Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Now I lay me down to sleep

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep offers remembrance photography - photographs taken by volunteer professional photographers - to parents suffering the loss of a baby. Their entire network of affiliated photographers graciously donate their time and talents so that NILMDTS can offer this invaluable service to grieving families at no cost. The heirloom photographs of these beautiful babies are an important part of the healing process.

That's why donations are greatly needed and  so greatly appreciated.

In celebration of their 5th anniversary, they have started a $5 donation campaign and are asking people to donate $5 to this very worthy and important cause.

If you're so inclined, you can donate here

NILMDTS wasn't around when Thomas died. I can only imagine the beautiful photographs we might have today if they were...

A bit of housekeeping...

Dear bloggers,

Does anyone have any idea why I'm able to post comments to some Blogger blogs and not others? The blogs I'm having trouble with are ones that provide a list of "identities" to choose from (Google account, Open ID, TypePad, etc.) when commenting. The thing is, no matter which identity I choose - even if I opt for "anonymous" out of desperation - my comments just don't go through.

It's weird. And frustrating. And I have no idea how to remedy this situation...


A confused simpleton

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Two showers in June

I'm just going to come right out and admit it: it's still an energy-sucking challenge to clear out a corner of space in my head to make way for happy for someone else. There's all kind of stuff to wade through to get all the way to some new post-Thomas, post-miscarriages, post-infertility version of being genuinely happy. I have to sort through sorrow, jealousy, and disbelief that it's not me (yeah, still - after all these years. How can it not be me?), and then run the memory gauntlet.

I had my own shower, you know. And I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the oohs and ahhs for little outfits, and jingly toys, and practical nursery items when I was the one sitting in the specially festooned chair.

So two showers in June. A challenge.

The funny thing is, I didn't hesitate to say yes to either. Okay, a fraction of a second maybe, but that's it. And the happiness for each of those new mothers is genuine too. A first child for one, a gorgeous little adopted daughter from China for the second.

Honestly. I'm absolutely thrilled for both of them, after two very hard-fought and incredibly well-deserved battles.

It's just that the post-apocalypse shower experience is not without a certain degree of mental gymnastics. Kind of like an out of body sort of situation where I float above the sorrowful self, join in the oohing and ahhing, and then plunk back down into the body with the aching heart and sink into a quiet, restorative stupor when I'm back home, safe and sound.

I'm also keenly aware that people know. Not everyone, of course, but some. And I wonder if I'm looking as happy as they think I should be, or if I'm reacting to the gifts with as much enthusiasm as they'd expect. Or if I'm overdoing it - making it look disingenuous and plastic.

I think too much. I know that. And eventually at both showers I relaxed and slipped into a protective comfort zone where I just didn't care what anyone thought, for the most part. I focused on the mothers-to-be and absorbed little fragments of their joy, making it my own.

Joy is like that. Which is useful for me, since I'm very susceptible to picking up other people's moods.

And then I came home, closed the door to the outside world and proceeded to unclench, uncork, and slowly relax.

I shouldn't be, I suppose, but I continue to be amazed by exactly how much mental energy it takes to navigate a child-centric world when you're childless not by choice. There are landmines everywhere, and while they usually don't blow me to pieces anymore, they do inflict some degree of injury. Every time.

But I'm glad I successfully navigated the showers - the first two I've felt strong enough to go to since Thomas died. I think I did okay. And I'm comforted that despite the work (which I have to assume is always going to be required), I really can come to a place where I feel absolute joy for someone else.

All the ugly gunk is still there - let's be clear, I'm not a saint or a magician or completely delusional - but I've figured out a way to drill through it and make a peephole of joy.

And sweet Jesus, a peephole, for someone like me, might as well be the Grand Canyon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Brain drain

The first morning at the cottage I spent a half hour on the dock watching a duck paddle along the shoreline preening himself and feeding on whatever it is ducks scoop up when their little white bums are pointing to the heavens.

A half hour, just sitting there.

I had a book in my lap - I was prepared to be mildly productive - but instead I sat in the sunshine and watched a duck.

For the next half hour I lay on my tummy with my head over the edge of the dock watching the fish while they watched me. I put my palms on the surface of the water, feeling the cool. I examined the strange, greeny-peach of my skin when submerged. I kept an eye out for dock spiders. I heard the whistling thrum of wing beats as birds flew above me.

