Wednesday, May 27, 2015

18 Years Ago: Reprise (May 26th)

Hike near Prevorst.
I took four days off after stopping my 18 Years Ago series on Friday. And here are a few things I did, having not done them in a while: watch a movie with my family (About Time, which we all recommend); binge-watch crime/mystery shows on German TV one evening (alone, with my sock-knitting); take a woodland hike with a school friend of Markus' and his two sons; cook for a few hours at a stretch (listening to NPR podcasts); bathe (to relax, I don't mean to suggest I was neglecting myself while serial); take a 16K bike ride with my husband; read (currently: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, a recommendation by the same writer who told me about The Two Kinds of Decay; it's a memoir of a tough childhood reminiscent of Tobias Wolff's with an intense dance between memoirist-son and absent father, told in a sporadic way that speaks to the vignette style of my own writing); sleep; pick strawberries with my daughter.

Berry picker.
We've had some extra time because it was a holiday weekend. The holiday was Pfingsten (Pentecost), and I've written a Language & Such entry to ponder the word. Protocol for holidays in Germany is that businesses are closed, and so are all the stores. But there are some exceptions. For example, the farmers are permitted to sell their perishable products, even on the holiday. Miriam and I went out for a walk, planning to buy a container of strawberries at the stand. When we found they were offering U-pick for the first time this season, we went out into the fields to search for ripe berries and carry them home.

Pfingstrose on Pfingstmontag.
In the garden, we're watching the slow arrival of early summer. The German word for peony is Pfingtstrose, i.e. Pentecost rose. We have a massive clump of peonies, nearly as tall as me. I shared photos earlier this month as a metaphor for waiting, and I found I was still waiting for the first blooms on Pfingstsonntag. I rather thought the actual holiday for which the plant is named would do the trick. Yesterday, on Pfingstmontag, I found one blossom just about open, but the temperatures are cool, and I think the plant is holding out for warmer air. I haven't decided which word is stranger: peony or Pfingstrose. (The word "peony" via Latin from Greek: Paiōn, the name of the physician of the gods.)

Meanwhile, the clematis has more than made up for the laggard peonies.

Since it was so much fun to write about happenings in May 1997, I can't resist adding a couple of photos and remembering. By today's date, May 26th, Simon was 9 days old. When he wasn't asleep, he hung out with us. We set him on the boppy pillow on the table next to us during meals. He slept in our arms. He made eye contact. He nursed and nursed. We were off to a good, healthy start. Born well, healthy baby, healthy mom and dad devoting time to his care. Good times.

When Simon was one week old, Markus took his portrait for the birth announcement. Here's another pose.

One week old.

I have to say, Simon rather turned his daddy's head.

My boys.

Friday, May 22, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 22nd--Simon's cohort

Birthday cake on Simon's "8th birthday"
during a lemonade stand at Liberty Heights Fresh
in Salt Lake City, May 17, 2005.
I am ending the 18 Years Ago series today. If you missed the beginning, the series started on May 1st and ran daily until now, May 22, 2015.

Flash to 2005
I chose this date as a way of remembering Simon's many friends. In May 2005, we passed Simon's birthday for the first time since his death. How do you celebrate a missing child? We decided to seek community. On the actual birthday, May 17, 2005, we held the first of several annual Lemonade Stands in Simon's memory to raise money for childhood cancer research. It's lemonade stand season again--find out more at Hold a stand, buy some lemonade, send a donation--research funded by this organization is making a difference for children with cancer.

Miguel interviewed for KSL TV on May 17, 2015.
The top photo shows some of Simon's classmates and other friends, eager for some of the gorgeous cake but also contemplative about the birthday boy. The cake was a donation from Pinon Market, and owner Victoria graciously invited Miriam (age 5) to help decorate! The boy in red and white stripes is Tobias, who will be graduating from high school about now, along with Ellen, the blond girl right next to him. Both of them had sat at Simon's table during first grade the previous year.

The second photo shows Simon's buddy Miguel, who was interviewed for local TV news during the event, as were several other children. I'm sad to say we've lost track of Miguel since moving away from Salt Lake City. He must be a wonderful young man now.

Simon's Cohort
Recently, I've seen facebook postings about some of the boys who are Simon's age (or a bit older)--the ones I consider his cohort. They've all been turning 18! They've been going to prom! They've been formed into young men by testosterone, life and sports! Nathan, Schuyler, Rowan, Lev, Ross! And there are all the other boys and girls from Simon's 1st grade class in Utah, kindergarten in Michigan, and daycare at Linda's. These young people are moving into adulthood, as they should be, starting college, confronting choices, making plans. They carry the mark of knowing Simon and losing him in such an unfair way. I expect that changes your view of life. I never witnessed the loss of a peer growing up. I hope remembering Simon brings a richness to their lives and never anything like guilt.

