Monday, September 21, 2009

Making the Connections

We have had a wonderful summer with the boy. I am back at work now, and our lives are accelerating back towards warp speed. In between, we try to get to the farm. We have had Alden to the house three times now, and plan to be up frequently this fall. He is a happy baby, and he really loves the farm - he sleeps better, smiles wider, and seems more peaceful. He's probably just picking up vibes from his Mom and Dad.

Our relationship with our grief and with Baker has really changed, and I don't yet have the tools at hand to describe the difference. We are experiencing another turn of the Earth without Baker, but this time we are joined by his pudgy little brother who has soothed us.

I think about Baker all the time, still, and wonder what Alden's relationship to his missing brother will be. I wish they could be together in the flesh, but I know that can never be.

More even than Baker's grave, I think the farm will be Alden's link to his brother. The farm represents a time in our lives, and a need unmet, and a hope for the future. We have already started weaving Alden into that narrative.

In the spring, my siblings wanted to give us a bush or a tree to commemorate Baker's birthday at the farm. Others had done that for us, and two tree saplings are planted hopefully along the edge of the woods.

I encouraged my family to let some time pass for us to lay out a blueberry patch that over time would grow and thrive and extract nutrients from the soil to nourish our bodies and souls.

This past weekend, with Baker's little brother looking on, sleeping, crying, grunting, smiling, I laid out the two beds of the patch, and prepared the site. Baker's blueberry patch will be planted in the spring, perhaps with aunts and uncles and cousins there with shovels and gloves. This place, and this food, will be one of the connections for Alden.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sweet relief

Thank you all for the well wishes. We are adjusting at home with Baker's little brother. I was scheduled for a repeat C-section on July 6, but started having mild contractions a few days before. We went to the hospital to make sure everything was OK (it was), and we made the decision to deliver then at 38 weeks. I was scared and shaking uncontrollably during surgery prep, but then Alden started yelling as soon as his little golden head poked out-such sweet relief for his anxious parents. 7 pounds 12 ounces, 21 inches long. He was checked out on a warmer next to my head, then swaddled and placed on my chest while I was sewn up. He stared at us with bright blue eyes and stuck his tongue out. We all went to recovery together, and he rode on my chest to the maternity floor. He never left my sight until his bath nearly 24 hrs after his birth. It was exactly how I hoped this birth experience would go.

The relative ease of my pregnancy with Alden and his birth-in the sense that it was another normal, healthy fullterm pregnancy-makes me realize what a waste it was to lose Baker. He could so easily be here-he should be here-if not for what was likely an unknown, unseen kink in the cord. Similar pregnancies, similar babies, but completely different outcomes.

Now, existing alongside the weight of Baker's loss, is a palpable joy. Our home is often loud with our grunting boy. We piece together enough sleep to get by. We happily diaper and nurse and take stroller walks. We are honoring Baker and raising Alden and finding ways to include both boys in our family.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Role Reversal

The weight of the baby in my arms has relieved the weight on my shoulders and the anchor on my heart.

He is wonderful, as all tiny babies are. We love him to the point that our hearts are bursting and painful at being overfilled. At the same time, he is an immediate squirming reminder of the magnitude of our loss with Baker.

He has Baker's chin and Baker's nose - both his mother's - but otherwise he is his own boy, in all his towheaded glory.

Dalene and I remember for many months following Baker's death the jealously and sadness and anger (in a very weird way) that we had towards all of the pregnant women and little babies that we saw as we traveled around. It seemed at times as though they were stalking us; taunting us. Now that's us. We are the parents with the irrepressible smiles on our blissful babymoon. I fear that we are now the tormentors of the lost.

I think that we babylost parents need to invent a symbol or claim a color or a bracelet or something that lets others in the "club" know that we are one of them. Instead of feeling upset when a babylost mama or daddy saw us with Alden, she or he might see us as a sign that rainbow babies do come, and that they are sweet, sweet balm for wounded souls.

We watch him breathe, but have not yet been neurotic. I give him kisses, but I have not physically smothered him with my squeezes, as I feared I would. He is the manifestation of the complete opposite of the parental soul-murder that was Baker's death.

We are bequeathing Baker's hand-me-downs to Alden, and that has been healing. Little t-shirts and gear, washcloths and diapers - all being handed on to the little brother. All wrong and completely right all at the same time.

We appreciate so much all of the good wishes from across the country and around the globe as our litle babe arrived.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Born on the Fourth of July

Alden Baker arrived delightfully screaming in the wee hours of Saturday morning. 7 pounds, 12 ounces, 21 inches long. Blonde locks.

Our Rainbow Baby with a firework exclamation point.

Big brother Baker Christian was smiling down.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Second Firsts

Our dear friends from around the country, like they did last year, last time, are showering us with gifts in preparation for the arrival of our baby. Of course we have nearly everything we need already. We have had it for a year and need to dust some of it off.

What’s troubling me is that all that lies before us is all going to be new. It feels like we are first time parents, albeit grizzled by the experiences we have had. I have no earthly idea what it will be like to be up every couple of hours at first when he’s first born. I have only a vague concept of just how many times I am going to be peed on. I haven’t changed a diaper since my nieces and nephews were small all those years ago. All of this is going to be new to us.

