Three days before Christmas a doctor I had just met removed my dead baby from my body.

The procedure was short and painless… too painless.

I had known I was “pregnant” for exactly one month when I was told the baby had no heartbeat and hadn’t grown in almost two weeks.

One month.  Long enough to go from a state of panic, denial, and disbelief, to having re-organized my whole life and my whole heart around being a mother of three.

My baby would have been born in July, 18 months after her twin brother and sister.  I had had the strong feeling that she was a girl.

What had seemed impossible, three children in one bedroom and an au pair in my tiny house, had become routine, along with plans to finish the basement, and gearing up for more sleepless nights.

I found out she had died on a Sunday night from an ER doctor.  My husband was crying, but I felt numb.  I could finally exhale, having an answer about why I was bleeding, but this left me completely empty.

Yes, she was still in there, but the future with her in it had died.

My mind became lost in my first pregnancy – imaging the pain of this happening then lessened the blow.  Without a baby, and believing as I had that I couldn’t conceive, I could only imagine it would have been utter devastation.

But still, I felt lost, afloat, obsessed with determining what to focus my mind on without all that planning to do.  What had I thought about before her?

The next day my little O wouldn’t take her late morning bottle.  I couldn’t figure out why, but then I saw something shiny in her mouth.  My instincts kicked in fast, I swooped my finger in hard and with precision, and removed the object, a jagged, hard piece of plastic.  When I saw the blood on her little mouth I broke down.

The next few days I was full of terror.  The house felt like mine field.  I only felt calm behind the wheel in my parked car with the babes strapped into their car seats.

I had been told I would never have a baby.  What if O and J had been a mistake?  What if some kind of cosmic policing agency had found out that I’d gotten away with something?  Would they too be taken from me?  Paralyzed, all I could do was stare at them and cry at the slightest hint they were in danger.  I hated being alone with them, felt like they were safer with anyone but me.

Saturday came and it was Christmas Eve.  For 48 hours straight I ate until I was sick and in pain.  Guests were a distraction, but underneath was a gnawing sense of dread.

I felt sad, for sure.  Felt like every loss in my life was bearing down on me (as I sometimes did during the holidays anyway).

But I also felt relief, in so many strange forms.  I kept having this flash like I had just barely avoided some kind of accident.  I had the strong feeling that I’d almost lost everything, Seth, the babies, and felt every moment like a giant sigh of relief.

My therapist said I was relieved because I did avoid something potentially damaging to me and my family… the pregnancy.  The truth was we were not prepared financially or psychologically for another baby.  We were still reeling from the transition of having had twins after experiencing infertility and me being on bed rest three months.

But this was a burdensome kind of relief.  If only I could un-know the baby, and go back to life before.

But I did know.  I knew I hadn’t wanted her, and then I had wanted her, and I’d not wanted and wanted her all at the same time.  Now that she was gone I felt I had just barely escaped with what was left of my life, and yet I felt that she had been ripped away so cruelly.

The family picture of four that once felt just right now felt empty.  She will always be missing from that picture, no matter how much better off we might be without her.

So I guess most of all the loss I feel is for the innocence of not knowing…  the July I would have had, full of chaos and joy, my babies at 18 months, my arms not feeling empty without her.

Now whatever joy I feel in the attention and time I have for my babies, whatever time I find for myself, whatever pleasure in mothering two, and only two, will be partially because she never got to be.

Copyright 2012  All Rights Reserved.

Mommy Attention Span

I sometimes still prefer time with non-mommy friends even now that I’m a mom, and “Mommy Attention Span” or M.A.S is one of the reasons.  M.A.S. occurs when one loses all capacity for attention other than toward ones children.

M.A.S is not to be confused with “baby brain” or the way parenting generally slices and dices one’s neurons until there is nothing left but a soupy mess of incoherence.  No engaged parent can think straight!  We are always splitting our attention and it’s hard to concentrate with the responsibility for another being’s entire life on our minds.  BUT the little attention we can muster has to be able to shift.  Mommy Attention Span occurs when we try to squeeze attention to everything and anything else in between reacting to our children’s every move.

I understand when you are trying to talk to another mom, there are going to be interruptions.  Clearly, when someone is in potential danger, hurt, starving, or about to eat a small, non-edible object it requires mom’s attention.  But little ones are going to want attention anytime they can get it.  If I’m trying to talk to a friend about something hard, or even something inane, why does the fact that baby brought you a toy, drooled, or made loud noises, demand a response and break from your attention every time?

