Tuesday, June 23, 2015

25 Weeks and Counting

My body is preparing for Virgil's arrival, getting ready to nourish him when he enters the outside world. I've already begun leaking milk for the baby who continues to grow and kick in my belly, which swells fuller by the day. I feel gratitude in this fullness but also fear. With each day that I feel Virgil's tangible presence I fall more in love with him, as my desire to meet him burgeons along with my belly. With that great love comes the great fear. What would I do if I lost my second son to death? How could I survive burying a second baby? How would I live? 

Time is drawing close to the gestational mile marker when Wendell died, a little over nine short (and long) months ago. It is hard to approach this mark. I fear that whatever silent hand took Wendell away will also steal Virgil away, secretly and without my knowledge. Yes, we have specialist doctors who are checking up on Virgil every other week and on the ultrasound machine we are able to watch his amazing flexibility as he stretches his leg out straight until his toes are practically touching his forehead. We can see his heart, all four chambers intact and working hard, pumping blood out to his body, his bones measuring what they should, his organs all intact and the size they need to be. So we have that reassurance twice a month but what if something happens in between ultrasounds? Or in spite of the fact that there is nothing obviously wrong? There were no warning signs to alert us that Wendell struggled, only his stillness to alert me that anything was not as it should be. And of course by that time it was far too late for anything to be done.

If you're the praying sort, keep us in your prayers as this time approaches. We don't know when Wendell actually died - it could have been any point between 26 and 28 weeks, so that two week period will be a tough one to walk through and it approaches quickly. This Sunday, June 28, marks 26 weeks of gestation for Virgil. It is heavy, feeling fear about my baby's survival. I hope we can breathe a little easier once the 28 mark passes and Virgil surpasses his brother Wendell in age.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Little Baby with a Big Name

For the first nineteen weeks and six days of this pregnancy I was entirely convinced that I was carrying a little girl in my womb. This pregnancy has been very physically similar to my pregnancy with Maggie, which was the main fuel for my speculation.

However, at nineteen weeks and six days we found out that I'm carrying a baby boy. Our second son. I panicked a little - we had a baby girl name all picked out and decided firmly on! But no boy name! Figuring out a boy name had been much more tricky. After the ultrasound (which also let us know that our baby is growing well, is a very bouncy fellow, and looks perfectly healthy) we ran down the list of boy names I've been compiling (most of which we have disagreed wholeheartedly about... I may always be a little sad that I can't name a son Gilbert after the beloved Gilbert Blythe). 

After much debate, Josh and I felt like there was a name we both felt happy with: Virgil Emerson. A big name for this little boy who is growing daily. 

I had already been leaning towards literary names for this baby if it was a boy. When we began discussing the name Virgil I did some internet research and reading up on the historic epic poet of the same name. I knew a little about the epic poem that Virgil is most famous for writing, The Aeneid, which chronicles the foundation of Rome through the hero Aeneas, but hadn't read much of it.  As I read through some of the more famous quotes from that poem, I was moved to tears with how much I identified with these words, spoken by Aeneas to his fearful and disheartened men:





The poet Virgil wrote the Aeneid about great battles and hundreds of people and wars being lost and won and cities being built and destroyed - but he also wrote it about a man's heroic quest, through great tumult and many seemingly insurmountable obstacles. That resonates with me so deeply. To me it made a lot of sense to name our second son after the great poet who wrote about such a great journey. These first twenty-four weeks of being pregnant with Virgil have been a mighty quest, a journey to do all in my power to care for him and nurture him and keep him safe. He himself is an intrepid little traveler, forging ahead through uncertain times towards an outcome that is not yet clear. We are only a little over halfway done with the journey of pregnancy but there may be trials ahead even after Virgil is born. We can't know the outcome of this pregnancy. We can only move ahead in courage and hope.

My hope is that we can look back on all these years that we've waited for a baby to bring home, all the months that I've carried babies in my womb (thirteen out of the last sixteen months, at this point), all the fears and scary moments and grief, and find that it has all been worth it and was a worthwhile journey.

So we've got a small son named Virgil, on his own quest to reach the shores of life in the outside world safely. I feel already that he's a brave, strong little soul with the tenacity and courage to reach us and join our family in life.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sewing projects, tiny kicks, and hope.

