Thursday, March 31, 2011

32 Weeks

We hit 32 weeks on Tuesday. Given how long this pregnancy has seemed, that milestone felt remarkable to me. By no means does it mean we are out of the woods—and of course, I won’t really feel out of the woods until this baby is placed on my chest, every screaming, slimy inch of him—but somehow it feels big, important. I wish I could say it has decreased my anxiety level, but alas, that is just not to be. We had another follow-up ultrasound on Monday, and the kid is still measuring big, but now only his weight appears to be above the 97th percentile—he’s estimated to weigh 5lb 5oz, when most babies weigh about 4lbs at 32 weeks. Everything else seems to have dropped below the 90th percentile—still big, but not alarmingly so. A second gestational diabetes screen was negative, so I guess I am just growing a big baby.  As of Monday, he had also turned back into the vertex position, which was good news—I was sure with the hiccups I’d been feeling under my ribs, he was still head up. The amniotic fluid index dropped, too, so no danger of polyhydramnios anymore, although of course, I’m worried that it dropped rather far—from 21.6 cm to 16.5 cm in only 4 weeks. The perinatologist seemed unconcerned, but I’m not totally sure that she understood what I was saying when I mentioned that it had dropped—I don’t think she had the 28 week results in front of her. I asked her if we could start doing the weekly biophysical profiles (basically a series of noninvasive tests to help assess the health of the baby and his current abode) next week instead of at 36 weeks—she agreed to start at 35 weeks and I had no grounds to argue with her except for pure paranoia on my part.

As for the paranoia, it continues unabated, unfortunately. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve become obsessed with Jackson’s movements. This week, I started keep the most ridiculously detailed kick counts chart you have ever seen (I created it myself) where I do a kick count during every 2-hour block of the day and make notes where necessary (he had hiccups at this time, he was quiet for a while after this time, etc.). It’s certainly good for helping me recognize patterns, but of course, this morning when it took him 52 minutes to get to 10 kicks first thing in the morning when the last two days, it only took up to 20 minutes, I started to panic a bit, but I managed to keep it together and wait, and wouldn’t you know that he picked up the pace later in the morning. I guess even babies in utero have sleepier days sometimes. Maybe he was still tired from last night, when I was up for almost two hours in the middle of the night. I’ve been so paranoid about cord problems and of course have been reading things I shouldn’t be reading on the internet. (And if you’re pregnant right now, I might skip the rest of this paragraph if you are better about this habit than I am and don’t want to read any crazy internet research.) I woke up as usual, needing to get comfortable again, and noticed he had hiccups. I immediately looked at the clock so I could see how long they lasted—there is some research, although I can’t figure out how conclusive it is, that prolonged hiccups at night can be one indicator of cord compression or knotting problems. Then once they stopped, he had a fairly long period of really active movements, like he was running on a little treadmill in there. Hyperactivity, especially at night, is apparently another possible warning sign of cord problems. So an unusual decrease in movement is a problem, but an unusual increase can be, too? Great. That helps a lot. (And of course, hiccups are also totally normal, as is increased activity in the middle of the night at this gestational age. It’s enough to drive much saner people than I totally insane). As I laid there feeling him jostling around, I just couldn’t get the image out of my head of him in there struggling to breathe. I got up and went to lay down in the TV room to see if changing position and walking around helped at all. Not much changed, but he finally settled down again. When I got back in bed, Ed asked if I was OK, and I said yes, that I was just worried about Jackson. He asked if I wanted to go to labor and delivery, and I said no, and added that it wasn’t that he was moving too little, but that he was moving like crazy, which can also be a sign of a problem. Following our childbirth instructor’s suggestion to try and visualize success, he said, “You are good at delivering live babies.” (Bless him, as always). And I said, “I know, but we have to get there first” and then started to cry from the stress of the previous hour or so. I’m telling you, the weight of this responsibility is just more than I can bear at times.

Again, it drives me batty not having a hard and fast rule for knowing when to worry and when to call. My trigger finger is way too twitchy and I just don’t know which end is up most of the time. I have a regular OB appointment tomorrow, and hopefully this doc (a different doc in the practice whom I haven’t seen before) can give me some explicit instructions, like “If X happens or does not happen, come in right away, no matter what.” Relying on my instinct is just not going to cut it.

In the meantime, maybe some of you could share some good reassuring stories for me about your baby’s hiccups or crazy antics while in utero. Next time I start freaking out, maybe I can come here and read some of those rather than checking with evil Dr. Google.

Oh, for my life to be so different right now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How To Say It

I walked Bess today like I do every day. As I turned around the corner back onto our street, on to the last block before our house, I saw a family I know only very casually pulling up to the curb in front of their house. They are a family of four, and their youngest son is just a few days younger than Hudson. We first met in Halloween of 2008, when they came trick-or-treating at our house with their older son. The mom and I were both very pregnant and discovered our due dates were only days apart. We ran into them a few times walking in the neighborhood after that and said hello but haven’t seen them since Hudson died. Every day, I walk the dog past their house and always wonder what’s going on within. Sometimes, it’s late enough that evening is falling outside and the lights are on in their dining room and I can see them sitting around the table together. Whenever their car is parked outside, I glance in and see the toddler seat for the little boy Hudson’s age and the booster seat for his older brother. Every single time I walk past their house, I think to myself, “Therein lies our old life.” How our life used to be. How our life should be. An intact, happy family, carpooling to and from work and school together, squeezing in a meal between busy daytime schedules and little ones’ bedtimes. I guess I still just haven’t accepted the reality that our lives do not exist on that plane anymore.

I thought surely they had heard about Hudson, since most of the families in the neighborhood are on our Brookland family listserv, where news of her death spread when it happened. So as I turned the corner and saw them all piling out of the car, I cursed my luck, not wanting to have to face a conversation where they might not know what to say and therefore might not say anything at all and we’d all feel uncomfortable until I said goodbye and walked on.

Unfortunately, it was even worse than that. They hadn’t heard. I stopped to say hello and the first thing out of the mom’s mouth was “How’s your daughter?” For some reason, every time I hear a question that will require me to tell my awful story, I do a double-take and ask the person to repeat herself. I don’t know if my brain really doesn’t hear the question (I do have slight hearing loss), or if it hears the question and is just taking a few extra seconds to compose itself and try to prepare a response. But it seems like I do that every single time.

