Monday, April 19, 2010

26.2-mile-long metaphor

Today is marathon day. And, since it's a Monday in April, that means Boston. The runner's Holy Grail of marathons. If you can make it there . . .

Once upon a time, I really thought I could. A year ago--sheesh, 365 little days ago--I was winding down my marathon training. It was the only fitness plan I could think of to shed the baby weight from E's birth. I was training for a marathon in mid-May. I had several goals, among which was to qualify for Boston.

Another goal was to get pregnant shortly after the marathon, which would make E and Baby #2--dubbed the Deuce, whom we know now as Calla--a mere 20 months apart. Perfect.

I worked my ass off during that training. Sure, I was nursing full time, caring for an infant, existing on sporadic sleep and nutrition. My mileage volume was lower than a previous marathon, but the long runs were longer and more intense. I trained for that sub-3:40, and on a beautiful 22-miler in April, I was feeling pretty confident. I could almost hear the crowd in Boston.

However, my plan was to defer entry to 2011's race, as I was planning to have a newborn for the 2010-today's- running. Heh.

Cut to my marathon day. I'll spare you the nitty-gritty, but at mile 20, the wheels fell off my wagon. I saw the 3:40 pace group pass me, unaware that they were slightly ahead of pace, and all the wind blew right out of my sails. All I could think of was the months of hard work down the drain, and if I truly wanted to run Boston, I was going to have to do this all over again.

And, after all that training, there was no guarantee I'd actually finish in the qualifying time. As every runner knows, anything can happen on race day. I dragged my sorry ass across that finish line, swearing I'd never run another marathon, but knowing deep down I couldn't end on this note.

It is entirely possible that I became pregnant with Calla the night before the marathon. A few weeks post-race, a home test confirmed what I already knew. I couldn't believe our good luck. The spring turned into summer and rolled into fall. I grew bigger and rounder, more exhausted and nervous. My toddler son grew more active and inquisitive, more daring and carefree. How on EARTH was I going to handle two of these little creatures? I remember days where I questioned my sanity. I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that HEAPS of people do this all the time--many with less support and, frankly, less emotional wherewithal than I had. I could do it. I hoped.

Of course as I grew bigger my son grew older. He learned to walk, talk, run, climb and leap. We bought the "Big Brother" books and size 2T shirts. We discussed mommy's expanding belly, who might be in there, what would happen in a few short months. We met other newborns. E was totally cool with all of it. Often while changing his diaper he'd kick his strong little legs, accidentally grazing my belly., I'd explain, "No kicking, there's a baby in there." Later, when he'd kick, I'd ask, "Why can't we kick?" He'd reply, "No kick baby."

Cut to January 8th, one month before my due date. The day the shit hit the fan, as it were. Every marathoner knows that half a marathon is not 13.1 miles--it's 20 miles. Those last 6.2 are what separate the wheat from the chaff. I always felt the last month of pregnancy, those long 4 weeks, were the same as the 6.2 miles--the true halfway point. And clearly, the wheels fell off yet again at exactly the same spot. In fact, I remember shortly after our worst fears were confirmed wailing, "All those months of hard work! For WHAT?!?!"

But just like that marathon, I had no choice but to gut it out to the finish. Like it or not--I started it, I would finish it. I swore that same oath, with the same intentions.

It's been a disappointing 12 months. There's been many ups, but the downs have been quite significant. What I'm having a tough time swallowing is how we handled Calla's death with E. At the time he was just shy of 19 months of age. I didn't think he'd understand exactly what happened--shit, I wasn't sure he understood the whole baby's-on-the-way thing in the first place. So we just let it pass. We packed up the Big Brother stuff, gave him lots of extra hugs and kisses, told him how much we loved him. He'll never know just how he pulled--well, me at least--through the fire.

I'm sure he knew we were sad. I wonder how his steel-trap mind processed the instant lack of big brother talk. The only indication he gave was during those diaper changes. When he'd start to kick, he'd look his sweet face up at me and say, "No kick baby." After grabbing up the shattered pieces of my heart, I'd say, "No, honey, the baby's gone." After a few times, he'd go to kick and then say, "Baby gone."

Yep. She sure is.

Am I a terrible mother for withholding the single-most significant event in our life as a family? Is he going to need hours of therapy to understand? I truly hope we made the right decision. Maybe it was pure self-preservation. I couldn't bear to hear over and over in his beautiful little voice, "Baby gone, baby dead, Calla gone." I was hearing it enough in MY own voice inside my head. It's not as though we're hiding it. Calla will always be his little sister. She IS, was, and will be part of our family, our collective history. E will know, he will understand. We'll show him pictures, we will explain. But for now, I can't do it.

