Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Unbearable Sadness of Being

What's it like to me these days? Just incredibly pathetically sad. I go through every day with that hardness at the back of my throat, like I'm just about to cry. And then I do cry. Every day. Since Ezra died, I cry like I've never cried before. It's a cry that comes from deep within me, a cry of anguish. If I ever thought I knew sadness before this I was wrong...I have never known true sadness until now.

I keep trying to figure out when I became a character in this tragic play. I don't even recognize myself. I call this character Sad Sarah, the one who looks back at me in the mirror with those sad sad eyes. David too has transformed into another character in the same tragedy, Doleful David I call him. Together, we march along on this journey of pathos, so disconnected from our former selves.

I truly believe I have lost my capacity to feel joy. Fleeting moments of happiness are still possible. I still smile from time to time, even laugh. But the sadness is always there, gnawing at my soul. My father admitted that after I called from the hospital to say our baby was gone, that driving in the car there, he wondered if I would ever smile again. Smile I will...I can't help myself...but not in the same way.

Joy is so elusive right now that happy moments make me burst into tears..the contrast to my sadness is just too much to bear. Dancing the hora at my friend's wedding this weekend was one of those moments...I wanted to celebrate the couple's love, this celebration of their union...and yet despite my intent, the tears bubbled to the surface, uncontrollably.

The depth of the sadness is so great, that I don't even know how I'm a walking, talking, functioning person right now. It surprises me every day.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Face to Face with G-d

On the way to Shabbat services Friday night, David turned to me and said, "When you look at Ezra's photo, it's like looking at the face of G-d." "Yes," I said, "isn't that the point?"

For a Jew and an adopted Jew, neither of whom believe in an anthropomorphic G-d, this might seem like a strange assertion. And yet I believe G-d, or some universal power, is expressed in all of us, and since Ezra left us, I have never been so convinced of this. Losing Ezra has challenged my faith in so many things, and yet it has renewed my faith in people. Each night of shiva, as our house was packed with people, our friends and family, but also colleagues, acquaintances, members of our synagogue previously unknown to us, I came to understand the true meaning of compassion and of community.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Story of Ezra Malik Katz Love

I was blessed with the happiest, healthiest, most blissful pregnancy imaginable. David and I planned and planned for when we would have a child, even postponed trying when he was looking to switch jobs. I became pregnant very quickly, our second month of trying, and we couldn’t have been happier. We found out I was pregnant 5 days before my 33rd birthday – Ezra was the best birthday present for which I could have hoped. When we heard that heartbeat at our first prenatal visit, it sounded like birds’ wings flapping very fast, and we knew it was love.

I loved every moment of being pregnant with Ezra. In the first couple months I had a lot of indigestion and all I could eat were crackers and ginger ale. I was also completely exhausted. I would come home from work and climb right into bed – a couple times David had to bring me something to eat for dinner in bed and I ate and then fell asleep right away. But by week eleven and a half, the indigestion went away and I got my energy back.

Then I just started growing. Each week I’d get larger and larger. I was quickly wearing maternity clothes. And toward the end it felt like I was growing exponentially each day. I felt heavy and had a harder time walking around. My feet hurt at the end of each day and David rubbed them every night. He got really good at foot massages!

Ezra really showed off at the 21 week ultrasound. He moved and moved, making it hard for the technician to take the pictures he needed. He waved at us and rolled over back and forth. We were given a photo and David was convinced that the shape of his head looked just like his. David kept saying you looked familiar, like he had seen you before.

The ultrasound was also when we found out Ezra was a boy. At that point we knew his name would be Ezra Malik because we had chosen that as a boy’s name before we even were serious about getting married. David and I had a conversation about what we would name a child if we stayed together and had a family. We wanted a name that would reflect both our cultures. We also wanted to name our child after relatives who had passed. Ezra is for Eugene, my mother’s father. It means “helper” in Hebrew. Malik is for Marion, my mother’s mother; it means “king” in Arabic – in Hebrew it is Melech. Malik is also culturally an African-American name and is also reflective of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Mahatma Gandhi. Since we wanted to follow Jewish tradition and not announce his name until he was born, with our family and some friends we just referred to Ezra as “E”.

As the weeks progressed Ezra moved around more and more. His tiny kicks became giant swells back and forth as he moved around. I couldn’t imagine what he was doing in there. Everytime someone asked “how’s the baby?,” I’d say “busy.” I was convinced he was playing games in there, or building something.