“I didn’t know if you guys had heard or not, but she actually passed away last year.” That’s another weird thing I do—I always say, “She actually passed away.” As opposed to what? She virtually passed away? She apparently passed away? She supposedly passed away? What are these strange fillers my brain creates? And why? And for some reason, I always say “passed away,” not “died.” I don’t know why that is either—I guess “died” just sounds much harsher in that circumstance, when someone is hearing it for the first time. I remember I said it once: “She got sick and died” and it just sounded so abrupt. I don’t seem to have any trouble saying “when Hudson died” in other contexts. It’s so odd, though, because I don’t even know what “passed away” means. I guess it may have originally been intended to imply an afterlife, some journey after death into which a person passed.

All of this I said with tears growing in my eyes and throat. There have been a few times in the last few weeks when I’ve been able to say it without crying, like to the pedicurist who asked me if this was my first and then asked me how old my older child was. I don’t know why I can sometimes say it rather matter-of-factly and other times I can barely choke the words out.

My neighbor said, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and pulled me into a hug. I thanked her and went on. “Yes, she got meningitis, which is not usually fatal for kids her age. They don’t know why it was so aggressive.” I was just babbling at this point, filling the space between us, not even knowing what I was saying or why I was saying it or whether anyone really wants to know how a 17-month-old child died.

And then, still working hard to keep the tears mostly at bay, I said, “That was in May. And now we’re due again in May,” and patted my belly, which was somewhat covered up by my coat. At this point, I tried to laugh through my tears, a way of shrugging my shoulders at how ridiculous the world seems sometimes. This is another thing I tend to do—when I drop the bomb of Hudson’s death on people, I immediately follow it with news of being pregnant again. I have no idea whether I do this for them, so they can move on from the horror of hearing that Hudson died, or for me, so that I don’t have to keep watching them try to process it.

There is just no good way to tell someone that my child has died. Every possible way to say it sucks because nothing I can say can make it not true. Every possible way to say it sucks because the truth of it is just too awful for anyone to take in.

I guess it’s still too awful even for me to take in.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another Layer

One of the questions Susan asked me in our private childbirth class the other night was what fears I had about labor and delivery before Hudson was born. I could barely remember having any. I remembered being afraid I would throw up during transition, but other than that, most of my fears revolved around not being able to have the “ideal” birthing experience I wanted. My worst case scenario was probably that I would have to have a c-section. I honestly don’t think it ever occurred to me, not even once, that we might not bring home a live baby at the end of it all, only that the process itself might not go the way I wanted it to. I was blissfully unaware of the entire world of unexplained stillbirths, cord accidents, placental abruptions—I feel lucky now that I had no idea how wrong things could go, that I have at least one birth experience that is almost entirely positive and totally untainted by fear.

Susan then asked me how I thought I might feel about this birth if there were any way to put aside all those fears that I have now about what might happen to Jackson during labor and delivery. I like to believe that I would feel the same about it as I did before Hudson died—very confident that I could do it again and deliver a live, healthy baby without interventions or medication. I would feel strong and vital and very mother-earthy, much like I did in the days immediately after Hudson was born. For the longest time, whenever I would take Hudson to the pediatrician, which is in the same complex as the hospital where she was born, I would get the most intense feelings of nostalgia—about LABOR. Really. In hindsight, it became one of the most amazing experiences of my life, one I was actually looking forward to repeating. Susan reminded me so kindly that Hudson gave me that gift—yet another of so many innumerable gifts that incredible child gave me in the 17 months and 12 days she spent with me here and the nine more months she spent inside my body. 

Now, of course, driving into that complex, where we took Hudson to the pediatrician on the morning of May 10, and where I took her to the emergency room at Children’s in the same complex later that day, has a whole different feeling. Now when I go there, I have the most intense feelings of both dread and longing (since that is where I last saw her). What an awful twist of fate that the place where we held her as she died is a parking lot away from the place where we held her when she was born.

Now, of course, it is impossible for me to separate my feelings of fear about what might happen to Jackson from my feelings of empowerment about what a great job I did delivering Hudson. The horror of having lost one child already is too overpowering and is still so terribly fresh in my mind.  I honestly do not know what I would do if Jackson died. 

The layers of loss just continue to peel away, revealing ever more raw skin underneath. My fears about labor and delivery are just another layer. How I wish, with every fiber of my being, that it wasn’t so, that we could rewind and redo and head into the final stretch of this pregnancy with nothing but naïve confidence in the power of my body and the goodness of the world, and plans for the first big sister/little brother meeting and photo. How I wish.

Friday, March 25, 2011


We took a private refresher class in childbirth preparation last night with Susan Messina (and I just can’t say enough about her—she was absolutely incredible not only in helping us prepare for the physical challenges of another hopefully unmedicated labor but also in helping us begin to prepare for the emotional minefield that the whole experience will be without our sweet little girl).

After we chatted for a bit about our last birth experience, she gave us a worksheet of open-ended sentences to help us start a conversation about our hopes and fears for this birth. The two that hit me the hardest, along with my near-reflexive responses, were these:

“If something was wrong with the baby, I would…” … feel responsible.

“If the baby dies…” … I will feel responsible.

This came on the tail end of a day that I spent going back and forth about whether I should go to labor and delivery to get Jackson checked out. I keep trying to get a solid answer from the OBs about when to be concerned about his movements (or lack thereof) and they’re just all over the place. 10 kicks in 2 hours. Only if he gets off his normal pattern (but no suggestions for me if he has never really settled into a pattern). I had been trying to pay closer attention to any kind of pattern for the last couple of days and in the early part of the week, he had been very active in the mornings, especially during the first hour or two at work, either as I was eating breakfast or right after. Yesterday, I barely felt him move from the time I woke up at 7 until almost 10AM—only a very few slight blips here and there, but nothing like the activity of the several days before. After 10AM, he began to move a little, but still only a very little, even after eating a muffin and drinking a large glass of orange juice and two large glasses of ice water—it seemed to me to be a marked decrease in activity. I went home. I called the OB’s office and asked if I should be concerned. The nurse said for me to call her back if he hadn’t moved at least 6 times in the next three hours. That seemed like very little movement to me (and again, when the hell are we really supposed to be worried, given that every medical professional seems to have a different idea?) but I went with it. I laid down and started counting. Still not a whole lot of activity before 1PM, but I did feel him move at least ten times in about an hour, so I was starting to feel a little better. Then, after 1PM, he started moving a fair amount again and I began to relax.

