In the Aftermath

I used to think that when I wrote a post that pissed people off that it was automatically my fault. That I fucked up in some way. Either my whole point of view was flawed, or my delivery was botched, or my supporting arguments were weak or SOMETHING was messed up, and it was my fault that people got angry. I guess I assumed that if I wrote well, no one would get hurt or upset. (Interestingly I felt the same toward other bloggers, that if *I* got upset reading a post then they had done something wrong. At least I was consistent.) Anyway, it took a lot of evolving for me as a person to understand that I was as much responsible for my own interpretation of what someone said as they were for writing it. Sometimes even more so. Eventually I was able to take that and realize that other people were as responsible for their interpretations of what I wrote, as I was for reading it.

The short version? It’s not always my fault when what I write pisses people off. (Just like it’s not always someone else’s fault when what they write pisses me off.)

I know, crazy right? I can’t tell you how long it took me to get to that place.

Of course sometimes it is my fault. There have been a few posts in particular that I know I fucked up on. The “When I am being a SAHM in the summer it doesn’t feel like a job” post (jeez, I still can’t believe I wrote that) comes immediately to mind, and there are others. I don’t think yesterday’s post was one of them (though in hindsight, I do wish I presented a few things differently–more kindly). I also don’t think some other posts that I’ve read that have inspired heated (and sometimes very hurtful) comments were wrong either. How can I tell the difference between when I got it wrong and when someone is bringing their own issues to the table (or just doesn’t agree with me and never will)? Well, there are a few ways.

One is the other comments. If there are a considerable amount of comments that agree with me, then I probably didn’t totally miss the boat. If other people understood my intent then I probably made it clear, or at least clear enough (I’m sure I could always make it more clear) and I’m probably not totally misguided in feeling that way. The second is how I feel about the piece as I read comments. If comments make me change my mind about what I believed or how I wrote about it, then I recognize I messed up something fundamentally. If clarifying comments help other people to better understand what I was trying to say–and we can come to an understanding of some kind in the comments section–then I know I faltered in my delivery. But if the comment section is just an endless back and forth, I know that someone either straight out disagrees or that their reaction to my words is about them, and not me.

I used to do that. All the time. I used to read a post about one thing and then my own pain and guilt and issues would twist the words into something else. Natural parenting stuff was a big trigger. I was so insecure in my own parenting that I felt other people writing with passion about their style of parenting (when it conflicted greatly with how I parent) was an attack (explicit or implicit) on my own way of doing things. I wrote a lot of comments coming from that place of insecurity and hurt. It sucks to look back at those responses, but I understand that I had to go through that to get where I am today. I’ve tried to offer reparation for my actions in those instances but some people couldn’t forgive me, and I get that. You can’t take back what you say and some people can’t forget.

I still notice that posts about blissful breastfeeding relationships chafe me in certain ways. When someone boasts that they could never have the bonding experience they had with their child without their wonderful breastfeeding relationship it makes me feel shitty, like I’m somehow less of a mom. But I’ve grown enough to know that they aren’t saying that to hurt me. They are saying that because it is their experience. In fact, there is every reason to believe I would have felt the same way if I had had a great breastfeeding experience. That is why it was so hard to let it go, because I believe I missed out on something that has no equivalent. I suffered a real loss, and it sucks, but that doesn’t mean other women shouldn’t be able to talk about it. That expectation is absurd, and frankly, unfair.

It took me a lot of years to get to that place. It’s still hard with some issues, to just let it go, but every encounter with words that my guilt and insecurity twist into something else I handle better. Recently a cousin posted an article to FB about how a new study shows that CIO damages infants, with some diatribe about how she hoped all parents would see it an know the error of their ways. In the past I would have felt an uncontrollable urge to defend my parenting, but I didn’t even click to read the article, or browse the comments or anything. I just walked away, because I knew the people supporting her there were not interested in hearing about my very positive experiences with CIO and because I knew I didn’t need to defend myself to her or anyone else. It made absolutely no sense to engage.

I am proud that I have gotten to that place. I don’t always stop, I don’t always resist the temptation to engage, but more times than not I do.

