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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Connecting Stillbirth to Life

Greetings, KuKd/TTC Guests and Regulars...

There's a baby shower coming up, and a conundrum in my head to work through. Why can't things be simple and easy, without conundrums?

Feel free to be troubled by that term: baby shower. I know it pains some readers to think about, because it pained me for the longest time. I get that. What other words could be used to describe this event?

For this one in particular, it's a small gathering of uber-high-quality, intelligent, kind and compassionate women from a range of generations - my friends and mother and mother's friends - coming together to eat crab salad on croissants. It's being organized by Jen, the incredible friend that I first called upon learning of Zachary's in-utero demise. The baby-gift-giving concept was making me vomit-worthily anxious, so I stole my friend K's idea of a participatory "book shower:" in lieu of gifts, everyone bring a favorite kids' book with a note inscribed for this unborn baby's first library, and we'll all go around and explain the meaning of the book we brought.

All of that, I'm cool with. Excited about, really. It's the conundrum of where/how the past fits in with this event, or if there's a even place at all for it, that's been on my mind lately.

* * *

A wee bit of background, of course, before returning to the conundrum at hand:

For every calamity that can happen to a person, it seems, someone has written a self-help book about it. And for miscarriage and stillbirth, that definitive book would probably have to be Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby - what's essentially known to be THE Lonely Planet Guide to the Weird, Mind-Trippy Land of Dead-Babystan. If you're like me, you've probably thumbed through pages of it. A well-meaning friend or family member might have shipped a shiny new copy to you via FedEx, or perhaps a grief counselor slid this decent-sized book across the table in your direction. And if you're like me, you probably glanced through the pages with mixed emotion.

First, you wondered crabbily what useful things a PhD-holder named Deborah Davis could possibly tell you. "Deborah Davis" was decidedly not the name of your cool, authoritative older sister who gets it - but rather one of your mother's friends who wore waist-high jeans and made casseroles with french-fried onions in the 1980s. Yet, you also felt strangely comforted by the thought of a PhD-holder named Deborah Davis standing behind you, whispering words of guidance into your ear. Even the cover of this book - sort of a light peach with soothing fonts - was nice to look at. It felt like something official and organized, giving you hope that society was with you on this strange journey, holding your hand and telling you what to do and think, warning you of what was ahead.

At least, this is how it was for me, dipping into this book.

I've pretty sure I've got a copy of it still lying around, dusty and crammed into a storage box in the sagging clapboard garage behind our house - although I've not cracked it open in a year or two. There's one chapter toward the end that I've got half a mind to read right now - and if it weren't 3:00 in the morning and drizzling outside, I might even throw on a sweatshirt over the one I'm wearing, wander out there in my socks while my dog stares at me dumbfoundedly, and dig around for it - just to get to that chapter.

It's called something like "Coping with Subsequent Pregnancies," a section I recall not only ignoring back when I was routinely skimming pages of this book, but feeling mysteriously irritated by it. How dare they include a chapter that had zero relevance in my life, that - in some dull and undefinable way - hurt to even glance at!

* * *

Now, back to the conundrum, to the reason why I feel suddenly compelled to dip into that book again - into that chapter in particular - with the dim hope for some useful insight. Being 37 weeks into what Deborah Davis would probably consider a classic example of a "subsequent pregnancy after stillbirth," I guess I'm not surprised that something as commonplace as a baby shower might trigger a bit of mental weirdness.

The conundrum, the question here, is: is there a place for remnants of the past at this baby shower? A place for the memory of Zachary, the theoretical older brother of the not-yet-born infant whose pending birth is bringing all of these amazing women, shiny new books, delicious crab salad together under one roof? He would have been two-and-a-half years old right now. What about the 4-month "male fetus" before Zachary, that abstract concept of a baby who would have been almost four years old today? Can either of them be honorably mentioned at this buoyant celebration of a new life to come, or will their memory cast a visible downer over the entire affair?

I don't know, of course, because baby-loss - and pregnancy thereafter - is like the Wild West: land without rules or conventions or rituals. You bumble along for years and years, making up rules of social etiquette as you go along - hoping you don't offend or baffle or alienate anyone in the process.

What I do know is that memories and feelings of the past, of Zachary's in-utero life in particular, of the motherhood-fantasy I'd associated with him - crop up at the oddest times nowadays, like when I'm thinking about baby showers. I feel overly reflective sometimes as I try to connect those old memories to this new stage in my life. It's cool to imagine such a thing, that our experiences in life are more than mere unrelated dots on a long line, which we pass through chronologically like unthinking robots, never looking backward or forward. Wouldn't a Zen-Buddhist guru-type advocate such a circular and reflective way of living?

So, the baby shower.

It was Jen, this very same Jen, that organized the one for Zachary two years ago - except that Zachary's, of course, was abruptly cancelled. For the past few weeks, I've had this strange urge to use this upcoming baby shower as an chance to honor and remember not just the new baby supposedly on the way, but the old baby who never got the baby shower. And not just honor the babies, but the "me" that I was back then, who never got the baby shower either. How wrecked and pathetic I was at the time, how inconsolable, how unfair life felt to me.

