To Whom It May Concern

Recently–and this is directly related to my iPod being stolen from my car–I discovered The Civil Wars. They are pretty cool. And one of their songs? Well, I swear everyone in the ALI community, especially those still waiting to be united with their much-wanted children, needs to hear it. So here it is.


Joy Williams and John Paul White

Why are you so far from me?
In my arms is where you ought to be
How long will you make me wait?
I don’t know much more I can take

I’ve missed you
But I haven’t met you
Oh how I want to
How I do

Slowly counting down the days
Till I finally know your name
The way your hand feels round my waist
The way you laugh, the way your kisses taste

I’ve missed you
But I haven’t met you
Oh how I want to
How I do
How I do

I’ve missed you
But I haven’t met you
Oh I’ve missed you
But I haven’t met you
Oh but I want to
Oh how I want to

Dear whoever you might be
I’m still waiting patiently

Grief Appropriation?

Before I write this I want to assure you all that I am in no way trying to co-opt Mo’s tragedy and make it my own. I am not trying to make her pain about me and how it affects me. Mo’s is enduring a loss more devastating than I could ever imagine. My heart breaks for her but I know that my sorrow could never touch her own. Please know that in writing this I’m just trying to make sense of my own experience. I’m sorry if that offends anyone close to Mo. That is no my intent at all.

Last night I got a text from a very good friend, informing me of Mo’s loss. At first I was in shock. I texted back all the sentiments one would expect in a time like this but it hadn’t really hit me yet. Later, when I told Mi.Vida and he came over to hold me, the enormity of my friend’s loss hit me and I broke down into great, heaving sobs. You know, that kind of ugly crying that literally steals your breath and contorts your body beyond recognition.

The rest of the night I was in a daze, communicating with a few mutual friends of Mo’s, trying to determine what we could do to show our love and support. It’s so hard to know what to do when you feel so helpless, when you realize that ultimately you are so helpless and that there is not one thing you can do to actually ease your friend’s suffering.

Mi.Vida kept checking in on me, as I would randomly start crying here or there, for seemingly no reason at all. I could tell he was alternating between bewilderment, worry, and frustration. Before bed we talked a little bit about how both of us were feeling. I told him that I was heartsick, despondent, just so overwhelmingly sad for my friend. The magnitude of what she was losing, what she has already lost in her life, it’s just unfathomable. It’s so fucking unfair. I am afraid for her, for what she will have to endure. I can never know how it feels to lose what she has, simply contemplating it was more than I can bare. How will she possibly bare the reality of it?

Mi.Vida said he was worried about me. He didn’t want to see me taking on someone else’s grief. He didn’t want me giving into the fear that what was happening to her might happen to me one day. I understood his concern; he has seen me react poorly to the sad stories of many a blogger I hardly knew, he’s watched me internalize their tragedy and grief, twisting it into fear of the uncertainty of my own life.

I had a hard time convincing him that this was different. I wasn’t grieving for Mo because what happened to her might happen to me, I was grieving for Mo because she’s my friend and she is losing the most important thing in her life. She is losing something that just a week ago she acknowledged she could not survive losing. I am sad because a wonderful woman, who reached out to me when I felt the tendrils of depression grabbing hold of me again, who sent me Israeli chocolates to make me feel better, who accepted me and my feelings no matter what, is being made to endure a mother’s greatest nightmare, after already having done so three times before.

It isn’t about me, it’s about her, I tried to assure him.

The line between the two is very thin, he countered. I don’t think you realize.

Today I’ve walked around in a daze, unsure how to steady myself. I’m brittle to the touch, I snap easily and find myself staring into the unknowable distance. It’s not that I’m thinking constantly about Mo but the sadness is there, under the surface, always. I can tell Mi.Vida is becoming increasingly frustrated. We’ve talked more about whether or not my grief is appropriate. And if it is, does being a part of this community, which is welded together by loss and grief and struggle, ultimately offer enough light to make up for the darkness?

The truth is, sometimes I don’t know. What I do know is that my heart breaks for a woman I consider a friend, despite never having met her. What I do know is I am inspired by the love and support I see others willing, eager, desperate to give. What I do know is I feel honored to include my own efforts with theirs, to reach out to someone when she feels unreachable and alone.

What I do know is that the women in this community are stronger than I ever thought possible, that they persevere despite insurmountable odds, that they not only survive but thrive in the face of unimaginable loss. What I do know is that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this community and that I am comforted knowing that they would be there for me if the unthinkable were to mark my own life.