After a lot of long, hard, exhausting contemplation, I think I know why yesterday’s post inciting such a shit storm. It was a couple of things. #1 the tone. Obviously, I could have been nicer. A LOT nicer (I was not imply anything in that post, it was all VERY explicit). I could explain why I wrote it like I did but that doesn’t change the fact that I could have presented it in a much kinder way. #2 In my vitriolic introductory statement I didn’t make it clear that I not only meant bloggers who left without any explanation, but also bloggers who left abruptly and especially on the cusp of some major transition. I thought I made that clear later in the post but some people didn’t register that, so obviously I wasn’t clear enough. #3 I shouldn’t have included the final part about being bummed out that some bloggers I really love are gradually fading away, because some people thought I felt the same way about those bloggers as I felt about people who just abruptly fell off the earth right before some major change, with no explanation or warning.

Still, I realize that even if I had done those things, the angry people still would have come to comment (I’m still flabbergasted as to how they ended up there, as I have no reason to believe any of them still, or ever did, read me). It is clear now that there are some people that just absolutely do not agree with me on this issue. We couldn’t find a common ground. I thought a simple, “Hey I’m out,” final post is a reasonable expectation, but it was clear that for some people, even expecting that is absolutely too much.

I learned something really valuable in the comment section of that post, which is that some people have VERY different reasons for writing a blog and very different expectations of the relationship that are participating in with their readers and commenters. For some people, their blog is not a ongoing dialogue and their readers have no relationship to or with them whatsoever. That is NOT how I feel about my space, and I don’t think that is how most of the people that I follow feel about their spaces, but it’s valuable for me to know that some do. I think now, when someone stops blogging abruptly, I can better understand how they walked away–the whole blog experience means something fundamentally different to them than it does for me.

Finally, I’m left with some stinging words rattling around in my brain, about whether or not I take my blogging relationships too seriously or depend on them too much. I’ve always known that my IRL relationships are lacking. It’s not that I don’t have some great ones, but circumstances make it hard to connect. I’ve tried to make IRL friends that are more accessible but it’s so hard to find people I click with. I don’t know how to find more meaningful friendships, but maybe I need to step away from this community more, so things like a blogger leaving abruptly or another one slowly fading away don’t hurt so much. I may not have appreciated the way those ideas were expressed to me, but that doesn’t mean they are inherently wrong.

To sum up this novel-length post I will say this, thank you for those who came and voiced your thoughts, despite–or maybe because of–what was happening in the comment section. I really appreciated it.

And now, back to what the beginning of this post was about…

How do you explain when someone seems read something in your words that you didn’t intend? Do you ever feel like a writer’s words imply something they are not explicitly saying? How do you feel and what do you do when your words incite angry responses?

Breaking the Unspoken Agreement

So I’m just going to say this. I know it might be an unpopular opinion, and that’s fine, but I feel really strongly about this so I’m going to put it out there. (I’m also going to assume that the people I’m referring to aren’t reading this blog (you understand why in a minute), so that makes it a little easier to just say it).

I think it’s REALLY FUCKED UP when people just walk away from their blog with absolutely no explanation. I think that is a shitty thing to do. I think it’s inconsiderate and thoughtless and selfish and RUDE. I think it’s just plain WRONG.

I dare you to try to convince me otherwise.

You see, what happened is this. I’m getting ready for BlogHer in two days. I’m now part of a group of Bay Area bloggers on Facebook and I asked them all to introduce themselves and say where they live and link to where they are writing. I want to add them all to my reader for a bit so I can see who interests me. But the idea of adding all these random blogs to my list, which is still about 90% ALI blogs, felt wrong. So I decided to create a folder for them (and, while I was at it, a folder for all the other blogs of women I meet at BlogHer) so I could still read just the people I’m used to most of the time, and then delve into the new people when I feel like it.

That was a fine plan except 95% of my blogs were not categorized in Feedly (because they weren’t in Google Reader), so I had to go through them all and put them into an ALI folder. As I was going through them, I realized that I hadn’t gotten a post from some of them for ages. So I started yet another folder. This one was titled Ghost Blogs?.

