They Sleep Where???

Friday, April 30, 2010

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I've had a couple of comments and emails, asking if the kids sleep in twin size beds.  The answer is yes.  We do not have sides up on the beds yet (although we will soon) because they sleep in bolsters.  A friend of ours made this nifty thing to transform any bed into an infant-friendly bed, and it works great because they have the freedom to move without the ability to roll off the bed.  Imagine a towel with a bolster sewed in other end.  The weight of the baby keeps them from being able to move it off.  Then, they have a pillow at the top and the bottom, for added security, and a blanket over them, to keep them warm.

But yes, they sleep in twin beds and not a crib.  Although we still use the crib for naps.

And that being said... a certain little boy needs a nap...

Big Kid Rooms

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As promised... Here are pictures of Bobby and Maya's new bedrooms!  (The pics were taken with my cell phone, so I apologize for the crappy resolution.) 




Don't Give Me Perfection, O God

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(This is being borrowed from a fellow blogger...)


Don't give me perfection, O God, gift me instead with the imperfect.
So that from the flawed and the broken, I may learn to seek your healing love.

Don't give me calm, O Lord, gift me instead with chaos.
So that in the midst of tumult, I may learn to seek your peace.

Don't give me certainty, O God, gift me instead with confusion.
So that in my uncertainty, I may learn to rely upon your wisdom.

Don't give me wealth, O Lord, gift me instead with want.
So that in my poverty, I may learn to rely upon you to sustain us.

Do not give me family, O God, but make of me an orphan.
So that in my loneliness, I may learn to turn to You for comfort.

Do not give me strength, O Lord, but make me weak.
So that in my powerlessness, I may learn to rely upon your might.

Thank you, O Mighty One, for hearing my prayer in this season of heartbreak.  I know it is only your strength and your wisdom and your courage which carry me from day to day.  Thank you for the gift of faith and a calm heart, so that I may rest in You to find respite from the storm.  Amen.

Big Boy Bobby

Thursday, April 29, 2010

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It wasnt enough that Bobby crawled to his toy today.  (My kids hate to crawl; they'd rather practice walking instead).  But then, he did this.

And, because he's his father's son, he decided to be "resourceful" (read: LAZY) and pull a pillow over because, let's face it people, holding a bottle is a lot of work!
Lest Maya be left out, she decided to text her Daddy.  (Now, all I can figure out is that, when playing with my cell, which she loves, she somehow hit the text button, which I have on the desktop.  Once there, all the incoming texts were from Peter from an earlier conversation, so all she had to do was hit one.  Then, it's an open chat, so she just hit her hands to her heart's content until she finally landed on "send".  My kid isnt a prodigy in this regard, apparently...  At least she didnt call China!  (Dont laugh; had a friend that happened to!)

They're really growing up, aren't they?  I'm so not ready for this...

Mama's in the Kitchen...

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Well, the wild boar was a success!  I'm not too unhappy with it, seeing as it was my first time ever cooking it, but in the future, I think I'd deduct about 5-7 minutes from the recommended cooking time.  It wasnt dry, but without the demiglaze I made, I dont think it would have been as moist.  Where do you even get wild boar?  It's not something our local grocer carries, LOL!  But when the FIL has his mind set on something, a local grocer is no obstacle!  Not sure how to cook your wild boar?  I marinated mine all day in a cherry juice teriyaki, some apple cider, and mango juice, with several stalks of rosemary, thyme, and sage.  In an oven-safe frying pan, I sautéed, in butter and olive oil, some red onion, golden apple, and dates, then seared the tenderloins for 3 minutes on both sides, before popping the entire pan into the oven at 350 degrees.  All the recipes I'd investigated for hints on how to cook suggested 20-25 minutes, until a thermometer registered 150-155, then to let the meat sit for 5 minutes.  I cooked it for 25 minutes, and a thermometer only hit 145 but, because it was obviously done, I sliced it and then, in the pan, added some cider to deglaze and brought that to a boil to make a quick reduction, which was poured over the sliced meat.  (In the future, I think I'd cook for no more than 20 minutes).  I served it with pickled red cabbage, apple-date stuffing, homemade golden delicious apple sauce, zucchini topped with herbed tomatoes, and, of course, a salad (with raspberry pecan dressing).  And whole wheat yeast rolls!  All together, I was really happy with the way it came out.  I made a kissass carrot cake with my favorite (ande quick) homemade cream cheese frosting.  Yummy!