I began to prepare for our childbirth class. Susan had suggested that we might want to bring some pictures of Hudson with us, so I sat down and started looking through a large collection of our favorite prints that we have yet to put into an album. Predictably, I began to cry, then to sob, as has become common lately when I look at her pictures. My beautiful child. Where did she go?

But it wasn’t until I responded to those open-ended sentences later in the evening that I realized that the afternoon tears, while certainly tears of sorrow and pain as they always are, were also tears of anxiety and sheer exhaustion. I’ve written before about how my role as Hudson’s mother is probably one of the major factors in the persistent guilt I felt for so long after she died, guilt that maybe I had made the wrong decisions given the information that I had in front of me when her fever spiked again in the early morning hours of May 10, guilt that has now receded into more of just a longing to be able to turn the clock back and do it differently in hopes of a different outcome. I’ve also written about how even when I feel like I’ve tackled the guilt monster itself, that sense of feeling responsible somehow, of feeling like I let her down, never seems to fully disappear. And now, during these eternal nine months where this baby’s life exists completely and totally inside my body, the sense of responsibility is profound and overwhelming. I know that there is so much that is not in my control, and I know that I’ve done what I can as far as those things I can control, but none of that changes the fact that I am the only person who can decide when it is time to really be worried. I am the only person who can decide when it is time to go and get things checked out. Last time, with Hudson, I may have made the wrong decision. A different decision might have saved Hudson’s life. Who knows? So now, when only I am in charge of knowing when something seems wrong, when my child’s life could again depend on my decision whether to go in and get checked out, the weight of that responsibility is almost crippling. Last night, when we shared our answers to those questions, I broke down under that enormous and terrifying weight. It almost feels like too much for one person to bear.

One of the moms I met in an online community for pregnancy after loss just recently posted about how much she has been feeling this weight and said she almost just wants to get admitted to the hospital early—she said, “I would just really like to pass over the job to someone else for a while.” I understand this feeling so well. And even more, I am just ready to have Jackson on the outside. Even though I’ve learned the hardest way possible that even after he’s born, there are still so many things out of my control, at least then I will feel like I have more control than I have now (even if it is illusory). At least then, the great weight of taking care of him, of trying to make sure he stays alive, will no longer fall completely on my shoulders.

Eight more weeks. I keep having to remind myself that while I now know far too many women virtually who have suffered devastating late-term pregnancy losses, I only know ONE person in all of my own personal real life that has ever experienced this. People have healthy babies all around me every day. The chances of anything happening to this little boy of mine are extremely slim.

I just have to keep repeating the mantra of so many of my virtual mom-friends: “MOST BABIES LIVE.” But thrumming underneath that mantra, in the back of my mind, is this, a counter-mantra, if you will:

“Yeah, most children live, too, but my child didn’t.”

Eight more weeks.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Letter to My Son

My dearest little Jackson:

This letter has been on my heart for quite a while now and I just haven’t known how to write it, how to start. But it has been growing and growing for the past few days until finally I just had to write it, especially when I remember that there just might not always be another day in which to say the things we need to say.

I remember one day last spring, your dad, your sister and I were on our way home from somewhere and we traveled through a neighborhood where all the families were having yard sales. Just as I was driving by, one family put out a mini co-sleeper for sale and I bought it there on the spot. I was already thinking about you and wanting to have that little bed ready for you whenever you came to join us, since it took us almost two months to figure out that was probably the best arrangement for us with your big sister. And yet, even as I was buying it, I felt a twinge of guilt that I was already looking ahead to your arrival, as if somehow that was a slight to your sister. I imagine every parent who has more than one child goes through this—worrying over how to love each child “equally” (whatever that means) and yet how to love each child individually and as an individual, a separate whole little person. I imagine these worries are strongest as parents anticipate the birth of a second child, a child who they can barely imagine as separate from their first child, a child who they can’t imagine being able to love as much as they love their first child. And then I imagine by the time a third child comes around, the parents have learned that there is no such thing as a division of love between children, that love has an infinite capacity for expansion, and that loving each subsequent child wholly and individually comes just as naturally as loving the first one did.

The big difference between your dad and me and all the rest of the “normal” parents out there is that our first child, your big sister, died before you were born, before you were even conceived. We had already been dreaming of you, though. We had already been imagining how you would become a part of our family, how you and your sister would interact, how much we would all love each other. But two months from now, we bring you into the world that has no big sister in it for you, not physically at least. We will never have to figure out how to keep her from banging you in the head or how to stop the two of you from fighting in the backseat or how to get you both to sit still and smile at the same time for a family picture. And for that, I am so, so sorry, my sweet boy. You were supposed to have a big sister, someone to play with, to show you the ropes, to help you scheme against us, to help you learn how to be a good brother and man, to protect you. As sad as I am for your dad and me that we have had to suffer through the grief of losing your sister and learning to live without her, I am equally sad for you that you will never get to know her or what it would have been like to be her little brother. But she will always be a part of your life. She will always be your big sister. And, if my best hopes are realized, you and she already know each other, and throughout your life, she will always be with you, watching over you, making you feel her love and protection, even in her death.

You will never know Hudson here on earth, but there are a few things that I want to make sure that you do know from the very beginning. The first is that our lives will be different from those of most of the people you grow up with. Many things will be the same, of course, but many things, and maybe the most important things, will be different. You will learn from a very young age about grief. I suppose you are already learning about it now, as you live and grow inside this body of mine that still so acutely grieves the loss of your sister. I imagine you will see your mommy cry many, many, many more times than most kids ever have to see their mommies cry. And there will probably be times, both early on in your life and later, when I even have to leave the room to be alone for a little while. Whenever I can and whenever you are big enough to understand a little bit, I will do my best to always share my feelings with you and to always let you share your feelings with me. All I can do is hope that growing up alongside grief will help you better understand and appreciate all the joy that we will share together, and that when, inevitably, you experience losses of your own, you will be secure in the knowledge that you can survive them and still live a joy-filled life even as you grieve. I hope that your dad and I will be good models for that.

