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Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

What Grief May Come

October 4, 2019
dreams

By Becky Benson

Seven years on and the dreams keep coming.  Not with any discernable rhyme or reason; rather they enter my unconscious thought seemingly beholden to nothing other than their own unknowable will.  They’ve never been exactly alike, no repeating patterns, and for all other intense and purpose one would assume there was no connection between them at all.  It’s the underlying theme that connects them; one of grief and guilt.

It’s the details, so subtle they seem to play no real part in the story working itself out in my sleep-filled mind.  So trivial they are of no concern to plot of the wakeless movie my brain projects against the backs of my eyelids.  There’s never any alteration due to my actions.  After it happens a scene may simply stop, or the story moves along without addressing it again.  Only when I wake does the panic take the place of the air in my lungs.  And only in my wakeful mind does any of it make any sense.

It’s the only time I dream of her.  Never seeing her when I’m in a realm of happiness or a state of content.  The dreams themselves only ever spin a terrifying line of questioning that lacks rationale, but presents itself to me as unavoidable reality, nonetheless.  Dreams that ceaselessly rip open the innerworkings of my thoughts and force me to contemplate my deeply buried fears.

It could be hours, days or even weeks, and in my dreams I always forget.  It’s my fault, and I didn’t do enough.  She’s laid there, unable to move the slightest bit or cry out the smallest cry, for who knows how long before I realize I have to feed her.  I forget again and again.  I never give her enough.  I don’t give it to her often enough.  I try, but it never works.  She’s on the periphery of whatever else I’m doing, and by the time I realize it, it’s always too late.  She needed it long before.  And then she’s gone.

Over and over again it isn’t enough.  Over and over again in my dreams, as it was in life, I couldn’t save her.

Tay-Sachs disease is a genetic condition that is always fatal.  Infants who are born with the flawed recessive genes their parents passed on to them will suffer a relentless regression of their mental and physical abilities until death; usually by the age of four.  As their bodies shut down they will not develop the ability to walk or talk as typically growing children do, rather they will become paralyzed and blind, suffer seizures, and lose their ability to swallow, and all of their mental cognition.

Feeding was laborious and difficult.  Her inability to swallow well consumed my daily routine.  If liquids were too thin, she would choke, if her food was too thick, she couldn’t chew. I desperately fed her four ounces at a time, five times a day ensuring I maintained that perfect balance of nutrition, hydration, and caloric density that carried her body to the next morning.  Never more than four ounces at a time as she tired so quickly from the effort it took to consume even that small amount.  I blended in peanut butter, melted butter, bananas and heavy cream.  Scoops of formula and PediaSure accompanied strawberries or chocolate milk.  Baby food, step two, not three; three has chunks, were fortified with cereal flakes or Miralax, depending upon necessity.

Feeds could take up to half an hour each time, and even at that, she was lucky she was still highly functioning enough to eat by mouth at all.  Lucky she wasn’t aspirating her food, or her medication at that point.

I lived my life, day in and out for her.  I happily carved out a routine that was dedicated to her as the center of our world, and our every waking moment was spent making sure she had what she needed to survive for as long as she could.

It wasn’t long enough.  She died at the age of three years and four months, and even though I had known all along it was coming it’s something a mother can never truly prepare for.  It goes against everything we hold dear and that rings true in nature for a parent to lose a child.

I don’t remember when the dreams began, but they’ve haunted me since their inception.  I couldn’t fix her.  I couldn’t save her.  She was broken in this world.  I knew it.  It was biology.  I wasn’t afraid to confront the reality of it; I just despised the fact that it was our reality.  As a mother, facing the impending loss of your child is a soul crushing place to exist.

