Monday, August 20, 2012

Leaving Neverland

"Sometimes I feel like Peter Pan," I said to Blake over  couple of beers last Sunday afternoon, as I enjoyed a moment to just chat with him before my evening shift began.  "Like I'm not a grown-up.  Lindsey and Elise are moving on to these big things, and I'm just stuck here in Neverland."

"I feel more like Pooh.  You know, how Christopher Robin outgrows Pooh.  I feel like everyone's just outgrowing me."

A fair analogy, I think, but I stick to Peter Pan.  Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to grow up, was grown up in his own way.  He lived on his own, without any grown ups telling him what to do, and took care of himself, and had a pack of lost boys that he also looked after.  He just rejected the structured lifestyle of the working world.

In fairness to myself, I've had a job since I was 16 years old.  For nearly half my life I've been a part of the working world. Maybe my job doesn't seem very "grown-up," but it pays my grown-up bills and has taught me some very grown-up lessons.  A bartender matures quickly.

But working at the bar has been my safety net for so long.  I have a list of reasons as to why I am still there.  I was a wife, and a mother, and wanted to focus on building my family.  I wanted to be available to my children in a way that my own working mom wasn't.  Though I admired my parents for instilling me with a strong work ethic, I also missed their presence in my childhood.  Raising my family, watching them grow, and not missing out on the big moments in their life kept me from committing to a full-time legal practice.

Besides, I reasoned, there were no jobs to be had.

It turns out, even if the latter reason was once true, it isn't anymore.  In the last couple of months I cautiously sent out two resumes, tentatively hoping for something to come of them.  To my surprise I was called back on both to interview.  I was even more surprised when I was offered a position last Thursday, before I had a chance to interview for the second job. Today, I accepted the position with the first firm, a worker's compensation defense firm where I will be one of five attorneys in the Bakersfield office.

My surprise at being called didn't stem from self-deprecation or a lack of confidence, but from the very real fact that I graduated from law school three years ago - the shortest, fastest three years of my life - and have never had a "real" lawyer position.  I lack experience, not confidence - and experience is usually what gets a person in the door for an interview.  Once through the door, I've always been very sure of my ability to charm my way into a job, even when I didn't.

As I delighted in the first interview and the anticipation of the second, and the feeling of being wanted - or, possibly wanted, I also fearfully considered what a full-time position would mean.  If things went well, I'd soon find myself waking up Monday through Friday to an early alarm clock for the first time since high school.  There would be much less late Tuesday nights, "just because it's Tuesday, and I can." When would I do my banking?  People who work day jobs have to go to Target when everyone else does, when they've all got their sticky kids with them.  When do people who work "normal" jobs go to Petsmart? When do they lounge in their backyards to drink coffee?  When do they meet new people and when do they see their kids?

I'm terrified of never having children again, but I'm also at least as terrified of having children just to let them be raised by a day-care provider who will see their first step, not me.  What is it like to miss your child all day?  Of course, I already know what it's like.  And missing a child, knowing you'll see them again at the end of the workday, can't possibly be worse than missing him and knowing you won't get to see him for a long time, can it?

When I imagine seeing Gabriel again, I imagine it being much like picking a child up from the baby-sitter.  In my imagination, Gabriel is always 5 pounds, 9 ounces, 19.5 inches long and looks every bit like a baby, with the quirks and behaviors of a toddler, and the wisdom of an old man.  I imagine seeing him again, and he has his back to me.  He's on the floor, playing with blocks among other toddlers and babies when someone points in my direction, and he turns to look at me with wide eyes.  A smile stretches across his face as he realizes he's been having so much fun he didn't even know he missed me, but he has never been so happy as he is to see me again.  I hope to God my son doesn't feel the pain of missing me the way I ache from missing him, but the thought of reuniting with Gabriel someday is the only thing that gets me through many days here on earth.

I thought of my fears and my anticipation as I absently followed the voice on my phone's GPS system, which was navigating me to the salon where the girl who waxes my eyebrows has relocated to.  I also wondered to myself when people who work day jobs find time to have their eyebrows done, until I pulled into the parking lot and realized I was across the street from the worker's comp firm.  Clearly, people who work day jobs walk across the street on their lunch hour to get such things accomplished.

It felt like such a small, silly sign, until I was greeted by Dolores the esthetician, who was quick to ask, "Well, did you get the job?"

"I don't know yet, but I get a good feeling.  The firm is across the street.  I think I'm supposed to be there."

