Monday, October 18, 2010

Goodbye Volvo, Goodbye Dream

Last week we sold the Volvo wagon. To my surprise (sort of), it set me on a course toward a dark place that has felt really hard to crawl out of. I should note here that I’ve never taken particularly good care of my cars (much to my dad’s dismay), nor have I ever been remotely sentimental about them. But this one was different.

Matt and I bought the Volvo station wagon a few years ago, right around the time we decided that we’d like to have another baby. It occurred to us that whatever car we purchased should be able to accommodate 2 kids on road trips (for those frequent visits to see the out-of-town family), and that it should have an impeccable safety record. I absolutely wasn’t up for the minivan thing, especially since we didn’t yet have a second child. Hence, we bought a used 2002 Volvo, which I lovingly referred to as the tank. Seriously, that thing was solid. I always felt incredibly safe when driving it.

Initially, I dug the car. At some point, though, the Volvo wagon started to feel like a mean joke, constantly reminding us of the piece of the dream that was missing. I remember thinking several times during all the miscarriages that we shouldn’t have bought the big car so soon, that it had jinxed us. (Not really, of course, but the mind goes down some crazy rabbit holes when dealing with grief and trauma.) After Frannie died, I really started to hate the car. Whether I’d fully realized it or not, that car had come to represent the dream – the dream of our family with two little girls giggling, or even bickering, in the backseat.

You’d think I’d have said my final goodbyes to that dream months ago. And I have, mostly. But it turns out that there are still tiny remnants of it hiding in places I wasn’t aware of. And one of those places was my behemoth of a car. Maybe it’s because October makes me melancholy anyway. Maybe it’s because Ellie has lost 2 teeth in the last week, and I’m freaked out by how fast it’s all going. Maybe it’s because every day I look around me and see people sailing through pregnancies and deliveries, and I feel utterly alienated and alone. Maybe it’s all of these things. Or maybe it’s simply that I’ll never stop missing my Frannie, and my heart needs only the smallest excuse to feel heavy. In any case, when the nice couple and their four children pulled away with my Volvo wagon, I wept. Letting that car go felt like letting the dream go….again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Walking through the Fire Together

I haven't been able to write for awhile. In the beginning, the words coming out of me seemed like a way to release toxins. After some time had passed, the things I wrote felt either too dark or too sacred to share, so I continued to write, but never posted. Then came a different phase, during which writing felt like picking away at wounds that were trying desperately to heal, or at least to stabilize to keep from blowing open at an inopportune moment. Now I can feel myself entering yet another new phase, one that I don't yet fully understand.

I hope to begin writing more regularly again, but today I simply want to express my deep gratitude for Matt. Nine years ago today, we were married. On that happy day, neither of us had any idea what we were in for...the fire that we'd have to walk through together.

I dedicated my dissertation to Matt, with these words, "For Matt, who remains the best decision I've ever made." Over and over again during these last 11 months, I've reflected on that statement, and marveled at its persistent truth. His tenacity, his boundless character, and his blink-and-you'll-miss-it humor continue to be integral to my journey of healing. I still frequently feel paralyzed by our loss of Frannie, but I also feel incredibly blessed each day to have Matt as my partner and friend, and as the amazing father to Ellie and Frannie.

I wrote the following passage just days after Frannie died, and today feels like the right time to share it:

When choosing a life partner, most of us don’t really consider the “for worse” part of the vows too much. We might casually check in with ourselves about what “for worse” is likely to mean…money problems, an illness, etc., but truthfully, most of us (myself included) are so in love and happy that we only have room in our minds for the “for better” part of our futures. That’s why one of the (many) feelings with which I’m overwhelmed right now is gratitude for Matt. I did my best to choose wisely, thinking about all the things Matt would bring to our relationship and about what a good parent he’d be, but never once did I consider how he would deal, and help me deal, with the loss of a child. Holding our sweet baby in our arms for hours, knowing that she would soon die, is something we never expected to do. In those hours and days leading up to Friday morning, as our confusion and fear gradually gave way to understanding and acceptance, we held tight to each other and sat with the pain and the messiness together. I’m so glad to have a partner who didn't dispense stupid, trite platitudes to try to make me feel better. I’m so grateful for the depth of connection we shared, even if forged in part by an almost-as-deep pain.