Yet these experiences – our first time experiences – should belong to Baker. He should have been the one that we got to learn with, and make mistakes with, and laugh and cry with as we figured out parenting. So now we have these same experiences – still as unseasoned with a newborn as we were last year, only having these firsts with our second son.

It is a strange feeling, almost verging on disloyalty to Baker, though I know that is nonsense. It feels good to be a little bit excited again, and to let go enough to embrace that anticipation of being at the top of a roller coaster ready to take that gut-busting plunge over the edge.

I feel like I am contemplating the Universe – it is beyond comprehension – but I think about this baby on the way, and he’s our second son, but he’ll be raised as though he’s the first child. He’ll be our “oldest living” child. This baby won’t have his big brother Baker talking to him and playing with him and pushing him down in the dirt – you know, forming his little brother personality. He is going to be a different boy than he would be had Baker lived.

But even though this baby won’t have his big brother’s in person influence, he is forever linked through circumstance to Baker. If Baker had lived, we would certainly not have gotten pregnant so soon, and this baby, but for Baker, would not exist.

And that’s when my brain goes “pop.”

This is one of Baker’s gifts to us – a completely special baby brother, formed in the cauldron of our grief, a joy for our broken hearts and a balm for our wounds.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Waiting and Hoping

This past week I have experienced delayed nesting. Since we were ready for Baker, we had little to do to get ready for this little one other than waiting and hoping. Waiting and hoping, it turns out, have kept us pretty busy. Waiting and hoping and distracting ourselves with an ancient barn of a house in a spot on a hill that is rapidly growing on me.

Last week the logjam broke - for whatever reason - and I found myself painting the inside of a cabinet at 10:30 at night (in Massachusetts). Earlier that night I had stripped wallpaper from the 1980's, the 1960's, and perhaps, from the 1940's, from the back of the cabinet, and replaced it with clean white paint.

Baker had interrupted our kitchen remodel last year - we got close enough - even painting a wall while Dalene was on the couch in labor. Since babies don't usually concern themselves with cabinet interiors, I let a few of them go unpainted.

We have washed 30 some odd diapers, and have rewashed clothes that were last laundered before our fateful day on April 3, 2008. They were, if anything, dusty and sad that they had never been worn by their intended occupant, but they seemed ready to be brand new hand-me-downs.

I made one last run up to the Farm on Friday night (with the car seat in the back...), one last check and lawn cutting before we are joined by the hoped-for baby on July 6. After scaring a few chipmunks out of the house and making sure everything was buttoned up, I went for a quick walk, constantly moving to keep the mosquitoes from carrying me off to their insect lair.

Walking through the field along the edge of the woods, I nearly stepped on a tiny spotted fawn, bedded down in the grass. As it darted off into the dark forest, I was struck by a feeling of life and renewal and I hope that it was a good sign that the boy in the womb will join us soon, eyes wide, chest rising and falling, living and growing so that he and I can explore those woods together, in a place that we are building in Baker's memory, for years to come.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

34 Week Update

It finally feels like we are close to welcoming Baker's little brother into the world. The big day is July 13, which can't come soon enough. I'm not freaking out, but I am very impatient. Perhaps I'm in quiet denial? I am very aware of Mr. Tiny's movements and poke him if he's quiet. I'm being watched carefully with 2x/week non-stress tests. I had both tests last week at the hospital and was on the Labor & Delivery floor for the first time since Baker died. I asked my midwife to show me the recovery room, which is the only place where I ever held Baker in my arms-the place where I woke up and found Chris holding our firstborn, where we said hello and goodbye-and where I will be again after my repeat C/S. I was coming out of general anesthesia then and have no idea where I was. This time, there was a woman in the recovery room in the exact same place where my bed was. A dad was pacing outside, but I didn't hear or see the presumed baby. After Baker died, my midwives gave me the choice of recovering on the maternity ward or elsewhere. We chose elsewhere, and to this day, I have no clue where I was located-other than it was a giant room at the end of a hall on some floor with much older people recovering from various surgeries. It was tough being back (as evidenced by my elevated blood pressure), but I was glad to see it again before being there in July.

It turns out that Mr. Tiny is likely not so tiny. I've been consistently measuring a little bit ahead. An ultrasound 3 weeks ago estimated that he was almost 5 pounds, which was 92nd percentile for his gestation at the time. I have another ultrasound tomorrow with the peri to do a last check of fluid levels.

Chris spent the weekend at Lazy Cat Farm with his dad, closing up the eaves from the roof project and mowing the field in preparation for not being able to make the trip again for some time. I poked around the boys' room refreshing my memory about what we have in the nursery. The stroller and car seat made their way out of my ILs attic and back to our house. We were ready last April, and we're ready now.

Mr. Tiny, please come home with us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lap Baby

We just booked a flight for Labor Day weekend, and I had to maneuver the mouse to the little pull down menu that says, "and infant." That gave me pause.

We tried this whole "and infant" thing last year, as we planned to bring what would have been a 3 month old Baker with us on family vacation to the islands. That infant didn't make the trip with us, so it feels impossibly optimistic that this next one will either.

