Tag Archives: child death

You Are Beautiful

You are beautiful. Your fingers so tiny but so long, nails that won’t grow past their tips; your eyes closed, lids almost translucent and covered in sleep that will never be erased; your head, covered in wispy hair that will never be longer or gain color; your entire essence contained in one black and white photograph that I said I would never want. That’s a lie, I know now. I’d take more if I could. I would cling to your weight, dead in my arms, and not return you, not send you to their fridge, to the van, to the crematorium, to a velvet covered red heart, to be scattered by the ex in an unknown location as a means of showing me how little it all meant. How you were just a pawn in it all. 

I am sorry for that. You can’t know. 



This year, as I grow and learn about myself and reach out more and form more, better relationships, I confront a new reality in which you are not and never can be found, a reality in which you wouldn’t have ever existed. Up until now, I have always whispered that I’d rewind it and take it all back, everything to now, to hold you again and have you live, but I realize now that I wouldn’t. It wasn’t fair.

 
It isn’t fair. 

When you died, you gave me a gift–you showed me the world for what it is. I was in a stage of pretend, trying to force rocks and weeds to be unicorns and rainbows when a rock will always be a rock and a weed will always be a weed. You gave me the greatest gift–my freedom–as a catalyst, you allowed me to finally go, to break away. Every year at this time, I picture you as you would be–a big, genuine smile (I’m told mine is fabulous), a head full of hair (brown like mine, I’m sure it’s brown), an avid piano player who has well surpassed me even at seven (because those fingers, god, those long fingers)–but this year, as I confront reality, I picture a different scene. You, me. Dead. Because could we have survived another seven years in a world that constricted and stifled us beyond a point of recognition? I cannot answer that question. You will never be able to answer that question. He took everything from me, and I think he would have eventually taken you too. 

I think he did take you. 



I don’t know where you are now. But I know where I am. In the city, a modestly successful writer with a graduate degree who trains dogs and is trying to reinvent herself. No, not trying. IS reinventing herself. This is a place I would not have been without you, but also a place I never would have been with you. I am grateful in ways you can’t understand, that I can barely understand, for that brief duration of your life. I hope you understand the love behind all of this, behind every statement and every thought I have of you. 

I’m not saying I’m glad you’re gone, but I think it echoes behind the scenes of everything because I think you’d be gone anyway

Your existence is so much more than a brick in the ground in Wisconsin that’s covered in ice the entire season of your life, so much more than a hospital bracelet and a disc of pictures of people I didn’t love because they didn’t love me holding you for longer than I myself could stand to do so, so much more than this land of new people who do not even know your name, who will never know. 

You never would have been here. 



Happy February, my love, my life. You are my life, in more ways than just existing, and I am eternally grateful for what you gave up so that I could be here. Because of you, I know that I am more. More than a wife who cooks and cleans and earns all the money while being nothing more than a title, more than a physical and emotional punching bag, more than a girl in the backseat of a car in a parking lot in a situation that completely lacks of sense and orientation. I’m worth something, and while I may not always recognize or understand that, I am worth something because of you. 

You are beautiful; I am too. 

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Six Years (The Value of Time)

It’s sunny outside today on the streets of New York, the kind of light so warm it has its own unnamed color. It’s sunny, and you will never see it. I imagine you though, as you would be now, eyes of greenish-gray that stare into me with a wisdom beyond your years; favorite color of blue, the blue of jean overalls like the favorite pair you have that you always refuse to take off; so smart that you skipped from pre-K to first grade because you were just that advanced. You remind me of me, or, rather, I imagine you do. You will never see it, you will never be any of it, and that’s okay—you were meant to do more somewhere else, and I was meant to be here.

I expected your skin when you were born to be like paper, that thin flimsy yet rough texture that cuts you if you touch it wrong; it wasn’t—your skin was like almost like mine with its peach and rosey blood hues, but marred with a translucent quality of never having seen the sun. Hair coated your head in wisps and slight curls, almost brown but not quite, so thin (like mine) that I could see the skin beneath. Everything about you looked normal, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, and it occurred to me that occasionally time just stops us where we are, that we look the same when we die. At least at first. They put you in the fridge to keep you as you were, preserve you, in case I wanted to see you again. I didn’t. I wanted to remember you warm and pink, not cold and blue; I wanted to remember you as alive even though you weren’t.