Four days after the lemonade stand in 2005, we held a birthday party in Simon's memory at our house. Technically, the party was on May 21, 2005, so I'm off by one day. Not a big deal. After a few more thoughts on this blog undertaking, I will close this post, and the series, with a recap of the 2005 birthday event.

Reflections on writing a series
Writing my serial meditation around Simon's 18th birthday has surprised me in several ways. The idea came spontaneously at the beginning of May, and I have easily found material for a new post every day. I had to conquer a few impediments: I got my 12-year-old scanner to work with my latest operating system, and I re-rigged my old Photoshop Elements 6 to function (at least some of the time). I even learned the four-finger keyboard command for paste-and-match-style. I used a smart phone to upload a post, and I proved I could meet a daily deadline not just for NaNoWriMo.

This blog series has sent me back through boxes and albums of photos, many of which I hadn't looked at in a long time. The images not only make the text more interesting (and "sell" a post better, for example on facebook) but they also offer a layer of dialog between text and image. This layer enhances the underlying construct: a dialog between then and now. Add to that the peculiar workings of my mind (soccer goalie-ing is like perineal stretching? see May 12th), and a sticky web of meaning emerges. A few days into the project, the need for individual titles became clear, adding to the playful connections.

I'm not a plotter, at least not yet. My writing focuses on the "real," on events that have occurred. The "plot" is given, and it's my job to follow along, choosing what to emphasize and what to leave out. Conjecture remains fair game, but I haven't got the muscles for creating characters and then creating the things that happen to and around them. Still, as I followed this series with its more or less pre-defined storyline, I found myself jotting down ideas and semi-planfully taking many of them up in different posts. I haven't gotten to all of the ideas--I've got a lot more to say about breastfeeding, for example. But it can't hurt to leave with a few good cards still in my hand.

May 22, 1997, 5 days old
Have I figured anything out? Have I increased or decreased the pain of not seeing my son grow up? I don't know. I've distracted myself. I've enjoyed myself. I've sat peacefully next to dancing flames atop colorful candles. I've renewed memories of happy and healthy times. I'll never know the Simon who would have become an adult. I know that. And I'm not alone in being the poorer for that loss.

We sure did have him while he was here. A week or two into his life, while sitting with him at the dining table, I had a wonderful thought: I enjoy his company. I enjoyed every day of his life (even the awful days), and it's a gift to feel his delightful company still.

Birthday in Memoriam, May 21, 2005

Children starting to chalk the driveway.

Watching Marcus Funny Man Who Does Tricks,
who also made Simon laugh.

Miriam (front middle) with Simon's school friends.

Julio, Miguel and mom Luz.

Card trick.

Parents hanging out indoors (oh, I miss that kitchen!).

We all lit a candle from the big magenta
Simon candle.

Everyone signed the pink balloon.

We got ready to send our love up with the balloon.

Past the utility wires.

Past the trees.


My love and thanks to folks who've come along on this blog ride. In case you're curious, the whole series is 15,000 words long. The most popular post so far? May 10th--The fashion post. As you can see from the birthday party photos, we've had a lot of support from children and grown ups who love Simon, too. We know you are there, and we thank you.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 21st--The Story

May 21, 1997: Here's what it looked like in our neighborhood after the trees finally burst into bloom. I truly believe they were waiting for Simon. And he was waiting for them. And that's why it took so long...

This photo is labeled "first stroll" with Simon. He was five days old.

May 21, 2015: This evening, I am finally posting a narrative of Simon's actual birth. I'm not sure why I've been putting it off (maybe because it's long? maybe because it's such a weighty experience?). Someday I want to start an essay with these words: "My son's birth didn't cause me any pain."

It's true. It took some concentration, some patience, and a whole lot of trust, but it was nothing like pain. Maybe the secret is having a doula. Maybe the secret is having what the midwife calls a "favorable pelvic opening." Maybe it's having a 7-pound baby whose head is not too large. Whatever it was, I'm grateful.

On May 16th, I wrote about watching a movie with our friend Anne, how my belly became unusually quiet, how Markus listened carefully for a heartbeat, how we went to sleep. Going solely from memory, I will tell about Simon's birth. (Here is my biggest clue that my birth files are incomplete: I'm missing the multi-page handwritten and later typed up account I wrote of Simon's birth. I remember Anne typed some of it for me. I know I wrote it. I need to dig around in the basement someday. For now, I will go from memory alone.)

Around 3:00 am on May 17th, I woke with a dull ache in my low back. I squirmed into a hands and knees position in bed, stretching for some relief. Markus rubbed the uncomfortable spot a little. We both settled back to sleep. By 5:30 am, after a few more half-wakenings, I couldn't lie in bed anymore. My belly squeezed up for a few seconds, then released. Was this a contraction? Real labor? False labor?

We took a dawn walk, looping around the sidewalks of Northwood IV. Now and then I stopped and leaned against Markus to let the tightening pass. He looked at his watch. We tried to remember guidelines about noticing how many seconds long and how much time in between.