I heard everything. Even the tiniest sounds were magnified by the absence of the constant ambient noise I'm so used to here in the suburb where careless sounds crash into me all day long.

I breathed in. I breathed out.

We made fire. And we used that fire to cook marshmallows which, of course, we paired with chocolate and graham crackers.

I cleaned my sticky fingers in the lake.

I marinated in bonfire smoke.

I listened to forest creatures scurry in the underbrush.

I trained my flashlight on the bush looking for bear eyes every now and then.

I waved to an old couple in a passing boat - the only people we ever saw.

I watched the sparks fly high into the dimming night sky.

I got eaten alive by mosquitoes who took the absence of bug spray as an invitation to dine on my exposed ankles and toes.

I used bonfire tending skills I learned from my grandpa, passing them on to My Beloved.

I thought about those bonfires of the 70s - at a cottage, now long gone, not far from this one - and about those who will never again sit by the shores of a lake listening to the cracks and pops of a roaring fire.

I resisted the melancholy.

I laughed at My Beloved while he put his camera and hair in mortal danger in an effort to capture the perfect fire shot.

I relaxed as much as it was humanly possible for me to relax after months of being tied up in knots worrying about my dad - who continues to defy the odds by being here.

I broke the silence. I called to check in every day but one.

It was necessary if I was to continue to breathe.

And I did. Fresh, clean, quiet air.

Too short. Too short.

Wish I was there.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Thank plinking you hear? It's me. And my mid-life crisis

I think I may have officially started my mid-life crisis.

In a foggy haze of sleeplessness, my synapses firing on nothing more than nervous energy, I decided to teach myself the ukulele just days after my dad was finally (finally) released from the hospital. I'm not totally sure my sudden desire to master the uke has anything to do with his discharge, but historically I do seem to manage being in the throes of chaos and uncertainty a little better when I actively take control over something I can control.

Even if it is a funny little four-stringed instrument.

Right after Thomas died, it was redecorating the nursery - with a vengeance I can only describe as pathological. When we were 7 months into trying to conceive early the next year, it was Weight Watchers. When we decided to stop actively trying to get pregnant, officially forgoing more surgery and medical intervention, it was crochet (the great crochet square a day odyssey of 2009).

And now, the ukulele.

I'm such a tied up little knot of anxiety these days - worrying about my dad, worrying about my mom, worrying that I'm worrying about them too much at the expense of my poor, neglected Beloved - and so shutting that part of my brain off and focusing instead on how to twist my fingers into the (really unnatural feeling) positions needed to make sweet, plinky music sing from the belly of the ukulele for a little while just feels so, so good.

I suck at it, but I carry on.

Hmmm, that feels familiar...

We're heading up north to a rented cottage in a few weeks, and the ukulele and my brand new Teach Yourself Ukulele book are coming along for the ride. I'm dreaming of a sun dappled deck, early morning mist rising off the lake, the crackling of a bonfire, and mastery of the Dm7 chord.

I absolutely understand that this is a pretty useless skill to master. There's not much call for barren, angst-ridden, 40-year old ukulele players who drive old men to dialysis and write corporate communications by day and strum badly but determinedly into the night (something My Beloved has already pointed out is kind of annoying - no more ukulele in bed, apparently). But I just don't give a hairy rat's ass.

Some day this will come in handy. Some day I will amaze and astonish someone with my mad uke skills. Or bad uke skills, as the case may be. But still - I will astonish. Or at least amuse.

And it will all be worth it.

In the meantime, right now there's nothing better than this kind of mindless distraction. Or the feeling of once again having control over something. Anything.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

And her reply...

"Many thanks for taking the time to write this, for your kind way of expressing a disagreement, for your sharing of personal details, and for your very thoughtful advice of your own.

I did receive another well-expressed note like this and have already worked it into a future column.... by way of educating readers further about this sensitive topic, to show the deeper areas than those on which I touched.

May I say - not to excuse myself, but to explain - that anyone who is deeply grieving cannot possibly get enough solace from the 50-100 words of an answer in a general audience newspaper advice column.

I do try to show my compassion, which I genuinely feel....and I do try to offer some possible ways to bring new thinking to the situation, such as that the friends and family who don't mention a subject may actually be trying to be kind, not dismissive.

