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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pregnancy After Stillbirth: It's Complicated

Greetings, KuKd/TTC Mommy-os, Daddy-os and Inquisitive Guests!

Wouldn't ya know: it's complicated.

Just to recap: this past Monday, Dr. C pulled her chair up really close to mine so that she and Kevin and I were sitting in a tight little pow-wow triangle, as though we were about to sing the kumbaya song. She held our 32-week fetus' ultrasound pictures in the air and said - looking mostly at me - "you're having a normal pregnancy, and I don't anticipate any problems."

She seemed solemn with her brows furrowed, like she was willing me to believe her - probably because of the utterly flippant, dismissive, shoulder-shrugging attitude I've had about this whole thing since I saw the pink plus-sign last July. I could hardly even handle her intense eye contact, at times fighting the urge to stare down at my feet. I told her it was easier - if not more fun altogether - to act like my inner KuKd-goth-tatooed self than to be brave and dorky enough to embrace this pregnancy, to believe. She nodded like she got it and asked if I was happy now.

Are ya happy now? (insert loud Italian New-Yorker grandmother voice) Ya got whatcha wawnted! No mowa complainin' outta yous! Now quit-cha cryin' and go eatcha meatballs!

I could've responded with my usual muted cynicism: well, I will be when the baby actually gets here. If he gets here!

But that gets old after a while. I feel like people get tired of cynicism when it's tossed out too liberally, unthinkingly - when it becomes your entire mode of operation, as it's become mine these past few years. So I indulged Dr. C with a big fat YEAH! THIS IS AWESOME NEWS! She seemed relieved.

Admittedly, I smiled my way through the rest of the day and the day after that, feeling light and airy with a prance in my step. I was happy! How could I not be? Buoyed by this newly resounding assurance of a baby on the way. Even Kevin - earthy, serious, quiet Kevin - seemed lighter all of a sudden, and later I saw that he'd bookmarked a website for car seats. Always thinking ahead, that man. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still happy, relieved.

But it's not all straight-up candy-colored joy, oddly enough. That's what I'm sayin': it's complicated. Pregnancy after loss, that is.


Today and yesterday, after getting over my honeymoon-period of relief, I started feeling oddly as though a wide hole had been ripped open inside my soul by Dr. C's calm proclamation of normalcy, this vague weight of something pressing down on my heart. Anxiety? Depression? Sadness? Some mix of all of those things?

I sort of likened it to more to homesickness, the dreadful sort that I used to get at summercamp, like this feeling of missing something, maybe losing something and grasping to get it back. When I didn't gush about Obama's wonderfulness with characteristic enthusiasm after his State of the Union speech last night, Kevin asked what was wrong.

"I dunno," I said. "I don't know what to do with all this...normalcy. What am I supposed to brood about now?"

He chuckled - we both did. It's been a broody three years of KuKd, and to be told with such certainty, such eye contact - BY A REAL DOCTOR - that "this is a normal pregnancy," well, it takes away my "brooding cloak" so it's just out of reach. I've been wearing that screw-you-and-screw-babies attitude like a big bulky sweater since way back when. July 2006, to be exact. I started feeling naked without it, like letting go of an old friend.

But there's more slipping through my fingers like dry sand, and I'm finding myself this week trying to hold onto it: that KuKd identity and experience that have become so engrained in me these past few years. It's whole invisible universe - that blog-o-world and real-o-world of men and women who have been there before. I'm familiar with it. I enjoy it here. It's like a big secret club for cool kids. I've liked being in this world, even though my reason for being here was so god-awful, as all of our reasons are. It's not that easy to just let go like that, leaping out of one world, one whole identity, and into another: live-baby world.

See what I mean? Complicated.

The thing is, the very fact of being knocked up started pushing me out of this known, loved world a long time ago. I was oblivious to this fact until I received the brutally honest e-mail on this post:

"Now you're pregnant, and I feel so fucking alone. I've lost my misery mentor."

