A Bitter Gift

FootprintsOn December 22, 2014, I gave birth to a little girl. She died before she made it into my arms.

She was due today.

One of the things I hate about having a personal blog (or any social media) is having to share moments like these. Part of me wants to skip over it, but that seems crass. I don’t want to give readers the impression that my baby’s birth didn’t affect me profoundly, or that I’m exactly the same person I was before. I’d like to go on from the present as though everyone already knows the context.

But pretending won’t work here. I also can’t bring myself retell my story by writing a separate post. That might have worked a couple of weeks ago, but now I’ve healed enough that I don’t really want to open that wound again. So I’m just transcribing a few excerpts from my handwritten journal. It’s personal, unpolished, sad, and it doesn’t begin to capture what all happened, so if you aren’t up for that, feel free to skip this post and come back in a few days when I have something a little less tearful to say.

Miriam Grace Jacoby 

Excerpt from 12/23/2014

She had a full head of dark brown hair. The most perfect little nose. Some newborns aren’t as cute as others, but this one was beautiful.

It was just over three weeks until my due date. On Saturday evening, right before we went to the airport to pick up our holiday guests, I realized I hadn’t felt the baby kick in hours. So I drank a big glass of ice water, poked my belly a few times, and waited. Nothing. Still no movement after dinner that night.

Jess, the friend who’d be staying with us for the next week and a half, grinned as she looked at me and my huge pregnant belly.

“Does it kick?” she asked.

I hesitated. “Yes, it usually does.”

Manny and I talked about going to the hospital, but it was late and I told him I was probably just being paranoid. We decided to wait until the next day. Surely I would have felt those familiar wiggles and punches by then.

I slept restlessly that night–lots of incoherent dreams. I remember dreaming that there was an earthquake, and everything felt like that–shaky and uncontrollable on a bigger-than-life scale. I woke up over and over again to struggle to get comfortable, hands on my belly, waiting for the baby to move.

We drove to the hospital rather than church the next morning, still sure we were being paranoid but not so sure that we didn’t want to hear our baby’s heartbeat and have someone assure us that everything was okay.

It wasn’t okay. I knew as soon as the nurse put the doppler on my belly near the baby’s back and all we heard was static.

That was the longest day, but somehow the hours passed quickly. They induced labor. The doctor broke my water at 1 a.m. In a normal labor, I thought, I would have told them no. Do not strip my membranes. Do not break my water.

I wanted to tell the doctor to stop, to let things progress normally and unhurriedly. But now my baby’s life wasn’t at stake, and I wanted it to end so I could go home.

After they broke my water, contractions sped up drastically, the pain set up shop in my lower back, and I stopped handling life well. I got in the shower, told Manny to leave me alone, let water as hot as I could stand it course down my back, and resisted the urge to beat on the walls with my fists.

So this is back labor. I wonder if the baby is posterior.

This is worse than that abscessed tooth I had two years ago.

So this is my punishment for looking down my nose at women who choose epidurals without even trying. 

If I could have managed a grim laugh, I would have.

In some ways, the pain seemed appropriate. Not because I seriously thought I was being punished for anything. It seemed appropriate that my baby’s death, which I hadn’t even been aware of until that morning, shouldn’t be an easy thing.

I remember talking to myself and praying in the shower.

Oh, God, please help me. I know you are in control. My world is shaking. Please help. 

I remember staggering out of the shower during one of the too-short moments between contractions and telling Manny I wanted an epidural. I had told him a few hours before not to let me get one if I asked for it. He convinced me to try other painkillers first.

I remember holding on to him, clenching the quilt he’d brought from home, hearing him ask me to trust him, digging my fingernails into his back, crying as I realized that every movement and every breath seemed to make the pain worse. And I remember asking for narcotics and then feeling dizzy, almost catatonic in between contractions, and thinking that the meds were doing absolutely nothing for the pain.

Apparently about four hours passed like this–me almost in a trance, alternately demanding counter-pressure, then telling Manny not to touch me, then apologizing for snapping at everyone, and then falling asleep for a few seconds, not knowing who I was talking to and not really caring what they said.

