Sunday, May 27, 2012

Right Where I Am: 13 years, 9 months, 21 days

Angie at Still Life With Circles came up with a brilliant idea last year: ask bereaved parents to write a post describing where they are now in their grief, whether it's been a matter of days, weeks, months, years, or even (gulp) decades since their loss.  An amazing 179 parents took part and shared their stories and their thoughts, me included

"Right Where I Am" is back for a second year. I have to admit, when I contemplated whether I should take part again, I wondered what I would have to say that would be different from what I wrote last year. In the early years, it seemed like the differences in how we felt from year to year were fairly noticeable (whenever we paused to take stock of such things). But how different could grief be at 13 (almost 14) years versus 12?

Of course, once I started writing, the words began to flow. A word here & there at first, then phrases & then complete thoughts began to tumble out of my head, through my fingers and onto the computer screen. I've been trying to block out how I might have felt last year, or two years or 12 years ago, and focus on what grief feels like for me, right now -- what things are standing out for me today as I write (if not yesterday or two weeks ago, etc.).

At one time, earlier in my grief, I felt like I was leading a double life, a secret life. There was the brave face I showed each day to the world -- and then there was my true, hidden, after-hours, behind-closed-doors life as Katie's mommy, an ever-grieving parent. I felt the difference keenly -- the sharp divide between my life before my pregnancy and life afterwards.

I still don't talk about Katie or my short-lived pregnancy or my infertility struggles much to anyone, at least, outside of my "real-life" & Internet friends who have also lost babies. The sense of "otherness" is still there (sometimes more acutely than others). I have come to realize that it probably always will be.

But overall, the pain is nowhere near as sharp. The lines have blurred. My grief, my daughter, my infertility -- these have all become a part of me, of who am -- the completeness of me.

I feel her absence differently than I once did. In those early days & years, I mourned my baby. When I thought of Katie, of missing Katie, it was a baby (my baby) that I mourned. For a long time, I found it hard to picture Katie beyond babyhood, long after she would have grown into a toddler, a pre-schooler and beyond. I still have problems seeing babies & pregnant women from time to time -- particularly on those days (and there have been a few of them lately...!) when it seems like Every. Other. Friggin'. Woman. I walk by has a pregnant belly. :p 

But these days, it's not pregnancy &/or babies that dominate my thoughts. These days, I find it easier to picture Katie as the 13-year-old she would have been (teenaged drama, tantrums & all)(dh continues to insist that HIS daughter would never behave in such a fashion...!). It was a shock, as I wrote earlier this year, to realize that she would have been graduating from junior high this year and heading into high school this fall, and that I would have been shopping for prom dresses and making manicure/pedicure appointments right about now. Right now, my Facebook feed seems to be full of pictures and photos of other Grade 8 & 9 students' graduations & proms (which have become almost as elaborate as their senior high school counterparts, it seems). 

Another babylost mom recently noted in a private online forum that she is having a difficult time as the mothers around her celebrate -- and mourn -- the end of their children's school year -- sad that their babies are growing up, "graduating from pre-school, kindergarten and so on. "I want SO badly to tell them that the saddest thing is never getting to see them grow at all," she says. Amen, sister.

I'm also catching glimmers of the young adult my daughter might have become. Most of my peers (friends, cousins, etc.), even if they got married around the same time as dh & me, began having their children long before dh & I ever began ttc. Today, many of those children are graduating from high school or university, getting married and having children of their own -- making my friends (big gulp) grandparents. My friends, once the mothers I wanted to be like, are now becoming the mothers of brides and grooms, and the grandmothers I will never be.

Our cultural expectation is that grief is like the flu -- something you "get over," fairly quickly. Those of us who mourn a loved one get a pass for a short time -- a few weeks or perhaps months -- but then we're expected to get back to "normal" (whatever that is).  I think about the American Psychiatric Association, which recently proposed amending its definition of clinical depression -- an abnormal psychiatric condition -- to include those mourning a loss that happened just TWO WEEKS AGO.  (See my post here, and follow the link to Dr. Joanne Cacciatore's blog -- she explains it all much better than I can...!) 

