Monday, August 18, 2014

Parenting expectations after death

Harper would have been 15 months old today.

After your child dies, you spend a lot of time imagining what moments with them would be like. In your imagination, every moment is magical, perfect. In your mind, you tell yourself that if that child was here, to experience that moment, you would be the perfect parent, you'd savor every minute of every day together.

Intellectually, if you have another child, you know that this is totally not in keeping with reality.

I lose patience with my kids sometimes. I get exhausted. I yell. I bicker with Lou. I long for time to myself. I get impatient. I feel sorry for myself. There are occasional moments of resentment when professional opportunities war with family responsibilities. I miss my privacy.

And I feel insanely guilty now in a way I never did before.

The self-imposed pressure to be a perfect parent after you've lost a child is indescribable. It's also likely exacerbated by my control freak, type A, overachieving personality.

Every mistake I make as a parent now, every careless moment, every infinitesimal imperfection, I see in light of doing a disservice to the second chance I've been given in the wake of Harper's life. The second chance in my appreciation of Shea. The second chance in my rainbow baby, Soren.

I recognize their preciousness in a way that I think is really unique to a parent that has lost a child.

And yet there are times when I still feel like I fail them. When I want to take back a moment and do better. When I hear myself speaking or experiencing a half-hearted action, and I cringe.

Shea and Soren.

They are extraordinary, the best reflections of everything that is joyous in the universe. I derive an incredible amount of happiness from their smiles, their scents, their discovery of the world around them. I think the phrase "bursting with pride" was coined by a parent, because their very presence sometimes fills me to bursting.

I watch them as they lay sleeping, listening to the sounds of their breath, and I can't believe I played a part in their existence. Word are inadequate to describe my love for them.

Part of being a parent seems to be learning that the depth of that love does not always translate to everyday, minute by minute ideal behavior. And post-Harper, I'm finding that an even harder lesson to swallow.

This is my last week of maternity leave, and I find myself aching in a way I never did with Shea. With him, I worried about daycare, I fretted about his care, I mourned the milestones I missed. But I also appreciated the time away. Time amidst adults. Being good at my job. The intellectual engagement.

But Soren... Soren, I will miss. Every hour of every day.

Maybe it's because of Harper. Maybe it's because Soren is such a very good baby, a pleasure to spend time with. Easy in a way Shea never was. Is that because I'm more confident as a mother, or is it innate to his personality? I don't know. But I will miss his smiling face, our cozy naps, his sweet, milky smell. The tickly feel of his now rapidly growing baby hair.

There is also a feeling of finality.

The last baby. The last first time of everything. The last use of the newborn clothes, the last little baby fingers desperately clutching my hand as he nurses, the last sleep in the bassinet.

The overwhelming desire to just make more and more babies - because they are so very precious - clashes with the feeling that I can't even do justice to the two (or is it three, Harper bean?) that I have.

Did they do this in other eras? Beat themselves up over not being fully engaged in being the best parent every single day?

I've often wondered how mothers of other eras handled the much more pervasive death of their children. Losing one felt like an abyss had opened up at my feet - how does anyone survive more?

I've often joked that parenthood is like alcoholism: you just take it one day at a time.

I guess that's still true. All I can do to honor Harper is try to be the best I can be for Shea and Soren. To hug them a lot, cover them in kisses, listen to what they say, take them on adventures, soothe their fears, sing them songs, be silly with them, and always be ready with a story. And to try to forgive myself when those imperfections arise. To try to remember that I am human, and perhaps a pretty flawed one, at that.

Today I did well. Tomorrow, I will try to do better. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Creeping horrors


Sometimes I get really scared. Terrified. Panicky even. Worried that something terrible will happen to Shea or Soren.

That I won't be able to protect them.

I think about SIDS. About dropping Soren. Accidentally leaving him in the car. Shea burning himself on the stove. Or falling out a window. Or wandering off, getting lost, unable to find us.

Or any one of a million stupid things that could threaten the little ones I love most in the world.

("It isn't stupid,  mommy," I can almost hear Shea saying. They taught him that was a bad word in preschool,  and he's taken his role as the anti-stupid police very seriously. )

I think probably all parents have these thoughts. It's the parental equivalent of the "What Ifs" poem by Shel Silverstein. I had them with Shea, long before Harper entered my lexicon of feelings.

But, here's the thing...

I used to take comfort in statistics. The scientist in me, I suppose. When the What Ifs called, I knew what to answer back. Those are rare events. They happen to other people. They're distant. The odds of anything like that happening to my family are minute, and we'll drive ourselves crazy worrying about it.

Until the rare event happened to us, to me. To my daughter. The incredibly rare disease. The horrific headline of a baby dying. Until our experience introduced us to others, who's suffered similar losses.

The odds were not on our side. It wasn't happening to other people, distant strangers. It was us. It was people we know. 

Cliche it may be, but bad things do happen to good people. For no reason.

So, now, when I sit in the dark, listening to my beautiful boys breathing, when I look up from a distraction to realize that I don't exactly know where Shea is, when I leave Soren in the arms of someone who is not me...

