Monthly Archives: December 2007

Hope, you fickle thing

A year ago today this morning we were allowing ourselves a teeny bit of hope. My cervical changes and the contractions had stabilized. The bleeding had stopped. I had had both steroid shots.

Josh spent more time at home this day than he had since we entered the hospital. I used the time to watch an U.gly B.etty marathon on A.BC Family. He used the time to download a bunch of video game ROMS to my laptop. We planned to spend the evening playing ancient Nintendo games.

Funny how incredibly clear the details of the day are when I really had no idea it would be more remarkable than the other hospital days which blend together.

When he arrived back at the hospital, we’d missed the closing of the kitchen, but that was okay. Instead we ordered pizza. While he was gone picking it up, I went to the bathroom and found more blood. Back came the doctors with the machines. Nothing looked particularly different except for the bleeding, but my hope took a major dive. Bed rest became 100%. I had to learn to use a bed pan.

We still ate our pizza, played our games, and had fun, but from then on, fear overtook hope.

What else did I miss?

While I spent months ensconced on the couch, staring alternatively at the ceiling, chat screens, or crochet projects, we as a nation apparently acquired a new White House – the “Western White House.” Actually I guess it has been around longer – the website is dated from 2001, but back then I was busy paying attention to other things for more fun reasons. I only noticed it today, while at the gym watching CNN. I was trying to pay attention to Bush’s press secretary who was not Dana Perino (what happened to her? or is she just on vacation?) blather on about the death of Benazir Bhutto – a tragic event for sure. But I kept being distracted by the sign behind his head. The logo read, “The Western White House, Crawford, Texas.”

I was full of righteous indignation at first, certain it was an imperialist plot by Texas to finally and completely colonize us. At the very least I wondered if Bush and his people thought we might find it charming. I began crafting a letter in my head, but was certain it would be ignored, as was a letter I wrote to 3+ years ago chastising the site’s blatant partisanship. But if I did that, at least I would maintain the right to complain.

Then I got home and learned from Wikipedia that it’s not unprecedented. Other presidents have designated residences outside of the White House as temporary offices, and received federal monies to make them secure and functional.

So much for this afternoon’s fun.

You may have noticed the word “gym” above. No worries. I am not aiming to be Demi Moore or Angelina Jolie or whatever other Hollywood star is known for getting her pre-baby body back in six weeks. I just want to be able to get out of bed in the morning without pain in my back and hips. I might possibly also aspire to fit back into non-maternity pants in 2008, but my slow 3-mile-per-hour pace on the treadmill for 15-30 minutes every few days isn’t going to do much for that just yet. Baby Samuel and I are also scheduled for some light Mommy and Baby early post-partum Pilates on the living room floor after I feed him in a minute.

oops make that right now. The prince is awake.

Last Days

** I want to thank everyone who announced Samuel’s arrival on their blog. As I’ve been slowly making my way through my Reader, I’ve seen so many. I’m really touched.

Christmas last year Josh and I sat in our living room working. We were particularly excited about our plans for the day, because each of us being related to Christians, we’re often required to participate in some sort of festivity. But we begged off traveling last year, and thus were here in our apartment by ourselves, happily ignoring the date. Having worked fairly consistently throughout the fall, I felt good about my progress on my dissertation and taking this day to work felt like just another way I was ahead of the game. I was more than halfway through my pregnancy, and totally confident I could do this motherhood plus academia thing. It was definitely the last time I felt so good about every aspect of my life.

In Judaism, there are several New Years. There’s of course Rosh Hashanah, the “head” of the year and the birthday of the world (although some rabbis of the Talmud had different opinions on this) and appropriate to our covenantal faith, civil contracts. But Nisan, the month containing Passover, is also a new year, and marks the creation of man. Tu Bishvat commemorates the birthday of trees. And finally, the month of Elul, which marks the counting of tithes, is also considered a new year.

