Dear Sam,

It’s snowing again. Big feathery flakes that swarm and disappear upon hitting the pavement.

You and I are winter babies. Born in the season of forced quiet. When the snow can feel both magical and cloistering at once. Perhaps this is why your signature expression is a wrinkled brow.

I wonder if you will be my serious child. If you will observe the world before engaging with it. At four weeks old, you appear to know more than you should.

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Lately, you’ve begun to study me. Your eyes—a blue so dark they look charcoal—reveal nothing as they scan my face. Do you trust me I wonder? Do I trust me I wonder?

Every day I rest you on my knees to stare into your eyes. You respond with a frown that seems to ask why have you summoned me here? And then you stretch your tiny arms, arching back into the nothing behind you. Because you do not know fear. You just know that my hands are there to support you.

I suppose this will be our lifelong dance.

But for now, let’s sit together by the fire. Let me just listen to you breathe and watch the snow. Let’s learn each other as we wait for the melting to begin.

Love,

Mama

alright

My two year-old is afraid of trolls. Lions. And deer. He thinks they will find their way inside our house and into his room at night. “I don’t want the animals to come,” he says, before plugging his mouth with his thumb. And while climbing the stairs for bed he asks what is underneath his bed.

Where does fear come from? Sometimes I think it’s too soon. Give him a few more years to fall in love with the world before recoiling from it. But I suppose it is human nature to be afraid of what can consume you.

The book where he first learned of trolls has vanished from the shelf even though he hasn’t asked to read it in a week. When tucking him in at night, I reassure him that lions live far away in Africa. Which is true. I tell him that he would need two planes, at least, to get there. I do not tell him that mountain lions roam the national forest that is our backyard. That I have seen their footprints in the snow. And that I have turned back when running certain empty trails just because I had a feeling I should.

Sometimes he runs around the house yelling “roar! Mama roar!” He likes being chased until the moment he believes a mother might really be able to transform into a lion. In his world, I know the answers to all questions. I am the keeper of safety. The chaser of bad dreams. It might even be possible for me to take flight.

The other afternoon he pointed to the sky, his cheeks reddened from the snow-scrubbed air, and demanded “fly like the birds, mama!” I kept my smile and looked up at sparrows overhead.

Afterward I snapped an icicle off the forsythia bush and placed it in his mittened hands. “You can’t eat it,” he told me. “Oh you can,” I responded. He slowly brought it to his lips and tasted the ice. His eyes sparkled. Then he cracked the tip off with his teeth and crunched on the cold.

“The world is alright” I said.

waiting to miscarry

Warning: This is not a post for everybody. This is a post for me. And for anyone who has experienced infertility, the loss of a pregnancy, or who wants to support someone who has. It’s common for people to share pregnancy announcements on social media. To snap week by week photos of healthy growing bellies and freshly painted nurseries. It’s not as common for women to share announcements about their miscarriages. To share their disappointment with the world. However, I feel they are still stories worth sharing. This is mine.

1.21.18

I feel crampy today. The hopeful me wonders if this is the month, this is when a tiny blastocyst will burrow into my side, hitching itself to me for the next nine months. For life. I worry that it is not. That I will wait another two weeks and bleed and wonder if I will ever have a healthy pregnancy again. If Gabe will have a sibling. Or if he will simply wish for one.

1.29.18

I am grateful that my son is oblivious to the things I worry about. That he pulls out sheets of colored construction paper and hands them to me with a request: heart, please. And we sit together as he watches my scissors trim as many hearts as I can from the card stock. That he lays them down on the ground to admire their shape before taking one in each hand and pushing them skyward.

1.30.18

A coworker showed me some of the first pictures shot from a satellite heading to fringes of the universe to study an asteroid. We are so tiny, I thought as he showed me the last images it sent of Earth. A speck beyond a speck beyond a speck of light. Our problems are all so small.

2.2.18

I peed on a stick today. The faintest of a blue line. A ghost. A hope waiting for time to give it shape. I worry that I have already mentally sketched out the layout of the kids’ room and called my parents to circle the date. But I’m grateful that I can see a ghost line and simply imagine—perhaps.

