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,

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: [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.