Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Might Have Been

"So, you know anyone who wants to play softball?" Karaoke Chris asked one Thursday night as I washed bar glasses.  I'd been called in to cover the shift, and was happy to see Chris, who could rarely make it down on a Tuesday when I usually work.

"Maybe Timothy, but he is already on a co-ed team, and plays pool several nights a week, so I'm not sure."

"We're losing a few players this season." He listed his roster of drop-outs, most of them unrecongizable to me, until he said, "And I guess Bar Crush is moving back East so he's out." I paused and looked at Chris.  My mind re-wound. . .

It was the summer that my divorce was being processed.  Bar Crush and I were caught in this weird sort of limbo when I asked if he would mind if I came to one of the softball games.  The team, established before Bar Crush had ever joined, was sponsored at one point by the Wright Place, and many of the members were regular patrons.  

"That would be okay."  

"Okay.  So, I'll be there this week."

"Okay"

"Okay.  Bye."

"Bye.  Q, say 'bye.'"

"Bye!" And we hung up, the last word from his daughter causing my heart to melt and my lovestruck soul to fall a little deeper.    

Noelle and I went to the game.  She was a hit with the kids at the park, and I hardly spoke to Bar Crush as I was busy looking after Noelle.  When the game was over we headed to the car, and I could feel him on my heels.  He stopped me as I left the lot and poked his head through the window I had opened for Noelle.  

"You going to the bar?"

"Yes, I'm meeting friends after I take her home."  I thumbed at Noelle, whose tongue was hanging out in her silly way, and he patted her affectionately on her head.  

"I'll see you there."

"Okay.  Yeah.  I'll see you there."

I arrived first and sat with y friends.  I waved at the team and spoke with the briefly, but had no interest in sitting with a group of men so returned to my seat at the bar.  When I left that evening, I could again sense Bar Crush behind me.  

"It was nice.  Having you at the game was nice.  Seeing you out there was nice."  I nodded, and we departed.  At home I dialed his number, then instantly prepared to hang up and excuse myself later by calling it a pocket dial, when he answered.  We chatted for a bit.  

"The kids really liked you.  They were all over you at the game."

"They liked Noelle.  Kids love her."  After some small talk the conversation turned.  "I'm just trying to figure out what you want."

"I'm trying to figure it out too."

"I know you're not dating.  But someday you will.  I assume you'll want to date a few people, see what's out there."

"That's not my intention, to date a bunch of women.  I'm just. . . I'm just trying to figure it out."  

"I'm just waiting.  I'm waiting for you to figure it out.  I hope you figure out that it's me that you want."

A noisy "splat" interrupted my memory.  I absentmindedly looked about for the source of the noise, located it, and bent to retrieve the piece of my heart that had fallen to the floor, attempting to stay composed as I did.

"Oh.  Yeah.  You guys had a thing," Chris recalled.

"It was just a crush."  Rocco stirred inside of me, and I felt guilty for letting my mind wander so far back in time.  But even in my guilt I couldn't help but feel wounded that Bar Crush would leave town, I would never see him again.  I would be left with the impression that while to me, he was my bridge over troubled water, gently, cautiously, carefully tread upon with the hope of bringing him with me to the other side, I was just his stepping stone, left behind when he figured out what he was looking for. The fact that I had been hurt before made me temporarily relateable, but ultimately too much to handle.  I was just a rebound, and so I was resolute that he was just Bar Crush.

After all, I am no stranger to just being walked away from.  Sean put a bullet in his brain, leaving me to wonder for the rest of my life if he thought of me in those last moments.  My own husband moved across the country while I stayed behind to finalize our divorce.  I could spend a lifetime wondering what might have been.

What if I had fought harder?  What if I had reported them to the police?  What if I had felt my feelings in those first couple of years, instead of drinking them away?

What if I had taken that last phone call?  What if I had recognized the cries for help?  What if I had gone to check on him sooner?

What if I had taken more folic acid?  What if I had done what most women do when confronted with a diagnosis of anencephaly, and terminated the pregnancy even if by early delivery?

What if I had never walked into Charly's to submit my application?  Sean never would have walked into my life, and I never would have sustained the heartbreak of his death. But he never would have touched my life, either.  If I had never been raped, I never would have related to Sean the way that I did, he wouldn't have been able to draw me from my darkness, even while he was being pulled irretrievably into his own.

