Monday, March 28, 2016

Dear Baby,

It has been a full trimester since I lost you. The same length of time that I carried you. Three months, I spent my days thinking of you - who you'd be, if you'd have curly-blonde hair like your sister, green eyes like your dad, would you be the son we hoped for or the little sister I secretly wished for Estlin? What name would we give you? What day would you make your way into this world?
Now, these questions will remain without answers. And I have spent these last three months since then, what should have been your second trimester, carrying the weight of this desire to know a face that never even formed. A desire to hold a hand that had yet to grow fingers, knowing there would be no skin to caress, no hair on your head to sniff sweetly. No identity to name. I need to cry a name out loud to give you existence, but you will forever remain nameless, faceless, voiceless. I simply have no memory of you to hold onto. If your own mother can't remember you, who will?
You did exist, though. I know you did. I grew you for 9 weeks before something inside me, without my knowledge or permission, decided you were no longer worth growing. It took another three weeks or so before my body informed me of this decision it had made, with the tiniest specks of blood on tissue paper. But I had very much wanted you, Little Nameless One. I wanted to see my belly grow big again, feeling all the kicks and stretches from your ever lengthening legs and arms. I wanted to birth you in my summer skin, walk your newborn self along the promenade on the days the sun beats down against the water and its rays bounce off the rocks and waves and sand and everyone is basking in it (because summer days like this are rare here, Little One). And they would all coo and ahh at you, little thing all wrapped up warm on a July afternoon, getting your tiny lungs full of ocean air. I wanted to spend sunny mornings in the back garden watching your sister splash in the paddling pool and knock castles over in her sand pit, nursing you in the shade, hearing your coos mingle with birdsong. I wanted to take you for twilight walks down the glen, tucked away in the carrier wrapped tight around me, holding hands with your Dad, watching your sister skipping rocks into the river.
Instead, you'll always be my winter song, cold and grey and stormy, slowing emptying yourself from me on Christmas Day and then rushing out all at once the next morning, nearly taking your mother's life with you. Did you think that I should not exist if you were to be denied life also? foolish of had no conscious thought yet. In those moments, sitting there, losing you and everything else my body had made to grow you, watching my husband cleaning blood from the bathroom and hallway floor, drifting in and out of consciousness, I truly did think I was going with you. I thought I was dying too.
But I didn't. I lived. But with a bloated belly empty of its child and a head so full of the fear of dying, there was no room yet for sadness and tears. My heart was on hold from feeling because the emotions were too big, too important to fit inside my healing body. I hated that. I wanted to cry for you, for me, for our family that would stay just three a while longer, for the path I was on path that was so abruptly and violently cut off. I wanted to cry for everything you could have been and everything I'd never know about you. I wanted to cry for my inability to form you correctly or grow you into your whole self. But no tears came. It was all too foreign a grief. This desire to mourn someone I never knew...someone I will never know.
Now the tears come all too easily. Watching your older sister dance around the kitchen with her Daddy, hearing how quickly he can elicit a laugh from her lips. And I cry because I'll never hear the sweet sound of your laugh. I cried buckets of tears hearing my sister chat about all the details of the gender reveal party they had for their third baby. I cried because I will never know your gender. I cried packing away the maternity clothes I had just been given. I cried when I found a dinner recipe written next to our list of baby names. I cried watching a character on a television show being wheeled into theatre for surgery, flashing back to my own fear of going under and not coming back and never seeing Estlin again. I cried when I never heard back from the hospital, knowing your barely formed body had not been found when I was in surgery. I cried realizing I probably flushed you down the toilet. How could I, Precious Child? Shouldn't I have known? Or felt you? Or seen you in all that red?
For weeks, I'd feel phantom flutters in my belly and I'd forget for the briefest of moments, only to immediately remember. I saw my sister's bellies swelling and solid, a constant reminder of you. Did you know we were all expecting together? Of course you didn't, but you were to be born within two months of one cousin and one month of another. Wouldn't that have been lovely, Baby? But now you are stuck forever in a Christmas day, in a December that held so much happiness and excitement, all ripped away from us the day before we watched your sister open gifts. The shock of it all lost in fairy lights and lit fires, crumpled wrapping paper and the smell of dinner roasting, and in too many glasses of wine. The shock of a body in labour right before the end of the first trimester, a feeling I will never shake.
I want to keep you there, Baby, in my Christmas memories. But you seem to follow me everywhere now. And I can't seem to remember what i was like before you came and went. And I can't seem to figure out what steps to take to move on. I guess I don't want to move on, though. How can I move on from the loss of my own child, when I have nothing to remember you by? What is there to hold onto? I close my eyes and I can't see your face, I never even saw the outline of your body in the grainy black and white of an ultrasound screen. I never had anything of you and neither did anyone else, so maybe that's why I can't let go, because if I do, you'll be forgotten forever, nothing on this Earth to show as a legacy or a life lived. But you did live. You lived inside me, even if it was such a short time, and there will be tiny parts of you, Little One, your cells and DNA, that will forever travel through my veins and encircle my heart. Perhaps that is why I still feel you so close, because you will always be within me. Perhaps I trapped your soul inside my own and the self you never formed will haunt me until I die. That's okay, Baby. I'm okay with that. You'll be safe there.
So, My Sweet Thing, I hope you knew how much I loved you. I hope you can find the corner of my heart that will always hold a space for your little cells to rest within. I hope you can hear the laugh of your big sister who would have played with you and protected you. I hope you can feel the arms of your Daddy when they are wrapped tightly around me and know how much he would have loved to hold you. I hope you'll be okay with us trying to conceive again, our third child, as you will always be our second and never replaced.
When I was pregnant with your sister, I used to read her poetry written by her namesake. I always found comfort in the words he wrote, words I could never quite find myself, but spoke so deeply to me, as if they were my own. And now, the words that have followed me my whole life, finding meaning in so many moments, have taken shape again, filling the space where you should be...

...i carry your heart with me
i am never without it
anywhere i go, you go my dear
i carry your heart
i carry it in my heart...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Worst Best Day of My Life

A few weeks back, I stepped into our local shop for a few things after going for a walk on my own. It had been a calm, dark evening and the rain had only just begun. There I was, standing in the baby food aisle, grabbing rice cakes and apple juice sweetened biscuits, listening to my iPod on shuffle, when out of nowhere - the familiar first notes of a track I had listened to hundreds of times while pregnant, began to play. My gentle birth affirmations. I panicked. I swear, everyone around me stopped to stare. The store went black. Everything started to go hazy, I felt my face contort in pain and searing heat rush up from my chest to strangle my neck. I dropped what was in my hands and rapidly fished my iPod out of my pocket to press stop. Not here. Not now. I haven't heard those words since...since...since...I took my headphones out of my ears and looked around. No one was staring. The lights were normal, bright. I picked up my items, paid, walked back into the rain and stood there for a few moments. The pace of my heart quickened and I dared myself. Listen, listen. It's been nearly a year. So I pressed play. And as those memorized words began their familiar, repeated chant....I am calm, confident, and in control. I am having a gentle birth. I trust my body, I trust my baby...I felt my chest heave and my shoulders drop, my steps deliberately slowed despite the rain and I listened. I listened. And the pain of it all soaked me to the bone.

