Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Tantalizing Prospect

"A tantalizing new prospect will come your way," read my fortune cookie this afternoon.

I think it has already arrived.

My latest guilty pleasure is a Lifetime series called "The Conversation," a series of interviews with women celebrities, businesswomen, and political activists.  At the end of every episode, that week's interviewees are asked "What would you tell your 14 year old self?"

If I could talk to the 14 year old me, I would probably lie to her.  I would tell her that everything is going to be okay.  Because I remember when I was 14 desperately needing to know that everything would be.  My parents had just struggled through a conflict that would end most marriages, and I still wasn't completely secure that my family wasn't going to fall apart.  I was also hard at work by that point, planning my future, planning for my family.

The plan seemed to take so long to fall into place.  I had intended a direct route to law school, to graduate at 25 rather than start at 25, but through the stops and starts I was focused on that goal.  Only one thing could have stopped me:  A husband.  More than I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted a family.  If I had to choose one I would have chosen the family.  But there didn't seem to be one on the horizon and in August of 2006 I headed to Orange County to start my 1L year at Whittier Law School.

It was a difficult first year, but unlike many of my classmates I don't think I ever really questioned that I would pass.  By the second year, things quickly started to fall into place.  I moved in with a new roommate, Peter, but kept my friendship with my former roommate Diana.  The two of them were my best friends in law school.  I continued working in the law library, and picked up a couple of shifts a week at a local bar.  I was accepted onto the Trial Advocacy team and invited to participate in the upcoming competition, and as I expected trial competitions were my niche.

My list started getting checked off.

Meet husband. Check.

Get job offer from the Public Defender's Office.  Check.

Get a marriage proposal.  Check.

Graduate from Whittier.  Check.

[Get withdrawal of offer from Public Defender's Office.  Check.  A minor setback, I was sure.]

Take the bar exam.  Check.

Pass the bar exam.  Check.

Get sworn in.  Check.

Get married.  Check.

Get pregnant.  Check.

With that first positive pregnancy test I felt confident.  Ben had a good job.  I had just obtained my first client.  Then, the morning of my first hearing, another bump in the road.  I started to miscarry.

The miscarriage wasn't a part of my plan.  Losing Gabriel wasn't part of the plan either.  Watching Ben drive away, probably leaving Bakersfield for the last time, wasn't part of the plan.

The hardest part was watching Ben load the rest of his things.  This was it.  He was really leaving.  He hadn't lived there for three months, but there was a finality to his taking his toolboxes that struck me, like he was reaching into my body and squeezing my heart.

But this morning we had coffee together.  June has been such a long month for us.  The last two years have been such long years.  I marvel when I say "Just two years" in response to the question of how long I have been married, because they have been two years wrought with tension, grief, and pain that I suspect will take quite a while to put behind me.  This morning, though, in the backyard over a couple of cups of coffee, the mood was relaxed and the pain bearable.  For the last few days we have been saying the things maybe we should have been saying all along.

"You should cook more.  I taught you a lot, and you like to cook.  You should do it more often."

"I always use too much oil."


"I don't like to practice."  And I don't.  I want to speak fluent Spanish, now, I don't want to practice.  I want to play "Stairway," now, I don't want to practice.  I want a baby, now, I don't want to practice.  The irony of choosing a profession in which I am always just "practicing" is not lost on me.

"Practice making macaroni and cheese."

"You'll never think of macaroni and cheese and not think of me."

"I know."

"Or hear George Straight."

"I know."

"Or. . ."

"I know.  I'll never be the same."

"Going to dinner, that will never be the same.  You changed the way I think."  I remember one of our favorite pastimes, going to a new restaurant.  After our combined years in the service industry, the best way to enjoy a new restaurant is to pick apart the experience.  What did they do well?  What could have been better?  Would we come back?  How long will I analyze a dining experience now that Ben is gone?

Over two cups of coffee we watched Gideon and Noelle, our only surviving "children," play.

"How long will it take?"

"I don't know.  I'll try to drive ten hours a day until I get there."

"What will you do when you get there?"

"Take some time.  Look for a job."

