Two years ago today at this time, everything was fine. In fact it was more than fine, I couldn't have been happier. It was a glorious late summer day (just as it promises to be today). I still remember the spring in my step as I walked my enormously pregnant self to the hospital for the tests my doctor recommended 'just to be safe'. I loved being pregnant with Ezra, and swollen ankles and all, that day was no exception.
I had absolutely no inkling how drastically and completely the world was about to come crashing down around me.
In the two years since, I've come to own my new self...more sad, more cynical, more connected, more compassionate. But sometimes I do miss that naive happy woman.
But this day is not about me. It's been two years today since Ezra quietly slipped away. Two years since I was sent home from those tests as everything looked 'ok'. Two years since that car ride home where I started feeling 'stomach cramps', two years since I was balled up in bed with the worst kind of abdominal pain ever, much more so than my labor with Micah. Two years since that dreadful car ride back to the hospital. Two years since we heard those words 'your baby has passed away.'
And I still don't really believe it all happened. If I really focus in on that cruel truth, it makes me want to howl hysterically like I did in the first moments after we learned he was gone. How is it that my big boy, my first boy is not here?
My sweet sweet Ezra, I miss you and love you so very much. Every day. Especially today. Always.
I wouldn't have expected this, with the second anniversary of Ezra's birth and death approaching, but Glamour magazine asked me to contribute a part of an article dealing with a woman who lost her baby after seven. months of pregnancy. They wanted to include a section on what fathers experience from the loss of a child. I'm happy, at least, that this subject is getting the attention it deserves. Hopefully this will help others. Please check out the September issue of Glamour (print edition) if you can.
If life were a movie, it would have been the scene following a cataclysmic event the night before. The morning blurred by a deep fog which hugged the ocean, obscured the tops of buildings, and made anything moving or colorful a surprise, veiled until the moment you were upon it.
But life is not a movie and there was no catacylsm the night before...just some quiet stolen moments on a morning walk with my living son, who woke too early in a beach house filled with sleeping family members.
But it got me thinking about life...after. Ezra's second birthday is just weeks away. This month, August, my season of grief, I keep waiting for the cataclysm. Waiting to feel drawn back into the depths of grief that I experienced in the weeks leading up to Ezra's first birthday. Waiting to be reduced daily to a puddle of tears. Expecting a torrent of rage or deep despair. And while I still may end up there, its not where I see myself going this grief season.
The reason is this: every day now is a day after. Every day is a day without my son Ezra.
The sadness has settled into my bones, it is part of my everyday. Ezra is in my thoughts and heart daily. I continue to parent my lost son as I parent my living one. I push giggling Micah on a swing at the playground, taking note of the empty motionless swing next to him...wondering what it would be like to be pushing two boys on swings. I mentally cringe when I meet two year olds, calculating in my head the possibilities (would he have been that tall? would he be as articulate?). I feel deep stabs of jealousy as I watch siblings who are close in age interact, particularly when it is two boys. I treasure my "new mom" friendships with mamas of babes close in age to Micah...and yet can't help but wonder about the new mamas who should have been my friends had Ezra lived.
It is true I have refound joy. And yet the sadness is ever present. The sadness is every day...after.
I never intended to stop writing in this space when my Sunflower arrived.
I will admit that for much of the past six and a half months, I pretty much shelved my grief. It's not that it hasn't been present. I haven't had time to be present with it. Particularly in the first several months, I found parenting a living child to be far more challenging than I ever imagined. Not that I would trade it for anything. It just surprised me that I found it overwhelming...isn't this what I had been waiting for at least the last three years? This was supposed to be the easy part, the happy ending, no?
And it has been happy. Micah gives me a good reason to have a heart full of joy every single day. My Sunflower loves to smile and laugh...big huge belly laughs. It feels like he was sent to us to bring the laughter back into our home, to make sure we smile every day. I actually didn't know it was possible to be this happy again. And yet full of joy or not, my heart still has a hole in it.
Lately the grief has been getting to me, something about Micah turning 6 months and the slow march toward our grief season of August seems to have created the perfect storm. Ezra would be nearly two years old. And when I stop to try to wrap my mind around that, the idea that in a different universe I'd be running after a TWO year old while my 6 month old desparately trys to crawl, I just crumble.
I look back at these almost two years and I almost don't believe it is my life. How did I become this woman, the mother of two boys, one so wriggly and ALIVE, and the other so positively and absolutely...gone.
