Our Third Child

August 3rd, 2011

I haven’t told many people, and I didn’t want to for a while. It was a secret I wanted to hold close. And people don’t talk much about these things anyway.

I had a miscarriage. Nick was home on leave for three weeks. For the second time in our marriage that I know of, I was pregnant, and we lost a baby.

I thought: No. No more loss.

It’s so different this time. I feel like I actually know what is going on, that I’m psychically aware. But at the same time, I am more confused. And what I’m thinking about the most is how small and mysterious our baby was. So so so small. When I was younger and miscarried, I felt impelled to name the child. Mary John. And this baby? I just don’t want to.

I am always saying people grieve in different ways, but in the past I had assumed that it would be almost universally good for someone to name a lost baby. And it does good for people. It counteracts a collective silence about miscarriage. It helps us name not only our children, but our grief.

But right now, at least for the time being, I have a confusing relationship with this child we have lost. I feel like she’s so mysterious that I can’t claim her with a name. I can’t claim her actuality or potentiality or pretend like she is really mine. This is what I’m feeling. I don’t like it. I want to feel sure about her, to embrace her and call her mine.

That’s what hurts. She’s not mine. Children never are, whether they are born alive or die early like uncut gems buried in the earth. Whether they are biological or adopted, whether they are close to you or independent.

Our joy, our great sacrifice, what we cannot help but do, is to love them anyhow.

Happy Christmastide! This is only the first day of Christmas, which lasts from Christmas Day until Epiphany. Most of you know that but might have never acted on the knowledge. This year, I’m going to have Christmas for twelve straight days. Why? First, because I “need a little Christmas,” to quote the famous song I just heard on the Glee Christmas CD. Things are not easy with Nick in Afghanistan, and I can use as much holiday cheer as I can scrounge up. Second, because I haven’t even put the lights or ornaments on my tiny tree.

It always makes me sad, gives me a physical pain in my chest, when I see Christmas trees out on curbs on December 26th. It seems too sudden, almost scandalous to me. Like throwing a guest out of your house because they’ve done all they can do for you. And they’re a little messy. I think a lot of people celebrate most of their Christmas before the actual day, so I know Christmas ending on the 26th seems reasonable. But I’d like to stay with this season for a while. From Christ’s birth to the visitation of the wise men. A string of days that carry us from one year to the next, from an old life to a new one.

My brother died just before Christmas nine years ago, on December 19th, 2001. We went from singing Salve Regina over the gaping hole of his grave to decorating a tree and weeping our way through Christmas day. Then I went back to school as if nothing had happened. I got there right after the new year to run the cappuccino bar while almost all the other students were still at home with their families. Faculty, staff, and graduate students came by every day, cheerfully ordered espresso or what-not, and greeted me with “I hope your Christmas was good!”

Then, I worked for a whole semester and made straight A’s and remember nothing about it except for weeping several times a week in the bathroom on the 3rd floor of the building where the English Department is. And I remember someone saying this to me: “At least it happened over the Christmas break. So you had some time to recover.”


Let me tell you a secret, if you’ve never lost someone. Recovery is impossible. Recovery is regaining something that was lost. Or resetting to a normal state, a previous state of wholeness or health or whatever it may be. You don’t recover from loss. You are changed, wrenched, crucified by loss. Always transformed. Sometimes resurrected. But you don’t recover.

And yet. Nine years later, I am seeing a hint of joy, the loveliness of snow, the deep and rich colors of the winter holy days, and for the first time in almost a decade, I am not crying at Christmas.

So I’m going to celebrate all of these days. Going to try to do things with Ian to count out like rosary beads, like precious stones, these first days of a silent, small, peace.

There is something I can’t say.

My brother’s name is John.

Really, I call him Johnny. His wife said he doesn’t like it, but I don’t know. I still call him Johnny. I can’t stop.

I haven’t seen him in nine years. He was thirty; I was twenty-one. The last time I saw him, we didn’t talk much. It was at Jeanne’s apartment in Irving. I felt like Johnny was depressed when I saw him.

There is something I can’t say.

That was a lie. I always misremember the last time I saw him. I did see him at Jeanne’s house that night. But my oldest sister got married later that year, in August. We spent days together. We must have hugged and talked and laughed, and laughed more. There are pictures to prove it. But I don’t remember it.

There is something I can’t say.

Johnny. You were thirty, I was twenty-one. Tomorrow, I am turning thirty. How do I live in a world where you are not my older brother? How do I let you go your way?

There is something I can’t stop saying.

My brother is dead. My brother is dead. My brother is dead.

The last time I saw him, we didn’t talk. I held his hand. His hand was white. There was a hole in it. They had tried to cover up the hole, or the wound. I don’t know if it was a hole, or a broken bone, or…I don’t know.

Tomorrow I am turning thirty.


October 15th, 2010

*written January 2009*

My doctor (the only one I’ve ever trusted in my life) told me I need to have surgery for endometriosis. That was a year ago, and I finally decided I should do it.

There was this part of me that didn’t want to. I knew it would help me feel better, help a lot of my pain. But for so long I wondered and wondered and wondered if I would get pregnant…that monthly cycle of anticipation and disappointment, surface nonchalance and sudden despair, constantly being pulled back from the everyday into the realm of what my body cannot do.