We ventured to the front door when it was time for Ben to leave.  "I hope you have your baby.  You deserve it."  I thought of all of the times the baby had been used as a weapon in our marriage.  We're going to try.  We're not going to try.  You're too focused on a baby.  You're punishing me for Gabriel by not letting me have another baby.  You want another baby more than you want me. . . To hear those words used as a wish for my happiness instead of a tool for causing each other more pain. . . Well, I couldn't ask for more.

I'd like to write more.  I'd like to write in detail about our good-bye, but I recall the number of times Ben said "I wish you wouldn't share so much," and I feel that one of my last duties as his wife should be to keep that moment private, at least for now.  People tell me sometimes that reading my blog is like peering into my life, but I never think of it as sharing too much.  It's a release.  It's like someone is listening to me.  But sometimes, I suppose we should also take the time to listen to each other.

I was struck by the peace I felt as Ben drove away.  When Gabriel died, I was flooded at once with relief and a deep sense of pain.  Gabriel struggled so much in his final hours that I begged God to take him from his suffering.  But the pain was still deep.  It is still deep.  It was the deepest pain I will ever know, and that is empowering.  Nothing can ever hurt as badly as it hurts to lose my son.  So watching Ben fade from the street was painful, but bearable.  We could both really start to move on.  We wouldn't run into each other, or hear about each other, or tell ourselves that we could just move back in together and everything would be like it was two years ago.  There is no going back, but there hasn't been any going back for a long time.

Although the anger is fading, it's still there, and when I walked back into the house I felt angry again, at the furniture he left behind in his haste, at the pieces of him that still remain.  Pieces that will get packed up and donated to the homeless shelter, pictures that will be replaced, pieces that hadn't necessarily reminded me of him until today. What was I going to do with all of that crap?

But a tantalizing prospect approaches.  The thought of getting rid of the clutter, doing things my way, refinishing furniture, finding new throw pillows, painting the end tables, replacing the lamps all seem appealing ways to start over again.

Sometimes I want to do something dramatic.  Maybe I'll switch from Jameson to gin.  Don't sophisticated, successful people drink gin?  But I don't like gin.  Maybe I'll start smoking cigarettes, as if that's something you just start doing as a grown woman one day.  But the price just went up on cigarettes.  Maybe I'll cut off my hair.  But I love my hair.  I keep thinking maybe I will just stop listening to God, I'll just do whatever I want to do, all rules aside, all care aside, in a fit of rebellion.  But He keeps calling me back, nudging me gently or when that doesn't work, instilling me with the fear of hell, a private hell where I never see my son again, that keeps me from jumping off the deep end.

People keep telling me that everything is going to be alright.  No one can really promise me that, and at 30 years old I would be lying if I told my 14 year old self that everything will be okay.  I'm still not sure it will be although on some plain level I suppose I know it will be.  But I know that at 14 years old, I was too busy trying to MAKE things okay that I had a hard time just being 14.   Maybe if I had just stopped trying, I wouldn't have made some of the mistakes that I did.  And I don't want to feel this way in another 14 years, feeling like I was cheated out of my plan when what I have really done is cheated myself out of enjoying what's in front of me right now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Feast of Saint Baby Gabriel

I recently asked a friend who is divorced and sharing custody of his daughter if he misses his daughter on his "off" days. He of course answered yes, especially on the last day.  It may seem curious that I would even ask.  How could I question something so obvious? My best explanation for my curiosity is that for me, every day is that last day.  I wonder how I would feel knowing I would see Gabriel in a matter of days, rather than a lifetime.  The longing, the anticipation, the missing my child is constant.

What is it about an anniversary?  The longing somehow feels stronger today.  My arms feel especially empty.  My brain is struggling to wrap itself around the idea that one year ago my son died. For a year, I have been living without him. And very little in the last year has gone the way I expected.

On Saturday Ben will come to the house and take the last of his belongings, pack them in a trailer, and drive across the country.  I will, in all likelihood, never see him again.  The last year will be just another year, our marriage, just a phase we went through.  Sometimes, having a child who has passed away is convenient, and this is one of those times.  We don't have to work out things like custody.  There's nothing to keep him here, no reason for us to stay together.  In fact, I suppose a part of me knew or at least had my doubts.  A year ago when Gabriel passed, I clipped his hair and separated it into two tiny plastic bags, thinking if Ben and I ever split at least this part would already be done.

