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 have been so struggling with this.

I’ve played with babies and angels and mothers and wombs and sorrow and birth and all sort of words. I have pages of combinations but they all came off as too television drama, or nonfiction sounding, or just plain overblown.

This morning I lay in bed, stressing over this, trying again to put together a set of words that would both let people know the topic but also not be too melodramatic. I thought of all the terms that are unique to these women–being pregnant, trying to get pregnant, losing babies, stuck in reproduction woes. I ran down the list of the abbreviations and terms on the site and then I saw it. I knew immediately this was the title.

Baby Dust.

What term could both embody the loss (ashes to ashes, dust to dust) and also the hope (we sprinkle each other with baby dust to encourage a new pregnancy.)

It’s perfect. And I’m very happy about it. I checked Books in Print and it doesn’t yet exist as a title. Joy!

I’ll change the blog name shortly.

I am about halfway through my outline. I will push hard each week night until the end of NaNo to see if I can get closer to the end. There are many surprises yet in store!

The baby had no brain.

Barry had handled the news with concern mainly for her. He’d held her hand when the doctors insisted she terminate the pregnancy.

They’d sent her to an abortion clinic, as the regular clinic couldn’t perform the surgery. Barry had shielded her from the others in the waiting room, mostly teens, anxious with their parents.

“They’re getting rid of their babies, when we’ve lost ours,” she said to him as the nurse called back another young woman, this one hanging on to her teenage boyfriend.

He’d squeezed her arm. “It’s hard I know. But they’ve got their stories, their hardships too.”

Dot nodded and leaned on his shoulder. The baby was kicking her. “Hey, feel him,” she said. “We won’t get to much longer.”

He put his hand on her belly. “Hey Bubba,” he said, leaning close to her distended stomach. “You probably can’t hear us, but we’re here. We’re right here.”

Dot pushed his hand hard against her belly. “Please tell me you can feel him. I know he doesn’t kick very hard as small as he is, but tell me you can feel him.”

Barry looked straight at her with his crystal blue eyes. “Here, let’s try this.” He ran his hand beneath her shirt, oblivious to the people around them, the clerk at the desk, the ding of the elevator outside in the hall.

“There it is again,” she said, and shifted his hand. “Please tell me you can feel him, this once.”

Barry closed his eyes and held firm, his hand warm on her skin. “Is it small, like bubbles breaking on the surface of water?”

“Yes.” Dot turned her face into his shoulder. She had told herself she could be strong in this, but she didn’t feel strong. She was afraid to start crying, afraid she couldn’t stop.

“I feel it, Dot. I do. It’s Bubba.”

The nurse called her name. She stood as if in a dream, the scene had gone liquid around her. They couldn’t do this. Bubba was alive, and they were going to kill him. Her knees gave out and she stumbled. Barry caught her and wrapped an arm hard around her waist. “Here, I’ll help you,” he said.

“I see God,” she said. The nurse had opened the door and light poured from overhead. Her wet eyes magnified its intensity and she was momentarily blinded.

“He’s here to watch over you and the baby,” Barry whispered.

“He’s here to carry out his punishment,” she said. “My child is dying for my sins.”

Barry led her into a room behind the nurse and seemed to concentrate on the instructions. Dot quit listening. She could not follow the stream of words. She looked around the room–a table with stirrups on the end, not little ones for feet like at the doctor, but big ones for your knees, like the ones where she’d had her babies. It seemed wrong, somehow, to have those kind here.

The room was partitioned, and beyond the half wall she could see crates of glass bottles with big open mouths. Did they put the babies in those jars? Surely not. Surely they wouldn’t be clear. Surely they couldn’t do that–look at the babies in jars.

The nurse left and Barry helped her undress and settle on the table. “Why won’t they let us just have him?” she said. “Why do we have to do this?”

“Baby, the doctors, I guess they just know. They said it’s dangerous, that you could die. You got all those kids, Dot. You can’t risk it.”

Dot rolled away from him. “I can’t see you no more, after today, Barry. It may be a risk of dying to see this baby, but seeing you another day is risking my burning in everlasting hell. I will have to work hard every day of my life to earn forgiveness.”

