Wednesday, February 27, 2008

body talk

This the nucleus--after the child is born of woman, man is born of woman,
This the bath of birth, this the merge of small and large, and the
outlet again.

Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the
exit of the rest,
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.

- from Walt Whitman's Sing the Body Electric

Time has been going by so quickly. I cannot believe it's already been nearly a month since Amalia was born. The physical reminders of the pregnancy and birth, the ones that have to do with my physical connection to her, are slowly disappearing. The bleeding is done, the jiggly organ feeling during any kind of movement as well as the hemorrhoids (try spelling that one) pretty close to gone, my weight is nearly back to pre-pregnancy (though my stomach still bulges out), and I have stopped expressing milk.

The last two or three days of Amalia's life was when my milk really came in because I got to hold her and bond with her. She was born without the gag reflex, so she got fed my milk, which I pumped, through a tube going down into her stomach. In about two weeks I have gone from having to express milk every two hours, an amount that totaled something between sixty and seventy ounces of milk a day (!), to weaning completely. All that time I worried about mastitis, but luckily I was able to avoid it. What will stay are the stretch marks. Amalia was, after all, a big girl. She weighed nearly nine pounds! That's a lot compared to Jonah who weighed less than seven.

Right after Amalia was born, she was whisked to intensive care. Tim went along in the ambulance, but I stayed behind, resting. The midwives said Amalia needed me and tried to hurry me to the hospital, but I couldn't physically jump out and get on the road even if someone drove me. If I tried to get up to just use the bathroom, my heart started beating like crazy, I was short of breath and felt lightheaded. Finally, after about four hours I made it out to the car and to the hospital, still feeling weak and panty. That crazy palpitation feeling when I got up to walk lasted for two or three days, but at last went away. Birth is such a huge process and transition for both the mother and baby.

Tim and I visited the hospital a couple of times together, but most days we took turns, so one of us could always be with Jonah. Between the two of us, we were at the hospital at least ten hours a day.

I hated all the tubes, machines beeping, the cold Amalia had to endure. They had her uncovered, naked save for a diaper, and cooled for the first few days to try to save her brain. She was so cold that her feet were purple. It was so hard to see that and to not be able to hold her. Everything contrary to what a mother (and baby) feels is right.

After the first three days when the brain injury is supposed to peak, she was allowed to be covered and dressed. We could even hold her a few times at that point. She did open her eyes and look at us some of the time. It's hard to tell how much she was aware of with the brain injury she suffered. But we acted as if she was all there, listening to our words and songs, feeling our skin against hers, feeling our love. The body and soul are, after all, two different entities, sometimes in sync and sometimes not.

A part of me wants to forget the hard things about her short life, but that, of course, is impossible, because her whole short life outside my womb was defined by trauma.

When I get up each morning and open the curtains in the living room, I look right at the hill on the other side of town and see the hospital where Amalia spent her short life and died. The hospital is what we see, dominating our view from the main part of the house, from the front door and the porch. I now have that sterile, machine-filled establishment intertwined with who she was and what I remember of our brief relationship. A hospital, of all places, an environment I most detest. One that, other than what it must be like in the middle of a war zone, for me is closest to hell on earth.

Regardless, today I had a good day. The sun was shining and the air was warm and almost summer-like; Jonah and I had great fun together out and about town; I thought about lots of stuff, not just Amalia; and only cried once and for about two minutes listening to traditional Vietnamese music, which reminded me of her for some reason. That, my friends, is a good day. Replenishing, to say the least.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Here we are at the park together today:

Monday, February 25, 2008

skate master

Our little man has found a new passion for skateboarding. We couldn't get him to come inside today. All he wanted to do was to practice his skateboarding moves. (You can see one of our cats in the background.)

It all started with Tim showing Jonah some youtube skateboarding videos and then Jonah, the fearless skater, came into being.

He asks me to hold his hand about half the time he plays with the skateboard, but half the time he practices getting on, tilting the thing and then jumping off on his own. I didn't know he would be ready for such a feat this early. I, on the other hand, am too scared to even put one foot on the thing since I have never had very good balance on any kind of wheels.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

new pics

Today Tim, Jonah and I took a very nice walk in one of my favorite parks just about twenty miles outside of town. I took a few pictures and updated our photo album, which I haven't done in a while. I added some older pics that I haven't had a chance to put up yet. You can see the pics here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

the consequence of sick

This morning Jonah wanted a drink from my water glass. I told him I didn't want him to drink from it because I was sick with a cold.

After a little while he asked me: "Mommy, where is your baby?"

I answered: "The baby is not here. She was too sick."

