Faces of Adoption/Loss/Infertility: The Memory Keeper

Some families are just plum lucky. They have a member in their midst who is an archivist. These special people remind their clans of past ties: whether to family, school, places they’ve lived or events they’ve taken part in. If you are fortunate enough to have a talented documentarian in your life, they can present you with such treasures as scrapbooks detailing milestone events like baby showers or weddings. Or they can do the hard work of piecing together the long and winding road our genes can take us upon.

These historians are essential to society because they preserve what has happened in the face of time and tragedy and life changes. They are our “memory keepers.”

Loribeth is a memory keeper.

***

Every day, Loribeth and her husband wake up at 5 A.M. They drive together to their local station, then take a commuter train to the same stop in a large city in Canada. They walk to the same building and enter the lobby together. At the elevator bank, they say goodbye to each other and say “Be good” (a habit they fell into after watching E.T. in their early courting days) and “Be careful.” (Something they added after 9/11.) Then they take an elevator to offices 59 floor apart. They work until 4:30 P.M., then leave together, coming home at 6 P.M. after a long commute. They usually eat dinner at home, except on regular Saturday date nights. Loribeth often works on her scrapbooking or genealogy projects, or writes her personal blog in the couple’s home in a leafy suburb. They both voraciously consume books, which they both consider to be their biggest extravagance. On the weekends, they often see a matinee and they usually peruse the local bookstore. They sometimes attend their Anglican church services. They meet up with family and friends.

It’s a good, productive, fulfilling life. But it didn’t end up the way they planned. Because most Sundays, they visit their daughter Katie at the local cemetery.

“Even after ten years, there is not a day that goes by (& often not even an hour) that I am not thinking about my daughter & what happened to us in some way shape or form. She continues to be present & influence my life. We will visit her niche at the cemetery just about every weekend. It’s often just a brief visit (one particularly blustery day last winter, we didn’t even get out of the car) but it’s a ritual that gives us comfort.”

***

Loribeth was born to very young parents who didn’t have a lot of money. They were proud to send Loribeth on to college, where she met and married her husband. She and her husband both completed graduate school.

“We were fresh out of university, starting entry-level jobs that didn’t pay very much, with student loans to pay off, and a bare apartment in an ‘adults only’ building to furnish. I felt a responsibility to make use of the expensive education my parents had paid for, and find a decent paying job in my field. I was far away from my own family, and my mother in law was dead, so I knew I would have little in the way of practical and emotional support in taking care of an infant.

And so we postponed starting a family, until we became better established, financially and careerwise. We felt it was the responsible thing to do.”

They waited ten years, at which point they were comfortably settled into a house they owned in a family-friendly area. They did not anticipate any problems: they knew personally of many women in their thirties getting pregnant and the news was full of celebrities giving birth in their late thirties and early forties. They began to TTC (Try To Conceive) and consulted their family doctor when it took longer than they hoped. “Don’t worry, it will happen,” he replied. Finally, after two and a half years, it did: at age 37, Loribeth was pregnant. She and her husband were thrilled.

The year was 1998.

On Sunday, March 22, 1998, Loribeth took a pregnancy test. There were two blue lines.

“ ‘Whaaaa…. OH MY GOD!’ I shrieked. Dh came running. I showed him the stick. I started to cry. We sat on the floor of our bedroom & held each other. Was this really happening? After so many years of waiting, planning, hoping?”

Loribeth immediately called her mother, who was overjoyed.

“ ‘When, honey, when?’ my mother asked. I told her I wasn’t quite sure yet, late November. ‘Oh, a baby for Christmas!!’ she sighed rapturously — a sentence that still haunts me today.”

Loribeth experienced some spotting early on, which subsided. But almost a month later, there was bright red bleeding and Loribeth went to her local emergency room. She got an ultrasound, which quickly located a heartbeat. She was also told that she had a bicornuate uterus. The doctor on call assured her that this would not be a problem. The bleeding subsided again, and soon it was Mother’s Day 1998, and Loribeth was three months pregnant and had announced her good news to her workmates, her friends and family. She was thrilled.

Image courtesy of “A Road Less Traveled.”

“(After some pointed hints from me) Dh gave me a card & a Boyd’s Bears figurine of a pregnant mama bear, called Momma McBear. We’d started giving each other Boyd’s Bears figurines as gifts & I absolutely loved this one. I put it on the night table on my side of the bed.”

May blended into June with some routine doctor’s appointments. On day 122 of her pregnancy, Loribeth had a triple-screen bloodtest. There were some minor red flags, so her doctor scheduled her for a lengthy ultrasound. The news was ambiguous and somewhat frightening.