I've thought about that ever since. It troubles me, disturbs me, and makes me feel oddly alienated - like I'm in between worlds in this silent vacuum space. Just ask Kevin, who's heard me babble about it. It makes me want to grab onto the rich universe of baby loss that I know so damn well - of the brave KuKd mommas and daddas who live there, of books and blogs and support groups, of hospitals and tubes and machines and coffins, of ashes and pictures and candles, of poems and flowers and treasured locks of baby hair, of little black footprints on parchment paper, of boxes of Kleenex ever-present at the bedside, of Empty Cradle, Broken Heart sitting dog-eared on the bookshelf, of coveted photographs of little dead babies representing the children we all imagined they would become.

Just grab onto that world with both hands like a golfball-sized globe, and keep it in my pocket forever.

That's what's on my mind this week: how to do that, even as another little globe - a pastel-colored universe of new mommyhood- comes hurtling at me while I stand here blinded like a deer in headlights.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Cool

Quick filler news-byte:

EEEEEE!!! Somebody pinch me please.

Regarding today's earlier post (see below): all is cool on the ultrasound front. Even the lab-coat-clad technicians were smiling. KuKd gals in this "pregnancy-after-loss" category like me, well, we take what we can get. Little things - little words like "normal" - get us all pumped up and make us blast Jay-Z in the living room and shake our butts. Which I did - or started to do - until I just about injured myself. It simply astounds me that the word "normal" can appear on a KuKdx3 gal's chart. Amazes me, really. We've done nothing to prepare for this baby - zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada. What do we do with all this unexpected...normalcy?

I might still make a pie this week anyway, AND have that KuKd goth dance party with the nipple piercing station in the corner. If this baby really comes into the world, I need to figure out how to keep Zachary alive in my body, mind, soul, household at the same time. My history of baby-death still weaves itself in and out of me like a black ribbon, not to ever be shed or let to, even as cautious hope for new life creeps in. So they need to coexist: that past, this future.

But that's a whole 'nother post.

And now...PIE!

Chugging 7-Up


I'm told the fetus is the size of a jicama, whatever that is.

Special ultrasound in a few hours hours with the smart lab-coat clad people. It's a "fetal heart echo," actually. That's where they rub KY Jelly on my tummy and zoom into fetus' little beating heart to make sure the beat is so loud and strong that it would echo off the Grand Canyon walls if given the opportunity. These are university bigwigs, not just ordinary doctors! I'm like this scientific experiment to them: Ooooh! Aaaaah! Can't you hear it? Potential for something freakily, weirdly, unprecedentedly awful to happen! A possible slide show presentation for the new medical students, something to study and ponder!

They will all be disappointed today, I'm sure: disappointed by my kicking little jicama's uncanny (and boring) good health. The horns will make that sound of a joke gone bad: wah-wahhhhhhh. I saw it in my oatmeal this morning: a happy face made of swirling ridges of hot oats, warm milk flowing in those rivulets and sending me cosmic messages of optimism.

However, in case their secret wish for something exciting comes true - that is, if today doesn't go 100% pristine awesome, I've brainstormed some possible ways to spend the rest of the afternoon:

-Shouting at that church marquis near our house, the one that always says something about "God's plan:" Hey God! Are you listening? Your plan sucks nuts. Please review, revise, and resend.

-Go on a frenetic baking spree, rolling out pie crusts with jerky hand motions. No responsibility accepted for any snot or tears that end up in my pie filling.

-Organizing a spontaneous KuKd goth dance party in the basement: black attire and heavy eyeliner required, nipple-piercing station in the corner, candles flickering.

-Paint the living room black.

-Take the rest of my sick leave, tell Kevin he's quitting, and buy round-trip tickets to the farthest, coolest European city - someplace with cobbled narrow roads and bustling squares, where we can sit on bench and eat Nutella-slathered baguette with reckless abandon.

-Throw pies at people's faces.

* * *

I'm guzzling Seven-Up today for heartburn. It's amazing how good a bit of fizzy, sugar-infused, tooth-rotting, arm-fat-generating soda pop can make you feel.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Stillbirth Fear Factor

Greetings, KuKd/TTC Colleagues and Inquisitive Guests!

How much fear can the brain really hold? I mean, doesn't it seem like there must be a limit? Aren't humans optimistic by nature? Don't we have to be? If our brains didn't have a natural saturation point for fear, wouldn't our heads fill up with it and explode? Surely that's exactly what would happen.