Because my happiness and my confidence took such a slap down after today last year,  I think of right now as a personal New Years. When I say my confidence, I don’t mean the stuff of self-help self-esteem manuals, I mean my very faith in the righteousness of life. There have been many times over the course of this past year that I have wondered whether I still belong in the world.  My blog friends have been tremendous in helping me keep myself together, the knowledge that all of you, care and understand. Julia, whose A is linked with my Natan through an accident of dates, and with whom I share a number of coincidences of interest and background. Bon whose story resonates too tragically closely to mine, but who gave me hope throughout this pregnancy that we could make it. Meg, whose Survivorgirl should have been here to play with my Samuel. Lori, who is my model for parenting after loss, and despite our differences, also an inspiration on keeping faith. And of course, Aurelia who kept me entertained and even more importantly, sane through bed rest, Niobe, Birdie’s Mama, Kate, Ms. G, Thrice, Rosepetal, Catherine, Aite, Tash, Wannabe Mom – each of you has taken on a special identity in my mind, and a particular role in helping my get through this year.

But still, whenever I left my little cocoon of a one-bedroom apartment this year to appear in public, I often felt at a remove from humanity. As if I were watching my surroundings from afar rather than being a part of them. In working on the one chapter I completed from start to finish (others were already in progress or are now in parts) I felt the same, as if I were going through some familiar motions. I had moments where I achieved my past enthusiasm, but never consistently maintained it.

When we entered the hospital just a bit over 24 hours from now last year, the world stopped. When I asked the resident examining me in triage if I was in pre-term labor, and she said yes, time stopped. When I told the team of doctors later that day that I wanted anything and everything done to save the baby, the outside world vanished. My entire being became enveloped in maintaining the pregnancy and Natan’s life. We didn’t know then if we were having a boy or a girl, but would find out shortly so that we could know a bit more about who I was trying to save. Samuel is his own person, not a replacement baby, but I think I remained in that space throughout my recovery and my pregnancy. Although I had no idea, our decision last year to isolate ourselves during this season marked a bigger separation for me than we could have possibly known.

I have much better hopes for this year, for my family, and for all of you.

A year in the life

*Thanks Julia, for pointing out a typo in the original post

I suspected, but now can confirm, that having another baby does not in fact make it all better. Nevertheless, the guidance one of JJ’s advisers gave us last year, a man who lost a 2-year old son decades ago, that it never gets better but does get easier has been a comfort. Baby Man, no doubt, made yesterday easier. Still, the passing of Natan’s yahrzeit was not easy. The combination of it and Baby Man’s brit mila was surreal. We lit our candles during the break of visitors stopping by to celebrate. I didn’t cry until they left.

I’m somewhat empty of words to describe how I feel about Natan’s absence now. It aches. We miss him. I wish he was here.

Baby Man’s first week with us has been a wonder. I can hardly imagine my life without him already. Last Monday we took him for his first visit to the pediatrician’s office. I was somewhat shocked at myself, at the joy I took in having a baby to bring into a doctor’s office. To see the little books and toys. To check him in with the receptionist. I really am taking glee in the silliest little things. All the things I didn’t get to do with Natan. We have of course had our moments, our meltdowns, but all in all this week has been among the happiest of my life.

Even though Monday ended horribly. We learned at the doctor’s office that Baby Man’s bilirubin levels had risen to over 19. Way too high. We had to take him to the hospital, and continue the Old versus New saga. At New hospital, he could have his own room, with the lights and us sleeping in on cots. At Old hospital, he had to go to the NICU. You can guess what our insurance demanded. So off we were to the NICU. Even though I understood he was not critical, that this was activist medicine, the thought of the NICU caused my throat to literally begin to close. If I could have, I would have passed out. As we got closer to it, breathing only got harder. We spent one night there. His bilirubin level fell remarkably quickly, and they let us go home. All in all an extreme, but fairly typical case of “breastfeeding jaundice.”

In the NICU, I felt as if I were being visited by the Ghost of What Could Have Been. Baby Man was by far the largest and healthiest baby there. Next to and in front of us were two very tiny, very sick babies. He had to spend the night under the lights, but when the blood test at 6am showed his bilirubin levels had dropped sufficiently, they took him out from under the lights and let me hold him. I held him, fed him, and tried to talk and sing to him, softly.

From the cubicle in front of me, the one containing a baby as tiny as Natan, I could heard voices. First, doctors, “her levels have dropped 70%,” “This is not good,” “Honestly, I don’t know what else to do,” “More morphine, I suppose.” Shortly, I saw the baby’s parents return. Two very young, very frightened parents, kids themselves, really. The father embodied fear. I’m not sure I can recall ever seeing such a face. The mother looked stoic. She stayed by the side of the incubator constantly for the rest of the day. I thought her voice, singing, “Wake up, Wake up, Please wake up,” would kill me.

