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Sometimes amazing things happen to remind us that we really don’t understand the machinations of our world. I often think of the line to Josh Groban’s song “To Where You Are” that says:

Isn’t faith believing all powers can’t be seen?

Yesterday my almost-five-year-old (countdown to the big day–seven sleeps!) and I attended a baby shower for her preschool teacher.

One of the games involved each of the kids suggesting what Ms. Lindsay should name her baby boy.

The children mainly chose names of male classmates or dads or brothers. A few provided gigglers–Star, Sunshine, Happy Feet. One future class clown offered up “Poo.”

Elizabeth’s turn arrived. She seemed confused about this, and the teacher asked her if she needed more time. She shook her head, stood up, and said, “Matthew.”

My heart seized. She knew no Matthews. No cousins or classmates or friends. The only time she could have heard the name in her brief existence would be in Sunday School, where it would compete with the likes of Mark, Luke, and John.

But Matthew is a very important name to us. When we were told Emily was a boy at her sonogram, we chose Ryan Matthew as her name. Naturally she became Emily later when the high risk doctor told us–that’s an odd name for a girl!

When we got pregnant with Elizabeth, we decided we still liked Ryan Matthew but would prefer it flipped. So we called the baby Matthew early on when we referred to her in the womb, until her sonogram revealed she was also a girl.

But of course, Elizabeth was a twin. Her little sibling died and my water broke when I was only ten weeks pregnant. Elizabeth survived, although we had a week or two of uncertainty that the pregnancy would pull through.

We’ve named her twin Emma Hope, but after this baby shower, maybe we were wrong. Perhaps Elizabeth knows more than we do, and maybe, just maybe, some little presence whispered in her ear that morning, and for the first time, without even knowing it, she uttered a name she’d never before heard–her brother’s.

Most every day I will receive two to five emails from women who have lost a baby. I try to always respond.

Many just want to share their story–to tell anyone and let it pour out. I always imagine it is like poison, or snake venom, and you simply have to purge it from your body in order to survive. I’ve heard most every situation that can be told after eight years, and I can handle anything laid in my inbox.

The beta readers who are going over Baby Dust right now also email me, mentioning moments in various characters that they feel reflect me. Stella, certainly, in her unabashed devotion to the group for a decade, often will say things I write in my emails to women–encouragement or concern or a reminder that the future will look very different that the landscape currently in view. I too once thought I would never have children, only loss after loss. I probably hit my lowest low when I was pregnant for the second time and my doctor called me to say my screenings with this new baby were abnormal.

“It will happen again,” I thought, my belly already fat enough that I had to lean forward to rest my head on the work desk. “It will happen over and over again until I can’t take it anymore.”

And that was when I formed a resolution I still repeat to women who feel their losses will recur and they can’t face it. “Can you make it through one more?” I ask them. “Not two more or five more or an endless stream of them. But just one more?”

When you say yes, you know you can make it through one more loss, you are ready to try again. Because your last loss may indeed have been your last loss.

I think all of us find ourselves riddled with self-doubt at times. Sometimes I wonder if I am any sort of spokesperson on this issue. Regularly I fear I’ve gone too far, or not far enough. I examine the outline of the book, review the situations, struggle with whether or not I covered everything. If I got things right.

Conceiving an idea is such great fun. There is so much joy in it, such hope. You can believe in something when the concept is broad and bright and entirely in the future. The execution of it is all together different. There are potholes, gaps, chasms, gorges between your dream and its fruition. You wonder if you fail, how many people will watch you go down.

Baby Dust is with six readers right now from various demographics. Women who’ve lost babies, women who haven’t. Doctors and editors and just writer friends who have no idea what darkness I’ve laid in their hands. I will listen to what they have to say about it, make my adjustments where need be.

For the people who read it who’ve never been through a miscarriage, I find they don’t believe some of it. “Of course you have to go to the hospital!” they say, and refuse to accept that this might not be the best course.

“No one would say that!” they exclaim when they see what comments are made to women fresh from their losses. They can’t imagine they might be told “It wasn’t really a baby anyway,” or “Just try again and you’ll be fine.” Or our favorite, “It was all in God’s plan.”