If I had never taken the job at Charly's, I never would have met Cheri, Karla, Donny, Elise, Lisa, Jessica, Blake, Lindsey, Rick, Lynn. . . even Marcos. . . the string of people who have made my life better by entering it.

If I hadn't gone on that first date with Ben, I wouldn't be his ex-wife today, but we wouldn't have had our son, and I can't even think about a life that had never been blessed by Gabriel.

What if I had never joined Match.com?  Or responded to that e-mail?  Or agreed to step outside of my comfort zone and go bowling with Marcos, who somehow found his way back into my lfe after our first encounter in that little bar years ago?

What if I the lesson I had taken from Bar Crush was to be more like him, emotionally unavailable, and prone to setting broken people aside when I was done with them?  What if I had learned to be more guarded?  Play hard-to-get?

When Marcos and I started dating he wanted to talk, he wanted to know about me.  And there was so much to know.  And he wasn't afraid of any of it.  If I had never met people who couldn't handle my raw emotions and collective traumatic experiences, I might not know how to value the person who loves me not in spite of them, but for the strength that they have created within me.

What if we had moved a little slower?  What if I hadn't gotten pregnant so soon?  Then we wouldn't be expecting our baby in three weeks, and that's a life I don't want to imagine either.

As I locked the doors to the bar last night for my last closing shift before maternity leave, I got the distinct feeling, as I did three years ago, that the next time I lock that door my whole world would have been changed. With a bittersweet, cautious, but abiding faith I find myself thinking about what might have been, allowing it to impress upon me how thankful I am for all that I have now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Perfect Storm










Gabriel was going to be my rainbow baby.

After I miscarried in May 2010, the positive pregnancy test indicating that Gabriel was on his way brought the color back to my world. I learned quickly that the rain hadn't necessarily disappeared when, on Baby Cude's due date and at four months pregnant with Gabriel, I woke up and immediately started crying at the memory of how that day was "supposed" to be. Gabriel had brought me hopes and dreams and a bit of sunshine again, but he hadn't "fixed" everything. It wasn't his job to fix everything. He was just a little, tiny baby, and that was his only duty. My duty as his mother was to love him and grow him, and in being able to do that for him alone, my world was brightened.

Then, like a clap of thunder, some doctor came storming into my world with her textbook explanation for the very complicated path that I was about to travel: My son, my rainbow, had a condition that was incompatible with life. A fatal condition. He would not live. He would die, shortly after his highly anticipated birth. And there wasn't a thing I did wrong to make him that way, but there also wasn't a single thing I could to to fix him, either.

What she didn't tell me was that I would somehow have to find a way to live. I would have to find a way to go on in a world where my children didn't. I would have to make my heart beat, I would have to will myself to function every day, and that every day would be matter of learning to go on without not one, but now two children.

She didn't tell me that my marriage couldn't sustain two losses in less than two years. She didn't tell me that this experience would push my husband over an insurmountable edge, and that he would never be the same and that he would never be able to be the husband and father that I needed him to be to continue in that marriage myself. She didn't tell me that what started out as a sincere, beautiful, mutual love would melt away, unable to endure this weather.

She could only predict a few things: That if my son were carried to term he stood a 25% of fetal demise before he was born; if born alive there was a 50% chance that he would die in one day or less; there was only a 25% chance that he would live longer than one day. She could only tell me in her clinical speech that I could expect a strom.

I was afraid of the cold and the ache, but I chose to stand in the rain. I braced myself for the storm and faced it knowing that although I wouldn't get to have a first day of kindergarten, or a high school graduation, or a lawyer or an MLB pitcher, or grandchildren from Gabriel, or his hand to hold on my deathbed, I would get to have experiences that I never got to have with Baby Cude. I would get to hold Gabriel. I would get to tell him, face-to-face, that I love him. I would get to hold him in his hour of need, and I would get to comfort him until his spirit left this earth.

I was promised that this storm would be lonely and sometimes unbearably painful, and still worth every moment. What a perfect storm I found myself wrapped in.

No one told me I would get to be that mother who got to keep her baby for ten days. No one told me I would get to bring him home from the hospital. No one told me he would feed, and poop, and smile. No one predicted his blond hair, his beautiful fingers, his perfect face. No one could make me believe that even after watching my son die a slow and struggle-filled death, I could feel such peace at the release of his soul. No one told me how my little boy would live 10 days and change the world.