You will also learn from a very young age about death. It is strange for me to imagine a two-year-old who is conversant about the subject of death, but I imagine you will be. I don’t have a whole lot of answers about it but I promise to try to help you not be afraid of it and to always let you explore it however you need to in order to feel safe. But I also hope that growing up knowing more about death than most little ones do will help you understand the amazing and powerful gift that is life, and that you will know, in a very intimate way, how important it is to live every moment as fully as you possibly can, to cherish what is.

I may have a hard time letting go of you sometimes. And I don’t just mean letting you out of a hug, although I imagine that will often be hard, too. I mean actually letting go of the illusion of control, of the idea that somehow the actions I take, the things I let you do or don’t let you do, will somehow protect you from every possible danger that might befall you. I can tell you now, I won’t always make the right decision, because the very idea of losing another child, of losing YOU, will interfere with good decision-making. There will be times when my irrational heart overcomes my rational brain and says, “No, you can’t do that because (insert irrational fear of what awful thing might happen to you).” This will likely be really hard on both of us, because we will both likely know that it’s just my fear talking and that if I could just see the situation without my fear-goggles on, I might feel differently. And all I can do is promise you that I am working on it. Every single day, I am working on it. I have been working on it since before I found out you existed and I have worked on it every day since then and I will keep working on it every day for the rest of my life. And during those times when I just seem like a crazy person talking, I will try hard, again, to share with you how I’m feeling and to let you tell me how you’re feeling. And hopefully, that way, we’ll get through it and you will always know that my insanity, while incredibly frustrating, always comes from a place of deep and boundless love.

And that brings me to my last, but very most important point. If one day you read this long blathering letter and glean nothing else from it, I hope you understand that your daddy and I love you desperately and we love you for you. We have loved you since before you were conceived, since before your sister died, and even since before your sister was born or conceived. Your sister’s death has changed us forever—that much was inevitable—but nothing has ever changed, or could ever change, how much we love you. Even before I found out I was pregnant with you, though, I have worried and worried and worried about how Hudson’s death would affect you, our relationship with you, how you see yourself. I made it one of my most important jobs to make sure that even as we work hard to make sure that Hudson remains a part of our life as a family, you never feel overshadowed by her or by her death. I’ve worried that Hudson, who was so very loved during her life and has continued to be such a powerful force after her death, might somehow seem larger than life, a figure no other child could ever replace or live up to. But the most important thing I want you to know is that will never be your job, sweet boy. Your job is simply to be you. I want you always to be the best you that you can be, but that is your only job. And we will always love you for exactly who you are. Even now, as I feel you kicking and rolling around in my belly, even now, as hard as it is to explain, I already see you for you. Even though you are sitting in the exact same place your sister sat during these last three months I was pregnant with her (on the far right side right up under my ribs), I know you differently. You are my son. My Penguin. My little boy. My Jackson. I can’t quite yet imagine life with a little boy, so I’m a little bit scared, but I can promise that you will know nothing but love from the second you first take air into your lungs. I say your name out loud whenever I get the chance. I’m already imagining my nicknames for you, what rituals we’ll make together. I rub my belly and talk to you, both out loud and silently. I’ve been making little things for you that I hope you will love when you get here. I don’t remember a whole lot from back when I used to be Episcopalian, but one thing that sticks out to me is the definition of a sacrament. A sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” These actions, these little things I do every day, these are my sacraments, the outward and visible signs of the bottomless and unfathomable love I already feel for you, my son.

Your Aunt Jess sent us a book for Christmas. It’s called Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman. When I first read it, all I could think about was your sister, Hudson, and how much I desperately hope my love can find her, wherever she is. But since then, I have sat and read it to you, too, as I will many, many times in the future. Perhaps it is one of the many ways that we can all be together with Hudson. For as much as I think of her whenever I read these words, I think of you, too, because I never want you to doubt for a single second that you are loved, my sweet boy.

And if someday you’re lonely,
or someday you’re sad,
or you strike out at baseball,
or think you’ve been bad…
just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair.
That’s me, my sweet baby, my love is right there.

In the green of the grass…in the smell of the sea…
in the clouds floating by…at top of a tree…
in the sound crickets make at the end of the day…
“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” they all say.

You are loved, Jackson Edward Hitchcock Chaney. You are so very loved.



Friday, March 18, 2011


May 13, 2010, the day Hudson died, has permanently divided our lives into very distinct halves. There are now the days before and the days after. What’s really striking to me about this is how much her death completely changes my perspective about the days before. I have been thinking lately about several unpleasant events that occurred before, and I am surprised to find that I look upon them with the strangest sense of nostalgia and fondness.

In December 2009, a few weeks after Hudson’s first birthday, we drove down to North Carolina to spend the week before Christmas with Hudson’s grandparents. On the way down there, both Ed and I were stricken with a very nasty case of what we can only guess was food poisoning. Ugh. I mean, we were sick, both of us up most of the night after we finally rolled in very late. Fortunately, Hudson did not seem to be affected, and I was mostly better by the morning, while Ed stayed a bit puny for most of the rest of that day (and you know he didn’t feel well, because he skipped an opportunity to go see the Heels play in the Dean Dome that night). Nausea and vomiting are two of my worst enemies—I can count on one hand the number of times I have thrown up since I was seven years old, so I desperately fear and dread any kind of stomach bug. I am the bad girlfriend who would probably never have held your hair back if you’d been sick from drinking in college, because I would have been afraid it would make me sick, too. More likely I would have turned the other way and thought you were just getting what was coming to you (luckily, I was never in this situation to show what a bad friend I could be). Needless to say, this case of food poisoning is up there among the worst memories of my life (well, at least from before). And yet, when I think back on this time, I barely remember the bad parts. I mean, I remember them, but they are all swallowed up in the overwhelming feeling that Hudson was there. I remember how awful it was to be sick, but even more, I remember our stop at IHOP on the way down in the car where Hudson gobbled up the pancakes. I remember being up all night, but even more, I remember her sleeping quietly in the next room while we hoped we wouldn’t wake her up. I remember feeling really weak in the morning, but even more, I remember Ed bringing her into the bed so I could nurse her, the very last conscious memory I have of her nursing, for she stopped sometime in that next week. I remember being so tired that day, but even more, I remember taking her shopping with her Grandma—it’s the day Grandma bought her the iconic turtle shirt that practically has a life of its own in our photos and now in our minds. We were really sick, but we had our little girl.