Anticipating this baby's arrival has been a beautiful thing. I've been teaching myself to sew the last few months and getting to make things for the baby to use (a changing pad cover, which the cat thinks is for her, a cozy fleece jumpsuit for chilly winter days, tiny hats to go on a tiny head) has been a wonderful way to look forward to October.


This baby has begun to make its presence known tangibly. I wondered a few times whether the sensations I felt could signal a baby rolling around in my uterus, but on Monday, May 4, I knew with certainty that the bump I felt was the baby. A thrill of excitement ran through me - hello, baby! You're in there and you're real!

Grief is not a linear journey by any means. I was amazed at how immediately healing it was to be pregnant again after losing Wendell, but looking back even to that wonderful day in early February when we found out that I'm carrying another baby, I realize that that day was four months to the day from Wendell's birth. Four months between losing my dear second baby, my first son, and learning that my third baby was growing inside me, the size of a grain of rice. Four months is not a long time, not in the lifespan of grief. And it isn't that my grief has disappeared, but it has become much more bearable. The new life inside me is not a replacement baby, but does offer a sweet balm of healing and holds the promise that my arms will be filled with a baby soon. I'm looking forward to the process of giving birth so much, not because I think it will be easy or picture perfect, but because I'm holding on to the massive hope that at the end of the hard work of labor I'll get to hold my living, breathing child in my arms and cry tears of joy over his or her safe arrival into this world. 

I couldn't say that I've "recovered" from Wendell's death, but I also never felt that his death devastated me. It was immensely painful and felt very wrong, as I knew intuitively that his proper place was with me, his mother, and that anything else was against how things should be. But I didn't feel broken from losing him, no matter how desperately I missed him.

Grief has come and gone in waves. I don't cry much anymore when I remember Wendell, but it happens at times I don't expect. We've tried a new faith community lately and the first couple times I attended I felt a sense of Wendell's presence and fought back tears the entire time. I couldn't say what brought it about, he was just very close to me at that time.

I feel that Wendell's life and death have become integrated into who I am, into my life's story. With some distance from the initial loss I can see the path that I've been on that is due to his life and I feel enormous gratitude and peace. I can see how my son has taught me so much. I'm a better person because he existed and was real. I feel a great sense of honor that I was privileged to be his mother and to hold him in my body for his entire life. He was a special little being, one that was a part of me yet separate and unique in his own way. I don't believe that it was any god's purpose for Wendell to die, that it was for a greater good, yet I do believe that his death was not in vain and that his life was not meaningless. It was sacred and precious and he touched people who never got to meet him.

That's something I hold onto. And in talking to friends, I can see how he affected lives beyond my own, leading to spiritual growth.

I was talking to a dear friend recently and realized that this pregnancy feels like it's stretched on forever because in a sense, it feels like I've been pregnant since last March. Like I've been gestating for 14 months already and have four and a half yet to go. In fact, when I added up the time, I've been pregnant for about eleven of the last fourteen months. No wonder it feels like this has been a long, long journey towards the hope of a baby in my arms. 

When I was pregnant with Wendell and eagerly awaiting his arrival, I dreamed of nighttime snuggles, the bond of breastfeeding, carrying him with me everywhere -- but those longings weren't able to be fulfilled with his birth. His birth brought an absence rather than the constant presence that I hoped for. It feels like I've been longing for my arms to be filled for over a year and makes it seem that this pregnancy has stretched much longer than the 20 weeks that have passed. The presence of a baby in my life has been long awaited for years now; we anticipated a baby's creation years before Wendell was conceived. In truth, the longing to meet a living child has been over three years in the making.

As this tiny, thirteen ounce baby bumps around inside me, beginning to make his or her presence known as it grows bigger and stronger by the day, I feel that much more excited to hold this baby in my arms and give it the mama love I've been growing for years now. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Body is Strong and Providing All That My Baby Needs


It's hard to grasp that I'm in the midst of - over a third of the way through! - my third pregnancy. My second pregnancy in less than a year. These last two babies sure did come back to back, to our surprise. Wendell took his sweet time in getting conceived - we waited for him to be created for well over two years - but this new baby decided to come along within two months. And we are so glad it happened that way. I can call myself the mama of three children now.