When Ezra moved around a lot, David would have conversations with him. He’d tell Ezra to quiet down and be nice to his mommy. He’d tell Ezra about his cousins KJ, Zora and Evan. He’d tell Ezra about his cats Red and Zora (yes, he explained, Ezra has a cousin and a cat named Zora – one is a girl and one is a grey cat). And he told Ezra about his grandparents. And he’d always end what he was saying with “The Daddy has spoken.” That always made me laugh.

The very first time David talked to Ezra when he was kicking, he put his ear to my belly to see if he’d respond. Ezra kicked him in the head! And hard! We laughed and laughed.
David and I would lie in bed and David would put his hand on my belly where Ezra was moving. I loved being able to share what I was feeling with David that way.

As it got closer to Ezra’s due date (Oct. 13, 2008), David and I did a lot to get his room ready. David painted the room a bright sunny yellow. And then together we put up a wall border with cute cartoon farm animals. The whole room was going to have those farm animals. We got furniture from neighbors and I cleaned everything so it would be ready for Ezra. The weekend Ezra died we had planned to go to Babies R Us and buy a few more things to finish off the room so it would be ready.

The Wednesday before Ezra died, we had dinner at our friends’ house, and they lent us a bunch of baby things that were their daughter’s like burp cloths and onesies and receiving blankets. The night before Ezra died was the last night of the Democratic convention. While we were watching, I labeled all of these baby things and then washed them. During Obama’s speech, Ezra was kicking and stretching – I could tell he liked it. Since the clothes weren’t dry when Obama was done, I put them through the dryer again. They were still there when Ezra died and David had to take them out once he came home from the hospital.

The day Ezra died started out fine. I went to work feeling fine. One of my clients called as I was walking into my office, so I talked to her for a bit and hung up. A couple minutes later my doctor’s office called; the nurse said my doctor had tried to reach me the afternoon before, that the lab results had come back with protein in my urine and I needed to go to the hospital for further testing. I hadn’t gotten the doctor’s message, and I was kind of annoyed because I had been calling all week for the lab results and they hadn’t been back. And I felt fine. But I quickly asked a coworker to handle my case in court and I walked down to the hospital.

A week and half before Ezra died I had a prenatal appointment. The urine test said there was protein in my urine. So he sent me for another urine test and blood work that I did that week. So I was waiting for the results.

Being at the hospital for the tests was awful. They catheterized me to collect my urine, took tons of blood, had me hooked up to a blood pressure machine. I was there for nearly 5 hours. The only thing that made it bearable the whole time was that Ezra was on the fetal monitor and I could hear his heart beat and his moving around. When Ezra moved, I heard a ‘swoosh swoosh’ like he was swimming. Ultimately they figured out that the lab had written the protein level per ml rather than over the 24 hour period so the level wasn’t as high as the doctor had thought. He wouldn’t have sent me for the tests if the lab report had been written differently. The doctor sent me home because although my blood pressure was a little high, Ezra looked healthy and great and all the other labs were coming back normal. The doctor figured my blood pressure would come back down if I could go home and rest.

While I was at the hospital for the tests, David came to be with me. When they released me, I wasn’t feeling that good. But I hadn’t eaten or drank for about 5 hours so David brought me home and I ate and drank a little and climbed in bed. But I wasn’t feeling well. I was feeling really crampy like I had to poop but couldn’t. I called my doctor’s office and a midwife called me back and told me to try to get more fluid and food down. I made myself drink 3 glasses of water. But I was feeling worse and worse. My doctor called to apologize for putting me through all the tests. I told him I wasn’t feeling well but he agreed with the midwife’s advice. Then I started to be able to poop a little…I was relieved because I thought I would feel better if I could just poop. But then I started throwing up. I threw up every ounce of anything that was in my belly – basically a turkey sandwich and a lot of yellowish orange liquid – I had a glass of orange juice with the turkey sandwich and there was mustard on the sandwich – the rest was all that water. I never want to see a turkey sandwich again.

I called the doctor’s office again. I said I wasn’t sure if I was in labor. This time the midwife asked if my uterus was getting hard and soft, hard and then soft. I realized that it was just hard. She told me to come to the hospital. I took a quick shower, put on clean clothes and David drove me back to Pennsylvania Hospital. When we got there, they admitted me and the first thing they did was try to put the fetal monitor on. They couldn’t find Ezra’s heart beat. Lots of other people came into the room. An ultrasound machine was wheeled in. There was lots of motion but nobody was saying anything. Finally the doctor said ‘The reason we haven’t been saying anything is that I wanted to be sure I was seeing what I am not seeing, and that is the baby’s heart beat. And that’s because your baby has passed away.’