Back at home, we had breakfast. I ate toast. Perhaps it was at this point, perhaps even earlier, that I began a series of bowel movements that weren't exactly diarrhea but that seemed intent on clearing me out. I recognized the phenomenon: the same thing happened to me on the day of a big performance (like my voice recitals in college). I have a name for it: worm poop. I can see why the body wants to clear itself in both situations.

Mid-morning we notified Bonnie, our doula. She had a complex schedule because she worked several jobs. That morning, she was at the clothing boutique. As a professional doula, she had maintained back-up plans so that she could drop out of her normal routine as soon as we made the call. We told her not to hurry, but to head over to our place by the end of the morning.

Meanwhile at home, I tried different ways of handling the sensations of labor. Was this still early labor? I could talk through a contraction (that was one of the tests). I called the on-call midwife to let her know things were starting up. I said, "I think I'm in labor..." and choked up. It was Carol Shultheis who took the call, the nurse-midwife who had followed me prenatally. Lucky! She was the midwife du jour. She told us to relax, that it sounded like we were doing good early labor at home, that we should give another call if we noticed a change.

I tried the bathtub. We filled it with warm water, and I hoisted my body in. As soon as I sat down, legs straight out in front of me, I felt terribly confined. My legs and back went into spasms. Nope, not in the tub.

I sat on the sofa and asked Markus to microwave two compresses to set behind my back. This position worked well for a while. The warmth was soothing, and I could read a bit. Markus timed a contraction now and then, but he needed something else to do. He went to the kitchen and cleaned out the refrigerator! I began to feel nervous about breathing right during birth. I had no technique! My birth teacher had said, "Just breathe." My prenatal massage therapist, the amazing Audrey Simon, had taught me to groan for labor: a walrus bellow from low in the pelvis, down by the pubic bone. Screaming in a high voice only makes you tense. But I picked up the Kitzinger birth book and read her section on breathing. For the first time. While in early-mid labor.

At some point I had another strong urge for the toilet, so I hauled myself upstairs. Bonnie arrived, and she came straight to me in the bathroom. "Good position!" she cheered. While I sat, she reached around and rubbed my back during contractions, which were getting louder. When I said I wanted to stand up, she helped me into another favorable position of leaning against the wall. I remember one interchange clearly. A wave of muscle work washed through me. I leaned onto my hands at shoulder height on the wall. Bonnie doula-rubbed my back, praising my progress. When it was over, I rested against the wall and said to Bonne: "The good thing about contractions is they stop."

The endorphin rush was delicious.

There would have been another call to the midwife. There would have been a point when Markus lugged bags to the car: my overnight bag and the duffel bag with Aqua Tub supplies. By 1:00 pm we were on our way. The seven minute car ride was more like nine because of construction on one of the streets, which had been stripped to a bumpy surface. Markus had to go slow because the bumpiness made me crazy, and my contractions were intense.

We left the car in the drive. As soon as the elevator door opened, I went into a contraction. I waved the elevator away, leaned against the wall, and bellowed till it was over. In the relaxing pause, I had thoughts like this: "Wow, I wonder how bad this will be when it really gets started!" I'm amused and a bit dismayed to remember our entrance in the maternity waiting area. It was a quiet Saturday, and there was no one in sight but a receptionist. I said something like, "I think I'm in labor."

In the triage room, I was nervous. What if this isn't really it? The nurse-midwife would come and check my cervical dilation and effacement. Dilated to only 4 cm (instead of closer to 10 cm) I'd probably get sent home to labor on my own and not in the confines of the hospital. Carol arrived, asked some questions, put on a glove, and gave me a check. "10 centimeters!" she said, "and just about fully effaced. Let's go have a baby!"

Markus, Bonnie, and I felt like people hitting the jackpot on a game show.

I rode in a wheelchair, piloted by Carol, over to the birthing room area. She took back hallways to make the trip faster. In the chair, I began to rattle. My whole body shook. My consciousness flew up to look down on us from above. In the hallway as we neared our birthing room, a couple walked slowly in the opposite direction. She wore a white flared nightgown and had long brown hair. He wore jeans and a sweatshirt. The woman may have been a little startled by the shaking woman in the wheelchair. The man just looked at me and said, "Labor!"

It was, in fact, transition--the part of labor that moves from contractions to open the cervix to contractions that push the baby out. Surprisingly, I found all the rattling deeply relaxing.

In the birthing room, Carol suggested I try a semi-upright position with the head end of the bed raised to a 90-degree angle. She had me turn around and drape my upper body over the raised bed so I could kneel and let gravity help. I thought, But then I can't watch. (I had pictured using a mirror so I could watch the birth.) But I trusted her impulse and gave it a try. Markus stayed close to my face, talking to me and putting a straw in my mouth so I could sip juice between contractions. Bonnie massaged my back.

At some point Markus remembered the Aqua Tub stuff down in the car. He asked Carol if he should go down for it. She smiled. It was way too late for a tub.