Jonah replied, concerned: "You're not sick, mommy."

I qualified my statement: "Just a little bit." He seemed satisfied with that and went on to play.

His reasoning was clear as day: if the baby was sick and because of it will not live with us, what about mom? His two-year-old brain never ceases to amaze me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

while Jonah plays...

I am usually a person who needs to get out and go places instead of staying at home when I have Jonah all day. These days I sometimes stay in and around the house all day and don't even notice because my mind is all over the place, traveling so faraway every day.

Today I took Jonah to "Indoor Park," a place set up by the city for kids at a community center. Three days a week the gym at the center is open to families and kids and filled with toys, foot-powered cars, slides, etc. And all that for only one dollar. It's a great place to go when it's too cold or rainy to go outside.

Jonah's favorite item at Indoor Park is a foot-powered monster jeep. He can get in it and drive it for hours on end, occasionally stopping by the bench where I am parked and asking me to check the engine or gas up his vehicle. Today for the first time I noticed the jeep's wheels are bigger than Jonah's little head. What is it about monster jeeps and trucks that appeals to little boys so much?

I was at Indoor Park today for the first time since giving birth, reading my book on grief -albeit with the cover page masked so no one could tell- noticing mothers who were pregnant when I was and now had newborns strapped to their chests and toddlers running around the gym. I, of course, got emotional a few times, thinking about how that would have been me today if Amalia hadn't died.

I think of her constantly. I replay all that I remember in my mind over and over: the birth, my visits to the hospital, her last day with us...

After all the relatives left, the reality of Amalia being gone really set in. The predominant feeling now is a profound sadness, which consumes me occasionally, several times a day. Otherwise there are many times I think about her without feeling a lot, maybe just tiredness. And then, most of the time, I just go about my day in a mundane sort of way: fixing food, eating, picking up toys, playing with Jonah, thinking about the most random things like spring and all the places I want to travel.

I dread having to return to work three weeks from now. I know I will enjoy work - I like what I do and look forward to the time to myself there and the distraction of being able to think about other stuff. It's just that I don't have the energy to deal with having to talk about Amalia's death on a daily basis. I am also worried that others at work will stigmatize me for having gone through this; that they will whisper and look at me strange... I just need to remember my friend Derrick's words: "Like water off your back." He is right. And also not everything is about me. Grief is quite narcissistic, I now realize. And I didn't get that from a book.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

feel better, mommy?

The other day Jonah asked me to pretend to cry. When I did, he brought me an imaginary beer: "A beer for you, mommy. Feel better?"


Today I feel sad. I think of Amalia's little hand in mine and of the way kissing her warm little chest felt and I miss her terribly.

I'm reading a book about grief just so I can say I'm trying to deal with it - not just to others but to myself. It's interesting to notice that some of the things I have been thinking and feeling are very much parallel to those others who have lost a loved one have felt. I didn't know.

My guiding words have been my friend Karin's: "There is no wrong way (to grieve)."

Today we received Amalia's ashes. I didn't realize how big of a deal that little vile would be. I haven't even begun to process that transformation yet. I haven't even looked inside that little box.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

back to number one son

The first days after Amalia's birth were such a stressful time. Somehow, Tim and I sleepwalked through them with my sister being here for a part of it. I hardly had the energy to acknowledge her presence, but it meant so much to have her nearby. Those days were hard for Jonah too. When he needed our reassurance most, we were often gone at the hospital, sitting at Amalia's bedside.

Jonah never met Amalia. We decided it was better that way. The situation was confusing enough as it was. Jonah was at uncle's and aunt's house during the birth and we never took him to the hospital to meet Amalia because we weren't sure she would make it from the beginning.

Jonah asks about the baby once every so often. First it was: "Who's home?" Then: "Where is baby?" or pointing at my stomach: "Who's in there?" or "What's your belly doing there?"

We explained in a simple way what happened: "The baby will not live in our house. She was too sick." or "The baby is not here. She was sick and died."

I don't know how much he can understand, but now that we are getting back to our old routine, he has finally begun to act out less and has been in a more even keel and pleasant mood (as pleasant and even keel as a two-year-old can be). He has missed routine.

As a prime example of a toddler in what Freud termed to be the anal stage of development, Jonah has had a strong need to control his environment, especially when things feel out of control. For nearly two weeks, he refused to leave the house. Going just to the store or the backyard took an unprecedented amount of coaxing. We honored some of his need to be in a familiar environment and to feel in control during that time and slowly tried to ease him out of that phase by going to see his favorite relatives: uncle and aunt and his grandparents who came for a visit the last week.