Now I'm hungry!  Since the kids are watching Kung-Fu Panda (this is their favorite, right after the Rosary for Kids, which, although I find the child-angel a little creepy, they seem to love!).  I only let them watch about half an hour, so it takes us a while to get through the whole movie (it's about 90 minutes), but it's a nice quiet time (when both are interested) for me to fold laundry or eat breakfast!

Helping Mama Blog

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

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Maya has decided, since Sunday night, that the only place worth being is with mama.  Now, not that mama minds, but occasionally she'd like to pee alone...  I get that the door has to be open, but especially because of the whole "surprise gift from Mother Nature", I'd really like to have a few moments in the washroom without a child either in my arms or screaming because I banished her to her carseat (in the bathroom no less!) so that I could do my business and wash my hands.  So, as I type, Maya is sitting in my lap "typing" on the desk (since she cant reach the laptop).  If only I could get a picture of that!

I almost wonder if she isnt feeling well.  After Sunday night's "mommy-over-daddy" experience, she spent yesterday wanting to be in my arms and, when Peter came home and took her so that I could have a moment, she screamed like she was in agony.  I was trying to get Bobby to sleep, so Peter walked with her, took her upstairs, sang to her, you name it, but Maya wasnt having it.  The second- literally- he took Bobby and placed Maya on my chest, she snuggled in, stopped crying, and calmed down.  Ten minutes later, she was asleep, where she stayed for the next 10 hours, until she woke up around 7:30 this morning.  I put her down to shower and she screamed.  I put her down to get dressed, tears.  Every time I have put her down today, crying, except for the 20 minute nap she took (which is unlike our 2 hour napper).


Could be her gums or maybe a seasonal cold or something... She has no real symptoms of anything except she's unhappy and wants me over Peter.  She's definitely going through a growth spurt and is eating like crazy (no complaints there!)

And, in happy and not-so-happy prayer request news...

  • Today is my FIL's birthday!  Please join me in a Happy Birthday shout-out!  I told him I'd make whatever he'd like and his selection... wild boar (if you know him, you probably arent too surprised, LOL).  I told him if he found it, I'd cook it.  Well... He found it!  So, I'd best get ready to figure out a menu! :)
  • Sonja is still pregnant and celebrates 26 weeks today!  Visit her and wish her well as she plugs along to June! June or bust!!!  Let's see these babies hit 34 weeks!!!
  • Noelle has received some news about Baby B that has her heart breaking.  Baby B has severe IUGR and Noelle is very concerned and worried.  Please pop over to her blog and give her some warm thoughts and love.  
  • Alexander's godmother and my very dear friend, Terri, ran her first half marathon!  I am so proud of her!  Reading her blog makes me want to train for one!!!

Catching My Breath...

Monday, April 26, 2010

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It has probably been a good 2-3 weeks since I've had a free moment to sit and both read and write entries.  My apologies...  I feel like I havent chatted with good friends!  Because I'm so far behind, I'll be playing catch up as I read the new posts in my reader.  Otherwise, I'll be here for another month just playing catch up!  Hopefully, once a tooth or two comes in (and perhaps the babies decide they want to nap together) I'll have more time, LOL.

Sooo....  It is a rare moment of dual napping where I am not holding Bobby and Maya.  Normally, they take a good 2-3 hour nap in the afternoon, but only if I'm with them, and, in the morning, they alternate who takes a nap.  (In fact, I may have jinxed myself, because I swear, I just heard a noise!).  I love the alone time with the babies too, so I'm not complaining, but it leaves little time for laundry, cleaning house, or blogging!

I'll try to give some updates without making this entry go on forever (since I'd like to read a few blogs before someone wakes up!).

Day 4: I'm on day 4 of a cycle!  You read that right!!!  Without any drugs or the sort, on Friday, my period started.  I'm still a bit in all.  That would make my Provera-induced cycle 6 weeks long exactly...  I'm supposes to start the Provera again on June 1st; if my period doesnt show up by the last Friday in May, I will continue with that plan (since the last Friday would be 6 weeks).  All in all, save some pretty nasty cramping, it hasnt been too bad.  A mild shock, but nothing save some normalcy!

Pre-Cana was a blast.  We had the "sex" talk and discussed things like NFP, artificial birth control, ART, and raising a family in the Catholic tradition.  There were 4 couples and they had really good discussion.  Our church holds a spring and a fall course, and we are excited to do it again!

