Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

from our little Duck...

and her four-legged partner in crime:

from our little monster...

and our little doll...

from Mummy's girl...

and Daddy's little pumpkin...

And the sweetest "bum-kin" in the patch!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I went to therapy for two years after Eliza died.

I don't mean grief group--which I attended just a couple times in the first year and once after Zuzu was born.  I mean that I saw a therapist, first with David and then on my own, from December of 2010 through the fall of 2011.  First it was weekly, then every other week, then, about halfway through my pregnancy, it was once a month.  (I would have gone more often when I was pregnant, but I had so many OB and MFM appointments that it became unmanageable, and those doctor appointments afforded me their own kind of stress relief, so I did just fine).

After Zuzu was born, I went back to every other week for a couple of months.  I worried that after all the trauma associated with birth that I could have some form of PPD.  Even though that (thankfully) wasn't an issue for me, I was definitely glad to be able to talk to my therapist about the sneaky resurgences of grief and also the weird guilt that was sometimes associated with my newfound happiness.  And then things were going really well, and I went to therapy and talked about that.  And then I had an appointment that I had to cancel, and I didn't have time to reschedule right away, and then a month had gone by and I hadn't gone back and...  I kind of missed my therapist (nice lady!) but I was okay.

I know therapy is not for everybody (or at least there are a lot of people who want to say it's not for them, whether or not they've actually given it a try) but I just want to take a moment to say that it was a really, really good thing for me.  I had a great online support group, caring friends and family, and, obviously, this blog as an outlet, but I still needed help coping with my overwhelming, soul-sucking grief.  I was not clinically depressed and I never took medication, but  I have no doubt that seeing a professional therapist on a regular basis made a significance difference in my mental health.

At one point, about six months out from Eliza's death, my therapist and I discussed the possibility of taking antidepressants, but I was reluctant to do so because at that point I was trying to get pregnant again and I didn't want to worry about meds in my system.  (Which is not to say that there even would have been anything to worry about--I have no idea--I was just super neurotic about it).  I was certain that this new wave of sadness had a specific cause (I wasn't getting pregnant again) and required a specific cure (to get pregnant).  My therapist was understanding and supportive of my decision (and about six weeks later, we discovered that I was right).  However, I was glad to have someone I could have that conversation with who was evaluating my needs based on my needs, with no other agenda.

Therapy was the first place I went by myself after Eliza died.  I cried my way through every session for the first few months.  It's not like I enjoyed it--a lot of times I felt totally drained after a therapy session, and sometimes I wondered if it made me feel worse instead of better, especially in the months when life felt more manageable.  There were times we'd I'd be feeling okay, and then I'd go to therapy and discuss all my sadness and anger and I'd leave feeling more tired and sad and angry than I had before I went.

But most of the time, I felt better after I left.  Tired, sad, but a little lighter.  I often left therapy and wanted to call someone--David, a friend, my mom--to talk about something that came up in therapy or something that I'd figured out or decided upon after talking it over with my therapist.  My therapist didn't use words like "recovery" or "acceptance."  She never made me feel like there was a time table for my grief.  She sometimes asked me hard questions, but she always listened thoughtfully to my answers and validated my feelings.  She reacted with shock and dismay when people said or did shitty things.  She celebrated with me when I got pregnant again.  She acknowledged the anxiety and the hope and the fear of pregnancy after loss, and offered practical advice for dealing with all of it.

She recommended some things I could never get into--for example, she is a big fan of meditation.  The only time I'd tried meditating was when I was pregnant with Eliza and trying to prepare for a med-free birth, so meditation was just kind of off the table for me.  But she also encouraged me to go to yoga, recommended books for me to read (including When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which helped salvage the little faith I had left at that point), and helped me form specific and concrete plans for handling difficult people or situations--everything from telling my boss I was pregnant (again) to coping with the first family get-together with the in-laws.

I know that you don't NEED to see a therapist to survive the loss of a child.  But I don't really know why you wouldn't want to.  I mean, I GET that it makes some people uncomfortable, but for me, nothing was more uncomfortable than the desperate sadness I felt after Eliza died, and I would have done anything to try and find some way out of that pit of despair.

It helped me to have a professional to help me process what was happening.  I felt so crazy and so out of control and so unbelievably flattened by sadness that I needed someone objective to weigh in on whether this was actual insanity or regular grief.  There were a couple of times when David and I were not seeing eye-to-eye and I was so relieved we had an objective but caring moderator to help us talk to each other.  Sometimes I needed a pep talk, sometimes I just needed someone to listen without judgment or unsolicited advice.

I had support from my friends and my family and especially the community of bereaved parents I met online, but the regular therapy sessions I had were invaluable in a different way.  They gave me something to do when I felt so helpless and out of control.  It's not like therapy could fix anything that had gone wrong in my life, but at least it gave me a sense of being proactive, of doing something other than passively accepting what had happened to Eliza.  It helped me analyze my experience, to be objective and subjective about what I was going through, and to also see my loss within a greater context of loss and struggle.  It never made Eliza's death easier, but it made my life without her a little more bearable.

A friend of mine, whose brother died tragically a few years ago, told me that she admired the way I handled my grief by working through it, by going to therapy, by reading, by making an effort to keep myself healthy instead of handling grief the way she had--by drinking and smoking and eating to numb the pain.  The truth was that any of those escapes would have been easier (and, honestly, preferable) to therapy, but I really freaking wanted another baby.  And I needed to feel like I was fit to have one.  