After pushing was definitely underway, Carol asked our permission to break the amniotic sac. That whole "her waters broke" event never happened, and the sac was still in tact. I was reluctant to do anything "unnatural," but we agreed because she was concerned about meconium. Babies who come past their due date have a greater chance of releasing meconium from their bowels into the amniotic fluid. It's highly dangerous to the baby's airways. If there's meconium, you need to do careful suctioning of the nose and mouth immediately after birth.

She poked three tiny holes in the sac, and clear fluid trickled out. She said it looked good.

Push. Rest. Push. Rest.

As Simon progressed down the birth canal, the amniotic fluid came more freely. His head had been a cork, Carol said, and behind that cork there was indeed meconium. She called two pediatricians into the room to stand by for immediate suctioning.

When the baby crowned (i.e., you could see the top of the head), I sent Markus to my backside to watch. Bonnie came to be "with me" in my reverse position. This was the moment, the will I rip to shreds moment, the no-thank-you episiotomy moment. Whatever happens to me, they will fix me up! I told myself. Let go.

Out came his head, upside-down and facing Markus, who says Simon immediately blew a raspberry. (I consider that nature's way of dealing with meconium. My body squeezed in on him and something--air? fluid?--released through his mouth and nose.) In that moment, I felt a flash of energy from my perineum to my navel. I have ripped completely in half, I thought, and I don't care.

In fact, I didn't tear at all. Later, Carol's assessment was "just a few skid marks."

One shoulder. Now the other. (We had a tense moment when Carol asked me to push the second shoulder out even though my body wasn't contracting. I'd been taught not to do that. Again, I trusted her and followed her instructions.)

Out he slipped. Snip went the scissors on the cord, and the pediatricians whisked Simon to a warming table, reassuring us he was fine, this would only take a minute, we could hold our baby very soon. As Simon was flying through the air--a wet and purple thing--one of the doctors asked, "What's his name?"

"Simon!" Markus and I said together.

May 17, 1997 ~2:40 pm

He came to our arms soon enough. He was fine. APGAR was 8 out of 10 (I can't remember why). We'd been at the hospital less than 90 minutes. Good for me. Good for Simon. Good for all of us. We were a great team, and we had a great birth. Look at Markus--birth looks great on him!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 20th--All that preparation

Markus and I became parents in a planful way. I was 33 when Simon was born, not old for becoming a mother, but also not young. We approached prenatal care with diligence, and we did a lot of things to prepare for birth and for life with a new baby.

As I mentioned on May 12th, we practiced perineal stretching so I'd be ready for natural birth. I went to all the recommended prenatal appointments with the obstetrician and midwives. We attended a six-week birth class. We read books. For the record, we both found Sheila Kitzinger's The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth considerably more grounding and useful than the more popular "What to Expect" series. The newest edition of Kitzinger's book appears to have been 2003, alas. I just learned while googling the book that she died at the age of 86 in April this year.

In consultation with the midwife team, we made preparations to use the Aqua Tub during labor at the hospital. The deep tub offered a laboring woman the chance to be immersed in warm water to ease the physical strain of contractions. Hospital policy required the baby to be delivered "on dry land" and not underwater. The tub was a temporary unit (something like a portable backyard pool) that could be brought into the birth room (as long as no one else was using it--first come, first served). Markus assembled the elaborate list of required items, all of which needed to be new and unused so as to be clean: a garden hose (for filling the tub from the faucet), a plastic drop cloth (to line the tub for hygiene), a butterfly net (to remove any excrement that might enter the water). That's only the most memorable part of the list.

During our last birth class with Patty Brennan, we got quite serious and literal about the possibilities of birth. Patty had a fabric doll baby and a set of pelvic bones. The big trick, of course, is to get the baby through the pelvic opening. Patty showed us what it looks like when a baby comes out the classic way: head down, back side against the front of the mom's belly. Easy. She slipped the doll right through the pelvis. Then she showed the baby coming through facing the other direction, with the baby's back coming up against the stiffness of the mother's spine. Yes, Patty said, this can be more painful, but massage and movement can help things along. Then she showed us a breach birth (butt first instead of head first). And one foot first. And so on. Each time, the doll baby slipped on through, and Patty smiled reassurance.

Watching this display, I had a thought: it's only about six inches, really, that the baby has to traverse to leave the womb and make it outside. Six inches. I think I can do that! As for breathing during labor, we never learned techniques like Lamaze. Again, we followed Patty's advice: just breathe!

May 20, 1997
I'm not quite sure why the birth narrative hasn't made into this blog series yet. On May 20, 1997 we already had a three-day-old son. The birth reverberated still, but we were on to other preoccupations. I'll say this much about birth today: secretly, I wanted a home birth. My reasons for going to the hospital instead: 1) I was afraid of making the noise of birth through those paper-thin walls at all hours of the day or night and 2) insurance.

