Archive for November, 2010

My life is not either/or

I had a wonderful birthday this year. It fell on Thanksgiving itself and so I excused myself from cooking. R took care of the dinner and it was delicious (courtesy of Whole Foods). Then he and the girls washed the dishes and pans so I did not lift a finger, except spending a good part of the day trying to bake my cake! It sort of turn out… it was not what I wanted visually, but taste-wise it did very well, so I was very satisfied!

On Black Friday I did some more baking and then got out to have coffee with a dear friend. It had been quite a while and it was lovely to sit and chat. Plus, we had turkey leftovers for dinner so I did not have to cook for a second night. That was a treat!!

Saturday I went to my friend M’s house for tea. We had planned that way ahead. What I did not know was that my girls had planned a surprise party for me, emailing my friends and inviting them over to M’s house. And wonderful M just said “yes” to the request, even offering to bake a cake! In the end, only one other person showed up. It was the holiday weekend and everyone had plans, and the girls started their planning a tad late. Still, I was moved by their efforts. They even managed to produce a plate of fruits that I did not know about! — While I got myself and Lyra changed, they cut up bananas and apples (which they had bought prior and hid in R’s room) and melted some chocolate chips (stolen from my baking drawer) and drizzled the chocolate over the fruits. The plate was hid in the back of the car, so I had no idea! My friend M treated our bellies to some truly yummy baked goods, both sweet and savory. I was rather blissed out!

On Sunday my friend K brought me out to lunch. I picked Thai and we nearly exhausted all options, because most restaurants decided to close for Thanksgiving Sunday. We were so relieved to find one restaurant open! The food was yummy delicious and the company wonderful. K’s mother died earlier this year so there were some tears, but I was only honored to be able to hold her space. Then she suggested going elsewhere for gelato, and bought some for me to bring home to R and the girls, “to thank them for letting me have you for a few hours.” Isn’t she the sweetest?

I was honestly rather overwhelmed by all these goodness. I felt triply blessed.

Except for a part of my life. The part about Ferdinand.

I know many people will immediately pipe up with, “But you have three healthy girls! You ought to be grateful.” Even R told me we should be grateful for what we have, when I shared with him that I missed Ferdinand at Thanksgiving dinner.

I am thankful. Deeply, genuinely, intensely.

But that does not mean I cannot mourn and miss my son. I love him, and I miss him. AND I am still grateful for the tremendous abundance that I have.

Life is not either/or. I don’t think so, at least mine is not.

I can be happy and sad at the same time. Angry and grateful at the same time. Annoyed and tickled in the same moment. Frazzled and blissed in the same second. Pained and joyous altogether in a heartbeat.

I am really tired of being told that I ought to be grateful. It makes me want to say, “YOU ought to be grateful your child did not die.” But that is just spreading toxic all around. So I zip my mouth, and thought of making a T-shirt that says, “My life is not either/or.”

Life can be simple, but not neatly packaged. There is a difference there. And perhaps it is only humans who have the capability to experience complicated emotions. I can experience more than one thing at a time. It does not make me ungrateful. On the contrary, it makes me very grateful.

The caveat is that the deeper the joy one experiences, the more one is aware of the depths of sorrow. But that need not be a bad thing. It just is. In my book life was never supposed to be one-dimensional and either/or.


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no way out

Last week at the library I saw a new book and just grabbed it as we got ready to check our books out. The author is Jane Yolen, whom we love, and the book title was “Elsie’s Bird.” We love birds, so I thought I could not go wrong grabbing the book.

This morning Lyra brought it to me and I read it. And my heart broke.

The story is about a little girl, Elsie, who lived in the city of Boston and how she loved the birds and all the sounds. But her mother died and her father, in an attempt to move away from the sadness in his heart, re-located them to Nebraska, where the only sea Elsie could find was a sea of grass.

She hid indoors with her bright yellow canary in a cage, not hearing any sounds, and sobbing in bed without letting her father know. But one day while he father was out in town the bird Timmy Tune flew out of out his cage and Elsie had to go looking for him. She finally did, and Timmy came back to her shoulder, and then she began to hear all the sounds of the prairie.

She finally made her home there in Nebraska.

It is not a true story but how my heart broke, that the father tried to run away from the sadness, and how Elsie could not find comfort, at least not for some time, until her father brought home the chickens and the rooster and a dog.

After Ferdinand died, we talked about moving, but did not. But I know for some time I was not there for my girls. My sadness and grief built walls up around myself. I did not try to run away but my heart and mind was often elsewhere, seeking. Perhaps running.

As I read the page about Elsie’s father wishing to put distance to the sadness in his heart, I said to myself, You cannot out-travel grief. As MacCracken said so well in her book, grief will follow you wherever you go, no matter how far you fly, how high you climb.

But it is not always necessarily a heavy luggage to lug along.

Sometimes it is just a sigh you exhale as the sun plunges into the bleeding sea.


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who this person is

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
~ William Shakespeare

I cannot remember how long ago now but one day I received an email from an editor called Janel Atlas asking me to contribute a story for a book that will be called They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth.

My first response was as always is: self-doubt.