I trust my body, I trust my baby. So why did it all go so wrong?


I had always known I would one day have children. I thought about it often. I never really gave much thought to giving birth though, so when I did announce I was pregnant, a dear friend of mine asked if I had ever heard of Hypnobirthing. Originally, it sounded like a load of crap. So you take deep breaths...and it doesn't hurt? Right, sure. So millions....billions of women throughout history just had it all wrong? But the more I read, the more I listened to her story and so many others, the more I felt myself drawn towards the idea of a peaceful, calm birth. Our bodies are made to do this and there is science behind deep breathing and a calmed mind and positive thinking to back up the idea of hypnobirthing. So I dove in head first. I read the whole book in a couple days. I started listening to the daily affirmations and the practice birth session. I found a local woman that taught private hypnobirthing classes and took my somehow willing husband along to each three hour session. I made a vision board that hung in our bedroom that I stared at every morning and night while brushing my teeth. We did our own practices together at home, his words and hands and soft voice guiding me into such a relaxed state where I believed anything could be possible. Before I knew it, any fear I had about giving birth was completely and utterly gone and I found myself looking forward to and longing for the moment I would first feel my body go into labor. My hypnotherapist said in all her years, she had rarely seen such an enthusiastic, fully-believing, well-practiced couple. She knew we were ready. I knew we were ready. And as March 18th approached, my excitement and anticipation grew beyond measure. Any day now, any day now.

The due date came and went. It was a bank holiday Monday, after St. Patrick's Day. It was beautiful, sunny, warm...a rare day in March, in the West of Ireland. We went for a walk on the beach. We had fish and chips. We took pictures in the back garden of our house, of my gigantic belly. I had no worries yet. It's so unlikely for a baby to come on the actual due date. The Tuesday passed with no sign of her either and the Wednesday found me in the maternity clinic for my last check up. I mentioned to all the midwives, "I want to go naturally. I'm going to use hypnobirthing. No drugs. I want the homebirthing suite in the hospital. I'm so excited!" The doctor had me lay down for an internal examination. It hurt like hell. That's gotta be a good sign, right? "You're still very closed up in there," were her exact words. Very medically descriptive. As we sat at her desk, she pulled out a date book and started looking through the days. "So, I can fit you in on Monday for an induction."

My mouth dropped. I shook my head. I was utterly confused. "Oh, I don't want to be induced. I want to go into labor naturally. I'm going to use hypnobirthing so I want it to be drug and chemical free. That's very important to me." She told me that the hospital would only allow me to go 10 days past my due date and the Monday had the only opening that week for an induction. I asked if she could give me a membrane sweep to at least help get things started and she informed me, without even looking up from that date book, that that's what she had just done. I was shocked. She hadn't asked me. I hadn't consented to that. I wouldn't have said no. But they're supposed to ask. And that's when I first felt it...this tiny spot of darkness on my perfect plan, a wisp of doubt. This isn't how it's supposed to be happening.

My sisters would be arriving from the States to meet the baby in just a week. Did I actually have the time to wait for her to come on her own? They were leaving their own babies to be with me and mine and she had to be here. She had to come by then. So I sealed my fate. I let the doctor put my name down for that 2pm induction slot on Monday, March 25th, a mere week after my due date. And that wisp of doubt grew and grew until it was the size of a storm cloud, blocking out the peace and calm I had been feeling for the entire pregnancy, letting the fear run wild.

Thursday. Friday. Saturday. I scrubbed the kitchen and dining room floors on my hands and knees, that position being ideal for encouraging baby to move downwards. I listened to awful pop music at insane decibels and danced like I wasn't carrying around an extra 40 pounds. I nearly ate an entire batch of "labor inducing cookies" and then had spicy curry for dinner. There's still time, she can still come on her own. Sunday. And still nothing. That night, my friend that had recommended the hypnobirthing called me and told me, "Don't go to the hospital tomorrow. You don't have to do it. You can refuse to be induced." I was convinced. I knew it wasn't time yet. It didn't feel right. But my sisters...they were coming...

I have had a lot of internal civil wars in my life, but this one? This one was ripping me apart. My birth plan was fading away and I felt the urgency of my sisters' impending visit. It wasn't just that the baby needed to be there by the time they arrived, it's that I didn't want to waste any time in the hospital while they were here. So even if I waited to let her come on her own, I would be spending their holiday time stuck in a hospital with very little visiting hours and they would miss out on time with her anyway. If I went in for the induction, I could still be home within a day or two of them arriving. If I didn't do anything, who knows when she would come. I went to sleep that night willing my little girl to come. There's still time, my precious. There's still a few hours.

I woke up. Nothing. I called my mother and cried and cried. I took a shower and stared at my huge belly. And that's when I saw it...the tattoo on my arm...the words that had always helped me through these types of decisions, the words that allowed me to leave my entire life and family behind in America and move to start a life with my new husband in Ireland...

"let all go - the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things - let all go
so comes love"

I was naming my daughter after this poet, EE Cummings. And I had no choice but to let it all go and give in. So we packed the car with our hospital bags, took one last walk along the promenade, and drove to the hospital.

And nothing went right after that.


If I went into all the details, you'd be here forever, reading. But the point of this is to get it all out. So bear with me.

I had been told to arrive at 2pm sharp. I sat in the waiting room till well after 4 before finally being called in to be seen. I was hooked up to the fetal heart-rate monitor but the midwife found it nearly impossible to get a consistent heart rate from the baby. She ended up standing there for over an hour, holding it to my belly, trying to get a straight 20 minute read without interruption. I asked if this was normal, for her to stay there like that. She laughed, "No. Definitely not." I mentioned to another midwife that my cycle had always been 35 days, not 28. "Couldn't that make my due date actually today, instead of last week?" She told me it didn't matter, they wouldn't let me go any later than tomorrow anyway, so might as well stay in and start the process tonight.

I was told there weren't any available beds, so I'd have to be sent back home. Then I was told they had a bed and I would be staying there. Back and forth, back and forth...Finally, back out in the waiting room, my husband joined me and we were taken to the bed I would end up spending way too much time in. It was in the post-natal ward. There were no available beds in the ward I should have been in, so I was put in a room with mothers that had just delivered their babies. I would get no sleep for the next two nights.

I was given four doses over the next 24 hours of a gel that was supposed to start contractions. I would have contractions for an hour or so, really painful ones, and then they would simply disappear. I was told to stay active, bounce on my ball. Then I was told, keep laying down, there's no point to moving around now. I was hooked up to the fetal heart-rate monitor for hours at a time, forced to drink water to keep the baby moving around, but not allowed to move so that they could get a decent reading...since the baby kept moving around. Twenty minute readings turned into three hours of laying and not moving. I thought I was going to go crazy. My wonderful husband became a professional at reading the print outs from the machine. He'd try and find a midwife to ask why I was still hooked up and if I could take a bathroom break. So I'd get up to use the toilet (all that water!!) and then have to lay back down to start it all over again. I will never understand why I was left for hours at a time hooked up to a machine that was supposed to take a 20 minute reading. It was torturous.