By the time I was done sorting everything I had about 80 blogs in the ALI folder, 30 in a Miscellany folder (yes, I was also surprised by this) and 50, you read that right, FIFTY in the Ghost Blogs? folder.

One by one I went through the blogs in the Ghost folder. Most of them hadn’t been updated in over a year. Some hadn’t been updated in THREE YEARS! I couldn’t believe it. For almost all of them I clicked on the final post and read it over. One post was about concerning NTU results. One was about a slow rising BETA. One was about a baby who was due in the next few days, but was expected to take his time. One was about a third rising BETA and first hopeful pregnancy. One was a, hey I haven’t written in five months but SURPRISE! I’m 20 weeks pregnant and all is going well! ALL OF THESE WERE FINAL POSTS. The blogs were NEVER UPDATED AGAIN! Who does that? Who doesn’t let their readers know what happened? How they are? If their babies were okay?

Reading some of them I was reminded of wondering what had happened, of thinking about that blogger for weeks and months afterward, going back to the url to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, commenting on the last post to check in. Sometimes I even emailed. I remember wondering for so long, WHAT HAPPENED?! ARE YOU OKAY? I was worried something went wrong. I assumed the worst, because WHY ELSE WOULD SOMEONE JUST NEVER COME BACK TO THEIR BLOG?!

Looking back through those blogs and reading those last posts made me mad. Remembering all the emotional energy I wasted on these people who never cared enough to return to their own space and give their readers a little closure. I think that is so incredibly rude. If you write a blog, you are asking people to read it. If people comment in your space, you know they are there, reading. IF YOU KNOW PEOPLE ARE READING A BLOG YOU OWE THEM A LITTLE RESPECT.

Yes, I believe that bloggers do owe their readership something. I believe they owe their readership an quick, simple update to let them know that they are done. I don’t think they have to explain why they are stepping away (though I would very much appreciate some understanding), but I do believe they deserve a simple, “Hey, I won’t be back here. You can stop waiting and wondering and returning to this space.” Even a, “Hey, I don’t think I’ll be back here, other shit came up and I might be back, but I might not,” that’s fine too. A blogger doesn’t owe her readers explanations or certainties, but she owes them some basic information, even if that information is, “I just realized I haven’t written in three months, it might be another three months before I write again or it might be never. Just a head’s up.”

So there, I’ve said it. I feel personally slighted by the bloggers who just walked away and never told us they were going to go. I think that was a fucked up move, especially when something big was about to happen. I think never coming back broke an unspoken agreement between the blogger and her readers, and I think everyone who read them deserves an apology.

There were a lot of other blogs I sorted through that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Many of the 80+ blogs I had in my ALI folder haven’t been updated in months. Some have been updated only once or twice all year, or haven’t yet been updated in 2014 at all. It made me incredibly sad to be reminded that so many people who used to be a staple in my days are just gone now. It’s not that I don’t think of them, because I do, but seeing their blogs and not being sure if they too would end up in the Ghost Blogs folder was kind of excruciating.

It’s not like I don’t know anything about all of them. I see some of them on FB, but I don’t really know what is happening in their lives and I wonder if others are on Twitter, happily tweeting away, but I still can’t bring myself to participate there. I still feel like the middle school loser sitting alone at lunch, while the popular kids bustle around the tables I haven’t been invited to sit at (or have been purposefully excluded from). Even if I could get over that feeling, the pace is so fast and the connection so fleeting. I feel like it’s just another thing compelling me to open my phone a million times a day, and I already have enough of those.

I know this is what happens, people drift apart, they stopping seeing each other and eventually realize they aren’t friends anymore. I know it’s an inevitability, but it still sucks. I wonder if part of what feels different, and almost hurtful, about it is that I’m still here, writing. I’m still doing my part to keep the lines of communication open, but so many people aren’t anymore. Maybe it kind of makes me feel left behind, like they have moved on to something else and I’m still here, plugging away, even though these people who were so important to me don’t seem to care anymore.

I’m sure that sounds supremely self-centered. Maybe it is. Honestly, I don’t even care if they don’t read me. I just want to read them. I’m sad they don’t write anymore. I’m sad I can’t comment. I want to know how they are, what their kids are up to, if they are happy.

