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. 

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?

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:


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.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Mom Brags; Mom Gripes; Book Talk

 Yesterday I participated in the launch of a new We Stories cohort. Families in St. Louis and across the country joined in the start of a new program focused on reading diverse kids' books as a way of starting important conversations about race and anti-racism with their families. This program was an important part of my own learning and has meant a lot to our family. So when one of the directors of the program asked if Zuzu would want to read a book out loud on Zoom for everyone in the launch, I asked her what she thought and was delighted when she said yes.

We'd originally thought she'd read our family favorite, Please, Baby Please, but that book is up at David's school. So she read Squeak, Rumble, Whomp instead. It's a book we don't read very often because I actually don't enjoy doing the sound effects (voices, animal sounds, and efforts at foreign accents, yes... random sounds, not so much). Since it wasn't very familiar, I had her practice reading it a few times. It's a bit challenging to read out loud because you really have to sound out the letters to make noises like "Tlock" and "Grrrrrumble" and it has words like "pizzicato violinists," which she kept pronouncing as "pizzical volcanoes." We actually have her on a wait list to be tested for dyslexia because I've noticed such a discrepancy between her oral language processing and her writing/spelling abilities, so I honestly wasn't sure how she would do sounding out silly or unfamiliar words.

But then it was time to read out loud to 100 families in a Zoom call, and she did fantastic! I was so proud of her! She read with such expression and spoke loudly and clearly. She had told me just a bit earlier, "I'm kind of shy, Mom. I don't really like the spotlight." But she did so great! I was beaming. It was seriously just the cutest.

It helped to soften the irritation I'd felt the night before when she and Coco carried their name stamps upstairs. They each have a self-inking stamp that prints their first name on paper. Honestly, I had a strange sense of foreboding as they carried some art supplies upstairs and I said TWICE, "We only stamp paper." 

Then I went upstairs and discovered that the white fabric lamp shade on Zuzu's dresser had "CAROLINE" stamped in pink across it. 

WHY? WHY? Why would she deliberately ignore what I had JUST SAID TO HER in order to graffiti a lamp shade?

I know kids make impulsive decisions--and Zuzu is more impulsive than many other 8-year-olds--but it was still infuriating. I stomped off to treat the lamp shade with rubbing alcohol and the suds of blue Dawn in hot water. It helped some, but I can still see the faint pink outline of her name.

* * * 

Coco usually wants to read out loud to me during their Zoom school reading time. I had her read a couple of the books included in her reading curriculum, and then I suggested that she continue a beginning reader "chapter book" called Little Bear's Friend that she'd started yesterday. Little Bear's Friend is just a little more challenging, and Coco really likes to read the books that she has nearly memorized. She wanted to read Nibbles the Book Monster (her longstanding favorite... we read it almost every night. She loves a good metanarrative.). As she was reading Nibbles, she pointed out the books that he was eating, "Oh, look, Mom, he ate The Secret Garden!" and I looked at the illustration which shows the book with a nibble out of it and said, "Oh, no! The Secret Garden is my favorite!" Then she pointed to a book that didn't have a title printed on it in the picture and said, "Uh-oh. Nibbles ate Little Bear's Friends!" That made me laugh. Guess that solves the problem of having to read it... 

Coco gets very cranky when she is hungry, and at the start of mealtime (especially if it's a non-preferred meal), she will occasionally need to be reminded to speak nicely. I often say, "I don't want to hear you mean-mouth Daddy when he has worked hard to fix this dinner." Now she has started to use that phrase and if Zuzu says something rude and hurts her feelings, she'll say, "Zuzu is mean-mouth!" It can be a noun, verb, or adjective.

* * * 

Genevieve continues to be our little wrecking ball, but she's got such a stinking cute grin that it's impossible to get mad at her. She was a real champ on our walk/hike yesterday at Powder Valley, although you've got to keep a close eye on her, as she will veer off-path, or turn around and start walking the other way. I'm always astonished and slightly alarmed at how unconcerned G is as to whether we are in her line of vision, even when we are away from home (which is rare, so I always think she'll be more cautious in unfamiliar places!). My friend Erin reminded me that I'd once told her (in reference to her son) that this habit of running away is actually a sign of a healthy attachment because it means the kid is very secure and knows that the parent will always be there. I must have read that somewhere? In that case, it seems that our G is definitely feeling secure and attached. 

