Five Years Without My Son

June 2 marked five years since I held him. I’ve written that down in so many ways—

the fact that I held him.

It always goes back to that act, that hour, that contact. It’s all I had. It’s everything. And the rest of us have traveled around the sun five times since then.

Five feels like a landmark, both in the age of the imaginary boy and the time on this earth without the real one. “A whole hand,” I once put it when I turned that age. H. holds up three fingers. “Almost four,” she says. V., our golden baby, can hold up one. When I held him, I didn’t know anything yet of these sisters. He was the sun and the moon and I had to give him back.

Maybe one time of year shouldn’t be any harder than all the others, but at some point it is. Most of the people I interact with day to day are not surviving any of their children, and accommodating the most common denominator among us gets heavy—as it must for what they are surviving that the rest of us aren’t right now. This year, too, after all this time writing with a vulnerable pen, I was trolled. I was told I did not deserve my grief. I was told in a much worse way. Five years ago, when I learned “grief is not linear,” I had not accounted for this. But here it was, a new hurdle. (The timing, under the governance of a man who validates hateful expression at every turn, is not lost on me.) Here, too, was a community, the amazing Pregnancy After Loss Support, being true to their name in standing up for my grief so that I could continue to help others on a journey that is hard enough on a good day. I’m not giving up, fearful as it is to inhabit a margin these days.

So, I prepared. I talked to a professional. I thought about what we could do as a family to honor. We have traditions at this point—the heart sparkler Ryan and I light once it’s dark—but each year brings something new. We’ve lived in three different places now over these five subsequent Junes, the first of which we lived through in California—the place that made each of us before we became a family, the place we long for.

As a result, I don’t tie too much to place. I tether instead to how I feel in the morning when the reality arrives once again, the weather that day, what the girls might want to do. They don’t yet understand the reality of their brother. They know about hearts. They’ve heard his name. I’ve tried a couple of times to tell H. a version of the story a three-year-old might understand. But I haven’t forced. Knowing well the weight of identity, I’m letting their own identities bloom first while respecting how other loss moms deal with this impossible task of raising their non-living children alongside living siblings. Just as we might do as active parents, we all do it a little differently. I like that as Lorenzo’s sisters understand more, this second day of June will continue to evolve.

This year, all on her own, H. was inspired to write “birthday letters” in blue pen. (Who am I to say what she does and doesn’t know about her brother.) On this day, this June 2, the sun was out early. As we sat on the deck she kept bringing the birthday letters to me one by one. Little, square, blue notes. Ryan could be home this year, too, which always makes the day softer. We went to a nearby lake and stood as the tiny waves lapped a strip of sandy shore. Later, we planted seeds in a new pot.

Five years on, most of my day is in service of the living. I clutch these girls with every grateful fiber. But there is a boy who lives in my heart. The spirt is our “animating principle,” and when his name is mentioned, when I see him somehow in the world, a certain part of me animates. As it does when I witness my daughters love one another with such a genuine truth. As it does in the warm dark night, when my husband stands there with me in the sparkling glow, his arm around mine, which were once, 1,825 days prior, around our only boy.

As I said, it always goes back to that.

 

 

 

One Year Of V.

Oh, Little V., I have been meaning to get here, to put down all that is amazing about you as we spend our days together. Most days we are just keeping up by living it, girl. You go with the flow in such admirable ways as we follow your big sister around. You still prefer to take your naps on me (and let’s be honest, I prefer it, too). It means I get less done at the end of the day. It means at the end of my life, I won’t have traded these moments for anything. Let’s take one and remember everything about right now:

You just turned ONE! You say “dadada” and “mmmmaaaaamm” and your first official words have been a greeting (“ay” with your squeeze of a wave) and a command (“up”). You sign for “more” and “milk.” Your most favorite new trick is putting a toy in your mouth and flipping it up over your nose. You have the best giggle, getting so excited when I am about to pick you up or my nose is about to nuzzle yours that you nearly go hoarse. Those are the moments I try to put on a loop because I never want to forget that feeling, that funneling of the world down to just you and me.