They're on my mind, that old injured me and the baby that didn't make it - but, as I said - it's not clear to me if there's a place for those haggard relics of the past at this sparkling and hopeful new baby shower coming up. There is, of course, the danger of turning into one of "those people" who can't stop dwelling on their own calamaties, who are always pouncing on opportunities to publicize and dramatize the woes that they cling to. God, how I fear becoming one of "those people." So I've been pondering more subtle possible ways to slip it into the baby shower:

-raise my glass of sparkling cider and bang my fork against it, and demand to make a toast "to Zachary," hoping that people don't squirm uncomfortably in their seats

-covertly write his name in the sheet-cake frosting using my index finger, licking the icing off my hand before anyone sees me do it

-duck into the bathroom by myself for a quick bawl-session on my own

-wander off and gaze pensively out the window, hoping some deep thoughts of the past just come to me naturally

That's it - I'm out of ideas.

Maybe there IS no place for that past here, at least not publicly. Maybe I should do what everyone else is doing - my parents, my in-laws, my friends: keep my eyes trained forward, focused on the current baby in my belly, and quit bringing up the cobwebby past that holds no relevancy in this new life to come. Just chillax and enjoy my baby shower - the books and the crab salad and the company - being surrounded by amazing friends and family. Revel in it for the happy little isolated "dot" that it is, and stop thinking so hard. Stop looking back at past dots and trying to make sense of it all. Maybe it would be considered bad form to do otherwise.

That's cool; I can do that - keep my own little conundrums private inside my head, and grapple with them there. I suppose that's where grief always leads a person anyways: to a place where you're left to handle lingering thoughts and feelings on your own.

But MAN OH MAH, it sure would be nice if there were another way. If I get my act together this morning, maybe I will make it out to that sagging clapboard garage afterall, and dig up old Deborah Davis' stillbirth bible. Maybe she's got some useful gems to dish out on this subject.

Monday, February 22, 2010

WTF Part Deux

Hello, Guests-n-Others!

As my belly grows outward in a craze of outlandish horizontalness, here are the top two questions coming at me this month:

1) What's your "birth plan?"
2) Have you considered a homebirth, or at least the help of a doula?

Which lead me to WTF Part Deux.

* * *

First - and it's not so much of a WTF but just a general musing: the broader question of the birth plan.

Birth plan? What's that? Is that like...a developed-country phenomenon?

OH YEAH - I remember now!

Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to close your eyes for a minute and journey into the past with me, back to when we were all pregnant that first, wondrous, innocent time. Back when plans mattered, fairytale dreams came true. Are you following?

Like me, you may have been asked to fill out a "birth plan" in your first trimester - a sheet of official-looking paper filled with fun questions, completed by you and returned to your doctor. How did you want your labor and delivery to unfold, it asked. Who did you want in the room? Did you want music in the background? Pain drugs or au natural? What labor-positions struck your fancy? How did you want your baby handled afterward? Like a child asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you conferred seriously with your partner and checked off answers, painting a dreamy portrait of baby-delivery day like bright oil paints on canvas.

Ahhhhhhh...weren't those the good'ol days? I remember them so fondly for knocked-uppages #1, 2, and even 3. Early 2006, and again in 2007, and even in 2009: sitting Kevin down so we could discuss this most serious subject, pressing in my answers with black pen like a responsible pre-mom, and dutifully returning my answers to the clinic.

Fast-forward to the present. I vaguely recall the nurse handing me a blank birth-plan form for this pregnancy, only for it to get tossed into trash can on my way out the door. Here's my one-sentence birth plan, I tell people when they ask (and they DO ask with astounding frequency): get my ass to the hospital when the time is right, and push out a living baby.

That's it. That's my birth plan.

I don't blame people for asking. These days, it's a normal thing to inquire about, I guess. I just wish I had something juicier to say, a list of big dreams for something greater and more noble, some stronger convictions and passions, something to show that I've really done my research and thought hard about this. Years ago, I did - I swear.

But some of you old-timers might recall this post a while back, in which I relayed my take-home message from that week's visit to a shrink: "What ARE plans anyway? They're things we make up inside our heads to give us the illusion that we're in control."

Losing a pregnancy is never a part of the plan. Right? Right. So, having your plans get burned over and over again eventually takes its toll on your psyche, this smart shrink-lady told me. I guess that's part of my personal toll: I don't make plans anymore.

At least not birth plans.

* * *

Next, the much more WTF question of homebirth - or, shall I say, what K and I have been calling the Homebirth-Amway-Salespeople (HAS): WTF is UP with that?

Before I go any further, let me say this: I happen to know that a very large handful of fine, intelligent folks reading this are homebirth enthusiasts. Which is to say: they had a plan to deliver their babies at home with the help of a midwife, and that's what they did (or tried to, anyway). I respect that. It's all good. Go homebirth. Go midwifery.

