Tag Archives: child loss

Then Again, Maybe I Won’t

We were sitting by the pool, draped on a set of decrepit matching white beach chairs—me, B, B’s mother, B’s sister. I was covered in a towel so no one would see my pathetic body in my bathing suit. It was June; the baby had died the end of February. I hadn’t felt much like exercising, and I wasn’t ready to be in a bathing suit, or, rather, I wasn’t ready to see myself and be seen. 

“Have you thought about it?” B’s mother asked. “Having another?”

She said it so nonchalantly, like it was nothing to her when it was everything to me. I couldn’t replace my son just like that, couldn’t snap my fingers and create another, a baby to take his place. Couldn’t? Or wouldn’t? 

B’s sister slipped away, into the pool, completely removing herself from the conversation.

When I didn’t answer, B did it for me, “We didn’t go back on birth control, so if it happens, it happens.”

I thought of them in my purse, the birth control pills I’d refilled but not told him about, the tiny round dots in their little plastic slots; I thought of the endless times I’d said I was on my period over the prior months rather than submit myself to the process of baby creation, baby replacing. I thought of the doctor, and how he said we had to wait six weeks before we could try again, and how we did wait those six weeks, and how we did try again, and again, even when I didn’t want to, even when I said no. 

B’s sister was pregnant, due in the middle of the summer. She was in the pool no problem, paddling slowly back and forth completely unashamed of her round body. She would have the first child of the family, not me. 

Not me. It was like my son had never existed. Everyone was moving on. 

The thought of what I didn’t have, the hole left by my unmentioned dead son, made me brazen in my speech in a way inappropriate for my gender. “We did.” I never talked back. I knew better.

“We did?” B’s brow furrowed.

“Go back on birth control.”

That’s a marriage, isn’t it? Telling each other the difficult things? We were supposed to tell each other the difficult things. 

B’s mother produced pamphlets from her pool bag and started dropping them onto my lap one by one. How to Know When to Have Another Baby. A Women’s Place in the Home. Raising Your Family After Grief. Yadda yadda yadda. I opened none of them, but I saw all of them. “It’s your job to raise a family,” she told me. “Your job to be a mother. You can’t just turn away from that. It’s God’s plan that your son died, and it’s God plan that you have another.” 

I fumbled the keys to our condo out from under my chair and stood up, the towel firmly pressed around my middle. “If it’s God plan that my son is dead, that is not a God I want. I don’t believe God would want me to replace him.” 

B said nothing; he did not speak up for me, but instead chose to follow his mother into the pool to splash around with his sister while I fumbled back to our condo as the sun passed over. He said nothing all afternoon, went to dinner with his parents where I was not invited, and then came home and said nothing all night. But he stood behind me in the bathroom, me at the sink, him with his arms around me and his hands as fists against the counter, while I poked the pills out of the package one by one and let them find their way down the open hole of the drain. Each disappearance another black strike of dishonor to my son. 

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The Difficult Miracle of Being Human

She knew she was pregnant before the stick said she was pregnant. It wasn’t fetal movement or anything like that, because no baby moves that early. It was more of a feeling, a sense of being together with someone, finally, in a way she had never been together with the husband.

She did not tell the husband. Not right away. She waited until it was “safe,” until there was “less chance to lose it,” and then she peed on a stick to confirm the beautiful thing she already knew so that she could take that stick and tap it against the doorframe of his office while waiting for him to notice her. He turned around, removed his all-encompassing soundman headphones, and flashed her a quick eye roll that he completely intended her to see. “What is it?” 

The husband did not like to be disturbed, but clearly he hadn’t seen the stick. She waved it a little closer, a little closer. Still nothing. The husband moved to turn his chair around. “I’m pregnant,” she blurted, just to get him to stop, pay attention. It wasn’t how she’d planned to tell him.

“Are we ready for that? A baby?” His words were fast, sharp. To the point. He wanted to get back to work. 

“Who’s ever ready for a baby?” The stick hung limply in her hand, unseen. Wasn’t he supposed to want to see it, to celebrate? At least, that’s what she had thought, hoped would happen. She shoved the stick into her pajama pants pocket, because what else was she supposed to do with it? 

“It won’t fix things. With you. Us.”

It was always her that had to change, never him. But she wouldn’t dare say that out loud. “Don’t call the baby an It; the baby can hear you.” 

The husband didn’t respond.

When the husband turned around to go back to work, she went back into the bathroom and cried. She didn’t need him. She had a baby now. Or she would, in several months.

