Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


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CD 2…Or IS It?

Or: The Plot Thickens and The Lining Does Not Thin

What’s going on with my uterus? Who even knows anymore?

After a crabby day of light, intermittent flow on Saturday and a night of worsening cramps, I decided enough was enough and headed into the Baby Factory just barely in time for morning monitoring hours today. Dutifully rolled up my sleeves and pulled down my trousers, only to be told by this week’s Dr. Sunday (whom long-time readers may remember as Dr. “Why Hasn’t Someone Removed Your Septum” — wish granted, buddy; you may thank my son) that my ovaries are nicely quiet but my lining is still so intact that he’s not convinced this really counts as my period yet. It wouldn’t count for a lupron cycle, for instance. For the purposes of a “natural” FET (pause to snort again at the use of the word natural to describe reproduction in any context involving so many machines and embryologists), it may do; we’ll see what the estrogen numbers are. Could things be topsy-turvy from all these sinus drugs, I asked. Could be indeed.

So. Either back next week or presumably sooner, I guess. [ETA: Estrogen is wicked high, so back Tuesday to see if my for real period is rolling by then. Bodies! Whatcha gonna do?]

Meanwhile, is this the worst possible magazine pairing for a fertility clinic waiting room? Nice to see the virgin/whore dichotomy is keeping on keeping on.

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I spotted the “whore” one and commented on it to the woman in the next chair, who pointed out that The Fecund Princess had been next to it before she picked that one up herself.

Seeing as how the ice was broken and I seem to be experiencing the manic side of prednisone this morning, I said that in case she had not been pregnant before, just for the record, my son had not ruined my life. I also mentioned that he had come from this factory, and she smiled, evidently cheered. She does not have children yet, she said. I know people have different feelings about the appropriateness of bringing children to even the waiting room of REs’ offices, I said, but I remember a woman who had her toddler with her during the IVF cycle that got me pregnant. She made sure to tell us all he had come from that clinic, which I found encouraging.

There’s a baby here today, she said, and at first I felt sad about that, but then I thought, Wait a minute. They’re from here.

(Sidebar: it was a really cute baby, a 24-pound 9-month old named Lucas who doesn’t sleep well. Like I said: I am CHATTY today.)

And that, with a side of soapbox ranting about reproductive freedoms belonging to everyone, not just those who can prove they “deserve” to have children by virtue of their ability to afford babysitting all the time, is why I am pro-baby in the waiting room. In a world that so often seems determined to tell us our children or putative children will somehow be inferior to those “natural” ones made in nicely middle-class bedrooms by rank amateurs, it’s nice to be reminded what hogwash that is. Or so say I, conceived, I have been told far too many times, in a campground near Yorktown, Virginia, with the help of quite a bit of Clomid.

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On Discombobulation

The Bean is having another not-nap today.  There is distinctly unrestful thumpery emanating from his room, but so far no crying for me to come.

He’s not ready to give up his nap, that much is clear.  He never napped on Monday and was an emotional wreck for the remainder of the day.  Yesterday we were on the subway to the Bronx Zoo at his usual nap time.  We were with friends he adores, but he spent most of the ride staring, glassy-eyed.  He steadfastly refused each offer of a bottle of milk (his usual at bedtime and nap), although he would normally accept a bottle with no going-to-bed strings attached in a heartbeat.  I thought he might do the usual inconvenient baby trick of falling asleep two minutes before our arrival — last time we did this, he fell hard asleep two minutes before we pulled into an elevator-less station where construction forced us to make a three-stairway transfer — but no. He was full of energy to run (and run away) at the zoo, to find the tigers, to prove I’d been wrong when I told him there were no buffalo or red pandas (apparently he remembered them from his last trip, the better part of a year ago), to continually ask for the cookies I’d told him were a treat for the ride home.

He desperately wanted to see the giraffes, though, but when we headed their way after lunch, he fell asleep in his stroller before we could see them and did not wake up until we were nearly home again.  Whereupon, seeing our friends, he smiled and said, “on a special, special train!” Then he spread his arms in a comic “what gives?” gesture and said with a twinkling eye, “Oh! No cookies?”

