing me his iPod.

He had been showing Kathleen a short video of her from earlier this summer when she first learned to go down the little slide in our yard. She watched the first few seconds and then looked up at me and earnestly repeated slide, slide, slide. Then she saw herself go down and said Whee! 

When the clip was over, she poked at the screen, unintentionally starting the 15-minute montage Brian put together of Henry's life.

"Baby!" she said, and Brian told her it was Henry. They watched a few seconds, then he handed it to me.

He was in the NICU when I got it, in my arms, just waking up. I haven't watched any of this footage in a long time. I notice how much his chest moves, how hard he is breathing. Did I notice at the time? Did I get so used to it that it didn't register?

I'm okay until his smile the morning before his surgery. That's when I start to cry.

I watch a solemn me holding his hand a few days after surgery, waiting for him, willing him to wake up. I note the angry gash down his chest. I half-smile through my tears at the cordless dance, when we twirl around the CICU, free of oxygen for the very first time.

I beg him not to pull his NG tube out as he fiddles with it in a later clip and notice that his scar has healed nicely. I smile again as our favorite nurse bends over his stroller to say good-bye to him and another favorite hip checks her out of the way.

And then we are home. Henry is asleep in his swing. Brian pans the camera over to me. I am not listening to the sound, but I know I am telling about our efforts to leave the hospital, being forced to turn around in the storm, stumbling back to the hospital through the snow carrying Henry and his oxygen. I am daunted by the med schedule ahead of us, but so, so glad to be home.

You can see the haunted look in the back of my eyes from what we've been through, but over that the relief. We are home. It is incredibly important to me that we got Henry home, but it is never enough. I see that relief now, see the me who had no idea that within hours everything would come crashing down.

While I watched and cried and felt myself go limp, I was also pretending to laugh as Kathleen tickled my toes. My baby who's here, my baby who's not.

I find myself wondering again, how did we get here?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just in case

Earlier this week I got together with an old friend. I haven't seen her since I was pregnant with Henry, and then for a while I couldn't talk to her. I don't know why. Every time I tried to call or email her, I got stuck.

It wasn't a case of a friend not being there for me. She sent sent a card at the one month mark. She made donations in is name. She noted that she had never met him and that she would always regret that. There was nothing she had said or done, or not said or not done, but anytime I tried to get in touch, I stopped. Finally I wrote and told her that I didn't know why but I was having a hard time talking to her, but I didn't want to lose our friendship.

Eventually we started again: e-mail, Facebook, . . .  we joked about reviving our Birthday Weekend tradition, which had lasted from 1993, the year we met, until 2006. Some years were more extravagant (month-long cross-country trip, California wineries and spa, a week on the Outer Banks) than others (a weekend of watching bad movies and eating junk food and playing cards), but we kept up the tradition.

We didn't actually revive Birthday Weekend, but we did what we haven't done in over three years: actually get together. We started looking for a date in the spring and ended up picking one in late-August.

She asked if she should she bring the kids or try to get her cousin to babysit. We haven't seen each other in over three years. I know how hard it is to have a conversation with three kids demanding attention. Lunch or dinner, just the two of us, was appealing, but I told her I didn't know what Brian's schedule would be like and we don't have a regular babysitter. I'd have to plan on having Kathleen, so she might as well bring her kids. Besides, I added, you haven't met Kathleen, and I haven't met Charlotte.

I did want to meet her daughter, her second child, and I wanted her to meet mine. But the unfinished part of that sentence was, we should meet each other's kids—just in case.

She never met Henry, will only ever know him from pictures and stories. Most likely I will have years of hearing about Charlotte and seeing pictures as she grows from baby to little girl to young woman, and most likely, she will have years of the same with Kathleen. But you never know. So now I've met Charlotte, and she's met Kathleen. She'll never get to meet my first baby, but I made sure she met my second. I hate thinking this way.

It was a good visit. We talked, with interruptions and distractions, about our garden and her house and my pregnancy and recent health scares in extended family. We fell into that comfortable pattern of good, old friends, despite the long time since we last met, despite babies we had birthed and the one I had buried. It was comfortable and easy, and I hope it isn't three years before we get together again. And I'm glad that the paralysis I had in getting in touch with her for so long didn't choke off a friendship of so many years.