David started crying. I started screaming hysterically. It was like an out of body experience where I was watching a movie about a hysterical woman who has been told her baby has died. I was screaming but he was fine all day. I was just here this morning. Everything was ok. How could this happen? David called his mom. I didn’t want to call my parents, I just kept screaming. I finally calmed down enough to call my parents. I got my Mom on her cell phone and told her that our baby had died. She asked how do you know? I told her that we were at the hospital. She said they were coming down to the hospital.

Eventually they told me that I would need to be induced, that I needed to give birth to Ezra. I asked if I could have a c-section, they told me it wasn’t a good idea medically. They explained that the drug they would use, mizo, would simulate going into labor, first softening and thinning my cervix and then causing dilation and contractions. It would take a long time, possibly 24 hours. They recommended an epidural, which I hadn’t wanted – I wanted to have a natural birth. But given the circumstances I didn’t really have a choice.

By the time we got back to the hospital, I was pre-eclamptic. My blood pressure was high and there was protein in my urine. So I had to be on an IV drug called magnesium sulfate the whole time I was in the hospital. It’s an anti-seizure medication and it makes you feel awful – hot, woozy – I hated it.

They gave me the first dose of mizo at 11pm on Friday night. Four hours later I was 1 cm dilated and they gave me the next dose. I was still 1 cm dilated four hours after that. At the next dose I was 1.5 cm dilated. But once labor began it happened really fast. I was 3 cm, then 5, then 7 then 10 and pushing –I fully dilated and pushed Ezra out in just an hour.

Even with the epidural, it hurt giving birth. Several times they upped the medication in the epidural. David was right by my side the whole time I gave birth to Ezra. He helped, first holding my hand and then eventually holding my leg up as I pushed Ezra out. He was so focused it helped me so much. David was so focused that even though he had been splashed with amniotic fluid when Ezra came out he didn’t want to leave to wash his hands. I had to tell him it was ok to go wash his hands.

The minute Ezra was born I wanted to see him and hold him. They took Ezra to clean him up and I had to deliver the placenta. Before I gave birth I wanted to see Ezra but wasn’t sure I would hold him. As soon as he came out I wanted to hold him and I told the nurse.

I delivered the placenta and the doctor told me she could see the big blood clot on it, the blood clot that killed Ezra. Even David could see the blood clot.

Holding Ezra was amazing yet overwhelming. Ezra is a beautiful baby and David and I were surprised at how much he looks like both of us. He has David’s nose and forehead, but my eyebrows and mouth and rosy cheeks. And he has a full head of hair and tiny ears and hands and feet. Ezra is just so perfect. I wanted to hold Ezra but it was also overwhelming to hold him. Eventually I just couldn’t handle it and I needed for them to take Ezra away. I kissed Ezra on the head as we do in our family – David and I often kiss each other on the head and we kissed Ezra too. David held Ezra in his arms and he did so well – he is usually uncomfortable holding babies but he held Ezra close and supported his head. It was just so hard.

I had to be in the hospital for a full day after I gave birth to Ezra. They kept me on the magnesium sulfate for another 24 hours, and then I had to stay 4 more hours to have it wear off. They gave me the option of staying another night, but I wanted to go home so I could snuggle with David. It was too hard being away from David.

We decided to sit shiva and then have a private funeral for Ezra. We called our rabbi, and she and my parents helped us make the plans. As we were making the decisions about how to bury our son, in a rare private moment at the hospital, I asked David if he was ok with all of the Jewish traditions we were going to follow. He turned to me and said, “Ezra’s Jewish, of course we are going to follow Jewish tradition.” I have never loved David more, than at that moment.

Since Ezra’s passing, I have learned that grief takes us to depths we never before could imagine. With each passing day of this journey, I have discovered that grief is an exercise in the unexpected. One moment I will feel some hope that things might just be ok, only to spiral hopelessly off a cliff of despair. If anything, the more time that passes, the harder it gets, as the reality that Ezra is gone sinks in. Ezra taught me many things in his short life, and he continues to teach me every day. Ezra may not be in my arms, but he is forever in my heart.


I wrote the following in my journal on September 19, 2008

Dear Ezra,

I was never happier than when I was pregnant with you. I have never been so sad as I am now that you died. You were my entire purpose. Now life has no purpose. Except missing you.


