Alternate reality

If someone had told me last year that  my baby would die at the end of a healthy pregnancy and Donald Trump would be elected president of the United States, I would not have believed it.  This just confirms the sense that I have had since May that I am living in an alternate reality.  Except that I know there is no going back to my other ‘reality’.  And that is scary.

I volunteered at an elementary school this morning, helping with the 2nd grade, 3rd grade and 5th grade art classes.  In each class, the children told me they were sad and scared, but here is what surprised me.  They asked if Donald Trump was really going to send them back to Africa, and told me he did not like black people.  One even asked, “He can’t bring back slavery, can he?”

This alternative reality sucks.

Six months

Dearest Sidney,

I miss you.  I cannot believe it’s been six months since I gave birth to you.  You were perfect to me then, and you are perfect to me now, except that you are not here in my arms. I love you unconditionally.  Yesterday, your daddy and I went and ordered your tombstone.  We put a tree of life on it, and it will have your full name, your birth date, and then it will say, ‘Beloved son and brother, always and forever.’ Your daddy tells Eli that he loves him always and forever, and whenever I visit you in the cemetery, I tell you I love you always and forever, and so we wanted that message to be written clearly across the stone that marks your grave.

I spent my birthday without you.  It was a sad day for me.  In the evening, I opened some presents from Eli and daddy.  One of them had a picture of a necklace that daddy is getting for me.  It is a locket with a tree on it.  It hasn’t come but once it comes, I want to engrave the line from the E.E. Cummings poem on the back, “I carry your heart.  I carry it in my heart.’ And then I want to put your picture inside so that I always have a physical reminder of you close to me.  You are so beautiful to me.  I ache to kiss your soft cheeks again, to hold you tightly in my arms.  You cannot know how much I long for you.  I still somehow cannot grasp how the world can go on without you here in it.

To mark six months without you, we will donate a small amount of money to a children’s organization in your name.  Something positive that comes from you having existed.  It is not a lot, but it is something.

Tonight, we will have shabbat dinner at friends’, and I will feel your absence.  I always feel your absence.  I am always aware that something is not as it should be.  Time may go on, but my longing and love for you will never change.

Please know how much you mean to me.  Please know how much I love you.  Please know how much I miss you.  And please know that you will always be a part of this family, my dear second son.

I love you always and forever.


your mama


Stupid Halloween

I took Eli trick or treating tonight.  At the beginning, most of the people that came to the door were the age of grandparents, or the parents who had opted to be the ones handing out candy while their children went out trick or treating.  And I somehow managed not to see any babies.  But then we rang the bell of one of our neighbors, a woman who I don’t know well, but I occasionally would see out with her son in his stroller.  Trick or treat, Eli said.  Trick or treat, she said.  How are you?  Is your second son at home? she asked.  No, he died, I say.  Horrified look.  I am so sorry, she says.  Avoids eye contact for the next minute while Eli selects his candy and talks to her son.  Awkward.  Stupid Halloween.  We go home.  Home where my second son is not.

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I am not looking forward to it.  Nothing to celebrate.  A year older.  A year gone.  Sidney gone.  I will spend the am in meetings with students.  In the afternoon, I will go to therapy, come home, eat dinner.  This is not how it should be.

This weekend, my husband was out walking with Eli and they met an elderly woman who lives down the street.  She asked Eli if he had any brothers or sisters.  No, he said.  Then a second later.  I had baby Sidney, but he died.  Yes, my husband said, confirming that what Eli said was true.  I had wondered how he would answer that question when it arose.  He did a good job.  But I don’t want his answer to be true.  I don’t want this to be his reality any more than I want it to be mine.

The past few days Eli has been mentioning Sidney more, saying he is sad and that he wants him to come back.  Me too, my lovely little boy, me too.

I got an email from a student.  I hope you are enjoying your maternity leave, it read.  No, I am not.

I want a puppy.  I want its companionship.  I think it would be therapeutic.  It would give me something positive to focus on.  And it would guarantee that I was active, since I would have to walk it for a decent amount of time everyday.  My husband does not want one. 😦

My dad is obsessed with genealogy.  He has traced his family back hundreds of years, and often contacts or is contacted by other ‘relatives’ who are also obsessed with genealogy.  He put baby Sidney in our family tree.  That means other people will know he existed.  It means a lot to me.  His name in a permanent record.  At least there is that.

