Friday, December 21, 2012

Chiara's Due Date Service

On Sunday, December 16, 2012, we gathered in Gloucester, MA with our dearest friends and family to recognize Chiara's due date and to mark her passing. I was very anxious about the event, but I knew in my heart that we needed to formally observe her passing with our community in order for me to be able to move forward. Not to move past her, which is impossible, as she is in me and always will be, but to put everything in perspective and to honor her time with us and all of the hopes and dreams we had for her.

Our friend Parisa Parsa, a Unitarian minister, wrote  and performed a beautiful service that day, I've copied the words below. We finished the service at the beach, throwing flowers in the water to say goodbye. We then had dinner afterwards with the entire group. It was a perfect afternoon. It was rainy, bracingly cold, and windy, but all of that seemed appropriate, given the circumstances.

Memorial for Chiara Astra 
December 16, 2012
Written and led by Reverend Parisa Parsa, First Parish Church of Milton, MA

 Welcome and Gathering

Friends, on behalf of A and J, I welcome you to this remembrance and marking of a life lost too soon: the life of Chiara Astra. 

It’s a mystery what winds of fate and fortune draw us to one another, weave our hearts together, and make us witnesses to one another’s greatest joys and deepest sorrows.  We bow to that mystery in this gathering, as A and J have reached out for their closest circle to be present with them to mark Chiara’s loss, and you have responded not just with the opening of your hearts but by the presence of your bodies in this circle.  We honor also the presence in spirit of those who wished they could be here today and send their love: J’s family in XXX and A’s sister in XXX.  We light a candle to symbolize their presence with us this afternoon.

Chiara’s Story

Knowing when to name the beginning and ending of life is one of the vexing questions in our human story. 

Science has a range of answers about our beginnings,
from the moment cells begin to divide with purpose
to the moment of a heart beat,
to the moment of neural activity. 

And even among those answers there are judgment calls to make, meanings to be parsed. 
Our hearts, too, have different answers all of which are true, and none of which are complete. 
Do our lives begin when those who will become our parents first decide to join their lives?
When they take the terrifying and joyful and utterly foolhardly leap into parenthood?
Or is it when the pregnancy is discovered and they find a quickening joy in their hearts they cannot explain? 

Or when we first make our cry to announce our presence to the world?

Chiara Astra’s story certainly began in some way with A and J’s meeting, and took on new shape when they had their first tentative conversations about possibly having children, and yet another reality when they looked at each other a day after S was born and knew they wanted to have more children, and still another meaning when A called J from her travels in Africa to confirm that she was indeed pregnant.  A writes, “Chiara was a long time in the making and we wanted her so much.”  Her biological life was held in A’s womb for five and 1/2  months, but her life of meaning will be woven into her family’s story forever.

As they named her, A and J wanted to connect their daughter with a much greater meaning.  Chiara is from A’s Italian grandmother R. Chiaravalotti, with whom she was very close, and so Chiara is named with the lineage of her ancestors on another part of the planet.  Chiara means clear and bright, and her middle name Astra means star.  This clear bright star connects us with the heavens, with the stars, with the infinite universe that is far beyond our grasp and in whose embrace we are always held.

For a Child Born Dead by Elizabeth Jennings 

What ceremony can we fit 
You into now? If you had come 
Out of a warm and noisy room 
To this, there'd be an opposite 
For us to know you by. We could 
Imagine you in lively mood 

And then look at the other side, 
The mood drawn out of you, the breath 
Defeated by the power of death. 
But we have never seen you stride 
Ambitiously the world we know. 
You could not come and yet you go. 

But there is nothing now to mar 
Your clear refusal of our world. 
Not in our memories can we mould 
You or distort your character. 
Then all our consolation is 
That grief can be as pure as this.

We surround A and J this day with our prayers, with our love, and with our sympathy for all the potential for the rest of their lives that they imagined woven together with Chiara’s.  We hold with them the questions about who she would have resembled and what would have made her giggle and what would have made her angry, what mark she would have made on their family and in this world… all of those dreamed-of possibilities are now held in the realm of the eternal, unknowable.