I've been amazed to be experiencing my most peaceful and calm pregnancy yet. This pregnancy is the one where I have the most reason to be fearful - with my first, Maggie arrived way ahead of schedule at 33 weeks, and of course Wendell didn't make it out safely into the world. I did have some fears early on in this pregnancy, having such a great awareness now of all that can and does go wrong in some pregnancies. After my first short doctor appointment a few weeks ago, I felt like I hit a turning point. At that appointment we got to hear the baby's heartbeat briefly, which was amazing, but something else came up that was concerning to me and the doctor did not do a good job of reassuring me. After working myself into a panic and spending a couple hours scouring the Internet for information, I came to this simple but profound epiphany: I did not want a pregnancy filled with fear and I was the one responsible for figuring out how to do that. I had to CHOOSE peace and trust over fear, had to make an active decision, because otherwise my hormones and fearful thoughts would be running rampant. 

Somehow that has made all the difference. A wonderful new friend suggested using affirmations, such as, "My body is strong and is providing all that my baby needs." Actively replacing the negative, fearful thoughts with positive, affirming ones has been huge. Do I know that these positive ideas do not always come true? Well, yes. Obviously things do not always work out as I'd like them to. Babies die and that has always been a part of the story of motherhood. But I can choose to believe that this pregnancy will be a different story for me than the story of Wendell. 

I'm choosing to live each day, one at a time, in immense gratitude and hope. Every day I touch my belly and say, "I am so grateful that my baby is growing inside me, safe and strong, and that my body is nourishing my baby." I can't predict what will happen at the end of this pregnancy, at 28 weeks or at 33 weeks or at 40 weeks. I don't know if I'll have preterm labor again or if I will lose another baby to stillbirth. I'm not guaranteed anything. But I do trust that whatever comes, I will be ok. My needs will be met. And I am thankful that today, as far as I know, my baby is growing well and I am doing fine. I can't look beyond today, I can only do what is right for today.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Miracle of Birth: Twin lambs

Mama Tastebud picked the most idyllic spot to give birth: a peaceful corner of the pasture, secluded and surrounded by pine trees. As the sun filtered down through the trees and we sat on the ground, we felt exceedingly grateful to have been present at such a sacred moment. And I've got to say, as a pregnant lady it's majorly inspiring to see the ease of animal births.

I've read that though birth is now a highly medicalized event in American culture, most modern midwives (most notably, the wonderful and deservedly famous Ina May Gaskin) believe that something like 98% of the time, women are perfectly capable of having a fully natural birth without interventions -- and I've heard almost exactly the same statistic from sheep farmers. The vast majority of sheep give birth to their lambs easily and without incident, only very occasionally needing a helping hand from the farmer. Inspiring, indeed!












Here's the birth video: it's not too bloody, but there's definitely some gooey things going on and it's no holds barred! I think it's amazing to see how easily baby number two just slipped right out. (Pardon the heavy breathing on the video -- I was excited, plus have been short of breath right from the beginning of this pregnancy!)





Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not just one, but TWO new additions to our farm




Last Friday we welcomed adorable newborn ewe lamb Tallulah to the farm. Maggie and I got to watch her birth out of our kitchen window, then rushed to get to meet her within her first minutes of life, while she was covered in gloop and being licked clean by her mama. 

It was a pretty special experience, but we had an even more exciting experience the day before Tallulah's birth: we found out that we'll have another new addition to the farm in October 2015. That's right.  I am pregnant again and all three of us are absolutely overwhelmed with excitement and joy. When I first saw the two lines on the pregnancy test I couldn't stop grinning. Maggie bounced off the walls the rest of the day, she was so thrilled. 

 I feel peace in embracing the joy of expecting this new member of our family, my third baby. Do I fear that this baby will leave us as Wendell did, that we will experience another stillbirth or miscarriage? The thought is in the back of my mind, of course, and in my experience pregnancy goes hand in hand with anxiety naturally anyway, but right now the most prominent feeling I have is peace. I know I can survive losing a baby, that my marriage can survive, that my daughter can survive. And really, not only survive, but come out stronger and wiser and more in touch with life and love and reality. 