2.12.18

The fetus, if indeed I am growing one, is smaller than a grain of jasmine rice. I worry that I may have an empty sac. Or that a million cell divisions will all go well except for one or two or three, which will change the course of this life. It’s a miracle every time a baby is born healthy. So many millions of cell divisions gone right. Every day I look at Gabe and feel so lucky that he is here.

2.21.18

I interviewed a woman about infertility issues today. Afterward I surprised myself when I slid the recorder back into its case and admitted “I will never get over it.” And I won’t. I can still feel my throat tighten every time I think about the three years we tried and failed to get pregnant. Every time I saw my hope bleeding into the toilet each month.

But I wouldn’t change what we went through either. I think I kiss Gabe a little more, squeeze him a little tighter than maybe I would have if he had come easy. Maybe for me, it’s what I needed to be a better mom.

2.28.18

Today was my first ultrasound. I brought Gabe to the appointment. I knew that if something was wrong, it would be best to have him with me. Because you can’t fall apart when you need to zip someone else’s jacket and wipe someone else’s butt. And deep down I suspected that something might be wrong. “I haven’t felt all that pregnant,” I told the nurse. “I haven’t felt that nauseous and I know that feeling sick is actually a good sign of a healthy pregnancy.”

She assured me that it’s also normal not to experience morning sickness during pregnancy. And she’s right. “Let’s see if there’s two or three in there,” she joked.

“Or anything at all,” I said.

The moment the doctor inserted the ultrasound wand I looked for the sac. I think I knew it before he did. No heartbeat. “How far along should she be?” he asked the nurse. “Far enough along that there should be a heartbeat,” I said.

The hardest thing is my body hasn’t figured that out yet. And it will be weeks before my hormones resettle. Before my body recognizes that there is no life in here to support. Rational me says people get bad news every day. Today was just my day. And yet.

3.1.18

I started spotting during an afternoon run. I worried that the miscarriage would stream out of me all at once. That I would return to my office with blood-stained pants. It is a strange thing to sit in a meeting and hope you will not bleed out onto the roller chairs. They’re an unfortunate gray color. But a miscarriage can take awhile. Weeks. Even months before the body gets the memo: no baby here. I haven’t spotted since.

3.2.18

I am still waiting to bleed. And to try again. Gabe has picked up a funny new saying: “happens.” He says it while reading after seeing an overturned car, a person slipping on some marbles, or the general chaos in a Richard Scarry book. “Happens,” he says. And he’s right. Sometimes unfortunate events happen. And then we turn the page.

3.5.18

Today I found myself clicking on graphic images women posted online of the contents of their miscarriages. One woman apologized for the gruesome nature, but, does anyone know what this could be, she asked? I think it’s normal. To want to know what went wrong. To want to know how pregnant you were before you weren’t. Not that it matters. In the end there’s still no baby—just a desire for one.

3.12.18

I’ve started calling it “the nothing.” As in “the nothing is still in there.” Wednesday the waiting will be over. I’ve scheduled a dilation and curettage to clean out my womb. There are several tacks women can take when they are waiting to miscarry: let a natural miscarriage occur, take a pill to facilitate the process, or undergo a surgical procedure that ensures the lining and sac are removed. I chose the latter because I want some control over the where and when. Because I am 37. And I don’t feel I have a lot of time to wait.

3.13.18

Strangely, I haven’t been too emotional about the miscarriage. I’m pretty sure it stems from the years of trying and never once getting a positive pregnancy test until the one. From the years of saying “I just want one.” And I have Gabe. And he’s amazing. In a way, I am also grateful. Miscarriages are normal. The estimates vary, but figures suggest between 20 and 33 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

I am relieved we didn’t spend three years trying this time. That conceiving didn’t take visiting a fertility doctor, taking Chinese herbs, or acupuncture. That I didn’t collect pennies on heads from the street and store them in a jar on my windowsill. Maybe next time it wouldn’t hurt to look for a few coins on the sidewalk. But I am grateful that maybe this is a sign there will be a next time. Because right now, I am not losing a baby. Just the hope of one.

