Mike&Sarah

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Magazine Models

Do you subscribe to Fast Company magazine?  If so, whip out your February edition and turn to the back, page 102.  See that pic in the bottom left of the happy people enjoying meaningful conversation with new friends (i.e. schmoozing)?  Yeah.  That’s us.  We’re in a magazine.  How wild is that??

Sarah & Mike in Fast Company Magazine

Back in November Mike and I attended a fascinating panel discussion on the “revitalization” of Harlem, our neighborhood, sponsored by Aloft Hotels and Fast Company magazine.  Architects, designers and community leaders sat on the panel and shared their stories, histories and experiences in the effort to  transform Harlem into the hot spot it is now: new restaurants, new hotels, new green spaces.  One person commented that Harlem hasn’t been revitalized, it’s simply continued the path of transformation down which all urban communities travel.

I met the architect who redesigned my favorite green space, turning it from a parking lot into a beautiful park with piers into the East River, places to sit and gaze at New Jersey, bike and roller blading paths, as well as a running trail.  I also met some of the people who lobbied for years for that park!

The event, hosted in the first hotel to open in Harlem in more than 40 years, included time to network with others and was catered by  Sylvia’s, a neighborhood restaurant known for it’s flavorful soul food.  Our infamous photo was snapped during that tasty hour.

Update from Sad News

I’m so thankful for dear family and friends who drew near to us during the first horrible days of our miscarriage and these four weeks since then.  We are the recipients of so many kind words and thoughtful gestures that my words of thanks seem inadequate, but my gratitude for people’s kindness, gentleness and compassion goes even deeper now.

One friend sent the book I’ll Hold You In Heaven which is written to parents of children who have been aborted, miscarried, stillborn, or died in early infancy.  This book was a quick and reassuring read exploring through scripture the idea of the unborn having souls from conception.  It helped me realize that I have a child waiting in Heaven.  What a humbling thought.

Other friends sent prayers which made me cry as I read them.  I’m overwhelmed at how many people have suffered the loss of an unborn or stillborn child.  I never knew the depths of grief so many friends have struggled with, but as a friend who struggles with infertility recently shared with me, “loss is loss.”  You don’t have to have experienced the heartbreak of a miscarriage to understand the heart ache of unfulfilled dreams and longings.

Several people told stories of friends who held memorial services for their lost little ones.  I thought I was “beyond” that, for I’d already poured out my heart in an authentic, vulnerable, soul-bearing way just days after I lost my heartbeat-less baby.  In other words, I’d checked “grieving” off of my list and I wanted to move on without experiencing any more grief.

Mike, though, thought it was a good idea, and I wanted to be supportive (but not too emotive), so I begrudgingly agreed.  I didn’t want to open that wound again for it felt like the healing had started — was well in motion — and I wanted to simply move forward into the future with vague reflections on that sad time in our lives.

Two weeks after our loss Mike and I took the Hampton Jitney (bus) out to Montauk, NY, where my family has been going for over 50 years.  My Gramps and my Dad are both buried in that small, unassuming, unpretentious beach town, so Mike thought it would be an important place for us to memorialize our long-prayed for baby.

The weather was perfect: a sunny October day with clear skies.  There was even a festival in the middle of town.  Mike looked for a baby blanket or some kind of object we could use to represent our little one, but none of the boutiques he walked into carried the kind of items he wanted.  I didn’t think I could handle shopping for baby items without crying so I sat on a park bench near the town square and watched happy families buy large jars of pickles.

As a last resort we stopped into White’s Drug Store deciding on baby socks. Because the florist shops were closed, Mike gathered wild flowers from along the winding road as we walked up to Fort Hill Cemetery.

Fort Hill is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited.  From that quiet, grassy place you can see Montauk Pond, the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.  There’s a meandering trail with scenic vistas and teak benches which are perfect for long, thoughtful rests as the sun sets.  There’s usually a soft sea breeze blowing across the top of the hill, too, taking the edge off the heat and humidity on hot summer days.

Sitting beside my Dad’s grave, Mike and I spent an hour praying to God and talking to each other about the baby we never held.  It was a surprisingly, unexpectedly healing time for us. I didn’t know what to say at first but sometimes silence suffices.