It would be so cliche of me, so much like a worn-out doormat, for me to talk about post-knocked-down anxieties. Who needs to hear what everyone already can imagine? I mean, yeah. Obviously, obviously, if something bad happens to you repeatedly, you're going to be afraid it will happen again. I don't know if it's true, but I imagine tsunami survivors being afraid of living near the shore, burn victims afraid of fire, cancer survivors afraid of...I don't know...plastics and pesticides and lumpy things beneath their skin.

Which means the fact that I had an "afraid day" today - or, not a whole afraid day, but a day peppered with "afraid moments" - doesn't seem all that newsworthy. That would be like announcing that it rained on a winter day in Seattle. If I tell anyone at all that I'm experiencing a twinge of anxiety, it's like: "well of COURSE you are!" Nobody is surprised by this inevitible fact.

But I don't take post-KuKd anxiety so lightly, like it's this fluffy little "given" in life that of course will occur. I don't like fear at all, don't like to revel in it or talk about it. I worry sometimes that this dismissive attitude toward fear - the fact that I would rather talk about chocolate chip cookie bars and banoffee pies on my blog than spout off about my fears - might come across as flippant and annoying to the KuKd'ers who read this blog, that somehow I'm disrespecting Mother Nature by not showing enough public fear. Not that I know jack about religion, but I get the sense that you're supposed to act afraid around God, that fear is a sign of respect and submission.

My problem with expressing fear is twofold.

First, there's the huge force of optimism that makes up my core being and constantly pushes outward. Look, I'm a basically happy-ass person, and still am. Maybe if I were still the brooding fake-goth chick I was in high school, I'd be able to accept my fear a bit better, and not shove it down like nasty bile. But the truth is, I come from a family of optimists. We laugh things off, shrug things off, make light of situations. Maybe it's an Irish thing; who knows. Really, our whole society is one of optimism, when you think about it, and perhaps that's where I got this trait. And truthfully, although this persistent American optimism annoyed the shit out of me when I lost the babies, I feel ultimately more relieved than not by this pervasive candy-like spirit of joy in our culture and in our family.

Second, there's the fact that post-KuKd fear - specifically this late-term-in-pregancy fear that comes after stillbirth - is one of the worst and most intense feelings of terror that it basically isn't something I can allow to stick around for long. It's more than most people can handle or really understand, unless you've been through something horrendous. It goes back to that fear-saturation point in the brain: this sort of fear is so damned potent, that it fills up my brain instantly to where my head can't hold any more, and I have no choice but to brush it immediately off like a monster's green hand resting on my shoulder. No time to wallow in this fear, or talk about it, or pull it apart and analyze it. Just shove it off and say good riddance.

Today it happened a few times, these afraid moments, which I can only describe like a loud, dark freight train roaring in my ears, coming at me with bright and disorienting lights. Literally, that's basically what happens. I'm sitting there innocently peeing, or typing an e-mail message, and I get the sense that something's wrong. That a heart attack happened inside, that Monday's ultrasound is going to reveal something awful, that people in white lab coats will file into the room and look at me with grave expressions, glancing at their clipboards and explaining in dry medical terminology why everything's fucked.

God, I never used to be able to imagine such a thing happening, but now I can with great ease. It really wouldn't be all that odd for it to happen, given my luck in the baby-making department. But what's the use of imagining such things, dwelling on that fear, revelling in the seering roar and white lights of that freight-train-like fear, talking about it here?

Nothin.' So I suppress it down and keep going in my optimistic way, going through life, letting the genetic/inherent/cultural happiness take over. It isn't hard, because - like I said - I'm basically a happy person.

Today was just an inordinately, weird-ish, freight-train like day. Must have been the Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast - that's the only variable I can think of that was a bit different from the past few weeks.


Monday, January 18, 2010

KuKd Bitch in the Kitch

Kitchen Memos from a Knocked Down Bitch

By now, you know my preferred cures for that dead-baby funk: sex, booze, a lot of fuck-yous, and - of course - diving right the hell in to culinary adventures.   Time again to get our hands dirty. 

This weekend, K and I rented a vacation house on the cold, blustery Washington seashore with a bunch of lovely friends from work. There was blissfully little to do except cook, eat, nap, play games, go for strolls, cook, and eat some more.