Namaste, y'all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Love and Light

Today is a national day of remembrance for pregnancy and infant loss ( I’d never heard of such an occasion until last year when some friends of a friend lost their baby a few days after birth, similar to the shocking way in which we lost Frannie. In observance of the day, they asked their friends and family to light a candle in memory of their daughter, and I just loved that idea. Maybe it’s the concept of a burning light that resonates so much, because I know that Frannie’s light is with me every day.

I’m feeling a particular yearning for hope and light right now, as the month of October is full of painful meaning for me. Two years ago this month, I had the first of 3 miscarriages. I remember taking Ellie trick-or-treating that year and being so excited at the thought of having another little one by the time Halloween rolled around again. The very next day, an ultrasound (the second of that pregnancy), revealed that there was no longer a heartbeat present. A few months later, I became pregnant with a baby who was due on October 19th of 2008. Again, I miscarried. The second pregnancy loss hit me really hard, as I was so sure that one would stick. I never forgot her due date. Another miscarriage late that summer left me wondering if we should just give up on the idea of having any more biological children. Then, last October we found out I was pregnant with Frannie. I remember having such mixed feelings at the time. I was so emotionally exhausted from the pregnancy losses, and I wasn’t particularly optimistic about our chances of carrying to term. But still I believed it was possible that things would work out. I carried my little bit of hope right there alongside my overwhelming anxiety and fear. Then, as the pregnancy progressed and Frannie grew and developed, my hope started to give my fear a run for its money. The day Frannie was born, I believed we’d finally reached the finish line. Safely. Joyfully. I believed the hope had won. And now here I am, a year after first starting to know my baby girl in utero, and I’m more broken than I ever could have imagined.

Tonight I’ll light a candle to honor Frannie, as well as the three babies we lost through miscarriage. And I’ll be thinking also of all the families out there whose dreams have been shattered by miscarriages, stillbirth, or neonatal death. May our love for these precious ones be a warm, glowing light in the world, and may we strive always to be sensitive to one another’s suffering.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Two Months

Today marks two months since we lost Frannie. Matt and I were talking last night about how it feels like ages ago in some ways, while in other ways it feels like time has been standing still. My mind so readily returns to the vivid, awful memories of being in the hospital as the news just got worse and worse. And then being with Frannie in those last hours, saying goodbye to her with our family and close friends, and finally returning home on that Friday morning with empty arms. Remembering the details of those days is excruciating, but it feels so important. Yes, it’s painful, but if the alternative is forgetting, then I choose the pain.

Today is also when I would’ve been teaching my first class at Hofstra. Days like this make my head spin and my heart hurt more than usual. Brought into sharp relief is the fact that this is SO not the way my life was supposed to be. I had similar feelings when we moved out of our house last month; while we would’ve been moving on the very same day, our destination should’ve been very different. Instead of being a family of three moving 20 minutes down the road, we should have been a family of four on the way to our new home in Hempstead, NY. I had envisioned what a challenging yet exciting adventure it would be to drive across the country with a four-year-old and a newborn; thinking back on those visions now, I can’t believe how much I took for granted.

It’s clear to me that I’m a new person in many ways. I seem to have developed new, highly sensitive receptors for human suffering. I see it and feel it everywhere, all the time. When I read the news, when I hear a story from a friend, when I sit in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, when I walk through the grocery store. I mean I really feel it. A fountain of emotion has opened up within me that may never fully close, and I suspect that this will be both a blessing and a curse.

But it would be inaccurate to describe this time in our lives as defined wholly by loss and pain. On the contrary, Matt and I have marveled at and been humbled by the compassion we’ve witnessed. So many people, sometimes in the midst of their own grief, have reached out to us with love and support. To everyone who has sent us cards, provided meals, pointed us to resources, listened to us when we needed to talk, checked on us with calls or emails, prayed and meditated on our behalf, and given us shelter (literally or figuratively), please know what a gift you are in our lives. We feel you all holding us in the light, and we’re so, so grateful.