I suppose sometime soon I need to share in this space about the process of Wendell's birth. I feel deeply that how he was born, the support I had, the thoroughly spiritual experience I had of laboring naturally with my husband at my side, the connection I had with my dear midwife Joanne, has very much informed how I feel now about Wendell's birth and death. I look back at our story and think, "I was not traumatized by this birth. I am not afraid to get pregnant and give birth again." I had a birth that I am proud of. 


There's a lot to be thankful for with this new baby, even as we continue to miss having Wendell here with us. It is a bittersweet joy because I know that if Wendell had been born healthy on his due date, we'd have a seven week old baby boy instead of a six week old new pregnancy. This new baby wouldn't exist if Wendell was alive. But that is okay, to feel those conflicting emotions. I don't feel a need to separate my emotions and am okay with whatever they need to be during this pregnancy: joy, grief, gratitude, peace, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger. Whatever emotions need to come will come and we will all get through them and be all the stronger for them.

For now, I'm basking in the joy of carrying new life... and keeping my fingers crossed that with this pregnancy I can avoid the intense morning sickness I had with Wendell. ;)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Little Homestead

Really, this is why I love homeschooling so much -- because a "school day" means reading one of my favorite childhood books in bed on a cold and rainy morning, snuggled under the warm comforter, still in our pajamas with the cat purring at our feet.

We've begun the Little House series of books, beginning with Little House in the Big Woods. This morning we read about Pa smoking venison in a dead hollow tree, a panther chasing Grandpa through the woods, and Laura and Mary helping Ma churn butter.

I've got plenty of wonderful activities and related projects planned for us - yes, of course we will be churning butter! Homeschool isn't always fun or easy, but it's often this enjoyable and I relish these moments spent together happily learning.







Thursday, January 8, 2015

Strong Girls and an Intention for the New Year

I've got a blue t-shirt that I inherited from Josh. Maggie has a matching shirt in red; Josh got it at a 5k run he and Maggie did last June, when I was about three months pregnant with Wendell.

The 5k was called "Strong Girls" and the logo is emblazoned on both the front and back of the shirt. I picked this shirt as the one to bring to the hospital as part of my "going home" outfit. I picked it because it was soft and loose-fitting and because I knew I'd need the reminder -- I am a Strong Girl. I can do hard things.

I picked that shirt out of my dresser only hours after the middle-of-the-night ultrasound that showed our son had no heartbeat. Earlier that morning, after a sleepless night, I sat in the bathtub blankly staring at the wall, wondering how I was going to get through what I knew I had to get through. How was I going to labor to deliver my dear son, knowing that there would be only silence when he entered the world? How could it be that I had to do this huge, wrenchingly sad thing? There was no one else who could go through the process for me. I would have to do it all myself. The only way through the dark valley was to walk through it.

I wore that Strong Girl shirt during the last moments I spent with my baby son, after the six hours that I labored without pain medication while Pitocin-induced contractions ripped through my body. I wore that Strong Girl shirt during the moments when I laid Wendell's body out on the bed and looked at every tiny part of his tiny self and kissed him and told him I loved him. I leaked milk all down the front as I kissed him and it seemed appropriate because I was so craving the ability to nurture him, to take care of him, even as I knew I had to prepare myself to get up and leave him. I wore that Strong Girl shirt as I handed his body to the nurse, walked down the hall out of the Maternity wing, and exited the hospital.

If I've learned anything this last year, it is this: I am a Strong Girl. I've borne two children in my life and have buried one. I've labored for six hours on Pitocin with no pain medication. I've learned to ask for help and to receive it when it is offered. I've learned to love myself, to have confidence in my own ability. I've produced milk and given almost 500 ounces to feed other mamas' infants. I've come out holding life as all the more precious. I've learned there is strength in weakness and that walking in vulnerability is a beautiful thing.

I went through most of my life thinking I was a failure, a flake. I didn't think I could follow through with anything. I felt doomed to destroying relationships, to shattering my own hopes. Early in life I had absorbed the message that I was inherently wrong at the core and no amount of self-help books or pep talks could wipe that away.

Last year, I began to believe something new: that I had inherent worth and goodness in my core. As the veil of self-hatred and self-doubt began to lift, I began to be able to tap into inner resources I never realized I had. I received love and support from other women who had been in the same dark place that I had and had come out on the other side. I was told over and over again, by their actions and words, that what happened in my life was important and that I was loved and cared for and worthy of good things. Worthy of health and a life lived fully and in the light.