But I don't really feel that way. I mean, I know it's possible that something will go wrong, but I don't go there very much. It is a very funny place that we inhabit. Not naive first time parents, optimistic and oblivious to the shittiness of the world, but not completely and utterly pessimistic either.

We have no damn right to be optimistic, yet we are compelled by a squirming, growing, hiccuping little brother to Baker to believe that this time, we might actually take home a live baby. We might actually need a plane ticket to bring him to Pittsburgh and show him off. We might actually get to BRING HIM HOME and not have to share only pictures, damp with tears.

We just might.

And what will that be like? Meeting our second-born first-breathing son? I hope he screams his ever-loving head off. I hope that he has just a sneaky hint of Baker's angel face in him, just enough to remind us whose brother this is. Maybe he'll have that little freckle that Baker had over his right eye, or maybe they'll have the same chin. Honestly, he could come out with a clown wig and a squeaky nose and I would be perfectly pleased. Back to the important stuff - big breaths, screaming, nice and pink, eyes wide open, "howdy, Mom and Dad." That's all we ask.

All in all, with 7 weeks to go until he's scheduled to be here, I am proud of us. I am proud of the way that we have integrated Baker into our family, and I am proud of how supportive our family and friends have been, not always knowing exactly what to do, but letting us know how much they miss him with us. I am proud that we haven't worn tracks in the floor pacing, and we haven't bitten our nails down to nubs. We've been there for each other, and we've found a way, a little bit at a time, to be excited, and even hopeful, about our to-be-born boy number 2.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dear Diary: May 6, 2008

Please join me as I revisit my thoughts and feelings from the early days after Baker's death. From my journal nearly one year ago:

My midwife called yesterday with the final pathology report. It's upsetting to think of Baker's little body shutting down inside of me and blood going into his lungs. I hope he didn't hurt or feel anything. I hope he felt love from his mama. I hope that all he know was how much we love him.

Chris has a surprise for me this weekend for Mother's Day. I don't feel like I deserve something nice or special. I wish my body had worked and kept Baker alive. I've let him down.

We drove to Vermont that weekend, and the surprise that Chris had been planning was to design a ring with an artisan jeweler. He sat me down on a bench, next to the store where I bought my wedding veil, and confessed his plan before we entered. The jeweler gave me a hug and explained several ideas about how to design a meaningful ring. I remember being in a complete fog, still wracked to the core with grief. In the end, we chose a small birthstone diamond, bezel-set into a ring molded from a poplar twig. She patiently explained that the balm of Gilead comes from the poplar tree and is known for its healing properties. The ring arrived a few months later, inscribed with Baker's initials and birthday, and assumed its place of honor opposite my wedding rings.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dear Diary: April 30, 2008

From my journal nearly one year ago:

Chris and I sent Baker's pictures to some people. It makes me so sad to realize that those are the only pictures we'll ever get to send our family and friends. No Christmas cards, no school pictures. He'll always be a baby.

Thank goodness for the pictures that the hospital staff urged us to take. I wish we had a thousand more. A friend who is a professional photographer contacted me shortly after Baker died and shared that she is a volunteer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. She offered to retouch the pictures and did an amazing job sharpening up the close-up of his foot that was originally so very blurry. Chris thinks that Baker would have been a barefoot water skier given the size of his tootsies.

Some random thoughts to finish out the month of April:

I spotted this obituary for a baby named Lizzie Marie Horner and loved the words: She was also loved by many aunts, uncles and cousins. Lizzie enjoyed talking to her family and friends through mama’s belly, and loved to kick daddy in the mornings. She will be forever loved and missed.

We didn't put a printed obituary in the newspaper. At the time, it was too much to bear along with the other details of Baker's burial and memorial service. If we had, I would have liked to say something similar.

The most emailed Boston Globe article on Wednesday (until swine flu took the top spot) was
Bereaved fathers find healing in friendship.

The forsythia wreath we placed on the door of Lazy Cat Farm on Baker's first birthday, April 3rd:

Hyacinths from Baker's funeral arrangements blooming in our garden:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dear Diary: April 26, 2008

From my journal one year ago today:

This morning, I discovered the birthday cake I made to celebrate Baker. Mom had put the two halves in the freezer. I baked it on April 2nd while in labor. He was alive and kicking then. I threw it in the trash and cried.

I miss my baby. I hope that he is happy in heaven. Our minister says that there is no suffering where he is. I hope that Baker knows that he is loved and that we miss him. I hope that his baby spirit will stay with me and help me through this.

He was so active and alive inside me. I wondered for so long what he would look like. When I finally saw him with my eyes, he was dead. So still and lifeless. It was so wrong. My heart is broken. As C. told me yesterday, this is the worst thing that could happen.

