Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The 10 Year Challenge

 You may have seen this on social media... lots of folks posting a photo of themselves 10 years ago and a picture of themselves now. 

I texted some of my friends and noted that these 10 year posts were kind of getting to me. And not because I think I am getting age spots on the backs of my hands that most definitely were not there 10 years ago (although, yes, that). It's because I have very few pictures of myself 10 years ago. 

Ten years ago, I still clawing my way out of deep, dark, despairing grief. Ten years ago I skipped Christmas because the death of my baby also killed any desire I had to celebrate anything. Ten years ago my general state of being was shifting from suffocating sorrow to buzzing anxiety. I was newly and fragilely pregnant with Zuzu and I didn't want to tell anyone because I had discovered what happened to me when I celebrated and shared and talked excitedly about having a baby.

If this "10 years challenge" had surfaced last year, it undoubtedly would have been harder. But even this year it made me feel itchy. A photo of me ten years ago is hard to find because I felt like I had little to document and little reason to smile about it. So I was going to do what I do--scroll past these social media posts and distract myself with something else (oh, here, another article on Omicron).

But then my co-worker asked if all of our staff could do the 10 year challenge on our department's social media accounts. So... here we are. 

I do have a picture of myself ten years ago. 


It is December of 2011. I am in Puerto Vallarta. I'm standing in front of a beautiful floral hedge. I'm posing to show off my nonexistent baby bump. I am 13 weeks pregnant. I am smiling, but I am grieving and I am scared. I'm scared that documenting this stage of pregnancy means that this baby will die. I'm also scared of not documenting it, of this baby thinking that we weren't thrilled when in fact it was the best news possible for us. 

And here's a picture of me ten years later. 


It's December 2021. I'm at home. These girls are all mine! (Gee is pouting because she didn't get to go to the theatre with her sisters). Our Christmas tree is glowing. Life is full and busy and more fun that I could have let myself imagine when I was in Mexico ten years earlier.

But what you don't see in either of these pictures is the girl who is missing. And I think that's hard on me, too. We're now a full year past the ten year mark. It's been more than a decade since I held Eliza's tiny, bundled body in my arms. And there is so little evidence that she existed. The ten year challenge doesn't reflect my biggest challenge of all--going on without her here.

Ten years ago, though, I was missing a baby who should have been turning one, babbling her baby babble and taking her first steps. I was missing every moment of what I had dreamed motherhood would be, and it didn't matter how beautiful Mexico was in December, there was nothing that could ease the ache of that loss. 

Ten years later, I'm missing an eleven year old girl an a life that I can't quite envision. Personality and attitude and interest and conversations that I'll never know. And there's still an ache. Even surrounded by the chatter and laughter and tantrums and activities of her sisters, there is still a loss. A loss that you can't see in these photos. 

For some of us, the ten year challenge is seeing who isn't there, and remembering how much they matter. It's no stretch to say that everything that has happened to me in the last ten years has been influenced by Eliza--at least, all my best decisions. 

No matter how much life has changed in last ten years, what hasn't changed is how much I miss her.  

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021: Year in Review

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

 1. What did you do in 2021 that you'd never done before?

* published a book
* took tennis lessons
* vacationed in Michigan
* traveled to Milwaukee
* went to Disney World without kids (work trip)


2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I love new year's resolutions, even if I don't keep them all! I'm not feeling super motivated this year, so we'll see if that changes. 

Last year's resolutions (with current commentary in italics):

* daily yoga (even if it's one downward dog)
Not quite daily... But definitely most days. I did really well for a while, fell off for a bit at the start of the school year, got back on the wagon, dropped off around Thanksgiving. But I am more stronger and more flexible than I was a year ago, and I credit that to more days doing yoga than not doing it.
* no new clothes for me until June
Nope. I definitely bought clothes. But mostly of the gently used/consignment variety, which I'm trying to be better about.
* more veggies
Hmmm. I forgot about this one and didn't really track it. I did really well with green smoothies when the weather was warm, but when romaine lettuce got sad looking at the store, I fell off the wagon. We tend to do the same veggies (we all like broccoli!) but I should probably kick this up a notch.
* boost savings account
Yes... boosted it, then used it, then boosted it some more. Lots of short term savings that I want to continue to amp up... I'd like to take a vacation and renovate our bathroom.
* buy used/local
Yes, but I want to do more of this as well. 
* revise novel
Ongoing process, but getting closer to completion, thanks in large part to my amazing and supportive writer's circle of Academic Mamas Writing Fiction. How does one do anything without a network of supportive women friends? 
* involvement in equity work at kids' school
This is ongoing. I'm not sure how effective I am, but I will continue involvement, especially as school board elections are approaching.
* read 65 books
Yep. 

Resolutions for 2022
I'm still pondering these. This is the first year I'm not really feeling resolutions. I kind of know what's working (yes, I should continue to do yoga & get back to drinking more green smoothies) and what's not (doomscrolling) but it's hard to feel motivated or resolved toward self-improvement when the changes I most want to see are outside my control (global warming & pandemic). Still, I suppose that controlling what I can is helpful and I do want to make measurable progress on my novel & be purposeful in some other areas. So I'll keep thinking & maybe post an update on this later.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My sister-in-law, JoAnna, had her third baby, my niece Turing, who is the chillest, happiest, most delightful baby.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes. In addition to our beloved pup, Cooper, we lost my grandfather on my dad's side and both of my mom's brothers. I also have friends and coworkers who are mourning grandparents, parents, spouses, and pets. It was a rough year for loss. 

5. What countries did you visit?
If you count drinking my way around the world on a work trip to Orlando that included an evening in Epcot, I really traveled! In real life, we did not leave the U.S., but I did make it (masked & vaxxed) to Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Florida.

6. What would you like to have in 2022 that you lacked in 2021?
The end of this f&$%ing pandemic.

7. What events from 2021 will remained etched upon your memory?
Our summer vacation, vaccinations for the kids giving me some relief (pre-omicron), email responses from people who read my book & that time my parents took 5 grandkids (ages 9, 7, 4, 3, and 2) on the Polar Express train ride and on their return from the "North Pole," there was a car stuck on the tracks, which meant they got stuck on the train for 2 hours.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Publishing my memoir about Eliza. I wrote about how I felt a little let down or embarrassed to self-publish it, but I am proud of what it contains, and proud of myself for forging ahead with it and realizing that it wasn't about the recognition of a traditional publisher. I'm awed (and a little heartachy) by the way it continues to have steady sales. Most of all, I'm humbled and honored by the responses that I've gotten and so grateful that I had the capacity and most of all the support & encouragement to do this in memory of my Baby Duck. 

9. What was your biggest failure?
Probably parenting related, but nothing enormous stands out. Just the ordinary day to day failures of oversleeping, losing my temper, etc. Maybe the time we went out to of town for several days and I laid out all of Gee's outfits and then left them on her dresser, not packing a single thing for her.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I woke one night with the worst pain I've ever experienced in my foot (and I've had natural labor without pain killers four times). I was sure when I pulled my foot out from under the covers it was going to be black and blue and would require surgery from some bizarre injury or internal bleeding. Instead it looked completely normal, but it hurt worse than anything. I think I was suffering from nerve pain. It kept me up for a few hours despite taking ibuprofen and then I finally dozed off. When I woke in the morning, it was sore but not excruciating. It's been fine ever since. WTH??? Fortunately I have otherwise remained healthy and free from injury.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Kate Baer's poetry books, a Plum Paper planner, Aerosole driving mocs, and an Ethan Allen chair from FB marketplace (why yes, I am living like a rock star, aren't I?)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
* governor of Kentucky
* my daughters' teachers who are amazing
* everyone navigating this pandemic without being an A-hole
* my spouse, per usual, especially for carrying on while I had an unusual number of nights away from home this fall

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Insurrectionists at the capitol on January 6, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, pandemic-deniers, people banning books and those trying to create a stir over so-called critical race theory in schools. 

