Friday, January 28, 2011

In Between

I’m still here. Thank you if you are still here, too.

I am living in these bizarre in-between worlds right now.

There is the in-between world of having so much to say but no way to express it. It is times like these when I wish I had far greater command of metaphor, because literal expression has been failing me lately. I think of this verse from Sarah MacLachlan’s I Will Remember You (see? I have to use someone else’s words just to be able to adequately describe how I don’t have the right words):

I’m so tired, but I can’t sleep
Standing on the edge of something much too deep
It’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word
We are screaming inside but we can’t be heard

There is the in-between world of being a mother but having no child in my arms. I will always be Hudson’s mother and she will always be my child, but all I have left to care for and nurture is her memory and her spirit (a huge and important task, to be sure, but so very different from changing diapers and giving baths and reading stories and snuzzling). I am already Jackson’s mother, but as long as he is in my belly, my mother-role is in an odd state of limbo. I am caring for him and nurturing him and yet he is still so remote and unreal, in some ways still just a possibility, not a definite.

There is the in-between world of living every day with my sorrow and grief and yet trying desperately to begin preparing for a time, very soon, where that sorrow and grief will join hands with new hope and joy. I still have no sense of what such a life looks like. All I can do is hope that when it is upon me, I will know how to live it.

And more than anything, there is the in-between world of complete disbelief and slowly dawning acceptance. Every day, sometimes several times during a day, I fluctuate between these two states of being. On Tuesday, I turned 35. Hudson will never even turn 2. I still can’t comprehend how that can be. That day, I wrote the following in an email to Jessica:

I’ve been having a renewed wave of utter disbelief that this happened and that Hudson is really goneagain, I look at her pictures and remember our life with her and it just seems totally impossible that it is all over, never to return again. How can she just have vanished off the face of the earth? . . . It’s so hard for me to imagine that we have really lived without her for eight and a half months already. It really still seems like it was yesterday that we were busting into her room first thing in the morning with Bess, and she’d lift her head up off the mattress, see us and grin, and we’d start our day together. I picture her in so many different places around the house and in the car and its still just so hard to fathom that she will never be in those places again.

I try to imagine our lives in 30 years, sitting around with our grown children, having a glass of wine. I try to imagine how Hudson fits into that picture, that life. I try to imagine my adult children thinking about their older sister who will never be older than a toddler. And I just can’t believe that this is my life now, this is my family’s life. Living forever with one missing.

And yet, on Wednesday, that feeling of disbelief had subsided some. I found myself thinking (as I do occasionally), “OK. This is real. She is gone. And I just have to move forward.” Whenever this happens, I am reminded of a passage from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed:

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life. I was happy before I ever met H. I’ve plenty of what are called “resources.” People get over these things. Come, I shan’t do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this “commonsense” vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace. . .

And then I’m right back to the disbelief.

I’m still here. Just living in between.

Monday, January 24, 2011


We had what turned out to be a very minor scare yesterday, although it didn’t feel minor when it was happening. Around 2PM, I went to the bathroom and had just the tiniest bit of spotting. As you can imagine, I totally freaked out. I paged the doctor and when I didn’t get a call back within an hour, I called labor and delivery at the hospital directly and spoke to the resident. She asked me a bunch of questions, including whether this was my first baby, at which point, I immediately started crying, saying that it was my second, but that my older child had died from meningitis last year, so I was panicky about every little thing. She was so kind and told me just to come on in and get checked out.

By the time we got to the hospital, I was pretty sure that there was nothing to worry about. I’d had no further bleeding, no pain, no contractions, no increased pressure, and Jackson had been squirming around pretty regularly since it happened. And yet as soon as we set foot on the L&D hallway, I started to cry. Not because I was afraid, really, but because it was the first time we’d been back to L&D since Hudson was born there 2 years ago. Despite the agonizing pain of my drug-free labor, I have nothing but fond memories and nostalgia for the place and thinking about going back again in May to have this baby without my sweet little girl there to hug and kiss her baby brother just about did me in.

When the OB on call at the hospital (who is the person who should have returned my page) finally saw me, she apologized for not calling me back, and said if I ever don’t get a return call within 15 minutes, that I should call back right away. But the L&D nurse was totally awesome and told me that on nights and weekends, I can just call L&D directly—no need to page the doctor first. She also said that her rule of thumb is that if I am ever worried about something, it makes a lot more sense to come in and get it checked out rather than sitting at home worrying about it. She said whenever women tell her, “Well, I felt so stupid coming in when it’s probably nothing,” she always tells them, “But you’ll feel a lot better when you go back home and that’s what matters.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciated hearing her say that. She said she totally understood why I was so afraid, that she’d been a “hot mess” during pregnancy, and that if she’d been through what I had, she would probably not have even set foot out of the house yet. Everyone was so kind and we were in and out in under two hours.

It turned out that everything was totally fine—no contractions, no visible bleeding at all, cervix is still totally long and closed, baby’s heartbeat is fine, he was moving around, and the placenta is in the right place (no concern about placenta previa, which can cause bleeding at this stage). So there’s no apparent cause for the tiny bit of bleeding—the doctor’s best guess is just a very engorged cervix, which is pretty common at this point, and sometimes even the slightest irritation can trigger a little bit of bleeding. How nice for me. Still, the doctor was very clear that I should always come in for any bleeding, no matter how slight, which made me feel even better about my decision to come in to begin with. 

When I got my discharge papers, under the section about my history, it said, “previous normal spontaneous vaginal delivery at 38 weeks but neonatal death postpartum due to meningitis.” I hadn’t told them that she was 17 months old and they just assumed that she’d been a tiny infant. All I could think was, “SHE WAS NOT A NEONATE! SHE WAS 17 MONTHS OLD! TODDLERS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DIE FROM MENINGITIS!” Not that it mattered to them clinically, but to me, this description seemed to omit with the punch of a few buttons the very full life she had, short though it was.