And I felt so grateful for Baby Man’s 39 weeks and 6 days in my womb. Even as I worried I was betraying Natan, I felt that feeling I dread from others, “Thank goodness I am not her.” When the doctor said we could leave with Baby Man, I think I may have expressed my happiness too loudly. I couldn’t control myself. Only immediately after I exclaimed did I feel guilty.

So cruel is fate that when we eventually packed up Baby Man to leave, the other mother was returning from a break, and held the door for us as we left. I wish I could have thought of something to say, to do, for her, because I fear she will join us as a grieving mother shortly.

Life and Death

Tomorrow is Baby Man’s brit mila. Tomorrow at dusk marks the start of Natan’s yahrzeit.

I wish I could discern a meaning from that.


A few hours later

B. here:

Thank you all for welcoming Baby Man! We are doing well – a bit concerned about some jaundice but the docs are assuring us that while we need to obviously be vigilant about it it’s not all that abnormal for such a big baby. So I need to breastfeed as much as humanly possible. That’s made for a tough night and morning but I think my milk is coming now. One of the nurses said the phrase “at high risk,” which sent me into a bit of a meltdown – and leading Dr. K to be annoyed that the nurse hadn’t been more careful with her words. Dr. K spent quite a while with us this morning and she cried. I really did pick a good doctor this time.

So, the birth story. It was a beautiful, wonderful night. Difficult. I don’t particularly want to detail it moment by moment, but really some of it is very relevant to the larger story of grieving and pregnancy. I did have an epidural – after I’d dilated to 7-8cm. At that point, the pain triggered physical memories of my labor with Natan. At first, I couldn’t stop the comparisons. But then, even worse, I had a near flashback – during one contraction I imagined the rush of waters and the sudden presence of feet in my vagina. When I regained my composure at the end of the contraction I realized I had to do something to change things, that this labor was different, the baby was fine, responding perfectly, in fact, to labor. I didn’t want my memories of it to be all pain. And I thought, why I am doing this to myself? What purpose does this pain serve? No purpose I decided. I was in the hospital of my choice, among doctors and nurses I trusted, and the baby was fine. I had told myself I wanted to do it without meds because I wanted to be “fully present” at the birth. I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. I was half there, half somewhere else. And from the moment the epidural took effect until my meltdown above, my first two days with Baby Man were perfect. Utter bliss. Pushing still hurt – we’d stopped the epidural and I only ever took enough to take the edge of the pain rather than erase it. But when the doctor said, “Just one more push,” and I pushed with everything I had, only to be rewarded at its end with the sound of our son’s cries, I laughed.

Granted, I also laughed because he looked like a baby from a movie. The enormous 3-monthers used to portray newborns. I said to myself, “And finally, the universe has made a good joke.”

He’s finally here!

Guest blogger kate here…

Baby Man made his long-awaited entrance this morning at 12:09 am!

He is 9 lbs 9 oz and 21 inches long….wow!

Beruriah went into labor on her own yesterday afternoon. She sounds rested (somehow?) and happy and says she is so grateful for everybody’s support through her pregnancy. They will be in the hospital until Saturday or Sunday.

Wretchedness; or, to Induce or Not to Induce

All natural methods aside, we are seriously approaching the point of medical induction of labor. I hesitate to write about this online, as I know people have passionate feelings about it and I’m not sure I have the strength to hear much.  My due date is Saturday and I am progressing very very slowly. I have laughed at the irony. I have joked along with many friends and relatives. But at this point I am frightened. I am free to choose induction at any moment. Dr. K will not officially recommend it until I am past my due date.

Induction is not risk free and I do not want to introduce any new risks. Post-date pregnancy of course riskier but we will not go even a week beyond my due date.  The baby has looked great during every NST, the placenta looks healthy according to an ultrasound, he is active, and he is well positioned for labor.

Why can’t this be easier? I do not want to be driven to make a decision by anxiety rather than reason. And I don’t want to introduce a risk to myself or the baby because of my emotions.

My sister said I will feel awful right before I go into active labor. I had a day where I felt awful. Other people say I will be very energetic right before I go into active labor. I scrubbed our floor yesterday and cleaned most of the apartment today and I still felt like I had enough energy to go dancing (I didn’t though). When I told my mom I was scrubbing the floor, she relayed the news to her friend who was over and the friend confidently declared, “12 hours! I promise she will be in labor in 12 hours!” It has been 30. I don’t want myth. I just want someone to tell me what to do and actually be able to promise me it will be okay. And no one can do that.

