There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.
We purchased this year’s tree on a Sunday while John was home for a day. That night, I put the lights on it. The smell of a real Christmas tree is something I love so much that I don’t exactly know how to put it into words. The olfactory sense can trigger some of the strongest sense memories we have, and I think this smell is linked into the magic and joy that laces my memories of Christmas as a child. We never had a fake tree, so when I smelled this smell – a real pine, cedar, or fir – it meant Christmas was coming. And that meant magic, love, and light. It meant my soul would lift and float for awhile.
This year, before we bought our tree, I went in search of something I’ve had in a cabinet all year long. It is a glass spice bottle with a black plastic lid. The glass is very heavy, and the plastic is thick and sturdy. It appeals to me in some way, and so I saved it to use for something when the spice ran out. I had no idea when I put it aside that later I’d be gathering fallen needles to place inside.
Last year, I lost a baby (Davin) right at three months into the pregnancy. It was my second miscarriage of the year and, for many reasons, it throttled me in different and harder ways than had the first one (in April).
I found out on December 9th during a prenatal appointment that he had died. A D&C to remove Davin from my womb was scheduled for December 16th.
I had carried him for a week, knowing he was no longer alive. It was both maddening and oddly comforting. On the one hand, I felt insane knowing he was inside of me and he was not alive; my body was incapable of doing anything to help him. On the other hand, I got to be with him and say goodbye, come to terms with him being removed.
On December 15th, the day before the surgery, I asked John to go get a tree. I didn’t tell him, but I wanted that tree in the house with all 4 of us. That’s how it was supposed to be, and in my fractured state of being, I was going to have it that way, regardless.
When last year’s tree came into our home with all of its wonderful smelling glory my child was still inside of me. The next day, he was all the way gone. I was sedated for some time after that. When the pills ran out there was still wine and liquor. I got tipsy regularly; I ate crappy food. No matter what I ingested, I was empty.
I was empty in more ways than the one that made my uterus ache as it healed.
That tree sat in the living room with me. I watched those lights flash and dance through my bleary eyes. I sat here, numb, with that happy smell. Each day rolled by and I tried whenever I could to enjoy them, even if it was an altered, forced experience.
I cried a lot. I was angry and sad. A lot of days I was just nothing.
The tree was there.
At some time way past Christmas there came a point when I had to admit that the tree was dried out and needed to be taken away. I cried about that, too.
When that tree came into my house, I still had my baby inside of me. Now the tree was about to leave, and I had to keep a part of it, because somehow, it was the last thing I could hold onto about Davin. Is that crazy?
I got down on my hands and knees with that damn spice bottle and I gathered up fallen needles until it was full. Then I put it in one of my kitchen cabinets.
Only a couple of times during the year, when my heart ached the very most for Davin, I went and opened that bottle. I held it, smooth, cool and heavy, in my hand. In my fingers, it felt strong when I felt weak. I stared at the needles. I opened the bottle and smelled.
Pain and joy mingle together in that smell for me now.
Not long before we got our tree this year, I went for that bottle for the first time in quite a while. When I smelled it, I wept for my lost son. The smell was still very strong and crisp. It wrapped me up; it sang to me of both sorrow and delight. Afterwards, I felt a sort of peace.
I put the bottle out as the very first Christmas decoration in our home this year.
I will think of them both every Christmas: the baby who we thought would be born in December 08 as well as the baby who died in December 08. I don’t think I’ll ever smell that happy smell or watch those dancing lights again without a twinge of sorrow. But I believe I will always still smile at them, as well.
Pain and joy mingle together, and that is not such a bad thing to experience, or acknowledge.
It is far better than pain sitting in the heart by itself.
A lot of times I walk past it on my way to do other things without even thinking.
Most days I can pass by it at least once without noticing it there.
Every day I look at it and think of how empty it is.
I’ve thought about taking it apart and putting it in the garage, where I will not see it as often, or be tempted to picture him there.
I’ve stood before it crying because it isn’t being used.
I’ve wondered why it remains in my home even though I don’t think it will ever have use here again.
I contemplate whether it is unhealthy. I worry that it means I’m broken.
I’m not ready for it to go anywhere. I’m not entirely sure what that means. I know what you think it may mean. It’s not that. I’m just not ready.
I know that at some point I will be. And then I will do it myself, and it will be okay.
But for now it stays.
There is a crib in my hallway. It is wooden, and lonely, and it just waits and waits for a someday that never was.
