Tag Archives: chickadee

Chickadee’s Legacy

Artwork by inmate Aaron Pearson

Each time we find ourselves standing on a stage or in a living room or in a backyard in Illinois or Vermont or Baltimore or Baton Rouge and we are holding our instruments and gazing into the unknown—a group of faces belonging to people we’ve never met, or people we’ve just met, or people we’ve known for years—we always reach that moment of free fall, when Addison introduces the song “Chickadee”.

“This next song is the title track of our new album, and is dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee,” he says, “who was stillborn two years ago. This whole tour is about her and this album we recorded for her. It’s also for you—all of you who showed up here and are making space for this music and this story.”

I stand transfixed, almost in horror, as he bares our bloody hearts for all to see.

“This song is the silver lining to something that was really hard,” he says. He begins playing and I fall into step with him. We free fall into the arms of strangers.

When the set is over and we enter into the midst of our audience, we find acceptance over and over again. We find a shared story with our listeners.

A woman approaches me. “Thank you for sharing that song about your daughter. Not many people talk about these kinds of things. My sister’s first and only child was stillborn. She doesn’t really talk to anyone about it and no one says anything to her, except for me. I’m going to share Chickadee with her.”

A man comes and stands with me, his eyes filled with tears. “Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I lost three babies.” We embrace, and our tears mix together to create an elixir that heals us, a little more. Just a little more healing to get us through.

We’ve played our music for people all the way from Colorado to Louisiana and we finally arrive in Austin Texas where Chickadee was born, and where she is buried. The sights and smells remind me of the intense joy I felt while I was pregnant with her.

Our first show is at the Mohawk, a music venue with a stage and big lights that shine in our eyes as we stand up in front of a group of people we can’t see. I consider the option of bailing on the whole vulnerability aspect of the tour. This is a big venue, and people are here just to “have a good time”, right? We don’t need to ruin their nights by talking about our stillborn baby. But balking now would feel like a betrayal to something we’ve spent the past two years discovering.

Our voices and instruments are so amplified I feel as though I will be knocked over by the sound, so I try to ride the waves instead. We reach the part of our set where we’re supposed to play Chickadee’s song, and I barely breathe, not looking at Addison but watching his every move. Is he going to go through with it? He introduces the song. I wait, frozen. I wait for people to turn away in disgust. To walk out, shaking their heads. No one moves. I feel their hearts open, their willingness to go there with us.

“Being here with y’all is really what this whole tour is about,” Addison says. “Sharing this story and this album with people like you, especially here in Austin where this story began, is really special.”

After the music is over, we find our way off of the stage and once again into the arms of strangers. Human beings who have all suffered and lost, just as we have.

“Y’all are giving us all permission to be ourselves,” one person says after we’ve pulled everything off stage to make room for the next band.

“You’re doing something with your music that I want to be doing but don’t know how”, one musician tells us. He plays in different bands around Austin, but works on his own music as well. “I want to get there. I am figuring it out. I’m so inspired by your vulnerability and your story.”

A week and a half later, and about a month and half into our tour, we are going to a Buddhist gathering at the Travis Correctional Facility in Dell Valle Texas with our Dharma teacher, Alyssa. We pass a mandolin, banjo, guitar, harmonicas and fiddle through the security check and inside the fences and razor wire, and find a group of men in white and black striped jumpers, ready to meditate, to listen to our music and to discuss the wonders and hardships of being alive.

I look into the faces of these men, and see that their suffering has transformed them. They are in jail, but they are learning to find a freedom that they will always have access to—freedom from their thoughts, feelings and perceptions; freedom from judgement, freedom from attachment to things being a certain way; freedom from the notion of being a separate self but rather the freedom of finding ourselves in everything and everyone.

Addison, Alyssa, these prisoners and I have all come to this Buddhist practice through our own trials by fire, and we have arrived together from different paths, yet now we are together and trying to support one another along the same path. Alyssa greets each man as though he were a beloved son, embracing them and listening intently to their updates and check-ins.

We sit down and meditate together, following Alyssa’s instruction to relax the tops of our heads down to our feet, and to allow ourselves to arrive here fully. After meditating, I push metal finger picks onto my right hand and place the banjo into my lap. Addison tunes his five string violin and then we begin to play. The music transports all of us, beyond the prison walls, and we all forget where we’re sitting. We forget that this is the first time we’re meeting each other, feeling a familiarity that goes beyond our stories and judgements.

I tell the men briefly about losing Chickadee and how she appears in the song we just played and the one we’re about to play.

“I’m so sorry,” I hear one man utter softly.

After we play some more songs, a man shares the story of his father dying, while he was still in jail and unable to be with him. “Look at your hands,” Alyssa says. “Can you see your father’s hands in your hands? He is still with you, he’s still inside of you.”

“My father used to hold my hand through church service every Sunday,” he says. “I can still feel his hand on mine when I close my eyes.”

“Here in prison, right here with y’all,” one man says, pointing to the instruments in our hands, “is a joy I never experienced when I was ‘free’. Back when I was taking dope and peddling drugs, I never felt joy. I didn’t know what joy felt like. I would take drugs and ‘have fun’, but that was nothing close to this. Just sitting here in this circle with all of you, is the greatest joy I’ve ever felt.”

The men ask us questions about our life, how do we support ourselves, is it only with music?

