Sunday, May 29, 2011


He would be four today, that boy of mine. Four years ago, he arrived, a day earlier than expected and nothing really went as expected or planned after that.

I got up early with Elizabeth today. I made coffee, and we listened to You Are My Little Bird. I sat with Elizabeth and danced with her when she needed to move. I cried ever so briefly. I remembered being home and scared with Henry, in the hospital and hopeful. I haven't listened to our morning music in a long time. I've missed it.

I had decided last night that I would make fried egg sandwiches for breakfast, because it's what Brian and I had the morning Henry was born. I know this only because I wasn't supposed to eat. I was supposed to have a planned c-section on May 30. Late on May 28, I started spotting. In the wee hours of May 29, I started having contractions, far apart, but growing closer. My OB suggested I come in and be monitored at 8 before my first appointment (I was supposed to be back and forth between the hospital and my doctor's office all morning). When Brian suggested fried egg sandwiches for breakfast, part of me was pretty sure I was having a baby that day and I knew I wasn't supposed to eat before surgery. But, I argued to myself, my doctor hadn't told me not to eat, and if we stayed on schedule I wouldn't get a chance to eat for quite a while. So I ate the fried egg sandwich, and a few hours later we decided that, yes, I should have the baby that day.

We had cake with Kathleen after lunch. A few days ago when we told her Henry's birthday was coming up she said, "I sing 'Happy to You' to Henry." I asked if we should have cake, and she said yes.

My plan, the one thing I really wanted for the day, was to work in Henry's garden. And I did. For hours. I got it all cleaned up, soil loosened, compost in. I planted the dahlias from my friend who manages to dig hers up and not kill them. I planted the delphinium and rosemary I bought for Henry's birthday this year. I moved the pinwheels and flags and stones and sign. I was sweaty and tired afterward—and peaceful. Friends brought by some flowers to plant and I tucked those in around the dahlias where the dirt looked too bare and I had been feeling like it needed something.

I like the physicality of digging, the nurturing and caring. (For my shower when I was pregnant with Henry we had wildflower seeds as a favor. When Henry was in the hospital, my aunt told me she would go work in her Henry garden and feel in a way as if she were caring for him.) I like the space to let my mind wander (to think and remember him or to just be quiet). And I like getting something for his garden each year. It takes the pressure off the idea of a gift; I simply know I will get something for his garden each May.

It was perhaps the most comfortable, peaceful birthday we've had yet. I like to think that I've just gotten to a point where they are easier or that it was because I had a plan and followed through with it, but really it was probably just a good year.

Happy birthday, my sweet boy. I wish as always you were here. What would you be like at four?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Right Where I Am: Three Years, Five Months

Mostly these days, I find I am content. I feel the sunshine, see all the vibrant colors, smell the damp-hope smell of spring. I laugh. I dance with my daughters. My smile includes my eyes.

Right now, there is a tautness under all that content. Sunday should be Henry’s fourth birthday, so while I’m sailing smoothly on the surface, I feel everything wound a little tighter in anticipation. I’m a little on the verge, though mostly, so far it’s been okay. It is not the crushing weight of the first May or the utter exhaustion of the second. It is not my sudden realization of the third that my baby would be in fact a little boy not a baby. Would be if he were here.

This May is easier than the past, but with Memorial Day weekend approaching, I find myself taking deep breaths a little bit more often. Still, I have a plan. Whatever else happens that day, I will work in his garden. I will take that time and space, in the middle of a busy weekend of work and family cookouts, and claim it for him. This is my tradition. It isn’t something I set out to do, it simply became what I do, what feels as right as anything probably could.

Last Tuesday we went to dinner at a friend’s house. There were three babies there and somebody wanted a picture. There she was in the middle, my girl. On one side the baby five days older than her, on the other a boy four months older. I peeked and then turned away breathing back tears.

I stood stirring the cheese sauce so I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody, caught up in the swirl of memory. Not long after Henry died, we went to dinner here too. It’s a weekly potluck and all through my first pregnancy I was there with these two other pregnant women. That night when we were back after he died, a mom and a dad but two babies down on the floor to “play” with each other. I was standing right there. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to run. And I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move, couldn’t stop staring at the babies he was supposed to grow up with. B— rescued me. He came over and said simply that he couldn’t imagine how I was feeling but that he thought he would come be with me for a little bit. Even now, I am thankful for that kindness.

Last Tuesday after I stood almost crying into the cheese sauce, I smiled at the babies and talked to the “big” kids. I watched Kathleen, a year and a half younger, with them and didn’t see the ghost of Henry at all.

Right now, I can talk to other parents about my children, all three of them. I don’t know how it makes people feel, and I’m not sure I care. When I had Kathleen, a year after Henry died, I didn’t know how to talk about being her mom because I couldn’t quite figure out how to talk about being Henry’s mom. I still dread saying that I have a baby who died, but I can say it without coming home and going to bed. I can say it and then I can talk about him as he comes up as I talk about Kathleen, as I talk about Elizabeth.