Grief and rationale rarely go hand in hand, so while I logically know that there was nothing I could do better, and nothing I did wrong, something inside always screams at me, clawing its way to the surface of my conscious thought that it was I who wasn’t enough.  I, her mother; the utter failure with the dead child.  We have one job as parents; it’s to keep them safe from harm.  One job.  I couldn’t do it.  And in the end, it’s true, I couldn’t.  I couldn’t stop Tay-Sachs from ravaging her body, and I couldn’t stop it from ripping her from this world and my arms.  Nothing I could have done better, or more, or different would have changed it, but still the dreams come.

They’ve shifted, recently.  It isn’t always her any longer.  Sometimes it’s kittens.  In the dreams they live in our garage.  I never quite know where they came from, but sometimes I remember they’re there.  So small and unassuming, hiding in dark corners without sound or movement.  I realize it’s been weeks since I’ve fed them, given them water.  I’ve forgotten their existence altogether, all over again, and I search through the maze of boxes and overflowing items to find out if they’re still alive.

Waking I recognize the garage as the garage of my childhood home, but in the dream it’s the garage in my home of today.  It’s cluttered and cramped, and no place to keep a living animal.  I never know why they’re there, and I never think to bring them into the house.  I just remember, finally, after all seems lost that they need food and water.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted a question on Facebook asking about what recurring dreams people have.  I shared my experiences with this, and how logical me knows it all stems from emotional me’s irrational feelings of failure toward her.  I wrote on the thread that I didn’t think these dreams would be as impactful as they are if she were still here.  We as parents are given new opportunities each and every day to make more and more mistakes, but when we see our children living and thriving, we know it’s all ok.  Parents of loss don’t have the confirmation of their actions having been the correct choices.  We don’t have the luxury of tomorrow.  Our children are gone, and whether we attribute that to our own actions, or lack thereof, we will never be able to rectify their loss within our hearts.

Predictably, someone else, someone I don’t know chimed in on the thread with some unwanted advice for me.  He said, “Becky, I am sorry you are having those dreams.  I’m certain once you are able to let the guilt go those dreams will end.  Think of the great dreams you could be having about her.  Love and hugs”.

I was mildly irritated.  It was something so flippantly obviously that certainly shouldn’t deign to be pointed out, especially by someone who likely couldn’t relate on a personal level (I took the liberty of assuming he couldn’t relate first-hand since he didn’t state his own loss of a child).  “As if it’s just that easy”, I thought.  Of course I need to let the guilt go.  I have nothing to feel guilty about, this is just how my particular brand of grief seems to manifest, no matter my attempts to avoid it, or face it hear-on to change it in these last seven years.  I didn’t respond.  In the end, he was trying for kindness, and I should accept it for that.

I didn’t give the comment any more thought and went about my way.  Last night I dreamt that I was with her again.  My husband was with us.  We had somewhere to go, but I stopped us before we left.  Thinking that we’d be out a fair amount of time, I recognized that I should feed her then, before we left.  I filled her bottle, expertly mixing the correct proportions of the necessary ingredients and fed her smoothly and easily.  When I she was done, I began to mix up some food for her in a bowl.  It was soft, but chunky.  It needed to be mashed.  I mashed it by hand repeatedly, taking great care and concern to achieve the correct consistency.  I fed it to her gingerly spoonful by spoonful until she had eaten it all.  For the first time, I looked longingly at her and relished in the fact that she was well fed.  It felt like an accomplishment.  I remember smiling.  The was no more of the dream after that.  It vaporized like dew in the sunshine.

Perhaps I had sat with this form of grief, repeatedly emotionally beating myself down long enough.  Was finally speaking it aloud all I had to do?  Was hearing the validation that my guilt was unnecessary all I needed?  Will the dreams stop now?

Becky A. Benson lives in Washington State. Read her work on Modern Loss, Brain.Child, Modern Mom, The Manifest Station, her Three Short Years blog, and in the pages of Taylored Living Magazine. She has both written and Spoken for Soulumination, The National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association, and The Center for Jewish Genetics. Purchase a copy of her memoir, Three Short Years, based on the death of her daughter from Tay-Sachs disease, here or connect with her via Rise: A Community for Women.

