Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Made for You

Anybody watch "Private Practice"? Somebody must, because the show has been airing for several seasons. It is a television drama spun-off of "Grey's Anatomy," featuring doctor Addison Montgomery (ex-wife of Dr. McDreamy, busted for cheating on him with Dr. McSteamy) in a bizarre private practice made up of an obstetrician, fertility specialist, heart surgeon, neurosurgeon, pediatrician, and a couple of psychologists. It's like a one-stop shop private medical center. Addison is the middle-aged OB who desparately wants a baby, and after years of trying to get pregnant, and trying to find the right man, has finally adopted a newborn baby boy whose mother gave him up at birth. Amelia is the neurosurgeon and a recovering drug addict. She entered recovery when she woke one morning to discover her boyfriend dead of an overdose beside her in the bed. During the binge that killed her boyfriend, Amelia became pregnant, but couldn't bring herself to look at her baby on an ultrasound or hear his heartbeat until several months into her pregnancy. Which brings me to the most recent episode, where Addison performs an ultrasound on Amelia and they learn two things about Amelia's baby: He is a boy, and he has anencephaly.
Though I enjoy "Private Practice," it is not a show I can watch regularly, because it too often strikes too close to home. Desparation, dead boyfriends, crumbling marriages, graphic sexual assaults, intense therapy sessions, and now anencephalic babies all combine to create a series that feels much too much like my own life. But after happening upon last week's episode and subsequent preview for this week's ultrasound episode, I suspected Amelia's baby would have anencephaly and I wanted to how the show unfolded. The preview showed Addison and Amelia happily viewing the ultrasound, which appears normal until Addison scans towards the baby's head. The look on her face was reminiscent of the look of our ultrasound tech, the look I didn't pick up on but Ben did. I was curious how the show would handle the terminal defect. Would Amelia choose what most women choose in that situation and terminate her pregnancy? As it turned out, though the show is set in California and California law allows for termination of a pregnancy or early induction of labor in the case of a terminal diagnosis, Amelia continues her pregnancy because she is past the point where she can abort.
And Amelia is angry. She is angry that her child has no future; she is angry that he will die; she is angry that she behaved in a way that may have compromised his health; she is angry that this piece of her boyfriend, who she loved deeply, will not live on; she is angry at the people around her who have children of their own, even though their circumstances aren't what they would want them to be either. She is angry that she is a neurosurgeon, and yet her baby has "no brain." I recall feeling that same sense of irony, knowing that my mind is probably my greatest asset but my own child's brain was deffective.
I feel Amelia's anger, which manifests itself in Amelia in a cold indifference that I am experiencing myself these days. Amelia roared at Addison that she hates her and doesn't want to be around her because every time she is, she wants to rip her baby from her hip and claw Addison's eyes out, and I know that shameful feeling. The only way to manage it anymore is to just not care. I don't care about pregnancies and I don't care about babies, and I don't care who finally has a baby after years of trying and I don't care who has a baby after infant loss and I certainly don't care who has a perfectly healthy, perfectly planned baby in the confines of a perfectly happy marriage. I, a woman who adores babies, who has a hoarded collection of baby items and started naming her children when she was 13 years old, don't care about babies. I look at them with cold eyes now, because if I am not cold I will fall apart, break down and scream and cry at how sheerly unfair life is and I will not care at all that life has also not been fair to that mother holding that baby.
I know, I know, life's not fair. I've blogged those very words before and I know they are true. And inevitably I will get responses to this blog reminding me to keep in mind the many blessings I have been given -- something that I never forget. People will feed me platitudes about how my past doesn't define me, and the future is what is important, and that what doesn't kill me makes me stronger, and that Gabriel will always be in my heart and I will see him again someday. Sometimes, though, the unfairness just hurts. Sometimes it just gets to be too much. Sometimes I know it is better to have loved and lost, but it still sucks to have lost. Sometimes I am not just a rape survivor, sometimes I remember that for a devastating period, I was a victim. Sometimes I am not just a mommy, I am a mommy to a baby who is no longer here and it doesn't feel right that my heart should keep beating when his does not. More importantly some days I am not even sure HOW my heart keeps beating, or why. This morning I laid in bed for two hours after I woke up, listening to the silence of an empty home that a year ago was filled with a husband and a baby boy who I loved to feel move and kick and who I desparately wanted to keep.
Friends know I am a big fan of competition shows like American Idol and The Biggest Loser. Favorite contestants always have some sort of story that tugs at the viewers' heartstrings and makes us want to root for them. Sometimes I wonder if I were a contestant on some sort of competition show for, I don't know, bartending lawyers, what my story would be. I've lived an exciting life, filled with ups and downs. I think I have some great stories. They just all feel so meaningless now, because my best story, my most important story, is Gabriel.
Every time someone opens Gabriel's blog, the first song they will hear is Brandi Carlisle's "The Story." It has been an anthem for me since my first pregnancy. I could never say what I feel as perfectly as she says it for me: "These stories don't mean anything when you've got no one to tell them to. It's true; I was made for you."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Drowning, Slowly - Hung Up On Somebody That I Used to Know

