Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chasing Rainbows

I'm not supposed to say this, but *looks around at who might be listening/reading* I want another baby. I want another baby with an all-consuming desire that I can't ignore.

This is a discussion that is simply not being had with my husband right now. We have agreed to just stop talking about a plan for another baby, until we can figure some things out. And it maddens me a point where I want to explode. "Love is not selfish," the Bible explains, and so if I love my husband I must not bring up a subject that he is not ready for. Of course, I sefishly think that HE is selfish, for refusing to talk about something that means so much to me.

There is even a term for babies born after infant and pregnancy loss. Rainbow babies. What a beautiful name, right? They are so called because like a rainbow, they do not take away the pain of the storm. They do not mean the storm never occurred. In fact, they are the product of a storm, valued and cherished and especially beautiful because of what it took to get to the rainbow. I have been waiting for my rainbow since before Gabriel was even born, though I love Gabriel wih all of my heart. Actually, I believe Ben was dreaming about our rainbow, literally, while I was pregnant with Gabriel. He and my mom both dreamed of a baby girl, though I was sure that Gabriel was a boy. I suspect this was the baby-to-be, the rainbow, showing herself in their dreams so that we might believe that we would survive losing Gabriel and that there would be something to look forward to.

But I am restless, waiting for this rainbow. I guess I feel that until I have that rainbow, the storm is just raging on destructively, tearing me apart. I don't think it's fair that I have to wait, I truly don't. Ben told me that this Thanksgiving was the first time he didn't cook something. He said that he didn't feel like himself, that cooking is such a part of him that he didn't know what to do or how to celebrate if he was not cooking. All I could think is that I am a mom, and for the last six months I have been a mom with no baby to hold or care for. Being a mom is so much a part of me that I don't really know what to do with myself. I feel lost. And I don't know how to find myself. And I don't know what to do if we are not moving towards building what is so much a part of me. And I don't know how much longer I can keep this subject out of my home and out of my relationship with my husband. How long do I have to pretend like avoiding the conversation of a rainbow baby isn't eating a hollow in my heart?

Two four-legged creatures, Gideon and Noelle, absorb the love and nurturing that I would pour upon a child here on earth. Today Ben told me that he would like them to start spending more time outside, coming inside mostly just to sleep. It was like a punch in the chest. The only babies I have here, two dogs, are slowly being banished and removed from my life. But love is patient, love does not make demands, love shuts the hell up even when it is being tested and trampled on and denied.

Where does love go when it's not being received? Love is not finite, love is not tangible and allegedly we have an endless supply of it. But how long can love just pour into a void before the person pouring out her love simply falls in and drowns? How much longer do I have before I drown?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in a Cemetary


The first Christmas after losing a child is everything you might imagine it to be. As soon as I woke up I was hit with the realization that my first-born child Gabriel was not here to celebrate this most special of days with me. I made it through most of Mass but cried near the very end, for no particular reason. Throughout the entire day I couldn't shake the feeling that something - someone - was missing. Of course, it's a feeling I've been living with since the day Gabriel died. It is a feeling that I have felt since I miscarried Baby Cude. In all honesty, it is a feeling I have been carrying since the day, whenever it was, that I realized I was meant to be a mommy and didn't know how long it would be or what I would go through to become a mommy.

The highlight of my day came as a surprise to me. My dad, aunt and I went to the cemetary to visit Gabriel, who I had taken flowers to last Thursday. I felt like a bad mommy on Thursday, knowing that through the month of December other families had already brought their loved ones holiday flowers and decorations. Today I went to the cemetary because I thought it was what I was supposed to do on these big holidays, but the joy of the experience caught me by surprise. In the last three days even more people had brought red and while flowers, small Christmas trees, tinsel, and candy cane decorations. Many people, much more than usual, were there visiting their lost loved ones. I saw a family of two parents and two children sitting around a headstone talking and enjoying the day. All of these people have loved ones who have left this earth, but they are still very much a part of their lives, especially on Christmas day. That feeling that of "Christmas," the kind described in songs and stories, prevailed in the cemetary, and if every year is like this, visiting me precious boy's earthly remains in this beautiful place is something I will gladly do in years to come.

Some have suggested I am stuck in the past, or not moving forward as I should, because I choose to honor Gabriel's memory by talking about him, displaying pictures of him, giving him a Christmas stocking and ornament, and wrapping a gift for his daddy, from Gabriel (and Gideon). I suppose some people think I am in denial, that part of me doesn't recognize that Gabriel is gone. To some degree I suppose they are right, because while I know he has died, a part of him, his spirit, his memory, is all around me. I embrace the idea of always keeping him a part of our lives.

While the surprisingly joyful trip to the cemetary was the best part of my Christmas day, my favorite gift came yesterday, when Ben told me that we could go pick up my new puppy. Gideon's parents had a new litter or puppies in October, and though I had long insisted that I wanted another male dog, when I visited my Aunt Naomi who owns Gideon's parents, I quickly fell in love with one of the female puppies. Aunt Naomi reserved the puppy for me, and had a red felt collar with bells on it and a big red bow ready to dress her in when I picked her up.



I named our new puppy Noelle, and though Gideon will always be my very special boy, Noelle has been a wonderful distraction. Watching Gideon and Noelle play warms my heart. It is a bittersweet experience, as so many things are these days, when I consider that in a different world we would have a six-month old Gabriel or a one-year old Baby Cude to share this experience with us. Still, as I watch Gideon run around the yard, allowing Noelle to chase him and catch up with and jump on him, I think about what a good big brother he was to Gabriel, and what a good big brother he will be to our future children. I look forward to raising Noelle, to caring for her and watching her grow. Noelle and even Gideon could never take the place of my children, but they are loveable and loving reminders that even in a dark world, where babies must sometimes leave their mommies, there is a reason to keep going.

Merry Christmas, my babies.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Baby Cude

In my nightstand there are two journals, with more blank pages than filled. Each are journals I kept during my pregnancy, with the entries written as letters to my unborn children. Sometimes, when I am missing them so much I have to let it out with a pen, I write letters to them still. This is the letter I wrote to Baby Cude this morning, one year after Baby Cude's due date, which was December 19, 2010:

Dear Baby Cude

It's your would-be birthday! This day will always be bittersweet to me, as I wonder when you would have been born, what it would be like to go to the hospital to have you, what you would look like. You are still such a mystery to me. Are you a boy or a girl? What would we name you?

Recently someone asked if I have every prayed for a sign, to know if you are a boy or girl. I think I still want that to be a surprise when I see you in Heaven someday.

Today I can't help but wonder what you would be doing. How big would you be? What would it be like to watch your daddy play with you?

This day last year I recall feeling guilty from teh moment I woke up - How could I be carrying your little brother when I was supposed to still have you? I had no idea then that Gabriel had anencephaly, or how special he would be too. I know that losing you wounded me deeply, but gave me the strength to carry Gabriel. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming to me, and showing me the meaning of love and sacrifice.

I remember the day I learned you were coming. April 13, 2010. Dad and I had only been married three months but I still felt that was three months too long to wait for you. The thrill of the positive test was something I had never experienced. It was a feeling I have not experienced since. The hope and promise o that day were pure and uncolored by loss. That morning was one of the greatest moments of my life.

My precious baby, you are missed every day. Sometimes it may seem like Gabriel has taken center stage, but you are ALWAYS in my heart, and I miss you with every part of myself. I never got to feel you move, hear your heartbeat, or see your face, but I long for you every day. I look forward to the day I can hold you in my arms and get to know the wonderful person I know you are.

Happy birthday, my sweetheart.

I love you,
Momma

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We Said "Yes."


Luke 1:26-38: 26In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.l 28And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”m 29But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31n Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32o He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”p 34But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”* 35And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.q 36And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37for nothing will be impossible for God.”r 38Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

It was an emotional morning for me as Monsignor Frost, who presided over Gabriel's funeral, read this chapter from the Book of Luke, in which the Angel Gabriel announced the impending birth of the Savior. Gabriel's name was chosen with the Archangel Gabriel in mind. I knew Gabriel would be special, and that those who would open their hearts to him would be forever changed by him. His name needed to reflect his importance, and since he brought such a special message to earth, the name of the Archangel and messenger Gabriel seemed fitting. Sometimes, when I try to answer impossible questions such as why I got to be the lucky mommy who got to keep her baby for ten days, I wonder if it was because I gave Gabriel back to God so early after our diagnosis, asking that if God must take Gabriel from me so soon, that he would allow us both to be instruments of change. I also held fast to my promise to name him also after St. Gerard, who I petitioned to bring Gabriel through birth alive. Ben leaned towards the middle name Michael. We decided it wasn't worth bickering over, so Gabriel's full name became Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude, though his middle names weren't revealed until he was born.

Armed with a specially chosen name, my special little boy changed the world.

But when I heard these verses from Luke today, I also recalled what it was like to be told that the child I was carrying was not what I expected. Of couse, January 31, 2011 wasn't nearly as full of supernatural wonder. An angel didn't appear to me. Instead, an ultrasound tech told me there was a problem, to wait while she got the doctor. I wasn't told I was carrying the Son of God; I was told that I was carrying a child who was incompatible with life. Mary didn't know what to expect of her Christ child, but I was informed that my child, if he survived birth, would live only minutes, maybe hours, or if I were very lucky, days.