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Friendship, Guest Posts, motherhood, No Bullshit Motherhood

What We Remember: Epistolaries To Our Daughters

September 15, 2019
remember

By Jill Talbot and Marcia Aldrich

Water

You know that photograph, the one I’ve kept on the refrigerator of every Somewhere we’ve lived? The one of you—at maybe two or three—standing on the edge of a pool? You’re wearing a tiny blue bikini, the bulk of a yellow life vest snapped tight, one of your hands held to it. Are you checking it before you jump? Or are you gesturing, the way you still do when you speak, your arms floating up and down, almost flapping at times (like a bird). The water shimmers in the sun, and your short, blonde hair is wet, and there’s a puddle on the pool deck, so this must be jump two or three or ten. Your sweet knees bent, your tiny feet. There’s the dark blue tile at the water’s edge and three bushes line the flower bed behind you. Do you remember how Gramma would stand in her black swimsuit, moving the hose back and forth, back and forth over the bushes? Here, in this moment, she’s behind the camera, catching your joy. You’re all glee, giddy, but it’s the certainty that gets me every time, a pinch of tears in the back of my throat. Because I’m the one in the water, the one you’re watching. I haven’t always been something you can be so certain of, someone steady. I’ve told you this, but you claim not to remember. Your memory of those years an empty pool. Everywhere we’ve been, everywhere I go, I tack this photo on the fridge to remind myself—it’s my job to catch you.

Possession

When we moved back to Seattle, you had just turned two. I wouldn’t say the terrible two’s in the sense you didn’t throw regular tantrums, but you did have moments of supreme willfulness, and I couldn’t predict them for they came out of nowhere and caught me off guard. I remember one such fit staged in a public space to devastating effect. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood

Sequestering the Mother

May 12, 2019
mother motherhood

By PJ Holliday

“The mother is glass through which
You see, in excruciating detail, yourself.”
“The Mother” – Maggie Smith

Becoming a mother has divided my body in portions, passing out small pieces at a time to my child, husband and self.  I’ve been stretched to a capacity I formerly did not think possible and from there, have to learn to surrender my control of the unknown. I don’t recognize myself, and when I catch a glimpse of what was familiar, it vanishes like pools of water on hot asphalt. When I try to write, I am torn between comforting my child whose eyes are fixated on whatever I am doing. I try to catch some work between naps, but who wants to work when there is a moment for quiet reflection made available for the first time in the morning. I feel the pull of many children, my creative explorations and my boy, who undoubtedly should take precedent. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood

Is Motherhood the Loneliest Time of All?

April 9, 2019
playgrops

By Claire Fitzsimmons

“I need new friends.” That’s what I was thinking as I sat in a café in San Francisco in the middle of the afternoon. I was on my own. Soup and salad. And my two month-old son on my lap.

I expected to feel a lot of things when I had a baby, but not lonely. My childless friends were all at work. My family was all the way in the UK where I’d left them a few years before. It was just my husband, myself and our son, Sam.

I needed mummy friends. But how to do this when my boobs were leaking, I was grumpy from no sleep and I had nothing to say that didn’t begin with my child’s name? I’d tried a couple of things already that clearly weren’t working. I walked through my neighborhood smiling clumsily at new mums. I sat in the playground looking approachable, hoping I’d get picked up. A local playspace had the prospects of a nightclub; tea had replaced vodka tonics and circle time the dance floor. I made eye contact, feigned interest, but it wasn’t happening.

As I was in the United States, this was clearly the moment to be proactive and to join a playgroup, which have become as necessary here to modern parenting as baby yoga, birth announcements and Bugaboos.