It’s been a very long year.
This past Sunday was an anniversary.
But not the kind you celebrate with an extravagant weekend getaway.
If you’re like me, it’s the kind you await with anxious trepidation, wondering what sick emotional games your head and heart will play with you.
The bottle of Prometrium prescribed by the kind, helpful, and compassionate doctor on the other end of the phone with a sobbing, fretful, worried mother that night, one year ago last Sunday, still sits in my kitchen cabinet.
I still don’t have the heart to throw it away. Yet, I have no use for it. Seeing it reminds me of the baby. That’s not a great thing, but it’s not altogether a bad thing, either. It’s just… a thing thing.
Even though that first miscarriage ripped my heart out, and then I got an injection of Unexpected Hope only to suffer another Cosmic Sucker Punch, I have experienced a bit of healing in a whole year’s time.
But I don’t want to forget. And I don’t mean forget the babies (which I most certainly will not). I mean the pain.
There is something about the pain that is left after something that tears at your heart so fiercely. There is something about it that I don’t want to lose.
That sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
Perhaps it’s just the idea that this pain is the only thing I have left of this baby (of both of these babies), and the thought of letting go of it and moving on is just… well, shitty. Unpoetic as it may be, that is the best word for it. Letting go of that pain feels shitty.
If I can smile all day long every day (even when I’m looking at the damned bottle in the kitchen cabinet), then it feels as though I have nothing left of them. As if it does not matter that they were here one moment and then gone the next.
Fault me for it if you will, but nutty as it sounds – this pain is a tragically beautiful thing, and I don’t plan on letting go of it until I am holding my babies somewhere. Whether that is in some eternal dream or Heaven, or wherever else… that’s when I’ll release this gnawing grief.
Until then, that very pain helps me appreciate every hug, flower, and ray of light in this world. Because I’m a foolish girl, and when the light of the sun shines too prettily for too long, I have a tendency to take everything that’s good in my life for granted.
This pain? The way it lingers and sometimes flares up? It taps me on the shoulder and says, “Be grateful, woman.” It’s my reminder.
I refuse to even want to let go of that.
This past Sunday, I planted flowers for our lost babies, who we call Taylor and Davin.
They were purple alyssum, a choice made in order to simultaneously bow my head to another soul that was spirited away too soon.
I could want to be numbed (and some nights, I kind of am) or I could wish for complete healing, to leave these feelings behind and forget them.
Instead I’m going to hold onto what’s left of this pain, and when it feels the most raw, I’m going to try as hard as I can to turn that prism of pain toward the light, so that it creates the most beautiful rainbow I can make that effer shoot out.
I close my eyes at night and the blackness that stares back at me from inside my eyelids is deep and dark. I know my eyelids are right there. But if I didn’t… well, I wouldn’t. And then it would just seem like… Endless Dark.
It’s what I imagine it must be like inside a uterus.
Disconnected from the day, and staring into the black nothingness, I can’t help but start to feel like I’m floating. You know, as if I’m in some kind of fluid.
My thoughts drift. I realize that I have no real knowledge of what is sustaining me, only beliefs… feelings.
I just am.
I sense there is someone out there – very close, but in another sense, so far still. Someone who loves me, whom I do not yet really know. Someone who wanted me; someone who is waiting patiently to meet me.
My heart is beating but, after some time, I start to feel very tired and weak. I have the sense I am fading.
I still feel, but it’s so dark, and getting darker.
Suddenly there is nothing.
In the morning, I wake again, and I get to open my eyes. I see the world around me and time marches on.
I get to keep going. I continue to be.
I hope that they are somewhere where their eyes have opened unto the most beautiful sights they could ever dream of, and that when I get there to join them, they are bursting with stories of all the things I’ve missed while they were waiting patiently to meet me.
On October 3rd, 2008, I found out he was alive inside of me.
I was surprised.
I sent my husband this photograph in an email with the subject line, “Ready to rumble?”
The body of the email said, “Here comes the fear, do-do-do-do….”
I was scared.
But also, I was cautiously happy.
Before long, I was full of hope. And dreams. And the future.
My last pregnancy had ended in miscarriage at 5 weeks.
On October 18th, 2008, I had morning sickness for the first time. I have never been so happy to feel so sick.
I turned my arms within and held my baby a little closer, starting to believe I could hold on to that sweetness forever.
On November 10th, 2008, I saw him on a fuzzy, mini-ultrasound.
I saw his heart beating. And that was it. I Believed. He could make it.