Monsignor reminded us today that Mary still had a choice. She had free will, as we all do, to decline to carry this child. How does one say "no" to God, though?

I wonder if Mary also felt that while she had a choice, "no" was not an option for her. She may have been frightened, and wondered what people would say about her. It's no secret that for a minute there, Joseph wanted to bail on her and she must have had to consider the possibility that she might have to carry her child on her own. Clearly even if she considered the risks, she still said "Yes."

Something about just saying "Yes" sets you free. I suppose some people think I am a slave to my God and my Faith. There was a time in my life when I thought being Catholic was nothing more than being a drone. Little by little my heart opened, though, starting with just going back to Mass, an order family friend Father Ralph (Monsignor Bellomini) gave me after Sean died. I started asking the questions I never got answers to as a child, learning where to find answers in the future. I felt called to the pro-life movement, not sure why and surely not anticipating that I would be asked to be a living example. When God presented me with what has been the ultimate challenge in my life so far, it was with a trusting fear that I placed my life and Gabriel's in God's hands. Ben, my steadfast supporter, agreed to hold my hand as we took this leap of faith. We said "Yes" to God, and we were rewarded beyond our dreams. We said "Yes," and the seemingly unnatural death of our child felt perfectly right in the moment. We said "Yes," and we still cry and we still long for things to be different sometimes, and we still miss our child with every beat of our hearts. We said "Yes," and it is a decision we will never regret.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Our Christmas Tree Story


As a child I couldn't understand why our family Christmas tree couldn't look uniform like the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Bank of America building where my mom used to work. Why couldn't we have coordinating glittery glass ornaments, and white lights, and gold ribbon? Why did we have all these mix-matched ornaments, including the ceramic ornaments my mom had made, the ornament they got the first Christmas in the first home they ever bought when I was 13, or ornaments we made in preschool.

Last Christmas, my first Christmas married to Ben, and a season of mixed feelings as I was pregnant with Gabriel but missing Baby Cude, who was due to be born on December 19 of last year, Ben scored a big, beautiful Christmas tree which we had very few decorations for. We had a string of colored lights, and among our very few ornaments, an ornament indicating that Christmas 2010 was our first Christmas as a married couple. Three stockings hung on our TV stand, one for Ben, one for me, and one for Gideon. It was a bare bones Christmas, but it was romantic and full of hope and a feeling of family. For the first time I realized that a family Christmas tree tells a story, and our story was just beginning.

This Christmas I bought just a small tree to fit on an end table. Ben and I covered the base with some scrap material, a shimmery gold material that used to serve as a runner on my dresser top before we were married. We still have to get last year's ornments from our garage, but our tree already has on it the gold teddy bear ornament given to us by Greenlawn Cemetary last week, which reads "Gabriel Cude, June 10, 2011-June 20, 2011." There is also a small Grinch figurine, because Ben shared with me that the Grinch song reminds him of his dad singing the song to him as a child. I picked up a Baby's First Christmas ornament, an ornament I have dreamed of having for so long, which we will put Gabriel's picture in. I have plans to go back and find a special ornament for Baby Cude, which I should have found last year, as well as a 2009 Puppy's First Christmas ornament for Gideon - Gideon doesn't respond well to being left out.

We will add one more stocking this year, for Gabriel and Baby Cude to share. Their stocking will go up every year, no matter how many children join our family. Gabriel and Baby Cude will always be our babies.

I am content with our little tree. A few cheap glass ornaments and some beads and garland adorn it. I am on a quest for an Archangel Gabriel Christmas tree topper -- A little hard to find since Gabriel announced Mary's special pregnancy to her but did not announce the birth of Christ. When I look at our little tree, I see our story unfolding. We are less than two years in, but I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mercy

Mercy: [mur-see] noun, compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one's power; compassion, pity, or benevolence. Just last week I asked for mercy in the confessional, knowing that though I would promise to try to avoid sin in the future, inevitably I would sin again. I will be asking for mercy until the day I die. In fact, I suspect I will be asking for mercy WHEN I die. We all need mercy.

This week, in an effort to cleanse my soul and my life in preparation for the new year, I extended a sort of mercy or forgiveness to some people I have, in some cases, long harbored resentment towards for wrongs they had committed against me. The thing about mercy is that often we humans don't think we need it. The response to one of my merciful gestures was anger and pride -- and an accusation that maybe I was proud and self righteous myself for reaching out. Which made me think maybe I was. At what point is mercy or forgiveness something we keep within our hearts, and when do we need to express mercy out loud, for, well, the mercy of the person we are reaching out to?

While I was handing out forgiveness and forgetfulness, I sought forgiveness from some people I had wronged as well. I suspect I will never hear back from them, but hey, I asked. Forgiveness and mercy are trickier issues than I had ever realized. They only seem to get trickier as I get older, as I realize how short life can be (a lesson I thought I had learned well already, but one that seems to require constant refreshers).

An afternoon of (trying) to make amends had me feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, which became weighed down once again as I caught in my Facebook newsfeed a huge backlash of a response to an episode of Harry's Law on NBC, which aired on Wednesday December 7, 2011. One of the plots of the episode involved a mother on trial for the murder of her three-day old anencephalic baby. The anencephalic community was distraught over a comment made comparing anencephalic babies to a houseplant. We peppered Harry's Law's Facebook page with stories of just how alive our children were. We shook our fingers at NBC for using anencephaly, a little-understood neural tube defect, to gain ratings, and for seizing the opportunity to make a dollar while neglecting their opportunity to educate viewers about an often misunderstood disease.

But another aspect of the show niggled at me, one that maybe I understand in a way that is different from other mothers because of the length of time I had with Gabriel. By the end of the episode the nurse is revealed as the actual murderer, having broken the baby's neck as an act of mercy. The nurse alleged that the baby's death would otherwise be painful and slow. Breaking the baby's neck would be more dignified.

Which makes me wonder, who the hell asked Nurse Angel-Of-Death for her brand of mercy anyway? Where do these twisted ideas of dignity come from? I watched Gabriel's life slip away on HIS terms. He fought as long as HE wanted to. And it was not a quick death, because his body still clearly wanted to live. It is our most base instinct, to keep breathing, to keep living. I plead with God to take Gabriel from his pain, flooded with mixed emotions because as much as I didn't want to see him hurt, I didn't want to let him go either. Never, not once, did I consider taking his life into my own hands. His death was inevitable, but at the end of my life if someone says I can have ten more days, ten more hours, even ten more minutes, I want them. I have complete faith that a more beautiful life awaits us, but a beautiful world holds us here too. One more sunrise, one more summer day, I want it all and like my son, I will not go without a fight. When mercy means the taking of a life, mercy is simply not ours to give.

The baby in Harry's Law was not given a name. I haven't seen the episode myself yet (and will remedy any inaccuracies I have stated here, when I do), but no one that has can tell me if the baby was a boy or a girl. The episode simply wasn't that personal.

But my son has a name. Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude.

And there are more like him, and they have names, and birthdays, and angel days too: Carys Rainn, Elizabeth, KayLynn, Gracie Beth, Karys, Noella, Anouk, Carleigh, Faith Hope, Leilani, Blessing, EmmaLynn Grace, Emma Edith, Paige Miracle, Kelly, Tess, Fiona, Gianna, Valentina, Riley, Gabrielle Renee, Palmer, Theo, Christopher, Rafael, Thomas, Loren, Kolton Sage, Samuel, and many, many more are the faces of anencephaly. They lived. They were loved. They will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

He Still Lived

Sometimes I get the feeling people WANT to ask about Gabriel, but are afraid to. Maybe they feel uncomfortable, or don't want to make others around us uncmfortable, or don't want to make me sad by bringing him up as if a moment of the day could go by where I forget that I am a mommy and that my son is in Heaven. Yesterday I had a solo counseling session for the first time since Gabriel died. At the end of the session my counselor asked to see pictures of Gabriel. I don't know if this was one of her counseling tricks, her way of acknowledging my son so I would feel better, or if she had genuine curiosity. Either way, it worked. I happily showed her a couple of pictures of Gabriel, smiling as I always do when I get to show off his picture. Today a new co-worker boldly asked a few questions about Gabriel and asked to see some of his pictures. I showed her a few that I have on my phone, but she wanted to see more. She wanted to scroll through all of them, but I was worried about her coming across some of pictures of his opening. I didn't want to freak her out, and I didn't want her response to freak me out, so I offered to show her a few of the less severe pictures. She took a deep breath and said, "If his were my child I would look." I don't know what her honest thoughts were, but if she was startled she didn't show it. I love when people ask even strange questions about Gabriel. I love explaining what anencephaly is, sharing with women the importance of folic acid, talking about how rare and special it is that Gabriel lived for ten days, showing pictures of his shocking blond hair. Long ago I learned that people will avoid what makes them uncomfortable, and death tops the list of uncomfortable things to talk about. But I learned the above fact while also learning that death is just a part of life. I'm not afraid to talk about it. I'm not afraid to hear about it. Sometimes, when someone's loved one dies, one consolation that we can provide them is the opportunity to talk freely about their death and their memory. People can avoid talking about my son all they want. If avoiding the subject spares them discomfort it does so at my expense. Whether someone talks about him or not, Gabriel is still my son. He is still noticeably absent from my arms every day. I'm still his mommy. He still lived.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Vampire Eyes

When I was pregnant with Gabriel I joked that being pregnant was like being a vampire; my skin glowed, my hair was luxurious, and sometimes I wanted to bite someone's face off. I completed the Twilight Saga while I was pregnant, and as I tend to do when reading fiction, I found myself relating the novel to my own life. Though I never related much to Bella, who I found needy and annoying, and never related Ben much to Edward, who I also found needy and annoying, at the very least, Bella and I were pregnant together. Still consumed by blissful pregnancy ignorance, the pregnancy was where mine and Bella's similarities ended. There was to my knowledge nothing as dramatic as carrying a half-human/half-vampire child happening in my life. Where Bella's life was in danger, mine was not. Bella and Edward had no idea how their child would look, what he or she would be, or how he or she would come into the world. Their child, ultimately a she, couldn't even be seen on an ultrasound.