The lesson of "Right Where I Am," I think, is that the vast majority of us never "get over" our grief.  It is something we carry with us throughout our life. It becomes a part of us, who we are. And while that grief may not manifest itself in the same way or at the same level of intensity as the years go by -- it is real. And it is NORMAL. 

And we can survive and go on to lead happy and fulfilling lives -- even when they're not the lives we thought we would be leading -- even when there will always be someone missing from the picture.

And that, sad and difficult as the road has been at times, we wouldn't trade this journey. As Mrs. Spit said in her own "Right Where I Am" post for this year, "Still... I am glad he came."

Thank you, Angie, for encouraging us to explore this topic, again, and bringing us together on your blog.

You can read Angie's story and others -- and add your own -- here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Confessions of a power pop princess

In a recent post, I mentioned spending Voldemort Day hiding out at the movies -- "Dark Shadows," with Johnny Depp.  The '70s music on the soundtrack (including Alice Cooper, Donovan & the Carpenters)(and off -- Johnny Depp recites lyrics from Steve Miller's "The Joker" -- really!!) was one of the best things about the movie -- and, at the very end, as the credits started to scroll, I let out an exclamation of delight as some familiar chords began. I recognized the song immediately as "Go All the Way," probably the biggest hit by a '70s band called the Raspberries -- although I quickly realized this wasn't the Raspberries (superior) version, but a remake by another band (which turned out to be the Killers). 

The Raspberries' career was all too brief -- their first album was released in 1972 and by 1975, they had split up, acrimoniously -- and they didn't get a lot of respect at the time -- but they have maintained a cult following over the years, and today, they're considered by many to be among the all-time greatest power pop bands -- one of my favourite music genres. Their fans include Bruce Springsteen, and apparently there's a picture of John Lennon from the early 1970s wearing a Raspberries T-shirt. If you haven't heard of The Raspberries, you probably have heard their lead singer, Eric Carmen, in his later solo incarnation, or one of the many songs he has written that have been covered by other artists -- for example, Celine Dion ("All by Myself") or Shaun Cassidy ("That's Rock & Roll," "Hey Deanie").

I first remember hearing about the Raspberries when I was 11 or 12 in -- where else? -- the pages of Tiger Beat magazine. ; ) My interests at the time lay more in cover boys David Cassidy (Shaun's older stepbrother) and Donny Osmond ; ) -- but by high school, I owned the Raspberries greatest hits album (yes, vinyl -- the one pictured above), and later, Eric Carmen's "All by Myself" album. Then as now (influenced as I was, perhaps, by a childhood spent listening to the Beatles and other British Invasion groups), I was (& still am) a total sucker for a sharp, catchy guitar riff and tight harmonies. 

Hadn't thought about them in a long time -- but the movie got me curious, and I Googled them the other night & found their website. After 30 years, the band reunited in 2004 for a one-off concert in their hometown of Cleveland -- which sold out in four minutes (!).  This led to a string of other concerts over the next few years,  including one at the House of Blues on Sunset Strip in LA, which was recorded & released as a live album. There is a media player on their website with cuts from that album as well as some of their old stuff, and also video clips. I've been watching & listening the last few nights.

The band members are obviously older & greyer now too (in their 60s) -- and so, of course, are their fans (present company included :p) -- but they still sound great.  (The first line of the first song, "I Wanna Be With You," is "If we were older, we wouldn't have to be worried tonight..." & in the video clip, Carmen sings it & then grins, obviously realizing the irony of the words.) 