The homebirth question is similar to the birth-plan question, but with an Amway salesperson element that makes me feel like a small insect who inadvertently invited predatory company into my home.

Let me explain how this conversation usually unfolds. It starts with a fairly innocent question, a girlfriend or female who has either gone the natural-childbirth route or plans to - but has certainly researched its benefits extensively.

Her: "Where are you planning on having your baby?"

Me: "At a hospital."

Her: "Oh." Long pause. Already, I'm sensing that I've given the wrong answer, that I uttered "hospital" too quickly and self-assuredly, possibly indicating that I've not considered other options. It's as though I just told an Amway sales rep that no, I've never tried their whatever-the-fuck-they-sell, and they now have this meatball of opportunity hovering before their eyes.

Her, continuing: "Are you going with just regular doctor or a midwife? Some hospitals have midwifery programs."

Me: "Regular doctor."

Her: "Oh."

There's an even longer pause, and now I know for sure where this conversation is headed, my earlier hunch confirmed. A subtle shift in said female's demeanor, a change in the tenor of her voice to someone who now knows more than I do, and who senses a glorious chance to enlighten me, un-saved heathen that I am! Again, like an insect cringing and scurrying beneath her sympathetic scrutiny, I've proven myself part of the naive mainstream masses that have not yet learned of the soul-saving glories of midwifery, of the homebirth experience, of bloodying one's own linoleum floor, of hypnotizing oneself with fantasy images of hot naked men as a way to numb the pain instead of using drugs.

Here it comes...

Her: "Have you considered going the non-traditional route? Group Health has a great midwifery program! I can send you some links, some articles. You really should read them! There are so many great ways to give birth other than in a hospital with an epidural in your spine..."

And the conversation sort of fizzles there, because by that point I've shut down. I mean, I sort of pretend to carry on in conversation, talking and not talking, smiling and not smiling, but my brain has gone elsewhere - because the person I'm conversing with has just morphed from friend-on-equal-footing into a Homebirth Amway Salesperson in a blue suit and tie, standing at my doorstep with a clipboard in arm. And suddenly I'm too busy to talk, with WTF's swirling around inside my head.

WTF is UP with the homebirth salespeople, and W(hy)TF do does it matter to them how I choose to deliver this child? In what way does my personal choice of baby-delivery affect anyone else's life besides mine, my husband's, and my baby's? WTF is up with anyone believing in something - a religion, a product, anything - so righteously and rigidly that they feel compelled to convert others into following their so-called enlightened path?

My friend Jen explained it like this: "...but a lot of women don't know they HAVE other options besides just a routine hospital delivery." Maybe true - but so what? Let'em find out on their own! Let'em read about it, ask about it, think about it like the smart people they probably are. If I were out killing my neighbors everytime I was in a bad mood, then yeah - I could see people pulling me aside to suggest alternate ways to deal with negative emotion. But it's not as though hospital-delivery causes mass death and destruction (do they?), and therefore ought to be stopped.

As I said: if you have a midwife, awesome. If you don't, awesome. If you give birth on a Grayhound bus, awesome. At home, awesome. In a hospital, awesome.

* * *

Which leads to my final note to Dear Public.

Dear Public:

Thanks for checking in, for being concerned about my and baby's well-being, for giving advice on how you feel things ought to be done, for wanting to know about my plan.

Just know that childbirth for a KuKd momma is psychologically complicated, and there's a reason for every choice we make. Do not be alarmed by the sinister terms "hospital delivery" and "no birth plan," as these do not necessarily equate to "poor ignorant woman who needs to be saved in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord of Homebirth Wonderfulness." Relax: things will be okay.

You lose a lot of luxuries when your only experience with birth is death - and that includes the luxury of pondering ten different fairytale-ideal birth plans, of doing anything that seems inherently risky. For some of us, that risky thing might be homebirth, or getting a midwife involved. For others, it might be something else entirely. Your focus becomes on survival of the baby, survival of your family - and yes - that might mean, and in my case it certainly means, surrounding oneself with doctors and nurses and machines and fluorescent lighting when that baby is ready to come out. It means - or might mean - getting more ultrasounds than you ever thought prudent or possible.

Knowing now how little control you really have, how irrelevant your former plans and ideals have become, you now cling to the things that seem the most certain - the things that you know. And those things are oftentimes the conventional things that, to you, seem bad or outdated or unenlightened.

But, like I said: relax. Everything will be okay. Let me have the things I think I need, and don't stress yourself out with the homebirth-and/or-midwife salespitch. It's best, I think, to let a KuKd momma believe what she believes, let her do what she and KuKd-daddy-o have agreed is the surest path to a positive outcome, and trust that they - like you - has the baby's best interest in mind.