I can only hope we don’t have to go through that again anytime in the next 17 weeks. Really. Please? Pretty please? I hope that the next time we go back to L&D, it will be to meet a beautiful, healthy boy who will help us begin to put some of the shattered pieces of ourselves back into their proper places. Seventeen weeks seems like such a very long time, especially without my sweet Hudson to keep me laughing all the way. She is just so very missing and so very missed.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Not a Dream

I had another dream about Hudson last night. In this one, we were on an open-air train of some sort. It seemed like a Tweetsie Railroad touristy kind of train, but it was on a very long track alongside a river with a highway up above it. I was sitting on the floor of the train, next to a bench that I could have been sitting on, nursing my sweet girl. Another mom was sitting on the bench trying to help me figure out how to pump on the other side while I nursed (why we would be doing this on a scenic train ride, I have no idea). The sun was shining on us.

Then, in the next “scene,” she was gone. I was still sitting on the floor of the train, but Hudson wasn’t. I stood up and screamed, “STOP THE TRAIN! MY BABY IS GONE!” And the train screeched to a halt. I had no idea what could have happened to her. Did she bounce out? Did someone swipe her? I climbed over the edge of the train car and jumped onto the ground and started running in the opposite direction of the train. About a hundred yards back, a man standing beside some kind of shack down by the river (maybe he was selling something?) yelled to me, “Here she is!” I ran down and found her sitting happily in a galvanized tin bucket full of magazines, waiting for me as if nothing had happened. I think she was wearing the pink bodysuit and denim jumper dress that she wore last Easter. I swept her into my arms and hugged her so tight, relishing how good it felt to hold her. I felt awful because this was the second time in the dream that I had lost her (I don’t remember the details of the first part—only that I couldn’t find her then, either). I worried what people would think about a mother who could lose her child twice in a row. I wondered why I couldn’t seem to keep her with me. And I hugged her tighter.

And then I woke up. My first reaction was relief that I had been dreaming and that I hadn’t really lost her.

And then I had the awful realization, yet again, that it wasn’t really a dream. That I did lose her. Except the real version doesn’t have the happy ending. So I squeezed my eyes tight and just tried to remember her face in the dream and be grateful to have seen her.  Instead of the tight hug, that image is all I get.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Question With No Answer

When I first heard that Gabrielle Giffords had survived a close-range gunshot wound through her brain, I was absolutely stunned, but as the doctors kept saying, I knew there was a frightening vigil ahead for her family as they waited to see whether the swelling in her brain would stop. Then I read that they had removed pieces of her skull to relieve some of the pressure. Then she opened an eye and moved her limbs. Then the doctors removed her ventilator. And then today, I heard that she was able to stand and read get-well cards. Tomorrow, she’s going to be moved to a rehabilitation hospital.
With each new piece of encouraging news about the congresswoman’s “miraculous” recovery, I grew more and more envious. I’m not proud of that reaction—in fact, I’m very ashamed of it. The envy does live alongside great relief for her family and hope for her complete recovery, but the fact that it lives at all feels awful. I’ve thought about this every single day since the shooting but have been afraid to put my thoughts into words.

Why can modern medicine save a 40-year-old woman with a bullet through her brain but can’t save a 17-month-old little girl, whose brain is supposedly more resilient than an adult’s, from an infection? WHY? Why didn’t the neurosurgeons remove parts of Hudson’s skull, or at least drill a hole in it, to help relieve the pressure? Why do so many other families get near-misses and miracles with their loved ones, but we didn’t?

I’ve written before that until the wee hours of Tuesday morning, about 8 hours after Hudson was diagnosed and admitted to the PICU, I had complete faith that she was going to be OK. I was still terrified, but I simply could not fathom that the doctors could not treat and cure an INFECTION (again, I had been advised to avoid Google—advice I took—so I had no idea what we were really dealing with in terms of fatality rates and so on). In the middle of the night, though, she started having seizure-like episodes, which seemed to me like a bad sign that things were not going well in her brain, and then, horribly, one of her pupils did not respond to the hourly checks with flashlights that the PICU nurses were doing. I knew then that it was very, very bad—I had been with Jessica’s family in the hospital when her mom was stricken with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and the news that her pupils had stopped responding to light was the beginning of the end. The CT scan they did on Hudson’s brain immediately thereafter showed significant swelling, so they pulled out all the stops to try to relieve the pressure—gave her a massive dose of Mannitol (a diuretic that is supposed to help reduce intracranial pressure) , sedated her and put her on a ventilator to control the amount of carbon dioxide to her brain, and kept her elevated in the bed. They may have been doing other things, but those are the things I remember. At rounds a few hours later, I asked the attending physician what we were hoping to see if Hudson was going to recover. He said we were looking for some signs of voluntary movements, like trying to pull out the vent tube, as the sedation wore off to show that her brain was still working. Not long after that, I looked up and saw Hudson, eyes still closed and still heavily sedated, lift her left arm and reach for that tube. My heart leapt. Surely this was a sign that they’d been successful in reducing the pressure enough to allow her brain to start recovering. The neurologists came in and did their series of neuroreflex tests—she passed them all. Her pupils were responding evenly again, her toes were curling in response to stimuli on the arch of her foot. No one could explain it, but it seemed to bode well. There was hope. Maybe we were going to get our miracle.

A few hours later, in the middle of the day Tuesday, still not even 18 hours after she’d been admitted, Hudson’s pupils stopped responding to light at all. Another CT scan (which took so long that we were not even sure she had survived it) showed massive swelling all over her brain, a catastrophic injury from which she was unlikely to recover—she would likely either suffer significant brain damage that would impair her in every way for life or she would die. The doctor said that he hoped he would be proven wrong, but those were the likeliest scenarios.

I can’t count how many times, in the hours before and after that CT scan and in the many days since, I pictured Hudson recovering in a general ward at Children’s, sitting up in her bed in a hospital gown covered with bears, IV full of antibiotics still taped securely to her hand with a wooden board, eagerly downing her first Jello with a grin, playing with all the toys people had brought her as she recuperated, laughing at the hospital clowns as they made the rounds each day, singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with them. How many times I pictured us trying to keep her entertained and satisfied for the three to six weeks kids usually had to stay in the hospital for treatment for bacterial meningitis. Even after we knew the coma was probably permanent, I tied an Elmo balloon that one of our friends had brought for her to the foot of the bed, where it would be the first thing she would see if she happened to open her eyes. The first time our pediatrician stopped by, after the first CT scan but before the second, she told us that she firmly believed in the power of positive thinking, so I tried so hard to think positively. We tried not to cry openly or audibly in the room. We continued to talk to Hudson and read books to her and surround her with the stuffed animals she loved.