When I got married, I recall thinking one of the best parts of marriage was knowing I would never have to go through another break-up again.  But here I am, breaking up.  And I thought Sean's "break-up" was the hardest it could ever be, because it was sudden and I was so helpless in it.  Now, it seems like the least cruel way to leave someone - suddenly, and irreversibly.  I've spent the last three months breaking up with my husband.  I find it difficult to understand how Ben can just walk away, how he could leave the house where we cared for our child, how he could leave the city where his child's ashes are kept, how he could leave the state where he's lived most of his life and where, in a scuzzy little bar in Huntington Beach, he met the mother of his child -- but I also know it's what he has to do.  He has to make this irreversible.  It's too hard for both of us if he sticks around.

Ben frequently visits Gabriel's place at the cemetery, at least once a week.  I don't.  I felt better knowing Ben went regularly, but I never felt compelled to visit that much.  From the moment Gabriel passed I know his soul moved on.  He is, by definition, a Catholic saint who has obtained his reward in Heaven.  He died without ever having committed a sin, and having been baptised and cleansed of original sin.  His place in Heaven was secure, as is the place of all babies and young children who die.

"I hope you take comfort in knowing you have your own saint in Heaven now," I have heard more than once.  I do, but being here without my son still hurts.  I am grateful for ten days, ten days more than many of the mothers in the anencephaly community get.  For the last ten days I have been posting pictures of Gabriel, and  I was struck by the mother who said "You're so lucky to have all of these pictures." When your child is only with you for ten days, it can be very easy to slip into self-pity, but knowing how much those ten days would have meant to another family drives home just how very fortunate I am.  I'm fortunate also to know how my son's life has touched so many people.  I still get e-mails from people telling me how much Gabriel has inspired them.  My favorite are the e-mails that say, "I don't know what to tell you, except that today I hugged my children until they made me let them go, and I have never been so thankful to have them here with me."

In an hour I will meet my friend and former co-worker Lisa for lunch, and she'll bring her six-month old baby, who I call Mickey.  I can predict how the meeting will go.  She'll take him out of the carrier and let me hold him, and I'll cry thinking about what could have been.  Lisa will cry too, thinking about the eleven days Mick spent in the NICU, and how unimaginable it is to not have him here with her now.  Then Mickey will start to freak out because we're both crying, so we'll have to pull ourselves together and take our seats.  After lunch I'll go to the cemetary - I don't visit much but today seems an appropriate day to go.  I'll cry on and off throughout the day but the day will soon be over.  Tomorrow I will pack the last of Ben's things that are in the house, removing the physical traces of him.  I'll put together one of our two memory boxes for him, and give him a lock of Gabriel's hair, a laminated copy of his obituary, a set of Gabriel's footprints, the onsie that Gabe wore on Father's day, and one of his blankets.  On Saturday I will tell Ben good-bye, and it will be hard, but then I will go inside and marvel at how despite the emptiness of the house I don't really feel lonely.  I have, after all, had to spend the last year without my son and I'm pretty sure if I can do that, I can do more.

I am, above all, grateful for my time with Gabriel.  Not everyone gets ten days.  Not everyone is trusted with a child like Gabriel.  Not every woman gets to say, "I am the mother of a saint."

Happy Feast of St. Baby Gabriel Day.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Control versus Management

During our marriage, my need for "control" was a constant source of contention, and sometimes laughter, in our household.  Ben would say something like, "This didn't work."  I would ask if he did what I told him to do, and he would say no, and I would say, "Well, if you would just. . .!" and he would ask "Just what?  Just do what you told me to do?"  He would laugh at my fury, and I would laugh too, recognizing how easily I can be worked up if things don't go my way.

I like to say that Ben is stubborn, but I am just strong-willed.  I never thought of myself as controlling, I just wanted order and security where I could find it.  Through the four major traumatic events in my life, the rape,  Sean's suicide, the miscarriage, and dealing with Gabriel's condition, I felt such a complete sense of helplessness that now I take comfort in the things I can help.  I like knowing that the glasses will always be in the same order, that the towels will always be folded the same way, that the tabs in a file will always lead me to what I'm looking for, and that the bottle of sloe gin will always be in the same place.  I couldn't understand why Ben would fight me on those things at every turn.  Friends would advise me that if I wanted my marriage to last, I would learn to let the little things go, but I never agreed with that.  The little things could push me to the edge.  I could deal with my son having a fatal birth defect, but a sock left on the floor was devastating to me because of what it said to me.  I was willing to wash Ben's socks, pull them rightside out because he usually didn't, pair them up, and put them away for him, and all I asked in return was that he put the socks in the hamper -- in the correct basket, of course.  I wish now that I had communicated to him that the simple act of putting the sock in the hamper was for me an expression of love that I needed.  Ben couldn't help the bad things that happened, he couldn't change the fact that when he found me I was already wounded, maybe even damaged, but he could comfort me by bringing a sense of security.