Simon did all the things babies are supposed to do. He nursed, slept, wet his diaper, transitioned from meconium to real baby poop, burped, made eye contact. Here's a father and son, communing while Dad talks on the phone (I'm guessing with his family in Germany). Our newest textile: the burp rag.

~May 20, 1997
Sleep was precious, as it always is. Even when he was this tiny, we welcomed Simon to sleep next to us. We read everything we could about co-sleeping (will I roll over and crush my baby?--not if you aren't crashing drunk; will my baby be spoiled and never sleep alone?--are you seriously worried about that?; etc.).

If it looks like the only photos from these early days are of Simon and Markus, it's true! I was there, behind the camera, behind the breasts.

May 20, 2015: I had a full teaching day and was glad to be home for dinner with Miriam (Markus was out at a function). The engineers are striking again at the Deutsche Bahn (the rail system). Train service is radically reduced, making all plans for getting around the region dicey. You can drive your car, but you'll end up on the road with a bunch of people who would have preferred to take the train. The situation can be a huge schedule changer. So, my writing group has switched to a virtual meeting tomorrow morning, just to avoid the headache.

It's more fun to think about our tiny Simon!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 19th--Cocooning

May 18, 1997
(backdrop: Rebecca Cross quilt)
May 19, 1997: Home with our baby! Welcome, little Simon. That's what a 7 pound 12 ounce baby looks like against his daddy. Words like "peanut" come to mind. This photo was taken the previous day, probably by my father, after we arrived home from the hospital. Home felt strange at first. The living room was in a particular disarray. Why was the coffee table next to the sofa instead of over by the window, as it usually is? Oh, yeah, I asked Markus to scoot it over so I could look at the bouquet of iris while I breathed through contractions on the couch. Oh, yeah, I went through early labor in here. Labor is a strange place to remember things from. During the earlier part of my labor, Markus alternated between timing contractions now and then and looking for something useful to do. He cleaned out the fridge!

May 18, 1997
First car ride
Simon slept during his first car ride, and we brought him inside still strapped to his car seat. He slept in the car seat a fair amount, as it turned out. We kept it in the living room and set him down in it sometimes.

As day one at home progressed into day two, I was busy learning from Simon how to breastfeed. He seemed to know what he was doing, and all I needed to bring to the situation was patience and plenty of time. I soon became an avid reader of the New York Times Magazine while breastfeeding. Its wide pages of text kept me occupied without requiring too many page turns. My hands were busy holding Simon in place.

Markus and Simon spent a lot of time together, too. This photo shows Simon in the favorite sleeping position of both our children: snuggled up on Daddy's chest. During the first months of Simon's life, we let him sleep in a bassinet (the same one my father slept in!) and later in his crib. During night-time feedings we often brought him into our bed. I remember Simon's early months involving a fair number of attempts to lay him down in his crib. I can say three things about that. One, he never woke up happy in his crib. Two, neither of my babies ever "slept through the night." Three, co-sleeping with your nursing baby is incredibly convenient and sweet. With baby number two, Miriam, we went straight to co-sleeping, and she'd usually go down for the night, after nursing, on Markus' chest in our bed.

Aside from breastfeeding, figuring out diapers and clothing, feeding ourselves, cuddling, and feeling completely in love with our baby, we didn't do a whole lot more than that.

May 19, 2015: I had a full teaching day (9:00 am - 4:15 pm), and I got to see several of my students who ran the half marathon on Sunday. Their young bodies seemed to be doing fine, although several admitted not having trained past a distance of 6K before attempting 20K. But that's what you do when you're 18, 19, 20, right?

May 19, 2015
Backyard garden, Flein
In Ann Arbor in 1997, the flowering trees were just beginning to bloom (now that Simon was finally there!). Here in Flein, we've been enjoying the bulbs and trees since March. This week the roses are blooming generously, and the clematis has also burst forth. Only the peonies continue to hold their petals in tight fists. The ants are still crawling all over them (the kind of ant--I found out this morning--that stings when it touches your skin). You might want to compare this photo with a previous look at the same flower bed, from the opposite angle, on May 9th.

The flowers that bloom in the spring... (Tra-la!)*

*Ten points if you know the reference!

Monday, May 18, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 18th--The day after

May 18, 2015: Simon's birthday fell on a Sunday this year. The big 18th birthday--the one I've been gearing up for, the one I wondered how painful it might feel, the one I've been writing up to--came at the end of a four-day weekend. We used the time as a lazy "stay-cation," and I'll admit I got used to the slow pace. Waking up for Monday again today was tricky, especially since it was a "home office" day for me, which means I can use my time as I see fit to get done what I need to do. Sometimes it's hard to un-pause.

It was a gorgeous day, and I spent some time in the garden--long enough to stake my peonies (they reach my shoulders) before they open their heavy blooms. Lunch on the back terrace and some reading time. Course prep. Invoices. By late afternoon I felt mostly back to normal. I wasn't sad today, but I experienced some blankness. I think that's one of the harder modes of grieving--it's vague and uncomfortable. It's not a time for tears; it's a loose-ends feeling. A gap.