Here we are one month later.  Physically I’m healed.  Emotionally, I’m tender.  Spiritually, I have questions.  See, I had hoped that after my previous foray into writing about our miscarriage I’d be able to dam up my emotions and move forward with veiled references to loss and heartache.  But I’m learning that God has more for us than that: He is calling us to live authentically with loss.  We will have many opportunities in the years to come to celebrate with others while taking our broken hearts to Jesus.  We will live with the reality of lost dreams in a way I never imagined, marking milestones by someone else’s precious baby.

Sad News

It was our sweet little secret.  Our joy and delight.  And we’d only shared it with our immediate families so they could pray with us through the tender time.  We were debating about with whom to share our news after this first appointment and with whom we’d share the news when we were finally in the clear after the first trimester. When would we make it “facebook public”?

After three years of trying to get pregnant, of seeing fertility specialists, undergoing rigorous tests and being told we’d need “medical help” to get pregnant, we were so excited and surprised by this unexpected gift.  We found out the weekend we moved into our new apartment.  While surrounded by boxes and the chaos of moving, and with my younger sister also moving in with us, I walked over to the Duane Reade drugstore to buy a pregnancy test.  I’d never done that before.  I took that test while Mike was napping, and then held in my giggly news while he continued to nap and my sister shared her dilemma about her weekend plans.  Meanwhile, I searched the internet for pregnancy due date calculators and to check the growth and development of our tiny little baby.

It was pouring on Friday.  During a meeting break I ran out from our ministry office to one of the shops at Grand Central Station to buy rain boots.  After our first prenatal appointment later that rainy day, my oldest sister planned to pick us up and drive us out to Montauk to meet up with the rest of my family.  The next day Mike and I were to volunteer in the rain to give out water to the runners during my younger sister’s first half marathon.  She ran her race, but we never made it out there.

Wearing my new polka-dotted rain boots, I suggested we take a taxi to the hospital for our appointment rather than taking the subway and then having to walk the four long blocks.  But it was hard to hail a taxi in the rain, what with the traffic from the UN General Assembly being in session.  Eventually we jumped on a bus to take us uptown.  Our weekend bags were soaked, and it didn’t matter that we had umbrellas; we were soaked, too.

I called my doctor’s office from the bus to alert them to our delay, and we finally rushed into the waiting room about 15 minutes late.  They handed me a pile of papers to fill out and as I struggled to balance the clipboard and papers with my wet bag, wallet, insurance card and dripping umbrella, the nurse told us we could go back to the examining room.

This was it.  This was finally the day that Mike could see proof of all the changes I could feel happening in my body.  For three weeks we held tightly to our happy secret, but I was the one who had just outgrown her current jeans and had to start living in a larger size (not maternity sized yet!).  I was the one battling exhaustion, sometimes even taking two naps a day (a big deal for a gal who doesn’t nap!).  My breasts were tender, I was waking up a few times in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.  I was starting to deal with hormonal acne break outs.  My body was changing.  But today Mike would be able to see his baby, and see the heart beat.

Maybe I should’ve suspected something when my doctor didn’t turn the screen around on our ultrasound machine so Mike and I could see it.  Instead she said, “Let me just take a look around.”  But the words she was about to say to us were not even in my categories.  It was just this week that my jeans didn’t fit!

But then she said she was sorry.  She couldn’t find a heart beat.  She didn’t have any doubts about it, but she wanted us to be confident so she sent us for a second opinion.  We gathered our wet jackets, weekend bags, office bags, umbrellas and papers, then had some blood tests before going up to the seventh floor for the second opinion.

I sat, wet, cold and shaking with chattering teeth, for 45 minutes while we waited to be squeezed into someone’s schedule.  The waiting room was full of pregnant women accompanied by their mothers, boyfriends or husbands.  The air conditioner was on full blast to keep those over-heated women comfortable, but I was freezing in my wet dress (but my feet were dry thanks to my new boots).

I had to drink glass after glass of water for the next ultrasound while right in front of me two pregnant women shared a joyful reunion.  The air was full of “I didn’t know you were pregnant!” and “How far along are you?”  These friends hadn’t seen each other in months, but then they counted, out loud, “one, two, three” and lifted their shirts to show off their growing bellies. Their bellies full of promise.  Their bellies pregnant with joy, and dreams and possibilities.  I averted my eyes and cradled my belly with my baby who didn’t have a heart beat.