Even as the storm raged on, even as I tried to adjust to life without my child and even as my ex-husband obliterated my hope that the marriage would ever produce another child, I was thankful for the rain. I was thankful for my perfect storm.

I took shelter among family and a group of friends that helped me want to carry on. One day an e-mail arrived in my Match.com inbox, like a ray of sunlight through the clouds. That e-mail turned into a first date, and a second, and then eventually a positive pregnancy test. My world began to fill in with color again.

As California faces a devastating drought, I cannot forget what it was like to live so long in the eye of a storm. When the physical world around me is dry and longing for water, longing for nourishment, can only be thankful for what I have weathered. Some people go their whole lives, and never get the opportunity to love like I have loved. Some people never have to get caught in the rain, but then, they never get to experience the rainbow.




Friday, April 4, 2014

Baby Glimpses

The signs for the boutique ultrasound facilities, Baby Sighting and Baby Glimpses and the like, pepper the town with the increased availability of the technology that allows parents to see their unborn child in advanced 3d and 4d ultrasounds. When a doctor will make expectant parents wait for a diagnostic exam, these facilities offer them the opportunity to find out RIGHT NOW if their child is a boy or a girl, if it has mom's nose, or dad's hands.

As my due date approaches I can see the appeal to knowing whether one is expecting a baby boy or a baby girl. The clothes and the bedding and even the strollers and the carseats are gender specific these days and while I am satisfied with our grey carseat, I suppose if Rocco is a girl having something a little more feminine might be nice. I've washed more green and yellow clothes than I've ever seen, and sometimes I would like to know if I should also wash the baby boy onsies I have collected over the years.

The glimpses I've had of my baby have been far more precious than what I would learn from one of those ultrasound boutiques. The first time I saw my baby's round, bright white skull I knew what I most needed to know - That I was not facing a recurrence of anencephaly with this pregnancy. When a specialist confirmed the absence of anencephaly by ultrasound I again asked to see that perfectly rounded head, knowing I would never again take for granted its presence in an ultrasound image. There was no part of my baby that I wanted to see more.

When I feel my baby's movements, when I see its tiny body parts protruding from within my belly, I catch a glimpse of his or her strength, his or her "aliveness," and it is all that I need to see. I know that this child is strong, strong like his or her big brother, but not limited by the absence of that piece of skull that I might not ever have appreciated until it was missing from Gabriel's head. In the series of ultrasounds I had for Gabriel I was able to see his long legs, his big feet, his broad ribcage - But I couldn't will the presence of the piece that would have changed the course of events of our lives, not with all the ultrasounds in all of the facilities available. And in the light of what I could never find for Gabriel, I know that boy or girl, brown eyes or green, favoring mom or dad, this baby has what I've come to want most for my child - A chance for an 11th day.

I find myself dreaming of a daughter, a little girl to dress prettily in fluffy clothes with fluffy bows, and share tea parties with, and have girls' days out with, and share girly secrets with. I dream of another son who will chase the dogs with endless energy and share my love for baseball.

I dream of my child's loud, audible cries. I dream of those first cries at birth. I long to be woken from my sleep by the cries of a hungry baby, rather than being snapped awake by the fear that my child has passed while my eyes were closed.

I am asked frequently how I will plan for my baby if I don't know its gender. How can I possibly be prepared? When Gabriel was born, I was unprepared to bring him home from the hospital. Our neighbor lent us her carseat, which Gabriel never rode in because I held him all the way home. We picked up diapers and formula as we needed them. He slept in my arms or on the couch beside me. Friends brought us medical supplies and even donated breast milk. Our home was stocked with love for this little boy who I did not expect to live for ten days and I found that somehow we still had everything we needed. I had everything he needed, because I had him, and he drove me to do whatever was needed to care for him. As long as we had each other, we had everything.

Slowly but surely the "necessities" are being checked off the list for Rocco's arrival. I'm privileged to be able to provide more material things for my child than many families get to do. I'm thankful to have Marcos, also prepared to care for our baby. Family and friends have been ready and willing to laud this baby with gifts, excited for this new life particularly because Gabriel's was so very brief. And it's lovely. The bedding and linens and decor and clothes and pretty little baby things are beautiful and I love to touch them and admire them and arrange them for Rocco and create the nursery that I've wanted for so long. Still, they are just things.