One possibility is that he’s ready to switch his nap to the afternoon, which would complicate our lives in some ways and simplify them in others, if only I had the first idea how to facilitate the switch.  But I wonder if there’s something else in play here.  Several times in the past week, he has woken up — or rather, not woken up — with night terrors, long periods of flailing and a kind of screaming I never hear from him in neurologically ordinary moments.  Screeching that would peel paint off the walls, that floods my body with adrenaline, my brain frantic to find who is skinning my baby alive.  That kind of sound.  He’s been like this before, generally after naps — I refuse to believe these are tantrums; he’s so clearly not there — but not in a few months.  Their reappearance makes me wonder if the nap refusal is part of a larger pattern of sleep disturbance, perhaps related to a leap in cognitive/neurological development.

It’s happened before: the last time sleep went deeply to hell (not that it’s ever great around here), Sugar noted that his vocabulary was just exploding.  Growing a brain is a lot of work; big changes are bound to require some disruptive furniture-moving in there.  No wonder he’s a mess.

*    *    *

I wonder if any of my readers are surprised that I’m not posting about the goings-on at the Supreme Court this week.  Naturally, I feel strongly about these cases.  I even have some thoughts about them, imagine that.  I don’t have a good answer, except that I somehow can’t bear to.  Just reading about them for a few minutes at a time leaves me in tears.  Sugar can’t bear to read at all.

I nearly wrote just now that we are hardly on the front lines of these cases, living in a state that recognizes our marriage and having the usual denial about the death-related problems Edie Windsor’s DOMA case centers on.  But the truth is, we are on the front lines here, whether we want to be or not.  By virtue of living our lives in the most truthful way we know how, we are subject to having those lives dissected in, at best, dispassionate terms by powerful strangers in faraway chambers.  Moreover, our lives are subject to discussion by everyone with a mouth or a keyboard, and what isn’t deliberately dehumanizing is too often the kind of devil’s advocate “objectivity” unpacked very well here and here (in terms of feminism, but a very close match).  While nothing about the details of my days this week sounds terribly heroic — nap strikes, zoo trips, endless games of trains — I feel nevertheless buffeted by invisible winds.

Yesterday, my Facebook feed bloomed red.  Huge numbers of my friends, including tons of straight ones (and one who seems to be calling herself straight now, despite an impressive track record to the contrary in her youth, ahem) have replaced their avatars with HRC’s red equal sign logo.  Then came the mutated memes, the equal signs made of wedding rings, card catalog cards, broken matzo squares.  There are Rotko-esque ones, Muppet ones, Lucy/Peppermint Patty ones, and one made of belly-flashing corgis.  Eventually, even I had to get over my profound irritation that HRC, who are admittedly dab hands at branding, is going to be associated in people’s minds with this moment, when it is the ACLU who deserves the praise and the donations.  (Okay, I’m not over it. But it’s no longer my principle feeling.)  It truly is remarkable that, as one friend put it, “for the first time in my life, being gay is cool.”

Like a number of my married gay friends, I changed my profile picture to an image from our wedding.  I found I liked seeing these friends marching along my feed in their fancy dress, cutting cake and exchanging vows, kissing and just grinning at the camera.  There is something visually right, to me, about these pictures being surrounded by the sea of red, the allies sublimating themselves for a moment to those of us who, like it or not, find ourselves on the front lines.