Handmaid’s Tale Book Tour Post

Regular readers: pardon the repetitive information in this post.

Thanks to Julia, I decided to reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Actually, I didn’t decide to reread it, I decided to read it but it didn’t take long before I realized I’d read it years ago. In any case, after I finished I decided to take it all the way and participate in the blog book tour for which Julia had read it in the first place.

Here’s a message from the organizer:
Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Fowler (with author participation!)

Different bloggers received different questions. Here’s my crack at answering the questions I received:

Q1: In Chapter 12, Offred is talking about her body and states: “I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.” Dealing with infertility we face many challenges, and one is coming to terms with our bodies’ short-comings. How do you view and deal with your body now, compared to pre-IF (or lack of knowledge on IF), does it determine you, and do you accept it or avoid it?

I am not infertile, but still with my history of miscarriage and preterm labor this question strikes me as relevant. I never took if for granted that I would be able to conceive, or carry to term. My grandmother had only one (living) child – my mother – at 43 years old. She died before I ever had the chance to discuss with her why, just one child, why so late. I can assume given my mom’s birth year that WWII intervened, but I don’t know. My own mom was married to my dad for seven years before my older sister was born. They took in foster children before. She has never admitted to any problems conceiving or carrying to term, but she has said many times that in “[her] day” women used to miss two or three periods “all the time.” My sister had 5 pregnancies, and has 3 living children. During one pregnancy she miscarried a twin in the first trimester but carried my niece to term.

When my husband I decided in the fall of 2005 that we would try to conceive in the spring of 2006, I began immediately to plan. I was in decent shape but fine-tuned my diet to include more folic acid and my workout to include more stretching and relaxation exercises. I also began taking prenatal vitamins and additional folic acid because my nephew has a neural-tube defect. My husband and I were going to be separated because he had to do research abroad for a few minutes and I thought it was a perfect chance to clear my body of birth control pills and get to a normal cycle. I even considered charting, but gave up on it quickly.

When I found myself pregnant after our first month of trying, I was ecstatic. But cautious. I knew the statistics. I was very careful about my diet – I had a vegetarian pregnancy book that reassured me that given the diversity of my diet, it was more than sufficient. I kept exercising. I had very few pregnancy symptoms beyond exhaustion, but that went away around 9 weeks. I thought to myself, “wow this isn’t so bad,” and congratulated myself on having prepared my body so well. Then I got scared. Why no symptoms? Was pregnancy supposed to be this easy? At my first prenatal visit, the ultrasound revealed a fetus 3 weeks too small with no heartbeat. A missed miscarriage. I was heartbroken to lose the pregnancy, but in terms of my body, I accepted a natural miscarriage rate. The “missed” part, though, upset me. I couldn’t trust my body to tell me anything. How could I have just carried a dead fetus inside me for so long with no idea? Given my suffering in the next two pregnancies during the first trimester, it’s obvious to me now that it was, but plenty of women have successful pregnancies without constant nausea and exhaustion. I wanted to give my body the chance to pass it normally, and my doctor gave it two additional weeks to do so. With only a few days to go, I finally passed the miscarriage. I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d managed to escape a D&C.

A month later, I was pregnant again. With Natan, our baby who died after I went into preterm labor. This time, the process of “forgiving” my body for failure would be much longer. I don’t think it’s over yet. I won’t even pretend that I’ve had anything like closure from that loss. Even the success of this pregnancy (so far) constantly reminds me of the egregious failure last time. I don’t know yet how to talk about that.

Still, I am not without healing. I am glad that there were options for us. I am glad that I didn’t hold onto the words of the doctors who told me statistically preterm labor was most likely a fluke and unlikely to happen again as a reason to be complacent. In the first weeks after Natan’s death I held on to that as a reason not to blame myself. But then, when I saw two lines again, I realized that would hardly hold me. I needed to immediately accept my body’s shortcomings and act on them. I needed to find a doctor who was willing to do everything possible to prevent preterm labor from taking the life of another of our children, without waiting to see if it would happen again before acting. If my body does have failures, whether hormonal or structural, I cannot be held prisoner by them, nor can my children. I feel like I have had to fight my body every step of the way to stay pregnant (although now ironically it seems to be taking its own sweet time). I don’t know why. I don’t think I’ll ever know why. But only during my saddest moments do I think of my body’s culpability at all.