Growing up, I was always afraid of death and the dead. When I came home from work to find my goldfish Herman floating in a u-shape above the pretty purple castle inside of his glass bowl on top of my television, I called my boyfriend to come and scoop him out for me. When my grandma’s dog Max died, I had to cover it in three different blankets so that I wouldn’t feel the body as I helped her put it in the car to take it to be cremated. I couldn’t touch them or be involved with any of it, because I couldn’t accept that they were dead. You were different though, your tiny body still somewhat warm from being inside of me, stiff from being dead for many hours, at least 22, but as many as 30—we would never know exactly. I felt like I was floating above you, like it wasn’t real, and I tried to grasp every detail: the way your fists were clenched and how hard it was for me to wrap your dead fingers around mine, fingers just long enough for playing an instrument, the way your head listed just slightly towards my chest in a way that made you seem alive. It didn’t seem right that you could be there, that you could whole and still be dead. It didn’t seem right at all. The only detail that I can’t recall, six years later, were the color of your eyes. I will never know this about you. It seems important, somehow, like a fact that I should know, and it kills me that I don’t. A mother should know what color her son’s eyes are. Were. Holding you gave new meaning to the word dead weight; your four pounds in my arms felt like the world and the air at the same time, like you were everything and nothing and here and gone, because you were—here, and gone. It is the gone that we don’t expect, that we don’t take pause to consider.

I’ve begun to forget your face. It’s harder every day to remember what you looked like, and so I write it down; I never head your voice, your laugh, and I never will, but I can commit what I saw to memory when it’s on the page. You were burned, your remains put into a little red satin box the shape of a heart that fit into my palm, and you were later scattered somewhere unknown to me. Your things are gone; you are gone; I have no part of you left, nothing physical to hold, to see. I have no proof of your existence, only memories of what I’ve lost, of what I’ve learned.

What I learned from you was the value of time. There is never enough. If I want something, I need to go for it. Get it. Take it. If I want to be the top, I need to rise to it. If I want to climb the mountain, I need to climb it. There is no time. There is never enough time. My roommate has a beautiful clock tattooed from her hip up through her ribs, with hands that spin and extend and get lost as they turn; I imagine that time is like that, that we spin and extend and get lost. Because of you though, with your beautiful piano fingers and your chubby little legs, I am not lost. I will not lose.

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On Being a Mother (2015 Version)

It’s February 26th. And, as I do every year around this time, I am struggling with the definition of motherhood and being a mother.

This year, I’m thinking deeply about what I gave up to be where I am, in graduate school, earning a master’s degree. One discussion on the subject has always stuck with me. I was sitting in my psychology professor’s office, discussing the requirements for getting a graduate degree in psychology. Her background and extended time at the university made her an expert in my eyes. As we sat, she rattled of a lot of statistics—a doctorate in psychology would take me up to eight years. I could get a master’s, but there weren’t many jobs available without the doctorate. She also told me that many people struggle to have or start a family in graduate school because of the demands on their time and person; she knew that I had lost my child, and that the idea of having another was always lurking in some part of my mind. She only brought it up because she cared, because she wanted me to make the best choice for me and my future. But it still hurt to hear it: “If you want to get an advanced degree, and I believe you could, then you need to make peace with the fact that it’s possible you will never have another child.”

I remember sitting on the rolling chair in my professor’s office that day, pushing the chair back and forth with my feet, and wondering what was really the most important to me—did I want to further my education? Or did I want to be a mother? Did I really have to choose? Yes. Yes I did. The world says the women can have everything, but, in reality, it’s really, really hard to have it all. There can’t be one victory without the giving up of another.

People keep asking me what I want to do with my life after graduate school. Here’s the answer: I want to write, and I want to teach. (Though the teaching dream may be in limbo at the moment, but that’s for another post). I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to now; I’m working on getting as many publications as I can under my belt and trying to gain teaching experience so that I can be hired as a professor. The more I publish, (provided I can get experience), the more hirable I become. I can establish myself as a possessor of knowledge, but it’s gonna take time. Time that I don’t have in the grand scheme of child bearing. I watch the people I know, the woman, and when they have children versus when they have solid jobs (aka, I have observed and researched the tenure process). Many women wait to have kids until they have tenure; there’s a whole stigma that women with families are somehow “less than” men. I’m not aiming for a tenure position; if I write enough, I won’t need one. (Apparently I COULD get one if I was published highly enough. Again, that’s another blog). But I still worry about the stereotype, should I try to have kids. I worry that I see that situation only growing worse and worse as time goes on. I worry that I am growing into a world where the whole idea of having a family is lost; I worry that I have already made that choice.

I turn 31 this year. I’ll finish my master’s when I’m 32. (Provided it doesn’t kill me first). Then I’m out in the world, maybe teaching, maybe not. Maybe solid, maybe not. Probably not. It’ll take time to find a stable living out there in the world, and I’m not going to have a baby unless I can provide for it. So my career is a strike against my future child. And here’s the other thing about babies—you can’t make ‘em solo. And I’m just not interested in a relationship with a male. Strike two.