But I suppose we all have to learn to let go. We have to let go of the people we read who abruptly abandon their space with no explanation, and we have to let go of the people who disappear slowly, over months and years. We have to let go of the people who tell us they just can’t write anymore. I’m pretty bad at letting go. I’m a sentimental person and if I can keep someone positive in my life, I will do it. But sometimes you just can’t, and that is part of life too. It seems that is a defining part of motherhood.

So if you’re still reading, and still writing, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, because I love you and DON’T WANT TO LET ANY OF YOU GO.

And you if you decide to stop writing, or realize it just kind of happened, please consider providing some closure for your readers. I promise you, they will appreciate it.

What do you think of bloggers who abruptly leave their space with no warning? Are there bloggers who are disappearing slowly that you’re sad to see go?

The Last Few Days

My bed is afloat on a sea of snotty tissues and so bullet points will have to do.

– THURSDAY was my birthday and it was surprisingly good. Osita ended up staying home with a sore throat but my in-laws were kind enough to take her for a few hours so I didn’t have to cancel a lunch with a friend. When I got back two of my good friends FaceTimed me while Monito was sleeping. Then Mi.Vida took me to a really amazing sushi restaurant that he made reservations for almost a month in advance. The dinner was incredible–and someone bought us a bottle of their most expensive saki, for no reason at all really, they just thought we seemed cool! It was an awesome night. The only downside was I had a sore throat that I could tell would become something much more menacing the next day, and I found out that after I’d dodged it all week, I was finally being called into jury duty the next day, Friday, at 12:45pm. WHO PICKS A JURY AT 12:45 ON A FRIDAY!?

- FRIDAY started off surprisingly well. Osita had to stay home because she had a bullshit fever for like five minutes the day before and I’m nothing if not a rule follower. We watched some TV while Monito slept and then my in-laws came to pick them both up so I could head to jury duty (do you recognize a theme here–mainly that without my in-laws I’d be fucked?!) I got downtown quickly enough to eat a quick lunch with Mi.Vida and then rushed in the courthouse only to be told that I didn’t read the website carefully enough and we’d been transferred from the Civil Court to the Criminal Court, which is a good 10 minute cab ride away. There were three of us standing there dumbly as this was explain so I convinced the other two to share a cab with me because there was no way I’d let the nice man reschedule me. We were lucky enough to get a cab quick and literally arrived JUST IN TIME to be counted for that day’s service. After thirty minutes it was mysteriously announced that “they couldn’t continue” that day and we were all excused. BEST NEWS EVER.

I thought Friday was making up for the shitty parts of Thursday but then my cold hit like a piano falling from a great height and I suddenly couldn’t move. By the time I’d picked up Monito from my ILs house (Osita stayed a bit longer) and got us both home I was a wreck. My throat was on fire and my head and ears ached. I was feeling super awful when I realized that my license officially expired on my birthday and I never got a new one in the mail, despite sending the renewal paperwork in over a month ago. I gchatted with Mi.Vida about that while I checked my checking account to see if the check I wrote was processed (it wasn’t) and then I started to think about what I should do because with an expired drivers license I couldn’t legally drive my car. As I was trying to see if I could get an appointment sometime soon at the DMV (BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!) Mi.Vida called and after much shuffling of metaphorical feet announced that the DMV never got my renewal paperwork because it was STILL SITTING ON HIS DESK AT WORK. I’d asked him to mail it a month ago (and even double checked that he had) and yet it was sitting on his desk the whole time. Needless to say he felt terrible and spent the rest of the night groveling for my forgiveness (which I gave him rather quickly, I’m proud to admit–mostly I just felt too shitty physically to feel shitty mentally too).

- SATURDAY I was sick as a dog and didn’t do much of anything except blow my nose every 2.5 seconds and cough until my chest hurt. (Actually, I did haul the kids to Costco with me because I’m a masochist (and needed more Kleenex–only a set of TEN LARGE BOXES would suffice). We actually did okay, despite sharing the idea to go to Costco with every other San Franciscan within a seven mile radius (which is the entire city, actually, because it’s that small). So far I’ve made it through two of those boxes of Kleenex so it’s a good thing I stocked up at Costco.)