I briefly thought about attempting the same chocolate birthday cake for what should have been Baker's first birthday on April 3 of this year. Then I decided to do cupcakes from a box, and even that felt like too much to expect of myself. Maybe some future year, but not this year. So on his birthday, when we stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things before making the trip up to Lazy Cat Farm and I spotted the single blue or pink birthday cupcakes, I knew I had found the perfect solution. Later that night in the dark, Chris and I lit the single candle that came with Baker's blue and white-iced cupcake and whispered a tearful rendition of "Happy Birthday" to our sweet boy. Chris read Baker's favorite book, The Pokey Little Puppy, to our two boys, and we were both mercifully asleep by 11:31 pm, the time that Baker was born without breath.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dear Diary: April 25, 2008

From my journal one year ago today, 3 weeks after Baker died:

April 25, 2008

I miss having Baker in my belly. He would stick out his baby bum on my right side, and we would spank it. I rubbed it when I sat at my desk at work and loved him. I loved him wholly and completely. I fell in love with my son. I miss his baby hiccups toward the end of my pregnancy. He squirmed a lot when he hiccuped. I could tell he didn't like them. Chris wanted to take him out and burp him when they happened. Sometimes they were faint and sometimes they were jarring.

In related news, Baker's little brother is 28 weeks today, solidly in the third trimester. He pokes and hiccups and squirms around often, which I hope are little reminders that he is alive and well and is going to come home with us in July. My fundal height measured 30 cm at my midwife appointment this week. At the end of May, I start twice weekly non-stress tests until delivery. I'll have two growth ultrasounds in June to check fluid levels. It's all for peace of mind, really, since Baker's death was likely a freak cord accident during labor. That's the good news and the bad news for us. It is maddening to know that Baker should be toddling around today, if not for an accident. That knowledge coexists with the knowledge that his little brother should make it out alive and well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dear Diary: April 22, 2008

Since I didn't start writing on our blog until Baker had been gone for 6 months, I feel the need to share some of my thoughts from the early days of my grief, when the pain was so raw that I gasped and choked for breath. For the next few posts, possibly for the next several months, I'm going to share excerpts of what I wrote one year ago in my journal. I carried the notebook, stuffed with a few select cards that I read and re-read, like a security blanket in my purse to work, along with a small photo album of Baker's pictures. In the days leading up to what should have been his first birthday, I cracked the book for the first time in months and remembered through my tears. It doesn't take long to get back to that place. These were the first words I could manage to get down on paper, exactly one year ago today.

April 22, 2008

I did not ask for this. It is so unfair and totally sucks. I don't want to be a grieving mother. I just want my baby. My beautiful baby boy. I want him more than anything. I'd give anything to change this. This isn't how it was supposed to turn out. I feel lost. I feel empty without my baby. I feel hopeless and aimless. I am afraid of the dark. I am afraid that we'll get hit by a car or that Chris will get hurt and killed. I feel paralyzed and in a daze. I have trouble remembering things. Baker died almost 3 weeks ago. I should have a 3-week old newborn. We should be taking Baker out for walks in the sunshine in his stroller. We should be figuring out nursing and be waken in the nighttime by his baby cries. We should be changing his diapers and rocking him to sleep and watching him breathe. I want to see his eyes look at me. I want to hold him and smell him and comfort him. Instead, we are left with an empty house, a quiet bassinet, a room full of hopes and sadness, and our baby in the ground. It isn't right and it isn't fair.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Today is for remembering

by W.W. Roberts

Today is for remembering
The day begins like any other day,
The busy-ness of people all around me
Going about the tasks of their day,
Will never know the pain
This day marks for me.
I have survived a difficult year.
I have endured more pain and heartache
Than I ever thought possible,
And I have survived.
And I miss you...
It may just be another day
To everyone else,
But today I remember you.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Enjoy it While You Can

Perhaps we're just a little jacked up this week because we are staring Baker's first birthday right in the face, but I don't think so. It's more than that. We've encountered a run of people compelled to tell us, in conjunction with our "new" baby, that we should enjoy this freedom while we can, before the baby comes.

It is a harmless suggestion, most of the time, and we understand the sentiment. Life before you have a baby is carefree and easy! Everything from finances, to marriage, to sleep, and "going out with the guys." All easy!

And then the newborn comes, and you're up all night with feedings and changing diapers and oh boy, you don't know what you are in for, you babes in the woods!

The comments began when Dalene started showing. We knew at the gut level that this wasn't sitting well with us, though we couldn't quite put our fingers on why. It finally hit us yesterday, after a particularly egregious violator ran this line of commentary by Dalene. I was conspicuous by my absence, as we are normally together - I was in Boston having a drink with co-workers to celebrate the end of our fiscal year - a toast to surviving another challenging budget. So when Dalene said that I was out at a bar -she was bombarded with the inevitable, "Hey, enjoy it while you can, right?"

Everything that we have "enjoyed" in the past year has been almost entirely because our son died. Every drink that I have had after work, every dinner with a friend, every morning we have been able to sleep in on a weekend - yep, that's our prize for our dead baby. Yes, I know what you are thinking - we are damn lucky to have all that freedom.

It is hard to come up with a snappy response, but you kind of feel like saying, "enjoy it while you can" right back to them. Enjoy your living children. Enjoy their laughter and their tears. Enjoy being woken up at 2 AM with projectile vomiting. Enjoy a bowl of cheerios dumped on the cat. You know what - fucking enjoy it all, because the alternative is so horrible, so unspeakably empty and cold and hollow, that you wouldn't know the first damn thing to do with yourself.

