Due Date

  Spirals,  08.12.10

 Spirals, 08.12.10

After Halia was born, her due date still loomed out there at the end of October, what seemed like an interminable four months away. I felt panicked about how I would get there until I thought of my Papa Nate, whose birthday was October 30. It was almost like I could see him there, waiting at the end of October, ready to hold my hand.

Halia was due on October 29, 2010, which meant that we announced our pregnancy with an apology to James' twin brother since his daughter's bat mitzvah was scheduled for October 30. As it all turned out, we were able to travel to Milwaukee for her bat mitzvah celebration after all. It was tough for me to travel on the due date and to spend the weekend being social, but it was also lovely to celebrate a happy occasion.

After services that Saturday, on what would have been Papa's 97th birthday, James and I went for a walk with one of his brothers and his wife on a Lake Michigan beach. Papa, who lived in Chicago, loved Lake Michigan. He swam in it during the summer and explored its dunes and shores year round. It was easy for me to picture Papa walking on that very beach with his distinctive stride, his hands clasped behind his back. 

We walked along the beach, picking up smooth pebbles, listening to the waves crest and wash in and out. was sad but I also felt a sense of liberation. A part of me was pregnant for the whole nine months, and there on that beach, I was able to let the phantom pregnancy go. I moved on to a new stage of my grief, a new understanding of my relationship to Halia, and the beginnings of thinking about a new pregnancy. 

  Shoreline,   08.14.10

 Shoreline,  08.14.10

Here on the last day of this month of tracing the paths of my memories of Halia, once again I am feeling Papa Nate's influence. This year we celebrated his Centennial. All of his descendants have had fun remembering him together, and some of us gathered yesterday for our annual ice cream cone in his memory. He remains such a loving, steady presence for me, and I am so grateful that thoughts of him are always near at the end of October.

He and my other three grandparents were all so loving, and now I enjoy leaning into my memories of them. So often they bring a smile to my face, a feeling of warmth and an encompassing embrace. They taught me that death isn't always traumatic, that memories can bring great joy, that love remains strong. They help me to understand the meaning of Halia's name: in loving memory, and I hope to do it justice.

 

Clematis,  06.16.13

Clematis, 06.16.13

A note about the photo used in my "In loving memory" button: The clematis blossoms pictured here are from a plant that I purchased not long after I moved into my home in 2002. I wanted to get a clematis in memory of my Grandfather Webb who lovingly tended one with deep purple blossoms at his home. Late in in his life, he once asked me to help him pin the vine to the trellis on the side of his home. It was a painstaking process, one that he undertook with joy and dedication. 

When I went to buy a clematis, I wanted to plant it along my front fence, and I decided it would be best to get two. I chose one in dark purple and one in pink. The purple one blooms about a month before the pink one, which blooms in mid-to-late June, right around Halia's birthday. And so it has come to be a little memorial to her.

And now it is time to bring this month to a close. I send my love and gratitude to you who have honored me and Halia by reading these posts.

 

Day 31 of 31, 28 Cheshvan 5774 

Space

 By mid-August I was worn out, not just from the physical toll of the pregnancy and recovery but even more so from the effort of putting up a front, of going to work and taking care of my son, going grocery shopping and making small talk, cooking and laundry. All of it was such an effort. For some reason cooking dinner and going to the grocery store were the worst. Sometimes I felt like I could not breathe. I would have to pause and lean on the counter or the cart and find a way to keep going. People would ask me how I was, but I knew that most of the time they didn't really want to know so I'd smile a fake smile and say I was fine. They would say, in chipper voices, how is your summer? And I would lie and say, "Great!" I would sit in meetings or pick up my son at summer camp and look around with bewilderment, wondering how everything could just go on as normal when I was totally shattered inside. 

   Veiled,  11.25.10

  Veiled, 11.25.10

Thankfully, just when I thought I was going to lose my mind, I got to take a two-week vacation. The first week, G was away with his dad and James and I stayed home and took it easy. I drew and painted every day. We went to the beach. We rested.

The second week, we returned for the fourth summer in a row to the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, for what we call family camp. We had coordinated with friends to be there together, and G joyfully rejoined his great friend of the past two summers for a easy-going week of activities. James signed up for a week-long program, and I elected to do nothing. In past years, my time there had been filled with workshops and training, but this year, I just wanted quiet. That was my plan when I thought I would be pregnant. I figured it would be a great chance to get some rest, relaxation, and time to myself before settling in to meet the needs of a baby. Instead, it was my time to make some serious space for my grief and to sink into silence.