I went to the interview with the second firm today, trusting that I would know which job was right for me by the end of it.  Sure enough, I did.  I think I could be happy at today's firm; I think I was meant to be at the other.

Accepting the position is bittersweet.  The bitter stems from what feels like finality.  I wouldn't be looking for full-time work if Gabriel were still here.  I wouldn't be looking if I were going to stay married and keep trying for more children.  Something about saying "yes" to the job feels like saying "no" to my hope that there will be a family for me in the future.  I fear becoming so entrenched in my career that I can't get back out again, even to have another baby.

But there's sweetness in the victory.  For three years I've felt like I must be an unemployable lawyer; my resumes went unanswered when I was first admitted to practice, and for the last two years I've been too scared to seek out even part-time work.  But I AM employable; in fact, I'm now employed.

The sweetest thing, though, is knowing that I've done what I wanted to with my career so far.  I've helped people who couldn't have afforded an attorney otherwise.  I've learned a lot, not the least of which is to not be afraid to ask questions, but to also be a self-sufficient attorney.  I'm grateful to my bosses, Rick and Lynn, for keeping me in a job where I was able to provide for myself even after Ben left.  I am grateful that though times are tough and business is sometimes slow and always uncertain, somehow I've always gotten by.  I'm grateful that they're letting me keep my foot in their door, allowing me to keep one or two shifts of my choosing.

Standing at the edge of Neverland, I look forward to life's next adventure.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lessons In Resilience

The day Sue told me that "Sue" wasn't her real name, I was shocked.  Sue explained that she was named Mary, but she didn't like the name and so she called herself Sue, and family and friends obliged.  The idea was revolutionary to me, that a person didn't have to be called by a name someone else decided on, that she could name herself and create her own identity, and demand that everyone else recognize her by this new name.

I was introduced to Sue during one of my very first shifts at Charly's, 8 years ago.  Jed had the night off but came in to make sure I could handle my first Friday night shift alone.  Sue was there, and it wasn't long before the two of them were engaged in one of their across-the-bar shouting matches, calling each other things like "little asshole" or "old bat" while I stared on in horror but the regulars continued their regular routine.

Later I learned that Sue had taken Jed in when he was three years old to raise him.  These days seeing grandparents raise their grandchildren is so common that maybe we forget that's not the way things are supposed to be.  Ideally, we raise our children to grow up to become independent adults who raise their own children and for all intents and purposes, we are done with that responsibility and can move on to spoiling our grandchildren.  It's not fair, really, for a grandmother to have to raise her grandchildren too.  Add to that that Sue and Jed's situation was born out of tragedy, the murder/suicide of Jed's mother and father, and their relationship suddenly made sense.

Jed was angry, and Sue was hardened by her life.  In fact, at Sue's brief funeral this morning, the pastor noted the very obvious, that Sue was "no stranger to grief." She outlived both of her children and her dear husband.  And although Sue was a solid, stoic woman, upon occasion she would open up to me.  She described losing a child as the hardest thing in the world, and something a woman never gets over.  You didn't have to know Sue long to know that something weighed on her.

But when I say Sue was tough and hardened by life, I do not mean that she never laughed or never smiled.  On the contrary, Sue was a joy to be around.  She was bossy and mean, but funny, happy, kind and generous.  She was quick to share her opinions but she never meant to offend.

You can tell a lot about a person by what they drink.  In a time when women drink mostly light beer, Sue, a woman after my own heart, drank Budweiser, always from a chilled highball glass with a sprinkle of salt.  Sue thought calories and carbohydrates and sodium were delicious. . . So do I.  When she was really in a good mood, Sue would drink white russians, a classic highball cocktail with an underlying punch, though Sue never kept her own moxie hidden.

Sue loved music and would commonly give me dollar bills to feed the jukebox with, requesting music by David Alan Coe, Charlie Pride, and the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up, Little Susie."  Each time the song would play, Sue would share what a controversy the lyrics were when it was first released.  Sue told the story over and over, a characteristic of the elderly, but I listened every time.  Working at Charly's when I had never really developed a relationship with my own grandparents, I found a love and respect for older people.  Three out of four of my grandparents had passed away fairly young, and I guess I sorta thought life ended right around 60.  But Sue and her friend Jerry Pence, along with some of my other favorites like Donnie and Jack, taught me that life keeps going for you if you keep going with it.  Their stories, their laugh lines, their energy made me think that if life is this good at 70, what must it be like to make it to 100?  And so developed my ultimate goal, to live to see that day.