After wrestling for so long with the notion that I'd failed Eliza, I didn't want to be so screwed up by her death that I would fail another baby, too, even if it was in a totally different way.  I needed reassurance from someone who was outside my situation, from someone who was getting paid to be honest with me about how I was doing.  I needed to prove to myself, too, that I was willing to do whatever it took to get myself to a place where I was capable of managing a stressful pregnancy and--hopefully--eventually parenting another child.

Sometimes I get e-mails from people and they sound so desperate and when I reply to them and tell them that I understand and assure them that it will get easier to breathe again someday, I also ask if they've talked to a therapist.  I always second guess myself when I ask those questions, because I don't want them to think I'm saying they are psychotic or something.  I don't think that their grief is abnormal or scary or wrong and therefore they need to see a professional.  I think that grief is normal and real and unavoidable, and it can feel so impossible and so overwhelming and a good therapist can help with that.  Surviving the loss of a baby is hard enough with a good support system--I can imagine how much more difficult it is without the kind of support that I had and have.  My therapist was such a great resource for me that I want everyone to have one!

I know that I got lucky in connecting with the first therapist I saw (she was recommended by my OB) and I cringe when I hear stories of people who had a bad experience because it cannot be easy to sit in a little room and tell the story of your heartache and then feel like you never want to see that person again.  I also know that seeing a therapist can be prohibitively expensive or, in my case, a pain in the ass to submit to insurance.  But in my opinion, it's still worth the trouble.

If you ask me what was essential to surviving the first year after Eliza's death, I would have to say it was the friendships I made with other moms who were grieving their own losses.  But if you asked me if there was anything that made that year a bit easier for me, it was going to regular appointments with my therapist.  Even when I left feeling sad (which was most of the time, because I mean seriously, I was seeing a therapist to cope with the death of my baby--it's not like there's much to NOT feel sad about), I also left feeling a bit more clear-headed in the midst of my grief fog.

I realize now that I didn't blog much about therapy while I was doing it.  I don't know if I was a little embarrassed that I needed it when many others didn't, or if I just needed to keep some of that private.  At any rate, I just wanted to say that I am glad I went and I know that it helped me.

I'm sure that I could have survived without it, but it would have been a helluva a lot harder than it had to be, and it was already hella hard.  I don't know if I'll ever need therapy again in the future, but if life ever gets that bleak again, I won't hesitate to call someone and make an appointment.  I will always be grateful for those therapy sessions and the small sense of stability and hope they offered me on the darkest and slipperiest days.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Doing Laundry"

I am typing this in the laundry room of my house.

David is upstairs, chopping peppers and onions and marinating chicken for fajitas.  David's grandma is upstairs having a cup of coffee and trying to watch the news.  Zuzu is upstairs being a FREAKING MANIAC, crashing hard after a weekend of getting high on grandparent-love-and-attention (my parents were here also).  We spent this morning at Grant's Farm, which was great except that Zuzu napped for exactly twenty minutes in the car on the way home and then woke upon transfer to crib and refused to go back to sleep.

After I finally admitted defeat and brought her back downstairs, she face-planted off her mini-recliner onto a plastic stacking toy and has an angry red welt on her face running from her eyebrow down to her cheek.

She is alternately screeching and crying and if she sees me she runs and wraps her arms around my legs while whining incessantly and wiping her snot on my jeans but there's not any specific thing she wants except sleep, which she doesn't know she wants.  Ah, being a toddler is so damn tricky.

We were all exhausted when we got back from Grant's Farm and I wanted a bit of a nap myself.  My parents headed for home, David lay down on the couch, and his grandma went to the guest room to rest.  I tried everything to get Zuzu to snooze, but didn't let her "cry it out" because (1) more than 10 minutes is against my parenting philosophy but more than 5 minutes makes my ears bleed and more than 2 minutes makes me itchy, especially with Gma trying to sleep in the other upstairs bedroom.  So we tried rocking (fail) and back-patting (fail) and playing quietly in the bedroom before getting back in bed (fail) and going downstairs to rock (fail) and finally I was so damn tired and I went and tried to snooze on the couch while David watched Zuzu shut herself in the cabinet and open the door over and over and over again, but the precise SECOND that I managed to doze off was when she nose-dived off the chair, so then I was comforting a screaming, snotty baby and my nap was off the table.

Once I dragged myself off the couch, I discovered that the "potpourri" I had left simmering on the stove (basil leaves, orange slices, lemon slices, and a cinnamon stick) had boiled dry and was burning.  Let me tell you, it did NOT smell delicious.  And I was so pissed that it happened and I was so pissed at myself for forgetting about it and I was so pissed that there wasn't someone else to blame and I was really SUPER pissed that if it had to happen it would happen when David's grandma is here because OF COURSE it would.

So I'm in a rager of a bad mood, just like Zuzu.  We both need an early bedtime. 
Not to mention we discovered at our well-baby exam on Saturday that our runny-nose but otherwise perfectly cheerful and healthy-seeming baby has a small ear infection.  So, yeah, a nap would really have been useful today.  Instead we'll move bedtime up an hour.

Which means I only have to "sort and fold laundry" for another hundred and twenty minutes.  Excellent!

If you're wondering what else we did this weekend, just imagine this scene on a never-ending loop:

Friday, October 25, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2.0

I tried doing NaNoWriMo two years ago.

(For those of you not in the know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.  It's a program that invites you to sign pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  No excuses, no extensions.  The idea is that there's only one thing you need to get your novel written:  a deadline.

I was really excited about it in 2011.  I needed a project.  I needed something to keep me busy.  I needed something to think about besides grief and trying to get pregnant again.  I needed a distraction.