Okay, so, I know that there are other ways to have babies besides the whole sex thing. But those ways take time too. By my estimation, I’ll be in my late 30’s before I even have the opportunity to have children. A good friend pointed out to me this week that she’s in that age bracket and having kids. But for me, in my head, it all goes back to that being established thing. I’m scrambling now to pull it off as much as I can before I graduate, but thesis time is fast approaching, and then there will be no time for anything else.

THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME.

And with that argument, which is, albeit, flawed in many ways, I face the fact that I might never have another child. I might not be a mother. Which brings me back to “What is the definition of a mother?” I looked it up. Here are some highlights:

1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth

2. a woman in authority, or, the superior of a religious community of women

3. bring up (a child) with care and affection

4. give birth to

5. a female parent

6. something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind especially in terms of scale

The next question is, where do I fit into that?

1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth

That’s me. Or rather, that was me. It’s a weird gray area that’s not current, but that’s current at the same time.

2. a woman in authority, or, the superior of a religious community of women

This is definitely not me.

3. bring up (a child) with care and affection

This isn’t me either.

4. give birth to

This, yes. This was me. 22 hours of labor earns me the right to claim this one.

5. a female parent

Again, this one’s a weird gray area.

6. something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind especially in terms of scale

I like to think I’m extreme, I guess. But I’m not. I’m not “the mother of all—“ anything.

Really, the only thing here that solidly applies to me is giving birth. But lots of women do that, and they aren’t all great. Or, they are, but they don’t keep their baby for whatever reason. I feel like, on that basis, I have to disagree that to give birth makes a mother.

4. give birth to

This means that I fit nowhere in the definition of being a mother. My situation is just so … gray.

And so ends my yearly reflection on being a mother. I don’t fit into the mother box; I sit outside of it, balancing on its flap and looking inside to the place where I may never go. I wanted to write; I probably left the dream of being a mother, of having another baby, behind when I chose the dream of writing. I let the door to motherhood shut on me when I turned 30, and I don’t know how to reopen it. I don’t know if it CAN be reopened. I had a chance, and I lost it. I wanted to write, and I went after it. And sometimes, I can’t help the idea that I have forever left myself in the gray. That my son is gone, and that I won’t have another. 

Happy February.

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Vaccines and Responsibility

When I was pregnant, I didn’t have a lot of friends, especially friends that were my age. As a result, I didn’t know many people to talk to about being pregnant. I resorted to the internet to answer a great many questions, and the people I knew at church to answer others. When I went to my 20 week OB appointment, my doctor asked if I had gotten my flu shot. More so, he wanted to know about the H1N1 immunization.

“There are a lot of different strains of the flu,” he told me. “But H1N1, or swine flu, as you’ve probably heard it called on tv, is different. Where the flu vaccine may not necessarily target the strain of flu that’s infecting you, the swine flu vaccine knows what it’s looking for and takes care of business. If you don’t have it yet, you should. And if you get, it will save your baby from having to get it when he is born. He will be immunized through you.”

I looked at the husband, and then back at the doctor. “I’d like to think about it. Research a bit first.”

“I understand. But come in as soon as possible if you do decide to get it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

On the drive home, I asked the husband what he thought. His answer was noncommittal, as always. So when I got to church choir rehearsal later that night, I asked around. In particular, I asked the only person I remotely knew on a personal level had had babies. Her response? “Better safe than sorry.” The next day, I called and scheduled an appointment to come in and get vaccinated. I didn’t want my son to die from something as simple to prevent as the swine flu.

I remember lying in my hospital bed at some point while I was in labor. It was late at night. My OB came in in what looked like his pajamas and pulled a chair up to the foot of my bed, twisting it around so he could straddle it backwards.

“Sometimes we don’t know why these things happen,” he began.

“Why what things happen?” I asked.

“Why babies die.”

“He’s not dead. He’s going to come out just fine.”

My response seemed to baffle him. He stammered out his next words. “I…We…We can run some tests, to determine what happened. To get as close to a reason as we can so that when you have your next baby, we are better prepared.”

“There won’t be another baby,” I informed him. “There will be this baby. Because I did everything I could to make sure he would be safe.”

My baby wasn’t safe. He was dead. After twenty plus hours of labor over a very long, sleepless night. And at four o clock in the morning, a nurse appeared. “We need you to make a decision now. About the autopsy.”

The husband was sleeping, so I spoke for both of us. “No. You can’t cut up my child. No.”

So I, at least, never knew for sure what happened to my son.