She did what she thought she was supposed to in the months following. She went to the doctor, let him confirm what the stick had already confirmed. She took vitamins. She read websites: What size was the baby today? What was developing? Growing? Changing? Did they have fingernails yet? Or rather, would she feel them if they did? She thought about what weird things; she pictured the baby clawing her insides as they waited impatiently to come out and meet her. 

She wanted to start registering for baby things. She convinced the husband to let her find out the sex so that she could pick better items. It was a boy! She thought the husband would be more excited to have a boy, but the husband didn’t respond. She took the 3D ultrasound picture, with it’s grainy whites and browns, snapped a picture with her own phone, and sent it to everyone she had ever known. She showed the registries to the husband that night while they watched tv, the show on display was meaningless in comparison to the excitement of picking her child’s future. Bottles, pajamas, toys, diapers, a crib, a stroller, she registered for anything and everything that any site told her a baby would need while the husband sat next to her, supposedly helping but really somewhere else. “Winnie the Pooh,” he scoffed at one point, “isn’t that a little young?” 

She had always loved that cuddly yellow bear, and the husband certainly hadn’t helped her pick things out. “What would you rather ask for?”

The husband didn’t respond.

She worked hard, saving money for when the baby came and she would need to take off. The husband stayed home, or worked at the church, or did whatever sound career thing it was he did with his day. She came home after ten, twelve hour days and made him dinner, cleaned. He told her she didn’t do enough, so she threw a potholder at him and called him an asshole.

The husband didn’t respond. 

She pictured life after the birth of their son, and how she wished and hoped it would change, when she really knew that nothing would change at all. That she would work a 50-plus hour work week and then have to take care of a baby at the end of the day. She said nothing to the husband. It would do no good. She kept plugging along; she kept getting ready. She cleaned the backseat of her car to get ready for the carseat. 

It came time for the baby shower, a mixture of cakes and presents and balloons—cute green and blue-for-boy balloons that she loved but couldn’t bring home in case the cats decided to eat them and then died from choking on string. She asked the husband to help bring home gifts; they lived up a steep flight of stairs and she didn’t want to carry everything. 

The husband didn’t respond. 

So she did it herself. She carried each and every thing up the stairs, and then she took a nap with the cats on the couch while a Lifetime movie played on the tv. A few weeks, just a few weeks, she would meet him. And everything would change then, when her son was born.

And just a short time later, at 37 weeks, when she called the husband to tell him the baby’s heart was no longer beating, well, he didn’t respond then either. 

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The Dead are Cold (And Other True Facts)

My son is beautiful. He is seven, almost eight years old. Tall for his age, with a head full of brown hair that he refuses to let me cut because he likes it long. His eyes are greenish gray, and they stare right into me with an understanding much beyond his years. He is an avid piano student, but some days he hates playing. He reminds me of myself in that regard—when I was a kid, I told my organ teacher that my hamster had bit me in the finger so I couldn’t play, but then I went home and played what I wanted to play instead of what I was supposed to. 

My son is kind. His favorite toy is a giant stuffed brown bear. He still sleeps with it at night, but he will also share it with other children when they are sad. I worry for the day when he will decide he is too old for toys, that I will cry. His favorite color is blue, and his favorite clothing item is his tiny pair of blue overalls where the straps are so worn that they slip off of his shoulders. 

My son is smart. He’s already in third grade. He went from pre-K straight to first because he already had the fundamentals down cold. They said he was “smart,” and “needed to be challenged.” He brings home a new book almost every day, but he prefers to read it to me rather than the other way around. I only help him when he asks, and he rarely does—and all his books are far above grade level. He can’t draw though. He comes home from school with stick figure drawings that have graham cracker crumbs stuck to the edges, but I am proud of them.

My son is proud of me, and of my writing. Or, at least, I like to think so. 

My first major, national publication was for a parenting magazine called ‘Brain, Child: A Magazine for Working Mothers.’ I wasn’t horribly enthused about it, and I didn’t tell that many people. One I told, a professor in my graduate program, replied, “Oh, are you a parent?” I didn’t know how to answer that question. I never do. 

My son is dead.