G's current favorite book is Busy Doggies. She loves the pictures of real dogs and will say, "Woof, woof!" as we read it. (Her "woof, woof!" is very cute.) I had to laugh the other day because she picked up a stuffed Corgie dog and said, "Woof, woof!" and I was so amazed that her knowledge of what is a dog extends to all kinds of breeds, even sort of strange looking dogs like Corgies. I even said something to David like, "She's so smart! She's figured out that dogs breeds can look so different but are all the same species!"

Then I read her Very Busy Spider and when we turned to the page with the cow, G pointed it and said, "Woof, woof!" And proceeded to do the same for the horse, the sheep, and the goat. So much for my insistence on her toddler brilliance! LOL. We're still at the "all quadrupeds are dogs" phase of life.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Pedal the Cause, Year 4

 It's Pedal the Cause time again! And we are ready.

Six year ago in August, I brought newborn Coco home from the hospital and my friend Beth called to tell me that she had breast cancer. She was 34 years old.

Our lives have been touched by cancer in other ways, too. Our grandparents, my friend Brad from college, other friends of mine--moms in their thirties!--and students at David's school. 

As I wrote on facebook, in the year of the pandemic, many things came to a screeching halt. But cancer doesn't stop for Covid-19. So our girls are riding for Pedal the Cause again this year. Beth's team, The Mud & the Muck, is also a Ride for a Child team this year, so the girls have seen pictures and heard the story of a three-year-old named Paige who is fighting cancer. This year they are old enough to really understand that it means something to contribute to finding a cure.

They have an incentive program going so anyone who donates $20 to Pedal can request work of art that will be mailed to them. Zuzu will draw a portrait from a photo (examples below--I know I'm biased, but she's pretty good!) and Coco will draw a butterfly or rainbow (your choice). Even without the race happening as usual this year, the girls are excited about fundraising and making a difference for cancer research!

Here are the links to their pages:

Zuzu's rider profile

Coco's rider profile

Pedal the Cause is especially important to us because the money they raise is considered "seed money." It funds projects and research that are still in early phases--too early to get the big grants for funding, but full of potential. The Pedal the Cause money allows researchers and scientists to establish their work so that they can get the grants that they need. This means that for every $1 donated to Pedal, an additional $7 is obtained (on average) through federal funding. When we talk about cutting-edge research and the possibility of really finding a cure for cancer, we are talking about this kind of work.

Thanks for considering a donation!

Friday, September 4, 2020

On Childcare After Loss

G & Mama. Photo by Casey Rae Photography

Sometimes I think I've already written everything there is to write about loss, but a parent who is coping with a recent loss of a child commented and asked how I reconcile sending G to the babysitter after losing a baby, so I thought I would write about it a little. I think most working moms feel some level of mama-guilt, but in my experience, babyloss working moms get a double dose.

Yes; the question did make me feel a little defensive at first. I understood what the person was asking, though. When I was pregnant with Zuzu, I planned to go back to work, but I though at lot about how hard that would be and whether I'd want to stay home. 

Before I share my thoughts on this, I do want to say that of course the situation is different for everyone, so I'm just writing from my own experience and what felt right for me. Some moms--loss or not--never feel comfortable putting their kids in full time childcare. Other moms--loss or not--feel that it is vital for their mental health to outsource childcare. Every individual should do what is right for them, and should feel free to do so without judgment. Also, not everyone gets a choice. It would have been a financial adjustment for us if I'd quit my job--the kind of adjustment that I preferred to avoid--but we could have made it work. Not everyone has a partner whose job could provide for the household, so I'm acknowledging the privilege that comes with feeling like this is a decision to make, rather than a financial necessity.