Right now, within days of delivering our second son, 11 months after the death of our first son, I feel entirely too wrapped up in my own body to answer this question with any certainty beyond the above. At the moment, I am too much in transition. I just don’t know.

Q2: Did you find it conflicting that the book showed a male-dominated culture, even in reference to reproducing, when in our culture it seems that women take the brunt of the responsibility? Even though male infertility was ignored in their culture and females were given stints with new commanders (“tours of booty,” as I came to think of it) did you feel the men were still in charge of procreation? How does this differ from our reality?

I don’t know that I agree with the premise of this question. The female subculture, insidious in many ways, certainly dominated at least the aspects of the Gilead we saw. So much so in fact, that we don’t even know how the political system worked. I absolutely felt that women were in charge of procreation. We read about no repercussions for sterile men, although perhaps there were some among less powerful men. Sterile Handmaids, on the other hand, were sent to the colonies and certain death.

If we idealize our reality, certainly the very possibility that we can openly acknowledge male infertility as a problem distinguishes us, but from what I know that is very different from lived experience. Male-factor infertility is not openly discussed, blogs focusing upon it are rare, amd I think we can assume that most people assume it is a female problem. For biological and cultural reasons women bear the brunt of the impact of fertility and infertility. We also take the blame for pregnancy loss, still birth and infant death. It is far easier for people to accept that we’ve done something wrong than to search of external reasons. I perceived, actually, that there was little judgment for sterility or loss in Gilead (beyond the Handmaids who were already a despised class). Infertility had become so widespread, and the environmental causes so apparent, that individual blame didn’t appear as prominently as I have felt it in my own experience. Clearly the society felt its communal responsibility and thus the communal response. However horrible Gilead would be, that at least is admirable.

Q3: It was at one time hard for me to put myself in the Wife’s shoes, but having dealt with infertility in a more personal sense,  I find that I can sympathize with her and her role in this society. If you had to be in this society, how could you cope with your role in it? Would you be a Wife or a Handmaid? Could you sympathize with your counterpart?

At first I began to think through this question wondering about the place of a fertile woman with a history of pre-term labor. But then I remembered I’m Jewish and Jews were “sent away” – so I would be where ever the Jews were really sent. Israel? The colonies? The bottom of the ocean? I don’t know.


Grande Extra Caramel Extra Hot Caramel Macchiato

Julia’s post of yesterday rekindled thoughts of my idyllic days as a barista at the coffee shop I no longer frequent. I am now even worse than a coffee snob. Never having had a need for the caffeine content, or a particular fondness for extra flavor or richness, I began my job as a coffee hater and ended as a purist. Apparently the “oracle” doesn’t understand the mysteries of good coffee, as it declared me lame. If I’m going to bother with a cup of coffee at all, it had better be good, and it had better not have any milk or heaven forbid, sugar, in it (Josh would take exception to this, since I don’t mind it cold). If I’m going to bother with an espresso, or very rarely, a cappuccino, it had better be from a 13-second shot. And also not be corrupted by any sugar or sweetness.

But this is not the point of my post. A comment at Julia’s reminded me of perhaps the most obnoxious part about working in that place, a trait shared perhaps by most service-sector jobs – the surveillance. The secret shoppers.

When I worked as a barista, I had a certain persona. A very cheerful, chatty persona, not all that different from my everyday self, but passionately maintained through several levels of stress. One summer, I transferred to the busiest shop in the country. We had three bars and were crazy hectic almost all the time. I was working one of the bars when it suddenly broke, caught on fire, and spewed hot steam all over the arms of one of my co-workers. You might imagine that in the first few seconds of this event we were somewhat freaked out. As I was trying to decide in a split-second what to do about both my screaming friend and the flames, a customer impatiently said, “where is my Caramel Macchiato?” I think I may have asked her to please wait a moment with a touch less cheeriness than is apparently required – but looking back, not nearly as angrily as she deserved. It turned out that my coworker had second-degree burns on her arms. The store took responsibility, covered her costs and made up for her lost pay.

But me? I got in trouble. The “customer” was a secret shopper. She in no way acknowledged what was happening in the moment I asked her to please wait a moment but only put on her little form that I was “slow” in getting her drink to her and less than friendly in my banter with the customers. My shift-manager, the incompetent that he was, suggested that I take a retraining in customer service.

9 years later and I’m still resentful.