The first dead body I remember seeing was when I was eighteen years old. I was a new youth leader for a local teen coffee house. It was New Year’s, and Renee and Stephanie were riding home in the back of a station wagon with one of their families—Stephanie’s, I think. A drunk driver came down Highway 120 and plowed right into the driver’s side of their car; everyone inside was killed instantly. I attended Renee’s funeral as both a representative of the coffee house and a friend; we were not that far apart in age. Because she had been on the passenger side of the vehicle, Renee was, for lack of a better term, more intact than Stephanie and thus had an open casket. I waited to see her for over an hour, listening to the people around me cry. By the time I got up to the casket, the line behind me wrapped around the funeral home. I stared down at Renee, her eyes closed, her skin the pasty white of overdone makeup, her hands with fingernails still lacquered in solid black gently folded across her stomach. Her dress was white, and I remember thinking that Renee would not have worn a white dress. I remember reaching out gently, to touch her cheek that was completely devoid of the normal pink color. I remember how cold she was. I remember nothing else until I sat in the driver’s seat of my cherry red Camaro, smacking the steering wheel over and over with my fists and bawling my eyes out because this “little” girl was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. 

And she was cold.

My entire life, I’ve been afraid of dead things. When I came home from work one night to find my goldfish Herman floating in a u-shape above the pretty purple castle inside of his glass bowl that I kept on top of my television cabinet, I called B, my then-boyfriend, to come and scoop it out for me. When my cat Tigger died, I couldn’t look at the body and had to go in another room while someone else took it away. 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. My son was different though. His tiny body was still somewhat warm from being inside of me. Stiff though from being dead for many hours, at least 22, but as many as 30; we would never know exactly. When I held him, it was amazing to me how light he was. I don’t know what I had expected; at four pounds, he was substantially lighter than my jumbo-sized 22 pound cat, and he felt like he was floating in my arms. At the same time, I felt like I was floating above him, like it wasn’t real, and I took in every detail—the tiny bit of hair scattered across his head, the way his fists were clenched and how hard it was for me to wrap his dead fingers around mine, fingers that were long and just perfect for playing an instrument. It didn’t seem right that my son could be there, that he could be whole and still be dead. It didn’t seem right at all. 

The one thing I didn’t look at when I held my son was his eyes; I don’t know the color of his eyes. I never will. 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.

I’ve begun to forget his face. It’s harder every day to remember what he looked like. I never heard his voice, his laugh; I won’t ever know these things. He was burned, his remains put into a little box the shape of a heart that fit into my palm and later scattered somewhere unknown to me. His things are gone; he is gone. I have no part of him left, nothing physical of him to hold, to see. I have no proof of his existence; he only exists in my head now. When I miss him, it feels like I’m being gutted. There is no way to make it okay. There is no part of him that remains. 


The first time I saw my son, he was nothing more than an image on a screen. A strange mix of brown, sepia, that produced a recognizable image—a nose, eyes, even tiny fingers. A human. A baby. It was hard for me to reconcile the image on the screen with me, to believe that I was really growing a baby inside of me. When the technician asked if we wanted a copy of the ultrasound, I eagerly took the picture. I scanned it in with my new iPhone and sent it to essentially everyone I had ever known. It was the first time B, the husband, was at all excited.

The ultrasound spurred me to clean out my junk-mobile of a car. I had the messiest car ever, and I had for years. It started when my commute time to work doubled; I would eat food driving both to and from work and then throw the wrappers into the backseat. The more I traveled for work, the more things appeared—an extra coat, random shoes, pants, shirts, books. 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 now that I needed to install a carseat back there, there was a lot of work to be done. I didn’t dare ask the husband to help me. It was my fault, my mess, and he never even rode in my car anyway. 

I pictured my son while I was cleaning. I imagined that he would grow, grow up, grow out of the carseat. Sit in the front with me after he turned twelve. Starting driving at fifteen and a half. Many times during the cleaning ordeal, I had to wander away. Out of the garage, down the block, getting air. I wasn’t sure how I had driven so long with the car in that condition; I suddenly understood my need to drive with the windows down as at least five bags of trash made their way to the dumpster, with several more bags awaiting their end destination of Goodwill. Exhausted, I never bothered to clean out the trunk. I worked hard enough during my day job that I didn’t want to do anything more than I had to.

I was a merchandising manager for Party City while I was pregnant. Halloween pack-up was well underway, which involved a great deal of ladder climbing and frequent sitting on top of rolling ladders when I got tired—which happened all the time. People worried that I was working too hard, but my doctor supported me. The level of work I was doing was in the same league as what I had been doing pre-pregnancy. Since it wasn’t a new routine, it wasn’t a problem. I almost wished it would be. Ten hours on my feet while pregnant made an extremely long day.