Well, it's not so easy to take comfort in statistics anymore.

I had a terrible nightmare last night - I walked into their bedroom and they were gone. Shea and Soren. I ran everywhere trying to find him. Lou said I was crying and calling out their names in my sleep. 

When I woke up, I went to listen to them breathe, reassure myself all was well, but couldn't fall back asleep. 

I can still shove the creeping horrors away. But it's not like wiping a cobweb off a lampshade anymore. Now it's more like shoveling snow. No longer effortless, it takes conscious dismissal. 

Fortunately, the effort is helped by Soren's gummy smile. By Shea's exuberant hugs. By the smell of honeysuckle and the sounds of cicadas buzzing and the taste of rich chocolate and smooth wine and the wisp of a soft blanket and a loving touch and all the millions of little things that remind me that we're all alive and doing just fine, if not downright wonderful.

Today is my birthday. And I'm finding myself feeling - again - a strong need to celebrate. Every occasion last year was awash in pain, every holiday, every party, every celebratory moment. Too many reminders of what we had lost. I want to make up for that. Not to forget, but because as strong as my need was last year to mourn Harper and the sorrow I never wanted, this year the need is as strong to celebrate the advent of Soren and the joy and hope he represents. 

It is time to acknowledge that we survived. And the triumph over the creeping horrors continues with every milestone met, every family adventure, every comfortably happy day. 

If that's not a reason to celebrate, I don't know what it. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hello, little girl

Dear Harper,

Fourteen months ago today we said goodbye forever, and I just wanted to let you know you've not been forgotten,  little bean. 

On a recent family walk, Shea was making up a long complicated game. It was called Rock, Talk, Walk, and I couldn't begin to tell you what the rules were or what play entailed.

But when he was dividing the family into teams, Shea made sure to include you and London.

"Even though they died, they still might want to play with their family," he explained.

Shea will always know you're a member of our family. So will Soren.

I still stumble over the question a little when people ask me if Soren is my first child,  a common enough question when out and about with an infant.

He's my second son, I try to say. Or, this is boy number two.

I never forget my body made you, too.

Soren has been the most healing balm imaginable. That baby's smile has the power to make everything right in the universe.

I wish I could see the two of you meet.

I have hung baby pictures of the three of you,  side by side. My three little ones.

Shea is an extraordinarily good big brother. I get glimpses of what life would have been like had we brought you home. How he undoubtedly would have brought me to tears with his kindness (and sometimes his jealousy).

I miss you still, bean, and I find myself wondering what life would be like if I could have had it all: my amazing Shea, my Harper bean born healthy and whole, and my chortling little froggy, Soren.

A pure fantasy. But a happy one.

Sweet dreams, baby girl.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remembering, forgetting

Soren is like a mushroom from Alice in Wonderland: from one side he helps me remember,  from another to forget.

I forgot the 18th of May. After a year of marking the days of Harper's birth and death,  I was too caught up in the daily effort of caring for Shea and Soren to remember. It was a day for new memories,  not dwelling on the past.

And yet....

I see her,  in the quirk of Soren's pinky finger. I feel her,  in the touch of his soft, shallow hair. I hear her in his squeaks and smell her when he nurses,  breathing in that uniquely baby scent.  I think of her,  in the dark,  pumping milk.  Lou and I are reminded when we see tiny, adorable girls and are reminded of what we'll never have.  This hits Lou especially hard.

There has been a romper missing. A tiny blue outfit that I remember Shea wearing. It's been cold,  and it's one of the few things we have in a newborn size with long sleeves.

I haven't been able to find it.

Until yesterday.

I was cleaning out the closet and ran into the hospital bag. A Vera Bradley bag,  gifted by my office,  for the express purpose of visiting Harper in the hospital. 
It was still mostly packed. Including that tiny romper. And I remembered. I'd packed that little outfit in anticipation of bringing Harper home the next day.  It was soft and the smallest baby suit we owned,  I thought it would be perfect to take her home in.

So much hope encapsulated in that bag.

So much hope encapsulated in Soren.

Last night,  I watched the movie,  Return to Zero. Trying to get it financed was a huge topic of discussion when I was spending time on the loss boards after Harper died. It's about the aftermath of a stillbirth.

It reminded me of all the well meaning but painful things people say to you after you lose a baby.  The anger,  the grief,  the numbness. The difficulty of being around pregnant friends,  babies.  The pain you're pretty sure will never get better.

But I watched it while nursing Soren. His eyes were bright and wide open, the focused stare of a suckling newborn. 

If not for losing Harper,  there would be no Soren. And even after just a couple of weeks,  that is unimaginable.

"Soren bean" Shea calls him.  He is not afraid or self-conscious about connecting Soren to his big sister. To Shea,  they are both his babies. One here,  one gone.

Dear Harper bean,

This feels like goodbye,  little girl.  Not because I will ever forget you,  not because you won't forever be a member of our family. But because this blog was to heal the pain,  to help me survive the madness of losing you.

Soren is a balm for my pain. I don't think I need this blog for therapeutic purposes any more.