We called him Fuzzball.
I thought one day I would be rubbing his head, calling him that.
I began showing. It felt glorious.
On November 24th, 2008, I heard his heart beating. It was vigorous.
In spirit, I jumped over the moon, grabbed a star, and brought it back to earth with me. It glowed inside of me.
Up until the end, I thought he was a girl. Maybe that is because, at a time when I felt like I was filled with snips and snails, he filled me with sugar instead. And spice.
And everything nice.
On December 9th, 2008 I found out he had died.
Everything nice scattered in the wind so quickly.
I saw him on a high quality ultrasound that day. He looked beautiful to me. I wish I could see him again.
I was too shaken up to ask for a print of the image. I regret that so much.
I have a pile of things – a pregnancy test, papers, armbands, photographs. They’re just material things. They are cold. They do not kick me in the stomach. They will never smile at me or hug my neck. But I look at them; I touch them.
I think of him.
On December 16th, 2008, people I hardly knew removed him from my body by way of a cold, surgical procedure. His body was sent for testing.
He was considered biological material.
Biological material. He did not have a name then. He was labeled “the product of conception.” They cultured his cells in a lab.
Davin had Trisomy 13.
I could write a whole essay on this alone, but that will come later.
I wanted to find a boy’s name I liked that meant “Hope.”
Even though I feel very little of it right now, I wanted to name him after the thing I thought I had lost forever, but which he gave me in surplus, even for such a brief time, without receiving anything in return.
And which, I know, will return in time. In part because he taught me that it’s okay to hope again even after you think it’s impossible.
Even if it hurts. Because it tells you that you are alive. And that you want to keep living. And that you believe that each day can be new if you can just let that come back to you.
Instead, we named him Davin, which means “Beloved.”
Forever he will be.
I miss him so.
December 31, 2008
You were my first full year of blogging on my very own, self-hosted website from beginning to end. That was a happy thing about you. As I have written and published posts on my website this year, I’ve learned, grown, healed, changed, triumphed, laughed and cried.
I had a few trolls, it’s true. And unfortunately, I often take the trolls too seriously. I’m an emotional, sensitive chick with a high need for love and a fair amount of insecurity – it’s easy to slice me to the core. But, yes, trolls are just silly, angry people with too much time on their hands. I think Backpacking Dad said it in my favorite way recently, on Redneck Mommy‘s site:
“I love trolls. They’re so cute when they take their little poos everywhere.”
What’s more important about blogging for this whole year is that I’ve made wonderful friends and received love and kindness, as well as laughter and good cheer, from people I never would have met if I hadn’t stuck with this blogging business.
2008, that was so good about you.
My baby turned into a little boy this year, too, 2008. He had his first haircut and finished getting all his teeth (finally!). He asked to sit in a big chair (!!!), and the high-chair is gone.
My little boy, just this past week, left his crib. He is sleeping in a bed now. *heart beating hard*
He sings songs with words, and dances. He counts to 20 and knows all his letters. He can drink from a juice box and he’s learning how to brush his own teeth. He can take off his socks, pull down his pants, and he’s playing with the idea of actually using the potty again.
He snuggles his cheek up against mine, puts his hand on my other cheek and says, “Hufff-yooo.”
He quotes Spongebob Squarepants and asks me for milk when he’s thirsty.
He looks at me and says, “Aww, duuuude.”
No longer a baby, he is a boy.
This is bittersweet, 2008. My heart gets this panicky, tight feeling as I watch Braden grow so fast, 2008. So very fast.
But then it swells with pride. He is MY boy. I am so grateful for him.
So that has been good, as well, 2008.
I even finally lost the last 15lbs of my “baby weight” and got back to pre-pregnancy sveltness while you were around! That was phenomenally good, 2008. I was so incredibly happy to be moving more swiftly, and feeling lighter. (And fitting back into those hot jeans was certainly not a bad thing – bow chicka.)
Also, 2008, you gave me not just one, but two more babies. What a joy it is to find out there is a life growing inside of you. What an amazing, phenomenal thing that so many take for granted – a thing many of us just brush off as easy, or incidental.
It’s not, 2008. It’s incredible. It’s a delicate, vulnerable thing. A beautiful thing. When a live baby is born, it is a miracle of sorts.
You taught me that, 2008.
That was very much not a good thing. I don’t like you right now, 2008. It’s going to take me a very long time before I can look at you again without tears in my eyes. I want to grab you and shake you until you feel as bad as I do.