By the time I got home most nights, I was too tired after an entire day of work to do anything else. B had a specific list of daily chores for me: dishes, cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, anything pet related, and anything the husband didn’t want to do. I never got to the dishes or the cleaning or the vacuuming. The cats were like my children, so I took care of them. I cooked meals because I was hungry, but frequently grumbled in my head that the husband should cook for me once in a while. When he bitched that things around the apartment weren’t done, I chucked a pillow at him and called him an asshole. He wasn’t the one working fifty hours a week while growing a human being inside his body. He wasn’t working at all. 

“Do you want to quit your job then? Is that what you’re saying?” He leaned on our breakfast bar.

“I didn’t say that. I just said that I’m tired and need a little rest every now and then. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.” I bit my lip. I was crying, again. Damn hormones. 

“I do everything around here,” he replied snidely. “I pay the bills.”

That was all he did. He didn’t have a real job. I was the breadwinner, but I couldn’t quit—I held the medical insurance policy. The husband was wrong, I was sure, but I nodded slowly and got up to make him dinner; I imagined that someday soon I would be cooking for both me and my son, and it didn’t seem weird to me at all that B wasn’t in that picture. 


B and I didn’t name our son until we held him. I had just finished The Mortal Instruments, and I was absolutely in love with the name Jace. The husband was in love with naming him after his grandfather and the slew of men on his side of the family who carried the name Erich. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the name Erich; it was just so old fashioned. We argued back and forth about it, electing to waiting until the baby came to decide. Somehow then, February 26th, 2010, I looked into my son’s eyes and held my finger in his tiny fist, and I knew his name was Carter. I conceded to Erich as a middle name, because I didn’t have the energy to fight. It didn’t seem to matter anyway.


When you are expecting a baby, especially your first, people find it helpful to fill you in on all the little facets of pregnancy and birth. The first thing they tell you is that childbirth will hurt. A lot. They aren’t lying. I’ve heard it referred to as taking your lower lip and stretching it over your head, and though I haven’t tried this particular activity, I can’t imagine it even comes close. I don’t know of anything that does. The pain will go away though, they tell you, once you hold your baby in your arms. Now this is a lie, as it does not take into consideration those who do not get a living, breathing baby; for us, the pain does not vanish. The next thing people tell you is that stretch marks will eventually go away—another lie. Sure, they fade and turn a freaky white color, but they never disappear, not completely. Yet another thing I remember learning is that you burn a lot of calories when you breastfeed, and that many women lose baby weight in this manner. I’m fairly certain this is true, based on research I did pre-pregnancy. For me, however, this was yet another lie. 

Some things people just don’t talk about. For instance, they don’t tell you that one percent of pregnancies end in stillbirth, which is defined as death after twenty-four weeks. They don’t tell you that things won’t always go the way they’re supposed to, because they only prepare people for the best possible outcomes. No one tells you that babies can die. They don’t tell you that your body postpartum will be irrevocably changed. 

A stillbirth baby, especially at full-term, is such an unexpected and sudden loss that people often forget you have gone through the birthing process and need to recover just like any other woman. You might receive pain killers, but no one tells you what they are for. They don’t tell you that you’re going to hurt like hell as your womb shrinks back to its normal size and shape; they don’t tell you that you might need help with simple physical tasks; they don’t tell you that you will bleed for weeks after and that you cycle will change forever. They are more concerned with handling your grief than with handling your body, since the baby is dead. All of the little details go by the wayside in favor of making sure that you are “okay” and that you are not going to leave the hospital and promptly throw yourself in front of a bus. 

The biggest thing that no one told me when my baby died was that my breasts would still produce milk. It wasn’t really anything I thought about once he was gone, not until it happened. My body didn’t understand that there was no baby anymore; it’s not like I could explain it to myself and make the natural process stop. I called my OB right away, and they had me wear a sports bra two sizes too small that I stuffed with cabbage leaves. They apologized for neglecting to inform me, but it meant nothing. To add insult to injury, not only did I not have a baby, I stank like cabbage. My body had betrayed my mind. As a society, we are largely concerned with how we look, and here I was with the body that comes post-baby and no baby to show for it—a ring of pudginess around my middle that had never been there before and a plethora of stretch marks. No amount of exercise would make those things go away, not completely. I was shaped differently, inside and outside. I was different, and this went unacknowledged.

March 2010 was the time that they took the population census. I did not fill out the form when it came in the mail the first time, and I didn’t fill it out when it came in the mail the second time. I never filled it out, instead choosing to rip it into pieces and stuff it in the kitchen garbage like it had never come at all. When May rolled around, the census workers started coming to people’s houses. One rang my doorbell. I went down the stairs into the entry hall and pulled it open. 