I was surprised to find that I did NOTHING. I woke up, ate breakfast, went back to bed, slept, rested with eyes closed and hardly a thought, had lunch, went back to our room to read to G during his rest time, saw him off for the afternoon and returned to the room to rest some more or perhaps to find a bench where I could sit and stare at the lake. That's all. No reading, no focused meditation, no art-making, no journal writing, no singing, no hiking, no crying, no emotions bubbling to the surface. Just quiet. Total quiet. For three days. 

Finally on the fourth day, I took a hike up to an overlook and sang some laments. The tears started to flow.  I cried and cried from deep down inside. Then I sang to Halia. I sang Haida and I sang Hava Nashira, her songs. And I cried some more. They were gentle tears. They flowed out of me.

  Cracks,  8.20.10

 Cracks, 8.20.10

And that afternoon, I made two collages. I felt like I was moving through molasses, like I could barely find a way to be motivated to move and create, yet I needed to. The first was simple: I just tore up a picture and put it back on the paper with the newly made cracks. This was how I was feeling: like I was cracking open, gently, making space for new growth. Shedding my skin. 

And then I got a little braver and made even more of a self-portrait. I drew the pregnant body I thought I should have and I cut out that shape. The hole where a baby should be, the hole in my heart, and my head gone blank.

(W)holes,  8.20.10

(W)holes, 8.20.10

This second collage remains deeply satisfying to me. It answers the question of how I was truthfully, in a way that words never could. 

With that, the main part of the week came to a close, and we entered the holy space of Shabbat, the Sabbath. We prepared by dipping in the lake, a natural mikvah, and then the whole community gathered for a joyful, raucous celebration. I wasn't ready to be joyful or loud, so I remained subdued, but I felt the warmth of the moment, felt embraced by it.

The next morning, exactly two months since Halia's stillbirth, James and I made our own Shabbat service by the lake where we did the morning blessings with movement, taking in the beautiful sky above us and the ground beneath or feet. For the first time in a long time, I could actually move my body and open my heart.  

We then joined the rest of the congregation for their Shabbat morning services, already underway, also outside. I found myself squirming in my seat, hardly able to stand the energy of so many people together in prayer. I decided I needed to sit outside the main circle on the ground. From there, I listened to Rabbi Diane Elliot's d'var torah, which I wish I could remember better. All I know is that she seemed to be speaking directly to me, about the journey that I was on and about how I could release myself from self-blame and allow myself to feel. Next thing I knew, I was sobbing, a heap on the ground, covered by my tallit (prayer shawl), releasing completely. A dear friend, who truly knows grief herself, came and put a hand on me. I felt safe and whole, even as I broke down. 

And when our week came to its close, I felt fragile and raw but so much better, able to breathe again, able to return a little bit to my body, able to go on. Grateful for this time of rest, return, and renewal. Grateful to feel. Grateful to make space for my pain and grief and despair. Grateful to find a way to move forward. So very, very grateful.

I am writing this post on October 29th, the third anniversary of Halia's estimated due date. October 29th, a day that will forever be associated with our unfilled hopes and dreams. Today, I am sad. I wish I were celebrating a 3rd bithday. And, I am filled with gratitude. Grateful for Halia and her beautiful essence. Grateful for this month of having the space to be with my journey of grief, hope, and healing. Grateful for the many ways I have found company and solace along the way. Grateful for the chance to live and love with an open heart.

 

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 Day 29 of 31, 26 Cheshvan 5774

Mikvah

  Waters,  11.16.10

 Waters, 11.16.10

When the bleeding finally stopped, I was so relieved and I planned a trip to the mikvah, a ritual bath. 

Preparing for the Mikvah - Journal Entry 08.01.10

I want this immersion to be about the transition from a pregnancy body to a regular rhythm body. I want to thank my body for its service, for the hard work it did/I did in sustaining the pregnancy, and in recovering from it. I want to be loving to my body, acknowledging my disappointment that this pregnancy ended in a stillbirth. I want to honor my body for being the home to a newly created life and to the end of a life. I want to honor my body for knowing how to give birth even when there was death. I acknowledge my anger, my disappointment, my desire to lay blame and to forgive. I am loving and generous, I am sad and I sometimes turn on myself. All of that is here. All of it is part of the process. All of it is holy. 