I have pictures of Henry that people printed for us on their home printers. Over the past almost four years they have faded. I can still see me and Brian eager and anxious with Henry as we get ready to take him home from the NICU. I can still see me smiling, too broadly, as they get ready to take him into surgery. I can still see him, my post-surgery no oxygen golden boy with a half smile sitting in his car seat. I can still see us, but we are fading, ghosting, as my memories seem to sometimes. I still struggle to hold onto the surge of joy smiles while letting go of the fear and constant red-alert of his hospital days, but it all dims until something triggers it all sharp and bright again.

Right now, I’m frustrated sometimes as I get mired down in work and laundry and making dinner and washing dishes and packing away outgrown clothes and getting out things for summer and . . .

I hate the notion that death gives us perspective, helps us fix our priorities. I don’t think mine have changed all that much. I just get more irritated that I can’t figure out how get the crap out of the way to focus on what matters to me.

A few days/weeks ago, I met a friend for chocolate stout cake. We talked about writing and gardens and our husbands’ terrible sense of time and running and food and dead babies and live babies and yearned for-hoped for babies and travel and what we were like in high school. I met her because of the dead babies, and I’m liking getting to know the other pieces of her too. She is but one of the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet on this unlucky journey.

Right now, I’m up because I’m liking the quiet not because I’m afraid to go to bed. I remember the restlessness that would come over me at night for those first many months, how I dreaded turning out the light to go to sleep of the wave that would hit me of the sadness and longing and hurt that I had kept slightest bit at bay all day. Now, I just wish I had more time so I could stay up and do all the other things I’d like to do—write, read, think, simply be in the quiet—and still sleep too.

Last weekend we had a neighborhood work day to fix up a playground down the street. While there I saw a friend of a friend there with here two kids. “So O’s got a fourth birthday coming up soon,” I said, maybe a bit too brightly. “That’s right! How did you know?” And I reminded her we were in the hospital at the same time. And she remembers, remembers meeting me at baby group, remembers hearing about my story from our mutual friend.

I don’t know what made me mention her son’s birthday. Was I really prompting her to remember Henry? I don’t know. More often these days I find myself trusting that people I know will remember him. I have let go of the need (mostly) to remind people that while I am happy I am still sad, that while I love my daughters I still miss my son.

Right now, I still miss Henry and know I always will. I am still confounded some days that he is gone. I still find myself asking How? How can I have a baby who is not here? How can he be gone? I know there will be days that are dark and heavy. I know there will be triggers that send me spiraling, set me sobbing, and I know they probably won’t be the things I expect or prepare myself for. I know too that the dark days will retreat once again and I will again feel the sunshine and see the bright colors and smell the hope. Right now I’m content, happy even.

Three years, five months, nine days out, this is where I am right now.

Friday, May 20, 2011


It's still fairly quiet here this morning. Brian is off to work already. Kathleen not yet up. Elizabeth seems to be settling into an early morning nap as she nurses. I'm enjoying the quiet knowing as I do that it will soon end. Kathleen will call for me and come down the stairs and run over to Elizabeth with an enthusiastic, "Hi, Sister! Hi!," which will be all the more exuberant if I suggest letting sister sleep. So I enjoy the morning quiet but don't quite settle into it.

Last night when I finally wrapped up work at 10, I turned of the computer and sat down with a new journal. The girls were both long asleep. Brian was eating rhubarb crisp in the kitchen. The rain had slowed again from its torrential onslaught. It was quiet. Brian's spoon and my pen the two noises I heard. And I loved it.

I can't tell you how much I love quiet these days. I rarely listen to music if it is my choice. Most mornings I don't even bother to turn on NPR anymore, knowing that Morning Edition will be drowned out by clamoring and that I'll have audio overload. Quiet.

It took me some time to get here to this place where I could love quiet, because I remember another quiet, a terrible quiet.

Two kids asleep quiet is very different from one baby dead quiet.My house is rarely quiet these days for which I am grateful because I know the emptiness of that other kind of quiet. My house is rarely quiet these days, but when I is I sit and savor it.

Wishing you some moments of quiet and peace in your day, whatever shape that takes for you.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Today I ran almost three miles
and loved the cool air and the warm sun.

Today I smelled the lilacs, suddenly in bloom
and thought of Charlotte and her mama.

Today I dug in the garden, trading tools with Kathleen
and enjoyed working with her, even if I could have gotten more done alone.

Today I stopped to blow bubbles with Kathleen
and remembered Hudson and her mama and how one year felt.

Today I noticed how big Elizabeth is getting
and how her face is filling out—almost five months!

Today I looked out the window and saw the blue forget-me-nots under Henry's tree
and did not forget and still thought "What a good day."