Nov 11, 2013

snapshots: parenting after loss


I know I haven't written here in many months. In fact, I haven't visited at all in many months. During my pregnancy with Naama, returning to this place became too much, this special and sacred place where over the past few years I opened up my heart and received so much from you in return. For anyone following along, I hope you will forgive me for my absence. I still can't quite explain why I couldn't write or come here for so long, other than being quiet was what I needed most during the spring and summer.

Naama was born on June 26, 2013 at 37 weeks gestation. Her name means pleasant and calm. She came into the world with a full head of black hair weighing 2700 grams (just shy of 6 pounds) and measuring 20 inches long. She has made my wildest dreams come true.

I don't go over all the details in my head constantly anymore. The details of what happened to me, to us, is too painful to take in all at once. But not infrequently, I catch a glimpse of something and I am transported back to that cruel, rainy winter and everything that transpired then and in the years that preceded it and during the months that followed.

Sometimes I am walking down the windowed staircase of the medical school research building to my research lab and I catch sight of the old inpatient building that is now defunct. I look across at the windows (shutters now drawn) and balconies of the third floor -- the women's ward -- where Aminadav and Naava were born and died in the final months of the building's use, before all the inpatient wards were relocated to the new tower. 
And I am back.

I remember my view from the hospital room, a nice view, really, with the Judean hills off in the distance. The grayness and bleakness of that drab winter, which was particularly cold and rainy. Early mornings being sent down with an orderly in my wheelchair for ultrasounds -- during the first hospitalization, hopeful -- just a bleeding spot in the placenta -- and then more bleak, the ones where I asked the technician to turn off the big screen and only Y could bear to look at the small monitor: two hearts beating, two beautiful, healthy babies, except one immobilized by no fluid left and the death sentence that awaited my two precious bubs.

I remember lots of the little details, and perhaps they are the ones that hurt most: the moment of shock and horror of my water breaking all over the bedroom floor while on bed rest after being discharged from my first hospitalization following my partial abruption. Knocking frantically on my next door neighbor's door, the one with the balloon animal-covered van who ran children's birthday parties, whose popcorn cart infringed slightly on our storage space in the basement. "It can still be, it can still be!" she exclaimed, mostly to herself.

Leaving the hospital through the mall once it was all over, walking past the baby store with my deflated belly and empty arms with the realization that Y and I were leaving the hospital as two and that was it, having gone from a family of two to four and back to two again. It would never be all four of us again.

Y telling me on the way to the car: Just so you know, we're not going back to my car, it's a rental because my car is in the shop because I swerved off the road and totaled it three weeks ago in the rain on my way home and I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to worry. 

I remember going home for three weeks and then going back to the hospital and my massive hemorrhage and the new worries about my platelets. It seemed like I couldn't keep myself out of the hospital.

My mother came from Massachusetts to Israel to stay with us and I wanted her in the apartment but not in the same room. I sat on the computer by myself and discovered a Glow in the Woods and searched every variation of "abruption" "PPROM" and "twins"  on PubMed again and again, searching desperately, pleadingly, for a way to save my dead babies. If only I could figure out the magic formula retrospectively, maybe I could bring them back. Maybe I would get a do-over and they would live.

Then, finally, is the second half of my story: redemption. When Naama was born, right after her Apgars, the nurse placed her immediately on my chest. I remember looking down at her in shock, stunned -- was this really my baby with her mop of thick black hair? Mine? Alive? Even when I was in labor, the sublime reality of it all seemed thousands of miles away in time and space.

But the photograph Y took in that moment captures something else -- a tiny hand reaching up, up, tightly clasping the round "N" and "A" discs on my necklace. Reaching out into the big world and embracing her big brother and big sister.

Does she know? I often wonder.

Usually I am not prone to those type questions, but I like to believe that my beautiful, vibrant, living daughter is connected to her older brother and sister in ways we don't necessarily understand. I do know that she would not exist had they survived. This is the complicated reality of parenting after loss. I could never had all my children alive, for Naama's existence is a direct consequence of Aminadav and Naava's death. To pretend anything else would be dishonest, though the reality is impossible reconcile.

When Naama was three days old, I read her her first book, Goodnight Moon:

Goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight cow jumping over the moon.
Goodnight light and the red balloon. Goodnight bears, goodnight chairs,
goodnight kittens, and goodnight mittens. Goodnight clocks and goodnight socks. Goodnight little house and goodnight mouse. Goodnight comb
and goodnight brush. Goodnight nobody, goodnight mush and goodnight to the old lady whispering "hush."  

Goodnight stars, goodnight air, good night noises everywhere --
This part came out in a choked whisper. Hadn't I recited those same lines for Aminadav and Naava in my head when they left us? Many parts of this parenting gig have left me in tears of both gratitude and the knowledge of what was lost, especially in those first few days, when the details of another labor, another birth story, came flooding back. It all felt very familiar. And I suppose that in some parallel universe, I had done all of this before. It was all for the first time just as none of it was for the first time.

One of the most helpless things about losing children at birth is the inability to parent them. It is a biological cruelty that when you are left empty-handed, you are still flooded with the same maternal hormones that catapult the rest of us into the nurturing and caretaking of mommy land. And so all of these rituals of newborn care, the tedium of the feeding and rocking and diaper changing, took on new meaning for me, all of the things I couldn't do for my sweet twins. In her memoir "An Exact Figment of a Replica of My Imagination" Elizabeth McCracken writes about her son Gus, born after the stillbirth of her first son Pudding, and captures the notion of the parallel universe far more eloquently than I ever could:

Sometimes I look at Gus, and it all feels very familiar. Not him. He was a skinny just-born, with cheekbones and an incensed cry: he looked like an old man who’d been outfitted with hands and feet a size too big and he wanted to know to which knucklehead he should address his complaint. Now he is fat and looks like a retired advertising executive. He is gorgeous and inscrutable. I tell you, I’ve never seen his like. But taking care of him, changing him, nursing him, I felt as though I’d done it before, as though it were true: time did split in half, and in some back alley of the universe I took care of Pudding, when he was a tiny baby, and this reminds me of that. There’s a strange museum/ gift shop/ antique store/ tourist trap in Schuylerville, New York, the next town over. In front is a reconstruction of colonial Fort George done in wood cutouts — a soldier in stocks, Revolutionary soldiers in profile, all cut with a jigsaw and painted in bright colors. In front is a sign that says: An exact replica of a figment of my imagination, and that is what this life feels like some days. It’s a happy life, but someone is missing. It’s a happy life, and someone is missing. It’s a happy life —

I think she has it just right: "it's a happy life, but someone is missing. It's a happy life, and someone is missing. It's a happy life --"