This moment is incredible; if you’d told me, even five years ago, this week would happen as it has, I’d never have believed you.  I can’t believe, as I frequently tell my students, that the conversation has gone from, “Should gays be allowed to teach school/live in settled areas,” to, “Should gays be allowed to marry,” in only the time it’s taken me to get from high school to here.  It doesn’t seem possible, anymore than the strength our elders have shown in carrying us here seems like something I could find in myself.  I see this picture of Edie Windsor* entering the court today, and I see a warrior.  I see this picture and I think of song by Sweet Honey In the Rock: I don’t know how our elders have done it, but I do remember.

ediearrives

*from the ACLU twitter feed

I admire more than I can say the bravery of the people who have taken the most public steps to bring us here, though I know all of us who have made this issue seem real to our friends and families are helping in small ways, too.  Even though small ways are exhausting in a week like this.  Allies, we are so happy to have you, so proud of you.  I can’t think I’m the only one who feels the strain, though, so I ask one more thing this week.  Please, be gentle.  As in the Bean’s brain, big changes are happening in our worlds.  It’s surely no wonder if some of us are a bit of a mess.


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Home Study Eve (Blogging for LGBT Families Day 2012)

Internets, I have heard your request for Bean photos, and I am helpless to resist them. I have such a 50-megaton photo-dump post in the works, your interblag tubes will be clogged for a week. (This is why I don’t do photo-dump posts: zero self-control.) It will be up this weekend, maybe even before our home study on Saturday, because the social worker said not to clean and hell, we are certainly paying her enough to ignore a few dust-bunnies. Plus, she doesn’t get paid until the adoption goes through, which isn’t a conflict of interest At All.

But today is, besides the Bean’s fifteen-month birthday, Mombian’s Blogging for LGBT Families Day. It’s a bit of a fluke that I remembered in time, but I did, so I thought I should scribble something out.

…okay, it’s been all day.  I meant to write about North Carolina — my home state and the most recent to pass an anti-marriage equality amendment to its constitution — but that hasn’t happened.  So…have this.  (Hope you like parenthetical comments.)

Tomorrow is our second-parent adoption home study, wherein a social worker to whom we will pay an enormous amount of money will come to our house and decide if we are fit to parent the child we have been parenting for the past 15 months.

On the bright side, she seems nice, but really.  What is the point of all this?  If the state decides Sugar is not fit to adopt, the Bean will still be my child and will continue to live with us.  That’s extremely unlikely to happen: not only is Sugar pretty obviously the superior parent in the relationship, but second-parent adoptions are all-but automatic in our area, the all-but referring to the huge chunk of change we will probably-but-no-promises get back from the IRS as an adoption tax credit.  (Nice of you fellow tax payers to kick in for these costs, but really, I think the lawyers will find a way to scrape by without the subsidy.  I tend to think the adoption agencies would, too, but that’s a soapbox for a different day.)   Since we all know this is essentially pro forma, it pretty much amounts to a tax on being gay.  Kind of like that $450 we had to pay to be offended by the psychologist at the Baby Factory, back in the day.

It’s important, I think, to note that this is not about genetics: if I had conceived using anonymous donor sperm but were married to a man, his legal parentage would be automatic in every state.  Husbands are presumed to be the fathers of their offspring, even if said offspring have the postman’s ears, because these laws are at their core about the inheritance of one trait only: property.

I know what I’m supposed to say right now is how grateful I am that we live in a state that not only allows second parent adoption by same-sex partners but one where they routinely go through without comment.  (Unlike in NC, where once again, some crazy divorcing lesbian ruined it for everyone.  People, can we all agree that once someone does something like this to our community, that person — even if hot — gets no sex again ever?  Call it Operation Lysistrata.)  In a limited way, I am grateful, or at least I am aware of how much worse things could be. I don’t mean to sound to those living in states with awful laws like a spoiled brat, but neither do I feel inclined to do a lot of sucking up to the powers that be just for being allowed the basic piece of human dignity that is having my child’s relationship with his parents recognized by the law.

Before I got involved in this TTC and parenting lark, I had some sympathy for the “people should be screened to be parents” kind of argument that springs up in conversation, usually about some abysmal behavior on the subway or, less forgiveably, in the context of parents in poverty.  I didn’t exactly agree, you understand, but there was something appealing about the idea of a test, because, I realize now, I was so blindly comfortable in my race and class privilege that I never dreamed such a test would be given to me.  Even if it were, it was obvious I would pass (see: race, class, education), and tests you know you’ll pass are kind of fun, amirite?