I’ve never been on a blind date and I’m not a natural joiner, but I found myself turning up, late (as I always am now), to a playgroup formation convened by my local mother’s group. Faced with a room of 60 women, some with babes in arms and each filled with the bubbling expectancy of new relationships, this was speed-dating, mummy-style. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood

The Hardest Choice

October 27, 2018
mothers

By Moira Sennett

Tethys, they say, is the mother of multitudes: rivers, lakes, streams, all the fresh waters. But look closely, and she tells a different story. As she passes by you, her arms are empty. The only child she was ever given to hold was not her own. She protects her dear ones with a fierce mother love. She will lie and rage and move entire seas to protect them. But when you really look at her, you will see that the goddess of childbirth trails her like a shadow, a whispering voice: “Mother of none.”

***

The ultrasound pictures set side by side are proof of a dream realized. In the first, he is tiny. His head and body seem squished together, bearing a striking resemblance to a gummy bear. In the second, his baby shape is more clearly identifiable. In the third, his perfectly defined little features—nose, mouth, and reaching hands—belie the fact that anything is wrong.

My fear for him is a tangible pain in my chest, as real as the joy I felt from the first moment I knew of his existence. I would lie and rage and move entire seas to protect him. I love him with a love that is fierce and true and bittersweet. Bittersweet because he is not mine. Continue Reading…

#metoo, Guest Posts, motherhood

Learning to Say No: #MeToo and Mothering

September 3, 2018
learning

CW: This post addresses unwanted sexual advances and may contain explicit language.

By Lilly Bright

“Mommy, I love this beautiful person staring back at me from the mirror!” my five-year-old daughter exclaims from the bathroom where she stands facing the sink. Inwardly I rejoice, then wonder how many of us women think that on a daily basis, or ever? An honest exclamation, wild joy for the person staring back at us in the mirror?

For the past year, I’ve been contemplating how to make a meaningful contribution to the #MeToo movement, a personal experience that could illuminate, an allegory, some teachable moment. Then last week, walking the streets of Santa Monica, an uncomfortable memory surfaced. One of those that never actually left but that also wasn’t a regular visitor. But there it was- Proustian in the way it overwhelmed my senses and severe in the way it challenged held notions of categorization. The event isn’t murky yet it’s felt this way whenever I’ve attempted to package it. For years I diminished what happened because I didn’t say “no” and the harassment didn’t strike me as apparent. But the truth is, a line was crossed, a red zone rife with sexual power-play and coercion. And it went like this: Continue Reading…

Activism, Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

“17”- A Poem Plus an excerpt from “Good Cop, Bad Daughter” by Karen Lynch

March 14, 2018

By Karen Lynch. 

17

When you were born, I nestled you in my arms and nursed you on demand to help build your immune system and keep you safe from disease.
933 breast feedings

When you were 18 months old, I cut your grapes in half to keep you safe from choking.
3,406 grapes sliced

When you were 2, I bought you the bicycle helmet ranked highest by Parenting Magazine.
5,327 miles peddled

When you were five, six, seven, I let you watch only PBS kids to keep you innocent of the violence in the world as long as possible.
1,273 episodes Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood watched.

When you were 12, I let you ride your bike across town and prayed for your safety as I waited for your call.
17 petitions offered up to the universe.

When you were sick and no one knew why, I took you to a faraway clinic and found a doctor to heal you.
522 miles driven, 4 doctors seen, 18 bottles supplements purchased.

When you were 16, I found the best driving instructor in the county. I told you to call me for a ride anytime, no questions asked.
2 speeding tickets, 1 fender bender, 0 calls for pickup.

When you left for school today, I gave you an organic Fuji apple with your whole wheat almond butter sandwich. I reminded you to eat fruit and veggies in college next year.
2,367 Fuji apples washed and sliced.
1 Valentine slipped into your backpack.