A few months later, in March, I went back to the dentist for the first time in a very long time. Too long, since I used to be a girl who went regularly every six months. Needless to say, they had to do a LOT of scraping to get my teeth clean and then I had to get a cavity filled (I hadn’t had a cavity since I was a kid) and get several very old fillings redone. It took multiple trips to the dentist’s office and a lot of nasty shots of Novocain, and for months afterwards, I had terrible sensitivity in my back teeth whenever I bit down or ate something cold. It was awful. And yet, I look back on that time and all I can think about is that Hudson was there. Those were terrible visits to the dentist, but at the end of those days, I left work and went and picked her up from school, and nothing else mattered. The dentist’s office is about a block down the street from my old office, another place I associate overwhelmingly with Hudson, since it was where I worked during the last five months she was alive, the time we made our best memories with her. That I associated my office with her so much was one of the reasons I ultimately couldn’t go back to that job. The very idea of leaving the parking garage every day and just going home, instead of making my usual drive to pick her up from school, just brought me to my knees. Now, every time I drive by the dentist’s office (which I loathed) or my office right next to it (which I was pretty lukewarm about), I am awash with that same sense that Hudson was there. The dentist was awful and my work was so-so, but I had my little girl.

And of course, I think about the blowout diapers, the runny noses, the refusal to eat certain foods, the mini-tantrums when she was getting buckled into the car seat, the vomiting episode in the car, the biting problem, the budding willfulness, the rare night-wakings—I think about all of these things with nothing but pure fondness and longing. I hear babies crying and screaming in restaurants or stores or airplanes, and all I can think is “I wish that were Hudson. I wish she were here right now screaming her head off so that I could comfort her and quiet her down.”

On the flip side, when I look at the photos of our memories with her in March, and especially in April (which are so numerous and so wonderful, and for which I am most grateful—I can’t wait to share them here), I get such a feeling of being haunted. It’s not that the memories themselves have any negative feelings associated with them, not at all. They were the happiest times of our lives, without a doubt. We were raising a wonderful child who brought us nothing but joy, we had all the material comforts we could ever ask for, we lived in a beautiful city with so many wonderful things to explore with a child, and we looked ahead to a bright future with her and her little siblings, who were already ideas in the making. And yet, when I look at these photos and think back on those times, I am not only terribly saddened thinking about how those were our last memories with her, but I also get this awful sense of somehow wishing we had known those were our last memories with her. Of course, I don’t really wish that—who would ever want to know that their child was going to die sometime in the next several weeks? What an awful existence that would be. I feel nothing but sorrow for families who have to go through that. We lived with that knowledge for two days and it was the most horrible thing I can ever imagine, with the exception of her actual death. But still, I look at those photos and think, “How did we not know?” We were so incredibly happy and so naïve, having no idea of the nightmarish storm that was barreling towards us, a storm against which we had no defenses, a storm we could not flee. We had no idea, as we enjoyed the beautiful blue skies and the sunny days and our little girl’s impish smiles and the new words she learned every day, how dark everything could be, how dark it would actually get, in just a short time. In a way, I’m certainly glad we didn’t know. I’m glad those times were full of pure unadulterated joy with her, where our biggest concerns were when we should start thinking seriously about potty training and where Hudson would sleep once we had another baby. But part of me also wishes we had known, or had some sixth sense about it, so that we could have squeezed every single bit of life out of those last months, made every possible memory we could have, spent every extra second hugging on and loving our girl (as I’m sure you know, we did this a lot, but I’m not sure I would have ever put her down if I’d known I would never get to hold her again). I think back to the first weekend in May, when we spent almost a whole day driving out to Virginia to look at a used bike trailer for her that we could use the rest of the summer. I think, “Why did we spend that whole day in the car, which she hated, when we could have spent it outside doing something fun?” Yesterday, I remarked to Ed that I wished we had taken her to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Alexandria last year—I have a vague recollection of not wanting to get up early enough to get out there for it, but that ultimately meant that she never got to go to a parade of any kind.

Both of these changed perspectives on before are good lessons for me to remember here in the after. When I think about how nostalgic I am even for the worst of times before, all I can do is be hopeful that over time, the sweetness of our memories with Hudson will somehow begin to drown out the horror of those last four days with her in the hospital, moments that have been rearing their ugly heads with more frequency for me in the last several days.

And when I think about those last two months, months I wish I could have filled with even more joy and more love than we already did, I just hope that I will remember to live every moment with our future kids as if we didn’t have a lot of time left. Not to live with the specter of death hanging over us, but just to cherish and make the most out of every single solitary second we have with each other, because we have learned in the hardest of ways that we just aren’t promised any more.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More Dreams

I’ve had two more dreams in the past two nights where Hudson disappears suddenly, leaving me panicked.

Two nights ago, I turned around and she was nowhere to be found. Then I looked up and saw her in the middle of the street, with more than one car headed straight toward her. I rushed to her and scooped her up just in the nick of time.

Last night, we were with my sister and all her kids, in one of those situations where I’m sure someone has their eye on her. I was on the phone when all of a sudden, I looked up and saw that she wasn’t with any of the kids in my line of sight. I told the person on the phone to hold on and then started yelling, “Who’s got Hudson?” And no one did. I went from room to room and finally found her, curled up asleep on Bess’s bed (which she used to love to sit on), sweating profusely (maybe a reference to her fever?). I picked her up and moved her to a more comfortable spot—she was sleeping soundly the whole time.

Each time when I wake from these dreams, I have the impression that I dreamt about her, but it takes me a while for my brain to fill in the details. And once it does, I am both happy to have seen her in my dreams but also disconcerted thinking about those panicky moments when I realize she has disappeared.

I wonder how many more times I will be forced to relive in my dreams the very real nightmare of losing her.

