We’re here, all home from the hospital, completely under-prepared. It’s been a long day of washing cloths, clothes, blankets from down in the basement… fabric intended for our little Malina. I don’t think she would mind handing them down.

I also ran out to the store to pick up some nappies / diapers whatever. We’ve got a stash of cloth ones waiting to be prepared, but our little K is a little too little right now. And besides, those first few just don’t clean off that easily.

We also had a nurse stop by for about an hour today… part of the system here in the lowlands. Although it’s quite tough now – the propensity for EVERYONE to leave this country and go to France in late July meant that the nice lady on the phone this morning told me there would be no nurse today. Tomorrow, yes. But not today.

I said “listen. We have no family or friends here, I have a newborn and I don’t know what to do with her.” She apologized. Our doula called and said (who knows) and then the nurse came. That was good because in 45 minutes she told us a dozen things that will happen that will make us freak out.

Aside from the re-appointed cloths and accoutrements, there are other long shadows of Malina. For instance, Melka told me a devastating story that I’d like to share.

We were looking at K’s Apgar score: 9 at 1 minute, 10 at 5 minutes. It’s good. But a few months ago, we had a copy of our hospital records, and Melka saw the Apgar scoring for Malina: 0 at 1 minute, 0 at 5 minutes, 0 at 10 minutes. Jesus.

She did it. Both Melka, and the new K. Born Saturday at 1515 CET.

For the curious: a prostoglandin string brought on contractions friday afternoon. After not sleeping Friday night, Melka was bemoaning the whole thing. Then, the doctor came in and said, “the midwife will be in soon to look at you and rupture the membranes”. Oh snap, that means a pitocin drip and maybe an epidural and maybe a Cesarean.

But the midwife read our birthplan. She came in and said, you don’t want the membranes broken, do you? She looked at Melka, and she had dilated 3 cms. That was very good. A membrane sweep and a contraband walk outside, and Melka was in real labour around 10 am. At 1330, the water broke (on it’s own). No pain relief, no tears or episiotomy, she gave birth on her hands and knees.

She was amazing. Cried when it was right to cry, laughed at the right times, screamed when it would help, breathed well when it was needed. Our friend and doula made such a huge difference. She had words I didn’t have. She helped so so much.

We are so lucky. I wish every one of us baby loss people could feel this mix of elation and sadness. I wish it for all of us, but I know it can’t be for many – too many. And I thought of you this afternoon, I thought of all of these blog writing and reading (mostly) women. I wish this for all of you. I wish we are all lucky like this after so much unluck.

It was more joy than I expected – and far less bitterness. Just a sadness for our Malina. And flashbacks galore throughout the day. Painful ones.

K is a girl, thoroughly adored. 6lbs 14 oz. At the hospital still with mom, both (hopefully) enjoying a well-deserved sleep.

</holding breath>

k foot

Tomorrow, we go in to the hospital again. Probably to try inducing this pregnancy to (hopefully) a sweet-bitter ending. The sweet part is the most important, the bitter is part of this territory, I think.

We’ve been patient, more patient than I think we expected. And as the due date is Monday, another weekend of holding out might be just too hard. Our spirits have been somewhat high.

I’ve written, erased, and re-written this post several times.

Let’s see how this goes.

reflection

rhine timber man

Waiting. Worrying. It’s a restless time with little sleep to bring relief. I’m afraid of what might happen in those dark hours. As I let go of consciousness,  wakefulness and control, I’m terrified of what else might slip way, forever lost. I don’t want this one to leave us, too. I’m on watch, on guard. But I’m a watchman with serious impairments, in truth deaf and blind to whatever might be lurking. Our enemies, for the most part, are invisible, silent.

Waffling about whether to take action. To induce or to not induce. It’s unclear whether my body is showing signs of readiness. There’s softening, but no opening. Descent, but no contracting, tightening, rushing.  I’m scared of a brutal, forced birth. The little one seems fine – but ready to make the transition from sea to land? Or in fact desperate to do so, kept company by the steady ticking of an inaudible countdown to doom deep inside me? I don’t know how to tune my ears to the right frequency. I can’t hear anything.