It seems that Jonah is more or less comfortable with doing stuff and going places again. He still has control issues (e.g. "Not those pants; I need blue pants!!!" or his main complaint: "No, mommy! I need daddy do it!"), but those have more to do with being a toddler than being under stress.

I will be home with him during the next four weeks before I return to work mid-March. Then Tim and I will take turns working and watching him again, picking up where we left off before I went on maternity leave.

Jonah has been so sweet when he has seen me get emotional. He hugs me and tries to console me. But I have been reluctant to get emotional around him too often, because I know it confuses him and makes him feel like things are out of control. I do believe, however, that it's not healthy to shield children from real emotions either, so at this stage, it's all about a healthy balance.

When he doesn't freak about about things not being just the way he wants them (remember the Terrible Two's or Freud's anal stage), he is a real sweetheart. Very affectionate and fun to be around.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

musings on Amalia's death - part I

It's strange to be thrust into a whole different reality - a place where time moves differently and things appear dream-like. I had never watched a person die before. After losing a baby, I suddenly feel oddly connected to a whole league of women who have lost their children, whether in a war, poverty or surrounded by first-world machines and medicine potions.

I have always feared hospitals and mistrusted doctors. Amalia's birth forced me into an environment which I expected to fight with every fiber of my being. But I had no energy to fight. I had to trust and accept what was before me.

The most interesting part of this tragedy has been my surprise at not experiencing the fear I had anticipated to feel. I was terrified of watching my baby suffer, of watching her die. I was afraid that through my empathetic connection, I would take on her physical struggle; that the panic attacks I experienced at age ten after the death of my paternal grandmother would return or that I would suffer cardiac arrest. (The connection between her and me, after all, had been and continues to be, predominantly physical.) I was horrified that I would be unable to sleep or too scared awake alone at night. I was more afraid of being afraid than I actually have been afraid throughout this experience.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


My sister was here for a few days last week. She went up to the hospital to be with and sing to Amalia with me every day. I am so glad she got to meet her and be with us during the most difficult time.

Only a handful of people got to meet Amalia: Tim's brother Andy, his wife Jenni, my sister Marta, and our friend Mike. I am glad they did. It feels significant to have had witnesses of Amalia's short life with us.
Tim's parents have also been visiting this week. Their presence is so comforting. I am truly grateful for the sense of family I feel with Tim's relatives. Since my family is so small, scattered, and distant both physically and often emotionally, I feel lucky to have the love of Tim's family.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

mixed emotions

As difficult and surreal as this time is, I find laughter important and healing. My emotions have been mixed: profound sadness, confusion about what happened and why, a sense of relief - a mixed bag as any process of grieving is, I imagine.

Here is a video that makes me laugh. Lorraine is my new favorite sketch comedy character. This clip is pretty perfect for Valentine's Day: some people and romance just don't mix.

Happy Valentine's Day!

... and thank you so much for all your words of support, food, flowers, cards... all of it means a lot. It feels good to be surrounded by your love.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

those wacky Czechs

Once in a while I download a youtube video for Jonah to watch. There are lots of great Czech cartoons for kids that I grew up watching on the internet. Some of them don't rely on language at all so Jonah can follow without knowing much Czech.

One of my favorite series is one called A je to! which means And It's Done! It's claymation of two guys who are friends and have a passion for building and fixing things and for inventing all kinds of crazy contraptions to do the most mundane tasks.

Here is one great episode entitled Tapety or Wallpaper. Note the bachelor lunch the main claymation hero is eager to eat is canned goulash. What a typical Czech.

Instead of this episode, I first downloaded another. I didn't realize it was one about winemaking. Well, it's European, I thought. So why wouldn't they make a claymation episode for kids about winemaking. But the more we watched, the more psychedelic the episode got. At the end, the two protagonists got so trashed, their vision tripled. I could not explain that one. Those wacky Czechs! You see for yourselves:

Monday, February 11, 2008

resemblance? what do you think?

Here is Amalia next to Jonah when he was one-month-old. Look at the striking resemblance:

two and a half

Jonah is two-and-a-half-years old today. Right smack in the middle of his Terrible Two's. Oh, we love him so.


After eight days of struggle in this world, our little girl Amalia died in our arms last Saturday. She will always be in our hearts.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

holding Amalia

As many of you already know, our daughter Amalia was born on February 1st. She had to be whisked to intensive care, because she was having trouble breathing. She is still there and we are hoping she keeps making good progress.

Today I got to hold her for the first time since the moment of birth. What a lovely feeling!

Please keep her in your thoughts.