I thank you for understanding most of my approach, and for deepening my understanding."

I wholeheartedly agree that a 100-word column can't possibly provide enough solace for a woman grieving her lost children and her dreams of motherhood, which is why wasting a paragraph on the whole "filling the void" thing bothered me so much, I suspect. 

Well, that and the fact that it was just atrocious advice.

But I give her endless credit for responding so kindly and promptly, and for deciding to tackle the subject again in an upcoming column now that she's heard from those of us on the inside. 

This is such a quiet little world, this childless place, and it's nice to know that people are listening to our whispers and trying to do their best to understand.

It's all anyone can ask for, really.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Because if no one ever tells will she know?

I have become a bit of a letter writer in my advancing years. When something touches a nerve, I march up to my computer and pound out a missive. Most of which I send.

When I read a local advice columnist's piss-poor advice to an infertile woman struggling with Mother's Day blues the other day, I knew a letter was coming.

And this morning, this is what I sent:

 Dear Ellie,

I absolutely understand that the advice you give comes from a place of goodness and a desire to help - an admirable thing in today’s “it’s all about me” sort of world.

But I found myself wincing when I read the advice you gave to the childless woman who struggles with her sorrow on Mother’s Day (May 31/10). You were right to point out that her friends and family care, and that they show it by continuing to invite her to events and making her part of their lives. And you were correct in suggesting that she continue to seek counseling to deal with the lifelong after-effects of a battle with infertility.

But oh Ellie, to suggest that she become a foster parent or volunteer with children as a means of “filling the void”? Really?!

I lost five babies during my long, bloody battle to become a mother, one 20 hours after he was born due to a birth injury. Now at 40, I am in the process of dealing with the reality that I will always be a childless mother – an invisible mother, if you will. With that knowledge and experience under my belt, I can tell you with absolute certainty that your “filling the void” suggestion is akin to telling a woman dying of dehydration that while she can’t have a drink, she should take solace in the knowledge that she can clean your pool. That, in fact, cleaning a pool is good for her and will help her “move past” her unquenchable thirst.

Other people’s children will never fill the void left by the five I lost. This is something I think it’s impossible for you to understand, having successfully brought children of your own into the world. And so I would urge you to be very careful when doling out advice about something you can’t possibly fully understand. Volunteering with children may not make this woman “thrive”, as you suggest. It might only exacerbate the feelings of loss and the trauma associated with it. Spending time with children is always challenging for an infertile person living in a fertile world. There is always a little pain (or sometimes a lot of pain) mixed in with the joy of being with children. It hasn’t helped me “thrive”. It has merely helped me learn coping mechanisms to protect my still tender heart.

We foster a child through World Vision and I am glad that we’re able to do so, but I rarely think about it. I do, however, think about my son every single day.

Better advice would have been to tell her that the seasonal Mother’s Day blues are a pretty normal event for an infertile woman who has the cumulative trauma of multiple losses making it worse – not to mention a failed marriage, poor thing. Telling her to be kind to herself – to treat herself well and not beat herself up over the feelings of loss that very naturally arise during the annual celebration of motherhood – would have been far more helpful than telling her to suck it up and go help someone else.

Avoiding all situations where children will be present is impractical and unhealthy. I agree. I happen to think a little immersion therapy every now and then is a good, healthy thing. But knowing it’s okay to feel some degree of sadness in those situations – and knowing it’s okay to politely say your good-byes when you’ve had enough – is also very important. It would have been nice if you’d told her that.

She asked how she can make people understand how much she wishes she was a mother. You might have told her to start writing a journal or a blog documenting her feelings, and to connect with other like-minded blogging women. There is strength in numbers. You also might have told her to look for childless-not-by-choice support groups online or in her community so she’d know she’s not alone. You might have told her to actually sit down and talk to the people closest to her and tell them what’s going on in her head so that they will, finally, understand how much she is hurting and how important it is to her that they know where she’s coming from. This is the only way they’ll truly know how to help and what to say – or, more importantly, what not to say.

Being understood by those around you is critical when you’re facing this kind of challenge. Believe me. Being told to find something to “fill the void” is thoughtless at best, cruel at worst.

As I said, I know you meant well, but you were way, way off the mark on this one. And I just needed you to know.

Kristin Z.