But it was not to be. The next time the pediatrician stopped by, she cried with us. The infectious disease doctor cried with us. The nurses cried with us. The hospital clowns came to Hudson’s room and softly sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star while we lay in the bed with her and cried. She never opened her eyes or moved her limbs or took a breath on her own again. She never got to see her Elmo balloon or eat hospital Jello. They never removed her vent until she had been declared brain-dead. And then we held our little girl in our arms as her body died, too.

And so today, for the millionth time, I ask the unanswerable question. Why? Why her? Why us? Why did our sweet, amazing, precious child who brought so much joy to the world, why did she not get her fucking miracle?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


This is probably one of the best words to describe me over the past eight months. Very, very distracted. Often for reasons beyond my control, but often by choice. People who know me may not believe this, but even before Hudson died, I had a short attention span and a generally lazy attitude about getting things done. With the right motivation (law school, a deadline, a party with guests that requires a clean house and decent food), I can usually focus long enough to finish something and come out with a good product, but self-motivation has always been hard for me. And never more so than since Hudson died. All the procrastinating habits, all the self-distracting habits (surfing the web, being tied to my Blackberry, watching television) that I had before Hudson died have multiplied themselves tenfold. A hundredfold. I have become a person who leaves the television on for company, even when I am doing other things, like surfing the web, writing thank you notes, folding clothes. Often when I am writing and my brain comes to a pause, rather than just sitting quietly and comfortably through it, I flip over to internet to see what is new on Facebook or in my email. I find it difficult to do just one thing at time anymore, so desperate am I to fill the painful spaces in my head, spaces that, if left open and unblocked for too long, take me to places I don’t want to go.

Case in point. This morning, we had a 2-hour delay at work because of last night’s ice storm. I had already gotten up and gotten ready, so I had two hours to fill at home. I spent most of it on the computer and then with about thirty minutes left, I got to work doing a few chores that needed to be done, including folding some laundry in the basement. Usually, I dump all the clothes in a basket and take them upstairs to fold in front of the TV, but I didn’t have much time for that this morning, so I just folded them there in the basement. The very quiet basement. After I was finished, I went to the washer and started to put the wet clothes into the dryer and then I just stopped. I looked down into the washtub and then looked around me, suddenly totally awash in memories of days past when I was there with Hudson’s blue mesh laundry basket, washing her little tops and pants and bodysuits as she climbed in and out of the bouncy seat that was far too small for her anymore. My hands and arms could almost feel exactly how it felt to fold those little girl clothes, shirts folded in half longways, sleeves tucked over, and then folded in half again, pant legs folded over each other and then in half, so that everything would tuck neatly next to each other and be easy to grab from the dresser under the changing table. And there, with only 20 minutes before I needed to be at work, I broke down. And cried hard. I went upstairs to Hudson’s room and sat down in the rocking chair and sobbed. As I sat, I pulled open the top drawer of the dresser and ran my fingers over her clothes, clothes that I haven’t looked at in so long, including several outfits that I bought at a consignment sale only a few weeks before she died that she’d barely gotten to wear. I pulled out her green turtle shirt, the one we captured so many beautiful photos of her in, and held it to my face, wetting it with my tears. I cried and cried, telling Hudson how much I miss her and love her and how unfair it all seems sometimes. I hadn’t cried that hard in a long time. It was rough. This went on until I looked at my watch and knew that I had to get myself together and get to work. I put the shirt back in the drawer, closed it, dried my face on a tissue and went to find the eye drops I keep in my purse for just these moments when I have to be presentable somewhere fast.

I’m really struggling with this. When I think about moments like this morning, I get why I feel the need for some kind of white noise in the background during the times when I am not prepared (whatever that means) to spend time with the grief. But I also feel wretched, as if this (the TV-watching, the web-surfing, the doing anything that does not require real concentration) is really no more than a continuation of my former habits but one in which I now feel justified because I have a pretty goddamned good excuse.

But this past Sunday, during a long holiday weekend that I had been both looking forward to and dreading (looking forward to four days off from a job I don’t really love but dreading four days at home with very few plans and no Hudson), I got a short burst of focused energy. For weeks and weeks, clutter had been piling up on our kitchen table and buffet (the dining room essentially became our makeshift office when we turned the actual office into Hudson’s playroom) and I spent a few hours finally putting things where they belonged, throwing things away, acting on some things that had been sitting for a while. The result: a clean buffet and a slightly less cluttered kitchen table. And most importantly, a feeling of satisfaction. Not so much from the finished product itself, but because I had made myself DO something. Later that day, I finally started reading a new cookbook I picked up at Costco several weeks ago (another hat tip to my dear friend Megan for turning me on to America’s Test Kitchen—their Family Cookbook is so great) and started reading it, marking recipes I wanted to try. That night, I watched a Carolina game (an activity which up until then I’d had a hard time getting into) without my laptop in my lap and actually enjoyed watching it (despite the team’s terrible performance).

I felt so good at the end of the day that I made a commitment to stop trying to distract myself so much, to try to do things one at a time, in hopes that I can improve not only my focus but also my enjoyment of things that I used to love. Granted, I woke up Monday morning feeling pretty sad and wanting to do nothing more than watch some TV to send my mind elsewhere. So I did. But I didn’t do anything ELSE while I was watching TV, so that seems like at least a little progress.

