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Monday, February 04, 2008

Unfinished Villanelle

The idea was already in my head from when I was speaking to a mutual friend this weekend and she told me that our friend's good news came on the anniversary of her bad news. There are times--such as September 11th--when the world stops for a day in the face of a collective event--but most of the time, the moments that rock our world (either good or bad) are quietly our own. And one person's best day of their life can line up simultaneously with another person's worst day of their life.

As Josh and my father were jumping together last night, screaming over the Giant's win at the very last second, I was thinking about how this broke down on the field--the emotions of the Patriots, the jubilation of the Giants. And how, in our own little blogosphere, as others face the television set and watch football, there is so much mourning going on.

The juxtaposition of elation against despair can take your breath away as you click through blogs.

The title comes from a poetic form--one in which each stanza contains three lines and there is a repetition of both sounds and full lines, with the lines taking on new meaning with each use. It's the perfect elegiac form, those looping thoughts, the revisited moments. It felt like a fitting gift for Sylvia, Claire and Lucy. After reading Mary Ellen and Steve's news, there was this enormous impulse to do something: to stop the clocks and cut off the telephone and prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone. W.H. Auden hit on the desire for the world to stop in honour of a loss in his famous poem, "Funeral Blues."

I wrote the first stanza and then realized there was no way to put into words--at least by me--that loss. Not having been there, not having been in her heart, I don't think I could ever touch on anything that would be a gift to the girls. The single stanza is still on a post-it note by my bed.

Doing enough.

It's a collective impulse--that desire to do enough. We have limitless reserves of help and we want to use them, and in reality, we can never fully tap into that potential because the help we can offer is not truly the help that can solve the problem. It is not as simple as having jumper cables and starting a car for another person. Making a meal, sending a note, disassembling a crib cannot even touch the problem. They treat the symptoms: the lack of desire to eat or energy to prepare a meal is solved with sending over take-out. But the actual ache itself--the one causing all the symptoms--is untouchable by action. And that is a hard thought to wrap one's mind around when you are feeling so helpless and want to do something productive.

Compounding the situation is physical distance. In D.C., we have an amazing network established when the shit hits the fan from bringing over a plethora of junk food after a shitty transfer to accompanying one another to a D&C. There is a lot of support to draw from, the person only needs to ask. Our next step is to evolve into giving before being asked. And smothering the entire Order of the Plastic Uterus in suffocating love.

But it's not just distance and being able to get into a car and drive over to someone's house with homemade bread and do something physically productive. It's also being able to gauge reaction when you throw out the idea over the phone or face-to-face. Everyone grieves uniquely. What would be helpful for one person would be frustrating for another. I, for one, would hate to have food made for me unless it came from my mother who knows all of my food quirks (except carrot cake...). But I am constantly having another person say that a meal would be the way I could help them get through a crisis. Therefore, I cook.

The blogosphere is so large and we care so deeply--not just because the other person's story becomes a case of "there but by the grace of G-d go I," but because we become invested as readers. Anyone I read daily, I may not have met them face-to-face, but I am just as invested in their well-being as I am with my face-to-face friends. I have spent a lot of time crying as I read through blogs as of late because there has been a lot of loss across the blogosphere. And how can your heart not hurt for another person when you have read how much they already loved their baby--before it was even conceived, when it was simply an idea and an impulse to do anything to bring him/her into this world?

And we want to do something. It feels impotent to simply leave a comment of support. And yet, there's no other real outlet beyond ordering food and having it sent over (and rightfully so, some people are squeamish about losing their anonymity even in accepting help) or offering to do tasks from afar.


While it may not seem like enough, when I think about the opposite--having someone shout their grief into the blogosphere, having people see it, and walking away without response--the comments or visual support, as Jess created this weekend (and feel free to take and place on your own blog), begin to take on a different role. Even before the advent of the Internet, people in grief have turned to virtual strangers for support in the form of face-to-face support groups. These, of course, were never for everybody, just as not every grieving mother or father turns to blogs in order to find that support. But for those who have already used a given medium for reaching out (and this ties into the questions I asked on Friday--which essentially come down to why do we blog and why do we comment), it seems fitting to continue in that vein. To leave comments, to leave visual support.

It doesn't feel like enough, and I would love to hear from those who have experienced late term loss or neonatal death what else could be done. Or if what is already being done is all that can be done when the other person is essentially a stranger and lives far away. What did out-of-town friends or relatives do for you that helped?

I would only add that grief is never a single event that is tied up neatly in a bow despite what even religions have put in place in terms of a mourning period. That some people continue to need that support--to have people check in--long after the fact. Of course, others would rather not have their grief brought up over and over again. It's a hard call. And one that we may never always get right.

And that's the problem with distance.

Mary Ellen and Steve, I am so sorry about Sylvia, Claire, and Lucy.


littleangelkisses said...

I too have noticed that there has been a tremendous amount of loss lately. I wish I were closer to the DC support, but I do blog because I need support. It's give and take. I haven't given as much as I should lately though. I need to let people know that I do read and support more.

Jess said...