“Dot, you’ve been talking this way every since we found out. I love you. I want to take care of you. We’re going to get you divorced and get this all straight. You’ll get right with God.”

She couldn’t see him, facing the half wall and the jars. “You really think those jars are for the babies?” she asked.

He expelled a rush of air. “I don’t know. I don’t think I want to know.”

The nurse returned. “Here’s Dr. Glenn. He’ll be taking care of you.”

“Hello, Dot,” the doctor said.

Dot turned on her back. “Are we sure I have to do this?”

“Your doctors sent you to me. That means they were sure. We’re going to fit you with some monitors while we do this–blood pressure, heart rate. You should have taken some medications this morning. Did you get those?”

Dot nodded.

“I’m going to check your laminaria,” he said. “Make sure you’re well dilated. They went in okay yesterday?”

“It was a little uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel it once they were done.”

The doctor helped lift her feet in the stirrups. “You might want to lose a little weight before getting pregnant again,” he said. “Not healthy.”

Dot washed cold. They were taking her baby before her eyes and he wanted to talk about her weight? She turned to look at Barry, who sat stiffly in the side chair, his knuckles white on his grip on the arm rests. He wants to punch him, she thought. But he won’t. He’s too good a guy. Buster would’ve punched him.

“It all looks good,” he said. “I’ll be back in just a few minutes. The nurse will start the gas.”

A large woman in pink scrubs fitted her with an arm cuff and checked her blood pressure. Then they placed a monitor over her belly. Bubba’s heartbeat flooded the room, a rapid whomp whomp. The nurse flicked off the sound. The screen still silently showed the pulse of it, a small corresponding number like the one on the sonogram blinking in the corner.

184. 178. 192.

Dot closed her eyes until she felt the nurse touching her face. “Try not to cry,” she said. “It will interfere with the gas.” The woman fitted a rubbery mask over her nose and mouth.

Barry took her hand and she concentrated on that one touch, the warmth, every callus, each rough spot in his skin. Had she just told him she couldn’t see him anymore? It seemed the right thing at that moment. But his being here felt right in this one.

The door opened and the doctor came in again. “Is she prepped and ready?” he asked the nurse.

“Yes.”

He sat on a stool between her knees. She felt the cool slide of metal inside her and the opening of the instrument. She looked over at Barry, who sat on the edge of the chair, leaning hard to hold her hand.

“Does she have to be awake for this?” Barry asked. “I didn’t know she would be awake.”

“There’s no need for a general for this procedure,” he said. “It’s expensive and riskier.”

Barry looked at Dot and drew his eyebrows together in concern. She shrugged.

“Here we go, Dot,” the doctor said. “You’re going to feel a little pressure, but no pain.”

“Is the baby going to come out alive?” Barry asked.

The doctor paused a moment. “No,” he said. “We are not dilating her to get it out whole. That would require labor and delivery.”

“It’s going to be in pieces?” Barry turned ashen.

“Yes.” He and the nurse exchanged a glance. “If you think you’d rather not be here, you can wait outside.”

Barry leaned his head on the arm leading over to Dot. “No, I’ll be here.”

The doctor settled back down and Dot struggled with the rubber pieces on her face. She felt claustrophobic, but the air was hot and sweet. She felt mirth rising, a bubble of funny, and she stifled a giggle.

How could they do this? Make her want to laugh when she should cry? She looked over at the nurse, who scowled slightly, as a warning. She looked past her at the monitor.

186. 178. 182.

The doctor reached beside him for a long tube. She couldn’t see much more, as the blue paper sheet blocked her view. She turned back to the monitor and felt Bubba moving within her, slowly, like a wave.

The pressure began low near her vagina and pushed up, as if she were swelling, then reached higher and higher until she could feel it near her belly button, then even higher by her rib cage. The graph on the monitor began spiking and she couldn’t tear her eyes from the screen.

196.

186.

0.

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.

Here is the story leading up to chapter four:

In chapter one, you go through Melinda’s miscarriage and Tina’s premature birth.

In chapter two you met Stella, the group leader, and go to the first meeting of the miscarriage group, where Melinda and Tina realize they lost their babies the same night.

In chapter three you follow home group member Dot, who lives with her five children in a trailer park. Her philandering truck driver husband has been gone for two years, and she has fallen in love with another man, accidentally gotten pregnant and lost the baby. Now her husband calls saying he’s coming back.