How appropriate is the grief we feel for our fellow bloggers? Should there be a limit to that grief? Is the line between grieving for someone and making their grief our own as thin as Mi.Vida believes? If so, how do we stay on the right side of it? Is a community welded together by loss worth being a part of, or are the costs ultimately too high?

Time Warp Tuesdays: The Holidays

I know I’m late for the Time Warp but that’s okay. I still want to participate and the linky’s open all week so I will. I urge you to do the same.

Today’s topic is the holidays. I have to admit I was unsure if I even had a post about the holidays. I kind of don’t. I do have two post written on Christmas but neither of them really tackle the meaning of the holidays. They are both just quick posts that summarize where I found myself on those particular days.

In 2009 I was pregnant for the second time, waiting for my NTU debacle to be over. Because they had waited until the last possible day to schedule me for the NTU, and because Isa always measured four days ahead, she was too big to do the scan. That meant I could only get the blood work and receive a significantly less accurate estimation of my chances of certain birth defects – weeks after I would have been given an estimation by the actual NTU. Christmas of that year found me feeling sick from the I had just started in an attempt to control my overwhelming anxiety and sure that we’d get bad news from the second blood test. Even though I had every reason to be joyful, my anxiety made it nearly impossible.

2010 was a very different Christmas than the year before. That year my family was visiting my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother in St. Louis. I was elated to be there, sharing my daughter with her adoring extended family. I spent most of the visit capturing wonderful moments shared with family on my new iPhone’s new Hipstamatic app. I didn’t have much time to write on that trip so instead I posted photos every day for six days (if you’re so inclined you can see them all here: Part I, Deux, Three, 3.5, IV and 5. Christmas day was the fifth day of those installments.

At the bottom of the Christmas day post I also mention something else:

I know that holidays can be a very hard time for those who are in the IF trenches or have experienced a loss. I’ve read man posts about those struggles in the past few days. I’ve spent much of my happy Christmas wondering why I get to have so much while other’s have lost so much. I wish it weren’t that way. I’ve been trying to show my support through comments but have not always been able to do so. Please know that I am reading everyone’s posts and keeping all my blogging friends in my heart and in my thoughts, now even more than always.

On of the reasons I’m late posting this is because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I must admit, I’m looking forward to the holidays. I can’t wait for Isa to run to the tree (even though she has no idea what’s underneath it). I look forward to a simple celebration with Mi.Vida’s family and then mine. We have no room for a tree or decorations in our tiny apartment and I’m eager to spend time in warm houses with twinkling trees, roaring fires and Christmas carols blasting in the background.

Of course, not all is merry and bright; we’ve gotten some less than stellar news this year, right in time for the holidays. MiVida’s crappy raise has been far out shadowed by my father losing his job. This will be the second job he’s lost in nine months, after three long years of unemployment. His age, position and amount of time unemployed make it very hard for him to find something. If he doesn’t again soon they will be forced to sell the house they’ve been working towards for almost 20 years. Despite these set backs we’re trying to focus on what we have – our health and our families – which I know many people are missing this holiday season.

The truth is most people in this community suffer more than celebrate during this time of the year. I’m never sure quite what I should say about the holidays as I don’t want to rub salt in anyone’s wounds. Last year I posted all those pictures because I knew I had very few readers and I figured the ones who had stuck around that long probably wouldn’t begrudge me some shots of my daughter on her first Christmas. This year I feel differently. I have more readers and I know they find themselves on all different places of the family building and loss path. So I choose my words carefully, or omit them completely.

So what should I say about the holidays this year? Above all else I am thankful, so utterly and overwhelmingly thankful for all that I have. I will never forget the void I feared would be present in my life and every day I’m grateful for what I have, for what I know other people want so desperately. I hope that every one of my friends who still find themselves in the trenches, who will never completely heal from their losses, know that I’m thinking of them, holding them in my heart and hoping that next year things will be different somehow.

Big Girls Don’t Cry

Before I start I wanted to let everyone who commented on the last two posts to know I responded. I might not be able to continue responding to comments that way, as time for blogging will be very scarce once I start grading papers every night. But for now I’m trying to keep it up when I can.

And now, for the post!

This weekend we spent a lot if time trying to convince Isa of what she did and didn’t want to do, expecting more from her than she was able to give because we hoped to see friends and family during our short time in Los Angeles. Not surprising she spent a lot of the weekend upset and after two days we were frustrated, run down and guilt ridden. Needless to say we will not be taking any more trips in the foreseeable future.