And yet what we know is that she did make her mark, however brief, in the deep love A and J offered each other and Chiara while knowing that her life had ended, attending to her body, knowing their precious baby girl, letting their grief be as real and true as their love.  And she made her mark in the very fact of her being, the space opened for her and that lost in the absence of her, the very fact of her being brought another level of insight, of connection, of value to this world.

There is little more known about life’s end than its beginning, except that it is also inevitable.  And in each loss of life we’re reminded that all of the swirling atoms of our being make their mark, take their place in the wonderful, crazy, and sometimes tragic events that make our lives worth living.  In that, each loss reminds us of our deep connection with all who have lost, with all who have gone before, and our hearts are opened to the ten thousand sorrows that flow in wide rivers through our human journey.  Though Chiara’s presence in this world was brief and hidden to all but a few, her impact was real.  Her life was true.  And it goes on, as does all life, as does all love.

Please join me in prayer:

God who is known by many names and too large for any one of them,
We turn to your infinity when we feel most aware of what is finite,
And we bow deep to the mysteries of birth and death
And pray that we may be worthy of making lives of meaning in the in-between.

We lift up the spirit of Chiara Astra and we commend her to the care of a benevolent universe, to the sea of all love, past, present and future, and to the realm of all our loved ones who have gone before.  We especially remember:
A’s Dad, 
A’s grandparents, 
J’s grandparents, 
And the loved ones and family members of those gathered here today – please name them aloud if you wish….

For the ancestors now drawn together, a great cloud of witnesses in our midst, we light this candle

We remember, too, those who have lost children, as well as the children who have been lost too soon, whose presence and lives are hidden but no less real, and in this time of silence we hold those lost children and their parents in our hearts….

For those who share in the too often unspoken, unseen communion of this loss, and for their children, we light this candle

We give thanks in the midst of all this remembrance that the beings, the spirits, the atoms of those who have touched our lives, for the gift of these wide open hearts, for the blessing of the compassion that weds us together and helps us to bear one another’s sorrows. 
For the blessing we receive each time we are visited by a loved on in our sorrow, each time we offer ourselves to another to walk the hardest road, we give great thanks.

In the midst of our remembrance, our thanksgiving, let us be reminded of the gift of life, and humbled by its fragile grace. 
Let those of us who go on living, who have the power of love to guide us and sustain us, whose minds can choose to live ever more fully toward the good that is in us, among us and beyond us, do all that we can with the gift of our lives, for as long as the gift is opened for us. 
Let us make good on the memory of those we have lost by living lives of beauty and compassion on this earth.

Amen, and blessed be.

A and J have asked that the next part of our ceremony take place at Good Harbor Bridge, so we’ll make our way there now.

At the bridge:

Mary Oliver has written:
In order to live in this world
You must be able to do three things:
To love what is mortal
To hold it against your bones as if your own life depended on it
And when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

We know that letting go is not ever a one-time event,
That we let go slowly, let go of different things,
Let go in many ways over time
So this afternoon everyone is invited to take a flower to symbolize Chiara
And a flower to symbolize someone else you have lost
To remember them prayerfully and hold their loss fully in your heart
As you walk across the bridge
And at the moment you are ready to let go,
To let the flower enter the water,
Carried by the wind.

All of nature’s elements will have been with us in our gathering today:
The fire at the inn,
The earth on which we now stand,
The wind that will carry the flower
The water that will bear it on.

Take your time in the journey with your flowers
Take your time in the journey with your heart

And we will gather again at the Inn for fellowship
and to continue in the sharing of this life, together.

Go in peace, to dwell in love.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How Will She Get Home?

I haven't posted in some time. It's been a whirlwind few weeks and I haven't been able to focus enough to write. This week I went to Washington, DC for some work-related meetings. It was a good three days. I cried through my walks each morning, as I do at home, and I felt a little fragile as I made my way through the world alone, but I did OK. It reminded me of who I am, that I love travel, that I like my independence, even as I love my family.

