Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another farewell...

I need to take a break from blogging for a while. This has been a terribly hard year, many ups and downs. It's not going to be good for me to look at everyone else's pregnancy and baby news on their blogs either. This hurt is running too deep for words.

I appreciate all of your messages of support. They were and are needed and I am very grateful. I hope you all understand my need for a time of silence. This blog will not go away. At some point I'll compile all of Andrew's posts into a page called "Andrew's Story" to complement the one about his brother.

Hug your children tonight. Call people you love. Thank God for your blessings.

I hope each and every one of you has a blessed Advent and Christmas.

with love,

Mat. Anna

Farewell for now...

May the memory of the infant Andrew be eternal!

Unanswerable Questions

God, where do you put this much pain?

Are there wells deep enough?

How many pieces of your heart can you rip out before it just stops?

How do you spend the rest of the day after you bury your baby?

What am I supposed to do with this tragedy that has been handed to me?

"How are you doing?"

What does the future hold?

How do you sing Memory Eternal when grief has stolen your voice away?

How do you tell people that you can't "fix" grief?

How long will it be before I hold my babies again?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Last day

It's 5:50 and I can't sleep.

I lay in bed and realized this is my last full day to be pregnant (sort of), perhaps ever. I don't want to forget to take a belly picture.

I'm terribly nervous about tomorrow. I'm going to write a birth plan that includes all of the things we want and DON'T want. We'll go over our requirement that the baby stays with us at all times. If someone really wants to see if she weighs one ounce or two (how much would she weigh, anyway?) then I'm ok with Father walking her down to wherever they keep the scale, but I think that's highly unlikely. If they do not accede to that requirement, then we will leave. That's a hard decision to make, but I don't make it lightly. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for the lab to "need" to check the baby in "for a few hours" or even five minutes.

So many things to do today. Liturgy this morning, of course. I'm not going into this ordeal tomorrow without having communed. I'll have Father anoint me tonight as well. My biggest priority today is making sure that everything is ready to go, lists made, bag packed, etc. We did find a basket that would work at Michael's yesterday but I have to line it and "pretty it up". I decided to take a small CD player and some Orthodox music to the hospital with us. I want to both avoid the silent room effect (I hate the TV) while hearing heart monitors and babies in the background and also want to not forget to focus where I need to be focusing.

One thing that will be travelling with us is an icon of St. Andrew. It's currently on the altar. Since this baby died on the feast of St. Andrew the name will either be Andrew or Andrea (ahnDRAYuh - I'm picky). Father asked them to rush the icon because it was for the burial of a child and they (the folks at Uncut Mountain) were most obliging. Not only that, but when it came, they put in an extra icon of St. Benedict as a Christmas present. I wrote them back to thank them and told them that what Father hadn't mentioned was that the child in question was our own, and we thanked them very much for their kindness.

The house is always quiet this early, but this morning it's preternaturally quiet. No quiet breathing in the other rooms and no Pickles climbing in bed with me. Friends offered to take the children from yesterday until Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on how things go, and we dropped them off yesterday. Last night I was naturally enough worrying about them, hoping they're happy, etc. I told myself that of course the children are fine. I'd trust these friends with my life and I've just given them five huge chunks of it. Worrying about them is something that I most definitely have no need of doing. Then I had a thought: I'm trusting friends who do love my children with them and telling myself not to worry. How on earth could I worry about my two children who are in Heaven and much better off than any of us? Sigh. It just comes down to missing them, not worrying I guess.

Sigh again. I mentally can't get away from tomorrow. Many of you over the years have praised my "pro-life witness" and boy, if this isn't pro-life witness - insisting that my baby of 13 weeks stay with me, then go home dressed in a tiny gown, in the face of people who would call her medical waste (not an exaggeration - true) - then I don't know what is.* I would appreciate your prayers that things go smoothly tomorrow.