Saturday night we watched What About Bob? which totally holds up. So good. So dark. So hilarious. Both Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus are geniuses.

– SUNDAY I got up with Monito (because I NEVER ask Mi.Vida to get up with him, not even when I’m super sick and feeling like shit). We played in his room for a bit and then I took him for a walk to Walgreens to get some Sudafed because I realized that I hadn’t used over the counter meds for the past SIX YEARS because all that time I was either pregnant or nursing or trying to get pregnant, but now I can take WHATEVER I WANT (hence the two Diet Cokes a day habit I’ve embraced) so we walked in the misty fog to Walgreens and got some Sudafed and antibacterial soap (this if the first illness I’ve had since I stopped pumping and I REALLY don’t want to pass it to Monito) and headed home. Evidently Osita slept past NINE this morning and I was so jealous that Mi.Vida got to stay in bed that late while I, THE SICK ONE, was trudging through the wet morning fog to get medicine to alleviate my OWN SYMPTOMS that I actually kind of hung up on him. I know it’s my own fault for not asking him to get up (and I just made myself feel better telling him that getting up today was an early birthday present (his birthday is tomorrow). I need to figure out how to manage these things better. We just (literally right now, before I typed this sentence) agreed to take turns getting up early on the weekends. I hope we can actually do that.

So that was the last few days. Oh, and I forgot that I’m writing a lot in my new space, partly because BlogHer is this coming weekend and partly because I just want to write there. I feel like my tribe here is dwindling and it will behoove me to branch out more, because so many of the women I follow in the ALI community are writing less and less, or not writing at all, and I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to just stop, so I need to start finding a space that is less about how infertility and loss touched my life, and more about all the rest of it.

I’m sure I’ll keep writing here for a long time (and I hope you all do too!)–heck I may never stop–but I don’t want to be left behind while everyone else gets on with their lives, so I’m trying to be proactive. I hope what I write there is compelling enough for you to read it, but I understand if it’s not.

What was your weekend like? Anything to share?

Head F*ck

I sat in the chair in the hallway, leg vibrating, eyes shifting nervously. I turned on my phone and entered the passcode clumsily, messing up on the first try. I loaded my reader but there were no new posts. I scrolled quickly through my FB feed but there was nothing I hadn’t already seen. I checked my email but there were no unread messages. I finally went into my Photos and just scrolled through a set of shots I took that morning, my son smiling back at me in thirty almost identical ways.

One minute. Two minutes.

I put down my phone and stretched my neck. It cracked loudly on one side and then another. I rummaged through my purse, not looking for anything really, just trying to kill time.

This is silly, I thought. Why are you so afraid? You only asked to put your mind at ease, but you already know the answer.

But what if that is not the answer? What if?

The nurse swung around the corner and smiled. The test is negative.

I take a breath, a gasp really, and put my phone back in my purse. As I stand up to leave I realize my heart is pounding.

Thank god it’s negative. I repeat over and over again. I shove my hands in my sweatshirt pocket to keep them from shaking.

*  *  *  *  *

The Thursday before we left for St. Louis I felt really bloated, crampy and emotional and I realized my period had been due earlier that week. When I say due I mean, it had been 24 days since the first day of my last period and my cycles are generally 20 days long. With the bloating and cramping, I was sure my period would come the next day. It didn’t. Eventually I lost the bloat and stopped feeling crampy and my period still didn’t show. On Friday night I tore the scar tissue from my first labor, creating an open wound. I made an appointment for Monday morning, just hours before our flight boarded.

I was super busy all weekend packing for our trip, but I was constantly aware of the fact that period still hadn’t shown. By Monday morning it was CD27. I almost never have cycles that long without changing my diet, adding supplements and getting weekly acupuncture treatments. Still, this was only my third postpartum cycle, plus I’d been on the stressful trip to Disneyland right around when I would have ovulated, so there were two likely, non pregnancy-related reasons my period was late.