I had another pray-and-play, this one at our parish.  It's more child-focused than the other one, which is more mom-focused.  The moms and kids were really nice.  Maya decided she wanted nothing to do with anything except being held (and on that note, last night, she reached for me over her daddy!  I think it broke his heart a little bit!  He picked her up when she cried and, as soon as she saw me, she reached over his body to get  to me... Sweetness!!  Especially since she's truly a daddy's girl!)  It's still hard for me to connect 100% with the groups, and I still feel out of place, but it's good for the kids to interact with others and, honestly, it's good for me too.  I just am not at the point where I realize that in my heart yet.

The kids are doing GREAT sleeping in their own rooms.  It's funny because it's hard to think of life differently, and it's only been a little over a week.  Perhaps while they are napping, I'll snap some shots of our new rooms.  The downstairs library now has my desk, etc in it; the Alexander's nursery is now Peter's (very disorganized since he hasnt had time to put it right yet) office; Nicholas and Sophia's room is now Maya's room; and Peter's office is now Bobby's room.  There's a post coming about the different rooms, but for now, I'll leave it at this.

My nieces are adorable!  I saw pictures the other day and they are just precious!  Thanks again for all of the prayers!!!

Also, I was delighted to receive a book of grief photography and poetry to review.  I have finished it (finally!) and am in the process of writing the review.  Look for that soon!

Well, I think I'll go for now, so I can catch up (as best I can!).  I'm so sorry for being so far behind and, I most likely wont comment (unless I feel really strongly) so that I can read as much of your entries as possible. Miss you all!!!  Cant wait to get back on the blog train and catch up!

Pre-Cana weekend

Saturday, April 24, 2010

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Peter and I are teaching our first pre-cana session today!!!  Wish us luck!

Happy 17th Month Birthday, Alexander

Friday, April 23, 2010

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I made you a pac-man cake... I dont know why.  Pac Man?  Really?  But I did...  It's a butter cake, with chocolate frosting...  I cut out a piece and sent it home with your PawPaw, to make the mouth, and then placed a candle for the eye.  I couldnt help but smile when I looked at it, even though, to think of you as a 17 month olf toddler, brings tears to my eyes.  Would you be waddling around, picking up the binkies of Bobby and Maya off the floor?  Would you be telling us that you wanted to use the big boy potty?  Would you be excited to have a big boy bed, in the "boy's room" with your big brother and little brother?  What would life be like, with you at the center of two sets of twins?  With five, 2 and under?

You are still here.  Always.  We feel you every single day.  And honor the Native American proverb that says you will always live as long as someone lives to remember you.

We love you.

Unplugged and Spotty

Monday, April 19, 2010

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My wi-fi that is!  We have completed the room switches for the kids, which means that the former office, which is now Bobby's room, is a disaster in the former nursery.  My desk and materials are now in our downstairs library, which will be so nice, since my laptop was taking up residence at the dining room table and not my desk!  But, with the switch, Peter is rewiring, etc, and our house looks like a tornado swept through it, so please bear with me as we get things squared away.  I am super late in reading blogs (over a week) but I promise to get caught up as soon as I have a spare moment!  We've had a lot going on the last few days, and I have pictures of new bedrooms to post! :)

Thinking of all of you and cant wait to catch up!!!

My Nieces...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

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...are home!!!!  Thank you so much for all your prayers!

April is Cesarean Awareness Month

Thursday, April 15, 2010

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Many mothers choose elective cesareans for a variety of reasons and many, like me, are faced with emergency ones.  I planned and educated myself with regards to natural childbirth, but I was caught completely unaware with my feelings after my c-section.  While I would never, in a million years, have done things differently because I know, without a doubt, that a surgical delivery was the best-case-scenario for our situation, I still ponder what happened and how things could have been different.

International Cesarean Awareness Network

Curing the Emotional Wounds of a Cesarean

A Blue Haze

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

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On Monday night, Peter had a Father's/Men's Group meeting at a local parish, so I decided to take the kids for an evening walk.  We are about a 5 minute walk from Rita's (which should be illegal... I am down there several times a week!!!  Thank goodness I limit myself to the kid's size or I'd gain a ton!) I decided to walk back via the local park (there are multiple trails in our little town, which is just lovely!).  A blue haze settled on the world as dusk dropped.  It was beautiful.




