June was always a big month in my family. My father's birthday, my birthday, Father's day and my parents' anniversary all jammed into a period of a few weeks.
Last year’s Father’s Day was a bittersweet one for me, and I imagine that from now on, Father’s Day for me will always evoke a bit of happiness mixed with pangs of grief. Last year at around this time, I was mourning the loss of my son Ezra, who had died only months earlier. Ezra’s placenta tore from the uterus a few weeks before his due date, cutting of his oxygen supply in utero. My wife had to go into labor to give birth to our son who had already died. I held him, and laughed and cried at the same time. I laughed because I was happy to see my son’s adorable, silly face for the first time, and I cried because I would never hold him again, never get to see him grow up and reach all of life’s milestones. And we buried him several days later, but not before reading him a bedtime story. And I never thought I’d have to bury my own child, ever. As I literally buried him in the ground with a shovel, at the cemetery, I felt as if I was burying part of myself as well.
For those who have lost a child, you know what I mean. For those who haven’t, I hope you never know such pain and emptiness. There is no loss greater than the loss of your child. It is the hopeless nightmare that does not subside. Eventually, you learn to live with your loss and incorporate the memory of your child into daily life. You must do so if you are to regain any sense of a normal existence, whatever normal means. You learn to live as a new person with a new sense of normal. But the pain never goes away entirely, nor should it.
So on that Father’s Day weekend of 2009, I was a father deprived of my son in physical form, though he remained buried in my heart. And at the same time, there was joy. My father was recovering from major surgery, and I had made countless trips back and forth from Philadelphia to New York City to visit him in the hospital. Though he was frail, immobile and only a hint of his formerly robust, colorful, loquacious and trash-talking self, he was still Dad. I said goodbye to him that day, wishing him a happy Father’s Day and all that. He gave me a mile-long stare unlike any he had given me before. He had a peaceful look on his face, as if somehow he was alright no matter what.
The next week my father died.
We were so different, yet so much alike, my father and I. He was a veteran and a union guy, while I have dual Ivy League degrees. While his tour of duty in the Army took him to Japan and Korea, years later I lived in Japan as an exchange student, studied Japanese in college, and worked in Tokyo for an ad agency and a bank. Both of us were blessed with a strong sense of community service. My father was active in his church and his V.F.W. post, while I became an activist, writer and advocate armed with a law degree. Both of us experienced racial discrimination, which is par for the course for black men in America. And I’ve had experiences and opportunities my father couldn’t have imagined, and yet he was partly responsible for them happening, and for my access to them.
This year, I observe my first Father’s Day without my father, who lived a full life, and a second Father’s Day without my son, who never had a chance to live life. And Dad is now looking after his grandson in that far away spirit world, which gives me some comfort.
In that year since my father left us, my son Micah was born. And what a joy he is! He seems to smile all the time, more than his father or grandfather ever could. Micah, it seems, was made to order for parents who needed smiles in their lives, and once believed they’d never laugh again. But why couldn’t I have both of my sons with me on Father’s Day?
Often I think about the fathers who lost their children, and the children who lost their fathers, whether through disease, famine, war or terrorism— or handgun violence in the streets of America, or corporate malfeasance— you know, crimes committed on offshore oil rigs or in coal mines. Fathers are separated from their children by prison bars miles away upstate, in this land of the incarcerated, or senseless permanent wars half a world away in Eurasia or Eastasia or another designated enemy.
Men who cannot be with their children, and people who are separated from their fathers might not be in the mood to celebrate Father’s Day, and that is ok. What is important is that we learn to honor and remember those we love when they are not or cannot be with us now or ever. And you don’t need a special day for that.
On Friday, Rachel Maddow had a man on her show. His daughter had been killed in 1995 in the Oklahoma City bombing. He said the pain is still there. When your parents die, you bury them on the mountaintop, he said. But when your child dies, you bury them in your heart, and keep them there. So simple, yet so profound!
Micah put himself to sleep laughing the other night. Ok, he doesn't exactly laugh yet, but as I watched on the video monitor, he cooed, gurgled, and smiled himself to sleep in his crib. Melted my heart entirely.