Just trying to celebrate a small victory, like I committed to doing yesterday.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Middle Road

It’s been a few days since I’ve written, one of the longer stretches I’ve gone without writing since I started this blog almost a month after Hudson died. I’m not sure why—perhaps some exhaustion after last week, or nothing really new to say, or just no major inspiration to write. But in that time, I’ve been thinking a lot about my posts from last Wednesday and Thursday, the first of which seemed so despairing, the second taking step back from that and trying to fill in the spaces around it. I talked to Jess the next day and (as usual) she shed some light on something important for me. She said that if all she knew about how I was doing was from reading the blog, she would have a very different picture of how I was than she does, but since she and I talk and email regularly, she has a much fuller sense of things, and therefore worries less. 
I had to think about that for a moment. No, I had to think about it for a while. Why am I giving such an incomplete picture here on my blog of how I am? Yes, the blog is primarily a space to express and process my grief, but part of my original intent was also to continue to share and honor Hudson’s spirit by embracing the lesson of One Good Thing. Why am I so reluctant to share happiness and joy here whenever I find them? I realize that I have certainly done that, but honestly, I have great difficulty sharing posts that do not somehow mention or allude to Hudson. Anytime I find myself writing a post that does not somehow include her, I backtrack and see if there is a way to fit her in to the picture of that particular writing.

Looking back over the last week, I see that these things are all related, and they connect to feelings I have written about many times here before. It is so hard to recognize and embrace happiness without feeling like I am letting go of Hudson somehow—the grief keeps me so intimately connected to her that I don’t want to let go of it. What’s more, I worry that if I don’t speak my grief every time I write here, then people will start to forget about it, and in turn, and much worse, forget about her. I know this sounds crazy, but on those days when I do share good news here, I almost dread reading people’s inevitably enthusiastic and positive responses, because to me, those are the days that give such an incomplete picture of what is going on with me. And worst of all, I fear that when Jackson arrives, joyous event that it will certainly be, some people will assume that we are all better, that we are whole again, that our family is complete, and that we should now move on. And while I have absolute faith that Jackson’s birth will help us continue to heal from our devastating loss in a much different way than we have been able to until now, I also have absolute confidence that we will never be all better, that we will never be whole, that our family will never be complete, and that we will never “move on."

But I know in my heart that there is a middle road here. In fact, the middle road is what One Good Thing is all about. Yes, sometimes, even often, terrible things happen, good people suffer for reasons that no one will ever understand, and lives are changed irrevocably, as ours have been. But somewhere, seemingly buried in the rubble of earth-shattering tragedy, there remains hope, goodness, love, beauty, and yes, even joy, just waiting to be noticed, retrieved, embraced, and celebrated. It is only when we fail to perceive these gifts, when we allow ourselves to be blinded by our own sorrow and grief, that true despair and hopelessness set in. So in the spirit of Hudson’s One Good Thing, I am going to try harder to cherish what is, to keep digging through the rubble to find the many gifts that still remain obscured from my sight there, and most importantly, to embrace and celebrate those gifts here and elsewhere. I owe that to my sweet Hudson, to Jackson, to Ed, to everyone who has supported us through this awful time, and to myself.

This morning, many of my Facebook friends were posting quotes from Dr. King in honor of this day we set aside to remember his legacy. I wondered what Dr. King might have to say to me today. And I found this, so perfectly in tune with this post I was already planning to write:

If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Eight Months: Remembering

Eight months. Two-thirds of a year. A seemingly very long time. And yet, like last month, the 13th has snuck up on me again. I have not spent days thinking about it coming up, dreading its arrival. I’m sure that in time, the 13th of any given month will feel like just another day (and I’m not sure how I feel about that). For now, though, I do like taking a special day just for remembering, although like last month, I’ve already done a fair bit of remembering in January.

I’ve written before about how special a place the National Arboretum is to us, how special it was to Hudson. Some of our best memories with her, and certainly many of our best photos of her, were made there. Last January, on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we had a beautiful sunny day here in DC, with temperatures almost up to 60. Ed and I were both off from work, daycare was closed, and we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and headed to the Arboretum. We tooled around the Capitol columns, the Asian collection, and the dogwood collection (the spot where we sprinkled a small portion of Hudson’s ashes on her birthday), and just enjoyed being together, as we always did. These are some of my very favorite photos from our trips to the Arboretum—I’m so fortunate that Ed is such a good photographer (far better than I, as you can see) and that we had invested in a good camera about six months before Hudson died.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have these precious images of our sweet girl, ones that I think capture her essence, especially her seemingly old soul, in ways that other photos of her may not.  I’m just going to post them all here and not bother culling them—as I’ve mentioned before, when the number of photos we have suddenly became finite, each and every glimpse became a precious one, no matter how similar it is to the one before it. 

God, we love this one.  Ed now calls it her “grumpy face,” and is so happy with the real moment he was able to capture here.  This is a not a face we saw often, though, I can tell you that.  

This is such a great one, too. Our child was nothing if not facially expressive. 

I have no idea what’s in her hand here.  I’m guessing a rock or a piece of mulch. But whatever it was, she was very interested. 

And who knows what she’s pointing at here?  Most likely a bird.  She loved everything about being outside. 

Just aching for you, my sweet girl, and wishing I were sitting here plowing through these old photos only in order to plan for pictures of you with your little brother in these same special places in a few months.  I love you so much, beautiful Hudson. 


I want to thank everyone for their very kind and concerned comments and personal messages last night. All were much appreciated.

I also want to say some things that I was just not in a frame of mind to say when I wrote that post last night. I hesitated to even write it, worried that it sounded overly dramatic, particularly the part about living through moments when I’m not even sure I want to do so, because I feared it might trigger some of the exact reactions that I got. But I decided to leave it as is, because it does speak my truth, just maybe not in the way that many people understood it.

Here’s the thing, and I have tried hard to refrain from harping on this at any point when I’ve written on this blog because I know all of my readers know it, so I don’t need to pound you over the head with it: unless you have lost a child yourself, you just can’t understand what this feels like.

I don’t want anyone to think that I am sitting around wishing I were dead most of the time. Or even a little of the time. I’m not, and I don’t feel that way at all. I know how much I have to live for and how much I have to look forward to. I am truly looking forward to the Penguin’s arrival and to being his mommy and to having more kids after that. I am truly looking forward to continuing to raise a family and getting older with my amazing husband. I am truly looking forward to finding work that is meaningful and satisfying to me, even if I am in my forties before I figure out what that work is. I have plenty to be grateful for and to live for.