But Gabriel could. It was in an ultrasound image that Gabriel's anencephaly was discovered. The joy of the pregnancy was choked by fear when the words "incompatible with life" were uttered.

What would we do? Following the initial diagnosis, Ben and my parents and even I began to fear for my physical well-being. Was this anencephalic "monster," as such babies were once called, going to threaten my life? Was I really prepared to risk my life for a baby that wouldn't live either?

Our fears of my own doom were soon put to rest when we learned that carrying an anencephalic baby to term presents no more risk than a typical pregnancy. Our choice then became clear, and that was that there was no other choice than to carry what we learned was our son to term.

But I was afraid of Gabriel. I loved him with my whole being, but I was afraid of what he would look like. I knew that these babies were once considered "monsters" even in medical textbooks. I could pick apart the term "anencephaly" and knew that it meant "without a brain." I imagined in my mind a child literally born without a brain, and without a skull cap. What would that look like? How could I ever look at, let alone hold, even my own son if he looked like such a monster? But then again, how could he be a monster, really? He was my son. I was assured even by a neonataloligist that parents don't see their child's defect. When they look at their child, even one the world would consider alien, they see love.

Like Bella's father-in-law Carlisle, I searched the internet for information on the type of child I was about to give birth to. I quickly decided not to look at pictures of the exposed defect of anencephalic babies. I loved my child and would love him no matter what he looked like, and I would not develop a prejudice towards Gabriel by looking at pictures of other people's children, who were loved regardless of their own defect, and frightening myself. Gabriel would know only love.

I became ferocious in my protection of Gabriel. I rarely let anyone touch my pregnant belly, knowing rationally that just a touch would not hurt his delicate head but still fearing for his safety. I held my belly protectively, creating another barrier between the world and Gabriel, while still assuring people that Gabriel was human, just a baby, worthy of their love.


Breaking Dawn had long left my mind with all I was going through with Gabriel, until the movie was released last week. On the day of the movie's release I watched the film with new eyes. I developed a respect for Bella that I never had while reading the novels, as well as a respect for Rosalie. While others would refer to the monster that Bella was carrying as a fetus, Rosalie was quick to say "Call it what it is -- A BABY. It's JUST A LITTLE BABY."

Did anyone know, did even Bella know, that they could love a little baby monster so much? Yet two little monsters, Gabriel and Reneesme, stole the hearts of everyone around them. The world held their breath to learn what was in store for Gabriel and Reneesme.

I've learned through what I call my new vampire eyes not to fear the word "monster." We are all, to some degree, monsters driven by our own carnal desires and free will. But we all make choices every day, choices to succumb to our desires or choices to rise above what we want in the moment and choose instead to act selflessly. We make choices to love even those we fear.

In the Twilight series novels, a theme arises that the movies never substantially address. Edward, the vampire protagonist, wrestles with his fate as a vampire. Is he damned? He thinks he is. Bella, however, refuses to believe that someone with a kind heart, someone who makes pure, selfless choices, is damned, even for all he's done wrong in the past.

The possibility of damnation exists for all of us. Temptation surrounds us. So does love. And love can rescue us from even the darkest of places. Love can sustain us and inspire us and indeed as a Christian I believe the salvation of our souls is the product of the purest Love of all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Don't Believe in Rainbows

The plan almost worked. For most of November I would wake up every morning excited to participate in my Facebook challenge to share something I am grateful for every day of the month. Some mornings I shared very big things; other mornings I shared some of the little ways that I feel blessed. Every day I realized there were many things to give thanks for and I'd have a hard time narrowing my daily post down. Taking the time to realize how very fortunate I am improved my attitude, and I started to think that maybe life has just begun and there must be even more to look forward to.

Then a face from my past reappeared, taking me back to one of the darkest times in my life. Survival has often felt like an uphill battle since that time and I don't like to think about the things I did and the people I hurt and how. Seeing that face again reminded me of the person I used to be and I started to wonder if that person had ever really changed. Sometimes it feels like life has been dealing me blow after blow since then and I think sometimes that somehow the balance of the universe is being preserved by these blows. Something is somehow being made up for. . . Maybe - probably - something I did.

Yes, lately I spend a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. Usually guilt accompanies the self-pity but not lately. Lately the self-pity is pure. I lost my child -- the child who was supposed to be the rainbow after I lost the fetus, Baby Cude, who I happen to consider my child as well. And then there's the other stuff. . .

I thought a lot about rainbows today. Well, not just today. For the past few months I have been on a rainbow chase. A rainbow baby is a baby born after infant or pregnancy loss, and there's some beautiful explanations as to why those babies are so named, but my rainbow has evaded me. Our doctor initially told us to wait four to six months before trying again but in my heart I was trying long before then. Which led to disappoinment, month after month.

It seems more romantic than it is, but today I was chasing a rainbow. Ben and I had a fight and he left for Los Angeles, and like a puppy I chased him halfway up the mountain before the elements forced a turn-around. On my way back home I saw a rainbow, the product of stormy weather and rain. The more I drove the more I realized I would never touch the rainbow. It was an illusion, a trick played by someone to make me run and run and run only to realize I would never have what I was chasing. I suppose what hurt the most is that what I have been chasing has a name and a face and a future, all imagined by me and all cut short by a little pink line that never appeared.

So here I am: A girl chasing a rainbow that elludes capture. The rainbow has many colors. One is a man who flees capture himself, a man who longs to be free and held by no one. Another is a child who may or may not exist. And another band still are Gabriel and Baby Cude, the bands of color that I may never see on this earth.

The trick to the rainbow is that it is never caught. It is constantly pursued but rarely captured. I have friends chasing their own rainbows, and I have friends who think they have caught theirs. I've begun to think my rainbow doesn't exist. But if she does -- Well, she's a she. She has a name and future that I dreamed for her. I know how quickly a future is cut short. I dream of her prom dress and her wedding dress. I imagine who she will choose to be her confirmation saint. I see Gideon nestled against her while she is a baby, then I see her nestled against Gideon when the vet says, "It's time to make some decisions." I see her loving her grandparents the way I never loved mine. I see her carrying flowers to her big brother's grave. I see her holding my hand as I take my last breath, promising her that I will love her and wait for her as I waited for as I wait for her brother Gabriel now. There are nights where I whisper her name as I fall asleep and it feels odd to me, as I have always imagined my children as little boys, having no idea what I would do with a little girl. Now I know what I would do if God presented me with a daughter: I would love her.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Clues


I never loved my body more than when I was pregnant. It felt so natural, like I was finally doing what i was made for. I was too clumsy to be an athlete; too short to be beautiful but too tall to be cute; too wide to be thin but too narrow to be curvy. While I was pregnant, though, I was at home. Maternity clothes not only fit, they flattered. My hair, which was always thick but also dry and brittle, became shiny and easier to manage. I felt truly beautiful, for the first time in my life.

I miss pregnancy. I miss the closeness of Gabriel. I miss his being here. I miss the sense of purpose that pregnancy with Gabriel brought me.

In the ten days that Gabriel was here with us, my body's purpose changed. Gabriel rested his head on my chest, my arms held and comforted him, my back rocked him and my legs carried him here and there. With an achy, tired body I cared for my son as all new mothers care for their children, and beyond.

The maternity clothes have been packed away. The swelling in my legs has disappeared. My hair has started falling out and is dry and brittle again. Sometimes, with no baby here to remind me that it was all real, pregnancy seems but a dream. Nearly everything has gone back to normal. Even most of the baby weight disappeared, though I quickly found new pounds to replace it with.

But there are subtle reminders that I really did carry a baby within me. My shoes fit a little tighter, suggesting that my feet have grown as my mom's did with her pregnancies. A number of my pre-pregnancy jeans won't pull up past my hips, evidence that I am a little wider post-pregnancy. The strongest reminder though, the clearest proof that Gabriel was more than a dream, is the imprint he left on my heart. It is too powerful to be a dream.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I am.