Monday, August 9, 2010


My grandmother turned 95 at the end of June. This past Sunday we had a party for her—family, local friends, her quilt groups, friends she hadn't seen in 25–30 years . . .


I hope I have her genes for longevity and goodgevity. She is still active. She's tired after the big day yesterday, but she wants to get to quilt club tomorrow. She gave up her license late last year when her car died. She knits and quilts and does the Jumble every day. She moves tables and washes high shelves and does other things we tell her she shouldn't do because she might fall or hurt herself.

She is Mom to two children and Nana to eleven grandchildren and Big Nana to eleven great-grandchildren. She has outlived a grandson and a great-grandson.

She is known for her neck-breaking hugs and her cuddly baby blankets and her meatballs. The quilt she made me (the first quilt she ever made) is one of the things I would save in a fire. It is the blanket she knit as my shower gift that I wrapped and held Henry in when he died, that I curled up with every night for the first year and still sometimes hug close when my baby boy feels too far away.

When I was 16 she was terribly old. When I was 26, she was amazingly young, and she stayed that way for a long time. She is slowing down, but she is amazing for 95. She is simply amazing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


If I weren't pregnant, I'd be relaxing with a glass of wine right now and then going to bed early. But I am, and dinner is running late, so no wine and probably not an early bedtime. 

I had my first ultrasound today. Everything looks good, but I'm exhausted. 

I was anxious when we went in. Kathleen cried because I couldn't hold her, so they sent Brian out of the room with her before we even started. As he was walking out of the room, I burst into tears. He was able to come back in when she settled down, and I pulled it together. Still, I was wiped out when we were done. 

At the end of my ultrasound when I was pregnant with Kathleen, the doctor told me that I had a 1% chance of having a baby with Down syndrome because I had had one. Then he patted me on the leg condescendingly and says, "That means 99% chance everything will be fine." Thanks for the math lesson jackass. I think it was the same doctor today. He said the same thing minus the leg pat. 

I did breathe a little easier after we saw a heart with four chambers, normal flow between them. I was relieved to see no cleft palate, no spina bifida. The baby is measuring right, brain, kidneys, diaphragm all looked fine. . . 

I take this as good news, knowing the limitations of this technology. But 99% doesn't mean a whole lot to me. I've been the 1%, the less than 1%. Odds are meaningless. 

I am relieved that things look good right now. 
I am hopeful that this baby will be born healthy, happy, alive, and whole come December.
And I wait, day by day, week by week, until we get there and see for sure. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The purple box

My mom and sisters came today for a work day to help me get some things organized, and we did. I can actually enter the walk-in closet in my office; the four open boxes of outgrown baby clothes are arranged by size and ready to go in the attic; and the clothes we are transitioning in and out of in the next few months are tucked neatly in Kathleen's closet.

As we were clearing out one closet, my sister pulled a fancy white box off the shelf. I said it was just a gift box, but when she opened it, there was a fancy card a heart of silk roses on the front. My friend A. sent it for Henry's first birthday. Hanging from the heart is a small elephant charm because she remembered elephants were significant to my family. I remember that box coming in the mail on his actual birthday. There was no question I would keep the card, but I figured I didn't need to keep it in the big box it came in. Yet, I didn't want it to be crushed.

I remembered that the memory box from the hospital was practically empty. It would be safe there. I pulled the purple box of the shelf in Kathleen's room, where it sits for want of a better home. I sat down in the rocker, untied the ribbons binding it closed, and, Oh! It sucked the breath out of me.

I had sorted once again through the pile of blue clothes that we got when he was born. I identified the box my mom started to sort through with his caterpillar toy and his little old man plaid romper as a Henry box. Both of these without a pause or a catch or a cry. But the purple box stopped me. I cried looking at the barely existent wisps of hair, the bit of umbilical cord, the purple hand and footprints. I just sat there and cried.

My baby died.

Will that ever cease to surprise me? shock me?

I sat for a few minutes and cried. Then I put the card in the box, closed the lid, tied it shut again. I put the box up on the shelf in Kathleen's closet. Then I walked back downstairs and answered questions about where to find a rag and whether it was okay to make a box for ribbon and where the popsicles were. I didn't tell my family that opening that purple box was harder than expected, that I had cried, that I could still be sitting crying in that chair. I didn't keep it to myself because they wouldn't understand, but because my bed was piled two feet high with clothes to be packed away and you couldn't even walk into my office. There were things that needed to be done, and we didn't have time today for me to sit and cry for hours. The difference between now and two years ago is that I could have my little cry and then stop it.