I wish I could see all three of you together. Shea,  Harper,  Soren.

Here's hoping that in the far distant future,  there is a soft,  warm bed where we can all snuggle together. 

I love you,  Harper bean. Thank you for letting me be your mommy.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Dear Harper bean,

Forgive me for not writing sooner, baby girl, but I figured you've been here all along with us, in spirit.

You have a baby brother, and his name is Soren Kinnor. He is about as happy and healthy a baby as there ever was, continuing to do his best to be the perfect, reassuring rainbow. Ten fingers, ten toes, passing every test by a landslide.

Soren - because we liked the name. And Kinnor, for you, Harper. Your Hebrew name, the closest equivalent to Harper we could find.

We always want him to know that he once had a sister. Without you there would be no Soren. And now that I am head over heels in love with our beautiful baby boy, I realize you have given us yet another gift. Thank you, little bean.

He is a demanding little guy. Wants to eat all the time, unlike either you or Shea. Which is good, because it leaves me less time to think about this place being haunted. Our room is down the hall from where we stayed with you. All the nurses are familiar, although I don't think we're recognizable to them. Identical breast pump, are that hasn't changed.

I wanted to have a happy ending here, in the place where we lost you. And Soren has exceeded my expectations.

I'm exhausted and overwhelmed and still a little sore from surgery, not too mention being quickly reminded of the uncomfortable days of early breastfeeding (particularly with your voracious little brother!), but I couldn't possibly be happier.

He is everything we wanted for you, Harper. And we will do our best to make sure our boys have long and joyful lives.

As one famous Soren (Kierkegaard) put it, "The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen, but, if one will, are to be lived."

To you, Harper bean, we dedicate this gorgeous, breathing creation, and we will try to do enough living between us for you, too.

Love, Mommy

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

48 hours until spawn

Another night, another 4 AM wake up.

This one started out as Shea's fault - his blankets needed adjustment, and he called out for daddy. But I found myself unable to fall back asleep, filled with a million thoughts a moment, distracted by the roar of thunder outside.

We need to install the infant car seat. I need to set my out of office reply at work. My house is a mess. Laundry to put away. Do I have everything I need in my bag? Will Shea be OK while I'm in the hospital? I need to deal with the content of my lost wallet. I have to stop at the post office. Shea needs to make thank you cards for his birthday. Grocery shopping.

And so on, and so on, and so on...

One year ago today, we found out Harper was dying. Definitively. Dr. Porter left no room for doubt.

Of all the dates that I remember, I'm surprised I remember this one. But I do.

In 48 hours, we will be heading to the hospital for the arrival of spawn.

The calendars no longer exactly align. It's jarring. I'm above and beyond excited to be meeting spawn. Even more excited to no longer be pregnant. A little worried that being at Georgetown will feel strange and sad. Wondering if I'll recognize any of the nurses. So much of our time there is such a blur of people and emotions.

I remember a moment in the hospital, friends visiting with their little boy. Ordinary talk of children sent me sobbing, reeling.

Add packing the waterproof mascara to the list.

Right now, I'm moved easily to tears. Feeling disproportionately stressed over little things. Hurting, hurting, hurting physically all the time. But too restless to take it easy, to relax.

It is not hard to be reassured, because spawn is the chief source of pain sometimes - clearly too crowded, he stomps on viscera and stretches me beyond capacity with impunity.

But in these wee hours of the morning, I worry. I worry about something going wrong, some new, unexpected diagnosis.

It's not likely to happen. But it could. It did.

Today, I learned the cardiologist who first saw Harper, who discovered the heart defect that marked the first chapter of this journey, lost her own life. Tragically young, leaving behind a small child and a baby. She was kind, compassionate, smart, reassuring. I still have her card among Harper's things. Lou and I both remember being envious of her healthy pregnancy as ours crumbled around us. Her loss is unimaginable, and I can't comprehend how difficult it must be for her family and friends.

There is untold value in a reminder about the preciousness of every day we get to experience the loved ones around us. It is too, too easy to get caught up in the minute annoyances of everyday living. I'm totally guilty of that, even with Harper's squeaky cry echoing in my ears, even with the litany of SLOS related sad news, even with the kicks of my rainbow taking my breath away.

48 hours from now, I could really use a good, old-fashioned happy ending.

Right now, I could really use some sleep.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Due date

April 26. The due date of two of my babies. One enthusiastically celebrated his fourth birthday on his due date, one is not here. One alive, one dead.

When I was pregnant with Harper, I felt like April 26 was a magical day. What were the odds of having the same due date twice?

But there was no magic to help my bean.

Shea's birthday will always be exactly one week from both his siblings. I wonder if this time period will always contain a slurry of emotions and memories or if that fades at some point? What will our tradition become for celebrating Harper's birthday,  mourning her death?

Too soon to tell.

Shea sang and bounced on my bed this morning,  still riding the high of birthday euphoria. Spawn pushes and shoves and signals his impatience with his crowded living quarters. And Harper? She occupies my thoughts.

Only 6 more days.