Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Rings and Things
Mother's Day hit me like a truck.
I considered this my third Mother's Day. Two years ago I was blissfully pregnant with Baby Cude, unaware that later that week I would begin to miscarry. I remember the pride I took in being able to stand during Mass when the parish acknowledged all of the mothers. One week after that I remember my desparate prayers during Mass, that what the doctor had said was a miscarraige was just a bump in the road. Right up until the next day, when the doctor confirmed that there was no fetal heartbeat and no embryonic sac, I hoped for my child's life. In many ways the miscarriage was harder on me than losing Gabriel. I never got to hold Baby Cude, never got to know if he was a boy or a girl, what he would look like, or what caused his death. I guess that's why this year I chose for Mother's Day to give myself a gift, a memorial charm bracelet designed to honor a child lost in miscarriage. I miss Baby Cude every day, but in particular on the days that are represented by the three charms: The time of conception, the time of miscarriage, and the due date.
When Baby Cude's life ended, my hopes and dreams for him did too, as did my expectation that I would get married and easily start cranking out children. In addition to my grief, I was ashamed that my body had failed my child. I took a blow to my feminine ego with every time someone would say to me, "Isn't it terrible how the people who want children can't have them, but the people that shouldn't have children pop them out all the time?" Who ever said I couldn't have children? I can have children, and in fact I showed I could when four months after the miscarriage I was pregnant again. This time we waited to go public with our pregnancy until we had passed the point when we had previously miscarried. As I eased into the second trimester without a single bout of morning sickness, feeling better than I had ever felt in my life and looking better too, I thought about how I was showing all of those people who whispered "Poor girl, she wants a baby sooooooo bad" that I would have my baby and I wouldn't skip a beat in getting there. Of course, the rest of the story is well-known. Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly. As luck would have it, we were not only one of the 40% of first pregnancies that result in miscarriage, we were also the one in 1,000 pregnancies in the United States that results in an anencephalic baby.
My second Mother's Day was spent in a strange, sad peace, knowing that I had just a few more weeks to enjoy carrying my special baby boy. I stood again at Mass to be acknowledged, this time with tears rolling down my face as I thought about the anniversary of Baby Cude's passing, and anticipated Gabriel's birth and short life. But I am a mother, no matter that my children couldn't stay, and I stood again this year, my third Mother's Day, tears streaming to be acknowledged. I had no little hands to hold, no little 11 month old boy to dress for the Mass, only empty arms. From the bottom of my broken heart I believe that I was chosen to be Gabriel's mother because I would not only carry him and love him as long as I could, but I would share his life and make it continue to matter even after he was gone. I know a mother's love, I know a mother's grief and that can't be stripped from me.
I was devastated, however, by Ben's lack of concern for me on Mother's Day. Although we are separated and expect to divorce, I thought he would at least call me or text message me with a wish for a happy Mother's Day. He is the only person who also lost a son when Gabriel passed and I guess I wanted some acknowledgement from him of that time in our lives. I hear often that I should cut him a break, that he's grieving and doesn't know how to show it, that women are so much stronger than men in these things and I should just understand. If it makes me selfish that I didn't care about Ben's grief on Mother's Day, then I guess I am. When he called me shortly after midnight and finally uttered those three words, "Happy Mother's Day," I think it was just too late.
I am going through a phase right now, the typical "I'm never getting married again" phase that people going through a divorce experience. At the very least, I tell people, if I ever marry again I am not changing my name and I am not wearing a ring. I recall thinking it was unfair that during our engagement, I was expected to wear an engagement ring to show the world I was spoken for, while Ben didn't have to do the same. I was especially upset when someone told me, "I know what that cuff on your finger means, I know better than to be too friendly to you." The engagement ring that I had been so excited to receive because of the promise it represented soon became for me a sign of someone's "ownership" over me rather than a symbol of love and commitment.
When I told Ben before our wedding that I didn't want to change my name, he looked crushed. I know that Ben wasn't trying to possess me, that he just wanted us to be unified as a family, and so I grudgingly agreed to give up my name, and in my view give up my heritage and the accomplishments under my maiden name, to show my commitment to our new family.
I've come to see that those things, the ring and the name, are just things. The real sign of a commitment is actually committing. The test isn't how swiftly one can get to the DMV to change her name, but how willing she is to hold on in adversity. And the commitment comes from both sides. I love Ben, and I have thought often about the number of times and the number of ways that I have failed. How much did my need to be married and have a family, complete with a handful of children and two dogs, put pressure on Ben that he just couldn't stand? I committed to sticking this out until I could say I had really given my marriage everything. I wouldn't have regrets. I would stand by my husband as I stood by my children, forever hopeful in their potential. I wonder if I gave up too soon, but I also wonder what will become of me if I keep holding on to a relationship that seems to only harm us both. God's will for Gabriel and the choices I was supposed to make during that pregnancy were clear, but I spend a lot of time asking God what his will is for me now, wishing He would just tell me what to do. I wonder if two pregnancies, with no children here with us now, was meant to be the sign that we don't belong together after all. We had a moment, and that moment is over.
I don't wear a ring anymore. It feels strange, because I've been wearing a ring on my wedding ring finger since I started bartending to deter unwelcome advances. The tanline has faded and no one would know I ever wore one. We never did order prints from our wedding, and even if we had the photographer forgot to take that classic shot of the newly wedded couples hands wearing their new wedding bands. We have instead pictures of Gabriel's hands holding both of our rings, and pictures of our banded hands laid on Gabriel's chest. The rings are tucked away in a drawer and Gabriel's ashes are tucked away in a niche, and we've got a few photos to remind us of that very brief time when we were heroes together before we did each other in.