Making Meaning out of Mystery

I apparently have a theme for October.

After Natan passed away in January 2007, a relative of ours asked his doctor friend what it meant. The doctor replied, “It means nothing.” Our relative passed this information on, apparently thinking it would comfort me. It didn’t.

I know two things for certain: First, people screw up; they say the wrong thing, often out of kindness, and second, I overthink the things people say.

Because the doctor was not an ob/gyn and because the details of my pregnancy were probably lost in the game of telephone, his words had no clinical relevance to my case or Natan’s life and death. They were incredibly relevant to my feelings, though, and my relationship with the relative. I wish I’d spoken to him about it before he died. I guess I expected him to fix a hurt he probably never knew he caused. Grief doesn’t care about timelines, life spans, and a person’s coming to terms with mistakes.

Natan’s death meant a lot. If the doctor thought it meant nothing clinically, he probably thought I’d had another first trimester miscarriage. Because the cause of my preterm labor was never determined, I had somewhere between a 7% and a 65% chance of delivering catastrophically early again. That’s somewhere between twice and 22 times the regular risk for a pregnant woman.

How’s that for precision?

Treatment and prevention were as precise. Dr. Kreske in Michigan agreed to throw every tool she had at me: a cerclage, weekly progesterone shots between weeks 16 and 36, bed rest, tocolytics. Either they worked or I would have been lucky anyway. Who knows. Wise and later, Hoot were born at term.

All this meant pregnancy sucked for me. I’ll live with the effects of three bouts of prolonged bed rest for a lifetime.

Clinically, Natan’s death meant a lot.

The effects of Natan’s death on our family psychologically, emotionally, financially, and otherwise practically are harder to identify and measure.

One might think I wouldn’t have quit academia. I’m not sure about that. I have a long history of making decisions that make no sense to other people and that undermine my financial security. I left college for a semester after a group of students in my poli sci class angered me by denying they were privileged. I needed space to think. I quit a job in Boston in 1999 with a better salary than I’ve made since and moved to a kibbutz in Israel because my rabbi suggested I look into attending a liberal yeshiva there — but he meant eventually, not a month later.

I could’ve pursued academia — I gave up on it right as chances were looking up for us to have permanent positions in the same place.

We moved to Memphis where I spend much of my time volunteering for progressive causes. You might say that a search for meaning after grief moved me here, but it’s the same thing I did when I left college for that semester.

I’m too…something…to do anything that I don’t feel utterly passionate about. Irresponsible as it may be, I’m apparently not motivated by money. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but I come from a supportive family. Thank goodness I know that even if we go bankrupt, unless the world becomes truly apocalyptic, we’ll never be homeless. Since I don’t care that I haven’t had a hair cut in eight months and that my car is dented, I have lots of financial freedom.

The only thing that changed in the way I spent my time after Natan died was that I began writing regularly on a personal subject, and I published it to a blog. My first blog was more successful than the average blog, but obviously it didn’t become a Dooce or a What I Wore or the countless other blogs that make people money.

Comments were exciting, but when I looked at my stats and saw that more than 100 people a day were spending more than five minutes of their day reading my blog, I felt wonderful. More than anything, I wanted my words to be read. I was too scared to put myself out there before Natan died. I may have developed it otherwise, but after he died, I discovered the courage to admit how desperately I crave to communicate. The immediate measure of my words circulating on a blog–the stats–were an instant reminder that people cared about what I had to say.

I knew it could have been more. I knew that if I really worked at it, I could’ve made money from blogging. But I didn’t have the time, energy, or willingness to plan out, advance write, and promote my blog. I did begin to admit to my friends that if only one of us could have a job, I hoped it would be Josh. I was the one with the alternative dream — I could quit and write full-time. It took a few more years before I realized that was what I actually wanted to happen and that I actually want writing to be my only profession.

I’ll need even more time before I can accomplish that goal. In the awful period after Natan died, I wanted one thing more than any other: living children. We have two of them, but not enough money for full-time childcare. Some days more than others, I need to remind myself that I asked for this and it’s a part of my path to making a meaningful life.

Today seemed as good of a day as any to finally show my boys’ faces on the blog.

3 thoughts on “Making Meaning out of Mystery

  1. I’m pretty sure that Losing a child is not something that one can experience vicariously. You have given me very powerful images and thoughts. It makes me think of my mother who lost her 10th and 11th babies. She was so sick and it was such a different time that she didn’t share much of it, but I’m sure she grieved as you did.


  2. It always means something. Nothing is such a harsh word, even when used clinically like that.

    We’re in completely different places, but sometimes I too remind myself that I asked for this, that I chose this.


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