Before the song dominated the various avenues for listening to music these days, somebody paraphrased Gotye to me recently.

"It hurts now. But someday he will just be someone you used to be married to."

I never want Ben to be "just" that somebody that I used to know. In fact, I am certain that he won't be. My certainty stems from the fact that as someone who loves deeply and passionately, the people that I have allowed myself to fall in love with in the past have never been reduced to just someone I used to know. I think of them all and I wish them well.

But I understand the song's popularity, after many a break-up where I wanted to just shake the former significant other and tell them, "It didn't have to be this way! Why? Why are you making this harder than it has to be?"

At the end of the day, Ben is more than just a break-up, more than just an ex-husband, more than just somebody that I used to know. He is the father of my child. He is the man that I stood before God and my family and friends with, pouring out my heart in unending commitment. I meant those words, and to shrink him down to just somebody that I used to know not only reduces his value but it makes me a liar. We are Ben and Andrea, and we loved each other very much. I say those words often, because the days when that love was enough seem so far away that I need the vocal reminder that it wasn't really so long ago.

Two songs play in my mind these days: Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know," and Ben Folds Five's "Brick." Someone asked me if I know what "Brick" is about, and for those that don't know, it's the story of a man's experience in supporting his girlfriend through an abortion. I heard Ben Folds in an interview once say that the song is not supposed to be political, it just tells a story. It doesn't argue for one side or the other. I have always loved the simple story-telling of this incredibly poignant song -- so powerful that few people seem to mind the limits of Ben Folds' vocal range. Of course, I argue that if the song tells us one thing, it is that we don't want to feel the way the couple in the song feels.

The chorus shares the speaker's thoughts, "She's a brick and I'm drowning, slowly." As it turns out, the abortion didn't fix everything. I have always maintained that without saying so, the song is pro-life, which is why I am so confused that these days I feel like the brick. I did what I assert is right -- and right is right, even if no one is doing it -- yet I feel so heavy and often feel that I have anchored my husband in a grief that is drowning him. When I accepted the heavy cross that we were undertaking, I don't think I was completely aware of its weight. When I rejoiced in the unexpected ten days I spent with my son, I don't think I had any idea how heavy the aftermath would be.

In "Brick," the couple's breaking point comes because they are tired. Just tired.

Morning after morning, I wake after what should be sufficient hours of sleep and struggle to get out of bed. I struggle to get through the day lately, although there is no real reason why I should.