Meanwhile as I wait, new stretch marks are appearing out of nowhere. Angry, red, threatening. I wonder if these are the signs of an inevitable falling apart. A fissure in the firmament. It’s like that small hairline crack you notice one day in in the corner of the ceiling where there was once just a clean, blank space. A crack that daily, silently deepens and spreads, growing tendrils that choke out the support above until the great weight once serving as shelter collapses on top of you in a deafening crash and a stinging cloud of dust. Crushing.

They tell me these marks will fade. I don’t know how to believe them.

We’re getting down to it. Tomorrow marks the start of week 39. We thought we’d have a baby by now. When the doctor said, “40 weeks? No, we’ll induce at 39. In fact, let’s induce at 38,” he was reiterating a previous declaration: the only way I can prove to you that the pregnancy is going well is to have a screaming baby in your face. So we appreciated his offer to induce early. Kinda banked on it, actually.

Now, we’re not so sure.

There’s a lot to be worried about, as melka steps into reliving what has to be a woman’s ultimate nightmare: giving birth to a dead child, and then giving birth again, 15 months later. There are too many nightmares to list. Last night, we each got a total 4 hours of sleep.

The day started in tears, around 5 a.m. That’s when I heard her crying. I was out on the couch, where I had finally given up on TV and interweb entertainment. I nearly lost it, too. In fact, I did, but tried to hide it. We feel very weak.

I managed to make a pep talk through my wet lips, running nose and burning eyes. I look back at it now and think that calling it a “pep talk” is derogatory, cold, canned. My problem is that when my wife is upset, I believe everything she says is true. I have no super-ego or whatever to assess, rationalize, or even dismiss her emotions. I feel them too, I feel the hurt, the trap, the confusion and the bleakness.

But often I’m able to step out of her head and back into my own. That’s key. I say positive things that I really believe.

It would be nice if I could think, “oh there she goes again…” and then I could dismiss whatever she says. I could have my own quiet confidence, and just put up with her grief as something husbands are supposed to do. But I can’t do that, I believe her too much. Dear reader, you’ve read her posts. You know how thoughtful she is… how devastatingly direct intricate honest.

But what I gave amounted to a pep talk. And we did another one this evening… reminding ourselves that having the baby born alive is actually the sign of a successful pregnancy, not getting past the week of malina’s birth, or the gestational week when malina died, or a million other tiny ways we’ve charted this experience as being closer to over.

Now, we’re scared. We’re scared it won’t end well, of course, scared that we’ve been deluded by these milestones and the fact that, after 39 weeks, there’s still a kicking little person inside. We’re scared that birth will be just as much of a trauma as before… that a Cesarean will be painful, and will still leave melka with a stinging “last memory of childbirth” that ended with a corpse. That a pitocin drip will mean more and more interventions. We both want nothing but a living baby but also want something more: for the universe  to lower its defences and allow us to have at least one beautiful experience in pregnancy, any experience that wasn’t shadowed by the daughter we grieve. It’s insane, it’s so selfish… and yet we’re using it as a defense in our fear of action.

Saying goodbye to the pregnancy is supposed to be followed by saying hello to our new child. We’ve never experienced that. it’s hard to really believe it.

So, any advice on a quick pep talk we can give ourselves tomorrow morning, so when the doctor says It’s Business Time, we can chime in? Or should we follow our hearts and instincts, and wait a few more days for this to begin on its own?

Random expressions, please indulge me:

First of all, let me say publicly that my wife is the most important person in the world. Not just to me, but to everyone. The world needs to understand that. Right now, she’s the most important person. She needs space, and time, and an attempt at understanding. And, fair warning, I will attack anyone who treats her with anything less. Blog people: you are great people. I’m looking at you, family, doctors, nurses, jerks, whomever or wherever you are. You are on notice.

Second, this is like waiting anxiously … for who knows what. And pain, and worry. Other words I’d use now are irritated (with people asking if we have a baby yet), furious (with a co-worker who really cannot listen when I say I don’t want to talk about this), and just damn scared. And I don’t even have to do the hard part… see point one.

round and in green

In between the usual rain and dark clouds this weekend was a sizable portion of sun, luring us out and inspiring us to savour the light.

Finally with finish line in plain sight, we’re trying to celebrate this pregnancy at least a little bit, daring to document the absurd shape I’m currently inhabiting – admitting our eyes to the quiet hope inherent in the awkwardness and uncertainty. The roundness is quite pleasing somehow. And strangely, soon to be gone.