Although I wrote this before finding it, this echoes the words in one of my now favorite books, Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination, where she writes: "This is the happiest story in the world, with the saddest ending." The book chronicles McCracken's first pregnancy which resulted in the stillbirth of her first son, and her subsequent pregnancy resulting in her living son. I'd like to pass this book out to everyone so you know how I'm feeling. Instead I'll just include the link to it on Amazon:

Daddy's Poem

Just after Ezra died, his daddy wrote a poem which he read each night of shiva and at the funeral. It is posted below and can also be found on his daddy's blog:

Please Excuse Me While I Grieve For My Son, Ezra
By His Daddy, David A. Love

Please excuse me while I grieve for my boy…

The other day I was walking through the maternity ward
At Pennsylvania Hospital,
And a nurse asked me if I was an expectant father.I told her no, my baby just died.
Later that day, a man asked me if I was expecting a baby,
I told him no, I just lost my son.

You haven’t heard his story, because it hasn’t been told,
And yet he is unable to tell you, so I will speak for him.

His name is Ezra Malik Katz Love,
And he came to us during this season,
Pregnant with the promise of hope
And filled with the possibilities of change,
Ezra gave us so much joy in such a short time,
But what do you do, what can you say,
When you have to give birth to your child
The day after he died.

Please excuse me while I mourn my beautiful boy Ezra…

How did he get this name?
Ezra means helper in Hebrew;
he was named in honor of Eugene,
His mother’s mother’s father.

Malik means king in Arabic, Melech in the Hebrew,
Named in honor of Marion, his mother’s mother’s mother,
But also named in honor of Malcolm and Martin, of course.
And Mahatma and Medgar for that matter.
All of them left us before their time, before their work was done.

Ezra Malik - a beautiful boy, a remarkable boy,
He borrowed his mommy’s eyes, lips and rosy cheeks,
And his daddy’s nose - and the trademark Love family forehead,
And he has a full head of black hair.

But where on Earth did he get those long legs?
Perhaps it was from some distant ancestor, African or Jew,
Who had to cover a lot of ground in a short time,
Someone who was heading up some social movement,
Fighting the powers that be, or running away from them,
Or running towards them,
Or driving out the oppressors from the land,
Or setting the captives free.

Please excuse me while I mourn my little man, my Ezra Malik…

I saw my boy for only a brief moment,
Held him in my arms and kissed him on the head,
But I had many joyous conversations with him
When his mother was his home,
I told him about the world and about his family,
About his grandparents and his cousins, and his two cats,
And he was a good boy, he always listened,
He responded to his daddy’s words by kicking his mommy’s belly…with those long legs of his.

I wanted to see him grow up,
But the Universe had other ideas, other plans for him,
Perhaps I’ll never understand,
I’ll always wonder what could have been, what would have been,
What should have been.

So, please excuse me while I grieve for my son Ezra…I miss him, and I love him very much.

On the Occasion of Saying Kaddish for My Dear Son Ezra

A week to the day after Ezra died, I awoke at 6am from a fitful sleep and wrote this poem. I read it at the last two nights of shiva, and at his funeral.

To my dear son Ezra.

For nearly eight months my belly was your home;
Our little “E” as you were known;
Your full name a secret to all but us;
We planned to announce your birth with such great fuss.

Your daddy and I took such pride;
As my body swelled and grew so wide.
Each night daddy rubbed my feet;
As we dreamed of the day when we would meet.

Our dear son Ezra.

As the weeks progressed, you made quite a din;
With kicks, punches and stretches from within.
Your daddy and I watched my stomach ripple and move;
It was just your way of showing you have groove.

Do you remember the time you kicked Daddy in the head?
He had leaned close to my belly to see if you’d heard what he said.
Thump! You got him in the ear;
It was one of those moments we both hold dear.

A memory of our dear son Ezra.

We’d dream and dream of what the future would hold;
Expecting the mark you’d leave on the world would be bold.
Columbia or Harvard Class of 2031?
We’d lie to each other about not caring which one.

Ezra Malik Katz Love -- such a great big name;
Because we anticipated accomplishments and fame.
How could a ‘helping king’ not be a social justice leader?
We never imagined you wouldn’t be here…

My dear son Ezra.

So now as we recite the Kaddish in your memory each night;
The words of the prayer stick in my throat so tight.
How many times have I said this prayer for the dead?
But I just cannot stand the prayer being read.

Ezra, I never expected to say Kaddish for you;
I just want you here to hold and rock and coo.
Daddy and I just want you know;
That we miss you terribly and love you so.