I am simply tired. I am tired from drowning, slowly.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Better Left to Chance

Today as I listened to Rick Santorum's speech announcing that he would be dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination to run against President Obama in this year's election, I thought about how I knew very little about Santorum's politics. Don't ask me his stance on Iraq, off-shore drilling, or the specifics of his plan to shrink "big government." What I know about Rick Santorum is what he is, in this moment, probably most famous for: He is a devout Catholic with eight children, including their deceased son Gabriel (I like that name), and their daughter Isabella, born with the knowledge that she would suffer from what is considered a "terminal" chromosomal defect, Trisomy 18. Isabella, now 2, was cited as a major reason for Santorum's decision to withdraw from the race.

Despite the fact that Santorum's wife Karen has stood by his side through this race, that he defers to her when he is asked questions about the next election, that the two of them present themselves as steadfast equal partners, Santorum has been depicted as a man who practically hates women. He is most well known for his social and family values which include an unapologetic opposition to birth control and abortion.

I think Rick and Karen Santorum have nothing to be sorry for.

Santorum stated in his withdrawal speech that his run has been about so much more than winning the race. By his example, he has touted that a strong family makes for strong individuals and thus a strong nation. Rick Santorum has walked the walk, he is no hypocrite when it comes to these matters, and he has shown what can happen when we give our children a chance. Santorum did what Gabriel did, something that reaches beyond politics -- they touched hearts, and reaching into people's hearts is what will be the true catalyst for change in this increasingly cold world.

I have been told by friends that they support my decision to carry Gabriel to term, but that they would also support my right to NOT carry him. While I appreciate that, I maintain that there is no real right to end the lives of our own children at our whim. My choice was no choice at all, but a following of my conscience that I sincerely believe if we were all to listen to closely, would mean that no woman would ever "choose" to have an abortion. I use the word "choose" loosely, because I think it is a far cry from a choice and only become more adamant in that belief with every occassion that I have listened to someone say to me they felt backed into a corner and had no other choice when they aborted. That is not freedom of choice. That does not show love and respect for the bodies of women. That is oppression at its most heinous. It may surprise some to know that I have close friends, men and women, whose children were aborted, and I love them no less for what happened, and I am sorry for their loss. I am sorry that I am a part of a culture that didn't support them in bringing those lives into this world.

Today I read in a Facebook thread, "Ironic, isn't it, that trisomy is one of the conditions routinely tested for and parents given the opportunity to abort?

Santorum would take that right away and force all parents to endure the heartbreak of watching their child suffer and die. In my mind, failure to abort is cruel and abusive." Though no one has said that to my face, I know that there are those that think that I was wrong to bring my son into this world, knowing his life would be short. Among my critics would likely be Alan Colmes, the man who shamefully mocked Santorum and his wife for bringing their deceased baby Gabriel home so that his brothers and sisters could see him, so they could know that he is real and that he lived.

I know that people think that I was wrong, but they are wrong. Gabriel lived, and because he lived this world is a different place and I would have robbed the world, and you, of the blessing of his precious life if I had had also robbed Gabriel of his. It is true, sometimes the conditions of a pregnancy and subsequent birth are not always ideal. But if we can't take a chance on the least among us, the most vulnerable, our children, how can we hold our heads high as a nation?

The truth is, we all suffer. Even the parent of a child who lives a long life will experience their suffering. Parents will take their infant children to be vaccinated, and will cry with them. Most parents in the United States will have their newborn sons circumcised and shudder at the witness of their pain. Our children will learn to walk, but will fall along the way. They will break bones. Our children's pets will die and they will ache with sadness. Their hearts will be broken. For some unfortunate parents their child will be struck with an illness such as cancer, or will die in a terrible car accident. Parenting is not without its suffering, but aren't all things worth doing, worth suffering for? Imagine for a moment the pain that my parents and Ben's are experiencing now, having watched their children lose their baby boy less than a year ago, and now watching as our marriage frays. Would any of you parents rather your child never breathe air outside of their mother's wombs, to spare you and them the pain of some of these events?