At one point Isa was screaming in my arms and as I walked with her I chided, “Nobody wants to hear your crying.” The minute I’d said it I stopped myself, realizing the weight of my words. For the first time in my life I’d communicated to my daughter that her feelings weren’t always important, that she should think of others’ comfort before expressing herself.

I vowed right then and there never to do that again.

The problem is I’m not so sure what I am going to tell her. Obviously we do expect children to control their emotions at some point. A prostrate child rolling in her own snot on the supermarket floor, devastated that her mother won’t buy her Fruit Loops would be judged by everyone around, as would that girl’s mother. People are expected to build filters, people are encouraged to at least temper their most negative (and even positive) emotions, if not hide them completely. As a society we have expectations of human behavior and very few are exempt.

So how do I teach my daughter that her feelings are valid and important when the message she will surely get is, “nobody wants to see you cry”?

Pondering this conundrum this weekend I couldn’t help but see a common thread between what I had said to my daughter and what some mean and spiteful people had expressed in the comment section of some posts. The posts were about the now infamous (in our community at least) Facebook meme that was intended (unfathomably) to encourage breast cancer awareness by cryptically declaring you were, say, 22 weeks and craving fudge. Not surprisingly the meme was reviled by many in the infertility community; we were not only baffled by the meme’s complete failure to incite breast cancer awareness, but also hurt that it did so while subjecting us to dozens of “vague pregnancy announcements” that we may or may not have realized were disingenuous. Somehow people not of this community ended up reading the posts and a few reacted very negatively.

The general attitude of the negative commenters was, “you bitter infertiles need to get over yourselves and stop ruining everyone’s fun.” Some were so wretchedly hurtful as to declare the poster infertile because of her negative attitude and, on top of that, unfit to be a parent.

Now I realize these are very extreme cases of the truly awful coming out in people, and while, as Mel discussed so eloquently in her last post, the anonymity of the internet seems to promote (provoke?) that kind of behavior in some, one could argue that this distilled vitriole in the face of other’s suffering is representative of the way most people feel, at least to some degree. I would venture to guess that the majority of people would rather other people’s suffering not sully their day. Most people would appreciate us keeping it under wraps.

Of course those of us in the IF/loss community know this more poignantly that most. Why else would we band together so fiercely through our blogs and other social media? We know that no one else wants to hear about our pain, our heartache is rarely met with empathy or compassion. We have been disappointed again and again when close friends and even family ignore our loss. We have been asked, repeatedly, to keep our sadness to ourselves, to put on a brave face, to suck it up, to get a life.

Big girls don’t cry, after all.

That’s really it, isn’t it? Big girls don’t cry. Not only are we expected not to cry, not only is it assumed we will bury our feelings so deep that they might never flash across our faces, but it is also presumed that we will conjure elation and joy for those around us, no matter how false and forced it might feel.

What is it about our society that we expect others to share in our joy but not our miseries? Why do we require a one way street of shared emotion? Why is “fine” the only acceptable answer to “how are you doing?”  Why even ask that question at all? It’s as if we think tragedy and sadness are catching. It’s as if we worry we might infect others with our greif, or more terrifyingly, be infected by the suffering of others.

Our culture has created complex and dependable systems to side step the discomfort of others. We have euphemisms to avoid the words and cards and flowers to deflect the eyes. We expect people who have suffered even the most unspeakable losses to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get on with their lives. Evidently grief has an expiration date and tear are simply not tolerated.

So what do I tell my daughter when she asks me if big girls cry? How do I explain to her that they probably don’t but they should? How do I respect the intense emotions she feels in her toddlerhood while helping her gain control over those emotions? How can I be supportive but not overindulgent? So many fine lines to walk. So many opportunities to misstep. I only hope I can guide her in the right direction, towards a place where she doesn’t feel shame when she sheds a tear, or twenty.

Mindful Mondays: Acceptance of Suffering

I’m back! Back from my trip and back to my blog. I didn’t have much time to write while I was away, so the past week was photographically recorded. I hope you enjoyed the little moments from my family Christmas. Now I’m back and while I’m not at work yet (yay!) I do want to return to my “Paint by Weekdays” and I’m going to start with a Mindful Mondays.

Buddha taught that life is suffering. He also taught why that was, but today I want to focus on the first piece, the simple declaration of what is true. Life is suffering. I’ve written in countless posts about how I can’t understand the suffering in the world and that other people’s suffering causes me pain. Reading IF and pregnancy loss blogs fills me with incredible sadness and I frequently become wrapped up in the unfairness of life.