May 18, 1997: After Simon's 2:30 pm birth on Saturday, we stayed one night in the birthing room. Markus must have had a fold-out bed. I was on the hospital bed. And Simon moved between the clear plexiglass bassinet thing and a place tucked in beside me. We never let him out of our sight and scarcely let him out of our hands. We chose not to circumcise, and we didn't want anyone to assume otherwise. On Sunday morning, the three of us followed a nurse to another station where she would prick Simon's heal to soak five quarter-sized circles on a paper card for the PKU test. We had tried to get out of that one but followed our birth teacher's advice not to get a mark against us in the State's records by refusing. We didn't like doing it, but doing it together made it feel OK.

Anne Adams
Before our discharge in the afternoon, we had three important visitors. Anne Adams, who had watched Gilbert Grape with us the night before my labor started, came to meet Simon. We were lucky to have her nearby. She was a huge support through pregnancy and labor, and she was a patient friend and willing babysitter later on.

Markus and I had thought a lot about our wishes for getting started as a new family, and we decided we wanted to be on our own in our home for the first two weeks. We wanted to learn from our baby and give ourselves time and space to bond. We'd encountered this recommendation in a number of readings and birth class discussions.

This bonding time made sense with Markus' academic schedule, too. He was nearing the end of his first two years of PhD studies. As I recall it, we had two weeks before Markus entered a three-week period of intensive research and writing on three complex questions. The PhD students and their families talked of prelims with shudders befitting horror movies. (The Organizational Behavior department changed the process not too many years later.) We wanted Markus to get undiluted father-baby-mother time before that craziness started.

Soon after Simon's birth, we called my parents in Ohio to tell them the happy news. We wanted them to meet their tiny grandson, and we invited them to drive up on Sunday morning to meet Simon in the hospital and spend time with us after we got back to our apartment in Family Housing.

My parents did some grocery shopping, and my mother cooked a nice evening meal. It was lovely to have them there and to be taken care of. Respectful of our plan to move forward as a threesome for the earliest days, my parents drove home again that evening. Simon was the tiniest grandchild they had held in their arms (the others being born further away). That is, until my mom was right there in the room with us when I gave birth to Miriam (but that's another story).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 17th--2015 Life keeps moving

I split my post in half today. If you missed the first one, scroll down to find it or choose "Older Post" in the options at the bottom of this page. That's the 1997 part. If you're just now joining in on my "18 Years Ago" series, have a look at the left sidebar for the Blog Archive for May. There's a post for every day!

Here, today, in Flein, Germany, we had a pleasant day. While walking this evening I wondered about the passage of time and the paths we've taken along the way. I try to picture Simon in his last year of high school here in Germany. But then I wonder, would we be living in Germany now if Simon had lived? Even further back, where would we be if he hadn't gotten sick? Maybe we really would have moved to Canada in 2002, where our kids could have grown up near their Lautens cousins. That's fun to picture.

Meanwhile, Markus, Miriam and I really do live in Germany (along with our kitties Sam and Simon), and we're doing OK. Miriam is busily preparing for tomorrow's physics test, so we postponed plans for a longer hike in honor of Simon's birthday. Instead, we went outside to watch today's Trollinger (Half)Marathon pass through our neighborhood. Markus and Miriam have been running in the 5-10K range this spring, and I have a feeling they got inspired this morning. It's a somewhat hilly course, but overall it passes through beautiful scenery. Here's a link to a map of the course.

The full marathoners passed through first (468 of them). About an hour later we went out to watch the half marathoners (5,000+). They came in hoards, rounding the corner where we stood cheering them on. We kept an eye out for runners from GGS, the business school where Markus is a professor. After a while, I began noticing students from my English classes at the DHBW. It was fun to pick them out and give them a shout. It did me good to feel connected with young people who are not much older than Simon would be today. As my teaching career has progressed, I have managed (without direct intention) to be teaching students about Simon's age. The year I left the Salt Lake Arts Academy (2010), Simon would have been in 7th grade, just like the group of kids I had as mentees. When I started teaching college students in 2012, I hadn't considered at first that Simon would catch up to their age group, too. I've been grateful both times.

If you've kept up with my posts leading up to Simon's birth in 1997, you may have expected a birth story today. But I've decided to save that for another day. After all, on the day of a birth, you are in an amazing bubble, away from chronology and mental processing. I wanted to leave it that way today. Birth stories come when you get a little distance on the events. In other words, the series won't be ending here!