But I keep thinking of that purple box now. There are pieces of Henry all over our house, but I keep remembering that box now and sighing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Remembrances of a 6-year old

My niece was talking to my sister the other day and said she remembered visiting Henry. Here's what she remembered:

He didn't have any hair. Well, maybe he had a little hair, but he didn't have much hair at all.
He had little things that stuck up his nose to help him breathe.
He had a bed like a basket. I could stand on my tiptoes and look in and see him, but I couldn't touch.
I got to hold him. Did I ever feed him a bottle?

She was 3 1/2 when he died.

She asked my sister if Brian and I were still sad sometimes, because she's still sad sometimes. And she's happy that we are having another baby because Kathleen will have a brother or sister here. That's something I want very much for my little girl. She will always know that she has an older brother, but I want her to have a sibling to play with and fight with and share stories with and grow up with.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

16 weeks, 3 days

I keep putting off this post.  I'm pregnant—16 weeks, 3 days. And so far, things are good. So far everything seems normal. So far I'm not an emotional wreck. So far.

I do better when I stay in the present.

In just over two weeks, I'll have my level 2 ultrasound. It makes me anxious, as all my appointments due. So I will sit in the waiting room, trying to breathe, in and out, in and out. If I think ahead to that day, I start to tense up. So I stay here in today, where I've just started showing.

My due date is December 22 (the day we buried Henry) and I'll likely have a planned c-section in the week before that (not, I keep reminding them, on December 17). When my mind leaps ahead to December, it also jumps back to last December when I dragged my way through the month, barely able to get through it and back to the December before that when Kathleen was born and my anxiety grew until I could barely breathe. So I stay here in today, where I every now and then feel the first faint movements.

It is better than last time. Last time I was still crushed by the newness of grief. I could only imagine the outcome I had known or the various other scenarios by which you don't bring your baby home. I could plan for a funeral but not buy diapers; I could stock my freezer with food, but not wash the baby clothes. I hadn't started blogging yet, but I was desperate to talk to other people who had had a baby after losing a baby.

This time, I'm already plotting, where we'll put the bassinet now and the swing now that Kathleen's things have taken over the house. I've talked to a friend about covering one of my ongoing freelance jobs for a time after the baby comes. I hesitated to do it, but stepped away from superstition and made the request. Still, I have shared the news slowly and piecemeal.

I don't assume everything will be okay. I don't take for granted that I will bring home a healthy baby sometime before Christmas. But this time, unlike last time, I see that as a possibility, a very real one, and it makes a huge difference.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I very much consider where I live now home, but my parents house is still home too. I'm home at their house for the week—a week of chaos (7 adults, 5 kids, 2 dogs in a small house), staying up too late with my sisters, laughing until we almost pee our pants; a week coming home covered in salt and sand and sunscreen (nothing like a shower after a day at the beach). Tomorrow my cousins will come and we'll be at the beach from breakfast to dinner. We'll come home tired and sunburned and put the kids to bed. And then I won't go to my high school reunion.

I never committed to going or not going. There are a few people I'd really like to see, friends I've almost kept in touch with over the past twenty years. There are some people I'm curious to see and find out what they are doing. There are a couple of people I don't want to see, but mostly there are people I don't really care about either way. And I don't know who knows. Do you have kids? How old? I don't stumble over these questions as much as I used to, but I don't like answering them. I get weary thinking about it. It's easier to walk into a room full of strangers who I know don't know than a room full of people I once knew who may or may not know.

A one-time friend stopped by two years ago as we were getting ready for the parade. I was pregnant with Kathleen and just over 6 months out from Henry's death. I had walked on the beach that morning with my cousin's baby, enjoying her little body snuggling against my chest as we walked by the waves, but also lamenting that I never got Henry to the beach, that he never saw the ocean I sang to him about so many times. Mostly, I was having a good day, I was with my family. I was safe and content and I didn't want to break that by saying I had a little boy and he died. I didn't know if she knew, but I just didn't want to have that conversation right then. As she was leaving, my sister told her. I haven't seen or heard from her since. And this bothers me more than I realized.