“We offer people something that we have the ability to offer – our music, our story, our presence – and we always receive something back,” I say, “whether it’s money or a place to stay or a juvenile peacock feather tied to our merch case. Like being here with you and bringing you joy is a compensation that goes beyond anything we can compare. It’s the most fulfilling thing I can think of doing.”

It’s time to leave, so Alyssa rings the bell, and we bow to one another in gratitude for showing up and for what each person shared of themselves. Then we turn to bow to the trees and the insects and the sky and to all of our ancestral teachers. As the men prepare to leave, they give each of us hugs, thanking us for coming.

We make our way back out of the giant cage of the jail, and Alyssa asks if telling Chickadee’s story over these two months on tour has been like ripping a scab off of a wound repeatedly. Alyssa lost her grandson a few days after he was born, not long before we lost Chickadee, but I still haven’t heard her talk directly about him in her Dharma talks. Maybe one day she will.

“You know I don’t think there was a scab on the wound to pull off,” I tell her. “Talking about Chickadee and playing her songs for people has been helping the wound to scab and heal, instead of just bleeding non-stop.”

I used to feel so isolated in my grief, bemoaning the lack of ceremony we have as a culture around death, especially of babies and children. I had no idea until I was a bereaved mother that the way the death of babies is handled by many people is by avoiding the subject, for fear they might “upset” me, as if I’m not already beyond upset. But I don’t feel angry about the avoidance anymore. I understand their silence comes from not knowing what to do or say. So Addison and I created our own ceremony around Chickadee’s death by recording her an album and traveling the country with it.

The next morning after visiting the prisoners, we packed some snacks and Zoso into the car, picked up birdseed from the store and drove the thirty miles east out of Austin to Eloise Woods, the green burial site where we left Chickadee’s tiny little body two and half years ago.

On the day she was born, we had held her for hours, admiring every inch of this little miracle who emerged from my body. A few visitors had come and gone, crying over her both in sadness and in wonder, including my sister and my dad, who’d flown in at short noice when they heard the news. The hospital put her on ice afterwards, to give me time to recover from giving birth and slowly regain feeling in my lower body from the epidural.

Later we asked to see her again, and we cradled her cold, bundled body, looking into her face and wondering what we should do with her. The hospital was offering to incinerate her and give us a tiny urn filled with her ashes. Our midwife was telling us about a green burial space that we could bring her to.

“But we’ll need to keep her on dry ice all night, and change the ice out every four hours,” she said. “And we need to bury her tomorrow for sure. Her body is very fragile and delicate, and it will start to fall apart quickly.”

Talk about fucking impermanence.

I was trying to wrap my mind around keeping her in a box in our bedroom and changing out dry ice in the middle of the night when I could barely even walk and Addison was a bereft zombie version of his former self, when my sister stepped in.

“I can take care of that,” she said. “I’ll set a timer and change her ice out and whatever else needs to be done. You won’t have to think about it.”

She looked into my face, and I know that she could tell that the difference between us burying Chickadee or cremating her was what kind of support she could give us in this time of utter disbelief.

“Ok,” I said, knowing that I could rely on her. As soon as my sister received the news that my baby died while I was in labor, she’d gotten on the first plane out of Seattle that she could find a ticket for. “Thanks Radha.”

I’d imagined Eloise Woods to be an open area, a rolling cemetery covered in bright green grass with giant willows weeping across the symmetrical lines of gravestones. But Texas is not the northeast, where I’ve spent most of my life. This green burial place is a couple of acres covered by scraggly oaks and scrubby brush, with stony paths cut through the woods. Erect gravestones are not allowed, so all of the markers lie flat on top of the burial mound they belong to, mostly marking the graves of babies and pets, though some adults rest there as well.

We arrived in a caravan of cars. Addison parked our car in the shade where I waited with our daughter in a styrofoam ice chest beside me. My sister visited with me in between checking on the progress of finding a spot to bury Chickadee. Addison wanted the best place for her and was walking in circles around the site, trailed by his mother, my dad and the midwife. What felt like an eternity later, he’d decided on a couple of options, and they led me around and showed me our choices. I was dismayed by how hot and merciless the sun was, and by how unwelcoming this place felt, and despaired at finding a burial place I could be happy with. At one spot I was being shown, I turned around and looked behind me. There was a corner patch of woods where I could see an opening at the foot of an oak tree.

“What about over here?” I asked. Everyone turned and looked. I wanted Chickadee to be buried somewhere remotely shady, and between the oaks and a big pine nearby, it was one of the shadier options. It was also a private nook, where no one else was yet buried.

Everyone agreed it was a good spot.

I went back to my seat in the car with Chickadee, and the men got to work, relieved to have something to do with themselves. They cut back brush, raked and eventually were able to begin digging her burial spot. It need to be at least three feet deep, which is no small task with soil as hard and rocky as this Texas soil was.

A chaplain, who my midwife had asked to come, was helping to cut and dig, when I asked if I could see him and talk to him about the ceremony he was planning on leading for my daughter. He walked slowly to the car, brushing dirt from his hands, and sat next to me solemnly.

“Mary Ellen asked me to do something involving some Christian songs and words,” he said, “but I hear you’re not Christian.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “Not that I have an aversion to Christianity either.” I think my dad had been worried about his granddaughter getting Jesus-afied during her burial, because he’d seemed a bit grumpy after the chaplain’s arrival.