She came out in just four or five pushes. A nurse put her on my chest immediately, and I’ll never forget how that felt. She was warm, and slippery, and limp, and beautiful. All that hair. I cried from relief–the pain stopped immediately–and I cried because suddenly having a child of my own had become real–and I cried because she was so very, very still.

I ran my finger down her nose and couldn’t believe how soft her skin was. I put my hand on her head and all the heartbreak and pain melted into numbness–or just exhaustion and drowsiness from the meds.

The nurses cleaned her up, weighed her, measured her, swaddled and dressed her, and brought her back in–5 pounds, 10 ounces, a too-still newborn. Manny held her, too. I asked them to leave her in the bassinet beside the bed, though my mind told me it didn’t make any sense to do so, and I slept. I didn’t care about a shower. I didn’t care that I was mostly undressed. I didn’t care that the nurses were trying to get four more vials of blood from my arm. All I wanted in the world was to rest.

Before I fell asleep, I heard Manny tell one of the nurses our daughter’s name: Miriam Grace. We had discussed both names, but neither seemed appropriate before; I especially hadn’t liked the name “Miriam” because it meant “bitterness.”

A couple of hours later, I woke up, climbed out of the hospital bed, dressed myself a bit more, and crawled onto the fold-out bed beside Manny.

“The niño is gone,” he said, lying his hand on my empty belly. I snuggled close to him.

“You chose a good name.”

He nodded. “Miriam because–bitterness. Grace, because she is a gift from God. Jacoby, because she is mine.”

There were more tears. We slept together on the uncomfortable hospital sofa bed, wrapped in surreal peace and pain.

It hadn’t seemed real to be pregnant, even at 36 weeks. It didn’t seem real to be in labor, or to hold my dead daughter afterward. When we came home later that day, I just felt empty, both belly and arms. We slept for hours. When I woke up, I could still see Miriam’s face, could still feel her slippery, wet body on mine.

I can’t believe she was born yesterday. I miss her and I never got to know her. “Miriam” also means “longed-for child,” which seems more appropriate now because now I’m longing for her more than I did before. Now she’s truly longed for, and now she is just what Manny named her: a bitter gift, but a gift nonetheless.

I want another child as soon as the Lord allows–not to replace Miriam, but because now I have an inkling of how precious and beautiful a child is. Because I’m craving a child that will squirm and demand things and nurse at my breast. Because I want to see Manny be a father. Because Miriam didn’t demand enough, and I didn’t get to love her enough.

Attempts at being unboring.

Pago Bay Sunrise“We’re so boring,” I whined to the husband a week and a half ago. “We need to get out more.”

Kind of easier to say than to do when on night shift, but still. We only have four months left on Guam, much of which will be taken up by a Baby Jacoby (!). We spend way too much time staring at the walls of our house.

The dog is depressed because we don’t take him on many walks or hikes. Even the blog is sadly neglected because I rarely feel like I do anything worth writing about anymore. Something has to give.

In an effort to find a change of scenery, a little over a week ago, we ventured out early to watch the sun rise. As we trekked toward the edge of a cliff on the northeastern side of the island to find an unobscured view, some of Guam’s less savory wildlife intercepted us. Two formidably large, large-tusked wild boars stopped on the trail about fifty feet ahead of us and stared us down.

We decided not to take them on.

Several days later, we decided to drag ourselves out to go snorkeling. A series of unfortunate events resulted in one unexpectedly large wave rolling us into the coral reef. The ocean stole my mask, removed one of my fins, and steamrolled one of my thighs into a rock or coral or something. It’s been a week since that adventure. My leg is now various shades of puffy blue, purple, and red.

A couple of days ago, we decided to try the sunrise thing again, this time in another location–a rocky, east-facing beach that promised good views. The weather seemed beautiful and clear except for a few big, puffy clouds that were supposed to make the sunrise brilliantly colorful. We found our spot on the beach and got comfortable on a big rock–no small feat with a 30-week-pregnant belly and a beat-up leg.

Then it started pouring–a thick, soaking shower from a cloud that had looked as innocuous as cotton candy a moment before. We were mostly soaked by the time we ran/waddled to the shelter of the pavilion several yards away.

Such is November on Guam.

