Thursday, February 25, 2010

How About That?

After my long dry spell, it feels a little strange to have enough swirling thoughts to generate two posts in two days. And here I thought I couldn't surprise myself anymore.

Yesterday I noted that I tend to be a little inauthentic here on the blog. Since then I've been mulling it over. Why am I such a damn Pollyanna about my daughter's death? Being angry and bitter and saying things that may upset people won't make her more dead, after all.

I had a little quiet time to reflect yesterday and I've arrived at three conclusions. 1) I had to tamp a lot of the gnarliest thoughts and feelings down to focus on parenting C 2) I should quit my griping and thank the fates that one of the babies survived 3) Being angry and bitter and saying things that may upset people won't make her less dead either

That's what the stern taskmaster in my head tells me, anyway.

But, here's the thing. I read this and this and both posts have really opened my eyes. I didn't experience stillbirth. And despite the fact that I know several women who have, and I claim to be a thoughtful and supportive person, I never really troubled myself to think about the details.

This isn't some sort of congratulatory victory lap--Wow, TracyOC, you've taken your empathy to a whole new level! It was more of a wake-up call about the value of honesty and authenticity.


Yesterday I was listening to "Fresh Air" while driving today. Terry was talking (in her normal soothing tones) to an expert on medical ethics regarding hunger strikes. Specifically, they were contemplating the role of a trained physician in caring for a hunger striker and what lines ought not be crossed. They didn't seem to make a clean landing but the answer apparently lies somewhere between preserving life and preserving dignity.

During the discussion, the medical expert read a couple of graphic statements equating force-feeding via gavage tube with torture. The statements mentioned pain and discomfort and disruption of bodily functions, tissue damage, disorientation, etc. The medical experts explained that the patient can be forcibly restrained and then left alone in a hospital bed covered in his/her own waste.

Sound familiar, anyone?

I've watched two people die in intensive care units--my father and my daughter. Both of them were scared, disoriented, and in pain. My father was incapacitated and couldn't tell us what he wanted the doctors to do. R wasn't quite human enough yet to communicate. In both cases I was put in a position to decide for them. In both cases I told the doctors to do whatever it would take.

I was wrong both times.

Doctors and nurses confront these issues daily. They see critically ill people make miraculous recoveries. They're trained to react and do everything they can to save people. When one dies, they move onto the next, bringing their considerable intelligence and intensity to bear. It's hard not to believe them when they say something can be done--it's hard not to hear 'should' instead of 'can.'

I let the surgeon cut my daughter's body open even though there was virtually no hope that she could survive. She spent 3 of her 4 final hours on an operating table surrounded by strangers. I let my Dad undergo surgery for a blood clot and get jounced down the highway in an ambulance full of tubes and wires on Christmas Eve, hours before he died.

They both deserved better. The medical ethicist told me so...just a little too late.

All I can think now is that way too many of my stories start with, "I was listening to NPR..." I have to get out more. How's that for honesty?

Hovering Near the Kitchen Table

So, I haven't really been writing much lately--not that I ever did. But, all of this inclement weather has me feeling...pensive? thoughtful? pent-up? I can't quite put my finger on it but, when I saw the questions posted on GITW it seemed like the thing to do.

Here goes.

1 | How would you describe your presence on the internet? Does your online voice differ from your real life voice? If so, how? And why?

Regarding my online presence, the words 'lurk' and 'tentative' come to mind. Sadly, this isn't all that different from real-life (even before my daughter died). My online voice, however, is nothing at all like my real-life voice. On my blog I'm all "looking for significance" and "trying to create meaning" and "trying to understand things." This extends to emails I send to bloggers or comments that I leave. It's not a natural fit for me. In real-life I come off more like a self-righteous know-it-all (with a heart...and a reasonably well-developed sense of humor.

When I sit down and confront R's death head-on, I can't seem to access my know-it-allness or my sense of humor...hence, the difference.

2 | Why did you begin blogging, or reading blogs? Was this before or after your experience of babyloss?

I don't think I ever intentionally read a blog before R died. I knew that they were out there and I maybe stumbled across one while googling friends and acquaintances (ahem). I found Glow and Kate's blog while hunting around online for advice on raising a twinless twin (or maybe I was just out to prove to myself that other people lost babies and survived). I started blogging because I felt like a creep reading about other folks' lives and not sharing any of my own details.

3 | Do you write anonymously? Does anonymity - or would anonymity - change your expression of grief?

Erm...I guess I'm semi-anonymous. I don't feel comfortable using family member or friend names here because everyone should get to tell their own story but I'm fine with using my own...sort of. I think I've either met or corresponded with the handful of people who stop by here and they all know my true identity (and they know why you never see TracyOC in the same room as a certain lady who carries a lasso of truth and wanders around in stars-n-stripe undies...shhh). As far as expressing my grief, I think it's always difficult to be completely honest about the ugliest aspects of babyloss. Anonymity doesn't really make a difference for me.

4 | Do you have a responsibility in how you express yourself on the internet? To whom, and why?

