Monday, March 26, 2012

A Challenge

I'm calling myself out.

A co-worker told me that after having a baby, Mom has one year to use "I just had a baby" as an excuse. It's an excuse for everything from poorly manicured fingernails, to an unkempt home, to excess weight that we call "baby weight." Now, more than nine months post-delivery, my year is coming to a close, which means it's time to make some changes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I wouldn't let anyone through my front door these days. It's embarassing, what a mess my home has become. If Gabriel were still with me, I would have a nine-month old excuse, but because he's not, I don't, and even saying "My child has died" only excuses poor house keeping for so long. I'm on a mission to return to my previous standard, that one should always be prepared for an unexpected visitor.

Now, for a more sensitive subject: Baby weight. I didn't put on much. Before Gabriel was conceived I weighed 152 pounds, having shed my law school weight, which is much like baby weight, only, not at all cute. I quickly dropped two pounds, which will happen when one cuts out the soda, coffee and beer. As I am in the upper range of "healthy" according to the BMI, I was advised by my doctor to try not to gain more than 20 pounds. Gabriel was just a little guy, though, and this was not a normal pregnancy in so many ways. Ultimately, I only gained about 13 pounds after the initial weight loss, capping out at 163. When Gabriel was born, between losing his weight, the weight of amniotic fluid, and the stress of caring for him for ten days, I lost my baby weight within two weeks.

I then set about putting it all back on. Poor eating habits and even poorer drinking habits - again, everything from coffee to beer - had me back at pregnancy weight in no time.

But I always had that excuse that Jessica had provided me with in my back pocket. I just had a baby! When I put it that way, people say things like, "Oh, well then you look pretty good." The clock is ticking on that excuse, though, which has me on a mission to not require the excuse anymore.

According to What to Expect. . ., the average woman gains five "keeper" pounds during pregnancy, meaning she should be able to lose all of her prengnacy weight BUT those five pounds. Since I didn't gain much, and I already know at one point I lost it all, I figured I would challenge myself to getting down to 145, five pounds less than I was in early pregnancy. It's not that I care so much about the number - if I did, I don't suppose I would publish it for so many to see. The number is just a goal, a way to track my progress. It seems like a better way to track my progress than "How few doughnut holes can I eat?"

Don't ask me how I plan to do it. I'm unlikely to keep a formal diet, though I'm sure reducing or even eliminating liquid calories will be a part of the plan. I've also never been much for exercise but I know I'll have to try. I suppose that will involve, in part, walking the dogs. "Walking the dogs" is code for this thing we do, where I put a leash on Gideon and he runs down the street, dragging me with him. I figure if we both practice more often, maybe we can come to some sort of compromise.

When I dared to look at myself in a fitting room mirror today, it hit me that my unhappiness is best seen in a full length mirror. In such a mirror I can see what I have let happen to myself since losing Gabriel. And whether he is here to experience it or not, doesn't Gabriel deserve one of those "hot moms"? As shallow as the previous statement may seem, I do believe that my little prince deserves the best of everything, and that includes a mom who takes good care of herself.

On June 10th I will celebrate with family and friends Gabriel's first birthday. He has my commitment to be the mommy he deserves, today, on June 10th, and always.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Place for Love

I miss my son. Those words are at once insufficient to describe how I feel every day, and the best I can come up with. To say that it feels wrong to go on breathing when Gabriel doesn't is true, but then I feel guilty. To say that a piece of me is missing is also true, but it's not something that can be seen on me and so that description too seems to fall short. I miss Gabriel. I miss my son. I long to hold him again and the pain of longing for him is visceral, and it's real, and it grows more intense every day, and it is a reality that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

Sometimes I fear my missing Gabriel is being interpreted as my not moving on. It is a fear based on what I am sure are well-meaning suggestions that I must learn to move on, or that Gabriel would want me to go on. I guess all I can offer in response is that moving on from a child's death is not something I would wish on anyone, but it is also something that can't be understood unless one is standing in similar shoes. Figuring out how to move on is something I grapple with every day. Gabriel's memory should be honored and as his mother it is something I am compelled to do, but it is hard to do under such scrutiny. I read of mothers who have shrines to their lost children in their home, which I don't have, of families who have birthday parties for their lost babies, which I have been criticized for wanting to do, or families who organize March of Dimes teams in their departed children's honor, which I have been discouraged from doing for fear that people will feel I'm hanging on to the past. Just yesterday I saw a tribute bumper sticker in memory of a baby girl, Annabelle LaRae Lynn Hernandez, who lived seven days and passed away two years ago this week. My parents have a similar bumper sticker in Gabriel's honor, but I have always felt I couldn't have one of my own -- Ben would hate it, and I would feel I lost something all over again when it began to fade and had to be removed. But when I saw Annabelle's sticker I didn't think her family was strange, or clinging too tightly to a memory. I thought, "She may have only lived seven days, but she still lived."