I went back to church the following weekend. There was a special concert with some special gospel singer whose name I can no longer remember. I stood up in the balcony, watching the other choir members rehearse and debating whether I should join them. My elbows dug into the row of pews in front of me. I wondered whether or not I could fake the songs they were singing, if I knew them well enough. I heard the whispers; I had heard them everywhere.

“Did you see that Sara’s back?”

“Have you talked to her?”

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“I feel so bad for her.”

And then:

“I heard her asking around the choir room about the H1N1 vaccine. I wonder if that’s what did it.”

“I bet it is. You know those vaccines cause autism. And stillbirth. I bet if she wouldn’t have got it, that baby would be alive right now.”

I turned around and walked up the three rows of balcony and out the door to where the two women were standing. I vaguely remembered seeing them in choir, but I couldn’t remember their names. They didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed when they saw me.

“What?” the woman who was farther away said. “It’s true. Vaccines kill children.”

My face flamed red hot with tears I didn’t know how to shed. They didn’t even know me, and I didn’t know them. And yet, the insinuation burned me, deep inside. I didn’t know how my son had died, but he had been in my body. So it made sense that, in some way, I had killed him.

I killed him.

The next morning, the OB’s office called to confirm my post-delivery appointment for both me and my son. “I think I killed him,” I informed the poor woman on the other end of the phone. She was really confused, and I found myself stammering to explain. “I…I mean…He’s dead. He’s…dead.”

The poor unfortunate soul scrambled to erase that appointment and the pediatrician appointment from her computer before I got another phone call.

“Can I ask you a question?”

I could hear her frantically typing in the background. “Yes, of course.”

“Could a vaccine kill a baby?”

“You should ask your doctor that question when you come in. You need to schedule a follow up, yes?”

And so, I asked my doctor. “No, no,” he assured me. “Of course not.”

It occurred to me, as I left his office, that he had given me the vaccine and therefore might be slightly biased. So I turned to the internet. There were studies for vaccines causing everything. Autism. Blindness. You could find a study that showed children who had been vaccinated with any number of diseases. I pored over so many things that it seemed like I could almost say vaccines caused alien abductions; that was how ridiculous the information all was. There was correlation, sure. You can find correlation in anything if you looked hard enough and jam enough pieces together. But no one could prove causation for anything except vaccines helping to prevent disease. Things happened. But vaccines didn’t necessarily cause them.

It bothers me now, to think about that moment. And the ones that followed. An overheard whisper. An article somebody sent to me with the attached message, “This might help you find answers.” The title of the article? ‘When Vaccinations Kill.’

Was everybody talking about me?

The vaccine debate is a hot one as of late. With the measles fast infringing on the Chicagoland, parents are scared. And they should be. Many people choose not to vaccinate their children, for whatever reason. The point is, everyone is entitled to have their opinion. But not at the expense of other people’s safety. And not at the expense of their emotional well being. So share your opinion. But share it only when it’s appropriate to do so. And share it nicely, respectfully. Peacefully. Being mean spirited gets no one heard, and gets the debate nowhere. Nasty comments on any side of an argument just shut everything down. Do your research.

Personally, I think y’all should protect your children, and protect the children (and others) around you who cannot protect themselves. Vaccines are a simple, easy solution to horrible, painful diseases that not all children are equipped to handle on their own. Getting your child vaccinated prevents them from getting the disease, and can possibly prevent any immunocompromised people they may come into contact with from getting it as well. You never know the struggles of the people around you. You’re free to make that choice if you feel it protects your child, just as other parents are free to vaccinate to protect their child. However, if you do choose not to vaccinate and your child has symptoms, keep them home. Be responsible. Keep everyone safe. Let us all look to Disneyland as the case and point on that one. 

If you choose not to vaccinate, if you support the other side of the debate, then share your opinion nicely–and remember that you too have a responsibility. And don’t you dare tell me that my choice to receive a vaccination killed my son. Because I have done my research, and that is a line I will never, ever, buy.

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Forgetting (Never One)

The bathroom floor was littered in black dirt, the kind of dirt that held on forever despite the best bleach scrub. The walls were streaked in mildew and other substances that couldn’t be defined. Numerous customers and homeless people and god knows who had sat in this very spot, in this very bathroom. How many of them cried? My tears burned as they slid down my face, as I sobbed my heart out into the knees I held clutched to my chest. I was bigger, fatter. I was back at work. I was childless.

It was April 4th. 37 days after your death. And the first day where you didn’t consume my every thought.