“Hi.” It was an older woman with hair like my grandmas and a bright red vest that identified her as a census worker. “I’m here because you didn’t fill out your census form. I just need to collect your information.”

I tried to shut the door, but she stuck her foot in it. “It will only take a few minutes.” She was very persistent, and I left the door open just enough to see her face as she asked, “How many people live in your household?”

“Two,” I said to my feet.

“And they are?”

“Me and my husband.” I tried to push the door closed then, but she wouldn’t move her foot.

She was scribbling on her clipboard. “And how many children?” She didn’t even look up as she asked. 

“None,” I snapped. “None. My son is dead.”

I slammed the door in her face.


I constructed a world in the months after Carter died. A world inside my head where the imagined was real and the real was imagined. In that world, my 37 week OB appointment never happened. I was not an hour early. I did not stop at the store for apple juice. I did not leave my coat in the car even though it was the middle of February. The nurse never hooked up the heart monitor; I never heard her say the baby’s heart wasn’t beating. I didn’t watch an ultrasound screen where the baby didn’t move. This world where the nurses asked about what I did for a living and shoved Kleenex in my face and distracted me while we waited for the doctor and the husband; this world where the doctor told us he was “so, so sorry,” where he gave me the option of going home and waiting for labor to happen naturally or going into labor artificially; this world where I laid in a hospital bed in labor for 22 hours to give birth to a dead baby. This world is not the real world, and I know that. 

If I think too hard, what I’ve constructed completely unravels. 

My son is beautiful.

My son is kind.

My son is smart. 

My son is dead. And cold.

Two years after Carter’s death, I purchased a memorial brick by the lakefront. The city planted a tree as a memorial to “all the dead children,” and it sits twenty feet from the shoreline; it’s small, with spindly branches, and the leaves are few and far in between. It didn’t seem to grow much, and I was struck by the idea that a memorial for children that will never grow up would never grow—the stunted tree surrounded by bricks surrounded by flowers was the perfect tribute; clumps of purple and red and pink that took away from the fact that each brick was all that was left of a life.

Every year, tiny growths appear between the bricks. Weeds, or perhaps flowers. Signs of life that will be gone come winter, because everything dies. Winter brings snow and ice, coating the ground and making it impossible to remember him. I visit the tree on the anniversary of his death every year I am in the state, to place my hand on his brick and be able to touch him. A simple reminder. If it’s winter, I can never make headway in the frozen-over snow. I can get down on my knees and claw with my fingers, but I only ever break through to ice. Carter is sealed away behind a wall I can’t break through, an event I cannot penetrate. Death.  

On the anniversary of his death, I will never locate the brick. I will never be able to break through. I will never find him.

It’s too cold. I am cold. 

The dead are cold.

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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.


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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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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On Remembering

I was pleasantly surprised in December when I received an invitation from Sigma Tau Delta, the National English honor society, to present a piece I wrote at their annual convention in Savannah, Georgia.  I knew when the piece was accepted for publication that it was a possibility I would be asked to present it, but in my head I just thought, it’s me.  No one really wants me to read.  There was a moment of shock when I got the invitation.  Then I noticed the dates.  And I sent an email back declining the invitation without a second thought.  You see, the night of the creative nonfiction readings is the day that would have been my son’s birthday.  To me, in December, it didn’t seem right.  It seemed like, in saying that I was going to go to Georgia, I was saying that he didn’t matter.  Because if I’m not here to remember him on his birthday, who will?  I knew that people were disappointed when they found out I had declined such an opportunity, but I didn’t tell them why other than that the date was a conflict.

The day, February 26th, has always been important to me, the three times so far it has come about since he died.  The first year, A and I went to the lake first.  The place where the memorial would be once the weather got warmer.  We checked out the tree, and we released a balloon out over the water.  I watched it, shooting a video, until I couldn’t see it anymore.  After that, we went to the mall and did lots of shopping.  I bought him a Winnie the Pooh bear.  Even then, I knew it was silly.  But it felt right to me, because I had so little of him to remember, that I buy him one last thing.  The bear sits on top of the box that contains what little I do have. 

The second year, A and I also went to the lake.  We got flowers, we hung out.  We went to see a movie.  Every year, the day has come and been a giant stop sign.  A giant, flashing “You.  Must.  Remember.”  It isn’t like I don’t remember every day.  I do.  But that day is different.  That day is about what might have been if he were one.  Two.  Three.  And this year, four.  