And more importantly, why can’t the reality, where she died, be the dream, and the dream, where she ends up safe and sound, be the reality?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ten Months: Remembering

Ten months. I honestly don’t even know what to say about that. Even though, as I’ve mentioned, my days have been seeming better on the whole, I have felt markedly sadder moment-to-moment in the last week or two than I have felt in a while. I can barely look at pictures of my sweet Hudson or think about her in any depth without breaking down.

I just can’t believe that next month will be the last month of photo memories I have to share of Hudson’s final year with us. I have recently been looking back through photos of her from her younger days, before she was crawling, not only to try and get myself excited to experience those days again with another child, but also to remember what those days were like with Hudson. She was so transformed as a toddler—she had a bright and unique personality from very early on, but she was really in the midst of turning into such an incredible little person when she died. It is often hard to even remember what she was like before she was seven or eight months old and really started to assert herself. So I’ve been trying to remind myself of how wonderful those early days were, too.

Today’s memory from last March burns so brightly in my head—an amazing spring day on the Mall with our girl, who got to see kites for the first (and, of course, unbeknownst to us, the last) time. I love these photos so much—they are perfect representations of our life with Hudson. Happy, happy child. So many adventures. So much fun. So much joy. So much love.

If only they did not make my heart feel so very broken.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reality Bites

I keep this blog in a Word document and then copy and paste each post into Blogger. This morning, I did a word count. 250 single-spaced pages. 141,082 words. 2034 paragraphs. 10,965 lines. 748,674 characters. That’s a lot of writing. I wonder, then, how it is that I so frequently come to these days, often several days on end, when I feel like I have nothing new to say. Many days (and until recently, most days), something happens that moves me to write—maybe a memory, a song, a smell, an encounter, something that gives me some new insight into this awful process of learning to live without my little girl. So what happens on those days when I don’t get those new insights, when I am not moved to write? Certainly the grief is no less. If anything, those days often feel heavier without the catharsis of writing, without the new understanding of the grief, without the greatly appreciated new insights I receive from you all, who so often help me look at something in a different way than I had considered before.

On those days, when I have nothing new to say, nothing new to consider, the harsh reality of the everyday just settles in, like the phlegm in my chest that I can’t get rid of for weeks on end after a cold. Hudson is dead. Dead. I see her in pictures in every room of our house. I see her everywhere in my mind’s eye. I hear her words and her laughter in my head. But she is not here. I will never see her bright face and smile in front of me again. I will never hear that precious voice talking to her daddy while she takes a bath or calling, “Mama!” from the top of the stairs ever again. She is never coming back. She is never coming back. On these days, every time I pass a mirror, every time I pass her picture, I can do little more than shake my head and think, “How the fuck did this happen? How did we get here?” followed immediately by, “I can’t believe this is my life. MY life. I don’t want this to be my life.”

These days, the harshest reality is this: in about two months, we will welcome another child into our family. There is no doubt in my mind that Jackson will bring us joy again. His mere existence has already brought us joy, but having him in our arms will help begin to fill some of the vast emptiness that has pervaded our lives since Hudson died. And yet. And yet. I remember soon after Hudson died reading the blogs of other grieving moms who had subsequent children within a year of losing a first child. I remember being struck by how much their grief still pervaded their everyday lives even after their second children were born. I remember feeling sorry for those second kids and even feeling a little bit of disdain for the moms. Oh, how stupid and naïve I was. I can only attribute that idiocy to still being in utter shock at the sight of the shattered pieces of my life surrounding me—I had absolutely no grip on the reality of what had just happened to us, and how FOREVER it was. I went through that period where I thought if only I could get pregnant, the pain would lessen as the hope of new joy began to filter in through the cracks. If I could only have another child in my arms, the enormity of losing Hudson would begin to seem smaller.

Oh, how stupid and naïve I was. The harsh reality now is that the hole that Hudson’s death left in our lives will always be enormous. Having Jackson will certainly help begin to fill it, as will having more children down the road and living extraordinary lives with them. But that hole will never be filled. I will never stop looking for who is missing. Having another child will help my arms feel less empty, but I will still look with deep longing at all the families who have two children, especially those with an older sister and a younger brother. Even if we had ten more kids, I would always be looking for the eleventh.

The harsh reality now, the one that I’ve only recently allowed myself to even admit, is that part of me wishes this were Hudson in my belly, that somehow, magically, the world would let me have her back, and then have Jackson next time around. I love them both. I want them both. I love and want Jackson so much, but I want him to have his big sister. I love my son, but I want my daughter back, too.

And the harsh reality is that I can’t have her.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I was on an errand this morning when I found myself mesmerized by the sudden new growth on the giant willow tree just half a block up the street from us. Although daffodils and crocuses and new grass are starting to come up, most of the trees in the neighborhood are still bare. Some of them haven’t even lost all of their dead leaves yet. And it seems like these green willow buds just popped out overnight.

I couldn’t help but think about spring, about its offering of renewal and new life. It has been a long winter for us, literally and figuratively. Never have I looked forward to spring so much as I have this year. I want the dark, dreary, cold days of this winter to be over. I want the days to be longer, the air warmer, the sky bluer. I want the life growing inside me to join us on the outside.

And yet, of course, the turning of spring is also the turning of yet another season without our girl. It is the season in which we lost her, and yet also the season in which our fondest and most vibrant memories with her were made. Soon we will begin the lifelong ritual of remembering the anniversary of her death within days of celebrating the anniversary of her brother’s birth. Never more has the immensity and complete inexplicability of life’s giant circle been more on display. Never again will we welcome spring without wistfulness. It will forevermore be a season of dichotomy.

Inspired by the willow tree, today I started working on trying to figure out how to use our camera—we bought an incredible digital SLR about 6 months before Hudson died. Ed takes beautiful pictures with it. I still set it on auto and then just point and shoot. But I’m trying to change that, especially before Jackson arrives.

I went out today to clumsily experiment with exposure and aperture, to try and catch the willow tree in this fleeting stage between winter’s barrenness and spring’s flourish.