A year ago I went for my first prenatal exam during my pregnancy with Gabriel. A nurse practioner saw me and near the end of my exam, asked me to lay down so she could search for a heartbeat with her doppler. She warned me not to get upset if we couldn't find the heartbeat. It was still early in the pregnancy yet and a heartbeat can't always be picked up at that stage. But after searching for just a moment Gabriel's heartbeat could be heard loud and clear. Tears rolled uncontrollably down my cheeks; we had never heard our first baby's heartbeat, having lost him or her too soon. But this child, even so early in the pregnancy, had a heartbeat that was already loud and strong. Gabriel's heartbeat came to mean so much to me, and when his heart stopped beating, I think mine did too for a time. I remember CM Tracy once responding in a forum that posed the question "Motherhood: What's in it for you?" I recall her answer vividly: "What's in it for me? I get to watch my heart beat outside of my body." I have always remembered her response and looked forward to the day when I could experience that too, and so it followed that when Gabriel's heart stopped, mine should too. And though the mechanics of my body continue to function, a piece of my metephorical heart is gone.

After Gabriel was born, I was a differrent person and I say so often. I dress differently - I am a mom now, after all. I see the world differently. I don't want to go back to the woman I was before I was a mother. I like the person I am since I have had children.

But I now that sometimes, when I'm sitting in a bar with a beer in my hand, people must wonder what kind of mother I am. What kind of mother spends more time in a bar than at home with her children? Of course, all they've ever heard me say is "I am a mom now." They see pictures of my son, and sometimes I like to forget to tell them that he is not with me anymore. Sometimes it's just nice to pretend. No matter what they might think of me, sometimes it is easier to let them think I am just a bad mom, insteaed of looking into their eyes filled with pity when they know I am actually a mother who has lost her child.

Sometimes I feel like Elizabeth Taylor's character in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Since Gabriel has gone I feel as though the show I am putting on never ends, ad it has made me quirky, caused me to drink too much sometimes, made me mean to my husband. When I catch myself goading my husband until he says something mean back I wonder why I am doing it, and I think it must be to get him to say something that will smart, something to distract me from the constant ache of living without my babies.

Being Elizabeth Taylor isn't as glamorous as it seems. Not when she's Martha. Martha is getting old and bitter. Martha tries to stiffle her hurt but the pain is always there and inevitably it errupts from time to time. Sometimes, I think I might be turning into Martha.

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? . . . I am.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Month of Thanks


Recently I was informed that November is National Blogposting Month -- Everything has a month now, after all. National Blogposting Month is a challenge to bloggers to post an entry every day in the month of November. While this challenge excites the writer and competitor in me, I've decided not to engage in the challenge. This blog is the only one I keep, except for notes posted on Facebook and blogs posted on MySpace, and the purpose of this blog is specific: To tell about my journey in carrying my anencephalic son, caring for him during his ten days on earth, and learning to cope with life since his passing. Gabriel's Message isn't the right forum for carrying out the blogging challenge.

After I was alerted to National Blogposting Month, I also noted that there is a month-long challenge happening on Facebook right now. The challenge is for members to post something every day that they are grateful for, at least up until Thanksgiving (so it appears).

The "Thankful Challenge" was more appealing to me. In keeping Gabriel's Message I find comfort and release, but I sometimes become so focused on what I don't have -- my children, here on earth with me -- that I forget to show gratitude for the many, many things I do have. First and foremost among my blessings are my two children, though they dwell in Heaven rather than with me. But my blessings do not end there. While I question often why God has dished me SO much in my 30 years, I also look around at least as often and realize that I truly love my life. I am fortunate to have not only a roof over my head, but to be able to live in a nice home. My husband drives me up the wall, regularly, but I recall the loneliness of my not-so-distant single days and know that I would rather learn to live in a marriage than return to a life without Ben.

Yes, I am blessed. My recent bout of depression has blurred my vision some and I find myself feeling sorry more than I should, but I am not blind to the fact that I have been given much in this life -- and of those given much, much is expected. There can't be ups without some downs. So I dedicate this month to celebrating the ups, the multitude of blessings in my life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Survive the Death of a Child

I may have gone off the deep end. I'm not sure yet, because I've been just treading water for quite some time now, so I haven't yet figured out how far beneath me the floor is. These days, I don't even know how I am getting through the day. I eat because I have to, not because I love it like I used to. I survive, but I'm not quite sure I live. I'm simply going through the motions.

I've recently deduced that Ben is ready to put Gabriel's memories away. Or maybe I have only decided that Ben never memorialized Gabriel the way that I did, and so it was best for our marriage if we just stop talking about him, or being reminded of him. I put most of his pictures away. I removed his picture from the wallpaper on my phone, so I wouldn't see him every time I picked it up. I took his ultrasound images off the refrigerator. I've informed Ben that I would like to move out of the house that we brought Gabriel home to, the place where he died, as soon as possible. I would also like a puppy, immediately, so I have something else to fuss over.

But I just couldn't leave Gabriel's memory alone. Since the day we received Gabriel's death certificate, I have been niggled by the fact that it does not include Gabriel's middle names. The "no" box has also been checked under the questions "Is the decedent Hispanic or of Latin descent?" The certificate also fails to include mine and Ben's middle names. As a student of history I am bothered by the fact that Gabriel's birth and death certificates are inconsistent. These records should be scrupulously preserved! My child's memory, his history, should be accurate. As his mother I would see to the proper recording of his memory. So, I went to the city's hall of records and requested a copy of Gabriel's birth certificate to put in our family Bible. I also asked what the procedure was for curing the defects in his death certificate. I was given a form and told to submit the corrections to the state office for vital records.

This still wasn't sufficient to me. I headed to the church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, under whose jurisdiction Memorial Hospital, where Gabriel was born and baptized, falls. I wanted an official copy of Gabriel's baptism certificate. When I learned that Gabriel's baptism hadn't been recorded at the church, I asked what I needed to do to correct that. There wasn't much more to be done today, so exhausted, I went home to write this blog and do the one thing that pacifies me anymore: tend to my virtual cafe in Facebook's Cafe World.

What has me so frazzled lately? I suppose the obvious answer is the loss of my son, a fact that I still haven't been able to grip completely. Maybe it's the fact that without a baby in my life, and without much of a professional career, I feel useless. The fact that my husband has been in transition in his own career hasn't made life very stable for us either. The fact that I feel as though he's lost interest in me and lost interest in our baby has me feeling not so stable myself. I stopped worrying about what he might think when he reads my blogs, probably because he stopped reading them. Ironically, I blog to provide an insightful tool into the mind of a mourning mother and wife, but the person I most wish would tap into my mind has no interest in this tool I've provided.

Recently I read the following poem by Gretchen Warren:

"Forgive me, Friend
If I don’t seem there—
If I seem a little distant
Or you think I don’t care.
My child has died

It’s hard to explain
My down-an-out days
When I don’t respond
Or I seem in a daze
My child has died.

I seem to be happy
When I suddenly cry—
The emotion overpowers me,
Hard as I try.
My child has died

So forgive me, My Friend,
When I can’t seem to give.
I’m doing all I can
Just to get up and live.
My child has died."

My child has died. And that about sums up what has happened in my life, what has me a shattered, broken shell of the woman I once was. My child has died and that's why I don't get out of bed until I have to -- why sometimes I struggle to believe there is even anything important enough to warrant "having to" get up. My child has died and that is why I have moments when I realize that I have driven somewhere, but can't remember the drive. My child has died, and that is why my husband and I are like roommates, sharing a space but simply passing each other by with distracted minds. Our child has died. We, and our marriage, will never be the same.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Do-Overs

"If it is possible, let this cup pass from me," Jesus asked the Lord before he was seized and later crucified. Just goes to show that human nature is to resist that which causes us suffering.

Yesterday was National Infant Loss Rememberance Day. I honored my son by lighting a candle for him and other babies that have died, but even as I remembered Gabriel and his legacy I wished that he was here for me to hold. Today is the feast day of St. Gerard, the patron saint of expectant mothers. I prayed to St. Gerard for Gabriel's safe delivery and asked also that Gabriel would live to be properly baptized. I cried with relief as Gabriel was being baptized but that relief was mixed with sadness that I was going to have to turn my son over to God sooner than I would have wanted. I had, following Gabriel's first diagnosis, asked God to spare me this cross but I vowed that if two weeks and one day after Gabriel's initial diagnosis, a specialist confirmed what we had already been told, I would accept God's will. I knew that I had already given my son back to God and I was blessed by every minute I had with Gabriel after he was born. Every single one of those moments were a gift.

After a long night at work I found myself having a night cap with a local bartender and his lone patron besides me. We agreed that we could discuss politics and still stay friends and so the conversation began. We talked taxation, party affiliation and abortion. "I know this is a sensitive subject," the patron said to me. I suppose he thought my experience with Gabriel, a child who had at least a 90% chance of being aborted if he were given a different mother, has made me passionately opposed to abortion. He just doesn't understand that the reason my son was carried to term was because I was already passionately opposed to abortion. I believe in an unborn child's right to live; that didn't change because the unborn child I was carrying wasn't going to be what I thought he would be. He wasn't going to play football for the East High Blades or become a doctor or make me a grandmother. But he was and always will be my son.