The truth is, we all will die. I learned all too young that death is not just for the old and the sick. At the age of 23 I stared at Sean's dead body, Sean himself only 26 years old, while I called the police. I delivered a eulogy at his funeral. Six years later I held my own son in my arms as he took his last breath. I delivered a eulogy at his funeral too, the most important speech of my life in which I have delivered many speeches. I go to the cemetary and walk among headstones which reflect that death does not discriminate, but I still want to keep living until it drags me from this earth, just as my baby boy did.

I have chosen for this entry pictures of Gabriel without his cap. I am not ashamed of my baby boy. He looked strange, and unusual, and the pictures make some people uncomfortable. But he is my little boy, and I beam with pride at the sight of him, no matter how he looked.

Today Gabriel would be ten months old. He would be crawling, and eating solid food, learning to stand on his own and before long learning to walk. I like to think his hair would have gone dark like his mommy's by now. His little face would have changed, his relationship with his mommy and daddy would have changed, but he would be the light of our lives. He still is.

On the way home from Mass on Easter Sunday I heard Garth Brooks' "The Dance" on the radio. For many years I turned the station at the opening notes, unable to listen to the song without thinking of Sean and crying. It seems absurd, now. Sadness is a part of life, just as death and suffering are. The song now makes me think not just of Sean, but of Gabriel, and of Ben, and of how each of them left a scar on my heart with their departure. I guess if I had known, I could have skipped the pain. But it wouldn't be worth all that I would have missed.

Friday, April 6, 2012


The Gospel according to John: It was now nearing the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to go from this world to the Father. He had loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the end. 2 So, at supper, the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him. 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had put everything into His hands and that He had come from God and was going back to God, 4 got up from supper, laid aside His gown, took a cloth, and fastened it around Him. 5 Next, He poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the feet of His disciples, wiping them with the cloth He had tied around Him.
6 Finally He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, "Lord, are You going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus said to him, "You don't understand now what I am doing, but later on you will know." 8 "I Will never let You wash my feet," said Peter to Him, "No, never!" Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no fellowship with Me." 9 "Lord," said Simon Peter to Him, "not only my feet, but my hands and head also." 10 Jesus said to him, "He that is washed needs only to have his feet washed to be completely clean. And now you are clean - but not every one of you." 11 For He knew who was to betray Him. That is why He said, "Not all of you are clean."
12 When He had washed their feet and put on His gown, He sat down again. "Do you understand," He asked them, "what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord. You are right, for I am all of that. 14 Well, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, then you, too, should wash one another's feet. 15 For I have set you an example, and you should do as I do to you. 16 I tell you truly, a servant is not greater than his Master, nor is a messenger greater than He who sent him. 17 If you know this you will be blessed, if you do it.

As I listened to these words at Mass on Holy Thursday, I was reminded of a moment with Ben early in our relationship, when we were watching T.V. at his place and I gave him a foot massage. Four years later, he still recalls that as one of the first moments when he knew he loved me. Ben has a chef's feet, complete with all the wear and tear that comes from standing for 12 hours a day plus. He has shared with me that he was amazed that I would touch his feet to massage them, so early in our relationship.

From what I recall, we were watching American Idol, a show that I know Ben detests, and one his roommate made fun of us for watching. Ben had done something kind for me, and I wanted to do something kind for him in return, but it was not an entirely pure gesture on my part.

Now, as my anger softens and I start to look honestly at the many ways that I failed in our relationship, I have to consider that one of my failures occurred the day I stopped rubbing Ben's feet. It wasn't as though one day I just decided not to do it anymore, but little by little, when Ben would request a foot rub, I would make it some sort of exchange -- I will, if you will do this or that. And this brings to mind that the failure really began when I did this act for Ben not out of kindness, but in return for something else, whether he knew it or not.

