Rowan’s Birth Story

Rowan was due on Aiden’s birthday.  I always loved and hated that.  It seemed so perfect that they would be almost exactly 4 years apart, no matter what.  I could also picture inevitably angsty teenage boys shouting “no one ever thinks about ME!!” and slamming doors during birthday week.  We intentionally planned Aiden’s birthday party a couple of weeks early to hopefully avoid the chance of my being in labor at that time.

Ironically, I spent Aiden’s early birthday party and the next couple of days in “prodromal labor”, which we intermittently thought might be the real deal.  Aiden’s birthday/Rowan’s due date came without incident, and we settled in to the notion that we’d have another late baby, and that the boys birthdays would hopefully be separated by a few days.

Continue reading Rowan’s Birth Story

3 Months – Dreaming of Rowan

I don’t ever dream of Rowan.  I didn’t when I was pregnant either – and during those months, I felt a little alarmed at the seeming lack of subconscious connection to my baby.

Now, I know better.  I mean, I actually wish I would  dream about him – kind of like being a teenager and believing the idea that if your last conscious thought was of your unsuspecting crush, that you would have magical dreams about them all night long.  I do that.  When I say I know better now, I mean that I understand that dreaming of something or not says nothing about where it fits in your soul. Continue reading 3 Months – Dreaming of Rowan

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

I actually didn’t know about this day until this morning, when our dear next door neighbor, who also experienced stillbirth at full term, posted about it on Facebook.  But alas, it turns out we have our own “holiday”, as she put it – a dismal, dreary kind of day that usually includes candlelit walks and I imagine, a fair amount of wine.

I don’t know if a day like today is more for those who have suffered such a loss, or for those who haven’t – a way to help them see, to know.   Some kinds of grief aren’t easily validated in our culture, and people instinctively rush the healing process, moving on for the sake of the world around them.  Many people never know about those around them who have lost a child, or at least never get a chance to acknowledge it. Continue reading Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Sharing & Comparing Grief

There are a lot of different kinds of loss, and a lot of different kinds of grief.  When you experience a loss, people come out of the woodwork, seeking connection, hoping to bring comfort.  As is human nature, the natural starting point is to share ones own experience, and so, in a time of pain, you become very aware of all the myriad layers of loss and suffering that are woven throughout the lives of those around you.

This is where we are most human – in our reaching for each other, our fumbling to find a way to ease each others pain, and in turn, our own.  As woefully poor as our culture is at embracing grief and loss, you still see the shining moments, the way people put aside their own spinning world to help you find your feet in yours. Continue reading Sharing & Comparing Grief

2 months ago

2 months ago, you changed our world.  We always knew you would, we just thought it would be in a different way.

We thought we would be rocking and shushing you to sleep at night and putting you to bed in our room where we would have to tiptoe and whisper and use our iPhone light to stumble around so we wouldn’t wake you.

We thought I’d be waking up with you several times a night and holding you to my breast as I stared at you, mesmerized, and tried to remember how long it took for Aiden to sleep through the night.

We thought we would be putting you in the carrier and walking Aiden to school together in the morning, enjoying the sunshine and shenanigans of your older brother.

We thought we would be playing with all the other babies at the park, watching you try to figure out the world around you.

We thought you would be losing your shit at Aiden’s swim lesson/the grocery store/the sight of mom’s back.

We thought we’d be gently teaching Aiden not to sit on your face anymore.

We thought you would be a great snuggler.

We thought we’d be taking turns holding you during the evening while we made it through the nightly chaos of dinner, playtime and bedtime.

We thought you would adore your big brother even though he was going to be an asshole to you sometimes/every day.

We thought we would be collapsing at the end of the day, exhausted, but so happy to be your mom and dad.

Instead, 2 months ago, you showed us that love and pain are sometimes inseparable.

You taught us that 9 months carrying you, 1 night bringing you into the world, and 6 hours holding you will never be enough – but it was still a gift.

Miss you so much, baby Rowan.

Back to School

This kid.  If you know him, you know he is something else.  Like, really something else.

