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.