Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Life is Short

Today is (sort of) Ray-Ray's second birthday. He was born on February 29, 2004, but since there is no Feb 29th this year, we will celebrate today. And again on Monday when we take him and his five year old Uncle Jack to the Atlanta Aquarium. Actually, we started celebrating on Friday when we let Ray open the presents that my father had sent. Then we celebrated again on Saturday when my mother-in-law and sister-in-law came over with more presents and a giant cookie. And this coming Saturday, I will bake a cake for Ray to share with the Bubbas. Now that I think about it, maybe we'll just celebrate all year...

I would not have purposely forced such an absurd birthdate on my firstborn son, but this was just how it all shook out. He was born close to two weeks early, and it happened quickly and seemingly out of the blue. On February 28, 2004, I knew it was getting close to my due date, and I was pushing myself pretty hard to get caught up on my work, and pushing Preston to finish the house renovations so we could move out of our miserable little trailer before Ray was born. I was derailed on all accounts.

I woke up early on the 28th, eager to hit yard sales with my mother. She was taking too long to come pick me up, so I put on my hat and scarf and started hoofing it over to her house. She and Yolie laughed when they saw me walking down the dirt road, 8 1/2 months pregnant, in 20-something degree weather. We went to yard sales all morning, and then I spent the afternoon ordering Preston around to help clean the (argh) trailer and to carry more of my office files to storage so I could move my fat belly down the skinny hallway without bouncing off of file boxes.

We ate a big dinner of blackened catfish and baked potatoes. And then I took a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts to the sofa so we could watch a movie (Runaway Jury) together. Preston had only just hit play on the DVD player when I doubled over in pain. I could hardly think for a minute, and then the pain passed. I wrote it off as Braxton-Hicks contractions and bit into a doughnut. Less than 10 minutes later, another wave of pain hit me. And then another came about 8 minutes later. Preston dialed the obstretician. I just sat there in shock. By the time the doctor called us back, the contractions were less than five minutes apart. The doctor told us to go to the hospital, quickly.

Looking back, the next hour was pretty comical. We hadn't yet packed our hospital suitcase, we hadn't put the carseat in the car yet, and as a matter of fact, I still hadn't solved the problem of us only having a two-seater car. Preston turned in circles for a minute, and I stood in the middle of the living room and wailed, "But I'm not ready yet!" We packed quickly, with me stopping to double over with another contraction, and I called mom to let her know we were headed to the hospital. She called back in less than a minute, questioning our urgency. I tried unsuccessfully to convey the exact nature of the urgency, and Preston helped me into the car and listened to me grumble about EVERY SINGLE BUMP IN THE ROAD between our house and the hospital.

Regardless of all the signs, we were all sure that this was a false alarm. We had managed to pre-register at the hospital, so Preston stopped in front of the emergency room door and helped me inside. We were admitted quickly, and even though Preston and I were still absolutely sure they would send us home, the nurse checked my cervix and said we would, without a doubt, be having a baby that night. Preston called mom again. She still didn't really believe it, and told Preston that even if I were in labor, it would probably take until the next day, and so there was no hurry for her to get there (truth be told, her favorite television show was about to come on, and she didn't want to miss it). By the time the doctor came in the room a few minutes later, I had dilated another few inches, and the doctor told us it would happen within a couple of hours. Preston called mom again and reiterated the urgency. She finally believed him. My sister-in-law, who drove in all the way from Atlanta, almost beat her there. By then, it was about 10:00 pm on February 28, and even through the pain and the epidural, I was conscious that I was racing the clock. I ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY WANTED TO HAVE THIS BABY BEFORE MIDNIGHT SO HE WOULD NOT BE STUCK WITH BEING A LEAP DAY BABY.

Alas, midnight came and went and even though I was pushing furiously, my poor child was born at about 12:30 am on February 29. It was the happiest and most exasperating moment of my life.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Other Kid

I belong to an unusually large family. Oddly though, my family is even larger than most people think. I am not just one of 39 kids, as you might think if you know my mother. I am one of HER 39 children, but I belong to another family as well. I actually have 41 siblings.

When my mother's family tells the adoption story, it is usually prefaced with "Sarah was an only child for 15 years..." But this isn't entirely true. I was an only child in my mother's house (which is where I lived - she is, after all, the parent who raised me, put me through school, and paid for my wedding), but my father and stepmother have three children together, and so I have never really considered myself an only child. My sister Jennifer was born when I was seven years old. Two years later to the day, my brother Joshua was born. And less than two years after that, my sister Jamey Leigh was born.

