Friday, December 31, 2010

A Terrible Truth

It is a terrible truth that human beings have the capacity to experience the sort of intense and debilitating grief that clouds the soul and shrivels the heart and--without finding that grief lifted or removed or in any measurable way more bearable--may simultaneously find themselves laughing out loud at that old Saturday Night Live skit about Schweddy Balls.

"How is it possible?" I asked David that night.  "How is it possible that our baby is dead and Schweddy Balls are still funny?"

David didn't know.  "But I like when you laugh at stupid stuff," he said.

I used to laugh at stupid stuff all the time.

The very first thing that made me laugh after we got home from the hospital was a dog fart.  It was surprising and audible and Cooper's face after he did was so shocked and funny.  I couldn't help but laugh.  And then I cried and cried and cried.

Eventually, I suppose, we will master this balancing act.  I'm getting practice already.  I know what it feels like to be conflicted.  To be thrilled and happy for a dear friend who had a sweet baby boy on Christmas Day while knowing that it will be a long time before I will ever be able to see that baby without crying.  Not because I'm angry or jealous (I don't want her baby, I want my baby, and none of that is her fault), but because we had January due dates a week apart and one warm evening in late June we each surprised the other with our pregnancy announcements at a little Italian restaurant where we met for dinner and we were so happy that night and we laughed and compared our practically non-existent baby bumps and our little peanut ultrasounds.  And now she has a baby and my baby is dead and no matter how happy I am for her or how much I want to be a good friend to her, how could her baby not remind me of everything I've lost? 

Eventually we will master the art of missing Eliza and still finding moments of laughter, but right now it still feels shocking.

It felt like a sacrilege, honestly, to miss my baby girl so desperately and yet to sit on my sofa and suddenly find myself giggling at an old Saturday Night Live skit.  It made me feel guilty and strange and also like, seriously, the first thing that makes me laugh is this kind of embarrassingly juvenile humor?  I mean, couldn't I at least have laughed at witty black humor or clever word play or the kind of joke that references an obscure literary theorist?  Something more dignified?  I mean I am a bereaved parent.  Surely my taste in jokes would have matured through my grief.

It is a terrible truth in this world that beautiful babies will die and stupid shit will still, somehow, be funny.

I submit as evidence the following:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Anne's House of Dreams

So I've used the new Kindle to reread all of the Anne of Green Gables books.  I was deliberately reading my way to Anne's House of Dreams because of the baby that dies.  I am sure I cried the first time I read it because I was always crying over books and movies.

What luxury to be so happy
that we can grieve
over imaginary lives. 

Those are lines in a poem by Lisel Mueller.  I read an article about her in the Kansas City paper and then ordered her book called Alive Together.  I remember reading that poem and reflecting on how true that was for me.  I was so happy that I could sob my way through Steel Magnolias or Love Story and then get up and go about my day.  It seems so silly and self-indulgent now.  In fact, my whole life seems awfully silly and self-indulgent.

Dammit, I really miss being silly and self-indulgent.

Anyway, back to Anne.  I read about Anne and her little baby Joyce this week and this time I cried for both of us.  All of us.  Anne and Joyce and Eliza and me.

I was somewhat astonished that little Joyce gets a chapter, and several other mentions, but the novel does not dwell on this loss exclusively.  How was this possible?  How did the death of her first child not completely blight Anne's entire life?

Is it also possible that Eliza's death could be a defining moment in our lives without being the defining moment?

I am not sure how I feel about that.  It holds equal measures of hope and dread.

As I mentioned on this blog before, Lucy Maud Montgomery also had a baby who lived only a few hours.  So when she writes about Anne, I think it feels utterly believable.  I'd always imagined as a little girl that Anne Shirley and I would have been kindred spirits.  I never expected that we'd share a tragedy like this.  I never would have dreamed that we would both know what it's like to be afraid of life.

* * *

This is an excerpt from Anne's House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery.  In this scene, Anne's first child, a baby girl named Joyce, has just died.  Anne is having a conversation with Marilla, the woman who adopted her when she was eleven years old.

"Oh Marilla, I don't see how I can ever be happy again--everything will hurt me all the rest of my life."

"Time will help you," said Marilla, who was racked with sympathy but could never learn to express it in other than age-worn formulas.

"It doesn't seem fair," said Anne rebelliously.  "Babies are born and live where they are not wanted--where they will be neglected--where they will have no chance.  I would have loved my baby so--and cared for it so tenderly--and tried to give her every chance for good.  And yet I wasn't allowed to keep her."

"It was God's will, Anne," said Marilla, helpless before the riddle of the universe--the why of undeserved pain.  "And little Joyce is better off."

"I can't believe that," cried Anne bitterly.  Then, seeing Marilla looked shocked, she added passionately, "Why should she be born at all--why should anyone be born at all--if she's better off dead?  I don't believe it is better for a child to die at birth than to live its life out--and love and be loved--and enjoy and suffer--and do its work--and develop a character that would give it a personality in eternity.  And how do you know it was God's will?  Perhaps it was just a thwarting of His purpose by the Power of Evil.  We can't be expected to be resigned to that."

"Oh, Anne, don't talk so," said Marilla, genuinely alarmed lest Anne were drifting into deep and dangerous waters.  "We can't understand--but we must have faith--we must believe that all is for the best.  I know you find it hard to think so, just now.  But try to be brave, for Gilbert's sake.  He's so worried about you.  You aren't getting strong as fast as you should."

"Oh, I know I've been very selfish," sighed Anne.  "I love Gilbert more than ever--and I want to live for his sake.  But it seems as if a part of me was buried over there in that little harbour graveyard--and it hurts so much that I'm afraid of life."

"It won't hurt so much always, Anne."

"The thought that it may stop hurting sometimes hurts me worse than all else, Marilla."

* * *

At the very end of that chapter, Anne adds, "Oh, everybody has been so dear and good and lovely to me, Marilla.  I'm not ungrateful--and perhaps--when this horrible ache grows a little less--I'll find that I can go on living."

And the next chapter opens,

"Anne found that she could go on living; the day came when she even smiled again over one of Miss Cornelia's speeches.  But there was something in the smile that had never been in Anne's smile before and would never be absent from it again."

* * *

When I read that the first time, I remember thinking it was such a shame that Anne would have to be a little bit sad forever, that her smile would be forever changed by this experience.