That Tuesday was a blur. I still had hope though. I was told the obvious, the gels didn't work, and they couldn't give me anymore. So Wednesday morning I'd be taken down to the labor ward regardless, and my waters would be broken. Finally, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Tomorrow. Tomorrow my baby will be born and all this waiting will be over.

I didn't sleep that night. I was brought my breakfast when it was still completely dark outside and none of the other mothers, or even the babies, had yet to stir. I quietly walked up and down the hallways with my husband, waiting to be brought down to the labor ward. Once I had arrived, I surveyed the room and finally felt a bit of peace, knowing here was where my baby would be born. My midwives were wonderful; smiley, friendly, cheery despite the morning hour. They broke my waters and I couldn't have been more excited. This had been what I was waiting for. Finally, labor. The contractions came fast and hard. I bounced on the birthing ball, breathing and chatting, closing my eyes occasionally to concentrate. My student midwife exclaimed, "You are doing an amazing job! These contractions are really strong, I can't believe you're just breathing and talking through them. The hypnobirthing can totally work for you!"

And then...the dreaded, awful, evil syntocinon drip. I will never forgive that drip. Once it was at its max, I felt like I couldn't see straight. The contractions were worse than I'd ever imagined. They came in clusters, one right after another and then another, and then a break for a few minutes. Then another cluster. I tried every position trying to find relief. I tried my breathing. Finally, standing against the bed, feeling like my legs were going to give out from underneath me, I knew I wasn't going to make it through. I asked to be examined in order to find out how long I had progressed.

"5 centimeters! You're halfway!" The midwife proclaimed. I took a few more breaths, looked at my husband, and then back at the midwife and asked for the epidural. I will always wonder if this was my big mistake...

Ahh, sweet, beautiful, wonderful, heavenly relief. Finally, after two days in that hospital, I felt my body relax. My eyes got droopy. I was exhausted. The midwives said, go'll need the energy for pushing. So I nodded off, dozed in and out of consciousness, mindful of the midwife sitting right next to my bed, taking notes. My husband had gone for lunch. I was desperate for that sleep and I completely gave into it. I woke after a few hours and was examined again.

"Hmm, I think you're actually only 3 centimeters dilated," My midwife said. Well, that's not right. I'm supposed to be progressing, not going backwards. A doctor came in to examine me. "Yes, it seems you're only between 2 and 3 centimeters, you're closing up actually." Is that possible? Is it possible for one's cervix to so completely reject an induction that it closes up? I couldn't be hearing this. It didn't even make sense.

"Basically, your baby isn't going to come out like this. She's not even engaged in your pelvis yet, I can still push her around inside your uterus. So we'll have to take you in to surgery. You'll need a caesarean."

I remember crying immediately. I remember begging to be allowed to labor longer. I remember saying something about hypnobirthing, about my natural drug-free birth, about how this wasn't happening. But it was happening. The doctor told me he'd give me another hour to at least think about and accept the fact that I was going to be sectioned. Everyone left the room and it was just my husband and me. I felt powerless. I felt empty. I felt like a failure. My husband looked me in the eyes and said, "At least this is all going to be over now. No more waiting. No more wondering. We're going to meet her so soon."

There were forms to sign ("potential side effects of surgery...paralyzation...death...") and then there I was, on a bed, unable to move from my epidural,  being wheeled feet-first through double doors into an operation room I never thought I'd have to be in. And a feeling so distinct and clear came over me. I've never felt it so strong before in my life. Fight or Flight. Every cell in my body wanted to run, but I couldn't even wiggle my toes. Every limb wanted to punch and kick and get out of there but it was impossible. I have never, ever, ever in my life felt such fear. It completely enveloped me. To be cut open...sliced open..., my innards moved around, my baby tugged from my body. This wasn't me. This wasn't happening to me.

I remember closing my eyes and the anesthesiologist demanding I answer his questions and pay attention. I remember saying, "I'm totally freaking out right now so I'm trying to do my hypnobirthing." My midwife grabbed my hand and told me it was ok, to keep doing that, to stay calm. When the spinal took effect, they must have been moving my legs because I had the sensation of them sticking straight up in the air for the entire surgery. It was all so quick. Numbness, arms splayed out like a crucifix, my husband at my head, my face itched like crazy and he rubbed it for me. And then, "Hello baby girl!" I heard one of the surgeons say. They quickly dropped the sheet protecting me from seeing my own insides and showed her to us quickly, and then she was straight into the incubator to keep her warm. I was desperate for a cuddle, for one touch or a close up look at least. She stayed in that incubator for nearly an hour while I was stitched back up and then there she was, in my arms in the recovery room, a nurse tugging my bare nipple into Estlin's mouth and my husband taking pictures.

I don't really remember anything more after that, of that first night. Vinnie couldn't stay with me and I couldn't move, so Estlin must have been in bed with me all night. I remember around 3 am being forced into the toilet to "wash up" even though I could barely stand, carrying with me my own bag of pee and shuffling through the darkness like a 90 year old woman. I vomited once I got to the bathroom. Let me just say, vomiting after being cut open near your abdomen? Ha. Give me labor pains any day. I seriously thought I was ripping myself open from the inside out.

My sisters arrived that next day and I was so insanely happy to see them. But because of the caesarean. I was stuck in that hospital for five more days. The first five days of their trip. So I still missed out on loads of time with them. Those five days are a complete blur of pain medication dosages, check ins with the lactaction consultant, cuddles and nappy changes, no sleep and no husband overnight, and a few visitors. I still have yet to enjoy marmalade on toast with tea again. And I cried when my husband finally drove us away, a whole eight days after I had arrived. I thought I was never going to be allowed to leave.

But my baby is healthy, beautiful, perfect. So why...why does any of this matter?


Nearly a third of all first time mothers end up in the OR for a caesarean here in Ireland. A third. Why is this happening? What is wrong with the maternity system that doctors are so quick to cut a baby out? Where has the trust gone that we are capable and aware and in-tune with our bodies? I completely lost trust in myself. I did everything right during my pregnancy. I maybe gained too much weight but my baby was born under 8 lbs, she was not too big and there was no medical reason whatsoever for me to be induced a mere week after my due date. That induction led directly to an unnecessary surgical procedure that could very well define the rest of the births I might have. Once you have a caesarean, you have a less than 10% chance of ever giving birth vaginally. And this is why, for me, my section has caused so much trauma. I can't imagine never giving birth. I can't imagine never knowing what natural labor feels like. I can't imagine only ever being cut up to get my baby out. These things are unimaginable to me. Yet this is my fate now. This is what I am left with. For something I never really thought that much about in my past, I am now completely obsessed with. Sometimes, out of nowhere, I'll think back to the entire experience, I'll find myself picturing those double doors opening again at the foot of my bed and I get chills, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. To end up there again...I don't know. I simply don't know what I would do, how I would heal again.