I hadn't seen Sue in a few years.  I could tell you exactly when she stopped coming around - when the bar changed it's policy to prohibit smoking inside.  Sue said if she was gonna drink, she was gonna smoke, and she wasn't going to be getting up to go outside to do it.  The one time I found myself in Sue's house, I noticed the ashtrays conveniently located on every table and counter.  She wasn't kidding when she said she would smoke when and where she wanted to. 

It was difficult to be sad at Sue's funeral.  Perhaps the greatest tragedy in it all is that Sue died just 8 days before her 80th birthday.  That's gotta be like passing out right before the finish line. The gathering was small, as no obituary ran in the paper, only a brief announcement of services.  That sounds about like something Sue would request.  I learned of Sue's death only because some friends of hers, old regulars from the Charly's days, were in after all this time on Sunday and recognized me.  There was no question for me that I had to be there to celebrate Sue's life this morning.  An added bonus was to see Jed, after all this time so happy and healthy and in love with his wife and reverent with respect for Sue.

Times change and so does a neighborhood bar.  I know I often look back at the years with a little too much sentiment.  It's hard not to.  Others might see the regulars as characters in a story, but to me they are real people who contributed greatly to who I am, and how I've approached adversity in my own life.  I learned from people like Sue that life doesn't end for a mother even when her child's does.  I learned from Carlotta that life's not over with divorce.  I learned my greatest lesson, the one that truly changed my life, in a little bar in East Bakersfield:  The world keeps spinning, even when we are standing still, and the best thing we can do is learn to move with it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


This entry was first posted on Caring Bridge and on Facebook on June 3, 2011, a week before Gabriel was born.  It was interesting to re-read it after all this time, and after witnessing the miraculous ten days of Gabriel's life and the many, many ways that his story has inspired people over a year after his birth and death.  

I was inspired to read and post this entry again today after attending a baby shower, where I felt I couldn't join the pregnant women and other mothers in talking about my own pregnancy and child too much, because inevitably Gabriel's death would come up too and I didn't want to drag the mood down.  I think other people feel more uncomfortable talking about Gabriel than I do.  I'm still a very proud mommy.  

The pro-life movement has a saying:  "It's a child, not a choice."  Gabriel and I sometimes sport a t-shirt with that mantra, and I use it as a segue to explain Gabriel's condition.  There never really was a choice for me when it came to Gabriel.  Though I wondered how I'd get through this pregnancy, what it would do to me to lose him, what it would do to Ben, and what it would do to our marriage, I knew what I had to do.  I pondered the alternatives, wondering if I could ever bring myself to do them, but as we are now a week away from Gabriel's birth, it should be clear that I never could.  Gabriel is my son and he is special in more than one way.  His unique condition makes him special, and he is special because he was carried to term when most babies like him are not.  He is special because he is a boy, and most babies like him are girls.  He is special because in most cases, anencephaly can be avoided with proper folic acid intake, but I was taking folic acid -- Gabriel was simply meant to be as he is.  Most importantly to me, Gabriel was specially prayed for.  I begged God to send him to me, and I did not put conditions on what kind of child I would love and accept.  I did not say "Please God, send me a baby boy," or even "Please God, send me a child that is perfectly healthy."  Maybe I took for granted that God would not send me a baby that was NOT perfectly healthy, or maybe it just didn't matter.  I don't remember anymore.  All I remember is that the day I took that pregnancy test and it came out positive, I thanked God for the baby on the way.  All that mattered was that he was coming.

And yet, there was a choice to be made down the road.  The law provides women like me with one, even if I disagree that there should be such options.  Gabriel's defect was discovered in the second trimester of pregnancy, when abortions are not readily available except in certain circumstances.  Gabriel and I fell into that category.  Gabriel is not considered "viable."  He is "incompatible with life," according to the medical community, though he has lived for 39 weeks now and may live for some time after he is born.  Because he is expected to "die anyway"  I have options available to me that are not available in other pregnancies.  At 21 weeks when we learned of Gabriel's diagnosis, I could have chosen termination.  Because of the advanced gestational stage, the abortion would have consisted of injecting Gabriel with a chemical that would stop his heart, and then he would be removed with forceps.  He may or may not have come out in one piece. 