No, as it turns out, they aren’t fun.  They are enraging.  Moreover, sometimes the standards get changed even after you took the test (see: NC second-parent adoptions revoked in wake of nasty case mentioned above).  Being informed or reminded that an external authority has control of — or even and opinion about — your right to reproduce and/or parent is galling and frightening and in no way conducive to good parenting.  Even knowing that no one is the least bit interested in taking our child away from us, I feel under surveillance, nervous of any perceived misstep.

We in the privileged quarters tend to talk more freedom from reproduction, via birth control, abortion, etc., than freedom to reproduce.  Yet, as a wise friend of mine once remarked to me, the eugenic impulse is strong in American thought; tiptoe out of the world of the white, the middle-class and above, the able-bodied, the straight, the sane, and it’s right there, not just disapproval, but policy, ranging from the kind of nuisance barriers I’m complaining about here to real bodily control, sterilization, confiscation of children, and so on.  (Do you think, as I did, that forced sterilizations of, for instance, welfare mothers was a thing of the past?  Read this.)

I don’t mean to draw false equivalencies.  However bad my attitude about tomorrow’s hoop-jumping, I am not so self-involved as all that.  Being gay in this time and place has its inconveniences, but being white and educated and middle-class sure does help out.  (So does not looking different — when my white, middle-class, educated aunt and uncle brought their baby daughter to the ER, was it the cut she’d gotten on the shower door track that triggered the suspicions of abuse and the subsequent nightmare of temporary custody loss, or might it be possible that their Muslim dress had something to do with at least the severity of and contempt behind the official reaction?)  But it is true that having our right to parent scrutinized has made me think differently about the right to reproduce, which is about as basic a biological drive as you can name, and how — and for whom — that right is limited.  (Overpopulation exists, but our system isn’t China’s, seeking to control absolute numbers.  We are quite proud of that, of not telling rich, white, healthy people how many children to have.)  I expected to learn things from motherhood, but I didn’t expect this would be one of the lessons.


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A Clarification and An Elephant

Hello again.  I love all the comments on the last post!  I should rant more often….

I do, however, want to clarify what I did and did not mean by that rant.  (Dr. Jenny has pretty much already written my clarification for me, but even so.)

  1. I did mean that I think sleep training is not damaging or cruel per se.  (Insert boilerplate about at a reasonable age, yadda yadda.)
  2. I did mean that sleep is important for human life and health and general pleasantness, and that pretending otherwise is unhelpful.
  3. I did mean that crying isn’t necessarily an indication that what is going on is bad for the baby.
  4. I did mean that Dr. Sears is an ass, likely a hypocritical one.  Weissbluth, too, lest you think I only pick on the Attachment Goons.  They both have some useful things to say and some unhelpful garbage and a whole heapin’ helpin’ of erasure of mothers as people, in my always humble etc.
  5. I emphatically did NOT mean that everyone ought to sleep train, that not sleep training is somehow bad for or cruel to babies, that cosleeping, nursing all night, or whatever it is that works for you and your baby is somehow wrong, even if it’s not what works for me and Sugar and our baby.

This is not to say that I’m never a judgmental busybody about Other People’s Parenting, just that I have my limited spheres of true conviction.  I divide OPP into two rough categories, as follows:

  1. Things With Objectively Right Answers (most of the time).
    This category includes carseats, smoking, real neglect, and the Parenting Topic Who Must Not Be Named, Lord Vaccimort.
  2. Things Without Objectively Right Answers.
    This category includes practically everything else, from where babies sleep to what they eat and what containers they eat it from (well, soda out of baby bottles is Cat. 1, but I certainly don’t think there’s an objective right answer about breastmilk vs. formula, which is what folks fight about) to what kind of diapers they poop in, whether their giant robots transport them in carriers or strollers, what is or isn’t done to the ends of their penises, if penises they have, what solid food they eat and when, and even, though this one is teetering on the edge of being Cat. 1, whether their parents see fit to put sex-identifying lacy garters around their newborn heads.

I don’t mean to say that I don’t have opinions on Cat. 2 items, just that I’m unwilling to say that my opinions about them are the opinions everyone should hold or — and this is important! — that those opinions are so fact-based that I would think the same thing even if we were in a different situation or had a different baby.  Breastfeeding was important to me and I’m grateful that Big Pharma has made it possible for me to do it without agony, but if that weren’t the case, I am certain it would have been better for the Bean to be exclusively formula fed (instead of the mixed baby he is, like his Mama) than for him to live with my being in angry pain all the time.  He isn’t circumcised, but if Sugar or I had had what my father calls a contract with God about that, he would have been.  I was dead-certain BFF was cruel to let her baby cry at nap time until the universe sent me a baby who couldn’t nap without a good cry.

I think sleep is important, but I don’t think sleep training is important in its own right.  Pom, you are off the hook.  You, too, Frankiesoup, even though I think your metaphor is flawed.  (Here’s why.)  The fact that you’re even making metaphors suggests to me that you are functioning better without sleep training than I ever did, so keep on keeping on. Nor do I believe sleep training confers any long-term sleep advantage: I think it may (when it works) lead to more more sleep in the near-term, but I believe adult sleep patterns have nothing to do with babyhood ones, except inasmuch as both are affected by genetics and disposition and the benevolence or not of what gods may be.  That’s a belief, not a certainty, but as I’ve yet to see any evidence from those who believe the opposite, I’m sticking with it.

Not off the hook with me are those people who feel it’s their ever-lovin’ duty to not just give real advice, offer reassurances, or personal examples but to tell other parents what they “ought,” “must,” or “should” do, in particular those who follow up with “for the sake of the baby!”  There are plenty of things we should do for the sake of our babies — not maintain meth labs in the basement, for instance, or bungee their carseats to the Harley for anything beyond a quick trip to the OTB — so perhaps we could all save the bossier modal verbs for moments of real need.

The thing I find most grating about Dr. Sears’s “adjust your attitude” remark is how it echos the petty tyranny of the most condescending middle school teachers, those little Umbrages I remember taunting nasally, “you need to adjust your attitude, missy.”  I’ve spent a fair bit of time with students that age.  They can be pretty annoying, but what they “need” to adjust, in my opinion, is usually behavior.  Their attitudes belong to them, and to suggest otherwise is a belittling attempt to shame them, which is about power, not about teaching.

Shame is the elephant of the post title.  Like an elephant, shame can be useful in limited amounts: elephants built the ancient temples of India, and shame at lying to my father about how that piece of tile got broken taught me there are worse things than the fear of punishment.  But like an elephant, shame makes a lousy roommate.  Both can be impressively destructive and tend to fill the place with shit.

I don’t know about you all, but I’m finding motherhood plenty full of opportunities to feel shame without additional help.  Some of that shame is the useful kind (say, how I feel about losing my temper at lunch today), but the overwhelming majority is not (say, most of the blathering about birth I’ve subjected you to).  I manufacture shame prolifically, and yet some people in the world nevertheless seem to think I need more of it.  Shame in its noun form may be an inevitable companion to motherhood in my case, but its verb form has no place here.

I don’t mean to suggest that most of us mean to shame each other, only that it’s too easy to do and has a terrible domino effect.  When the Bean was 8 weeks old, the Other Lesbians from birth class asked us how we got him to sleep and then, when we told them what kind of soothing worked for us, said, “babies don’t like that,” and followed up with the unsolicited news that our very small baby was just manipulating us and absolutely did not need to eat at night.  (Which he absolutely did.  The child has the metabolism of a cocaine-addled hummingbird; even now, he’s below the 5th percentile for weight (CDC) despite nursing tons and eating five daily meals of solid food, and at that point he was still recovering from my early supply problems and his early latch issues.)  My anger at being told what to do by people with a whopping five days more experience than we had shielded me pretty effectively, but in hindsight, I wonder if what drove their pushy evangelism was shame, whether from people telling them they were fools if they didn’t sleep train, people saying they were cruel for doing it, or both.  I may be wrong about them, but I think I am right about the most abrasive woman I ever encountered at the mom’s group I quit, whose declarations and insistences on a whole range of topics made more sense when all the babies got hungry and she alone, in a crowd of crunchier-than-thou Park Slope moms (basically this, plus jobs in finance), pulled out a bottle of powdered formula.