I take too many pictures of the dogs, I stare at other people's children (especially, right now, nine-month old baby boys) a little too long, I sneak peaks at pictures of Gabriel throughout the day, I find reasons to talk about him or to talk about the pregnancy and all of those are my way of coping and maybe it's weird or maybe it means I'm not moving on or that I am moving on in a way that is unhealthy, but I challenge a stranger to this experience to tell me how I can "better" grieve.

Through the separation process with Ben I have been reminded constantly, again by people who are probably well-intentioned, that men and women just grieve differently. I don't think our differences are really that simple, just a matter of men being from Mars (and completely alien to me), and women being from Venus. In our case, I think the opposing qualities that we found in each other were just SO extreme, and clashed tremendously with Gabriel's death. Ben is private and reserved and even he will admit that he tends to stuff his feelings. I am driven by my heart, and open book, and sometimes a little too impetuous. There have been times I wished I could demand of Ben that he teach me how to turn down my love for my child, and my resulting longing for him. But we are parting because that is not a feeling I want to turn down. I know that eventually this hurt will be easier to live with, but until then I want to feel everything.

I realize more every day that I love my little boy so deeply, that all of that love can't just disappear. I had hoped to direct it towards my husband, and towards another child. My hope hasn't played out, but I know that my love has found other places to go, that it is poured out on my family, my friends, my pets. The passion with which I love my sweet Gabriel was reflected in the way I attacked the creative writing class that I just finished, and in my dedication to my criminal client who is facing trial soon. I know that I'll continue to see my love for Gabriel in unexpected places. Love can always find a home.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Community Property

For the purposes of divorce, separate property is anything acquired before marriage, or by gift, devise or bequest. Community property is everything else acquired during marriage. During marriage each spouse has a 100% interest in the whole of the community property, and at divorce each has a 50% interest.

While studying for the bar exam, these definitions rolled off of my pen as just another one of the many rules I had to memorize to prepare for the exam. Happily engaged to Ben at the time and growing increasingly dedicated to the Catholic Faith, I never thought the rules would have any practical place in my own life.

I got home last night, a few Jamesons deep as has become my nightly custom since Ben officially pulled the plug on our sacramental commitment to each other, to find that Ben had begun packing his belongings, starting with the kitchen. I suppose it is only fitting that Ben began with that room, since the kitchen is such a part of who he is, and the room where I feel most lonely without him.

I guess I knew that Ben would take all of his personal, separate property, but as it happens, his packing comes on the heels of my decision to start using the kitchen again. After weeks of take-out food and drive-thru coffee, I bought a few groceries intending to cook today. For many years I ate like a stereotypical college student but my approach to food changed with Ben and for the first time I started enjoying the kitchen. I didn't realize how much I had taken the tools Ben brought to our relationship for granted. With his belongings packed up, I realized I didn't have a nice chef's knife, which I had grown accustomed to, to chop my food with. I considered that the big cutting board, which he hadn't packed yet, was probably going with him too, and when I reached for the pepper grinder to season my fish it was gone already. When I went to remove my fish from its pan and discovered that he had taken is fish spatula, I wondered what the hell I was going to do now.

Before I met Ben I didn't even know there was a special spatula for fish. It's not like I'd never made fish before, and it's not like before Ben I ate fish straight out of the pan. Somehow, I always managed to get the fish from the pan to the plate, even without this fish spatula. That wasn't the fucking point. The point was, the fish was burned. The fish was burned because it's not my job to cook the fish. Ben cooks the fish because it's what he's good at, and I cut up vegatables and set the table and wash the dishes, because we were a team and we worked together and because we were a team that worked together the fish didn't get burned.

When dividing up assets, practically speaking sometimes a disolving couple must compromise. For example, though theoretically one spouse may be entitled to one couch and the other spouse entitled to the other couch, and one spouse may be entitled to the washer while the other should get the dryer, it may make more sense for one spouse to take both couches and one to take the washer and dryer. Presumably, whoever takes the coffee scoop intends to also take the coffee maker. So when I set out to make coffee this morning and couldn't find the scoop until I searched among Ben's boxes, I concluded that he must be planning to take the coffee maker too.