Emotional roller coaster

I have been on an emotional roller coaster these past few days.  One moment, I feel hopeful.  The next, crushed.  One moment, I think, I can get through this, I can see joy and life after Sidney’s death.  The next, I am lying in bed, wishing that I did not have to get out and face anything.  This unpredictability makes it hard to plan, hard to know how I am doing, and what I can say yes to or expect of myself.  Then again, I suppose the unpredictability of life is something that has always been there, and that I just denied until Sidney died, trying to pretend that I had some semblance of control over things, that I could make plans or daydream about the future.  Sometimes I think to myself that my certainty that by 36 weeks, it was a matter of when Sidney came, not if, made his loss all that much harder.  If only I had mentally prepared myself that he could be taken away, then it would have been easier.  If only I had not loved him already so much, imagined him in to every aspect of my life.  But I don’t really think that’s true.  I think that figuring out a way to still have hope despite the shittiness of our situation, the shittiness of the reality that many of the most important things in life (and death) cannot be controlled or predicted, is important. If I had not loved him and been hopeful for him, and then he died, I am imagine I would have regret–and maybe one day, all my hope and love for him when he was inside of me won’t be so painful to reflect on, I won’t think, ‘I was so stupid, so naive.’  So if anyone has some suggestions for how to figure out how to be hopeful after loss, then I am all ears. But even though it’s making it so much more painful now, I am so happy that I loved Sidney from the moment I found out he was growing inside of me, the moment I first saw him swimming around during an ultrasound, finding out he was a boy, telling Eli he was going to be a big brother, setting up our room to make space for him, calling my mom to tell her to drive down, that we were in labor and off to the hospital, even those moments of pure shock when I held my precious boy in my arms, and the moments after, when I kiss his picture good night every night, or visit him in the cemetery.  I have loved you, Sidney, every moment of your existence, and every moment since you left me. I hope to figure out how to live a life that would have made you proud to have me as your mama.wp_20161030_08_49_13_pro

‘The university cannot allow you to grieve indefinitely’ and other random thoughts

I have been kind of quiet on this blog lately–I often feel like there is not a whole lot that is new to say.  Or maybe I am just tired of it all.

I met with my official academic ‘mentor’-mentioned in previous posts because he was the interim chair.  We met because he told me he needed my annual plan.  My annual plan–which also includes a statement of what I did the past year and how close I came to my goals.  The response I thought in my head.  Fuck last year.  I did not meet any of my goals.  I was nauseated and then grieving.  I accomplished nothing.  Goals for this year. Get out of bed.  Take my emergency family leave and work on healing.  Seriously?!  Our real conversation had him saying that he wanted to be supportive, and that he thought that holding me accountable would keep me moving forward.  The university cannot allow you to grieve indefinitely, he explained.  Ummm….first of all, I know that.  Second of all, since when is 5.5 months, when I am still on emergency family leave, indefinite.  I have to give him something on Tuesday-objective me thinks it’s great to have goals, and I do want to slowly start doing more work.  I’ll technically be back full time in January when I start teaching again.  But emotionally, it is just symbolic of our society’s discomfort with grief.  Eli’s preschool teacher pulled me aside yesterday, and told me Eli had had a rough day, and kept saying that he missed me.  “Is something going on at home?” she asked.  Ummmm, well, yes, his brother is still dead, I wanted to say.  What does she mean is something going on at home?  Plus, I don’t think it’s all that unusual for a 3.5 year old to miss his mom.  I told her, well, we are still grieving, and also, my husband started his curling league twice a week, so Eli’s nighttime routine is a bit different.  She accepted that answer.   Watched.  Judged.

I started going to a six session yoga for grief workshop.  I like it.  We have been working on breathing.  It is an interesting mix of people, mostly widows, a few people who have lost parents, me and then two other women who also lost babies–although both lost a twin, one to SIDS and another to a stillbirth.  I like it as a space, and have been practicing my breathing when panic seeps in.  I even tried it during a faculty meeting but I had to be careful, since you breathe out of your mouth and it can be noisy.

We were invited for dinner at the home of another loss mom and her husband.  It was the first social event I went to in a long time where I didn’t have a horrible fear that someone would ask me lots of questions about children or my summer.  Even though not everyone there knew what happened to me, they care about their friend,  and I knew would be sensitive to her situation.  So that was really nice.  And she gave me a necklace with an E and an S on it, along with Sidney’s birthstone.  I was/am so unbelievably touched (Thanks, Steph, if you are reading this).  It is really nice to feel heard and understood.  img_20161015_19563850211

I also started volunteering at this afterschool program for children in the area affected by the uprising.  I have only been once, but I really enjoyed it, and the children seem to really need the extra attention and support.  I think I will also be helping my colleague organize a project with some middle schoolers in the city.  This is not my favorite age group–I am better with slightly younger kids–but we will see how it goes.  We are going to meet with them Monday morning and help brainstorm a project they can do about once or twice a month with us over the course of the year.  I am hoping they pick something related to poverty and vacant housing but we also want it to be something they are interested in.