Example number two.  Moms are endlessly complaining about how they have lost the freedom to go to the bathroom by themselves.  This loss of freedom results not from the condition of parenting, but from… “Mommy Attention Span.”  Don’t get me wrong, moms (and dads who spend a lot of time at childcare), give up many freedoms, often including the freedom to put one’s own needs first.  But unless your kid is in some kind of peril, shut the door and go to the bathroom!  My kids have yet to set the house on fire or kill each other during the time it takes me to pee by myself.

In part, my feelings on this topic may come from having twins.  When you have twins, the illusion that you will be completely attentive to your baby and meet all her needs is immediately shot to hell on day one.  There’s something about two sets of little hands on each knee and two little mischievous faces looking up at me that says ‘no, this is not acceptable or necessary while I pee, they’re going to wait outside from now on.’  Are they slightly miffed when I shut the bathroom door in their faces?  Sure.  But two seconds later when I come out, they have forgotten all about it.  Who says we don’t have a right to a minute or two of attending to our own bodily functions?

Where did we get the idea that a good mom is endlessly attentive?  And what messages are we sending our children?  I’m sure on one level we believe we are equipping our children to have high self-esteem and feel like they are fascinating just by being them.  And indeed, it is critically important to reflect back to our children who they are in an accepting manner.  But not every minute!!  The truth is, they are not endlessly fascinating, and giving them the idea that they are could harm them.  There are going to be a lot of metaphorical bathroom doors slammed in their faces and they’re going to have to regroup and deal with it.

Children (and adults) need to be self-entertaining.  They need to be able to tolerate times when they are not being enjoyed just for being them.  That’s why our kids desperately need us to let them develop on their own.  They need time to explore their environment, and I’m not talking about a house full of loud, colorful, over-stimulating toys.  Leave your kids alone with a few Tupperware containers and pick up a book.  They will thank you later when they can read a somewhat long paragraph without becoming unfocused and wondering where the flashing lights and pictures are.

I believe for some of us, our relationships with partners and friends are suffering, and our connections to ourselves and the outside world are too.  The combined cultural notion that we should both want to be around our kids all the time, and want to be attentive to them all the time leave us with no way to connect with other adults.  Then, feeling cut-off, uninspired, under-stimulated, and just plain bored, we beat ourselves up for not loving being cut-off, uninspired, under-stimulated, and just plain bored.

Being attentive to children can be delightful, but often it is work… plain and simple.  We do it out of love, the same way we listen to our partners go on and on about aspects of their work we don’t fully grasp, or the way we listen to an elderly parent describe the daily happenings in the hallway at their nursing home.

We don’t expect to derive the ultimate pleasure from these activities, and thus we don’t attempt to do them 24/7.  We intersperse times when we ourselves can be heard and stimulated.  We need those times!!  So moms… if another mom, or a partner, or anyone comes around and your kids are safe and have basic care, give your attention to that adult, and for the love of god, accept theirs, you need it!  Give yourself some precious moments for you.  Be “selfish.”

Your children will thank you when they can sit in a classroom for hours out of the day tolerating not being called on or paid attention to.  They will thank you when they can be that partner who listens to someone talk without turning the topic to themselves.  They will thank you when their boss provides constructive criticism and they’re not thrown off balance because they believe everything they do is fascinating.  Your daughters will thank you when they learn that being a mother means your kids are your top priority, but not that you have to make them a priority every minute.  Moms, you still exist!  Let your daughters see you exist.  Let them see you ignore them now and then so they can learn that no role, even mother, should be powerful enough to erase them.

Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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High Speed Chase Versus Brain Tumor

In spring, 2003, there was a high speed chase heading north up the interstate out of Durham, North Carolina.   My mother and I had been driving south all day and were about an hour outside of Durham when it passed.  It was the longest line of police vehicles I’d ever seen, several minutes of them, following single file behind a beat-up, unassuming little car.  It was still close enough to Sept. 11 that such incidents elicited not only curiosity and concern but an eerie sense of foreboding.

On the next several overpasses groups of onlookers were still lingering.  They had gathered to watch the chase go by, like some kind of morbid, high-speed parade.