Micah sleeping on his own is brand new, he's only been doing it for 2 to 3 weeks. See, my second son was the newborn who would not sleep in his own. Even those first few nights in the hospital after he was born, he refused to sleep in the hospital bassinet -- I spent those nights sitting up in the hospital bed, staring in amazement at this new little being as he slept. We came home and tried to get him to sleep in the co-sleeper bassinet next to my side of the bed - if he fell asleep he'd be up 20 minutes later, searching for a snuggle. Every night would begin with an attempt to get Micah to sleep in the co-sleeper; every night would end with a baby snuggled against me in bed. All of his naps were taken in a sling or wrap on me or his daddy. Delerious from sleep deprivation, we had a conversation with our pediatrician about safe co-sleeping practices, and for the first couple months were co-sleeping out of necessity, as opposed to choice. Not that I judge those who choose to co-sleep, but as a babylost mama who works professionally in child welfare, I was terrified at first -- I had visions of dead babies floating in my head, all the co-sleeping nightmares of which I have learned through my work. But night by night I got more comfortable, and began to love all the snuggles and ease of breastfeeding that comes with co-sleeping. It seems Micah was sent to make up for all the snuggles I missed out on with his older brother.
But we knew eventually Micah would need to learn to sleep on his own -- I won't be on maternity leave forever, and certainly it's a good skill to have. We set about doing some limited sleep training with Micah, and in the end, some combination of our hard work and the cognitive development that comes with hitting the 3 month mark, resulted in Micah's new found skill of crib sleeping. For the most part, he seems to sleep longer and better on his own. So I now have new found freedom...and already miss his night time snuggles terribly.
All that aside, watching Micah coo and smile to sleep got me thinking...about laughter.
My father told me that the first thought that flashed through his mind after he learned that Ezra had died, was that I would never smile again. And yet I remember distinctly the first time I laughed after Ezra had died. It was the day after he was born, and involved an episode of incontinence resulting in a large puddle beneath my hospital bed. So absurd, I couldn't stop laughing; at the time, it felt like there was nothing left to laugh about in the world, but at myself.
Over these last 19 1/2 months, we have of course learned to laugh again. We've laughed with each other. We learned to find joy in the simplest things. In fact, I think that's one of the many lessons Ezra taught us - to appreciate the tiny joys the life offers, to laugh when we can. But our laughter has always been tinged with sadness, or perhaps more precisely, guilt. It's the guilt that only babylost parents can feel for actually enjoying themselves, when their babes are not here.
Listening and watching Micah laugh himself to sleep made me realize that true laughter, unconditional laughter, re-entered our lives on the day Micah was born. We laugh despite ourselves. We laugh because our son is just so cute, just so snuggly, just so full of smiles...and just so alive. It's only when I stop to think about how much we laugh, that the guilt creeps back in. We should have had all these moments of unconditional joy with Ezra too. And yet Micah keeps me laughing...each and every day.
We took Micah to see his big brother on Saturday. Of course he fell asleep on the car ride there and we let him stay sleeping in the car.
Both D and I felt it was time...we needed to go see Ezra. We haven't been back since the unveiling of his gravestone on his 1st birthday. Although neither of us feel Ezra most present at the cemetery, we've both wanted to go...but between a problem pregnancy and the ice and snow, we just haven't made it. Now that we've gained our footing as parents to a living child, we knew it was time.
We were both so surprised to see how many of the stones and shells that many of you sent or brought for the unveiling were still present on the stone. We brought 3 stones (1 for each of us) that we had collected in our journeys and left them for our boy. I was struck by the calm that came over me as we arrived. On past visits to the cemetery, I've revisited the pure shock of having buried a child each time we arrived. This time felt different. It's not that I accept that Ezra is dead in the sense of having reconciled with the Universe. But the fact that he's gone has integrated into my being, it has become part of my identity. I felt peace in seeing Ezra's name on that stone, since it is one of the few places his name will always be remembered. I guess this is what they call in thera-speak, "the new normal".
Afterwards over lunch at a nearby diner, D and I just stared at each other in wonder - how did we get here? 10 years ago, we knew each other but neither of us had noticed a romantic spark. Now. here we sit, married and parents to one little boy who lives only in our hearts, and one who lives in our hearts and our arms. I may have found acceptance, but I'll never understand.
Last year, around the same time I was planting my Sunflowers, I planted something else...a hydrangea bush for Ezra. Our garden is small, and I can't say I'm the most of skilled of gardeners, but I truly delight in planting things and watching them grow. Gardening is one of the things I dreamed about doing with Ezra when he was old enough to help, just as I had 'helped' my Dad in his gardens as a kid. Now gardening is just one of the many things in life he never got to do.