Moving back across the pond

Looks like I won’t have to dream about autumn–or seasons–for too much longer. The Air Force has finally granted my little family an assignment. This coming March, our family of four (hubster + me + Niño + dog) are moving from Guam to New England.

Is it sad that the thing I’m looking forward to the most is cold weather?

We had been hoping for another overseas assignment. Now I’m thinking that Massachusetts will be foreign enough for me–I’ve always felt more at home in the South.

People keep telling me that I’m going to freeze. No, I tell them. I’m going to be comfortable for the first time in two years. Maybe for once my body won’t cry in protest every time I walk out my front door.

I’m going to miss Guam, though. The people here, the Christian community, the brilliant greens and blues around almost every bend of the road, and being able to climb up onto my roof to watch the sun set over the ocean will all turn into those memories that you can only try to relive once they’re gone.

Guam gave me my first taste of the islands, even when I was on my way to Saipan to teach English three summers ago. I had no idea I’d meet the man I’d marry while I was teaching English at Eucon International School in Saipan. Or that when I sat in a 747 heading back home and watched the cliffs of Guam drifting further out of sight, I’d be going back surprisingly soon.

Several months later, I was shipping my book collection overseas, saying goodbye to my small but precious family in South Carolina, then flying out myself with a wedding dress in my carry-on.

The hubster and I have been dreaming about New England. There will be farms that grow all kinds of real food! There will be snow in the winter and hiking and kayaking the lakes and rivers in the summer. Family will be within a day’s drive. Suddenly travel will be so much easier because flying out of Boston costs a third as much as flying out of Guam to just about anywhere.

We’ll have to bring Baby Jacoby back one day to meet the little island where the story began.

Hello, my name is Steffani and I’m a recovering English student.

English Class BooksCurling up with a book is more discomfortable during Week 28 of pregnancy than it was during Week 27.

But I’ve spent several long nights lately curled up with a book and a cup of tea anyway, squirming to get comfortable and getting lost in stories.

I’m still recovering from the trauma that my English degree inflicted on my reading life. It’s much harder now than it was in high school to sit down and instantly get lost in another world.

Literature classes (and even journalism classes) forced me to read everything critically, on a deadline, and with an eye for analysis.

I still think of books as “texts” more than stories half the time.

I read the full manuscripts of The Iliad and The Odyssey over the course of about 10 days during senior year–along with the rest of my homework and a part-time job. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages of clashing bronze, Greek deities, and dysfunctional families. I read those epics so quickly because they were assigned. I wasn’t lost in the world. I just wanted a good grade.

The experience was traumatic.

Worth it, but traumatic.

I’ll reread some of those stories one day soon, because Homer deserves far more of my time than a week and a half of one rushed semester.

I loved those classes, and I’ll never regret taking them, though they changed the way I read. Lit classes also taught me that the written word is far more than a source of entertainment or information. At risk of sounding all mystic and literary-snobbish–it’s more transcendental than that.

Literature is evidence of a mind that cares to tell stories in a meaningful way. Unlike most (all?) more modern media, it requires the sustained attention and mental participation of its audience (insert Neil Postman quote here. No, seriously).

You get to know the characters. Maybe even you get to know the author. You see their faces even more vividly than if they were on a big screen. No one does the imagining or interpreting for you; you have to do it yourself.

The very best books are written by authors who have a story to tell, not authors out to write the next bestseller.

In any case, it’s been a year and a half since I took my last literature class, and I’m still recovering. But over the past few weeks, I’ve rediscovered some of the wonder of literary fiction–from wizards and elves to Holocaust survivors to gladiators in ancient Rome. And I’m remembering why I love to read.

A few weeks ago, I read a Wall Street Journal article about the value of reading slowly. Like a good human-interest story, it opens with a snapshot of a very human environment–a book club meeting in a coffee shop–and then turns our notions of what a book club normally is into something radically new (or old?) and different.

The idea is that people get together to sip their lattes or earl grey teas, disconnect from everything for an hour, and read. The group was started by Meg Williams, a marketing manager with a degree in English literature. She felt the pull of words and the need to unplug, relax, and simply read in a world that’s learned to skim everything a mile a minute.

If I could talk to Ms. Williams, I’d ask if she was as traumatized by her English degree as I was by mine.