Now that I have a daughter I’m acutely aware of how much I have to lose. The thought of living life without my daughter inspires a physical and emotion devastation that I cannot fathom and surely would not survive. I could spend my entire life worrying that my daughter might fall ill, be kidnapped, injure herself, or be afflicted by some other horror. I could easily torture myself with the “what ifs” and the “what thens”.

I could also try to make sense of the pain and suffering of all those around me, of the women who have lost children, of the children who have lost parents, of the people who have lost loved ones, of all the countless losses shouldered by people around the world.

But none of that would get my anywhere, because life is full of suffering and no pondering that suffering makes it go away.

I think, for the first time, I’m realizing that.

How can I just realize something I’ve written about countless times?

I suppose it’s not that I’m just realizing that life if full of suffering, but that I’m accepting the suffering without judgement.

In the past I’ve faced the suffering of life kicking and screaming, hurling recriminations and bellowing that it’s not fair.

And while it remains unfair, the suffering in life has to be accepted.

For some reason today I can accept that life is full of suffering without it causing me to suffer. I can just accept it for what it is.

And while the idea of losing my daughter still paralyzes me in ways I cannot articulate, I feel acceptance that it is a possibility. Not resignation, but acceptance. Of course I’d still try to move heaven and Earth to save my little girl from any harm, but the uncertainty of her wellbeing no longer holds me hostage.

I don’t know what has brought about this acceptance. I don’t know if I’ll be able to embrace it tomorrow or the next day. I do know that it brings with it a peace that I cherish and want to nourish.

I have let life lead me away from my practices of mindfulness, acceptance and loving kindness. One of my goals in the new year will be to reincorporate them into my daily life. I intend to write many more Mindful Monday posts in the months to come.

Until then, I accept the suffering of this world. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel the pain of others and their losses, but it does mean I no longer writhe against them.

Thoughtful Thursdays: Thankful

Again, I’m sorry to post so late. Isa had a difficult day today, she seemed at least partially upset pretty much all day. I’m not sure what was going on, but she was not a very happy baby and would only nap (and do anything else for that matter) whilst next to me. As you can probably imagine, it’s difficult to type with a fidgety baby on your lap.

But enough of that. On to the proper post…

I’ve been thinking about writing a post on loss for a little while now. I read some baby loss blogs and in the past two weeks news of infant loss has reached me from a few different places in the blog-o-sphere. These two stories, one of a 4.5 month old boy dying of SIDS and one of a 6 month old girl dying of medical complications, left me feeling exquisite despair. I read the posts of these mothers and just wept uncontrollably. I thought breathlessly, selfishly, “What if that happens to me? What if I lose Isa?” But after the initial shock passed all I could do was feel immense grief for these families. I can’t wrap my head around that kind of loss and I’m sure they are struggling with it as well. While many people turn to faith in a higher being to bring them comfort, I do not have that. I try to turn to Buddhism’s many teachings on attachment and suffering but it does little to console me (just as I’m sure a faith in God doesn’t initially ease the sting).

What has helped me is my daughter. My daughter’s presence has been such a comfort to me in these past weeks. Not only have I checked on her more while she’s sleeping, but I’ve also basked in her presence more when she’s awake. I’ve gazed longer into her eyes. I’ve cuddled her longer in the glider. I’ve kissed her forehead more while she’s breastfeeding and rolled her tiny hand into mine with greater frequency throughout the day. I’ve closed my eyes to take in the smell of her hair and skin stopped to listen to her gentle coos or forceful vocalizations. Basically I’ve just been more aware of her and how amazing she is and how fiercely I love her.

And as I’ve wondered what we should do to help Isa sleep longer, in the back of my mind I’ve known that it really doesn’t matter, as long as she’s happy and healthy and here with us each and every day.

I don’t know why some people lose their babies. I do know I feel enormous guilt sometimes, that I haven’t lost mine. I do know I feel pain for them. I do know I feel sorrow. And of course, I cannot know that Isa will be alright, that she will grow up to have her own family someday and then die contentedly of old age. I can’t know that I’ll always be here to share in the life I hope she’ll be lucky enough to lead.

I never knew the babies who were taken from their parents, not in real life. I knew them from pictures and from the stories their parent’s told, but I didn’t know them. And while I can’t remember them or love them the way their parents did, I can honor their memory by living life more fully, by enjoying my daughter more completely and by feeling grateful, each and every day, for what I have.