When you first died, I thought about you every day. I started a Live Journal and blogged about you to the world. Day one. Day two. Day three. Day four. An entry for every day after you were gone. The most blissful moment of the day was when I first woke up, the moment when I pictured you sleeping in your crib in the other room. It was every morning, for a while. And every morning I would lie in bed and suddenly remember, the crush of the blankets too heavy against my skin, and the weight of my tears too much to carry. Every morning. From waking up, you consumed every moment. 

I planned your funeral. Who to invite. What to put you in. I ordered a box to keep your things in. I sat on our giant brown sectional couch and I watched movies. One was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I thought that you might like it, before I remembered that you would never see it. You would never watch a movie. I couldn’t focus on the screen then. My gaze drifted into the den, the place where we had assembled all of your things. Where the crib had sat, fully assembled, ready for you. Your things were gone, not there anymore. I pictured them in a dark, lonely storage place, behind a padlocked door. Cold. Lost.

I wondered where you were.

I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed about you. It was your first day of preschool. I came at the end of the day to pick you up and found you fingerpainting. You held your hands up to me with the biggest grin on your face; one was blue and the other green. The once white paper in front of you was covered in a mash of multicolored handprints, the colors blurring in many places to brown. A stranger would have found it ugly, but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. We drove home, you in the back in your carseat and me singing along to Muppets songs playing from the stereo. I laid the painting carefully on the passenger seat, and when we got home, you made me put it on the fridge. You wouldn’t eat your dinner till I did.

I woke up the next day, and the first thing I did was jump up and go to the nursery to check on you. Only it wasn’t a nursery. It was an office. And I didn’t have to check on you, because you weren’t there. You never would be. I thought about you all the time—what you would have grown up to look like, who you would have been, what you would have done.

On April 4th, I went back to work. I took the full six weeks of leave to which I was entitled, even though you were gone. I went back, and found a shoebox on my desk in the cash office. It was filled with all of my favorite snacks, a gift from my employees to help me get through the week. I sat in my chair, the chair I hadn’t occupied since the end of February, and I unwrapped one of the chocolate I found in the box. I crinkled the foil and threw it in the trash as I popped the candy into my mouth, savoring the taste of the melting truffle on my tongue. It was delicious; it was glorious; it was—

I blinked. Swallowed. You were dead. You were dead and I was sitting in an office chair behind a desk eating a chocolate candy as if you had never been there. There were no pictures of you to hang with the other manager’s children. No evidence of you other than my physical size and my six week absence. For that moment, as I ate that chocolate truffle, I forgot about you. I forgot that you were dead; I forgot that you were never coming back. I forgot.

How could I do that, forget? How could I move on, how could I never visit the storage unit where your things were, unpack them, love them like I should have been loving you? How could I go to work and move on and have a life and eat a chocolate and … forget?

Forgetting is a regular thing now. When I look at the skyline, I don’t always picture you with me in the city. When I watch a movie with a baby, or I see my friends with babies, I don’t always think of you. Sometimes I do. But sometimes I don’t. I’ve honestly lost track of the time that I don’t think of you. And I’m sorry. For that. For forgetting. And I’m sorry that I’m sorry.

I like to think that you’re somewhere fingerpainting, that your hands grew big enough to do it successfully, and that when you make a painting someone hangs it up on a “wall” somewhere. And someday I will see that wall of all the things you’ve done and be proud of you like I hope you’re proud of me right now.

You were my chance to have a child. I will always ‘have’ you, yet never have you. I will have a child, but never have one, I will say that yes, I was pregnant once. But I will never check the box for my offspring on surveys and online forms and background checks and tax forms. The total will always be zero, never one. You will never be one. And that, I won’t forget.

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Sometimes (In February)

I had the messiest car ever—had for years. It started with my longer commute to the gas station. I would eat food in the morning and deposit the wrappers in the backseat. And I started traveling more for work, additional things appeared. An extra coat. Random shoes. Pants. Shirts. Books. The runner’s badges from a couple walk/runs. For all I knew, there was something alive back there. The pile was so high that it surpassed the center console in height and threatened to spill over into the front. It got to the point where it was just too overwhelming to even consider cleaning. Of course, this meant that when it was time to install a carseat before our baby was born, there was quite a bit of work to be done. I didn’t dare ask the husband to help me. It was my fault, my mess. My obvious fact that I was happier in my car than my apartment.

The husband never rode in my car. I didn’t want him to. The car was mine. But I was more than happy to share it with our son; I just had to clean it first.