A good friend of my sister's who had lost touch with her for a while got in touch with her back in March. They talked for a long time and they caught up on news. He emailed me after they talked and we've played Scrabble on Facebook and chatted there. He didn't shy away, but you never know who will.

There are plenty of people out there who don't know. And I don't feel like telling that story. I don't feel like agreeing that I have my daughter now but pointing out that I still miss and grieve for my baby boy. And, because I overanalyze things, I've thought about this and debated whether I should go because I should tell this story, because I shouldn't be a coward. Ten years ago, I didn't go to my reunion either. It fell on 4th of July weekend. I was here, but so were my cousins and friends who came to visit. I decided I'd rather spend the evening with them. That's what I'm doing this time too. There are kids to settle, games to play, cookies and ice cream to eat. My sisters and I will stay up too late even if we're tired; my mom will almost fall asleep playing a game with us. We'll all finally agree to go to bed saying we'll regret staying up so late when the kids are up in a few hours. And we will be tired, but we won't regret it—and we won't stop doing it.

Right now there is a cool breeze coming up from the harbor. The air is dry, the sun shining. My dad is running errands and all the others are at the playground. Kathleen went down for an early nap and I'm enjoying a little quiet and breathing deeply the ocean air.

It's good to be home.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

It's Father's Day and in trying to make a card for Brian from Kathleen, I keep thinking about making handprints on the card. It's a classic image, a way to capture little hands to remember how little they once were, but I can't do it. Every time I think of making handprints, the memory rushes in of the social workers sitting with us, helping us make images of Henry's hands and feet after he died. Purple ink, nice paper. They sit in a fancy purple box that I've tucked away somewhere. So no handprints.

Instead I put a picture of her on the front, and when she gets up from her nap, I'll let her scribble a bit on the inside of the card. No memories there, for of course Henry never scribbled.

Brian worked last night and will sleep today, but maybe tomorrow, we'll have a family day—take Kathleen out in the canoe or take a walk at the local Audobon Society preserve, or just hang out together and dig a bit in the garden. Kathleen's had a lot of mommy time lately. Today is Father's Day, but I think tomorrow will be a daddy day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day

Here in the U.S. it's Flag Day, a minor little holiday that most people haven't heard of that holds a special place in my heart because it also happens to be my birthday. When people ask when my birthday is, I tell them June 14, Flag Day. They all remember Flag Day, though they never really remember when that is.

So here I am, marking another year. It was an uneventful day. I didn't take the day off from work like I usually do, though I only had to put in about two hours. I didn't go out to eat or take a hike or go canoeing. Mostly I waited at my house for the repairman to come fix my oven which has been on the fritz for months. He called 15 minutes before the end of the four-hour window to say he was running late but would be there just after four. And I was livid, because I have better things to do on any day and especially my birthday. I could have gone out to lunch or gotten a free sundae at Herrell's. But he fixed the oven, and as I watched the temperature climb as it preheated to 350 in a mere 12 minutes (instead of the 45 minutes to never it had been doing) I was amazed and my mood reversed. It seemed like a pretty good birthday present to have a working oven, even if I had to write a largish check for it.

So today I waited and was annoyed and I thought about where I am and who I am as I hit 38. I do this on my birthday, it's kind of a check-in, follow-up to the self-analysis I do at New Years. I recently commented on another blog that I'm learning to know and mostly like the person I am since Henry died. But I'm not sure that's true. More and more I feel like the little things, the ones that really shouldn't bother me because I have perspective, do bother me. I am often irritated or angry at Brian. Sometimes I feel like we are back at the beginning, right after Henry died, when we couldn't communicate. We both literally could not find the right words, even when they were simple like milk or shirt or book. And we couldn't seem to comprehend what the other was saying, even when the words were there. I thought we moved past that, but some days it feels like we're still there, or maybe I'm just there floundering for my words and feeling misunderstood. But I don't like the anger the seems ever ready to bubble up. I thought always thought anger was the smallest part of grief for me, but maybe that's where I'm at in the process now. In any case, I don't like it, don't like this part of me. So this, this is what I'd like to change as I move into a new year of me.

Today my anger dissipated with a small, new part for my oven. If only it were all that simple.