14. Where did most of your money go?
childcare, groceries & (finally and happily) extracurricular activities!

15. What did you get really excited about?
thinking in June that the pandemic was ending, girls' weekend with college friends in Columbia, writing retreat in Iowa with my friend Julie 

16. What song will always remind you of 2021?
sad girl autumn songs--Taylor, Adele, Brandi & also Olivia Rodrigo

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder? happier
thinner or fatter?  NO LONGER ANSWERING THIS QUESTION BECAUSE ITS IRRELEVANT... as I tell my kids, the way you look is the least interesting thing about you.
richer or poorer? breaking even?

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
seeing my grandpa before he passed away

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
laundry (why is there sooooo much laundry?)

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home with my parents and MIL. It was a rough Christmas Eve--one kid had a big meltdown and I got mad at D for how he handled it (or didn't). But we had a nice Christmas. Girls loved their hover board & weather was unseasonably warm. 

21. Did you fall in love in 2021?
with Baby Turing, showering at night, and Iowa City (on an away-game weekend in early November). Also with Gee saying, "I want to hold you" or "I need snuggle you" when she wants to be picked up. 

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Sex Lives of College Girls. Mindy Kaling is a genius.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I wouldn't say hate, but I would say a good handful of people really bummed me out. A lot of them are elected officials.

24. What was the best book you read?

Top 5: 
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
The Guide by Peter Heller 
The Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

In nonfiction, The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee was the most important and eye-opening book I read in 2021. 

I also loved two memoirs: 
Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile (definitely do this one on audio) 
Lady in Waiting: My Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner (do this one to assure yourself that being part of the British aristocracy is actually a nightmare)

Honorable mentions go to these fantastic page turners, all of which I would highly recommend):
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (endearing octogenarians solve mysteries!)
Who is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews (kept me guessing & tore through it in a weekend!)
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (not my typical genre, but I was completely absorbed)
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (I really, really loved this book club read)
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman (super fun thriller--great on audio)
and The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (because I'm a sucker for a good Jane Eyre re-imagined)

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
Taylor's re-release of "All Too Well" was all the angst I needed to express in 2021, and Adele's new album + Brandi Carlile's new album are perfection. Leslie Odom Jr.'s Christmas album is also wonderful.

26. What did you want and get?
a summer vacation with my family

27. What did you want and not get?
the pandemic to be over (just like last year)

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Promising Young Woman -- I watched very few films this year, but this one was a mind-blower. Really dark, though.
side note: I look nothing like Carey Mulligan, but I would still want her to play me in a movie about my life.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 41 and it was unremarkable? We went to dinner and the kids were ill-behaved. The next day we left for Indiana to visit family. I have made a conscious decision not to get into an existential funk about my age, but also to invest in a quality skincare regime. 

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

An end to this pandemic. COME ON ALREADY.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2021?
Skinny jeans are the new uncool mom jeans and I can't wrap my head around it except to acknowledge that I am officially super old because I can't believe the jeans these college kids are wearing lolololol but for real they are hideous. So I guess my personal fashion concept is uncool mom who prefers soft stretchy pants anyway.

32. What kept you sane?
Marco Polo, text threads, book club, writers circle, (so basically, female friendships) + teamwork with David + weekend visits from my parents + snuggles with my kids + working at a university that is actively invested in protecting faculty, students & community from Covid-19

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Kamala Harris, Andy Beshears, Laurel Bristow on IG

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
I mean, if we're ranking them, it's got to be the attempted government coup endorsed by ousted president, Donald Trump. Pretty alarming.

35. Who did you miss?
Still missing my friends from my old job. My Bubba, Cooper. And of course Eliza, who would be eleven and in fifth grade this year.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
My writers circle! Angie, Jenni, Margaret & Raechel. 

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2021.
2021 taught me to just do the things and figure it out--self-publish the book, sign up for the tennis lessons. It taught me that I will get so much more reading done if I embrace listening to audio books (hot tip: I listen in the bathroom while I shower/get ready). 

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
From "The Story" by Brandi Carlile:

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But those stories don't mean anything 
When you've got no one to tell them to, 
it's true
I was made for you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Cards & Envelopes

Photo by Ranurte on Unsplash

A woman named Brooke Styche posts on Instagram as @almosteverydaypoetry and I love what she writes. 

She recently posted a poem that took my breath away, that took me right back to December 2010:


The stack of Christmas and sympathy cards on the table
wishing us a merry
a sorry for,
sending us comfort
and joy--

I hang holidays on the ribbon in the kitchen,
want to tuck heartache in a drawer
for after gifts and stockings,
for after what should be--

but in their envelopes, I cannot tell them apart.


I remember wanting desperately in the midst of my blackest grief for everything to go back to normal. I couldn't possibly have a normal Christmas. I couldn't possibly feel like celebrating anything at all. But I wanted to feel that way, and I was afraid I'd never, ever feel that way again.

I still haven't learned how to tuck heartache in a drawer, how to fully compartmentalize happiness and sadness in separate spaces. I think the trick is to let them mingle, to know that the only flavor that tells you you're alive is bittersweetness.

I don't think there's anyway I could have known how life keeps growing around pain, if you let it. How love fills in so much of the hurt, while still always leaving a place for the one who is missing.

***

Today is my friend Julie's daughter Anna's birthday. I don't feel like I should write about other people's stories, but Julie posted photos on Instagram today, of her pregnancy, and of Anna, that were so beautiful they took my breath away. 

I look at Julie's photos, at the delight in her pregnancy and the devastation after, and I am confident of one thing: If love were enough to keep these babies alive, they'd be here with us.

***

I was thinking a lot about Sandy Hook yesterday. I could write about gun control and fear and post a gorgeous Kate Baer poem about what it feels like to send your babies to school in a country that thinks owning guns is more important than protecting children, but I was also thinking about how any day is someone's worst day. How each morning, we can't tell by the outside of the envelope what kind of day is opening. 

How terrifying it is to love so much and be so vulnerable. To know that our children go out in this world and all we want is for them to live their best lives and also please, please don't concuss yourself on a park bench while sledding or fracture your spine slipping off the uneven bars or breathe in this virus that won' t go away or step out in front of that car going way too fast in a residential neighborhood. 

If love were enough to keep them safe, they'd all be here with us.

***

I'm wishing all of us comfort. And joy where we can find it. May all your envelopes hold holiday cards. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Eleven.

It’s an odd thing to celebrate a birthday of a boy who no longer lives. But I suppose it is no odder than loving a child who is simply a memory. - Redneck Mommy website

I'll remember you, Eliza.  In eleven years, in eleventy-hundred.  And I'll love you forever.  It's just what mommies do.

In January of 2012, I started the draft of a blog post that was inspired by a post written by Tanis Miller. At that time, her blog was called Redneck Mommy and she wrote about her son's eleventh birthday. I saved the link to that blog post, and that line with which it started. I remember being really struck with the idea of "loving a child who is simply a memory." I copied the link and then I wrote those few sentences, a promise to my girl. I wish I'd copied & pasted the rest of the post because the last few weeks I've been thinking about it. I remembered--nearly ten years later--that it was so meaningful to me, that I wanted to go back to it and see if I felt the same in ten years, when I was celebrating (is that the word for it?) Eliza's eleventh birthday.

But the post isn't there anymore. The blog has archives but they only go back to February 2013. I don't know why. Sometimes things feel too tender for this world, and maybe that post was one of them.

Photo by Timothée Duran on Unsplash    

On her birthday, I feel too tender for this world. Nudge me ever so slightly and my tears will spill over. It's a day like any other but of course it's a day like no other in my life.

Any day is a day without her, and I've already had a thousand days. 4,015, to be exact (or not exact, because I'm not figuring in leap years). And yet this is the day where my throat feels tight and my temper feels short and my heart feels heavy. This is where I want a wish that comes true without undoing all my other wishes that have come true. This is where I want just one more thing--one more girl--to make everything complete. Except, again, it's not just a day. It's always and every day.