May 17, 2015
We've got candles lit, and I had a facetime call with my family in Ohio this evening. My sister, Julie, and her daughter, Margot, were visiting, as well as my brother, David. My parents also keep a Simon candle, and the five of them each lit one and spoke about Simon. Julie said that she pictures him joining her son, Nathan, at McGill University in the fall. In the photo to the left, you can see a photo of Simon and Nathan together in 2003. Margot remembers playing video games with Simon and thinks they'd have a good conversation about this year's new releases. David said he could have used Simon's muscle over the weekend because they'd been doing some lifting and carrying. My mother lit a yellow candle and said Simon had always called it "gelb" instead of "yellow," picking the easier of his two words. "Red, green, gelb, blue..." (I don't remember that detail, but my father corroborated it.) My father remembers playing whiffle ball with Simon and the joyful way Simon rode the red wagon down the front walk and made a quick turn at the bottom of the hill.

For a look back at birthdays with Simon, you can pop over to May 17th Coming Up (2011). Today I made a commemorative strawberry pie for at least the third year in a row. Simon's birthday comes in the middle of strawberry season, and we can get them from nearby fields. We set a place for Simon at all three meals today, a tradition Markus started last year, and one I rather like.

Would Simon like a pie like this, with a Super Simon heart? Who's to know. But I enjoyed making it and thinking of the boy I knew and the grown young man I try to imagine.

Birthday strawberry pie
May 17, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 17th--1997 Great Joy!

May 17, 1997 about 4:00 pm

In the night before May 17, an active
kicker settled down in focused
quiet. As day followed night,
with increasing momentum, this
little one took a journey
from a gentle, wet
place into a world
of light and 
air and
zum 17. Mai
beruhigte sich
unser Strampelfreund.
Mit beginnendem Tag
begab ar sich auf eine
Reise von einem sanften,
warmen Ort zu eine Welt
voller Licht und Luft und Liebe. 

With doula Bonnie Marquis.

Wide awake.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 16th--Quieting down

Do you know it's about to happen? Can you feel labor gearing up? Does the baby's movement pattern change?

I'm quite sure I did not think specifically on May 16, 1997 that the next day would be the day. On the other hand, I expect I had a hopeful thought like that every day while we were waiting for Simon to be born.

Candles lit with grandparents
May 16, 2015
I imagine I took walks and naps that day. Ate meals. Read. Maybe I soaked in the tub to relax. I distinctly remember walking from our Family Housing apartment across Plymouth Road to the Blockbuster Video with my friend Anne Adams. I wore my enormous black cotton dress. I'm sure that felt better than strapping elastic-banded pants around my stretched out belly. The video we picked: What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Remember that one? Johnny Depp and very young Leonardo DiCaprio as brothers with an extremely obese mother. Markus and I had never seen it, and we'd been curious. What a peculiar set of circumstances and characters. And it happened to be the movie I watched the night before my son was born. (We have a similar story for Miriam's birth: that film was Central Station, and we watched it with my mother.)

During and after the movie, my belly grew still. Often I felt more nudges, hiccups, and kicks when I was quietest. That is, a fetus can be lulled to sleep by the mother's activity but wake up when the mother lies down to sleep. I had no reason to believe anything was amiss, but I found it unsettling. We said goodnight to Anne, and then Markus and I went up to our bed. I sat propped against the headboard while he put his ear to my bare belly, listening for reassurance. He repositioned his ear and listened with his eyes closed. I was a pile of calm myself, and I brushed aside my worry about this quiet. It must have been hormones, because I think we were both frightened. At last Markus' fingertip began to tap on my skin. Dip-dip dip-dip dip-dip dip-dip. Perhaps a little slower than usual, but solid.

We went to sleep.

The photo in back show Simon
with his grandparents in 1997.
May 16, 2015: I had a quiet day. Markus and Miriam went off on another run (she did 5K, he did 10K). I stayed home this time. I spent part of the day reading. I finished a startling memoir by Sarah Manguso called The Two Kinds of Decay, which describes a lengthy autoimmune illness that caused temporary paralysis, among other symptoms. The recommendation came from Thisbe Nissen, a writer I met back in 2008 at the Wesleyan Writers Conference. I'd had a consultation with Thisbe, and she jotted down titles she thought would enrich my work. I tucked that sheet away and found it only a few weeks ago while sorting out old notebooks.

I find that it pays to follow reading recommendations from writers who have read my work. I took the list and ordered three titles by interlibrary loan. They all came in last week, without the option to renew. So I am busy. Manguso's style is spare, direct, and gripping to read. She describes illness, doctors, medical complexity, and her own thoughts and actions without judgment. She leaves white space. No vignette is more than three pages. I could read it again right away. But I've moved on to the next one on the pile: Halls of Fame, essays by John D'Agata.

Great puddles of wax.
Markus' parents came up from Stuttgart for the evening with us. We had coffee and cake followed by a walk that took us past an enclosure of sheep, many of them adorably young. Our conversation continued over curry for dinner and mousse au chocolat by Miriam for dessert. After dinner we lit candles together to remember Simon on the eve of his eighteenth birthday.