When I was younger, my friends & I used to snicker at Mick Jagger, who once famously proclaimed he would rather be dead than 40 and still singing "Satisfaction" -- and then continued doing so, well past 40. These days, he is pushing 70 and is STILL at it -- but I'm the one who has changed my tune.  If the Stones, the Raspberries, and other bands from the '60s & '70s still have the stamina & the chops to be doing what they did in their early 20s, & still doing it reasonably well, more power to them. It's great to see a great band not only get back together, but truly kick some butt while they are at it. ; ) I think of Bruce Springsteen, now 60+ and still doing knee slides across the stage; or the original lineup of one of my all-time favourite bands from my home province, the Guess Who, who reunited for the closing of the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg in 1999, and then toured together, still sounding fabulous.

Since rediscovering the Raspberries, I've been Googling & YouTubing other power pop bands from my younger years -- The Sweet, Cheap Trick (saw them twice), The Romantics, Joan Jett & Badfinger -- & I was playing albums (CDs) by The Bangles and The Knack while I was cleaning house this weekend, lol. ; ) I get kind of obsessive like that sometimes... something -- a song, a movie, a book -- piques my interest & I dive in & immerse myself in the subject for awhile. (This week, both Donna Summer & Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees passed away -- perhaps for my next post, I will wax nostalgic on my "Saturday Night Fever" phase, lol.)

I don't listen to music anywhere near as much as I once did. I'm not sure why. When I was a teenager, music wasn't as accessible as it is to kids today -- no iPods or even Walkmans back then (those came out when I was in university) -- but I seemed to be surrounded by music all the time. I would put a record on my parents' massive console stereo, plug in my (gargantuan) headphones & listen in as I did my homework -- or, if my parents were out of the house, turn up the volume & sing along. ; ) At night, I would lay in bed with my transistor radio by my side and earpiece in my ear, twisting the dial in search of my favourite songs or, on a clear night, stations from far-off places like Minneapolis and Chicago.   

In part, it's probably because it's harder to find new music that I like today. I've actually learned to appreciate the music of my mother's generation (who'da thought??)(in fact, she, my sister & I are going to see Tony Bennett when I'm home later this summer...!)... and I adore Green Day, Adele and Nora Jones, to name a few... but a lot of today's music (rap, hiphop) leaves me cold.  The artists & genres that I once listened to don't seem to get played on the radio much these days -- which is why dh & I mainly listen to classic rock or other boomer-geared stations (dh is amazed by my ability to sing along to songs I haven't heard in 35 years), & wind up buying CD versions of the same albums &  we had on vinyl & cassette (or new stuff by those same artists). The old songs and singers take me back to a time when life was simpler (although maybe it didn't seem like it at the time -- being as typically overly dramatic as a teenaged girl can be) -- but every song was invested with meaning and potential, and every song was connected to a memory.  

I can remember being at a Cheap Trick concert when I was about 17, at the height of their "Live at Budokan" fame.  Contact lenses had newly liberated me from my glasses, & after years of feeling like the proverbial ugly duckling, I was suddenly feeling like a swan. I can picture my outfit clearly:  a turquoise blue sleeveless blouse that tied up at the front, with turquoise blue earrings in the shape of little birds, a gift from my penpal in New Zealand. The area directly in front of the stage was crammed with people  (I suppose today they would call it a mosh pit?) & I managed to worm my way up to within a few feet of the stage. I found myself simultaneously carrying on flirtations with the extremely drunk teenaged boy standing next to me and the band's darkly handsome bass player, who at one point sang a song with the line "I know what I want and I know I can get it from you," while looking straight at me (at least, so it seemed to me).

Had he sent a roadie over with a backstage pass and an invitation to join him after the show, I would probably have passed out from shock -- then ran in the opposite direction, lol (and after all, my dad was waiting outside for me afterwards)(the eternal teenage excuse -- blame it on the parents...) -- but the thrill of (finally) being noticed, of exercising power over men, the promise of romance and more, of song lyrics coming true -- that was heady stuff.

And when I listen to those songs again, the music of my youth, I'm back there again, with all the endless promise of the future once again ahead of me.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

22 years: Home sweet home

Exactly 22 years ago today (22 YEARS!!), we moved into our house -- the Saturday of the Victoria Day weekend. We had taken possession of the house May 1st, but had spent a couple of weeks painting, getting the carpets cleaned, etc.