Ben can take the coffee maker. I'll get a new coffee maker. I'll have to get a new coffee maker because the alternative, not drinking coffee in the morning, is just not an option for me these days. We'll find a way to compromise, because the coffee maker, and most everything else, is easily replaced.

The trouble comes in splitting Gabriel's things. How do we split the locks of our son's hair? Who gets to keep the first sleeper he wore? Who gets the clothes that he died in? Does Ben get to keep Gabriel's baptism blanket because it was his aunt that made it for Gabriel, even though Gabriel was baptised at my instance?

I have become convinced that Ben would be content to forget Gabriel ever lived, and accordingly I feel entitled to his things. Ben will argue that he thinks about Gabriel every day. But he will probably concede that I can keep Gabriel's clothes and blankets and hair and caps and socks. Everything. But not because he is so noble. Not because he knows that even though they are Gabriel's, they are still just things. He'll let me keep them, he'll let me keep the dogs, he'll keep paying my cell phone bill, he'll keep me on his health insurance plan not because it's the right thing to do, but because he knows that after fate has taken my son from me, Ben has made a conscious choice to take my life's partner from me. He has chosen to abandon our marriage. He is moving out, making it necessary to decide what's mine and what's his rather than viewing everything as ours. Now, we're just another case in the book.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Coming out with Anencephaly: One Year Later

On March 10, 2011, Ben and I widely dispersed a letter that we had very carefully written, introducing the world to the child that we now knew to be our very, very special baby boy Gabriel. This was at once an announcement of his gender, his name, and his fatal condition. We had read accounts of other families who were questioned on their decision, even told that the choice to carry their fatally ill child to term was wrong, and we wanted to be clear to the world that we loved our child without condition.

We were met with overwhelming love and support.

One year later, I invite you to revisit the letter, and the time when you may have first learned of Gabriel's story. I hope that you are among the many, many people whose lives have been bettered for having known of a little boy who changed the world before he was even born.

Dear Friends,

We would like to introduce you to our son, Gabriel Cude. He likes spicy food just like Dad. Like Mom he has long legs land enjoys staying up late and sleeping in with her. We learned he was on his way on September 28th. On November 18th our world changed when we saw him via ultrasound and heard his heart beat. I suppose every parent thinks their child is special, but our world changed again on January 31st when we learned just how special our son is. That was the day we learned that our son has anencephaly, and there is no easy way to say what that means: Gabriel will not live long after he is born. Babies like him are often stillborn, but we will pray for hours or even a couple of days with him after he is born.

Anencephaly is a neural tube defect that occurs in the early stages of pregnancy, and it is fatal. Our son's defect is unrelated to our previous miscarriage. This is a medical anomaly that occurs in 1 in 1,000 pregnancies in the U.S. One might say we got stuck with this, however we believe instead that we were chosen to be father and mother to a very special baby boy. Being parents to our children, both of them, has been the greatest pleasure of our lives.

You might wonder why, with a fatal diagnosis, we would continue this pregnancy. We were given the choice to terminate but those familiar with our views on life should not be surprised that we didn't take that choice. We learned that we could also induce labor at any time and deliver our son right away, but we found that the Catholic Church opposes that option, and as Andrea is a devout Catholic and Ben is supportive of her beliefs, that route was ruled out. While this helped seal our decision, what it came down to was this: We were told our son was going to die, but we were offered four more months with him during which he would be healthy and vital. We accepted that gift.

We know with this news you may not know how to respond to us. We considered keeping this a secret until after Gabriel's birth until we realized if we did that we would be denying you an opportunity to love our son and learn from him what we have learned: That a person doesn't have to look like everyone else to be wanted, longed for, and loved beyond measure. We have learned that there is nothing a doctor can tell us that will make us stop loving our son. So we hope that you will treat us as you always have. We welcome your questions about our baby and his condition. We hope that you will continue to ask us how he is doing, because he is still here, very much alive. His heart still beats strong, and he is and always will be our son.

We will continue to hope and pray for a miracle, however we truly feel that the miracle we should be looking for is not Gabriel's healing. We believe that we are being asked to accept this challenge with grace, and we are trying to do that. But miracles take many forms. When we were told that our son had a fatal condition, we truly learned to appreciate the little things, to cherish this pregnancy in a way that we didn't before. For months we have been told to sleep now, because when our baby is born his crying will keep us up all night. After our miscarriage this couldn't be farther from our own attitude, as we would welcome a crying baby in our home. Now, it would truly be a miracle to be able to hear Gabriel cry. Babies with anencephaly often are not able to cry, and we will be grateful if Gabriel is able to.