As I finish up the first book in the 50 Shades series, I can't understand why everyone is so preoccupied with the sex.  Why aren't they looking at the relationship between the two main characters?  The concepts, though  not explored as effectively as they could be, are intriguing to me.  He wants control, not because he wants to hurt her or degrade her, but because in his life there was so little that he could control.  She wants to give in to him, not because she hates herself or lacks self-worth, but because she cares and wants to give him what he needs.  And at the same time, she is slowly chipping away at his pain, and he is slowly building her up too, and if things turn out as I suspect they will, at some point they will meet happily in the middle -- three books later.

Looking back, I probably put an unfair burden on Ben.  We're not characters in a book, after all.  I suppose my asking him to give in to me could be seen as my looking to him to fix everything and that was my mistake.  I couldn't figure out why he was so resistant to doing things "my way," and I still don't understand.  Maybe there was some deep-seated reason, or maybe he really is just stubborn and doesn't want a woman telling him what to do.  I know that in many ways, he spoiled me -- I think about it every time I have to do my least favorite chore, cleaning floors, which he always did for me. He no doubt thought that what he was doing was enough, and I always wanted more.  And without a doubt I thought I was doing enough, I think I rightly assign much of the credit for the marriage ending to Ben because he is the one who walked away, but I know I messed up too.  Every day I think about the mistakes I made.  I think about what I would have done differently, and also what I wouldn't do differently and what I'm not sorry for.  I can't change my particular nature.  I've always kept the strainer covering the drain on the same side of the sink, and I'm always going to.

This morning Ben told me that he is thinking of moving to South Carolina.  My urge to control this situation overtook me.  I don't know why I should care if he moves; in fact, I think my life would probably be made easier if he left.  I know there is nothing left to salvage in our relationship.  What sprang to my mind, though, was the morning I went to family court and watched as the judge ordered the couple before him divorced.  Just like that, their marriage was over and I watched it happen from my seat in the jury box where the lawyers wait for their case to be called.  I have imagined what it will be like to stand in front of the judge as a party to a case rather than a lawyer, and feel the eyes of my colleagues on me while they speculate on why our marriage is ending. "Poor girl.  First she lost her baby, and now she's losing her husband."  And I feel that he should have to be there too, their stares burning into him.  He should have to walk in on the continued whispered conversations at the bar. "Did you notice Ben and Andrea never come in together anymore?" "He took his wedding band off, did you see?" "I heard he moved out." "She didn't even know that he was looking for an apartment!" "That thing with the baby, it ruined them."  "Stop talking, there she is."

Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with early stage rheumatoid arthritis.  It wasn't a surprise to me.  For years I have known something was wrong, and have been told by doctors that I'm just too young.  So it was a relief to me to finally have a diagnosis.  "There's no cure," the doctor said, "But the medications these days can put you into remission, where you won't get deformities.  Now that you know, you can manage your condition.  You're so young."

There were those words again.  My age is generally pointed to as a promise that life will get better down the road, but from the doctor's mouth it sounded like some sort of death sentence. "Well, I plan on living to be 100, so maybe they'll find a cure by then."


At my first occupational therapy session, the hand therapist said it again. "You're awfully young."  I know.  I can't help that.  I can't help the diagnosis.  This is another one of those things I can't control.  What I can do is take my medication, and do the exercises that the therapist assigned, and manage the problem.  I couldn't fix the hole in my son's skull, all I could do is care for him while he was here and love him from a distance now. I couldn't make Ben stay in our home and I sure can't make him stay in California and face the end of the life we thought we were building together.  I can manage the legal proceedings on my own though, and I will.  It seems only fitting -- Ben did the cooking, I do the handling of the divorce.  Really, my life won't be that much different if Ben leaves, or when I have a divorce decree.  I'll still sit in my backyard, drinking coffee, reading book 2, and watching the dogs chase birds, knowing the towels are hanging just the way I want them to.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Blueberry Bush Revisited

My little boy would be one year old right now.  At times like this, two days after his would-be-first-birthday, it's hard not to imagine what life would have been like if he had lived.  I wonder what he would look like, if his hair would have stayed blonde, if he would have grown into those big feet of his.  I consider what life would be like if he had been born perfectly healthy, and how things would be if he had lived for a year with special needs.  I get to idealize life, and convince myself that I would still be nursing, that we would have stuck out the cloth diapering, that we would have a well-behaved and brilliant little boy.

