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
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