I ran into the asshole OB today, although I don’t know if he saw me.  I had taken a walk with a friend and then we went out to lunch.  And then I noticed him sitting at the table next to me.  The same OB who last heard Sidney’s heart.  The same OB who asked me if I had bouts of periodic weepiness and did not bother to call me with the autopsy results.  Then another OB from the practice joined him.  I tried to avoid eye contact but being near them was too much, so we asked for the check and I ran away.  Being visible. And invisible at the same time.

Halloween and my birthday are coming.  I am not looking forward to either.  Last Halloween, I was in a bad mood.  I took Eli to a party and then trick or treating–my husband was out of town, and I felt so sick.  He came home from a week away later that night, and we were bickering.  But now I miss the morning sickness, which for me was all day sickness that was the worst at night.  And I miss the tiredness.  And most of all, I miss Sidney inside of me, and the hope.  Nov. 1 is my birthday.  I don’t want to celebrate it.  I don’t want to think about time going on, and getting older, and having a birthday without Sidney here.  And it falls on a Tuesday.  And Tuesdays just suck in general.

But I do appreciate the emails I occasionally still get from people checking in on me.  I am a little behind in replying, but know that being thought of really means a lot.

Oh, and did I mention that I am still sad, and anxious, and ashamed, and grieving, and scared–while also having occasional moments of laughter, feeling appreciative, or even mild contentment?


Five months

Dearest Sidney,

It has been five months since I held you in my arms.  There are no words to describe how much my heart aches for you.  I am very aware of all I am missing, of all the things I will never get to see you do.  At five months, your personality would already be emerging so strongly.   I try not to think about it too much, as it consistently breaks my heart.  This Sunday, we went to a memorial service for you and all the other babies that died too soon.  I cried when they read your name, and I went up to receive a red rose in your memory.  I will never get to hear your name called to honor you, at your graduation or for your accomplishments, to take attendance or for any other reason than in your memory.  After the service, we each got a butterfly to release.  My butterfly crept out of its little envelope and then stayed for a moment. Maybe you know I miss you.  Maybe you know I need hope.  That evening, we were invited to a big dinner for Rosh Hashana.  We have only been once before to this house, just a week before you died, when we went for Passover.  Such different circumstances this time.  I missed you.  I miss you always.    You would have felt comfortable in the joy and chaos of families eating and celebrating together.

Rosh Hashana services were very hard without you.  It is the Jewish new year, a time to reflect on the past year, the changes we want to make to have a better year, to ask forgiveness, not just of God, but of the people that we have wronged.  As I thought of my year, all I could think about was you. Last Rosh Hashana, you had just come into existence, and I was hopeful.  I beg you to forgive me, to know how much I love you, to know I would have done anything in my power to keep you safe.  I am so sorry that I didn’t know you needed me, that I didn’t know you were distressed.  You have to know that I love you with all of my heart and wanted you here with all of my heart.  As we pray, we say over and over again, that on Rosh Hashana, our fates are written, on Yom Kippur, they are sealed, but that with prayer, charity and gratitude we can change those fates.  It is hard not to feel like it is my fault that you are gone, that I didn’t repent or reflect enough, and so you were taken from me.  But I read a different interpretation of that prayer this year, that I think makes a little more sense.  It did not say we could change our fates with prayer and charity, but that we could lessen the pain and isolation of whatever it was that we were experiencing through this small acts.  With human connection, then, maybe I will learn to live without you.  Life and death, love and grief are two sides of the same coin.  But it is still hard to pray, hard to sing over and over about wanting to be part of the book of life, when you are not here with us, when I don’t believe in a higher power that listens to individual supplications, when I literally cannot make sense or really grasp your death. The torah portions are also hard ones this week–first we hear about the binding of Isaac and that one of the many reasons we sound the shofar blast this holiday is to remember Sarah’s six cries of pain when she found out that Abraham had been willing to sacrifice Isaac, and that her soul died in those moments.  And then the second story we hear is about Channah, and how she longed for a child and was taunted for her infertility.   True or not,  so many of these stories are stories about the desire for family, human connection, and figuring out how to have hope or survive with what you have.  In the middle of the service, the rabbi read the names of all the children who were born this past year.  He did not include your name.  I did not hear your cries, coos or happy babbling throughout the service, like I did of the other babies.  I cried when I stood up to say kadish for you.