Last week, I received a second invitation to the convention.  I took it as a sign, and I immediately accepted it.  It felt like maybe he was up there somewhere, telling me that it was okay to move on and do good things.  As I prepare requests for funding and decide on what pieces I will read and shop for a red and black dress to wear to the gala at the close of the convention, I don’t really feel guilty.  I have this awesome opportunity to shine a little light on my name, to draw some attention to the memoir I’ve been working on for the last year, and to bring some good attention to my university.  It is his day, but this year it’s mine.  It doesn’t bother me like I thought it would. 

Strangely, I feel guilty for that.  I feel guilty for not feeling guilty, which I guess means that I feel guilty.  

Last year on his birthday, A and I went down to the lake where the memorial is.  The entire memorial was covered in ice, and we hadn’t brought any type of gear with which to clear it.  We both chipped at the ice with our shoes in the general area of the memorial where we thought his brick might be.  It was hard to tell with everything being frozen.  I dug with my gloved hands to try and claw some of the snow and ice away, with little success.  I didn’t see the brick that day, and we had had a fairly light winter.  This winter has been ridiculous.  Polar vortexes and snow storms and ice abound.  Chances are, I won’t be able to see the brick this year either.  So it shouldn’t matter if I’m here or there.  I can be anywhere and remember. 

This year on February 26th, I will be in Georgia.  Where it is warmer than here; where there isn’t any ice.  Where no one will know that I had a son once.  I’m incredibly happy and excited to have the opportunity to promote my writing and mix with others from the English field.  But part of me remembers this other life I had once.  The one that I can’t get back.  The one with a son that it sometimes feels like no one remembers.

After much deliberation, I will read this piece, because it was what they accepted for publication:


And I will read this piece, because it’s his birthday.  Because I will always remember him:


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The Divide (Rough Draft)

When we were preparing to divorce, the husband went through the apartment that I was no longer living in and took pictures of every single major item that we owned.  He then put them into an itemized spreadsheet that included their original purchase amounts and their current estimated value, as well as a column for who wanted the item.  The idea was that we could pass it back and forth and negotiate digitally.  Neither of us wanted to see the other.  I, in particular, did not want to see him.

I had a hard time draining our life together down to mere things.  The things that I chose to keep line one wall of a storage room.  I don’t even own a bed anymore.  For me, at the time, it was easier to roll over and let him have whatever he wanted than to risk dragging the process out.  Risk making him angry.  Risk going back.  I wanted to be as far away from him as possible.

However, on page 21 of the spreadsheet were the final two items—our son’s ashes and his memory box.  I didn’t know what to do about them.  When I left, I left quickly.  I hadn’t thought to take them.  When I did go back to the apartment to get the things I needed, they were already gone.   I wanted them, desperately.  I wanted to keep the ashes.  He wanted to scatter them.  I viewed scattering as throwing him out into the world.  As forgetting him.

I asked my then-therapist what she thought, and it was then she told me:  he was seeing someone in the same agency.  The same building.  The office.  Right.  Across.  The hall.  I felt betrayed somehow, like he had followed me on purpose.  “We could have a meeting with the four of us.  Discuss who gets the ashes, and the box and its contents.  Talk about who can have what.”  I must have made a face, because she continued, “I know that it sounds weird.  But if you can’t agree on it, the court will decide how the divide will work.  And that may not play out in your favor.  There are no guarantees as to the mood of the judge.”

I pictured that story in the Bible where the child gets cut in half because the two woman cannot agree who is really its mother.  I knew that I wouldn’t be brave enough to speak up in court.  I knew that I wouldn’t fight if it went that far.  I also knew that it was the one thing on the spreadsheet that he WOULD fight for.  I worried what he would do.

I agreed to the meeting.

I didn’t really want to go to the meeting when the day came, two weeks later.  I hadn’t seen him since the day I had left, and I had no desire to see him.  I wore long sleeves, intentionally.  There were some things that he didn’t need to know.

When A dropped me off at the office precisely at two, his car was already there.  When I went inside though, he was nowhere to be seen.  My therapist and I talked for a few minutes before there was a knock at the door.  The husband came in and sat on the opposite side of the couch I was on, and placed a pile of stuff in between us.  A pile that amounted to our son’s life.  I refused to look at him, even when he finally spoke to me.  I refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing my fear—fear of him, fear of losing our son.  Fear of myself.

We went through the box item by item, which wasn’t much.  Footprints, handprints, a lock of hair.  Outfits that he had been dressed in for pictures.  The pictures themselves.  Hospital bracelets.  A few things that I had asked for from the storage we had purchased for the baby things: a quilt that was handmade by my grandmother, an outfit handmade by my mother, and a Winnie the Pooh blanket that I had asked for.  It wasn’t the right blanket, but I didn’t want to see him again so I said nothing.  The only items I took were the ones he offered me.  I didn’t not speak up.  I stayed silent.  And then the ashes came out.