I didn’t want to go back there. The adoption process has been kind of difficult, but so healing as well. Just knowing that even if there are disappointments or failed matches on the way, we will have a child to love. To love us. It was so good to move on, after years of berating my body for not doing what it’s supposed to.

Not that the grief associated with infertility goes away. But like any grief, it gets easier with time. It’s part of my history, the history of my marriage. It’s part of my identity. My everyday, here-I-am. But not an everyday, terrible, heavy stone I carry in my heart.

So that’s why I waffled and hemmed and hawed for so long about this surgery. Despite the fact that it’s principally about making me healthier, it also opens up the possibility (or the thought of the possibility) that my wacky hormones will take a turn for the better, reverse themselves, start doing what nature intended. Maybe I’d even ovulate!!

I finally scheduled the surgery. With a surgeon named Dr. Philosophe. How could I argue about being operated on by someone with a name like that? I loved him. As much as you can love a surgeon. They do cut you open. Cut things out of you. And he cut A LOT of things out of me.

I woke up from the surgery crying. Just not knowing where I was, not able to see. I hear this voice asking me why I’m crying and like a child, a very little child I call out Will you please hold my hand?

And someone did. I couldn’t see who. My vision was blurry for so long. She squeezed my hand and I hit hard against the reality that I had been unconscious, vulnerable, that I didn’t know what had happened to my body. Not really. I couldn’t ever, really. All I remember is taking a pill, a moment in the operating room hearing an 80′s song on the radio, then waking up sobbing.

Of course the morphine helped with that. Later on I was singing the praises of my life and babbling to my sisters over the phone about how happy I am and just so sure everything will work out. Everything’s just wonderful. If I have all adopted chidlren or some biological and some adopted, it’s all okay. I’m okay now.

As if a surgery could fix my psyche. I heard Nick tell them over the phone, She’s acting VERY happy–must be the morphine. And I remember thinking, Now why is he saying that?

For the five days after the surgery, Nick had to be out of town. So my sister-in-law took care of me. I laid on my couch for about 23.5 hours a day, sleeping and thinking and sleeping. Remembering when I had my wisdom teeth out. I remember sleeping on the couch then, and my younger brother coming out in the middle of the night every three hours to make sure I took my pain medication. Remember thinking how sweet that was. And how sweet my sister in law was, bringing me tea when I could finally drink, soup when I could eat.

On the fifth day, I sat up and started adding applique and embroidery to some tiny newborn clothes. We were almost matched with a woman who is due in about a week. But she disappeared. And while I was adding tiny stitches to these tan knit pants, a little picture of an apple tree, I realized that little baby girl, who we already called Laura, wouldn’t ever wear the pants. Or the tiny white shirt I sewed a heart onto. I knew her mother wouldn’t be coming back. But I kept on sewing. A little wool bird onto a shirt. A tiny flower on a hat.

So this week I’m back to school.  My body feels strange. I feel estranged from it. Like a wide wound I can’t escape.

And these tiny clothes in the top drawer of my dresser. So sweet. So sad.

Elegy for Dave

October 4th, 2010

October 4th was the day I chose to write a letter to Mr. Brown the fall after I graduated from high school. He wrote back around Christmas. And we kept it up for 7 years. I’d send a letter on October 4th; he write back at a lesiurely pace. And one year his letter didn’t come.

He died on December 14th, after a car wreck that damaged his heart. And what a heart he had. He is the most influential teacher in my life–he carried me through high school with good advice, humor, music, and talks about philosophy and religion, politics and suffering.

He was passionate about music, knew it’s heart and true motion. I was a mediocre student of the cello. But he always saw what was best in each of his students. Like a good teacher, or a good parent. And he carried us through.

Elegy For Dave

In the dingy florescent light encircled

By torn brown carpet and old orange chairs

We talked before or after, in between classes.

Me: fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen.

You: a traveling preacher from another world.

In love with your bass always because it alone

Could support your love, you’d lean back

And gesture with your hands, trying to say

How it felt to play a whole symphony,

That the thing itself was not your own.

You said there were always other offers:

You could have taught at a sprawling

Suburb’s school (so many to choose from

In middle class north Texas, built on wide

Plains hemmed in by acres of asphalt lots).

Up-to-date research in learning styles,

Staff satisfaction, forms of happiness,

Told them to pay more, paint the walls warm

Bright colors, have gourmet coffee in the

Teachers’ lounge. You made a safe bet

That changing one brand of inhumanity

For another would do no one any good.

You stayed with the torn carpet, tended to us

Like a mother, told me that the best I

Could do on a Saturday night was turn

On the radio, sit in a dark room,

Listen to A Prairie Home Companion.

Years later you said, when I walked into

Notre Dame all I could think of was you.

You regaled me with tales of an American

Bass player in Paris, and I told you

How my Parisian trip was ten hours long.

Now always when I step into airy

Buildings where the ceiling is out of sight,

When I walk inside dark vestibules and

Strain to see the altar or the chancel,

You shuffle in and out of my thoughts.

For a moment you are saying:

Music is like a flower. When you are

Middle-aged you will love Mozart.

And, don’t look at me like that, young lady.

It’s much more becoming when you smile.