Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Dead Pans and Phantoms
"I still get phantom kicks," Lisa admitted to me about six months after her son was born.
"What do you mean?" I tried to sound casual, in case she was referencing something completely different than what I was thinking of.
"You know, I still get these stomach spasms that feel like the baby kicking. I read can get them for like, a year after birth."
"That's a real thing???!!! Thank God. I thought I was losing my mind."
Those phantom kicks sometimes seem like the only evidence left that I was really pregnant, that I gave birth to a son, and that Gabriel was really here. When my mind gets dangerously close to the brink of delerium I wonder if it was all a dream. First nature took my child, then the pregnancy hormones and the surplus of shiny, commercial-worthy hair. . . And now time is taking my memories.
Maybe it's the way people respond when I mention Gabriel that leads me to question whether it was real. I see the discomfort in women when I chime in on pregnancy talk too, as if my pregnancy doesn't "count" because it didn't yield a healthy baby. I see the way my colleague pushes her lower lip out in sympathy at the mention of my son. I get the definite impression that many people wish I just wouldn't talk about my child and I try to leave them with the definite impression that I will continue to talk about my child and they should just get comfortable with it. It's not Gabriel's fault that people can't handle what happened.
Or maybe it's me that can't handle it. There are times when a person can't win with me, no matter how hard they try. After the Mother's Day disaster with Ben he made a real attempt to make my birthday special. He had flowers delivered to my office with a card that read, "Happy Birthday! We miss you. Love, Gabriel and Ben."
"That was nice," Elise said.
"Yeah, I guess. But it was uncomfortable too. I mean, everyone was like 'Who are the flowers from?' and I'd say, 'Oh, my ex-husband sent them to me from my dead son,' and everything got all awkward."
Elise looked at me in horror. "You didn't really say that. . . Did you?"
"No. But it's the truth, isn't it?"
How am I supposed to prettily package that ugly truth?
Sometimes I wonder what the parishoners at church must think of me. One week I've got this husband and we've got these rings, then I've got this baby belly, then the baby belly disappears, but there's no baby, and soon the husband disappears too and the rings. . .
Those rings. Those fucking rings.
I hang on to mine because of the pictures of Gabriel holding them, but sometimes I want to take it and throw it off the bluffs. Or hock it for whatever it might be worth and buy something selfish and frivolous. Yet when I was recently approached about selling my wedding gown I couldn't bring myself to do it. Who knows? In a moment of disbelief that I was ever married I might need to see it and hold it again. Or, in a fit of anger I might need something significant to light on fire one of these days.
Two years ago when I learned I was pregnant with Gabriel, I never would have seen this coming. Even after Gabriel's diagnosis, as we approached his delivery and people commented on my strength I knew that I wasn't really strong, but hopeful -confident- that even though I knew I was going to lose Gabriel another baby would be along very soon. I didn't think my nursery would still be empty. I didn't think I would be co-habiting with a roommate that I hardly know. I didn't think I'd be a worker's comp attorney. I didn't think I'd be clinging to a couple of stuffed bears to remember what it was like to hold my child in my arms or waiting for those moments when the muscles in my abdomen twinge and bring back that fluttery feeling of Gabriel moving inside of me.
Some would say I've lived every parents' nightmare. Most days though, I just feel dazed.
I visited my friend Tori and her five day old baby this weekend. Like every new mother I've ever seen she looked tired but blissful. After she passed her baby to me she said, "I'm going to step outside to talk with my mom. My baby is with a seasoned baby-handler." Alone with Wyatt I was surprised by Tori's actions. She didn't treat me like I was going to abscond with her child. She wasn't worried that I was going to fly into a jealous rage and throw him out of a window. She just trusted me, from one mom to another. Someone who has never walked in my shoes might be surprised how rare such an occurrence is.
As I learn the ropes in administrative law it sometimes crosses my mind that my natural talent for speaking to a jury, honed by even more talented coaches in the trial advocacy program at Whittier, are being wasted before an informal administrative board. I like what I'm doing, though; and I'm starting to accept that this may be just a stop along the way but even if it's where I land, I'm okay with that too. I'm trying to convince myself that the same is true of pregnancy. I rocked pregnancy, I was made to do it and I was so damn good at it, I should make it my hobby. But it's one of those things that I just can't force. It's all sort of out of my control and I'm working on accepting that. In the meantime I'll let my dark sense of humor and the occasional phantom kick carry me through.