Even the gender reveal ultrasounds can't tell me what I need to know. I look forward to that moment in the delivery room where the doctor will say, "It's a boy!" Or, "It's a girl!" But the sound I long to hear most is this baby's first cries of life. I long to kiss the top of his or her head, and touch it gently and confirm once again its presence. I long for what I have so far only glimpsed: A life beyond ten days.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Adventures of Gideon & Noelle

"While you were gone, your dogs went swimming in your neighbor's pool."

Let's back up here.

I was on my way to Phoenix for a my friend Clint's wedding. In the eight years that I had known him, he'd always wanted to find a good woman, and I'd always wanted him to find a good woman, and I couldn't be happier that he was starting a new life with someone, even while my former life with someone was ending.

It was the first time I had ever flown alone. Per Murphy's Law, my connecting flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix was cancelled. The airline switched me to a different flight, which was in another terminal in the small city known as LAX. I ran to the re-assigned terminal, was delayed while going through security again, cursed the overbearing rules of flying in this 'free' country, and ran to my gate, only to find that I was too late to catch my flight. Convinced that the Powers that Be were trying to tell me I should just head home, so I hopped a shuttle bus to one of the rental car depots and planned to just drive back to Bakersfield. That is, until I discovered that my ID had been lost somewhere in the airport. I used the remainder of my phone battery to call my parents, who drove down to LA to pick me up. I was slumped in the backseat of their car when my dad made the announcement.

"While you were gone, your dogs went swimming in your neighbor's pool."

"They went swimming? Wait. . . They what?"

"Boyd and Mary found them in their pool. Gideon was starting to go under. They had to get him out, but they were afraid to because he always barks at them. But, he let them, and they got him."

Based on the statements of neighborhood witnesses, this is what we were able to piece together: Missing planks from the fence in my backyard that border the alley indicated that Gideon and Noelle escaped through that opening. A neighbor from across the street, a detective with the Bakersfield Police Department, spotted them at the west end of the alley. When he tried to approach, they turned and headed eastbound. The detective gave up pursuit and instead contacted my dad to retrieve them. After evading the police and passing by the opening to their own yard once again, Gideon and Noelle made their way to the front of the street. Boyd and Mary were working in their garage, the door open. They slipped past them undetected and entered the pool. When they were discovered, Noelle was paddling happily, but Gideon had made his way to the deep end and couldn't figure out how to get out of the water. He allowed Boyd and Mary to assist him, albeit, skeptically. Mary opened the adjoining gate from their yard to mine, and Gideon and Noelle electively passed through.

"He was really struggling," Boyd said when I obtained his statement. "I think that's why he let me help him. We really didn't know how he would react." It's true that I've seen Gideon take a treat directly from someone's hand, swallow the treat, then bark aggressively at the offeror. I couldn't really predict how he might react to someone saving his life.

"If we hadn't found them when we did, I don't think he would have made it." And the statement was like the crack of the bat that in a home run hit. The words struck me with force. Suddenly being stuck in LA seemed like such a small thing. That night rather than getting scolded, the dogs received love and relieved hugs.

Sometime later Gideon had a maintenance surgery on his hip. His immediate recovery didn't go well, and one morning when his incision was oozing I panicked and called the vet's office. They were able to sneak me in later in the morning, but I would have to go to work in the interim. I made arrangements with Brian, the dogs' best friend and walker, to pick up Gideon and meet me at the vet's office. When I arrived, suited up for a morning hearing, Brian already had Gideon in the waiting room.

Despite his oozing wound Gideon jumped up to greet me. I squatted in my pencil skirt to hug and kiss him, and looked up at Brian.

"Thank you so much for doing this. This thing with Gideon is the most stressful thing I have ever been through."

"You've never had kids, have you?" intoned a woman across the waiting room. Clinging to the fur around Gideon's neck I turned to her briefly and said, "I have a son. He died when he was ten days old." I looked back at Brian for a moment, then at Gideon. The unspoken words hung heavily in the air: "If something happens to Gideon, I'll have nothing left."

In the moment, the panic and fear were very real, but I've since made amendments to my reality. I would be devastated if something were to happen to Gideon, but I would have to find a way to keep it together to look after Noelle. I've since added Marcos and the four-legged Zeke to the mix, now residents in the Yellow House. Rocco, of course, remains rather unobtrusive as of yet, but will be adding to the chaos shortly. My life is in fact quite full, and more meaningful than I used to believe.