I focused on my shoes.  They were black and pink, a sort of plaid pattern.  I wanted those ashes, more than anything.  I was divided on the inside between my loyalty to the son I would never hold again and my fear.  I willed the words to come out of my mouth.  I tried to force myself to fight.  But instead, I said nothing.  I left the office with hardly anything except tears.  A lot of tears.

I don’t regret my decision to get out of the marriage.  But I do regret that I didn’t fight more for my son, that I let go of him (what feels like) much too easily.  I purchased a memorial brick, at a tree that was planted to remember dead children.  A solid reminder, it served as something that I could touch.  It was supposed to be a memorial just for me, but someone told the husband.  I couldn’t decide how I felt about that, about having to look over my shoulder every time I went to visit it.  I didn’t want to share, but it felt like the right thing to do.

The husband (then ex) emailed me much later to inform me that he had scattered the ashes.  Without asking me.  He didn’t tell me where, just that he had done it.  That our son was gone.

I broke inside.  It felt like I’d never had a chance to say goodbye.

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Defining Moments

I’m sitting on the couch tonight watching old SVU’s on-demand, and I saw a commercial for the Olympics that are coming up.  The last Winter Olympics were in 2010.  I know that, because I was in the hospital during them.  Because I watched curling for many, many hours in a row.  Because I used to love the Olympics (Still do, I suppose).  Plus, it’s that time of year.  You know.

So here’s how it was.  That moment when he died.  I remember every piece of it. We all have that moment in our lives that makes us who we are; defines our very essence. This is mine.  Despite things that had happened before and have happened since, I still feel that Carter’s death was a catalyst to several different things within my life.

I was a merchandising manager for a local company, working about fifty hours a week.  I carried an extremely good benefits plan and had been employed with the company for about five months when we found out I was pregnant.  Everything went well with the company at first, and they sent me the appropriate leave paperwork in October 2009.  My due date was March 30th, 2010.  In February of 2010, when I turned in the paperwork for my leave, I was informed that my FMLA could not officially begin until two days before my due date, because that would be my year anniversary.  (They didn’t tell me this in October.).  I would not be allowed to leave earlier, and if I did, I would only be able to take my one week of paid vacation, one week of sick leave, and four week of unpaid personal leave that I would have coming to me.  If I did not return after that, I would have no job.  At this same time, I was placed on a work restriction that stated I had to spend half of shift standing up and half of it sitting down.  The company called me a liability, and a week later forced me into taking my leave early because there “was no reasonable way to accommodate my medical needs”.  The date that was my final day working would put my return date if I wanted to keep the job to be just a few days after my due date–so when I finished work that day, I was uncertain that I would be able to return.  I had an appointment that day with my OB, and I figured that he and could discuss it then.   

I went to my doctors appointment, but I was almost an hour early.  Instead of going in, I went to the grocery store downstairs to get something to eat before I registered with the front desk.  I selected a fruit juice smoothie; I was pissed off at the time that there was no apple juice.  The baby liked apple juice.  I bumped a display of travel mugs, I believe with my giant purse.  Several of them fell on the floor, making a ridiculous clatter.  One of the employees told me not to worry about cleaning it up.  She asked me when I was due, and I told her.  Then I went to my appointment.  I was warm, so I left my coat in the car even though it was the end of February.

I hung out in the waiting room for about twenty minutes playing around on my phone, and then they took me back early. The nurse hooked me up to this machine and then put all of these different sensors around my belly before she turned it on…and couldn’t pick up anything. I shrugged it off. The nurse three days prior hadn’t even known how to properly load the paper in the machine, and this nurse apparently didn’t know how to turn it on. So I sat and waited, still somewhat patiently. The first nurse came back with a second nurse. She messed around with the sensors some and then they both left the room. The second nurse came back in without the original nurse and said they were going to get one of the on call doctors to come in and do an ultrasound because they were having trouble with the machine. I started to feel weird then. I didn’t like the looks on their faces. I asked for my doctor, but it was his day off. No point in calling him in, I was told, for something routine. But it didn’t feel routine at ALL.  