Now I know what it means to be hurting so desperately I want to escape from it and at the same time dreading the moment when it won't hurt quite so much.  And I wonder if my smile will be different, too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Reluctance" by Robert Frost

A good friend sent me the entire poem, hand-writ on legal pad paper.  It's the last stanza that sticks with me, though.

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Words fail. But they do help.

A lot of people have written that they don't know what to say.

I know that people don't know what to say.

We don't know what to say.

But I am so, so thankful that they have still written.

I am not much for talking these days.  I don't answer the phone.  I can't talk about Eliza without crying and I don't have much energy for talking about normal things, so I'd pretty much rather not try to do the telephone thing at all.

What I have been doing is reading.  And I am especially grateful for those who have written to me--e-mails, letters, texts.  People who confess they don't know what to say but say they are sorry.  That's all you need to say.  There's nothing else to be except sorry.  Believe me.  We're as sorry as it gets.

Monica told me that our personalities get magnified by grief.  I guess they teach this kind of wisdom in seminary these days?  At any rate, it explains why David has taken on a series of projects--putting away Eliza's things, fixing the roof (with the help of my dad), cleaning, sorting, vacuuming.  His industriousness guilts me into doing laundry, so I suspect that our house appears much too tidy for a couple whose insides are being eaten away by grief.

My inclination is to embrace the antisocial bookworm side of my personality and sit on the sofa under a blanket and read.  I've read all the dead-baby books we have been given, with all of the heartbreaking titles like "When Hello is Good bye" and "Empty Arms, Broken Heart" (I think I paraphrase, but those might be accurate titles).  I've read Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking, about the grief she felt after her husband died suddenly.  I slogged my way through I novel I'd heard about on NPR but didn't enjoy in the least.  And now--courtesy of the Kindle my parents gave me--I'm re-reading my way through the entire Anne of Green Gables series. 

But I am also comforted by reading again some of the cards and letters we've gotten.  Today I cleared off a shelf on the barrister bookcase in our living room and put Eliza's things on it.  A box that contains her blankets, a box that contains congratulations and baby shower cards, a box that contains her clothes, her baby book, and the disks with her photographs on them.  And the huge stack of sympathy cards.  I pulled out a few of my favorites to read through again--sometimes it's the cards themselves that are printed with the nicest things (there must be some people at Hallmark who really do understand loss) but more often it's the letters and notes people have included.

May you find comfort and strength in the deep love you have for one another, and know no more sorrows.

I will keep Eliza in my heart forever.  She deserves it and nothing less.

It is true that friends and family multiply our joys and divide our grief; yours is divided into millions. 

Such sadness may create in you a monument to her--hard, sharp, bright now.  I hope, with time, weathered and softened.  But present.  Real.  Immovable.  And not a place you have to visit alone.

These words--and hundreds others like them--these help.

E-mails, comments on this blog (most of them), and "Thinking of you" text messages--these help.

So thank you for that.

We are so, so lucky to have so many people reach out to us.  And even if I can't answer the phone or reply to the e-mail yet, please know that you are helping us and we are grateful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

We Interrupt Your Previously Scheduled Program

I left the house last week to go see a movie.  I'd wanted to see the new Harry Potter movie for weeks.  We just hadn't had the time.  Teaching, grading, childbirth classes, prenatal yoga, meetings, parties, dinners with friends.  The end of November and beginning of December were just too full of things to do.

And then Eliza was born and everything stopped.

I had no classes to teach.  No papers to grade.  Nothing to do.  No reason to get up.

Everything I'd planned on, everything I'd looked forward to was gone.  The days were blank and empty and agonizing.

So we decided to go to the movies.

I didn't want to leave the house, but I knew I would have to eventually.  Going to a dark theater were I wouldn't have to interact with strangers seemed like a safe bet.

I wanted to throw up in the car on the way to the theater.  What was I doing?  Was I trying to enjoy myself?  What was the point in seeing this movie?

I needn't have worried about enjoying myself because I didn't.  The movie didn't seem good to me, having just reread the book, I kept thinking about all of the good parts they were leaving out.  Mostly I thought about Eliza and I cried silently in the theater, clutching David's arm.

About two-thirds of the way through the film, the screen suddenly went dark.  Which of course meant that the entire theater was plunged into darkness.  A strobe light started flashing and a siren started wailing and a loud mechanical voice filled the room, "An emergency has been detected.  Please proceed to the nearest exit."

We all got up and fled to the lobby, where the teenagers in black vests assured everyone it was a mistake and if we'd just wait a moment they would get the films started again.  And they did.

We stood in the lobby, waiting.  David's face was pale.  He hugged me and said, "Well, that was kinda scary."  I felt bad for him.  As if he needed yet another reminder that life is ridiculously fragile and the unexpected can happen at any moment.

But I felt, for few minutes there, that it was easier to breathe.  Because this is precisely what should be happening.  Life can't just go on without my baby.  We can't just go to the movies and pretend for a little while that we are fine.  There should be darkness and sirens and flashing lights and emergency announcements.  Nothing is normal, nothing is okay, everyone should be on their guard.  While the lights flashed and the siren wailed, it was like everything I felt inside was suddenly manifested in the theater.  Yes we are experiencing a goddamn emergency, thank you very much.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stories Sadder Than Mine

I read somewhere that the death of a child suddenly makes visible other dead children.

This is true.

I have been contacted and consoled and comforted by so many women whose children are dead.  It is astonishing--both that so many babies die and that their mothers are gracious and generous enough to move from their own grief to comfort other people.

I hope I can do the same someday.

I have let myself get lost a few times in the grief of others and I have been stunned to read stories that are sadder than mine.

Does it get sadder than having a stillborn baby?

I hate to tell you that it does.

I have read stories from women who have struggled with infertility until they reached a breaking point--financial, emotional, or physical, stories from who have had multiple miscarriages, who have lost more than one child, whose babies died of SIDS, whose marriages fell apart after the loss of a child, who have had some combination of these experiences.

It's an unbelievable and unavoidable truth.  There are stories sadder than mine.

I have studied the way other women cope with this kind of loss.  Some of them lean on their faith.  Some of them make a fetish of their dead baby's things.  Some of them dwell in the grief.  Some of them dwell in denial.  Nobody has a foolproof plan.

