Category Archives: Natan

sometimes things really do work out for the best

Since I’ve been holding my breath since late November, it seems particularly amazing that we’re now in late January. My friends that I discussed in the last post delivered their twin sons TODAY. This morning. They made it two months past their pre-term labor diagnosis, and other complications, to 32 weeks. An amazing, amazing accomplishment. I cannot express what that means to me in clear language. I’m obviously unbelievably happy and relieved. I cannot wait to meet these two gorgeous babies and to give their moms the biggest hugs ever. Completely on its own merits–that two incredible new people have joined us in this world–that two fabulous people now have the family they’ve dreamed of–today is an outstanding day. Clearly I wish the babies hadn’t been born until term, but this is a damn good outcome considering.

The hope this gives me additionally cannot be overstated. Wow. I went into labor with Natan at basically the same gestation, but we caught it at a further point (no cervix). Too late apparently. These friends used the same, then rather experimental, tocolytic that I used when contractions began during my pregnancy with Samuel. My singleton, when I was being watched so closely for any signs of PTL & had a proactive, supportive doctor, stayed in until 40 weeks. Their twins, after a PTL diagnosis, made it to 32 weeks. Wow. Sometimes things really do work out. Sometimes medicine really can help along a miracle.

Congratulations, J&N. Welcome to the world, L&A. I love you all incredibly.

In an email recently, my friend asked me how you move from crisis mode to realizing and accepting the fact that your baby(ies) have arrived safely, and being happy. For some reason, the question reminded me of a question Catherine had for me after my last post, that I never responded to.

In that post, I said, “I think without realizing it, I often choose to stop the bad memories if they start to rise.” She asked, “How? Because I would really like to learn this trick.” I am no exemplar. If I didn’t have the husband, friends and family that I do, I’d have completely sunk after Natan died. I think a lot of us feel the same. I am not entirely sure I’m a fully functional, productive adult right now. I’m not sure I’m accomplishing what I want to in life, or am a great wife and parent. But I definitely, on regular days, can compartmentalize my strongest emotions. I am, at least, a happy and grateful person.

I think about the moment when I first realized that. I was in a course with one of my favorite college English professors. (Actually, they’re all my favorite. I’ve never felt anything less than adoration for my literature teachers at any level.) We had been having weeks and weeks of rain, ice, cold, and snow, as Massachusetts tends to have. It was an early class, and it had been so cold and miserable walking to class. As I entered the classroom, I noticed the icicles hanging from the eaves. For some reason, I was extraordinarily cranky. We were talking about Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I thought its meaning was simple and obvious, and I just wanted to go back to bed. After a little while, I looked out the window and saw that one of the icicles was smaller than it had been before. I felt such insane joy as I realized, or remembered, that Spring would come. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean very literally, I thought, “It’s going to be warmer when I leave this class than it was when I got here.” Then I noticed I could see a little light from the sun behind the clouds. I felt at that moment very insignificant and childlike in my excitement, and given the pressure I’d been putting on myself to be significant, that was a tremendous relief. I suddenly felt the last lines of Frost’s poem, “But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep,” very differently than I had when I first sat down in class. I was just so thankful that I was alive to see that sunshine and melting icicle. I felt like the miles and miles to go were a gift.

I have a lot more real pressure on me now, in my thirties, and far more experience with deep sadness in my life. But I’m not nearly as high strung or as anxious as I was back then. I guess I don’t really have an answer about how to release yourself from the chaos and fear, or how to keep grief from intruding at inconvenient moments (in part because I don’t always succeed myself). It’s almost certainly something more, but to me, when I succeed, it feels like I simply turn my head and see something different than what I saw before.

Robert Frost, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” (1923)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Unpredictably Predictable

That’s what Leroy called me (or my post) in the comments a few days back. I’ve been puzzling over what that means. I thought at first, dependable. Like the friend who always shows up, the employee who always works hard, and the student who always gets it done. But how would anyone in blogland know that’s me? And the online persona called Leroy seems friendly enough, so he would probably have kept any thought that I’m boring to himself.

As I walked to campus today to hide out in the library (too many business deals going on in my coffee shop these days — must be the weather), I wound my way around a few streets I don’t normally walk down. I saw a closed shop with a sign in the window, “Hurry! Last days Jan 1 – 3!” I thought, wow, how did they know? No, I don’t really believe the world works in a way that I could have seen that sign as a portent. For lots of people those days were the first days.