As I type Gideon, Noelle, and Zeke are outside enjoying some much-needed rain in our valley. Feeding them will be an ordeal tonight, and I'll have to leave them outside long enough to eat and then take care of business before bringing them in for shelter from what I anticipate will be an increasingly heavy rain. They will be muddy, and rowdy, and it's clean sheet night but I can rely on Noelle's muddy paw prints finding their way to my bed. They will make their way to their beds and then they will groan and snore and throughout the course of the night they will arrange themselves so that when I wake up to use the restroom, I will have to carefully pick my way over and between them and then Noelle will likely pace for quite a while before settling down again. In the morning at the first sight of either the daylight, or the whites of my eyes, she will spring to life and rouse Gideon and Zeke and they will wrestle their way out the back door and begin a chorus of barking that surely annoys the neighbors and we will begin another day of the Adventures of Gideon, Noelle & Zeke. And I don't want to live any other story than the one I've got going.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Am A Mom, Part 2

"You can be pregnant on Mother's Day and still celebrate as a mother," Suzanne advised me. Don't I know it. I thought back to Mother's Day 2010, still innocently blissful with the news of my first pregnancy. Just a few days later, the miscarriage began. The following year Mother's Day was a bittersweet event for me. I was pregnant with Gabriel, but still mourning the first pregnancy, and already mourning Gabriel's impending death.

The next two years were even more difficult, carrying two children in my heart, but neither of them in my arms. The feelings are further complicated by the two May anniversaries that surround Mother's Day: The miscarraige, which took place from May 14 to May 17, and the rape, which occurred nearly 13 years ago on May 7, 2001. Though the memory of the assault is much less pervasive all these years later, I still find it effects my life. Sometimes I feel the memories wash over me with the setting of the sun, as I recall the daylight fading from the apartment where I was violated years ago. The feeling is brief, and sometimes I'm not even aware of why I feel suddenly and irreparably upset until the moment has passed. Other times the effects are more obvious, such as my refusal to see a male Ob/Gyn. The typical response from the receptionist at the doctor's office is, "You know you may not get a female doctor at delivery, right?" My response is always the same. "Maybe at delivery, I won't care. But right now I'm not in labor, and I don't plan on being in labor at my next appointment. So right now, I care." There's no reason, really, for me to be so short with the receptionist who's just trying to schedule an appointment. Still, for reasons I can't seem to control, I resent her asking.

My therapist and I discussed both the subtle and blatant responses that I have to an event that I feel has for the most part, been resolved in my mind. I can say all the things I am supposed to be able to say at this stage, that it's not my fault, that the rape doesn't define me, that my body is mine to control, and that my body is in fact amazing in its ability to bring beautiful, innocent lives into this world. I am probably as well-adjusted to life as a rape victim-turned-survivor as I will ever be, but the fact remains that such a violent, violative event will probably always remain a stain on my brain that I'll sometimes encounter. It doesn't really go away. It just gets covered up by the other stuff. And for all of the sadness, the other stuff is mostly good. More good than bad, I think, and I think that's what's made me capable of moving on - The fact that overall, life has been pretty kind to me.

As I left my therapists office I did my typical once-over of the patients sitting in the lobby. I am assigned to a substance abuse specialist, and so is everyone waiting in that pod to see their counselor. I'm so assigned because I have not only a history of dating and enabling substance abusers, but there have been times in my life when I've bordered on substance abuse myself. The habit is probably most evident not in my actual drinking habits, but in my tendency to replace the drinking with food or baby clothes or whatever else I don't really need but find I HAVE to have. I have to scold myself after every session not to speculate as to these patients' lives. They could be just like me. They could have it much worse. None of it's really any of my damn business. But wondering what their substance of choice is, or who their co-dependent is, takes my mind off of my own flaws.

I ride the wave of emotions fueled by pregnancy hormones and complicated by traumatic life experiences with shaky feet. I never know these days what's going to trigger a flashback, or a flash forward. I wonder if I'm really ready to give up the life I had before I became pregnant this time. I wonder if I'll be able to maintain the friendships that have come to mean so much to me, or if those friends will want to maintain friendships with me. I wonder if I can be a parent to multiple children, one living and two deceased. I wonder if I'll ever be the wife that Marcos deserves. I wonder if I know how to be a working mom. I hope that I'm not putting pressure on this new little baby to somehow make up for all that's gone wrong in the past. I wonder if I'm being fair to him or her. I wonder if I'm being fair to the dogs. I wonder all of the things that all new mothers worry about, and I worry about all of the things that grieving parents worry about, and it's a delicate balance.