We had arranged to have our appliances delivered that day too, but we were running late & still at our midtown apartment -- we got a call at 8 a.m. that the truck was in our driveway & no one was home. Figures that they were early, we were probably their first delivery. We told them to leave the boxes in the driveway (!) & called dh's cousin who lives nearby & said, "Ummm, remember how you said you wanted neighbours...??" When we got to the house half an hour later, he was sitting in his car in the driveway, keeping watch over the boxes with a mug of coffee in his hand, lol. The guys (dh, cousin/neighbour, BIL & another cousin, as well as FIL) had to move them all into the house & hook them up themselves. We still have the fridge & stove, although we got a new washer & dryer a few years ago. 

I have written about our house before, here and here, for example. I never, ever thought we'd be here 22 years. It's the longest I have ever lived in one place (previous record: six years, in the town where I graduated from high school). I figured five years & we'd have a couple of kids & move on to something bigger. The best laid plans... One of the reasons we bought the house was the big back yard, with kids in mind -- & we're hardly ever out there. :(  We also bought it, in part, because cousin/neighbour & his family were close by. As I've written elsewhere, we inexplicably started drifring apart in the years after we lost Katie and no more babies came. We maybe see them once or twice a year at the same weddings & funerals we see everyone else at. Sad. :(

Sometimes I look at everything we've done with the house in 22 years & feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Sometimes, I look at all the things that need doing & updating & repairing -- and want to run away, lol. ; )  Occasionally, we think about moving -- somewhere with a smaller yard to keep up -- or a bungalow (especially on days like today when I'm going up & down stairs doing laundry & my knees start to creak) -- or a condo.  Sometimes I think something bigger/newer would still be nice, even if it's just the two of us -- newer houses, even the smaller ones, seem to have so many more bells & whistles these days.

And sometimes I look around me, at the familiar walls and neighbourhood -- and I am content.

For 22 years, for now, perhaps for many more years -- it's home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Post-Voldemort Day ramblings

  • (Voldemort Day = "The Day Which Shall Not Be Named."  You know the one...!!)
  • Dh & I took last week off work. Although you would think that would mean I had oodles of time to write, read & comment on blogs, it's been over a week since my last post here, and my Google Reader is back in the 1000+ unread posts territory. Again. :p 
  • It was a "staycation," taken mostly because (a) we both have a ton of holiday time that is rapidly approaching the "use it or lose it" point, & (b) dh was stressed at work & insisted he needed some time off. One morning, we got our wills done (something we have been postponing forever...) & went for brunch after our meeting with the lawyer. We did some decluttering and took a few boxes of stuff to Goodwill. Another day, we took the train into the city and spent the day wandering in & out of bookstores and around the Eaton Centre. And we slept in every day!!
  • Friday afternoon, dh flipped to Ellen DeGeneres, knowing I like her show. Cue the emcee in voiceover: "Today's show is all about moms! Moms!! MOMS!!!"  (I am not joking.) Next!!
  • Saturday we went to the wedding I mentioned in a recent post. All went well. Dh & I squeezed hands as the beaming parents walked with the bride down the aisle of the church, and again at the reception during the father-daughter dance -- but overall, it was not as emotionally stressful as her sister's wedding five years earlier.
  • Sunday, we hid out at the movies, as is our usual custom on Voldemort Day. ; ) "Dark Shadows" with Johnny Depp (who rarely disappoints). I remember the soap opera from my childhood, and of course I grew up in the 1960s & 1970s, so I thought it was a hoot & a half. : )
  • The Sunday previous, the first weekend of our vacation, we saw "The Avengers," which was also a lot of fun.
  • Adding to the fun of Sunday, Aunt Flo decided to show up. :p 
  • I went back to work yesterday, but woke up feeling so crappy this morning (thank you, AF) that I called in sick. Went back to bed -- and slept in until 9:20 a.m. Erk. Guess I needed it...!  Back to work (again) tomorrow.
  • Despite AF's presence, it has been a gorgeous, sunny day, and I have been sitting here on the couch with all the windows open. My house looks & feels totally different in the daytime, with the light streaming in. Another reason why I am looking forward to retirement...! 
  • Something else to look forward to (much sooner):  it's a long weekend coming up here in Canada (Victoria Day, the traditional kickoff to summer). : )
  • What's new with you?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