“He said he couldn’t tell us for sure that the baby was OK — but he also couldn’t tell us for sure what, if anything, was wrong. On the other hand, the baby was smaller than normal & so the technician was not able to see as many details. I was about 18 weeks along, but the baby was measuring behind schedule, at 15 weeks. The amniotic fluid was low. There was something — a spot or a mass on or beside the placenta. It could be a tumour (oh, lovely), it could be a clot. The baby also had an ‘echogenic bowel.’ It showed up bright on the ultrasound. In 90% of cases, this turns out to be nothing — but it could mean one of five things. Our baby could have cystic fibrosis. It could be an infection of some kind. It could be a blockage of some kind. It could be a marker for Down’s syndrome. Or it could be ingested blood. (This made sense to me, since I had spotted all through my first trimester.)”

On June 26th, Loribeth came into a clinic for an amniocentesis on her 139th day of pregnancy. She was dreading doing the procedure but it was highly recommended in light of the last ultrasound.

“I don’t remember a lot about that day. I remember they did an ultrasound to see where the baby was positioned, & I saw the baby wave its arm, as if it was waving at us to say hello. I tried not to look as the doctor got the needle ready, & then plunged it into my stomach. I gasped, & then burst into huge, wracking sobs. ‘Oh baby, I’m so sorry. Mommy is so sorry,’ I sobbed, over & over again.”

There was a long wait for the amnio results. Finally the call came in:

“Shortly afterward, I got a call from a woman in his office. ‘The chromosomes are normal,’ she said.

What? Normal?? Normal??? ‘Oh my God,’ I said, starting to cry. I remember saying to her, ‘Not that it matters… but can you tell me if it’s a boy or a girl?’
‘It’s a girl,’ she said. A girl!! Dh & I had always wanted a little girl.”

Ever since Loribeth and her husband had gotten married, they had dreamed of one day having a daughter named Katie.

With this good news delivered, Loribeth and her husband went to purchase Katie’s layette. On July 25, they went to Sears and found a Classic Pooh (not the Disney) bedding set that they loved. They bought it and ordered a matching wallpaper border.

On August 5, 1998, Loribeth went in for a regular checkup to monitor her progress.

“Eventually I got called in to see Dr. Ob-gyn. He’d been on vacation, of course, and it felt like a long time since I had last seen him. We chatted about the amnio results and I told him that those three & a half weeks of waiting had been the absolute worst weeks of my life.

Then he took out his stethoscope, & went to listen for the heartbeat.

He kept moving the doppler over & over my stomach. He’d had problems finding it before. I showed him the spot where he usually found it, but still nothing, except — for one brief, hopeful moment — a sound that turned out to be my own heart beating. The minutes ticked silently on — & on.

He asked me whether I’d been feeling any movement. ‘Yes,’ I said, trying frantically to think of the last time I’d felt that baby move. ‘Lots and lots?’ he said, just a tad sharply. I had to admit I hadn’t.

Finally he said, ‘Well, you can wait for the ultrasound you have scheduled this afternoon — or I can send you upstairs right now. But you have to be prepared for what they might tell you.’ ”

The ultrasound provider was unable to find any heartbeat or sign of life. It was over. Katie would never have a first day of kindergarten, she would never jump on a trampoline or hold hands with the next door neighbor’s girl, a baby born a few months later.

“We drove home. Dh called his brother & dad, while I made the hardest telephone call I’ve ever had to make in my life, to my mother.

My mother said to me, through her tears: ‘We’ll always remember we had a little girl.’

Of course, Loribeth now needed to deliver her beloved Katie. So she checked into the hospital and was given pain relief. In just a few hours, the birth took place.

“A little while later, two nurses appeared at the door, carrying a bundle of blankets. ‘Here’s your baby,’ one of them said to me with a smile. She unwrapped the blankets & handed me a tiny white, nearly weightless bundle. ‘Oh my baby!’ I said as I looked at her.

She was wrapped in a blanket, but over that, she was wrapped in a beautiful white crocheted shawl & a tiny crocheted cap was perched on her head. She was so very tiny (no wonder it didn’t take very long — I didn’t have to dilate very much for her to get through) — and very red — but her little facial features were perfectly formed. Her little head was larger than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball. The crib card the nurses later gave me said she only weighed 125 grams, or about 4 ounces — definitely not your average six-month baby.”

After having a chaplain present to name and bless the baby, pictures were taken.