I have a good post planned for tomorrow. A Real. Original.

Apparitions still won’t leave me alone

I decided to listen to music while working today, and a particular song came on – a song I sang along to while pregnant (only if I was alone). Out of nowhere, I felt a fluttering kick sensation in my stomach. Just for a second, and then it was gone.

Natan, as Interpreted by [Blank & Blank] Memorial

So, this afternoon we had our third pointless meeting at the cemetery to discuss Natan’s gravestone. The first meeting we gave them a paper with his name and birth and death date on it, in English and Hebrew. The second meeting we got that paper back, with a drawing from the gravestone company. As written, it said nothing really, but phonetically, it read, “Belly, son, and will rise a year of pasture.” I nearly dissolved into giggles during a discussion of my son’s headstone. I couldn’t believe it. I spent the next twenty minutes rewriting the sheet to correspond with numbers assigned to Hebrew letters. Sure enough when we went back today, we had a brand new drawing, which said, “Belly, son, and will rise a year of pasture.” The owner, I’ll call her “Vidalia,” was apologetic, but kept repeating that she shouldn’t even have had us come back yet, since she hadn’t had the rabbi look at the sheet.

Of course, our rabbi is currently in Israel. I know Hebrew more than well enough to write my son’s name and birth date, so I told her I could check it. But then she said the rabbi of each congregation in town has to have the final word for their particular burial grounds to make sure it matches “their interpretation of Hebrew.” Huh? “Natan son of Joshua and Sara” is a pretty straightforward, everyday Hebrew phrase. And I certainly know how to spell our names! It’s an alphabet, Vidalia, and there’s really nothing to interpret. Of course, as she pointed out, she’s been in the cemetery business for twenty-one years, so she knows best. I, of course, only spent two years plus in Israel and pray regularly in Hebrew. But it is my first time burying a son. How would I know? She was rather insulting, actually, but what are we going to do? Pick up Natan and move?

That said, I realize it’s a good idea to have the rabbis check every gravestone for mistakes. I’m just annoyed that after three meetings, two drawings, and six weeks, Vidalia concludes it’s not our call anyway. Haggling over a headstone is not my idea of therapy.

World Upside Down

For now, I’ve decided to be honest when people ask how I’m doing. I’m not going to burden my local barista or library circulation desk employee with a more dramatic response than, “Fine, thank you.” I am well enough to buy a coffee or check out a book. But for now, friends and colleagues will get the truth. Fortunately, as a grad student, ABD, on a fellowship rather than teaching, I have the privilege of not going out. If the answer to, “How are you?” is going to be, “Bloody awful, thank you,” or, “Barely restraining wails of grief and horror, thanks,” I’ll just be staying in. But if it’s, “okay” or “not too badly,” I might as well say so. And apparently I’ll say it with a smile.

I’ve been reading blogs by other bereaved mothers. It’s a part of my quest to avoid surfing incessantly for information about pre-term labor, and instead to find supportive and engaging sources on the web. I was saddened but somehow encouraged to find that other women experience the feelings of guilt and shame that I do at times. Saddened because I wish no one else had to feel what I feel and because of course they’re not to blame and there’s no need for shame. But encouraged because, well, if other women who’ve done nothing wrong feel like I do, then probably I didn’t either.

It would be nice if we could really know what we’re responsible for in this world. I know what I’m responsible for not doing – violence, for example – and I know what I’m responsible for on a small scale – my cats, husband, taxes, etc., – but on a global scale it’s tougher. We all ask ourselves at some time, I’m sure, whether we ought to pursue a career that has as its explicit purpose helping the world. But it’s not so easy to define what that means.