I should also clarify that I am not currently furloughed--I'm working from home full time, plus teaching a class in person two afternoons a week. Zuzu and Coco are self-sufficient enough to make that work, although it's still not easy. I spend a large portion of my day in Zoom meetings, emailing, record-keeping, and researching, and that's all on my computer. That kind of work--and really any kind of work that requires sustained concentration--is not easy or really even possible when a wrecking ball of a toddler is around, so for me, outsourcing some childcare for G is pretty much a necessity since David has gone back into the school building (schools are virtual, but buildings are open and many teachers work from their classrooms). If she were a different kind of kid, maybe I could have kept her home longer. But she is a 15 month old who learned to open the back door and let herself outside. She's not really the sit and play quietly on a blanket and stay in my line of vision kind of baby. She is alarmingly independent and there is a reason we call her Wrecking Ball.

I think this person was really asking about the kind of philosophical mindset. Like how did I wrap my head around leaving my baby with someone else. When Zuzu was born--and really, with all three girls at first, especially after G was in the NICU--I did feel for a while that if I let her out of my sight, she would slip away from me. There is a reason that I had Angel Care monitors and (for G) the Owlet monitor. All of the loss parents I know have an increased level of anxiety when it comes to the health and well-being of their living kids. I spent a lot of time in therapy after Zuzu was born talking about this anxiety and finding healthy ways to cope with it.

I did think about quitting my job and I know that, having lost my child, many people expected me to do so. I had a lot of people ask me if I was going to stay home, so many that I thought that maybe it was what I was supposed to do and I felt guilty about not quitting. I certainly knew some people who did that, settling full time into motherhood, unwilling to put their baby into care, and I didn't want it to appear that I loved my baby less than SAHMs or that I took her for granted. 

When Eliza died, though, I had just earned my PhD. I wanted an academic career at a university. I wanted to teach and to learn and to have conversations about interesting and complicated ideas. I had worked very hard on my degree and was just starting my career after seven years in graduate school. It seemed doubly unfair for me to have to cancel that out as some kind of trade for having a baby that I got to keep, and it would have been impossible for me to talk time off and then enter into an academic track. I would have had to change career paths. I also resented that people would just assume I was going to stay home, as though my degree and the work that I put into it was meaningless or pointless, or as though not staying home meant I wasn't grateful enough for my living children. (This was probably my guilt talking more than what they were actually suggesting!) And I'm a feminist, so I was irritated that my husband was never asked that question.

One of the hardest things to come to grips with after Eliza died was feeling like I'd become a completely different person. I had worried that becoming a mom would make me boring or something, but living in a fog of grief made me feel like my entire personality was smothered by sadness. I did, however, emerge from that fog eventually. Of course I've never stopped missing Eliza, but I was able to find interest eventually in the same things that have always interested me. In fact, for me, going back to teaching at a university after Eliza's death was enormously helpful. It made me feel like I had a purpose and that I was capable of doing something meaningful. Talking about all of that in therapy and having someone assure me that these feelings didn't mean I didn't love my baby was extremely helpful.

I was also incredibly fortunate in that I didn't have to go back to work until my kids were older. Zuzu and Coco were each 6 months old before they went to daycare. G was 8 months old. That's not to say that I didn't still worry about them, or that it wasn't still hard, but I didn't feel that same kind of panicked urgency to keep them close to me the way I did when they were newborns. If I'm being totally honest, having time away from them made me enjoy them more when we were back together.

I'm not going to lie--going back to work at first was HARD. All three times. The first week was a real struggle and lots of crying (at least from me). With Zuzu and Coco, I started out piecemeal, just going back 3 days a week for a semester, which was really helpful. Then I was home all summer, and then they were over a year old before I went back 5 days a week. It's still hard on the mama heart, but it also felt good to be at work, even though I was also sad. It felt good to get absorbed in a task and to focus my brain power on something. My therapist also talked to me a lot about prioritizing myself and my needs/wants. We've all heard the thing about putting on your oxygen mask before you assist others, and for me that oxygen eventually included help with childcare so that I could work. 

It helped that my kids thrived in daycare. They loved their teachers, they loved being around other kids, they loved the variety of toys and games. They got a more consistent routine than I was able to provide at home, and a different kind of engagement. It was important to me that my kids be loved by a community, that they knew there are people who love them and keep them safe besides just their parents. And since we are far away from extended family, we outsourced some of that to their daycare providers.