One method of calculation says that I am 33 weeks pregnant today. My baby is due in seven weeks, on May 13th. I wonder what it would be like to have the baby on May 7, or May 14. I wonder what it would be like to be able to re-associate one of those days with a happy memory of giving birth to a health, whole, baby boy or girl. I have in my heart a wish, a deep longing for the baby to be born before Mother's Day. I have this dream of being able to walk into Mass on Mother's Day this year, having celebrated the holiday as a mother myself for the last four years, and this time carry a baby in my arms. I know I can be pregnant, or in mourning, and still celebrate as a mother. But this year, I want more. I want tangible proof. I want the evidence that things are going to be alright. I know it in my heart. I want to hold it in my hands.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Best

There's this perception out there that once you're pregnant, in particular when you're pregnant with your rainbow baby, you're supposed to be carefree and happy all of the time.  I'd say most of the time, I am happy - I am joyous, I am glowing, I am so happy that people should envy me.  Still, there is a part of me that is waiting, even in my joy, for that other shoe to drop.

Speaking of shoes, Noelle chewed the heel of one shoe belonging to one of only two pairs that I wear to the office these days.  I swatted her with the shoe and locked her in a bedroom before I swatted her again and until I regretted it.  I placed the shoe, and its mate, near the trash can to be thrown out tomorrow now that the one has been rendered unwearable.  I don't understand why she has to be so difficult and unruly, and why she can't be more like Gideon, whose disabilities have limited him and informed his temperament enough that I rarely get upset with him.

Someone told me recently, "I think you're angry at Rocco for surviving."  That's the stupidest fucking thing I ever heard.  I'm not angry at Rocco.  I just don't know how to believe, and how to accept, that Rocco will be okay.  I know how to deal with a terminally ill child, just like I know how to deal with a dog with hip dysplasia.  I am not quite sure how to deal with Rocco and Noelle, though I love them both deeply.  They need something completely different from me than either Gabriel or Gideon need.

I'll be the first to admit that I can be a rather noncompliant patient.  After a recent OB appointment I became frustrated with continually being addressed as high risk, when no one can tell me what I am at risk for, and frustrated with taking time out of my day for appointments that I feel are generally unproductive and where I am treated as just another patient.  I don't really understand how I can be at once high risk, and still just another uterus.  Although my doctor asked me to schedule my next appointment for two to three weeks from then, I pushed it out to three and a half, unwilling to go out of my way anymore to have my own concerns ignored while being scolded for things that I don't think I'm doing wrong.  When I went to what I thought was a safe place to vent, I was told, in addition to having been told that I am angry at Rocco for surviving, "As a woman struggling with infertility, I want to remind you how precious the life you are carrying really is."

What the fuck am I supposed to say to that?  "I'll see your infertility, and raise you two dead babies."  Grief isn't a competition, and I'm tired of being told how I am supposed to feel.  I am tired of being told that my feelings are just hormones.  I'm tired of being assessed as though I am a case study.  I feel the way I feel because it's the way I feel, and those feelings are the product of hormones and tragedy and happiness always tempered by the fear that at any moment the bottom could be pulled right out from under me and I might find myself falling and flailing once again.  I thank God I don't know the grief of infertility, I truly do.  Even upon Gabriel's diagnosis I was thankful to have him at all, even with anencephaly.  Still, my child that I was blessed to conceive and carry died in my arms as I watched helplessly, and that changed my whole world and I am constantly learning how to approach my world in the light of that experience.  Maybe I'm not doing what others think they would do, but I'm doing the best I can.

I am tired of pretending like I am perfectly okay with sharing my body with a baby who may or may not be okay, and making decisions based on the assumption that child will be okay, when I know that even making the right decisions couldn't and didn't save my son.  Once a week, I leave the office at 5:00 pm to run home, change my clothes, pet the dogs, then head to the bar for my closing shift which begins at 6:00 pm.  Tuesdays are LONG days.  No one MAKES me work at the bar once a week, but I love it, and besides, I've been tucking my paychecks away for Rocco's education fund.  Giving up Tuesdays is not what I want to do right now.