One thing that I can’t remember is when I started to cry. It just happened. I’m not a crier. The nurse must have been told that she had to stay in the room with me until the on call doctor came, because there was a wait for the ultrasound machine and they didn’t know know how long it would be. She plopped a box of Kleenex into my lap and started asking me questions….what did I do for a living….what did my husband do….had I ever left the country? We started talking about the mission trip I took to Jamaica my senior year of high school. At some point the doctor came in. The nurse stood between me and the ultrasound screen so I couldn’t see. I was crying so hard I doubt I would have seen anything anyway. I jumped every time I heard sound come from the machine, but she kept telling me it was the uterine artery, not a heartbeat. They looked for about twenty minutes. And then it came… 

“I think you should call your husband.” 

I knew then. I think I already knew, but I KNEW then.

My doctor arrived about five minutes later. I thought offhandedly that it must no longer be routine. He pulled up a chair in front of me, sat on it backwards, and said those two words that I wish I would never hear again. 

“I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.”

That was it. That was the moment when my entire life changed. My child, who I had never held, never seen, except on a little screen, was gone. 

And that’s how it was.  The rest has already been written.  This moment, these couple hours of my life, set me up for the rest of…well…everything.

I’m bracing myself, February.  For the first time in these (nearly) four years, I think I’m ready for you.  And that doesn’t mean I’m forgetting.  It just simply means that this has happened, and that I am learning to be okay.


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It’s morning, and the light streams in through the window-well.  There’s a cat on top of me, her purr filling the whole room.  I know that I have places to be, but I just want to read a book.  So I do.


My son, Carter, is almost four.  The sun isn’t even up yet when he wakes me up, excited about the day.  Breakfast.  Cartoons.  Toys.  I want to read a book, but I can’t.  I don’t have time.  He’s more important.  He’s already running around the apartment.  I won’t have time for myself today, that’s apparent.  And that’s okay.


Some days are easier than others.  Today is one of those.  I have some pieces that are out for publication; I’m making plans for my last semester of college and my possible graduate school career.  I took a journey this morning to get an energy drink and cookies for breakfast.  Someone asked me “How are you doing?  How are you feeling about things?” and I didn’t have an easy answer.  Because I don’t know.  I never do.  I wish that I could touch him, just one more time.  Hold him.  But I can’t.


I drink coffee now, because it helps me to stay awake.  I like to watch Carter play.  His favorite toy is this little keyboard that plays all sorts of different sounds.  He likes anything musical, really; this is probably because I buy him way more musical toys than anything else.  I hope he’ll be a musician someday, but I’m not sure what he’ll be.  It’s too early to tell really, and he likes so many different things.  I’m planning his fourth birthday party.  I have to ask the husband who I should invite; he has friends I know he will want to come.  I don’t have many friends.  I spend my days at home.  Sometimes I wish I’d gone to school.  Not that I don’t love my son, because I do.  But I wish I could be better for him.  


I have the experience of being a mother with no child to show for it.  It’s such a weird place to be in.  And I no longer have a husband.  I’m not tied to anyone.  It’s still odd to not have to ask when I want to do something.  To be able to go out, do what I want, buy what I want.  I order some books off of Amazon and go about my daily business.  The question, “Well, what do you have of him?” rings in my ears.  I don’t have much.  I gave it all up for the sake of getting divorced, getting free.  But there’s one thing.  I pull down the back of my shirt and look at my tattoo in the mirror.  It’s his handprints, and his name.  And the date.  I call it his birthday.  It’s funny really; his birthday was the day after he died.  At least that’s how I consider it.  I used to cry when I looked at the tattoo.  I don’t anymore.  I suppose that means I’m becoming okay.  I wonder in the back of my head if that’s okay.  If it’s okay to be okay.


The husband wakes up several hours after us.  The sun is high in the sky.  He scolds me for not making him breakfast, but I didn’t know when he’d be up.  He expects a lot of me, but I do the things that I need to do to make him happy.  Or at least I try.  It seems like he’s never happy though, no matter what I do.  I find myself apologizing frequently.  There are many times where I’m scrambling to figure out what the right thing is to do.  Sometimes I think there is no right thing with him.  He tells me often that he could take Carter away.  I can’t let that happen.  I have to be my best. 


When I lay the possibilities of my life out side by side, where I am now versus where I could be, the only thing that is missing is him.  My son.  I often imagine what my life would be like if I had an almost four year old.  I wouldn’t be independent.  I wouldn’t be in school.  I wouldn’t be bettering myself.  I have a hard time sometimes reconciling the difference in these two possibilities, that I had to give him up, so to speak, in order to be where I am now.  Especially this time of year.  It still hurts to be asked if I have any children, to not have an answer.  I wish he was here, but I’m happy with where my life is now.  And the next is step is to be okay with being okay.

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