After services, we went home and ate challah, apples and honey for a sweet new year.  We did not have a big meal, and invite friends like we did last year.  What should be a happy family holiday was a bit too solemn.  But after, we went and took a walk.  It was a crisp fall day, and your brother ran excitedly down the wooden trail.  We found a spot by the water, and dropped bread crumbs in, symbolic of the sins we are throwing away, the behaviors we want to change.  Eli dropped one in for being mean to his babysitter, for kicking me, for doing bad listening, and then he dropped one in for you, he said for Baby Sidney.  I told him it wasn’t his fault, and he said he knows, that he just wanted to throw bread in the water for you, because he was sorry you weren’t there, he was thinking of you, and he missed you.  We all miss you.  Eli and I found sparkling stones from the trail to bring to your grave.  I wanted us to all be together as best as I knew how on this family holiday so we went to the cemetery after. It was a hard day.

After we put Eli to bed, I spent time with your father, and went to sleep.  Eli woke up in the middle of the night, a bark like a seal, the sound of croup.  We tried to bring him into the bathroom and run the steamy shower, but he was getting too upset.  He kept saying, “my body is not working.  I need to go to the hospital” and then he would gasp for air.  So we got into the car, and drove to the hospital in the middle of the night, just like we did the day you were born, five months ago.  We went to the emergency room though this time, and the doctors were able to help your brother.  They gave him epinephrine to open up his throat more, then steroids, and then apple juice, and he left happy and very wide awake for four am.  But as I held him in the hospital bed, I thought of the last time I was there.  I looked at the charts, heard the beeping, watched them monitor his oxygen, and grieved that we were not able to do that with you, that your outcome was so different.

Sidney Louis.  You are forever my second child, my second son.  I will try to live life for you, to make you proud that I am your mother.  I am trying.  But it is just so hard.

I love you always, and forever, my little Sidney Louis.



When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad….

I want to write some witty upbeat post.  I want people to read it, and laugh, and think, ‘Oh, wow.  She’s doing well, given the circumstances.’ Then again, I want a lot of things that obviously aren’t going to happen.

I went to campus on Tuesday.  I had scheduled a walk with two other professors in some woods that are part of our campus.  We walked along, and I listened to the older professor talk about the history of the woods, the plants, the trail.  Then he took us off the trail to show us a tree.  On the way back, we must have brushed against some sort of hive. Pain.  A few stings.  The male professor turned around so I could take off my pants and make sure the bees were gone.  Pant-less on a trail with my colleagues.

Later that day, in a parking garage, walking around and around, up and down, trying to find my car.  I can’t.  Minutes pass.  Trouble breathing, tears forming.  I call my husband.  I can’t find my car, I say.  I am sure I parked it at C 3 and it’s not there.  Press the panic button, he says.  Yes, panic.  I press it.  I hear the car below me.  I press it again, following the sound down to C 1.  Relief, but disconcerting.  I was so sure it was at C3.  I want a panic button I can press about life, a beeping noise that will alert people to my panic and guide me to security.  No button.

I listened to a 20-minute self compassion meditation.  May we be safe, may we be peaceful, may we be kind to ourselves, may we accept ourselves as we are.  Suffering comes from two main sources,  the recording says, from ourselves not being as we want, and from our lives not being as we want.  Yes, I am not who I want to be.  My life is not how I want it to be.  The voice tells me to repeat the following, ‘May I accept my life as is.  This is the way things are.’

Then there is the prayer: God, give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  I need this.  I need this wisdom.  I don’t know what I can control.  I self-blame,  I self-criticize but it does not help.  So please, give me this strength, give me this courage, give me this wisdom.  I am waiting.  I am waiting for a lot of things.

It’s gray, pouring rain, reflective of the way I am feeling.  I was going to volunteer at Eli’s school this morning for big truck day but it was cancelled because of the rain.  So I put a laundry in the machine, put the dishes in the dishwasher and now am trying to figure out what to do with the day.  I realized that I don’t actually do anything when I have chunks of free time–perhaps I am afraid to do something enjoyable when my son is dead, perhaps I think about all the work I ‘should’ be doing, and freeze, perhaps because doing anything requires too much effort.

At night lately, Eli has been asking me to sing ‘Favorite thing’ from the Sound of Music.  Does singing help?  Do voices joining together bring unity?  Make things better?  Can I think of my favorite things and feel some relief?  If only my pain were just from bee stings, and not from the death of my son.

My favorite things from yesterday: singing with Eli, watching Heroes with my husband at night, friends who check in on me, who don’t give up on me.