After the Mikvah - Journal Entry 08.01.10

  Seeking   Cleansing Waters,  11.28.10

 Seeking Cleansing Waters, 11.28.10

Immersion One

Honoring the Pregnancy. Gratitude for the opportunity to know Halia. Acknowledging the difficulty.

Hit head on the side of the pool, feel how the mikvah is womblike. Imitate Halia, sloshing in the water. 

Immersion Two

Join Grandmother Vivian (my great-grandmother), Aunt Helen (my great aunt), and Madre (my former grandmother in law) in the club of lost babies. Grateful for their having walked the path before me. Sharing this healing with them since they probably didn't have this opportunity. 

Feeling the support of the water Remembering to take it with me, call upon it again. 

Immersion Three

Healing for my body. Renewing. Living. 

"dead man's float." Acknowledging my new knowledge of the closeness of death. All present: life, death, embracing, resisting. 

Immersion Four

Be with the tension, the reality, life & death. 

 

Sing!

Hava Nashira, Shir Hallelujah.

Hava Nashira, Nashira Tikvah. 

Day 28 of 31, 25 Cheshvan 5774 

Daring to Survive

Circles,  7.26.10

Circles, 7.26.10

From my journal, 7.26.10:

I feel the anxiety rising up within, and I feel my heart so heavy, I can hardly hold it up.
I am haunted by the failed attachment between the uterus and the placenta.  What is that a metaphor for? Was I not welcoming enough? hospitable enough? embracing enough? Were we not seated enough in our marriage, only months old? Were we not settled enough in our home? Not focused enough on the pregnancy because so much else was going on? The space quickly fills with all of these voices of blame.

 From the lofty heights of my view of the broad sweep of eternity, I fell into a pit of guilt and anxiety. My sadness was also there, under the surface, too big to even begin to feel. I had nightmares almost every night that first month, and I went through the motions, just barely hanging on. I felt simultaneously smothered by the heaviness and completely unmoored, unprotected and disoriented. 

Hardest of all was this strong sense that my body had failed me, failed Halia, failed us all. There was no comfort in a deep breath, there was no comfort in yoga or stretching, or in any of the other ways I had learned to relax and soothe myself. I often felt like the hairs on my back were standing on end, just like a cat's. I was in a perpetual state of fear. I found it so, so difficult to be with myself. Torture, really. 

 

  Gremlin Voices in the Void,  7.26.10     

 Gremlin Voices in the Void, 7.26.10  

When I finally gave some airtime to the gremlin voices, to the haunting questions, they did lose a little of their power, but even that did not offer much comfort. Instead, I was faced with admitting to how little I control. I had to acknowledge the mystery: the great, great mystery of this death, of death itself.

Meanwhile, it was summer, and I found that I was not always in the pit of despair, especially when summer beckoned with the joys of going to the beach, of camping by a peaceful lake, and most of all of spending time with G, who although also sad and bewildered at times, mainly just wanted to enjoy his summer.

One lasting memory from our camping trip: James, G and his friend all frolicking happily in the lake while I was forced to remain onshore because of a new round of unwelcome bleeding. I moped a while, but then in a moment of grace, I took out James' set of watercolor crayons and a small piece of paper and played. It was a moment of discovery, learning how to use water with the crayons, and for just a moment I dared to enjoy myself again. 

  Lakeside,  7.18.10

 Lakeside, 7.18.10

Day 27 of 31, 24 Cheshvan 5774 

Burial

LoneDuck.jpg

We buried Halia wrapped in the blanket my sister had knit for her on Thursday, three days after her birth. At first, I thought I wanted her buried at my parents' farm. I pictured her rejoining the earth under a beautiful tree, as simple as could be, but we learned that it's very complicated to make a family burial ground. Instead we opted for our synagogue cemetery, where I had never been. The rabbi assured me that it was beautiful, and she and our synagogue administrator went there to find the most appropriate plot. They found one other baby buried in a corner of the cemetery: Baby Golden, 1971. Halia would join Baby Golden after all these years to form a baby section.

It was a hot day. I wore the dress I had bought in a hurry for Nana's funeral 7 years earlier and a pink stone necklace. We asked a small group of people to be there with us. My sister and her now-husband traveled to be with us too, and they took care of getting G to the service from the day camp he was attending. He didn't want to come but the advice I had received was that it would be best for him to be there. He and I shared a long hug graveside, but otherwise I was so grateful to let others care for him on that day.