Over the next few hours we pieced together the story from gas station convenience store clerks, snippets of news stories on country radio stations, and the late-night MRI technician at Duke University Medical Center.  A sense of suspense was hovering over everything that evening like a delicate drape.  Mom was having a nighttime MRI so we could discuss the results the next day at The Brain Tumor Center.  Our bimonthly drives south had become routine, as routine as a terminal illness can be.  We even had a favorite local hotel, breakfast joint, and wooded trail where we liked to go walking.

As I sat there that night in the empty waiting room, the drone of the television footage was comforting in its repetitiveness.  There was no one there but the technician and me.  “They let the kid go, but he’s still got the woman” he had told us when we entered, assuming our knowledge of and interest in the story.  As he and I watched the coverage, the usual knots were forming in my stomach.  I was fearing the worst, but hoping for the best, hoping I would be able to read the MRI myself as soon as it was done and confirm mom’s new neurological deficits were due to “necrosis” (brain cells damaged by radiation) and not new tumor growth.  I was 25.

The technician and I both stood up as the intensity of the news coverage picked up.  The car had stumbled to a halt having driven over police spikes meant to pop its tires.  The suspense, the sick feelings of anticipation blended together in my gut; a young woman kidnapped by her boyfriend, a middle-aged woman lying inside a metal machine, both waiting for an answer from death.  For a moment I wished I was the one who had gotten to take a valium and was laying there drugged, lulled to sleep by the clinking, clanking MRI noises.  Instead, I was awaiting the verdict of some scorned, abusive lover with a gun, who was leading his captor into the woods on the side of I-85.

I’ll never forget mom’s face as she emerged from that test. “Did he kill the girl?” She was desperate, hurried, as if her own fate lay in the balance.  As if maybe survival might be contagious.  I wanted to disappear.  Anything not have to tell her that all those cops and all those onlookers and everyone within a 50 mile radius watching, waiting, and hoping, some praying, hadn’t been enough.  Anything not to have to remind her that the bullet was already there, in her brain, but there would be no suspense, no high-speed drama, no spectators on overpasses, no late-night television coverage, no whispers among coworkers for updates as she spent the next months walking quietly into the woods to face her listless executioner.

I would still try, I would try harder than I’d tried at anything.  I would read, advocate, research, network… I would still chase that beautiful, hopeful word… survival, with everything I had.  I would do it for her, it was literally the last thing I could do.  And she would fight, and hope and plan for “long-term survival.”  She would do it for me.  But she knew, we both knew, it wouldn’t be enough.

A few months later, on a dark October night, I stood over my mother’s hospital bed and she looked at me with those wide “you’re the mom now” eyes.  “The tumor crossed the midline,” I said simply.  Those five words should have been the cruelest in the English language.  What Duke had missed, our home town doc and I could see clearly on the latest MRI, and when I pressed him, our doctor at Duke had no choice but to confirm it.  It wouldn’t be long now.  And yet, when I think back, “Yes mom, he killed her,” was the harder thing to say.

Maybe because human cruelty is so much more maddening when you see up close how cruel life is all on its own.  When mom was diagnosed a few months after September 11, I remember thinking how different it was.  Rather than immediate, blinding and world-changing, it was slow, heavy, like a ringing one can’t hear but only feel in ones bones.  But quick or slow, after the carnage is over, the feeling is the same, wandering through your life like a familiar West Village neighborhood; disoriented, unable to find your way, unable to even be sure you are real without that twin tower, taken-for-granted reminder.   The ringing gets louder and louder, until finally… it stops, and they’re gone, ripped from the landscape of your life like a giant tower… but there is no one at all to blame.

Copyright 2012  All Rights Reserved.


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Out of Which Closet? (My Husband Does Do That Part 3)

Not my mom.  So who am I then?   Or should I say what am I?  Sometimes my husband and I feel like we are different, gay perhaps, or maybe queer?  Is there more to being gay than the sexual preference part?  Where is the line between gender and sexual orientation?

I love and have sex with a man, but I don’t feel straight.  Women are sexy too.  I think I’d love being with a woman, but I can’t say I’d prefer it to a man.  But I also feel like there’s more to my not feeling straight than that, so calling myself bi doesn’t feel right either.

Perhaps it goes back to not believing in gender as most people see it.  Labels of gay and straight necessarily imply hard lines between male and female.  To define one’s sexuality by “who” or “which” one is attracted to, one must buy into the concept that there are clear males and clear females.

What about those who do not fit neatly into those categories?   Did you know there are roughly as many intersex people as there are Jews?  That’s a sizable portion of the population, and it doesn’t even begin to cover those along the transgender spectrum!