***

Yesterday, during our developmental play, Bobby decided he was done stacking rings... After all, they are called "donuts"...

Bad Girl!!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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I am sooo far behind with my blogging and blog  reading...  Please bear with me as I try to get caught up!!!  I'm still here, I swear!

7 months

Saturday, April 10, 2010

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I still cant believe it's been 7 months since we delivered them.  How grateful we are to be their parents; each day is such a gift.  Our grief is ever present, but so is our joy.  A beautiful mix through which we have found a new life... and even some peace.

Happy 7 month birthday, Bobby and Maya!  We love you so much!

Moving

Friday, April 9, 2010

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I cant believe it... Bobby and Maya are moving from the nursery, which is attached to our bedroom via Peter's closet (it's a strange layout but works great), down the hall to the "big kid" room.  At seven months old, they are at the point where they still love to sleep together, but they also love to scratch faces and put elbows in eyes.  (Okay, maybe they dont love that part, but they do it, nonetheless.)  With Bobby moving quickly towards 18lbs and Maya taking over 13lbs, it's really kind of insane to think that two babies, one who's slightly over 2 feet long and the other who is an inch shy of no longer being able to ride in his infant seat, can still share a crib.

And it breaks my heart!

First, I love the nursery.  Love it.  In addition to being so convenient (read: I can fly out of bed at the slightest noise (or lack thereof) and be in there in a split second, it is beautiful.  Peaceful.  It's at the end of the house, so very little light comes in (save the nightlight) when the shades are down, and it is so perfect for sleeping.  Initially built to be a master bath, it works so well as a nursery.

And now... Now most of the furniture has been relocated to the big kid room, where it will remain for a little while.  The room Maya will eventually move into will inherit the nursery furniture because the wood finish will match the bed we plan to buy for that room, and Bobby will get darker furniture, to match the stain on the bunk beds (which aren't bunked).  But for now, it is two toned (and that's okay).  It's just about ready for the inaugural run.  The kids have already napped in their big kid beds (with the bumberthingamagig that is so cool) and they even hung out in there awake today while I arranged the armoire and dresser/changing table.

And yet, as neat as it is that they are growing out of one space and moving into another, it is heartbreaking too...  They are my babies.  My little two pound, tiny, precious, fragile babies.  Somehow, they morphed into a stand on my own baby girl who fills out her 6-9 month clothes nicely (but still has itty bitty feet) and a big boy whose 12 month clothes hang washed in his closet, along side the few "bigger" 9 month clothes that he can wear, because he is just.so.big!  I look at them and cant even remember when they were so small that holding them for an hour, once a day, was the most physical interaction we could have...  And now...  less than T-11 hours until their seven month birthday.

They were born 3 months early.
They came home a little after turning 2 months old.
They moved from the cosleeper, attached to our bed, to the nursery, attached to our bedroom at 3 months old.
And now, they are moving to their big kid room at 7 months old.

And it feels like a lifetime is running before me in superfast motion and, as we already begin discussing their first birthday and what to do, I realize that time is passing before my eyes and they are growing up quicker than I ever could have imagined.

Pray for Sonja

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

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I texted with my girlfriend, Sonja, this morning, who is pregnant with quads.  Please send some prayers her way, as she is 23 weeks and feeling poorly (with contractions).  They'd love to get her to at least 27 weeks, but she needs one more week to get the steroid injections.

Pray.  Pray.  And, when you're done, pray some more.

Not the Last...

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You are not the last person to join Facebook... I am!

Mourning My Miscarriage

Friday, April 2, 2010

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Thank you to Peggy for allowing me to reprint this here.  The full text online can be found here.  She has a variety of articles that speak on loss and reproductive technologies.  You can also find information about her memoir, Waiting for Daisy.


Mourning My Miscarriage: In Japan, I Find a Culture Willing to Acknowledge My Loss
By Peggy Orenstein
(4/21/02: NYT Magazine)

I HEARD THE bells before I saw them, following the sound across the courtyard of Zozo-ji, a Buddhist temple in Tokyo. There they were, lining a shady path: dozens of small statues of infants, each wearing a red crocheted cap and a red cloth bib, each with a bright-colored pinwheel spinning merrily in the breeze. Some had stone vases beside them filled with flowers or smoking sticks of incense. A few were surrounded by juice boxes or sweets. A cap had slipped off one tiny head. Before replacing it, I stroked the bald stone skull, which felt surprisingly like a newborn's.