And, to all those wondering how Lowland I’ve sunk: yes, I am still riding my bike.

polka dots and spokes

We’re getting into the last few weeks… maybe even the last few days. And, by my count, only about nineteen people actually know this is going on. None of our extended family, none of our friends back home. Two of the people I work with every day… two people we’re friends with here. And the friends we have through the interweb, of course.

This secrecy has created a space for us to exist in this grief/anticipation on our own rules, pace and direction. That’s been good. Everytime there have been incursions out into the world (i.e. telling family members) it’s often a punishing, hurtful experience. But the competing feeling, of isolation, exists in tandem with the secrecy. And that’s getting to me, too.

I’m worried that we’re becoming addicted to secrecy, and the emotional protection it promises. “If we don’t let anyone know, they can’t hurt us” is the idea. But that’s a bad one. We need to be in the world, to engage with other people, to create new friendships and to resuscitate the old ones. Someday.

And, (KNOCK ON WOOD) if there’s a baby at the end of this, that little person will deserve to be shared, not hidden. But that’s going to take courage, and maybe a lot of vulnerability to the Opinions of Others.

Does anyone have any strategies for breaking out of seclusion… with or without a new baby? Am I putting the cart before the horse?

The days have been uncharacteristically warm and sunny here. So I’ve been out and about, in public.

I’m big. Large enough to attract stares and inspire comments. Questions.

On the street walking past the sidewalk seating of a cafe, a waiter called after me, when’s the big day? D had no idea what he meant at first.  Soon, was my polite answer, hesitant. But I had the uneasy feeling that I didn’t know what we were really talking about.

In a bookstore, the owner spotted me and piped up about their mom-and-baby group that meets every Wednesday. Oh, and their children’s book section is downstairs, if I’d like to have a look. Now, why would you think I’d want to do that?

There’s a continuity that’s been cut, a chain of events broken inside my brain. To me, this huge belly is simply its own phenomenon, having nothing to do with baby books, big days of arrival and birth announcements.

Inside, someone’s there. Growing and moving. I just have no idea if they’re here to stay. Could they be here to stay? It’s not what I know. And frankly, I can’t imagine what that might be like.

Giant squirming belly, then small, squirming baby. What an incredibly strange idea. Foreign and unfathomable.

I feel very, very swollen. The slightest texture in any surface leaves its imprint on my skin. Irregular patterns, illegible impressions. The crease of a bedsheet, the checkered covering of a sofa cushion, the stitch bordering a blanket. Fabrics that formerly brought comfort are now biting back.

I’m full of fluid, bursting with all the extra blood and water in my system.  My skin is darker, tinged with a faint red. And along with this, every scar on my body has somehow been made more prominent. Pregnancy has infused them all with a dark pigment, making them stand out in fresh, fierce relief. A trail of chicken pox scars trace their way up my abdomen and scatter across my breasts – a constellation of pockmarks, the mythic story they commemorate yet to be told. The surgical scars on my neck stand out anew in angry, red lines. In my mirror I see the victim of some medieval pox, the broken body in a slasher film.

I feel battered, ravaged. When I was diagnosed with cancer nearly a decade ago, I lost faith in any control I thought I had over my body’s well-being and gained a profound lack of confidence in my own physical self.  Even after multiple surgeries and subsequent radiation treatments, the cancer will likely never leave my body; this kind just doesn’t. It can merely be kept at bay with the right balance of hormone supplements and regular monitoring. Most women with my kind of cancer history do well in pregnancy with the right attention and adjustments. But still, it is quite possible that the radical hormonal upset of these recent reproductive adventures could cause it to come back, reassert its presence. Not terribly likely, but possible. Yet another way in which pregnancy, for me, is now a convoluted tangle of life and death, a small congress of souls deciding their directions.

I was so happy in my pregnancy with M. I was swollen, but that time with wonder at what my body was doing, hope for a kind of redemption from my earlier misadventures in physical health.  Then she died, my worst fears confirmed. My body, failing, again.

Lately, I’m tired and teary, exhausted with all this extra weight and water. I feel far from beautiful, worlds apart from woman-power, confused about notions of control and capability.

And no matter how much I cry, the water remains. A conspiracy of molecules collected under my skin – maybe for, maybe against. Dense, heavy, and wet.