Why We Marched

I didn’t think I would go. 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.

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 Now

This is one of those times where what I write from here on out is different than it would have been. 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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A Bit Like Their Glow

I’ve been thinking a lot about this intersection: being home with my two daughters right now and the fact that for the first time in the history of this country a woman may become its president. H. was born in Chile, a country that is hardly free of misogyny, but which has elected a female leader—twice. Here in the U.S., I am hopeful that the year of V.’s birth will be the year we do the same. She has the potential to grow up, in the words of Michelle Obama, taking it for granted.

In Chile, women are also given six months of paid maternity leave, far exceeding the U.S.’s standards. If I were working full-time here, I would already have handed my four-month-old baby over to someone else for 40 hours a week, before she rolled over or started to laugh. I have the utmost respect for the mothers who do this, many of them my friends, and I think it should be acknowledged that they often do so because they must—in order to keep their jobs, their insurance. Because this is the value system as it stands.

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I also have the utmost respect for the other mothers staying home right now. As a mother, I am choosing to do so, though there is an inherent contradiction. We do not stay home. We go to music and art classes. We walk the dog and watch the caterpillars creep across the sidewalk. I run all the errands and go to all the appointments with kids in tow. When we are home, we draw and sing and read and read and read. H. plays her guitar and says “please sing with me” one week and “please don’t sing, Mama,” the next. V. begins to roll and find her toes and squeal in such quick succession. I see it all as it happens.

It can take all I have to keep these two ladies happy and safe. There are eruptions of opinion and tears and wants, from all of us some days. When it quiets down, I might see that I’m in yoga pants at 4 p.m. on a Thursday though I haven’t done yoga properly since 2011. Since before I was ever pregnant, before everything I wrote was about him, before everything that I do is for his sisters, his legacy. His quiet heart nevertheless beats in the background of my days spent putting trains together with H. and nursing V., whose coos are the sweetest sound. Her grip on my finger is now intentional and strong, and nothing has ever made me feel as grounded. My girls are sisters. They look at each other already in a way I, as an only child, have never looked at anyone on this earth. That, on a daily basis, is remarkable.

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This active motherhood is ideal. It’s all I ever wanted, in an ethereal sense before loss, and in a desperate sense after. It doesn’t come without sacrifice because this is unpaid work, this rearing of the future. I must assign its value within a culture that places a much higher premium on monetary returns. Instead, it’s measured in the songs H. sings, the towers she stacks, the meals we share, the best friend down the street we explore with nearly every day. It’s measured in the breast milk adding rolls to V.’s thighs and the hours she sleeps across my lap. She stirs, sees me, smiles, and settles back down. Where else, really, do I need to be?

The fact that it’s also good for me and a heart once shattered has to count, too. This time mends that part of me. For much of it, I don’t think I physically could have left, and I honor the privileges and the sacrifices that allow this healing. I have needed the constancy as much as H. has. By now, when I am exhausted and pulled in all directions with V. here too, it means I can almost feel like any other tired, active mom. It also means the 100th time we put the puzzle together is still a call to be present. Because for all the monotony of being home with a toddler and a baby, there is so much that will prove ephemeral about it. The fireflies have been out this summer, and this motherhood is a bit like their glow—so bright I think I’ll never forget the adorable way that, for example, H. re-enacts her memories:

“Stuck in the rain together, Mama!”

Pure glee under a pink paper umbrella in H.’s room around noon on a Tuesday.

But the very next day, I want to hear her say it again, just to be sure the tenor of her two-and-a-half-year-old voice rings eternal. Of course, it can’t. It’s part of everything that keeps moving. One day she will want all the toys on top of her and the next day she won’t. The snuggles that have ended our day her entire life are getting shorter. She has dreams to get to, adventures to wake up and chase.

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Motherhood is encompassing, no matter how we mother. Whether we pursue the juggle at home or while we work outside the home. Both add value to our children’s lives. And one day, before too long, I will swap one value for the other. Until then, I do my best to raise them and to write. To let other mothers express it perfectly, it feels like this and this. What Rachel Kessler writes in the latter, is so, so true:

“It turns out that writing a thoughtful, intellectually stimulating essay with an alive, awake baby is like doing your taxes while Prince licks his guitar right behind you. Also, it is your maternal duty to save Prince from being electrocuted.”