* * *

Oh, and as far as my birth plan goes - I did tell the doctor I wanted no less than Britney Spears blasting in the background, and a bacon-wrapped steak dinner with a large cold glass of Alaskan Amber Ale for my first post-delivery hospital meal. She chuckled and said she'd look into it.

(See? Who says I don't have a plan?) ;-)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dear Public

Greetings Guests-n-Regulars!

But now that I've gotten that last post out of my system, I'm feeling compelled to reign it in a bit and be...well...civilized. Special thanks go out to the calm, male voice of rationality piping into the comment thread:

Everything I knew about birth pretty much came from synthesizing hundreds of television and movie portrayals. Now that I’ve been through one successful birth process, my knowledge includes that.

I had not one inkling of what happens with stillbirth and the related processes until I read this blog. I hope you can forgive the sins of the ignorant, because there’s just so little information out there. It’s not a common conversation topic, and I’ve never heard of stillbirth featured in a movie or sitcom.

That’s one reason why these blogs are important. Many readers are all too familiar with the heartbreak and reality of stillbirth, but many of us never had a clue.

Blogs are a great place to vent about common frustrations. But also, I'm pretty sure he's right: that most people don't mean to be insensitive our women's past KuKd experiences, that the "sins of the ignorant" ought to be forgiven. How could people understand? They can't, of course - which is one of the things that makes miscarriage/stillbirth such a lonely and confusing experience: there are just so many things in there that the world doesn't get. So we're forced to work through it on our own minds, and bitch about it in places like this.

Anyway, Chris' comment got me thinking: why not just put it out there and explain this thing that I wish others understood? That is, use this blog educational tool of sorts? Maybe - just maybe - someone who hasn't been through it before will read it, and have a little bit better an understanding than before. And maybe, somewhere down the line, that little bit of understanding will have a positive effect for somebody else.

Here goes nothin.' I'm going out on a limb here with all kinds of general platitudes and "you" instead of "I," so correct me if I miss or misconstrue anything.

* * *

Dear Public:

It's one of those extra logistical matters slapped on a stillbirth-mommy by the doctor, no less surprising for us than for you: when a pregnancy ends, the fetus or baby must be expelled. And if the baby has developed into anything beyond a floating blob of blob-ness, that means going into labor, whether naturally or induced.

I'm not talking about some special, less jarring, more merciful variety of labor that Mother Nature reserves for stillbirth mommies. Indeed, one would think that modern doctors would have some trick up their sleeves to allow you to avoid such a dramatically painful, physically challenging "end" to your life as a pregnant woman - especially when you've just had the emotional wind knocked out of you. But no, they say. It's best for everyone - including your own internal organs - if you undergo labor the straight-up old-fashioned way; the heavy-duty, screaming-and-shitting-yourself-while-your-partner-stands-by-dumbfounded way.

With good reason, you wonder how your life reached this level of surreal horror in the past 24 hours. Nobody - your mother and grandma, your childbirth classes that you may or may not have taken, your now-useless What to Expect pregnancy bible, your sex-ed teacher from junior high - ever taught you how the fuck to do this particular...thing. You've never seen it on TV or in movies, so you've no pop-culture knowledge to draw from.

Yet amazingly: you find yourself suddenly knowing with primitive certainty that you can do this, and you will - because Mother Nature wouldn't ask you to perform the impossible. That's the remarkable thing that dead-baby labor teaches you:

Humans are capable of doing a whole damned lot.

Armed with that knowledge, it's time to grit your teeth, strap on your workboots and gloves, and get the fuck going. Nobody is going to push this baby out of your vajayjay for you.

* * *

Good news: you do have a bit of help along the way, aside from the casseroles already stacking up on your distant front porch from well-meaning friends and neighbors.

The most prominent "help" is the formation of a temporary, translucent blanket of numbness around brain. This film of numbness (which has been unscientifcally proven to last longer in men than in women) is one of your body's most brilliant natural survival mechanisms, for it enables you to stop thinking and feeling just long enough to focus instead on this final, painful task at hand. Think of it as a shield of sorts, blocking - for the time being anyway - the black tidalwave of grief lapping at your ankles and threating to pull you under. It keeps you afloat in the short term. Without it, nothing would ever get done in this world.

There are also various forms of "help" for kicking your confused-as-all-hell body into baby-expulsion mode. Some women prefer the "scenic route:" that is, waiting for her body to discover on its own that oh yeahhh! I get it! I'm supposed to get RID of this now! Other, less patient types (like me) prefer the faster and efficient (although much less scenic) "interstate route" to labor. And that, of course, means things like pills lodged between your gum and cheek, and seaweed sticks shoved up your vag. Yes, seaweed sticks. Don't ask me what these do; it's something involving the cervix. And certainly don't ask me how someone invented this as a labor-inducing method, what ancient Chinese woman was experimentally sticking things up there "just to see what happens."