Before I left, we were having dinner and my son Stellan was asking after his baby sister again. He checks in from time, asking, where is she? have we seen her? where does she live? does she have a car? what does she eat? This time the car question came up again. I've been perplexed about why he keeps asking. Is it is his own interest in trucks, cars, etc? This time, he then asked, right after, how will she get home? It still breaks me up a little when I think of it, where his logic was coming from: if she doesn't have a car, how will she get home? We then had a conversation about how she is home, she is wherever we are. Tough concepts for a 2 year old, and tougher for his parents to explain, but we are trying.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sobbing in the Kitchen

I am not very feeling very effective today. All I can manage to do is read blogs and sob in my kitchen. I did find a lovely piece from NPR about how you want a physicist to speak at your funeral. It prompted more sobbing, but it's so beautiful, it's really worth a read. I found it at the blog Lazy Seamstress

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. 

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Capture Your Grief: Day 8

Day 8: Jewelry

This is a peridot that my best friend gave me. It's Chiara's birthstone. I've worn it every day since she gave it to me. I find myself touching it a lot as I wear it.

Capture Your Grief: Days 6 and 7

Day 6: What NOT to Say

I've been pretty lucky. People have been mostly kind. The worst thing that's happened to us is that a colleague I ran into 2 days after losing our daughter said NOTHING. She acted like nothing happened at all. I was shocked. She'd signed the office card. I knew she knew, but for whatever reason, she couldn't acknowledge our loss. It was very painful. We were in a public park, taking a walk before a support group meeting. I went under a tree and cried, and thought, so this is how it is going to be: people will pretend it didn't happen. I'm pretty sure that I knew this before, but now I will never forget: all you have to say is, I'm sorry for your loss. How hard is that?

Day 7: What to Say

My friend Tania said this. It was over a month after Chiara died, and as she said it, she burst into tears. Then I burst into tears. It was the most beautiful, kind thing that someone has said to me. I will always be grateful to her for being brave and sharing my grief. 

Say Her Name

A friend emailed me last week to say that she had had a dream about Chiara (sounds like: Key-are-uh). I was so grateful to read her name: Chiara. We don't say it often. When I do say her name, it makes me cry. It opens the wound. But still, it feels so good. It is proof that she was here with us, that someone else besides us remembers her. I am so afraid anytime someone asks her name, I have to muster my strength to reply, and it always comes with tears. It makes me feel very vulnerable.

But I do love it when someone says her name to me. I love it when Justin and I use her name with each other. Stellan, our 2 year old, doesn't know her name yet. We have not been brave enough to tell him, have not progressed beyond "baby sister". I just haven't been ready to hear her name on his lips. We have weathered the questions about where she is, does she like to eat blueberries, does she drive a car, and why can't she be with us. I have watched his face, which used to light up with the mention of his baby sister, used to shine with the wonderful secret of her impending birth, change to reflect the confusion he feels. Why no baby sister? She wasn't growing. Why not? Why not, indeed. I want her, he says. I want her too, I tell him.

This coming weekend we'll attend a walk in remembrance of lost babies and I think that's where we'll introduce her name to him. I'm really looking forward to seeing other couples and families and being able to just be who we are, be sad, and to remember our beautiful girl: Chiara.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Integration: the work of grief

I'm 41 years old. I've had some grief in my life. I lost my Dad at 56 years old, 2 uncles, 4 grandparents, numerous friends and classmates. I've sought counseling when the going got hard. I hadn't heard about integration, though. Now I hear it from my therapist, from the support group leader, in books and videos about losing a child. Integration: this is a familiar word that I am now learning has another meaning.