I hope to eventually join those who have found a sort of tentative peace.  The kind that is frequently interrupted but can usually be regained.  Those who have moved forward without moving on.  Those who find a way to hope even when hoping seems to be the most terrifying and idiotic thing that we as human beings can possibly do.

I am dreading Christmas.  I don't want any gifts because I keep thinking that as long as I don't want anything but Eliza, maybe God or the universe or whatever will recognize that and will let me have her back. 

It's ridiculous and insane but I think I'm allowed to go mad with grief for a while.

I don't want to think about a story of peace and hope that's centered on a wee little baby in a manger. 

I don't want to pretend everything's ok.

I don't want to have a moment of enjoying myself.

And also, I used to love Christmas.  I don't want Christmas to be forever marked by grief and pain and loss.  I don't want future Christmases to be an echo of this one.

I guess we're just going to do what it takes to get through the day.  I believe that a viewing of True Grit will be in order.

And as much as I will hate this Christmas, and as sad as I will feel when I wake up on Christmas morning, and as much as I miss my baby girl, I will do my best to remember that there are stories much sadder than mine. 

I will try to remember that one of the reasons I am not Miss Havisham (no matter how much I'd like to be) is because I am surrounded by family and friends who refuse to let me be her.  Who remind me that grief has to be balanced by joy, eventually.  Who say Eliza's name and tell me that we all got robbed.  Who send sympathy cards.  Who make me eat.  Who hug me even if they aren't touchy-feely people.  Who help me grade student essays.  Who tell me that we did not deserve this and it was not my fault. 

My life is really shitty.  But there is still some good in it. 

And that's as close to Christmas as I can get.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I reread Harry Potter books 5-7 after Eliza died.

Someone online mentioned that they only reading she could do after the loss of her baby were books she had read before, plots that were familiar, endings she could see coming.  Maybe that was part of it.  I wanted to read a story that would turn out the way I expected it to.

But I also wanted to read Harry Potter because good people die in those books--unfairly and unexpectedly.  And because the dead aren't so far away from the living.  They can't come back to life, but they aren't entirely gone, either.  And because Harry Potter's story starts with his mother's sacrifice.  He's "The Chosen One" because his mother died trying to save him.  He's forever protected by her love.  He is an orphan and he misses his parents terribly, but he recognizes the immense love they had for him.

You know, the kind of love any parent has for a child.

The kind of love we have for Eliza.

* * *

David and I both did a lot of reading during my pregnancy.  I remember sitting on the love seat, slogging my way through a stack of essays to be graded and looking over at David who was sitting on the couch, reading Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, carefully taking notes, a highlighter tucked behind his ear.  I looked at him and my heart swelled with love.  He was going to be such a good dad.

In the Bradley method, one of the coach's jobs is to provide lots of positive reinforcement for the laboring mother.  David was worried that he'd just end up repeating "Relax, relax, relax," so he started compiling a list of things he could say:  "You're doing great," "I'm so proud of you," "Every contraction gets us closer to the baby," "Just one more contraction," "Keep taking deep breaths," "You're doing such a good job."

"Would you want me to say this?" he would ask, seriously, offering me a new phrase that he had read somewhere.  I would consider it seriously and then we'd add it to or strike it from the list.  Because at that time, we still thought it mattered, what he would say during labor.

He filled an entire sheet of legal paper with these phrases.  I felt so confident about labor and delivery because I knew I wouldn't be on my own.  David was going to be prepared.  He'd know what was happening in each stage of labor.  He'd keep me calm.  He'd make me laugh.  He would be there doing the massage techniques we'd practiced and reminding me to relax and focus and breathe.  We were going to be fine.

Of course that all went out the window.  We weren't ready.  We weren't prepared.  We weren't going to be fine.

When I think back to that night in the hospital, I know that none of those carefully prepared phrases ever entered his mind.  In those terrible, terrible moments, he ended up repeating himself over and over again:  "I love you.  I love you.  I love you."

He must have said it to me a hundred thousand times.

And now I know that what he also meant when he said "I love you" was "Please don't die."

Because when I repeated it over and over to Eliza, that was what I meant.

* * *

A while ago--over the summer, maybe?--I heard about a book called An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.  I was in my car driving home from campus.  NPR was talking about this memoir written by Elizabeth McCracken about having a stillborn baby and a subsequent pregnancy.  It intrigued me.  I specifically remember thinking, "I won't read that while I'm pregnant.  But afterward.  I'll remember that title."

Because God forbid I cloud my pregnancy with negative thinking, right?

It came back to me sometime in the last two weeks--a flash in my head, like Anne's House of Dreams.  Another book with a dead baby in it.

I ordered it from Amazon and it arrived yesterday.  I read the entire thing.

I have read a lot of sad, sad stories online.  Maybe I've read too many of them.  But this book astonished me because nothing else I've read about stillborn babies so closely reflected my own experience.  The facts were different, of course, but all of Elizabeth McCracken's emotional responses so closely mirrored my own that it was almost eerie.  Her reactions were so similar to mine that I felt almost as though I were reading about myself.

Like her, I just thought this baby was a sure thing.

And now I know that we can't really count on anything at all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Miss Havisham

When I taught Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, I framed Miss Havisham as a villain.  Or, I should say, I thought the novel framed her as a villain.

She's a woman who was jilted on her wedding day by a lover who turned out to have double-crossed her with the help of her brother.  In the aftermath of her heartbreak, she becomes angry, bitter, and hateful.  She adopts a baby girl, Estella, and raises her to have no understanding of love, purposely training her to break men's hearts.  She toys with Pip, the narrator and hero of the novel, letting him assume that she is his benefactor, that she ultimately wants him to marry Estella.  She is cruel to her family (although, to be fair, all of but one of them are just waiting for her to die).  She is utterly absorbed by her own pain.  She doesn't understand why Estella finally turns away from her, even though she deliberately made Estella the way she is.

We talked about her in class as one of the "monsters" of the novel--an example of what a human being becomes when they allow themselves to get so caught up in their own pain that they come to enjoy inflicting pain on others.  An exaggerated depiction of someone who lets a bitter disappointment infect their entire life, their entire future, and even blight the lives of the next generation.

I never had a lot of sympathy for Miss Havisham.

And now?

Now I feel like I am Miss Havisham.

