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


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.