“What do you believe?” the chaplain asked me.

I was so glad to be having this conversation. So glad that someone was asking me this.

“Everything I’ve read that the Buddha taught really makes sense to me,” I said.

“So are you Buddhist?”

“I don’t know…” I said slowly. “Maybe I am.”

We talked about life after death, spirituality, God or no God, all of the topics I love discussing with intelligent yet kind people such as this man.

We wrote out the ceremony together, and when it was time all of us formed a semi-circle, standing or sitting, around the freshly dug hole. Addison went to the car and carried the little bundle of his daughter over to the grave and carefully lowered her in. Later I would regret not having held her one last time, but at that moment I just sat and watched her go into the ground.

Addison and I each sang her a song, and her Nana tried to sing her a song but couldn’t get the words out through her tears, so Radha and I picked up the song where she’d left off and sang it. Radha also read her a message from my friend Colleen, and my friend Alice read her a Mary Oliver poem. MariMikal and her friend sang a couple of songs as well, and then my dad stood up to say some words.

“I can’t help feeling that she’ll be back,” he told all of us. “She came to Jahnavi and Addison at an important time in their lives, and now that her work is done she left again. But I think she’s coming back.”

When it was time to bury her, I lowered a beautiful moonstone necklace onto her bundle, given to us by the midwife’s assistant, along with a moonstone necklace each for Addison and I. Everyone surrounded her and began to pour shovels or handfuls of dirt over her. A chubby stone chickadee was placed at the head of the grave, along with some other pieces of art and beauty brought by friends or family.

Two and half years later we are arriving in the same car we’d transported Chickadee in, but this time we know our way around. We open the gate and roll in on the bumpy dirt trail, parking at the beginning of the Moonlit Garden path. Zoso knows the drill, and bursts from the car in a flurry of excitement, and commences with peeing on things and chasing rodents through the underbrush.

It’s spring this time, and although it’s sunny, it’s not yet too hot. There are wildflowers bursting with vivid colors all around, and it lends a feeling of cheerfulness to this unassuming patch of Texas forest. I look around, wondering how much of Chickadee’s essence is dispersed through the landscape here, how much of her is still inside of me, and where is the rest of her?

According to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddha and science, our bodies and energy re-disperse into the world around us after we die, our molecules becoming a part of the insects, trees, plants, birds, sunshine, rain and clouds. Perhaps our mind-stream carries on to another form, but that is always up for debate. As the Dalai Lama says, until science can prove that re-birth does or does not exist, then maybe it does.

“As far as I know, no modern psychologist, physicist, or neuroscientist has been able to observe or predict the production of mind either from matter or without cause,” he says. If something has no beginning, it makes sense that it has no end.

Addison and I sit by Chickadee’s grave for a while, talking, playing music, journaling, reading and, of course, filling up her bird feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and safflower seeds. I sprinkle the seed mix around her spot, and Zoso wanders around picking up the peanuts and munching them contentedly. He’s hot, and keeps trying to do the frog dog, legs splayed out and belly to the cool earth, directly on top of Chickadee. Addison keeps shooing him off, but I finally say, “You know what, just let him. She’s his little sister and I don’t think she minds.”

Yes, I know that a dog can’t actually be related to a human, but Zoso is our baby and so is Chickadee, so there it is.

It’s strange sitting with a part of me that has been buried.

We take a walk around the grounds, noticing new burial sites with markers from 2018 or 2019. Beautiful quotes engraved in stone mark the paths, and we pause to read them or to smell the fragrant wildflowers who smile up at us. We find a dog bowl for Zoso because he’s hot and thirsty, and as we search for a spigot to get him some water, we discover a two foot tall medicine Buddha hiding behind the tool-shed.

“Oh wow,” I say.

“What’s he doing behind here?” Addison asks.

“He’s too tall to meet the marker requirements,” I observe. “And they don’t want statues set up here either. I know we have our chubby chickadee, but we are technically breaking the rules. So someone probably brought him here not knowing that, but then the caretaker saw and hid him back here while they figured out what to do with him.”

“Let’s take him to Chickadee’s spot,” Addison says.

“Ok,” I laugh. “They’re going to discover him sooner or later and carry him away again, but we might as well bring him over to hang out with her for a while anyway.”

Addison picks up the Medicine Buddha and sets him next to Chickadee’s grave. The Buddha gazes down at her in his cross-legged pose of blissful concentration.

Chickadee left a legacy of the greatest sorrow we will ever know. And she has left a legacy of music that we hadn’t known how to play until she came around. She taught us to be brave. She helped us commit to a spiritual practice, first when we were expecting her and meditating with her every morning, and after she left us. She has shown us that we really are interconnected with all beings, and that everyone has a story. If we stay vulnerable and just listen, we will hear the entire universe in the laugh of a baby, we will see all of the oceans in the tear of a woman, and we will smell the beauty of the entire world in the fragrance of a flower. When we begin to live our lives for the benefit of others, our happiness expands and we can begin to truly see other people as human beings with a story and a legacy of their own, which is not separate from ours.

We’re all in this together.

Bare beauty and a question for you

Dear friend,

I have received your letter or message and it has been a salve to the craggy, scarred face of my heart.