Maybe this is just the day that I give myself permission to bring that longing up to the surface, to look it in the face and to remember--as long as I can stand it--how painful it is to rip yourself apart to bring a baby into this world, knowing that baby has already been ripped away from you. 

How did I survive? How does any of us?

I think people don't talk enough about how tedious grief is. How many times can we rehash the same sorrow? But the other thing about losing a child is that the grief is always new. Tonight, I miss a ten-year-old. Tomorrow, I'll be missing an eleven-year-old. And when I say I'm missing her, I mean, she was here and now she's gone. I felt her skin and bones. I wiped blood from her nose. I held her tiny little body. I have her footprints. I can provide physical evidence, not just that unreliable eye witness testimony. She was here and now she's gone and those facts don't change in eleven years.

I've been thinking about eleven.

Eleven is the year you get your letter from Hogwarts.

Eleven & Eliza are alliterative.

Eleven is the last year of elementary school. 

Eleven is little, but also big. When I was little, my friend Erin and I would dress up and play pretend and we would always say, "And pretend we're twelve" because to a couple of seven-year-olds, twelve was glamorous and grown. Even when you're seven, you know that eleven is still little. It's just on the cusp of everything that comes next, and wouldn't I love to see what that would be for her.

I wrote a book called Unimaginable about a baby I've spent eleven years imagining. But maybe eleven is unimaginable to me.

My friend Monica and I got to know each other in middle school, although we didn't really become friends until high school. She says that she can imagine Eliza at eleven because she knew me at that age. I don't trust myself to imagine her at eleven, although once when I was collaging in a journal, I cut out a little girl in a Tommy Hilfiger ad who had on sunglasses. Somehow, I was convinced she looked like a preteen Eliza. Is that what eleven might have looked like? Confident and cheeky, with shiny brown hair?

I study her sisters--a brown eyed girl, a green eyed girl, a blue eyed girl, light brown hair, medium brown hair, blonde hair, and I wonder who looks most like Eliza. Who acts most like Eliza? How would she be different from three variations on this genetic combo? It baffles me the way they look and act so much and so little like me and like each other. They are each so fiercely themselves. What clues can they give me about who Eliza would and wouldn't be? I wish I knew. 

That's the heart of it, right? That's why grief might be tedious but never gets old. I'll always wish I knew her and everyday she would have been someone a little bit different. I miss every age, every stage, every moment.

That paradox of grief: it's constant and constantly changing, shifting, sliding, slicing, soothing. The love, though. That's the same. 

Ten years ago, when I tried to imagine what the eleventh birthday would feel like, I couldn't see any of the details. But I knew then I'd love her forever and of course I was right about that.

So here's to eleven years without you, my beautiful missing girl. My winter baby. My favorite name. My first child. My almost dream come true. My most joyful pregnancy. My greatest sorrow is not knowing who you would be today. 

Eleven years ago, I never could have believed I'd make my way to this full and happy life, but the root of the root (and the bud of the bud) is that part of what fills up this life is the space my heart keeps just for you. 

Eleven years, always & forever.

Monday, November 29, 2021

What To Say?

 Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

I got an email the other day from someone who read the blog and just wanted to check on us. They noted I hadn't posted anything in... months. 

I miss this space in so many ways--I've been printed my archives in one-year volumes which are HUGE (like 250+ pages) and so, so dear in the way they trace my grief and then the babyhood of Zuzu and Coco. I feel guilty for not publicly journaling Gee in the same way, and yet the public side of the blog is what cuts both ways. Like many bloggers, I have felt a need to turn inward and not share so much, but I HATE when my favorite bloggers have done this because I love their voices and seeing their kids and it's all such a bummer that the internet can be a sucky place. At the same time, the community on this blog quite literally saved me in my darkest days, and that's just not there with blogs anymore. Engagement doesn't really happen in blog comments--definitely not the way it used to--and it feels even more navel-gazing than usual to blog out to nobody. 

So I post on Instagram mostly, but it's a personal account, not a babyloss account, and I keep it private because it's just photos of my kids and sharing memes I think are funny or posts that provoke my political outrage. 

I've actually been doing a lot of writing this year, post-publication of my Eliza memoir, but I'm working on a novel--a murder mystery work of fiction that I'm having fun with even though writing a novel is, like, really super hard!

So I've hesitated to return here to post... anything. Do I want a dramatic good-bye post? But what if I want to come back? How do I even begin to write a post knowing it would be the final blog post? I hate endings and good-byes. I don't know. I think that pressure--combined with the weirdness of writing into a void instead of entering a conversation in the comments--has kept me away or posting elsewhere, even when I've had thoughts I'd like to write out in blog form.

This is not a conclusion, but I guess it's a placeholder. I don't plan to blog as much going forward, and I appreciate that there are a few people who still would read here and miss it! I am so incredibly grateful for everyone who read hundreds of posts over more than a decade of blogging. I'm not sure I'm finished, but I'm also putting energy into other things right now. Blogging isn't the same anymore, and that's okay, too. What will never change is how thankful I am that this corner of the internet exists, that people read it and wrote "me too" in the comments, that it connected me to lifelong friends and convinced me that all over the world there are grieving people who are still going around being good and kind and generous. And I hope that I can be one of them.

Whatever comes next, I will keep you posted here. I can assure you that my little family is doing okay and most days I feel like the luckiest unlucky person who ever lived. Eliza's 11th birthday is approaching and I won't be surprised if I need to process some feelings here, too. 

xoxo

Friday, February 12, 2021

Unimaginable: Life After Baby Loss

It's here! My book is now available on Amazon in paperback or ebook format. It is ONLY here because of the connections and friendships and comments and encouragement I got from folks reading this blog. What an enormous gift it has been. I don't know how I would have survived without it. 


You can order the book here. (!!!!!!!!)

I dedicated the book to Eliza, but blog readers are #1 in my list of acknowledgments. The internet sure can be an ugly place, but this little corner of it has been so, so good to me. Thank you! I hope you'll read the book and let me know what you think. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Blast from the Past: Ms. B Returns with Some Advice on An Un-Lovely Neighbor

I haven't done a Ms. B advice column in years, mostly because I started to feel woefully unqualified to offer actual advice (I don't knoooooow, everything is so nuanced! This feels too hard!). Also fewer people started asking me for advice on this blog, so that made it easy to stop offering it. Lol. BUT a blog reader (they still exist!) wrote in with a question that I'm going to do my best to respond:

Hi, I know you don't do your Ms B advice column anymore but I wonder if you could revive it (even here in the comments?) one last time. I had a neighbor say that she didn't believe that people who couldn't have babies should be able to have 'lab babies'. My child is a baby born thanks to IVF and she knows this. What do I do? How do I continue to be civil go this person? Should I even try? She has two children close in age to my child, and my child likes playing with them. I need advice, and I don't know who else to ask. (You can feel free to not post this question and answer this anonymously, if you like - if you do choose to answer it. Thank you if you do!) - Anonymous

Photo by Derick McKinney on Unsplash

Dear Anonymous,

So I confess that I outsourced this question to my best friend whose two darling babies were conceived via IVF and her response was (and I quote): "What. The. Actual. F#$%?!" She then followed that up with, "Does she want to maintain this relationship?"

So we'll start there. Actually, let's start by saying that the neighbor was way, way out of line. Being entitled to an opinion is not the equivalent of having the right to say to a neighbor that you think their child should never have been born. I'm sorry that you had to hear that, and I know it had to be unbelievably hurtful.

Back to the question: Do you want to have any kind of relationship with this neighbor and, if so, what kind of relationship would that be? It seems like it would be hard to be more than cordial with someone who would say that to you, so I'm guessing you're not looking to build a real friendship. Can you avoid her and still let your children play together? Are you comfortable letting your child play in her house/yard without being there? 