Of course, I have to wonder also if things would have still gone sour with Ben, if we would be single parents now, struggling to co-parent as we lived separate lives.

There is no rule book when it comes to parenting, people say.  If there's no rule book for parenting, there's certainly no rules as to how to interact with your soon-to-be ex-husband on your dead son's birthday, which happens to follow said ex-husband's birthday, knowing Father's Day is also coming up soon, as well as the anniversary of your dead son's passing.

Gabriel's first birthday was a day that I have been anticipating for a year, but it turned out nothing like I imagined.  I foresaw a party of some sort to celebrate his life.  There seemed to be much disagreement about what kind of party, if any, would be appropriate.  Ben and I took flowers and cupcakes to the cemetary.  Unsure of whether he would like chocolate or carrot cake, but certain that he was every bit his mommy's and daddy's boy, we left him one of each.

For a brief moment on Gabriel's birthday, I allowed myself to get caught up in memories and to pretend that nothing has changed.  I think I hurt Ben by misleading him into feeling the same.  But everything has changed.  Everything.

When Gabriel was home I didn't have much opportunity to sleep, though I was exhausted.  I would occupy my time, especially the late night/early morning hours by blogging.  One of my favorite entries was written then, an entry about a blueberry plant that came to symbolize my son's strength.  As I watered Gabriel's blueberry plant today I thought about the qualities I see of myself in the plant.  A year ago it was brown and struggling to survive.  Today it is green and growing, but still not full and as a productive as it could be.

In the last year, I've learned a lot about myself.  I guess I always knew I was strong, even when I didn't feel that way.  Now I see that I have survived what seemed impossible.  Survival sometimes means putting on a brave face, because sometimes that's what life requires me to do.  At other times it means allowing myself to really feel, even when it's inconvenient or debilitating.  Sometimes surviving has meant holding on to a troubled marriage.  Today, surviving means letting go.

Letting go has been a process.  I ask myself often if I gave up too soon, but the answer is always that I have given all I have to give, and that some things will never change, and that I'm unwilling to lose myself even more to this process.

But even as I've felt lost, sometimes even robbed, I've discovered things about myself that have been happy surprises, things I wouldn't have learned if it hadn't been for the separation with Ben.  When I met Ben I was preoccupied with getting married and starting a family.  I was terrified of being alone.  Today I see that even if I'm not married or in a romantic relationship, I'm going to be just fine.

I've learned a lot about guarding my heart and respecting myself.  I've learned that guarding my heart doesn't mean shutting people out -- indeed, I think I've become even more open through this experience.  It doesn't mean never having feelings, or keeping people at a distance.  It just means carefully selecting who I let in, and how much I will share.

A great fear of mine in getting divorced was that I am now old, used, and washed up, with little to offer anyone, and that no one would want me.  I've been stunned by the male reaction to my separation.  Turns out I still have something to offer.  Even more shocking to me has been my own response to learning that men are still interested in me.  My response is that it is flattering, and promising, but that I am not so very eager to put myself out there.  I'm not looking for a temporary fix.  I haven't become so jaded that I think I have to settle.  I've learned that I don't have to be on a mission to find someone, that someone who excites me and challenges me and stirs me will come around if and when they are supposed to.

People are full of well-meaning advice these days, including definite opinions on dating post-separation.  It turns out though there is no rule book on the death of a child, there are tons of rules regarding how a woman is supposed to handle herself once she's on her own again.  The problem is the rules all seem to conflict.  Don't date.  Date around.  Have hope that you'll find love again.  Don't expect or go looking for love.  Play the game.  But don't play games.  And of course, there's the tasteless suggestion that I find a "fuck buddy," often complete with an offer to be that buddy for me. I'm amazed by how many people think they know what is good for me, and how few people have confidence that I might know what is good for myself.

