blue sky shining over

Month: January, 2013

progression | part 5

december 16

to finish our days of mourning rituals, we spent sunday morning writing down things that we missed about sky, and burning them. we first wrote them in the journal in which friends had written thoughts at his memorial service, then on small scraps of paper to burn over a candle.

the intensity of this ritual was heartbreaking, but also heart cleaning. just as sky’s life and body were burned to ashes, our dreams for life with him were also turned to ashes. this gave visual and tangible reality to that loss.

web ready-048 web ready-050 web ready-051 web ready-053 web ready-054 web ready-055 web ready-057 web ready-058 web ready-059

after this, we had no more rituals. sky’s birthday season was over.


progression | part 4

december 14

we released sky’s ashes just as the blue sky peeked through on his dark and rainy birthday, and left them at the foot of the most beautiful waterfall i know.

a few friends had given us a stay at kah-nee-ta resort, a couple hours from our home, for sky’s birthday. the sun set as we drove through hood river, and as the last light of day fell it started to snow.
web ready-040IMG_20121214_164721_936

somehow, hitting 25,000 on the odometer reinforced the fact that we had hit a milestone. we stopped to take this picture and walk in the snow.

december 15

web ready-045

the next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise.
and sky’s birthday was over.

progression | part 3

december 14

we had to do it alone.

web ready-003

we were alone when we summoned his body from the earth, and now, alone, we return the sum of our bodies to the earth and water and air and elements.

web ready-005

these ashes feel hideously indecent, powdered triune nakedness.

web ready-007

web ready-009

web ready-010i pour into my hand and they slip through my fingers, soft and caressing like a baby’s touch.

web ready-011

web ready-013

fine like baby powder.
fine like powdered baby.

web ready-015

web ready-017

i strew my heart and my passion and my future and my body along this river. spiritual and carnal comingle, cold rain and hot tears. the water and ash make mud in my hand, and this is creation. i hold the stuff of adam.

creation and desolation, beginning and end.

web ready-018 dyptich

alpha omega is here, in this infinite moment.
distilled and destroyed image of god.
breath and dust.

i breathe. i choke hot dusty sorrow. it is finished.

web ready-023

but it is also beginning.

web ready-024

a small seed of rainbow, the root of ash, nestled in the womb, a circular room that circles from beginning to end. sky’s life began and ended here; ash’s life begins … and begins again. old mud is formed into a baby who is not yet powdered, bringing forth order from chaos.

web ready-028

web ready-032

i have two babies: one knit into order, the other flung into chaos. earth and water and breath course through the baby of order. the baby of chaos is in the earth and air and sky. my sky child, and my ash child.

web ready-034

a paradox:
my baby who is ash is not called ash, and my baby who is called ash is not yet ash.

web ready-035the beginning and the end curve together into a circle, and binding them in orbit is love.

progression | part 2

this is the story of the days leading up to ash’s adoption, which began during the season of sky’s birthday. the week of sky’s birthday and the week before ash’s adoption, i journaled the following.

december 11, 2012 | finishing

we have to finish what we started. one year ago, we ventured out on the path of the lost year. we knew the name of the path, but we had no other choice. the lost year was awful, the most awful, painful, heart-wrenching and directionless year of our life. i went to school for no other reason than to keep busy, joel applied to nursing jobs and was turned down for each one, we completed the adoption homestudy and didn’t receive a child, we hid in our room and cried and held each other and whispered “this year is lost. we just have to get through.”

we wandered on the path as it went in circles, through deserts and swamps. there were very few streams or pretty views.

oh sky, if you were only here none of this would have happened. if you were here everything would be beautiful; we would love you, and you would be god’s blessed tiny messenger of hope to us. we would love you and hold you and let you teach us your baby ways of seeing the world. if you were here my direction in life would be clear, your father would have a nursing job, and we would be whole and together as a family of three. you would be happy, because we would love you completely. you would have so many people to love you, spoil you, and dote on you. if you were here we would have a christmas tree, and the children’s books would already be worn and well-loved, there would be a swing in the cherry tree and a fence around the yard.