Next question: Would you rather put on a thin veneer of politeness and never confront her about this statement, or are you just looking for the right words?

We're all pretty well socialized on how to seethe silently and never confront someone, so if that's what you choose, I'll just say that you're not wrong to prioritize keeping the peace for the sake of your child or for your own mental health if the idea of confrontation really stresses you out. It might not be worth it. As long as I was confident the neighbor would never say something hurtful directly to my child, I don't think I would try to put limits on the friendships with her kids. And for that reason, I can see the benefit of just avoiding her as much as possible but keeping things peaceful so that the kids can still play.

However, her opinion is likely never to change if she's never asked to reflect on it. If you decide to have a conversation with her, I would imagine starting with something like this:

"You know, you made a comment a while back that has really been bothering me, and I wanted to make sure I understood what you said." Or "You said something a while back that I can't stop thinking about, and I'm not sure you realized how hurtful it could be."

Presumably she'll look shocked and ask you to say more, and then you can say, "When you said that you don't think people who aren't able to have kids should not be able to have 'lab babies,' are you talking about children who are born through IVF?"

Pause to let her talk... and I have no way of knowing how this might go. She might talk about religious beliefs, in which case you'll have to say firmly, "Well, we obviously have very different opinions on this issue but I'll pray for you" and leave it at that. Or she might try to explain it in some other way. Best case scenario, she apologizes! If not, you can listen and then say, "You are aware that we were able to have [child's name] because of the miracle of IVF?" and see if she has further comment. 

If she doubles down, then you know she is unkind and pretty toxic and you want to avoid her. You can close the conversation by saying something like, "I think it is easy for you to have those opinions because this has never been your personal struggle. I'm grateful every day for my child." And then walk away.

If she seems open to a conversation and you feel like sharing, you could talk more about your experience with infertility, or the issue of infertility more broadly and see if you can get to a clearer understanding or educate her about how to be a little more empathetic. It's possible that she has never deeply reflected on what her statement actually means or how it would impact people that she actually knows. (It's easy to make sweeping statements, but it's much harder to be hateful up close.)

The other thing you can do is to write a letter or email, starting it the same way you might a conversation, but without having to wait for her to respond. You can restate what she said and explain how it made you feel. This leaves open three outcomes:

- She confronts you and is unapologetic or she tries to offer context but stands by her statement.
- She apologizes.
- She avoids you forever.

But at least you'll get to say your piece and she'll know where you stand. 

Once again, I'm sorry you had to hear someone say that. I'm so grateful for IVF as it has created some of the coolest kids I know. Celebrate your miracle kiddo and know that the opinions of your neighbor can never diminish the value and sparkle that your child brings to the world. 

xoxo,
Ms. B

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Disconnected Thoughts

So remember how last week I was like, "Probably my book will be available this weekend!" 

Womp-womp. Not so much.

Here's the thing: I'm working with a company helping me do cover design and page layout. I chose to do this because I want the end product to really look and feel polished and professional. After everything I put into the pages, I want it to not look crappy, you know? But that means that they send me something and I ask for a change and they make the change and then I approve the change and even the smallest changes can take a whole business day in terms of the back and forth email exchange. So it's just a whole process and everything takes so much longer than I think it will. I had to approve the interior pages, the e-book cover, and now the paperback cover. It's all coming together and I'm really excited, but I also want to make sure I'm not missing something that will have me kicking myself later.

(Although I think it was Jen Hatmaker who got Glennon Doyle to write a forward for her new book and then her publisher accidentally printed the whole first run of the book with NO FORWARD INCLUDED even though it said "foward by Glennon Doyle" on the cover and that is a true publishing disaster and yet Jen is doing just fine, so her story gives me hope.)

Anyway, let's just say the book continues to be forthcoming (AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, I SWEAR!) and I will keep you posted.

# # #

Photo by Matthew Bornhorst on Unsplash

It's Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil apparently saw his shadow, which is not the news we need right now. When I told the girls that the groundhog predicted 6 more weeks of winter, Zuzu replied, "Well, I don't really trust that dude." 

I appreciate the health skepticism. The sun is shining today and that's helping my mood immensely.

# # # 

Meanwhile, I read this article about historians doing work on Alexander Hamilton and then I had so many thoughts about it that I wrote a multi-paragraph Facebook post and the comments were CIVIL and thoughtful and I didn't regret posting it, so there's a FB miracle for you. Here are my thoughts on this article.

Something I think about a lot is how to be a fan of things that are also partly terrible. And I don't just mean Emily in Paris (although, yes, that). There are things I really loved as a kid that no longer sit well with me. Some I think merit discussion, even though the shine has worn off (Little House on the Prairie books) and others I'll never read or watch again (Gone With the Wind is just too horrible, even though that scene of Scarlett and the Tartleton boys is a visual delight). It's harder and less pleasant to have a complicated and nuanced perspective--I loved GWTW as a kid until I realized how gross it is in its depiction of slavery. I read Chernow's book on Alexander Hamilton and I was definitely not alone in falling in love with Lin Manuel Miranda's musical. So now that historical documents show that Hamilton was not an abolitionist but an enslaver, does that change things? 

Yes. And no. Yes--Hamilton is not a hero. He was already a cheater and a liar though, so I've been on #teameliza from the start. LMM is still brilliant and the musical is still wonderful in other ways (but not perfect--it doesn't pass the Bechdel test, so that's important, too.) 

I guess my point is that it's sad and hard for be disappointed by the people (and movies and musicals) that we love. Sometimes that means avoiding them as we go forward. Other times it just means having a conversation about these important problems and not shying away from confronting them. (Game of Thrones is too rapey and I can't even begin to unpack Sex and the City here, but let's watch and analyze them because they are great TV even though they are problematic.) 

It's unpleasant to learn that the founding fathers so many of us were taught to revere (haha see what I did there?) were actually smaller, more flawed, and less moral than we thought. It would be better if this country were built on men who lived what they preached about morality and equality and liberty for all. But we own up to reality so we can improve on it. We acknowledge that George Washington, a great leader in many ways, also did the unforgivable in enslaving people and not freeing them even upon his death. We acknowledge that Hamilton was brilliant (and, apparently, quite good looking) and also he made choices that cannot be justified or excused--not just cheating on his wife, but, according to historical evidence, enslaving human beings.

We don't want our heroes to be flawed, but all the real ones are. We can't expect them to atone for their mistakes because they're dead, and maybe we give them a little grace for the context of time and space (not that much, though, because there were men in the 1700s and 1800s who fought against slavery and remained faithful to their wives... it's not THAT hard). 

It's important to reckon with the truth of our flawed history so we can make the future better. Historical footnotes don't mean everything Hamilton did was garbage. It means he was selfish and inconsistent and ego-driven. And who among us isn't? So maybe he didn't deserve the glorious musical LMM gave him, but what a gift that was to us and to theatre (a musical which, again, can be problematic and still awesome).

This is literally the longest thing I've ever written on FB so I'll just assume everyone has stopped reading by now and I'll say that we we shouldn't pretend not to see what's there, even if we honestly didn't notice it at first. We can appreciate imperfect art and we can acknowledge the gifts of imperfect men while also calling them out so that the whole story is told, including the names of individuals whom history has tried to erase. (Also you should read this article which made me think all these things first thing on a Monday morning.)

# # #

Also I wrote about grief and yoga for Sharing Magazine and that article is up. 

# # # 

My to-do list is calling persistently, but I just wanted to drop a quick book update. Will tell you more as soon as there is more to tell. xoxo

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Independent Publishing & Imposter Syndrome

I've been thinking about imposter syndrome. My friend Samantha, who has been my biggest cheerleader and best source of advice for this project/process of publishing my book, was asking about the release date. She's ready to celebrate this book going out in the world and I was like, "Oh... should I post about it on social media?"