A few cocktails later our conversation veered off into the darkness of challenging ethical questions: When is it okay to kill an unborn child? When is it okay to kill any child. What if you were in Nazi Germany, and they asked you to choose, you or your child? Or worse, one of your children to spare the other? These questions are probably impossible to answer, the kind of questions where if you are ever in this very unlikely but very unfortunate situation to have to answer them, you would have to answer them to the best of your ability and trust that God can read your heart and that your heart is pure. Then, the other patron said to me, "You know the Nazis performed a series of experiments that yielded information about the human brain, neuroscience, but the information has been sealed. The experiments were so heinous that society has decided that the information gathered from them is not worth their benefit. The world still hasn't come close to achieving the knowledge that was gained from those experiments. Should that information be unsealed?" Well, that cuts to the heart of my matter, doesn't it? With more knowledge about the human brain, it is possible my son might still be here today. He has just presented me with a scenario that, if true, could have meant the difference in the length of my son's life. I might not have been lighting a candle yesterday; instead, I might have been holding my four month old son.

The question is impossible -- I don't even know if what the man said was true, but even if he were telling the truth, I don't have the power to access that information. Perhaps it is easy for me to answer this question knowing my answer doesn't matter, but my answer is still no. No, I wouldn't want that information unsealed, not just for the sake of saving my own son's life anyway. I wish I could say I don't want that information because of how it was obtained. Because experiments performed on Jews in Nazi Germany stripped those victims of their dignity, caused their suffering, devastated the world, orphaned children, caused other parents to have to lose their own children which is an experience I would wish on no one. I wish I could say that the only reason I would answer that impossible question with "No" is because I think it is morally correct to to keep that information sealed.

But my answer is selfish. I guess I see Gabriel as a sort of savior. I might never know how many minds he has changed and how many lives he has changed as a result. Views of his blog keep rising, I have received e-mails and public comments from strangers. A card with a link to his blog is attached to the bunch of flowers that decorates his niche at the cemetary and I don't know who might have tuned in since that was left. Gabriel's effect on the world amazes me. He undoubtedly has a place in Heaven and is it not the goal of a Catholic parent to raise children of God who will become heirs to God's Kingdom? I am selfish for not wanting to trade in my experience with Gabriel, even to have him here with me now. Some might say I have made a sacrifice, but really my loss was not my choice. I am just a selfish woman who was given a gift, who took her gift and held and enjoyed him. Now I selfishly want to be a part of Gabriel's mission.

"But not my will, but Your will be done," Jesus said. God's will was for Gabriel to live for ten days. They were exhausting days that challenged me, challenged my husband, challenged our marriage all for an inevitable ending. But they are ten days that I wouldn't give back, days that I will cherish for the rest of my life and that, as I am dying in what I hope is many years from now I will recall as I look forward to joining my son. And just like I wouldn't give back those ten days, I wouldn't take my son back now. I would not pluck him from his place in heaven just to have him in my arms, not after all the good he has done for others. Not after all the good that he has done for me. God's will, God's plan, is perfect. We are not promised a life free from struggle and pain. We are only promised that God will carry us through it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Just Be Nice

Yesterday some guy cut me off on the way to Jack in the Box.

Wait. Let me rewind.

As many of my friends and family know, back in 2004 I started working at a little bar called Charly's, which has since changed ownership and been renamed The Wright Place. Two weeks before graduation from law school the job offer that I had been depending on was revoked due to a hiring freeze. I asked the new owners, Rick and Lynn, if they would let me come back to fill in and they did. Though I continued to submit resumes to law offices, I had no response and soon grew disenchanted with the rudeness I began to associate with legal practice. Two years after graduation, and two lost babies later, I am still at the Wright Place tending bar and taking on legal side jobs. I love my job, very much. I love my life. I feel very blessed that in a world where so many people are out of work, I have a job that I love and work for people who care about be.

Lately, though, I have grown increasingly disenchanted not with bartending, not just with the legal community, but with, well, everything. I've been stiffed by a client. That doesn't make me as angry as the fact that recently I have performed some work for another attorney, someone who lives in LA and needed some work done in Kern County, and she has stiffed me too. I know that eventually I will probably have to work my way into full time legal practice, but being reminded of how rude and unscrupulous people can be hasn't done much to instill faith in me.

I find my escape from that world, oddly, in a bar where we often see people at their lowest. I find comfort in being able to comfort others. I have learned that most of the time, my kindness towards others is rewarded by their kindness when I need it. The patrons at two different bars funded Gabriel's burial expenses almost entirely, just out of kindness. For my birthday this year, my boss took a simple step: She remembered what my favorite food is, macaroni and cheese, and made a huge dish of it for me. Another patron brought me a cherry pie, because I prefer it to cake. I love to be remembered. I love to feel special and important. I make a point to remember what might seem trivial details about others lives. I remember that Carmen likes her gin and tonic with a lemon and two olives. Donny collects state quarters like I do, so I try to remember which state he is looking for to keep my eyes open as well. Trudi prefers her Jager at room temp -- Like most bars, we keep ours in a cooler, but to try to make up for it I give her a room temperature shot glass. James likes his bloody mary simple, with just celery salt, tobasco, lime, and clamato instead of tomato juice. I remember these details because I know that just those little accommodations can go a long way.

Upon arriving at work yesterday I sensed that I was in for a long night when I opened the door and a row of loud, drunk, young guys turned and yelled "Hey."

"Let's try this again," I told them. I walked back outside, closed the door behind me, then walked back in. When I was again greated with the same boisterous "Hey," I knew I would just have to plug ahead. Hi-Fives down the bar were in order; Miguel is a 49ers fan, Wyatt is a Raiders fan, James is a Bills fan, and I am a Charger fan, and all four teams won that day. Remembering a man's football team is just one more way to make him feel special. I thought maybe the evening wouldn't be so bad after all -- until Miguel said the last thing I wanted to hear: "Why are you always so mean to me?" I'm mean? I'm MEAN to him? I'm the first to admit that I am not always smile and sunshine. My friendliness is not always in-your-face. I take a few minutes or more to warm up to people. But I'm NOT mean. And I'm certainly NOT mean to this guy.

I settled into a funk. Everyone proceeded to get drunk. A former co-worker stopped by and for the second time since Gabriel's birth and subsequent death, failed to acknowledge that any of the events of the past year had taken place. Everyone got drunker. People ran out of money. People whined that the bar doesn't take credit cards. A couple came in and offered apologies for their stupidity the last time I saw them, then proceeded to act like idiots again. I closed the bar and couldn't wait until the door closed behind the last of them. Good riddance. I love my job, but the night ended just in time to allow me to continue to love my job today.

I got into my car, further angered by the fact that my turn signal switch is broken and the dealer couldn't get the part until Monday (As in, today -- however when Ben called this morning, he learned the part hadn't been ordered). Why can't stuff just go my way? Why can't people be nice? Why can't people be thoughtful? I was thinking all of this when a man cut me off so he could get to the Jack in the Box drive-thru before me. It was all I could take. I ordered three of my favorite fried side items, drove all the way home without bothering to adjust my broken turn signal, and cried over my bacon cheddar wedges.

Some might think I just want pity for the last few months' events. That's not what I want. Some might think that I feel I've earned some extra niceness. That's not it either. Perhaps I was exceptionally edgy yesterday as I was anticipating Gabriel's four-month birthday today. But I don't think people should be nice to me because I lost my son. I don't even think people should be nice to me in particular. I just think people shouldn't be so damn rude and thoughtless. I just want to know that the next time I bring a child into this world, people will still have it in them to be nice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs, Meet Gabriel Cude


For the last two days, the world has mourned the death of a true role model: Steve Jobs. As a co-founder, innovator, and CEO at Apple, Steve Jobs changed the world and the way we communicate. Apple technology is prevalent today, but as Jobs and Apple developed they also drove competition among others in the industry. Without Jobs, perhaps I wouldn't have had a competing smart phone, from which I kept friends updated throughout Gabriel's life. Perhaps even this blog from which I continue to chronicle our journey would be different, or even non-existent. Who knows how the world would be different if Steve Jobs had never been born?

I am not a technologically sophisticated person. I'd heard of Jobs but never thought much about him. I don't use Apple computers (though 100 years ago, I learned to type on an Apple) and I don't have an Ipod, ITouch, IPad, or IPhone. But as Steve Jobs, the force behind so much of our technology, has been so visible in the headlines since his death I couldn't help but learn something about him. I know that he is a self-made successful business man, a self-proclaimed geek, modest but brilliant. I know that he had cancer, that as he experienced various ups and downs while he battled cancer he knew that he was mortal and would not live forever. I know that he was brave, that he looked at death and told it, "You will not take me without a fight." In a commencement speech addressing graduates of Stanford University in 2005 which has grown in its fame since Jobs' death, Jobs said " No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share.No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new." Steve Jobs got it. He understood what I also learned early in my life: Death is a part of life. It is inevitable. But it is human nature to resist it, to rally against it, and to hold on to every last moment of life on this earth.

Steve Jobs lived about 56 years longer than Gabriel did, yet their commonalities are striking to me. They both demonstrated a fearless strength and a love for life, even with the promise of a better, eternal life waiting for them. They both changed the world in their own unique way. You and I are different because they lived.