6 Particularly Irritating Baby Trends

I’m easily irritated lately.  And I’m learning that I, ah, just don’t understand some baby trends.

I had no idea most of these were even things until I became pregnant and started getting bombarded by the cutting-edge baby-ness that is the motherhood culture of 2014. And I must say, a lot of what I found made me want to move to a less-civilized country where stuff like this is still considered weird, wacky, and inappropriate.

Disclaimer: My six-month-pregnant brain’s filter is not containing its opinions very well right now. Don’t expect me to be unbiased.

Irritating Baby Thing #1: Stupid/Inappropriate Onesies. 

Please. No.

A simple Etsy search for “newborn onesies” results in various screen-printed onesies featuring inaccurate, painfully tacky, and wildly inappropriate wording–and bad clip art. Some of my favorites:

1. Started from the belly. Now I’m here. 

Stating the obvious much?

2. I had boobies for breakfast. 

Because breastfeeding isn’t cool unless you (and your baby) flaunt it, apparently.

3. Lock up your daughters. 

Yes, let’s make Little Tim into a cutesy-fied sex object before he’s even six months old. In the same vein:

4. I drink until I pass out. 

Aaand my personal favorite that makes me want to buy every single one and donate them to the dog as chew toys:

5. I totally wrecked a vagina. 

Again, because advertising the “adorable” sexual prowess of an infant has become trendy. (And we wonder what’s wrong with middle-schoolers.)

Irritating Baby Thing #2: Social Media Oversharing. 

I don’t understand some people’s need to document every week of pregnancy for the world. Not saying it’s wrong. Just that I don’t get it. The whole “Look! I’m 7.8 weeks along and here’s a picture of my baby bump! …and here’s another at 8.2 weeks! …and another at 9! OMG I feel like a whale already!” thing takes social media over-sharing to a whole new level.

Not to mention those who feel compelled to share every ache and pain with the world. Yeah, I have them, too. I just limit myself to complaining to people I think might actually care (I’m not delusional enough to believe that everyone I’m friends with on Facebook wants this information).

Not that I don’t want to rejoice with the other pregnant mamas out there. Because I do. Really. Maybe the fact that I tend to keep most of my life on the fairly personal, un-documented side of things is just negatively influencing me here when I see others going to different extremes.

Irritating Baby Thing #3: Risqué Maternity Photos. 

So I don’t understand the weekly bump photo updates coupled with sharing everything on social media. But what I *despise* are the professional maternity photos in which pregnant mamas seem to think they must take off (almost) all their clothes in order to fully capture the, er, sensual, primal, whatever nature of pregnancy.

Again, a quick Etsy search for “maternity” yields a plethora of results–from risqué maternity photography services to maternity “gowns” that look more like wedding night lingerie (or just an artful arrangement arms and legs and lace covering up key parts) than anything I’d want to have my picture taken in. I mean, seriously, what do you do with the resulting photos? Is this a picture you’re going to want on your mantle for generations? So one day your kid can ooh and ahh over how good you looked in clingy lace while you were 8 months pregnant?

I have a sneaking suspicion that many of these photo shoots are spawned by women who want to make themselves feel attractive and desirable despite their pregnant state, and that the only way they can come to terms with the way they look is to paint on the makeup, swath key spots with gauzy lace, and trust the editing skills of the photog to airbrush over the all the cellulite, stretch marks, and varicose veins.

I’d argue that finding the beauty in pregnancy has little (nothing?) to do with lace or lipstick, and that there’s nothing empowering about Photoshop’s airbrush feature.

Irritating Baby Thing #4: Dressing infants like adults.

How old is this kid? 18? Or 4?

If Baby Jacoby ends up being a girl, I won’t be getting her ears pierced before she can walk any more than I’ll be getting a butterfly tattooed on her shoulder blade. Since when does a baby need earrings to make her cuter? Moreover, what if she’s a nonconformist and doesn’t WANT extra holes in her body later on? If she does, getting her ears pierced as a teenager or adult is her choice–if she can’t handle needles at that point, perhaps she should rethink piercings.