“I remember looking at her & thinking, ‘Look at what we made together! We did this!!’ She was dead, but she was a real baby — just a very, very small one — and she was a child of God. She was beautiful in her own sweet, sad way, and I felt a sense of pride, as well as sorrow….I took one more look at that wee red face. ‘Goodbye, baby. Mommy loves you,’ I said. I kissed the tip of my finger & pressed it to her forehead. It was cold as ice.”

The date was August 7, 1998.

***

Loribeth’s family held a small funeral for Katie on August 19th. Just a few immediate family members were present for the short service, and their parish priest said some words and said some prayers. They then drove over to the cemetery. The funeral director handed them each a pink rose, broken off a wreath that had encircled the urn at the church, and each of them placed one inside.

Then Loribeth’s husband walked up to where Katie’s urn had been placed, in a special niche. He placed a toddler’s board book beside it, a Classic Pooh book called Pooh and Some Bees.

“ ‘After all,’ he said to me when he bought it a few days earlier, ‘she would have grown up in a house full of books.’ “

***

Loribeth soon found that after Katie’s passing, many people, both friends and family, didn’t know what to say. One firmly told her: “Lori, it’s a tragedy.” One friend told her: “Well, you know, Lori, you’ve had a pretty easy life up until now.” One relative brought her some towels as a gift, hugged her and said: “We won’t talk about it anymore.” (And she never has.)

Loribeth returned to work after Canadian Thanksgiving in October:

“…people dropped by my office to say hello. Some of the women asked questions about what had happened. Most of the guys, looking uncomfortable, just said, ‘Glad to have you back’ & left as quickly as they could, lol.”

***

Loribeth was determined to move fast to try to get pregnant once more: she was not going to listen to her family doctor’s laissez faire advice again. She began testing, was referred to an RE’s practice and then she and her husband began fertility treatments. She went through three IUIs, then had to choose whether to pursue an IVF cycle. Her husband was against it: the chances of success were not good, and he was worried about Loribeth’s health. Shortly after her last IUI, she suffered a scary episode where she felt her chest tighten and she had to rush to the emergency room. The doctor diagnosed her with anxiety: the stress was becoming too much.

“I said I was 85-90% of the way there. I know we could do more — more IUIs, IVF — but emotionally, physically, mentally, I’m not sure I can do it anymore. I said I still wanted to keep the door open crack. And I said I needed a holiday!!”

They took a holiday, visiting Cannon Beach, Oregon among other places.

“We took long walks along the beach, explored the quaint little shops in town, sat around bonfires on the beach, watching the sun set over the Pacific, & enjoyed the company of my extended family. When we returned home, it was with the perspective and courage to say ‘enough’ & farewell to further treatment.”

For a myriad of reasons (the cost, their ages, the further complexities involved in “just adopting” and the general exhaustion from struggling with Katie’s stillbirth and the infertility rollercoaster, a ride that had lasted six years), Loribeth and her husband decided to not pursue adoption.

They decided to take “The Road Less Traveled.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference
Robert Frost

***

Loribeth’s “less-traveled road” has not always been easy.

“The decision not to have children — for whatever reason(s) — is extremely personal and complex, and not well understood by others in our highly pronatalist society — even within our own ALI community where — we know — we are some people’s worst nightmare come true. It’s extremely difficult to go against societal norms, not to mention our own biological impulses. For all the positive and wonderful advantages of childless/free living (& there are many), it can be a lonely place to be sometimes.”

She often comments on articles from the mainstream media on her blog: some about the “selfishness” attached to not parenting and messages in society that a woman’s worth is only or mostly based upon whether she is a mother. Mother’s Day can be a very difficult time for Loribeth and others like her.

But mostly she shines a light on a little known world that needs more attention: the world of those who are childless, not by choice. She is an inspiration to many because of her witty and warm writing, her clever critiques and her fascination with documenting the universe she knows. She works hard, keeps meticulous records for future generations, she dotes on her nephews. She enjoys nothing more than spending time with her husband, the love of her life, whether listening to Bruce Springsteen together on the way to work, looking forward to the possibility of an early retirement or spending Christmas with him and her family.

“If there is one thing that has helped us as we made the transition to childless/free living, I think it’s the certainty both of us felt, right from the beginning, that we could still have a good life together, just the two of us — because we already did. And I think it’s important to know that in your bones, to truly believe that, if you are considering a childless/free life, for whatever reason.

…The hard truth is, not all infertility stories end with a baby. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a happy ending. Maybe it’s just a different kind of happy ending than we’ve all been programmed to expect.”

And she keeps the memory of her beloved daughter alive.