I waited as long as I could to tackle the project, ignoring the insistence of the husband, and picked the first semi-warm day in January to camp out in my garage and do what needed to be done. I picked my way, eight months pregnant, through a lot of disgusting items. Many times during the ordeal, I found myself wandering away. Out of the garage, down the block, getting air. I wasn’t sure how I had driven for so long with the car in that condition; I suddenly understood my need to drive with the windows down. At least five bags of trash made their way to the dumpster, with several more bags awaiting a travel destination of either Goodwill or the apartment. Exhausted, I never bothered to clean out the trunk.

When we found out our son had died, this cleansing was a moment I kept coming back to in my mind. That (then) sadly hopeful day, getting ready for a baby. The way I sang as I cleared the trash away, the way I assumed that he would just be there. That he would grow, grow up, grow out of the carseat. Sit in the front with me after he turned twelve. Start driving at fifteen and a half.  The carseat base I had worked so hard to give a clean surface to never actually made it into the car. Nor did the baby. He never rode in the carseat; he never outgrew it. He never sat in the back, or the front. He will never drive. I cleaned my car for him to never ride inside it. Lying in my hospital bed, I pictured that car, in the parking garage, with a clean and empty backseat that my son would only ever see from the inside of a box. I learned then to never assume. To never make plans.

Sometimes, when I see people with children, I get jealous. Not a mean jealous, not angry. Just jealous. I accept what I gave up to get a master’s degree. People tell me all the time, “You never know.” But I do. Know. And it’s okay. I will live vicariously through my friends. Wishing. Dreaming. It is hard not to have a child. Harder still this time of year.

Sometimes, I imagine what my life would be like if my son were here. Sometimes, in February, I like to pretend he’s still around. That he’s just away, at school. Kindergarten this year. That he’s in a big boy carseat, that I sold the newborn one a long time ago. That he will come home with stick figure drawings and graham cracker crumbs stuck to his shirt. Only I didn’t sell the carseat, it’s still in a storage vault somewhere that I have no access to. And my son is not away at school; he’s not in kindergarten; he’s not bringing me anything home. He’s dead. But sometimes, in February, I like to forget that fact. Just for a little while. 

My backseat is empty, and it always will be.

Carter feet

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Childless

I could see a McDonald’s down the street as we sat at the red light.  “I want a chocolate milkshake.  Can we stop?”

The husband’s hands tightened on the wheel.  “Why?”

Because I want a milkshake?  Because I worked ten hours today?  Because I’m seven months pregnant?  Because…because?  Rather than say anything, I shrugged.  

“We’re going to eat at the party.  You can’t wait?”

I shook my head.

He sighed deeply and turned into the McDonald’s drive thru.  I could tell he wasn’t happy.  As if his body language was not enough, he practically threw the milkshake at me when the cashier handed it to him.

I wondered how he would treat our son when he asked for things.  I wondered if he would be different.  Kinder.

It was New Year’s Eve.  Our last year childless.  We wished at midnight for good things, for ourselves, for our son.  For good health.  At least I did.  I don’t know what the husband wished for.  I never asked.

*

Our first year childless.

I ordered a white box online; I thought it big enough for all his things.  The website promised the box would come in just two days time—plenty of time before the funeral.   I had it engraved with his name and the day he died.  Saying his birthday felt weird to me then, though it’s something I do now to make others feel comfortable.  But then, it was the day he died.

I suppose I can say it’s both.  

Sitting in the waiting room of the OB the week after, I was surrounded by a bunch of expectant moms and their husbands and I wanted to stab myself in the eye.  I had dreaded the moment I’d have to come back here, tried to come up with ways to get out of it.  But it was necessary, I’d been told.  To care for myself, after.  The receptionist had called me two days prior:  “I notice you have an after care appointment scheduled.  Would you like to cancel your 39 week appointment then?”   

“Yes.  Yes I would.”

“How’s the little one?”

I wondered why she’d even ask that.  Though I suppose it’s a natural response.  But I still sat quietly in the waiting room that day.  I stared at my lap, my hands folded and my thumbs tapping against each other.  I didn’t want anyone to ask.  I didn’t want to have to answer, to say the same thing I’d said that day on the phone.

“He’s dead.”

I didn’t wish hard enough.

*

Childless is a weird term.  To have no children.  To be without a child.  To have never had children.  To have once had children but not anymore.  It can be used in so many different ways.   There are many things a person can wish for, but this isn’t one of them.

When you fill out forms and they ask if you have children, there is only yes or no.  There’s no line that says “I had a child who died.”  No line to acknowledge a life that is gone.  And when that happens and you have no other children, you are childless.  For a long time, I left that line blank on forms.  At the doctor.  At work.  Taxes.  I never figured out how to say “I had a child and now he’s dead.”  I still haven’t.  I wish I could.

I never will.