3.14.18

It poured this evening. A Texas-style storm that erased the dividing lines on the roads. The kind of rain where you find yourself holding your breath on the highway.

We spent the whole day at the hospital. I felt old sitting in my obstetrician’s waiting room with a bunch of expecting mothers as they unconsciously stroked their swollen bellies and thumbed their phones. They didn’t seem to register skinny me with crows feet around her eyes holding a card indicating that I’ve been administered RhoGAM. Bleeding and wondering if someday I will be back in this waiting room under different circumstances.

I cried about the loss for the first time post-surgery to the anesthesiologist. “It finally hit me why I’m here,” I said.

The last time I wore a hospital gown I left the hospital with a baby. This time I left with a light period. The two nurses who helped me shared their miscarriage stories. My obstetrician shared his, too. This happens. But I’m sorry, they said holding my hand. It helped to hear I’m sorry. But I’m still glad it rained on the way home.

a purgatory of sorts.

Every night, I check on my son – multiple times – before I got to bed. It’s a dance I perform every hour or so after I put him down in his crib. I climb the stairs without cause, softly push open his door, and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. Sometimes I just stand there listening to him breathe.

After a while I reach down to touch his hair, pat his hip, and go back downstairs. Over the last few months I have found myself checking on him more often. I’m not entirely sure why.

I do know that I am increasingly uneasy. My journaling reflects that. Every night before bed I write a worry I have and something that I am grateful for. Lately, my worries seem a lot easier to identify.

Yesterday, while reading a story about some of the victims from the Las Vegas shooting I paused when I came across a young man who died at 23. “We only had one child,” his parents said. “We just don’t know what to do.”

I stopped reading. I went for a walk. I thought of this young man and his parents. My throat closed in on itself. Then I thought of my son at daycare. Probably sucking his thumb and pushing around a toy car. Then I worried. And I got mad that I have to worry.

I called my senators. Their staffers read prepared statements over the phone.

“I don’t care what he said. What is he going to do?” I asked.

I am still waiting for a response.

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I said goodbye to my nana over the phone last week.

My sister held it to her ear so I could talk to her one last time. Her breathing was rapid. It was her only response when I told her about the drawing I received in the mail that day from my 5 year-old nephew L. It was a picture of our family tree that he had illustrated.

I told Nana that she was perfectly depicted in it – a wisp of a figure with a ring of curly white hair and bright blue eyes. Then I told her I loved her. She died a few hours later.

I regret not thanking her in person for teaching me about badassery. About how to come back after you put your head through a wall and break your neck. About how to continue living after you bury a child. For a woman barely five feet tall and about 90 pounds, Nana was a formidable presence.

She was always calm and claims she never swore once in her 93 years. She said she never felt a need to. She simply did what she felt was right and never looked back, never asked permission, and didn’t always apologize if she was wrong. Nana had a big heart and little tact. And she was a horrible driver.

I will always remember going to dinner with her and my sister one evening in Florida. She drove and got particularly creative in the parking lot. She wedged her vehicle between an occupied police cruiser and a no parking zone, cut the engine, and marched inside the restaurant. J and I just stood on the sidewalk with our mouths agape.

“What’s he going to do, arrest me?” she asked shooting a glance towards the police officer.

The thing is I know he saw her do it. And he likely even heard her say it. But that was Nana. She lived by her own set of rules and she bent them for no one.

Nana appears in some of my earliest memories. I remember climbing over the granite boulders in her backyard to pick wild blackberries and finding a litter of feral kittens she wouldn’t let me keep. I remember waking up on Christmas mornings and her always being there.

I saved most of the notes she wrote me after I graduated college. Words of encouragement. Articles she clipped from magazines that she thought I would enjoy. I know I didn’t always write a thank you note in return.

I’ve had three decades to learn most of her stories. One I have never forgotten is from when she joined the Waves during World War II. She was stationed in California and served as a dental hygienist. That’s where she met my grandfather. But the story I’m referring to isn’t about how they met — although I know that one too — it’s about how sometimes at night, she would sit in the dark, holding the hands of dying soldiers when they no other hands to hold.