I was also surprised that instead of being extra worried about how they were doing in daycare, I felt a sense of relief that someone else was temporarily responsible for their well-being. I don't know if that makes me sound terrible, but especially in the early months/years, I felt (feel) so much stress about keeping them safe and keeping them alive. The world can feel so full of risks and potential deathtraps. Sometimes it feels like a statistical miracle that any of us lives to grow up! I feel like I'm always on high alert with the baby--is she climbing too high? is she putting something in her mouth that isn't food? is she choking? is she still sleeping?

For me personally, perhaps because my trauma was specific to pregnancy rather than infant loss, and definitely because I found care providers I really trusted, I was able to relax while my kids were there. I was able to trust that they were loved and cared for and--most importantly--safe. And the responsibility was not on me to keep them safe! Instead, I got to have adult conversations and read books and write things and teach, and then I could pick up my kiddo at the end of the day and love on them. 

I worried about whether they missed me, or if they understood that I'd always come back for them, but I was able to trust that they were kept safe, fed, warm, and mostly happy, and that allowed me to feel comfortable leaving them in someone else's care. I think part of that is because Eliza died before she was born, so rather than saying I couldn't trust anyone else to keep my baby, I honestly feared sometimes that I couldn't trust myself. After all, I was the only one who could have known something was wrong when Eliza died. I liked the idea of a daycare with a director and cameras and multiple teachers keeping my kiddos safe. It was a relief to share that responsibility. Being vigilant gets exhausting. With my newborns, I still felt that I had to be on alert all the time (and, I mean, you do need to be alert all the time when it comes to baby safety!). Allowing a daycare provider to carry some of that responsibility was good for me.

On a more superficial note, I didn't have to prepare and clean up breakfast and lunch and snacks and craft messes and sensory play experiences. The tedium of meal prep and clean up is the bane of my existence--although at least my babies/toddlers were pretty appreciative eaters (unlike my 6yo and 8yo). I thrive when I have time to myself, when I have extended projects to work on, when I feel appreciated and productive, and when I can engage with others, share ideas, and get meaningful feedback. As much as I love my babies, life at home with them is basically the opposite of that. I feel so lucky that I got to have as much time at home with them as I did, but it felt like the right choice for me as a human person to go back to work. I do not feel like my best self when I am doing the difficult but tedious tasks of being a SAHM and trying to keep our house clean all day everyday. 

So, that's my answer to how I was able to drop my baby off at daycare. I was able to do it because I had several months at home with them first, because I started out going back part time, because it felt important to me that they had a community beyond our immediate family, because I found providers that I really trusted (recommended by friends whose parenting choices I also admired and trusted, and, in G's case, her babysitter was recommended by friends of mine who've also lost children and she herself had a stillborn baby, so she really gets how complicated it is), because I talked through my guilt and concerns in therapy, and because ultimately it was good for me as a human person to go back to my job.

That doesn't mean that because this was the right decision for me that it is the right decision for everyone, but I am relieved to say that I don't have regrets about those choices. We all feel guilty and judged, no matter what we decide, and after losing a child, these decisions feel even more loaded and fraught. I don't think the SAHMs I know have regrets about their choices, either. Somehow, it works out in the way that feels right for your family. Sending big love to anyone grappling with this decision, particularly in pandemic times. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

First Day of {Virtual} School

I taught at my university last week. Socially distant, in masks. It was weird, but less weird than I expected. I'm not feeling optimistic about us staying open after watching the news about UNC and Notre Dame. It's just asking too much to ask college students to sacrifice their social lives for a risk that feels minimal to them. I don't mean that in a snarky way, either. I get it. It's just a crappy situation all around.

Last Thursday was a busy day and the kind of running around I haven't done since March. I taught on campus in the afternoon, then picked up G from the babysitter, then met David at his school, where he had the big girls. They were playing outside while he sorted school supplies for pick up. I dropped off Coco at gymnastics, took Zuzu and G home and fed G dinner while Zuzu tried to login to her third grade meeting. We had trouble with the login in her schoology account and needed to use the login from my email but by that time we had to go pick up Coco so she only got to see a bit of the meeting on my phone in the parking lot while we had gym wifi. It felt like an inauspicious start to the year--minor technology mishaps, plus conflicting schedules, and multiple kids competing for my attention.