Gabriel had even in his short earthly life a look of wisdom and maturity that seemed far greather than his days on earth. His little bald, open head and circle of hair gave him the appearance of a tiny old man. He seemed to know more than he should -- it is a trait common among anencephalic babies. I always imagined that look was just an indication of how important their work here is, and how important they will be in Heaven. I imagine that if they haven't already, Gabriel and Steve Jobs will be introduced soon, and they will have much to talk about. I imagine them sitting at a table, Gabriel having to climb on top of whatever serves as a booster seat in Heaven, and chatting with a wisdom that I hope to know someday. I can't wait to join them both at that table someday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

From Pumpkin to Angel


One year ago and ten minutes after I woke up, I learned that my second child was on his way. I hugged Ben and cried anxious, happy, but fearful tears; my previous pregnancy had ended four months earlier in a miscarriage and though I believed this pregnancy would be successful I couldn't help but be a little frightened. Ben and I agreed this would be our little secret for a while, and I smiled throughout the day at the thought of announcing our pregnancy soon.

As I pulled into the gas station that morning with my radio tuned to 96.5, Loggins and Messina's "Danny's Song" played. For perhaps the first time, I listened closely to the lyrics. A boy. We were going to have a boy. Kenny Loggins called it. "Think I'm gonna have a son," he said. It was surely a sign. Or maybe I just wanted a baby boy. As long as I could remember, I wanted my first born to be a son. No matter; he or she would be special either way. My little Pumpkin. But I was pretty sure he was indeed a he. A very, very special boy.

Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude turned out to be more special than I ever imagined. My anxiety and fears from one year ago were justified, but the joy my son brought to me was greater than I could have dreamed. But I also never dreamed that his life on earth would be so short, or that a child who was on this earth but nine months and ten days could so change the world. I never imagined that his loss could cause a hurt that runs so deep, that I feel from the bottom of my heart.

These days seem to be more of a struggle. I find myself wondering how I am getting through the day and I know that I am only putting one foot in front of the other at times because my brain is making conscious orders to will my body to move. Open eyes. Sit up. Put on slippers. Brush teeth. Take steps. Pet the dog. Go to bank. Smile. Greet others. "I'm fine, thank you." "He would be three months old, but he passed away." "His name IS Gabriel." "It's called anenecephaly; it is always fatal."

I feel sometimes as though I am sharing the details of someone else's life. This can't really be my life. I can't really have a baby boy. He can't really be dead. But he is. He died in my arms, I held him while he took his last breath. That was real. He was real. He is real, he's just not here. My little Pumpkin is an angel now. His name is Gabriel, he had big hands and feet and the Cude nose and crazy blond hair and a beautiful brain that we could see. That's right, remember? We could see his brain, and even though everything else about him was normal -- no, not normal, spectacular -- he was missing part of his skull. That's why he couldn't stay. God made him, but not to stay. Gabriel is gone.

My grief now is two-fold. I am consumed in missing Gabriel, but at the same time my whole being also longs for another baby. I wonder how it can be that I long for both Gabriel and Baby Cude AND another baby (many more babies) so completely. How can I want them all with all that I am, and how is there anything left to feel anything else?

I recently purchased some things for my personal nursery collection. That's right; I have a whole collection of clothes, a swing, cloth diapers, a crib, stuffed animals, bibs. . .Some I collected before I was ever pregnant. Other things were purchased in anticipation of Baby Cude, still others I picked up while I was pregnant with Gabriel. A few things have been purchased since Gabriel passed. Although I will occassionally buy things for either a little girl or little boy, usually I buy gender neutral items.

Shopping for these things seems perfectly normal to me. After having fallen apart after my last trip to Babies R Us, I thought I would give it another try. I found what I wanted, along with an "I'm-Sorry-I'm-A-Basket-Case-And-Couldn't-Make-It-To-Your-Baby-Shower" item, and walked them to the checkstand. When the cashier said, "Here's your gift receipt," I nearly lost my mind. "Look lady, these items are for my personal nursery collection," I wanted to tell her. "Don't look at me like I'm crazy! I have a collection of baby stuff, okay? It's filled with all kinds of goodies, in the event that I have a baby I can keep. Or maybe someone will drop one off on my doorstep -- or maybe she'll even drop three of them off like Alvin and the Chipmunks -- and I'll have everything I need. I've got all kinds of stuff, everything but the baby. So don't judge me, okay lady??!!"

Instead, I just told her thank you. I took my new little socks and onsies home and put them with the rest of my collection. I eyed Gabriel's clothes, some washed and folded in a basket, some stuffed in ziploc bags to preserve his smell. Though they were preserved for the moments when I need a whiff just to take the edge off, I've never opened the bags since he passed. I want to save his smell. I'm afraid of losing his smell. And if I lose his smell, maybe I lose him again too. If I never open the bag, I never have to lose his smell, or maybe if it goes I just never have to know.

On this most sensitive of mornings, I walked to the cemetary to visit Gabriel's niche. I expected and found Gabriel's nameplate has been placed since my last visit. With the cemetary's lawn mowers whirring around me, and people gathering for a funeral nearby, I cried and talked to my son. "You changed me. You made me a better person. You changed the world. I love you, my baby."

One year ago, my life changed forever. And even when I'm grief-stricken, tearful, crazy, heartsick, lonely, empty, shaken, longing, shattered and barely able to move, I will myself to go on. Start the car. Put it in drive. Step on the gas. Go to work. Wash the dish. Water the grass. Feed the dog. Eat your food. One foot. Next foot. Keep walking. Your babies are waiting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sing Us a Song, Piano Man: The Big Three-0


Lindsay and I swayed along as T.J. sang Billy Joel's "Piano Man" at karaoke last night. I was in the mood to share my loneliness with friends and a beer, to "forget about life for a while." My 30th birthday is approaching; it will be here in a matter of hours. I embrace my 30s, look forward to putting my 20s behind me and starting a new chapter of my life. I'm not really afraid of getting older, and think I may have even found my first gray hair this morning, which only made me shrug.

But inevitably, one's 30th birthday will cause some introspection. I have been thinking about the way the last decade has shaped me. Although I think I know myself well, I've still been very unsure lately about where to go or what to do with my life next. I'm the bartending lawyer and while I fantasize about making that a real and lucrative profession the fantasy seems to be ending as I lack the motivation to really make it work. I feel like a hypocrite, having grown frustrated lately that Ben also seems unsure about what kind of career he would like to have and I put pressure on him to be the husband and provider that I need and want. Meanwhile I play bartender, and throw on a suit a couple of times a week, file a document here, make an appearance there, and practice trial objections while watching "The Good Wife." Three long years, thousands of dollars, and hours of practice honing my trial advocacy skills are seemingly wasted, because lately I am most content just serving drinks. Because it's never "just serving drinks." It is the only way I know how to nurse people and make them feel better, in turn making myself feel useful. When I remember what so-and-so drinks, how they like it garnished, and what kind of straw they use, when I ask about their families and their lives out of genuine interest, when I cheer them up and even when I allow them to be the ones to cheer me up, I do something special and worthwhile. I feel wanted, needed, sometimes even like I'm answering a calling. Is it okay to say that tending bar might even be a religious experience? Except, with bad words.

Maybe I'll get a "real" job offer soon. Maybe I'll buy my own bar (With what? I don't know.). Maybe Ben and I will open a restaurant. Maybe we'll move out of town. Maybe I'll go back to school. Maybe I'll start a non-profit organization. Maybe I'll become a motivational speaker -- that sounds like a good, real pretend job. Probably I'll write a book. Certainly I'll spend a few more nights at a bar.

Maybe we'll have another baby. When the thoughts racing through my brain slow down a little, they center on one thing: a family. More babies. Lots of them. I name them and dress them and predict their careers in my mind. My friend used to call these baby-cravings. I crave a baby. I desire children more than anything.

Just under the wire, I met the last of my goals for my twenties. I gave birth to a son, to Gabriel, and though his life didn't play out the way it did in my head, being his mother has still blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. While I am unsure of many things, one thing I am sure of is that I am a mom, and I was meant to be.

Billy Joel's bartender confided in him, "'Bill, I believe this is killing me,' as the smile ran away from his face. 'Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star if I could get out of this place.'" I guess a lot of people think I could also be so much more than what I am. "You ever gonna put that education to use?" they ask. I put it to use every day. "You guys gonna try for another baby?" Of course. I'll never stop trying. "What are you DOING here?" Just serving drinks.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Practice

My neighbors just adopted a cocker spaniel puppy named Rusty. He was playing in the front yard with them this evening when I saw him for the first time. Rusty is only nine weeks old, with ears nearly as big as my 94 pound German Shepherd's. He is so cute my head could explode. Everyone loves puppies. Puppies, and. . .

Speaking of babies ('babies' was implied), I tried my hand at baby-gift shopping at Babies R Us today. I do try to avoid places like Babies R Us and Petsmart, as I consider them the kind of places people shop to prove they love their babies and/or pets more than people who shop at Target. But, alas, Gideon's jumbo bag of dogfood cannot be found at my local Target, and a friend has registered for her baby girl at Babies R Us, and so I find myself visiting both.