Does this mean I think we shouldn’t have opinions or give advice?  Of course not!  What am I if not an opinionated, oar-sticking loudmouth?  I just think engaging in the Mommy Wars (gag me), even accidentally, is a distraction from better work we could be doing, or at least from enjoying our friends and our children.  I am cynical enough to believe that a whole lot of the external pot-stirring on issues like breastfeeding and sleep training is more or less designed to keep women where we have been told we belong: at home, and I mean that not in a literal way — the present economic structure all but requires two money-earning parents, so we ladies are welcome to our little jobs — but as a metaphor for out of the way of the big boys making decisions about our lives.

So I say let’s not do it.  Let’s by all means talk about our children and our desire for children, what works in our houses and what we’d like to try.  Let’s give each other advice and support and encouragement.  But let’s not take the bait and use inflammatory language to shame each other for the things we decide to do differently, eh?

Except for that head-garter thing.


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Normal

Greetings from the snowy midwest, where we are visiting Sugar’s family. The snow is not too deep and very pretty, but I am nonetheless grateful that my mother’s giant grey marshmallow of a down coat still closes around me. It’s touch-and-go after a meal, I tell you what. Luckily, we’ll be out of the cold weather and down to my parents soon, so it only has to hold on for a few more days. Related gripe: why doesn’t anyone make a maternity coat that is actually warm?

Perhaps because pregnant women are supposed to be warm all the time, but let me tell you, this one ain’t. Obviously everything is going as it should in terms of the important aspects of gestation, but I do find it funny how many of the “typical” symptoms have not visited me. I am cold all the time. My skin has never been drier — shea butter on the face every morning or the skin just peels away. And that business about your hair not falling out and then all coming loose after birth? I have very thick hair to begin with, but if it finds a way to fall out more than it is already, I will certainly be bald by the time The Bean sees me. (And yes, I will trade all that happily for the mildness of my morning sickness.)

I will also take it in happy trade for the nurse’s call yesterday saying my glucose test results were normal, which saves me a fight with the doctors, since I had made my mind up firmly to refuse the three-hour test. It was just over 24 hours before I was recovered from the one-hour, by the way, with an additional 24 to get rid of the migraine it brought on. And meanwhile, I’ve been poking around the journal literature and have become increasingly convinced that nearly all of the GD paranoia is based on g-d horse shit. I won’t bore you to death, but just for starters: in a study of outcomes for gestational diabetes patients and babies, wouldn’t you suppose it a good idea to exclude women who had poorly-controlled diabetes BEFORE pregnancy? Of course not: that would exclude almost all of the scary outcomes, and then how will you get published?

Sugar is champing at the bit to do laundry, so I’d better get out of these very soft but somewhat whiffy pajamas. (Yes, Melody, they are pajamas. Garnet Hill German cotton flannel. Get yourself some; I promise you will not be sorry. This is my fifth set.) I will leave you with a picture of my rapidly expanding mid-section, circa 28 weeks, and a promise that I will be back to report on anything exciting that happens on Christmas day at Sugar’s paternal grandmother’s house, where we’re not at all sure anyone has been told about the pregnancy. Last time I was there, one of Sugar’s cousins refused to do anything but gape at me while I was talking to her (about such controversial topics as “your daughter is very cute”). This should be even more fun without alcohol.

P1000598

P.S. Yes, I’m beyond pissed about the legal goings on of my home state. Guess it’s off the list of “states I will allow us to live in prior to being absolutely certain we’re done having/adopting children.” Nice feeling to have about a place my family has lived for 250 years.


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Memorial Day

Hello, internets. Welcome back — physically, mentally, whatever — from the holiday weekend.