I understand her in a way I had never expected.  I, too, want to stop all the clocks and refuse to move forward.  I want to wear the same clothes day after day, letting them slowly fall apart.  I want to take the food and flowers that people have sent and leave them sitting on the table, rotting and attracting bugs and spiders.  I want to keep the shades drawn and the room dark.  I want to refuse to see people.  I want to never leave my house.  I want to be like Miss Havisham.

Instead, I make myself take a shower.  I write.  I read.  I do laundry.  I watch TV.  I look at Eliza's pictures and cry.

I don't want to become a monster.  I don't want to become so overwhelmed by my own sadness that I cease to function entirely.

But still.  I don't want to leave the house by myself.  I get dizzy and realize that I've forgotten to breathe.  I put on clean clothes everyday, but then I spend the day curled up on my couch, waiting for David to get home from work. 

I am not Miss Havisham, I tell myself.  I am clinging to the hope that my life is not marked by tragedy forever.  I am holding fast to the possibility that, as a friend wrote to me in an e-mail, this is a great sadness, but not a harbinger of things to come.

Sometimes I believe this.  Sometimes I do not.

Either way, I understand Miss Havisham differently.  Dickens depicts her as a monster, but I know what it feels like to want to be monstrous.  Because sometimes being human is just too hard.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I wish you cod pit the baby

Since Eliza died, we've gotten so many cards.

I've read online about women who could not face the sympathy cards.  They did not want to open them, to read the condolences, to face the reality that so many people pitied them because of their great loss.

I guess can understand that.  I feel plenty sorry for myself, but thinking about the way other people pity me is like another kind of heartbreak. 

But still, I welcome the sympathy cards.

I grab the stack of them and I curl up on the couch to open them and I weep over each and everyone.

But it's a cathartic kind of weeping.  The kind of crying that makes it easier to breathe when you're finished.  

I have been pleasantly surprised by some of the senders--a male teacher and coach who worked with David at his old job (whom I always thought was SO cute), friends of David's grandparents whom we must have met at some point, but who realized that we would likely not remember them and so wrote underneath their names, "friends of your grandparents."  Of course, I appreciate those who have been through this too and who share their story and offer us some hope, especially those we don't know very well--a former colleague of David's, parents of students at David's school, a woman we've met a couple of times at church--who write to say "This happened to us too.  We know how you feel and we are so, so sorry."

The kindness of this gesture--this $3 card and stamp and signature, it is priceless to me.  Even the cards that come from people I don't know, from people who have met David at his new job and who have never met me.  I appreciate their sympathy.  I am grateful for their prayers.

I see it as a recognition of our daughter, as an acknowledgment of her life and death and the grief it brings.  I am thankful for it. 

I keep these cards stacked up in a big pile.  The stack is now taller than the box from the hospital that contains Eliza's things.  See these cards?  I want to tell her.  That's how many people love you.  That's how many people will remember you.  Plus more.  This doesn't even account for the people who have e-mailed me.  Nor does it account for the friends who have been here, bringing food, sitting on the couch, crying with us.  See these cards?  I want to say.  They're only the beginning.

I got some very sweet e-mails from my students.  I'm impressed by them because I'm not sure whether I would have e-mailed a professor in the same circumstances.  And sometimes they were awkward--one student offered me his "apologies" for what happened.  Another student offered her sincere condolences and then said "Hope you enjoy your winter break!"  Yeah, I'll get right on that.  But still.  They mean well.  They made an effort.

We've also gotten some cards from students at David's school.  A few were terribly inappropriate.

"Didn't their parents or teachers see this?  Couldn't someone have edited this before they gave it to us?" I asked David, laughing and crying over a sympathy card from a 5th grader that read, "Sorry about your baby!  Hope you have another one!"

I think it was the exclamation points that really killed me.

Another painfully inappropriate was made from construction paper with "Sorry for your loss (over)" carefully printed in marker on the front.  The other side of the card was red and had "Go Cards!" printed on it.   

So, your average nine-year-old's consideration of what would cheer up Mr. Duckworth:  a new baby and a winning season for the Cardinals.

Hell, now that I think about it, I suppose either one of those wouldn't hurt.  Eventually.  It's just that most people are just too polite to mention that sort of thing.

Some of the other students' cards are really sweet.  One student wrote that she thinks her sister Rebecca is watching over Baby Eliza in heaven.  Another card said, "You are in our prayers and there is hope in your heart."

I hung one of my favorites up on the fridge.  It was made on three ring notebook paper and drawn in pencil.  The drawing is of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and an army tank.  The caption at the top reads, "Something Good will Happen." 

Perhaps the best one we got was written by a kindergartener.  It took us a minute to decipher it, but it essentially says what all of the Hallmark cards say, without any of the vagueness.

"I wish you cod pit the baby," it reads, "I am sarre.  I am sade."

"I wish you what?" David said, looking at the card.  I took it from him and studied it carefully.

"Pit...  No, it's git!" I said, reading it out loud, "I wish you could get the baby!  I am sorry.  I am sad."

We looked at each other and then David wrapped his arms around me.

Oh, God.  Yeah.  I wish we could get the baby, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lists and Legacies

I have a running list in my head of women who had stillborn babies or women whose babies died shortly after they were born.

Jacqueline Kennedy (a year and a half before Caroline Kennedy was born)
Oprah Winfrey (when she was fourteen years old)
Mary Shelley (right before she wrote Frankenstein)
Anne of Green Gables (in a novel titled Anne's House of Dreams)
Lucy Maude Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables)

I have discovered a community of bereaved parents online, who have reached out of their own darknesses, behind their own computer screens, and have patiently and kindly offered me words of comfort and wisdom.  In the wake of this intense loneliness and emptiness, I have turned in my desperation to strangers, strangers who have struggled through these dark hours and who somehow, sometime, some way, found themselves emerging on the other side.  I need to know that I will get there too.

This has given me an unexpected connection to people I've never met.  It's a strange experience, but one I am thankful for.  It saddens me to see how fast and long this list I've been making could grow.

I appreciate every single sympathy card and letter we have received.  But the ones I return to and read over and over again are from women I know in real life who wrote to tell me that they, too, are on that list. 

I got three of them yesterday.  Three letters from three different women in three different generations.  Each had a baby that died.

These women lost their babies 54 years ago, 26 years ago, 2 years ago.  I am so terribly sorry that someone else I know has felt the way I feel right now.  And I am so grateful that they reached out to me and told me their stories.  I've read them over and over again.  I read them to hear the assurance that my baby will not be forgotten, to hear them say that it's not my fault, to hear them promise that it will get easier.

I have wondered if there is anything to be gained from this loss.  Nothing will ever make up for Eliza, but could it be possible that her loss would bring us something we would not otherwise have had? 

I am doubtful. 

Believing such a thing would be a betrayal.  It would be the equivalent of looking for a silver lining.  There is no silver lining here.  There is nothing but the random, meaningless, arbitrary cruelty of a universe that never promised to be fair, despite all our expectations for justice.

And then I got a letter in the mail that offered a slightly different perspective.  No carefully qualified, "I can't imagine what you're going through."  No euphemistic "sorry about what happened."  This woman had a son who died 26 years ago.  She knows what it's like to go home from the hospital without a baby.  She acknowledges the pain without dismissing it or drowning in it.  And she offers another truth:     

But with the devastation comes unlimited love.  The bond between a husband and wife who go through the loss of a child can grow even stronger than it was before.  This is a time that only the two of you can truly share together.  The raw pain and utter emptiness for each of you will recede with the deep love of the other.  This is a tragic event in both of your lives and only the two of you will ever know the depth of the feelings involved.  That piece of your personal histories will pull you closer together forever.

It is little consolation, but I can't deny the truth in it.  I can already feel the way Eliza has pulled David and me closer together.  It was present and immediate, our mutual need for each other.  Those moments we shared throughout the pregnancy, at the hospital, in the foggy, mudgy hours that followed, and the moments we will share as we try to breathe through the weeks and months to come, these are moments no one else can fully understand.  Not even the family and the friends who help every day when they call and come over and listen and talk.

David and I have seen each other at our most vulnerable and broken.  We're trying to help each other put those pieces together, and we're working to put those pieces together at least enough that we can be there for each other.  We have been to hell together and we're clinging to each other on our way back. 

If Eliza's death means that our love for each other has deepened and widened and grown to an unlimited capacity... well, that's still not enough. 

But it is something.  I can see the good in that.  I might even be able to see God in that.

My daughter died.  And all she left behind was love.

It's not enough.  But it is something.

As legacies go, it's actually something quite remarkable.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Loving Eliza, Specifically

I remember when I wanted to be pregnant and I wasn’t yet.  I felt a kind of aching then.  A longing for a baby.  I just wanted a baby.  Any old baby would do.  Boy or girl, didn’t matter.  Just a healthy baby.  David and I would talk seriously about adoption.  Biological or heart-grown, didn’t matter.  We just wanted a baby. 

It didn't take us all that long to get pregnant, but it felt like an eternity.  My idea of what it would be like to be pregnant, to become a mom was still totally vague.  I just wanted a dream baby one day.  And if that day could hurry up, please.  Hurry up and bring me a baby—any baby will do.

And now?

Now I only want my baby.

No other baby will do.

Am I jealous of other mothers who have babies?  Sort of.  I envy the ones who have never had to go through this experience.  I will never forget lying in that hospital bed, hearing the cry of a newborn baby in the next room and thinking about Eliza's silence.  But I am not jealous.  I do not want their babies.  I want my baby.

I want Eliza.

And it blows my mind how, having only been able to hold her for a few hours, having just precious minutes to stroke her soft little cheek and hold her tiny perfect hands, not how much I love her (because that seems obvious), but how specifically I love her.

People talk about loving their newborns instantly and other people admit that it takes a little while to be overwhelmed by that fierce mother-love.  You have to get to know them, and you only love them more.

Perhaps that should make it easier?  That I never knew her alive?  That she would always be a dream, a figment, a should-have-been?

But...  No.  She was so real.  Flesh and bones and blood.  Pain and agony and exhaustion.  Tangible and fragile and perfect.  Soft and powder-scented and feather-light.  Not a figment at all.

I know Eliza.  I know her because she was a part of me.  A piece of me.  A piece of David, too. 
I love her so specifically.

Nothing else will do.

And that makes me think of another song.  Sung, appropriately enough, by The Weepies.

"Gotta Have You"

Gray, quiet and tired and mean
Picking at a worried seam
I try to make you mad at me over the phone.
Red eyes and fire and signs
I'm taken by a nursery rhyme
I want to make a ray of sunshine and never leave home

No amount of coffee, no amount of crying
No amount of whiskey, no amount of wine
No, no, no, no, no, nothing else will do
I've gotta have you, I've gotta have you.

The road gets cold, there's no spring in the middle this year
I'm the new chicken clucking open hearts and ears
Oh, such a prima donna, sorry for myself
But green, it is also summer
And I won't be warm till I'm lying in your arms

No amount of coffee, no amount of crying
No amount of whiskey, no amount of wine
No, no, no, no, no, nothing else will do
I've gotta have you, I've gotta have you.

I see it all through a telescope: guitar, suitcase, and a warm coat
Lying in the back of the blue boat, humming a tune...

No amount of coffee, no amount of crying
No amount of whiskey, no amount of wine
No, no, no, no, no, nothing else will do
I've gotta have you, I've gotta have you.

No amount of coffee, no amount of crying
No amount of whiskey, no amount of wine
No, no, no, no, no, nothing else will do
I've gotta have you, I've gotta have you, I've gotta have you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Beginning of the End

I have struggled to decide how much I want to share on the blog.  I don't want to turn our private tragedy into some kind of public spectacle.  I didn't get the time I wanted with Eliza, so I feel resistant about sharing her with the rest of the world.  But if she had lived, I would have written all about her.  Ad nauseum.  So I talked to David about it.  And he thought it was a good idea to tell her story.  All of it.

The only thing is, what do you say about a baby who never lived?  That she was born beautiful and perfect and not breathing?  That her heartbeat just disappeared?  That her parents fell in love with her only to get their hearts broken before she ever reached her due date?

Her name is Eliza Taylor Duckworth.

She was born Monday, December 6th at 8:42pm.

She weighed 3 pounds, 9 ounces.

There was nothing wrong with her.

Except she was dead.

All day, I felt fine.  Absolutely fine.  Better than fine.  Sure, I was definitely getting more tired.  And yes, my feet were definitely getting swollen by the end of the day.  Elephant feet, I called them.  Ugly and uncomfortable.  But Monday was a good day.  First day of my last week of classes.  I was so excited about the end of the semester.  Yes, I still had a batch of grading to get through, but I was so looking forward to washing baby clothes and sheets and organizing the nursery and the closet and finishing Christmas shopping.  I'd been talking about it for weeks.

My classes went well.  I was even feeling like a competent teacher.  In my last class of the day, I felt some tightening/movement sensations in my abdomen that made me feel like I had to go to the bathroom.  I got home and went and figured that was the end of it.  

I changed clothes to be ready to go to prenatal yoga.  Before I left, I made myself sit down with a stack of essays, thinking I’d get at least a couple of them out of the way.

As I was making comments, the tight feeling in my stomach happened again.  Only now it was low back pain and cramping.  I picked up one of my pregnancy reference books and read the part about pre-term labor.  It said that if you feel contractions (“a tightening of the abdomen”) that you should drink a big glass of water, lie down, and time them.
I followed those instructions about 5pm.  I was freaked out to discover that the feelings were coming about 6 minutes apart and pretty regular.  Also, they were getting increasingly painful and then I started feeling like I had to go to the bathroom again at the end of each one.  But when I’d go to the bathroom, nothing would happen.  I didn't actually have to go.  And there was no blood, no water breaking, nothing.

David got home around 5:30.  I’m not sure he thought I was serious at first.  I told him I thought I was having contractions but since the feelings I was experiencing didn’t match the description of pre-term labor contractions, I just wasn’t sure.  Looking back, we realize that I was experiencing the feelings of late first-stage labor—the feeling of having to go to the bathroom was actually my body almost getting ready to push.  All those books I read, and we were just clueless about what was happening.  Nothing had prepared us for this.

Still, we knew something was going on.  David called our Bradley instructor and she said we should get checked out.  David called the hospital exchange and our doula also.  My doctor called us back and recommended that we head up to the hospital to get checked out.

On the way to the hospital, David said, "You know everything is going to be ok, right?"
My contractions were pretty painful, but I smiled at him.  "Yeah, I know."

We joked about this being our "practice run" to the hospital.  Just so we'd be sure to know what we were doing next time--when it was for real.

We checked into the hospital at 7:39pm.  They had us sit down and wait a little bit.  My contractions at this point were agonizing.  I couldn’t talk during them at all.  We were sitting by the labor and delivery elevators, watching people walk out with “It’s a Girl” balloons.  One guy passed by us and smiled and said “Good luck!”  I was trying to relax and breathe through the contractions.

We got to the labor room and the nurse had me take off my pants and get under a blanket.  She put the Doppler thing on my belly to find the heartbeat.   

It wasn’t there.  

She called the doctor on staff to bring the ultrasound machine, telling us that the doctor would be able to find “good heart tones.”  All through this, I was continuing to have contractions that made it difficult to lie on my back.  The lower back pain was so intense I wanted to roll over on my side.  I kept thinking if I could just hold still, she would have been able to find the heartbeat.  

The doctor came in with the ultrasound machine.  She moved around the ultrasound thingy on my stomach and I moaned through another contraction.  They had hooked me up to an IV at this point.  I did not want an IV, but I was still thinking at this point that they were going to give me drugs to stop the contractions and that is what Baby Duck needed.  So I did not protest the IV.

I had to roll over in the middle of the ultrasound because of a contraction and I thought maybe I hadn’t given her enough time to find the heartbeat.  It didn't matter.
The doctor looked at us and said, “I can’t find a heartbeat.  I’m sorry to tell you this.  I don’t know when, but your baby died.”

Then I vomited off the side of the bed.

They did a cervical exam.  I was fully dilated.  I told the doctor I thought the baby was lying sideways across my stomach.  She said no, the head was presenting.

My biggest fear on the way to the hospital had been that I was going to have a c-section and a premature baby who would be in the NICU.

How quickly my "biggest fear" was replaced by my own personal hell.

My own doctor got there about that time.  He asked me when I had last felt the baby move.  It was Saturday night, when David’s grandparents were here—I had David’s grandma feel Baby Duck kicking me in the ribs after we left the store.  We were so busy Sunday and Monday was a work day, and I honestly hadn’t paid much attention.  What if I had noticed that she wasn't moving?

I was continuing to have severe contractions and I was yelling at David to put pressure on my low back.  He and the nurse both pushed on my back and it helped.  The nurse asked if I wanted an epidural.  She told me--or maybe told David--that sometimes relieving the physical pain helps with the mental pain.

That sounded like the most insane thing I had ever heard.  The physical pain--as intense as it was--was a distraction.  At the same time, it hurt so much and I couldn't see the point of not having an epidural.  I was so intent on a natural childbirth because I thought it would be the best thing for me and the baby.  And now?  What was the point?  I didn't care what happened to me and the baby was already dead.

David leaned down and asked me if I was sure.  And in the short pause between contractions, I thought about the strong possibility that it could slow down my labor.  I couldn't let this drag on longer than necessary.  Plus, I was already so helpless, already such a pawn, that I didn't want to lose further control.

So I refused the epidural.

It felt good to say no, to have a firm answer.
So I refused the anti-nausea medication.
I refused the narcotics.

I ended up on my hands and knees, which the nurse encouraged since my back was hurting so much.  I was crouching on the bed with the blanket over me and the nurse kept saying to listen to my body and do what it said.  So I started pushing.  It was the most agonizing moment of all.  I yelled out, “Oh my God, it hurts so much!” and then I groaned through two pushes and the baby was out.  I'd been at the hospital 63 minutes.

I saw her--gray, lifeless.  There was blood.  I was surprised there was blood.  I had torn just a little--it didn't require stitches.

It was so sudden, that moment when the physical pain was gone, and after the initial relief, I missed it.  It required all my focus and kept my mind off the realization that my daughter was dead.

The nurse had her over in the warmer.  It was such a parody of the way things were supposed to happen.  They wanted to know if I wanted to hold her.  They were saying she was beautiful when I’d already seen how horrible she’d looked.  I kept saying that this was a nightmare.  My doctor just kept nodding in agreement.

We weren't sure we wanted to name her.  The name we had chosen was for a live baby.  I wasn't sure I wanted to hold her.  It seemed too morbid, too horrible.  I wasn't sure we wanted pictures taken.  Who would ever want to look at them?

Thank God our nurse gently encouraged us to do all of those things.  I am so grateful to her.
It was still a terrible parody of the way things were supposed to be, but it was the best we could do at the time.

We held her, wrapped in the blankets, cold and strange looking.  Her poor little face was smushy and her head was full of fluid that her little heart never pumped around.  Her hands and feet were perfect though—so perfect.  Long, tapered fingers and long little toes, too.  They looked just like mine.

At first I didn’t want to look at her.  Watching David hold her and rock her made me feel crazy.  How could she be dead?  Why was he bothering to rock a dead baby?  From where I sat, you couldn’t see her, so it looked like any father rocking his newborn.  Except David was crying instead of the baby.

He looked up at me at one point and said, “I just want her to start crying.”

Instead, we both cried and she stayed silent.

There was all kinds of paperwork to fill out and they took a full medical history again.  Our nurse was so kind about everything.  It was hard to process.

Professional photographers came and took pictures of Eliza. I still wasn't sure, but I agreed.  The nurse promised me I didn't have to look at the photos if I didn't want to.

Later, after some of the shock had worn off, I did want to hold her.  I wanted her bassinet next to me in the bed.  I kept feeling her fine, papery, wrinkly skin.  It was so cold.  I kept touching her tiny, perfect fingers.  They were so cold and my hands felt so hot.  I kept thinking, if only I could warm her up.  If only I could warm up her fingers.

I wanted to memorize her.  Even the saddest of details.  Her head was misshapen (even in the tiny little hat) and sometimes blood would drip out of her nose.  I wiped it away as gently as I could.  Her lips were dark from lack of oxygen.  Her eyes were sunken and closed.  But as I held her and touched her ever so gently, her soft, papery, delicate skin, I saw only how absolutely beautiful she was.  How beautiful she would have been.  I kept telling her how sorry I was.  Sorry that I couldn’t keep her alive and safe.  Sorry that my body failed her somehow.  Sorry that she didn’t get a chance.

34 weeks is supposed to be the time you let out a sigh of relief.  Most babies born at 34 weeks have relatively few complications and maybe just spend a few days in the NICU.  Eliza never got a chance.

She had the tiniest bit of dark hair--baby fuzz, really--that the nurses said looked like the sort that would turn blond.  Both David and I were blond babies.

I held her and rocked her and told her how much we loved her.  I told her that if my love could have kept her alive, it would.  I told her that I wished it had been me instead of her.
David was kind of freaked out by that.  He was so scared that I wouldn’t be OK.  I remember him asking lots of question in an authoritative voice, during and after labor, questions about me and whether I would be all right.  He was very strong throughout the entire ordeal, but then it was dark and we were alone and there was nothing left to do except cling to each other and sob. 

I told Eliza that we had such big plans for her.  That we were supposed to have such great times together.  I kept telling her that we love her.

I assured her that I tried to do everything right.  I read every reference book!  I kept track of the grams of protein I was eating.  I exercised--walking the dog, prenatal yoga, prenatal pilates.  We practiced our relaxation exercises.  I cut out almost all processed foods and only ate organic produce.  No caffeine.  I was careful about shampoo, lotion, make up.  I bought ridiculously expensive body wash because it was “natural” and didn’t contain crazy chemicals.  I never ate out of microwaved plastic containers.  I watched my sodium intake.  I wanted to do every single thing I could to give her the best start possible.

And it still wasn’t enough.

They have no idea what went wrong.  We’re having an autopsy done and they drew all kinds of blood from me to run tests and try to get some answers.  The doctors said in cases like this, there often aren’t any answers.

The blood draw didn’t scare me.  I didn’t feel light headed or freaked out by the needle.  Why would I be afraid of something as stupid as a needle?  I don’t think I’ll ever be afraid of anything again.  Not when my greatest fear of all time was already realized.

Dr. Wasserman stopped by very early the next morning.  I told him we wanted to go home and he signed my discharge papers.  We’d been at the hospital less than 12 hours.  In less than 12 hours we had and lost our baby girl and got dressed and drove home.

It’s so profoundly fucking unfair.

As we sat on the sofa, numb, staring into space, waiting for my parents to get here, I told David that it sounded sick and morbid, but I wished we could have brought her with us.  I wanted to hold her lifeless little body.  I feel so empty. 

I want my baby.

I walked into the hospital with a baby in my belly and I left the hospital clutching a plastic bag of mementos.

You know what kind of mementos are left behind by  a baby who never lived?

A crocheted hat.
A couple of blankets that still smell like baby powder.
A stupid fake flower they might have used in some of the photographs.
Tiny little footprints and handprints.  So heartbreakingly perfect.
Black and white photographs of her heartbroken parents holding her tiny little body.
Pamphlets about grief.

That’s all.
It’s not nearly enough.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Both Sides Now

One thing about Kate's speech that really struck me was the way that I, too, have always felt lucky.  Lucky to have such a great husband, such a great family, such great friends.  Lucky in a way that marveled at the way things--no matter how much I worried, fretted, or fussed--always worked out in the end.

Don't get me wrong--I always worried and fretted and stressed about things.  And David always assured me that everything would work out in the end.  And it always did.

Until now. 

And the one thing that didn't work out?  The one thing that isn't ok? 

It's the only thing that matters.

The only thing that matters at all.

As David pointed out, it's also the only thing we had absolutely no control over. 

Because if we had been able to control it--any of it--we would have made sure that everything worked out.  Perfectly.  She would be here.  I would be holding her.  She would know how much we love her.  And we wouldn't feel so broken.

I'm not lucky anymore. 

I've looked at life from both sides now, just like Joni Mitchell says.

And all I know is that I don't understand any of it.

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev'ry fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

But now it's just another show

You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now

From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud

To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange

They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I wonder if my voice might disappear.  Replaced by great gulping sobs.  Or pathetic little whimpers.  When someone asks me if I want anything, they mean a refill of my ginger ale or maybe a cracker.  I choke on my answer because what I want--all I want--is my baby.

There's a website called Glow that I'm not ready to read.  There's a woman named Kate who lost her son at six weeks.  She spoke recently at a walk for bereaved parents.