You eat and drink everything I’ve offered you, and while one of our goals as parents is not to compare our children, this is such a different path than the illuminating one I’m on with your sister that it leaves me astounded. And I want you to know how special it is to learn something new as you do, to have your trust, feet-kicking enthusiasm, and eager hums. You use your left hand almost exclusively. Your sister is curious, too, in you. The teaching flows both ways I am seeing.

For a few months now you have had such a determined drive to stand, to explore your vertical as much as your horizontal space. You climb stairs. You scale the couch to see the world outside the window. You cruise. You often balance yourself against something with just one little hand. And for a few seconds lately you let go and stand all on your own. Do you realize how brave you already are? To let go like that? Just as I see your drive, I sense your sweetness. You burrow into my neck now, you grip my shoulders, and my heart flips. You are asleep on me as I type this, your arms flung out at helicopter angles, your breath a metronome, your top tuft of hair grazing my chin.

There is feistiness in you too, kid. Whenever you protest, you fling your head back and your whole arching body follows. You’ve had to protest a few things with a big sister around. But do you know how much she loves you?! She gives you the biggest hugs and tells me which toys are too small for you. She tries so hard to hold your hand in the car, reaching across the seat with all her three-year-old might. And when she isn’t in the car, I see you looking around for her. How amazing that you are a sister from the get-go. H. was too, but in such a different way. From day one, my littlest child, you have a best friend. You’re old enough now to really play together. And as an only child myself, yours are among the most fascinating exchanges I’ve ever witnessed. She can make you giggle, too. Please know how lucky I feel to have this time with the two of you. Our days, even if we don’t travel far, are epic. And as the sunset is often the sky’s sweetest moment, I sense myself holding on.

I know it won’t always be like this. I will need to leave you and your sister for longer. It is time to step back into the running waters of my career. I don’t know what that will look like yet, but I can sense all that I hope it will hold for us, for me apart from you and your sister, for all I can offer when I return. I honestly haven’t a clue how people do it all—the dual careers and the schools and the sports and the dinners and all the drop-offs and all the pick-ups and the homework and the screens and the stopping to breathe and take it all in, this life together.

These moments right before transition test us. They give us the most freedom in some ways, but we want to choose wisely. We don’t want to regret. As I heard a dear mama—who works full-time and will soon go on leave with her second child—put it recently, “I’m having a hard time being a woman.” She is struggling with how to leave work for that long, which will be a short time with her baby. I am struggling on the other end, figuring out how to re-emerge powerfully after “all” this time with my children, during which I wrote a memoir, re-launched my website, and published many essays, during which I had very little help. During which I grieved.

But not to worry. The rest will come. “We’ll figure it out,” as your dadada is fond of saying. Right now, the words are about you. You are my baby and you are already emerging from your babyhood. The answers are changing as you learn and re-learn to sleep on your own, as we wean, as you reach higher and higher and look back at me and grin. You have six teeth. You have been to California and marched on Washington. This is your second spring, my little flower girl. You are precious and you are joy.

Why We Marched

I didn’t think I would go to the Women’s March. I’m nursing a baby. On some level, I’m afraid. Until I realized… Wait. No. I had to go. I had to march. V. would simply have to come with me.

Herstory: Signs from the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Because I won’t go quietly. Because my continued, near daily horror at the state of things is taking a visceral toll. Because I needed to roar with others who are worried, who are outraged, who can’t sleep. Because one day I am going to have to explain to my children how we gave them a leader who assaults women, who insults and bullies and demeans and bans great swaths of the country based on gender, race, ability, faith, and sexual orientation.

Wait.

No.

So we marched. We spent 45 minutes parking, an hour in line to get on the metro, another hour on the train, then several standing as close as we could to the stage, which ended up being 7th and Independence. We couldn’t see or hear the speakers, but it was all happening right where we were. We were there. As Gloria Steinem said in her speech, “sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.”