I was pregnant, and I have a baby, a beautiful, wonderful, happy, smiling, social, adorable, playful, adventurous,  full of laughter little girl but I did not give birth. I don't feel like I gave birth to her. She was cut out of me. I can't get over that. I can't get over that disconnect from pregnancy to motherhood. I missed a step. In my mind, I missed an incredibly important, fulfilling, and integral step to motherhood. I know I shouldn't feel this way. I know caesareans save lives. I know some woman are just as frightened of natural birth as I was of a surgical birth and I know many of those women choose their sections, and that is 100% ok by me. But this is the feeling I have been left with and I have yet, even now after a year has passed, I have yet to feel my wounds fully heal. Even my scar, still jagged and purple and ugly, mocks me every day when I unclothe myself.


It's Estlin's birthday tomorrow. I have tried to distract myself this week with planning an over the top party that she will never remember. I want so desperately to not look at this date as the worst day of my life every year. I want to say to myself, "It was one day in your baby girl's life. One day. Why let it hold so much weight over you? Why let it remain so scary and sad?" She is more than I could have ever asked for. I wouldn't change a thing about her. And there's no way I could have loved her any more if she had come to me in the way I had imagined. I need to make my peace with something that went way out of my control. I need to find solace in the fact that I will demand and receive another chance next time. I need to let go of the past and realize that I am not my birth trauma. I am Estlin's mother. And I'm really good at it, I was made for this job and when I look at her, when she laughs at me, when we catch each other's eye across the room in the morning when I'm making breakfast and she remembers that I'm there with her and waddles over to me as fast as her tiny little legs can take her, throwing her arms up in the air to be picked up by me, me, that my most important job as her mother is to be an example. I have often spent so much time thinking of how I could have done things differently in the past, or what I am looking forward to in the future, instead of being in the here and now. I want Estlin to see the importance of every moment, that there is always another chance, that we cannot change the things that have made us who we are today, and that it is so important to let go of our burdens, to not carry them everywhere, and to trust ourselves, to love ourselves fully, and unconditionally.

Because in the end, despite it all, I would do it a thousand times over to call her my own.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Two Weeks In & Two Weeks Away

So I'm at the beginning of my third week on the MuTu/Slimpod program and am definitely loving it so far. I'm noticing all these subtle changes in the decisions I make. Hopefully, the subtleties will turn into noticeable differences soon enough, but it's my attitude that has been most affected. I'm looking forward to loving the way I look, instead of focusing on hating how I look now. Switching out the negative for the positive. There's a lot to say in doing that.

The first two weeks of the MuTu System has definitely been easy going. Besides a few informational videos to watch, there's a six minute exercise video focusing on your core and general stretches. Six minutes! Hard to not make time for just six minutes during the day (even though I find most days I'm doing it right before bed, but the stretching feels great at that time and it really puts me in tune with how my body is feeling at the end of the day). I can actually feel these few exercises trying to pull those abdominal muscles back together, as with traditional planks and crunches actually push them out. I believe soon enough there will be more of a commitment with the MuTu (extra 20 minute workouts that will help burn calories instead of just focusing on the DR) and I'm definitely looking forward to that.

Along with eating better and the super easy 6 minute core exercises, I'm supposed to be walking outside every day for at least 20-30 minutes. This will most likely be the hardest thing to commit to, for obvious reasons. I live in Ireland and we're not known for our dry, sunshiney, perfect outdoor walking weather. But we are at a change of season now and this week is already gifting us some pretty nice sunny days. The walk today was so bright out, I found myself fumbling with the silly sun umbrella that attaches to Estlin's buggy every few minutes, depending on the direction we were facing. Poor thing was sneezing up a storm every time the sun was in her face! It's been an awful stormy winter here and I know I'm not the only one that is so looking forward to a somewhat decent summer. When the sun is shining, and it's warm and dry and calm, it's damn near perfect here in Co. Clare.

I've very much enjoyed this commitment to moving more outdoors. There's something to say in forcing ourselves to strive for more natural movement. As in, walking outside on normal terrain in the flattest shoes possible (or barefoot!) with correct posture. The overall point of MuTu is to fix a "mummy tummy" but a lot of that comes from having the right alignment in all of our movements. Heeled shoes cause us to lean forward and then over-correct. Treadmills and other exercise machines don't allow us to move naturally. If we correct our alignment and posture, our muscles will want to be where they're supposed to be. I invested in a nice pair of Converse this weekend (or should I say, Vinnie invested...) and can definitely feel the difference when I'm walking compared to my boots or runners. I find I am more aware of how my entire body feels during that movement. I can feel my core engaging and my shoulders pushing back. I can feel my muscles doing what they should be doing, whether I'm walking uphill or downhill. It's an enlightening experience, paying attention to how your body feels doing something as natural as walking, and being aware of doing it correctly.

I'm also finding the Slimpod to be extremely helpful. There are no strict diet guidelines, just the general idea to make better choices, or at least be aware of why and when you make bad choices. At the end of each day, I write down three noticeable changes in the choices I made, whether I moved more and ate better, etc. Then I listen to the quick 9 minute track on my iPod before falling asleep. It forces you to focus on the positive things, no matter how small, at the end of every day. This is so much more life-changing then the usual beating I can give myself for eating this or not doing that, generally focusing on the negative things I did during the day that aren't getting me closer to my goals. It's amazing to lay there in bed and think, "See how easy it was to not have that snack after dinner? Didn't it feel good to actually say no to that slice of pizza?" It's helped me realize that these things are possible, saying no and choosing better. It's a crazy concept, but I can actually feel good not having ice cream every night. Or cake. Mmmmmmm...cake...Sorry, I'm getting off track here.

One of my ultimate goals with using the Slimpod program would be to get rid of that constant sugar craving that I have and replace it with a craving for real, healthy food. This will most likely be one of the hardest things to accomplish for me because not only am I absolutely obsessed with sweet things, but I just adore baking in all its forms and feel so much joy and satisfaction with making a delicious cupcake and seeing friends and family enjoy it too. I'll definitely need to find the middle ground with this one. I don't want to have to give up an activity that I so thoroughly enjoy and am actually really good at, just because I can't control how much I indulge myself when I do bake.

It's almost Estlin's first birthday and there will be a party and there will be cake and sweets and goodies and all that jazz. And I will definitely, for sure, without a doubt, partake in said cake and sweets and goodies. I'm not going to feel guilty for that. As the date of the 27th of March approaches, I'm filled with so many emotions. One, I can't believe I have nearly a one year old daughter, and how amazing that little girl is, how perfect for me she has turned out to be, and what an incredible year she has given me. But lurking there in the shadows behind all that is the memory of that day and what I had so desperately wanted it to be and what it eventually ended up being instead and how even now, a year later, I can't seem to fully get out of that shadow. My daughter's birthday should and will be a wonderful, beautiful, happy occasion. But I've still got a lot of healing to do and I know I won't be able to shake that shadow just yet so instead I will distract myself with cake. Lots of delicious, rainbow colored cake...and for that one day I will over-indulge and I won't feel guilty in the hopes that all that sugary-sweetness will take away the awful bitter taste I have in my mouth for what should have been the happiest day of my life, yet was so far from it.