On Friday, Coco woke up with pink eye. I'm just hoping we don't all get it. So far, so good. She's been on medicated drops since Friday and having no other issues. A friend messaged me that pink eye can be a symptom of Covid-19, which had me spiraling a little bit. I did some googling and found that it is "unlikely" to be a symptom on its own, and we are already hyper-vigilant about any potential cough or sneeze or fever, so I almost wish I hadn't known! It caused a lot of worry and angst. Fortunately, her pediatrician was not at all concerned and she seems to be doing just fine. Her eye looks normal now, but we keep the drops up for a week. Unfortunately this means we're saying goodbye to her beloved make up kit she got for her birthday! 

G has been her active, busy, curious little self and continues to basically leave a path of destruction in her wake. She's continuing to earn her nickname Wrecking Ball (also Hurricane Genevieve). She still likes the mama snuggles and has finally, finally, started signing "more" and "milk," but she still does a lot of general screaming/shouting, which makes breakfast several decibels louder than I really like things to be at point in the morning. Today, amid the chaos, Coco helpfully asked Alexa to "play calming music" and she put on some mellow folk, which was soothing for all of us.

G colored on her adorable romper and the carpet on the bottom stair with an Expo marker yesterday. We installed a dry erase board in the dining room, which is now doubling as a classroom. The big girls were sword fighting with markers and marking on each other's skin, so dry erase marker privileges have been temporarily revoked and we ended up mounting the board upside down so our remarkably tall 15-month-old (she's in the 90th percentile! What?) can't reach the marker ledge. 

G climbed in the bath tub while D was in the shower the other day and broke a candle I had sitting by the edge of the tub (taking candlelit baths is 100% aspirational and not reality here so why do I even bother?). Anyway, D cleaned it up and vacuumed the glass out of the tub, but he missed a few tiny pieces, so the next day G climbed back in the tub and cut her knee and her little foot. She has also discovered she can open the dishwasher and then reach the kitchen counter, so that's a delight. Basically, no surface is safe from her except for the fireplace mantel, so it's frequently decorated with our phones, lego sets, remote controls, drinking glasses, and anything else the baby wants that we don't want her to have.

The girls started remote learning today. It's a lot. Even though they are pretty independent and savvy with technology after their experience in the spring, it's still a lot to manage and it's still hard to hold their attention. Coco worked very hard on an adorable self portrait and she wasn't quite finished and wanted to keep working on it even though her teacher told everyone to finish up and move on to the next thing. Since her teacher is just on a screen, she's not especially motivated to follow those directions. The project that is here in person feels more pressing or exciting. I can hardly blame her!

Zuzu was excited about the first day of third grade--up and out of bed early, dressed herself in her cute "Hello Third Grade" t-shirt from Grammy and did her own hair with a cute bow in it. Coco handles transitions more like her mama--kind of grumpy and reluctant. She has settled in just fine (we always do!) but she was a little crab apple for pictures this morning and I didn't get any of the two girls together. I'm going to make them pose at lunch.

Meanwhile, I'm squeezing in my own appointments in Zoom meetings and preparing for teaching class tomorrow and we are making it work. A year ago, I would never have imagined being here. And here we are, sliding into the New Normal and figuring it out as we go. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Early August: Birthday Recap, Nursery Plans, Pandemic Life

The summer seems to have slipped away in a whirlwind of... never leaving my house? I guess it's not quite fair to say that since we did take a road trip to West Virginia in July, but it continues to be months of mostly staying at home and definitely social distancing and while I have plenty of bright spots--including this face in particular:

like pretty much everyone else, the pandemic is wearing on me. I've recently had two different friends comment on how lucky I am to live with a cute and snuggly toddler, and I think about that all time because they are so right and also I had to stop in the middle of my yoga routine at 7am this morning because she wandered out of the room and I knew she'd be getting into trouble, and sure enough, she was on top of the kitchen table eating markers (literally eating them--she bites the felt tip right off). Just a little bit later, after I got her dressed and picked up her room, she opened the diaper drawer and started throwing diapers out on the floor and when I put my hand in the drawer to block her from being able to remove diapers, she slammed the drawer shut, smashing my wrist. All this to say, I'm so lucky to live with a snuggly toddler and also I feel like I'm just chasing her in circles. 