I'd developed a reputation as a staunch Catholic, but I suppose when I caved to the divorce, people thought the devout Catholic had been set free.  That's my fault.  I've been so angry at God, and I haven't been a shining example.  I go to Mass out of routine, I refuse to go to Confession because I'm not convinced I'm sorry for anything these days, and I skip Communion every week as a result.  I think often that I am putting my soul at risk and I consider my biggest fear, that if I don't behave I won't get to see my son again someday, but it hasn't motivated me like it used to.  I still cling to my crumbling faith and hope to find my way back someday.

Lately it seems people are pointing out my age more and more.  "You're young," they say, usually to assauge my fears of never having another baby.  In particular, though, Brad's words stand out to me.  "Sweetie, you're young.  You think you've got it all figured out, but you don't.  You're still learning.  One day you'll get it."  Some time ago I figured out that I will never have it all figured out.  It is a liberating understanding, but I think it is sometime misunderstood by others.  The fact that I am able to take my life experiences and learn from them doesn't mean I think I know it all, or that I think I won't continue to have life-changing experiences.  Brad is still wrestling with life as widower.  His wife committed suicide last year and while I sympathize with him, I think I of all people have earned the right to say back to him, "Sweetie, you're grieving.  You think you've got it all figured out because your wife offed herself, but you don't.  You're still learning." I'll match Brad dead partner for dead partner, except I don't want to get into a competition over whose circumstances suck the most.  It's not a competition I would want to win anyway and besides, circumstances suck but I have a wonderful life.  Maybe that's intimidating to Brad, that I could weather the storm that I've been through for the last few years and still be okay.

I certainly have my cynical moments.  I make horribly dark statements and I'm sure it freaks people out.  The cynicism is my defense, my way of tempering my endless, idealistic hope.  Despite the hard times, I still have dreams that I'm not ready to give up on.  I still hope I'll fall in love again; I hope Gideon and Noelle catch a bird this summer; I hope a girl wins American Idol next season; I hope the Mariners win a world series soon; I hope Ben gets the recognition as a chef that he deserves (he's THAT good, and I'm still one of his biggest fans); I hope Jenny has another baby; I hope I do too -- I hope I have twins, one for each that I lost; I hope to realize my dream of owning a bar from which I also run my legal practice; I hope to start a nonprofit organization in Gabriel's memory; I hope Lucy and Lee get back together; I hope Jerry finds a nice girl; I hope Jessica and Elise will learn to get along (:-P); I still hope my brother joins the priesthood; I hope the blueberry bush produces berries one day; I hope to reestablish my relationship with God because I'm not ready to divorce Him just yet.  I hope for a lot of things that probably seem absurd right now, many things that are outside of my control.  Maybe that's why my youth is so obvious, because I have a childlike, romantic view of what has proven to be a cold world. It's an approach to life that leads to inevitable disappointment sometimes.  Daring to hope for something I want is a risky endeavor and I often fall short.  I've learned in the last year, though, that it's not such a bad way to be.

For months I have thought about what my entry in honor of Gabriel's birthday would be like.  I am surprised as I write that I'm not more focused on him.  I think of Gabriel all day, every day.  He's my son, of course I do.  But his life and his passing have become folded into me, a part of who I am, a part of my normal that I'm learning to live with.  I still love talking about him and sharing his pictures and reliving the memories from a year ago.  I'm enjoying finally being able to set aside a space in my home to honor his memory.  It's just a few things - I never wanted to go overboard - that I think I won't mind moving someday.  Just enough to feel like he is being properly memorialized.  I've finally accepted what always seemed like just a platitude, that Gabriel is always in my heart and that's not going to change.  For his birthday, I got my greatest wish, which was to feel that he hadn't been forgotten just because he's no longer here with us.  A year ago, I experienced this phenomenal feeling that the world had literally stopped turning to follow the life of my little boy, and a year later I can see that I wasn't the only one who felt it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Noellie's Belly

Noelle loves to eat.  She and I have that in common.  So I was surprised each time that I would take her to the vet for vaccinations when someone in the waiting room would say, "She's underfed."  I could never underfeed her, I know how much she loves to eat and I might occasionally overfeed her as a result.  Besides, just the week before she was usually a pudgy little ball of long, black fur on legs.  Her routine visits with Dr. Utt coincided with her growth spurts and Dr. Utt herself said, "I think she's just a lean machine."  But when I think of Noelle's first weeks at home, I think of her rolly polly tummy, which earned her the nickname "Noellie Belly."