I edited the other day while V. slept. But soon enough H. was emptying my desk drawers and announcing that she needed my chair—the one I was sitting on. As I looked around at the scattering of pens and notepads, I realized she was playing office, as I did so many times around my mother as she worked throughout my childhood. That is where I first edited in fact… circling the words I knew and underlining the really big ones I didn’t in the testimony she transcribed each night. I remember the sound the paper made, almost like a zipper, when she folded and tore the perforated borders of those 1980s print-outs. She discarded the scraps into a basket under her desk, their nightly volume measuring just how hard she worked, at great value and at great cost. My mom told me recently she is experiencing with H. some of the things she missed with me in order to support us. I thought about what Chelsea Clinton said in her Democratic Convention speech about the daily, dated letters her mom left for her when she traveled and how much she valued them. Value is in the sacrifice. Either way.

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H. is reading to herself now, this magnificent toddler of mine. I catch her flipping the pages and saying most of the words exactly as they appear on the page. Reading books by the dozen every day is part of my work right now. I may not be paid for it, but it is paying off. And I will allow that to feel right. Now, imagine, as Judith Shulevitz recently posited in The New York Times:

“What if the world was set up in such a way that we could really believe — not just pretend to — that having spent a period of time concentrating on raising children at the expense of future earnings would bring us respect? And what if that could be as true for men as it is for women?”

Ryan, I know, would love that.

What I’m not sure any of us parents know how to do is explain this world as it is right now; we are leaving it to them after all. While social atrocities are anything but new to our time, they seem a particularly out of control, frequent, and hopeless bombardment. I don’t have a single answer besides to continue to love. So I turn back to these creatures, our entwined world quite small right now, but enormously important in terms of what is growing. I listen to a daughter introduce her mother as the future leader of our country, and I feel hopeful that love will continue to win.

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V’s feet. Photo: Lindsey Trent, Sweet Pea Photography

A blueberry bagel for you, Bluberri.

The long dress and its navy stripes and the picture I have of us in it.

Hearts, so many of them this week. I’ve found them all, I promise.

Your sisters in the morning. H. drawing chalk lines on the deck. V., here with your toes.

The heart books H. chooses to read over these days when its somehow possible to miss you even more… Now, as I close the door to her room we say to each other: “I carry you in my heart.” One day I will tell her and V. that I carry their brother, too. I carried him first.

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Piling into the car and driving to the nursery we visited last year on this day so H. could find the coy fish and the lilies. I turn off her music, find my own, and let it spill. I listen again and again:

Do you like walking in the rain?
When you think of love, do you think of pain?
You can tell me what you see
I will choose what I believe
Hold on, darling
This body is yours,
This body is yours and mine

H. exploring, her red backpack on for our big adventure. She peers over the concrete shelf and splashes at the lily pads. We find the small fish and then she goes looking for their mommies and their daddies, the bigger fish. V. sleeps in the stroller and H. holds my hand and I steer my brood through a tradition in a place where we haven’t lived for all that long. After lunch, we plant the rainbow pinwheel H. picked out in the herb pot on the deck and draw hearts.

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And after dark, the girls asleep, Ryan and I light the heart sparkler. There are drops, full but spaced apart, that fall on my bare shoulders. It’s almost rain.

The next day your littlest sister has her first round of vaccines. The temporary pain in her cries reminds of the deeper, enduring pain we didn’t ask of you. As we wait for the doctor, I fill out the form that screens for postpartum depression since, our doctor tells us, 75 percent of new mothers will experience some form of it during their baby’s first year. I wonder why I wasn’t screened after I had babies I couldn’t take home; only after I had babies I could. Nevertheless, I answer questions along the lines of:

Are you able to laugh at things just as much as before, not quite as much as before or not at all as much as before?

 

Before what, exactly? I want to ask.

Later in the day, I take your first little sister out for a walk with Ruby and inside the span of half a block, this happens. You heard the questions about walking in the rain, about laughing, and you answered for your mama. Thank you, Lorenzo.

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