He’s particular.  And articulate.  He’s particularly articulate about his particularities.  I shall call him…. particulate.


This is the kid whose clothing phases have included:

  • wearing only pajama pants tucked into long socks that could NOT slide down with rubber boots, oh and also socks on his hands.  This one was a doozy.
  • several layers of superhero shirts at the same time, regardless of temperature or obvious filth
  • wearing only pajama shirts during the day and only regular shirts at night time

He still wears his underwear backwards.  It results in a lot of wedgies, skidmarks and plumbers crack.   I let it go almost completely, although every now and again I mention that he might be more comfortable if he wears them the other way, to which he replies, “I will tomorrow”.

The reason for this preference?  He wants to be able to easily see the superhero emblazoned boldly on the back of his undies.  It really might actually be a smart move.  Too bad he has to make his mother crazy.

So, last week was back to school (preschool, technically).   Fortunately, other than the backwards undies, his only real clothing preference right now is that he’ll only wear shorts.  I mourn for the drawer full of super cute “little man” pants from h&m with buttons and suspenders and patches oh my, but I got smart and just bought a truckload of shorts with elastic waistbands from Target (we can talk about buying “local” and “sustainable” another day – when one has to buy shorts in bulk that will only be destroyed or outgrown in short order, one must learn to compromise).

We survived the week with a manageable number of wardrobe-related meltdowns and a somewhat less manageable number of summer-vacation-is-over-now-back-to-the-old-grind-related ones.

We knew that Back to School week was going to be hard.  Our second son, Rowan, was to be born this summer, and we had spent our pregnancy anticipating the commencement of preschool in the fall as a marker of normalcy and routine that would be welcome after the chaos of summer vacation and adjusting to a growing family.  When we lost our son in childbirth, our lives really fell into chaos.  I instinctively knew that Aiden’s first week back at school would be very difficult as I would be faced with the emptiness of each moment that Rowan was so eagerly expected to fill.

But what we didn’t count on was that returning to a routine with mom at the center would be such a challenge for Aiden.  He had spent the last several weeks with dad taking on the primary caregiver role, and a constant flow of family members in our home to help pick up the slack and keep him entertained throughout the day.

I told Chase, a few days before school started, that I was ready to go back to the routine, which meant waking up with Aiden in the morning, making breakfast, getting ready for school, etc.  The next morning, we resumed our old roles.

And basically, Aiden rejected me.

I didn’t expect it.  I wasn’t ready for it.  I was so hurt – it felt as if his reaction was more unfair than even our recent loss.  He didn’t want anything to do with me – would say hurtful things, be rude and aggressive, ignore me and constantly ask for his dad instead.

A great deal of reflection (and conversations with my therapist and close friends) have helped us to wade through the last couple of weeks and find each other again.  I’ll probably never understand exactly why he reacted this way.  But we’ve learned through experience the last few months that Aiden struggles with transition, and we were foolish not to sense that this would be a big one for him.

If we could do it again, we’d probably do things a little differently.  We’d probably make a more gradual transition, maybe having me get up in the mornings with the boys while they continued their routine for a few days and slowly taking over some of the tasks.  We’d probably talk to him about the upcoming changes a little more.

I’ve also learned that while yes, we need to find our daily rhythm and that certain things are non-negotiable (like manners or washing our hands), that the way back into his day and into his heart wasn’t by being the tyrant that had more expectations of him than all of his caregivers for the last few weeks combined.  It would be by gentleness, lots of time together, patience and a few extra snuggles at bedtime, and more than a little respect and space offered as recognition of the new way of life he’s needed to find in my semi-absence.

This week went better than last.  I’m proud of us, of him, of our whole family.  I think we’re going to make it.

We Lost the Baby

“We lost the baby”.

“He didn’t make it”.

“Our son didn’t survive childbirth”.

As far as I know, I’ve pretty much exhausted the list of possible people I could run into that wouldn’t know about Rowan.  The only remaining person I can think of, who I’m avoiding, is my chiropractor.  I even returned some books I had borrowed from her after hours, surreptitiously slipping them into the mail slot of the door.  Part of me doesn’t want to have the conversation, and it’s one of the ones I can control, unlike someone I randomly run into at the grocery store or park.  Another part of me doesn’t want to lose the ability to have that conversation, just one last time.