Tomorrow, I'll eat a very decadent chocolate cake (my recipe made by somebody else with her equally decadent frosting), and some night when Brian isn't working, we'll get a babysitter and go out for a nice dinner together (already dreaming about what I might eat), and it will begin to feel like a proper birthday. And I will breathe and smile and try to be a less angry person.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Henry would be three.

This fact, this three-ness is hitting me in a way two and one didn't. Until now, I simply noticed he was gone. I thought of him as he was when I knew him last, not as he would have been if he had stayed.

I have always been surrounded by babies Henry’s age. There seemed to be a big crop of babies in spring 2007 among people I knew. I see many of these babies often, and while they sometimes reminded me that Henry should be there with them, I didn’t necessarily think, “Oh, look what Henry would be doing now.” I had expected him to be a bit behind in many milestones, even before his long hospitalization. During his short life, I didn’t compare him to others. After he died, I didn’t expect him to have been doing what his peers were doing.

And then, this spring, I saw pictures and heard stories of two kids from the baby group I took him too. I saw a little girl at an egg hunt. I heard about a little boy’s potty training and preschool open house—and suddenly I saw three.

Maybe it is the increasing distance from Henry that allows me to see not just who he was, but who he might have been.

Maybe it is watching Kathleen at 18 months—talking, walking, climbing, pushing, eating, smiling, laughing—and seeing what I missed with Henry that makes what he didn’t do, won’t ever do clearer to me know.

I don’t know. I just know that he would be three and that means something very different to me than he would be two did and he would be one did. He wouldn’t be a baby. He’d be a little boy.

He would be three. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Three years ago today

A baby boy was born

I wish I had a picture of a three year old to show you. I wish I could tell you of big boy antics. I wish there were a cake with three candles. 

Instead, I worked in his garden , planting the delphinium I bought for his birthday, replanting the dahlia tubers I dug up in the fall, weeding, moving, spending time thinking of this day three years ago when a baby boy was born and mama came into being, when a heart swelled with love and pride months before it broke. 

Three years ago today.
Happy birthday, my sweet boy. 
Happy birthday, Henry. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Brian graduated last weekend. It was a two-year program, but he chipped away at prerequisites for two and half years before that. It feels like a long time coming, this graduation.

He started taking classes, the fall we got married. He was taking A&P while I was pregnant with Henry. He read microbiology to Henry in the hospital. He took a final the day after Henry died. He was holed up in his office studying most of my pregnancy with Kathleen. He studied for a final in the hospital room while she was hours old. He lamented having to go study when Kathleen got bigger and started holding our her arms to him as he walked through the room. Through everything, he managed to graduate with honors. While I was sleeping and journaling and blogging and dragging myself through tiny amounts of work, he was trudging through a really tough program—and excelling.

I'm proud of him. And I'm really, really, really glad he's done.

I'm looking forward to summer and gardening and canoeing and fires in the chiminea and family and just time. And it has begun.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

Kathleen and I were up much too early today, so I laid on the couch for an hour half watching her play and periodically hoisting her on to the couch so she could cuddle with me. She is usually too busy these days, this girl of mine, too busy to sit on my lap. Maybe she just wasn't feeling well, or maybe she knew it was Mother's Day. Either way, we had lots of snuggles today. 

And in the late afternoon, I cut three clumps of lilacs, one for each of his years, wrapped them in a wet paper towel and then in foil. I clicked Kathleen in her car seat and we drove to the cemetery together. I put the fragrant flowers on Henry's grave, knowing they would likely be stolen or tossed or blown away by the wind. I stopped to sniff them deeply, spoke briefly to Henry, and then got back in the car. I peeked into the back and smiled at Kathleen before we headed home again. 

This holiday no longer paralyzes me. I can walk down the card aisle without crying. I can (though I didn't) go out to brunch. 

But still it is laughter and tears, snuggles and the cemetery.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The other tree

Henry has two trees, the peach tree I wrote about recently, which we bought for him, and a hawthorne tree that came as a surprise gift in late May 2008. We planted it on his first birthday, and as neighbors walked by on that lovely May day, Brian told them that the tree was for Henry and that it was his birthday.

While we were digging the hole to plant the tree, we found this:

I looked out this morning and noticed that the flowers in Henry's color were about ready to pop, and a few hours later on this gray day, they had. Here they are, a flash of red, a bit of bright in the gloom.