On the one hand, I'm really proud of having written a book, having written out the whole story and done the best I could to wrestle feelings of grief and total loss into words that didn't just show up in a blog post, but fit together in a larger narrative that has a beginning and a middle and ends by looking forward. Grief isn't linear, but you've got to find some way to tell the story, right? 

But on the other hand, I'm feeling a lot of imposter syndrome about celebrating the "publication" of a book that isn't being traditionally published. 

I know intellectually that this is silly. I know that the publishing industry is structured to work for capitalism, not to really reward/recognize talent. I've read (or at least started) plenty of traditionally published books that weren't that great. Also, I know a few people who have published independently and I consider them "real" writers and I absolutely respect their work. (Samantha, Heather Fleming, and Kristann Monghan all come to mind.)

I think that having spent years in grad school, published a few articles in academic journals, and worked in a profession where "publish or perish" is still very real, the idea of putting work out there without it being peer reviewed by a committee and approved by an editor feels almost like... cheating? Like I'm putting the book out there as though it is good and worth reading even though no Person of Authority has told me it is.

Who is this Person of Authority? What kind of gold star or pat on the back am I looking for her? This is nonsense! 

I am still firm on my reasons for not going further to seek traditional publishing--namely, that I am not interested in building an online platform/public personality. Traditional publishing is unlike to take my book because I'm not a public figure and my topic is very, very niche. I understand this, I am fine with this, and yet I do think it's important to make my book available for that small audience who might need it/want it/appreciate it. So logically, it still all makes sense to me.

Emotionally, I've had a little bit of flailing. Still not sure whose judgment I'm afraid of! Maybe friends who have published traditionally? But... they are very nice people who also understand the market-driven formulations of traditional publishing and are quite likely to understand this decision as well. I really think this is just a monster who lives inside my head and whispers that not publishing traditionally is the same as not being good enough instead of saying independent publishing is actually the best choice for this book, given all the realities of this particular situation.

The truth is that people will read it or they won't and whatever happens, the stakes are actually not that high? I want to honor Eliza and how much I love her and how much she means to me. But also I could never write something good enough to do her justice, you know? 

Despite my emotional entanglement, I'm ready to put this book out into the world. I think my struggle is about sharing and celebrating it, as though the only thing I'm allowed to celebrate is approval from other people? Do I really think that is true?

Important lesson: If I would not teach my daughters to believe that the only accomplishments worth celebrating are those that earn approval from others, then I should not believe that for myself.

So I'm taking the leap and celebrating it. Just like Zuzu in this photo:


I'm taking the final steps today to make this thing go live and I'm hoping it will happen in the next 24-48 hours. 

Now that I've brain dumped some anxiety, I can get back work! Will update as soon as there is a firm release date/time.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

New Year, Same Old Story

Let's talk about this book project, shall we?

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

I submitted the final manuscript for formatting back before Christmas. My hope was to get it all done by the end of the year, but with my designer/formatting being closed over the holidays, it didn't happen. Then I wanted one more round of proofreading edits, and my AMAZING friends Samantha and Kate helped me out with that process. I am the WOrST copyeditor of my own writing (as those of you who have been reading here for a while undoubtedly know, hahaha). My brain just reads what I intended, not what I actually wrote. I am eternally grateful to those who line-edited this final copy. I now have an official ISBN number (is that redundant? does the N stand for number?) so woot-woot! It's getting real. 

My understanding from other independent authors is that reviews on Amazon are a big help in terms of not just selling the book but establishing it as legitimate, you know what I mean? So I am putting this out there as my major request--if you read the book and feel compelled to leave a review, I would really, really appreciate it. 

I hope it goes without saying that I do not have huge sales goals for this book--in fact, as I imagine most of the people who find it will be seeking it out intentionally because of a personal loss, big sale numbers feel kind of sad. But it is my hope that it becomes a book that gets circled and recommended in grief support groups--informal as well as formal--and can even accompany writers like Elizabeth McCracken and Kate Inglis, whose words made me feel less alone in those dark, early days. 

I've had plenty of crises of confidence in this process, and the thought that I should just drop the whole thing all together--too big a hassle! Who am I to put this out there and think people should read what I've written? But I keep reminding myself that while I am telling a story that has been told (and been told really well) already, I am also telling it in a different voice and my voice might resonate with some people who don't connect as much with other authors, for whatever reason. Plus, I've worked really hard on this. It's been hours and hours of time spent trying to wrestle the most difficult feelings of my life into words on the screen, and while blood and sweat have thankfully been relatively limited, plenty of tears have been shed in this process for sure. In that way, it's been really cathartic, and while I still feel like Eliza's story is unfinished, I'm glad to wrap up this chapter in a book.

I will post an update as soon as I know that it's gone live on Amazon. I'm just waiting on final details and me figuring out the process of uploading it and getting it listed--and then my understanding is that it may take a day or two for Amazon to process it so that it's available for purchase. It will be available in paperback or ebook form. Oh--and the official title: Unimaginable: Life after baby loss.

I really, really want to post a picture of the cover because it's awesome and it kind of makes me catch my breath and it was a whole process and I owe major thanks to the brilliant vision of my friend Caroline Hidalgo, who basically told me what to put on it. But I am going to save it for the big reveal post, which I HOPE will be later this week. Please stay tuned! 

* * * 

Oh, and just a quick update for those of you who enjoy stories about my other baby ducks:

Zuzu had virtual school yesterday. She was logged on for her math lesson when I started a meeting at 10am. When I got out of that meeting at 11:45, she was watching YouTube videos and had "lost track of time" and forgotten to login for reading and for art. We are still very much working on getting back into a routine here! And while keeping track of time is not her strength, her recall of plot and characters in Harry Potter is astounding. We're finally into book four and it's not too scary.

Coco had her first gymnastics meet ever. She was sooooo wired and excited about it. She worried about her beam routine in advance, and was so worked up about it a week in advance that we watched the video of the routine that her coach put on FB, wrote down each step/movement so I could remind her, and then she told me she wanted to practice it three times a day. She did exactly that, and she totally nailed it at the meet! (Which was masked, social-distanced, disinfected, and well-ventilated.) I reminded her on the way there that the most important thing was to have fun and she replied, "Mom, if I don't WIN, then it won't be FUN." (She's the competitive one, and we recently had to have a conversation with her about why it's not okay to ell, "Haha, suckers!" at David and Zuzu when she and I beat them at shuffleboard). Anyway, this was a "ribbon meet" so the emphasis was not on "winning"--each gymnast tried for her personal best score and got a white, red, or blue ribbon, but they weren't competing against each other. She was satisfied with her two red and two blue ribbons (a blue for the beam!) and had a great time.

Gee continues to be a wrecking ball and a sweetheart. She does a happy dance when she's reunited with her family, which is so adorable. She gives kisses and loves to say hi to anyone on a screen. She gets on the phone with my parents and screams to see my dad, "Bops!" and then insists on "More Bops!" if my mom tries to retrieve the phone. She did upset her sisters the other day when she put wet washcloths on their heads and they discovered that she was soaking the washcloths in the toilet in order to get them wet. She remains an excellent and voracious eater, easily polishing off as much pasta as her sisters and usually eating more than they do at mealtime. At 20 months old, she's easily filling out size 2T clothes and finally stringing words together to make sentences. 


And that's the latest here. Hope to have more updates on the book soon! 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: Year In Review

Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

Can't stop, won't stop! Here's my year in review for the millionth year in a row:


1. What did you do in 2020 that you'd never done before?
* wore a mask in public
* worked from home at a new job
* spent 24/7 with my children from March until August
* accepted Zoom meetings as the norm
* lost sleep over a presidential election


2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year my year of the word was "embrace." I totally and completely forgot about this, but it feels kind of ironic since I've hugged my immediate family and NO ONE ELSE for an entire year. I'm not a huge hugger but I really miss hugging people. 