What’s more is that we understand in a very real way the double-edged sword of loving deeply. We couldn’t have been any more joyful when Frannie was born. Seeing Ellie hold her for the first time, with so much tenderness, will forever be the highlight of my life. It’s only because of the depth and intensity of our love and joy that we now feel such intense pain. Therein lies the rub, of course. The possibility of loss is a risk we take when we love. But as awful as I feel on days like this, I know that the love is worth it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Our letter to Frannie

Many thanks to all of you who were able to join us this past Sunday for Frannie's memorial service. We were honored to have you with us to celebrate Frannie's life. A very special thanks goes to our generous and talented friends who shared their gifts in order to make the service such a fitting and loving tribute. Zac, Laura, Heather, Paul, Dan, Kristen and Jason - you are treasures to our family.

A number of people have asked that Matt and I post the letter to Frannie that we composed for the service, and we've been touched by those requests. Accordingly, we share the letter below. Peace to all.

Our dearest Frannie,

As we gather with our friends and family to honor you, our hearts are shattered and our pain knows no depths.

Never has there been a baby more wanted and more loved than you. Through many difficult challenges and with much assistance, we worked so hard to bring you into the world. We longed to meet you. And then you were here, fulfilling a fervent dream we’d had for so long. Letting you go after such a short time on this earth was, by leaps and bounds, the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do.

We mourn the loss of our time with you, and ache that we’ll never get to know you, never get to snuggle with you and read you bedtime stories, never get to take you to the zoo or the park, never get to watch “The Sound of Music” or sing songs with you, never get to watch you grow and learn. We mourn the loss of Ellie’s time with you, as she was so very excited and so ready to be your big sister. But also, we mourn the terrible loss of all the good you would have done in the world.

At the same time, we’re infinitely grateful for the gifts you gave us. You gave us the absolute happiest hours of our lives; because of you and your sister, we understand what it is to be unabashedly joyful. You reminded us what a good decision we made to spend our lives together, and you renewed our gratitude for that decision. You showed Ellie the happiness and gratification that comes with loving a sister.

But it was not only our lives that you touched; already, we are mindful of your multi-faceted impact. All who had the privilege to meet you, and many who didn’t, have been moved by your presence on this earth. You inspired parents to hug their kids a little tighter, to give them extra kisses, and to express their love more freely. You reminded people how fragile and unpredictable life is, and caused them to navigate their relationships differently in light of that reminder. You demonstrated that our time here is valuable, and must not be wasted. You evoked from people new levels of kindness, compassion, and empathy that they didn’t know they were capable of.

We know that as time goes on, we’ll continue to recognize all the ways your impact will be felt, and that gives us some comfort, but there is no denying that our pain will always be with us. Our view and experience of the world will always be different because we’ll never stop missing you, never stop thinking of you, never stop appreciating how you changed us. But our hope is that we will come to understand compassion, goodness, love, and grace in new and richer ways than we could have before – and that we will live differently because of it.

We commit to you that we will work to lead meaningful lives – lives full of love and purpose that would make you proud to be our daughter. We will seek earnestly to discern the ways that we can be instruments of good because of our experience as your parents. We know that this won’t always be easy, and so we ask for your help. We need you to watch over us and guide us as we move through our journey.

We look forward to the reunion of our souls someday, and until then entrust you to God, to Grandma Jo for whom you were named, and to all those loved ones who have gone before us.

As our friends Paul and Dan so beautifully noted, nothing here will ever be the same. You changed our world forever, and we will always celebrate your life with the deepest pride and love.

All our love to you, our precious baby girl.

Mommy and Daddy

Friday, July 17, 2009

So Many Layers of Grief

I’ve been reflecting over the past few days on the multiple dimensions of our grief. They range from the mundane to the profound, and even sometimes emerge in unexpected ways.