As time passes and the weeks as a babylost mom add up, the starkness of the situation fades a bit. If I'm not paying attention, it can seem so normal, so much like life before, at least in the macro sense (and if you don't count all the wailing and sobbing). I am checking off tasks each day. Some mundane: laundry, groceries, mother our son, go to work, feed the dogs, pay the bills. But then, some things that we are only doing because we lost our baby girl: confirm the minister for her memorial service, go to the post mortem meeting with the maternal fetal medicine specialist, book a room for the service and dinner afterwards. Next I'll be searching for readings and finding a suitable invitation for the service. All of these I am glad to do. They are all I can do for Chiara now. But as I click through the list, feeling somewhat productive, it occurs to me how awful it is, that these are the tasks I am focused on this fall. In between the therapist appointments, the support group, the acupuncture, the doctor's appointments, there are all these little details borne out of wanting to honor her memory.

I see that charting my path through these tasks begins the work of integrating her loss into the fabric of my life, of my being. This means accepting her death, while still craving her presence inside me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Capture Your Grief- Days 2 and 3

Day 2: Self portrait before loss

This is a photo from Mother's Day 2012. Chiara was our secret at this point, ~2 months gestation. I felt so damn happy, so excited, so special. There is so much pride and joy that comes along with pregnancy. In the first days after Chiara died, I felt so foolish to remember that prideful feeling. It felt like hubris after the fact, whereas in the moment, it felt like it came from love.

Day 3: Self portrait after loss

This is a picture from October 2nd, taken at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, MA. We used to live down the street from here. We moved last year. I've walked this beach in joy and sorrow, rain and snow and sun. It's a special place for us. On this day, we'd just come from our final meeting with the specialist to go over Chiara's autopsy results. We were on our way to visit the Inn where we will hold her memorial service on December 16th, her due date. A grey and dreary day, filled with difficult tasks, but all went as well it could go.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Capture Your Grief Project- Day 1

In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month 2012 I am going to take part in the Capture Your Grief Project. Find more about it here:

Day 1: Sunrise

This is the sunrise seen from my morning walk. I've walked an hour every day since Chiara died. That adds up to over 155 miles in the past 7 weeks.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Delivering Chiara

I have finally been able to complete the story of Chiara's delivery. It is just a day shy of six weeks since we lost her. Mondays continue to be excruciating (the day we learned she was gone). Tuesdays are a challenge, too (the day I delivered her). Here is our story:

What a strange thing to wait around your house for the hospital to call, waiting for them to tell you it's time to come deliver your dead baby. In between the sobbing and the worried calls from friends and family and nebulizer treatments for your sick toddler you are sitting on your couch, in time that feels unreal. And then the call doesn't come. So you have to call them. Then you find out that the worst thing you'll ever have to do is scheduled for 1:30pm that day.

We said our goodbyes to our son and my Mom who would watch him for the night, packed our bags into the car, and left for Boston. We waited in the labor and delivery waiting room. The charge nurse came and got us and brought us into the delivery room. The sight of the baby warmer sent me immediately into tears, made it more real that our little girl would not need to be warmed. We were seen by the doctor from our practice and by a labor and delivery nurse who specializes in cases of infant loss. I was glad to have her with us to guide our way. Around 2pm I started the first round of Cytotec for induction. In the next hours we were visited many times by the doctor and nurse, by a social worker, and by the anesthesiologist. We confirmed our plans for an autopsy with cremation to follow. We discussed names for the baby. We settled on Chiara Astra. Chiara is the first part of my Grandmother's maiden name, Chiaravalotti. It means clear and bright. Astra means star. Her name means clear, bright star. We had thought of Chiara early on in my pregnancy, but had vetoed it because it felt very girly. For our daughter who will always be a baby, it was perfect.

After several more rounds of Cytotec, around 7pm, I started to feel heavy cramping. By 8pm I was in a lot of pain and asked for pain medication. I did not want an epidural. I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to needles in the back. They gave me Nubain, which is pretty weird stuff. It dulled, but did not eliminate the pain. It also made me emotionless and a little out of it. After the Nubain, I was able to sleep a little.

I woke around 11:40pm to a different sensation in my belly, not so much pain as pressure and movement. Then my water broke. I had a c-section with my first pregnancy, so I wasn't prepared for what this felt like, for the warmth. Of course the fluid would be warm from my body, but I hadn't considered that, so it was a surprise. My husband called the nurse. The baby came easily. As the doctor examined her, she noted that the her umbilical cord was quite narrow as it entered her body, and that the cord was very twisted. The nurse went to untwist the cord, but the doctor said to leave it, as it would be important for them to look at it during the autopsy.