I keep trying to be mature about it, 2008, and see all the good things we had together. I keep trying to count my blessings, 2008, because I know they are many!
But you know what?
Right now, I just can’t. And that’s okay. For awhile, I think I am going to let myself hate you with all of my heart.
For awhile, I am going to be a child.
It’s not fair, 2008. It’s not fair.
I’m not your friend anymore, and I don’t want to play with you ever again.
It’s not fair.
2009’s Anxious Mistress,
It’s that time of the month when I’m more emotional than usual. More sad. More stressed. More angry. More prone to tears, what ifs, and blank stares.
Recently, a long-time and very dear friend of mine named Jenny sent me an email that carries important words, and good advice. I asked her permission to share it with you all, and she agreed.
So, for any of you out there who are feeling, have felt, or will feel the same way I do right now, maybe you’ll find something here that helps you turn it around, or just to deal with it more effectively. Or maybe just to make it through another day without feeling like giving up.
I know you didn’t ask for any advice, and so against my better judgment I’m going to offer some without solicitation, and I hope you’ll forgive me for doing so. You know my story, you know about all my failed pregnancies. Five years ago, I was struggling. My life wasn’t turning out like I wanted. I had dead babies instead of living ones. I had no answers and no health insurance to help me find answers. I had crazy moods and baby hamster hairballs in the shower drain and an empty womb and it wasn’t what I had planned. All my friends were on their 3rd or 4th child by then. I was tired of going to other people’s baby showers. I was broken hearted every time I looked in the spare closet and saw baby clothes and gear staring back at me, taunting me with their uselessness. I absolutely hated to hear any pregnant woman complain about her nausea, her swollen feet, her tiredness- what I would give for any of that. After the hopefulness that came with each positive pregnancy test, came the fear of loss, the inevitable emotional investment and hope, and then the emptiness of actual loss.
Then came this moment where I could see clearly: While I really do believe that most of the pain of the human experience is self-inflicted, some things are truly beyond our control. My life is not always about my choices. Things happen to us, and we get no say in how they turn out. What could I do about my childbearing life at that point? Could I change history, or even my obstetrical future? No. The situation was out of my hands. But the great realization was about gratitude. Could I hold my babies and raise them and nurse them? No, but I had other opportunities that my friends with little babies did not: I could go out of the house for more than 2 or 3 hours at a time. Heck, I could go out of town if I wanted. I could give blood, and do upside down yoga poses. I could make love to my husband without the let-down reflex squirting breast milk everywhere. I could work and take night classes. I could sky dive and ride roller coasters.
I couldn’t control what was happening to my body. I had to resort myself to the fact that 1- I may never know what is causing this to happen, and 2- I may never give birth to another living child. Rather than dwelling on those uncontrollable elements, I chose to focus on what I did have. The summation of the realization for me was this: Be grateful for what you have, when you have it.
I could spend my time and energy wanting what I couldn’t have, wishing for something beyond my control, hoping for karma or God to sort out the kinks and make everything right, or I could make the most of what I had right then, even if it wasn’t what I had hoped. I realized that no matter what life is handing me, I have a multitude of blessings to make the journey pleasant, even wonderful, if I choose to see them. Life is fluid, ever changing and shifting. I would not always be in the place, emotionally, mentally, that I was in then. Who’s to say if I’d be in a better one or not, that is also out of my hands to a degree. I knew that if I did have another child, I would have a host of other challenges, as well as blessings to appreciate. But for now, this is what I had. And I owed it to my husband and living children who were depending on me, and to God who gives me each day, to make it count for something. If not, life would end up passing me by while I hoped for what was around the corner. Be thankful for what you have, when you have it.
Again, know that I care and I want you to feel well and whole. If I’m full of crap, you won’t hurt my feelings to 1- roll your eyes and hit delete, or 2- write me back in all caps and tell me how wrong I am.
Of course, I didn’t roll my eyes. I nodded and cried. And now I look back at these words often.
I think I’m going to take Braden to the park on Thursday and watch him run around and remember that the day he was born to me, whole and alive, was such a special blessing. Every day after that with him (even the tough ones) has been another special blessing in and of itself. There’s really nothing bad that can happen that can ever take from me the great gift of everything I’ve experienced so far with my son. So many wonderful things and moments – there’s no way to catalog them.
Today, I am thankful for that. And remembering to be thankful for that makes the other stuff easier to deal with.
Thank you, dear friend.