And then some people, mostly parents, want to start giving advice about traveling with young children, and daycare, and lord knows what else, as though this is our first child, and we have never thought about any of this before. And then, you want to say, "Remember our baby who died? Remember how we finished the nursery, stocked up with diapers and butt paste and onesies and took CPR class and bought life insurance? Remember how we planned out precisely when and where to get Baker's passport, and what we were going to pack on our family trip last year to Antigua? Remember how we have already visited a daycare, already know the staff, know the schedule, have it all worked out? So yes, our sweet baby is dead, but we are parents, and we have seen that movie, and read that book, and damn it, most of the time I feel like more of a parent than you ever will."

But I don't usually say those things. At least I haven't yet.

I guess we just roll with these things - as with everything else, the people with the emotional intelligence to understand our pain are the people that we grow closer to and those that reveal that they lack the human empathy gene, well, they should enjoy that while they can.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Deja vu

Baker’s due date was March 28 of last year and also my last day at work. My thoughtful coworkers threw me a baby shower earlier in March. They stayed after work one evening and built the most creative diaper cake I’ve ever seen. There was a homemade cake decorated with a sailboat made of icing. It was a small affair with the ladies that I am closest to, the last of a series of four baby showers given by our families and coworkers. Chris’ coworkers had gathered on a previous Saturday to celebrate our coming baby. They presented us with a stunning rug for the nursery.

On due date minus one, I had my hair cut one last time. The ladies in the salon swooned over my belly and declared that I was “all baby”. I knew better-there was no way I was carrying a 45-lb baby. At home, I painted my fingernails with a sensible clear polish and, with the help of creative stretching, managed to reach my toes with light pink paint. Soon I wouldn’t have time for haircuts or primping.

This time last year, Baker was alive and active and squirmy in my belly, heart beating away. He never slowed down as he grew bigger, as I was told would happen as he ran out of room. Every morning at work I dutifully counted his kicks, and each time it took less than 10 minutes to count 10 kicks. Our plans were all in place. The nursery was complete, and we’d been riding around for weeks with the car seat installed. I wasn’t impatient or anxious or physically uncomfortable, only happy that we would meet him soon. We were on his timetable. I wanted him to cook as long as he needed to.

And there we were back at the birth center this past week. What pediatrician have you chosen? Do you plan to circumcise? Don't forget to add your baby to your health insurance. Here we go again. Going through the same steps all over again makes me feel like we’re jinxing ourselves. Let’s get this baby out safely and then deal with the details, OK? It didn’t work out last time, so why do we think it might work out this time?

In all the times Chris and I have been to the birth center, this is the first time the door to the hallway that leads to the bedrooms has ever been closed. I know there’s a mother back there, probably in the same bedroom that I was. The father follows his toddler into the waiting room. I avoid his glance and think I hope your baby makes it.

This time last year, Chris dragged a beach chair from the garage, and I sat in the spring sun with my squirming belly, watching him rake the lawn and flower beds. And here I am now, sitting in the sun with my belly full of baby boy-waiting, again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Not my first

Now that my belly is rather large, I’m getting the usual questions that every pregnant woman endures. When are you due? Boy or girl? Wow, are there twins in there? And the seemingly-innocent and ever-popular, Is this your first? The poor person asking this question has no idea what they are stepping into, but I’m getting better at answering. Not entirely comfortable, but better and more direct. The first time it happened, I simply said, No, my second. Of course, I was asked the logical follow-up question, How old is your first? So now I answer that this baby is my second and that my first died in labor a year ago. Most people express their sympathy in a kind way. I like talking about Baker-I need to talk about Baker-so sometimes a meaningful conversation can be had. Those people who fall on the other side of the coin-those who I render mute or who offer platitudes that this baby will be fine-well, I really don’t care how they feel. They were the nosey ones asking the question in the first place. Maybe they will remember me the next time they happen upon an innocent pregnant woman.

But it’s really the unsolicited labor stories that are getting to me. Women just love to share their harrowing stories of arriving at the hospital and shooting the baby out on their way down the corridor. I largely tuned out the labor stories when pregnant with Baker, preferring to focus on my yoga training and read positive birth stories. The unsolicited stories were mildly annoying then, but they are really annoying now. Want to hear my birth story?, I’m thinking in my head as she goes on and on. After a healthy pregnancy and normal labor, I woke up from a crash C-section excited to meet my baby, only to find my husband holding our dead son. I left my baby in the hospital morgue, came home empty-handed, watched milk spill from my body like tears, and buried his ashes in the ground. Wanna top that one?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Living for 2

Dalene is growing Baker’s little brother, and by all accounts, he is as robust and active as Baker was at this point. The pain and the fear ebb and flow, and mix with the excitement that we can’t repress. I’ve started reading to this baby like I read to Baker – reading the same books, and some new ones, leaning my head on the growing bump as we go to sleep, little guy kicking away at me as I read.

It’s bittersweet, as we come up on what should be Baker’s first birthday. We have plans for Baker’s day, honoring him with both sets of his grandparents at his grave, sharing lunch, donating some books to the library, and planting some flowers. Then we’ll want to get the hell out of town – find a destination and do anything other than come back home and sit, and think, about the frosting and cake that should be wonderfully matted in Baker’s hair, and eyebrows, and crammed in the cracks in the floorboards.