And so G has returned to her babysitter during the workday so that we can actually get work done at home and it is for the best for all of us. She truly needs an adult's undivided attention.

I don't want to write much about the stress and mixed feelings and angst about back-to-school, so I'll just say that our district had a hybrid plan where the kids could go two days a week but they have now shifted that so the kids will start fully remote for the first nine weeks. Which means we will all be home full-time until October 23 and there will be a re-evaluation in October. IMHO, I think it was the right call. Too many unknowns, teachers and administrators who are not earning hazard pay, so many big risks. But also... kids are suffering, teachers WANT to be back in the classroom (just, without significant health risks), and I think this article by a superintendent in Arizona really sums up the costs on both sides of a lose-lose equation.

My university still plans to open with modified face-to-face instruction and I'm expected to teach a class on banned books two days a week. Plenty of mixed feelings about that as well, since I'm excited to teach a small honors seminar on banned books and to have a reason to put on real clothes and leave my house. But also... I'm obviously the person who is exposing my family to additional risk, considering that I'll be hanging out with a dozen or so 18- and 19-year-olds for an hour and fifteen minutes two days a week. We'll all be masked and I'll be careful, but given that Covid cases are rising most rapidly in the under-30 age range in my area, it's a concern.

I have finally decided on a plan for G's nursery. I guess I've been waiting for the inspiration to strike. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to decorate a number of little-girl rooms in our different houses. I loved Eliza's yellow and pale-blue duck nursery at our first house, which became Zuzu's nursery. I loved the carnival-tent ceiling of Zuzu's nursery at our second house, which became Coco's nursery. Remember this? It brought me so much joy:

I also loved the pink girly-girl room with the gold polka-dot wall that was Zuzu's big-girl room at our second house. I love the girls' shared rainbow room at our current house. But G's room here--which she only moved into in May, when we finally moved the crib out of our bedroom--was a sort of catch-all... it still has a twin bed in it, plus the crib. We switched out the blue ticking-striped nursery rocker for the neutral-colored Dutalier glider because D thinks the glider is far more comfortable. It has a pink rug that came from Zuzu's old big-girl room and the window treatments are white roman shades with pink borders. The bed has a sweet duvet cover on it that has pinks and greens and a secret garden theme--bunnies, deer, plants, and golden keys. It's fine, but it doesn't feel particularly special, and I enjoy making the girls' rooms feel special. Here are pics of its current state:

What is has going for it is that it's full of things I like--the Jenny Lind crib, the still-cute-IMO rug, the classic Roman shades, the gallery wall of photos and sweet art prints. But it still doesn't really feel like Genevieve's room as much as it feels like a mishmash of hand-me-downs (which it is). So I've been considering an accent wall of wallpaper! Or maybe I need some kind of window treatment in addition to the shades? But I've finally landed on a plan, which is a scalloped paint treatment around the room. Here's an example from Pinterest:


I've decided that I'm actually going to keep most of the wall color the same sort of griege-putty color that it is currently. I think the scallops are so cutesy that keeping it a neutral color will balance it a little--kind of like the picture above. Plus the color blends really nicely with the backdrop of the duvet and will let the white trim pop. (I'll be painting the window trim and the trim around the door and the closet and baseboards.) I'm going to take the scallops up higher on the wall than the picture above--probably 2/3 of the way up, with the top part of the walls being white. So that's my next project!

I'm a few books behind of my annual reading challenge I set for myself. I wanted to read 65 books this year, but I really slowed down in March and April. I read two books over the weekend this past weekend, but I still need to catch up, and I'm not sure how that will go with having to read for teaching again. I guess I can count those books, but still. It kinda slows me down. Self-imposed reading challenges are kind of pointless except if it makes me quit scrolling my phone, then that is probably a good thing.