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Broken

(Link to Refrigeration-previous piece chronologically)

Building a crib is hard.  Especially when it doesn’t come with instructions.  The cat crawls underneath the bottom piece and presses his face up against the springs.  I swear that he’s laughing.  If cats can laugh, that is.  And I believe that they can, and do.

The husband sits on the floor, various crib side pieces strewn about.  He ponders what goes where, and I shrug.  He tries one piece, and then another.  He tosses them aside on the floor.  “We need a new mattress for this.”

I look at the mattress and nod in agreement; it has minor stains in a few places and has obviously been well loved.  This is something I can do.  I pull out my laptop and look up crib mattresses, trying to figure out which one will be the best.  There are many choices.  It’s hard to choose.

This is all hard.

Getting ready for a baby is hard.

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We are sitting in the parking lot at Walgreens, and I do not want to get out of the car.  It’s not that I’m incapable.  It’s just that I simply do not want to move.  But I need things.  My mother in law comes around and opens my door in an attempt to inspire me to get out.  I wonder offhandedly why the husband is not here.  Why he did not drive me home.  And I don’t get it.  It’s all too hard to think about.  Life is too hard.

We are in my car.  It has taken me the entire drive to realize this.  I look in the rearview mirror and see the carseat base.  Nobody thought to take it out.  A simple little thing everyone forgot, but huge.  No carseat would ever attach to it.  No baby would ever ride back there.  I fight the urge to rip it out and throw it into the snow, run it over until it is shattered and broken.

Dead.

I get out, the maternity pants I’m wearing slipping down around my hips; they’re too big now.  Nothing will fit me; I haven’t been home yet, but I know this.  My feet sink into the slush around the car.  I hate winter.  It seems so awful that the world is still moving, that it has snowed and melted, that Earth is completing these cycles and he is gone.

He is gone.

I follow my mother in law blindly through Walgreens and I throw things into the cart I am using to hold myself up.  Giant bottle of ibuprofen.  Yes.  I hurt everywhere, in every inch of my being.  Extremely tight sports bra.  Check.  Feminine products.  Check.  Caffeine.  Check.  I may never sleep again.  I will need caffeine.

We go up to the register to pay and the clerk flips my credit card over and asks to see my identification.  She looks from the identification to me and back again, and I imagine how horrid I must look for one fleeting second before I realize I don’t give a shit.  It doesn’t even matter.  Not without him.  The clerk asks me my birthday, but I can’t remember it.  My mother in law says something and steers me away with my things.  Back to the car.  I dimly think that I must still be in shock, and I wonder why I didn’t stay longer in the hospital.  Why?  Because it’s expensive.  That’s why.  And it won’t help.

He is gone.

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The husband has gotten two out of four rails properly fastened to the crib.  I am holding the third in place as he attaches it with a screwdriver.

“A few drop rail cribs have been recalled lately.  But this one’s not one of them; I checked.”  When he nods, I let go of the piece I’m holding and hand him the last side.

As he screws it in, he asks, “Why were they recalled?”

“Babies get caught in the drop rail.  A few have died.”  I shudder.  Our baby dying isn’t something I want to think about.

“But not this one?”

I shake my head.

He puts down his screwdriver and shakes the last piece slightly, making sure everything stays together.  “That’s good.  We wouldn’t want to kill our baby and all.”

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The husband is leaning on the breakfast bar when I get home, talking to his father.  And eating pizza.  He didn’t drive me home because he was eating pizza?  I don’t understand this.  I don’t understand anything.  And I don’t want pizza.

I didn’t think it would be this way.  I pictured coming home to be happy.  Tiring, but happy.  Just like I had pictured the delivery ward differently.  No one expects their baby to die.  I certainly hadn’t.  I hadn’t seen this coming.  And suddenly I was back in my life as it had been pre-pregnancy, just expected to move forward.

It hurts to walk.  I move nowhere, let alone forward.  I can’t believe life is expected to go on.  I will not go on.

He is gone.

I sit on the couch.  People visit us in seemingly random spurts, but I don’t remember who they are or when they come.  I remember random details.

A single yellow rose in brown paper.  I think it goes in a vase.

A handful of brownie batches still warm in their pans.  They go to the fridge.

An empty cardboard box.  Something had been inside it.  The cat takes it over.

I do not notice these new things.  I only notice the lack.  When people are gone and everything is quiet, we rent a movie on demand.  “Land of the Lost,” the new version.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, but I am not watching.  I am staring into the side room, the room where the crib and all the things had been.  The things that aren’t there.  The crib that is gone, broken, somewhere else.

He is dead, broken, somewhere else.  Not here.  The lack can never be made up for; the hole can never be filled.

He is gone.