“There is a part of me that loves to write/talk about my pregnancy & my daughter. She is still (& always will be) a part of my life and, on a certain level, it brings me a wistful pleasure to think about her, even if her story is ultimately a sad one.”

To visit the extraordinary Loribeth’s blog, please click here.

Image from http://winniethepoohpictures.blogspot.com

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42 Comments

Filed under Adoption, Faces of ALI, Infertility

42 responses to “Faces of Adoption/Loss/Infertility: The Memory Keeper

  1. Jjiraffe, THANK YOU, again, for such a lovely piece, and for putting the CF segment of the community in the spotlight.

    And I love the Pooh illustrations!! : )

  2. Many thanks to you and Loribeth for sharing her story today in this way. Though I have known Loribeth and followed her blog for years, reading about her journey like this was profoundly moving to me. I just sobbed through dear sweet Katie’s birth story. I have so much love and respect for Loribeth, the choices she and her husband have made together and how they live their lives. The ALI Community is blessed to have Loribeth who is willing to share so openly about her experience with infertility and loss. Likewise, we are lucky to have your voice to bring us the incredible and so very important faces of Infertilty, adoption and loss.

    This was beautifully written and I am so proud of you for this, especially knowing how many people it has the power to help and educate. Well done my friend.

  3. I am so glad Loribeth was the next profile! One thing The Healing Salons brought home to me was the need to make sure the CF members of the community are visible, acknowledged and treated with the same respect and compassion we all desire.

    Thank you for another beautiful profile.

    • I definitely agree with everything you’ve said here, KH99. Because there are so few who ultimately decide to take this path, it is easy for this subcommunity to be overlooked and under-represented, even though they are few in number.

      Jjiraffe, you’ve written a beautiful profile about Loribeth. I love this series; it puts a “face” on what those on the outside often view as a “faceless” community. Thank you for doing this, and even more for doing it so very well.

  4. This was a beautiful piece and a very special tribute to Katie. I have left a comment on Loribeth’s blog. Simply to say that I applaud her honesty and humanity and to say I understand, and I really (and sadly) do. I was startled so see that there were many coincidences between Loribeth’s post and my own history – in timeline and our situation and subsequent outcome,and the choice we made not to pursue adoption. Even down to our hobbies.

    It is a funny world that we live in and the wonders of the internet enable us, regardless of geography to read and share our thoughts, even those really personal to us, with others in similar situations. It is simply nice to read and realise that we are not alone.

  5. Very beautifully put.

  6. Such a touching story.

  7. Loribeth…I love you even more!

    This was such a well written piece and you have a special talent Jjiraffe for explaining the inexplicable. thank you for sharing!

  8. lianacakes

    This is your best one yet. Beautifully told story of a beautifully lived life.

  9. Mel

    I cried reading this, especially the call to her mother, and partially that is because I love Loribeth so and partially because you’d have to be a pretty close-minded person to not walk away from this post with a deeper understanding of why someone may be living child-free and that we all have backstories that others may not be privy to.

    You did a fantastic job recording a life. I would call you both historians.

  10. Sarah

    Beautiful. Fantastic job writing Loribeth’s story!

  11. Loved this post and reading about Loribeth. You expressed her story beautifully.

  12. A beautiful tribute to Loribeth, who is such a support to so many of us, and to her sweet Katie.

  13. such a gorgeous profile! I have followed loribeth’s blog for years and her voice is so important. and I agree with mel, your depiction of her profile can’t help but raise awareness. thanks for highlighting loribeth’s story and the loss of her sweet katie. well done!

  14. This is such an important facet to the Faces of ALI series, and you did a wonderful job profiling Loribeth. She’s been a calm and kind force in the blogosphere since I got here (and maybe before). You can tell, from this story, that she has an inner peace about her that graces all around her.

    Love this: “If there is one thing that has helped us as we made the transition to childless/free living, it’s that that we could still have a good life together, just the two of us — because we already did.”

    Beautiful.

  15. I’ve been a fan of Loribeth for a year or two now, so I was thrilled to see you profile here, and to highlight the “no kidding” lifestyle that has been so easily ignored by the community in the past. Thank you.

  16. Thank you for sharing Loribeth’s story. And Katie’s, too.

  17. You knocked another one out of the park, J. This is incredibly beautiful and moving. I love how you led off with the way they start their days. Thanks to Loribeth for sharing your story.

  18. This was such a deeply moving story … and such a needed profile. It’s hard for us, even in what I would call the “ALI diaspora,” to fully accept people who decide to end treatments, not to adopt … because it’s the ending that so many of us fear. Loribeth’s story is beautiful because even though it’s not exactly a “happy ending,” she helps us to understand that the relationship at the foundation of a family is what ultimately creates family even when it’s a couple.