Had I gotten no further than the metro station, however, it would have been enough. Even there, a sea of pink hats, of signs raised high, of women uniting, I felt the energy, the collective motion. As I nursed V. in the carrier I would wear her in for half the day, I saw another mom doing the same and gave her a thumbs up. She smiled back as she swayed with her babe. Even nursing in public felt like a point of pride, a confirmation of what women’s bodies do for our humanity the world over. We birth you. We keep you alive. We raise you. How that turns into second-class citizenry is beyond me. I would see a lot of children as we moved closer, many families. At one point I saw three generations holding hands as they weaved through the throng. After months and months of devision, it felt good to feel a kinship on this scale. We may not have all gone with the same battle cry, but all of us were there to say, together, “Wait. No.” This leadership is not OK. This behavior cannot be normalized.

On the train, the driver welcomed and cheered us on and we did him. Every time the doors opened and more of us piled in, we cheered again. On the platform, as the line to exit switchbacked in front of the escalators, I noticed something else. A giddy calm. A positive, proud resistance. I thanked the officers standing guard, there to protect us. They smiled too. Finally out on the streets, I started noticing the hearts. Declarations of love floated with the crowds. Refusals to allow our womanhood to be used, grabbed, shamed, threatened. Our signs and chants were spotlights on what matters to us, what we feel is unseen by our new administration. And I realized what we were really all saying:

YES. Yes to unity. Yes to action. Yes to the fight ahead. The march was not so much the end of a long, hurtful election as the beginning of what happens next. For ideas on how to take action as we march on, I recommend looking here and here.

After, home, my body sore but strong from wearing my 19-pound baby for 7 hours, I showed H. photos from the day as I played the speeches I couldn’t hear live. She really wanted to know where her red heart had gone. After I explained it helped me stand up for equal rights, she went over to the table, got her notebook and pen and said, “Mama, I need to write my speech.” This is how the energy—harnessed from over half a million people uniting for women, for our health and our rights, for all those in need of humanity—spills over and inspires.

The march was quieter than I expected. V. didn’t need the noise-reducing headphones I had on hand. Chants and cheers periodically rolled over the crowd. We stood in awe, our backs straight. For the most part, no one shoved. Not one person was arrested. When people saw my baby, they gave me more room. When it became clear that there was literally no room to march, our mission felt accomplished. After all, we’d been marching all day.

That was Day One. Now, several more in, it’s clear that I am going to have to keep fighting for rights I was born with nearly four decades ago, rights I have needed. I am going to have to keep fighting for rights my daughters were born with but may not grow up remembering. At ground level, that thought alone makes me seethe. But now I know there is a determined, mobilizing collective. I saw it. I moved with it. That is why it’s so important to come together, to march. Because when we all scatter back to our homes and sleepless nights, we can remember that, wait, yes, we can do this. Because look at what we have already done.

And one day I get to tell V. that she was right there with me.

What We Say and Don’t Say After This Election

This is one of those times where what I write from here on out is different than it would have been. Had the election gone the other way. Had she become our president-elect instead of him. A qualified female instead of a bigoted male. Someone who didn’t validate racist, misogynistic, xenophobic behavior. Someone who wasn’t a sexual predator. Most of what I needed to say in reaction as a woman, an active mother of two daughters, and as a loss mom who made a choice the new administration has vowed to once again render illegal, I published here.

I almost didn’t post my reaction—out of fear, but not the kind he has stoked in his supporters. The kind they have stoked in me and in all of us who no longer feel we have safe passage in the United States of America.

Like many of you, I’ve read about 750 articles since election night, drilling down into the hows and the whys and the what nows. We have all come to our conclusions about how and why this happened, some of us before the election, but the majority of us after. Conclusions, I’m glad to sense in many of us, are not enough. We must teach our children to do better than we have done; I think that is always the lesson. We must give time and money to the causes that will be threatened by this administration. We must care about local government. At the same time, I wonder how such a starkly divided country can ever unite.