I'm nearly ready now to tell that story. Soon...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A New Beginning, and Other Cliches

Ahh, finally after a near two year hiatus, I am resurrecting the old blog. There are many things I've wanted to write since my last post yet the desire was never strong enough to put pen to to keys. But now, now there is a real and definite reason that I must start doing this again. My life has changed in the most epic way possible - my first child arrived 11 months ago to this day. Stepping into the role of mother has been everything I ever thought it would be and I adore every minute...well, almost every minute. I am thankful every day that I was blessed with such a beautiful and curious and social little girl, Estlin Luna. You wouldn't think it's possible, but I love her more and more every single day.

But a part of me was forever changed and lost somewhere along the way between finding out I was pregnant and actually bringing her into the world. And I have struggled for 11 months to get that part back. I'm beginning to feel like that's impossible.

Our bodies change in so many ways during pregnancy and after. I knew all this but still, the results can be astounding. The stretching of skin, like claw marks along my sides and belly. The aches and pains and pressure and bloating and heartburn. My fingers went completely numb for the last few months of pregnancy, a distraction I could never find relief from that affected every single thing I did during the day. And the weight. Oh, the weight. I told myself in the beginning, I'd gain the average amount and stay healthy and strong. But the last month or so, I just lost control. I didn't feel like moving and all I wanted was to eat. The two combined don't bring about good results. It was ok, though, because I'd get my shape back after giving birth with healthy eating and exercise. How hard could it be?

It has been one of the hardest struggles of my life.

I see myself in pictures or catch my reflection in the mirror and I don't recognize that person. I never struggled with my weight. I was so skinny growing up and in high school, I probably looked somewhat UNhealthy. In college I had a bit of fluctuation, but that was all the late night Taco Bell and Jimmy John's while studying and being on my own for the first time without my mom telling me that one shouldn't consume ice cream every single evening while catching up on Lost. But I never got "heavy" just got rid of that slightly emaciated look. After college, in Portland, OR, I was the most fit I've ever been. I ate like crap; I literally had at least one meal out a day, Thai food for dinner every night, and don't get me started on the expansion of the ice cream addiction. However, I was constantly moving. I was one of the thousands of bicycle commuters that fill Portland's streets and if I wasn't on my bike, I was walking. I didn't own a car, so if I was going anywhere, I was using my body to get there. I see pictures of myself from then and think, "Yes, that's me. That's the me I remember being." I'm embarrassed for even my husband to see me undress. That's an awfully sad place to be in.

I've been trying lots of different things. For one, they say the weight will fall off of you if you breast feed. Not for me. Breast milk has been Estlin's main source of sustenance since day one yet I've struggled to get back to normal. I was walking all the time, but the weather got in the way. I started going to the gym, sweating hard for an hour several days a week. I quit carbs. I quit sugar (kind of; oh sugar, you demon of sweetness). Nothing worked. And since I'm an all or nothing kind of girl, if I didn't see results in a few weeks, I'd give up or give in to temptation. I have very little self control when it comes to cupcakes and Indian take aways. I can always be convinced to cheat just a little. But a few little cheats in one week is enough to halt any improvement from occurring. I thought for sure by the time Estlin was one, I'd be back in all my normal clothes and feeling great.

Here we are, 11 months post-partum and I still wear baggy maternity clothes because I'm ashamed of my still pregnant-looking belly. I'd die if anyone asked me when the baby is due. Oh, the baby? You mean my one year old? Yeah...

So I can give up and give in and admit defeat and say, "Whatever, I'm a mother, I should look different and I should be proud of my body for creating a child and I shouldn't be ashamed of the evidence of that that I still bear." But I'm not happy. I don't like what I see and I want to change it.

Last week, I won a spot to participate for free in this weight loss program designed specifically for mothers struggling with their leftover baby bellies. It's called MuTu (short for mummy tummy) and it's being run in conjunction with Slimpod, which is like hypnobirthing but for weight loss. I had to promise to commit and give it my all and I am now accountable to this amazing opportunity I've been given for free. I know how easy it is to cheat and give in, so I'm going to blog about my progress in order to keep myself accountable to everyone around me. I also want to do this because for the longest time I felt like I was the only one going through this struggle, that none of my friends or family members had any trouble with their weight after giving birth. I know this isn't true. I know we all have improvements we want to make and struggles we need encouragement over. So I want to be the example., I want to admit publicly that I am struggling and that I'm unhappy with myself and I'm ready to change and maybe by doing that, I can encourage someone else to take that first step also.

One of my hugest struggles with the weight, is that it is a constant reminder of the experience I had giving birth to Estlin. For those that are close to me, they already know this story and know this struggle. I feel I have not been able to heal emotionally  from the loss of my desired birth experience because I have never gotten my physical self back. This will be one of my main goals. If I can find the old me under these layers of extra weight and skin, I might then be able to forgive this body for not doing what it was supposed to do. Another step will be to tell that story here publicly. I'm not sure yet when I'll be ready to do that, but hopefully soon. I need to let go of this pain  before I can ever heal.

So, here goes. I hope my friends and family will follow me on this journey and keep the encouragement coming and in turn, I will work hard to reach the goals I have put before me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Dress Rehearsal For Departure

It has only just recently dawned on me that I have been in the presence of an extraordinary woman my entire life. Not only have I had the pleasure of sitting in the same room, even speaking to her personally, but I have been made aware that she frequently brings me up in conversation, acknowledging that there is a particular place in her heart that I have been comfortably spending time in since my birth, despite major competition from dozens of others. Even beyond all this, past the realization of my importance to her, without even thinking of what she has meant to me or understanding my own role in her life - that of her fifth granddaughter - is the heavy, no... debilitating weight now on my shoulders that I have never spent any time, not even for a moment, thinking of her as anything but the one thing she has always been to me - my Grandmother. For now I realize, perhaps at almost the exact point in life that it could be too late, that she has spent a lifetime, 84 years, living as so many other roles. And that in each of these roles she has created memories and affected others around her and loved and lost and dreamt and played and perhaps, even wasted time in regret or deceit, spent hours crying behind closed curtains where she has spent the last 18 years alone, with nothing but these memories. My Grandmother has lived a lifetime, hides a wealth of knowledge and wisdom deep within her, and has only recently let me in the slightest bit to see the person she was long before my father existed, decades prior to my own arrival; a young woman, a girl even, falling in love for the first and only time, with a man I barely ever knew.

My memories of my Grandfather are few and far between, as they say. I remember an average man, in terms of his build and stature. I don't remember him towering over me, or having any struggle picking me up. In fact, I don't really remember what it was like to be held by him at all but then again I would have been a baby, a toddler, during those times and none of us really remember that, do we? For I'm absolutely positive that he held me and if his reaction is anything like my own father holding his grandchildren, well, it must have been a very wonderful feeling indeed. I remember a lot of plain white T-shirts and light-colored slacks. I remember glasses and thin hair. I even remember his scent when I was near him, but there aren't quite words for that. Perhaps an aftershave or a particular bar of soap. I'd have to admit, if there was an exact setting that I see my Grandfather in, in my thoughts, it's in his favorite chair in front of the television in the sitting room at his home. This chair is a lazy-boy, blue, or gray perhaps and the TV is on some old black and white film, or a gameshow. These particular details don't necessarily matter but this is where he is in my mind and I truly have a very hard time seeing him anywhere else. This might make my Grandmother sad, or my father wonder how I couldn't remember all the other things we did together with him, but this is my only memory. My Grandfather died when I was 10 years old. I remember that day clearly, at least the morning right after my father burst through the door not long after leaving for work, calling up the stairs to my mother that he didn't have long and was running to their house right away. I knew but didn't really know at that age, what all that meant. But my Grandfather was dying and I guess my father was hoping to make it there in time, to say goodbye, to watch the final breath leave those cancerous lungs, to maybe catch a glimpse of a soul departing, to hold the hand of his grieving mother. My school bus stop was at the end of the street where my Grandparents lived and I have this incredibly pristine memory, a moment forever stamped in the passport of my mind- a 10 year old me, sitting on a cold sidewalk, waiting for a bus, with my back towards that house, wondering if Grandpa had died yet and wondering what that really meant and if my Dad was crying. Then the bus came, and I don't remember anything after that.