In the closet

No, the title isn't necessarily a comment on my public/private infertility status. ; )

I recently had some old negatives scanned, & came across some photos I took of my maternity wardrobe. These were taken in the fall of 2001 -- three years after the clothes had last been worn, not long after we made the decision not to return to fertility treatments, knowing they very likely would not be worn again.

I was newly enthralled with scrapbooking and finding new photo inspiration everywhere I turned. I had it my head to do a scrapbook for Katie (which is about as far as the idea has ever progressed....!). The lack of photos from my pregnancy bothered me -- still does. While people weren't taking pregnancy photos like they do today (never mind posting them on the Internet), I always thought I would keep a pregnancy journal, take some photos along the way.  I'm not sure why I didn't. I guess one reason is that I'm always the one behind the camera, taking photos of other people.  And perhaps on some level, I was trying to protect myself, not invest too much in this pregnancy. It seemed so tentative for so long (well, almost the entire pregnancy).

As a result, I have exactly two photos of myself pregnant -- one newly pregnant, holding congratulatory balloon bouquet; the other taken by our nephew at his birthday party, just a few days before I went for that fateful six-month ob-gyn appointment. (There is also a photo of me, a few weeks post-pregnancy, wearing one of my maternity T-shirts.)  It did occur to me that I needed to take some photos of myself pregnant -- but my parents were coming to visit in late August, & I planned to model some of my maternity clothes for my mom then, and have her take some photos she could show to my grandparents. The best laid plans... 

After Katie's stillbirth, I was sad that I didn't have any photos of myself in my pretty maternity clothes. To put them on after the fact & pose for pictures, though, seemed weird and... well... fake. Not to mention too, too sad to even think about.

But one day, perhaps after reading something in a scrapbooking magazine, I had the brilliant idea of hanging up each item on the bedroom door & taking a photo of each outfit. And, since this blog has become a pregnancy scrapbook of sorts ; ) I have shared those photos below.

I bought most of my maternity clothes at Thyme Maternity at the local mall, and also a few items from Elegant Expectations, a small boutique near my office, where I went shopping with another pregnant coworker (who had a baby girl that October). I still have the receipts & tags from most of them. : )

I had a few more blouses that were loaned to me by another coworker. I returned them to her on my first day back at work, & so don't have any photos of them.

I work in a corporate environment (think Wall Street). Everyday business casual hadn't yet taken off, so I bought a lot of pants, blouses and dresses I could wear at work.

Fashions back then not quite as snug/revealing as they are today... (the term "baby bump" had not yet been coined -- thank God!!). A couple of the dresses were ones regular dresses that I just bought in an extra large size.

They're all still hanging in my closet.


 This ivory blouse was one of my first maternity purchases. There's a pair of black or navy maternity pants underneath.

This was another one of my original purchases on that first trip to Thyme with my mom. I actually wound up not liking it very much. Navy silky fabric. I felt like I was in uniform, or maybe pajamas. :p  


A couple of basic cotton T shirts that served me well. I had a couple of tank tops & a few pairs of shorts (not photographed) too. I used to wear the shorts around the house while cleaning, post-pregnancy. They were so comfortable! ; )


A tank top.

My mother bought this denim-look dress for me (extra-large size) at a flea market when she came out to visit me shortly after I announced my pregnancy. I wore it the day she & I went to see "Titanic."

A long cotton dress, size XL, that I bought at Cotton Ginny (a now-defunct Canadian chain). Looked nice when worn with a blazer.

One of my favourite maternity blouses, with a pair of pants hanging underneath. Kind of a burlap-like fabric, oatmeal colour.

Same blouse, but in black, with tan pants hanging underneath.


Navy plaid blouse -- got a lot of wear out of this, with navy pants.

This blouse looks kind hideous here -- but it was actually quite pretty on me. It was probably one of my more expensive buys, from Elegant Expectations. Kind of a Chinese collar.

Loved this plum coloured dress;  wore it a lot to work, under a blazer. I planned to wear this to dh's cousin's engagement party in June, but it was so cold, I wound up wearing the oatmeal burlapy blouse with black pants & a black blazer.


Another dress from Elegant Expectations. I really didn't need another dress, but I loved it and it was on sale. I thought I might wear it to my baby shower in September (which never took place).


These two cotton twill floral print "onesies/rompers" were such fun to wear in the summer. I got a lot of use out of them.  

This is the outfit I wore for that fateful six-month appointment at Dr. Ob-gyn's. :( One of my favourites. The top was a rather thick, stretchy rib knit fabric. The pants were non-maternity wear, navy drawstring palazzo pants with tiny flowers on them that I bought in an extra-large size at Fairweather. I got a lot of wear out of them throughout my pregnancy, and I wore them for a long, long time after my pregnancy ended. They were soooo comfortable & cool to wear in the summer heat (& one of the few things I could wear after the pounds didn't drop off the way I had hoped. I finally had to throw them out when they developed holes in the inside thigh section, because they had worn so thin.


I wore this navy gingham dress to Katie's funeral. :(  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Great moms get promoted to GRANDMA"

As I mentioned in my last post about weddings, one of my high school girlfriends announced this past week on Facebook that her daughter is now engaged.

Tonight, another high school girlfriend had another announcement:  she & her husband (her high school sweetheart) will become grandparents later this year. I wasn't prepared for the stir of emotions I felt as each "congratulations!" commented popped up on the screen. I'm not sure what stung more -- all the "You will love being a grandparent, it's so great!" comments -- reminiscent of the comments I remember reading from my mother's friends in their Christmas cards to her, 14 years ago (AFTER Katie's stillbirth -- guess they hadn't heard the news...) -- or the stunned realization that many of them were being made by *other* people I went to high school with (but hadn't thought about in years) -- people who clearly had already crossed the Rubicon and are now grandparents themselves already. Dear Lord, I'm really not THAT  old, am I??

(Hmmm, I guess I am.)

Here I am, still and forever mourning the baby I lost 14 years ago, at 37, struggling to imagine her as a budding teenager -- while my peers have moved on from parenting tweens and teens to young adults, university students -- and now are moving on to an entirely different plane -- grandparenthood -- while I am... not. 

These aren't the first of my peers to have kids getting married or having babies. My cousin became a grandfather more than five years ago now, when he was 40 and the ink was barely dry on his daughter's high school graduation diploma. I learned last year that a good friend from high school is now a grandmother. Dh's cousin (the mother of the bride-to-be), younger than both of us, is a grandmother of one with another on the way shortly.  And of course, there's New Grandma Coworker at my office, still checking in almost daily on the phone to get the latest baby report. 

"Great moms get promoted to GRANDMA," I remember reading on a mug once. And wincing. I happen to think my own mom is pretty great. And I feel horribly guilty that she never got to enjoy the perks or recognition of grandmotherhood (even though she IS a grandma).

And while I never got to enjoy the perks or recognition that come with being an active parent, I have tried to be the best mom I can to my daughter, despite the limitations that death has placed on our relationship. 

But no matter how great a mom I am or might have been, I will never get promoted to Grandma. It's just one more loss, one more thing I am missing out on.

My life is pretty good most days... Being childless/free has its advantages. I am able to do a lot of things that my peers with kids can't.

But sometimes... well, you all know the rest...