I have braved the baby aisle at Target a number of times since Gabriel's birth and passing, once just this morning in fact. I thought I was prepared. Armed with my pre-printed registry list with the items I intended to purchase circled, I took a deep breath and walked in. To my great surprise, my head started spinning. I'm not sure why I was surprised. I know there is a clear difference between a baby store and Target. I'd obviously been aware that I would have to brace myself. Still, the forceful shock of it all overwhelmed me.

I took a few moments to admire the beautiful fall Carter's dresses strategically placed to be the first thing seen upon entering, and noted with pleasure that this season's color for baby girl apparel seems to be a deep plum. I toyed with the idea of buying one of them though they were not on my friend's registry. Picking items not on the registry is in bad taste, I reminded myself. The idea passed, and I began instead to consider buying every item on the display in hopeful, desparate anticipation of my own baby girl that I hope to have someday. But then I thought, "No, I can't hide that much stuff from Ben." So, I headed for the back of the store, pausing to admire the cribs and picking out the one I would want for my nursery and when I discovered my intended items in that department weren't easily found, I headed instead to my alternative selections in the baby bath section.

The gifts were found and I could feel the tears coming on. I soothed myself buy eyeing the tag that said my chosen gifts were 40% off, but the sale could only stave off my emotions for a while. I made my purchase, had the good sense to remember to tuck the gift receipt in the bag, then made a dash for the door.

My tears flowed freely when I caught up with my dad, who had also been in Babies R Us with my mom making their own purchase. He hugged me. I sobbed into his t-shirt. He handed me a hankie and I sobbed into that too, comforted by the fact that not only could I rely on my dad but I could rely on his having a hankie too.

I suppose it all wouldn't be so bad if I didn't now have to face the shower that this gift was intended for. Actually, this gift was for a girl, for a friend whose shower is next weekend. The immediate concern is the baby shower I am attending tomorrow. Tomorrow's shower is for my cousin, who is having a baby boy. Her gift was already purchased, and includes a set of caps just like the set I bought for Gabriel. The tears threatened to flow then too but they were guarded in place as practice for the big day tomorrow. I cannot possibly miss Nicole's baby shower. She and I have both had a rough year, she having lost her dad and my Uncle Frank less than two weeks before Gabriel was diagnosed. Her son Jalen is supposed to be our beacon of light, one of the bright spots in a year that has been fraught with bittersweet moments. Nicole is the kind of woman who sends text messages to me the night before her own baby shower saying she would completely understand if I couldn't go tomorrow. It's BECAUSE she is the kind of woman who completely understands that I cannot NOT go. Nicole made the short trek from another town to attend Gabriel's prayer shower and again to attend his funeral, and she didn't make excuses that a funeral would be difficult for her after having to plan and attend her own father's funeral earlier that year. We've made a habit this year of being strong for each other, and of drawing strength from each other, and of my many habits I would consider this one of the better.

Besides, won't there always be babies, and baby showers, and birthday parties, and any number of social situations that are challenging. I recall with regret the year I skipped a friend's wedding because I was so depressed that I hadn't found that special someone of my own. When I saw her empty seat at my own wedding, a namecard still holding her place, even knowing she hadn't missed my wedding out of retribution I couldn't help but be sorry for being so selfish those years ago.

The truth is out now, I suppose. It's not been all rainbows and faith and hope since Gabriel left us. Tomorrow is his three month birthday, and the day will not be spent the way I would have hoped. It will be a painful and difficult day, as much as it will be a celebration of both Gabriel's and Jalen's lives. And it will be another day of learning to live with the loss of my son, a loss I may never get used to and may spend the rest of my life learning to live with.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Soundtrack of a Celebration


While I was pregnant with Gabriel, a number of songs came to mean very much to me on our journey, both before Gabriel's diagnosis and after. A few of those songs were played at his funeral, and will always remind me of my special baby boy and the special adventure we had with him.

The opening procession was silent and solemn, as Catholic funerals usually begin. The first song sung and played was the Psalm played after the first reading. I will share the Psalm in another entry about the scriptures read at his funeral. The next song was played during the offeratory. My brother's friend Daniel played the guitar, and my sister Monica sang along to a traditional Catholic hymn, "Be Not Afraid." The lyrics are as follows:

"You shall cross the barren desert but you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way
You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me, and I will give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters in the sea you shall not drown
If you walk amidst the burning flames you shall not be harmed
If you stand before the power of hell and death is at your side
Know that I am with you through it all

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me, and I will give you rest.

Blessed are your poor for the Kingdom shall be theirs
Blest are you who weep and mourn for one day you shall laugh
And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of me
Blessed, blessed are you

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me, and I will give you rest."

Many of us have heard that funerals are not for the dead, but for the living. This song speaks to that concept. It reminds us that when we have faith, there is no reason to fear. The death of a child is particularly difficult for us to grasp, but the song provides comfort even in a time that seems to make no sense.

Though this song is commonly played at funerals, it is also often played during Sunday Mass. When I hear the song now, I am again comforted.

There was a bit of a mishap, and some of the music was played out of turn. Though I had requested a recording be played during Communion, a bit of confusion led to the following verse being played next:

"People smile and tell me I'm the lucky one
And life's just begun
Think I'm gonna have a son.
He will be like she and me as free as a dove
Conceived in love
Sun is gonna shine above
And even though we ain't got money
I'm so in love with you honey
And everything will bring a chain of love
In the morning when I rise
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything is gonna be alright."

This song began to take on meaning for me the day I learned I was pregnant, when it came on the radio as I was pulling into the gas station. I was convinced then that the child I was carrying was a boy.

After Gabriel's diagnosis, as Ben and I struggled to stay positive, this song reminded me that from the beginning of this pregnancy, we had this sign, this song, that everything would be fine. I grew to love what these lyrics said about our family, "a family where there once was none." No matter how things played out, we were a family now.

When we were released from the hospital to take Gabriel home, a nurse sat down with me as I held Gabriel and gave me some information on infant care. She asked me if I wanted it, and I know we both knew I wouldn't need most of it. I told her yes, that I wanted every piece of evidence that Gabriel had lived to be discharged from the hospital. She looked me in the eye and said with all sincerity, "You are three of the luckiest people I have ever met."

Without knowing my circumstances, someone might have looked at my pregnant belly and called me lucky, unaware of the struggle the pregnancy presented. Those who learned of Gabriel's anencephaly might say that I was a distinctly unlucky 1 in 1,000. But I know now that I am the lucky one. We were lucky to conceive, we were fortunate for the time we had to just enjoy carrying Gabriel, we were blessed by a network of support that carried us in our darkest moments. Above all we were blessed beyond measure by an amazing little boy who demonstrated an amazing strength in his lifetime and whose spirit lives on and touches lives still. Yes, I am the lucky one, and at Gabriel's funeral Mass, I wanted everyone to know it.

This single verse and single chorus was followed by Selah's "I Will Carry You," a sort of anthem in the infant loss community:

"There were photographs I wanted to take
Things I wanted to show you
Sing sweet lullabies, Wipe your teary eyes
Who could love you like this?
People say that I'm brave but I'm not
The truth is I'm barely hanging on
There's a greater story
Written long before me
Because he loves you like this

I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years
I will carry you
All my life
And I will praise the one whose chosen me to carry you.

Such a short time
Such a long road
All this madness
But I know
That the silence
Has brought me to His voice
And He says

I've shown her photographs of time beginning
Walked her through the parted seas
Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes
Because I love her like this

I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years
I will carry you
All your life
And I will praise the One whose chosen me to carry you."

As Mass neared an end my aunt and I each delivered eulogies, and then Daniel played one more song for us, called "The Story." The song touched my heart during my first pregnancy and even after that loss. Its meaning grew for me as I carried Gabriel. It is a love song, and I have always found it fitting for my children, because I have never loved as I love them.

"All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true,
I was made for you.

I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue
I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules
But baby I broke them all for you
Oh because even when I was flat broke
You made me feel like a million bucks
It's true,
I was made for you.

You see the smile that's on my mouth
It's hiding the words that don't come out
All of the friends who think I'm blessed
They don't know my head is a mess
No they don't know who I really am
And they don't know what I've been through like you do
I was made for you.

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true,
I was made for you.

Yes it's true,
That I was made for you."


I have been blessed with a wonderful life. Though I have endured some serious hardships I believe that I have faced them as best I could. I've also had some great successes. But all of it, every struggle and every achievement, seems so small compared to carrying my children and giving birth to Gabriel. Baby Cude and Gabriel are everything to me, and the past means the most when I think of it as leading me to them.

I believe I was made for them. I never felt more at home in my body as I felt when I was pregnant. I never felt more healthy, more beautiful, or more alive. Pregnancy and motherhood are the greatest experiences of my life.

Following Gabriel's diagnosis I began to particularly pay attention to the lyric "I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules, but baby I broke them all for you." I thought about the lines our culture had drawn, the lines that indicated that when an unborn child is diagnosed with a fatal illness, he or she should be terminated for everyone's benefit. On one side of the line is a "perfect" and healthy child, and one the other side is the terminally ill fetus, whose personhood is somehow forgotten. But my son was not some subhuman freak. He is no less significant than any other child. Each child is alike in his or her dignity. Each child has a right to live. And so Gabriel would live, for as long as God would allow him to live. We would cross all the lines, break all the rules, and I will never regret having done so because I sincerely believe that Gabriel has changed the world.