Did I mention cooking and eating? Oh yeah, we did that too. And what better time to try out some new recipes than while sequestered in a rad house with a rad kitchen and six friends? So I launched into a few culinary adventures over the weekend. Actually, one was more mishap than adventure (Food and Wine Magazine can kiss my large butt!!) but I'll save the most frustrating for last.

Saturday night was the banoffee pie - a decadent concoction of bananas, toffee, whipped cream and toasted sugared almonds - which I originally read in a cookbook by this obscure culinary figure:

Recognize that boyish face? Those eyes? That hair?

Jamie Oliver is the name - and hair product is the game. Anyone who puts that much effort into looking like he puts no effort into his hair deserves some recognition. He's a hipster chef, too - the kind whose recipes involve throwing haphazzardly measured ingredients into bowls and kettles like we're all in some culinary mosh pit together, baking scones to the beat of the Sex Pistols. And finally, he's a Brit - which means he must have a British accent - which is on my list of keen and wonderful things.

Anyway, I got obsessed with his banoffee pie recipe several years ago, and vowed to one day produce it. Which I did, this very weekend. Now, his recipe begins innocently with a few cans of sweetened condensed milk:

Note the grave warning on the label:

But alas, Jamie Oliver - with his fuck-all-conventions attitude toward both his hair and his cooking - told me to ignore that warning!

Ignore the label, and boil the cans unopened for three hours , the recipe says, reminding me briefly of that kid in 7th grade who tried to get me to drop acid with him behind the convenience store (for the record, I did not). Boil the cans and your sweetened condensed milk will morph into dark, carmelly dulce de leche: the base of your banoffee pie! But don't ever, ever let the water boil down, and be sure to let the cans cool COMPLETELY after they boil. Because if a single microscopic nanometer of tin can gets exposed to the air during the boiling process, or if the cans aren't cool when you open them, they will EXPLODE all over your face and kitchen, killing everything and everyone in sight!

Yeah. The recipe basically says that. But I proceeded with caution, because Jamie Oliver is cool, and I want to be like him. So I began my tin-can boiling process, while Tebow - in his infinite doggy-wisdom - watched me from afar, sending me mental urges to think before I do this. I nodded and told him I appreciated his concern, but this was one risk I had to take if I was ever going to get to my banoffee pie.

So I did it, and - three hours of rapid boiling and a cautious ten hours of cooling time later, POOF: I had what Jamie had promised. Three cans of delicious, brown-sugary dulce de leche! Toffee, I guess you could call it:

I felt like the baddest KuKd bitch on the planet!

Next, I made a pastry crust of butter, flour and egg yokes, pressing it into a special fluted pan that I bought just for this occasion. On went a thickly slathered layer of my death-defying, dangerously-produced toffee, followed by sliced bananas and fresh whipped cream. The whipped cream was kissed with a scant tablespoon of strong brewed coffee as Jamie suggested, giving it a very slightly mocha-ish taste.

Then came the icing on the cake, so to speak: a generous sprinkle of almonds that had been rinsed in water, tossed with powdered sugar, and toasted in the oven until golden:

BOO-YA. My banoffee pie. Here it is, mid-consumption:

* * *

Part 3: KuKd Bitch in the Kitch Making Doomed Sandwiches from Hell (aka Food and Wine Magazine can Suck It!)

By Sunday at the beach house, I was feeling confident in my culinary, Jamie-Oliver-ish know-how. So I decided to give my second most-obsessed-over recipe a try - these awesome rectangular icecream sandwiches from Food and Wine magazine:

Look how cool and stackable they are, what with the fudge stripe down the middle! I could see everyone biting into them with amazement, wondering how I'd managed such a feat. And the recipe made them look so easy, like you could do these blindfolded.

It began with a package of break-n-bake cookies. I opted for the au natural variety, free of chemical preservatives, as my contribution to everyone's personal health:

These got pressed into baking dish. For the record - and this is important - nowhere in this recipe was there any mention of applying GREASE to the baking dish. So, having come down off my wild-n-crazy rule-breaking spree with Jamie Oliver, I stuck to the rules this time, and did not apply any grease.

Baked'em, and out they came, looking golden delicious. I was certain that all was going well.