And then something happened in October of 2011 that threw my plans for a loop.  And NaNoWriMo became The Middle of My [Holy Shit I'm So Tired] First Trimester.  I was going to bed at 8:30pm every night.  I was working a brand new full-time job.  I was taking progesterone supplements that made me tired, nauseous, and depressed (not to mention constipated).  I was physically incapable of staying awake enough hours to write a novel.  I petered out somewhere around the end of week 2, having only hit about 15,000 words.

Last year I decided to do NaNoBloMo instead.  I was at the end of my maternity leave, heading back to work but not teaching a class, and I blogged every day of the month of November.

This year?  This year I am working the (same old) full time job.  My energy-sucking fetus has become an energy-sucking toddler.  But I'm tackling NaNoWriMo.

In fact, I'm spear-heading a NaNoWriMo group on campus and trying to get students to join me.  I've also encouraged forced one of my colleagues in the English department to write a novel as well.  And she is holding me accountable by posting a huge calendar on the department bulletin board outside her office, where she wants us to post our daily word count.

So...  if the blog is a little quiet next month, know that I am furiously typing away at this elusive novel.  I don't plan to go on a month-long hiatus from the blog or anything (I kind of need this place) but, you know, I've got a daily word count to meet!  (1,667 words a day, but who's counting?  Oh, wait.  I am.)

Any other NaNoWriters out there?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Remembrance Walk 2013

I remember feeling so much emotion before last year's walk.

I was afraid to invite people to go with us, afraid no one would come.  Then I invited people anyway.

No one could come.

I was, strangely enough, okay with that.  Relieved might be a better word.  It would be hard enough for me to be there without feeling like I had to "host" other people who had come with us.
I was still stressed out about the whole thing last year.  I met up with a friend to have coffee the day before the walk and ended up having a slight meltdown and crying in the coffee shop.  Looking back, I don't know why I was filled with so much dread, except that I didn't know what to expect.

This year, we went with relatively little fanfare.  I signed up and put it on the calendar.  My friend Angie picked up our shirts for me.  I didn't invite other people to join us, figuring they were busy anyway.  David and I wore our event-issued "I have footprints on my heart" t-shirts and Zuzu wore her rainbow hat with her "little sister" bow attached to it.

The weather was chilly, but not bad in the sunshine.  We ran into friends--some friends (Hi, Angie, Katie, & Kim!) we met through a grief support group and some friends we met through other social circles and then discovered we were connected in grief also--and we stood with them, Zuzu in her stroller.  We listened to a poem and a variation of a song I happen to like.

Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

I cried, but it was a soft kind of crying, easy to start and easy to stop.

I do not think we look like ourselves in this picture.
And then we listened to the reading of the names and we released our three balloons in memory of our little girl, sending so much love up and out to her.

Eliza's three balloons.

I was glad that Eliza's name came early in the alphabet, because somewhere between F and G Zuzu decided that stroller sitting was no longer suiting her so we let her wander a little bit.  She spotted a Boston terrier wearing a pumpkin sweater and was instantly smitten with "Gus."  I didn't have a chance to really talk to Gus's owner since I was busy saying things like "Gentle hands!" but I did notice that he and a woman who appeared to be his wife didn't have any kids with them and I wondered if they were there to support someone else or if they were mourning their own loss.

There were over 2,500 people there, not all of them parents, but all of them missing a baby.  As I listened to the names being read, I thought about all the babies that might have been, babies whose parents I probably wouldn't know if we weren't connected by loss, babies I feel like I love and miss myself because I know how loved and missed they are by their parents...  Otis and Andrew and Jack and Hayes and Olivia and Cale and Max and Bear and Anna and Elizabeth and William and Ethan and Julius and Aiden and Ava and Camille and Margot and George and Charlotte and and Aliya and Bennett and Leah and Libby and Andy and and Mason and Finley and Cutu and Norah and Scotlyn and Reese and Teddy and Liam and Evelynn and Levi and...  I probably shouldn't have even started that list because I know it could go on and on and on.

It's almost impossible for me to consider the vast numbers of people who have experienced loss and to associate that knowledge with the understanding I have of the way our life was so completely shattered by Eliza's death.  How can there be so many broken and grieving parents in this world?  Because, believe me, they are everywhere.  And most of the time, you definitely can't tell by looking.

Thanks to our friend Rob for taking this picture!
 A Walk for Remembrance isn't the way I wish we spent a beautiful Saturday in October.  But I'm still glad we went.  In a world that kind of revolves around Zuzu these days, it feels good to do something just for Eliza.  And it helps me every day to know that there are other broken people whose friendship helps us hold it together.

Friday, October 18, 2013

End of an Era: Our Breastfeeding Days Are Over

It's one of those things that I feel like needs to be documented and yet...  I am not sure that I actually have all that much to say about it.

So, yeah.  Zuzu is finished with breastfeeding.  It's been almost a month now and it feels like forever.  She was just shy of 15 months when we stopped.  She'd only been nursing at bedtime and it had gotten to the point where I wasn't looking forward to it.  Instead of cuddling up close and actually being interested in nursing, she would squirm and twist around, pop on and off the boob, try to stand up, and frequently pinch me.  

One evening we were sitting there and instead of nursing, she kind of fussed around and then ended up just leaning against me and hanging out for a minute before nursing for like 30 seconds.  When she popped off, I offered her the pacifier, and she was more than happy to take it.  So the next night I didn't offer her the boob and she didn't ask.  The following night, she did ask for it, but only nursed for a few seconds on each side and squirmed around obnoxiously the whole time.  We skipped another night, she came back again, we skipped another night...  And then she was over it.