Fighting tears several times and yearning to get as far away from the room full of potential and hormones and beating hearts, I was glad when our ultrasound technician finally called us back to her room, which was easily four times the size of my doctor’s exam room.  We had plenty of space for our wet weekend bags.

She told me to pull up my dress as I climbed onto her table.  Mike sat in the chair by my head.  We both looked at the monitor mounted near the ceiling.  The gel she squeezed out on my water-filled belly was unexpectedly warm, a welcome relief after the frigid air from the waiting room.  And that’s when we could finally see our baby.  For the first time; the only time.  On the screen.  Our baby looked like any other baby I’d seen in ultrasound pictures at this early stage.  But this technician agreed with our doctor about our baby’s heartbeat.  It was missing.

All day long this woman looks into expectant women’s bellies and tells them happy news like their baby’s gender.  But today she affirmed our doctor’s sad diagnosis of no heartbeat.  We did another ultrasound, and then she left to call in the supervising doctor.  He, too agreed with my doctor.  That put us at three ultrasounds on two machines and three people with one voice confirming that our baby didn’t have a heartbeat.  Devastating.

Mike and I clung to each other in that room, crying tears of sorrow, sadness, disappointment, heart break.  They gave us some privacy, so we stood in that room of promise for everyone else; that room which held no promises for me.  And I wept.

I later called my mom to share the wretched news, which meant two of my three sisters who were with her also knew.  But my oldest sister had been stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike for hours (was that a Divine delay?) and had just crossed the George Washington Bridge.  Mike texted asking her to pull over and call us.  I didn’t want to share this news while she was driving.  She suspected something was wrong (as did the rest of my family) when she didn’t get cheery text updates from us during the last few hours.  Rather than coming across town to pick us up and then head out to Montauk, she drove to our neighborhood to wait for us.  We hailed a cab and headed home.

Jennifer spent the weekend with us in New York City.  On Sunday the rest of my family came over for a few hours.  Mom then spent Sunday and Monday night with us.

The weekend was rough.  I didn’t want Monday to come.  I cried.  I slept.  I did laundry.  I was in shock.  In my belly I still had our child.  But our child didn’t have a heartbeat.  How strange.  And on Monday my doctor took our child out of my belly.  How wretched.  It really was a horrible weekend.  I didn’t want Monday to come.

But Monday did come.  Waiting in the “Ambulatory Surgery” unit for a surgical room to open up so they could squeeze me in, wearing the drawstring surgery pants under the ubiquitous hospital gown that is open in the back, with the seer-sucker robe and anti-slip socks did not settle my nerves.  Mike waited with me for hours in the chilly pre-surgery room, then walked with me as far as the hospital personnel would let him when they led me to surgery.  He held me and whispered, “I love you,” before I pushed my IV pole into the elevator.  As the doors closed, I couldn’t help but feel fear.  And feel alone.

My sweet, kind, gentle husband wanted to be in the surgical room with me.  He didn’t want me to be alone.  But I couldn’t think of anything worse for him to have to endure. The hospital didn’t even give us this option, so he sat in a different waiting room until my doctor reported to him about the surgery and he was allowed to find me in recovery.

I was escorted to the surgical suite.  I walked in.  There were several people in the room wearing surgical masks.  Two greeted me and asked questions: Do you have all of your teeth? Is there anything in your mouth that is removable?  Do you have any allergies?  Have you ever had a bad reaction to anesthesia? Have you had anything to eat or drink since midnight last night?

I don’t know why I thought this, but I remember thinking, “Don’t cry! Don’t cry!”  But why?  My world was falling apart.  I was in a surgical room, and they were going to take my baby, my baby without a heart beat, from my belly.  I could feel the tears burning the rim of my eyes.  My chin was starting to quiver and now the nurse and anesthesiologist couldn’t understand my answers anymore.  I stood next to the surgical table crying. I still had a kleenex in the pocket of my hospital-issued seer-sucker robe.

My doctor appeared.  My doctor.  I am so grateful for her.  She shared the horrible news on Friday with such gentleness and compassion.  She called me on Friday night to explain (again) our next steps and options.  She called on Saturday night to answer any questions which may have come up.  She had one of her interns call us on Monday morning while she was in surgery to answer questions and let us know it was time to come to the hospital.

The last thing I remember before the anesthesia lulled me into a peaceful, numb oblivion, was my doctor holding my hand and saying she that she hoped to see me under happier circumstances in labor and delivery.  I clung to that little bit of hope as I slipped into my silent slumber and they removed my baby.