This is not to say that I believe I was Ben's servant. I am his wife, even now according to the law, and he is my husband, and we were to be in each other's service, and we were not to stop serving each other because we were no longer getting something in return. Even a secular couple will say that a marriage is not a give and take of 50% and 50%, but requires a commitment from each partner to give 100% all of the time. Somewhere along the line, I stopped giving 100%. As much as I would like to say I love Ben without conditions, that it is a love that will not end just because we separate, I know that I did put conditions on the terms under which I would show Ben love, namely that he show me love in the way that I wanted. I failed too, and there will be no repairing our relationship, and certainly no success in any sort of future relationship, romantic or otherwise, if I cannot admit my faults in what is supposed to be the most important relationship that I have with another person.

Perhaps the best way that I determined Ben must prove that he loves me was by having another baby immediately after Gabriel was born. Accordingly, I felt most rejected not just by Ben's objection to having another baby so soon, but by what I see as him misleading me into thinking we would. I gave very little consideration to how Ben felt, thinking only of how desparately I wanted a family, how much I wanted to ensure that my parents had living grandchildren that they would be able to spend time with for a significant portion of those children's lives, how I wanted to start a family while my brother is still living in town, how I wanted to keep up with the friends and relatives that are having children now so that my own children have built-in playmates. I never thought my wants were selfish, as they were so often things I wanted for someone other than myself, but those desires so often put pressure on Ben, who was already struggling to grieve properly, that I suppose I cannot be entirely surprised by the way things have unraveled.

Following Gabriel's birth and passing, a number of people expressed to me that they thought I should wait to have another baby. I take offense to that "suggestion," as I doubt people would comment on my NOT having another baby right away and I am not quite sure why someone would think it is propert to comment on the decision TO have another. I know the suggestions were meant to be kind, as people asserted I should take time to heal and not try to "replace" Gabriel, but I can't imagine what is more healing than a new life, any more than I can imagine that anyone could think I would ever try to replace my Gabriel. People that know my beliefs know that I keep my marriage open to God's will for children and that wasn't going to change. However, what I have come to realize is that God's will hasn't been for me to have another child right away, as much as I have tried to convince God that He should help me out on this matter. I had decided that another baby right away should be my reward for carrying Gabriel to term, as if people should be rewarded just for doing the right thing. When I step back from my desire for a baby I see that I have been rewarded immeasurably by my experience with Gabriel. How can I ask for anything more than the ten days I had with him, when so many parents of anencephalic babies don't get nearly that much time? I suppose it's because most parents get much more than ten days, and even ten days is not enough to satisfy a mourning mother. But it has to be. I would be remiss if I didn't note that on this day, Good Friday, God witnessed the violent death of His only begotten Son, and the reward for that sacrifice was ours.

A crop of rainbow babies has been born recently, making this spring a new beginning for so many families. Those babies bring hope to so many more than just their own parents. The anencephalic community is one big family, thanks to the internet, and we are all touched by the new lives born into our virtual family.

Nichole, mother to a toddler boy, an anencephalic baby named Emmalynn, and a recent widow of an Iraqi war veteran, gave birth to her rainbow baby Lainey. Nichole became a mother much younger than I did, but I look up to her as one of the strongest women I know, and I take joy in her own new joy just as she rejoiced with me when Gabriel was born and held on for so long, and grieved with me when he passed. Natasha, whose baby boy Rafael also shares the name of an archangel, had her rainbow baby Leilani not much more than one month after she celebrated Rafael's first birthday. Amanda, one of the first anen moms that I contacted, who I happened to contact not long after her Gracie was born and passed from anencephaly, is due with her rainbow baby boy very soon.

This Easter week, two more rainbow babies were born. Tabitha, mommy to anencephalic baby Elizabeth, brought Elizabeth's baby sister Naomi into the world on Wednesday. Naomi's name fits perfectly: Beautiful; delightful. And just today, Noah was born to Josie, just one year and two days after his big brother Theo was born with anencephaly and subsequently passed. Josie and her husband Marlon kept Noah's name a secret until he was born, and they also were surprised by his gender. Now that he is here, I can't think of a more perfect name than Noah. It was Noah, after all, who represented mankind in their new covenant with God, when God sent a rainbow as His promise to us that we would never see such a storm again.