I also don’t understand ultra-frilly, gauzy, tulle-y, flowered headbands for girls. Or dressing boys like Tommy Hilfiger models when they’re just a few weeks old. What newborn needs a tuxedo? Or a prom dress? Or lacy fishnet tights? Let them be kids for awhile. They’ll have to grow up fast enough anyway.

Irritating Baby Thing #5: Brand-consciousness. 

From the Calvin Klein graphic tees made for toddlers to the baby slings available in every color and luxury fabric under the sun for a couple hundred dollars each, the market loves catering to new parents who want the very best for their child. Don’t get me wrong–I want a baby sling that works well, and I don’t mind paying for it. But I don’t need one in a color to match each outfit. And I don’t want my kid to be a walking billboard for various clothing companies. And if I choose a Graco bassinet over a BabyBjorn one, so be it.

Irritating Baby Thing #6: Maternity clothes. 

I’m sick of uber-tight baby-bump-hugging maternity clothes. Not that I’m ashamed of my bump. I’m not so Victorian-esque that I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m pregnant for as long as possible. And I acknowledge the cuteness of some form-fitting maternity clothes.

Besides, it’s not like I hate tailored tops across the board.

BUT I don’t always want to walk waddle around in uber-form-fitting tops that cradle my blob-like abdomen. Could I get some positive ease, please? Just a little? For the days when I feel like a panda or when I don’t feel like wearing any clothes at all, let alone the most tailored ones in the closet?

Also, horizontal stripes. Just because I’m preggo doesn’t mean I want all parts of me emphasized in the horizontal. Just saying.

Typhooning

Post-typhoon Tanguisson Beach Typhoon Vongfong came and went. Before the storm hit, reports indicated we could expect 100-mph gusts. But the only tangible results that I’ve seen so far have been downed trees here and there, and showers of little shredded palm fronds, an unnatural fall of leaves for October on Guam.

My house feels like a cave with all the storm shutters closed. The consistently gray, soggy haze marking the rainy season on Guam doesn’t help. The partial ocean view from the patio is exponentially more impressive if you can actually see the horizon. It’s excellent reading weather.

It also makes me want to curl up on the sofa and sleep–for hours and hours and hours on end.

Volunteering at an Operation Christmas Drop golf tournament fundraiser thing on Saturday forced me to switch from night shift back to days. I went to bed around 9 p.m. last night, woke up a few times to peek out the door and listen to the wind, and otherwise slept until 11:30 this morning. Pretty sure I could sleep 14+ hours each night without a problem. Such is month 6 of pregnancy… and island-induced laziness.

When we finally crawled out of bed this morning, the husband and I drove around to see what kind of damage Vongfong inflicted. We walked up and down Tanguisson Beach in search of waves and stopped at Two Lover’s Point.

The panoramic view from the clifftop was hazy and gray (go figure) and the beach down below at Tanguisson was decorated with washed-up seaweed and shells, but other than that all remained peaceful and surprisingly blue beneath a post-typhoon sky. Hard to believe we’re leaving in just about six months! I’ll miss these lazy, rainy days and nights and the power of the nearby ocean.

Making autumn

Handknit pumpkinsIt’s hard to complain about Guam’s failure to be fall-like when the sunsets over the ocean are so colorfully surreal, even on the rainiest days.

This evening as the sun was setting, it was windy and relatively cool. The rain had let up, and those moisture-laden clouds created a breathtaking sunset. And I almost forgot to wish there were changing leaves.

Almost. Not completely. In the last week, I’ve been doing my best to engineer a personal autumn while still loving these balmy, thundery, rainy Guam days.

I’m knitting and crocheting pumpkins.

I’m sewing things with autumn-colored fabric (and remembering why I typically avoid sewing. So many pieces. Eesh).

I’m burning my Kitchen Spice and Crisp Apple Strudel Yankee Candles.

IMG_2110 (1)I’m baking homemade bread and slow-cooking cozy homemade soup and propping my feet up while my puppy curls up beside me.

I’m feeling my baby kick surprisingly hard and thinking that I’m becoming ridiculously lazy–and that I miss doing the kind of real work that leaves you tired, messy, sweaty, and rewarded.

I’m reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in Spanish, mostly to make sure I still can.

Maybe it feels a little more like fall now than it did last week, even though the weather hasn’t changed.