It’s three days later.  My belly is empty.  My breasts aren’t tender anymore.  I don’t wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night anymore either.  I have to lose the weight I had started to gain (story of my life).  I’m still tired, though.  But I don’t have the pain I expected, or the bleeding I anticipated.  Instead, Mike and I both have pretty bad colds.  We’re welcoming this opportunity to slow down: to grieve, mourn and rest.

I love the three floral bouquets we’ve received.  I’m surprised at how meaningful they are to me.  I’m thankful for the emails, voice mails and texts from friends who mourn with us; but I don’t want to talk on the phone or return any of those emails.  I’m also thankful to the two friends who brought us dinner the last two nights: we’d eaten a lot of delivery from Jesus Taco over the weekend.

We have three retreats for the next three weekends, and after that a week of leadership development in Orlando.  Mike and I are again giving leadership to the two-year national leader development program our organization holds for senior leaders.  It’s one of my favorite jobs with the ministry.

The everyday groceries which my family brought are nearly gone.  We need eggs and milk and cereal and fruit.  The kitchen floor needs to be swept and mopped.  Life moves forward.  My heart is broken, but healing.  I’m still sad, and I don’t want to give voice to this pain.  But writing about it has felt good, honest.  I’m hopeful that we’ll get pregnant again.  For two people who were told that we have “unexplained infertility and will need medical assistance to get pregnant,” this baby was a clear sign and reminder that God is the author of life, with and without medical assistance.  Perhaps He’ll enable us to get pregnant on our own again.

But for now, I’m taking it one hour at a time.  I’m reading my Bible.  I’m praying.  I’m resting.  I’m watching TV.  And I’m writing, which is so good for my soul.

It’s still raining. But today, maybe I’ll put my rain boots on and go outside.

Home!

Home.  A sweet word.  A word which conjures up images, emotions, smells, feels, sounds. It’s word which engages your senses and your memories.  For many people, the word evokes a positive emotional reaction.

For me, “home,” is a place of safety, connection, and contentment.  And I’m finally home.  Fully home.  No more temporary or short-term living.  No more using someone else’s furniture (even if it is really nice furniture!).  I’m home.

Two weeks ago we corralled our belongings from Brooklyn, my mom’s basement, and a dear friend’s garage and after Hurricane Irene, we dropped everything off in our new two-bedroom apartment in West Harlem.  The reunions with my linens, art work, furnishings, books, dishes, cookbooks, made me happy.  Even if it sounds silly, I’ll still say it.  There is no place like home.

I flew to Orlando for about 24 hours and when I returned, Mike had finished the unpacking.  I walked into the apartment and didn’t see a single box.  Instead, I saw my mixer on the counter top, I saw my familiar rug on the floor, Mike’s sofa along the wall, the pillows Mike’s mom helped me sew (and by “help” I mean, she sewed.  What a gifted seamstress!).  I saw the chest of drawers which Mike and I picked out together.  It was the first piece of furniture we bought together. These little touches of Mike and touches of me are what, together, make “us” and make our apartment feel like home.  Combined with the new chair we bought, and the art work we had in Brooklyn, our current apartment feels like us through the 3.5 years we’ve been married.

Yes, it feels like home.  And yes, it’s good to be home.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving!  We didn’t travel to see family for Thanksgiving, but rather, hosted our own celebration.  We enjoyed a twist on the traditional and enjoyed the beach in the afternoon after watching the Macy*s Day Parade.  After the beach, we opted to dine in a more formal attire than our swimsuits!

For dinner we enjoyed traditional favorites from both of our growing up years like Seven-Layer Salad (Mike) and Pineapple Casserole (Sarah).  And of course, we had turkey.  But I’ll bet our turkey cooked faster than yours!  We had Turkey burgers.

Clams

Photo from www.diggerschoice-seafood.com

Our Montauk neighbor gave us 2 dozen live clams the other day.  He said they’d keep for up to a week in the fridge.  Thankful for the recipe ideas from friends after sending out a plea for help on facebook, I decided that I’d do something with those clams.

Dad and Gramps would know exactly what to do.  They’d make Clams Casino.  It’s a classic and their version is legend.  But that required too many ingredients I didn’t already have.  So I settled on steamed clams in a white wine sauce with pasta.  We didn’t have white wine in the kitchen, but I found a bottle of white zinfandel.  Close enough, right?