The rules say we don't talk about miscarriage, we don't tell a mother struggling with the loss of her pregnancy that miscarriage is common, that she didn't do anything to bring the miscarriage on. We tell her to push the memory of that pregnancy and that baby who she will never hold to the back of her mind. We carry those children away in a specimen cup, dispose of them according to the rules for handling hazardous waste, and expect those mothers to grieve silently, because open grief in this instance is weird and uncomfortable and unhealthy.

I cannot live by those rules. I cannot abide by rules that treat my children with anything less then the dignity that they deserve as children of God. They have names. They have birthdays and angel days. They are part of the family that I hope to continue to build.

In his homily, Monsignor Frost declared "Let the world be indignant that we would carry a child like Gabriel to term. Let the world be indignant that we baptized him and brought him home from the hospital. Let the world be indignant that we are here today, honoring his life with a funeral."

Yes. Let the world be indignant. Gabriel is not of the world. And he dared to cross all the lines and break all the rules himself. There is no doubt in my mind that his reward is eternal. I thank God for allowing me to be a part of something so BIG.

Gabriel, Baby Cude, it's true. I was made for you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Could Haves


A man called me over to him while I was working last night. When I approached, he stuck out his hand and said, "I want to thank you." I couldn't imagine what he wanted to thank me for. Just minutes before I was sitting on the other side of the bar, chomping on a sandwich while I let our new trainee run the show for a little while. I hadn't even served him. "I want to thank you for what you did." I must have still looked confused, because then he asked, "You're Catholic, right?" I started to think he must be referring to Gabriel so I asked, "Are you talking about my son?" He said yes, and told me that while I was pregnant he had asked one of my co-workers why I seemed so sad. Those were his words yesterday, but if I had to guess I would bet he actually asked, "Why is that pregnant girl such a bitch?"

He told me that my co-worker had told him about Gabriel's diagnosis. At about the same time, he and his pregnant wife had been told by the doctor that their daughter had a cyst on her kidney which was as big as the kidney itself. The kidney would have to be removed when she was born. It was a dead kidney, they had been told. He said that after learning about Gabriel, their problems didn't seem so bad. "Your problems still matter. She is still your daughter. I am grateful that Gabriel's life helped put things in perspective for you, but you don't have to minimize your own experience." He insisted that it all seemed so small now. Ultimately, his daughter was born in May, and the cyst was no where near as big as the doctors had initially believed. She could keep her kidney.

"I couldn't have done what you did," he said.

"Yes, you could. You think you can't do a lot of things, until you are doing them. Until you have to."

"No. I couldn't have. We wouldn't have. We couldn't have put ourselves through that."

I have heard those assertions often, but I don't accept them as true. I certainly never thought on January 31st, when my world was shattered by the words "incompatible with life," that I would come out stronger in June than I ever imagined was possible. I only knew that for me there was no choice. Any of my "options" were false. They were just a band-aid that might temporarily patch up the hole where my loss would lie, but would only be a quick fix that would never last.

The man shared with his friend, "She carried her baby to term, even knowing what would happen." I've never found the knowledge of what would happen to be reason enough to let Gabriel go earlier than I had to. It was all the more reason to keep him and hold him and love him on this earth as long as I could. Besides, carrying Gabriel wasn't really about me. Carrying Gabriel was right for him, and parenthood is about doing what is right for your child. Sometimes it means letting go, whether letting go happens during college, when we walk them down the aisle to be married, on our deathbed, or even on theirs. We might all be surprised by what we can do for our children.

Someday I will face God, and though I have many faults to answer for I will still be able to say, "When You called, I answered. I did what You asked of me." I pray that God will respond by handing me my child, whole and happy and healthy, and that he will wrap his arms around me and say, "Mommy, you did everything you could."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Mighty Warrior


"He has a lazy leg," my aunt told me of the last remaining male from her dogs' recent litter of German Shepherd puppies. The puppies, born on July 6, 2009, would be ready to go to homes just about the time I finished taking the bar exam and moved back to Bakersfield. There were only two males in the litter and one had already been promised. I wanted a male puppy, so I accepted the one with the lazy leg.

I named him Gideon Wainwright Hernandez-Cude. He was named for the courtcase Gideon versus Wainwright. I later learned that his name meant "mighty warrior," an interesting observation given that what little I know about Gideon from the Bible suggested Gideon was not exactly a mighty warrior though he won a mighty battle.

My Gideon seemed to get along on his leg just fine, but at one of his early vet visits x-rays were taken that revealed Gideon suffered from hip dysplasia. The vet recommended that we take Gideon to a doctor in Los Angeles, as she suspected he would need a hip replacement and she was unable to do those. Giddy's hip couldn't be replaced until he was full or nearly full-grown, so I postponed the trip until last summer when Gideon's dysplasia seemed to be causing him severe pain. Added to his own pain was my grief from having recently lost Baby Cude. I couldn't bear to watch Gideon struggle to move or to hear him whimper in pain, so I cashed in my quarter collection and took him to Los Angeles for the day where a series of advanced x-rays were performed on him, a diagnosis made, and a surgery recommended.

I had often joked that it seemed to be against God's plan for me to have a healthy pet. Our family dog Twink was put to sleep nearly two years ago after a four year battle with diabetes. Last July I put my cat Mickey, who had always been sickly, to sleep after he was diagnosed with diabetes also and I weighed his quality of life and determined he could not handle the disease the way Twink had. Just one month after that was when Gideon hit the growth spurt that caused the struggle that resulted in enough worry for a road trip.

The surgery recommended for Gideon was not a hip replacement, but a less severe FHO. Surgery was performed on January 3, in anticpation of an eight week recovery. We thought we would get Gideon all fixed up, then enroll him in obedience classes before our little Pumpkin arrived.

Gideon's recovery proved to be very difficult. His hip was, as the doctor described, being held together by suture material, and we were to keep him as confined and undisturbed as possible. Harnessing the energy of a one and a half year old, 90 pound puppy is not an easy task. Little things like taking him to the bathroom became a challenge. He was confined to a carpeted area most of the time because he slipped on our hardwood floors. When we were home, we would permit him to lay on his doggy bed beside the couch to chew a rawhide, but he would often become restless and try to get up to walk around. Taking him to the bathroom was difficult, because he would have to be leashed and then a towel looped under his waist so we could help him support his own hind end. He seemed embarassed at having to potty in front of us, so I gave him the courtesy of looking away while he went. If a dog can have pride and dignity, his was wounded by the care he demanded but he was dependent on us and we were committed to facing this challenge with him.

Less than a month after Gideon's surgery and while he was still in the early stages of recovery, Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly. I started to see our struggles with Gideon as preparation for the even more difficult challenge we were suddenly thrust into. Gideon, who had always been attentive especially during my pregnancies, became the creature that I leaned on and cried on in my private moments. He has seen more of my tears than even my husband has seen, I have held him and wiped those tears on his fur, and leaned on him even while he leaned on us in his recovery.

In March Gideon went for what I hoped would be the last of his follow-up visits, and the vet confirmed what I suspected: Gideon was not improving but digressing. During his surgery he had contracted a staph infection and a new surgery had to be performed to clean up the bone spurs that had started to develop and take a sample of fluid from his joint to determine what type of infection he had and how to treat it. His recovery started all over again and this time I was also head-deep in the emotional turmoil that had come with Gabriel's diagnosis. We had only just announced Gabriel's condition to our friends and family and were dealing with questions and still filling in those who had not heard the news. Every day was a struggle and the last thing I wanted to do was to care for this dog who I loved very much but who was starting to become a burden to me.

But Gideon was trusted to my care for a reason. I wanted a male dog, just like I wanted a son. I wanted Gideon despite his health problems, just as I prayed for a baby boy but failed to pray for a baby boy with a skull cap. I wanted Gabriel and Gideon just as they were, for as long as I could have them and I often think that if they had ended up in another home with just a little less faith, neither of them may have lived as long as they did, have, or will. Many people would have given up on both of them, but I loved them each too much to let them go before I had to.

In the wake of Gabriel's death, I leaned on Gideon more than he ever had to lean on me. There are times when I look into his beautiful light brown eyes and I know that he feels my sadness and that he is sad with me too. Sometimes, Ben would even look at Gideon and ask, "Do you think Gideon might be God?" I have to say he probably isn't. Of course God can take any form, but if God were to come to earth as a dog I don't think He would be the kind of dog who chews up sprinklers and water hoses. God would be better behaved than that. But I think Gideon was sent to us from God, that he is a messenger of God just as Gabriel is. His message is one of compassion. Gideon shows compassion as much as he requires compassion. He has taught us much, and paved the way for our precious boy who taught us even more.

Perhaps one of the most exciting times for me during Gabriel's life at home was the day Gideon and Gabriel met. I didn't know if that day would ever come. I still smile at the photo of my two boys, Gabriel and Gideon, both mighty in their own way.