Of course (and here's where those fools over at Food and Wine can suck it), the recipe made it sound so wonderfully simple to flip the cookie rectangle outward, causing it to land in a neat rectangle on the counter. But it simply wasn't so:

BASTARDS! My confidence rapidly falling, the cookie rectangle stuck like a piece of glued-on cement, I had to resort to drastic cookie-excavation methods.

"Parchment paper would've worked well," said my friend M, watching with borderline amusement.

"Take your twenty-minutes-too-late assvice and shove it!" I thought to myself, hardly in the mood for advice and retroactive solutions. What I really wanted was some verbal confirmation of how crappy and deceiving this recipe was.

After piecing it back together in the pan like the great Pangea continent, I grumpily moved on to the next step - which was to press a bunch of vanilla icecream down onto the cookie layer, cover it in plastic wrap and freeze it:

Next came a layer of fudge topping - followed by another hour in the freezer.

Then, my fudge-icecream-cookie-layered-Pangea-continent had to be sliced into two halves, and sandwiched together into one gigantic hunk of frozen chocolaty layered goodness:

Finally, it was time to slice this hard-arse brick into smaller icecream sandwiches, which could (and maybe even would, if the bastards over at Food and Wine had any technical writing skills whatsoever) look like the lovely stacked up sandwiches in the orginal recipe photo.

M, the assvice giver himself, found twisted amusment in my crabby attempts to stab the gigantic cookie bar, and snatched up my camera to document the carnage:

TAH-DAH: my icecream sandwiches.

A far cry from the recipe picture (note to Food and Wine: thanks for making me feel inferior to the whole world!), but at least I could count on K to eat one with a smile on his extremely handsome unshaven face.  God, I hope I get laid tonight.

Redemption, I guess.

* * *

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bitch, Glitch and Switch

Greetings, KuKd/IF'ers and Inquisitive Guests!

The Bitch

It was exciting to discover a few days ago that someone had found my blog with the search terms "knocked up bitch."

I had to assume that my blog wasn't quite the thing they were looking for, if you know what I mean. Nonetheless, they did stick around for several minutes (it's almost frightening, the information I have access to). I wonder if this particular Internet-trawler learned anything new in the process, if they liked what they saw here, if they came away with a new view of us knocked-up bitches. If the titillating topic of pregnancy loss can spark even the faintest interest in what I presume to be a fat, horny middle-aged guy who looks like the stapler dude from Office Space, well, the entire KuKd communty can be proud. Right? Can't we?

Warning to my IF/TTC peeps: there's a bit of baby talk here today. Just some musings, some gross bodily things. I say this with full understanding: who in crap's name am I to complain about anything pregnancy-related? At least I'm pregnant at all. Touche.

But things happen with this now 30-week-pregnancy like with any other pregnancy - boring things, commonplace things, non-KuKd-related things - as much as I'd like to think my heightened KuKd status makes this pregnancy somehow different and more interesting than the norm. And sometimes I get the urge to spout off about those things here, even knowing it's not fun for everyone to read about. So my apologies in advance to my pregnancy-sensitive sistas.

The Glitch

There was a bit of a scare this past week - some weird cramping and clear, amnio-like discharge going on. There, I said it! DISCHARGE! Kevin absolutely positively loves it when I say that word - discharge - especially when preceded by "vaginal."


It's almost as much of a turn-on as when I say HEMORRHOID!


(which I announced loudly from the bedroom yesterday morning while blotting my daily torrential nosebleed with an already-used Kleenex)

Poor Kevin, with his nosebloody, hemorrhoidy, vaginal dischargy, blood-engorged, gassy (there's that, too), extremely-vocal-about-all-of-the-above wife of whale-like proportions. Please send him flowers or tickets to March Madness.

Anyway, the cramps. I called the consulting nurse to relay my changing bodily symptoms, and was ordered to come in for a strangely named "non-stress test." The "non-stress test," which - ironically - is stressful just like any other procedure involving checking the aliveness of one's fetus, requires hooking suction-cuppy things up to my belly and listen for fetal activity and peering into my cervix. All of this is to make sure I'm not going into early labor.

(I was secretly hoping I was, in fact, going into early labor - so that I might be prescribed indefinite "bed rest," which - in my twisted fantasy world - involves lounging around in my pajamas for two months and watching movies while Kevin feeds me ice cream)

Of course, I was fully braced for catastrophe as I drove to the clinic for my stressful non-stress test, with Kevin and my mother calling me at regular intervals to check in. That's where KuKd colors pregnancy a slightly different shade than just pure pastel-rainbow: more like a black and gray experience with swaths of crimson-fear.