Recently, my daughters and I were waiting in line for pizza. How “American”! There was some confusion as to which line began where so when two men cut in front of us, I gave the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t react. My friend was behind me in line with her two small children. In formation (thank you, Beyoncé), we were visible. We could be seen.

When another man—middle-aged, white—cut in front of us, I said, “Excuse me, you cut the line.”

When he turned around and claimed he had not, I repeated that he actually had, and in front of babies no less.

He turned, his eyes on me. “Well, you can just bitch about it,” he said, his southern accent more defined in anger.

“Wow,” I said, sarcasm strong, “thank you for ruining my day.”

“You’re welcome,” he huffed and turned back toward the counter.

The teenager working the register, overwhelmed and unsure, looked at me. “I’m sorry,” he mouthed.

Inside, I fumed. Thoughts raced about the example I wanted to set for my children, about how quickly a stranger used such a charged word. The episode perfectly encapsulated the election and its blatant misogyny, attitude, and actions toward women now validated by the elected holder of our highest office.

“You swore in front of my children,” I finally said.

“Sorry,” he said, but it was an angry word, spit at me in much the same way as the others.

No one around us did anything. A man cut in front of women and small children, spoke aggressively, used a loaded slur, and no one did anything. The man then sat down at a table with three boys. He acted like this in front of children in his care, too. This is our country now, people. Forget manners, forget stifled disdain. Outright misogyny has been normalized.

I let that be the last word between us, even though I was boiling, even though I wanted to march over to his table, where he stared down at his phone, and spew anger back at him. But I didn’t want to escalate the scene in front of my children or his. We live in an open-carry state in a starkly divided country. But one state is not all red or all blue. We all have to share space, and I’m very concerned about our ability to do so peacefully over the next four years. Hundreds of hate crimes against Muslims, the LGBTQ community, African Americans, and women have occurred in the wake of Trump’s election. He still has not denounced these actions for what they are. In fact, he recently excused the violence as a tactic for winning. Atrocities around the world right now seem only to reiterate that “force works.”

On a minor yet clear level, I felt some of the viciousness in that pizza parlor. A man so quick to anger with a woman. A disregard for the welfare of children. My anger quick to simmer, too. An establishment that didn’t want to make any more waves. All of us doing the same thing… getting a slice of all things, but really riding such a fine line, brought to such odds by a two-year election cycle on an endless media feedback loop, by a two-sided government that seems surprised our nation has ended up so.

Like many, I’m not sure where I go from here, except to instill goodness in my children, to helps others, to continue to speak out in the face of threats to the legal rights I, with our doctors, had as a parent. Last week, Ohio became the 16th state in the country to pass a 20-week abortion ban, the very kind that are so misunderstood and sometimes necessary to make compassionate choices about lives that are diagnosed as ending at their beginning.

I suppose I could go quiet. The world is a scary place. No, the world is beautiful. People, people are scaring me right now. I could let someone else take up the torch for a while, as I catch my breath and stay close to home. Instead, I did my first podcast thanks to Tiny Giant Losses. I’ve been writing my story, here, for 4.5 years. It was high time I tell it, too. It’s the kind of parent I’ve decided I want to be: one who speaks up.

 

Four Years, Four Hearts

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October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This year marks my fourth honoring it, and this post is a special dedication to Share’s Walk of Remembrance and the Wave of Light—in support of infertility and pregnancy loss and shattering the stigma that often cloaks these struggles. Thanks to Share and Justine Froelker, who writes about her own journey, I have the great privilege to participate in this blog tour with 14 other amazing bloggers, mothers, warriors.

This year, I have two living daughters. As I type this, one is hiding, waiting for me to find her. The other is pushing up on all fours, mobility in her grasp. They fill my day and my day is full because of them.