The nurse wrapped our baby in a blanket we had brought and we held her immediately. She was only 6.4 oz. and 7 inches long. She was fully formed. I loved her feet and was amazed at her long legs. I had been very afraid of how she would look, but it did not matter. She was my baby, and I wanted to hold her. We took photos, and I am glad we did. They are so sad, we look just devastated, but I am grateful to have them. On the days when I just can't believe what's happened to us, they are helpful. We sang to her, The Rainbow Connection, her big brother's favorite song. She had probably heard it every night that she grew inside me. The nurse took her to measure and dress her and then brought her back. She stayed with us all night in our room.

I woke in the morning around 6am and just wanted to get home. We were able to leave the hospital around 10am and we said our last goodbyes to Chiara immediately before leaving. I hated watching them wheel her away. I longed to have her back inside me.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Three States of Mind

I'm experiencing three states of mind these days, 5 and 1/2 weeks after losing Chiara. Here's what they feel like:

1) Primal screaming/sobbing: this is the vise-like grip around my chest, squeeze all the air out of me, Babylost Mama at her most alone. I scream or mumble, sob and cry. I am not really thinking, more just being overcome by the rushing tide of my own emotions. This is happening a couple of times a day. I walk for an hour every morning in the dark before work. Most of my walks are spent in this state. I wake to this state a few mornings a week. Other times it catches me off guard, in the middle or at the end of the day.

2) Functioning, with a backdrop: this is when I am functioning, but there a background story playing in my head. The first weeks it was a scrolling electronic marquee, "dead baby, dead baby, dead baby, " and on and on. These days it is more of a voice saying, "My baby, MY baby, MY baby,". I can do things, pay bills, answer emails, sit in a meeting, shuffle things around, but I am not very effective. This is the state I am in most often.

3) Functioning, no backdrop: I have the shortest snippets of this experience. For a few moments I am not sobbing, and there is no marquee scrolling, no voice reminding me. I am engaged in whatever task is at hand. It's a very small part of my daily experience right now.

I marvel at the different qualities of my grief. The first two weeks were just constant with re-working the entire experience of my pregnancy and loss over and over again. Any reminder of my pregnant days brought on the primal screaming/sobbing. Everything hurt, all the time. Now there is much more of the middle state, but the primal still sneaks in multiple times a day.

I am no stranger to grief. I lost my Dad when I was 31, he was 56. He had Alzheimer's. I've also lost all of my grandparents, two uncles, and several friends. I thought I knew something about grief. None of my previous experiences prepared me for this loss. I miss my little girl.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Where a week can take you

Last week at this time I was peacefully sleeping, preparing to spend a Sunday with my husband and 2.5 year old son cleaning the house. It was a boring, mundane day in the life of our small family. Put away the toys, vacuum the dog hair, wash the floors, do the laundry. I was 21 weeks 5 days pregnant with our second child, a girl. It had not been an easy pregnancy, I had hyperemesis with my first, and while there was less actual throwing up this time, the nausea was pretty debilitating and my apetite had been poor since the start of the pregnancy. Anyway, back to last Sunday, which right now seems a million years ago. I can't even remember the final details of the day, but I know we ate corn on the cob, green beans and tomatoes for dinner. It was a lovely summer supper. Then we went to bed early.

The next day we had a follow-up ultrasound scheduled at 2pm. I worked in the morning and we drove to Boston together. We were nervous. At our last scan our baby, a girl, was measuring about 2 weeks behind normal growth for her gestational age. At the scan before that they had found a hyperechoic bowel. We had been referred by our obstetrician to the maternal fetal medicine practice at Brigham and Women's Hospital for a consult. We got in to see them as soon as possible and ended up doing an amnio at 19 weeks in order to test for CMV and for any chromosomal issues that might be causing the signs we were seeing. So we were nervous going the appointment, hoping our little girl had grown and that things were looking up. The ultrasound practice was very busy, and we had to wait over a half hour. We were then brought into an exam room and the technician started the scan. The room was completely quiet. My husband was holding my hand. We were very scared to hear anything. After only a moment, the doctor came in and within a minute of looking at the screen she said, "I'm sorry I don't have very good news for you, your baby has no heartbeat."