The statues were offerings to Jizo, a bodhisattva, or enlightened being, who (among other tasks) watches over miscarried and aborted fetuses. With their hands clasped in prayer, their closed eyes and serene faces, they are both child and monk, both human and deity. I had seen Jizo shrines many times before. They're all over Japan, festive and not a little creepy. But this was different. I hadn't come as a tourist. I was here as a supplicant, my purse filled with toys, ready to make an offering on behalf of my own lost dream.

I was in Tokyo for three months reporting on Japan's rapidly declining birth rate. I hadn't expected to be pregnant, though I had long hoped to be (and appreciated the coincidence, not to mention the humiliation, of succumbing to morning sickness midway through an interview on the new childlessness). I called my husband, Steven, across the Pacific, eager to share the news. We agreed that I would stay and find an English-speaking doctor. After all, we reasoned, Japanese women have babies, too. He would come in about a month to visit as planned. I imagined a sweet reunion.

Steven's response, however, was more guarded. I'd already had one miscarriage, more than a year earlier, and he was wary of giving way to excitement before that first, tentative trimester had passed. I knew he was right, but couldn't share that cautiousness -- nor, I suppose, did I really try. I found myself engaged in a running conversation with the growing embryo, narrating the details of daily life in Tokyo, telling it stories of our home back in California. The connection I felt was unanticipated, electric: as if a frail, silvery thread ran between us. That link was the first thing I checked for when I woke up, the last thing I focused on when drifting to sleep.

Then, in my eighth week, walking to the subway, I felt it snap. Just like that. It's over, I thought. Is that possible? Could I have truly known? Of course there are concrete indicators that things have gone amiss -- nausea abates, breast pain dwindles -- but those had not yet occurred. It could have been my imagination, a momentary blip that in a viable pregnancy would have been forgotten. Or maybe the bond itself was a product of wishful thinking. I can't say.

Either way, I could never conjure the connection again. I tried not to think about it. I tried to convince myself that I was being superstitious and absurd. But I was not surprised at my next prenatal exam when the doctor looked at the wavy lines of the ultrasound and intoned, "Egg sac is empty." I just slipped further into the numbness of medical emergency. Steven caught a plane to Tokyo, and we faced the D. and C. procedure together, grimly, with little incident. A week later, I decided to stay and finish my work. Steven flew home. And it was over.

Or at least it was supposed to be. There's little acknowledgment in Western culture of miscarriage, no ritual to cleanse the grief. My own religion, Judaism, despite its meticulous attention to the details of daily life, has traditionally been silent on pregnancy loss -- on most matters of pregnancy and childbirth, in fact. (At the urging of female rabbis, the Conservative movement in which I grew up has, for the first time, included prayers to mark miscarriage and some abortions in its most recent rabbis' manual.) Christianity, too, has largely overlooked miscarriage.

Without form, there is no content. So even in this era of compulsive confession, women don't speak publicly of their loss. It is only if your pregnancy is among the unlucky ones that fail that you begin to hear the stories, spoken in confidence, almost whispered. Your aunt. Your grandmother. Your friends. Your colleagues. Women you have known for years -- sometimes your whole life -- who have had this happen, sometimes over and over and over again. They tell only if you become one of them.

Women today may feel the disappointment of early miscarriage especially acutely. In my mother's generation, for instance, a woman waited until she had skipped two periods before visiting the doctor to see if she was pregnant. If she didn't make it that long, she was simply "late." It was less tempting, then, to inflate early suspicions into full-blown fantasies -- women often didn't even tell their husbands until the proverbial rabbit died.

Now, according to Linda Layne, an anthropologist who is the author of the coming book "Motherhood Lost," new technologies and better medical care encourage us to confer "social personhood" on the fetus with greater intensity, and at an ever-earlier stage. Prenatal care -- including watching every milligram of caffeine, every glass of wine, every morsel of food, as well as choking down that daily horse pill of a prenatal vitamin -- begins before we have even conceived. Meanwhile, drugstore kits can detect a rise in key hormones three days prior to a missed period, increasing our knowledge but also the possibility of dashed hopes. Web sites ply the newly pregnant with due-date calculators, "expecting clubs" and photographs of "your baby's" development. Ultrasounds reveal a nearly imperceptible heartbeat at six weeks of gestation. Women confide in family and friends and begin to sort through names. In an era of vastly reduced infant mortality, they assume all will go well. When it doesn't, Layne says, "the very people participating with us in the construction of this new social person -- your mother-in-law or your friend or whoever was saying, 'Everything you do is important to the health of the baby, and every cup of coffee matters' -- they suddenly revoke that personhood. It's like nothing ever happened."