Take yesterday morning, for instance, when Matt and I took Ellie to the orthopaedic surgeon for what was to be the final check-up on her hips (aside: For those of you who don’t know, Ellie was born with hip dysplasia, had to wear a brace for nearly a year when she was a toddler, but appears to be totally fine now). We were supposed to have a simple X-ray, a quick chat with the doctor, and be out of there. For reasons that may be varied, Ellie was adamantly opposed to having the X-ray; she got very, very upset and said she was scared to lie on the table. The X-ray technician seemed a little annoyed by Ellie’s behavior, and suggested that sometimes with children of this age it’s necessary just to hold them down and push through it. Matt and I glanced at each other, me on the verge of a breakdown, and instantly we knew we were on the same page: no way were we going to force our little girl to do something she perceived as scary right now – not in the wake of this profound loss and trauma. Maybe she was just being a petulant, stubborn 4-year-old, but we felt like it was something more…that her behavior was in some way related to her recent experiences in hospitals. In any case, we didn’t want to traumatize her any further, so we ultimately decided to leave. I walked out of the building feeling sad and worried in new ways.

Another layer of this grief is the loss of what we envisioned our family would be. Frannie will not be with us (which is hard enough to swallow), but what’s more is that we won’t have any additional children, at least not biologically. While other families who experience the loss of an infant to random causes may go on to have healthy babies in the future, this really won't be an option for us. Since Frannie’s death, we’ve learned more about her particular disorder, CPS deficiency ( It is genetically transmitted in an autosomal recessive fashion, meaning that Matt and I are both carriers of a genetic mutation that we each passed on to Frannie. The risk of Matt and I producing a child with the disorder would be 25% in any given pregnancy, and we feel strongly that this risk is simply too high. While pre-natal diagnosis is possible, thus enabling immediate life-saving treatment in the hours after birth, CPS deficiency is still a chronic condition that is very difficult to manage, that causes immense suffering for children, and that often still results in serious developmental delays and death of young children. We are not willing to risk putting a child (and ourselves) through that pain when we have to ability to avoid it.

Finally, I can’t escape this feeling that the world is designed to torment me right now (even though, rationally, I understand that this is not the case). It feels like the number of pregnant women and families with healthy newborns has increased exponentially over the past 2 weeks; I see them everywhere, and sometimes I don’t just feel sad, but also angry. Yesterday Matt and I were in a coffee shop and it so happened that a guy was sitting next to us, working at his laptop, with a baby in a stroller next to him. The guy (presumably the baby’s father) went for long periods of time without so much as a glance at the lovely, cooing baby. After 15 minutes or so, the baby got a little cranky, at which point the guy reached over and attached a little toy bar to the baby’s seat and then propped up a bottle on the toy bar so that the baby, who didn’t yet have great hand control, could “feed herself.” The guy then went back to his work, without a word. Ordinarily, I might applaud this guy’s mastery of multi-tasking, or think how clever it is that he came up with the bottle-propping trick. Instead, at this moment I wanted to scream at him for being negligent, for not understanding how precious this time is with his healthy baby. I wanted to tell him how undeserving he is. And then I wanted to punch him. Totally unfair judgments, I know. But these are the real manifestations of my grief.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

One Step at a Time

Matt and I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support we’ve received from so many of you over the past week. The emails, messages, cards, flowers, and meals are holding us together right now; please know how much we appreciate each kind word, each expression of compassion. Every day, every step, is painful. It occurred to me yesterday that more time had passed since Frannie’s death than we were able to spend with her in her short life, and it just blows my mind. We miss our baby so much. But we believe our family will get through this. Although we cannot yet see the light, we have faith that it’s there.

We want to share that we now have firm plans for Frannie’s memorial service. The service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 19 at Trinity Presbyterian Church. We welcome anyone who wishes to celebrate our precious daughter’s life.

In other news, as many of you know, our family had planned a move to New York at the end of this month. Matt and I feel it would be a horrible mistake to uproot Ellie so soon after experiencing this trauma, so we’ve put the move on hold. Luckily, I’ve received official word from my new department chair that they can delay my appointment until the spring semester of 2010. We are so grateful and relieved to be able to remain in the midst of our support system as we work through our grief. Also, thanks to the kindness and flexibility of the folks at Linden Waldorf School, Ellie will return this fall to the loving arms of her teachers and classmates. We believe this will aid her (and our) healing.