* * *

Welcome to the danger zone: this slow-motion window of time after news that you won't be getting your living child, but before labor has begun. Even with these meds, going into labor can take hours, days, even longer. During this time, you've nothing to do but lie around in a hospital room and wait. And think. And feel. And rest your hand longingly on your still-bulging-but-now-unmoving belly. And watch cheezy infomercials in the middle of the night - lots of grinning elderly people with white dentures. How depressing.

Not surprisingly, it's during this lag time that your treasured "temporary blanket of numbness around the brain" can falter, slipping down and exposing your psyche to the cold, harsh wind of reality, the magnitude of your loss. On and off, you bawl. Your partner is by your side instantly, clutching your hand, dealing with grief in his own way - but ultimately you two are alone on separate islands for a while as you work through this in your heads.

Sleeping through the night is difficult if not impossible. Nurses slip in and out of your room to adjust various wires connected to you, waking you from half-sleep. A few of them look you in the eye but most don't. Either they've been in the business too long to still feel compassion, or the sight of your still-bulging belly makes them uncomfortable. Friends and visitors might come by to see you, too. They'll look at you, right in the eye - but not at your belly either, because they can't. It's like the elephant in the middle of the room that nobody wants to talk about, gone from a symbol of life to a symbol of death in an instant.

It's no wonder you can't keep your grief at bay during this time. You wish these seaweed sticks would hurry the fuck up and do their job.

* * *

And then, labor itself. No point in going into that here. It's just like any other labor, for the most part. The cramping, the breathing, the pushing, the groaning, the epidural (for some of us), the partner hovering above you, the hoping the sight of a bloody infant and its accoutrements coming out of you doesn't ruin your sex life forever.

The only difference between this and "real labor" is that, at the end, something big and three-dimensional and quiet slips out of you, instead of something screaming and writhing around. The placenta comes out afterward, this gigantic disk of tissue. The nurses whisper as they whisk these things away while your head falls back on your sweaty pillow. The air feels heavy and static, sad. Even the doctors, the old crusty ones who've seen everything, have grim looks on their faces. Nobody throws confetti or brings foil-wrapped chocolate cigars in pastel pink or blue; nobody's snapping pictures on their cell phones; nobody's making mad phone calls to friends and family to share the glorious news. Everyone is just glad its over, and wishes things could be different. The communal sense of that is palpable.

You're exhausted but relieved, astounded at the capabilities of your female body, and your partner is clutching you in your arms and pretty much loving and admiring you more than he ever has before. On his pyramid of needs, your survival comes before the baby's - and now that he's seen you make it through this physical hurdle, he knows that the two of you will ultimately survive.

* * *

What happens in the end is different for everyone. Some women hold the baby, as we're told again and again that we should. Some don't. Just about all stillbirth-mommies, though, can't wait to get home. The job of that "temporary blanket of numbness around the brain" is now done, and you can feel it shedding quickly as reality hits you. Time to go and begin what will be the much, much harder job of grappling psychologically with this death of someone you love, perhaps one of the most confusing and misunderstood sorts of death in the world.

The good news is that, having now made it past this physical hurdle, you know deep down you'll survive this part too. Delivering one's dead offspring turns out to be one of the most intensely beautiful, macabre, transformative, awe-inspring, humanizing experiences a woman can possibly have.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Greetings, KuKd/TTC Mommas-n-Hunks and Inquisitive Guests!

Okay. I'm not trying to bash the public here. Just an innocent question that's popped into my head lately: WTF do people think happens to a baby/fetus when the pregnancy ends before it's supposed to?

I mean, do they think it absorbed back into the mother's bloodstream? Extracted surgically? Puked out? Beamed up, Scotty? Extracted in the middle of the night by a grim-reaper equivalent of the baby-toting stork - like a black stork of death? Does it stick around inside the uterus and reincarnated into the next baby, if there is one?

I'm just wondering - because these past few weeks, I've been directly or indirectly told/warned by several people about how hard labor is, how tired I'm going to be afterward, how important those Kegal exercises are, how I'd better be ready to lie around the house all day with ice packs pressed against my bruised and battered private parts, how I've got hemorrhoids and crotch-sticthes and other awesome bodily thrills to look forward to, how painful or not painful or amazing or not amazing it is to push a six-pound entity with arms and legs out of one's vag.

And not just any old people, like the superstar Seattle moms who approach me at the Greenlake community center to offer unsolicited birthing advice (yup!), but colleagues! Friends! People who know me! People who know my history! I think it's kind of funny, actually - so I just smile and nod, rather than snarkily responding with "yeah, I know." Why not let people think they're bestowing some sort of ancient secret knowledge upon me.

But seriously, WTF? I guess that whole unsavory detail of stillbirth or even miscarriage gets blocked out of people's minds. Weird.

Coming soon: another WTF - this one related to Jehova's-Witness-Amway-Salespeople-Homebirth-Advocates.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wilderness (KuKd?) Survival Skills

Greetings, KuKd'ers, TTC'ers and Inquisitive Guests...