For my Grandmother, a day that I barely remember is most likely one of the worst days of her entire life. She wrote to me and admitted that when she was younger, she never thought about growing old or dying, and that she lived in the moment (ah, youth, we aren't aware of its power and meaning and opportunity until it's gone) but that her whole world fell apart when my Grandpa died. Forty-seven years they spent together, bringing nine completely unique children into the world (although their physical similarities are astounding now as they all continue to age). Can you imagine the amount of food one has to prepare for a family of eleven? The thousands of loads of laundry? The countless baths and bedtimes, the quarrels and apologies? My Grandmother gave birth nine times, chose nine names & watched nine children grow up and leave her home, only then to watch her husband slowly disappear into a very sick and emaciated man. At his funeral, she watched one of them unbutton the top button of the suit he was being burried in, something she says he always did the moment he got home from work. She watched these nine adults resort back to their childhood selves, as they said goodbye, as they cried and regretted not having one more conversation or one more hug or one more opportunity to say "I love you". She watched all this and even though it was her Jack laying still as dust on an old shelf in that casket, she stayed resolute for those nine children. She didn't allow the fear and loneliness and torment that she knew would consume her the moment she was back in their home alone, to show to any of them. And oh, how that solitude sank deep into her bones, like the freezing fog of an early winter's night, it seeped into her and stayed and somehow managed to fill the incredibly large space where her husband had been. Despite her absolute sanity, her complete acknowledgement that he was dead and gone and that was that, she still sat waiting for him to come in or out, she still listened for the sound of his footsteps in the kitchen or his voice humming as he shaved in the bathroom. She'd peek through the curtains if lights passed by, just in case it was him driving up the driveway. Maybe she even said his name sometimes, just to move the air in a stale and empty room. How many nights she spent laying awake, desperately desiring to hear him call out to her and there was nothing but the hum of life gone on around her. I'll never know how many nights, but I know for sure, if she loved him like I love my husband, she's waited to hear that voice again every single second since he last spoke. I cannot comprehend such an agonizing desire, I don't understand such torment of an unfulfilled wish. I hope I don't have to for decades to come, or perhaps ever, if I'll be lucky enough to be laid to rest before my husband.

A paragraph can do no justice to the time lived in between meeting for the first time and burrying your husband, and all those lonely years to come after. But that's the thing, I have so little knowledge of all that came between. I know that the moment she saw him, her heart leapt in her chest (her words). But she wasn't actually his first choice of date after returning from World War II, even though she knew that it would all be over for the other girls if he gave her a chance. And after a burger out with friends, a walk home, a long talk well into the night on the swing on her front porch, they kissed. And that was that. He was the one, no doubt about it. My own heart warms at this memory of my Grandmother's, since my own story of finding true love went along a similar route. You always read about seeing someone and just knowing, for me that was the case. Apparently, it was the same for my Grandmother. My marriage proposal happened on the top of a mountain on the West coast of Ireland. Hers wasn't as romantic but it came eventually (after saying that she enjoyed the company of his cousin Helen, he asked "Would you like her to be your cousin too?"...apparently, romance wasn't his strength). They married young, something her mother didn't approve of (she wanted her daughter to continue her education and to travel and see the world; I wonder if my Grandmother wishes she had those experiences now too?). But there's no regret once you start having children and I'm sure the moment my Grandmother looked in the eyes of her firstborn, Mark, there was no going back. My father was the fourth child and there was a bit of a gap between him and the fifth (apparently, my Grandpa's favorite joke about those years was that that was when they finally got a television!). And I'm sure in what felt like a blink of an eye, their home was full of children and toys and messes and dirty dishes and stained clothes and every other thing that comes with a large family. Even now, when she is looking back, 84 years must feel like the blink of an eye, or at least a breath taken, despite what must be millions of breaths that came between.

Now, you're thinking, of course I must have known that my Grandmother was a mother too and a wife, and sister and daughter and all those things and you'd be right. I knew all this. But I never thought of what it must have been like for her as a child, as a teenager finishing high school, as a young woman dreaming about what it would be like to kiss someone, as a scared twenty-something going into labour for the first time. I never thought about her struggles or fears, her desires for the lives she wanted her children to live. I never considered that she, as her own self, as Betty, felt and dreamt and lived her own life. I just always thought - well, that's my Grandma. And now, now - perhaps when there isn't enough time left, or I'm too far away and her penmanship isn't that legible anymore, it's just too late to hear all the thousands of stories she has and the millions of memories of each day gone by, when I know - I know for a fact - she has the words I so desperately want to hear. I want to know that you can survive love and lost, that those 18 years weren't all torment but perhaps comfort found her in the snippets in her memory she saved of his touch. I want to hear that seeing the world isn't nearly as incredible as watching your babies fall asleep on the chest of their father, your husband. I want to know that the distance between family is nothing compared to those moments you do get to spend with them, despite all the moments spent apart. I want her to say that regrets make you stronger, that she isn't scared to be nearer to the end than she is to the beginning (or maybe that it's just another beginning?). And more than anything, more than all of this, every word before this, I want her to know that I love her and I love the parts of me that came from her and how proud I am that my blood came from her blood, that I am her descendent, the first daughter of her third son. I want her to know that her branch of our family tree is one of the strongest and that it will continue to grow through her nine children, and their children and their children's children and beyond; that she'll always live in each of us, that we'll never be without her because we are only here because of her.