One of the many things that strikes me as weird about my family situation is that I often hear my mother and her other children talking about the bond between birth siblings and about the importance of not splitting up sibling groups. Since I never got to live with my birth siblings, in some ways I feel cheated out of this bond. When I refer to Jenny, Josh or Jamey Leigh, I say "my sister" or "my brother." But they have each other, and they were raised in the same house with their mother and their father, and I guess I am a little bit of an outsider to them. I am dad's Other Kid. On Josh's website almost a year ago, there was a picture of him, Jenny, our dad, and my stepmom. Josh's caption said it was his family photo, "minus one sister and one half-sister." On one hand, I was thrilled that he would include me when he mentions his family, but at the same time I was really hurt that he referred to me as his half-sister. I don't call mom's kids my "adopted brothers and sisters," and I don't call dad's kids my "half-brothers and sisters." I refer to ALL my siblings, whether they are my mom's or my dad's, simply as my siblings. But maybe I'm just desperate to feel like I belong somewhere in this web of children.

Most of the time, I am not bothered by any of this because, really, what would be the point? But there are times, usually around the occasions I go to Virginia and spend time with Dad's family (where I'm not even IN the family photos), when I feel like the odd one out in both families.

With the exception of me and Carolina, all of my mother's children are part of sibling groups. So I'm not the ONLY one in Mom's family that stands alone. But then again, look at my mother's family photos sometime, and you'll see I stand out like a sore thumb. One of my old housemates saw one of mom's family photos and started singing that old children's song "One of these things is not like the other..." Grrrr.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Cheering Me Up

It took four days before anyone thought to inform me (and then it was only in a batch email sent out to me and my cousins), but my sister had a beautiful baby boy on Valentine's Day. Holland Vaughn Carter weighed 7 lbs 13 oz, and was 21 1/4 inches long. I'm trying to be pissed off that it took so long for anyone to let me know about my brand new nephew, but its hard to stay mad when I can't stop looking at the picture and smiling. Dang, he's cute.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Anticipation Derailed

Skinny, naked toddler here has not slept in his bedroom since I came home from the hospital (nearly a month ago now). He insists on sleeping on the green sofa, so we have moved his silly leopard-print pillow (the one he swiped from me more than a year ago) and his blanket to the living room. We have also moved the baby monitor, and we have laid down a huge body pillow on the floor against the sofa so that Ray-Ray won't bang his head on the floor when he rolls off.

Preston and I pretend to be irritated by this new sleeping arrangement, but secretly we love it. Now, we can smile over at him while he falls asleep, and we can keep an eye on him while we watch TV or read until we go to bed ourselves. If anything, Preston and I need the reassurance that he is still there as much as Ray needs the reassurance that WE are still there.

Every day is a little bit easier until now I find I go long stretches of time without crying over the loss of Bailey. I am different in ways, including being MUCH more sensitive than I used to be, and being highly irrational about being separated from Ray. It used to not bother me so much if he went somewhere with my mother or my husband for an hour or two, but I almost lost my mind yesterday when mom suggested that I let Ray go with her and the other little kids to the store for an hour. I COULD NOT HANDLE THE THOUGHT OF BEING AWAY FROM HIM FOR THAT LONG.

This Sunday, I would have marked the halfway point of my pregnancy with Bailey. And yesterday was my OB appointment for the big, important ultrasound where you can find out what the sex of the baby is, and even videotape the baby's movements, as we did more than two years ago when I was pregnant with Ray. I knew it would be tough day and I was so hung up on it the night before that I had a hard time sleeping. More than I expected though, the hurt came crashing back down during the time I would have had the doctors appointment, and I lost it emotionally in a way that actually scared me. Depression is not something I have had any real experience with, and this is the first time I have ever truly felt like a failure. I may know intellectually that I did not CAUSE the infection that threatened my life and took the life of my child, but I am still having a hard time getting past the blame that I have laid upon myself.

The date of this ultrasound, and July 9th when Bailey was due to be born, are the last two dates that I had marked in my calendar in anticipation of Bailey. I plan to be on a long vacation, far away from here on the day Bailey was due. Maybe that will make it easier.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Valentine's Day Dinner Massacre

There are times when I get just a little bit too full of myself, and there are, of course, times when I got taken down a notch or two. Yesterday, I ate humble pie (recipe not included here).