Me? I can’t write. This blog is just spit-up from my mushy brain. This place is where I come to re-gain sanity by spewing, by skimming the froth. No, I am not a writer. I can peck away at the keyboard and string together letters and words, but you will need to beat me up very good or bribe me with three lifetime supplies of dark chocolates before I will agree to call myself a writer.

Yet, I agreed to write. I felt compelled to tell the story. Of Ferdinand, of Lyra, of Life, of Death. Of us.

It was not an easy thing to do. During the process I came to experience extreme suicidal thoughts, probably caused by re-visiting the dark worlds over and over again. I re-read all my old entries to figure out how I wanted to tell the story. Waves of disbelief drowned all light in my world and I felt I may never find the way out of the labyrinth.

But eventually I did manage to send my manuscript out to the editor and miraculously she did not shred it apart. I think I will have to thank a friend, an unnamed English professor, for graciously helping me at short notice. He read my drafts, gave me candid and effective advice, and got nothing for it. I am deeply thankful.

Two major things happened during the writing of this manuscript. One, for the first time I had to write to a major publisher to ask for permissions to use a poem in my chapter. I had to pay for the permissions myself, and I am only grateful that they allowed me to use the poem and processed my request in time for my manuscript submission. Second, I had to decide who is the person who wrote the story.

You see, the name “Janis” does not appear on any of my legal documents. It is a name I adopted out of convenience, after getting tired of people mis-pronouncing my given name. I have used it for more than 10 years now and it had grown on me. But I love my given name too. Transliterated from Chinese into “Meng Kiat”, its original meaning is “bright and understanding.” That was the name I grew up with, for years longer than I am known as “Janis.” I decided to use this given name on my manuscript, so if you read the book and read a story by “Meng Kiat Tan”, that is me.

While discussing with R about which name to use, I decided that when I next return home, I will take up a deed poll to include “Janis” on my legal documents, and I will forsake my maiden name of “Tan” for my married name. My father’s family name had always had negative connotations for me and I feel it will be a good time to shed it and give myself a fresh start.

Writing the story made me step back to look at my story, and re-think all that had transpired, and it also helped me re-establish my identity. So, I really should also thank Janel for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

The book They Were Still Born can be bought from three different sites:

Publisher’s site (Rowman & Littlefield): http://tinyurl.com/3alabqs

Amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/39m8mrz

Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/36jlxsx


If you will like to purchase a copy to donate to your local library, please know I can get 50% off publisher’s list price. I will need to turn around and mail the book to you. Or, if you want it faster and is OK paying a bit more, I have Prime account on Amazon, which means I can have it shipped to you cost-free in two days. Just let me know.


Finally, thank you for reading here and always having kind words for me. You have no idea what this means to me.

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Recently I tried doing my kundalini yoga with a different teacher, who is based in the UK. I love her dvd’s, her energy and style rather different from the teachers I normally follow. During one particularly difficult kriya, she urged that it was a difficult point, but one needed to keep up, to push over the boundary, and to trust in the process.

So many times it is during my yoga sessions that I hear the words I needed to hear.

It has taken R so long to land on a job I am starting to have doubts, and wondering what had gone wrong where. Deep down I know it is a test of my negligible patience, my sometimes illogical need to have something now, or even yesterday. So I had to sit down, take deep breaths and know that it takes time for good things to happen, to know that this is an important career move for him and not something to be rushed into.  My question of course is how long does it take for he and a good job to meet? And again I have to remind myself that I have to trust that it will happen, it takes time, and I need to trust the process.

Which is a very difficult thing, especially after Ferdinand died.

Before, we were strong believers in how things know how to happen, Nature is superior and knows how to manage everything. When friends gasped (in horror and doubt) at our decision to have a home birth, we smiled, patted their backs and assured them that the body is wise and knows how to do what exactly what it is designed to do- give birth, bring forth a new life.

We did get to affirm that belief once, Sophia being born at home. It was not an easy birth, but it happened naturally.

And so of course we expected to do it again, with our third child.

I ended up totally distrusting my body. It did not know to protect a tender life. it did not know that things were grossly wrong. It did not bring life. It took a long time to realize that it is time to bring forth the baby that will not breathe.

How could I still trust the process?

So we opted to give birth the fourth time in the hospital. But did we trust the hospital, the nurses and doctors, the equipment and all?

No, not a bit. And neither did it mean that we distrusted the natural birth process, for I still labored and birthed as naturally as possible. I was scared of syringes and would not use epidural or drugs. And then I realized what I did not trust was my body, or our luck.

This trusting now depends on what day you talk to me.

On some days, when my heart is so wide open it stretches over three universes, I can trust that everything that happened needed to happen when it happened. That I have no privy to the reason now but one day I will and I will begin to cry for joy. On those days, I feel that my son is just right here, close by, never lost. I feel we are joined to eternity and all the boundaries between realms break down.

On some other days, I even doubt if this life is even real. I suspect I have nothing within my power and that the fantasy I had in fifth grade about us earthlings being puppets and being controlled by some aliens who look down and grin at us like evil clowns is indeed real.

Walking this line between is hard. Knowing I have no control and yet control. Knowing I could die tomorrow and therefore having to seize this second. Knowing my loved ones could depart any time and the moment is now. Such an intense way to live, sometimes I am fatigued to the core.

To live with ease and let be, is a high art. To trust the process is sometimes, impossible.

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