Baker’s brother will have the pent up attention of his parents – enough for two children – directed at him like a firehose. Our responsibility, I think, is to give him all that love while letting him be his own person. It scares me a little bit when I think of how much we want to meet him, touch his soft skin and smell his baby smell. We had only fleeting moments with Baker, and if we are so blessed to bring this guy home, we’ll need to positively LIVE every moment with him.

No one can live for two. We can’t ask him to shoulder the weight of his brother’s life. We’ll watch him as he grows and think about Baker every minute, but we have to give him the freedom to live for one and to someday know his brother, Baker, and miss him along with us.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Relaxed and happy?

I returned to prenatal yoga on Saturday. Now that I'm 23 weeks pregnant with Baker's little brother, my back is creaking in uncomfortable ways. I'd returned once in the fall, at M's invitation to her regular yoga class. Before that, the last time I had walked through the door was Baker's due date, and M had pronounced me ready to have my baby. I swayed through the poses, my eyes closed and focused on the brow point, practicing labor squats, chanting Sat Nam in and out with my breath, rocking Baker to sleep in my belly. Six weeks later I called her with the news. He didn't make it. She came to the house bearing part of a lamb's ear plant that someone gave her when she lost her son. Because children like to feel the textured leaves, she said.

I felt prepared for labor. In addition to yoga and childbirth class, I listened to visualization/relaxation CDs and birthing affirmations:

I put all fear aside as I prepare for the birth of my baby.

My body is completely relaxed.

I surrender my birthing over to my baby and my body.

Keep breathing slow and even. Inhale peace, exhale tension.

I am relaxed and happy that my baby is finally coming to me.


That last one was my favorite. When the work of labor hit hard, I repeated it over and over in my head. I am relaxed and happy that my baby is finally coming to me. I alternated with Sat Nam and eventually, when I hit transition, I could only remember I am relaxed and happy. Despite the pain, my mind was filled only with those words. I blocked out doubt and fear and let my body do its work.

And then he died. 15 minutes later? 30 minutes? I have no concept of the time, nor do we know at what point he died. I only know that when I woke up, Chris was holding our son and he was dead. And I remember feeling absurdly stupid and naive to have believed that my preparation and work would result in a living, breathing baby. Why didn't I know that he could die at fullterm after a healthy, normal pregnancy? I felt duped and assumed that I did something wrong. Later I was angry at my yoga teacher, the childbirth educator, the midwives, my family, and Ina May Gaskin for letting me believe that everything would work out.

I suppose that I've now moved past the anger. Some guilt still remains, but that is a subject for another post. There is no way to return to my old innocence, to be relaxed and happy. There is only learning to live with my new reality.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I suppose now I can check "re-roof a house during a Vermont winter" off of my life list of dumb ideas accomplished. After waiting for 8 weeks for our roofer to have the right combination of weather and healthy, willing crew, I was pleasantly surprised this weekend to find the house with its first new roof in more than 45 years. If you look closely, you'll see our man Vern to the left of the chimney.

This is the time of year to see the land - snowshoes and a light jacket - elevated above the underbrush, and equipped with crampons to navigate the steep terrain, it is arguably easier to hike around now than it is in the summer.

The mud is spectacular. The decomposing road almost convinced me that spring is upon us - but I know better than that - we predicted April 23rd at 11:35AM for the Brookfield Ice Out competition - a raffle to see who can guess the closest day, hour, and minute to when a concrete block falls through the ice on Sunset Lake. Open areas are almost bare, but there is a good 2 feet of snow in places in the woods.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Springing ahead

The light is returning. The sun is higher and stronger and sometimes blinding, even as it snows today. As we near Baker’s season, it is the light that strikes me.

I labored for three days at home beginning on April 1st. On the first day, I baked chocolate chip cookies to bring to the hospital. I rechecked my list of things to pack. Chris painted the remaining pieces of trim from our kitchen remodel. On the second day, we walked to the library and I sat through a few contractions in the periodical section, vaguely considering what to do if my water broke on the upholstered chair. Chris painted a wooden bench for the front porch, I baked a chocolate birthday cake for our return home, and we figured out how to flip open and close the stroller. That evening, I called the birth center to tell them my contractions were coming 5 minutes apart. The midwife had me draw a bath and focus on feeling the baby’s movements. In the dim light, Chris helped me towel off and get to bed, where I dozed between contractions throughout the night. On the third day, I rested on the couch with the kitty and listened to yoga and birthing affirmation CDs as the frequency and intensity of contractions increased. I nibbled on grapes and toast and focused on my breathing. Eventually, no longer able to concentrate on anything other than getting through contractions, I handed my timer over to Chris and had him mark the start of each surge.