My hospital bills are completely outrageous, and our health insurance premiums are almost doubling next month, so all frivolous spending has been nixed around here. We actually put a stop to the discretionary part of our budget two and a half years ago when we decided to get pregnant and renovate a house, but belt tightening is being taken to a new level now.

Valentine's Day isn't such a big deal to us anyhow, and Preston and I both have fun poring over greeting card selections to find the ABSOLUTE perfect card for each occasion. And so, we agreed last week that greeting cards would be the only presents we would indulge in, and I would make us a special meal for Valentine's Day dinner. Seemed easy enough. After all, I love to cook. And I'm good at it, right? Piece of cake.

On Friday, I came across a recipe for a dark chocolate creme brulee and I ran right out to get the ingredients. Creme brulee is one of my favorite desserts, and it is one that I have never before attempted at home. I skimmed the recipe and decided it would be no problem to whip it up for dessert with our Valentine's Day dinner.

By Monday I had our menu: spicy catfish fillets, steamed Idaho potato for Preston and steamed sweet potato for me and Ray, spinach and feta side salad, and dark chocolate creme brulee. I was proud. But in hindsight, I now remember that pride cometh before a fall.

On Tuesday morning, I was up at the crack of dawn. By 7 am, I had showered, fixed my hair, put on makeup, packed the diaper bag and the briefcase, and gotten the grocery list together. By 8am, Ray and I were at the grocery store. By 9am, the groceries were all put away at home, and Ray and I were at mom's house, ready for me to begin work and for Ray to begin his playtime with his Aunt Tabby and Uncle Nando. Everything was going my way.

I got in a great day of work, and even managed to enjoy about an hour of pre-nap snuggling with Ray. I skipped my afternoon workout, and Ray and I went home to get a head start on dinner. I collected all the ingredients for each of the dishes, put my recipes side by side on the counter, warmed up the oven, and planned the order in which everything would happen. I was so organized. I wrapped the potatoes in aluminum foil and put them in the oven first. Then I prepared the spice rub for the catfish, and began the prep for the creme brulee. I had the schedule all worked out. The potatoes would cook for an hour and 15 minutes, then I would increase the heat in the oven and broil the fish for the last 10 minutes of the potatoes cooking time. While the fish was in the oven, I would assemble the spinach salad. And then, while we ate dinner, I would put the creme brulees in the oven.

We sat down to dinner right on time and enjoyed our spinach salad first course. And this is where everything started to fall apart.

The spicy catfish was bland and boring. I grumbled while I choked it down. Then Preston unwrapped his potato and I watched disconsolately as he tried unsuccessfully to get a knife through it. I unwrapped mine and had the same problem. Preston smiled at me. I had clearly not cooked the potatoes long enough. We pretended to eat a few bites until I gave up and went to check on the custards. I figured I could at least redeem myself with the dessert course.

But they hadn't even begun to congeal. "Dessert will be served a little late," I said. And then I read over the rest of the recipe to make sure I was prepared for the last step of torching the sugar layer on top. "Uh oh," I groaned. Preston grinned at me from across the kitchen. "Now what?" he laughed.

Well, here's the thing. The recipe CLEARLY stated the time estimate at the top. Hands-on time was listed as 20 minutes (I had already done this part - warming the milk, melting the chocolate, stirring in the extracts, and whisking in the eggs and salt). Total time was listed as 1 hour (made total sense - 20 minutes of hands on time plus 40 minutes in the oven equals one hour total time). WHAT WAS NOT MENTIONED IN THE TIME ESTIMATE WAS THE FOUR FRIGGIN HOURS OF CHILLING TIME IN THE REFRIGERATOR.

For pity's sake. I smiled winningly at my loving husband and said "Dessert will be served tomorrow night."

Monday, February 13, 2006

Torta di Pasta

Note (March 27, 2010): The following post was written during a time of debilitating grief in our family. I only recently re-read it while linking this recipe to a Tweet about a recent meal, and for a brief moment or two, I thought about deleting all the personal information and just leaving the recipe. However, in a small attempt to honor Bailey, our second son, a very premature infant who was stillborn, I would prefer to leave these words here. Deleting them seems to come too close to an erasure of the memory. I know this is a food blog, but it is also a chronicle of life in my family, where meals are enjoyed together, mistakes are made, life is lived, and sometimes souls are laid bare.

For the first week after we lost Bailey, I wandered around my house in a daze. I didn't work, I didn't cook, I didn't clean. I mostly just existed. By the end of that week (a seven-day-long-year), I still couldn't make it through an hour without crying, but I was simultaneously going stir crazy from all the inactivity and while remaining incapable of pulling out of the depression.

The only thing that has really helped me deal with the grief was throwing myself back into a long daily to-do list. As long as I have a list of tasks to accomplish, and as long as my perfectionist tendencies are guiding my hand, I like to think I can make it through nearly any emotional trauma (though I have very little experience with this kind of thing). After all, I have to continue being a mother to Ray no matter what tragedy has befallen us. I still have clients who depend on me, no matter how much I want to lay in bed and wallow in self-pity. The bills still have to get paid, the plants have to be watered, thank you notes must be written, phone calls must be returned... Thank God for busywork.

Even after all the chores are complete, and the work has been finished and delivered to the clients, there are hobbies to indulge in and a family to dote upon. And this is where I derive the most healing and comfort.

For the first few days after the meals from friends were gone, I skulked into the kitchen and managed to pull something together for dinner, but "getting by" isn't my forte. A week ago, I sat down with the Everyday Italian cookbook that my sister-in-law gave to me for Christmas, and I started slapping sticky notes on recipes I wanted to try PRONTO.

During the 16 short weeks of my pregnancy with Bailey, I didn't try many new recipes. I just didn't have the energy nor the stomach for attempting new dishes, and I didn't even feel like reading cookbooks. This past week, I have thrown myself wholeheartedly back into cooking, catching up on my food reading and trying four new recipes in five days.

I have taken immense pleasure in living in the kitchen again, and very few things please me more than holding out a forkful of something new for Preston and Ray to taste. So far, my favorite recipe from Everyday Italian is the Torta Di Pasta, an incredibly textured, unusual-sounding, yet simple pasta pie that I made for the first time one evening last week. Even more amazing was that we ate the leftovers for Sunday brunch three or four days later, and it was still just as satisfying. This recipe will go into heavy rotation in my repertoire.


  • Salt
  • 8 oz dried spaghetti noodles (I used whole wheat spaghetti noodles, of course)
  • 1/2 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated fontina or mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/2 tsps kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  1. Cook the pasta to al dente in a large pot of heavily salted, boiling water. DO NOT OVERCOOK (this means you, mom).
  2. Drain the cooked noodles and toss with the sun-dried tomatoes. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, Parmesan, fontina or mozzarella, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and the pepper to blend.
  4. Add the egg mixture to the noodles, and toss to coat.
  5. Preheat the broiler.
  6. In a 9 1/2-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet, preferably cast-iron, melt the butter and oil over medium heat.
  7. Transfer the spaghetti mixture to the skillet, pressing to form an even layer.
  8. Cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes.
  9. Transfer the skillet to the oven and broil until the top is golden brown, about 5 minutes.
  10. Cut into wedges, and serve hot or at room temperature

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A New Kind of Normal

Things are returning to normal around our house, but our concept of normal has changed. Now, if I go all day without crying, feeling so angry I think I might explode, or wondering why I didn't just let the infection kill me, then I feel like we've had a normal day. Preston and I are both back to running our businesses, and Ray has started sleeping again. Dinner gets cooked every night, dirty clothes get washed and put away, the dishes get done, and I put makeup on each morning. Since these are all things that we did before I was hospitalized, I am willing to call this "normal."

The sadness over losing Bailey has lessened considerably to become only a dull ache that I carry around with me, and I have ceased trying to figure out why this happened. Guilt was the prevaling emotion for a while, as I began to come to terms with what I thought happened in the hospital. Essentially, Bailey died as a result of a medically necessary abortion. We can try to use phrases like "induced labor" or "stillborn baby," but if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck...

While I kept the guilt inside me, I focused solely on what I remember happening. In my mind, Bailey died because I made the decision to let the doctor give me the medicine that would induce labor, which was something we KNEW would kill the baby. I know that four doctors (two of whom were Catholic and one of whom is related to us), a nurse (who happens to be my sister-in-law), my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, and two of our pastors all agreed with the decision, in fact pushed me to make the decision, but that didn't really take the burden off of me. No one could force me to take the medicine that would induce the labor. Preston even asked the doctor if he could override me and have the doctors dope me up to give me the medicine when I was threatening to just walk out of the hospital and take my chances with the infection (the legal answer was no).

I have since talked this over with my husband, my mother, and my sister-in-law, and they have all helped remind me of things I had forgotten, like that my own life was at stake and that the baby would not have lived even if I had not taken the medicine to induce labor. For the past few weeks, I have even wondered if maybe I didn't give God time to perform a miracle. My sister-in-law told me this week though, that we DID get a miracle. The miracle is that I am still alive and that my uterus is okay. She said that the only thing that would have happened if I had chosen to NOT take the medicine is that I would have died along with Bailey. I suppose that puts things into perspective.

Now I wonder if I even want to try and get pregnant again, or if I should just be grateful for the family I have and move on from here. After all, if I don't have another baby, I could get back to my pre-motherhood goals, like going to grad school, or finishing one of the novels I started writing way back when. But this probably isn't the best time to make a decision like this...

And so we keep going. We get up in the morning, we go to bed at night, and I spend every day hoping that we return to the happy people we used to be.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bringing Bailey Home

Before I got pregnant with Bailey, I had already decided that I would not find out whether it was a boy or a girl this time around. My entire family was frustrated by this, but it just seemed like fun to me. Once I got pregnant, and we found out the date that the ultrasound would be in which we could find out what we were having (Feb 17), it became a challenge to me as well. I planned to take a videotape, like I did with Ray, but to not watch it until after Bailey was born. I could hardly wait for the moment, during childbirth, when the doctor would say either "Its a boy" or "Its a girl."

One of the many incredibly heartbreaking moments during the induced premature birth and death of Bailey was when the lifeless little body was delivered out of the birth canal, and the doctor quietly said, "Its a boy." The moment I had so looked forward to turned into the most tragic event of my life.

The induced labor took all day on Monday, January 23. It was sometime during the long wait that Preston and I decided that we would cremate Bailey's remains and keep them with us at our home. I couldn't bear the thought of the hospital "disposing of him" as they phrased it. On the following day, we met in the hospital with the funeral home director and Preston picked out an urn for Bailey.

This past Monday evening, Preston waited until after dinner and then turned to me and said, "I'm bringing Bailey home tomorrow." My heart stopped. For the briefest second, I imagined it was 10 years in the future and that Preston was talking about picking Bailey up from Little League or school or whatever. Instead, of course, Preston was talking about bringing Bailey's remains home to us. Bailey is, after all, gone. All we have left are ashes.

Preston called on Tuesday afternoon to let me know he was on his way home from work. I asked him if he would be picking up Bailey's urn on the way, but he said no, that he had picked the urn up earlier that morning. "He's been riding around with me all day," Preston said. Once more, I felt my heart crack.

The urn is marble, and so very small. Bailey's full name is inscribed on it, along with only one date,that of January 23, 2006. Since he was stillborn, there is no birth certificate and therefore no death certificate. According to the funeral home director, Bailey's death was considered a fetal demise, and so there will be no public record. This doesn't make a lot of sense to me because, after all, I held his little body. To me and Preston, Bailey did exist, if even for the briefest time. It saddens me greatly that so many people will never even consider his life. Will my parents count Bailey when people ask them how many grandchildren they have? Will Ray count him when classmates ask how many siblings he has?

We have put the urn on the mantle in the kitchen for now, next to one of our favorite candid wedding pictures, a black and white print that my was taken by my best friend from childhood. It is oddly comforting to have his remains with us, home with our family. I had to make myself leave the house the next morning. I felt I should stay home with Bailey, or even take him with us if we left the house, and I knew I was on the verge of being very irrational about the whole thing. This urn is not a baby, but the earthly remains of a life that has already left us. While I got the diaper bag together, Ray followed close on my heels with his arms up like he always does. And, like I always do, I kept saying, over and over, to reassure him, "I'm not going to forget my baby. Mama's never gonna forget her baby." This time though, there was a whole new meaning to the reassurance.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Something To Live For

Because he is so young, Ray has no concept of what has just happened in our family. Before I lost the baby, I was just beginning to show, and Ray had a great time poking at my swelling belly, but he would only look at me oddly when I tried to explain that there was a baby in there. I would point at my belly and say, "baby." He would frown, point at my belly and say, quite vehemently, "belly, mama!"

I am forever grateful that he is too young to understand what has happened. I will tell him about Bailey when he is older, but for now, Ray's obliviousness is what is getting me and Preston through this awful hopelessness. I feel guilty every time I feel a moment of happiness, scared to move on from mourning Bailey, but since Ray doesn't have to know guilt yet, he has no qualms about being silly. It is his silliness that allows me to smile without feeling guilty. And it is his life, and the hope for his future, that gives me something to live for.