Kevin said this once, or something like it: "Promise me that we'll keep having an adventurous life forever." Those were his first words when we decided with giddy excitement to stay together after coming home from Uzbekistan. Of course I promised him that. Keep that quote in mind, because it'll come up later.

* * *

It's Superbowl time - and the postange-stamp sized living room of our 1939-built home is filled with loud, boistrously beer-drinking males. I can't say I mind having so many nice, cute, happily football-watching male specimens in close proximity. If they all had their shirts off, it would be even better. As for me, I've retreated into the quieter "office-soon-to-be-baby-room," where I just stumbled across this blog on basic wilderness survival skills. And I quote:

Imagine suddenly finding yourself stranded in the wilderness. Perhaps your plane has crashed, or you have become lost. Darkness is falling and you are on your own. Self extraction is out of the question. Your next course of action could mean the difference between a miserable life threatening experience and reasonably comfortable survival.

We assume that you are not grievously injured; that you can still function well enough to take care of yourself but need a survival guide outlining the essential steps you must take to survive in the wilderness.

Do the Most Important Survival Tasks First

Flailing around in the wilderness without a well thought out plan isn’t going to increase your chances for survival - but it could reduce them. Proper actions taken in proper sequence will enhance your ability to survive.

The first question you should ask yourself in this situation is “what are the most important survival tasks to be accomplished”?

Lots of seemingly reasonable, if not slightly simplistic, bits of insight here. Although, I must admit, as a mere Someone Who Could Potentially Get Lost In the Woods, I'm not sure how useful these tips really would be when faced with the a real challenge to survive. Perhaps I'd find this blurb more helpful if I were literally naked and trembling in a dark forest at this exact moment, rather than pre-reading it from the comfort of my own armchair.

So, to give this blurb more meaning, I tried to picture myself during the months after losing Zachary and the fetus before him, which is the closest wilderness-survival experience I remember actually ever having. With that in mind, I re-read this wilderness-survival intro more like a more focused version of Dead-Baby Mad Libs, like this:

Imagine suddenly finding yourself stranded in the wilderness (KNOCKED DOWN). Perhaps your plane has crashed (PREGNANCY ENDED BEFORE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO), or you have become lost (CAN'T SEEM TO GET KNOCKED UP IN THE FIRST PLACE). Darkness is falling and you are on your own (ALL YOUR FRIENDS ARE HAVING BABIES). Self extraction is out of the question (YOU AIN'T GETTIN' THAT BABY BACK, KIDDO). Your next course of action (BOOZE?) could mean the difference between a miserable life-threatening experience and reasonably comfortable survival.

We assume that you are not grievously injured (WELL, NOT PHYSICALLY, I GUESS...); that you can still function well enough to take care of yourself (DEPENDS ON HOW YOU DEFINE "FUNCTION") but need a survival guide outlining the essential steps you must take to survive in the wilderness (SURE! GIMME WHATCHA GOT).


Flailing around in the wilderness (RUNNING INTO THE STREET SHRIEKING LIKE A CRAZY WOMAN FROM HELL) without a well thought out plan isn’t going to increase your chances for survival - but it could reduce them (YOU MEAN I MIGHT DIE IF I DON'T HAVE A PLAN FOR RECOVERY? THIS IS NOT GOOD). Proper actions taken in proper sequence will enhance your ability to survive. (FINE, BUT WHERE DO I START?)

The first question you should ask yourself in this situation is “what are the most important survival tasks to be accomplished”? (I KNOW! MAKE PLANS TO GO BACKPACKING IN A REMOTE CENTRAL AMERICAN JUNGLE, WEAR A LOIN CLOTH AND HAVE LOTS OF PRIMITIVE SEX!)

Here's how and why I found this blog: I was Googling "survival" in hopes, still - 2.5 years later - of making sense of my own psychological coping mechanisms in dealing with my KuKd past. I was curious to know, I guess, if wilderness survival skills are anything like stillbirth/miscarriage survival skills, if I could use one to help me understand the other.

Why do I give a crap about this now? It's over, done. I healed the way I healed, dealt the way I dealt, for better or for worse. But I was thinking (read: overthinking), again, about my friend's insightful message from my last post, and the kind of mother to new baby Theo that her earlier stillborn daughter, Annika, had caused her to become. Stillborn Annika made my friend into a better mother to later-brother Theo. That's the final message that I distilled from her words:

A better mother.

One who appreciates the preciousness of his life more than she would have if she'd not lost an earlier baby.

Honestly, I read this and thought it was poetic, brilliant, touching. But it was unsettling in some weird way, too - because I wasn't totally relating to it. So I wanted to know if my weirdness, if you could call it that, stems from some primitive coping mechanism of my own. Which brought me to my Google search for "survival."