As I've learned about self-care, I've seen how when I put myself first, I have so much more to give.

My intention for this year is simple in theory, yet complex in execution: To love myself more deeply. To love myself right where I am, not when I lose ten pounds or get up early every day or cook dinner every night. To love myself in all my beautiful, broken, imperfect humanity and embrace the wholeness that comes with authentic imperfection. To remember that I am a Strong Girl and capable of doing strong things.





Monday, January 5, 2015

Leaving 2014 Behind




A dear friend asked me this week how New Year's was for me. In truth, it wasn't easy. It isn't easy moving into a new year because this new year, 2015, is one in which Wendell won't be alive. He was alive and present in my life in 2014 and moving on from that year feels like moving on from him. I know I can't go back to when he was alive. I would if I could. Even so, it hurts to move forward.

I've got friends who had hard things, very hard things and great losses, happen in 2014. And some of them have said "good riddance" to 2014. And I understand that. But to me, 2014 was a precious year. The year my son was alive in my womb for seven months. The year I met him and saw his precious face and held him close. The year I said goodbye to him and saw his body buried in a little plastic box under about two feet of soil.

Wendell will always be a part of me, yes, a part of my life. He's in my heart forever. But he won't be a living part of my life for any year other than 2014. That's tough. It feels like one more layer of separation between me and him. As much as I want to move on, to be happy, and know that I honor Wendell's life and death in that way, I hate to feel I'm leaving him behind.

The same dear friend who read the words I texted her reminded me of what I said after having to leave Wendell's body with the nurses in the hospital -- that when I was pregnant, looking forward to being Wendell's mother, I never thought I would leave my baby. I never should have had to leave him. And the passing of time hurts in a similar way. I have to move on because I have no choice, in the same way that I had no choice but to leave his tiny body in the arms of the labor and delivery nurse at the hospital. I move on because it's what I have to do and I do it simply by doing it.  That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, though, and that I don't miss Wendell awfully.

With that said, I look back on 2014 and am grateful for it all -- the joy, the pain, the deepening appreciation for what I have and what I have lost. I am a better person because of the life of my small son. Last year is one I'll treasure always and as I move forward into this new year I have faith that it will be filled with beauty and tears of both joy and sadness. I welcome it all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Due Date


Tomorrow is Wendell's due date. I have it penciled in to my daily planner. Maggie wrote on her Littlest Petshop calendar, for the month of December, "WENDELL'S FRST BRTHDAY." 

But it won't be.

I'm in that strange place now where mostly, I'm ok. Really, I am functioning close to normalcy. No more nights of waking up sobbing or days of walking through an exhausted fog. The new difficulty to tackle is that it all seems normal - and this normal everyday life makes me question things. Did Wendell really exist? His birth seems like it was long ago, maybe even something that happened to someone else. Am I forgetting my baby? Already I don't think of him every minute or every hour. Will it eventually be that there are days at a time when I forget that I even had a beautiful little son who didn't survive?

I had rather a perfect encounter this week that showed me otherwise. I had been referred by a friend to a lady she said had been through a similar experience. When I called that lady, she told me about her son who she had lost two days after birth -- twenty-six years ago. In fact, this week was his birth day anniversary. As she spoke of her baby, she wept. Twenty-six years later, she wept remembering her long-gone son.

That was what I needed. Reassurance that never would I ever forget Wendell. 

He was a part of my body for seven months, fused together with my flesh. He will be a part of me always.

We haven't yet picked out a headstone for Wendell's tiny grave, which is just a few miles away in a community cemetery. That stone seems so final - a last hurdle to jump, one more time that I know I will cry in public in front of strangers, just as I sobbed in front of the kindly wheelchair-bound funeral director at the funeral home as he showed us the tiny, tiny white plastic coffin that would be Wendell's last resting place. 

How do you decide the words that will be carved into stone to tell the world what you felt about this tiny being who was there then gone? The words that keep coming back to me are "Always loved, never forgotten." Because that is the truest truth there is. I won't forget my son. Even if I'm not prostrate on the floor with grief every day, I will always be sad he isn't here with us, where he belongs.