Monday, April 19, 2010

To let it go

I've written before about the lines I love from Mary Oliver. You can hear Jess at After Iris Reads Aloud read the poem "In Black Water Woods" for Henry.

The pause before the last line has had me thinking today about letting go of his body.

"Let me hold him one more time." And who ever has him hands him back to me and I hold him close. Even as I hold him, I know that I have to let him go, that telling him it was okay to go, singing his spirit out as it flew, that was not enough. I would have to put him down, walk away, not hold him again.

In that pause I feel that last holding, the last hand on him as I back away slowly and then turn and walk out of the room. How do you do that? I still don't know.

I loved him.
I held him close as if my life depended on it.
And the time came too soon, but I let him go.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Henry's tree, gray skies and blue

Here's Henry's tree on a gorgeous sunny day and on a gray overcast one on which the blossoms looked even brighter.

On the gray day, as I walked Kathleen around the neighborhood, I paused to admire the blooms in the gloom and a flash of red streaked past the tree. A cardinal sat in the lilac bush behind the peach tree and we watched each other for a bit. Then I sighed and the cardinal flew off.

Wishing you blue skies and hope

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hope in bloom

I had been thinking about Henry's tree, the peach tree I planted for his first birthday, before I knew that peach trees are hard to grow. Vicki was talking about the Japanese magnolia that she got as a gift when her son Evan died, and I thought of Henry's two trees, the hawthorne that's thriving and the peach tree that has struggled. 

The danger, of course, of planting a living thing as a memorial is that it will die. And in some ways this is not so terrible. What's a tree compared to your baby? But really it seems awful, one more bit of death, one more failure, one more thing that didn't work out. 

Henry's tree is planted in our backyard, a companion to the peach tree we got as a wedding gift. Our wedding tree got off to a good start. Then two summers ago, leaves yellowed and began to fall in early summer. Exploring, we found the lower trunk being liquified. We thought the culprit was a peach tree borer, though further research suggests more likely a rust of some sort. Last year, our wedding tree lost its fruit and then its leaves and then stood there starkly, naked, dead. This is no metaphor, no symbol, despite the statistics. Brian and I are doing fine, though there was a period last spring when all of our communication felt like  a challenge or a debate. 

As our tree slowly failed, I watched Henry's tree, wondering if it would succumb to the same fate. The leaves yellowed some, and I found a soft spot on the trunk. I sighed and waited for the inevitable. 

The other day, I noticed the faint pink buds swelling on Henry's tree the other day. Now they have burst wide open. 

Hope in bloom. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

It brings me back

It seemed like the memories of being at Children's had faded some. I could remember but not be immersed. I could see what had happened without being thrust back onto the floor. This seemed like a good development.

Then last week, somebody asked me if I had any advice about support for her friend whose son is being treated at Children's. As I tried to think of what had helped, I found myself back there walking those halls, lost and floundering, exhausted and anxious. My chest was squeezed tight and I could barely breathe.

Yesterday, my friend Tricia posted that she had spent several hours in the ER at Children's with her daughter, Riley. She lived at Children's for months and months with her baby too. I read her comment on Facebook and hoped Riley was okay, but at the same time, my heart jumped up and choked me. I remembered bringing Henry to the pediatrician and ending up in the ER. I remember bringing him into the ER after finally being released from the hospital. And I remember how stressful it was to simply approach the hospital again, without a sick baby. I thought of her arriving at the hospital and all of what I had been through there flooded back, and I imagined her struggling through her own morass of memories weighed down by the fear of the current situation. I send her hugs and hope.

I am still haunted by the three months I spent there with Henry. I don't look back and think that was nothing compared to losing him. It was a different kind of unbearable, that I had no choice but to bear.

When Henry was getting close to discharge, I got more and more agitated. As much as I wanted, no needed, to get out of the hospital and get him home, I was terrified. How could I keep him well? Could we see family at Christmas or did we have to isolate ourselves that much? Would I miss signs of withdrawal?  Would he ever come off oxygen? What, really, could we expect for him? What if he got sick again? Would I miss symptoms of his condition worsening? What if he had a low-grade fever (DANGER, DANGER) in my mind that doctors who didn't know him brushed off? I had been away for so long, could I bear to barricade myself in the house with him all winter?

