Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ms. B Weighs In On A Baby Name Debate

Dear Ms. B,

My husband's brother and his wife are due with the second grandchild (our daughter being the first) a week before we are due with our little boy (our rainbow baby). My husband's brother called on Sunday to tell my husband that his wife wants to use our daughter's name as the middle name for her daughter, and asked if that was ok with us. My husband's brother told us his wife "liked" the name.

A little background--I am not close to his wife, nor has she ever said a word to me about our baby, in nearly a year now of grieving her. She has not provided any support, us. My husband asked me and it pissed me off, frankly. I told him absolutely not, to tell his brother no. I am angry and upset about it.

Another detail--her baby shower is this weekend. And I have already been chewing my nails over going, simply because it's a baby shower, for a girl. When this happened, I decided not to go. I felt intruded upon, offended, etc...The way I feel about it is, I know we don't "own" her name, but it is our daughter's name, it's very unique, we came up with it from my husband's favorite piece of literature, and we should be the ones to decide if someday another little girl of ours perhaps bears her name for a middle name.

I emailed my mother-in-law, who is throwing the baby shower for my sister-in-law. I told her I probably wouldn't be able to go, and explained what had happened. She wrote me back, essentially telling me I was wrong to think that, that parents should be able to choose whatever name they want, and that the name was "up for grabs" because it's a "family name." She also told me to quit "creating" things to be sad about.  I was so incensed from her email I could hardly see straight. I wrote a snarky response, but then deleted it (amazing how age can help wisdom on those things). I haven't told my husband about her email, and may not.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this to you, other than that I think you'll understand where I'm coming from on this. I am just appalled and perplexed. I just assumed people would "get" me on this. I guess not.


Name Withheld

Dear Name Withheld,

Ms. B sympathizes tremendously with your predicament.  It is indeed a sticky situation.  Here is Ms. B's take on the issue:

Of course we don't "own" our children's names.  But it is only appropriate for friends and family to use those names if the name usage would have happened regardless of whether the child is alive or dead.  Or, in some cases, if the choice is being made specifically in honor of your child.  

This is such an important distinction, and it's really all in the way the situation is handled by the parents who are considering re-using the name you had already chosen.  It would certainly put Ms. B (and many other bereaved parents, one presumes) over the edge if it seemed that a child's death meant her name got "cancelled" and was back up for grabs.  Hopefully this is NOT the way your SIL sees the situation, but she needs to do a better job of communicating with you.

Because the name is a family name, if your SIL wanted to use it for her child's middle name, either to honor the memory of the baby you lost, and/or to carry on a family tradition (as she would have done, even if your baby were here), Ms. B thinks that is acceptable.  Once again, it might seem like an issue of semantics, but it's really about compassion, empathy, and tact.  ms. B is certain the entire situation would feel different if your SIL (or MIL) had an ounce of any one of those qualities.

Anyway, the way Ms. B sees it, you can cause a stink and see if your SIL changes her mind (which, given your MIL's response to you, seems unlikely).

Or, you can kill them with kindness (even if it's through gritted teeth).  Ms. B suggests that you e-mail your SIL and your MIL and say that although you were surprised by the idea at first, you've thought it over and now you realize that this is a beautiful way for them to honor your daughter.  (Keep the focus of the e-mail on your baby).

You might mention that keeping your daughter's memory alive is so important to you and your husband, and now you see that your niece's middle name will be a lovely, though poignant, reminder of her cousin, which gives the family name even more of a special meaning.

If you want, you could even say that if you are ever lucky enough to have another baby girl, you will also use that same name as her middle name, for precisely those reasons--because it's a family name that is also in memory of your first child.  It could actually be a lovely way to link three little girl cousins!

Ms. B assumes that if your SIL wants to use the name "because she likes it" and, in doing so, pretend that your daughter didn't exist, this approach would demonstrate (in a non-objectionable way) that's not going to happen.  And if she feels uncomfortable about honoring your daughter and her memory as she names her own baby, then she will likely reconsider and choose a different name.

But no way would Ms. B bother to attend that baby shower.  Send a nice gift and treat yourself to a shopping trip or a matinee instead.

Readers?  Anyone ever found themselves in this predicament?  Was it peacefully resolved?  Ms. B and Name Withheld would love to hear your points of view.

Wishing you the very best,
Ms. B

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Happiness Project, Of Sorts

When we fled to Florida over spring break of last year, I purchased Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project on my Kindle and read it while lounging by the pool.

I read it with a particular kind of skepticism, because I knew happiness was no longer in the cards for me.  I was still seeking survival.  I wanted to be able to breathe without it hurting so goddamn much.  I wanted to be able to exist in my own skin, to get away from this place where I was either crying because I was alive and my daughter was dead, or I was temporarily distracted by something meaningless and inane--a television show, a magazine, work that had to be done.  These things didn't matter to me, but they were a blessed relief because at least they forced my mind to focus on something besides my own dismal existence.

So I read The Happiness Project thinking that even if I could never be happy again, at least I could be happier than I was.  I mean, I couldn't possibly be sadder.  There was really no where to go but up.  The only problem was, for the last three months, I hadn't had the energy for anything but the minimal level of functioning.  I could do the laundry but not the cooking.  I could get myself to campus to teach freshman composition three days a week, but often I simply moved from the bed to the couch on the other two days.  I showered on a regular basis.  I made myself eat because I knew I needed to be healthy if I wanted to get pregnant again.  The only socializing I did was seeing my acupuncturist and my therapist (yes, I realize this does not count as socializing).  Each night, I waited for David to get home from work so I could curl up next to him on the couch.  Those moments, with his arms around me, and Cooper's weight pressed against me, and the TV providing a mental escape were the only times I felt like I could breathe, but even then the sadness was a vacuum inside me and I felt so empty.

There was no way for me to make sense of what had happened to Eliza.  It did not fit into the story I had of my life, and I was so angry that I had to rewrite my narrative, that instead of having my daughter in it, it was filled with this ugly grief that made me feel misshapen and malformed and forever incomplete.  I couldn't wish it away or reason it away or meditate it away or pray it away.  I was too broken for any of that.  I turned to books--books that were helpful, books that were thoughtful, books that were comforting.

But for all the light that C.S. Lewis and Harold Kushner could shed on The Problem of Pain and When Bad Things Happen to Good People, their metaphysical answers were (and maybe still are) beyond the scope of my suffering.  I was desperate to understand what had happened to us, but I just couldn't figure out how to make any kind of sense of this in a way that would let me move forward.  It was exhausting.  It was just my brain running in circles, and it always ended with me sobbing and begging the universe for my baby.  Seeking answers was getting me no where.  There was no answer that I'd find satisfying, unless it was one that put Eliza back in my arms.  I finally decided that I needed to stop looking for answers.

Instead, I sought small, concrete things I could do that would give me the semblance of control in a life that had fallen to pieces around me.  I needed specific instructions:  What can I do to feel anything but this hollow sadness?

The first flicker of distraction came with the decision to redecorate the living room (perhaps because I was now spending so many hours there, in front of HGTV).  I found myself channeling my brain to think about paint colors and window treatments before falling asleep, because those subjects were safe and--dare I say?--enjoyable.

When I started Rubin's book, I was still at such a low place in my grief.  I knew that a project like this was not the key to happiness.  But I hoped that it would offer me a guideline to feel marginally better.  A goal that I could set and achieve.

As I read, I remember that certain moments were surprisingly painful--first of all, Rubin happens to have a daughter.  Named Eliza.  Also there was a chapter on parenting that I skipped.

But other parts of the book had me nodding thoughtfully.  I remember feeling particularly grateful for my marriage and the dynamic that David and I have.  I recognized in her some of my own tendencies--especially a desire for "gold stars," or for people to recognize and praise my efforts (probably why I was a student for so many years--it suits my personality!).  I also appreciated the way she was slightly self-effacing, acknowledging that she was not particularly unhappy, but she simply thought she could do more to maximize her happiness.  Here I was, as dreadfully unhappy as possible--grieving, depressed, anxious, distraught--and I simply wanted to minimize those feelings as much as possible.

I definitely did not feel like I could tackle goals one month at a time (I was still in barely-functioning mode), but the book helped me decide to go back to taking yoga classes, to make sure I was giving David proofs of love since he was giving me so much support, and to try to find one small thing to look forward to each week (even if it was just Chinese take out and Netflix).