Marathon day is here. FB status updates reveal excitement and reward for hard work. I'm excited for my friends running today. It's gorgeous. They'll enjoy every historic step. Just like the FB friends whose families are complete, who delivered healthy babies as we sobbed.

Someday, it will be me. I'll cross that finish line with the knowledge I worked my ass off yet again, that I deserve the reward, that I am capable.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some 'Splainin

So, we met with a perinatologist today. At least I think that's his title. He is a doctor at the perinatal testing unit at a local hospital. This dude was, in a word, smart.

A few weeks ago we contacted him to gain some insight as to what happened with Calla. After reviewing my medical records and history and pathology reports, he wanted to meet with us to go over our options. He thought, based on the evidence, that Calla had contracted a virus. He couldn't be sure without further placental testing.

C and I went in to meet with the Doctor today. At his hospital, in the Catholic heath system, it is a requirement to keep a placenta sample from ALL babies for--get this--22 years. 22 years! Damn--so much can happen in 22 months, let alone 22 years.

However, at the hospital where we delivered, the timetable is a little different. By about, oh, 22 years. Yep, placenta sample is gone. Done. In the trash. So, the magical testing we were hoping would provide us some answers--impossible.

This kind Doctor told us his best guess, based on my history, the pathology, and similarity to other cases, was the virus theory. There are a number of viruses that could have been the culprit--obviously, without the testing we will never know for sure. But, in a nutshell, the only way to possibly prevent this relatively rare catastrophe is to religiously wash my hands. Huh.

I noted that Calla's death was about 2 weeks after the mother-of-all-family-gatherings, Christmas, and the Doctor said that indeed this would be the probable incubation time for a virus. C noted that there should be a study done on stillbirth cases to see if they coincided with major holidays or gatherings. The Doctor said there was, in fact, a working theory that this is the case. In fact, the nurses note that shortly after Christmas it's "that time of year" in the L&D wing. We remembered the nurses saying, at the time, that there had been more than the usual number of stillbirths around the time of our experience.

A virus. A stupid, microscopic alien life form invades my body and kills my baby. Great. And these viruses, while prevalent in the Sesame Street set, can be picked up anywhere. A grocery cart. A doorknob. A handshake, an uncovered sneeze.

Son of a . . .

I'm still processing this, wondering how ANYONE on this Earth manages to squeeze out a living, healthy baby. It's quite mind-blowing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

And your little dog, too!

So, this is not a post about grief. It's not a post about babies, live or dead. This is not sad MB time.


Let me start by explaining I think there is a special level of hell reserved for people who walk their dogs off-leash. I know, I know, dogs are people too. I get it. I love my dog nearly as much as anyone in our family. He was my baby before the human babies. He's a walker, and needs it. Before E we walked Cosmo at least twice per day. But as a responsible dog parent, it's my job to keep my dog safe from danger.

In our old neighborhood we rarely encountered a dog without a leash. One fateful day--the day after we returned home from Paris, I was taking Cos for a nice long walk, when suddenly we encountered a little pit bull who wanted us for lunch. I was alone and she attacked both of us. Thankfully, after much screaming on my part, a neighbor came out, wrangled the dog to its home, and that was the end of that. Well, at least until C, dehydrated by food poisoning, dragged himself out of bed, went to the dog's house, and had a little, um, CHAT with her owner. We never had a problem again in the old hood.

Flash forward to our new 'hood. So many people round here walk their dogs off-leash. I can almost hear them: "I don't OWN my dog, he's free to choose what he wants to do. Who am I to put him on a leash like a prisoner?"

Um, let me tell you, it IS your fucking job. It's not MY job to keep MY dog from freaking out when YOUR dog runs up to us. Whatever. Often it's just me with the dog and the stroller. Give me a fucking break.

Anyway, usually Cos is fine and the dogs leave us alone. Today, however, we ran into King Douchebag and his royal mutt while out and about. I am, clearly, still enraged by this hipster-pothead-asshole-loser and our exchange. I am, to a fault, non-confrontational, but today I lost my shit. Here it goes.

Scene: Me, E and Cos walking down a side street. A medium-sized dog is on a porch across the street, sees us, and runs over, tail in the air.

Me: (Yelling to ANYONE/SOMEONE/OWNER)"Is your dog on a leash?!"
DB:"No, he's not. Oh, he won't bite."
Me:"Yeah, well my dog doesn't like other dogs running up to him. He gets nervous."
DB:"Well, give your dog a Xanax or something."