I allowed myself to ponder that possibility but easily dismissed it.  I then considered another possibility, the procedure that became available as I advanced even further.  By 23 weeks when Gabriel's condition was confirmed by a specialist, the recommended procedure would have been termination by early inducement and delivery.  This option was and has been available to me at any time during my pregnancy since Gabriel's diagnosis.  I could call the hospital tomorrow and tell them that I just can't take the emotional strain of this pregnancy any longer, and they would induce my labor.  My insurance would pay for it, and it would all be over.  Legally, because f the advanced gestational stage, Ben and I would still be in charge of disposing of Gabriel's remains.  He was no longer considered "waste" by the time we learned he had anencephaly, unlike my previous child who was miscarried at 8 weeks and disposed of like trash. 

These were my choices, even if I knew I couldn't take them.  It's important to note that not because I want to toot my own horn about what an example I've been, but because so many people have come to know and love Gabriel that they should know they might not have ever had that chance because of these available options.  This is what the pro-life movement means when it says "Smile!  Your mom chose life."  These days, all lives are reduced by law to a choice.  I was surprised to learn that cases like Gabriel cause a divide even among people who consider themselves pro-life.  I am disappointed but not surprised by people who tell me, "Well, this was your choice, and it worked for you."  But I was shocked to learn that there are pro-life people who think termination by either means was a legitimate choice, maybe even the right choice.  Some would say that those people are not really pro-life, but I choose to believe they are just misguided -- a fair assessment, in my opinion, given the way anencephaly is sometimes explained and treated by the medical community.  The public, the pro-choice crowd, thinks it's patriarchy to deny a woman a right to abortion.  They think a woman is smart enough to know what's good for her and her baby.  I say giving a woman a right to "choose" is a cop-out.  It tells her we don't believe she is strong enough to take care of her own child whether that means raising him, or giving her a chance for a better life through adoption.  When I was offered the chance to terminate my own pregnancy, I felt as though I were being told I couldn't do something.  I can do anything, and I can do even more when I'm doing for Gabriel.

I've thought a lot about what carrying Gabriel to term means to me, but I think more about what it means for Gabe.  Inevitably, it comes down to what I would really want for myself.  I'd like to think if I were diagnosed tomorrow with a terminal illness, that Ben wouldn't just take me out back and shoot me.  I'd like to think that he and my family and friends would be by my side, urging me to keep fighting, to keep raging against death.  After all, death is forever.  Eternal rewards which I hope to enjoy someday are forever.  The beauty of this life, and even the pain and sadness, are just temporary. 

I'm compelled to write this blog today while considering the death of Dr. Kevorkian.  I called for prayers for his soul on my Facebook page, and someone wrote she prays he is reunited with the people whose pain he helped relieve.  I pray for the same, and I pray that the place of reunification for all of them is in Heaven.  We should never take for granted that every soul who dies winds up there -- Very few of us have any guarantees, though I believe innocent lives like Gabriel do.  But what really surprised me, and upset me even, was the accusation that wanting a loved one to live is selfish.  Perhaps that is because of my own intimate experiences with self-inflicted death, most notably through my experience with my boyfriend Sean.  Sean was a soul that was in a lot of emotional pain -- and we know that emotional pain is every bit as real and debilitating as phyiscal pain can be.  I have a lot of feelings about Sean's suicide, including confusion, pain, and sadness that will never go away, but I have no anger towards him.  That said, I wish he wouldn't have left us like he did.  Is it selfish of me to want him around?  Is it selfish for me to wish for more of a life for him?  I do not believe it is selfish of me to ask that he allow his human instincts to  govern, for him to fight against death until it took him kicking and screaming.  Sean was 26 years old, and none of us are guaranteed even one more day, but chances are he would have had several days, years even.  And even if it were just one more day of life only to be cut short by some other fate the next day, at least he and I would know he saw life through to its most natural end. 

Among Sean's possessions when he died was a book of poetry by Dylan Thomas.  I asked at his funeral that the words that he did not heed be read:  "Rage.  Rage against the dying of the light." 

Every day I feel my son rage.  I feel him fight, I feel his desire to be alive.  I feel his life within me.  He has no guarantees of days that he will remain on this earth.  He has a promise of eternal reward in Heaven.  And he has my promise as his mother, and that of his father too, to give him every chance to live, every chance to fight for his life.  He cannot be reduced to a choice.  He is Gabriel Cude.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Making sure Gabriel was held as much as possible during his lifetime was a priority for me.  Accordingly, at night he slept with me, cradled in the crook of my arm or resting on my chest.  If it hadn't been for Gabriel's condition, I think I wouldn't have been the type of parent who did the whole co-sleeping thing.  As much as I might have wanted to, my own upbringing probably would have prevailed and I would be that mom that thinks that self-soothing is a necessary skill for an infant to learn and Gabriel would have slept alone in his crib from the day he came home.  But Gabriel's condition made co-sleeping a necessity for two reasons:  First, Gabriel made very few sounds, so he had to physically tell me when he was hungry, or when he was having a seizure.  Unless he was right next to me while we slept, I wouldn't know if he needed something.  Second, I knew that Gabriel might pass away in our sleep, and it was important to me that Gabriel be in my arms when he took his last breath.