But the hardest part of the conversation is always how to say it.  I wish there were specific words that always worked – you could rehearse, saying them over and over again until they conveyed just the right thing, with minimal emotional backlash.  You could even be caught off guard and just rattle off the magic words, effortlessly.

The problem with this is that you can’t control how you will feel at the moment you are asked, “how’s the baby?!”  Well, the baby’s not good.  Not good at all, actually.  And thank you so much for asking, crazy park lady with TWO BABIES.  I’m so glad we’ve spent the last several months chasing our kids around the park and making occasional small talk so that you could ask me that question today.  I especially love the look of horror on your face and I’m glad we left the house today.

That’s the other problem – people’s reactions.   Half the time, that’s what you feel yourself bracing against, involuntarily – not the onslaught of memory and emotion, but the navigation of THEIR reaction.  Most people are sensitive, compassionate.  Even when so, they rarely know what to say and desperately try to find something.  They want to do something, to make it better.  There’s nothing they can do.

It helps when you are able to deliver the news in a pre-emptive and strategic way.  Chase learned this the hard way after calling his mom at 2:00 in the morning while I was in labor, and of course she thought he was calling to share good news.  To go crashing from that high is too far to fall all at once.  The rest of the calls he made that day were pre-empted by a text message that said, “are you up?  I need to talk to you, I have bad news”.   At least that way, the actual conversation begins with a somber expectancy, the ability to be intentional for both parties.

So, what do you actually say?

I can’t bring myself to say the words, “he’s dead”.  Not because it feels too final, I don’t think.  And not because I’m that crazy mother pushing an empty stroller (although don’t put it past me) or staring vacantly at babies or burping an imaginary child.  It’s because, like I wrote about in this post, right now I want to remember that he was born more than that he died.

I prefer to say “when Rowan was born” rather than “when Rowan died”.  Fortunately, the day he died and the day he was born are the same so I can avoid any logistical slip ups.   I don’t know how it sounds to people.  It just feels right to me, at least for now.

But we did lose the baby.

Which is Worse

A couple of hours before we were ready to leave the nurses asked us how we would prefer to part ways with Rowan.  The absurdity of this question will forever haunt me – as if there is a way I would “prefer” to say goodbye to my son, forever goodbye.

Truly horrible days, it seems, are all too often augmented by the horror of having to make decisions you aren’t prepared in any way to make.  Decisions that you know you may sink in or float on for all of your days.

We talked about it.  Like earlier decisions in the previous handful of hours, I thought about it in terms of “which will feel worse?”.  Not just now, but in 5 minutes, in 5 hours, in 5 years.  And how am I to really know?  I can only answer for right now.  But still, when you sit with it, if you know yourself, you can be reasonably sure.

Our options were to have them take him from us to the morgue, or to leave him in my hospital room bed when we left.  Truly, it was an easy choice.  If they take him, if they take my son, I will forever picture him naked on a cold table in the morgue.  I will always feel as though the last embrace he felt was that of a stranger.  But if we leave him, leave our son, here in this bed where he came to us, we can remember him that way.  As ours.

It’s just his body.  But in those early moments, when the body is all you know, it’s heavy on yours and too light in your arms, so fragile and yet strangely unbreakable, and you can’t part with it.  It must need you, the way it did until now, the way it was always supposed to.

Now, even just weeks later, I know the other parts of him, the parts that settle deep in my soul.  The parts, actually, that I knew before he even came to us, and they become and grow like memories.  The parts that don’t need a body to make a space in our world.

On The Day You Were Born

On the eve of your birth
word of your coming
passed from animal to animal
The reindeer told the Arctic terns,
who told the humpback whales,
who told the Pacific salmon,
who told the monarch butterflies,
who told the green turtles,
who told the European eel,
who told the busy garden warblers,
and the marvelous news migrated worldwide.