I have no idea how I’m supposed to respond to suffering. Last year for example, when I was in Moscow, I saw disabled people neglected and mistreated in the most horrifying ways. On my ride to Moscow from the airport, I saw a legless man pushing himself through traffic on a dirty little cart – just a piece of plywood, really, with four wheels, only about 4 inches above the ground. Later, in St. Petersburg, I saw another man, with a terribly mangled face and only stumps for arms and legs dressed in dirty rags, leaned against a wall with a cardboard sign saying he was a veteran and asking for money. Perhaps most upsetting was when we witnessed a man with extremely bowed legs knocked down by a swinging door and people were just stepping over him. We saw him from a distance, and when we got there, only two young people could be bothered to help Josh help him up. I gave many of the disabled panhandlers money (I’ve never cared how beggars use it.), but later a Russian academic told me that disabled beggars are sometimes part of a slave market, and that what I give them will only be taken away. I don’t know if that’s any truer than the idea that all American homeless people will use what I give them for drugs. In fact, I have less knowledge about its accuracy, but it certainly didn’t make me wish I hadn’t given them anything. I do believe, though, that many Russian aid organizations are probably corrupt. So as an American who feels morally invested in disability rights and safety, what is my responsibility once I’m aware of this problem? Honestly, thus far I’ve done nothing. As one person, and not a very wealthy one at that, what am I supposed to do? I feel less wise about my place in the world now than I did ten years ago. I’m not even in control of what I’m responsible for – I could do nothing more than I did for Natan. I was responsible for his welfare, but in the end all I could do was bury him and make sure he is remembered and memorialized. That’s not at all what I wanted but I had no power to change it.

Being mother to a deceased child is surreal in many ways. But for me, I am most bemused because I believe that Natan’s soul has gone on to divine wisdom while I only feel more and more at a loss for understanding. So in that way, our son, a being we created and wanted to nurture, has surpassed us in development. And I am confused by this world turned upside down.

What are you really trying to say?

If you look at my links, you’ll see I’ve included a “political” section and if you check out this week’s “Top 10 Conservative Idiots” you’ll see that a congressman in Tennessee has proposed requiring death certificates to be issued for aborted fetuses. The author of Top 10, Earl G, makes enough of the ridiculousness of this proposal that I don’t really need to do more. But my non-sophisticated un-philosophical response is that it’s mean-spirited. I am quickly learning about fear and guilt associated with fertility and childbearing and it seems the Tennessee measure’s intent is to shame women. Unable to successfully criminalize them, this legislator wants to create a public record of women who have abortions.

It caused me to reflect on my treatment at the hospital. Overall, the nurses and doctors were profoundly kind and compassionate. Thankfully they don’t see a situation like ours every day, but even still, they do see tragedy often and still they were sincere in their empathy and grief. During my week in the hospital, I went through every possible emotion. I felt guilt, like I must have done something wrong despite having spent months preparing my body for pregnancy and then following every guideline for making it a healthy one. In weak moments I felt ashamed at my apparent inability to easily accomplish such a “natural” task. (So much for the Fit Pregnancy magazine and Bradley Method to Natural Childbirth book I happily purchased in November. My subsequent pregnancies will involve bed rest, a throng of medical professionals, and probably a C-section.) I was so upset with myself at times that I was shocked by the medical staff’s concern for me, as well as our baby. Over and over they expressed that my life was their first priority, and reassured me that I was a good mother. Even as we all confronted the death of Natan, as the passing of a real person, I was struck by the care and compassion they expressed for me.

With the miscarriage, however, it was different. None of the medical personnel mourned the baby as a real person with a soul and an identity, and neither actually did I. I thought I did at the time, and I would never reduce the experience of miscarriage to simply a loss of tissue. As I waited for the fetus to pass, having chosen not to get a D&C if it wasn’t absolutely necessary, I spoke to it, telling it I would always love it, but that it was time to move on. I was distraught over losing the pregnancy, but I didn’t know that fetus like I knew Natan. I passed an 8.5-week fetus, and honestly I couldn’t discern much of a human form. The idea of a death certificate would be bizarre – we wouldn’t even know the sex and as we know the law doesn’t accept intersex as a category.

But let’s not get into that debate. Ultimately I am trying to discern why the Tennessee proposal angers me as a mother and why I relate it to my feelings of inadequacy and guilt over Natan’s death. Some of it, I think, is appropriate. I was his mother and I loved him. I wanted him in this world, even more than I wanted myself. Of course I’m heartbroken over losing him, and of course I think about the events leading up to labor. Of course I wish something could have been done to save his life, and will always have some “what ifs” in mind.

The shame, however, I think is reflected in much of the way women, fertility, pregnancy, and babies are presented in media and conversation. Why did I see so many pictures of Reese Witherspoon’s daughter, Kate Hudson’s son, and other celebrity kids in the US magazine I paged through this morning at the gym? Why can I not turn on television news programs without hearing about missing children, pregnancy fads, or pedophilia? We are baby obsessed in popular culture (academics please forgive me for not footnoting that phrase) and I think it has very little to do with true compassion for children. It’s narcissism. I love Natan infinitely, but it wasn’t only my love for him that made me excited when people out in public could tell I was pregnant. I liked the attention. But not in a healthy way. In the same way pride in my athletic body in high school turned into an unhealthy obsession when that became difficult to maintain in college, I realized I was putting too much value on a popularly represented body image. And that body image was of a baby-making machine. I am certainly not saying that a pregnant body isn’t beautiful and that the sight of a pregnant woman shouldn’t make us happy or that we should not be concerned about the welfare of babies and children. But when we portray motherhood as the be all and end all of a woman’s life, we ultimately devalue life. We cheapen the experience of pregnancy by making it a universal commodity, something we all must do and have. And we say that if a woman cannot achieve it or does not want it, she has failed.

When we obsess over childhood and children, we create impossible norms. If you care about your children’s well being, do you subject them to constant scrutiny? Do you comment on everything they do, say, and wear? Do you make them play out their personal pain in front of everyone you know? If every moment of your every day is spent chronicling every detail of your children’s lives, are you really thinking first about them, or about yourself?

The Tennessee proposal reflects this shame. Death certificates for fetuses have nothing to do with individual children, with increasing their real chances for life or for improving its quality. It doesn’t even have anything to do with reducing the incidence of abortion. It has everything to do with portraying motherhood as the norm, and with ignoring diverse experience that complicates it.

In the Beginning

I begin this blog six weeks after the birth and death of our son, Natan. After learning this summer that we were expecting, my husband and I felt cautious exaltation. I’d had a first-trimester miscarriage so we were already aware of pregnancy’s precariousness. But when the threat of miscarriage passed with October’s arrival, we began to feel comfortable planning for and discussing our first child. Every doctor’s appointment, when we’d either see the baby’s heartbeat via ultrasound or hear it using the Doppler, our excitement and happiness increased.

I’d had a rough first trimester, with much nausea and exhaustion, but the second trimester was going well. At 19 weeks, I began to suffer from Braxton Hicks contractions. One ultrasound showed a “borderline” cervical length, but a follow-up exam showed the length was normal. Perhaps I had a dynamic cervix. My doctor told me not to exercise anymore, and to make sure to rest regularly during the day. We were somewhat reassured, but in any case I dramatically reduced my activity. 5 weeks passed. The Braxton Hicks (or so we think) continued, but stopped if I rested or changed position. They were not regular and a subsequent doctor’s appointment still showed no change.

Evening of December 26th, I didn’t feel well and my back begins to ache.

Morning, December 27th. I see blood. We rush to Labor and Delivery, and an exam shows I have completely effaced and I am 1cm dilated. Thus begins a week of hospital bed rest, and medication stops labor. All goes relatively well until contractions begin on the evening of January 2nd around 8pm. My blood pressure unexpectedly crashes and they can no longer safely administer medications. My water breaks at 6am, January 3rd, and they have to deliver immediately. In incredible pain, I begin to hallucinate and go in and out of consciousness. I babble in Hebrew and very broken Spanish. I have gone into shock. The baby has turned to breech position. In his 25th week, he is viable but so small, he moves too quickly through my body while my blood pressure and heart rate fluctuate dangerously. Things are happening too fast, and within minutes it is too late for a C-section. He becomes caught in the cord as he passes through the birth canal. 7 minutes after birth, our son is gone.

We hold him and name him, Natan. He is small, but perfectly formed. He has my nose and his father’s chin. His hair is dark. He is beautiful. I cover his eyes, and say a Hebrew prayer, the Shema. For now, I am not angry, but instead sad and completely unprepared.

Within just a few days time we had birthed and buried our firstborn son. In the first weeks following Natan’s birth and death, I struggled with a postpartum body. Achy breasts, exhaustion, residual contractions, but instead of struggling to balance that with the demands of a newborn, I had all the time in the world to sleep and recover.

6 weeks later, those symptoms have passed. I’m left with a non-pregnant self, but no baby to hold. The anger has arrived, and I wonder, “Where do we go from there? How do I forgive my body for betraying us?” I begin this blog to remember our son, and as a record of his yahrzeit year, our yr. of consolation.