You see, supposedly there is a baby who is set to arrive with kicking, screaming force in just six short weeks. He will suddenly fill our home and our lives with cuteness, loudness, and a poopy stench. I feel oddly as though I should be preemptively appreciating the preciousness of his life now, perhaps even more than I did Zachary's. I should have a nursery painted and furnished, clothes bought, car seat installed, breastfeeding classes completed, bottles and binkies and what-nots stashed away in anticipation of his thundrous arrival, pre-school picked out, elementary school lined up. I should be thinking of him, planning for him, and not for me. I should already be...before he even makes his grand appearance on planet earth...

a better mother.

But I've not done any of those things. In fact, an outsider stepping into my life right now would find no evidence of a baby on the way, save for a dog-eared ultrasound picture from four months ago, stuck to the fridge with a magnet that says, "Coffee first, and then your mundane bullshit!" (and the magnet is so big that it just about obscures the entire picture anyway, so you'd really have to be looking for it).

Here's what I HAVE given thought to - absolutely inordinate and obsessive amounts of thought:
EUROPE! AIRPLANES! COBBLED ROADS! CAFE AU LAIT IN LUXEMBOURG GARDENS! EATING CHICKEN FEET AT A CROWDED SHANGHAI MARKET! And once in a while, the fact that I'm thinking of those things instead of nursery paint colors makes feel like a bit of an oddball.

To start, right after my last "successful" ultrasound - the one where my doctor told me as seriously and earnestly as she could that "this is a normal pregnancy" - you know what I did? Not run off to Target to stock up on baby booty. Nope: I marched into the Chair of Arts and Humanities office at the college where I work, and told her to put my name in the hat for the next faculty exchange in China. That means: baby, husband and I would spend 12 weeks teaching at a Chinese college sometime over the next few years.

Then, I downloaded the latest Fulbright Exchange application, which could - maybe, possibly - land the three of us in another country - Nicaragua, I hope - for a year in 2012. And THEN, I began researching apartments to rent in Paris or Amsterdam this summer - THIS VERY SUMMER!- as part of my mom's 60th birthday - a family trip to Europe with baby.

Totally selfish, all of these. Oh, I say they're about baby, about giving him lots of "cross-cultural exposure" as a child. And I think they are. But who am I kidding? That's not the whole story. These ideas are actually about me and Kevin, about our dreams we've always had, things we want, things we've imagined ourselves doing with baby ever since we started trying for one. They're about sitting on a blanket with baby beside the Eiffle Tower, drinking wine and stealing kisses while baby is looking the other way.

They're things that sometimes cause others, I know, to look at me like I'm wacked: but airplanes have germs! And hospitals are medical wastelands over there! And your baby's whole sleeping/pooping/farting/puking routine will be irreparably screwed! Deep down, I know to some degree: they're right. But that doesn't stop me from believing that our kid will handle such obstacles like a real man, that some overseas-air will do him good, that he'll in fact benefit from these experiences in some crunchy cosmic way.

And it certainly doesn't stop me from obsessively planning and fantasizing and imagining like my brain has gone haywire.

Stop Googling airfares to Madrid. You need to install a car seat.

* * *

Is this normal, this fixation on getting my ass overseas with baby and husband?

"Promise me that we'll keep having an adventurous life forever."

(echoing in my brain)

I distinctly remember leaning into Kevin one night at the tavern about six months after Zach's stillbirth, the neon jukebox lights flickering behind him, and telling him I'd never rest everything on having a baby again. It was the second time I'd banked on a baby future - mentally, emotionally, everything - and gotten burned.

I'd like to look back and think that this was a normal thing to think, say and feel - part of some primitive "wilderness survival mechanism" that might even earn honorable mention in the survival-skills blurb above. I'd like to believe that it's been my simple, weird way of handling trauma: of clinging to this notion of an "adventurous life" as though it is, in and of itself, a lifeline.

Something terrible could happen to this baby, even after he's born - and the thought of life going completely flat and dark without him is...well...unbearable. So I have to plan for a life that seems bright and awesome and exciting to me, with or without baby. And that means having cool trips planned, dammit.

So, back to Googling "survival." I'm hoping I'll find some evidence that all this frenzied trip-planning is, in fact, a valid survival tip - that just because I'm doing that at the moment instead of installing a car seat doesn't mean I'm not being the preemptive better mother that an earlier stillbirth is supposed to turn me into.

But damn. We really should be installing a car seat.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Outta Sorts-n-Stuff

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

* * *

Today I felt out of sorts. Not downright depressed or anything, just kind of anti-social and weird and worried about stuff. Does anyone else ever get in funks like that? I forgot to even run a brush through my hair or put on Cherry Chapstick - the two main components of my morning beauty routine - before hopping the bus to work. Then, upon arriving to work, I was determined to have as little human interaction as possible, which is admittedly hard if you're a teacher. So I slipped into my office and slipped back out, zombied my way through classes and a workshop, ducked into the student union to grab a plate of chicken-n-veggies, and inhaled it while scurrying off to catch my bus home.

Human interaction avoided, with the exception of a few students: check.