At this point, the other dog is sniffing Cos and Cos is NOT liking it. We start to walk away.

DB:"That's not my fault."
Me:"You need to keep your dog on a leash."
DB:"This is my house!"
Me:"Yes, but this is a public street and we're on the street."
DB:"Then walk your dog down a different street!"
Me:"IT's called being a responsible dog owner! Grow up! Go smoke some more pot!"

I lost my cool at bit there. At least I didn't swear in front of my son. Clearly, this dick is the kind of guy who has an answer for everything. Know the type? Loser. All he had to do was say, "Hey, sorry!" and leave it at that as soon as we walked by--no further anything. I am so mad--I'm trying not to wish ill will on this piece of trash human.

Ooops, I think I already did.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

So, when does it become inappropriate to bring up the apocalypse that was the birth of my daughter? I'm asking because I feel like I can't stop bringing it up.

Actually, that's inaccurate. I really don't talk about it all that often, not for lack of interest. It's amazing how freely I could jabber on about a three-month-past catastrophe, the single most life-altering event of my heretofore existence. Nope, I'm cool with that. But I don't, as a rule, bring it up in every conversation.

It would be awkward, and weird, and, well, it's hard to make that segue appropriately. Friend:"Hey, you want a popsicle?" Me:"Sure. Did you know that the last time I had a popsicle I was in active labor waiting to deliver my dead baby?" Friend: "Jesus."

Anyway, as the weather turns warmer here in the frozen north, people are out. People are doing stuff--and this broad brush of "people" includes me. And C. And E. We walk everywhere, we head to the zoo, we spend as much time outside as possible. Errands are becoming less pile-on-every-article-of-clothing-and-jam-toddler-into-carseat, and more bust-out-the-stroller-and-go. Which is wonderful.

But I keep seeing people who may or may not know about, well, you know. People I used to run with, casual acquaintances, fellow moms. Who knows when the last time I've seen all these humans, let alone at what point of gestation I'd been at, if any at all. So it goes something like this:

Me:"Hi! How are you?"
Them:"Good! What's new?"
Me:"Not much, um, what's new with you . . .?"
And then more blahbbity blah until something comes up and I have to be all:
Me: "Uh, well, uh, do you know about what happened to . . . us . . . uh,"

Which leads me to tell these unassuming acquaintances, and then I feel a little indulgent, like I'm begging for sympathy. Which I'm not--truly. Truly. I don't need any more, though I'll take it if someone's offering.

What I feel like is, well, like I'm addressing the elephant in the room--whether that elephant is apparent or not. I don't know. Am I being self-indulgent? Is it past the point where it's appropriate to talk about it in polite company? I don't want to be that girl who's all, "Hey! Remember that one time when we colored our jeans? With markers? In sixth grade?! Remember that time?!" Like it's all I've got.

Because it's not-I got a lot. But when it comes to her, my baby, my girl, it IS all I got.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Spring, a Spring, a Wonderful Thing

Easter has come and gone. We are all revoltingly filled with enough chocolate to make the Won.ka factory look barren. It is April. These are good things.

Here is my updated list of things I cannot bear, yet:
*curly-haired little girls at the playground, specifically those who are two years old or younger.
*poofy-froufy springtime dresses
*pregnancy announcements--sorry, but I can't swallow them yet. Not for lack of trying.
*women bitching about said pregnancy and their symptoms--boo frickin hoo.

It's funny--the last two list items don't really apply to women I know and love. It's as though I can't forgive absolute strangers for going on with their lives--how dare they exist in front of poor, grieving me?! But in reality, I know all too well the history of close friends and family--many of my dearest have child-related anxiety-riddled histories, or know me well enough to absorb ours. But who am I to guess at the deadbaby history of strangers?

Really, it's just easier to look at someone and project a perfect, naive, blissful, full-o-livebabies existence. It's easier to feel irritated, jealous and mean--and sometimes I need to just be mean to swallow the happiness of others. Especially when there are so many days when misery is my overriding emotion.

And, DAMN! It seems like everywhere I turn there's another mama in full bloom--and oh! Look! She's got her toddler with her, too! How perfectly, sickeningly lovely. Again--who am I to guess and judge?

But, as they have promised, this too shall . . . pass? Doubtful. Abate, lessen, weaken, soften, dissipate. That's what we're going for as we move ahead. Bring it on, spring. Bring. It. On.