We had also been very careful that month, just like we always are. We had used protection the two measly times we had had sex. There really was no way I could be pregnant. And yet, that is exactly how I felt the month we got pregnant with Monito. After that random week of BCPs messing up my cycle, I wasn’t even sure I ovulated that month, and if I had it had happened FOUR DAYS after we had sex. I was sure I wasn’t pregnant that month, but then I was. Now, again, the uncertainty weighed on me.

I haven’t really written about it here but I am so thankful for that “surprise” BFP. That was always a dream of mine, to get a surprise positive pregnancy test, but since we never had unprotected sex when we weren’t officially trying, there was no possibility of that. In the months while we were trying for a second child a substantial (it felt to me) number of IF bloggers I read announced surprise BFPs and each one was like a sucker punch to the stomach. I wanted that so badly and I knew I would never have it. We would ALWAYS be trying until we got pregnant and we’d never leave a third child up to chance. I had missed out on something that seemed so incredibly magical.

But then I did get to experience that, in a way, because we hadn’t really been trying that month and I really didn’t think there was any way I could be pregnant, and then I was. And it was amazing. And I’m so grateful I got to have that experience, of getting pregnant against all odds, when I we hadn’t had timed sex and I hadn’t been tracking symptoms throughout the 2WW. I was just waiting for my period to come so we could finally start trying again after our shitty diagnoses and my HSG. I never in a million years thought we might be pregnant.

That surprise pregnancy was a gift, one I never took for granted. But now I realize it also instilled something else in me: the thought that I might get pregnant even when it seems impossible to me. I can’t tell you what a head fuck that is, after years of perfectly timed sex NOT resulting in a pregnancy, to be worried that protected sex might somehow result in a pregnancy. It feels like a cruel joke.

It’s also a head fuck to not want to be pregnant. Especially since *I* would like to be pregnant, but I know my partner would not. We’ve had some painfully difficult conversations about having a third child. The “A” word came up and it’s clear that our differences of opinions on what we’d want to do if I did end up pregnant again could lead to the end of our marriage. Every time I wonder if I might be pregnant I’m faced with the reality that another child, one I would whole heartedly welcome into the world, could destroy my relationship. I am reminded that my husband and I feel so differently about this that we probably couldn’t find a common ground. It sucks to have that possibility invading my thoughts.

That is why my heart was racing and my hands were shaking, not because I was so relieved not to be pregnant, but because I was so relieved not to have to face that reality. I was so relieved that I didn’t have to have that heartbreaking conversation with my husband, the conversation that might dismantle our life together.

I hate living this way. I hate that there is a chance and that I have to fear it. I hate that my body is just fucked up enough to make late periods a probability, but not common enough that I can shrug them off. I hate that our diagnoses make it almost impossible for us to get pregnant, but that there is always a chance, no matter how small. I hate that I’ve never gotten pregnant without drastically overhauling my diet, taking tuck loads of supplements and getting acupuncture for months, and yet I’ll always assume that it might happen, that anything is possible.

I picked up a brochure for the copper IUD at the doctor’s office that Monday. Mi.Vida is planning on getting a vasectomy but I doubt it will happen any time soon. I don’t really want it too, to be honest. The finality of it scares me, it shuts a door that I’m not ready to be closed. In the meantime I might get an IUD. My NP suggested Mirena, since my cycles are so short, but I hate the idea of putting hormones into my system when there is another way. I’m going to research both options and I’ll probably give one of them a try.

Getting an IUD feels like putting a bandaid over a gaping wound, but it’s a step in the right direction, or it’s a step in some direction anyway. And I need a direction right now, because I can’t stand being in this place, where my current mindset seems to disrespect our past struggle. I can’t stand not wanting to be pregnant, when that’s not really how I feel. I can’t stand holding my breath and hoping the test comes back negative when I prayed for a positive for all those years. It’s just too much of a head fuck and I don’t want to deal with it. So I need to create a world in where I know it’s not an issue, and hopefully later I’ll be more prepared for the finality of actually letting go.

{In case you’re wondering, my period finally showed the following Thursday, on CD31. Took long enough.}

What are your current or future “birth control” plans? Do you think it will be hard/is it hard to be in a place that is so different from actively trying? Are you and your partner on the same page about when your family will be complete?