To those of you who sent a letter or card or flowers (Melissa, Russell, Manjari, Chris, Ami, Ashton, Ellen, Ros, Kelsey, Chrysantha, Ben and Alice) I want you to know that your love and effort has moved us deeply. As I expressed to my friend Alice, when I receive a letter or card from you expressing your care and support, there is a sense of relief inside of me. This heavy weight in my chest is no longer only carried by me; I feel your hands holding it up as well, and it is that much easier to bear. To me, this is no small matter. Your kind actions mean the world to me. I believe that Addison feels the same.

Even just the act of sitting and reading what I write, taking the time to sit with me through each post, is something I appreciate deeply. I love seeing your comments or reading your emails. I can attribute much of my healing process to you being here—wherever you are—to receive what I am sharing. Thank you.

Here in Colorado the skies create a sapphire backdrop for the golden fields and orange or gray or white, leafless trees. I never knew dead grass and bare branches could be so beautiful. When I walk Zoso at dawn, his tracks are negatives across the frosty ground. There are sounds of crunching beneath my feet as I breath with my steps.

These days are spent working, writing, recording our album, and—for me—crying many tears. I am missing my daughter and I understand now that there is no end-date for this sadness.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains with Addison and my sister, Radha. We spent a lot of time in silence and in ceremony. At times I found myself prostrated on the ground, invoking my ancestors and spiritual teachers. I lay down on the earth, practicing letting go and asking for help. Chickadee was there. In a way she has become my ancestor, though I was the one who gave birth to her.

I asked myself a lot of questions during those five days and received few answers—but that’s too be expected in any spiritual quest.

One of the questions I continue to ponder is this: what is going to be my way of taking positive action and helping to ease the suffering of living beings on this planet?

I was reminded—during a powerful presentation given by a Lakota dharma teacher at the retreat—of the many issues which are swept under the rug and kept from public view.

I contemplated how I am living in a country whose native people have been massacred, imprisoned, lied to, and mistreated in innumerable ways by my political leaders, both past and present. The Dakota Access Pipeline was one incident that the native people and U.S. religious leaders and citizens brought to public attention. But there is so much that goes unseen. What can I do to balance the scales? Can I take responsibility for my ancestors’ actions without being crushed under the weight of tremendous regret and sadness for what cannot be taken back?

Larry Rowe, another dharma teacher at the retreat, is an African American man. He mentioned the unease he feels being in the United States, and how much safer he feels in other countries. It reminded me that someone with different skin color than me may not be treated as well. I don’t want to turn a blind eye on these things.

I do want to consider deeply where I can be the most effective in creating positive change; I know my own limitations. 

What are some ways that you take positive action in the world? I’m curious to know, if you have a minute to share in the comments below (I may very well steal your idea if it really resonates with me—heh heh heh).

Yesterday we spent three hours recording my harmonies onto a 3 1/2 minute song for the upcoming album. It felt like a good use of our time, and it was also a reality check of just how long the recording process takes, not to mention mixing the tracks before sending them to be mastered!

The song we worked on yesterday is called “Chickadee”. Addison wrote it about our daughter. There is no way I would have been able to sing the song through, but he managed it beautifully. I approached my harmonies for the song by focusing on each sentence as a separate piece. I made myself concentrate on the words as syllables or notes which I had to sing in key and match timing with Addison’s voice. It enabled me to get through the whole recording process cheerfully. Listening back through the song as a whole definitely choked me up, but by then I was done singing for the day so that was fine.

My brother—who normally lives in South India—is currently in the U.S. due to a series of events, so Addison and I took advantage of his proximity and flew him out here. You may have already seen some of the photos he’s taken since he arrived in The Love Sprockets’ Instagram or Facebook feed. (the picture at the top of this post is his)

In the next week and a half we’ll be doing some photo and video shoots with him, and he is also revamping our website. It feels good to be “starting over” in certain respects to our music and as a band. We are really embracing our band as a duet, instead of wishing it was a four piece. And this next album will have a different sound and feeling from the last one we released.

Thank you for reading this update; I hope at least some of it was interesting for you. 🙂

Don’t forget to share your own way of creating positive change (big or small) in the comments below.

Big love to you!

-Jahnavi

P.S. You may have heard or figured it out—we extended the release date for our upcoming album, entitled “Chickadee”. If you haven’t gotten around to preordering it and getting your name in the liner notes, you still have time: http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee

As a year approaches

There is a blocked, irritated mass of muscles between the ribs on my right side. They are trying to hold things together while while my left side sags beneath the immense weight of my heart.

When I lie down, sometimes it feels as though a lead ball is resting on top of my chest. In the mornings I wonder about my ability to rise, to attend to the usual chores, work projects, exercise, music practice.

But then I realize that if I don’t get up, the lead weight will get heavier and heavier, like an alarmingly fat cat settling in for a long nap on top of me. And maybe I will suffocate under the overweight sadness.

When I get out of bed, and I set up our meditation cushions, when I read to Addison and ring the bell, when I play through a few of our songs in preparation for the upcoming show, the weight is more like a koala bear, hanging on to me from the inside, wrapped around my heart and pulling it down. It’s still heavy, but I can walk around. I can talk to people, make jokes with cashiers, edit newsletters.

And I wonder this: how can I be so heavy, while there is such a big part of me missing? My daughter lived her whole life inside of me, and then she left. When it was time for her to emerge, she refused the calling.

I was her universe.

And I was her death bed.