But everything turned out to be fine, so I was given a pat on the head and sent home, look around in wonderment and think to myself: wow! Things actually seem miraculously, statistically significantly, counter-intuitively okay! Now what do I do with myself?

* * *

The Switch

I'm making the switch!

I was trying to remember what commercial(s) that's from. Some cable company? Cell phone? Diet plan? Anyway, I'm making it the switch.

Any of you who have ever lost a pregnancy, and then experienced subsequent pregnancies, will get what I mean here: during that subsequent pregnancy, you become like this high-risk specimen for the medical community to examine and monitor and write copious notes about. You feel dully afraid just about all the time, and your immediate family - females (well, mothers) especially - feed off your dull fear and cycle it back in your direction, spinning you into an even bigger ball of fear. And you suck up that extra attention like a needy attention whore - for a while anyway.

But then you start to feel tired of being a needy attention whore. You start getting bored with your own drama. If someone suggests another ultrasound, you feel yourself nodding a bit too quickly in agreement. If someone asks you questions and studies your charts, you soak it up like good rum punch, reveling in the spotlight of being such a high-risk specimen that smart people are worried about. And you start to get irritated with yourself, with this identity you've taken up.

Alas - for me, anyway - the novelty wore off about two months ago. I really started wanting to make the switch over to normal knocked-uppage. That is: back to thinking, talking, acting, and being treated like an ordinary pregnant gal with ordinary concerns - not like this big huge walking web of emotion and anxiety and potential dead-baby-ness.

So, after my December ultrasound, I told my Fetal Heart Specialist Guru Doctor that I was ready to MAKE THE SWITCH: the switch back over to my regular nice-lady doctor, the switch to the normal pregnancy track from here on out. Basically that means fewer visits to the doctor, fewer screenings, more relaxation. It means - on paper anyway- that everyone switches over to the mentality of "Monica is a normal pregnant person" instead of "Monica is high-risk specimen."

So we've all made the switch together: me, Kevin, my doctors. And ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh... I feel better already.

God help me if this one gets effed up between now and nine weeks from now.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Amateur Stillbirth Art

Greetings Discerning Art Enthusiasts,

Twenty-four hours after the baby died, Kevin and I were lying on our sides on the basement floor with our fingers interlocked, staring at each other like shell-shocked soldiers. Technically I was still pregnant, I guess. The big belly was there with a six-pound something inside it. But that six-pound something was a lifeless, mysterious lump. What the HECK does one do in a state like that? Watch TV? Bake cookies? Weed in the garden?

Well, different things.

For K, it was a basement-improvement rampage: racing to Home Depot, dropping several thousand dollars on new sub-flooring and wall paint and light fixtures. He became like this crazed home-remodeling-madman-on-crack. Or speed. Basically I just sort of sat there with my pregnant-dead-baby-stomach-lump and watched him work. How could I argue with channeling one's grieving energy into productive activities that boosted our home value?

For me, in the days immediately following Zach's cold delivery into the world, it was standing beneath a bare light-bulb in flannel pajamas, slathering acrylic paints onto gigantic stretched canvases. K - bless his heart- was the one who had prompted me to dive back into the paints, which I hadn't touched in a year or so. He suggested I create some pieces to embellish our soon-to-be-remodeled-basement, and even picked up some canvases for me at the art store.

I worked fervently for a full day as Kevin hammered in sub-floor tiles with just as much fervor. We were both in some kind of weird, trance-like state, our hands working, our minds focused on the task at hand. We didn't play any music, because all music - Janes Addiction, especially, but really any music at all - was making me cry. Just worked silently like robots. I distinctly recall throwing paint in every direction - slopping, slathering, pelting it on without regard for technique or boundaries or whatever mess I might be creating. It was like a fifth grade art project to the nth degree.

By the time I'd finished all my paint-slinging, about twenty hours after I'd started, I was covered in blues and reds and oranges, damp paper-towels all over the floor with speckles of paint on them, cups of color-tinted water everywhere. We ordered - and I STILL remember this with crystal clarity - pepperoni pizza from Domino's with a coupon. It was almost ten at night. The floor was done, and K and I worked together to hang my new "stillbirth art" on the wall.