When we were in Mexico over Christmas, I was reading on my Kindle and after finishing The Marriage Plot, I wasn't quite ready to dive into another big novel.  So, once again poolside, I clicked over to The Happiness Project and started skimming through it again.  I was so shocked to realize that I'd taken more out of the book than I realized.  It wasn't as much about maximizing happiness as it was coming up for air after the most devastating event of my life, but the strategies still worked.  I was on a different timeline, as it had taken me a few more months before I had the energy to try something new, to be a good friend, to "Be Brooke" (I was still trying to remember who that was).

It got me thinking about the earliest days of grief when everything feels so desperately scary, and then the early months when life is covered in a brown haze of sadness, and then the middle-of-the-year months, when you think that you should be feeling better than you actually are, while at the same time you feel guilty anytime you do feel better.  The advice I so often got from books about grief, and from other people who had been through this gut-wrenching process was to take things moment by moment, to just breathe through the day, to give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you're feeling, and assurances that it would eventually get easier.  This is brilliant and perfect advice that I much needed to hear.

But I also wanted more definite direction, not just a promise that it would get better.  I wanted someone to tell  me how to make it better.  Even just for a moment.  How could I feel better in the depths of all this loss?

I'm still trying to figure this out, and I'm still strategizing how a project like this could work.  I want to emphasize that this is NOT a "make lemonade out of lemons" situation.  This is advice like "Keep in mind that sipping hot tea can prevent you from crying because the warmth relaxes your throat."  But I want to figure out a way to present--in retrospect, because I wasn't always fully aware that I was doing it at the time--coping mechanisms that got me through the year after I lost my daughter.  And as I do this, I would absolutely love to hear ways that you survived and found your way back to pockets of happiness?  A level of existing that wasn't absolutely painful?

I hear occasionally from people who are so fresh from their loss and it just takes my breath away to remember where I was a year ago, not quite three months out from Eliza's birth and death, and not knowing how my life would ever be a place that I would want to inhabit again.  So I want to try to present really specific advice about things I did that helped, and of course hearing other perspectives would undoubtedly be useful since I'm assuming that what worked for me won't necessarily work for everybody.  So I'm brainstorming a name for this, and I'm thinking for now it will just be another page on this blog (a tab at the top) that will serve as a record for me (the original purpose of this blog) and maybe a resource for others who stumble this way.

Some things I'd like to know...  Does this sound ridiculous?  What's a word I can use besides "happiness" that speaks to the place we get to after surviving a tragic loss?  Is it worth discussing something like happiness when it seems so superficial in the face of the death of a child (or any major loss/personal disaster, for that matter)?  Would you have wanted to find something like this in the early days, or would it have just been too overwhelming?  (I'm not sure anything I read before I was four months out actually registered with me--I was so numb).

I don't want to make light of the grief journey, or to suggest that you'll feel better about the death of your baby if you just take a yoga class and reread the Harry Potter series.  I just want to explain how I survived the first year and even managed to find a few moments in it that weren't totally and completely bleak.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, but I imagine I'll plunge forward with it even if you think it's a crazy waste of time, because now I'm interested in trying to document for myself how I managed that--mostly because there are days when I DON'T feel like I'm coping very well at all, and it would help me to know that I've found my way out of that darkness before and I can probably do it again...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Q&A with Students

I've been making my non-maternity wardrobe work as long as possible to cover the Deuce.

When I was pregnant with Eliza, I couldn't wait to bust out the maternity clothes.  When I first was pregnant with Eliza, I wanted to look as pregnant as I felt, and I was impatient for my belly to become an attention-getter.  My excitement was so big, I wanted it to be visible!  I wanted it to be the subject of conversations!  I wanted cut-in-line bathroom privileges and hold-the-door open politeness from strangers.

Now...  I mostly want to be left alone.  Let's all politely ignore the belly in the room, unless I mention it first.

At the last grief support group I attended, I talked about how one of the (countless) smaller griefs that come from the loss of a child is carrying the burden of having to repeat your story, over and over again, to other people whom you do not know well, but who knew you were expecting a baby.  It's a sad story, it's one that makes you emotional, it's one that makes other people feel awkward, and yet it's the truth and there's usually no avoiding it because pregnancy and babies are perhaps the only two subjects in the world that makes acquaintances and strangers feel justified in asking direct personal questions.  So not only do you have to intensely grieve your child in the early weeks and months, you have to announce and explain that loss over and over again, often feeling apologetic about it.

Maybe there's something healthy about having to name your pain, about letting other people see you're hurting, but mostly I felt like my skin was getting peeled away and I was raw and cold and exposed every time someone asked me about my baby and I had to say, "She died."

A new pregnancy brings up that burden again, in a different way, with a new set of curious and chatty acquaintances, and we all know (or can imagine) the awkward navigation of simple questions like, "Is this your first?" and the follow-up inquiries that ensue.  In an effort to avoid these conversations, I've been stubbornly wearing non-maternity clothes that are loose-fitting, topped with long cardigan sweaters and big scarves, and I convince myself every morning before I leave the house that I don't look pregnant.

No one who doesn't know I'm pregnant has mentioned my pregnancy to me (except for one lady in my yoga class who asked how far along I was, but obviously yoga clothes are a little different), so I really thought I was successfully hiding this pregnancy.

On Friday, I was distributing a quiz on Oedipus the King and Lysistrata to my World Literature class when a giggly girl student said, "Dr. Taylor?  Are you going to have a baby?"

She kind of whispered it, but not really.  It was a stage whisper, loud enough for the class to hear, especially since everyone was quietly working on or waiting for their quiz.

It totally caught me off guard.

Was my belly really not invisible?  OMG.  Do I look pregnant?

I stared at her, wide-eyed for a moment.  I kept distributing quizzes.  And then I smiled and said quietly, in what I hoped was a pleasant, neutral tone, "Don't you know you're not supposed to ask anyone that question?"

She turned red, and then her friend started giggling and said, "I know, I told her I wasn't going to ask because what if you weren't!"

I just smiled, walked away, and continued passing out the quizzes on the other side of the room.  But I heard the girl who asked me the question hiss at her friend, "Well, everyone is saying it."

I guess they're just not all rude enough to say it to my face.

There's something really awkward about the way pregnancy is on display and therefore a suitable subject for conversation.  And there are lots of feminist discussions about the way the female body is always on display, and pregnancy just heightens society's fetishism of fertility and family-making at the same time it erodes boundaries of casual conversation and personal space.  We know that women often greet each other by complimenting appearances, while you'll seldom hear one man say to another, "You look really cute today!" or "I love your outfit!"

I know that I follow these same social conventions when I'm with my friends, and I love to be complimented on what I'm wearing.  I like clothes, and I like choosing an outfit that reflects my mood or my plans for the day, and makes me feel reasonably cute and confident.  But pregnancy removes some of (a lot of) the control we have over the way we look and the way we present ourselves.  And this lack of control makes me nervous--not only do I have no control over how big my belly gets, I also can't always control the tears that accompany discussion of my pregnancy.  I resent the portrayal of pregnant women as weak and emotional, and yet I feel weak and emotional--not because I'm pregnant, but because I'm pregnant and I'm not convinced I can keep my baby safe.

So when I'm at work?  I don't talk about it, and I think as little about it as possible.  I smile when I feel the Deuce moving, and then I check my e-mail, read an essay, grade a paper.  Think about something else.  Given that people in academia probably have less interest in babies than most people do (I have no idea if that's actually true...  but in my experience, most academics would rather make small talk about their research or their students than their personal lives), I have pretty well succeeded in avoiding the subject all together.  Certainly none of my colleagues have mentioned it, and I've only discussed my pregnancy with my department chair and my dean, both of whom will help to arrange my maternity leave (hopefully).

Obviously I can't single-handedly reverse gender constructions in our society, but I guess I expected to be able to avoid addressing such inquiries about my personal appearance and whether or not it reflects my reproductive status while in the classroom setting.

It's not that I don't want to talk about the Deuce or Eliza.  It's that I feel really uncomfortable talking about this pregnancy in situations where I do not want to get emotional and/or I don't want to confide in the person I'm talking to. Talking about the Deuce means thinking about Eliza, and if I choose not to talk about her, I feel weird and sad about it, even though I know not every situation requires my life story.  I don't want to hide what happened, but I also feel that same burden of having to tell a very sad story to someone who is not expecting it.  Honestly, I think my reluctance to show off this belly at work is the fear of being so publicly vulnerable in a situation where I really want to appear competent and in control (ie. a classroom).