There are so many reasons that discussion of miscarriage is squelched. Americans don't like unhappy endings. We recoil from death. Some women also may be reacting against a newly punitive atmosphere toward older mothers. Miscarriage rates increase with maternal age, and those of us who have pushed our attempts at childbearing to the furthest frontiers of time worry that we'll be blamed for our losses, that we'll be harshly judged for "waiting too long." Sometimes we feel that judgment toward ourselves.

But for me, there is another uncomfortable truth: my own pro-abortion-rights politics defy me. Social personhood may be distinct from biological and legal personhood, yet the zing of connection between me and my embryo felt startlingly real, and at direct odds with everything I believe about when life begins. Nor have those beliefs -- a complicated calculus of science, politics and ethics -- changed. I tell myself that this wasn't a person. It wasn't a child. At the same time, I can't deny that it was something. How can I mourn what I don't believe existed? The debate over abortion has become so polarized that exploring such contradictions feels too risky. In the political discussion, there has been no vocabulary of nuance.

For days after the miscarriage, I walked around in a gray haze, not knowing what to do with my sadness. I did my work, I went out with friends, but my movements felt mechanical, my voice muffled. Then I remembered Jizo. I phoned the mother of a Japanese friend to ask where I might make an offering. "I can't tell you," she responded. "You'll have to find the temple that is your en -- your destiny."


EVENTUALLY, A JAPANESE-AMERICAN friend back home told me that Zozo-ji, a 14th-century temple where the Tokugawa clan once worshiped, was a common spot to make offerings to Jizo. As it happened, the temple was a few blocks from Tokyo Tower, just a short walk from where I was living. On my way, I stopped at a toy store to buy an offering. What do you get for a child who will never be? I considered a plush Hello Kitty ball, then a rattle shaped like a tambourine, then a squeaky rubber An-pan Man -- a popular superhero whose head is made of a sweet bean-filled pastry. This was no time to skimp, I decided, and scooped up all three.

"Presen-to?" the sales clerk asked, reaching for some wrapping paper. I hesitated. Was it a gift? Not exactly.

"Is it for you?" she asked. I didn't know what to say.

"It's O.K.," I finally said. "I'll just take them like that."

There are few street names in Tokyo, which makes navigating a continual challenge, so I kept my eye on Tokyo Tower, a red-and-white copy of the Eiffel Tower, as I triangulated the winding side streets. The neighborhood was unusually quiet, full of low-slung old-fashioned buildings. I caught glimpses of dark interiors: an elderly woman selling bamboo shoots, something that looked like a homemade still, a motorbike parked inside a murky restaurant.

Finally, I came across a temple gate and, assuming I'd arrived, stepped into a courtyard. Down a garden path I could see a contemporary marble statue holding a baby in one arm, a staff in the other. Two naked infants, their tushes lovingly carved, clutched the robes at its feet, glancing over their shoulders. At the base of the statue, someone had left a Kewpie doll.

"Is this Zozo-ji?" I asked an old woman who was sweeping up leaves. My Japanese is good enough to ask a question but not to understand the response. She motioned for me to wait, then fetched a monk, gray-haired in black robes. I was in the wrong place, he explained politely in reasonably good English, then offered directions. For a moment I thought, Why not just do it here? But I had my mind set on Zozo-ji. As I left, I felt the tug of missed opportunity.


I HAD NEVER previously considered that there is no word in English for a miscarried or aborted fetus. In Japanese it is mizuko, which is typically translated as "water child." Historically, Japanese Buddhists believed that existence flowed into a being slowly, like liquid. Children solidified only gradually over time and weren't considered to be fully in our world until they reached the age of 7. Similarly, leaving this world -- returning to the primordial waters -- was seen as a process that began at 60 with the celebration of a symbolic second birth. According to Paula K.R. Arai, author of "Women Living Zen" and one of several authorities I later turned to for help in understanding the ritual, the mizuko lies somewhere along the continuum, in that liminal space between life and death but belonging to neither. True to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, it was expected (and still is today) that Jizo would eventually help the mizuko find another pathway into being. "You're trying to send the mizuko off, wishing it well in the life that it will have to come," Arai says. "Because there's always a sense that it will live at another time."