That brings me to one more thing: gratitude. I can't believe the number of you who have done your detective work to find out my address and sent letters and cards, many handmade. You will never know how many times those cards (something has arrived every day) have lifted me out of a dark place. And only two of you have I ever met "in real life". I'm especially grateful for those of you who have taken the time to tell me, whether by card or email, how something I've written about this baby or Innocent has helped them or a friend or family member.* Knowing that good things have come from my children's deaths is bittersweet, but that's much better than bitter. I certainly don't deserve any of this, but I'm very grateful. We may have to get a bigger memory box or two for this baby if too many more cards come! (:

Given how much of a talker (writer) I am, I'm sure I'll post again before tomorrow morning. But I will definitely post when we get back from the hospital. I'm hoping to have a "bloggable" picture to post as well. Thank you all again for all of your love and prayers.

-Mat. Anna

*After some reflection I realized this all sounded rather self-aggrandizing. What I should say more clearly, is that I've been able to see how God has used bad situations for good. I'm honestly not trying to toot my own horn.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Christmas Story

I went in the thrift store Tuesday looking for a basket I could line to put my baby in. I didn't find one. I looked around to see if they had a nice box but they didn't. I went to the store afterward and got a casket and memory box. While I was at the thrift store I noticed they had a number of Christmas things out, notably some Christmas village houses, the kind with the light inside. I was fairly despondent so I didn't think about it too much.

Today we were going to be setting up the Christmas tree and putting the lights on. I had given some thought to how I wanted to do some of the decorating. I don't know how much sense it makes but I wanted to deliberately do something different. Even though we didn't have either of these babies for a Christmas with us, I had mentally worked them in and felt the need to change things around so I wasn't thinking so much about how they weren't here with us. You may remember the mantle I did last year. I suddenly thought about those village pieces and remembered that we had one already. What if I got a few more and did a little village on the mantle? Father said to go back to the store and get them. They were only a few dollars each anyway.

This afternoon I went back to the thrift store. I immediately picked up two buildings that appeared to be in working order. After glancing around I realized that the staff had put out a lot more Christmas stuff since Tuesday. I decided to have a look around. I found two old-fashioned china St. Nicholas figures and put them with the houses. Then I saw it.

A few rows over I saw the back of a stable. It looked just like the one we had when I was growing up. I held my breath and walked around to the other side. It was. It was almost exactly like the nativity stable I remembered. I was just beginning to be sorry there were no figures when my eyes caught sight of a small, decrepit cardboard box next to the stable. I looked inside. Wrapped in fragile brown paper were the figures. I carefully picked through them and realized the whole set was there. And they looked just like the ones we had growing up. I checked the price. Four dollars. I nearly cried right there in the store.

I got it, of course. I brought it home and showed Father. We both thought it was a Fontanini set - the base of each piece said "Italy". Father checked online and it is indeed a Fontanini, probably from the 1960's. How it got into the thrift store I'll never know. They had just put it out and the woman said she hadn't even looked through the box to see if all the pieces were there.

I've wanted one of these for years. We priced them last year but they start at at least $100. The overwhelming feeling I had, standing in the store (irrational or not) was that this was the babies' Christmas present to me. I wept when I got home and put all the pieces out. The only thing I had wanted for Christmas this year I couldn't have. But they gave me a Nativity scene.

Merry Christmas in Heaven, sweethearts.

Humility, Love and the Incarnation

I am so humbled by the number of you who have sent cards and letters, emails, left comments, prayed. I feel like there's some sort of misconception that I'm this nice person, a prayerful, holy person, and I'm so definitely not. I joke that I'm so far from being on the bottom rung of the ladder of St. John, I haven't even found the ladder yet. I know you all are my betters. But if pitiful, sinful people weren't here on Earth then there would be no one for the rest of you to pray for. It's hard for me to let people do for me, even to pray for me, but I have no choice right now. There are a few times in our lives when we are so beaten down that we have no choice but to let others lift us back up. It's humiliating, in the theological sense.