But some of my annoyance at this comment had nothing to do with my loss, and was plain old irritation at a student being inappropriate.  I mean, that is a nosy personal question!  I would never have asked a professor if she were pregnant, just as I wouldn't ask my boss, my doctor, my co-worker, my Edward Jones advisor, or anyone else with whom I'm not in a chummy personal relationship.  As far as I'm concerned, students have no business commenting on my appearance at all (well, realistically speaking, they at least should not do it to my face).  My personal appearance and the functions of my reproductive system are not relevant to class discussion, and they are certainly not subjects that I choose to talk about with my students.  Especially during class time.

David thinks I was rude to the girl who was just trying to be cute and friendly, but I think she was out of line.  It's true that I might have answered her differently if Eliza hadn't died and I didn't have so many mixed emotions about this pregnancy, but it's also true that YOU JUST DON'T ASK that question.

So maybe now my students think I'm just getting fat and oddly shaped.  Maybe they think I have a tumor.  Hopefully they figure that whatever is going on with my abdomen, I don't want to talk about it with the class.  After all, we have other things to discuss.  Like, you know, world literature.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Walt Whitman wrote "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" in 1865.  It's considered to be an homage to Abraham Lincoln after his assassination.  The opening lines are about the reminders of spring, and the beauty and pain that the season holds.

WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,         5
And thought of him I love

Whitman writes about lilacs and honoring a president.

And I write (far less eloquently, and with more all-caps and fewer exclamation points) about magnolia trees and missing my baby girl.

As I've mentioned before, late snows last year prevented our magnolia tree from blooming.  When we had a tree planted in Forest Park in memory of Eliza, it turned out by chance to be a saucer magnolia--the very same tree that is decked with pink blossoms each spring in our own front yard.  I'll always think of these as Eliza's trees, but I was incredibly touched to get an e-mail from a friend saying that she thinks of them that way, too.

She wrote in her e-mail:

I was walking with Mason yesterday and noticed this tree. The pink and white cherry blossoms always come out in time for Valentine’s day here in the bay area, which I think is nice. But none are as stunning as what I now know is a saucer magnolia.
Just thought you’d like to see that Eliza’s memory blooms in Berkeley, too.

And she included this picture.

I can think of no better gift for anyone who has lost a child, than to be reminded that her child's memory blooms in many places, that her baby is held in the heart of many people.

Whitman's poem tells us that every spring, lilacs and starlight remind him a great man whose death he mourns.  For the rest of my life, I'll think of Eliza every time I see a saucer magnolia tree with its springtime blooms.  And if those pink blossoms remind you, too, of our baby girl, then I thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping her memory alive.  It means so much to us.

(And special thanks to Lindsey in Berkeley, for making me cry such happy tears.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

That Was Then. This Is Now.

Rainbow baby is the term for a baby after the loss of a previous child. It is the understanding that a rainbow's beauty does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn't mean that the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. 
(borrowed from Angie at Butterflies and Rainbows)

The first time I got a positive pregnancy test, I squealed and jumped up and down with excitement.  We'd made a baby!  It was like magic!  It was Mother's Day and I had already defended my dissertation and I was about to graduate and life was peaches and roses.  I knew I was lucky to have things working out so easily and so perfectly, but I was also smug and self-satisfied and delighted with my own good fortune.  I thought I deserved this happy ending.  I also thought this baby was a sure thing.

This time, I showed David the pregnancy test while still in the bathroom.  It was October 23rd.  (Happened to be my brother's birthday because evidently I like to take pregnancy tests on memorable dates).  David said, "You're pregnant?"

I said, "I guess so.  I mean, it's positive."  I set the pee stick on the sink and we both stared at it in silence for a few moments.

Finally, David gave me a big hug and said, "It's okay to be happy."  I knew he was right.  Wasn't this what we'd been desperately hoping for?  For MONTHS?  But I started crying.  Not because I wasn't happy, but because it felt so different from last time.

Last time I got pregnant on our fourth month of trying (by which I mean having unprotected sex and timing it around when I thought I'd probably be ovulating).  This time it took seven months, and hundreds of dollars spent on tests to say nothing was wrong, and some doctor-prescribed hormone supplements (an ovulation "trigger shot" -- yes with a NEEDLE) that evidently helped boost my body to do what should have been doing on its own.

Last time, I felt an excited kind of hope each month, and although I was disappointed when it didn't work THE FIRST TIME we tried, my confidence that I'd be pregnant before long never wavered.

This time, the TTC process was fraught with anxiety, grief, and a genuine fear that it wouldn't work.  It seemed to me that if a healthy, perfect baby could die for no apparent reason, then a healthy, average 30-year-old could become completely and inexplicably infertile.  The one scenario seemed just as likely as the other.  After all, the most unexpected thing in the world had just happened to me--why in the world should I expect that I'd be able to get pregnant again?

Last time I was so freaking pleased with myself that I'd achieved my "PhD and Pregnancy Before 30" plan.

This time I felt like I'd aged a decade in the blink of an eye and I was running out of time.

Last time, when I was about 13 weeks along, I sent pregnancy announcements to our close friends and family.

Oh, yes, that's right.  I mailed PREGNANCY ANNOUNCEMENTS.  Because THAT is how goddamn sure I was that once I got out of the first trimester, everything would be FINE.

(Sometimes I look back on that pregnancy and I see it as a horror movie, except instead of being scared, the protagonist has NO IDEA she is about to be blindsided by her worst nightmare.  I want to scream at her to STOP, to take precautions, to be scared instead of so damn naive and sure of herself.  I try to remember that since that's the only time I got with Eliza, it's good that I fussed over her and enjoyed every minute of it as much as I did.  It makes me feel foolish, yes, but it's also evidence of how excited we were and how much we loved that girl from the moment she existed.)

Last time, I arranged a meeting with a doula when I was 14 weeks pregnant.  We met at St. Louis Bread Co. We liked her.  I guess she liked us.  We gave her a $100 deposit.  She refunded it in January, with a sympathy card.

I ordered a planner from Amazon called "The Essential Pregnancy Planner."  (My OB raised his eyebrow and chuckled about just how "essential" this planner actually was.  I smiled with him, but I didn't care that he thought I was obsessive.  I was so CONFIDENT I was doing the right things.)

Last time, I beamed when anyone asked me about my pregnancy.  I flaunted the belly and grinned when someone asked, "Is this your first?"  I'm normally not particularly outgoing around strangers, but I had no trouble gushing about this pregnancy to anyone who mentioned it, in line at Trader Joe's, on campus between classes, or at my favorite neighborhood coffee place (decaf hot tea for me, please!).

I knew that everyone I knew wouldn't be as excited about my pregnancy as I was, but let's face it--a lot of people were!  Five of my friends were pregnant at the same time or had just had their babies.  Every conversation we had was a discussion of pregnancy, baby supplies, or nursery preparations.  My mom was always ready to go shopping for baby clothes, and even before I had my baby showers, we had a closet full of clothes for our Baby Duck.

We enrolled in Bradley method childbirth classes and I became convinced that a natural, med-free birth was the right decision for me.  I read books, articles, and blogs about about natural birth, breastfeeding, colicky babies, cloth diapering, sleep patterns, most recommended baby products and supplies.  David and I researched every single item we bought or registered for.  Crib, organic mattress, jogging stroller, cloth diapering system.  I created a baby registry on Amazon.  I decided to decorate the nursery around a quilt my Nana made that had little yellow ducks on it.  I started trolling Etsy for wall decor.

Last time I believed that my body would protect my baby.  I believed that I was healthy and strong.  I thought that every choice I made--to eat organic produce, to have a non-medicated birth, to visit breastfeeding support groups, to read Consumer Reports before registering for a car seat--was ensuring a healthy start and a bright future for my baby.  I thought I was giving Baby Duck every advantage while she was still kicking around in my belly.  I trusted myself to make the right choices, and I felt so confident in my ability to take care of this child the best way I knew how.

Yeah.  That was then.

Back then, I wanted "hands off" healthcare.  I thought my body knew what it was doing.  This was a natural, biological process.  I don't need medicine, I don't need intervention.  I just need to eat right and be healthy and prepare myself by doing lots of research.  This time I'm seeing my regular OB and a high risk maternal-fetal-medicine specialist.  The Deuce already had more ultrasounds in 14 weeks than Eliza had in 34 weeks.  This time, I'm open to the idea of being induced, of having a c-section, of frequent-frequent-frequent monitoring, whatever it takes to get me a healthy baby that I get to take home.

It's my second time doing this stuff, but I have no where near the confidence I had a year and a half ago.  I don't trust myself to know I'm making the right decisions.  I'm terrified I'll overlook something that could be the cause of another tragedy.  My research couldn't save Eliza, and my intuition sure as hell didn't tell me something was wrong.

Last time I signed up for weekly e-mails and pregnancy calendars and I could tell you at any given day how big the baby was by comparing her to a fruit (Baby Duck is the size of a kumkwat!).  This time I haven't even looked at any of those things.  I don't want to see a calendar or think about how many weeks I have to go.  The only milestones I have in my head are:

26 weeks:  viability.
28 weeks:  kick counts.
30-ish weeks:  non-stress tests.
34 weeks and 3 days:  please, please, please don't let the baby die.
(I have no idea what happens after that.  I cannot see beyond 34 weeks and 3 days.)

Last time I found comfort in statistics.  I remember hitting 18 weeks and saying to David, "Good news!  At this point, we have a 97% chance that Baby Duck is going to be okay."  This time, I know what it means to be part of the 1% of unexpected, unexplained stillbirths in this country.  And sometimes my odds feel like about 50/50 that I'm going to end up right back there again.

This time is so different.  It's harder.  It's sadder.  It's angrier.  It's also more grateful, more appreciative, more focused on what's really important.

This pregnancy is full of grief, and fear, and guilt.  It's also full of wonder and awe, and so much love and support that it still bowls me over.

This time isn't an accomplishment.  It's a relief.  It's a chance for David and me to quit feeling so frantic and scared and to try and focus on living in the present moment, savoring what we have, and not taking it for granted.

This time is bittersweet.  I'm happy and sad all at once, everyday.  I still long for Eliza, and I look forward (cautiously) to a time when that ache is accompanied by the joy and fullness that her sibling can bring to our lives.

This time is not about me getting the baby that I deserved to have before.  This time is about how incredibly fucking lucky we are to have another chance.  This time I'm well aware that so much of this is not in my control at all.

This time will never be like last time was.  There are many, many days when the storms of grief and fear are still raging all around me and within me and I can't think about anything but last time and how I'd do anything to go back and change it, to have Eliza here with us.

Often, I wish I could just catch a glimpse of how this story will unfold, wish I could just see around the next twenty weeks and know that my baby will be healthy.  Unfortunately, I can't see the future.  On those days, though, I'm at least looking forward, and that's something in itself.

Last time, at Eliza's first ultrasound, I stared at the gummy-bear on the screen, and squeezed David's hand, and my face hurt from smiling so big.  It sounds so cheesy, but I remember that it felt like our love was so magical we could make a baby with it.

This time, at the Duece's first ultrasound, which was so early all we could see was a blob and the flicker of a heartbeat, I squeezed David's hand and tears ran down my face.  I was afraid to breathe because it felt like this baby could disappear in the blink of an eye.

Last time, I thought we were looking at the baby we'd undoubtedly be taking home from the hospital.

This time, I was seeing the tiny glimmer of something that just might turn out to be a rainbow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Choosing Love Again

A few years ago, my best friend gave me this art print.  It hangs in our hallway, across from our frame gallery, between the bathroom door and the linen closet.  I see it every morning.

It's about big love,
she professed
and letting go...
and bulging vulnerable hearts
...and the honest truth

And the profound choice we make everyday
to Live our Lives
in color
and choose

That print meant a lot to me when I first received it.  I think it was a birthday gift.  I opened it several months after David and I had just found our way through a rough spot in our marriage and discovered, miraculously, that we were still in love.  In fact, we were in it to win it.  In spite of what we'd been through, I knew there wasn't a fight or a disappointment that could make me stop loving this guy.  And I knew, as I never had before, that love is a verb.  It's not a feeling.  It's the action that you take every day, when you choose to love the person you're with (or you don't).

At least, that's what love was for me at that time.  I thought then that our early marital issues were going to be the hardest thing we'd ever face.  I thought if we got through that, we'd make it through anything.  I thought we'd bruised each other's hearts and then we'd fixed them and now we were going to live happily ever after.

I look at the huge tear in the middle of this heart print, the way it's stitched together with silver thread and tied with green tassels, and I know the difference between a bruise and a break.  I feel the physical pain in my chest, the bottomless ache of missing my baby girl.  I know that the heartbreak of losing Eliza is something that neither of us will ever fully recover from.  We'll just learn to live with it.  But nobody tells you HOW to do that, HOW you learn to live after the death of your baby.  HOW you move from going through the motions to actually feeling alive, or how long that takes.

(It takes a long time.)

I realized yesterday morning--Valentine's Day--as I brushed my teeth and looked at the print hanging in the hallway, that this is how you do it.

You choose love.

Even when your heart is broken, you let go of fear and you make yourself vulnerable and you take the risk of choosing love again.  It's a choice, a deliberate action, and it is a profound one.  Because it would be so, so easy to stay small and mean and angry for a very long time.  Like forever.  (And some days I think I make that choice instead.)

I remember telling someone--another bereaved mother who'd had a stillborn baby--that we were trying to get pregnant again, and she said, "Oh, that's good.  That's brave of you."  

I dismissed that comment, because there was nothing BRAVE about how I was feeling.  Desperate, panicked, anxious, any of those adjectives would have applied.  Brave was something I couldn't even consider.  I was trying to get pregnant again (lordy, was I trying) but I hadn't really let go of the fear.

I think now, though, that opening yourself up to the possibility of having another baby, or resigning yourself to the understanding that you won't try to have another baby, both of those are profound choices and huge acts of love.  Either way, your life has gone down a path you never wanted to travel, a path you would have resisted with every fiber of your being, kicking and screaming if you'd been given the option.  Either way, you have to find a way to look forward, to sort through the pain until you find a reason to go on.  And in order to go forward, you have to let go of something.  Not your loved one, but maybe your fear of leaving them behind.

I wanted another baby, and I know that I'm lucky to have that possibility.  Luckier than many who are equally or more deserving.  I wanted another baby because Eliza had made me a mom and that experience had changed me forever.  It was like my heart knew, even though it never really occurred to my brain, that while one child cannot replace another, the only thing that helps this kind of hurt is to experience more love.  Another love won't leave Eliza behind.  How could it, when she's wedged in that tender, broken, beautiful spot in the center of my heart?  The one that's stitched up with silver thread?

Love-after-loss can come from expanding your family through birth or adoption, from reconnecting with your spouse, from reaching out to others who are grieving, from volunteering, from going to support groups, from doing good in memory of your lost loved ones, and (I think) from trying to put down in words all of the love (and sorrow) that you feel.  I guess we all turn to love when we make these connections, when we reach out to others, when we try to articulate our pain so we can name what other people might be feeling too.  

We choose love, again and again, even though we're scared and we're hurt and we're vulnerable, even though it's what got us into this mess of grief in the first place.  In fact, maybe we choose love because we're scared and we're hurt and we're vulnerable.  And maybe we know--or our hearts do--that it's the big risks that bring the big rewards.

And now I'm here.  Yesterday was Valentine's Day.  Our second Valentine's Day without Eliza. (Would you believe I have no memory of Valentine's day last year?  None whatsoever.)  I'm twenty weeks pregnant with the Deuce.  I'm scared out of my mind because my heart is so, so vulnerable.  

But David and I made this choice.  We chose love again.  

Whatever your love looks like, I hope your heart is bulging and vulnerable, too.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Possum Update

We have not seen our furry little frenemy since Friday night, but I know he's lurking around, just waiting to sneak-attack the dogs when they go outside to do their business.  David or I watches from the backdoor when we let them out, and I've been letting Little Mac go out front after dark, even though David disapproves.  She won't run away, and I wouldn't want to pee out back with that possum.

The animal-loving, vegetarian-eating, everything with a face also has feelings person that I am does not want this possum to die.  But I would like it to be gently and humanely relocated.  To the next county or possibly over state lines.  (Also maybe spayed or neutered?  Because does the world really need more totally gross possums?  I'm willing to pay for this!)

So, with the hope for relocation in mind, I called the city animal control yesterday to speak with someone about our pesky little (read FIERCE AND POTENTIALLY RABID) possum.  I explained that a large and ferocious possum had gotten into a skirmish with my small but spunky dog.

The woman asked if the possum was outside.

"Yes.  Outside in my fenced-in backyard."

She informed me that animal control doesn't do anything about possums that live outside because "outside" is their "natural habitat."

How amazingly helpful!  OUTSIDE is actually the possum's NATURAL HABITAT.  Who knew?

Upon further reflection, I take this to mean that if possums were infesting my HOME (as Leslie's comment suggested actually happens to some people, who then get to be on TV) that animal control would step in.  Perhaps there are so many home infestations that animal control simply cannot be bothered with yard infestations?  Is this a serious problem in the city of St. Louis?  Possums taking over apartments?  (The thought of one being in my house makes me gag.)

But as long as he remains in the YARD and doesn't use his creepy nearly-opposable thumbs to open the backdoor and move in, then that's evidently NOT a problem.  Perhaps we can just adopt him and he can be like a third small dog who just lives outside all the time.  AND IS SUPER SCARY AND DISGUSTING.

I, very politely, pressed the issue just a bit further, and may have SLIGHTLY exaggerated things, when I said, "So, even if this possum is really fierce and, like, attacking small dogs who live here?  Animal control doesn't do anything about that?"

And then she told me that MY DOG probably STARTED IT.

As though my dog is some kind of possum bully!  Picking on the poor little possum in his "natural habitat"!

I wanted to speak up in Cooper's defense and explain that my loyal canine companion was defending his territory and his family from possum attack and infestation.  But then she cushioned her accusation by stating that it's a dog's "natural instinct."

I was learning ALL KINDS of new things about animal habitats and behavior.  The conversation was riveting.

Moral of the story:

If you want to learn about NATURAL HABITATS of possums and NATURAL INSTINCTS of dogs, please, call Animal Control.

If you actually want some assistance gently relocating and ENORMOUS and TERRIFYING and POTENTIALLY RABID RODENT with nearly opposable thumbs from your backyard, DON'T BOTHER.

image from   
A little Google searching has informed me that fox urine is the best repellent for possums, so I'm just going to GET RIGHT ON THAT.  Ebay?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Doggie Drama

First of all, let me just say thank you for all the encouraging comments on my last post.  It IS a funny story now (or it will be once the Deuce is here, healthy and alive), but I have decided to mail a letter to the first doctor we saw at the perinatal center, so that I can clearly explain why I was so upset.  I know my response was an overreaction, but in that moment, my stress level and my frustration level made it impossible for me to do anything but freak.the.hell.out.  The letter will explain that I wanted (and expected) him to go over the ultrasound measurements with me in detail, and that I also expected his tone to be courteous and professional.  I will not apologize for my meltdown, but I will let him know that I wish I could have expressed myself more calmly and I did not intend to cause such a scene.


And now for the doggie drama:

So after the doctor appointment and work day yesterday, David and I were ready for bed at a 8:30pm (our lives are so excited).  We were in the bedroom, fluffing the featherbed (that is ACTUALLY what we were doing; that is not a euphemism for something else), when suddenly David let out a cry of dismay.

He had just stepped in dog poo.

You see, after weeks of 50 and 60 degree weather, Little Mac is not at all pleased with the cold front that has moved in.  In fact, she is sort of boycotting winter.  Which means instead of going outside, she CHOOSES to poo INSIDE the house.

I cleaned up poo in the guest room on Thursday morning, David cleaned it up on Friday morning.  He also thought she might have peed in the back room Friday morning.  We assumed she'd pooed during the night because the poop was not fresh.

There is NO REASON for this, beyond laziness/stubbornness.  She's not sick, the poo is perfectly normal-looking, her appetite is fine, she is otherwise completely normal.  Well, normal for her.  It's true that the dogs are left at home while we're at work, but that's never more than eight hours, and most days it's closer to six.  Plus, I don't actually think she's doing this during the day.  It seems that Mac doesn't want to bother going out in the cold in the middle of the night.  She COULD if she wanted to--she's notorious for waking us in the middle of the night, WAILING at the top of her lungs, which simply means that she wants to go outside.  And one of us always gets up to let her out.  So this new development is just one more example of her Super Special Issues.

However, I hadn't raised too much of a fuss about cleaning up her poo twice this week, because I wasn't SURE it had happened during the night, and I though maybe she REALLY had to go while we were at work, and that's not her fault.  I was willing to make excuses for her.  She is getting older (she'll be 12 in April), so maybe it was just an emergency.  Make that two emergencies.  Two days in a row.

But the poo that David stepped in last night was fresh.  And I was home from work on Friday by 3pm.  So I really think that she pooped in our bedroom, on David's side of the bed, while I was sitting on the couch reading, or on my laptop.  Which means that there was no EMERGENCY.  She just FELT LIKE taking a shit inside.

The thing you have to understand about Little Mac is that she has no shame whatsoever.  We were told at obedience classes that it doesn't do any good to scold dogs hours after they've done something naughty, because they don't understand why they're in trouble, yet they'll tuck their tails and slink away guiltily, just because your tone of voice (or volume) scares them.  But Little Mac NEVER slinks away or looks ashamed or backs down from a scolding, even if you catch her in the middle of doing something naughty (when we catch her on the furniture at Grandma's house and tell her to get down, she'll do it, but she'll give us the stink eye first, and growl the entire time).  

We theorize that Mac got brain damage when she was deprived off oxygen during her surgery to have her spayed.  If we're out in public with her, though, I'll lie and tell people that we rescued her and she was abused because that's the easiest way to explain her aggressive, anti-social attitude.  She hates strangers, she hates kids, she hates wheelchairs, she hates people with special needs.  She is nearly blind, and to be perfectly honest, she hates anyone who isn't offering her a treat.  I'm the ONLY person who can almost always pet her without her growling, and that's only because I've learned to read her moods and I always let her approach me first.  (Poor David gets the bad jobs--he has to make her do things she doesn't like, like take a bath, so she is suspicious of him.)

She will sometimes play rowdy with Cooper, chasing and wrestling for fun.  But she makes him nervous (even though he outweighs her by more than twenty pounds) because at a certain point, it's like a switch flips in her brain, and instead of having fun, she loses her cool, and suddenly she's going for blood.  (At this point, Cooper will run and hide behind David or me).  Sometimes Mac will playfully grab a sock or a dog toy and want to play, but a few seconds in to her tug-of-war game, she'll lose her shit, forget about the toy, and try to bite your hands off (seriously).  It's like her fight-or-flight switch is faulty, and it's constantly turned to FIGHT.  She'll never back down.

She has never been kicked by us, but I have tripped over her before.  At which point she turned around and attacked my foot.  Her fear is constantly translated into aggression.  As I like to tell her when she has these fits, it's a good thing she weighs eleven pounds, because if she were a German shepherd, she'd have to be put down.

Anyway, I'm just hoping this poop thing is a phase that will subside when the weather warms up, so I clean it up (flush the poop, spray the Bio-Kleen enzyme spray on the carpet--she never goes in the same place twice!) and lecture her in a stern voice while I'm doing it.  She watches me pick up her poop and flush it, with her big, unblinking brown eyes.  Unfazed, unconcerned, unashamed.  And I just sigh and let it go, because Mac has her issues and we just love her the best we can.

Wut the hell iz ur problem?  I poo where I pleez.
 But David (perhaps because he stepped in it?) was tired of putting up with her crap (haha pardon the pun).  So he picked up her poo in a wad of toilet paper, and walked over to her bed, where she was already curled up.  (She is VERY territorial and crazy about her beds, so we usually try not to approach her when she's sleeping).

He said, "Little Mac!  What is this?  SHAME on you!  You should be very ashamed!" and he shoved the poop-wad of toilet paper in her face.

Where MOST dogs would have slunk away guiltily, Little Mac did the opposite.  She growled ferociously at David, and then lunged angrily at the poop-wad.  She attacked the wad of toilet paper, tearing it out of David's hand, and flinging the poop around as she angrily shook her head from side to side.

I was just coming into the bedroom with the Bio-Kleen spray bottle, so I caught the tail-end of this act.  It was horrifying, but also hilarious.  David and I were both cracking up because Mac had attacked her own poop and was sputtering out a mouthful of poopy toilet paper.  We were laughing at her, but also completely DISGUSTED because lumps of poop had fallen back onto the floor, and onto her bed, and she was still growling and barking and generally freaking out.

So then (still laughing) I half-heartedly lectured David on how he should know better than to try to make Little Mac feel bad because she appears to be half honey badger.  He went to get more toilet paper for pick-up, and I heard Cooper scratching at the backdoor, so I went to let him out.

I was walking from the backroom toward the bedroom to help with clean up, when I heard Cooper growling and barking outside.  He will bark loudly at anyone who walks through our alley, but I could tell he was up close to the house, and he was doing more than announcing his presence. This was his SUPER ANGRY bark and growl--the one I usually hear when the neighbor-kid brings his dog over to visit at his mom's house.  (Cooper loves our neighbor dog, Lucky, but he HATES when Lucky has visitors).  I'd seen that dog over there earlier, so I went to the backdoor to yell at Coop and tell him to quit barking at Lucky and his friend.

But no.  Cooper was in our yard, and he was right by our deck.  I could tell he was freaking out about something, but even with the deck light on, I had a hard time seeing what was going on.  He was right up next to the deck, kind of in a shadow, and the angle made it hard to see from the door.  It looked like he was wrestling with a little white dog, except Mac was right next to me at this point.  And Cooper was NOT being playful.  He looked and sounded absolutely fierce.  It took me a split second to realize what was happening, and then I let out a little scream.

Cooper had cornered a POSSUM up against our deck, and they were FIGHTING.

David, in the middle of poop clean-up, had not come running when I screamed initially, so, not taking my eyes off of Cooper, I screamed again, "DAAAAAAAAAVID!  COOPER IS FIGHTING A POSSUM!"

Then he came racing in from the bedroom, wild-eyed and wielding the spray bottle of Bio-Kleen.  He flung open the backdoor, yelling for Cooper.  I stepped back, away from the door, with my arms crossed in front of my belly, just in case I might have to protect the Deuce from a RABID POSSUM.

Coop yelped and backed away from the possum.  I think he was probably scared.  I know that I was.  I was also glad they no longer appeared to be TOUCHING because OMG GROSS.  Cooper circled around the deck and came up the stairs on the other side when David called him again.  We got Cooper inside, slammed the door shut, and dead-bolted it.  (Because of those creepy almost-opposable thumbs that possums have!).  I frantically checked Cooper over, making sure he didn't have any bite marks or blood or anything on him.  He was totally fine, but kept sputtering and kind of coughing, which made me think he'd gotten a mouthful of possum fur, which made me want to vomit.

Meanwhile, the possum appeared kind of stunned and was just STANDING AROUND by our deck steps.  Like CHILLING.  Or possibly wondering WTF.  But not running away!  Or hiding!  Or playing dead.  Just standing around.

I was like, "Oh my god, do you think Cooper killed it?  Do you think it's just stunned?  Do you think it's going to die there?  What is it doing?  Do you think it lives under our deck?  That thing is bigger than Little Mac!  It's the most disgusting thing I've ever seen!  What are we going to do?"  (Adrenaline causes me to chatter nervously).

So we all watched the possum through the back door (well, David and Cooper and I did.  Little Mac was totally unconcerned about her brother's encounter with POTENTIALLY RABID WILD LIFE and had gone back to bed).  Eventually, it sauntered across the yard and crawled behind our shed.  Cooper stopped coughing and I decided he needed a bath because OMG GROSS ENCOUNTER WITH POTENTIALLY RABID WILD LIFE.

Still guarding the door, lest the EVIL POSSUM return.
And then I called my mom because:  A doctor was mean to me this morning!  And I threw a screaming fit!  And then my dog pooped in the house!  And then she attacked her poop and flung it around the bedroom!  And then my other dog fought a possum!

It was just about more than I could take in one day.  I'm really hoping the rest of the weekend was totally uneventful.

I will say, though, that all the excitement seemed to get the Deuce worked up as well.  He/she was kicking like crazy when I got into bed, and David put his hand on my belly and even he could feel the movement!  I didn't think he'd be able to feel it from the outside, but I was lying so still, just in case, and then I felt a good kick right under David's hand and he said, "Was that it?"  And I smiled so big my face hurt.  I can't remember the last time I had such a huge smile on my face.

Which makes me think that the Deuce is probably a boy...  I mean who else would get so excited about poop and possum fights?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hide Your Crazy and Start Acting Like a Lady

Alternate Title:  Lose Your Shit and Scream Hysterically at Doctor

First let me say, we had our 20 week ultrasound this morning (actually 19 weeks and 5 days, but who's counting?  Oh, that's right I am.  And let's just say I know FOR SURE it's actually 19 weeks and 4 days but whatever.)  And everything looks fine.  We were told that the baby looks fine and everything looks good.

In fact, that's ALL we were told, which is why I couldn't hide my crazy, I did NOT act like a lady, and in fact I lost my shit and screamed hysterically at the doctor.  But let me start at the beginning...

For this ultrasound, my doctors sent me to the perinatal clinic in the hospital.  It's the high-tech ultrasound lab at the hospital, so the pictures are super clear and pretty amazing.  The way it works is that a tech does the ultrasound, then puts the pictures in the computer, then a doctor looks at the pictures, then the doctor usually comes in to chat with the patient.

This time, I told the tech right away that I'd lost my first baby and I was pretty anxious about this pregnancy, so if she could just talk us through each step, that would be great.  She said that she always explains what she's measuring, but she can't tell me if it's "normal" because she's not a doctor.  Yeah, yeah.  Whatever.

So she lubes up my belly and gets started.  We saw the baby wiggling around right away (the Deuce looks adorable, BTW, sweet little profile, great bone structure--that's my unprofessional opinion).  I was sort of hoping she'd announce, "Your baby is alive!" but I guess she took that for granted.  I, however, did not.

She went through all the measurements.  We saw all four chambers of the heart, the spine, the profile, all the organs, the brain (looked like a genius-brain to me), and whatever else they measure.  She measured the nuchal fold and I really wanted to know if that was normal, since we passed on having that scan in the first trimester.  However, I knew the tech couldn't answer questions like that, so I decided to save my inquiry for the doctor.

At the end of the ultrasound, she told me my fluid levels looked good (which was a relief, it had been a nagging worry because I know that can be an indication of a problem, can cause pre-term labor, etc.).  She also said the baby weighs 11 ounces.  Then she placed a towel over my belly and told me she'd go put my pictures in the computer.  I started to wipe off the goop and she told me not to--she said that sometimes the doctors want to take a look themselves and she never knows when they will want to, so to just wait.

Well, that scared me.  Also it was really uncomfortable.  And I remembered that Eliza weighed 13 ounces at this ultrasound (although maybe I had hers done at closer to 21 weeks, but still).  So I'm lying in the dim, slightly chilly room, with my stomach covered in a now-chilly goop, that's drying out and feeling disgusting.  And I'm worrying.

Several minutes went by, and I realized that I was also feeling really annoyed.  There was no reason for me to lie there for twenty minutes with cold, sticky goop on my stomach.  They could just re-goop me up when the doctor came in if they needed to.  Plus, I had to pee.  This was ridiculous.

So after fifteen minutes, I'd finally had enough.  I wiped up the goop with a towel, went to the bathroom, and came back out.  (This was kind of a huge deal because I usually don't defy medical authority--I want to follow all the rules so that this baby is okay!)

When I came out, the doctor was there.  He was an older gentleman, and I will confess that I already knew him by reputation, and his reputation was not especially good.  Specifically, I'd heard he had a terrible bedside manner.  However, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when he said, "The baby looks good!  Everything is fine.  Do you have any questions?"

I said, "Well, yes, actually.  I have LOTS of questions."

I started with my fluid level.  He said, "It looks good.  Everything looks fine."

OK. Great.  But NOT the answer I'm looking for.  I ALREADY HEARD YOU SAY THAT.  Now I want a specific report.  I want a number I can hold on to.  I want to know everything that you know.  That's why I'm ASKING QUESTIONS.

However, I recognize that he is the expert here, so I take another approach.  I asked how the baby was measuring, whether the growth was right on target.

The doctor--I shit you not--ROLLED HIS EYES and said, in quite possibly the most condescending tone possible, as though I were just really dense, "Let me try this again.  The baby looks good!  Everything is fine."

And that's when I lost my shit.

First of all, I hate nothing more than being patronized.  I would rather a doctor talk over my head with medical jargon and allow me to ask, "What does that mean?  How do you spell that?  Can you explain this?" than to condescend to me like I am too stupid to understand what he understands.  I could have gone to med school (if the sight of needles didn't make me faint).  Just because my doctorate is not in MEDICINE does NOT mean that I am an idiot and I do NOT want to be talked to like I am one.  

Second, I've been worked up about this ultrasound for weeks.  I was already wound up pretty tight before this guy walked in the room.  I was scared.  I was cold.  I was left alone (with David) for twenty minutes with goop on my stomach.  I was TERRIFIED that something could be wrong.  I know that the twenty week ultrasound can be an indicator for problems with growth, for genetic abnormalities, for cysts or masses on the baby, and for issues with my uterus/cervix/placenta, for problems that have no indication until that twenty week ultrasound.  So I wanted detailed information.  I wanted him to go through the results with me step by step.  I wanted to feel fully informed about everything (except the gender).  I did not want a snarky, vague reply.

Third, he had JUST ASKED ME if I had any questions.  Now it felt like he was evading my questions and being a smug asshole about it.

So I was anxious.  I was upset.  I was scared.  I was pissed off.  And so I said, as calmly as possible, "I would like to talk to someone else."

Except I didn't say it very calmly.  I was shaking and I'd started to cry and my voice was all trembly.

The doctor seemed confused (like he really thought his smart-ass answers were sufficient?) and he said AGAIN that everything was fine.

So then I said (and by said, I kind of mean screamed), "I understand that!  But my first baby DIED and you are not answering my questions!  I want to talk to the other doctor!"

He told me he was the only doctor there, which I knew was a TOTAL LIE because I'd already asked the tech which doctors were on duty and she'd told me both their names.  I couldn't BELIEVE he was lying to me and suddenly I was off the deep end.  We were all SWIMMING in my crazy.

I started yelling, and I mean YELLING, "You are making me uncomfortable!  I want to talk to Dr. Martin!  I want my questions answered!"  And I was sobbing.  I kept yelling, I'm not even sure what I was saying, I just kept insisting that he get Dr. Martin, whom my tech had said was there (I had no idea who Dr. Martin was, but I figured he or she was better than this guy).  I was yelling loud enough that it hurt my throat.  I was so loud that I'm sure the people in the rooms on either side of me could hear everything.  Probably the people waiting in the lobby, too.  Quite possibly the people in the parking garage.

Once I requested the other doctor by name (calling him out in his big fat lie), he started backpedaling.  As in, he literally started backing away from me with his arms up in front of him, like I might physically attack him if David weren't holding me back (David was rubbing my back nervously and possibly considering putting me in one of the restraints he sometimes has to use on students who totally flip out).  So then this doctor, as he backed toward the door, admitted that Dr. Martin was with another patient but he'd have her come see me when she was finished.  And I think he said he was sorry for whatever he said to upset me, although maybe I'm being generous.  And he continued to back out the door.

When he was gone, I completely burst into tears and sobbed all over David's sweater.  Then the tech came rushing back in (I didn't even hear her enter the room because I was crying so loudly) and she also started rubbing my back and asking me what was wrong when everything looked fine on my ultrasound.  She wanted to know if she'd said anything to upset me.  I was crying so hard I could barely talk to her, and I wanted to tell her she shouldn't have freaking left me with cold ultrasound goop drying on my belly, but I was trying to focus on taking deep breaths and pulling myself together.

(I just want to emphasize that although I readily admit that I can be emotional and somewhat high strung, I have NEVER flipped out like that in public before.  I almost always can hold it together until I have some privacy.  I do not like to cry in front of strangers.  Especially a flip-out ugly cry where the veins stand out on my neck as I scream.  Even in the hospital when Eliza died, I never had like a screaming meltdown--of course, at that time, no one talked me like a self-important, condescending asshole).

Right at this moment, Dr. Martin arrived (thrilled to be personally requested by a hysterical patient, I'm sure).  She seemed a little confused by why I was so upset (weren't we all?) and she repeated that everything looked fine.  OMG I KNOW.  TELL ME MORE.  So then she told me specifically that growth was exactly on target and that she saw no indicators of any genetic abnormalities.  I asked about the nuchal fold and she repeated that from what they could tell from this ultrasound, there were no indications of an abnormality.  (But at least I knew we were talking specifically about the nuchal measurement, you know?)

I was also anxious about some numbers that I'd caught a glimpse of on the screen (that no one had discussed or explained to me, because why should I be INFORMED about my own pregnancy?) so then she pulled up that screen and talked me through each of the specific measurements and explained how they calculate the average gestational age.  I was scared because the print-out said that the baby measured at 19weeks 2 days, but I'm supposed to be 19 weeks 5 days, and I know that measuring behind can be an indication of a growth restriction.  Dr. Martin assured me that the growth was not a concern at all, and explained how they calculate that average based on several measurements (some of which were slightly ahead, some of which were slightly behind), and said that this average was perfectly on target.  By the time she was finished, I felt much better, although I was still shaky and kind of teary.

David kept rubbing my back (I think he was as shocked as they were that I had completely freaked out) and he said to the doctor, "She's just scared.  She just wants the baby to be okay."

Dr. Martin nodded and told me to focus on the fact that everything looks good so far, and they would see me in another four weeks.  I managed to say, "Lucky you!" which made her laugh.

Then she left and the tech said quietly that she'd write on my chart that I wasn't to see the other doctor anymore.

When she left the room, David whispered to me, "I bet that's not the only thing they're writing on your chart!"

Yeah.  Well.  There was no hiding my crazy today.  It exploded all over that doctor, all over the ultrasound room, all over David's sweater, and all over my eye make-up.  The irony is that if something were wrong, I don't think I would have flipped out like that at all.  Because they probably would have given me much more specific information!  I just could not handle the frustration of getting such vague replies in answer to my questions, like because they thought it all looked fine, my inquiries were superficial or unimportant or a waste of time.  It was absolutely infuriating.  I mean, I KNOW that they are busy and that they see a lot of patients.  But still!  It is their JOB not just to look at my information, but to discuss it with me.  And after what we've been through, I feel justified in demanding a little extra time, a little special treatment.

But I'm still a little astonished that I literally threw a freaking crying screaming tantrum because I just DON'T DO stuff like that.  I either try to assert myself politely (using my best professorial tone) or I seethe quietly and bitch (and blog) about it later. I just wanted specific answers and right now nothing--not my dignity, not my pride, not what anyone thinks of me--matters more than knowing exactly what is going on with this baby.

So really, I only regret my meltdown because I'm not sure that I clearly communicated to the doctor what he had done to make me so upset (perhaps I should send a follow-up note?).

At any rate, after my screaming fit, I scheduled another appointment (the receptionist asked me if I had a cold because I was slightly hoarse from screaming), I sat for a few minutes in lobby with David while I calmed down, then I mopped up my eye make-up, drove to campus, gave two lectures on Oedipus the King, and now I am totally exhausted.

And to think I believed that not finding out the gender would make the twenty week ultrasound LESS exciting.

But the IMPORTANT thing is that the Deuce appears to be doing well!  And my placenta, which I'd been told was up top and slightly anterior, has evidently shifted to the back as my uterus has grown. So I'm starting to feel little flutter kicks, which is pretty much the best feeling ever.

Come on, Deuce.  I just need you to get here, alive and healthy.  Before Mama has to go batshit crazy on too many more healthcare professionals.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gender Bender (and Preference?)

When I was pregnant with Eliza, we had a gender party for her after our 20-week ultrasound.  It was Labor Day weekend.  The theme was "Baby Duck:  Donald or Daisy?"  I ordered a cake from a local bakery, had my doctor's office receptionist call them with our gender results, and they put the gender-specific frosting color inside the cake.  We had our guests write down their boy or girl votes (to save for the baby book) and then the big moment came when David and I cut the cake and we all saw PINK frosting!  Everybody cheered, like we'd ALL been hoping for a girl, when the truth is that David and I didn't care either way, and the votes had been split 50/50.  It was a happy, happy moment.

I'm glad we did that for Eliza.  I'm glad we celebrated her before she was here, and that we shared our excitement with my parents and our friends.  It was cheesy and lame and I loved every minute of it.  I look at how happy I am in those pictures, and I'm so glad I treasured that moment in my pregnancy.  I know I'll never have another one like it.

Eliza's 20-week ultrasound pictures--a healthy, perfect girl!
This time, we won't be having a party.  Not because we're not happy to be pregnant, but because pre-baby parties no longer make me feel happy.  They make me feel like I am inviting a harbinger of doom into my home.  All harbingers of doom:  NOT welcome.

But if we were to have a party this time around, the theme would be "The Deuce:  We Don't Give a Shit What You Are, As Long As You're Alive."

I imagine we would serve cupcakes with chocolate frosting in the shape of poo.

LOL.  Sorry, I am gross.

Anyway, the point of the poop jokes and hypothetical non-existent party-planning is that my twenty week scan is tomorrow and we're NOT going to find out whether we're having a boy or a girl.  Because we do not give a shit.  As long as this baby is alive and stays that way.

Even though David and I are both type-A planners (we're the couple who writes their own itinerary on vacation because we are SO cool and laid-back, you know?).  Even though I've always said that I hate surprises (Because it's so much fun to look forward to things!  And if it's a surprise, you've taken away all the delicious anticipation!).  Even though we're both really, really curious.  We are going to wait until the baby is born.  We are now the anti-planners.   Expect nothing.  Hope for everything.

Last time, I wasn't just pregnant.  I was expecting a baby.  So I acted accordingly.  I planned and prepared for everything.  Classes, books, magazine subscriptions.  Furniture, clothes, toys, baby supplies.  I wanted all the details to be perfect.  I expected my baby was a sure thing and I had no reason to believe she wouldn't be healthy and perfect.  We hadn't finalized her name, but I knew what she'd wear home from the hospital, what she'd wear for her newborn photos, what I wanted her birth announcements to look like...  I could see her so clearly in my head.  She was already mine.

This time, I'm doing the exact opposite.  I want to know the Deuce is healthy and growing on schedule.  I want to know that my body is doing what it needs to be doing.  (Even though I know those things are not guarantees we'll be bringing home a baby.)  Any and all other details can be worked out AFTER this baby is here.

I guess it doesn't quite feel like this baby is mine yet.  Not that I don't love the Deuce, that I'm not irrevocably attached to this weensy little fetus whom I think fluttered a few little kicks that I FINALLY felt last night (conclusion:  The Deuce likes no-bake cookies).  I just can't quite believe the Deuce is a sure thing.

I've wondered if my wish to keep it a surprise is a way to try and protect myself from another loss.  To be perfectly honest, yes, I'm terrified of getting attached to this baby.  But guess what?  Too late.  Already there.  I may not know if it's a boy or a girl, but I do know that I would endure anything to get the Deuce here, alive and well.   Sleepless nights and nosebleeds.  Carpel tunnel and sciatica.  Twenty weeks of bed rest.  A million stabs with needles. A shark fight in which I'm armed only with goggles and a small pen knife.  Bring it on.  Whatever it takes.  I definitely don't need to know the gender to bond with this babe.

But I'm still not ready to count on him or her coming home with us yet.  So I guess this is our way of acknowledging the uncertainty, the inability to see the future and plan ahead and know for sure.  And of forcing other people to acknowledge it with us.

This will keep me from getting ahead of myself, but also keep other people from getting ahead of us with their "certain" outcomes and ideas of what our family will look like come July.  I'm pregnant.  That's a good thing.  Man, we wanted this.  Man, we love the Deuce.  But this is all we've got, so far.  We're not expecting a baby this time so much as wildly hoping for one.

It's also a way for me to try to embrace (however reluctantly) my lack of control.  I don't get to decide whether this babe is a boy or a girl, just like I didn't get to decide whether Eliza lived or died.  Life is full of uncertainty, and I'm just hoping that this time we luck into a happy ending.

Another part of this decision is that I want this pregnancy to feel different from Eliza's.  (Besides the fact that this time I'm terrified.)  I NEED it to be different in a way that isn't entirely negative and horrible.  So the gender surprise is one way to do that.  Definitely different.  Not bad-different.  Just different-different.  Kind of fun-different, even!  (And we all know that SOMETHING in this pregnancy needs to be fun instead of wretchedly anxious and nail-biting.)

And as for our preference?  Well, if we can't have Eliza, any old sibling will do.  I'm working under the assumption that the Deuce is a boy, mostly because every single person I know (save one--Hi, Teresa!) who has had a stillborn baby girl has subsequently gotten pregnant with a boy.  This list includes several of the blogs I read, the people I've met through the grief support group, and my great-aunt Sue.  (Actually, I just learned today of one more exception to this rule, but I still think that the number of boys-after-loss is much higher than girls, though.  Even if this is based on my totally unscientific sampling.)  A friend asked me if having a boy would be easier.  I don't even remember how I answered her, but I don't think there is an easier.  Is the baby ALIVE?  That would certainly make things easier.  Or at least happier.

Before I got pregnant with Eliza, I thought it was kind of shitty for people to express a gender preference (as I stated in my heartbreakingly hopeful and excited post about her 20-week ultrasound).  I gaped open-mouthed at a guy friend of ours who voiced his disappointment when he found out he was going to have a daughter.  I was equally appalled at David's aunt, who cried when she found out her first pregnancy was a little boy (David's grandpa Gene finally told her that he'd take the baby if she didn't want it, and that shut her up.  Hilarious.  Oh, Gpa Gene.  We miss you.)  I mean, I think it's FINE to have your own personal preference (unavoidable sometimes), but I just couldn't imagine voicing to the world that I was disappointed in the gender of my child.

But then I had a baby girl and I lost her and all I wanted in the whole world was THAT baby girl.  Or... maybe since that was impossible, I'd settle for her sister.  I wanted to have another baby, and I wanted that baby to be a GIRL.

Forget the fact that I once imagined a mini-David and a baseball-themed nursery and dinosaur rompers and train sets.  That boy crap was no longer part of my vision.  I'd already lost Eliza, but I wasn't ready to let go of the dreams I had of ballet lessons, and hair ribbons, and French braids, and dress up clothes, and an Anne-of-Green-Gables-inspired vacation to Prince Edward's Island and American Girls Dolls and prom dress shopping...  Of course, I imagine Eliza would have loved all those things, but we'll never know.

Around Eliza's birthday, I was thinking about all the hopes and dreams and plans we had for her, (swimming lessons, dance recitals, getting into a good four-year liberal arts school), and I realized that it wouldn't have mattered if she was just like I dreamed she would be or not.  I loved her regardless, just as she was.  Just as she would have been.  Even if she was nothing like I'd expected (read: nothing like me).  Even if she liked soccer and hated ballet, even if she preferred sci-fi over historical fiction, even if she wanted to wear a tuxedo when she took her girlfriend to prom, even if she wanted to be (gasp!) an engineer like her grandpa and uncle instead of studying art history or fashion design or British literature.  It's true, I miss the baby girl I'd dreamed about, but mostly I miss that I never got to know the real Eliza.  And no sister (or brother) can give me back what I've already lost.

But they can give me someone new to love.  And that's why it doesn't matter the least bit if the Deuce is a girl or a boy.  Or if he (or she) likes baseball or musical theatre or (hopefully!) both.  The love's the same.  The gender is just... a detail.

And details we can think about later.  AFTER this baby is born.

So we're holding out for the big reveal at birth.  Which I guess is also one more way I'm trying to give the Deuce a vote of confidence.  I'm still holding on to the hope that the day this baby is born, I'll be so happy that I really won't give a shit WHAT this baby is, as long as it's alive.

And then we can celebrate.  Poo-shaped chocolate frosting for everyone!

How about you?  Did you ever have a strong gender preference, regardless of whether you'd experienced a loss?  Did you have to deal with disappointment?  How quickly did you get over it (uh, assuming you did)?  Did you know that America is the only country in the world where girl babies are preferred over boys?  Do you happen to have a strong feeling about whether the Deuce is a boy or a girl?  (A lady we met in Mexico took one look at my barely visible, 12-week tummy and said with total confidence, "Oh, you're having a girl.")  Do you think we're crazy for not finding out?

And can I just ask for all your prayers, wishes, ju-ju, vibes, and good intentions to be directed our way tomorrow morning?  I'm so nervous about this ultrasound I can hardly stand it.