And believe me, if it were as easy as just hitting a switch to turn one thing off and the other one on, I would certainly do that. Any grieving parent would. Oh, that such a switch existed! But it’s not that easy. This is the part where I think you have to have walked in these shoes to really get it. It’s not a feeling of “Oh, I wish I were dead.” It’s not that at all. It’s just those moments when it hits me that this pain is FOREVER. I know it will lessen over time (although my feelings around that are incredibly complex, too), and I know that there will be other children to bring joy into our lives, but the fact remains that Hudson is never coming back. And sometimes, the pain of that realization is overwhelming and makes me feel like it is just too much. Not a feeling of “I want to die” but a feeling of “I just can’t imagine going on without my beautiful girl.” And then that moment passes and I know that it’s not too much, that I can go on, that I owe it to Hudson to keep living and living well because she did not have a chance to do that, that I owe it to her to do my best to keep her spirit alive in the world.

So thank you, thank you so much, for all the concern. Please know that it is truly appreciated and I absolutely understand where it is coming from. But also know that my words, this expression, they come from a place where only a few of you have lived, a place where the rest of you never, ever want to visit (and I hope with all my might that you never do). So it may mean something different to you when you read it than it did to me when I wrote it.  I just don’t want anyone feeling grave concern for me. I really will be OK. 

But even if you are not walking the road that I am, I am very, very grateful for both the gentle encouragement and the loud cheering from the sidelines. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and as any endurance athlete knows, the support is always most welcome.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What Can I Say?

Not much.  This week has been a struggle.  The emptiness is pervasive, the ache so terrible.  I could have guessed it was coming after this weekend.  I could have guessed it was coming with the snow.  But I couldn’t stop it from coming, any more than I can bring Hudson back.  My dearest Ed is always so kind, always asking what he can do, even though he knows and I know that he can’t do anything.  I just have to keep living through it, even through the fleeting (and thankfully, very rare) moments when I’m not sure if I even want to. 

I just have to keep living through it. 

Monday, January 10, 2011


Thanks to everyone who keeps checking in here. On days when I’m not writing, it’s usually because I don’t have anything to say. That can be good, because it can mean that I’m busy keeping busy and not drowning in the grief, or it can be not so good, because it can mean that I have nothing new to say that I haven’t already said a million times: I miss her, I can’t believe she’s gone, I still don’t know how to live without her.

This past weekend was of the latter kind. It was a long, hard, sad weekend. Not sad in the debilitating, can’t-stop-crying way, but sad in the low, constant thrumming way, the one that whispers constantly in my ear.

She is everywhere.

She is nowhere.

She is always here.

She is not here.

She is gone.

How can she be gone?

And on and on and on.

I emerged from the weekend to a Facebook news feed full of posts about this week’s snow. It is snowing across much of the southeast, and the northeast is supposed to get walloped by the same storm later this week. Right now, the forecast for DC is about 1-3 inches. Which is perfectly fine with me. In fact, I’d be OK if it didn’t snow at all.

Anyone who knows me well knows that these words are near blasphemy coming from my mouth. Anyone who keeps up with me on Facebook remembers my giddy school-girlish postings last February when DC got socked by two huge snowstorms within days of one another. I feverishly followed the Capital Weather Gang’s forecasts as both storms approached, eagerly awaiting news of the first flakes, accumulation totals, and closings. I called the hardware store in advance of the first storm to make sure we’d be able to get some sleds. I posted hourly photos as the snow piled up on our back porch. And I looked forward to getting our girl out in the snow in the perfectly fitted hand-me-down lavender snowsuit and pink boots that our friends, Jake and Andrea, had left behind for Hudson when they moved to San Diego.

I’ve mentioned before that our girl was a snow-lover, but I was planning to wait until February’s “Remembering” post to share the best photo and video memories of our time in the snow with her. But I’ve found myself so buried in aching nostalgia today that I needed to write about it today. And I can’t write about it without sharing the pictures and photos, for without them, you would never be able to grasp why the threat of snow, let alone actual snow, brings me to my knees with grief.

We had a small snowstorm on January 31, which gave us our first taste of how much of a snow-lover Hudson would be.

A week later, we got hit with one storm right after the other, both totaling close to 20 inches. Once the bulk of the snow had fallen from the first storm, we ventured out to start shoveling. When it first snowed in December 2009, I hadn’t come up with a good way to protect Hudson’s hands from the cold, and she tired of it fairly quickly. When the January and February snows rolled around, I pulled thick wool socks up over her hands and under the sleeves of her coat and then pulled her mittens on over top. This time, Hudson was absolutely delighted to be in the snow and could not get enough, as you can see (I only wish you could see more of her face in this video, but you can see in the pictures below).

Ed dug a tobogganing track in the front yard so that we could pull Hudson around on a sled in it. We invited all our Brookland parent friends over to join us, and Kate and Shawn brought Madelyn, who is about 5 weeks younger than Hudson, over to play. Both girls had a ball, as did their moms and dads.

At the end of that first day, Hudson had this adorable look that was the perfect combination of exhaustion, bewilderment, and anticipation for the next time she could go back out and have fun.

Over the next few days, she would get so excited to go back outside that she would grab her snowsuit from its drying spot and bring it to us, saying, “Ow-sigh!” One time, even though we weren’t ready to go out, she wanted so badly to put it on that I just let her.

Sometime during the next week, as we weathered yet a second huge storm, we decided to try our hand at sledding on a “real” hill, which was really just a gentle 20-foot long slope behind our local community center. We again invited our friends along, and at different times were joined by Kate, Shawn, and Madelyn, and Renee, Karen, and Amaris. As much as Hudson enjoyed crawling around in the snow, she loved sledding in it even more. I’m pretty certain that she’d have grown up to love roller coasters like her mama if only she’d been given the chance.

I mean, look at this smile:


These are the last memories we’ll ever have of our snow-loving girl in the snow. You can see why the reports we got of snow at home in North Carolina on Christmas Day felt like a giant punch in the gut. You can see why each flake, although beautiful, unique, and filled with precious memories that I would never want to let go of, also feels like a mockery, like sorry insult to injury, when our Hudson is not with us. And you can see why I’ve felt tad schizophrenic as I’ve kept checking the Capital Weather Gang’s forecast today—I simultaneously dread the snow but still love it all at the same time. I can’t help myself.