She was my greatest hope

And now… my greatest sorrow

And my greatest love.

A few months ago, during a set break at one of our last Austin shows, an acquaintance who was attending the performance came over to talk with me. She asked how I was doing. “How are you really doing?” she demanded.

If someone seems to truly want to know how I am doing, than I naturally respond with honesty. “Well…” I began. “It’s been hard. We’re grieving our daughter. I’ve been really sad.”

“Hey,” she said. “You’ve got to go on with your lives. You’ve got to be happy again. You can always have another baby.”

I stared at her.

You can always have another baby.

She kept talking, and it was all of the wrong things. I didn’t ask her to stop. I didn’t ask her to go away. I wish I had been able to.

I will never replace Chickadee. I know this with dead certainty.

She is not like a pet that died, or a collectible item that was stolen.

I may have other children, and they will be themselves, and I will love them for it.

A woman who I have befriended here in Colorado also lost her daughter at birth. It was 40 years ago, and yet whenever we speak of it, tears fill her eyes. She will never forget her baby girl.

Chickadee died on November 15th, 2016. She was born on November 16th, 2016.

As her death and birth anniversary approach, I hope that you will remember her. Maybe you can light a candle for us, or send a prayer. Maybe you can do a good deed on her behalf.

And if you feel inspired to send a note, a card, or whatever, you can mail it to:

520 North Sherwood Street, #26, Fort Collins, CO 80521

We will accept any and all of the love that you are able to offer, with deep gratitude.

Love,

-Jahnavi

P.S. Don’t forget you  can preorder the “Chickadee” album here:

http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee

Your Clear Refusal of Our World

My aunt Ros was organizing some books a couple of weeks ago, when one of them fell and opened to this poem…

 

For a Child Born Dead

What ceremony can we fit

You in now? If you had come

Out of a warm and noisy room

To this, there’d be an opposite

For us to know you by. We could

Imagine you in a lively mood

 

And then look at the other side,

The mood drawn out of you, the breath

Defeated by the power of death.

But we have never seen you stride

Ambitiously the world we know.

You could not come and yet you go.

 

But there is nothing now to mar

Your clear refusal of our world.

Not in our memories can we mould

You or distort your character.

Then all our consolation is

That grief can be as pure as this.

                                                      -Elizabeth Jennings (1926)

 

Ros typed the poem out, printed it and glued it to the back of a little chickadee painting photo, which she sent to us.

The poem struck me and brought me to tears.

Elizabeth, the author of this poem, describes the sudden death of her child as “your clear refusal of our world.”

Oh how rejected I felt by my daughter when she died.

“We created such a beautiful home for you!” I cried after her death. “We got everything ready. I dusted, cleaned, planted a garden, raked leaves; we hammered in every nail on the back porch so your soft, fat legs didn’t get scraped by them. I practiced Spanish and French so you could hear me in the womb and grow up bilingual! I meditated with you every morning, I read you books, I imagined your whole life stretched out in front of us. We were going to take you on bicycle tours, take you to France to meet your relatives, take you to India to hang out with your monk uncle! You were going to have such an awesome life! Why didn’t you want it? Why didn’t you want us? How could you leave me like this?”

But then Elizabeth says, “Not in our memories can we mould or distort your character. Then, all our consolation is that grief can be pure as this.”

Chickadee was and is the perfect child. She never grew up and became tainted by the many sorrows of this world. She never had a drug problem, or yelled at me “I hate you!”. She never became depressed.

How true are Elizabeth’s words to me.

Later, I reread the poem and examined the date on which it had been written. 1926. That was almost a hundred years ago.

Almost a hundred years ago this woman experienced a loss and grief so similar to mine that the poem she wrote is one I could have written.

Grief is universal. Joy is universal. Pain is universal. Happiness is universal. Who knew that a grief this specific could be so universal? I knew and yet I needed this poem as a reminder.

Whatever you are feeling right now, whatever pain you are experiencing, whatever longing you’re having, remember this:

You are not alone.

Somewhere in the world, and at many points in history, there is someone who has felt or is feeling what you are feeling. Someone has gone through what you’re going through. Someone is going through what you are currently experiencing. Someone will experience what you are going through in the future.

Thank you, Elizabeth Jennings, for writing that poem, and Ros for finding it and sending it to us. 🙂

P.S. We are going to be releasing an E.P. in honor of our daughter’s one year anniversary, called “Chickadee”. When you preorder the album, your name will be printed on the inside of the album cover, to memorialize you as one of the people who made the project possible. Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee

P.P.S. If you preorder “Chickadee” for $25 or more, you will get a surprise in the mail along with the new album (it might be a beautifully hand painted pair of underwear, a T-shirt, a postcard, who knows?) Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee

A Fork in the Road

“I just want you to say something that will make it okay.”

I finally admit this to myself and to Addison, lying in the dark and staring at a wall I can’t see.

“Well, I love you,” he begins, and I already know that there isn’t anything he can say to make it go away.

Earlier today, I went to Planned Parenthood for a breast exam (yes, everything is fine).

After checking in, I sat in the waiting room and tried to read my ‘First Buddhist Nuns’ book, while the TV cried out to me about the gut wrenching competition between two couples attempting to sell the most stuff at a flea market. Riveting, I know, but I focused on my reading.

A surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) piece of information I gained from reading about the first Buddhist nuns in India, is that many of them became nuns after losing a child or children. Once their world was shattered, they could not imagine putting the pieces back together. They simply stepped over the wreckage and into their robes and a lifelong commitment to their spiritual practice.

It is not hard for me to imagine myself doing the same thing. Except that I just married Addison and I really like him.

I heard a mangled interpretation of what must surely be my name being called, and I snapped out of my Buddhist reverie.

Once I was seated in a tiny little office space, the doctor’s assistant ran through the usual list of questions they ask all of their patients. “Some of these questions, might be difficult to answer or upsetting,” the girl said. I stiffened a little. Oh man, please don’t ask me about pregnancies and children, let’s not get into that. “…but I have to ask them in order to be sure that you are safe and so that we know how we can best care for you.” 

I nodded. She asked about family history of diseases, STDs, birth control, if I felt safe where I was living, etc. I relaxed, and answered her questions without hesitation. 

“Have you ever been pregnant?” 

Crap. “Yes.”

“Did you carry the baby to term?”

“Yes.” Please don’t ask anything else, please just stop there, that’s all you need to know.

“Are you currently breastfeeding?”

“No.” Annnnnnnd we’re good! Right?

And then, as if an invisible stop light had changed from green to red, she stopped asking questions.

Phew. 

She led me to the exam room, where I donned a crinkly, paper vest. The doctor was taking a while to arrive, so I read more about Bhuddhist nuns, all the while feeling secretly hilarious for reading about any kind of nun at Planned Parenthood.

When the doctor came in, I slipped the book behind me and greeted her. She looked to be in her 40s, with dark, straight hair and a face that seemed to have done its fair share of laughing and crying.

“I understand there’s a lump in your breast that you’re concerned about,” she said. “I’ll definitely check that out in a minute. But first, can you tell me if there is anything that may have happened in your life recently that could have effected your body or your hormones?”

I looked around the room. I really didn’t want to bother her with the details, unless it was absolutely necessary for her to know. Then I sighed. “About…. 8 months ago I had a stillborn baby.” There, I said it. Don’t worry lady, I’ve got this under wraps. I won’t make you uncomfortable by getting all emotional about it.

She looked into my eyes, her own filling with tears. “I’m so sorry.”

Well, that does it. I didn’t hear whatever else she might have said because I broke down crying. I scrubbed at my eyes and tried to pull myself together.

“Was it a boy or a girl?” she asked.

“A girl,” I sobbed.

“Oh, a sweet little girl.” After a moment she said, “Well it is definitely relevant and I’m glad that you told me. Thank you. And I am so sorry.”

During the exam we discovered that she knows the midwife I worked with last year. I waited for that sliver of a second, waited for her to tell me that the midwife I had chosen was a quack, a terrible midwife, that it must have been all of her fault that my baby died.

But she didn’t say anything like that.  

Once she had examined me, the doctor decided to be on the safe side and send me in for an ultrasound and a mammogram. When I went to the window to pay and get my referral papers, the receptionist told me the fees had been waived. I took my referrals and looked for the doctor to give her an appreciative smile, but I didn’t see her.

Later that day, I went to get my boobs smooshed in turn between two plates of glass. Although the technician chatted merrily about the weather in Colorado and women with no pain tolerance (“You have a very high pain threshold for someone so young,” she told me), she steered clear of topics about reproduction, except for when she put a protective apron around my waist to protect my ovaries and uterus from radiation.

The woman who gave me my ultrasound also avoided the topic of pregnancies and children, and when I went out after my appointment to pay at the front desk, again they told me the fee had been waived.

Whether the Planned Parenthood doctor had instructed these other women to spare me the painful question of “do you have any children?” or the like, I don’t know. I do know that we had quickly connected through a common understanding–the love of our children and the pain of losing them.

“We are companions in suffering,” my Buddhist book told me as I waited in different appointment rooms.

I had told Addison about my day, and reflected on how thorough the doctor and technicians had been, taking me through every available examination, whether or not they thought it was totally necessary. At the end of the day, we were all pretty darn certain me and my boobs were going to be just fine.

As I lie here, I drift to that crossroads in time, a time I try not to dwell on, but one that surfaces nonetheless…

…those days right around Chickadee’s due date. That Sunday when I realized that she wasn’t moving as much. Addison’s mother seemed worried too, even though she said that her babies also moved less as she came closer to labor.

Early the next morning we went to the midwife’s house so she could check on Chickadee.

“She’s barely kicked or moved at all in the last day or so,” I told the midwife. “I didn’t realize it until last night.”

She pulled out the doppler and listened for Chickadee’s heartbeat. It sounded strong and steady.

“She sounds great,” the midwife said. “It’s not uncommon for babies to move less as they begin to lower into the birth canal. I’ve seen it in my pregnancies and with a lot of other women also.”

And right here, I freeze time. Stop everyone. Just STOP.

Would it really be such a hassle to send me into get a sonogram? Would it be so inconvenient for us to take a few hours out of our lives to make sure our baby is 100% okay?

In this time-freeze, I turn us down a different fork in the road. This time, we get a sonogram. Perhaps by the time we’ve made the appointment and driven to the clinic, Chickadee’s heart rate would have sounded distressed. In that dark, cool room, we would have seen our big, fat, upside-down baby on the screen. Would they have been able to ascertain that something was wrong?