Last year's resolutions...
- More yoga - Yes, I did this. I'm more flexible right now than I've ever been in my adult life, even though I fell of the daily wagon in early December (grief slump).
- Mantra for 2020: Remember you already have everything you need. I'm going to try to be very conscious about consumption and see if I can purchase most of our non-consumables (clothes, home items) gently used. I did pretty well with this, but definitely could have done better.
- Organize for the morning the night before! (This is so obvious. Why is it so hard for me?).  I did this at the start of my job and then it became much less crucial when I quit leaving the house.
- Try to chill out about my new job. I actually saw a therapist to help me stop freaking out, which was a great move. I was only at my job for 8 weeks before everything shifted to working from home, but at present, I really love my new job in ways that are somewhat unexpected. I feel very lucky.

This year's resolutions:

* daily yoga (even if it's one downward dog)
* no new clothes for me until June
* more veggies
* boost savings account
* buy used/local
* revise novel
* involvement in equity work at kids' school
* read 65 books

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
G's first babysitter, my friend Paige (who is also the SIL of my SIL) had a baby boy in November, whom I've seen briefly from 6 feet away.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, but I know too many people who have lost someone they love this year.

5. What countries did you visit?
Ha! Barely left my house.

6. What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?
Traveling and hugging my friends and eating in restaurants and going inside other people's houses.

7. What events from 2020 will remained etched upon your memory?
The COVID-19 pandemic & the election

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I was so grateful for the participation in my Eliza library donation project, and so proud to donate 150 books to the library at David's school. I also started a new job, shifted to working from home, taught a class at my new university that went well, supervised remote learning for the girls, and completed my Eliza book project (waiting on layout to be finalized and final proofread!).

9. What was your biggest failure?
I don't think anybody needs to focus on failure in the year of the pandemic. There were plenty of things I should have done differently, but we are all just muddling through right now and that is FINE.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I had a sinus infection in January (like, an actual one--I clarify because I know a couple of people who thought they had a sinus infection later the year and actually had COVID-19). It was super gross and required antibiotics and an ear wax clean out that was horrifyingly satisfying and disgusting. But I took a round of antibiotics and that was the extent of it. 

11. What was the best thing you bought?
stretchy pants and a couple of sweatshirts, plus a lot of books from The Novel Neighbor, cute face masks, and chocolate and caramel drizzled popcorn

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
* Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
* the administration at the university where I work
* scientists and researchers finding a vaccine
* all healthcare workers 

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The President of the United States and also Mitch McConnell (this hasn't changed since 2019) plus Josh Hawley, senator from Missouri, and people who think that this virus is a hoax and/or that the act of wearing a mask to protect others from germs is an attack on their personal freedoms

14. Where did most of your money go?
instacart groceries & Gee's babysitter (who deserves every cent she gets)

15. What did you get really excited about?
sitting outside six feet apart from friends & Marco Polo messages

16. What song will always remind you of 2020?
Taylor Swift's entire Folklore album

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder? sadder... not in a personal way, but in an existential way
thinner or fatter?  unsure
richer or poorer?  about the same

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
exercise, reading actual books, and wearing my blue light glasses

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
doomscrolling

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home. My parents joined us since we were all able to take precautions. We didn't see anyone else, except via Facetime or Zoom. The girls did a Christmas spectacular performance via Zoom a week in advance, which was fun. Coco sang "Rudolph" and Zuzu sang "Jingle Bells" and they performed a couple of dances. Gee was supposed to announce what Santa says but kept saying, "No, no" instead of "ho-ho-ho."

21. Did you fall in love in 2020?
not with anyone new! But I will say that this year has shown me that I honestly like working from home. I feel more rested and less stressed and I like not driving every day. It isn't sustainable--and I wouldn't want it forever--but I want to take lessons from 2020 about how I really want to spend my time and carry them forward into 2021 and beyond.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Bridgerton. Never Have I Ever. The Flight Attendant. Schitt's Creek. The Crown. Cheer. Thank goodness it was a good year for TV because it wasn't a good year for much else.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I don't hate anyone, but I'm really disappointed in one person I know whose choices and values shocked me this year.

24. What was the best book you read?
My top five:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit

(Honorable mention: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Also important: Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi and Know My Name by Chanel Miller)

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
I'm not much in the way of discovering new music, so I can only say that we listened to a lot of Brandy Carlile, Jason Isbell, and Taylor Swift. Per usual.

26. What did you want and get?
work flexibility and a project that would help me commemorate Eliza's tenth birthday.

27. What did you want and not get?
the pandemic to be over

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Did I even watch a movie this year?

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 40. I was ready to party. In fact, I ordered a gold sequined shirt in February, planning to wear it for my birthday at the end of July. I threw it on with stretchy shorts and "partied" with my best friend and her family at my house, which was great but not quite the night out I had imagined.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Adequate government leadership.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?
business from the waist up, comfy from the waist down

32. What kept you sane?
good friends, good books, yoga with Adriene, being on the same page with David about most things, and Heather Cox Richardson

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Kamala Harris

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
the election (the pandemic is not and should not be political, so it doesn't apply here)

35. Who did you miss?
I missed seeing so many people in person. I missed my friends and colleagues from my old job. Zoom is great, but not the same. I missed my would-be-ten-year-old girl. I missed seeing my brother and his family and all my extended family at Christmas. I missed being able to give my friend Erin a proper send off when she moved.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Surprisingly, I was able to connect with a group of women via Zoom who meet weekly to discuss issues of racial equity and they let me join their group. I've never met most of them in person--only over Zoom! But they are smart and funny and I'm grateful to get to show up and learn from and with them.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2020.
2020 taught me some things that should be obvious: nothing really matters more than your health and safety, everything I truly need is in my home or can be delivered, maintaining friendships is worth the effort, and I am so lucky.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
And when I felt like I was an old cardigan
Under someone's bed
You put me on and said I was your favorite
(from Taylor Swift's "Cardigan")

Monday, December 7, 2020

Ten Years (and one day)


One thing about writing about grief is that it is really hard because it always seems to come out as More Than or Less Than. Even when it's exactly what I'm feeling in the moment that I write it down, in the next moment (or the next day) it feels like Too Much or Not Enough to really describe what I'm feeling. 

This morning, I feel buoyed up by the love we felt yesterday. I feel clear-eyed and full-hearted. But the weekend was really hard. The dread leading up to the day. The memories of December 5, 2010, when everything was right in my world. I am always so aware of how lucky I am, of how many gifts Eliza has brought to us, but also I wish I could exist in this world without the heaviness of grief sometimes. Would it have been so hard for me to be one of those people who gets to have all their children live? Was that really too much to hope for?

At any rate, the day after her birthday feels like a bit of a relief--like we survived another year. I can let out the breath that I've been holding. 

But yesterday, I was feeling something else and I wrote about it, so I wanted to share it, too. Because grief is full of ups and downs and yesterday morning was really sad and hard. I had just a few minutes before Gee woke up, so I typed what I was thinking. Today, that second sentence doesn't feel exactly true. Or maybe it is still true, but not in the same way. Other things that once were lost--baby snuggles and diaper changes and staggering first steps and birthday parties and soft pajamas and pretty dresses on miniature hangers--I've gotten lucky enough to get those. My pain has softened because I've been able to have those things, and because time does help, honestly. But the central loss--Eliza herself, and the girl she would have been. That's the part that will always break my heart.

* * *

Thoughts on the Death of My Baby, Ten Years Later

It still hurts. It hurts every much as bad.
Ten years doesn’t blunt the pain so much as multiply it.
Take everything we’re missing.
Add a zero.
Ten years without her.
I text my friends, only the ones who also know what it is to take what you love most, wrap it in a blanket, and bury it.
I don’t know how we’ve survived, I say.
I don’t know either, they reply.

It’s different this time because ten years later I’m walking and eating and drinking.
But I’m still clutching that empty ache to my chest.