During my pregnancy with Micah, I didn't allow myself to dream of the things I'd do with him, not much anyway. I didn't fully believe he'd make it here alive, not until I heard his cry. But those dreams for what I would have done with Ezra are of course dreams for Micah too.
Now that the weather is getting warmer, Micah and I have been spending as much time as possible outside. Today I took him out back to see how his brother's bush has sprouted. I can't wait until he can help me take care of it too.
Yesterday was my 6 week postpartum appointment. Never mind that Micah is now 8 1/2 weeks old -- the blizzards of 2010 have postponed my last two scheduled appointments. In fact a blizzard was predicted yesterday too - luckily all we got was flurries.
Given that I practically lived at my OB's office the last five weeks of my pregnancy, what with the thrice-weekly NSTs and doctors' appointments, its not surprising people were excited to see Micah. Everyone, from the receptionist, to the nurses and medical assistants, and of course the wonderful Dr. J, oohed and ahhed as Micah slept in his stroller, utterly oblivious to all the attention. It felt good to have the miracle that is his healthy live existence acknowledged, by people who know first hand just how tenuous the journey was that hearkened his arrival.
Such a contrast to my 6 week postpartum appointment after giving birth to Ezra. Purposely arriving first thing in the morning so as to avoid sitting in a room full of pregnant women, I was greeted by a receptionist: So you're here to followup on your procedure? Um no...this is my 6 week appointment. I gave birth to a son. He died. I call that a procedure.
Needless to say, said receptionist no longer works at that office. Stunned, I returned to my seat next to David. Another woman arrived for her appointment, a three year old son in tow. He was very active, having brought two small toy trucks with him, which he delighted in 'driving' all over the floor and chairs. I remember sitting watching him, alternatively smiling at his adorable antics, and tears welling up in my eyes at the thoughts that Ezra would never reach this age, never play with trucks, never make someone else smile at his pure adorable being. It never occurred to me to ask to be taken back to a room on my own...I just smiled and cried in silence until my name was called.
There was a certain sense of...dare I say it...closure, in seeing Dr. J with my nearly 2 month old son. Not closure in the sense of my grief journey of course...that I know will last a lifetime. But closure in the sense that I somehow have brought a living breathing child into this world, as Dr. J promised me I would one day quite some time ago.
Dr. J is very special to my husband and I. Dr. J was not my OB during my pregnancy with Ezra. I went to the same practice, but saw a different doctor, one who was perfectly competent, but not someone with whom I developed any sort of connection. Toward the end of pregnancy, the practice likes you to rotate through other doctors, so you can meet everyone in advance of your delivery. So my 32 week appointment when I was pregnant with Ezra was with Dr. J. The appointment where my protein levels were slightly elevated....which led to Dr. J ordering me to do a 24 hour catch...which led to Dr. J sending me to the hospital for monitoring...monitoring which revealed a perfectly healthy baby despite slightly elevated blood pressure and protein. Which led Dr. J to make the decision to send me home. And most likely Ezra died on the way home.
One might think I'd hate Dr. J.
But I don't. Medically he made the right decision to send me home -- there was just nothing to indicate that Ezra was in distress or was about to be in distress. And even if I had been in the hospital when the abruption happened, it was so acute and complete, that it's unlikely as could be that Ezra would have survived. Modern medicine has its limits - we learned that the hard way.
But here's the thing about Dr. J. After we had returned to the hospital, after we were informed our baby passed away, after the hysterical screaming and tears, after the epidural, and after the process of induction had begun...Dr. J came back to the hospital. He wasn't on call anymore, he hadn't been my treating OB, he could have been home with his own precious children. And instead, he came back. To sit with us, to grieve with us, to make sure that we knew that he was devastated too.
Most doctors would have run away, fearful of unintentionally acknowledging any regret or fault, in light of possible malpractice litigation. He didn't have to come back. But he did.
And ever since then, David and I knew he was our doctor. That if we ever journeyed this path of bringing a child into the world again, it would be Dr. J that would provide the care. That he would fight to ensure a healthy arrival.
I haven't had much to say in this space since our Sunflower, Micah, arrived. For the last five and a half weeks, my grief has pretty much been put on the shelf. This time has been about snuggles and breastfeeding, sleep and lack thereof. Being a mama, both to Ezra and to Micah, is most definitely the hardest job I've ever had...and these weeks have been some of the most amazing and challenging I've ever lived. Micah continues to bring us more joy than we knew was possible in our lives after losing Ezra. The grief does still appear from time to time as I know it always will. And so while there may be silence here for a bit, I'm still blog reading and nodding right along with you.