Maybe, in this alternate reality, they would have seen something to concern them, and rushed me to the hospital. They would have induced labor and maybe, just maybe, Chickadee lives in this alternate storyline.

I tell Addison about this alternate reality, and he strokes my hair. “We did everything we could with the information we had,” he said. “We trusted our midwife completely. We didn’t know that we should be concerned. It’s not going to change anything or make us feel better to resent her now.”

“I know,” I sigh, “But maybe I feel like I failed my child. When I feel angry at my own parents for not sticking up for me or protecting me at times, now I feel like maybe I did the same thing to my own daughter. I didn’t protect her from a midwife who thought she knew everything. I feel like I failed her.”

Here come the tears.

“You didn’t fail her. You didn’t do anything wrong. She still loves you.”

I hear that we learn a lot about being parents by experimenting with our first child. Did the lesson I had to learn cost my child her life?

And out of all the women throughout history who have had miscarriages, stillbirths or who have lost children, do I really think that I was supposed to be the exception? 

By running through these alternate realities, am I really just saying that sad, inexplicable things happen to other people, and surely it wasn’t supposed to happen to ME and surely if I had just done a few things differently, I could have saved my daughter’s life…?

Surely not. Surely nothing. Surely nothing is sure.

And somewhere in this mire of fears and regrets, all of these bereft mothers and I find solid footing, and we stand stronger than we ever could have before; we know something which is also somehow unknowable–incomprehensible. We’ve reached deep inside of ourselves and either pulled ourselves up and out, or else we drown.

Yes, I want someone to say something that will make it all okay.

I also know that will never happen.

And that’s okay.

A Part of Me

About one year ago, I moved into this house in Austin where I live now. I was pregnant with a baby girl. I saw that several loquat trees were growing in the backyard of my new home, and it made me happy. I watched as the fruits ripened on the tree, and when they were soft and golden, I ate them, feeding myself and my growing child. I knew that five or ten years ago, a bird had unknowingly planted this tree, by dropping a seed as it perched on the fence.

Whenever I would look at the loquat tree outside of my window, I would smile and know that I carried part of this tree with me. When I saw the blue jays and mourning doves land on the banister outside my window, I would smile, knowing they had eaten fruit from this loquat tree and also carried part of her with them. The birds, my baby, the tree and I all had something in common.

This tree’s fruits and seeds had fallen to the ground outside my window, and many baby trees sprouted.

Six months later, my baby was still-born. We buried her in the earth, at Eloise Woods, where many other people, babies and pets are buried. We planted a loquat seedling next to her grave. The little tree is a baby from the loquat tree in my backyard. Now this tree, who is in me and in my daughter, has a part of her growing in Eloise Woods.

I know that this baby tree will grow up to be beautiful and strong and that she will grow many fruits. Her roots are growing in the same soil that my daughter is buried in, and she is creating life out of death. The animals and birds who live in Eloise Woods will eat her fruit. When I see the cedar waxwings and squirrels at Eloise Woods, I can smile through my tears, knowing they carry a part of my baby with them, and a part of me as well.

And so we all continue on–me, the trees, the birds, my daughter–seemingly without beginning or end.

Chickadee

I am a dead body moving

I’ve got lightning in my hands

I won’t be here for long

So you’ve got to understand

You can dance with the demon

Look him dead into the eyes

I’ve already been where we go

When we die…

Now, when I sing this song, it seems to fill the air with the intensity of my feelings for her.

How many times had she heard us play that song?

Was it she who taught it to us?

I remember when we first started learning the song, in a second story apartment in Mexico City. Our veranda doors were wide open, and the hot, sunny, taxi-filled air blew in over us, a wash of street taco smells, and vendors selling things made out of plastic in all shapes and sizes.

I had ridden my bicycle halfway across Mexico by this point. When Addison had arrived at the Juarez International Airport, I held onto him like a lifeline in a tumultuous ocean of fears, hopes and dreams that seemed to be hanging just above me, ready to be dashed against the rocks at any moment, should he ever stop loving me.

During the months leading up to this moment and even while we were together, I cried more than I can ever recall, crying as though my tears were prayers. I cried until I was dehydrated, until my nose bled, until I felt drained of life, and then I would cry some more at the miserable human I had become.

She came to me at my darkest moment, an answer to my prayers. She loved me so intensely, that I was able to draw her to me in my time of need.

We learned this song, Dead Body Moving by The Devil Makes Three, during our short stay together in Mexico City.

Then Addison flew home to Austin, and I crammed myself into a bus, holding onto Nana as long as I could before it took me away, across to the Southeast, to Villahermosa, where I would continue pedaling in a loneliness that felt desolate.

But from that time on, I was never truly alone.

Nana had tattooed a chickadee onto my leg, and I invoked its fierce spirit to join me on my journey.

I didn’t know that she was with me, but I suspected, at moments, that someone was there.

I sing a ragged and a crooked song

The sun is setting and it won’t be long

My body’s weak but this soul is strong

I am a shadow dressed up in these skin and bones.

I am afraid to regret.

Afraid to regret that I didn’t treasure the 9 months I had with her more.

How could I have known?

How can we ever know when the last day is we will get to be with our loved one?

It was only hours before I was to go into labor. Watson–Uncle Watson, as we thought she would learn to call him–had stopped in to visit.