Initially I think–exactly, and that’s why you need to read this book. And learn. Then I think, what if they still don’t believe it? What if these scenarios do more harm than good? What if people think it’s gratuitous? Or disingenuous? Or manipulative? Or just bad?

Today I grapple with both anxiety and hope, much like we do when we learn we are pregnant again after a loss. Yes, it could turn terrible, and we might face awful devastation. But it could also be wonderful.

I take solace in Winston Churchill.

You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.

I sure do hope he’s right.

Today, having sent Baby Dust to a few novel-writing friends to take a look at, I decided to focus on the rest of my to-do list and get my 2006 receipts entered for taxes.

On top was a pile of medical things, because I’ve been monitored for cervical cancer since last January. (Next biopsy–Feb. 12. Ick.)

I figured with everything going on, I’d better start a new folder for medical records, so I went to the file cabinet to see what already existed. Under medical, I found a packet rather unusually titled “old stuff.” So I pulled out this folder to see what might be inside.

A medical bill. Several, in fact. I scanned the list to see what they were for.

  • Prenatal 1-3
  • Antepartum Care
  • Mycoplasma Culture
  • Prolactin
  • TSH

Right about here I realized what I was looking at but read on, much as someone might rubber-neck a car accident.

  • Lupus Anticoagulant
  • Prothrombine time
  • Thromboplastin

I knew the date I would see. May 1998. These were the tests they ran to try and figure out why my baby had died. They didn’t figure it out then; I’d be pregnant with Emily before we understood the reason. If there should ever be a reason for something like that.

Strange I would come across this bill the same day I set Baby Dust aside, the first draft done, a whole trove of stories just like mine contained within its pages. Maybe Casey needed me to remember that they were little people, not just graphic incidents, or maybe he wanted to remind me why I was qualified to write it at all. Or maybe he just wanted to drop in, to show me he knew it was a big day, and to sprinkle me with luck as I start to send it out to agents.

Doesn’t matter. I can make it anything I want to be. And I choose to get dusted with hope.

I’m saying it here first, before I tell another living soul.

Baby Dust is done. I wrote the last sentence two minutes ago.

I’ll update you all more on what is going to happen next later, but I’m sitting here bawling my eyes out and the ending worked out better than I thought it could, as if someone or something else told me exactly what to say, and how to say it.

Now, I’m going to go to bed and sleep.

I’m going to make a little push to write another big chunk of the book by midnight Tuesday. We’re all off work; I’m not leaving town until Wednesday, and I can stay up as late as I want.

I’ve added a new character, Constance, and I’ll see how she’ll work out. She’s married, has two kids, and works in a day care–a painful place after her miscarriage, especially when she feels some of the mothers mistreat their children. She comes home to find her husband fired from his job (again!) and insisting–no more babies. She can’t bear to end her reproductive years on a loss. So the conflict begins.

I hope to have a finished draft of the novel by Feb. 7.

I did finish NaNoWriMo last Thursday, and I did make the 50,000 words. Hooray!

As always happens, once NaNo is over, I take a few days away from my novel to catch up with the rest of my life–mopping floors, playing with rugrats, working!

Last night I took the novel up again and added a new character, Constance, who has two children and works in a day care. I’ll post another scene soon. Stella has begun to flashback and relate her loss ten years ago. It’s very tough, enough that I really want it to settle before I can read it again myself. Also in this chapter she will reveal the secret why they could never adopt.

It’s exciting!

I will put a new excerpt up soon, hopefully tonight. I cranked out another 20 pages yesterday and have propelled to chapter six. I am approximately 1/3 of the way through the novel.

I spun out Dot and Barry’s entire story of their love affair last night, and Dot surprised me by revealing more than I thought would be in the book. She lives in a trailer, has been deserted by her husband, and Barry comes along as her first true love at age 26. She already has five kids.

But she gets pregnant, and the baby ends up with anencephaly, and in a pair of very difficult scenes, a happy sonogram goes very wrong, and eventually she is forced to terminate the pregnancy to avoid endangering her own life in delivery.