Sugar and I took a last-minute trip to New Hampshire with Womb Buddy, stayed in the 200-year-old house she moved to after leaving our hometown when we were both little. I visited in the summers for a few years, sliding in the swimming hole under the covered bridge, getting locked in a horse stall full of kittens, and generally living the country life, oblivious to the fact that W.B.’s parents’ marriage was collapsing. (The packet of old photos I found at my parents’ house this Christmas suggests I was oblivious to everything except kittens. One picture of a person in the whole batch: a fuzzy me, holding a kitten.) Until last summer, I’d never been back, though I picture the house and its yard whenever I read Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time books, remembering lying on the glacier-scraped granite outcropping to watch the sky as Meg lies on the stargazing rock.

The house is different in some ways, despite its familiar creaking floorboards and narrow stairs. Parts have been remodeled, and its denizens now include W.B.’s step-mother and step-siblings. But the town is old and small and slow to change. There is still no mail delivery to houses, no stop light, no noise or light at night. Its valley of green fields and shuttered houses is still watched over by blue mountains, the postcard-perfect New England town.

On Monday, we walked down the road to visit a woman we met last year, who with her son raises alpacas and shetland sheep for wool. Last year, her fluffy tom cat herded geese away from us as we walked the road towards the swimming hole, and she insisted on taking us out back to meet the animals. We loved it, of course. She’s a single mom, and she explained that this is an inexpensive way for her to keep her son close — the animals themselves were gifts from 4-H. We wondered, a year later, if they’d still be at it, if her son ever was as invested as she, if he might have grown older and started racing dirt bikes or chasing girls.

Thumper and the Bug
W.B. and Thumper, July 2009

We found the shepherdess at work in her front garden, spending her birthday putting in new perennials. She was happy to see us and happier still to usher us back to the barn and pastures, where her son showed off two-day-old lambs with evident pride. The alpacas were overdue for a visit from the shearer, who is behind in his work. Our favorite ram, Thumper, died of bloat over the winter, but nevertheless, the little farm carries on.


Mostly, he looked happier than this, but I chose this picture because OMG I AM HOLDING A LAMB!

We continued down the road, over the covered bridge, and into the old part of the cemetery, where flags marked graves of those who served in wars all the way back to the Revolutionary.

Mill Cemetery, Meriden, NH

The cemetery is beautiful, shaded by ancient maples, in sight of lupin-covered hillsides. It is not so hard to think of spending eternity on the high banks of the fast river there, visited by hikers on their way down from the mountain behind it. We hiked there this weekend, as most of those buried here must have at one point or other. The forest shifts from dark hemlock to brighter groves of beech and maple. Where sun creeps through, forget-me-nots cluster around the path. From the bald on top, you can survey the valley.

View from French's Ledges

Hiking in the eastern mountains this time of year always makes me think of a college housemate of mine, who hiked the Appalachian Trail the summer after she graduated. I remember how excited she was for the trip, and also the quiet confidence that ran under her talking about it, the knowledge that she had the skills for the trip but also the right mindset, that she knew well how to break big projects into steady, determined days.

That attitude was typical of Roselle. She was so steady in every way, like a sturdy tree you know will always be there to be counted on. She was pre-med, and it was clear that she excelled in school not by lucky flashes of brilliance punctuating long weeks of sloth but by day after day of orderly studying. She got her work done without panic, and yet never shook her head over those of us who were grasshoppers to her ant when it came to laying up stores against the coming winters of exams and final projects. Her professors noticed, too:

“Roselle was smarter and more capable than the rest of us, and she held an almost tender benevolence toward others. She did not ask anyone else to work to the high standards she herself was working to achieve. ”

Tender is the word exactly. She paid attention to you in such a quiet way that you could easily miss it, until you sat with her at dinner and discovered she remembered everything about that play you were in, that joke you told once. When I watered her plants while she flew to Texas for a med school interview, she brought me back a packet of bluebell seeds, having remembered a small picture of a blue-blooming field I’d had up on my wall.