Visiting my sister

On the last day of our trip I went to visit my sister. I put up that post and it probably seemed so simple, that I’d been there. That I brought a pinwheel, that I took a picture. But it wasn’t simple. It still doesn’t feel simple.

Somewhere out there
Beneath the pale moonlight
Someone’s thinking of me
And loving me tonight

In this community there are so many women who have suffered unfathomable loss. There are women whose families have been shaped by adoption. I am in a strange place because those experiences belong to me only peripherally. My life has been shaped by unfathomable loss and by adoption, but I was the sister, not the mom. I’m never sure what that peripheral position allows me to lay claim to. What am I supposed to feel about my sister dying when I was two? How am I supposed to feel about my sister being adopted before I was born?

My parents had gone to visit Stephanie before, without me. My mom mentioned it causally, with only the most subtle hint of despair in her voice. I found her easily, but I couldn’t find my mom, she related. I can never find my mom.

My mom’s is the life marred by tragedy and loss. My mom lays claim to unending pain and suffering. I feel that so fully that I’m never sure what of it belongs to me.

Surely there is enough to go around, and yet I don’t want to overstep my bounds. I don’t want to put my grubby, undeserving hands all over someone else’s suffering.

I’m not quite sure why I wanted to go. I love my sister. I wonder what life would have been like if she lived. I wonder if they would have been able to save her if she’d been born now. I wonder how the hole she left in my parents’ life affected the landscape of our family, of my childhood. But I remember very little of her. I was mad when she died, so angry to be denied my sister. I don’t remember those feelings but they’ve been relayed to me so many times over the years that I lay claim to them as if I did.

Somewhere out there
Someone’s saying a prayer
That we’ll find one another
In that big somewhere out there

I remember visiting her grave as a child, sitting in the back seat of the car singing, Somewhere Out There but knowing that she wasn’t. I remember thinking that it was all too big for me to understand, that I couldn’t really grasp the gravity of our family’s loss. Even back then I wasn’t sure what of that immense grief belonged to me.

I remember leaving pinwheels at her grave. I always positioned mine perfectly so the wind would make it spin. I don’t remember if my mother cried. Surely she did. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe she held it in for me. We must have gone to visit her after the first stillbirth. And the second. And third. How must her grief have compounded after each loss? Was her experience at my sister’s grave the heavier for the loss of her sons? Or was my sister’s loss always just about her?

I will admit that I didn’t think a lot about my sister during my college years. She would float through my mind every once in a while, and every year at Christmas I’d hang her little pink angel, but mostly her presence was was rarely spoken of, though certainly not unfelt. I assume my mother thinks of her every day, that she always, always remembers.

And even though I know how very far apart we are
It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star
And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby
It helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky

My sister is buried with all the other babies. So many babies. So many lost loves, lost dreams, lost hopes. Walking through them, trying to find the one that belonged to me, if only in some small way, I felt an immense sadness. So many lives carved by this grief. So much pain and anguish. How do they possible go on?

I thought of this community, and all the women I know who’ve lost babies. I wondered if I really belonged there, leaving a pinwheel for a sister I don’t think about every day. Part of me felt like I was leaving a tribute for my mom’s grief as much as a remembrance of someone I lost. Since I became a mother, her suffering has come into sharp focus. What was once just an amorphous haze around her now takes a shape and has a name. Her loss is a tangible ache in my heart, one I can’t fathom that she survived.

I’ve thought more about my sister in the last four years of my life than I did in the previous 30. Perhaps that is why I felt the need to see her. And yet, it took four phone calls to finally let it ring and ask my mother where she was. I couldn’t find her on my own, but the idea of asking my mother was almost impossible. We were leaving in two hours and I hadn’t even started to pack so she was understandably confused about why I was there. But she told me the section and the plot and I looked for a while, until I found her.

Somewhere out there
If love can see us through
Then we’ll be together
Somewhere out there
Out where dreams come true

And I cried, for my sister, for my mother, for all the baby loss moms.

And I left a yellow pinwheel, and quietly got in my car and went home.