Four years ago, all of this felt so very far away. My day wasn’t merely empty, but emptied, as I was. I’d delivered my son still at 24 weeks, after feeling kicks and keeping a journal and picking out an under-the-sea fabric to make a tapestry for his room. Not long after I’d needed a D&C for a missed miscarriage and partial molar pregnancy discovered at 10 weeks, after hearing another heartbeat. Inside of six months, I’d lost two children. One I knew so much about… his name, his blonde eyebrows, his long second toes, the slight openness of his perfect mouth, and his heart that “wasn’t designed for our world,” as my husband put it. I knew I’d never look at a heart the same way because mine never would be, because his never could be. The other I knew less about, but wanted with a desperate mix of hope and grief. After, I started finding hearts in twos. With my daughters here now, I look for four.

I turn over this time that has stretched from the moment I handed my son back to my nurse, and wish I could say exactly how I got here. I have tried. I’ve written it all down in a memoir that’s been deemed “a tough sell.” Tough because it’s sad. It’s about losing my babies. But it’s also about survival, mine. It’s a guide for the un-guidable. No one can really say how you will survive this kind of loss. No one can promise you that other children will follow. But I would have paid someone to tell me. I would have tried anything and I almost did: acupuncture, adopting a dog, travel, volunteering at an orphanage in Santiago, where we were living at the time, while I slogged through months of blood testing before we could try again. So I also drank good Chilean wine for a time. I watched every single episode of 24. I ate chocolate daily. I collected hearts and soon others did as well. Eventually, I found other loss moms and learned about their babies. I was kind to my husband and he was kind to me. I walked the blonde puppy. And I wrote, I wrote it all down.

I am four years away from those walks now, as the sidewalks turned from the wet leaves of a winter June to the dry dust of a second summer, when my first daughter was finally born. But I never want to lose the feeling of them. It’s part of what I remember. Is that surprising? Many in your world wait for you to “feel better,” for you to have a living child, to be “healed,” for you to be who you used to be. But she’s gone, at least she is for me. I sometimes think my most authentic self was the one who walked our dog those early days of loss. The one who had so recently met and said goodbye to her first child inside of the same hour. Because I always knew I wanted to be a mother. What I never imagined is how I would become one.

There was no distraction then. Priorities were clear, aligned. Time seeped, but boredom didn’t exist, as one friend said of grief. Make no mistake; it was wretched and it was agony. But it was the ground floor. And now it’s my foundation for everything that has come since. My daughters. His sisters. One determined of mind and and fierce in love and the healer of hearts, the other so sweet and peaceful and the bearer of Lorenzo’s long second toes. I am caught up in them. I get to be their mother, just as I got to be my son’s.

When I remember, when I light my candle for him, I go back farther than these four years. I go back to mid-May, home in California, when I was still pregnant and before we’d seen his heart. I was at a girlfriend’s house, waiting for the solar eclipse, the first the Northern Hemisphere had seen in 18 years. We’d worked at a small regional magazine together, meeting before we married or started families or got different jobs or moved to other countries. We’d made a picnic on the back lawn, where her older daughter played on the swing set and her youngest, just a baby then, lay on a blanket between us, her feet peddling the early evening air.

At one point, she headed back into the house with the children and it was just Lorenzo and me out on the patio. In the carrying of him, I was never alone. I reclined on the lounge chair, my feet out ahead of us, my hands linked over his growing home, and the moon arching its way between the earth and the sun, shape shifting that great globe of fire into a temporary ring in the sky. Anything was possible of change.

I closed my eyes, so mindful of Lorenzo growing there on earth, there in my belly, there in my heart.

Yesterday, Nora LaFata shared her most recent letter to her daughter, Josie, and next Tuesday Chelsea Ritchie will share her amazing story. In the interest of continuing to shatter the stigma, I urge others to post their own Walk of Remembrance photos on social media using #ShareWalk2016 and also their Wave of Light candles at 7 p.m. that evening using #WaveofLight #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness. Thank you <3

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