We love you and miss you more than we can ever say, little Hudson snowbunny. We’d give anything if only we could have you with us here, excitedly anticipating the snow, waiting for the flakes to fall, holding your snowsuit up to us, later sledding by yourself for the first time, getting rosy-cheeked from the cold, drinking hot chocolate and eating popcorn by the fire with us. We’d give anything.

Friday, January 7, 2011


My poor Ed. My 35th birthday is in a few weeks. This morning, Ed asked me, “So where do you want to go for your birthday dinner?” Without warning, I started to cry. And in the midst of my tears, knowing how surprised he must have been, I laughed and said, “What did you have to ask that for?”

This is the world I live in now. Anything and everything can set me off totally unexpectedly, even the most innocuous of statements or the kindest of questions. In this case, I was just struck by the fact that making plans for my birthday should be more complicated than it is. We should have to think about Hudson, pick a specific night, and find a babysitter before we could even think about where we might go. Or, as sounds way better to me right now, we’d make a plan to celebrate my birthday with all three of us, maybe with my girl helping her daddy to make birthday cupcakes or some other such fun. And even worse, I shouldn’t be turning a year older when my girl never will. I live every single day in the world of “should have been.”

Living on the edge of falling apart is exhausting. I feel old, haggard, and so very, very tired. Physically tired and so tired of the grief. I’ve written many times about how wholly changed I feel as a result. My fellow grieving mama, Leslie, whose precious son Cullen was stillborn in September, recently wrote of an experience she had standing on the beach in a fog, where she found herself hoping to see her old self emerge from it holding her son, alive, in her arms. She said she feels like she lives in that fog now. Oh, how I can relate.

Here is what I wrote to her:
So beautiful, Leslie. I have struggled with this so much, as you know from reading.  I remember in the two weeks after Hudson died, I posted on Facebook that I felt more like my authentic self than I remembered ever feeling in my life.  I think about that a lot these days when I feel so unlike myself that I am almost unrecognizable, and I try to reconcile the two somehow.  I think what I meant back in May was that when we suffer a loss so great, so overwhelming as the loss of a child, we are stripped down to our very core-- there is no pretense, there is no artifice, there is no silly gloss on an awkward conversation.  We are only what we are, and in that state, we are capable of loving, of feeling compassion, of appreciating the life we have and everything in it like no other person is capable.  I think in the shock of the immediate aftermath of Hudson’s sudden and totally unexpected death, I was able to see that for what it was and be grateful for it.  Since then, as you describe so well, the grief has shrouded me in a fog, making it much harder to see and recognize and appreciate that essential core, for all I can see is everything that is lost, everything that is missing, everything that will never be again.  But I do believe that core is still there.  It is true that I will never again be the woman that I was before Hudson died, and I do miss that person very much-- I miss the ability to feel carefree, to smile without effort, to go through a single day, sometimes a single hour, without tears.  But I also know that the different person I have become is a woman that I will grow to appreciate one of these days-- I will be a different mother to my children, a different wife to my husband, a different daughter to my father, a different friend to my friends,  than will anyone else I know who has not lost a child, and I think all the people in my life will benefit from that.  Another of Hudson’s gifts to all of us.  Although I would trade all that back in an instant to have Hudson back with me, I know I can’t do that, so over time, I hope that the fog will lessen... it will never go away, but I hope that it will peel back just enough every once in a while for me to catch glimpses of the new person that I have become and feel lucky in spite of it all. I hope the same for you too, dear friend. Thinking of you so often.

On these days (which are so numerous) when I feel so run-down from it all, I need to listen to my own words.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Getting Ready

Thank you all so much for the amazing reassurances you offered since I wrote about Monday’s ultrasound. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me to read story after story of folks who had the echogenic focus or gestational diabetes or just a big baby where all turned out just fine. I had no plans for this blog when I began it, but I could not have anticipated that it could be as powerful tool as it has been on so many of the darkest days of this journey. Monday was certainly not among those, but the wisdom of the collective mind (or whatever you call it) was nonetheless greatly appreciated. On the most practical of levels, two friends suggested that I purchase my own glucose monitoring kit, which I picked up at CVS last night for $9.99. My fasting blood sugar this morning was only 74, which is very well within the normal range. So if this baby is big, it’s not due to GD. A simple solution that brought me a lot of peace of mind.

That worked so well that I want to pick your collective brains again. It’s time, whether I am ready or not (and I’m not, really), to start thinking about preparing to deliver this baby. I know, I know. Some of you are thinking that I’m nuts—it’s still 20 weeks away, right? But I know from my experience delivering Hudson that preparation means everything if I want to do this without drugs. And I definitely want to do it without drugs again. I’m obviously starting from a good place this time, since I at least know that I CAN do it. But I still need to prepare.

I’ve been chewing on this and chewing on this for so long now that it’s really to the point that I just need to figure out what I want to do and start making plans. Childbirth classes of all kinds start to fill up at this point (yes, even this far out) and doulas get booked. But I just don’t know what I should do.

With Hudson, we took a Lamaze class about three months before the due date (which was pretty early, but the later classes would have barely finished in time) and ended up using our instructor as our doula. This go round, I’m struggling with a few things. First, I just don’t think that I can sit through an entire multi-week childbirth class (Lamaze or Bradley or otherwise) with mostly first-time parents who have never been through labor before, let alone raising and then losing a child. I’m also not sure that I really NEED a full childbirth class—there are a lot of things I don’t need to cover again (once you’ve been through it once, there are certain things that you never forget).

And finally, as much as I liked our doula (and I really did like her and there’s no way I would have made it through a drug-free delivery without her), the idea of using her again to have a second baby in the same hospital where we had Hudson, but where Hudson will never come to visit and take the obligatory family pictures, is just too much. As if we’d just hit fast-forward and started all over again the exact same way but with a different baby. I just can’t imagine it. Ever since the first moment that we knew Hudson was not going to survive, whenever I imagined delivering another baby, all I could see was crying, crying, crying, the whole way through. And that very well may happen, which will be OK. But I need a doula who can help me through what I know is going to be a gut-wrenching experience but who is not herself (through no fault of her own) a source of painful (albeit beautiful and treasured) memories.