In my room is a framed 8 x 10 photo of Gabriel sleeping on my chest.  Gabriel is dwarfed by my size and his little face is barely visible in the photo.  I feel a little vain having it framed in my room, but the truth is it's there because it reminds me what it felt like to hold him.  More than one year later, I am starting to forget how he felt in my arms.

Molly Bears is a nonprofit organization started by Bridget, a woman who lost her infant daughter Molly.  She makes weighted teddy bears for families who experience infant loss and her organization operates entirely on donations and volunteer efforts.  I placed an order for a Gabriel Bear in April but the waitlist is so long I knew it could be a year or more before I received my Gabriel Bear, who will weigh 5 pounds and 9 ounces, just like Gabriel.  In the meantime I've tried to fill my empty arms with Gabriel's blankets or clothes or the teddy bears from the collection we'd begun building for his teddy bear-themed nursery, but they're just not substantive enough.  And nothing, not even a Gabriel Bear, can replace Gabriel.

This morning I received a voicemail message from Bridget.  Bridget was trying to reach Kimberly, whose order form listed my phone number as her contact number.  Bridget explained that she was trying to reach Kimberly, and Bridget explained Molly Bears' mission, to provide weighted teddy bears to bring comfort to families who had experienced infant loss.  Bridget was clearly unaware that I, Andrea, had placed an order for my own bear and that I have no idea who Kimberly is.

When I called Bridget back, I learned that Kimberly placed an order for her Carter Michael Bear, named for her son Carter, back in July.  I informed Bridget that I don't know Kimberly, but that I was on the Molly Bear waitlist for my own bear.  I suggested that maybe some glitch in the system put my phone number on Kimberly's order form.

"This is your lucky day," Bridget said.  "I'm going to pull your order and start making your bear right now."  Bridget decided this was too much of a coincidence, that it was probably a sign to bump my order up.  As we continued talking about Gabriel, we learned that Gabriel and Carter were born on the same day, June 10, 2011.  "I bet those two little boys are having a big giggle over this.  It seems to me Gabriel was working with Carter to make sure his mommy got her bear too."

I want to believe that it was all more than a coincidence.  I want to think that God and Gabriel and maybe even Carter just knew that I needed that bear sooner rather than later.  The problem is, while I'm still confident that God exists, I have begun to believe that I've maxed out on wishes that He will fulfill for me.  Before Gabriel was born, I prayed for so much, including his live birth, the chance to baptize him, the chance to bring him home from the hospital - And I got it all.  I convinced myself that this was my gift for not asking God if I could keep him, for carrying this cross with as much grace as I could muster.  As I shared Gabriel's life with the world, I considered it my duty, my opportunity to show God that I was thankful and would not waste the gift that I had been given and I trusted that when Gabriel died God would continue to carry and bless me.  In the last few months I've turned my back on God, angry that He hasn't given me what I felt like I was entitled to after losing Gabriel.  I have come to believe He's done giving to me.

So, when a friend called me from the hospital yesterday asking for prayers for her unborn baby, I decided the best thing I could do for her was to NOT pray, to NOT ask God for anything on her behalf.  He's not listening to me anyway.  I've thought about her for the last two days, hoping she and her baby are okay.  But I just can't bring myself to ask.

My counselor, Garth Brooks, says that some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. It's a childish notion, really, to think that if we don't get what we want, God must not be listening.  I thought I had outgrown that juvenile belief but I've grown weary of trying to accept God's Will and I wish that He would just start granting MY will.  I scowl when I look at the magnet on my refrigerator which reads "God hears, even when it is just a whisper of the heart."  My heart has been crying out loud to Him for what feels like so long now that I feel abandoned.  Of course the true show of faith is to find God not only in what we see, to find His hand in not only what we want, but all around us.

In any case, whether it was a coincidence or an answer to my heart's whisper, my Gabriel Bear will be underway soon.