I'll never forget arriving at the cemetery, seeing the cars parked along the line of trees, walking slowly out to the far corner where the little white coffin was waiting for us. The coffin was so small but it was so, so much bigger than our tiny girl. As I walked, I thought, this can't be real. I can't be walking to bury my child. I have long since feared this kind of moment, but even in my nightmares, I didn't imagine such a tiny coffin.

It was a beautiful service. Rabbi Elyse had found just the right words. We sang songs and James, my mother, and I all gave eulogies. Frankly, I don't remember it too well. Did my dad speak too? I was just so numb, so shocked, so filled with utter disbelief.

Here's what I said that day, in a clear strong voice:

In our family, we have a tradition of giving a fetal name. We suggested to G that he might like to choose the name, and he promptly selected Eagle or in Latin haliaeetus leucocephalus, Halia Leuco for short. 
As it turned out Eagle never made it beyond the fetal stage, and we learned she was a girl shortly after her stillbirth.  When it was first suggested to us that we might give her a name, Halia immediately came to mind, as we had always thought of that as the more feminine-sounding part of the Latin name. 
After returning from the hospital, I looked up Halia in a baby name book, and learned that it is a Hawaiian name meaning “In loving memory.” 
Halia was and is a hope, dearly held, unfilled perhaps but embodied fully by her definite presence within me for 21 weeks. 
I know from G that there were certain aspects of his temperament that were apparent to me when he was still a fetus.  Over these last few days, I’ve been reflecting on what I learned about who Halia was from the short time I had with her.  I think that she had a certain gentleness about her.  Several times I was surprised to find myself ready to express strong feelings through art or music or movement, only to have them come out in much gentler ways than I anticipated.
Over the last few weeks, I had also started to give Eagle a nickname of Thumper because she would thump inside me, many little kicks.  G tended to have more definite kicks, but Halia was a thumper, gently thumping away with a quiet rhythm.
Her Hebrew name, Nashira Tikvah, also means Eagle Hope.  The Hebrew word for Eagle is Naysher, and in its feminine version, Nashira, also means “Let us Sing.” 
Shortly after her birth, before the dawn of the summer solstice, I sat quietly for a half an hour just listening to the chorus of birds singing.  I felt enveloped by great wings of song, in that gentle growing light.  The blessing of Nashira Tikvah.
DucksTogether.jpg

And here is what James said:

Halia
I stood a week ago
after sleepless night
seeking relief
at the welcoming gulf
first time at the ocean since receiving this blessing
an encircling ring
expanding its enclosure for your growing blessing
momentarily keeping me from the waters
deep anxiety, surfacing fears
for my loved ones, the difficult pregnancy, the unstable shifting sands, of the ring slipping, carried away
yet, my strong yearning brought me
to wade, swim, melt in the rolling warmth
gold spinning in turquoise delight
preparing me for a more solid return
to face, the further unexpected
beauty, loss, purpose that you have brought
in my commitment and love
to your mother and brother,
and you
my deepening role in our household, for G, as parent
as a loving husband
your hidden presence stirring us in many ways
toward awkward self-sufficiency growing in G
creating stronger family bonds for us all
the need for care of self
what remains too is the unfilled desire
to have seen you alive, in this world, safe and healthy
my joy and delight that I was imagining that would come from a little girl
to know you longer, in your gentleness
and so I have come here,
holding these loving thoughts, to thank you for these gifts
full in my curiosity to receive what you have to offer next

 

And then, the service was over, and it was time for us to bury her. Both James and I felt strongly about this part of the service. As painful as it was, we wanted to shovel the dirt. We each took our turn, as did everyone there, and then James finished the job. Every last shovel full. I watched him, grateful for his strength and his determination to take care of his child, heart swelling with love and grief.

  Ducks Together and Apart,  7.24.10

 Ducks Together and Apart, 7.24.10

I was surprised to find that I made this collage on the day of the burial. I don't remember anything about what I was thinking as I made it, but I have come to think of it as a depiction of James and me together having to let our Halia go to a place out of sight, beyond our reach. What comforts me about this collage is that Halia looks big and strong and capable. She is ethereal yet fully formed. And I also find comfort that I am not alone but with her other parent, together in this difficult journey.

Day 25 of 31,  21 Cheshvan 5774