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We put the finished crib into the side room.  One cat climbs inside to investigate while the other sit beneath and sniffs at the legs.

“We can’t let the baby sleep out here,” I say.  “When will we switch this area with the office?”

The husband shrugs.  “After the shower?  Maybe we could do it then.  Get some people over.  Put them to work.  Feed them pizza.”

I imagined how the nursery would look when it was all finished.  How it would evolve as our son aged.  How we could take out the drop rail; how he would become a big boy in a big bed.  How it would be broken down when he was a toddler, put in to storage.

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The room was never used.  His things were never used.  They never will be.

Somewhere in existence, there is a storage shed that is filled with baby things.  Bouncer, car seat, crib, clothes, toys.  Everything disassembled, broken.  I don’t know where these things are; I gave up everything in the divorce.  But I wouldn’t want them anyway.

They’re broken down.  Unused.  Unneeded.

He is gone.

Things can be broken, and broken down.

People can be broken too.  He was broken.

He is gone.

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The Blank (On Power)

We all have our blanks in life.  If I had done ________, ________ wouldn’t have happened.  ________ is the reason for everything.  Today I had a very interesting discussion regarding this phenomena.  My example:  If my son wouldn’t have died, my marriage wouldn’t have either; I don’t know why he died and therefore all of these events must be my fault.

I was told that this statement is, in a way, dishonoring his memory.  Rather than remembering him for the baby he was, I am choosing to place blame on him for something that was in no way his fault.  It is easier to do this than to place the blame where it really lies.   I can logicize (yes, I created that word) the dissolution of my marriage in its entirety:  I carried Carter; Carter died; there were no more children; the essence of our marriage became filled with anger and bitterness; the marriage dissolved.  It started with my son; it ended with me leaving.  Regardless of the events in between, I can trace a clear path of fault back to myself.  I’m not saying that this is rational or correct.  I’m simply saying that I can see how others, my ex specifically, could have arrived at this conclusion and used it to justify their actions.  I don’t know that I truly believe this statement.  I do believe that I just plain don’t have any other rational off which to form a basis for opinion.  If I stray away from this idea, I begin to see things for what they really were.  Would my marriage have been any better had Carter lived?  Probably not.  Was it good before his death?  Not particularly.

Where does the fault lie?  Is it with anyone in particular?  Or was this dissolution a community effort?  Power in a relationship is supposed to go both ways, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.

This comes back to Michel Foucault’s four main tenets regarding power:  it is exercised from many different points, it’s repressive but also productive, it can come from the top down as well as the bottom up, and where power is found there is always resistance.  In class, the example that we used was that the professor has power because it is given to them; as students we know that the professor is responsible for our grades, and therefore we put power on them.  However, we can choose what we do with that knowledge and how much power we give by choosing whether or not to show up to class and working hard to earn said grades.  While the professor has the power to give grades, as students we have the power to earn them.  In the essay “The Subject and Power,” Foucault states that “Power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free.  By this we mean individual or collective subjects who are faced with a field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions and diverse comportments, may be realized.  Where the determining factors saturate the whole, there is no relationship of power; slavery is not a power relationship when man is in chains.”  When you tie a person down, or tie them into a relationship, it is a display of power.  It is not, however, true power.  Holding one down in an effort to force your will upon them is not power at all; it is trying to make up for a lack.  When person completely takes over another, it only illustrates that they have no real power themselves.  Once the chains are gone, the slave is free to leave; it is their choice then as to whether or not they choose to go.

I don’t believe my former relationship could have been considered a “free” relationship.  I allowed him to make a lot of the decisions.  I followed, I was obedient, and I served.  I allowed his factors, his needs, to overshadow mine a large portion of the time.  This was a decision I made because I knew no better.  At the time, I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do.  I didn’t see another way.  I gave him power, and while I had the power to leave I chose not to take it.  Until one day, I did.  It had nothing to do with Carter at all, but rather it was a decision that I made because I had to for my own sanity.  Where he had tried to force power upon me and failed, I displayed legitimate power in leaving.  A marriage is supposed to be a relationship of equality, of both give and take; it shouldn’t be about one partner forcing the others’ hand.

All this to say, the human mind does not like to deal with blanks.  We do the best we can to fill them in, regardless of the consequences mentally.  The unknown is scary; we find ourselves in need of answers.  But maybe those answers don’t always exist.   I can’t place the blame for the destruction of that which was already sour on the shoulders of a child who did nothing to deserve it.  The blame rests in the fact that I had power I chose not to exercise, in the fact that I allowed the illusion of power to fool me.

The blame rests in the fact that that illusion even existed in the first place.

Perhaps a blank just means that some things are meant to end.

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