Much like that in-between world that I will inhabit forever.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I know that often it is hard to know what to say when you learn of someone’s devastating loss. I know. Even after having been on the receiving end of every conceivable word of sympathy, I still struggle with the right words to share with others when I learn of losses they may have suffered, large and small. And I’m especially sensitive to trying to say something comforting because I know how much it can mean. So I know how hard it must be for people who haven’t necessarily experienced losses of their own to know what to say.

But still.

For some background, although the past week or so has actually been pretty tolerable, maybe even halfway decent, I have still found myself at some very low points at many times during the day. There’s just no predicting when I will be struck, again, by the sheer enormity of what has happened. Our ultrasound appointment last week was in the same office building as Hudson’s pediatrician. That appointment was the first time we’d been back there since we took Hudson there on that awful Monday morning, the morning we knew too little. I was quickly overcome with PTSD-like reactions as soon as we pulled into the parking garage—I could remember exactly where we parked that morning, exactly how limp Hudson felt on my shoulder on the way in and on the way out. As we passed through the lobby, we walked by the lab where we sat and waited for Hudson to get her blood drawn and her chest x-rayed. I remember my surprise when she barely flinched at the needle going into her arm. And I thought again about our time in the office, when I started crying when the doctor told us to take her home and keep pushing fever medicines and fluids—I was worried sick and just couldn’t go home without having some better idea of what was going on. Our kid just didn’t run 104 fevers. I thought again about whether this all might have turned out differently if I’d skipped the pediatrician and gone straight to the ER several hours earlier. As I thought of all of this as we headed to the elevator, my chest tightened, that familiar burning wound its way into the space behind my eyes, and I began to cry.

Last night, Ed and I dropped a friend off at the McPherson Square metro station, at the corner of 14th and I Streets. As we pulled over to the side, Ed recognized the spot and said, “I think you picked me up here one time, or we parked here or something.” As soon as he said it, I knew instantly what he was talking about. “We parked here for the kite festival last year.” The kite festival, where the photo at the top of this blog was taken, one of the several very vivid memories of our last two months with Hudson, the one I’ll write about next Sunday. After our friend got out of the car, I began to cry. “That still seems like it was just yesterday. I can’t believe it was almost a year ago.” I remembered parking there (there was some commotion with police cars about half a block up), getting Hudson out and loading her into the backpack, walking down 14th Street to the mall. I remembered all these details almost better than being at the festival itself. I just don’t know how a year could have gone by.

Today I was running errands in the car and just started thinking about her, about how desperately I miss her and want to see her, about how I still don’t know how to keep living on without her, how afraid I am of her fading into the background of our lives as we have more children, and I began to cry. Hard.

It takes so very little. There have been dozens of these moments over the last several days, even as the days themselves seem to be improving. These moments hurt. A lot. And then they are over. But I still cry. A lot.

Back to my original point. I was at my yarn store today trying to get caught up on the class I missed last weekend when I was in Chapel Hill. A nice employee was helping me figure out the finer points of decreasing stitches and using double-pointed needles so I could finish a hat I’ve been working on for Ed.  Here was our conversation as I was checking out:

“When are you due?”

“May 24.”

“Is this your first?”

“No, my second.” As usual, I cast my eyes down and smile awkwardly when saying this. I have grown accustomed to just leaving it at that most of the time. It answers the question and I figure if they want to know more, they will ask. I’m still not totally comfortable with this approach—because it leaves out the most important part of the story, I can’t help but feel sometimes as though it is a betrayal of my sweet girl’s precious life. But I’ve still gotten used to doing it this way. And every once in a while, there’s a follow-up.

“So do you have a boy or a girl.”

Here’s where I start to get flustered. Do I use past tense or present tense? Do I have a daughter or did I have a daughter?

After fumbling for a second or two, I say, “I have a daughter. She passed away last year.” And I began to cry.

“Ohhhh” (in a sympathetic voice). “How old was she?”

“Seventeen months.” Having trouble regaining control. Fumbling through my wallet trying to find my store membership card.

“Ohhh.” She is quiet as I sniffle and try to hold back the floodgates. I purposely laugh because I can’t find the damn card.

“Don’t cry.” Wait a minute. Really? Not “I’m so sorry.” Not “How terrible for you.” Not “You poor thing.” No, she says, “Don’t cry.” Now I am stunned. Completely befuddled. No idea what to say in response to that. So I give another fake laugh combined with a slight scoff.

“I’m sure that you have wonderful memories of that precious time with her.”

Yes, we do, you fucking moron, but I was supposed to have many decades’ worth of more memories with her. Have you ever lost a child? Do you have any idea how it feels every time I have to say out loud again that she died? Every time I have to acknowledge a truth that I desperately want not to be true? Do you have any idea what it takes not to cry at a moment like this? What it takes not to cry all day, every day? Do you have a fucking clue about anything at all?

“Yes, we do.” I muddled through some small talk as she finished checking me out and then got out of there. I jumped in the car and began to cry again.  Hard.

I know people mean well. I know what a shock it is to learn that someone’s child has died. I know how hard it is to know what to say. I know when she said, “Don’t cry,” she probably meant, “I am so sorry for you. But I am happy for your new baby,” or something like that.

I know. But still.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

These Kids of Mine

I had another panicky day with little Jackson today. Either he has just not settled into a movement pattern, or the anterior placenta is just really screwing with my ability to feel it whenever he does move. I’ve read a lot online about women’s experiences with an anterior placenta, and it seems like what I’m encountering is pretty common, so I’m just trying to take comfort in that. But after a day like Tuesday, when I felt him move practically all day, today I barely felt him move at all, only in brief spurts that were few and far between. So by the end of the day, I was pretty worried again, imagining all kinds of terrible things that I really don’t even want to write about.