So what do you think? Try to pursue a birthing class? Do something else? And DC-area folks, do you have suggestions for a doula that might be just right for this situation (although I realize most doulas would be up to this job)?

I am, as ever, grateful for everyone who reads here, and for all the love and support you’ve continued to offer for so many months now. Thank you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Can't Catch a Break

Nothing can just be easy for us, can it? Damn it.

So we learned that the Penguin is a boy at today’s ultrasound. In addition to identifying the sex (for those parents who want to know), the purpose of the 20-week ultrasound is to examine the fetal anatomy for any potential problems, birth defects, etc., that can be diagnosed in this least invasive way.

Almost all of the news we got was perfect. First and foremost, we learned that my cervix is nice and long and closed. So the pressure I’ve been feeling is most likely just the weight of the baby—joints and ligaments tend to spread more easily the second time around. But it doesn’t appear that anything is causing me to dilate too early. That was an immense relief. I can live with the stupid pressure as long as I know it’s not something to worry about.

Second, almost everything on the anatomy scan is totally normal. The Penguin has all the right parts in all the right places and his heartbeat is strong. But you know when you see the ultrasound tech go back again and again to take the same picture and mark the same thing, something must not be quite right. And sure enough, when the perinatologist came in, she told us that they see an echogenic focus in the left ventricle of the baby’s heart. This is basically a small calcium deposit in the heart—it is not a defect in and of itself, nor can it cause any heart problems, but it is what they call a “soft marker” for Down’s syndrome. The perinatologist said that these spots are fairly common and have very little clinical significance when there are absolutely no other indications of Down’s. In our case, my only increased risk factor for Down’s is my age. My bloodwork was totally normal and nothing else in the baby’s anatomy indicates Down’s. When she put the echogenic focus into the computer as part of the risk assessment for Down’s, our risk did go up, but only very slightly, from 1 in 5800 to 1 in 3500. Normal risk even for very young women is something like 1 in 2000, so we’re still well within the very, very low risk category. Most echogenic foci go away on their own and the vast majority of babies who present with one in an ultrasound are born completely normal. And yet, it’s that damned odds game again. We’re just not very big on odds around here.

The other issue is that the baby is measuring pretty big right now. He’s above the 97th percentile for fetal growth right now. In fact, today’s ultrasound puts our due date 10 days earlier, on May 14 (and therefore very uncomfortably close to the anniversary of Hudson’s death). However, since he was only measuring six days ahead at the first trimester ultrasound, they won’t actually change my due date. The perinatologist said that either I’m just growing a big baby (although she said it would be a little unusual to go from a normal 7lb 6oz baby like Hudson to a 9+ pounder) or there is a concern for possible gestational diabetes, which tends to make babies larger. She said she’d like to see him be somewhere below the 90th percentile when it’s all said and done. I saw the OB right after this, and she seemed totally unconcerned, particularly since I am so tall, I’ve only gained 8 pounds so far (exactly what I’d gained by this point with Hudson), and my belly is measuring right on. She said it was not time to start worrying about a ten-pound baby yet and that we’d do the GD screening at the next appointment (24 weeks, which is 4 weeks from now), but that in the meantime, it would at least be wise to pay attention to the amount of sugar I’m consuming. Which means, at least for now, until we rule out GD, no more sodas for me. Aside from the potential complications for both me and the baby that can come with GD (which I’m just not even going to think about right now), I really, really, really hope I won’t have to end up paying detailed attention to everything I eat. Even though I know that in the grand scheme of pregnancy complications, this one is not so bad, having to count carbs at every turn would just be an added level of stress that I would be really grateful not to have to deal with.

Why, oh why, isn’t it just easy and totally worry-free? Don’t we deserve that? Sigh. The perinatologist encouraged us not to worry and to enjoy the pregnancy, that none of this is likely to be serious, but it is still just hanging out there.  If anyone’s dealt with either of these situations before and has anything reassuring to say, I’d be grateful to hear it.


The Penguin is a boy. He’s been named for over two years now, since he’s getting the name Hudson would have gotten if she’d been a boy: Jackson Edward, named for his two grandfathers (just as Hudson was named after her two grandmothers).

As soon as the ultrasound tech pointed out the relevant parts, I laughed and said, “That’s what everyone’s hunch has been.” I was trying hard not to let on to anyone, the tech, Ed (who knew anyway, since he reached for my hand immediately), maybe even myself, the letdown I felt in that instant. I took some deep breaths as I lay on the table and let one little tear fall out of the corner of my eye.

I was not the least bit surprised it’s a boy—I’ve been telling myself it was since the beginning of the pregnancy, with the symptoms feeling so different than with Hudson. And I’d been telling myself it was a boy because I’d been trying to prepare myself emotionally for what I knew would be at least some disappointment.

But as I sat there and muddled through the disappointment, I tried to figure out what was really behind it. Was I really sad just because I was having a boy instead of a girl or was there something else involved, too? Within a few minutes, as the news sank in, I was already feeling better, excited even, about having a boy. Because I realized, with a renewed sadness right on top of the excitement (story of my life, remember?), that I was grieving not just the lost opportunity for another girl this pregnancy (although I am grieving that—I so miss mothering a daughter and still want to have another one in the future), but the fantasy of somehow being able to re-experience something of Hudson in this new baby. Maybe what I really wanted was to keep some remnants of Hudson’s presence in our lives as part of this baby’s existence—to reuse Hudson’s clothes and keep around some of her more “girly” gear, rather than have to pack it all away for another few years, or possibly forever, as if she had just disappeared, or worse, never existed. But I know that we will experience something of Hudson in this little boy, no matter what clothes he is wearing or what things he plays with—she will be part of him, just like she is part of us, just like she would have been part of a little girl, too. From that perspective, it was much easier to start thinking about how much fun we’ll have with a little boy, and how much he’ll learn from his big sister, even though she isn’t here with him physically.