We seem to always find a thousand words we wish we'd said to those we love, after it's too late. And I vowed to myself, when I left my birthplace a week ago, that I would find a way to tell you all these things. The way you hugged me, the way you told me you wished you had gotten to know my husband better, and that look in your eyes, like you were trying to memorize my face, when you said, "You've always been my special girl." This felt like a dress reheasal, an amateur goodbye, a practice for when that time comes. So before it does, before it's too late, I've got my lines memorized and I know exactly what to say. I love you. And I know what love is, what life is, because you first loved and there's never enough words in all the world to thank someone for that.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Two pieces, two places

Some days I do honestly wonder, is it physically possible to live my entire life away from my parents, my siblings, their children, my childhood friends, everyone who knew me as I changed and grew and became who I am today? Will this be a life long struggle of back and forth, wading through stuffy airplanes & stale airports for elated reunions & eventual goodbyes and all the emotion those come with? Will I ever become truly and completely settled here or will a part of me always need to plan the next trip home, have a day in the future to look forward to? Could I honestly say I'm totally happy here if a part of me is perpetually waiting to return to where my family are? I don't have the answers right now. I just know the daily ache for these people never disappears or even fades in the slightest. In fact, with every hello and goodbye, I seem to find it harder to live without them by my side. But Ireland is my home, my life, my husband is here and soon we'll start our own family. So what I'm asking is, can one truly live with a heart in two pieces, two places?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Life In Pieces

Maybe going back home only six months after moving abroad was too soon. Maybe going back to Portland, Oregon for a mere week brought along the realization that I had wasted so many hours in the four years I lived there not taking advantage of what that city had to offer. Maybe learning how to care for a newborn while feeling totally unready to bear my own children made me think I was a few steps behind in life. Maybe the time spent in my home state of Michigan, where the ones I love the most live, those that share my blood, made me confirm that I absolutely did not belong there anymore. Or maybe it was the cancelled flights, the night spent alone in a stale hotel room after a day of airport goodbyes, the spilled bottle of juice that had soaked the contents of my purse (including my laptop), or the fact that for a whole day I had been stuck in between getting back to my husband in Ireland and having just a few more hours with my parents, moving nowhere and having no way to call either party for the comfort of a familiar voice. Whatever it was, for one of those reasons or all of them combined, I found myself at JFK airport in NY, surrounded by hundreds of fellow travelers, with tears springing suddenly and violently into my eyes and no way to stop them but to hide away in a stall in the women's restroom, something I'd found myself doing quite often on these long journeys between all the places I've called home. But I've gotten ahead of myself, for the tears came at the end of my month back in the States, and before those tears came so much happiness and pure joy.

I had been looking forward to this trip home with an urgent expectancy unlike any feeling I'd had before, ever since hearing the day after my wedding that my younger sister was expecting something of her own. The moment she told us, I felt a piece of my heart crack in half and go in two completely separate directions; one piece melted into my sister's skin as I threw my arms around her, binding us together thru this happiness towards a new, yet unborn life that neither of us knew yet but already totally and completely loved. The other piece got stuck in the back of my throat and got me all choked up to the point of leaving the celebrating members of our family and hiding myself outside to cry and cry and cry - that piece of my heart was the realization that I was now legally bound in my choice to live thousands of miles away from all I'd ever known and how much I'd miss because of that choice. Now, because of this unborn thing, I'd definitely be coming back home sooner than originally planned; with my sister already three months along, I would be coming back sometime in April or May, and one winter in Ireland before returning for an American spring didn't seem like long at all. But the winter was long and I had never been more ready for a vacation from a life I had yet to truly settle into and maybe that's why this month back home was a whirlwind of emotions. It hadn't been enough time removed from America for me to be used to the distance and to feel that Ireland was definitely now my home; as if I'd spent six months in a still-plane hovering miles above the Atlantic moving not one inch closer to Ireland or farther from the States but perfectly suspended directly between the two, refusing to let me let go, inhibiting me from latching onto a thing. And so, having already been used to time spent apart from my husband, I kissed him goodbye at the airport in Shannon, for once not leaving behind a trail of tears through the security checkpoint, and happily boarded my fight.

The week in Portland was a flash, a blink of an eye in the timeline that will be my life. I was both saddened and at the same time, absolutely delighted to see that life had carried on exactly the same without me. Of course, I could never expect my close friends to wallow for years and years in my absence but it struck me as oddly poetic to see my belongings I had left behind sitting exactly where I had left them. No one had picked up the hand-crafted vase I had placed on the mantle so as to physically reminisce of their long-lost friend, or chosen to put my old lamp next to their bedside as a reminder to think of me whenever its light bulb glowed. I could have been more upset, but in a way, it comforted me. We all want to be missed, but it was nice to know I hadn't ruined anyone's life by going...The week wasn't short of laughs, excellent meals out, or plenty of time spent doing a lot of the things I used to do. But taking my usual busses, walking past familiar landmarks, coffee shops and boutiques, and seeing so many faces I didn't know but that seemed completely recognizable (for in Portland's uniqueness, comes a frightening similarity amongst its residents), I realized that I wasn't sad to have left, I wasn't pining for that life. Portland served its purpose for me during the four years I resided there, and although I missed my friends constantly (or wished to always be near an unabashedly pretentious veggie burrito and an unapologetically strong cup of locally roasted & brewed coffee), I found myself secretly giggling at all the little things that make Portland, well, weird. It rained and rained and I didn't miss that a bit (I get enough of that here, now) but on my last day there, as if the Oregon sky chose to either bless me for visiting or wish me good riddance, the rain clouds cleared and gave way to that typical yet always wonderfully appreciated perfect Portland summer day. I hugged friends goodbye, this time knowing that it could very well be years or so before seeing some of them again, and without any tears, boarded the next flight to return to Michigan.

The first couple of days home were spent lazying around my parent's house waiting for the inevitable phone call from Canada that there was a baby on its way. I had flown on my sister's due date and luckily didn't miss the birth. I'm sure of it now that my little niece was waiting for her Aunt to arrive before joining us all and sure enough, it wasn't until just a mere two days past that date that my sister gave us the go-ahead. My youngest sister, my mother and I excitedly packed overnight bags and started the three hour drive to London, Ontario, actually beating her and her husband to the hospital. When they did arrive, they did not even acknowledge our presence in the waiting room but checked-in and went right away behind closed doors (but there were a few minutes that passed while my brother in law gave the RN their information allowing my sister time to bang her head against the wall, lightly of course). I was filled with a sudden and overwhelming fear of how bad the pain must be if she couldn't even say hello and give quick hugs, it had been so long since we'd last seen her. All I wanted to do was hold her tight and tell her it would be ok, but I didn't know that for sure since this was something I had yet to experience myself. After a few meds were given out, we were allowed into the birth room to finally say our hellos and good lucks. She barely said a word, but I kissed her on her forehead, told her this is what she had been waiting so long for, that her daughter was about to be there for all of us to meet, and I let her squeeze my hand into oblivion as another contraction passed. Several hours later, dozing on and off, watching awful food television, and frequently readjusting on the uncomfortable leather couch, my brother in law came out to inform us all  - 7lbs 15.9 oz, 10 fingers 10 toes, dark hair and eyes and somehow, my father's exact same chin - our little Adelyn Marie had arrived healthy and without complications and if we liked, we could go in and meet her.

It was a feeling I can not quite find the words for, for hours before there had just been a few people in that room and now, there was one extra. Something brand new, someone none of us had ever seen before and all of a sudden - there she was, this hour old little human. I felt like doing a comical double-take between my sister's still swollen but now empty belly and this floppy little thing that couldn't even hold her own head up if she tried. Wondering, even though I have full knowledge, how it got from there to here. When they put her into my arms, I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling that I was now holding the most expensive, precious and rare treasure I had ever laid eyes on, and that moment that her eyes met my own, I realized there was now a new love in my life that I had never known before. I had no words. My mind just kept repeating, I love you I love you I love you! over and over again and when I thought there would definitely be tears over such a tremendously new and exciting emotion, there was only the extreme joy of this beautiful new life that had yet to experience fear or resentment or anger but just whole & natural & pure, pure love. I honestly hoped that she could feel that, that she could feel how much we all loved her already.