Even though I wanted to stay home, lie on the couch, and concentrate on feeling him move, tonight was my last sewing class, so I made myself go. It was a patterns class, but I had already finished Jackson’s shorts, so I asked the instructor if she could show me how to do appliqués tonight instead. She enthusiastically agreed. I had brought the leftover crab fabric from the shorts, but she wanted me to practice on something else first. She has tons of plastic storage boxes full of remnants, in all kinds of fabrics—knits, cotton, linen, rayon—you name it, and she has something. She went to grab one from the top of the cottons box, and I’m not kidding, y’all, this is the fabric she pulled out and brought over to me:

Immediately, I was bathed in that sense that Hudson was right there with me, again, telling me that it was gonna be okay. It was all I could do to keep myself from bursting into tears of gratitude. I choked them down and just said, “Wow. I can’t believe that. Turtles are really special to us, so…”

The teacher had me do a few practice appliqué pieces on some spare muslin she had, showing me two different ways to use the interfacing, first with raw edges, and second with finished:

And then I made a onesie to match Jackson’s shorts:

I still have to work on sewing around curves so that I can appliqué more than just boxes like this, but I am so glad to have learned this skill. I don’t think I will be ready to tackle sewing actual shirts together for a long time, so knowing how to make cute, personalized onesies to match all the pants I’m going to be making will come in very handy.

She let me keep the rest of the turtle fabric. I’m busy deciding how to use it for Hudson’s sweet little brother.  How grateful I am to them both.  How very much I love them both.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fighting the Fear

I am now in the third trimester, just over 28 weeks pregnant. And yet I am still not totally convinced that a live baby is coming home with us sometime in the next (hopefully) 9 to 12 weeks. As I predicted many months ago, when I was looking forward to when this baby would start moving so that I would have a regular indicator of how he was doing, I now worry constantly about whether he is moving enough. Just when I think that I’ve beaten that monster and I start to relax and feel like everything will be OK, I have these moments where I think, “I haven’t felt him move much today.” Two nights ago, I barely felt him move once during any of the many times I was awake and rolled over in the bed, whereas it seemed to me that he used to always thump at least once or twice every time I turned over and before I fell back to sleep. When he continued not to move a whole lot during the morning yesterday, even after I ate and drank a cold fizzy fruit drink, I entered a barely controlled panic. I called Ed from the airport in Raleigh where I was delayed and before I knew it, I was in tears. I was already preparing myself for how I could break everyone’s hearts again by telling them that we had lost Jackson, already thinking in my mind how I could possibly explain how something like this could happen to us again, already feeling guilt and shame over the death of yet another child, this time one inside my body. Of course, once I got back to my office a few hours later and sat quietly at my desk, where every thump is noticeable, I could feel him moving frequently throughout the rest of the day. Just when I think I might be getting the fear and anxiety under control. It’s just so hard because I have such difficulty trusting my instincts anymore. After watching my little girl die slowly right in front of my eyes after what started out as the most seemingly normal toddler illness possible, EVERYTHING seems abnormal to me. And I have no way of distinguishing between the instincts that are right and the instincts that are wrong and/or just poorly disguised irrational fears. I like to think that next time I have one of these panicky moments, I’ll be able to remember yesterday and how silly I felt when he started kicking and rolling all over the place, but I doubt I will. And before you ask, yes, I am still planning to talk to someone about this (especially because I know this is only going to get worse after Jackson is born). I just haven’t yet.

Fortunately, we also had a follow-up ultrasound scheduled for this morning anyway, and (after waiting for almost TWO HOURS after our appointment time), everything still looks OK. He is still measuring pretty big—based on the ultrasound (which I’ve heard from many of you is notoriously unreliable for such things), he weighs about 3lbs 3oz, whereas normal for this point is about 2lbs 4oz. His head is still above the 97th percentile. But I am nearly certain that the established due date is about 3-4 days past what it should be, so that could account for some (but not all) of the extra size. The amniotic fluid index is still just on the high side of normal, but it hasn’t gotten any worse since last time, which seems to me is a good sign and an indication that nothing is wrong—he’s just a big baby and therefore makes a little more amniotic fluid than normal. They’re going to make me do a second glucose screen just to be on the safe side about the gestational diabetes, which can still show up between 24 and 30 weeks. He’s sitting head-up right now, but I’m not too worried about that yet—he’s still got plenty of time to turn. The one piece of resoundingly good news is that the echogenic focus on his heart seems to have completely disappeared, as so many of you suggested had happened with your own children. So strike that out of the “worries” column. At least I can strike something out of there.

We got a pretty cute picture of his little face. Contrary to my earlier worries, he is clearly going to have his daddy’s nose. Which means he will also have his big sister’s nose. I wonder how else they may look alike.

Even though I wish there were no reason for more follow-up ultrasounds, I am actually glad that they’ve scheduled us for more. Again, after Hudson died because we didn’t have all the information that we needed to know how sick she was, I am all for having as much information as possible, even if it ultimately makes me worry. So we go back in four weeks to check in again on the amniotic fluid and his growth, and then again at 36 weeks. Then from 36 weeks on, we’ll go in weekly for non-stress tests, which is apparently standard operating procedure at my OB practice for women over 35. I can’t tell you how relieved that made me.  I probably would have wanted to ask for that anyway, having met so many mamas online who have suffered late-term stillbirths. Even though I know that the extra monitoring might ultimately lead to extra intervention that I don’t really want (e.g., an induction that may not be totally necessary), I am okay with that. As much as I hope, hope, hope that Jackson’s labor, delivery, and birth is as spontaneous and natural and uncomplicated and intervention-free as Hudson’s was, all I really care about is bringing home a healthy, living baby at the end of it. I never thought I would feel that way, but I do. Even though I know that interventions can cause some complications themselves, those complications very rarely lead to infant mortality and frankly, no mortal risk from NOT intervening is remote enough for me. For now though, all I can do is hope that everything goes as smoothly as the first time and try to keep myself sane until then.

Knitting and sewing is really helping on that front. The time I spend doing both, thinking about Hudson and Jackson and how to keep the two of them close to my heart and close to each other, not only makes the days go by faster but makes my heart beat slower and brings much-needed smiles. Last weekend, when I was at home in Chapel Hill, I went to a fabric store in Carrboro that I had passed a hundred times before but never stopped into (because I didn’t sew). I happened upon the best fabric I’ve found so far, and even though I have no idea what I’m going to do with it yet (I think a lot of the prints I like most are really meant for décor and not for clothing, but I don’t really care), I had to buy it. Check it out:

I saw the penguin first. And then right next to it, the turtle. And then just under the turtle, the monkey.

Then I looked at the name of the pattern on the tag. It’s called “Jack’s Zoo.”

My precious kiddos. Talking to me again. Trying to tell me it’s going to be okay. Bless them.