Jizo rituals were originally developed and practiced by women.

According to William R. LaFleur, author of "Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan," there is evidence of centuries-old roadside shrines marking miscarriages, abortions, stillbirths and the deaths of young children (particularly by infanticide, which was once widespread in Japan). But it wasn't until the late 1970's, when abortion rates peaked, that mizuko kuyo, the ritual of apology and remembrance, with its rows of Jizo statues, became commonplace. Abortion was legalized in Japan after World War II; it is viewed, in that country, as a regrettable necessity. Rates remain high -- perhaps twice as high as the officially reported figure of 22 per 1,000 women, which is the same as the rate in the United States. The high incidence of abortion is partly a result of the fact that access to the pill was restricted until 1999 because of fears about its safety and its impact on the environment, concerns that it would encourage promiscuity and disease and, not incidentally, because of pressure from doctors for whom abortion is lucrative.

Even so, the procedure itself has been neither particularly controversial nor politicized. There is no real equivalent in Japan to our "pro-life" movement. The Japanese tend to accept both the existence of abortion and the idea that the mizuko is a form of life. I wondered how they could reconcile what seem to me such mutually exclusive viewpoints. But maybe that's the wrong question: maybe I should wonder why we can't.

LaFleur estimates that about half of Japanese women perform mizuko kuyo after aborting. They may participate in a formal service, with a priest officiating, or make an informal offering. A woman may light a candle and say a prayer at a local temple. She may leave a handwritten message of apology on a wooden tablet. She may make an offering of food, drink, flowers, incense or toys. The ritual may be a one-time act or it may be repeated monthly or annually. She may purchase her own Jizo statue (costing an average of about $500) or toss a few hundred yen into a coin box at a roadside shrine. Sometimes couples perform mizuko kuyo together. If they already have children, LaFleur says, they may bring them along to honor what is considered, in some sense, a departed sibling: the occasion becomes as much a reunion as a time to grieve. Mizuko kuyo contains elements that would both satisfy and disturb Westerners on either side of the abortion debate: there is public recognition and spiritual acknowledgment that a potential life has been lost, remorse is expressed, yet there is no shame over having performed the act.


THERE WAS NO mistaking Zozo-ji. It was a huge complex of epic buildings with a football-field-size courtyard. I walked among the rows of mizuko Jizos searching for a spot to place my toys. Some of the babies' caps, which women crochet by hand, had rotted with age to just a few discolored strands. It was dank and gloomy under the trees. A black cat eyed me from a ledge. It seemed a bad omen.

I wouldn't find out until months later, when I returned to America, that there is another, darker side to mizuko kuyo. Over the past few decades, temples dedicated solely to the ritual have sprung up all over Japan, luring disciples by stressing the malevolent potential of the fetus: whether miscarried or aborted, it could become angry over being sent back. If not properly placated, it could seek revenge. In the mid-80's, when mizuko kuyo was at its peak, some entrepreneurial temples placed ominous advertisements in magazines: Are your existing children doing poorly in school? Are you falling ill more easily than before? Has your family suffered a financial setback? That's because you've neglected your mizuko.

Given the price tag on a Jizo statue, preying on women's fears is big business. At the Purple Cloud Temple, for instance, Japan's most famous modern mizuko kuyo site, thousands of Jizos dot the hillside. Such extortion was troubling. Could something so coercive still offer consolation? "One way of looking at this is that all these women are duped or manipulated into doing this," Elizabeth G. Harrison, a professor at the University of Arizona who studies mizuko kuyo, would tell me. "But what is that saying about women in Japan? So you have to look at the other side: there are women who get something out of this." Perhaps like the practice itself, in which conflicting realities exist without contradiction, both readings are true.

Standing amid the scores of Jizos at Zozo-ji that afternoon, I considered: maybe I had found that little temple earlier for a reason. In retrospect, the garden had been cozy, the monk had been kind. There were no rows of statues, no decomposing bonnets. It promised hope as well as comfort. I wanted to return but suddenly feared that the temple had been some kind of chimera, a Brigadoon that had already receded into the mists. More practically, I wasn't sure, without street names, how to find my way back.