Nana didn’t want services. There is to be no funeral. No obituary to mark her passing. I didn’t ask why. I should have, but that would have meant actually acknowledging aloud what was happening. And I guess even at 36, I’m still a little immature.

Instead, I sliced a one inch cube of cantaloupe into 16 pieces hoping she might be able to eat a few. I soaked coffeecake in butter so that she might be able to swallow it. And for the last three nights I spent with her, I sat at her bedside, pulled up her covers, and held her hand.

standing still

At about 19 weeks, human fetuses begin to hear from inside the womb. The first sounds they likely register are the gurgling of their mother’s stomach and the steady drumming of her heart. Her voice will be a sound they recognize and respond to before ever seeing her face. In other words, by 19 weeks, it will never be quiet again.

The value of silence is something I am trying to teach my son to appreciate as he grows. Because the world is a noisy place. It seems that every inch of available concrete is increasingly being used to prime us to open our wallets. Billboards scream at us from across the highway. Our phones nudge us for attention with chronic push notifications. Even my nearest gas station recently installed television screens on its pumps that blast advertisements 24 hours a day – even if no one is around to hear them. I find this disturbing.

The other day as I took refuge in my car from gas station TV, I recalled running errands with my mom as a kid. I remembered the sudden quiet when she’d park and cut the engine. How the radio stalled mid-song and the world outside seemed to operate as if on mute. I can still remember happily sitting in the cocoon of the car in the parking lot of Market Basket while my mom returned the shopping cart. I remember curling into the pocket of sunshine warming the backseat and just watching the world walk by.

That’s what I want for my son. Moments of quiet observation. Moments where he just has to sit and wonder without some device yelling at him. I want him to understand the importance of standing still.

So I started a new tradition this week. I pulled out our copy of A Field Guide to Western Birds and started birding with Gabe in our backyard. Truthfully I can’t say that he understands the point, but he seems to enjoy being plopped in the middle of the grass every afternoon. We sit on a blanket and I listen for birds while Gabe pulls at the blades of green at his feet. Sometimes the cat emerges from a bush and circles the blanket before returning to his hideaway in the garden.

It isn’t long before the chatter of birdsong begins. Within a few minutes a robin will perch in one of our cherry trees and a hummingbird will zip through the yard. While I’m certain Gabe rarely sees any of the birds I point out, he knows to listen for their call. He pauses from playing with the grass and looks to the sky. His eyes widen and he waits. And for now, for me, that is enough.

Dear Gabriel,

Every night before bed I hold you and whisper a prayer into the space between your neck and mine. Sometimes it’s just the standard Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes I make up one of my own. Deep down I suspect that these prayers are not really for you. They are for me. I think I am really just praying to be better tomorrow than I was today. For you. And for the world I have brought you into.

Every day I watch you play on a colorful mat with whimsical drawings of turquoise elephants in a place where palm trees are pink and the sun actually smiles back. I watch as you furrow your brow as your try to make sense of the world at your feet. Why does everything you throw ultimately, and always, fall back down? What does the color red taste like? Does everything make a sound?

You do. These days you are testing your little voice. I think that is what is most profound for me to absorb. You have a voice and you are learning how to use it.

Your voice can be loud. You emphatically tell me that you do not like it when I use the blender. Your voice can convey excitement. Nothing seems to delight you more than when the cat comes almost near enough for you to touch. Your voice can be gentle. After we nurse, and right before I lay you down for the night, you stand on my legs and coo into the darkness. In those moments it becomes clear to me that you feel safe. I pray that this is always so.

My job as your mother is constantly changing. In the beginning my mandate was simple: Keep you alive.

Six months later my role has already expanded. I am supposed to create a space where you feel loved enough and secure enough to explore it without me. Because you seem to smile biggest when you are showing me the things you can do all by yourself. Like directing a spoon into your mouth. And banging plastic cups together so that they create a noise. (I am certain that there will be times ahead when I wish you wouldn’t.)

These days I find myself silently adding to the list of things I pray for you. Perhaps one day I will share them all. Perhaps one day I will share both my hopes and my fears with you. But right now, all you need to know is that you are loved, that you are safe, and that you have a voice.

Love,
Mom