Noelle is now 7 months old and still growing, and approaching her first heat cycle soon.  That means it's decision time.  Whether or not to spay Noelle should be an easy choice.  When she was given to me, I didn't intend to breed her.  I agree with friends who argue there are enough homeless dogs in the world that I shouldn't add to the problem by letting Noelle have more.  My landlord has specifically said, "NO MORE ANIMALS." Breeding Noelle would mean dealing with at least two heat cycles, worrying about stray dogs running up to my gates to get to her, listening to Gideon fight them off, diapering a dog who already eats everything else and would likely eat her diaper. . . So why is this choice so difficult?

I guess it's because I know what happens when a dog is spayed.  A complete hysterectomy is performed.  Her reproductive organs are removed, and with them goes the likelihood of various forms of cancers, one more reason spaying a female dog is advised.  When I think of Noelle's uterus being discarded as hazardous waste, while mine is empty and useless, I wonder why both of bodies should go to waste.  If Noelle's gotta have it done, a part of me thinks they may as well lay me on a table beside her and strip me of my parts as well.

"You're young," people say, "You have plenty of time."  I have to wonder why I am the only one that hears that clock ticking away. "Don't you get it????" I want to shake them and scream.  No one can promise me anything.  No one can promise me that there will be more chances, an annulment, another husband, more babies.  The post-miscarriage promises, "Don't worry, you'll get another chance," all seemed so meaningless in the wake of Gabriel's diagnosis and I'm too terrified now to dare to hope that there will be another chance.

"Have you considered adoption?" people ask.  Homeless children, like homeless puppies, abound.  I feel judged by that question, as though what they really want to ask is, "Shouldn't you satisfy your deep, and borderline obsessive, need to nurture a living being by adopting someone who really needs a home?"  Yes, I suppose I should adopt.  I could do it on my own, I wouldn't need some man.  I could pick out a child, lift its lip to check its teeth and gums, select one with desireable hair and eye color, one that looks like me, and we could be so happy.  I feel like the next unspoken question is, "Why would you keep trying to bring new life into this world, when you have failed so tragically before, and there are ready-made lives waiting for you to take them in."

Nothing is really like bringing life into this world, though.  I would take Gabriel with anencephaly over no Gabriel at all.  I would welcome the chance to care for Noelle through a pregnancy, feed her, search diligently for placement for her puppies, hold her while she gives birth, provide for her while she nurses, give her and those puppies everything they need just for the chance to experience bringing another life into this world.  At the very least, I am not ready to deny either of us that opportunity just yet.  I know that Noelle was given to me by Ben in part to shut me up, so I would quit asking for another baby.  I'm not ready to shut up, I guess.

Perhaps the only person I can think of right now who knows just how I feel is Jenny.  A year ago on June 1, shortly after midnight, I locked the doors to the Wright Place at the end of the night for the last time before my scheduled induction on June 8.  Before going to bed I checked Facebook for status updates from Jenny, whose induction was scheduled for that very day.  I slept with my phone beside my bed and checked on Jenny first thing in the morning.  I was crushed when I learned that Palmer had lived for 55 minutes, 55 minutes that Jenny is eternally grateful for but that I knew wouldn't be enough for me.  I needed more, and I begged God for more and I sometimes wonder if God gave me ten days just to shut me up.  Maybe He's sick of me asking for things.  Maybe everyone who tells me, "Just wait, things will happen in their own time,"  is right.  Maybe instead of trying so hard to take charge of everything, I could just let things happen for a change.

Palmer, Gabriel's due date buddy, is celebrating his first birthday today.  I know that Jenny, whose journey has been so similar to mine, is feeling that sad peace again, which comes with knowing there are some things we just can't control.  Like the mail.  Jenny, I sent Palmer's birthday card on Tuesday.  I don't know how long it takes to get mail from California to Kansas.  In any case, I'm thinking about you today, and I'm thinking about Palmer.  Happy birthday to our little mister, Palmer Joseph Lees.