I've noticed that there has not only been a lot of loss, it's been TREMENDOUS loss. Not "just" of early m/c, though I know personally that those suck, but also of later term loss or stillbirth. While early pregnancy loss is awful, I can only imagine what it must be to go through pregnancy for longer and lose that baby/those babies. It's heart wrenching to think about.

It's cool that your DC group has so much support! It makes me sorry I live in BFE!

You know, when we lost our first baby, it was so early. NO ONE really said anything more than "sorry." I remember a lot of quiet in those days. People just didn't aknowledge it, though they obviously thought of it because of the quiet. Travis' aunt and uncle lost a son who was Travis' age when the boys were 18 and that aunt wrote me a note saying how a loss is a loss and how sorry she was about our baby. It's the only thing we ever got from anyone other than words, and it meant (means) SO MUCH to me, just that little note (which is now tucked in my Bible) was incredible to me that she compared the loss of our baby to the loss of her son, who was almost a man when he died...knowing that SOMEONE equated our lost baby to the lost life of a loved adult meant so much. Just the justification of our grief, I guess, mattered more than anything when everyone else was so silent about it (or worse, almost viewwed it as good..."you can get pregnant, you know that now" they would say).

That's sort of what I wanted for ME and Steve. Justification of grief and loss. Support and acknowledgement when there's all too often too little support and acknowledgement in these type of times. There's not a lot worse than thinking (even if you're not correct) that other people don't really think your loss is so bad, or that people will forget your loss in a short time.

Fertilize Me said...

Gosh i wish I could write as well as you! you are a fantastic advocate for all things reproductive! I had these similiar thoughts this weekend with all of the losses and our blogging community as a whole. Brava .. Excellent one againi am left in awe

Hekateris said...

Yes, so much loss, tremendous loss.

I wish there was something I could do.

ms. c said...

You just know how to say it all so well, Mel.
I have been struggling over the past week about wanting to do something for Mery Ellen and Steve. The world we have created here is amazing... I have been crying for days for `friends` that I have never met. The distance is tough. And I so I hope my words and thoughts are enough.

I really wish there was a btton to make all this loss stop. It`s simply too much lately.

Aurelia said...

On a practical note:

-don't just remember or comment right away, do it again in a month, 6 months, a year, throughout the next pregnancy if any, and after.

People forget those who mourn rather quickly. But the pain does not end, or even diminish for a long long time.

-use your anger on their behalf. Hospitals regularly refuse to give 17-p injections to prevent preterm labour and they regularly refuse to use tocolytics for any women prior to 24 weeks. They take our choice to stay pregnant away, even though we are grown adults and have the right to end a pregnancy.

If we have the right to choose to end a pregnancy, it logically follows that we must have the right to save a pregnancy, or to get pregnant in the first place.

No woman should ever have to transfer Doctors or hospitals to get the care she needs, like MaryEllen did. It's not THEIR bodies, it's OUR bodies, our children, our choices.

I appreciate that not everyone wants to advocate, but someday we could be in the same position, and wouldn't it be nice to be offered the best care without having to beg?

I hope they sue their original Doctor, and I hope that something gets changed, somewhere, somehow. Because these babies all across the blogosphere and all across the world don't have to die, if only some Doctor would give a damn and try.

xavier2001 said...

I echo Jess's sentiment, she said it so much better than I could have. One of the most powerful things that anybody can do it just to acknowledge the loss. I would get so angry after my early loss when people would say, "well at least you know you can get pg", like that baby never even existed as a person.

My thoughts and prayers are with Mary Ellen and her family.

soul-quest said...

I deal with any emotions I have mainly on my Blog, the people in my life are not equippped to handle some of my dark days, so I don't put it on them. Blogging for me is the best therapy for now.

Hearing about ME's heartbreaking loss totally destroyed me, I have been reading about their journey for quite a while now, and I just had absollutely no idea that this is how it would end.

Also I should comment more when it comes to giving that support to each of these losses and joys.

Thankyou Melissa for giving us this medium to share in the highs and lows of all these incredible people out there.

LJ said...

Don't forget Mel - you often give us a central focus point for our grief and joy. You, singlehandedly, make this giant IF world seem so much closer. Granted, I too have the Order of the Plastic Uterus, but sitting virtually with the Boston girls waiting for news on ME - we support one another more than we realize sometimes.

Tina said...

There has indeed been a lot of loss recently... However, there have been more blogs created too and more stories being told now that have been untold until now. Really puts a hold on us - showing us how much loss there really is in our many people unfortunately experience loss and need the support to get through it.

I second what Aurelia said: "don't just remember or comment right away, do it again in a month, 6 months, a year, throughout the next pregnancy if any, and after." People forget - even I *shamefully* forget. Life throws so many things at us...we forget as we deal with our own life's baggage. I wish life could be streamlined a we couldn't forget so easily.

ME and Steve's loss has broken my heart too. No matter how much joy I am finding now (finally) with this PG - it can all be taken away so quickly, for reasons no one can understand. That scares me. No PG is a guarantee of a healthy baby... That scares me.

katd said...