Gabriel is Hebrew, and means "A hero of God." In Catholic tradition the Archangel Gabriel is a messenger of God. Our Gabriel is both to us. He is fighting a heroic battle for his life, and while Andrea is able to protect him while she is carrying him, the delivery is dangerous and we pray he wins that battle so we can meet him face to face. He brought us a message of faith and love in the face of desparate sadness. The message you will take from him is largely up to you and how you choose to see him. We believe if you open your heart to loving Gabriel for the unique being he is, his short time on earth will be full of meaning. We hope you'll take this journey with us.


Ben, Andrea & Gabriel Cude


From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Anencephaly is a defect in the closure of the neural tube during fetal development. The neural tube is a narrow channel that folds and closes between the 3rd and 4th weeks of pregnancy to form the brain and spinal cord of the embryo. Anencephaly occurs when the "cephalic" end or head of the neural tube fails to close, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp. . . The cause of anencephaly is unknown. . . The prognosis for babies born with anencephaly is extremely poor. If the infant is not stillborn, then he or she will usually die within a few hours or days after birth."

Anencephaly effects 1 in 1000 infants in the U.S., for a rate of occurrence of 0.001%

The cause of anencephaly is still unknown, though it is estimated that 50-70% of cases of anencephaly could have been avoided if the mother had been on a prenatal vitamin or folic acid supplement. For the record, prior to Gabriel’s conception I was on both.

Anencephaly occurs in girls more often than boys. We think that makes Gabriel extra special.

It is estimated that between 90 and 98% of women who receive a diagnosis of anencephaly choose early termination.

Of the stories I have read of women who decide to continue the pregnancy, 0% regret that decision.

The rate of recurrence for anencephaly is slight, only between 1 and 4%. That rate is reduced with proper folic acid intake.

Besides the obvious defect, which can be covered with a cap while we are enjoying our time with Gabriel, babies with anencephaly are perfectly formed, though their faces are distinctive.

A stress free delivery helps to increase the chance of a live birth. Accordingly, Gabriel will be delivered two to three weeks early by inducement. We look forward to meeting our son and pray for time to spend with him after birth.

For those interested, I have set up a Caring Bridge journal. The Caring Bridge website is free to families who are experiencing a medical crisis, and allows members to chronicle their journey with journal entries, photos, tributes, and a place for visitors to the site to leave comments of support. Gabriel’s Caring Bridge website can be found at:

The following website has been invaluable in terms of information, stories of babies who were carried to term, and pictures. It also led us to a support group specifically for families of babies with anencephaly. Andrea has even virtually "met" the creator of this website, who lives in Switzerland. We invite you to explore the site to read stories of the many lives changed for the better by babies with anencephaly. The website’s address is:

We have learned through our research about a medical study of Duke University that has been going on for years. We have decided to participate in this study, so that hopefully our loss can lead to better knowledge, understanding, and hopefully one day prevention and/or a treatment for anencephaly. Currently, treatment is supportive only.

Through this pregnancy, one song has expressed better than I can how I feel about motherhood. It is called "The Story," by Brandi Carlile, and it sounds like the words of a love song. For a love song to express my feelings for my children makes sense, because I've never loved as deeply as I love them. I've posted them last, to say what I couldn't say.

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

Because even when I was flat broke

You made me feel like a million bucks

You do

I was made for you

You see the smile that's on my mouth

It's hiding the words that don't come out

And all of my friends who think that 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

And 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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It All Falls Down

*This was my first attempt at 'freestyle' poetry in my creative writing class, and probably also a desparate cry. 31 creative writing students heard it; one Ben did not.

In a cheerful yellow house

at the end of the block,

our son took his last breath

from blue lips

and the color drained from our world.

I live in his memory;

you live to forget.

One foot in front of the other,

just existing

around a little white box of ashes.

A box of baby’s ashes is quite small.

"It’s okay if you two don’t make it.

No one expects you to," they say.

I pause.

They are right.

We are changed.

We are broken.

Most couples fail this test.

But this is not a test; It’s us.

I want you to love me

even with this hole in my chest.

I want to love you

even when you smell like you’ve been trying to forget.

I pretend to sleep

while you pretend to sneak,

tiptoeing into your clothes and collecting your keys

though our eyes have locked

while unsaid words hang between us.

The doors close,

locks click into place,

your engine grumbles to life and fades as you drive away.

I’m left with the sounds of an empty cradle

and an echo

that I long to release to you:

"Please don’t go, too."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sometimes. . .