I should talk about celebrating my 40th birthday! I had a lot of mixed feelings about the day, but you know it was honestly an easier milestone than turning 30. At 30, I had a dead baby and was not pregnant and I remember being out on my deck--it was blazing hot--and painting a little table for our entry way and just crying the whole time because I was so sad. It had been over six months since we lost Eliza and I wanted to be pregnant again so desperately and I didn't know why it wasn't working and all of my friends were turning 30 and had little babies and were so happy because their lives were working out exactly as they had planned.

Now, of course that wasn't true of all of my friends, and of course no one's life works out exactly as planned, but that is distinctly the feeling that I had on that day. It is no exaggeration to say that it was one of the most miserable days of my life.

A decade later, my birthday was on a Tuesday. My bestie and her family came to town the weekend before and it was so, so good to see them. It had been months since we'd been together and the babies were such a delight (six weeks apart) and the girls had fun together and everyone got conversation and some space and David made themed meals (ball park food on Friday, upscale BBQ on Saturday, complete with a peach-pound-cake trifle that was out of this world). Plus we had champagne and an impromptu little birthday for me Saturday night.

On my actual birthday, David let me sleep in (until 7:40am!) and he and the girls had decorated the house with birthday balloons and the girls made sweet cards for me. I did yoga and worked from home and had one of my green smoothies, just like any other day, but we also did a pool rental for a couple of hours. The plan for that night was to pick up Indian food for dinner and watch Michelle Obama's documentary on Netflix as a family.

Instead, Coco and Zuzu were playing some kind of game they call "basketball" that involved the balloons (but no ball and no basket--go figure), and Coco fell and hit her forehead on the fireplace hearth in our living room. I heard her crying, but honestly Coco cries very loudly when her feelings are hurt, so I did not think it was an emergency. I was upstairs, logging out of my work computer, and then Zuzu came running up to tell me that Coco was "really hurt, really bad."

By the time I got downstairs, David had her sitting up on the kitchen counter with a paper towel on her forehead, but the paper towel was turning red and there were drops of blood on the kitchen floor. It was gross and alarming, and she was super freaked out. We got her mostly cleaned up and it turned out the cut on her forehead was pretty small--less than an inch across--but it looked deep. Of course it was 5:10pm at this point, so our pediatrician's office was closed. I called the after hours phone number and the doctor on call called me back right away (one of the many things I love about our pediatrician's office--also there are just two doctors, both women, and I feel like they both really know our family, even if one of them is our "primary" doctor). I explained what happened and she told me to text a picture to her phone. Then she texted back that she thought it needed a couple of sutures so we should probably go to the emergency room.

I was sitting on the couch holding Coco, so I told her that we needed to go have a doctor take a look at her head. David was just starting to make dinner for the girls, so he threw cream cheese on a bagel for Coco to eat on the way there and I drove her to the hospital. She was very brave and such a little trooper, wearing her mask, chatting away to the nurses and doctors and explaining what happened. At one point, the nurse asked who lives with her in her house and she named everyone, including Cooper and Clementine. 

She chose to watch Shark Week while we waited for the numbing cream to kick in on her forehead and then she watched a video on my phone, holding super still while the doctor put in the stitches. He complimented her on how still she was. Honestly, I think she really enjoyed the attention and having a fuss made over her. I texted the mom of her bestie to fill her in on what was happening and Evelyn sent Coco a couple of video messages, much to Coco's delight. And when the nurse brought her a popsicle, she was basically living her best life. 

I picked up Indian food on the way home and David had called the restaurant to explain I'd be later than we first expected because I'd had to take our daughter to get stitches. The owner came out to talk to me when I got there and then gave me a special smoothie drink to take to Coco. Ending the day with everyone home safe, eating chana masala, and winding down with G snoozing upstairs in her crib and the rest of us crowded on the sofa together to watch an episode of The Office was actually a really perfect way to cap off the night.

It was not how I expected to spend my fortieth birthday, but all I could think, snuggled up with Coco on the hospital bed as we waited for her to get stitched up, was that it could have been so much worse and I was so lucky.