Time blurred during those three days. It is the light that I remember-the ebb and flow of light to dark and back to light. I called the birth center when the sun was at its highest point on April 3rd. The midwife said to come in at 3:00. I called back at the appointed time because I couldn’t remember if she told me to come in or call again. During the quick drive to the birth center, I shut my eyes to the still-high sun, too focused to bother locating my sunglasses. The midwife deemed me 7 cm dilated and definitely in active labor. I could stay! She drew a warm bath, and I lolled about in the tub until darkness fell. Chris rocked in a chair next to me. Baker’s thumping heartbeat filled the room whenever one of the midwives checked on him. Chris opened the door to the outside to air out the steamy bedroom, and I was struck by the shadows of twilight. It was just the three of us, peaceful and calm and expectant.

It is nearly one year later and the light has returned. I both welcome and fear its return. With the light come the blooms of hyancinth and daffodil bulbs from Baker’s funeral arrangements that Chris dropped into the ground around our house. Snow crocuses, the first bloomer of spring, opened on the day we gathered with family to bury Baker’s ashes, a blindingly sunny day that didn’t match the occasion. I expect them to start poking through the ground any day now.

The entire month of April that followed his birth and death were bluebird-sky days that I think of as Baker wrapping his arms around his stricken parents. Once I was well enough to walk, we trudged around the neighborhood on daily one-foot-in-front-of-the-other walks, pulling each other along because there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. The time and space we had carved out for our boy left a gaping hole. So I stuffed my pockets with Kleenex and we walked and cried and squinted into the sun.

The calendar ticks by and will soon mark the end of the first of many years without our boy.

But we hope to see him in the light.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Dalene and I met in graduate school in Vermont, both studying natural resources. One of the big topics of discussion and debate among colleagues related to the concept of ecological restoration and land management. When resource managers "restore" a site, what are they restoring it to? Do you design the restoration simply to improve ecosystem function, or do you pick a moment in time - a snapshot of the past - to restore to. In Vermont, restoration might mean reclaiming pasture from overgrown forest - cutting back to the stonewalls that once marked boundaries and loosely kept sheep and livestock penned in. Restoration might mean creating age and species diversity in a forest to begin to approximate the healthy, uneven-aged forest of the area. If one really wanted to push it, restoration might bring us back 14,000 years to a glacially-scoured landscape being repopulated by species following warming temperatures and chasing the ice back to the poles. Restoration is both scientific and arbitrary at the same time.

Like resource managers, historic preservationists must define restoration. Every layer of wallpaper, every addition, every moved window, kitchen improvement, and floor finish is part of the historic fabric of the structure. The 1790 12 over 12 windows and the 1960's wallpaper are all a part of the house's history. What do we keep? What do we trash? If we were truly restoring the farm to 1790, I'd have to build an outhouse. The chimney mass would have to be rebuilt and the little hearth upstairs, long gone, that the children used to stay warm by, would have to be recreated.

The truth is, our restored landscape is going to be part wilderness, part 1850's sheep pasture, and part 2009 retreat. The restored house will have indoor plumbing, a modern refrigerator, 200 year old hardware and flooring, hand blown windows, and with luck, high speed internet. The landscape - human and natural - cannot be restored to a specific time - it cannot help but reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly of its history.

Like the land and the house, our healing, our grieving, has to be designed to embrace and incorporate our history. We cannot roll back the clock, pick a moment in time, and restore ourselves to when we were naive enough to take our son's safe arrival for granted. We wouldn't want to go back for too long to the painful, shocking, unreality of the days immediately after Baker died. But we need some of that to make it real - like keeping a hideous scrap of wallpaper in the back of your cabinets where you can see it. Our personal restoration then becomes a melange of our individual pasts, our early carefree days as a couple, the excitement and hope that we had as we waited for our sweet Baker to arrive, the unspeakable suffering that we have endured having lost him, the bond between us that has been cemented, and Baker's little brother that is on his way. That is our landscape history. That is the fabric of our collective building. It is our story, and it is the way that we incorporate our dear baby into our lives.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Platitudes not welcome here

Another lostbaby mama on a discussion board I frequent posed a question that has me thinking. She wanted to know the most heartfelt and helpful words we were told after our loss. I'm going to answer the question in this space, too. Right after Baker died, it was the people who expressed rip-snorting anger who were most helpful for me. They were angry for us, with us, and with this impossible situation. In my state of complete shock, it helped to know that I had good reason to be STINKING, RAVING MAD. Also, a friend who I didn't expect to be especially eloquent, said that he didn't understand why something so awful would happen to the best people, with tears in his eyes. And several dear friends who stared and stared at Baker's pictures for a really long time. And anyone who expressed that THEY were hurting, too...that THEY missed out on meeting and knowing our son. Basically, anyone who let me be in the throes of grief and didn't try to talk me out of it. So, if you are reading this and are one of the aforementioned, thank you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Australian sand