We fell apart. We were so afraid she wasn't growing right but we had just not considered that she wouldn't even be alive anymore. They let us have the room for a few moments to console each other and to prepare to make our way across the hall to our obstetrician's office. Once we got there, we were whisked into one of the doctor's offices and waited to hear about what would happen next. Our doctor was on vacation, so we met with one of her partners. She led us through our options. It was very important to us to deliver the baby so that she would be as intact as possible, and so that I wouldn't have to undergo any unnecessary surgery. We also wanted another ultrasound to confirm that her heart had stopped beating. I had still felt movement over the weekend and even that day, but the doctor explained that that is very common. I felt so foolish, having considered the movement such a positive thing. It gave me hope over the past weeks, even through the worry. How much I miss it now that my belly is empty.

We opted to go to the hospital to prepare for an induction the following day. We'd be able to go home and sleep for the night in our own bed, see our 2.5 year old son, and then come back in the morning. I desperately wanted to keep her inside me, I was not ready to let her go at all and would have considered letting it all happen naturally. I was so afraid that if we did that, we would jeopardize our chances of learning how she had died. A scheduled induction seemed the best of the terrible options: we would hopefully deliver her intact, avoid surgery, and get to hold our baby and say goodbye to her in a safe environment where help was near if we needed it. We left the hospital and headed home, stopping by the pharmacy to pick up my second dose of misoprostol and some ativan.

On the way home, I called my Mom, and a couple of friends to break the news. My husband phoned his parents.

My Mom brought our son home shortly after we'd arrived. She said she thought he had a temperature, so we took it. 104.5! A quick call to his doctor and we were back in the car and off to the the pediatric non-urgent care. An hour and a half later, after one nebulizing treatment, a prescription for amoxicillin, and some ibuprofen, we were on our way home. Five minutes into the drive home my Mom yelled "pull over!", so we did. Looking into the back seat, my son, who had been happily chattering away a moment before, was now frozen, his eyes rolled to one side, his hands jerking. A seizure. His first. On this night.

We all yelled, "call 911," but in our panic, no one was doing it. I was the most free, not driving or tending to our son, so I called. My Mom got my son out of his car seat to hold him. He was spitting stuff up. My husband turned and drove back to the non-urgent care and I called an ambulance. None of us knew what this was at first. I was afraid it was a reaction to the meds we'd just given him. We made it to the doctor and banged on the door to be let in. A janitor let us in and the one doctor left in the place looked after our son while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. At that point, my mind just stopped. I focused all my energy on our dear son, telling him that his Mommy was right there, and that we love him, that he didn't have to be afraid. I forgot for a few minutes that our other cherished child, our daughter, was lost forever in the sea inside me and would emerge tomorrow, not breathing. Our son slowly came to, was awake and watching, but still not speaking or responding. I boarded the ambulance and held his hand as we made our way to the emergency room.

Its taken me 2 week to get this post finished. It's only the beginning of our story, but it's enough for now.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


We brought a white baby blanket to the hospital with us to hold Chiara in after she was born. We brought it home with us along with the memory box the hospital provided and the hat and tiny clothes she had been dressed in. I knew they were all in the bag labelled 'patient's belongings'. I wasn't quite sure I was brave enough to open that bag, and I was afraid of what I would see when I did. I knew they were stained with her blood and mine. I couldn't figure out if I wanted to see them, if they should be washed, or what we should do.