I don’t know if I made them “right”.  I read so many different recipes online that I think I probably combined them all.  I scrubbed the clams after soaking them in salt water.  I steamed them in the white zinfandel.  I cooked up some pasta in another pot and on a third burner I sauteed chopped onions and garlic in butter with a dash of tabasco.  When the clams opened up, I took each one out, sliced out the clam, tossed the meat in the butter mixture, and tossed the empty shells in a bag.   After adding the pasta, I poured the steamed clam “juice” through a paper towel (to catch any sand) into the mixture. It was a long, arduous process.  If anyone ever makes live/fresh clams for you, know that it is a labor of love.

The pasta was great!  How can you go wrong with a sauce of butter, garlic and onions?!  But the clams…?  Here’s what I discovered:

  1. I don’t like clams.  It’s a texture thing.
  2. Clams are a LOT of work
  3. Please see #1.

Maybe I’ll try Dad & Gramps’ Clams Casino recipe if someone ever gives me clams again.

(Oh!  Knowing it would probably take a while to make this feast, I whipped up an appetizer to tide us over:  it was the BEST guacamole I’ve ever made.  WOW – I could’ve eaten that all night!)

Fireworks

Mike wanted to go.  But I didn’t.  Nothing within me thought it would be a “fun” memory.  Turns out, I was wrong.

M&S, just before the Fireworks on the Hudson River. 2010.

But first, I was concerned.  Maybe I have a  genetic predisposition towards a phobia of crowds and traffic.  Or maybe I inherited that personality quirk from my dad.  Regardless of the source, that phobia of crowds and traffic is powerful.  It’s not a traditional phobia, as in, a paralyzing fear, but rather a sense of angst, and frustration:  my goals are blocked and I feel powerless to maneuver myself through a mob of pedestrians or a traffic jam.

But Mike wanted to go see the Macy’s Fireworks.  And not from our rooftop.  No, he wanted to go to the Hudson River.  And he wanted to go early so we could stake out our spot.

Oh, I think I forgot to mention how much I don’t enjoy being hot.  And we just started a heat wave here in New York City.  It was at least 10 degrees hotter in NYC today than it was in Orlando.  What is happening in this crazy world?

So, it’s hot.  And it’s crowded.   And we’re not exactly sure where we ought to go.  We rode the subway, then walked a long time.  We finally made it to 47th Street and 12th Avenue.  The avenue was closed to cars and trucks so the people spread out blankets and chairs.  Some people had picnics, many were hiding under umbrellas to protect themselves from the hot sun (even at 6pm it was hot!).  We had our beach towels, a bottle of water each, and a few hard pretzel sticks.

I grew restless.  No books.  No magazines.  Hot, strong sun.  No sunglasses (major oversight!).  The concrete road we were sitting on was so hot I had to fold over my towel several times for a little more insulation.  Eventually (ok, maybe 20 minutes later) I was so restless I left in search of better seats or a deck of cards.  Which ever I discovered first.

Though our fireworks adventure started out on the “not-so-great-for-Sarah” side, Mike was delighted.  And my attitude turned around once we started playing card games.  (Mike won most of them and I was a good sport, not a sore loser.)  When the crowds rushed the barricades for good viewing position, we were ready to dash forward and won coveted spots along the metal railings.  To have a better view than we had, you would’ve had to buy a ticket for the INTREPID, the aircraft carrier turned museum docked in front of us.

It was a spectacular view and a spectacular evening.  Wanna see a bit of the show?  I shot a bit of the finale with my point and shoot camera.  Enjoy.  It was wonderful!

Downsizing

Garage sale.  DONE.

Donations to charity.  DONE.

Sell Mike’s car.  DONE.

Yes, you read that right.  We just sold Mike’s car to his brother and sister in law, and his nephews in Wisconsin can’t wait for the car to get home!  Selling that car was just another step in our efforts to downsize before we leave for NYC, but I felt sad for Mike as his car pulled out of the driveway and we waved good bye to his brother, for that car was his dream car.  He was so excited about his sporty little grey two-door Mustang.  We decided to keep my car for a few more months since it’s a 4-door sedan with more trunk space, and therefore more practical for hauling our belongings up and down the east coast over the next few months.

Sniff.  Sometimes you’d rather be sporty than practical.