I don’t want to exercise or stretch or take advil or do any of the things that would make me feel better. I’m holding my breath. I’m tensing my muscles.

I’m bracing myself for the fall.

That moment when someone’s voice says, “I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat”
And the earth falls away from me.

Don’t think me ungrateful.
To be able to wrap my arms around my good fortune. To smell their heads and soothe their pains.
I am rich in daughters. Luckier than most.
None of them is ten years old.
None of them is my first baby.
None of them was born on a cold December day, when I became a mother
with an extra adjective:
bereaved.

Bereft.

Ten years of motherhood shaped by grief.
There should be a better lesson here.
Something about resilience and fortitude. Or, if we’re feeling spiritual, faith and hope.
It’s a mess, not a lesson.
It's a dream in ruins.
My grief muscles are weak, despite ten years of strength training.

It’s not fair that she’s not here. And I hate unfairness. The arbitrary chance that takes one life and saves another. I know too many babies worth saving, all of them dust. I know their mothers—the ones with pain in their eyes.

Ten years is too long to be away from my baby girl.


* * *

Thank you for reading. Thank you for bearing witness to my pain and abiding here with me, and sharing your stories with me and celebrating with me, too. Thank you for remembering Eliza with us. Some of you have been here for a decade, or close to that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Pandemic Holiday

We had our Covid-19 Thanksgiving. It was my parents and the five of us. The noise volume was louder than that sounds, mostly because the youngest member of our family is very loud and her sisters aren't exactly quiet. 

We usually have a few more faces around the table--friends who aren't going home for the holiday, international students who are in town until the semester's end, one of my in-laws--but this year it was just our quarantine bubble group. I felt very fortunate to have our small gathering this year, though, especially as I have friends who have lost parents and siblings within this past year and I know how hard it is when grief doesn't just have a seat at the table, but is a part of every bite you take, filling your stomach with a pit of emptiness that nothing really fixes. Except time, I guess, when the ache gets softer.

Highlights of the day included conversations starters at the table:

If you could be famous for anything, what would it be?

Zuzu: A famous YouTuber.

Coco: Babysitter, puppy-care, and gymnastics!

If you could eat just three foods for the rest of your life what would they be?

Zuzu: Tortilla chips, corn bread, rolls.

Coco: Pizza, bacon, and salmon.

Gee wasn't really part of the conversation, but she likes to make herself heard and finally as a few more words, including the ever-hopeful and quite-insistent, "CooKIE?"

We are coming into my Grief Season going full-throttle. I'm feeling more emotionally on-edge. There are lots of distractions, too. Kids are still on hybrid schedule for school, so they are home for virtual school three days a week. Gee is going to the babysitter, which is the only way we can function.

(I mean this quite literally, as I had to call the doctor in a panic recently, as in the time it took me to wipe down the high chair and table after feeding the kids lunch, she managed to get into a bottle of vitamin D supplements and I caught her chewing a few of them. I didn't think she'd swallowed any, but I also couldn't be sure... how long had she been out of my sight? Two minutes? Five minutes? I was crying on the phone with poison control, feeling like the worst mom in the world. Thankfully she had no side effects and probably the only tablets she consumed were the chewed up pieces that I frantically pulled out of her mouth with my fingers (she would have had to swallow 37 tablets to reach toxicity), but my heart races just thinking about it.)

(And I second guess putting things like this on the internet, because my already too-thin skin is thinner than usual this time of year, and the last thing I need is someone passing judgment on my parenting... although they couldn't say anything worse than I already said to myself...)

I'm still working from home, which is going well. This new job continues to have worked out more beautifully than I ever could have hoped. I'm busy, but not overwhelmed, and challenged but not exhausted at the end of the day. (Not exhausted by my job, that is. I am very much exhausted by my children at the end of the day.)

David has been working like mad to finish our mini-renovation in the basement. We paid a plumber to get the bathroom pipes ready and paid a drywaller to put in, tape, and sand all the drywall, but he's doing everything else: flooring, painting, trim, etc. It's a ton of work. It will be great when it's all done. I'm not convinced we really need the space, but I'm also not complaining about having a designated area for LEGOs and crafting. Last night, I discovered Zuzu had been building with Legos in our bathroom off the bedroom because she could keep Gee out of there. She picked up her pieces, but she missed a small white one that blended in with the title. Of course my foot found it this morning.

One of my highlights of the week was picking up the boxes of books that were donated for our book drive in memory of Eliza. It has been such an enormous gift to me to get the notification from the bookshop every time someone places an order from the wishlist, but seeing the books and holding them in my hands and putting the stickers in each one that say "Donated in memory of Eliza Duckworth" was just really, really great. I also got such pleasure from seeing Eliza's name jotted down on post-it notes placed on each book to designate them for our boxes. Nobody will ever say or write my girl's name as much as I wish they would, and just to know that the bookshop clerks were seeing it come through on their computer screens, or saying it on the phone with people and scribbling it on a post-it note multiple times... these are the little things that I appreciate more than people will ever know.

Our plan is to take the books up to David's school next week, or maybe the end of this week. I just love the idea of them being in the library there, and I'm so glad that we went through with this project. And especially glad that I started it back in October when I had more energy and it wasn't getting dark at 5pm.

My book project (the one I'm planning to self-publish) is also chugging right along. My goal is to have it up on Amazon before the end of the year. Assuming that things continue as they are right now, I should be on schedule. I'm nervous about typos, even having had a couple of readers and gone through it carefully myself, but I am trying to silence the perfectionism. I've definitely had some crises of confidence and more second-guessing myself (like, Should I even bother with this? There are many other great resources now!), but even while I may be plagued by self-doubt, I'm also pretty stubborn. I like finished projects. So, onward!

My semester of teaching is complete, as my students have papers due on December 4 but we are not meeting again as a class. I really enjoyed teaching this semester, but I'm also glad to hunkering down at home as our country braces for Covid numbers to jump back up after the Thanksgiving holiday. I expect to do the rest of my Christmas shopping online.

We will just hunker down at home for the month of December, which is how I like to spend that first week anyway. We've been watching lots of Christmas movies, playing lots of Christmas music, and we have our trees up and lit although one of them still needs its ornaments. (We have to schedule decorating during nap time, and there just aren't enough napping hours in the day to get done everything that we'd prefer to do without Gee's help/interference!) 

I imagine I'll have something to say about 10 years of missing her, but I'm trying not to pressure myself to come up with some illuminating essay on grief and love. We'll just see how the day/week unfolds. I'm still wrapping my head around 10 years. How much better things are than I could have imagined a decade ago, what gifts she brought into my life when she passed out of it, and how much I still want a world with her in it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Blown Away and More Big News

 I have been overwhelmed in the very best way by the support and encouragement and BOOKS that have been purchased for this project. We hit our goal and have had over 100 books donated to the Craig Elementary School library. As of this moment, there are literally just three books left on the wish list that still have the blue button indicating they have not been purchased. I can hardly believe it. People in other countries called the store and sent in PayPal payments. Like, what a hassle. I'm just so unbelievably grateful.

I mean, I expected people to help us out, I really did, but I thought we'd get a trickle of orders, and I'd remind people just before her birthday, and we'd get some more. I hoped we'd meet our goal but I was also preparing myself to be happy with whatever number we got. The outpouring of support and the kind words--it's just been so wonderful. I can't thank people enough.

I've ordered sticker book plates that are so special (will share pics when they arrive). I have been so emotional about all of it. It feels really vulnerable to ask people to spend money in memory of my baby and it's so validating and affirming when they are actually willing to do it. It makes me see how loved Eliza would have been--how loved she is.

My friend Renel bought a book called I Can Do Hard Things and she wrote in the comment section a note to Eliza that made me cry: 

I love you Eliza. For my birthday this year I am buying a book I wish you were here to read. “I can do hard things”... Your mama does hard things. Living a life without you here is a very hard thing. I know you would be a force for good in this world. I miss your voice and the universe we lost when you died.