    Thank you, again, for this series. And I’ve said it before: I feel like there’s a book here.

  19. Wordgirl

    I feel like Loribeth is a friend and I found myself for the first time in a long time, crying with emotion over this piece.
    You’re doing such good work here.

    Xoxo

    Pam

  20. I’m finding it hard to find my words through my tears. They aren’t all sad tears but this is such a beautifully written, heartfelt profile. It evokes both sad tears for Loribeth’s loss and tears of relief that she and her husband have built such a wonderful life together. Thank you both for sharing this story.

  21. Thank you, again, for doing this series. Too many people think that modern science solves everyone’s IF struggles. If only IF were that simple, right?!

    I admire the courage of those who know for themselves when “enough is enough” and decide to live childfree.

  22. coming back to leave more thoughts. I’ve been sitting with this one all day, and loribeth’s story is not new to me. in addition to sharing her story about life without (living) children, I’ve always appreciated that loribeth keeps katie’s memory alive in the telling of her story. so often baby loss is so taboo, an invisible death, a subject that makes others uncomfortable. in my own life, no one ever wanted to hear about the son we lost when I was five months pregnant, over six years ago.

    I think raising awareness — through profiles like this one — does so much to cultivate understanding and, ideally, compassion. thanks again for this wonderful series.

  23. Pingback: Take the ALI Message to the Masses and get PRIZES! New Hunter Boots! Design Books! Cook Books!! | Too Many Fish to Fry

  24. My heart is with you, LB, I am so glad I met you and continue to enjoy reading your blog. Even though it makes me heart ache. This is a great piece, J.

  25. Loribeth is a warm and articulate ambassador who tirelessly writes and speaks up on a topic that many overlook. She is a gift to us all for shedding light on the complex experience of living without once sought after children. I’m proud to call her my friend.

  26. Well done, Jjiraffe! Thank you. Loribeth is a warm and articulate ambassador who tirelessly writes and speaks up on a topic that many overlook. She is a gift to us all for shedding light on the complex experience of living without once sought after children. I’m proud to call her my friend.

  27. I love this project – thank you for sharing Loribeth’s story with us.

  28. Has Loribeth changed her blog to invitation only? I tried to follow the link to leave a comment on her blog, and I could reach her blog.

    Thanks for the great profile of her.

  29. Worried

    Has Loribeth gone private?!

  30. Hi Lee & anyone else who’s curious — I’ve gone ofline temporariily but hope to return soon. A couple of days ago, one of my cousins stumbled onto one of my non-IF-related posts, about my grandparents, & posted the link on our private family group on FACEBOOK (!!). Fortunately, she did so only 20 minutes before I saw the notification — and I am one of the group admins, so I promptely deleted her post with the link, and then made my blog private.

    I am hoping that if it I give a week or so, anyone who got an e-mail notification will have tried the link, not been able to access it and eventually give up & move on. I don’t want to go private permanently unless I absolutely have to.. and really, I don’t think there is much in there that any of my family members would find too offensive (if they had the stamina to plow through almost five years of posts). I know that nothing on the Internet is truly private (case in point :p) — but I really don’t think it’s any of their business. ; )

    Sorry to have to do this, especially so soon after Jjiraffe’s lovely profile. 😦 I e-mailed a few people whose e-mail addresses I have, and asked Melissa to post an item in the Lost & Found (LFCA). I am still reading & commenting on others’ blogs, but I miss my blog already!

  31. Pingback: The Secret Life of the American Infertile | Too Many Fish to Fry

  32. Yay! I’m so glad it’s back up!!

  33. IrisD

    Another teary eyed reader. I’ve been reading Loribeth’s blog for a few years now, and also living as a non-mother. Thanks for acknowledging her story with this beautiful post, and thanks Loribeth, for living telling your story. I feel that I am in the company of so many truly wonderful women, on this different, but very valid less trodded path.

  34. Rose Mary Briceno

    Thank you for this story. I feel alone and guilty day after day. Mothers day is the hardest for me. I can’t make my self leave the house nor go to church. It saddens me that other women are suffering like me.

  35. Pingback: Faces of Adoption/Loss/Infertility | Too Many Fish to Fry

  36. Sar

    Wow, an amazing story and post….thanks.

  37. Pingback: My Top Post: The Faces of Adoption/Loss/Infertility Series Begins | Too Many Fish to Fry

  38. Pingback: Episode 20! « Bitter Infertiles

  39. Pingback: Faces of ALI- A Must Read | parenthoodforme blog

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