This is tangential, but read Nonna's latest post please. She's so much more eloquent than I and she expresses things so well. An excerpt:
Christ’s Love is a suffering love… it is compassionate – with passion (in the ancient sense) – it suffers with others, and so bears their burdens. I’ve said it before… Love hurts. It hurts to see people hungry, to see them in pain, to see them dying… When we love someone our hearts are laid bare for them. They will hurt us – whether by words, or deeds (or non-deeds) – by dying, or by suffering in front of us – by misunderstandings, or disagreements – by joys unshared, or expectations unmet… in some way we will be hurt. And that is when we can become more like Christ… it is then our life can live out the truth, “I must decrease, and He must increase.” Real love remembers the Truth beyond the pain… and it realizes the pain is an integral part of the joy. Love is the ultimate “bright-sadness” – as the times of the Fasts teach us…

So, how do we learn this love? We don’t… we live it. And we take the time to stop, to remember… we are to love everyone. Not just those who love us… We are to love the cold-hearted, the uncaring… we must remember that we need them. They are the ones who make us more and more like the One Who is Love.
Thinking about Christmas, the baby in the manger, has made me bitter a few times in the last week. My baby will be in the cold ground by then. But the honest reality of that incarnation is terrible. One of the gifts of the magi was myrrh. The Theotokos, in all of the icons depicting her with the infant Christ, is sad. The spear has already pierced her heart. As mothers we must remember that spear any time a child is conceived. Because on this earth, all life ends in death. But all death ends in life everlasting.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


It's striking how many metaphors there are for grief. Storms, tossing oceans, valleys, mountains, roller coasters. One line from the Orthodox Church's memorial services keeps coming back to mind: "You who have trod the narrow way of grief..."
You who have trod the narrow way of grief;
All you who, in life have taken upon you the Cross as a yoke,
And followed Me by faith,
Draw near, enjoy the honours and celestial crowns I have prepared for you.
After Innocent died I couldn't help feeling rather shunted aside by the Church. Because my child had not been baptised he would not have a funeral, would not have panikhidas celebrated in church, would not be commemorated among the dead during services. I did come to terms with that and explained it here. The one thing that never failed to comfort me was the set of verses from the memorial hymn above. There have been many memorial services celebrated since Innocent died and at each one I looked forward to this verse. I felt like the Church was comforting ME specifically, acknowledging the pain that I had suffered and still suffer, granting it weight. That in some way there was purpose to the grief I suffered.

I'm feeling that once again. Next week we will lay yet another little still form in the ground. It's not spring this time. Pascha is not just over the horizon. The only flowers I can gather from the yard are camellias which aren't pressable (with the exception of the certifiably insane hydrangea in the side yard which has persisted in blooming this week despite weather to the contrary). Once again I will be whispering my baby's name during the litany of the faithful when it comes time to list the departed, since my babies aren't technically included.

God hears the cries of my heart. He weeps with me. I happened to read this the night we found out our baby had departed:
[Aslan has asked Digory if he will help rid Narnia of the evil that Digory (unwittingly) brought into it.]

"Yes," said Digory. He had had for a second some wild idea of saying, "I'll try to help you if you'll promise to help my Mother," but he realized in time that the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with.  But when he had said "Yes," he thought of his Mother, and he thought of the great hopes he had had, and how they were all dying away, and a lump came in his throat and tears in his eyes, and he blurted out:

"But please, please - won't you - can't you give me something that will cure Mother?"  Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life.  For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
--C.S.Lewis, The Magician's Nephew
As much as I love my babies, God loves them infinitely more. I can't understand this, just as I can't understand why they are in Heaven and not with me. I can't understand lots of things. But I mostly accept that I don't have to understand, that God doesn't need me to understand, but to endure and trust.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

4 AM

It's dark at 4 AM.

At 8 AM I remember my child is in heaven. At 4 AM I wonder where she is. I wonder where Innocent is. I worry about them crying and not being held. My heart aches. My useless, empty arms ache.

I fell asleep reading last night at 8:00. Father stayed awake as long as he could, afraid I would wake up alone. When I woke up, I wasn't sleepy. I said the Jesus prayer. I remembered the wonderful woman in Tasmania who promised to keep a candle burning all day every day there until I delivered my baby, because it's nighttime here when it's daytime there. That way, if I woke up in the middle of the night I would feel someone praying. It's true. It was comforting.

At 4:30 I hunted around and found my book light and tried to read. Horrible grief sat at my shoulder, tapping insistently as I read frantically. There's only so long you can push it away as it gnaws into your spine.

Before 5:00 I gave up and cried. Father woke up.