I think this is related to the anonymity issue above. I try not to co-opt my husband's grief or my surviving daughter's experiences. It's like all of that 'I-statement' business about owning your feelings and not accusing other people of things they don't deserve. I try to stay within the boundaries of self-expression.

5 | Do authenticity and honesty matter to you, both as a reader and a writer? Or does unconditional support matter more? How do you think readers perceive your truth?

I don't think that I'm really capable of being dishonest but there are things I don't write about. I'm a lot angrier about R's death than I'd ever admit on the blog (or in real-life). I like to offer unconditional support when I comment on other blogs but I don't really require it for myself. It's more that I'm trying to avoid adding to anyone's emotional burden. I think people read babyloss blogs because they're looking for company and hope and I try to offer that because I currently have it to give.

6 | Have you ever been in the crosshairs of a troll? How did you deal with it, and what did you learn from it?

Not on my blog...

7 | How do you feel before going online - either to write on your own blog, or to absorb the writing of others? How do you feel when you shut down the computer and walk away?

It's a mixed bag. When I write I usually feel anxious when I start and relaxed when I'm through. If I'm reading, it depends on the content. Sometimes I feel worried and anxious for folks who are struggling. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be as evolved as the people I follow. Most of the time I feel lousy about not leaving enough helpful or supportive comments.

8 | Do family/friends know you write/commune online? If so, have they told you how they feel about it? How do you respond to their opinions?

My husband knows and is supportive (and usually complimentary). If anyone else knows, they're not telling.

9 | Have you ever met any other loss bloggers in real-life? How did it feel to share food and air and space, and how did it make you feel about your own storytelling and healing? If you haven't experienced this, would you want to, or not? Why?

I have and it was really satisfying. There's such a difference between talking to someone who's trying to understand and empathize and talking to someone who doesn't have to try because they already know. I don't really have the words to describe it but it made me feel somehow more capable, sane, and human. Can't recommend it highly enough.

10 | How did you/will you know it's time to read fewer grief blogs, and write less of grief? How did you/will you redirect your energy, creativity, and persona online -- did you/will you go offline? Disappear and start again? Or transition in your current space, hoping to find a new voice? If you've done this, how did it feel?

As far as Mommicked goes, I'm sure that I'll eventually disappear. The online life just isn't for me and, barring another unforeseen personal tragedy, I'm rapidly approaching the 'settled into the new normal' stage of my life. Thus, I'm running out of things to say about grief and I lack the wherewithal to write about other aspects of my life. I don't, however, think I'll ever stop reading other grief blogs. I remember how I felt when I started writing and I want to stick around and listen and try to offer a helping hand for people who are newer to loss and grief.

The sun's up and the dog's crying so it's time to pull on my wellies and head out into the crap weather for a morning walk. And I think I feel a little bit more relaxed than I did an hour ago. It worked!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Signs and Settling

Last April, my mom and I went to an open house that was somewhat uninspiring. I liked the price and location of the house and the street was planted end-to-end with the most spectacular trees but, the house itself was in dire need of updates. Having recently moved from a handyman's special, I had no interest in becoming a servant to another dysfunctional dwelling.

I said something politely non-committal to the seller's agent and headed for the car. As we drove out of the neighborhood, I pointed to another house that sat immediately behind the one we had just toured. It was essentially the same building and floorplan but looked somehow more inviting. “I wish that one were for sale.”

Flash forward to August 26, 2009.

Rather than spend the second anniversary of R's death slumped in front of my computer, filling my cubicle with kleenex and misery, I took a sick day. Aside from our visit to R's playground, we didn't really have a plan for the day--planning and focusing are two things in short supply with the mommicked family anymore. We just loaded C in the car and drove around the neighborhood we hoped to relocate to...down a street planted end-to-end with the most spectacular trees.

I think you know where this is going.

The house. My house. For Sale! Jesus Christ on a Triscuit! Fates, stars, and planets aligned!

So we bought it.

I won't bore you with the details. I think I've already mentioned some of my opinions on real estate dealings and I seem to have misplaced my soap box and my copy of Marx's manifesto (just kidding--I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a communist). The bottom line is that I'm sitting in my very own dining room typing away as Snowmageddon 2010 rages outside.

The dog is a little out of sorts and the couch we ordered is still in parts-unknown but, it seems that we are finally settled.


The spectacular trees are sycamores. In the mid-twentieth century, disease wiped out most American Elm trees and left many urban and suburban areas completely devoid of canopy cover. The sycamore, prized for its heartiness, was a favored choice for replanting. They aren't the most graceful of trees...certainly no match for a lovely, vase-shaped elm. But, they are tough. More importantly they grow fast. They grow so fast, in fact, that their bark peels off in great chunks, unable to stretch to accommodate the rapid expansion of the trunk beneath. They are literally bursting out of their skin with life.

Outside of our new home, the branches of 'my' sycamores stretch to reach each other, forming a cathedral-like peak over the street. Beautiful and resilient, they shelter us and welcome us home.