Friday, May 15, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 15th--Balance

May 15, 1997: In our file of assorted notes on pregnancy and birth, I found a sheet of paper in Markus' handwriting with instructions for our appointment at the Fetal Diagnostic Center. We were nearly one week post due, and it was time to check in on the baby. 5/15/97 at 9:00 am, a Thursday. A person named Colleen had called. We were to report to the 4th floor of "Mott Hospital" and the note includes how to get there: "2nd level of Taubman, left from elevator, follow signs to Mott." I add that detail not because it's particularly interesting, but because it emphasizes the fact that there was a time when we had not been inside Mott (except for a tour of the birth station on the 4th floor). We later became so familiar with that place during Simon's cancer care.

The appointment involved checking my vitals (heart rate, blood pressure, temperature I assume), looking via ultrasound at the amount of amniotic fluid, and hooking me up to a fetal monitor, which places a few sensors against your belly to measure what your contractions are doing and what the baby's doing. We could watch a monitor and see it blip when I had a Braxton-Hicks "fake" contraction. I'd read about nipple stimulation as a way to encourage labor to start, and I had received the midwives' blessing to give it a try if I went past the due date. Sitting there, I could generate a contraction, watch the monitor spike, and return again to neutral. Sigh. (Nipple stimulation played no significant role in Simon's birth; 28 months later, however, it was my nursing toddler who kicked off labor five days "early." I'm 100% sure about that.)

At the end of my appointment, the technician offered to do a vaginal check. I'd read about those, too, and the lack of real predictive information to be gained from checking cervical softness and dilation. But I was a week overdue, and I was curious. She also offered to rub on prostaglandin gel, a hormone that occurs in semen, as a means of stimulating labor. Once she checked, though, she said I wouldn't be needing any gel. She made a follow-up appointment for fetal monitoring on Monday, but she said, "I don't think you'll make it--I think you'll have this baby over the weekend." Reassuringly, she said we wouldn't need to worry about canceling the appointment--the system had that covered.

Markus and I left the Fetal Diagnostic Center, planning no further need for fetal monitoring, especially not during birth. I was convinced I wanted to be free to move around during labor: no IV in my hand, nothing strapped to my belly. Mott Hospital is adjacent to the green and spacious Nichols Arboretum, and we decided to go for a walk there. Walking was another way to rev up the body for labor, of course. I took so many walks during the last weeks and days. In the photos you can see I'm wearing a warm jacket, as it was still cool for mid-May.

Nichols Arboretum
May 15, 1997

"Balance beam" walk on parking barrier

May 15, 2015: This writing project revives the great anticipation of giving birth for the first time. I have been so unsure how to approach the date this year, the day Simon would have become a legal adult. I'm glad I chose to dive into the memories and reoccupy that magical time of becoming a mother. Through my time travel, I am approaching Simon's birthday this year not primarily from the depth of loss (and this moment is a startlingly deep point) but with forward motion and rising joy.

And so it should be. I'm reminded of a visit to Ann Arbor several years after Simon died. I took a walk toward the medical campus, still wondering if I really wanted to visit the cancer clinic, just to say hello to the nurses who had cared for him. At the upper end of the massive complex (up near Angelo's Diner), I saw a familiar figure walking toward me. It was Carol Shultheis, the nurse midwife who had attended Simon's birth. Feeling the pull of the cancer center, I was glad for Carol's reminder of the joyous parts of life with my son. His struggle with illness dominates my memories of this hospital, and his absence pervades my life.

Yet, he was born right there. He was gloriously born, and I have never felt more complete alignment and personal power than on that day.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

18 Years Ago: May 14th--Belly

May 14, 1997 is the date of the last photos of me while pregnant. Well, second to last. There are a couple from May 15th, but I'll post those tomorrow. Today, I offer a short review of my pregnant look. I found an envelope of selected photos labeled in Markus' handwriting as "Pregnant Pictures." I rather like the poetry of that label.

Here's a photo in the baby's room. I'm relieved to see that we had a crib set up a full month before the due date. Also in the photo is a baby quilt by our artist friend Rebecca Cross. (You can see her in photos posted in The fashion post on May 10th.)

36 weeks: April 7, 1997

My friends at University Productions gave Markus and me a shower on April 17th. My office was in the Michigan League, and we took several photos outside on the plaza between Hill Auditorium and the League, just in front of the Carillon tower. It's one of those places that reminds me what a lovely town Ann Arbor is to live and work in.

38 weeks: April 17, 1997
Fountain next to the Michigan League
38 weeks
Markus is my go-to fashion photographer

Ready, ready, ready for this baby. Five days past the official due date, here I am showing off a favorite exercise position. These two photos were taken on the same day as the one I posted for May 3rd.

41 weeks: May 14, 1997

41 weeks: ripe

May 14, 2015: It's a holiday in Germany today. Markus was traveling (a quick trip to present a research project for a European commission in Brussels), so Miriam and I had an easy day at home. Weed pulling, reading, and tie dying. She's learning dye techniques and did a practice project today in one color (her favorite: black). Next will be some T-shirts in "screaming color."

I love, love, love to watch these hands.