Comparing Parenting

When it comes to my abilities as a parent I think I have a pretty realistic understanding of where I stand. I recognize both my strengths and my weaknesses and I neither judge myself too harshly nor give myself more credit than I deserve. I know there are some things I excel at (setting and enforcing boundaries, providing consequences, requiring politeness, apologizing when I make mistakes) and other things I don’t do well at all (keeping my frustration in check, losing my temper, providing well balanced meals, listening intently when my kids speak to me). There are some things I’m specifically trying to improve, like putting my phone away to be more present with my kids. I recognize that I am a human being and human beings are fallible and parenting provides countless opportunities to stumble and fall, the important thing is that I pick myself up and learn from my mistakes.

Man have I made some mistakes. I’ve made some pretty epic mistakes. And yet, I don’t consider myself a failure as a mother. For the most part I think I’m doing a decent job, and I know that every day I’m at least attempting to do better.

Most of the time I’m pretty confident in my role as mother. I’m not always proud of how I do the job, but I can genuinely say I’m doing my best. I rarely hold myself up to other mothers and find myself lacking (at least not in my all-around qualifications as a mother, though I do find myself lacking in specific areas of motherhood that I find particularly challenging). After this week though, I’m wondering if that is less a result of my overall confidence in myself and more a consequence of my relative isolation as a mother. Maybe I think I’m a decent mom because I don’t spend much time around other moms and so I don’t have the opportunity to compare myself to others.

This past week I’ve spent a great deal of time with other moms of kids my kids’ ages. My cousin has a daughter almost exactly Osita’s age and a son ten months older than Monito. My cousin and his wife have a two year old daughter and are expecting their second child next month. I’ve spent entire days with both my cousin and my cousin-in-law and both are incredible moms. I’ve watched them excel at so many of the things I struggle with and I haven’t witnessed them falter on even one occasion. Meanwhile they have seen me get frustrated and lose my tempter with my daughter on multiple occasions. They’ve seen me looking at my phone while I could be engaging my son. They’ve seen me hand my kids off to my mom so I can take a much needed walk alone with my book-on-tape. Meanwhile I never witnessed either of them lose their temper, or look at their phone or even request some time a lone, let alone actually take it. When I compare my own mothering abilities to theirs (and it’s hard not to when we’ve shared such close quarters this week), I find my abilities seriously lacking. For the first time I’m doubting my general status as a decent mom.

Maybe I’m not such a great mom after all. Maybe I’m right when I suspect that other mothers–the ones whose lives I witness via social media of various kinds–are just inherently better at this mothering thing than I am. So many women seem to do it all so effortlessly and seem to enjoy it more than I do. Maybe I’m not actually cut out to be a mom, at least not a good one.

I don’t know, it may sound silly to say those things, but sometimes I wonder… I thought I’d be a good mom, it was all I wanted to do with my life when I was growing up, and there are some things I know I do really well, but there is so much I struggle with and there are so many things I absolutely fail at every day. I used to think all mothers failed at some things, but watching my cousins made me wonder if that is actually true. Maybe some mothers don’t fail at anything. Honestly, after a week witnessing my cousins in action, I couldn’t name one weakness of theirs, while I’m sure they could mention plenty of mine.

I know comparison is the thief of joy, and I honestly believe that to be true, but I don’t feel like this is that kind of comparison. I’m not looking at what my cousins have and wishing I had it. This isn’t about envy or jealousy of a feeling that something is unfair. This is about watching other women who are damn good mothers and not ever seeing them falter and wondering if the fact that I do falther makes me a bad mom, or less-than in some way.

I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter if they are “better” moms than me. I am a mother and my kids are stuck with me, for better or for worse, and all that really matters is that they’ll be fine at the end of all this. Surely there are other women out there making fewer mistakes than I am, just like there are women doing a shittier job than me. In the end none of that matters, all that matters is what I believe about my own parenting abilities. My belief in myself has clearly been shaken and I have to figure out how to regain some of the confidence I have lost. Too bad I have no idea how to do that.

Do you feel confident in your abilities as a parent? Has that confidence ever been shaken?