She fussed and pulled at my shirt exactly one time after that--when she woke up hungry from a long nap on a Saturday afternoon.  Instead of my boob, I offered her a sippy of cow's milk and she was perfectly content.  She has shown zero interest since then.  It's like she doesn't even remember that just a few months ago she used love nothing more than to hang out with my boobs eight times a day.  My boobs were kind of like, What the hell?  We used to be her favorite things in the world!  But then I bought them a couple new bras and they got over it.

Seriously, though, I would have been happy to keep going if she had been enthusiastic and eager and (let's be honest) appreciative about it.  But I've got to tell you, it's just not that fun to take your shirt off for someone who is easily distracted by anything and everything else in the room.  I guess if I'm flashing my boobs around, I kind of want them to be the center of attention, you know? 

In a way, I'm happy that it's over.  I'm so glad that we had fifteen months of successful breastfeeding, but I'm also glad to have my body back to myself, and my boobs back to a relatively normal and non-fluctuating size.  I'm glad that boob-accessibility is no longer a requirement for deciding what to wear in the morning.  I'm glad I never-ever-ever have to think about pumping and I'm glad that if I go to dinner with friends or have an evening meeting, there's no anxiety about how bedtime is going to go down without boob-time.

My face was broken out for a little while (ugh) but I've also been motivated to exercise again.  No idea if those things are directly related to not breastfeeding, but it feels that way.

Of course, I'm also a little bit sad that it's over, but I find I'm not nostalgic for breastfeeding itself (at least not the distracted half-ass version we had going on lately).  Of course, I sometimes think wistfully about those early months when it was just me and wee little baby Zuzu and the boobs and she was so damn eager to eat and it was such a relaxing experience for both of us.  But that may also be because I feel wistful about those days when Zu was a wee baby who didn't have such VERY STRONG OPINIONS about things like what she'd like to eat for dinner and whether we should go inside for a nap (her opinions?  nothing but applesauce and bread, and NO).  These last couple months of breastfeeding slash topless-wrestling a toddler were not nearly as enjoyable for me, personally.  I stuck with it because while Zuzu seemed to be less and less interested, she also didn't seem willing to give it up entirely, and I wasn't going to push it.  I was hoping that she'd decide on her own that she was finished, but I'd also told myself that we'd keep going through cold and flu season.  

And then she really did give it up entirely and I wasn't going to argue with her about it.  It is kind of weird to feel like she grew up and got over me (or at least my boobs) but I'm also kind of relieved that she weaned herself and that it happened so easily.  

Considering the fact that she BIT ME over the weekend (we had a difference of opinion about whether it was time to go inside and take a nap--the fact that she bit me was indicative of the SUPREME NEED for said nap, and she slept for almost three hours, so I WIN except the bite hurt my arm and my feelings), it's probably a good thing I'm no longer putting body parts in her mouth on purpose.  She's dangerous enough as it is.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Strange Donut

After our houseguests left last weekend, we were feeling a little glum.  David suggested that we head over to a new donut place that had just opened in a neighborhood not too far from our house.  Their schtick is that they put out 6 classic donuts and 6 creative donuts each day, and then on the weekend nights they make a "strange" donut.  Rumor has it that November's strange donut involves a waffle donut with cranberry sauce and turkey in it.

So we decided to check it out.

And then we got there and saw a line stretching down the block.

You see that little round sign sticking out?  That's not it.  The line continues way past there.  But we had nothing else to do and nowhere else to be, so we decided to wait and see if these donuts were really worth the hype.

At first, Zuzu was content to sit in her stroller.  But twenty-five minutes or so into the wait, she started to get antsy.  We unstrapped her and lifted her out and she proceeded to charm everyone in line around us, including an 11-month-old baby in a Bjorn carrier whose mom was in line right behind us.  And then entertaining the crowd got old.

We let her climb up some concrete steps (carefully supervised) but then the line moved on so we had to drag her with us.  We'd finally gotten close enough to peek in the windows of the donut shop!

Of course she was not content to be held, so she wriggled out of David's arms to take a look in the windows for herself.  She looked super cute standing on her tiptoes to look inside.  So I bent down to dig my phone out of my purse and snap a photo.

And the moment I took my eyes off of her, she bolted toward the street.  

I was right behind her, but a random dude ended up grabbing her little arm a split second before I caught up with her to keep her from running off the curb and into the street.  I was both mortified and grateful.  

After that, our charming little toddler turned into a terrorist.  She squirmed, she shrieked.  We strapped her back in the stroller and David jogged her up to the corner and back.  She continued to protest the injustice.  When it was almost our turn to go inside, we had to park and leave the stroller because it wouldn't fit in the tiny shop.  So I held her and danced around and tickled her to keep her entertained.  She continued to thrash and kick in an effort to convince me I should put her down.  She paused briefly to wave to kids outside the window, which was super cute, and then she was back in Toddler Terrorist mode.  She wanted nothing more than to run into the kitchen of the donut shop (which was an open doorway).  She was also interested in getting underfoot of everyone who was filling up cups with scalding hot coffee.  When we eliminated the possibility of these activities, she settled for screeching--not crying, just yelling at the top of her lungs.

By the time David paid for our dozen donuts and my small coffee, I was starting to get sweaty from wrestling her.  I traded David a child who appeared to be in need of an exorcism for my cup of coffee.  I quickly filled up my cup and fitted it with a lid and when I turned back around, my darling daughter was biting her father because how dare he prevent her from running behind the counter?  

We straightjacketed safely bucked her in the stroller to walk to the car and she screamed bloody murder while the friendly kids who had been waving at her through the window gaped at us and our tantrum-throwing toddler.  She was thrashing so much it took me forever to get her strapped in while David stood by, holding the donuts.  It didn't help that I was laughing really hard.  I don't know if other people were judging us, but I could hardly blame Zuzu for losing it after forty-five minutes in line, and the whole scene struck me as absurd and amusing.