We then turn to Janet’s story. She’s the director of a school for the gifted and about to hurriedly marry her boyfriend to avoid a scandal of her single pregnancy when she loses her baby. Marcus asks her to marry him anyway, but she can’t decide what to do.

Stella’s husband visits her shop and she surprises him with news of a huge sale. They “celebrate” in the back, but as so often happens in their moments of joy, her big bear of a husband breaks down, upset at his role in their never being able to have a family.

Chapter Four opens to Tina looking through her high school yearbook. She’s decided she needs a new boy to father a new child so she can go back to her alternative high school. Her old school is torture, the students are horrible to her. She finally realizes only an older man can help her, so she decides to search for one on the internet.

After this we find Melinda preparing to go to the next meeting of the group, disturbed by her hallucinations where she still sees the trail of blood leading from the toilet.

Here is the second meeting of the group and the introduction of Gabriella.

______________________________________________ 

Stella and Janet had already arrived, dragging chairs into place.

“Hello Melinda,” Stella said. She was breathing hard just from the effort of moving the furniture. Melinda could see she had once been a real beauty–still was, but the fineness of her features were softened with the extra weight. “You been doing all right?”

“Yes!” Melinda recognized the falseness of her automatic reply, and added, “Well, at least everyone thinks so. I can manage to put on a good front.”

“Fronts are good,” Stella said. “Just don’t fool yourself into thinking the front goes all the way to the bone.”

Melinda nodded. Janet paused for a moment, chair in hand, then shook her head and set it down.

“Are you okay?” Melinda asked. She couldn’t remember the woman’s name.

“Yeah. Oh. No.”

“Sit down, girl,” Stella said, settling heavily into her own chair. “Spill it.”

“Marcus–my boyfriend–asked me to marry him.”

“That’s great!” Melinda said.

Janet stared at her hands.

“Or not.” Stella said. “You said no?”

“I didn’t answer. I didn’t say anything.”

“You have misgivings,” Stella said.

“I don’t know what I have.”

“Is he good to you?” Stella smoothed her glittery blue skirt over her knees. “He’s got to be good to you.”

“He is. He is. He’s just so…emotional.”

Melinda glanced at Stella. She seemed to always have wise words, but no one spoke.

Stella sighed. “Babies are emotional things. Men sometimes can be. The good ones are.” She reached over and patted Janet’s wrist. “Give it some time. Your recovery has dragged out, and this is going to affect your thinking. The hormones can do more jacking with your brain than anyone gives them credit for.”

Janet applied a false smile. “Yes, I am sure. And the bleeding goes on.”

“Okay. Now you’ve called your doctor again, right?”

“No.” Janet clasped her fingers together. “Perhaps it is time I found a new one.”

“He’s not listening?”

“They just tell me the same thing over and over.”

The door flew open and Tina sailed into the room. “I’m late, sorry!”

“You’re okay, child. Sit.” Stella motioned to the circle. “We’re just gabbing.”

“What about?” Tina sprawled in the chair, striped legs in every direction. Melinda smiled inwardly. She seemed totally changed from two weeks ago.

“Doctors, mainly. And men.”

“I’m trying to find one of those myself,” Tina said.

“A doctor or a man?” Stella also seemed bemused by the teen’s turnaround.

“A man.”

“Oh?” Everyone turned to look at her now. Melinda felt a niggle of alarm.

“Yeah. I figure my life got thrashed when I lost the baby. The good school. My parents want me to move back in. Arnie ditched me. I want all that back. Well, other than Arnie. He’s a putz. I’m looking for an older man. One who can help me with the baby.”

The heater kicked on, a light roar that blasted a dry wave of hot air over their heads. Stella shifted in her chair. Melinda toyed with her pants leg, finger pressing the crease.

Stella held Tina’s gaze firm and sure. “I think that if this is what you want, you should move forward, with great care and serious thought. Do it wisely, and consider every possibility, but certainly follow your heart on it.”

Melinda’s face burned. How could she encourage her? She wanted to speak up and contradict her.

Stella’s eyes moved around the circle, resting on each of them. She misses nothing, Melinda thought. She knows we don’t approve.

“I know you other ladies may not agree. But there is only one path we can follow and that is the one we ourselves choose. It doesn’t matter if we’re young or if others think we don’t know what we’re doing. To do what anyone else thinks we should do is the big mistake. And in this group, well, sometimes we’re the only ones who know where we’ve been and where we need to go. I will try to never disapprove. This is the one place where you’re safe to speak your mind, no matter what’s in it.”

Melinda shifted back in her chair, trying to release the tension in her back and neck. She did feel better. At least she did have a husband, a family, security.

The door opened again and Dot hurried in. “Sorry, late again,” she said.

She no more sat than another woman tentatively peeked through the entrance. “Is this the pregnancy loss group?”

Stella stood. “Yes, come on in! We’ve just been chatting.” She seemed flushed, as if unsure of what she’d done and said, but ready to defend it. Melinda watched her greet the new woman, comparing her stance and gestures to the ones she’d first seen upon her own arrival.

The woman tugged her brown sweater over her waist and sat down. Her thick hair cascaded in waves around her broad face, high cheeks, and heavy eyebrows. Pretty. Uncertain. Jittery, even. She tapped a high heeled brown boot anxiously on the linoleum.

“We’ve mainly been talking about our situations. I’m Stella, and we have Janet, Tina, and Melinda with us today.”

“I’m Gabriella.”

“Welcome. Traditionally we explain a little bit about ourselves. Just as much as you’re comfortable sharing.”

Gabriella looked at the other women in the circle, pinching her lips with her hand, then suddenly gasped and started sobbing. “I threw my baby in the trash!”

Melinda sat forward, much like the others, stunned silent.

“It’s okay,” Stella said. “Just tell us what happened.”

Melinda admired her calm. Her own panic whistled in her ears and she could scarcely bear to hear what the woman might say.

“I had been bleeding a little. I went over to my friend’s house and she said we should get away for the weekend. My husband packed some things and met us there. We were all ready to drive down to the coast. I went to the bathroom…” She bent over, arms crossed over her stomach.

“Hang in there, Gabriella,” Stella said. “Take your time.”

Melinda glanced at Janet, then Dot, trying to judge if this sort of story was commonplace for the group.

Janet sat immobile and stiff, her head perfectly aligned over her navy pantsuit, ankles crossed. Dot sat hunched much like she had before, face down, hair covering her cheeks and forehead.

“The baby came out right then! I didn’t know what to do! I just put the baby in a plastic bag, then put it in a grocery sac and left it in the trash behind her house!”

Her voice had reached a terrible pitch, almost a shriek. Melinda tried to maintain her composure, but her own breathing was coming fast.

“I don’t know what to do! All I think about, all day long, all night, where is the baby? Is he still in her trash? In a dumpster? Will he get crushed in a garbage truck?”

She sobbed for a moment and the other women looked at each other. Stella walked over and knelt clumsily beside her chair. “It’s all right. It’s okay to worry about this. It’s okay to think about it day and night.”

Gabriella accepted the hand Stella offered and gripped it so tight Melinda felt sure it must hurt, but Stella did not visibly flinch.

Dot sat up and cleared her throat. “I keep my baby’s placenta in the freezer.”

Everyone turned to her.

“I do.” She pushed her hair back. “I often take it out and hold it. I keep it buried underneath a bag of peas.”

Gabriella reached out with her free hand. Dot hesitated, but extended her own.

“See, none of us are crazy,” Stella said. “We’re just surviving. Survivors don’t have the luxury of acting like regular people. We do what we have to do to get by.”

I’m 11 days into National Novel Writing Month and have finished two chapters of the book. I am considerably behind at this point, having left town for the funeral and trying to catch up on photo shoots.

I have, however, written the section where we introduce the woman who runs the Pregnancy Loss Support Group, Stella.

Stella is big, loud, Jewish, opinionated, and funny. She has lost two babies, gone through six rounds of IVF, and at 44, has finally decided cats will be her only kids. Later in the book you will learn the devastating reason why she and her husband Dane can never adopt. When things get far too serious in the book, Stella will step up and remember that we can laugh at anything. We just need some perspective and to fill what we do have in our life with love and joy.

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.