I went to a talk once where I was introduced to the term “omnisexual,” meaning attracted to basically anyone, because you reject the notion of dichotomized gender roles.  Is that what I am?

How does one “come out” as omnisexual, pansexual, genderqueer?  And does one have to look the part?  I surely don’t.  And what about the other aspects of my lifestyle?

My husband and I don’t live as male and female the way most people seem to.  We don’t organize our lives around gender… at all.  None of the daily tasks we do, the way we raise our kids, the way we organize work in and outside the home, the way we relate to each other, the power structure in our relationship, none of it is based on the fact that he’s a man and I’m a woman.

I often feel like this is my dirty little secret.  I don’t know how to talk about it.  There’s no word for it.  I don’t know how to find others like me.  This must be how it feels to be gay before one realizes there’s a concept for “it.”  How amazing would it be to be able to go to a bar or a website where everyone is, well, whatever I am?

It always amazes me that so many people seem to exist on the earth who fit into already existing categories.  There’s another “man” who “has sex with men,” must be a “gay man.”  Hell, there’s even a category for people who like animals!

What about the spaces between the categories?  What about new categories?  Isn’t our desire really way more complicated and varied than the available labels we have?  Where’s my category?  I want to come out, but I can’t figure out which closet I’m in!

Copyright 2011-2012  All Rights Reserved.

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Baby C

BABY C (from November 2011)

Today I found out I’m pregnant.

In March 2010, I was told by at least six well-regarded fertility specialists that I would never have a biological child.  One said I had a .5 percent chance of conceiving by any method, including IVF.  They rest were just as dire.

So today, in November 2011, as I announce that I’m pregnant, you might wonder… Is it hers?

Back in March 2010, I was indeed handed paperwork to begin the process of finding an egg donor.

And yes, the baby is mine.

So you say, ‘Wow, it’s been 20 months, and you did it, you got pregnant!  Were you trying for 20 months straight?  What did you have to do: IVF, drugs, potions, acupuncture, prayer, voodoo?’

And I say, ’No… I’ve hardly tried at all in those 20 months!’

I got pregnant having had sex once this cycle, with a condom on the whole time.  And Seth pulled out.

I called our family doctor today, frantic, because I had not been intending to get pregnant at all.  In fact, it seemed so unlikely that I was worried a tumor might be raising my HcG level, causing a false positive.

“Can you get pregnant on one try, using a condom correctly, and pulling out?” I asked.

He said, “In theory no, in practice, yes.”  Huh?!

So you ask, ‘Why weren’t you trying to get pregnant?? Had you given up hope after 20 months?’

Not at all.

See, I left out a critical detail of my story….

I have ten month old twins.

Twins One Day Old

That’s right, I didn’t get pregnant 20 months after being told I was completely infertile.  I got pregnant 2 months later!  

The doc who gave me the .5 perfect chance suggested we do an intrauterine insemination (basically a fancy turkey baster) “for closure” before moving on to the egg donor option.

We did, and against the doc’s recommendation, we did it without fertility meds.  I figured I should try something while I continued to try to find a doc who believed I could get pregnant.

We got pregnant with twins on the first try.  I had been told my eggs were “so old” and of such bad quality that if I did manage to get pregnant, I would miscarry or have a child with a genetic disorder.

How can one’s eggs be older than one’s body, I wondered?

Funny thing is my husband was told he was infertile too.  Not utterly and completely, like me, but pretty bad.  Essentially zero percent of his sperm were shaped correctly, and thus none would be capable of penetrating an egg.

My precious babies were born Jan. 6, 2011.  They are hearty and healthy and
perfect in every way.

But ok, perhaps those slow, misshapen sperm needed a boost reaching
my decrepit eggs, and the IUI provided that.  But considering the fact that TWO were fertilized, I had to wonder if the docs were wrong.

AND NOW, I am sitting here holding two pregnancy tests, and functionally didn’t even have sex this month, and I have to wonder why well-respected doctors are getting it so wrong, telling women who can conceive that they can’t.  How many other women out there with “high FSH,” or other problems, for that matter, have been told this?

There will be more to come on infertility, but for now, let me end by saying, if I can get pregnant twice in 20 months with a “.5 percent chance”, either I’m the messiah, or we women need to really, seriously question our docs – ALWAYS!

Around 30 Weeks Pregnant with Twins

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