Yesterday morning I was so distraught and I could not seem to find any comfort. I opened the bag. The blanket has a splash of blood in the middle where it cradled her body. The little clothes are still wet inside their plastic bag. I held it all in all my hands and cried more, laid down in the bed with it all and just wept. I realized that although some people who have not been through this might find the blood disturbing, or my need to hold the soiled blankets and clothes strange or creepy, that what they truly are is sacred. These things, soaked through with her blood, are the only tangible evidence that she was ever here, that she lived so briefly inside me. My milk will recede, my belly will no longer look round and pregnant, memories of her kicks will grow more faint with time. The clothes and blanket help connect me to her, although I won't hold her again.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I find that I am eager for good poetry to help me through this time. I thought this one was beautiful.

Your mother walks light as an empty creel
Unlearning the intimate nudge and pull
Your trussed-up weight of seed-flesh andbone-curd
Had insisted on. That evicted world
Contracts round its history, its scar.
Doomsday struck when your collapsedsphere
Extinguished itself in our atmosphere,
Your mother heavy with the lightness in her.
For six months you stayed cartographer
Charting my friend from husband towardsfather.
He guessed a globe behind your steadymound.
Then the pole fell, shooting star, into theground.
On lonely journeys I think of it all,
Birth of death, exhumation for burial;
A wreath of small clothes, a memorialpram
And parents reaching for a phantom limb.
I drive by remote control on this bare road
Under a drizzling sky, a circling rock.
Past mountain fields full to the brim withcloud.
White waves riding home on a wintry lough.

Seamus Heaney

Trying to Make Sense of Things

It's six o'clock in the morning on the third day since we lost you, our beautiful Chiara Astra, at 22 weeks, long before you were supposed to be born. I woke to my own tears after all-night dreams of how we can preserve and honor the memory of your too-brief time in our lives. I gave all my ativan-tainted sleep over to this project and still emerged with nothing.

Two recurring memories I have right now are of similar things I have seen in nature that moved me, before I was a mother. When I was around 25 years old, I visited San Clemente Island in the Channel Islands off of southern California. I was living on Catalina island at the time, and this was a weekend adventure for the staff of the marine institute where I worked. We made some great dives and snorkeled with the sea lions in the colony there. On our very first dive, we dropped to the bottom in about 70 ft. of water and the ocean bottom seemed to be moving. Tiny, waving arms were squirming in every direction, a carpet of pale pastel. When we got close enough, the wigglers revealed themselves as brittle stars. Many hundreds of thousands of them covering the ground of the sea floor. Magical. I remember nothing else we saw on that dive.

But that is not the memory of the trip that keeps recurring in my mind. The memory I see is one from the land. One I saw through binoculars as I watched the huge colony of California Sea Lions make their way around the edges of the island. There were lots of cows and pups and big males, too. The sight that struck me most then and sticks with me during these days of my zombie-like grief is that of a mother sea lion carrying her dead pup around in her mouth. Even as I write this it breaks my heart again. Her need to still be close, or confusion at the pup's stillness, lack of warmth, and her inability to let it go, all filled me with great sadness, and perhaps some repulsion, too.  It was on the edge of what I could understand at the time, and seemed more grotesque curiosity than relatable. That has now changed.

The second memory is of a safari at Motswari Reserve outside of Krueger National Park in South Africa. My husband and I were there in 2009. We saw so much, so many of the creatures we'd dreamed of seeing all of our lives. We watched a group of lions stalk and kill a warthog, and then sat within 10 feet in an open vehicle as they devoured it. We felt the breath and the breeze wafting from an elephant's waving ears. We sat by as leopard cubs nursed in a shady spot in the bush, wrestling with each other and receiving gentle corrections from their mother. All of these extraordinary sights are not the ones that stick out in my mind.

Here's the one that does: there was a small lake we would drive by, it was a good place to see animals coming for a drink. On our last day we heard a lioness, but could not see her. Our guide explained that this particular animal had been coming for days to the waterhole and crying out, calling to her missing cub who had been eaten by a crocodile a few days before. Her keening roar could be heard each day. It is this lioness, and her mournful, lost cries that stick with me now. I relate to them. I am lost. I am calling to a baby who is no longer here.