And then I thought some more and realized that what I was grieving most (and still am, and will forever) is what should have been. A girl and a boy. Maybe a third down the road, but one of each to enjoy for now. A bossy but loving big sister and a willful but adoring little brother. So many of our friends have, or will soon have, an older daughter and a younger son. And we’ll have that, too, but we’ll have to live forever with the hole where the big sister should be. Just as I flinch every time I see a little girl around Hudson’s age right now, so too will I flinch every time I see a girl and her little brother, doing all those things that Hudson should be doing with her own.  Thinking about that is when I really started to fight back the tears. 

And the more I thought about it later today, the more I realized that on top of all that, finding out the Penguin’s sex just took this pregnancy one step closer to a real baby, thereby forcing me one step closer to accepting this new reality. We are having a second child without our first being here with us. We are having a little brother for Hudson, but we don’t have his big sister. We’ll go through the infant stages all over again but we won’t have a toddler keeping us busy on the other end. We’ll have one car seat again instead of two, a single stroller instead of a double. How can that be? Where is our little girl? Where did our life as we knew it disappear to? I still don’t understand it, no matter how hard I try.

So at the end of the day, I am still sad, so sad, for all that we have lost. But I am content, and even excited, for what we are going to gain. I think that’s always as good as I can hope for.

Little Hudson. Little Jackson. Neither of you are here with us now, but both of you are so very, very loved.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Mixed Beginning

I guess appropriately, the year began today with both a painful remnant of last year’s sorrow and a welcome reminder of the joy that this year will bring.

I went to the ER this morning concerned about significant pelvic pressure I’ve been experiencing over the last several weeks. (We’re still in NC—otherwise, I would have gone to labor and delivery at our regular hospital.) I told the OB about it at my last appointment three weeks ago—she checked me, said my cervix was closed, and seemed otherwise unconcerned (although she could not measure cervical length there in the office), but the pressure increased dramatically over the last week when we were doing all that walking in Paris. We have our 20-week ultrasound on Monday, so I felt almost silly going to the ER today, but I just kept thinking back to that fateful early morning decision not to take Hudson to the ER, to wait until the pediatrician opened a few hours later. If, like last time, my failure to act turned disastrous, if it turned out that this pelvic pressure was actually a symptom of my cervix dilating too early and I went into preterm labor before Monday morning, I knew I would never, ever get over it. Given that, the visit seemed worth the inconvenience it would cause. So we went. Cervix is still closed, baby is moving and has a normal heartrate, but they can’t do a cervical length scan in the ER, so I still have to wait until Monday for that additional reassurance that it is not getting shorter. But on the way there, and the entire time I was sitting there in the exam room, listening to the sounds of a busy hospital outside the door, thinking back to the last time we were in an ER, I could not stop thinking about how if Hudson hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be here now. I would be shrugging off this pressure as common to a second pregnancy and otherwise be way too busy chasing my girl around to worry too much about it. I would not be sitting around expecting the worst case scenario to happen at every turn. I would not be doubting my instincts every second, terrified of another catastrophe. How very unfair it seems to me that I can’t just sail through this pregnancy without any troubling symptoms. My world is just so very changed. And I hate it so very much.

And then, out of nowhere, I felt the Penguin’s first kicks and flutters after we got home from the ER. It’s almost as if he or she could sense my anxiety and wanted to make me feel better. Big sister Hudson was always so good about this in the later stages of my pregnancy with her—whenever I’d start to worry that maybe she hadn’t been moving enough, she would start kicking and rolling all over the place, almost as if she knew how I was feeling. I remember patting my belly and thanking her for that often.

Sorrow and joy. As has become obvious, that is the story of my new life.

For Auld Lang Syne

It is a new year. The last time a new year dawned, Hudson was with us.

It is 2011. The last year Hudson was with us was 2010.

Yesterday, I would say, “Our daughter died earlier this year.” Now, I will say, “Our daughter died last year.”

Given all that, I’m not really sorry that I was too exhausted from jet lag to stay up and ring in the new year. Better not to be a witness to the passing of the last year we had our girl with us, I think.

And how to greet a new year in these circumstances? As I posted on Facebook yesterday, surely this year has to be better than the last. It seems there can be nowhere to go but up. And yet I feel the need to knock wood when I say that. After all, I never dreamed that what happened to us last year (really, HOW can it be “last year” already?) could happen to us after all we’d both been through already. It seems as if it would be tempting fate to be so confident in the future ever again.

As I pondered what it would mean for us to leave behind our last year with Hudson, all I could think about was a very old and haunting version of a New Year’s tradition. Auld Lang Syne, often sung on New Year’s Eve and day, is usually a high-spirited tribute to the importance of remembering old friendships (think of the final scene in It’s a Wonderful Life). But the Dave Francis/Mairi Campbell version of the original old song by James Burns from 1788 (which you may have heard in the Sex and the City movie) better captures the exquisite mix of sorrow and joy that comes with the passing of time, of days, of years, of relationships, of loved ones: the sorrow of longing for times past and for those we loved so much, and yet also the joy of the memories of those days and those beloved ones that live on always in our hearts. I did not stay up to ring in the new year without my girl, but if I had, I would have done so with this song—the very definition of our lives in this new year without Hudson is the terrible sorrow of missing her mixed with the tremendous joy of the memories of the days we had with her.

I was not familiar with the history of the song—it is based on a very old traditional song, maybe first captured in a poem from 1711. These verses from that poem particularly touched me when I read them:

My Heart is ravisht with delight,
when thee I think upon;
All Grief and Sorrow takes the flight,
and speedily is gone.

The bright resemblance of thy Face,
so fills this Heart of mine;
That Force nor Fate can me displease,
for Old long syne.

And then there’s these two verses from the 1788 version from Burns (these are from an English translation of the Scottish version, which you’ll hear below):

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

Here is the Francis/Campbell version of Auld Lang Syne, along with one of my very favorite photos of Hudson.

Oh, my dear girl. This bright resemblance of thy face so fills this heart of mine.

Happy New Year, sweet Hudson. So many more years to turn without you, so many more weary feet to wander, so many more seas to divide us from the time we last saw you. But we will always remember with joy the days we had with you.

For Auld Lang Syne.  For Hudson.