And once a week, during that Tuesday closing shift, I have a Red Bull.  I think about that Red Bull all day on Tuesdays, until I can get to the bar to crack it open.  And more often than not, someone will have something to say about my choice.

"You shouldn't be drinking that in your condition."  Perhaps the admonition would carry more weight if it weren't being delivered by someone pickling their own liver.  Perhaps it would mean more if it were delivered by someone who's walked in my shoes.  Except the women who have walked in my shoes wouldn't say something like that, because they know my grief and they know my fear and they know my hope, and they know that I love my baby and care for my baby and will take care of my baby better than anyone else on this planet.  I am human, and I am traumatized, and I am terrified, but I am also brimming with love for my child.  Maybe I don't show it the way others expect me to.  I show it the way I know how.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Out


It's hard to believe that it's been three years since I came "out" with Gabriel's diagnosis of anencephaly, but what's harder to believe is that I almost didn't. I didn't really know what to do. There's no instruction book on how to respond to the news that your child is going to die, at least not that I know of, though perhaps there should be. I thought I could carry the secret of Gabriel's condition until he was born and passed, until the day I didn't walk out of the hospital with him. Now, it's so hard to believe that I almost denied the people around me the opportunity to know my special little boy for as long as they could while he was here.  I almost denied them the blessing of his sweet life.

Nearly every moment since that fatal diagnosis has been a carefully crafted attempt to appear as though I am not flying by the seat of my pants, even while I continue to struggle to live in my new normal.  As many times as I've misstepped, I still can't help but feel that everything worked out just the way it was supposed to. Somehow, everything's been alright, and everything's going to be alright. I didn't know it would be, and I certainly didn't know what kind of reaction to expect the day I left a stack "coming out" letters at The Wright Place to be distributed, and posted the same letter on Facebook to circulate the shocking news that Gabriel, the child who at that point was known only as The Pumpkin, had anencephaly. How could I have known that I would be met with love and support beyond my wildest dreams? How could I have known that people all around me from all faiths and all walks of life across the country and all over the world would take this journey with me to give my son's life an even greater meaning that I ever could have wanted? My son has intrinsic value as a person, a child of God. The legacy he left behind in his passing, the legacy that continues to develop, is thanks to the network of support that he has inspired.

In the last week or so a Facebook article has been circulating, revived after more than a year, telling the story of a mother of an anencphalic baby, Grayson, whose photos of his exposed defect caused his mother and the photos to be banned by Facebook.  The photos must have been reported, presumably by someone within the family's network.  The story has been sent to me, posted on my wall, and posted by others with my name tagged numerous times over the last week.  When the story first came out I posted a photo of Gabriel uncapped in a show of solidarity with the Walker family.  My response then was the same as it is now:  As angry as I am that someone would report photos of an innocent child as offensive because he didn't look like everyone else, I am beyond grateful for the compassion that has been showed to my son.  When I made the decision to show photos of Gabriel with his defect exposed, I was met with the support that I have come to expect in the last three years.  No one ran.  No one shielded their eyes.  No one could see anything "wrong," all they could see was the infectious smile that Gabriel has become known for.  There are some pretty lousy human beings out there but they are far outnumbered by the incredible, kind, compassionate human beings.

How fortunate I am to have fallen in love with one of the latter.

When, after my child died and I became single again, I suspect few people looked at me as a single mother.  Although Gabriel was a part of my every day life, I also assumed that if and when I found someone again that part of my life would be private, mine, something I was expected to keep to myself.  So when I met a man who admired the mother that I am to my deceased son I was stunned.  When I met a man who considered Gabriel not only a part of me, but a part of me that he loves deeply and has loved about me from the beginning of our relationship, I thought he was too good to be true.  And when that man asked me to marry him, as he did this past weekend, I knew that I had to be the luckiest girl in the world.

I'm coming out:  I have found in Marcos Lopez, everything I ever could have hoped for in my new normal, and everything I've searched for all my life.  He is going to be not only the kind of husband that I've dreamed of, but the stepfather to my son that I never dared to hope for, with a love for both of us that I didn't know could be.  He is already the greatest father that I could have asked for our unborn child.

I'm never going to "get over" my past.  I'm always going to carry with me the pain of some of its devastating events.  But I've met someone who loves me not in spite of that past, but because I've pushed my way through it.  I can't wait to walk with him, my hand in his, our baby in my arms, my son in our hearts, towards our future.