but you’re not, and you never will be. our happiness will never be complete without you. you will never have the chance to grow up as part of our family. and the longer we live without you, the harder i find it to believe that god can ever make this right.

one year since we last knew for sure that you were alive. i’ll never forget the look of total wonder and joy on your father’s face when he heard your heartbeat. you were so beautiful. i miss you terribly.

december 13

web ready-008

it had been 7 months since we pulled out our precious mementos of sky’s life, and cried at his beauty.

web ready-012

pictures, gifts, handprints, cards … we have so little from the life of our little one.

web ready-014

we lit a candle, and slowly turned each page, handled each object, read each card.

web ready-015

the fear of grief was worse than the grief itself. our hearts, washed clean with tears, softened again.
web ready-031web ready-018web ready-017web ready-044web ready-036 dyptichweb ready-065

our vigil lasted through the night, a shadow memory of that horrible night a year earlier. the candle flickered in the corner, illuminating his angelic face. a face that will never change, never grow, never become lined or weary. frozen in perfection. lifeless.

web ready-069and then the sun rose, and it was his birthday.

progression | part 1

i feel it is important to clarify that this will be my story of ashal emmanuel’s adoption, not his.

we have almost no information on ashal’s 38 weeks and 5 days in utero, and not much more on his first 12 days of life. his story starts in a place that is unreachable to me, and it will emerge as he finds the words to tell it. the story that follows is my story of motherhood, an evolving story of loss and confusion and unexpected joy. of finding myself and god and a world of mystery in the complexities of mothering children who are both living and dead.

it is a picture story, because photography is an essential part of how i make sense of life. sometimes it’s awkward. it’s awkward to pull out a big fancy camera in moments of great emotion, awkward to focus my lens when my eyes are full of tears, awkward to punctuate the music of crying with clicks, awkward to ask a stranger if i can take her picture. but i do it anyway, because, well, it’s what i do.

my refrain, starting last january, was “i can’t get through another christmas with no children, no family.” over and over throughout the year; i can’t get through our 9th christmas with just the two of us. can’t is such a cruel word. each time i have said i can’t over the past year, that which i could not do came and went. i didn’t explode or disappear, but each time the tyranny of my self-professed inability chipped away at hope. i can’t is not a statement of fact, but of despair. i knew i would live through another childless christmas as i had each one before that, but … i can’t.

in november, our first adoption opportunity arrived. a baby would be born at the end of november, and we were one of two families considered to be his parents. it was a protracted affair, with certainty pushed off more times than i could count. each time we heard “no word today. hopefully tomorrow.” my heart said i can’t. after 10 days of this, i wrote the following journal entry:

i really should be doing a better job of journaling this adoption process. so many emotions and memories and thoughts – tidbits of learning that fall like the parable of the seeds on the road, trampled by the stomping of strong emotions and complex experiences.

i feel certain tonight that this mom won’t choose us tomorrow. and i can’t really say i feel peace about it – more of a sad acceptance. we will spend this thanksgiving without the present hope of a child. this whole year, the grief year of losing sky, must be lived out, loose ends must be tied, and ashes must be scattered.

we’ve tried so hard to start the next thing before finishing the first, and i don’t think the universe works this way. maybe it does. one could certainly say that the universe multitasks. but i must bring the silence into my soul before it can be filled with hope again; of this i am sure. joel says that 90% of life is just showing up and bringing what you have, but i think that, to take this next step into present motherhood, i must prepare my broken heart.

this premonition proved to be true, and we set about finding ways to bring some amount of resolve to our mourning hearts, never dreaming that a child would come into our family exactly between sky’s birthday and christmas, the tiny window between finishing that which we had to complete, and spending another christmas alone.