While you waited in darkness,
tiny knees curled to chin,
the Earth and her creatures
with the Sun and the Moon
all moved in their places,
each ready to greet you
the very first moment
of the first day you arrived.

On the day you were born
the round planet Earth
turned toward your morning sky,
whirling past darkness,
spinning the night into light.

On the day you were born
gravity’s strong pull
held you to the Earth
with a promise that you
would never float away…

while deep in space
the burning Sun
sent up towering flames,
lighting your sky
from dawn until dusk.

On the day you were born
the quiet Moon glowed
and offered to bring
a full, bright face, each month,
to your windowsill…

…while high above the North Pole,
Polaris, the glittering North Star,
stood still, shining silver light
into your night sky.

On the day you were born
the Moon pulled on the ocean below,
and, wave by wave,
a rising tide washed the beaches
clean for your footprints….

…while far out at sea
clouds swelled with water drops,
sailed to shore on a wind,
and rained you a welcome
across the Earth’s green lands.

On the day you were born
a forest of tall trees
collected the Sun’s light
in their leaves,
where, in silent mystery,
they made oxygen
for you to breathe…

…while close to your skin
and as high as the sky,
air rushed in and blew about,
invisibly protecting you
and all living things on Earth.

On the day you were born
the Earth turned, the Moon pulled,
the Sun flared, and, then, with a push,
you slipped out of the dark quiet
where suddenly you could hear…

…a circle of people singing with voices familiar and clear.
Welcoming to the spinning world, the people sang,
as they washed your new, tiny hands.
Welcome to the green Earth, the people sang
as they wrapped your wet, slippery body.
And as they held you close
they whispered into your open, curving ear,
We are so glad you’ve come!

On the Day You Were Born – by Debra Frasier

Aiden and I had our first visit to the library since Rowan died yesterday, and like many “firsts”, it was emotional.  It was inconvenient that it was preschool storytime, and so there were approximately 800 mothers (or nannies, let’s be honest, this is the Bay area) to witness my multiple meltdowns.  I cried at the babies, at all the bursting bellies, and then during the storytime because the storyteller sang a silly song in Spanish and all I could remember was being pregnant in Mexico and dreaming of our future together.

Aiden and I always take turns choosing books at the library – some to read there between bathroom breaks and newly found playmates, and some to take home.  As I was looking through some shelves, I found this book, “On The Day You Were Born”.  I usually try to find a good bedtime story to take home amongst all of the adventure stories, and so I thumbed through this one, thinking it might be a good candidate.

My heart stopped when I saw these words:

On the day you were born
gravity’s strong pull
held you to the Earth
with a promise that you
would never float away…

In the context of our recent loss, these words may almost seem a betrayal.  I’ve read the book several times today, and I’ve felt many ways about the words.  One part of me lashes out, feels like the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, didn’t flare, pull, turn.  Not for our son.  He didn’t hear the circle of song, pulling him home, familiar and clear.

But didn’t he?  Didn’t we labor into the wee hours of the morning, pushing against the encouragement to medicate, to ease our pain, knowing that this is how he would have come, that we needed to feel every moment with him fully?  Didn’t we call his name, willing him down, willing him into our arms, didn’t we hold each other and make promises we couldn’t keep?  Didn’t we believe, knowing the impossibility of our dream, seeing in each other enough strength to get us through each surge?  Wasn’t he just as beautiful, just as heavy, just as slick with life on my chest, even if mingled with our tears?

We sang our own song.  It’s all very painful, but not in the kind of way you want to forget.  I don’t know why he couldn’t stay.  But I think he still heard our song, calling him home.

And gravity keeps it’s promise.  There is something about the equality of this life, that we are all here, in it, together.  He is as tied to this earth as any of us are, both metaphorically and physically.  By being born, into all of the immutable laws of the universe, claimed by the harshest law earlier than most.  By being loved, held forever in a deep place that is the only real promise any of us can make.  He might not experience life the way we will, but he is still here with us.  He came, just like any of us came, and he will always be.

On the day you were born
gravity’s strong pull
held you to the Earth
with a promise that you
would never float away…