I felt better, kind of, about the world - for the moment, anyway.

* * *

I haven't thought about those paintings much since then. They've been hanging in the basement since the baby died, sort of neglected and forgotten. It's not like I'm a trained artist, so everything I produce is totally blocky, choppy and amature-ish - not something I would hang on the main floor above the fireplace mantel.

But they're on my mind again now as Kevin begins "stage two" of our big basement remodel, which requires us to strip the basement walls down and clean out shop. I'm thinking about these paintings, wondering what to DO with them. Keep them? If so, where? Give them away? Store them?

For now, I'm taking pictures of them and just thinking about them. They're dated August 25th, 2007 - the week that we lost Zach. Which - in my mind - makes them bona fide "amateur stillbirth art," if there is such a thing:

I wonder what a psychiatrist would say about them, if anything. Why do we do the things we do when we lose someone or something we love? Why did I paint those particular things, with those particular colors? Fish? Flowers? Butterflies? They seem...happy to me now, like this sort of jubilant kiddie-art that might go into a child's bedroom. Why would THAT come out of me and not something dark and macabre, like skulls on a black background?

What sorts of things do other stillbirth-mommies paint? And why? I guess I'm just curious about art as a healing thing, why and how we do it, where in our brain it comes from, what it says about us.

I wish I had some deep psycho-analytical answer, but dude. You know I don't. :-) Right now the paintings are stacked up on the floor while my dog paces around them suspiciously and sniffs them. Maybe he'll come up with the answer using that poodle-westie nose of his.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Stillbirth: What Ya Lose

Greetings, Guests and Regulars...

I've got it! I get it! Everything makes sense now! It's taken me...what...two-and-a-half years. But I think I'm there, finally.

Today I was slowly swimming laps at the community center pool, not unlike a gigantic manatee pursuing a floating head of cabbage. Of course, there isn't much to do while swimming except...well...swim. And watch wavy blue lines go by. And think.

It was during this prolongued bout of thinking and wavy-blue-line-watching that I realized with certainty what it actually MEANS to get knocked down, particularly in later stages of a pregnancy. I'm talking specifically about stillbirth: death of a creature big enough to create noticeable spasms of movement, make you look and feel like a fatso, and cause you to expel a "pee pellet" everytime you laugh or sneeze hard.

Now, I realize how absurd that sounds. Any old dumb-ass can look up "stillbirth" in the dictionary. The Center for Disease Control has a pretty sweet definition, which lumps stillbirth and miscarriage together:

"'Fetal death' means death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy and which is not an induced termination of pregnancy. The death is indicated by the fact that after such expulsion or extraction, the fetus does not breathe or show any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles."

Fair enough.

Yet, despite such scientifically graphic definitions, I never felt like I quite understood what it meant to lose a baby, or a fetus, or whatever - and why it was so sad, so baffling, so destructive to my psyche. All of my KuKd experiences have felt like a great big broom swooping down from the sky and smacking me and Kevin upside the face, leaving us standing there like dazed and confused imbiciles, stung and wondering what the hell had just happened.

I mean yeah, something died. I got that part. A fetus at four months. A blighted ovum - a ball of nothingness. A baby-like entity at 33 weeks. But what do you do, what or who are you supposed miss, when you happened to take a more measured and cautious (maybe old-fashioned?) approach to pregnancy, keeping excitement under wraps until the purported due date? Didn't personify the unborn fetus? Didn't find out the gender? Didn't think about names and spout them off to the world? Didn't blog about his/her gestational progress? Didn't get ultrasounds every month or whatever to watch it kick? Voted pro-choice, which I did and still do (there! I said it!)?

That was me, all of the above. "I miss my baby" just sounded simplistic to my own ears, insufficient. There wasn't any rationale for "missing the baby" to add - because it's not like I could say something like, "I miss his laughter!" or "I miss the way his poopy diaper smelled!" How could I have known what his poopy diaper might have smelled like (not that I couldn't muster a reasonable guess)? Even suddenly affixing a name to him - as though he and I were old friends - somehow felt weird to my hyper-rationalizing mind.