I delight in these new lives, and I thank Lainey, Leilani, Naomi and Noah for reminding a woman who tends to forget of God's promise.

**** Update: Five hours after publishing this entry, Amanda announced on Facebook that her rainbow baby Benjamin was born today, Good Friday.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Weight of the Wood

I will confess that the part of Catholicism that I struggle with the most is the divinity of Jesus Christ. Perhaps that seems odd, as Catholicism is clearly a Christ-centered faith and belief in Christ's divinity is an essential part of considering oneself a devout Catholic. I don't think I've ever really questioned that God exists; I think most of the world believes in God or some sort of higher power, and not believing seems almost irrational to me - not to mention, lonely.

Accepting Christ's divinity has always seemed to me to require a greater leap of faith. It is a belief that I maintain, but it is not what I think of when I call myself Catholic. Instead I think of the strong women of the Bible, such as Eve, the woman who most scholars assert is mythological but who has still shouldered much of the blame for the sins of the world, Ruth and Naomi, the women disciples of Jesus, and the many women who helped build His church on earth after Christ's crucifixion. As a girl making confirmation I admired the Church's strong women saints including Joan of Arc, who I chose as my own confirmation saint. Now as a mother I have delveloped a love and respect for Mary, the mother of a son who was also fated to die.

I enjoy the tradition of Catholicism, and the fact that major change doesn't occur for decades. I like the feeling of community that comes with being a part of the universal Church. I like that Catholicism is a part of my heritage. I like the trinkets, like the prayer cards and rosaries. As a stubborn and independent woman, I require the discipline of a faith like Catholicism but am grateful for the promise of Heaven.

But I struggle in my relationship with Christ.

And no time of year is better to reestablish that relationship than Lent, and in particular, during Holy Week.

Palm Sunday is a particularly emotional day for many Catholics, I suspect. It is a reminder of the price paid for our sins and the cost of our salvation. If I am to accept that Christ is my Savior as Catholicism requires, I must also accept that Christ's suffering was offered for me.

They say that we all have our crosses to bear, and for a devout Catholic, the weight of knowing what sacrifice took place so that we can be saved is one of our crosses. When I have had occassion to visit Protestant churches one noticeable difference between those and the Catholic churches is the lack of a crucifix. Some say the crucifix is gruesome and keeps us focused on something negative. On the contrary, Catholics believe in the redemptive value of suffering and the greatest Redeemer of all is Jesus Christ, who paid the ultimate price, death on a cross, so that we may know eternal life. We cannot forget either that this price was also paid by God whose only Begotten Son suffered that fate and by his mother Mary who brought her son into this world knowing he would one day preceed her in death, but having no idea when that would be and only a cursory understanding of the magnitude of her role. These are the prices that have been paid on our behalf. On Palm Sunday as we read the Passion of Our Lord as a community at Mass, we are reminded that it is we who demanded "Crucify Him!" We are reminded that we crucify Him daily with our selfish, carnal actions -- but forgiveness is always ours if we ask.

On Palm Sunday last year I was carrying another cross as I approached the third trimester of a pregnancy that I knew would result in a son that I would have to say good-bye to, not long after I said hello. On Palm Sunday I reminded myself that I had not been asked to do anything that God had not also sacrificed. This year, as I thought about the many times that I have crucified the Lord with my poor decisions, I shuddered at how terrible it would be to have to live Gabriel's death over and over and over again and how it is not something I would want to experience, even if it meant the salvation of the world. God's love is the Ultimate Love because it is a love we are just not capable of, though it is in our nature to love unselfishly too.

Palm Sunday is a sad day. For those that attend Good Friday services we experience yet another reminder of the cost of Heaven. But I think most Christians will agree that Easter Sunday is the most important day of the year for humans, because it is the day that the gates of Heaven were opened to us all. We can't get to Easter Sunday until we've been through Palm Sunday and Good Friday. We can't have a rainbow without a little rain.