Category Archives: Midwives

Book Launch: Why Did I Write This Book?

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Book Launch: Why a Book about Mary Rose?

Books about grief, pregnancy and infant loss have already been written. Yet when I was a pregnant woman walking around in a daze of grief after a prenatal diagnosis of trisomy 18, I did not find comfort in books, the place where I have always found comfort. Other than Nancy Mayer-Whittington’s For the Love of Angela, no book was raw or honest enough. In my state of pregnancy-awaiting-death, I wanted truth. I wanted to know how I could survive carrying life and death inside me. I wanted someone to explain the madness of grief that lasted far longer than Mary Rose’s brief life. I wanted to know that my unborn baby wouldn’t suffer.

In my pregnancy I came up against people’s judgements and beliefs about pregnancies with life-limiting diagnoses and life support for newborns. I fought the system to birth my daughter at home and give her a quiet peaceful life. I prepared her body for burial on my own bed where we held her, where she died. In the aftermath of my grief, I came face to face with our culture’s ignorant ways in treating the bereaved. Many kind people comforted us, but once I left my house cocoon and reentered life, I felt silenced and judged for grieving. Some people think that I am angry, but I am not angry. I am writing to speak my truth. Grief can take a lifetime to process. Grief is also infused with joy, as we live again.

To get to that joy, we first need tender love, a way to process our grief (I chose art), and the truth that life and death are inextricably linked. They always were. They always will be. Babies sometimes die. Women sometimes miscarry. I write Mary Rose into a book and send her out into the world to comfort women facing pregnancy and infant loss. I write to support communities – real communities – that walk together through the joys and grief that comprise human experience. Mary Rose’s book is as raw as a pregnant mother buying a casket and planning a funeral. It is as real as breath and love.

Today White Flowers Press launches Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Infant Death. The numbers are staggering. One in four women miscarry. One million babies die in this country before their first birthday. We all know women who have had their pregnancy losses, but most of us continue to ignore them because they are uncomfortable. This book addresses the social awkwardness that we feel around death and grief. It addresses the grieving mother, but also the family and friends that surround her not knowing what to say.

Every page of this book was watered with my tears; I kept writing anyway. I did not walk my pregnancy alone, and I do not want anyone else to be alone in that sacred space. I had my mentor Cubby, my parents, my sister, my closest friends. A therapist. A few midwives. A homeopath and bereavement doula. A son. A husband. A priest and his wife. A shaman. And the blessed nuns who pray in their little rooms for this broken world. Not every woman has a midwife to accompany her to the scariest of doctors’ appointments. How long can my baby live? What do I do next? And so I write for my readers.

In her memoir The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch ends her book with these words:

Listen I can see you. If you are like me. You do not deserve most of what has happened or will. But there is something I can offer you. Whoever you are. Out there. As lonely as it gets, you are not alone. There is another kind of love . . . . This book? It’s for you. It’s water I made a path through . . . . Come in . . .

Yuknavitch is talking about art. The art of words and books and many media. I agree that art is a gift, but the gift is also truth and an open loving heart that loves our vulnerable babies who are miscarried, born still or die soon after birth.

After my pregnancy I did research and found out the most important thing. If Mary Rose had lived, she would not have suffered. Why didn’t my doctors tell me that? I was so anxious in that unknowing. I intend for this book to clear up the blur of getting a life-limiting diagnosis during pregnancy, for it to be a companion as we walk through the fog of grief. You are not alone. Many women have gone before you, walking this path, since the beginning of our myths and stories. And those babies who were miscarried, born still or alive, who lived a minute or a day, their souls are perfect and the stories of their lives will heal our own grieving souls.

Today on the launch of Mary Rose’s book please share this blog post, if our work resonates with you.

I am grateful for your help and support.

To purchase Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Infant Death please click on this link:

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The Baby who Became a Seal

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I stand in the gift shop at the Virginia Aquarium in February, almost halfway through my second pregnancy looking for a small stuffed animal to set up an altar for my unborn child. I am scheduled for my first ultrasound the following week. I hold a blue dolphin and all of a sudden I remember my first midwife, Vicki, and her nephew.

Over two years before I interviewed Vicki in December. My son was due in February. I had decided to move to New York toward the end of my pregnancy and needed to figure out his birth. I asked Vicki if any of her babies had ever died.  Yes, she said, One baby. He was my nephew. She told me that before he was born she had a dream that her nephew looked like a seal swimming in deep, dark waters. She told me that Ian, her nephew’s older brother, asked his father What if the baby isn’t a baby? What if the baby is a seal? When the baby had low heart tones towards the end of the pregnancy his mother, Karen, went to the hospital to deliver and soon after labor, without any knowledge of his condition, he died as she held him.

I bought that small dolphin and put it by my bed. A few days later I found out that my baby had several anomalies and might have trisomy 18 or 13. The best scenario is that this baby has Down Syndrome and a heart defect the doctor said. When I trained recently to become a Peer Minister for Isaiah’s Promise, the trainer from Be Not Afraid said Our parents pray for Down Syndrome. Those babies live. Those babies are miracles when you have a fatal “diagnosis.” I didn’t pray for that particular trisomy because somehow I knew that the sadness I had felt, the sadness that I thought was exhaustion might have been some intuitive knowing. My baby would be severely retarded. My baby would have no muscle tone. My baby would die.

I texted Vicki to tell her about my ultrasound results and she told me then that her nephew, John Gilbert, died of trisomy 18. I imagine the baby swimming in deep water, his body lithe and dark, flexible to be who he was. A sweet boy. Someone’s son. A Light.

When pediatric hospice tried to sabotage my homebirth, Vicki offered her home to me to birth Mary Rose peacefully. She had a friend in hospice and had already made contact with her. I felt so loved, surrounded by Grace here in my house with Vicki’s support reaching from New Jersey to Virginia. I recently had tea with Vicki and she told me more about John Gilbert’s birth. After John died his mother decided to pump and donate her son’s milk to other infants. His mother pumped for six weeks and during that time, Vicki got calls from all over the tri-state area from mothers who needed breast milk for their infants. John’s mother pumped gallons of milk and Vicki drove that milk to the Bronx, Westchester, Rockland County, around New Jersey. His milk fed five babies in that time. Vicki says John Gilbert continues to bless families by putting babies in need and their mothers with extra milk years later.

In Patricia Harman’s novel The Midwife of Hope River, Mrs. Potts, an older midwife is talking to the narrator, a younger midwife, about her son.

“Is he grown?”

“No, he died. Died at birth…”

“That’s what makes you a good midwife,” the old lady says. “You know the value of life, and you know loss. My father used to say the two are one, like the bramble and the rose. Life and death…the bramble and the rose” (200).

John Gilbert and Mary Rose are integral parts of our lives. Vicki and I choose to hold the space for the living and the dead who live on and bless us still. When Vicki and John’s parents looked into his dark eyes, they saw the depths between the worlds. As Vicki continues to receive babies she remembers her nephew and somehow understands the connection between the ancestors and ourselves a little more than those who have not witnessed the deaths of young ones whom we expected to live. Once we experience an infant death we do not take new life for granted anymore.

John Gilbert is an excellent midwife’s assistant. He is there with Vicki, especially in those dark hours of the night that remind us of the ocean’s mysteries when women labor as they wait for the light of the sun and the warmth of their newborns’ bodies in their arms.