I looked up the word bereaved in the OED.  Do you know what it means?  I always thought it meant sad, grieving. 

This is the dictionary definition:  

Deprived or robbed; taken away by force; spec. deprived by death of a near relative, or of one connected by some endearing tie.


We are bereaved, David and I.  We are stunned and saddened and heartbroken.  We are bereaved parents and I still don't know how this is possible.

This is a link to Kate's speech.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stop All the Clocks

I want to write about what happened.  But I'm not ready yet.  My own words are failing to capture anything more than a faint echo of it.  So I am relying on the words of others.  Matthew Arnold did a much better job of articulating grief.  W. H. Auden knows something of what I'm feeling, too.  Otherwise he could never have written this:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with a muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever:  I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now:  put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean, and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Poem

I taught this poem yesterday.  After what we went through last night, when David was holding onto me, the words of the last stanza came into my head.

It turns out that Matthew Arnold was right.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another!  for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

5 Things That Happened Today

Because a list is easier than paragraphs.

1.  One of my University B students did not show up for class today.

Today is the last day of class.

Today I gave the final exam.

Four hours after class ended, I got an e-mail from him:  "I am SO sorry I overslept."

Yeah, dude.  Me, too.  Because now you are screwed.

2.  I took our car in to get two appraisals since it got hit by a friend of ours while parked in her drive way.  Mercy, it is expensive to fix cars.  Also, one appraisal was $1,500 cheaper than the other.  Either way, it would seem that being an auto body guy is way more lucrative than being an English professor. 

3.  Little Mac bit David's grandpa.  Why?  She sat next to him on the couch and he--gasp!--tried to pet her.  I know, I know.  Totally Grandpa's fault.  I mean, everyone knows that Little Mac does not want to be touched even when she occasionally deigns to be near you, unless she initiates first contact and even then you must proceed with caution.

David's grandma actually suggested in all seriousness that he was probably "moving his hands around too much."  Yes, let's make excuses for the psychotic and violently aggressive dog who is probably going to EAT BABY DUCK OMG SRSLY WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?

David says that the moment Mac bites Baby Duck is the moment that she is going to "live on a farm" which either means Grandma's house in Branson or the Big Farm in the Sky.  But David threatened such things if Little Mac ever bit me, and that day came and went and damned if she's not still here. 

So I guess we'll wait and see.  If only I didn't love that damn dog so much.

4.  I got Little Mac back for the biting incident when I stepped on her in the kitchen.  It was an accident.  You see, our kitchen is small and she is constantly underfoot, desperately hoping we will drop some small bite of something (because clearly the high dollar senior-small-dog dog food we give her is clearly not cutting it).  To further complicate matters, I can no longer see her if she is directly in front of me because The Belly is in the way.  Also Mac's eyesight is not what it once was, so she's much slower about moving out of my way, so she ends up getting stepped on.  And then she growls and howls at me as though it's my fault. 

5.  I had another nosebleed today and my ankles are swollen.  Time to lie down, put up my feet, and (guess what??) grade another batch of papers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Blessed, Not Stressed

It's cheesy and lame, but true.  I should feel blessed, not stressed.  It's not so easy to remember at certain times.  So I am silently chanting that mantra everytime I start to feel my shoulder blades tensing up at the thought of the list of things I have yet to do.

I whispered it to myself at 2am this morning when I thoroughly terrified myself, David, the dogs, and possibly the next door neighbors, by starting awake from a nightmare, screaming bloody murder.  It was a terrible dream about driving and getting into a horrific car accident (crashing into a river) and Little Mac wasn't buckled in and her little body went flying and I tried to catch it but the gravitational forces kept me from being able to lift my arms at the same time David got sucked out the window and the van we were driving splashed into a river and I was pinned against the door and it was about to hit a concrete wall when I woke up screeching and choking.  It was horrifyingly real, to the extent that while I was having the dream, I actually told myself that this wasn't a dream.  Whose psyche tortures them like that?

I repeated it again when I woke up kind of sniffly this morning and chalked it up to the pregnancy symptom of being kind of stuffed up in general.  Then I repeated it yet again when my sniffly nose unexpectedly dripped blood onto the carpet.  Bloody noses are yet another pregnancy symptom that no one ever talks about, and not a fun one!  I had never, ever had a bloody nose before I got pregnant.  In the last few weeks, I've had a couple small incidents, but this was by far the grossest and lasted the longest (through my entire shower--ew).  I've been sleeping with a humidifier for a while, but evidently it's no match for the sudden drop in temperatures and blasting furnace air that I've been breathing.

I muttered it as we half-heartedly tidied up the house last night in preparation for David's grandparents coming to town.  We were both so exhausted after long days of work that we did not do a thorough cleaning.  Instead, we had to prioritize (kitchen clean, bathroom clean) and let the other stuff go (clean laundry folded but not put away, dog hair not vacuumed off the couch, Christmas decorations still in their containers stacked up in front of the bookshelves).

Earlier this week, I took a deep breath and chanted it when I mopped up rain water that leaked through the roof of the back room of our house, when I cleared my schedule to make appointments to get an estimate to have our car fixed, when I wrestled down the dogs to put in their ear drops, when I got swamped by last minute e-mails from students who want to meet about their essay the day before it's due.

It was easier to feel blessed when I wasn't screaming, bleeding, cleaning, or penciling yet another appointment into my planner.  Fortunately, this week also found me writing thank you notes (I love writing thank you notes--is that weird?), wrapping Christmas presents, writing final exams (the semester is so almost over!), and celebrating the birth of my friend Stephanie's twins:  Evelyn Grace and Elliott David.  (Aren't those adorable names?  The babies live up to them, I assure you.)

So far, our holiday season has been a pretty good balance of things that stress me out and things I feel very grateful for (with a few things--and people--falling into both categories!).  As the semester draws to a close, I hope that I can start tipping that balance further in the right direction.  By the time Christmas Eve gets here, you should find me lounging with my feet up, snacking on holiday treats, watching favorite movies, and reading just for fun.  No papers to grade, no meetings to attend, no class to plan.  Just celebrating the spirit of Christmas.  From the comfort of my couch.

Oh, yeah.  And waiting for one Baby Duck to make her appearance.  This round belly (and even the aches and pains and grossness and indignities that go with it) is the ultimate reminder that I should feel blessed, not stressed.