That is everything, isn't it? We lost a universe when we lost Eliza. And so I'm here, doing the hard thing of living a life without her, and doing my best to be a force for good. Above all, I'm so, so grateful to the friends and family and blog readers who bought a book to show their love. I write a lot of words, but I really don't have enough words to say how much that means to me.

When I posted on Instagram that we were 3 books shy of 100, my friend Kristin wrote this note on my Instagram account that also brought me to tears:

I never had any doubts. Whenever I think of Eliza, I think of the library she would have had, the one you would have built for her, a book here and there, slowly growing with her. Her little sisters enjoying them as they grew along with her. It's always been the way I think about her on her birthday. What a gift it is that you've shared this Eliza library with others. There are few things in the world I love more than discovering a name on the inside of a book cover. It feels like a connection to someone in a very special way. It's how the library was built at my girls' elementary school--every book has a name inside. A few hold my niece's name in them too. Thanks for letting us be a part of this. That was a lovely gift for us too.

One of the first things I bought for Eliza was a book. We were in Korea visiting my brother, and I bought a children's book written in both Korean and English. I wanted to tell her about that trip she took with us to the other side of the world. There are a handful of books we received as gifts at my baby showers that have her name written carefully inside the cover in Sharpie--not as a mark of hope or confidence, but written in there after she died and was born, claiming those books as hers because I needed evidence of her in my world.

And now here we are, almost 10 years later, filling up a library with over 100 books that have her name inside, and passing down Eliza's books to her little sisters. 


Gee doing a little light reading

Now I'm teary again! I am so grateful to everyone who has supported this library donation project and really grateful to everyone who has supported ME over the past ten years. It is no exaggeration to say I might not have survived without this blog, without the framework and the outlet for expressing my grief, without the connections and the feedback and the comments that kept me going. I can't even express how much I miss my Baby Duck, but I am also so grateful for these gifts that kept me going in her absence. I am blown away by the sense of community I'm feeling, which is huge, given how fractured and fragmented things have felt this year. Losing Eliza ripped away my sense of certainty and optimism, but I am still holding onto some faith in humanity--thanks to people like you reading this.

Oh... and did I mention there is more big news? 

Here is an announcement that I am making here but I am not ready to share on social media... 

I am planning to put out a book.

I've been mulling this over for years. I have gotten several emails over the years from people actually asking for this, which is incredibly sweet and flattering and makes me feel so good. A couple of years ago, I started looking into agents and publishers and what I discovered is that to publish nonfiction, they mostly want you to already have some kind of platform on social media.

Here's the thing, though: I don't want to be a public figure. I don't want to run social media like it's my job. I want to have private accounts, to accept followers I know, and to post photos of my toddler eating a hunk of cheese without second guessing whether it's the kind of content people want to see (of course it is, right? We're all here for the cheese content). I don't want strangers to DM me and criticize me/my kids/my parenting/my grief. I do not have thick enough skin for that nonsense.

So I started talking to a friend and fellow baby-loss mom about the process of self-publishing. I'll be honest: as someone who reads a lot and got my PhD in a profession that is known for the slogan "publish or perish" when it comes to academic publishing, my initial feelings about self-publishing were that it was a kind of failure. It was what you do when you can't really get published. But the thing about really getting published, especially nonfiction memoir books, is that it takes more than writing talent. It enormous effort, lots of rejection, and a willingness to market and brand yourself.

That last part is where I hit a wall. I don't want to sell my book. I don't want to market it or advertise it or ask people to pre-order it. I don't want to be a brand. I don't want that pressure. I just want to make it available. 

I've been told enough times that I believe it that my words have helped people. I know that writing them has helped me. I want to put it out there so that if there is someone doing a desperate search on Amazon for themselves or their best friend or their sister, my book could pop up. There are some really good books out there already, but I've learned that it's not really about telling a different story so much as it is about providing a different voice. My voice and my writing style resonate with some people (and undoubtedly miss the mark for others), so if my book is the one that helps in some small way, that is what I'm hoping for. 

I still love writing here, but blogging has changed so much and my energy is moving in a different direction than grief content these days (most days, anyway).

So, it's time. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it now. 

I have a manuscript drafted. I'm tweaking the end of it because DAMMIT conclusions are my Achilles' heel and how do you conclude a story that is ongoing anyway?

Once I've finished, I'm sending it off to my incredibly brilliant and generous friend Samantha, who has encouraged me in this process for the past TWO YEARS and then when I'm satisfied that we've caught 99% of the typos and I have a conclusion of some sort and I've put all the sweat and tears into it that it deserves, I'm going to self-publish it and put it out in the world. Amazon makes this process pretty easy. I'll make it available as an e-book and a paperback book (they'll print on demand, which is amazing) and price it so it's affordable and put it out there in the world. My goal is to have this done by the end of 2020.

So there you have it. It feels scary to put it out there, but there it is.

It would have never happened without this blog, without everyone who reads now or used to read or read once and commented. It just feels like the right thing to do.

*Hahahaha* insert crazy laugh here because while everything I just typed is 100% true, I am also TOTALLY FREAKING OUT! This is a HUGE deal! I can't believe I'm doing it! And yet, here we go.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Love & Eliza's Library Wish List

 I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it will be ten years in December since Eliza died and was born and my entire life turned upside down. An entire decade of my life that I've been a bereaved mother. It was ten years ago that my life split between before and after, and here I am now. Still standing, still missing her, and living a life that I couldn't imagine would be possible in the early days and weeks after her death.

In the ten years since she was born, I've cried more than I did in the thirty years before she was born. But I've also laughed more than I could have believed. 

The thing that has gotten me through are the people who showed up. The friends who sat unflinching in my grief. The friends who flinched, and then came back and apologized. The friends I met because their babies died, too. The people who showed up to read this blog. 

Ten years feels big because double digits is big. It also feels like a grief milestone because it feels harder to talk about what comes after ten years. The grief doesn't go away, but I think it gets quieter.

I wanted to do something to mark ten years, to mark a decade without my Baby Duck. I wanted to find something that felt meaningful and important, that felt right for our family, that did something good, that would honor Eliza. In a way, I feel like I've been thinking about this for years. And I think I landed on it...

In honor of Eliza's tenth birthday, we are inviting our family and friends and blog readers and instagram community and basically our entire community of support to help us with a project. We have come up with an ambitious list of 100 books that we would like to donate to the library at the public elementary school where David works. It is a diverse and vibrant community that we have fallen in love with, and we want to ensure that the library reflects that. We have worked with the school librarian and selected our favorite titles to come up with a list of books to make reading fun, and to make sure that there is diverse representation.

We are inviting anyone who wants to help to purchase a book for the library through our favorite indie bookstore, The Novel Neighbor. We have partnered with them to make this happen, and while it would have been simple to create a wishlist you-know-where, I want to support independent bookstores and I'm so glad they were willing to work with us. They have created a wish list for us so you can see what has been purchased and what is still requested, and when you select "pick up in store" at check out, they will hold the book for us. We plan to pick them up in December, shortly after Eliza's birthday.

Each book will get a bookplate sticker that indicates that it was donated in memory of Eliza Taylor Duckworth, and then it will get placed in the library at Craig Elementary School.  

I know that it can be a hard season in what has been a hard year, and I'm nervous about this because it feels like a big ask. But if this blog has taught me anything, it's that every time I put myself out there and take a risk by being vulnerable, you people come through for me. So if you are able to make a donation, and you'd like to help us commemorate our sweet Baby Duck, I would be so grateful if you'd like to visit our wish list and donate a book to the library.

Thank you in advance for your help with this. And thank you for everything. For ten years of helping me hold it together and showing up when I was falling apart. For being a place of kindness and connection when I needed it most. And for remembering my Eliza, even ten years later. I am sending so much love, to all of you.