* * *

I saw Juno this week, The Movie That Everyone Loved But Told Me I Ought To Wait a Few Years Before Seeing. My mother was so concerned, in fact, that she called on her way home from the theater and left a message on our machine, which I still remember clearly:

"Hi honey! Dad and I saw Juno at the mall today. Great movie, but whatever you do, don't go see it! Wait a few years until you're ready. Oh, and the main character really reminded us of you."

Now, having seen it, I'm pretty sure she didn't mean the main character was like me in terms of looks, not that I wouldn't love to believe I look like Ellen Page. Must be the profanity, the baggy sweatshirt, and the shouting demands for the "spinal tap" during labor. Anyway, I'm also pretty darn glad I waited - yeah - "a few years" before seeing it.

it's witty, sad, gritty, and funny as hell - well, funny if you share my own twisted brand of humor. The characters in it are cool in a slightly annoying, edgy cool-person kind of way, similar to Superbad. It also tugged lots of tears and made me keep getting up and running into the kitchen for nose-blowing paper towels. Just lots of baby-related drama. If you're an infertility-fighting sister in particular, this movie will strike you hard.

But, as my mom says: "Wait a few years until you're ready."

* * *

Yesterday I got a one-hour massage as an early Valentine's day gift to myself, since - rest assured - THIS gal is not going to be slipping into that black bustier-n-stirrups getup from my springtime Victoria's Secret jaunt of last year (gawd...was that really a year ago???). Oh, it'll come out again to play, once I'm no longer of walrus-like proportions. Assuming that day comes.

Oh, how tiresome it is to hear myself think and talk about my own occasional bouts of irrational panic. This one I'll mention briefly because it perhaps relates to today's anti-social, anti-hair-brushing behavior. It happened while I was halfway through my massage, lying on my side in a darkened room with Enya-esque music in the background. My brain should in some faraway Zen-like place, but instead it kept wandering into whatever that space is where paranoia lives, where we overthink ourselves into muscle-tensing funk: I haven't felt the baby move since this massage began, not once.

The thought hit me out of the blue, and even the masseuse - incidentally a younger girl who looked like Ellen Page - noticed it:

"You feel tense all of a sudden. Am I hurting you?"

"Nuh-no, I'm fine. Just, um, thinking about stuff."

That evening, and all day today even, there was some occasional flicking and flitting around in there, but none of the full-on fetal gymnastics I've gotten used to. Why isn't he moving with gusto, all the time? It just puts me in a funk when he doesn't, and then the fact that I'm in a funk puts me in an even greater funk, because I just don't want to be one of those ever-worried types that gets pulled into funks really easily. Sigh.

Did I always worry like this? I seem to think not. Gawd, I'm irritated with myself.

* * *

One of my fellow KuKd momma's daughter Annika died...oh...some-odd years ago from nec-ro-something, that horrid thing that I can't spell or pronounce, where a preemie baby's intenstines stop working. Anyway, she (the friend) now has another baby named Theo, and I asked her once how her past experience with Annika affects her relationship with her new son.

She sent me this really lovely and fascinating response, which I went back to reading last weekend. Not sure what compelled me to relook at this, other than the occasional thoughts I've had lately about how to integrate baby-past with baby-future. Here's an abridge of what she said. Isn't it gorgeous?

Having Theo makes tangible the fact that my life has kept -- and still keeps -- moving forward, and I know more concretely now that I'm not stuck in an interminable spiral of grief. But I also think of the gifts Annika gave me, all that I learned from her life. Having and losing Annika made me into the mother that Theo has, probably a different mother than Annika would have had.

I like to think she gave him the gift of a better mother: a mother who not only loves him the way all mothers love their children but who also understands the enormity and the preciousness of his unique life. Everything changed when she died. Annika's mother probably would have felt torn between motherhood and career; Theo's mother doesn't question his supremacy. Annika's mother would have been impatient with all the not-sleeping and night-waking; Theo's mother thinks mere exhaustion is a small price to pay for his well-being. Annika's mother might too often have listened to her head more than her heart; Theo's mother won't make that mistake.

I know, I know. It's about the most poetically lovely thing a person could possibly say. Now, had this come from one of those pink-n-lavender grief pamphlets, it probably would've gone in one ear and out the other. But as it is, this one came from a trusted friend who I happen to know shares the same disdain for frilly sappy things as I do. And she's a lawyer, for God's sake; a real honest-to-goodness lawyer with an analytical head on her shoulders. You can always trust lawyers, right? ;-)

It got me wondering, though: will my experience be the same? That is, will Zachary's death make me into a better mother for this next kid coming up, or at least hopefully coming up, provided he starts kicking with gusto again so I don't inadvertently kill him with the anxiety-chemicals oozing from my mind?

I hope so. I wondered that today, on and off. Just another odd thing that may or may not have contributed to my funk de jour.

* * *

Anyway, I'm outtie and off to look up chocolate-dipped sugar cookie recipes. Seems like an appropriate thing to make.