Many thanks to Carly, mother of Christian, for honoring Baker on a seashore far, far away from here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Ever feel like you have so much to say that you could never get it all out? That's how I'm feeling about blogging and part of the reason I've been quiet lately. Something that I'm currently stewing about is that we have no marker at Baker's grave. I'm stuck in indecision and don't know where to start. Perhaps I fear the finality of seeing his name engraved in stone? In my mind, I pictured an unveiling of the stone on his first birthday in April, but Chris reminded me that the ground could still be muddy after this very snowy winter. So for the time being, we have the tree to mark the spot. A flat marker would have long been buried by now-instead his tree stands tall next to a similar tree for a young man killed in a car accident in August, just weeks before he was to start college and continue his accomplished athletic career. After the first big snow, Gabriel's parents brought a shovel to the cemetery and dug a path through the snow to their son's resting place. Most Sundays, we gratefully travel the same path to our own son's grave and now, after many snowstorms and many Sundays, the path is well worn by our collective footprints. Other than Christmas wreaths, there has been very little winter activity in our section, no other footprints to graves of people who died older and have been dead longer. Although I don't know Gabriel's parents and won't touch the "which is worst" question, I feel like we're in this together. I greet Baker, I greet Gabe. Chris trimmed Baker's grass, then Gabe's grass, in the fall. I watered their annuals. When we leave, we say goodbye to both Baker and Gabe. I like knowing that Gabe is buried next to Baker. From what I've read about him in the newspaper, he seems like the kind of kid who likes babies.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Crooked Places

If you have spent any time at all in the woods you’ll come across a tree like this one that I found down the hill last weekend. This black birch started growing here years ago, from a seed dispersed by the wind across the snow in midwinter, one of them coming to land and take root.

This tree’s genes tell it to grow, to reach for the light, to put down roots and drink deeply of the nutrients in the soil. Unimpeded by wind or storms, grown in the open with plenty of light, this trees should grow straight and tall.

The life of this tree, though, is inseparable from its experience, its stimuli, and its substrate. Clinging to the boulders, scarred from ice storms, twisted and turned, the shape of the tree tells a life story.

Crooked places mark significant moments. They mark the challenges we face, the strife, the times we have to change direction, to retrench and reexamine.

I have a crooked place, April 3, 2008. My boy caused my growth rings to change; my trunk bent, and my roots had to dig in and hold on.

The trees tell us to wear the scars proudly. Bleed your sap. Heal your wounds. Redouble your efforts to grow to the light despite the droughts, the fire, the insects and the woodpecker holes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sheltered from the Wind

The Farm is at 1,300 feet in an area that has been referred to as the snow belt of Vermont. It sits up high with what must have been a nearly unobstructed and stunning view back in the sheep days of the 1800’s when the forests were cleared and pastures carpeted the land.

Contrary to all good sense, we have been rebuilding the roof this winter. Weather at the Farm has been variously bone-chilling, snowy, rainy, sunny, but the work has progressed thanks to the dedication and skill (and beards) of our carpenters and roofer.

Our carpenter mentioned to me on one particularly frigid and windy day that the house was perfectly protected. Once the sun lazily climbs above the ridge, the house warms up and feels sheltered. As he was performing major surgery on the rafters, he could see down the field that the white pines were being whipped mercilessly by a wind out of the northwest, while he was relatively warm.

I hope to find out who built this house someday, because he (or she, but probably he given the time) picked a damn good place for a house. The cliffs and ridge across the road knock down the weather beautifully. The house sits in the lee of the hill, and is warmed by sun on its south and east facing sides.

And it is amazing – standing in the unheated and uninsulated house several weeks ago, it felt warm – further reason for its survival all these years.

I am starting to feel similarly protected from the cold wind of Baker’s loss. I can still see that the chilling wind of his death swirls around me through the pines, but the sting has softened. I have found shelter in our friends and family. I have taken refuge in the wonderful memories of his life in the womb, and his baby spirit is a bulwark against the storms of sorrow. The sunshine of his life has to overpower the cold of his death.

She gets it

Several times since the ultimate tragedy, Chris and I have come away from an encounter, conversation, or dinner out and said to each other, “he gets it” or “she gets it” or “they get it”. No one who hasn’t lost a child along the way can truly get it, but some special people come very close, so close that I want to throw my arms around them with gratitude. Is that what empathy is? The ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, even when the shoes are “the worst thing that could happen”? I had another of these moments when I opened an email this morning. It came from a friend who is full and pregnant and due in the spring, one year from the spring of my great loss. She wrote to warn me that an invitation to her shower will be arriving in the mail. She’s been this way from the beginning of my after, not afraid to call just days after Baker died and not afraid to meet me head on with her own coming babe, acknowledging the weirdness of this dance. It’s funny…just the fact that she recognizes that a baby shower could be difficult for me makes me want to maybe possibly attend. I may sit quietly in the back, but I think I’d like to be there for her.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spring flowers

Lilacs, white roses, and potted hydrangeas filled the front of the church in April. So many flowers for such a little boy.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Making it bearable

Some of the ways we made it through:
  • We placed a small Christmas tree at Baker's grave.
  • Several family members donated children's books to our local library in Baker's name. Others donated to the March of Dimes and World Vision in his memory.
  • My mother donated baby boy clothing to a needy family that her coworkers "adopted" for Christmas.
  • My parents donated a poinsettia for the Christmas Eve service, and Baker's name was in the program.
  • Chris and I donated a truck for a one-year old to Toys for Tots.
  • We designed glass-etched ornaments with his name, birth date, weight, and footprints and gave them to family members for their own trees.
  • Baker's ornaments, which included a baby's first Christmas bootie, were the first to go on our tree.