If Roselle was a more diligent student than most of us, she seemed thrilled with the clownish ways we were different from her. If I close my eyes, I can hear her sudden, full-throated laugh, surprised at whatever we living room layabouts had invented to amuse ourselves while she studied in the dining room, somehow untroubled by the cacophony we regularly raised. And we all loved her. Of all the women I lived with those four years, Roselle is the only one I can think of no one’s complaints about (unless you count her old roommate’s assertion that she closed her dresser drawers too loudly in the early mornings). There simply wasn’t anything to complain about.

Roselle died in Iraq in 2007. She was an Army doctor, and had volunteered for overseas duty because others in her group had small children. She was by all accounts tender and devoted as ever.

The news of her death was a shock. When another housemate forwarded me the email she’d received, I thought the dead Smithie in the subject line must be Madeline L’Engle, who died close to the same time. I didn’t expect it to be someone I really knew — but why not? Exactly how naive am I, that I expected to go without losing a friend with our country at war for so long? Did I think that the pins I’d worn (paltry activism), the letters I’d written (never enough) would somehow protect me? Did I think this was all just an intellectual debate? (Answer: of course not. Knowing how our volunteer army works, I instead counted on my race and class to insulate me.)

Soon, nausea set in. The Army would not release the details of Roselle’s death, only that she’d died in Kirkuk not long after arriving there with her unit, that her death was not combat-related. Another soldier in her unit, a man, died the same day. I hate what I know of what women are too often subject to in our military. I hate that they are often raped, hurt, killed by their fellow soldiers, that the military doesn’t seem to care enough rid itself of its old habits of misogyny (that seems too weak a word). Rape is twice as common in the military as in civilian life, a statistic all the more disgusting because the Army purports to teach unit cohesion, to protect one another. I hate that the only big name who ever seems to talk about this publicly, to admit that it exists, that it’s not just isolated incident after isolated incident, is Garry Trudeau. Shouldn’t we be reading about this outside of the comics section?

I didn’t know that’s what happened to Roselle, of course. I knew it could have been anything. A munitions accident in a warehouse somewhere. A car crash. A fall down a flight of stairs. But knowing that it was far from outlandish to imagine her attacked by a comrade is unacceptable.

The Army has since released its report. They say that she was overwhelmed, unprepared. That a senior officer berated her, that she told a fellow officer that she couldn’t do it anymore. That she returned to her barracks and shot herself.

I can’t tell you how difficult I find it to square this story with the Roselle I knew, who seems just like the one described by medical school classmates and hospital colleagues who wrote messages of condolence after she died. Yes, I know that suicide is often an impulsive act, that there is no “type” of person who attempts it, that it can happen out of the blue. Maybe she was sent overseas without proper training, a less awful negligence on the Army’s behalf. Maybe she was that thrown by whatever was said to her, though that’s hard to imagine. I keep trying to build a version of Roselle in my head that allows me to believe this story, but it hasn’t worked yet.

Instead, I am left with doubt and with anger at an Army that promises to take care of its own. At an Army I can’t trust to tell the truth, when it has tried so hard to cover up or ignore other problems. At a war we had no business starting, made possible by jingoism and racism and calculated lies. It’s not politic, I realize, to say such things on Memorial Day. We are to wave the flag and believe sacrifice makes every cause noble. We are to “Support the Troops,” which means ignoring the kinds of support the troops may actually need, if the real circumstances of their service don’t lend themselves to blockbuster movies. But Roselle didn’t heroically give her life to keep us free and I refuse to forget her that way.

We college housemates, classmates, teammates, and friends of Roselle pooled money to have a tree planted on campus in her honor, a Cladrastis lutea “Rosea” — pink-flowered Yellowwood. Sugar and I saw the young tree this month, growing on the street where we all lived together. It takes several years to begin blooming, but when it does, it sends out surprising, wisteria-like clusters of pink. I hope it will stand watch on our street for many years, steady and lovely and sometimes laughing with flowers.


Thanks to Tom Gill for the picture of a blooming Yellowwood.

Pictures of Roselle’s tree are up here.