ashal emmanuel is one month old today!web ready-014web ready-011 web ready-020web ready-025web ready-021


web ready-005


this is currently my favorite outfit of ash’s. upon my mentioning this to joel, he declared that the outfit was ok, but he didn’t want ash getting the idea that alligators are cheerful and friendly.

i’m beginning to wonder if we do our children a disservice by clothing them with cute and cuddly images of ferocious wild beasts (dinosaurs, jungle) and/or food (duckies, chickies). we’re setting them up for disillusionment, at the least, if not a very awkward encounter with either their dinner or their own mortality. i bet carter’s and the psychotherapy industry are in cahoots.

nevertheless, it’s still my favorite outfit.

web ready-017

acronym: “diaper in progress situation”

we have coined the term dips to refer to … well, you know what i’m talking about. you start changing the diaper, and then the situation … expands. sometimes it blows up. bodily fluids and semi-solids start pouring out of goodness-knows-where, and you wish you had donned your hazmat suit.

it can be a noun (you wouldn’t believe the dips i had last night), a verb (help! we’re dipsing over here!), or an adjective (what a dipsy night …).

dipses are divided into three categories:
dipscom 1: any dips involving and limited to, you know, number 1.
dipscom 2: any dips involving and limited to number 2.
dipscom 3: any dips that involves 2 or more bodily excretions, consumes 3 or more diapers, produces an inordinate decibal level of infant frustration, or contains diarrhea. there is no dipscom 4, because once you reach a terminal level of horror there’s no point in going on without a fire hose.

web ready-020


ash’s hair is an enigma to me. when wet, it bunches up into a beautiful collection of tiny, silky curls all about his head. throughout the day it flattens, until at night it is nearly straight. unless he sweated very much, in which case it sweeps back kind of like this. keepin it classy.

web ready-026


the ashlet specializes in making sleep-noises that sound exactly like a baby pterodactyl.

what’s that you say?

of course i know what a baby pterodactyl sounds like.


web ready-031


the first recording that ash listened to (after coming to live with us) was of the brandenburg concertos, conducted by jordi savall. i need to make sure to ration his exposure to baroque repertoire, however, because i wouldn’t want period tuning (the practice of tuning notes down approximately a half step in older music) to thwart his pitch identification capabilities.

we’ve already started playing him the suzuki piano method repertoire almost daily. this kid may not grow up to be a musician, but gosh darnit, he’s going to LIKE music.
web ready-038


i get the weirdest looks when i tell people that we are practicing adoptive breastfeeding. the weird look usually precedes an incredulous response along the lines of, “is that even a thing?!” some are too uncomfortable to ask, and merely pack an impressive amount of obvious curiosity into a couple of raised eyebrows and an “oh.

so, for those who are reading this and asking, “is that even a thing?!” and for those who are in the too-uncomfortable-to-ask camp, here’s the lowdown on my experience.

lactation is not merely a magical byproduct of pregnancy. it is a unique process, linked to but not dependent on pregnancy. women who are not pregnant can lactate. women who have never been pregnant can lactate. some women who have been pregnant cannot lactate. many men can be induced to lactate. (sound fun?)

the essential equation for lactation is breast stimulation + natural hormones produced by breast stimulation. throw in some herbs, medications, and artificially added hormones, stir, season to taste, and you have breast milk. there are as many combinations of these elements as there are women, but the most effective protocols for inducing lactation follow this basic recipe.

since i’m not an expert on inducing lactation, i can only share my own experience. to create the optimal hormonal balance in my body, i started taking a high-progesterone birth control at the end of september, skipping the monthly week of sugar pills. i also took domperidone, an anti-nausea medication that is frequently prescribed for increasing milk supply, and a “mother’s milk” herbal supplement.  this mimicked the effects of pregnancy in my body. of course, the hormonal feast of pregnancy is no picnic for many women, myself included. i experienced headaches, nausea, exhaustion, and depressed moods – symptoms typical in pregnancy.