It's exactly that - tremendous loss. Loss that takes your breath away. It wrenches the heart.
The blogs I read have become so deeply lodged in my heart that I at times feel closer to those in my blog world than I do my friends in "real life."
You wish so much in situations like this that there was something you could do to take just a fraction of their pain away. I think that's what we're here for. All we can do is show how much we care.

Pamela Jeanne said...

Katd just said it so perfectly that I want only to echo her remarks. There's no greater comfort than being understood, being acknowledged and that's what this community does so very well.

annikasmom said...

Mel, I only just found your blog. What wonderful writing. I love your openness and your thought process. I admit I've only read a few posts and there is so much information here, it will take me some time to see/process it all.

I'm so sorry about what your friends MaryEllen & Steve are going through, and for the loss of their precious girls. I don't know their story, though I'm going to try to follow links to find out more about them.

I know their pain only too well. I'm in the middle of it. On October 4th, I gave birth to my dear twins, Lina and Cole at just 26 weeks. We lost our baby boy after just 23 days. Little Lina, just 1 lb 2 oz at birth was such a fighter and she had come so far. She was almost ready to come home when she suddenly had a complication unrelated to her prematurity and died on January 11th. Heartbroken and devastated don't begin to describe how I feel. You can read more about our story on my blog:

You ask what can be done... As the other commenters have said...remembering is the most important thing. The sadness I feel that my babies may be forgotten by the world is indescribable (although I know that they have touched many, many hearts).

All my babies are IVF babies, incidentally (I also have a 3yo healthy daughter), and I belong to an absolutely amazing online infertility community that has been unbelievably supportive. Some things they have done:

* Written incredibly sincere and beautiful words of support and sympathy on our bulletin board, as comments on my blog, and in cards they've sent to me. I will save those forever (in my heart and in my memory box)

* When Cole died, they wrote haiku and other poetry on the bb. One dear woman took them along with her own beautiful photographs and made an amazing book (hardcover, beautiful) on They are doing the same for Lina.

* One dear woman is making a quilt in memory of my babies. I am sending her the few outfits I had for them, and other members are contributing special fabric.

* Launched a nationwide Old Navy search for a receiving blanket that I wrapped Cole in when I buried him. I had a matching one for Lina that I had the foresight to cut a piece from as a memory, but didn't keep any from Cole's blanket. I want to use them in the a/m quilt. I think somebody called or visited every single Old Navy in the country on my behalf. in the end: Success. The blanket is on its' way to me.

* They have supported us financially, with a gift cert from a food prep & delivery place as well as with significant individual contributions via PayPal (that someone set up).

* One woman sent a ceramic figure of a guardian angel with a little boy and girl. The girl is blonde and the boy is dark, just like my angels.

* Two of the members of the BB drove 3 hours from Mpls to Duluth MN just to be at Lina's funeral. It wasn't even a funeral, just a 10 minute graveside service. I'd never even met them IRL (or most of the people in the gestures above).

Those are examples of the things that have meant so very much to me and my family.

Oh, and the local MOMs club organized meals for us (I was too heartbroken to reach out to them, so someone from the a/m BB reached out for me). I thought I wouldn't want meals brought to me, but I have to say it was such a relief to not have to worry about getting dinner on the table for my 3yo. The MOMs were incredibly generous.

And one of the MOMs runs a support network for loss of multiples. She puts families who experience loss in touch with others who have been there. That was very helpful after I lost Cole. She also has a library of books about loss and lent me a huge stack of them. I have yet to read them, but I imagine they will be helpful.

Whew. So there you have it. Sorry this is so long. But you asked... Thanks for listening.

seattlegal said...

Thankfully, I have never had to experience such loss. I simply cannot imagine what ME and Steve are going through, as well as many other couples. Katd said how I'm feeling a lot better than I could have.

I think what Aurelia said is perfect. We need to remember not just now but much later in the future.

Kathy V said...

I think like many people already said that remembering the babies is the most important thing. People often think that because I am back at work and not crying (atleast on the outside anyway) that I must be past it. It does get easier but you never really forget and you don't want others to forget either. I want people to remember that my baby existed and acknowledge that it is okay to still hurt for that one no matter how much time has gone by or how many babies I eventually end up having.

Everybody wants different things when they are sad and hurting. And everybody wants that acknowledment or not at different times as they go through it. Sadly, that is why there is no cookie cuttter answer that is right for everybody at all times. I think the best thing is to just be willing to whatever you can whenever you can. Support and love them. Because, "In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Bea said...

I had the same experience as Jess - our 1st trimester m/c was best acknowledged by my grandmother, whose son died when he was 19yo. It helped just to know that she thought of our loss as part of the same category.

As for the rest, I think you've said a lot of things very well, and so have others. People get overwhelmed by the thought that they can't fix everything, so they end up not doing anything at all. That's the worst mistake.


Searching said...

I, too, want to know what I can do to help in some way, being so far, feeling so inadequate. Some days it seems all I can do is virtually sit there and share in the grief but it never feels like enough.

Julia said...

Remembering as the time goes on is probably the most important thing. Not placing limits on when grieving people should be better, and understanding that there will be good days and bad days in varying proportions. And to be fully present for them on both kinds of days.
All the things that the blogosphere seems to be doing a much much better job of than RL friends in the lives of most people.