I didn’t plan to write the termination sequence into the book, but when one of you ladies posted mentioned a family who got to hear their baby’s  heartbeat on the monitors until the very last one, well, I had to write it. Along the way I mentioned another troubling story when the doctor commented on a woman’s weight as he put her in the stirrups, as well as a rather awful comment from my own nurse (I had to go to an abortion clinic like many of us do when we are in the second trimester before the baby dies) during my D&E warning me “not to cry or it would interfere with the anesthesia gas.”

Yeah, don’t cry as they take your baby from your body.

While I doubt a lot of caregivers will read the book–and even if they did they probably wouldn’t recognize insensitivity as it might apply to things they sometimes do or say–I do want people to be shocked by what has happened to people and hopefully speak up. Most of us, in these traumatic moments, don’t say anything at all. I didn’t. And while many wonderful ob/gyns and nurses (my regular ob/gyn and staff are certainly among them) are amazing and kind and help us through the process with sensitivity and compassion, many–so many–make our experiences even harder than they have to be.

I will post the excerpt when I get a chance to read over it (right now I am eleven orders behind on my photo work) and we can all feel what is like to see the heartbeat go from 180 to zero in the space of a lifetime.

It’s been a hard day or two of writing, and most everyone in the Austin NaNoWriMo group is prepared with Kleenex when I come to a write in.

But I’m doing okay.

My grandfather died last night.

He had been in a lot of pain, and just had surgery the week before. He hadn’t been able to eat in weeks. His passing gives him ease from all that.

One thing that always happens when someone I know and love is dying is that I am desperate to talk to them, as if they could take a message from this world to the next and pass it on to my babies.

My grandmother was the first to die after we lost Casey. She had just celebrated her 80th birthday. She saw much of her family and had a happy day. She still got around all right and was as mentally alert as always. In the night she had an aneurysm and when they got her to the hospital they placed her on life support until all the family could gather.

I entered the darkened hushed room, the silence broken only by the occasional wheeze of the ventilator. Memaw’s chest rose and fell rhythmically with the machine. She was thin and fragile beneath the sheet.

I held her chilly hand, her grasp so limp. I had something critical to say to her, even though I was aware that she most likely had no hearing, no way to process the words. The doctors had told us she had no brain activity any more.

She would be the first to meet my baby; the first one to have known me in real life, with real hugs, to be able to embrace him too. I said to her, “Kiss him for me Memaw. Hug our baby Casey, you lucky great-grandma, you.”

Despite her medical state, despite what we all knew about her condition, God or fate or whatever mechanism controls this world of ours let her muscle contract and her hand squeeze mine. I was glad, so glad, for a confirmation that she heard and understood.

Tomorrow I assume I will leave town, depending on the time for the funeral. Yesterday was a hard day, as many of you know, on the miscarriage boards. Women upset at each other, causing all sorts of distress. I had to intervene at a level I had not done in many years. I wasn’t even sure what to think. What do we have in this world if we don’t have each other? A lot of death and dying and grief.

I wish before my grandfather died I could have told him to pick up little Casey–well, gosh, I guess he’d be 8 by now and embarrassed by that–so maybe pat him on the shoulder, ruffle his hair. But because of all the good things in this world–love, support, care,  empathy, understanding–I’m sure my grandfather already knows.

I have written some 40 pages of the miscarriage book. I am pleased with how it is going.

From here on out I will just post introductions to important characters and scenes that I think are interesting on their own.

Everyone’s support means so much. I’ve had a couple of breakdowns, an especially bad one at the end of chapter one when Tina asks her doctor not to let her premature baby hurt. In the novel I have specifically avoided situations too similiar to my own, but as we all do, I still spot those seeds of my own sorrow in the stories of others. Fortunately my fellow NaNo writers know it’s a tough book and are kind and understanding when I suddenly drop my head to a tabletop in the middle of a coffee shop and sob.

If you haven’t read chapter one yet, I have put it all together on one page.

Today I leave you with the link to George Canyon’s song, which was banned in some places due to its subject matter, which is crazy to me, but it is about a woman who, in death, is reunited with a baby she lost decades before.

This is the video for My Name.