When the deputy called this afternoon, I was selecting your senior picture.
17 dead. 15 wounded. 152 shots fired.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, motherhood

Just a Miscarriage

February 9, 2018
miscarriage

By Jill Goldberg

When I finally felt well enough to venture outside, after many months of self-induced seclusion, I took a short walk to the drugstore around the corner. I was hoping I wouldn’t see anyone, but Carla was there. I didn’t know her very well. She was older than me, with grown children close to my age. She knew I had been ill for a long time, and when she saw me she put her arm around my shoulders in a way that should have been comforting. Carla then pulled me aside and asked with great condescension, “So really, what was the big deal? I mean, a miscarriage is just a miscarriage.” Suddenly it was hard to breathe. I felt as though I’d been hit. I reached out for the wall to steady myself and mumbled to her that there were complications. Then I walked home and cried. I didn’t go out in public again for several more weeks.

My first miscarriage nearly killed me. I bled for weeks, not realizing how dangerous that was and how much blood I was really losing. My doctor kept telling me that some women bleed for a while after miscarrying, and I didn’t understand that she meant light spotting, not passing large clots that looked like small placentas and soaked the sheets every night. I had planned to have an intervention-free birth, and now I wanted an intervention-free miscarriage. My doctor honored my wishes and trusted me. She didn’t have me come in to see her, we only spoke on the phone. Then finally, nearly a month after it began, I fainted in the shower. I’d lost too much blood from weeks and weeks of continuous heavy bleeding. I remember being so cold in the shower, so, so cold, and I was dizzy, and crying, and confused. I reached back to turn the water hotter, though I knew it was already so hot that I should have felt it burning me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, No Bullshit Motherhood

Making it to the Other Side

July 2, 2017
daughter

By Heidi Fettig Parton

“I’m too old to camp at a festival,” I told my twenty-two year old daughter, Hannah, when she asked me to join her at the Eaux Claires music festival in Wisconsin. Besides, it wasn’t good timing. My six-year old, Josh, was recovering from his third, and most extensive, middle ear surgery. Since Josh had entered the world in 2009, I’d been declining or canceling invitations on account of his health issues, which stemmed from middle ear disease to sensory processing disorder. But here was Hannah, romantically unattached and career-focused, eager to spend time with me, the mother who’d fostered her love of music festivals.

After surviving the wreckage of my 2002 divorce, I’d decided to expose my children of that marriage, Hannah and Ethan, to experiences instead of things. We lived far differently than we had during my marriage to my ex-husband: we lived in a simple house; we read books instead of watching TV; we ate bulk legumes and rice from the food co-op. During the seven years between my first and second marriage, I spent any extra money on adventures. Hannah learned well. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Pregnancy

Stretched

September 18, 2016
baby

By Rachel Schinderman

I was very pregnant.  38 weeks.  I remember being very aware of my belly and not because it was as big as it was.  And it was big.  Huge actually.  But because, it felt hollow, empty.  It was a Wednesday and my husband was at work.  I knew my running off to the movies to while away an afternoon days were coming to an end, so I sat down in my seat in a dark theater on 2nd Street to watch Little Miss Sunshine by myself.  The baby was scheduled to arrive in a week by C-section since he was breech.   I was trying to get it all in.  Lunch with an old college friend and a facial were rounding out the week.

I half watched the movie, half pushed on my belly.  Where are you I wondered?  But he never moved much.  That was his way.  It was normal.  Occasionally, like at night when I was trying to sleep he would remind me he was there.  Once it seemed he had friends over, but that was not the norm, he was snug in his spot.

It seems this would be the moment where I would race out of the theater and head straight to my doctor’s or arrive at the hospital.  This would be the hero move.  But as a first time pregnant lady who had called her doctor often over Braxton Hicks and other not feeling quite so well moments, I figured again it would be the same answer.  I was fine.  The baby wasn’t moving, true, but the baby never moved much.  And besides, I had an appointment the next morning. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood

Building Walls, Or A Guide To Mothering

September 5, 2016
child

By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser 

When one of my kids hurts: I want to make everything better. I’ve felt that way since they were tiny. Pat the backs, rub the tummies, and kiss away the tears.