I know I will forever look back on the week I spent at home with my sisters and this new baby as one of the best weeks of my life; even though I'm (hopefully) only a quarter or so through my life I know without a doubt that there won't be many weeks that could rise to that occasion and top those seven days.  Because I live so far away and maybe also because they were a little scared of being left alone with a new baby (don't all new parents have that feeling with the first child?), Audrey and Josh had asked me to stay with them for that first week after Adie came, along with my other sister, Betsy. We delighted in the task ahead of us, way over-enthusiastically changing dirty diapers, willingly waking at all hours of the night to rock a sleepless baby back to sleep, cooking meals and folding laundry, doing whatever we could to make this frightening new experience just the slightest bit easier for the new parents to handle. I watched with complete fascination at how quickly Audrey took to motherhood. I felt my heart soar to hear Josh singing to his baby girl while changing her clothes and would sometimes catch the way he looked at her, as if there was no one else on earth that could possibly compare and I realized I couldn't wait to see my own husband with that look in his eyes. One day, when the house was quiet, we prepared a bath for Audrey, turned the lights down low, lit a few candles. After she finished, she asked for us to bring Adie into the bath with her. I lingered only slightly, watching through a half-closed door as my younger sister (who used to dirty herself playing soccer or liked portraying Danny Zuko from Grease whenever we played pretend as children) now in the purest feminine act I had ever seen, nakedly bathing with her newborn girl, tucked gently between her thighs, softly pouring warm water over her tiny head, as Adie's little mouth puckered up towards her mother's breast. I forgot all about the tomboy of a sister I once had and promised myself to always remember this sacred moment of womanhood that I had witnessed whenever I think I don't have a clue about what it takes to be a mother. Apparently, it just comes naturally. Apparently, it's the most beautiful thing in the world.

The day before we were to head back to Michigan, I was attempting to rock our little one back to sleep. We had all started doing this funny bouncing walk through the house whenever we were holding her and today it seemed to be bringing her a certain peace. She wasn't getting sleepy but was contently looking straight into my eyes. I was amazed at how piercing her gaze was, as if she knew the sadness that was enveloping me in the realization that I had just one more day with her before it would be months until I held her again. I wanted to memorize everything about her new self at just one week old; the fierce darkness of her new eyes, the tiny furrow of her brow, the miniscule hairs that poked out around her ears, the strength of her little legs whenever she kicked at the changing table, the absolutely gorgeous scent of her head, the way all five of her baby fingers wrapped tightly around just one of my own, the one cry that would break suddenly- violently sucking in air and releasing it with such fervour as if she feared never getting fed again (a sound I found such happiness in despite the absolute desperation in its tone). I began to cry and I didn't want her to see me like that, weak and vulnerable, even though she herself was these things, even though I knew she had yet to understand what adult tears represented (they being so much more than the want for food or a clean diaper, a lack of sleep or desire for warmth). I watched her blink softly in the sudden afternoon sun that came from behind a cloud and through the window landing silently on her face and at that moment I hoped and hoped and wanted so badly for just a fraction of this memory of me holding her to stay hidden somewhere deep in her conscience.

Oh, these were the hardest goodbyes I had ever had to say. Our car was packed, we were set to go. I knew Betsy was sad to be leaving, but it couldn't compare to my own melancholy as our distances from our sister were incredibly different, mine being hours & flights and miles and oceans away, hers just being miles...I absently wandered the house for a bit, attempting not to make eye contact with Audrey, knowing immediately that I would burst into tears. I hugged Adie so tight, as tight as one can hold a newborn without squeezing the life from them, I briefly contemplated hiding her away in my suitcase and then decided it was best to just have one of my own someday. Then finally, came the time to hug my sister goodbye and the inevitable happened the moment we wrapped our arms around each other, the tears were too much, this was a parting unlike any other. I knew she feared her ability to do this on her own and I felt that in the tightness of her grip around me...don't leave me don't leave me...and my precious sister, I hope you know how hard it was for me to leave you for now with the arrival of the first of the next branch of our family tree I felt sick with the miles and time between us. I felt physically how far away from her family I would always be, how much I would miss, how little our children might know each other. Ours was a bond that increased a thousand fold during this week, as if we were now chained together somehow and neither of us wanted to let go. But we never really let go, do we? I kissed her and told her not to worry, that she was already an amazing and attentive and loving mother and that she'd be fine, more than fine, that she had a husband who would die for her and their daughter and that I would always be "there" for her. I gave one last look to Adelyn in her bassinet and tried once again to memorize every detail. How ironic that she had yet to say a word to me or express any love in return and was the newest member of my family, the one I knew the least, but somehow she was the most difficult one to say goodbye to. I kissed her little head and whispered her name and she cooed ever so slightly before slowly closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep, my absence in no way affecting her day, the knowledge not yet there that I just wouldn't be around that often during her life. As we drove away, I hid my red eyes behind sunglasses and wondered, for the millionth time, if I truly did have the strength to survive so far away from my family.

So there I was, crying (again, I guess there had already been a lot of tears during that month...) in the middle of JFK. I numbly boarded that plane, after a 24 hr delay, angry that I had been prevented from getting back home, saddened that I had lost extra time with family, and luckily had a seat at a window so I could stare in that direction and hide the flow of tears from fellow passengers. They wouldn't stop, no matter what I did and as we took off down the runway I felt as if there was some string attached to my heart that was pulling tighter and tighter and tighter for every hundred miles we lifted higher into the sky and that eventually my heart would be completely torn from my body and left behind to float back down to earth. I attempted desperately to stifle the sobs that were now coming from deep within my soul, and I feared I couldn't help crying out in the middle of this plane, loud enough for anyone within five rows to wonder if some animal had just died on board. My hand flew to my heart and without even thinking I repeatedly patted my own chest as if to calm it, to soften its violent beating. I cried for the next hour, thinking about the scent of my father, the way his eyes went all watery when he dropped me curbside at the airport (goodbyes at security have become too hard for me as I hate getting patted down while crying). I thought about the softness of my mother's voice when she said she was so proud of me, the way she reminded me so many times to pack a few granola bars for the trip (which, of course, I still forgot to do). I thought about how much laughing I did with my youngest sister, the brief visits with my brother, the beautiful mingling of my other sister's new mother smell that exactly matched the top of her baby daughter's tiny head. I knew these memories were going nowhere but that I was now on my way thousands of miles east, going somewhere far away and were memories enough to live off of? How often would I see my parents throughout the rest of their years? How well would my nieces and nephews know their Aunt Amy? Why did my family have to be so close and loving and well-matched, to the point that we probably would have chosen each other as relatives if choosing your family actually existed? And how was it possible that I had been lucky enough to marry a man that actually was worth moving far away for? I knew I'd never regret the choice I made, I would just have to live always in pieces, leaving little bits everywhere I go in places I cannot stay, never really whole. What do they say? Home is where the heart is? Oh, all the homes I've had, all the places I've left my heart...

Oh, all the life that will be lived without me there...
All the life here in front of me I have left to live...
And there's nothing left to do but keep on living.