Somehow I did, through a vague hunch and a good deal of blundering. The monk was dusting off a late-model Mercedes with two ostrich feather dusters. So much for the mendicant's life, I thought. For certain Buddhists, cleaning is enlightenment. Paula Arai writes that polishing a wooden temple floor is like polishing the heart. I wondered if spiffing up a Mercedes counted.

He saw me and smiled. "Did you find it?"

"Yes," I said, "but I liked it here better. Is it O.K. if I stay awhile?"

"Do as you wish," he said. And I thought, I'm trying.

As it turned out, the statue at the temple was not Jizo; it was Kannon, goddess of compassion, to whom mizuko kuyo offerings are also sometimes made. Her androgynous face was tranquil but not warm. The expressions of the chubby stone babies at her feet were difficult to read. Had I surprised them? Distracted them? Was their backward glance a reminder that even as they played happily with the mother goddess, they would never forget the women whose bodies had been their hosts? Were they sad? Or was I projecting my own sorrow, now a gnawing presence in my stomach, onto them? I focused on the reassuring image of the Kewpie doll that had been placed there, the happy and dimpled Western baby. It seemed less ambivalent.

As I arranged my offering at Kannon's feet, a distant bell tinkled, similar to the sound of the pinwheels. I looked up, startled. It stopped a second later and didn't start again. I am a cynic by nature with a journalist's skeptical heart. But increasingly, I was in the mood to believe.

My toys looked right surrounding Kewpie, the whole place a little cheerier. I liked them there. I liked the delicate lavender bushes surrounding me in the garden, the wild irises with their ruffled edges, the azaleas, the fleabane and camellias. They were the same plants as in my garden back home. Crows cawed -- the constant soundtrack of Tokyo -- and traffic passed in a steady hum. Still, for that city it was a meditative spot. I relaxed, at last. Maybe my en was finally back on track.

Twilight was falling, and the garden turned cold, but I wasn't yet ready to go. I prayed for a moment for things that are too tender to tell. Then I clapped my hands three times as I'd seen done at other shrines and backed away, gazing once more at the impassive marble face. Was there compassion there?

The temple grounds were empty. The monk in his Mercedes, the lady sweeping leaves were both gone. I rummaged in my purse for an envelope and 5,000 yen -- about $40. "To the monk I met at 5 p.m. from the foreign woman looking for Zozo-ji," I wrote. "Could you please chant a lotus sutra for me and my miscarried fetus? Thank you."

I slipped it under the door. I don't know whether it was appropriate or whether he even did it. But there were so many things I couldn't know. Maybe learning to live with the question marks -- recognizing that "closure" does not always occur -- is all I really needed to do. I hadn't expected, coming from a world that fights to see life's beginnings in black and white, to be so comforted by a shade of gray. Yet the notion of the water child made sense to me. What I'd experienced had not been a full life, nor was it a full death, but it was a real loss. Maybe my mizuko will come back to me more fully another time, or maybe it will find someone else. Surprisingly, even that thought was solace.

I wasn't exactly at peace as I left the temple -- grief is not so simply dispensed with -- but I felt a little easier. I had done something to commemorate this event; I'd said goodbye. I'm grateful to have had that opportunity. As I was walking home, the sky deepened from peach to salmon to lavender, and motorists flipped on their headlights. The bittersweet smell of fish grilled with soy sauce permeated the air. I breathed it in deeply and felt a little lighter. I decided to try a new route through the unnamed back streets, not sure of the direction, but trusting that eventually I would find a way home.


© Peggy Orenstein. All rights reserved.

Holy Thursday

Thursday, April 1, 2010

3 comments
It was Holy Thursday of 2009 that we saw Bobby and Maya on ultrasound for the first time.  What a difference a liturgical year makes...

The Shrine of The Holy Innocents

9 comments
I saw this online and thought of how sweet it is that miscarried children can be remembered through constant prayer. You can click here to visit the link and have your child(ren) remembered.

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The Book of Life rests between statues of the Holy Family at The Church of The Holy Innocents; 128 W 37th St. NY, NY 10018.  The Shrine is dedicated in memory of the children who have died unborn.  Often children who have died before birth have no grave or headstone, and sometimes not even a name.  Here, a candle is always lit in their memory. All day long people stop to pray. On the first Monday of every month, our 12:15pm Mass is celebrated in honor of these children and for the comfort of their families. We pray that you will find peace in knowing that your child(ren) will be remembered at the Shrine and honored by all who pray here.