“I can’t believe there’s a baby in there!” he cried, staring at my huge belly with a mixture of awe and deep suspicion.

“Do you want to hear her heartbeat?” Addison asked. He wore an expression of pride only a father can wear. She was his baby, he’d helped to make her, to keep her alive this long.

Addison pulled out the doppler MariMikal had lent us that day. “Our midwife sent us home with this doppler so we could check her heartbeat. She hasn’t been moving as much since Saturday, so we were a little worried.”

He lifted my shirt and put some goo on my belly, than pressed the doppler where her heart was. It took a second to find the right placement, but then we heard her heartbeat pulsing out through the little speaker, the greatest proof of her aliveness.

“Holy shit,” Watson said with reverence.

Then we picked up our instruments and surrounded her with music.

Dead Body Moving was the last song we ever played for her while she was still alive.

We weave our stories in a worthless yarn

Trying to escape with all these tricks and charms

It’s far too late to ring the alarm

We are just babies falling in the spider’s arms.

There is a kind of shock that takes over, before devastation settles in.

The next morning, when I went into labor and my midwife came to get everything ready, I refused to believe that anything was wrong after she checked for Chickadee’s heartbeat and heard only silence.

I refused to believe that her lack of heartbeat meant death.

It wasn’t until I heard the rasp of panic in my midwife’s breathing, while we rushed through the hospital hallways, that I began to acknowledge that something was terribly wrong.

“There is no fetal heart activity,” a doctor with a strong Australian accent announced to us. The sonogram clearly showed her little ribcage, her little heart not beating.

Addison recalls a nurse handing him a pile of paperwork to sign, seconds after being told his little girl had died. He said he discovered in that moment that he no longer knew how to read. Our midwife snatched the papers from his hand. “Go to her!” she said, and he made his way to my side, held my hand, and laid his head in my lap to cry.

We went home, and I continued the long day of work that stretched ahead of me.

Giving birth.

I’d never thought about how someone could die before they were born.

It’s all backwards.

How is it that you can still be born even though you’re dead?

Chickadee managed it. She’s about as determined as her mama.

24 hours later, when she finally emerged, I could let myself fall apart.

The way her arm fell limply behind her when the doctor handed her to me, said it all.

And yet I still felt a great relief and joy to be able to hold her in my arms finally, to be able to give her to Addison and see him hold her for the first time.

Why did she have to be so perfect?

Why did she have to have Addison’s eyebrows, his shock of thick hair, my hands and feet?

What was the purpose of all of this?

My father and sister arrived from their separate ends of the world, having traveled all night from Washington and Idaho. It was 5 am when they found us in the dark hospital room, a warm spotlight shining down on our new family.

How strange that the newest family member had decided to leave us so soon.

We all wept together, and laughed at how big she was. I’ll never understand how I fit all of that baby inside of me, and how I ever managed to get her out.

And then there’s the anger.

9 months of preparation, feeding her, learning about her, buying things for her, receiving gifts on her behalf, making plans for her life, practicing spanish and french so she could hear other languages in the womb, discussing what she was going to look like, what musical instrument she might end up playing, how beautiful she was going to be…

Why?

When someone tells me it happened for a reason, that she chose to leave for a good reason, than I feel as though the world is a stupid, shitty place full of stupid, shitty people and we’d all best just get to it like the Buddha did so many hundreds of years ago. No point in wallowing around here for much longer. Enlightenment is the only worthy pursuit.

And if she chose to leave, than how could she? How could she do this to me?

But than there’s always the option that there is no why, there is no reason why she died, that she didn’t want to leave, that things are random, and shit happens.

And that makes me feel like the world is a stupid shitty place full of stupid, shitty people.

Except that we’ve been showered in so much love by all of the people we know, and even those we didn’t know that we know. Cards have come in the mail, flowers, food delivered to our door, long hugs, sympathetic smiles and shared tears.

Our family surrounded us and kept us afloat when we felt we would drown.

How could I ever have doubted that I am loved? How could I have ever believed that people are stupid and shitty?

We buried her 3 feet under, at a green burial plot out in the countryside. A handful of friends and family were there to dig the hole and to listen to us sing to her, to tell her story through tears, and to add their own voices with words and songs.

She was wrapped in her daddy’s flannel, the one he’d rode all the way across the United States with, the one with the patches that Peggy had sewn on for him in Florida, because even though it was full of gaping holes, he wouldn’t give up on it.

And she was wrapped in her mama’s green elephant tapestry, the one I’d gotten in India 10 years ago when my sister and I visited my brother there.

Her grandmother got her a stone chickadee statue to stand over her grave, and a rose quartz heart.

Her aunty Bhakta Priya and I hung a birdfeeder full of sunflower seeds near her spot, so she could be kept company by the birds.

I know she’s not just there, in that little grave. I know she’s everywhere, and I hope that she will never leave me.

For now I try to heal. My heart feels like a piece of pottery that fell, and broke, and I’m trying to glue it back together.

One day I’ll get all of the pieces back in place, but you’ll always be able to see the cracks.

And the song of the chickadee will always find its way through those cracks, and reach me.

“This body is not me;

I am not caught in this body.

I am life without boundaries:

I have never been born and I have never died.

Over there, the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies all manifests from the basis of consciousness.

Since beginning-less time I have always been free.

Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out.

Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek.

So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye.

Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before.

We shall always be meeting again at the true source,

Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear