Rethinking baby showers

The first time I met with a therapist after Genevieve’s death, she told me to make a list of the steps I wanted to take to start leading a normal life again. Some of my early goals were: feel comfortable leaving my house and be happy for other people who have good news. I started therapy four months after Genevieve died, and even though I was leaving my house, I didn’t want to be. Every trip to the grocery store came with the possibility that I would see a happy pregnant lady or a newborn. Either of those things would leave me crying for the rest of the day.

As for being happy for my friends, that took much longer than I expected. I could not accept that good things kept happening to other people when my life had collapsed. It took me years to recover my generosity. I don’t think I really celebrated for anyone until Henry was born. Let’s all give thanks that he is here so that I no longer have to live as an evil troll (even though I totally earned that right).

My long-term goals, things that I wanted to accomplish in six to twelve months, were: be okay around babies and be emotionally ready to have another baby myself. I did start seeing friends who had babies, though I didn’t want to initially. And I was certainly ready for a baby. Going through that next pregnancy would be sheer terror no matter how long I waited.

One goal that I didn’t put on my list was to attend a baby shower. I swore off baby showers after Genevieve. Really, I wanted to avoid baby showers until my own children had kids. I couldn’t stomach the hope, people assuming that they would bring home a baby. And what could I say at such a party? Shower conversations inevitably turn to labor stories or memories of colicky newborns. And if your baby was born breathing, your labor doesn’t sound that bad to me. I imagined speaking up — ruining the party. Or, more likely, I would say nothing and then spend days fuming about the unfairness of it all.

Some friends of mine wanted to throw a shower after Henry was born, and I agreed. It was lovely. Everyone knew my story, so no pretending was required.

Now one of those friends who threw my shower is about to have a baby, and I am invited to the shower. I am going, and I bought the baby gift without tears. I didn’t even think of crying. I continue to be amazed at the way time can change me. Where once I saw pregnancy as a minefield, I now know that is true for only an unlucky few. (There are a lot of us, but statistically we are few.) And if everyone at that shower doesn’t know what I have been through, that’s okay. That is no betrayal of Genevieve. I know that I’m her mom.

I still get messages from mothers who have just gone through a stillbirth, and all I can say is keep going, keep going, keep going. Eventually, some of that dark space is going to fill with joy, enough joy that you will even be able to share it with others.

Princesses and pirates

I admit it: I regret the Haunted Mansion. I took Eleanor to Disney World over the weekend, and we flew back last night. The Haunted Mansion was my favorite ride there as a kid, but I went as a 9-year-old and then a teenager. I no longer remembered much about the ride, but this was Disney, so surely we would see a few cute ghosts and witches, right?

As soon as we walked into the entry room and the lights went out, I knew that I had made a mistake. Eleanor wrapped herself around my leg, and her eyes filled up. A young boy nearby wailed in fear as his father held him. You know how you always wish rides were longer after you’ve waited through the line? If you want a ride that lasts forever, take your terrified 5-year-old through the Haunted Mansion.

Second only to the Haunted Mansion was my decision to take Eleanor on her first roller coaster — in the dark. We rode the Seven Dwarves Mine Train our first night there. It’s a new ride, and I had done some reading online that suggested a 5-year-old would love it. And if she didn’t love it, there was the endearing dwarf theme to appease her. The ride began. The first hill wasn’t bad, and then we were whipped through curves at high speed, and even though I couldn’t see Eleanor’s face in the darkness, I knew that she was scared. I called “Whoo!” happily on each hill to reinforce that this was supposed to be fun. I silently pleaded with the universe that she not throw up. The dwarves and the whooping did not amuse her. At the end, I could see that she was wondering what was wrong with her mother and everyone else on that roller coaster.

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(You will have to excuse my mediocre point-and-shoot photos. No way was I going to lug Greg’s good camera with me.)

This is making our trip sound terrible when it was great. Eleanor loved the Peter Pan ride and Dumbo and the Little Mermaid ride. Her favorite was It’s a Small World, which seemed like an antique next to the other rides. She loved exploring our hotel and spotting birds, giraffes, and wildebeests at the Animal Kingdom. She gamely endured a downpour that left our shoes squishing and even our underwear wet.

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The Disney commercialism was there as I expected, but I could almost forgive it because everything about vacationing there was so easy. We used a bracelet to access our hotel room and pay for our meals. We rode buses and boats between parks. They had fireworks each night. We missed most of them on Saturday night as, exhausted, we rode the bus back to our hotel. Sunday night, I dragged Eleanor all over the hotel property trying to find a good viewing spot. We ended up in a parking lot, standing between a van and an SUV, and able to see about half of the explosions. The next night, we stayed in our sixth-floor room only to discover that we had a perfect view of the fireworks from our bed.

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I had forgotten how busy Disney is and was under the illusion that it wouldn’t feel crowded during the winter. Still crowded. But they have made big improvements since I was a kid. Everyone gets to use the FastPass system to skip the lines on a few rides, and a lot of the waiting areas now have cool games and diversions. My fear of furthering my daughter’s interest in princesses didn’t come to pass. You have to schedule princess meet-and-greets ahead of time, and unable to snag a spot to see Elsa and Anna, we skipped the whole thing. She came home obsessed with “The Lion King.”

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At the end of each day, I would ask Eleanor what her favorite part of the day had been. And always she would say, “Well my least favorite part was the Haunted Mansion!” I got it, kid. I got it.

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Digging out

Despite our flu shots, that vicious virus found our family last week. Only Henry was spared, thanks to an early dose of medication. I’m not naming the medication because it cost a fortune, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to provide free advertising on top of it.

Eleanor got sick Wednesday afternoon, and Greg and I followed on Saturday. We traded off parenting duties for the remainder of the weekend (A three-day weekend at that — fun!) based on who was not vomiting. Fever? Muscle aches? Sore throat? Onward. Only the person prostrate on the bathroom floor was excused.

Eleanor watched an amount of television that I’m not comfortable documenting. It was PBS, if that counts for anything. PBS as in “Dinosaur Train,” not “Downton Abbey,” though I’m sure she would love the attire. Greg and I jockeyed for space on the couch, huddled under a blanket that should probably now be burned. Henry toddled from room to room calling out “thank you” and wondering why we had all become so boring. Henry has yet to figure out the context for “thank you” and so uses it whenever the mood strikes. Abe was all over the couch-snuggling situation. Best weekend he’s had in years.

It’s times like this when it’s hard not having family nearby. Both kids were still potentially contagious when Greg and I started to get sick, so I’m not sure I could have even called in family. It was definitely too much to ask our friends to watch our petri dish children. I’m bad at asking for help anyway. We did have several friends kindly check in on us, just before the vultures started circling.

Much as I would rather not be sick, I still take some comforts from our miserable weekend, though Greg looked at me as though I were crazy when I suggested such a thing. Maybe I’m finally kicking that 34-year pessimistic streak!

The flu is temporary (I hope). We’ve been through worse. And all of that worrying I do all of the time, about finishing that article and buying that birthday present for the weekend party and sending that email, all of that stuff can wait. Somehow the world keeps going. The little stuff can wait while I attend to the big stuff. Sometimes I need a reminder of which is which.