So, stillbirth for me was confusing and hard to think about, and absurdly difficult to explain it to others in a way that made sense. I wanted to tell my friends why it sucked so bad, but the words never came. So I just resigned myself to feeling crazy for a while.

* * *

BUT I GOT IT NOW! As of 12:26 today at Helene Madison Pool! It dawned on me with crystal clarity, a working understanding of stillbirth, a confirmation - finally after all this time - of what it is about getting Knocked Down that brings a person so very far...well...down.

This realization comes from my now having whatever a seven-month pregnant woman actually has that could be lost, other than a simple developing infant, and imagining with a dry throat what it would be like to lose that "thing" again. I can think about it more clearly than before, understand it better. It was today in the swimming pool as I slogged my way through the crawl-stroke that I began to take stock of what that enigmatic "thing" actually IS, analyze it, define it.

If I were to lose this baby now, it wouldn't be simply "death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception," as the Center for Disease Control wisely phrases it. Nuh-nuh no. I mean yeah - scientifically it's an accurate definition, but wholly lacking in depth and substance, and dismissive of the more intangible things that evaporate when a late-term baby dies. Now I get why definitions like that didn't do much for me back in my darkest days, and didn't help my friends and family understand our circumstance any better.

My swimming-pool epiphany began like this. If the spastic little ball of movement in my belly were to disappear today, here's what I would lose besides the spastic little critter himself:

1) The imagined child I envision him becoming. It changes regularly, but right now, the "vision de jour" is of a toddler with tousled brown hair and freckles, pin-striped overalls like the sort a 1920s railroad worker might wear, a red shirt underneath, and a really straight nose like Kevin's. He's a nice kid, the one that I picture. He respects our dog. He likes to color and look for bugs in our back yard, and he can sing on-key and hit a Whiffle ball with a plastic red bat. And the kid can make noise, too; I heard his little-boy squeals down at the shallow end of the pool today, which was sectioned off from the lap-lanes for "family swim time."

2) The imagined life I have laid out for him. It's stretched before us like a red carpet. I saw it clearly as the wavy blue lines went by in the swimming pool today. It involves lots of overseas trips and very early introduction of spicy foods, because the last thing I want is finicky child who only eats french fries. It involves being surrounded by awesome grandparents and aunts and uncles who channel love in his direction, and messy art projects in the kitchen. It involves camping and hiking and sports, because no son of Kevin's will go un-trained in basic ball-throwing and ball-catching skills and fire-making skills. It involves all that and then some, a thousand little details that I can spin like yarn and exaggerate inside my head like a compulsive story-teller.

3) The imagined ways it will change our marriage. Maybe this is all hogwash. But in my fantasy future, a child only brings me and Kevin closer together, our "team" made stronger by this sudden hardcore project to manage. We start lining up babysitters as soon as we can and going on regular date-nights without the kid, because having our cherished time at the tavern to lean into one another over cheap beers can only make our child more secure in himself and his family, more awestruck at the strength of his parents' friendship.

4) The opportunity to love a human more than I ever thought possible. What more can I say about this? A real living child provides an opportunity to love in a bigger, better way.

Oh, there's probably more that could be added. But already, that's a lot - isn't it? And once I took inventory of all that lose-able stuff, I thought in wonderment:
WOW. I lost all that? And not just me, but gadzillions of OTHER dead-baby mommas around the world have lost it too, and are losing it at this very moment, and will lose it tomorrow and the next day and on and on into the future, as long as fetuses happen and fetuses die?

Ah-HA! That's why stillbirth is so surreally, achingly difficult. Letting go of the physical dead baby, described so aptly by Center for Disease Control - now that's the easy part. Who is going to complain about lightening a 6-pound load off one's torso? Not me. It's letting go of the imaginary part - the hopeful, fairytale-spun future associated with that fetus - that's the most vomit-worthily difficult. For me anyway, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life...letting that go. And anyone who has to go through that letting go, well, deserves a trophy on the fireplace mantel or a badge of honor at the very least. Somebody should start that as an international custom.

Man, if only I'd had that nice, tidy explanation to e-mail to all my friends during the lowest days of my knocked-downage! Maybe it would help the world "get it" better. Or maybe it would only leave them more confused. :-) I'm good at confusing people, including myself.