When the doctor told us that our unborn child had a condition that was incompatible with life, that our child would not live long after he or she was born, the dreams I had for that child came crashing down around me. The clothes that I had purchased would never be worn. The hopes that I had for him would never be realized. Though I know and accept that Gabriel was everything God intended him to be, and that he will continue to achieve all that God wants him to achieve, his loss is still devastating. I still think sometimes about the moments that I will not have with him. I still love him, and he is still missing from my life.

Four years ago today, I went on my first date with Ben. We went to dinner at the Lazy Dog restaurant on Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach, then went for drinks at Johnnys. Someone played "Misery and Gin" on the jukebox. When I marveled that someone would play the song, my favorite Merle Haggard song, he shared with me that he had played it. Today as I look back on that memory, I guess I wonder how I could be so devastated by what happened in my home this morning.

This morning my husband told me unequivocally that our marriage is over, that he intends to move out as soon as possible, and that he wants to proceed with the divorce that he signed for yesterday afternoon. My dreams again fell apart. I stared at the man who, four years ago, had fought for my attention and the chance to take me on a date, and wondered how he could look so empty and cold as he dealt me this blow. How had he become such a heartless monster? And how could I have been foolish enough to believe that love would be enough to get us through this?

On Thursday night in departure of character for me, I sang a duet at karaoke night with my friend Brad, previously divorced and now a recent widower from his second marriage, who has been talking with me about how to know when it's "over." We sang a Don Henley/Patty Smythe song called "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough." Brad and I had talked about the song before, and he discovered that few people were familiar with the song, but that I was and maybe we should sing a duet. Brad, who has demonstrated himself to be quite the performer since his wife's passing, seemed concerned with making sure we sounded just right. But as I sang the words all I could think about was that I was there alone, unsure of where my husband was that night, certain that he was relieved to be anywhere but with me, wondering what I ever did to him to cause his feelings to change entirely, and asking myself how I could be so very stupid that I could keep hanging on and hoping that as far gone as I knew my husband's feelings were getting, I could love him enough to bring him back.

I wonder sometimes what life would be like if I had induced labor with Gabriel early, within the first month that he was diagnosed with his fatal defect. Would Ben and I have tried for another baby right away, and would it have happened for us? Would I be holding that baby in my arms right now? Would he still have checked out on me, or has he checked out on me to punish me for following my own conscience and never worrying too much about what he wanted. Because I really didn't. I knew what I wanted to do -- what I was compelled to do, really -- with Gabriel, and Ben was welcome to come along with us, and I hoped that he would, and I hoped that he would also feel it was right, and I hoped that he would take the opportunity to love and bond with Gabriel, but if he didn't, I still would have kept my baby and given him every opportunity to survive. Even now, as my heart is breaking, I do not regret the journey with Gabriel, and I know I never will.

Besides the obvious moral reasons for keeping Gabriel, I knew that carrying Gabriel to term might be my only opportunity to carry and deliver a child of my own. I didn't forsee a split with Ben, I just learned a hard lesson about not taking anything for granted, and I wouldn't take for granted that I would be able to get pregnant again. Indeed, among the hopes and dreams that I had for my future with Ben was more brothers and sisters for Gabriel, in particular, a sister who I have already named, who I can see clearly in my head. I wonder now how much of that was just my mind's desparate attempt to sustain me in my grief. I don't take for granted that I will be able to have my marriage annulled, that even if I do I will ever find someone again (it seemed like such a miracle when I found Ben), and that even if I do, that I will ever have children again. I hope and pray that I will, but I hoped and prayed that Ben and I would survive this, that we wouldn't be another one of the statistics that people are always trying to soothe me with, and that wasn't enough. Yes, yes, I know that the odds of surviving the loss of our son were not in our favor. But that is of no comfort now. We are not just a number. We are Ben and Andrea, and we loved each other very much, once.

I want to hate Ben. I am angry that he won't try. I am angry that he is abandoning me. I am angry that I must lose my husband, after I have already had to say goodbye to my son. I am deeply wounded by his complacency, and the ease with which he would tell me, "It's over." I know that he is somewhere on this day, this anniversary of our first date, ironically stewing in his own misery and gin, and I hope that the day comes soon that he realizes that he let something and someone very special get away -- that he LET it happen. That he didn't just let it happen, that he pushed and pushed and pushed me and even as I resisted he pushed even harder.

In the early weeks after Gabriel's diagnosis, Ben drank heavily. One evening I wrote a letter to him, telling him that drinking would not heal the hole in our son's head. Even now, no amount of drinking will bring our son back from the dead. But the amount of love I have for my child couldn't heal him either. It can't bring him back. It can't save us now. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes, love just ain't enough.