Also the upside was that I figured I'd burned enough calories wrangling with her to justify eating donuts for breakfast.

We decided we'd go to a park and let her burn off her energy while we ate donuts, but by the time we got there our toddler terrorist was fast asleep in the backseat.  This skipping morning nap business is tricky.

So David and I sat in the car at the park while she slept and we took bites out of each and every donut in the dozen so we could compare all the flavors.  My favorite was Gooey Butter, his was Bart's donut (Butterfinger) or Campfire (a s'more).  Zuzu did not get to taste any because she was a crazy psycho asleep.

Strange Donut gets two thumbs up for us, for novelty if nothing else.  I still vote that World's Fair Donut has the best glazed donuts and long johns in town, but if you're looking for a crazy weird donut and it's after 9pm on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, you have to look no further than Strange Donuts.  (They don't know me and I was not compensated for this post in the form of cash or donuts, although I am open to either form of payment.)

If you're not sure where it is, head in the general vicinity of the ear-piercing shrieks that I'm sure everyone in the bi-state area heard on Saturday morning.  They were coming from Zuzu and she was in line for donuts.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15th

These two posts that both went up today do a pretty good job of metaphorically representing what life is like for me, almost three year's out from Eliza's death.  On the one hand, I'm dreaming about house projects, parenting a fifteen-month-old who just might be officially labeled "A Biter" (more on my dismay about that later...), and juggling the everyday demands of a job, a family, a marriage with my desires to watch TV and/or read novels all day.

And I'm still a bereaved parent, missing my daughter Eliza and thankful everyday for the people who help me get through this life without her and get back to a place where my grief isn't the whole of my existence.

After I got out of class this morning, I opened my e-mail to messages from three different people, each one related to Eliza.  That does not happen every day, but on October 15th, it happened, and I read those e-mails with tear-filled eyes and a full heart.  Thank you for remembering Eliza on National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.  

There are so many of us missing our babies today, and whether you know me personally, or have commented on my blog, or have e-mailed me, or have just read these words silently because unfortunately they resonate with you and your loss, please know I will be joining you and thinking of your babies and mine and the lives that might have been theirs and ours.  

Part of the tradition of this day is that anyone whose life has been touched by the loss of a baby lights a candle at 7pm in their time zone, creating a 24-hour wave of light across the world (and then taking pictures of it and posting them on IG with the hastag #october15th because that's how we roll in the twenty-first century).  Baby loss is an arbitrary and democratic tragedy, but it is also the most personal and intimate of agonies.  For me, the wave of light symbolizes not just the flame of love for each of these babies, but the community, connections, and friendships that Eliza's life made possible.  It's no consolation for her loss, but it's still a gift for which I am beyond grateful.

Here's an article from the New York Times, sent to me by my friend Keya, who--along with some other fantastic women in my graduate program--helped me grade final essays and showed up at my house to sit with me in the terrible long, dark winter days after Eliza died, and kept showing up even though I was unshowered and could barely carry on a coherent conversation.  No matter how far apart we get geographically (or because of my reluctance to get back on the F-Book), those women have a special place in my heart and among the saints in heaven.

And here's an article by fellow-BLM Sarah Muthler, in which she quotes me because I am Obviously Very Famous And Important.  Or, you know, because I was able and willing to respond to e-mail.  Either way, the article is important.  Also, I know I wrote the things I'm quoting as saying, but they still kind of take my breath away.

Somewhat weirdly related to my dreams of being Obviously Very Famous and Important:  A while back, I got a phone call from a man with a British accent asking me about a scholarly article I published a couple years ago about spontaneous combustion in Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House.  He works for a British television channel that's making a documentary about people who still believe in spontaneous combustion and he totally wanted to interview me for his document if I were going to be in England.  Since I don't live in the UK and have no immediate travel plans, he then wanted to know if I knew any scholars over there who would want to talk about spontaneous combustion (womp-womp).  (He assured me if he had a budget, he would totally fly me to London.)  Even though I missed my chance at Worldwide Fame Via A Random Documentary, I was still super excited by the phone call because I was basically thisclose to becoming Obviously Very Famous and Important, so it can probably still happen.  Right?  It is basically my dream to be an expert on an obscure literary topic and then get to appear on television (or NPR) to talk about it.  This is why people get PhD's, right?  I mean, isn't that the point?

Anyway, it's just totally bizarre to me that my two areas of expertise are now babyloss-and-subsquent-pregnancy and spontaneous combustion in nineteenth-century British novels.

Let me tell you, given the choice, I'd take spontaneous combustion.

Since I didn't have a choice, I just want to say once again how grateful I am to have found a community of support.

The Basement

Remember when I was doing a house tour?

Let's talk about my basement.

Our basement is partially finished.  When you go down the stairs, there is a large carpeted, wood-paneled room.  There is a nice (newly added) full bathroom off of that room.  There's also an unfinished laundry area and storage area.  Off the laundry room is a good-sized guest bedroom.  (Pictures of those rooms will be posted later when the tour continues...)

The extra space is great.  The layout is a little awkward because you have to go through the unfinished laundry room to get to the guest room.  However, it all has lots of potential to be a fabulous space--you know, when we have the time and money to fix it up the way we want to.  For now, I'm sharing it as-is.

Here's what it looked like a few days weeks oh who am I kidding months after we moved in.  Those boxes?  Are full of my books.

And a bunch of other stuff.

Eventually things got slightly more organized, but the books weren't going anywhere.  So we ordered bookcases.

(Thank you for your back to school sale, free shipping, and 5% Redcard discount.)