Thank you, God, for my husband, who held me while I cried, who didn't offer idle rationalizations, who said, "I know," when I cried, "It isn't fair!" Who assured me my babies were happy, had never known one moment of fear, pain, hunger, sadness. I know that, I just need to hear it. A mother's heart is hard to comfort.

I cried myself out by dawn. Father went back to sleep. I read about children freezing on the prairie in 1888 in one of the worst blizzards in history. Pickles got me up to get him breakfast after 8:00.

My eyes are burning. They haven't felt right in 2 days. Someone changed the calendar from November to December in the kitchen. I feel like I fell through a time-warp. I read the emails accumulated from last night. I have so many to respond to. I'm grateful for the time each person spent sending them and leaving comments. I remind myself when I note that I've lost blog subscribers since Thursday that some people don't have any more room for pain in their life. I can understand that. I don't feel like I have room myself.

The day stretches out like eternity. Will I eat today? I don't know. Father will probably spoon something in if I refuse. He was alarmed when he realized how little I had to drink yesterday and the day before. The knowledge that I could have caffeine out the wazoo is so depressing.

I will probably make the blankets today. I made the gown and bonnet yesterday, can make the blankets today and then...a casket? What am I going to do for the next 9 days? I can't make diapers, I can't crochet a layette. I can't get a bassinet ready.

Waiting is so hard. But I would have cheerfully waited for a different outcome, not this.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Something pretty

I so badly want this baby to have something pretty. I feel like I did the best I could for Innocent under the circumstances. I was so worried about having an intact body (and not having to go through surgery) that I didn't do all I could for him. I don't really feel guilt; like I said, I did the best I could. But there were many times I thought "next time I would do this" even while acknowledging that assuming I would lose another child was rather morbid. I guess you could say I'm benefiting from experience.

I had assumed that babies this small were impossible to dress so I didn't attempt to make anything for Innocent. Afterward, I was hurt that I had to lay him in his grave "undressed". I've thought about it since and looked at his pictures many times. I decided that I would at least make the attempt to dress this baby.

The flannel gown opens in back and the sleeves are short and wide enough so that I shouldn't damage her arms trying to get them in. The bonnet is fairly simple. I was afraid to try to make a stocking-type cap because the size would have to really be right and I didn't want to damage her head.

I'll take these to the hospital and dress her after she's born. Everything is white, like a baptismal gown, so if this is a boy it will be fine.

I took the pictures on some of the flannel I'm going to use to make a little blanket.

It really helps to be able to do something for my baby.

Day 2

I appreciate all of the prayers and expressions of sympathy. I can't wake up from this nightmare. I'm trying to internalize what happened but it's so huge and horrible it just simply doesn't fit.

I'm making a "to do" list to keep me sane because I'm a list-maker.

1. Order icon of St. Andrew. (done)
2. Make measurement sketch from photos of Innocent - they will be the same size.
3. Make tiny white shroud and cap.
4. Make small flannel blanket in pink (and blue just in case).
5. Shop for casket.
6. Modify casket.
7. Arrange childcare for when in hospital. (friend working on it)
8. Pack hospital bag.
9. Make list of everything I want to do with the baby so I don't forget in my fogginess.

I've decided that I'm not going to let the hospital staff take the baby away out of sight even for a minute. I just can't trust that they won't do something to her or not let me have her back. What will they do, arrest me? Personal feelings simply don't come into play. It just seems much wiser to hold her and not let anyone take her away.

I can't forget that this is Advent. I can't forget that the feast of St. Nicholas is next week. My five living children will have a happy Christmas if it kills me. The reason I am going with the induction is so I don't risk miscarrying on Christmas eve.

I'm sorry this is so incoherent. I'm grateful for all of you, for your support and prayers. I want to let you know what's going on.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

There's no other way to put this. I couldn't find a heartbeat this morning with the doppler. We drove up the interstate to the hospital and my doctor confirmed with an ultrasound that the baby died. I last got a heartbeat, a nice strong one, late Tuesday night, so that means the baby almost certainly died yesterday, the feast of St. Andrew. I'm in shock. I feel like this can't possibly be happening again. My two babies died at the same age. In the event that I haven't delivered by then I have a scheduled induction Monday the 12th. They have assured me we'll be able to take the baby home to bury.

Please keep us all in your prayers. This is so hard.