at the end of november, i was desperate to not be “pregnant” anymore, and decided to enter the pumping phase, even though we didn’t have a baby lined up at that time. for me, the hassle and discomfort of pumping was preferable to the headaches and lack of emotional resilience caused by the hormones. i went off the birth control cold turkey, and started pumping, 15 minutes per session, 8 sessions per day.

pumping is not a sexy activity.

i initially had a very hard time with pumping, because the exposed, inorganic nature of the process conflicted ridiculously with my culturally ingrained concepts of femininity. every couple hours i hooked my breasts up to plastic pieces shaped like exaggerated inversions of a breast shape, winced as the machine wheezed and pinched and tugged for 15 minutes, and collected the precious few drops in a mason jar to freeze at the end of the week. the whole process felt degrading and violating. joel encouraged me to find ways to honor the sacrifice and strength of what i was doing, and so i started calling my pumping sessions “nobility sessions,” and my domperidone and herbs “nobility pills.” (as in “oops, i forgot to take my nobility pills.” or “i have to go – i’m due for a nobility session.”)

it helped a little.

breast suction piece with milk collection bottle

breast suction piece with milk collection bottle

my big blue hospital grade breast pump. the tubes hook up to the collection bottles and provide the suction.

my big blue hospital grade breast pump. the tubes hook up to the collection bottles and provide the suction.

as the weeks passed, i celebrated every drop as my supply rose incrementally. first nothing, then 2 drops per session. 5 drops per session. 1 ounce per day. tiny victories.

when we left to get ash, i had maybe 16-20oz of breast milk frozen from a month of pumping, enough for him to eat for 1 day.

i continued to pump in florida, because babies who have been bottle fed for 12 days do not transition straight to breastfeeding. the day after we picked up ash, i put him on my breast. he nursed for almost 30 whole seconds, before spitting out my nipple and screaming his head off. believe or not, that was actually a success.

babies are smart creatures, and they learn how to get food from the source they are given. ash had already learned to suck from a bottle, and bottles feel very different from real breasts. he struggled to latch on, but just didn’t know how. after a few minutes, in which he would suck for a few seconds at a time, we would switch to the bottle as he grew increasingly confused and hungry. we kept trying once or twice per day, and once again, celebrated tiny victories. 30 seconds. 2 minutes. 5 minutes.

after we got home, we had a nice long 3 hour meeting with my lactation consultant, a warm, knowledgeable woman who somehow makes an extremely modest person like me feel comfortable being topless around her. i tell you, the woman is magical. though breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t come naturally to most women and babies. it is an art, a learning process, and a relationship, more than it is an instinct. melissa taught me a few tricks, taught ash a few tricks, and most of all, provided the encouragement we needed to keep trying.

(melissa: “remember, lani, with inducing lactation, raising your supply, and introducing breastfeeding, you’re doing the work of feeding triplets.”
me: “but i don’t want triplets!)

she also diagnosed ash with a couple slight mouth deformities (tongue and lip ties) that we are having fixed in a small, outpatient surgical procedure on friday. this will improve his latch now, and hopefully prevent speech and other problems when he is older.

for now, we continue to muddle along, learning to know each other through this strange and very occasionally wonderful relationship of breastfeeding. ash is healthy – he gained more than a pound last week – and, most importantly, we are bonding.

bonding, this elusive component of the breastfeeding relationship. as we bond, he learns to trust me, to take comfort in my smell and heartbeat, and to latch onto the individual pair of breasts through which i can feed him. i learn to gauge his moods, read his cries, and my body learns to respond to his particular nutritional and emotional needs. in a typical nursing relationship, the mother and child spend 9 months in intense physical bonding, each shaping the hormonal and cellular development of the other, mingling heartbeats. ash and i have had 13 days.

considering that, i think we’re doing pretty good.

lani and ash, 25 days old