The door just visible behind David and to the left leads into the laundry room and then into the guest room.
And then Zuzu helped us put them together.

And finally the basement looked a little less like an episode of Hoarders:  The Book Lovers Edition.  You can see way back into the alcove beyond the bookshelves--that's where my desk is sitting.  That area has been cleaned up and organized since this photo was taken, but it still has a ways to go.  I just can't get really motivated while the walls are still knotty pine and the parts that aren't knotty pine are an unpleasant fleshy beige.

The beige is actually more offensive than it appears in this photo.
(I'm proud to say those three boxes in the corner are empty and are no longer parked in front of the futon!)

Functionally, it's working okay for now.  We don't spend a lot of time down there, but it's a great little "guest suite" for when my parents are in town.

Eventually, though, I want to make some big changes.  Because we have the family room on the main floor, I don't expect that we'll put a television in downstairs, although it's wired so we could do so if we wanted.  I'd rather see that space used as more of a play room / game room / reading room / craft room, especially once we get the laundry area a bit more finished.

Some of the books will go upstairs once we build in bookcases in the front room on the main floor.  However, the bookcases in the basement will not be abandoned!  I still have plenty of books in boxes that can fill their places and I'm always happy to invest in more! (#crazybooklady)  And I like the idea of having coloring books and crayons and other art supplies for Zuzu stored on bookcases for easy access.

My plan for the basement renovation includes painting the knotty pine white.  I have contemplated leaving it because it is original to the house when it was built in 1946 and was evidently quite stylin'.  But you guys.  Stained wood trim is one thing.  The oppression of knotty pine on all sides is quite a different matter.  I cannot handle it.  It makes the basement dark and claustrophobic and I do not like it.  I don't think it's a selling point and I am ready to cover it up.  I have considered whitewashing it so some of the knottiness can show through, but whitewashed wood is kind of rustic, which isn't exactly the vibe I'm going for down there.  It's also more work than just painting it.  So my plan is to paint it a nice, bright, clean white.  Sherwin Williams Dover White, to be specific.

I'm also eager to pull out that semi-shag carpet, which enjoyed some popularity the last few years (I have friends who have good taste who chose to have something similar put in their homes and all I can say is diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks).  It's not like it's heinous.  The color is a perfectly normal neutral, but I just don't care for the shaggy texture.  And for the basement?  I don't want carpet at all.  I want to pull it out and put down cork flooring.  From what I've read, cork flooring is warm and cushiony but it also has the clean look of hardwood floors, which I love.  I want to do it throughout the entire basement, including the laundry area and the guest room.

But even though I can't WAIT to do it, that is a long-term project which requires more time and money than I currently have allotted to the basement.  It just isn't super high on my priorities list at the moment because there are too many other things I want to do in the main living areas of the house.

Still, I absolutely love the idea of dark cork flooring and crisp white walls.  Something like this, only obviously not so formal:

image from here
Lately I was thinking, if I feel flush with cash and want to get fancy, I'd also like to gussy up the drop ceiling with fancy styrofoam tiles--something like these:

from here
Wouldn't that be fun?  With white walls and ceiling, and a rich cork floor, I can use fun, bright accessories to make ti comfortable and kid-friendly--I'm imagining floor poufs and craft and puzzle tables and tidy little cubbies holding toys and craft supplies.  You know, with a place for everything and everything in its place.

I'm inspired by rooms like this, and this, and this.

Don't kill my dream with your talk of reality and kids and messes and picking up after myself.

Anyway, the basement may look like nothing special now, but I have big plans for it!  So...  thoughts on this?  Anyone have experience with cork flooring?  Anyone want to make a case for saving the knotty pine?  Anyone?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pumpkins and Friends

We were so thrilled to have Zuzu's BFF (and mine) in town for the weekend!

These girls have gotten together a few times over the past fifteen months, but this weekend was the most fun in terms of watching their interaction.  Zuzu really kept her eye on Ellie Kate and imitated almost everything EK did.  With just six months difference in ages, it's so much fun for us to look at EK and see where Zuzu will be--such huge changes in such a short amount of time!

EK is a very good talker, and I swear that Zuzu started saying more words--notably, "Thank you,"--since their visit.  But it's also fun to see their distinct little personalities.  For example, Zuzu is more interested in baby dolls than Ellie Kate is, and Ellie Kate gets even more excited about music than Zuzu does.

The only drama of the weekend came when David introduced the Cozy Coupe during playtime right before dinner.  The girls had been at the park and were tired and hungry and we were trying to keep them busy for a few more minutes until it was time to eat.  I had purposely left the Coupe in the garage because Zuzu gets super territorial about it.  But David seemed to have forgotten the angst that the Cozy Coupe caused during the block party, and in a grievous lapse of judgment, he rolled it right out of the garage like he was freaking Santa Claus.

I screamed, "NOOOOOO!!" but it was too late.  The girls had seen it.  David then went back inside to finish making dinner and left Monica and me to referee the battle over the Coupe.  As you might guess, the girls skipped the verbal confrontation and things got physical right away.

Ellie Kate, taking advantage of her six months advance in size and coordination, jumped right in, and was immediately aggravated that the floorboard was in place so she couldn't fit her long legs under the steering wheel.  Zuzu, who had homecourt advantage, was irate that EK was in her car and started yanking open the door and screeching while EK attempted to shut the door.  We knew that a toddler throw-down was going to be inevitable, no matter how loudly we said, "Gentle hands!" so Monica pulled a protesting Ellie Kate out of the car and attempted to distract both of them while I rolled the Coupe back into the garage, cursing David for introducing the source of toddler angst and anger and then disappearing.

Monica explained to the girls that the car had to go night-night, but they were having none of it.  Their frustration with each other forgotten, they were now united in their fury and dismay.  They stood together at the carport, screaming, crying, and shaking the gate.  I wish I'd gotten a picture of them.

It was actually hilarious except that the poor things were tired and hungry and you just can't expect tired and hungry one year olds to share the Best Toy Ever, David.  You can however, guarantee a meltdown if you give them the Best Toy Ever and then take it away after they start fighting over it.

Dinner of pizza and milk helped them forget their rage and, aside from the Cozy Coupe Debacle, the rest of the weekend went very smoothly.  In addition to our annual expedition to a pumpkin patch, we enjoyed bath time, playground adventures, tea parties, book reading, tickle sessions, stair climbing, and playing with all of Zuzu's toys.

The journey to get these babies here was nothing that Monica and I would have imagined back when we were in high school, cruising backroads and singing along to Alanis Morissette in Monica's Buick.  Seeing these girls together, these babies who were so wanted and are so loved, fills up my heart.  They make the world a little sweeter and a whole lot cuter.

Splish Splash Taking a Bath

Playing with Zuzu's Dollhouse

Reading a Halloween book (the cushion is off our futon because EK slept on it on the floor)
The apple orchard and pumpkin patch was, again, an excellent photo opportunity.  We plan to keep doing this every year--even when the girls complain that it's lame and boring and they spend the whole time on their cell phones.

Apple Pickin'

Girl Talk

Pumpkin riding

Our mini-me's


They are still the cutest punkins at the pumpkin patch.  We love these girls.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Block Party Talk

We went to our block party on Saturday.  It was okay.  I mean, it was a block party.  The kids played in the blocked-off street and we were friendly to the neighbors.  Cooper played enthusiastically with our neighbor's dog and then in his excitement crossed the line from playful chasing to being an asshole and that was embarrassing.

There was a bouncy house earlier in the day and they blocked off certain hours for "big kids" and "little kids" so there was a time when just Zuzu and the two-year-old boy across the street were in there and Zuzu had a great time stumbling around.  She would fall and bounce and grin at me.  And then she kinda hammed it up and flopped around on her back, giggling.  

The day was hot and humid--early October pretending to be August.  It was cloudy and looked like it could rain all day long, but didn't rain until right when the dinner started.  Somehow David had gotten roped into grilling for the entire neighborhood, so while he cooked up burgers and hot dogs in our front yard, I grabbed an umbrella to keep him company.  It cooled off after that, and was only sprinkling, but the party died down quickly.  My mom took Zuzu in for her bath and David and I stood under a tent and chatted briefly with some neighbors we hadn't met yet, who live further down the block.

They were cute and nice and they have a two-month old son.  And for some reason they asked if Zuzu was our first.  (Just in case we have an older child we don't talk about but who might exist?  Oh, wait...  We kind of do.)

I thought I'd gotten used to this.  When we first moved, I told our neighbor the block captain about Eliza.  I don't usually have a problem talking about her.  

My general rule is that if someone asks if Zuzu is my only child and it's someone who won't see or remember me again (a store clerk, for example), I just say, "No" and don't elaborate--I change the subject.  If they press the issue, I tell them that our first baby died when she was born.  I don't feel compelled to sugar-coat my life to make someone's casual encounter more comfortable.  It sure isn't comfortable for me!

If it's someone I will see again--a co-worker, for example--I just tell them about Eliza.  This has gotten considerably easier since I can now do this without dissolving into tears.

But this new neighbor put me in a weird position.  Would I see her again?  Possibly.  Likely.  She seemed nice.  It would be nice to have a friend in the neighborhood who wanted to walk around the park once in a while.  But also?  We've lived here for months and I hadn't met her before.  We're both busy (she's going back to work full time in another month).  I'm sure she and her husband have other friends.  And I have friends I'd like to see more often than I seem to have time for!  Maybe I won't see her again until next year's block party.  Who knows?

So when she asked me if Zuzu was my first, I paused.  I knew she was asking me because her baby was her first, because she was looking to make a "new mom" connection, because she was just being polite.  

And then I said yes.  

At that moment, I didn't want to talk about Eliza at a block party with virtual strangers while holding a paper plate and a solo cup.  I didn't want to look at the face of this blissful new mom and tell her that one of my babies is dead.  I didn't want to articulate the difference between her new-mom-happiness and mine.  I didn't want to pour out my heartbreaking story to someone I'd just met and then imagine her going home with her husband and her perfect healthy first baby and feeling sorry for us and all we'd been through and talking about how awkward she'd felt when I told her my baby died.  I didn't want to assure her that it was "okay" if/when she said she was sorry.  But I also didn't want to elaborate on how shitty it is to lose a baby.  It was too much.  I was not ready to open up about all of that to some girl I'd just met five minutes ago.

It's hard to navigate a casual conversation with what most people seem to think is a perfectly ordinary question falls at my feet like a grief landmine.

The truth is, I wanted to protect my broken heart from being exposed to a random person at a block party.  But the other truth is, I felt really shitty about not mentioning Eliza.

If I'd been standing next to David and he had been the one who had been asked, I think I would have been sad if he had given the same answer I did.  

And yet, I don't know that I would feel any better now if I'd answered with the whole truth.  Maybe she would have reacted weirdly.  Maybe my grief would have made her not want to be friends--in case baby death is contagious or something?  Or maybe she would have confided in me her own heartache.  I find this happens quite often--I tell my dead baby secret and I learn things I never would have guessed about other people and their heartaches or illnesses or losses or pain.  Maybe I wasn't in a place where I wanted to hear about her struggle with whatever it was she thought might be somehow related to my loss.  Maybe I just didn't believe that someone with a perfect blond ponytail and Tory Burch flats could relate to my grief at all and I didn't want a dead baby to be what she remembered about meeting me.  Maybe I just wanted to keep the conversation simple.  

And so I gave her a simple answer to a complicated question.

Anyway, I didn't mention Eliza.  The conversation meandered around the pleasant and superficial until I excused myself to put my first-but-really-second baby to bed.

I feel okay now about what I did in that moment.  I think I have the right to avoid shifting from superficial chit-chat to sharing the most devastating and shocking experience of my life at a casual social event.  I don't have to expose my soft underbelly to everyone who asks what they think is a simple get-to-know-you question.

But it's been three days, and I'm still thinking about it.  Thinking about the unspoken truth and the little girl who wasn't there to play in the bouncy house.  

If I see this neighbor again, if we have another conversation, if she seems like someone I'd like to know, I'll tell her about Eliza.  Because there's more to me than my baby who died, but without Eliza, the story of my life is like that conversation at the block party--incomplete and superficial. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Living with a Cold, Living in the Living Room, Living with Zuzu

I've been feeling a wee bit melancholy this week, and I blame it on this cold that I thought was allergies and then finally realized was actually a cold, which is probably why the allergy medicine I'd taken for two days wasn't doing much to relieve my symptoms.  Some for-the-realz cold medicine, eucalyptus oil on the bottoms of my feet at bedtime (because I'm a crazy hippie with my small but mighty collection of essential oils), and lots of green tea seems to be improving things.  Snot is no longer running out of my nose, but it is still draining into my throat.  Which is great because there's nothing like the taste of mouth-mucus to put you in a good mood.

I was SO exhausted on Tuesday when I got home from work and I just wanted to lie on the couch for ten minutes or so.  Zuzu was NOT exhausted, though, and instead of lying down and resting, I ended up following in the footsteps of her Reign of Toddler Terror and because I wasn't feeling well, I was about two steps too slow, which is how she ended up dumping the dog's water dish (and then sitting in the puddle of water), pouring dog food out on the laundry room floor, pulling lotion and cleanser out from under the downstairs bathroom sink, and pulling all of my precious lotion-infused tissues out of the box and flinging them around the family room (at least that activity was quiet and relatively harmless).  Girlfriend likes to keep herself busy.

I returned the first exams of the semester today to two of my classes.  It's such a weird moment, because the dynamic of the class kind of changes after that.  Because no matter how much someone participates or how friendly they seem to be, now I know their test scores.  And they know I know.  And no matter how smiley or nice or understanding I seem to be about the reasons they have to miss class or the reason they forgot their textbook, now they know that my exams are serious business.  Even if I carried a box of kleenex and a cup of hot tea into class today and kept having to ask people to repeat themselves because I can't hear anything through my stopped-up ears.

We (Zuzu and I) ran into to Walgreens after work/school yesterday and I stocked up on some, um, feminine products.  Zuzu was completely delighted with the package of Always pads.  She acted like it was the best toy she'd ever been given.  She screeched gleefully and waved them at everyone she saw.  Then she hugged them and lay her head against them gently as I carried her around the store.  She would not fully release them from her hand while the very nice (male) checker scanned them.  And when he returned them to her, she clutched them back to her chest and squealed in delight.  I am currently considering negotiations with Always to feature her in an commercial.  I am also considering putting a few pads in her stocking.  Merry Christmas!  It seriously would be, for her.

So a couple of weekends ago, I convinced David that we needed to repaint the living room.  The lavender-gray was not making me happy.  Sherwin Williams was having their 40% off sale and I couldn't wait to get 'er done.  We went from "Big Chill" to "Agreeable Gray."  We knocked it out in an afternoon.  I was super excited for this HUGE CHANGE that was going to make my living room and, by natural extension, my life SO MUCH BETTER.

You guys.  They are virtually the EXACT SAME COLOR.  I mean seriously.  I would show you before and after pics but you absolutely CANNOT tell.  I might as well just post the same picture twice.

Okay, that's not entirely true.  The new gray is better.  It's less purple.  It's gray-gray and not lavender-gray.  It's like the same color with a different undertone or something that I would better be able to describe if I'd taken art classes.  But it's also... blah.  I'm just not loving it.  I'm not into it.  It does not fill me with a feeling of peace and happiness.  I thought it was what I wanted, but it's not.  Now I don't know what I want.

I'm tempted to paint thole damn room white like the entry way, which I actually really like because it makes the wood trim pop like it's there on purpose, but white also seems kind of blah for the living room.  But isn't gray also blah?  And unless I go for a color, what other option am I considering?  Beige?  Greige!?  (Note:  Agreeable Gray shows up on a lot of blogger lists as a really great greige).  I don't know!  I have realized that I love gray, but I like it with crisp white trim (like in the upstairs nursery and bathroom).  So I'm feeling confused and uncertain and this wood trim is really harshing my vibe.  I want to embrace it (which leads me to think: white!).  But I just don't know.  I'm putting off this project until summer (or maybe spring break?) because the non-lavender gray is not so horrible I can't live with it, it's just not making my heart sing.  (I've almost decided to just paint it all white.  Is that weird?)

Ignoring my discontent with the lackluster walls, I have taken advantage of having a fireplace mantle and decked it out for fall.  It's really too busy, but sometimes I just like to say more is more!  Here are all the things I like that are fall-ish!  All the things!  Maybe someday I'll get better at editing when I feel comfortable putting some things on the side table in the dining room, which right now is kind of off limits due to someone being just tall enough to reach her grubby little hands up there.