Help isn’t so simple as a desire to offer it, though. I’ve learned this the hard way. You are only as happy as your most unhappy child. That’s a cliché that proves, in so many ways, correct. To grasp someone’s unhappiness is to develop not only empathy, but also strong holding muscles. In order to bear sadness yet not bow to it or get wholly bowled over by it, muscle walls must remain sturdy.

When my kid hurts, I don’t feel like holding strong. I feel like disintegrating into a powdery pulverization of sadness right alongside my child. I can’t cave in like sand at water’s edge every time a wave crashes. When someone’s hurting there are too many waves for everyone to disintegrate every time. Someone has to just hold—what? I guess to hold an understanding of the rhythms until that tossed about person can find a new place to stand, a little further from the ocean’s edge. Feelings require many things, and one is the ability to ride them out.

For a long time, my body leapt into fight or flight—adrenaline burst impulse of panic whenever I became aware of how deeply my child suffered. Flooded, I couldn’t calm my own fears. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Surviving

How to Survive the First Year

May 29, 2016
baby

By Lauren Kosa

Have a baby. Meet her and wonder who she is. Worry she is so small you might break her. Regain your confidence. Find a group of mom friends. Go out for margaritas with them and talk about your plans. Think about how soon your maternity leave ends. Resolve to do anything it takes to lean in.

Notice that some of your friends go back part-time, and some don’t go back at all. Go back to work full-time. Find a good daycare. Drop your baby off. Notice she’s so small she can barely hold up her head. Feel sad, but also a little glad to go back to work. Don’t feel guilty when your colleagues ask if you cried and you didn’t.

Think about your daughter all day while you are at work. Check the webcam. Cut out of work early so you can play with her in the evenings. Let her stay up later than she should because she is laughing so hard. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood

Motherhood Meets Art In Motion

May 8, 2016
motherhood

By Diana Kupershmit

She had done it a thousand times before.  When Emma was younger, she would slowly and carefully roll her body down the two steps of our sunken living room, from the foyer of our apartment. But as she got older, she evolved into scooting down on her bottom, with some semblance of graded control. It was a sight to see. Her four foot, seventy-five pound, lanky frame propelled itself by pushing off the floor with the back of her hands while simultaneously pumping her legs, in what  appeared to me as a painfully uncomfortable movement, much like a caterpillar. She never did take to the hand splints that were custom-made for her when she was a little girl, to keep her wrists straight, and to prevent the contractures, that partly defined her life. Even as a small child,  she was not going to be restrained and somehow always managed to remove the limiting splints—using her teeth to pull apart the velcro. A veritable Houdini. I marveled at her determination to get to where she wanted to go, with all of her physical limitations, as she would lower her diapered tush, first one step and then the other, bouncing and closing her eyes in anticipation of the not so soft landing. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Relationships

The Kids Are Alright

April 6, 2016
children

By Jessica Starr

“Are you currently pregnant?”  The new patient questionnaire asked, immediately getting to the topic ruminating in my head over the past few weeks.

Without thinking I hastily scribbled, “Please God, I hope not.”

The second questions asked, “Have you ever been pregnant?”
“No,” I wrote “AND I NEVER WANT TO BE”.

The exam room door opened and the nurse dressed in out of season holiday scrubs called out “Jessica Starr?”

I chose Dr. Carrie Miles as my new OBGYN based on her one paragraph biography on the women’s clinic website.  She did not mention having children, however did enjoy spending time hiking with her two dogs and that was enough to put my reproductive health in her hands.

I sat nervously in the exam room, glancing at the pamphlets about all the possible STD’s I could have.  Dr. Miles walked in, casually wearing a white lab coat with her name stitched in red cursive writing, her pants dragging a touch too long. She had green eyes highlighted by blue eyeshadow, kept a straight serious face, and had obviously read my new patient paperwork. Continue Reading…

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