And the answer were: I couldn't keep him well. Even before we left the hospital, he had a little bug brewing in him. We did see family at Christmas—by that time he was gone. We weren't home long enough to have problems with withdrawal or try to wean him back on oxygen or figure out what he could do. He did of course get sick again, and I was paralyzed, to scared to bring him to the hospital, and he got worse rapidly. And he had a fever, and still, I was unable to bring him to the ER. I ended up in for most of the winter without him, lost in the blur of missing him.

I'm sitting here now, taking deep breaths, shaking off the grip of hospital fear that grabbed tight onto me, but every now and then I find myself smiling a little half smile as tangled up in that anxiety find the little glimmers of hope and kindness that sustained me through those three months that feel like a lifetime.

It does often now feel like a different lifetime, and yet, it seems I am not as far removed from it as I'd like to think I am.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter, Then and Now

Easter three years ago, I was still waiting to meet Henry, still naive, still happy.

Easter two years ago, Henry missed his first Easter. I was newly pregnant again and anxious.

Easter last year, Henry missed his second Easter. Kathleen was toothless, sitting supported.
I was a jumble of happy and sad.

Easter, this year, this day, Henry is still absent from the egg hunt*. Kathleen is toothy grins alternating with fussing, wanting her mama to hold her. Most of the day I was okay, tears welled in church and at his grave. Most of the day, I marveled at how my baby girl has changed in this last year, how different, toddling around, picking up eggs, dropping them to pick up a leaf. She gave me kisses today. This is brand new today, and so sweet.

*(He was in the picture with all the grandchildren though. My mother-in-law had Brian run in and get a picture of Henry to hold, so he would be part of "all the kids.")

Saturday, March 20, 2010


For the first day of spring,
for my boy who never knew March

Three six-packs of pansies:
blue because he's my boy
yellow because he's my sunshine
red because it's his color. 

Three blue, three yellow, three red
planted for him at his grave, 
where I'll see them when I visit
or when I just drive by.

Three blue, three yellow, three red
planted for me by the back door,
where I'll see them when I come in
or go out every day. 

Two bright spots of pansies, 
linked in my mind. 

Friday, March 19, 2010


The CD player in Kathleen's room wasn't working right. While I was fiddling with it, I noticed the tape across the top, white tape borrowed from the nurse's supplies, name scrawled in blue magic marker: Henry Barry. The tape has been there since part way through Henry's hospital stay when I had the CD player that I got as a shower gift brought to me there. Mostly I don't notice the tape anymore, but when I do, I can't seem to peel it off.

After I saw it, I started seeing the other vestiges of Henry in our house, not the photos and mementos I've purposefully placed, but the things that are just there, a reminder that he was once here.

There's the file on the desktop of my computer: heartquotes. I never sent a birth announcement for Henry. Things were so crazy after he was born I couldn't pull one together. Then, when I felt like I could do it, we were so close to his surgery, I thought I'd send a post-surgery update (and have a no-oxygen picture!). Because Henry was my heart boy, I wanted a heart quote for the card. I started collecting them in this file. None of them were ever right, yet I have trouble trashing the file.

A "Congratulations" sign a neighbor stuck in a pie is now stuck in a plant. A bow with a ribbon printed with blue teddies found a home in another plant.

A tube of ointment for an eye infection still sits in the bathroom drawer.

These things will probably continue to sit where they are, until somebody else throws them away, because even though they aren't the things I choose to keep of Henry, they still are off him, of his time with us, little traces showing he was here, and I can't seem to get rid of them.

Monday, March 15, 2010


My last two posts are really about stress, what it's done to me physically, how I tried to respond the other day by stepping back, but I am not doing such a good job of it. I can't seem to find balance between having focused time with Kathleen and getting my work done and getting some semblance of almost enough sleep. I'm trying to run and walk and meditate and breathe. I said to my sister tonight that it bothered me, that after all I've been through, that I am this stressed about the day to day, about making dinner with Kathleen screaming at my feet, about trying to find enough hours in the day to get my work done. None of it is life or death. I should be able to handle it.

"You know this isn't separate from the last couple of years," she said.

And she's right. It's just not as obvious now that I'm more than two years out. It's not as obvious as I feel more and more distance and as I do this dance of holding tight and letting go. It's not as obvious as home is very present and the CICU fades slowly into memory. It's not as obvious as I focus on a healthy living child, but it's all still there. And December, and it's aftermath in January, showed me that I'm not as far removed from grief or safe from its clutches as I'd like to think I am.