Micah is 2 weeks old today. Most moments I still need to pinch myself to believe its real...that we are the parents to a real live healthy baby boy.He's here. He's real. He snuggles, and cries, and pees, and poops...and fills us with so much joy I didn't know was even possible. I no longer can imagine living life without him, although at least once a day a fear creeps in that somehow we could lose him still...joy or not, the catastrophic thinking that I have battled since losing Ezra is not gone entirely.
While pregnant with Sunflower I never could envision this part...even up to the day we went to the hospital to be induced, I didn't fully believe that we'd be leaving with a real live baby. Even while nesting and preparing for his arrival, it didn't truly feel real. Afterall, I've never had this happy ending before.
Sunflower's arrival was challenging to say the least. I spent nearly 30 hours in labor. I had an epidural that didn't fully work, and after feeling intense pitocin-induced contractions through it, had to be repeated. But the scary part was that twice, Sunflower's heart began to deccelerate. The first time they were able to stabilize things. The second time is what led to the decision to do a c-section...with labor not progressing the way it needed to, and a waning heart rate, getting Sunflower out safely seemed like the priority. I wish I hadn't had to have a c-section--the recovery has been terribly difficult--but I don't regret the decision at all. The alternative is way too terrifying.
These last two weeks have been so intense and so very wonderful. It hasn't all been easy...because our Sunflower was a little early, we had some feeding difficulties that made breastfeeding hard to establish. But Micah and I have worked hard at it, and while we are still a work in progress, I no longer need to pump to supplement feeds and Micah is growing and gaining from nursing full feeds. As of yesterday, he is now 6lbs 15oz. Breastfeeding is definitely a learned skill, and perhaps the hardest skill I've ever learned. But Micah is absolutely worth it.
I've heard other babylost mamas say that they never truly recognized how much they lost until their rainbow babies arrived. I guess that's true - there's no way I could have imagined the depths of joy that Micah has brought into our lives. But this time has not been about Ezra...its absolutely been about Micah. Its not that I miss my Ezra any less - losing him still makes me feel like the unluckiest woman in the world. But having my Sunflower, my baby Micah here, makes me feel like the luckiest woman alive. I am so amazingly grateful he's here
Micah is 12 days old today. The days since his birth have been such a whirlwind of joy and snuggles, breastfeeding woes and sleep deprivation that I'm not yet able to write a coherent post. On Wednesday (his 8th day of life) we celebrated Micah's bris or Jewish circumcision ceremony. The following is the explanation we wrote and read about Micah Amir's name:
Micah Amir is named for his older brother Ezra Malik, born sleeping August 30, 2008, and his paternal grandfather Albert, who passed away June 28, 2009. Micah will grow up knowing of his mighty older brother who got away -- Ezra paved the way for Micah in our hearts and in his mama's womb. Micah will also learn of his grandfather, who, although he did not live to see Micah's birth, took such joy in knowing we had a Sunflower on the way.
Micah, in Hebrew, means 'who resembles G-d?' or 'resembling G-d'. We believe Micah chose this name for himself to remind us that although he may physically resemble his older brother, he reflects a power so much larger in the universe, the power of our love, the power which has guided us on our difficult journey as parents. Micah does not replace Ezra - he is his own special and unique self.
Amir, in Hebrew and Arabic, means 'prince'. We believe Micah chose this name for himself to reflect his dual ethnicities and the value his parents place on the influences of many cultures. We love that his middle name has the same meaning in two languages. Bridging two worlds, we expect our Micah Amir to be a leader, a prince.
Here are some additional photos of our little guy:
On August 29, 2008, after 33 weeks and 5 days of the most blissfully happy unproblematic pregnancy imaginable, my world came crashing down when my son Ezra Malik died in utero. I was induced and gave birth to Ezra on August 30, 2008 at 3:47 pm. He is 4 lbs, 18 inches and has the most amazing combination of his mommy and daddy's features. He is perfect in every way. We later learned he died from a placental abruption. His mommy and daddy love him dearly and miss him terribly. Ezra taught me much in his short life, and he continues to teach me every day as I journey on my own path of grief. I created this blog both to record Ezra's life, but also to create a venue to share some of Ezra's lessons as time passes and I am more able to articulate what they are. I will update it from time to time when I feel able.