In the earliest days of my grief I wanted a fast-forward button to get myself to a point where things were, what better? bearable? liveable? But now, I want a pause button. I want to stop the world that spins around me so I can put aside the work projects for a day or a week or a month. I want the bills to stop pouring in so I can take a nap. I want to wake up in the morning and be able to focus on my family and maybe take a little time for me.

But there's no pause button, so I keep trudging along, sneaking time with my girl, doing my best to piece in the work that needs to be done, and trying to breathe

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What I should have done

I should have spent the evening editing most of a chapter for a computer certification book or written grammar exercises for an online course, but instead I reread old blog posts. I watched my unfolding over the last year and a quarter, the ways I have changed, the ways I have not, the themes that have ebbed and those that continue to resurface, the pieces of Henry I've reclaimed, the things I've tried to let go of.

Sometimes what you should do isn't what you need to do.

I meant to do some work earlier today, but instead I sat on the floor read book after book, or rather part of a book after part of a book, and then that part over again and again. . . . I watched Kathleen play with her pop up toy. (You press a button or turn a knob or slide a lever and and animal pops up. Then you slam shut the top to hide the animal again.) She didn't want me to open any of them, so I sat and watched her press the big green button, the only one she can do, point with delight at panda, then close him up so she could make him pop up again and again and again . . . I lay down on the floor and she towered over me and then leaned her round little face in close to mine, giggling, putting her cheek against mine, again and again and again.

And despite the chapters and lessons piling up on my desk, all this was exactly what I should have done and what I needed to do today.

And now, I should go to bed, get some rest, get ready to spend some time tomorrow with the work that waited and the girl who will deserve my attention again and again and again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A new fear

I spent 5 hours in the ER today. I'm fine, it seems, but a new fear was awakened in me. What if something happens to me?

As I sat in my chair before we left, feeling a little lightheaded and just not quite right with my left arm tingling like crazy and my face starting to tingle, I watched Kathleen and thought about not seeing her grow up, about not being there for her, about what I would miss, but about her not having me. Somehow in the web of worries I had before she was born and those panicked moments when you think maybe the baby is just too still—and even as I watched my sister-in-law dying and having to say goodbye to her kids— it never occurred to me that something might happen to me. 

I hugged that girl extra tight when we picked her up from my friend's house, and even though I hustled her through dinner and a bath and her bedtime routine, I snuggled her extra before tucking her into bed. I want to see my baby girl grow up. It sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Monday, March 8, 2010

For me

I read earlier this week a blog post about needing to mother yourself as a mother, about doing something for yourself, and my thoughts diverged in two very separate forks.

There was the memory of the sting of doing something, anything, for myself after Henry died. I wasn't supposed to have time for yoga. I was supposed to be pushing a stroller, not taking long walks by myself. I was supposed to be comforting a crying babe in the middle of the night, not staying up to read blogs of other mamas like me—and sleeping in (until 7, 10, noon) wasn't supposed to be an option. And yet I did all those things. And each thing I did for me was a little slap or reminder that my baby was gone. 

But now, with a toddler toddling about and getting teeth and loving being read to and being sure she doesn't want a nap, even though I know she needs a nap, there are many things I'd like to do for me that are hard to do. Like go to yoga or take a run or take a nap. 

The other day, I decided I was going to take a run anyway. It was a gorgeous day and I really needed it. I was having a pretty good run, too, despite the drag of the jog stroller. And then there was a car veering toward us. It was not a particularly close call. I slowed down, pushed the stroller off the road, and was more annoyed that I lost momentum going up a hill than anything. As I walked up the hill, I thought how nice sidewalks would be or a way to get to the bike path without getting in my car or the opportunity to go for a run without the jog stroller. But that last one caught me up. I had to add—with a baby to come home to. As much as I sometimes crave a little me time, I still remember how bitter that me time is when gotten in wrong way. 

But I do need to take care of me. So this week, I ran twice, I bought daffodils and put them all over the house, and I got myself some good dark chocolate that I enjoy as my nighttime treat. And I keep dreaming of a massage and considering who could babysit so I could get one. 

What have you done for yourself lately?