Sunday, December 30, 2012

Just the Beginning

For several months I've been telling myself that I need to get a plant for my office.  When I scored a Chia Shrek head through the office white elephant gift exchange I decided he was just what my office needed.  And I decided Friday was the day to start growing him.

On Friday morning, six months plus one day after filing our petition for summary dissolution, I walked into my old stomping grounds at 1215 Truxtun Avenue to request our judgment.

"How long will it take to turn that around?"  I asked the clerk.

"Could take up to three to four weeks."

Three to four weeks until judgment day.  In three to four weeks the self-addressed envelope I submitted with the paperwork will show up in my mailbox, giving its content away before I even open it.  Tears pricked my eyes as I stood before the clerk, allowing the seriousness of the moment to seep into my brain.  I wonder if I will be divorced before or after January 16th, our three year anniversary.

I chewed this all over in my office as my eyes settled on the Chia Shrek box.  Adrienne, one of the secretaries, passed by while I was turning the box over in my hands.

"Do you think today is a good day to start Chia Shrek?"

"I think it's a fantastic day."  With our clerical staff short-handed at the moment, I'm sure Adrienne would rather I do anything but generate more rush jobs for her to complete.

One rush job and an hour later, Chia Shrek was ready to start growing.

I've joined the ranks of the regular working people of America who wait all week for Friday at 5:00. I've come to value the hard-earned Friday night out, and the chance to drink with my friends rather than serve the drinks.  But this Friday, celebratory cocktails didn't feel right.  I didn't feel like I'd earned anything.  I'd never felt like a bigger failure in my life.  For the last six months I've been adjusting to my new single life.  I've accepted that I'm going to be divorced, but I don't think I'll ever accept it as anything but a big failure.  I failed my husband - I should have done a lot of things differently.  I failed my children - I owed them my best effort.  I failed my dogs - Caring for them alone is hard, and they don't get the attention or the exercise they need because I'm just not up to it.  I failed my God - And I'm angry at Him because I feel like He's failed and abandoned me too.  I sent myself to bed early.  No cheese puffs.  No beer.

By Saturday morning I allowed myself to feel better.  In my heart I know I did the best I could at the time, even for all I did wrong.  I know that I want love in my life, a partner to hold my hand and walk my dogs with, too much to stop hoping.  A new year is just around the corner, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it holds for me what I've been searching for.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guess Who's Two

A tiny digital marquee bearing one highly anticipated word, "pregant," appeared in a matter of moments, before I could even finish brushing my teeth.  Just like that my whole world changed. 

I wonder if it's like that for all women.  I wonder if all women feel like I felt, like the earth had just shifted and suddenly instead of orbiting the sun it spins around that new life growing inside of me. 

It's hard to believe that it's been two years and nine months since that moment.  Baby Cude would be two years old today if he or she were born on their due date.  We'd be learning songs together, sharing story time, chasing Gideon through the backyard, walking through the neighborhood with our Radio Flyer and I'd be in an neverending battle with Grandpa and Grandma down the street about spoiling their first grandchild.

I talk about Gabriel with relative ease but I struggle to talk or even write much about the miscarriage.  It is a tremendously painfu subject and something that confounds me and hurts me, I think, even more than my experience with Gabriel. 

Last year for this entry I shared what I'd written in the journal that I still keep for Baby Cude.  I started the journal the morning of my pregnancy test, and when the feeling of missing him or her gets to be too much still, I write it in there.  This year, I've elected to keep those words between me and my first child private.

I think about Baby Cude every day.  I love to remember the morning I learned Baby Cude was on his way, the earth quaking, the dream I had for him, the love I immediately felt.  Losing Baby Cude stripped a certain innocence from me, but also prepared me for the challenge that came with carrying Gabriel to term.  After losing Baby Cude, there was nothing I wouldn't do to insure that Gabriel wa born alive, that I would see him face to face and have the chance to hold him like I never got to do with Baby Cude.  As he left this world among the many things I said to him, I asked him to tell his big brother or sister how much I loved him or her, and to remember that I would be along to hold them again someday. 

I like to think God took my babies from me because He knows how much I love babies.  Two babies wait for me in Heaven and there are days when that's what sustains me. 

There's not a doubt in my mind that caring for a two-year old little boy is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting.  It's impossible to describe how much I wish I could be so challenged, frustrated, and exhausted right now. 

A Google search indicates only about 4 to 5% of babies are born on their due date.  Of course, even fewer babies are born with anencephaly and so it's not so hard to believe we could beat these odds too. 

In my mind, today will always be my first baby's birthday.  And to my deeply loved, long-awaited, greatly missed Baby Cude, I wish the happiest of days. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

It Takes a Village

We've been hearing about it for four days, but it still it seems to terrible to be true:  28 people in Newtown,  Connecticut, 20 of them just little children ages 5 through 7, are dead after one man's depraved rampage which ended only when he took his own life.  This nation, for all the deadly massacres we've experienced in recent years, can never grow accustomed to this sort of news.  This nation couldn't help but be shocked and shaken by the slaughter of children who hadn't even reached the age of reason. 

As a parent myself, I join in the particular disbelief of other parents who are struggling to imagine what the families of all those killed must be going through now, having thought when they last saw their loved one that Friday was just a day like any other.  As a mother who was blessed to spend my child's last moments on earth with him, holding him and comforting him in his hour of death, my heart aches for those parents who now know their child's last moments were filled with terror and fear.  I can only pray for their comfort and healing and thank God for my own blessings. 

President Obama, to the dismay of NFL fans consumed by the regular season crunchtime, interrupted a competitive, highly-anticipated Sunday evening game to address the nation.  He read the names of each victim.  He reminded us that each child is precious, and that every American adult has a duty to all of our children to protect them as best we can. 

With all of my heart, I believe President Obama's words and I believe in his sincerity.  It warms my heart to know that a man with such tremendous responsibility would take the time to acknowledge the grief and the devastation that the people in Newtown are experiencing.  I was tremendously moved to hear our President speak not as a politician, but as a father. 

I also believe with all of my heart the words of Monsignor Frost's homily on Sunday afternoon.  He reminded us that in a culture where mothers can turn against their own children in their womb, we cannot be surprised that we have groomed a man with so little regard for the innocent human lives taken on Friday December 14, 2012.  Said Mother Theresa, "The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships.  It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society.  It has portrayed the greatest of gifts -- a child -- as a competitor, an intrusion, an inconvenience.  It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters."  Both Monsignor Frost and President Obama are right:  We owe our children better than what we are doing for them.  We owe them our best efforts at building a better world.  And it is a responsibility all adults share because as our President noted, "We are all parents." 

I know I risk being accused of "politicizing" this event by daring to see the connection between what happened last Friday, and abortion.  Make no mistake that I am rattled by those events not just as a mother who is still grieving the loss of her own departed child, but as someone who is still wrestling with the loss of my dear Sean at his own hand nearly eight years ago.  I cannot think about the Newtown shooting with anything but a heavy heart.  Nothing about what happened last week is rational or sensible or simple.

I have been blessed to have witnessed this blog develop into a tremendous platform.  My heart finds some reprieve in knowing that my son's life, and our family's story, has inspired so many.  I am grateful for the opportunity to implore readers to heed our President's words and make the protection of all children, born and unborn, a priority:  "This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged." 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cooking Lessons

It all started the summer before sophomore year, in summer school biology.  We got to choose whether we would disect kittens, or pig fetuses.  Pig FETUSES?  Baby pigs that never got to see the light of day?  It was an impossible choice, and so I elected to sit out of the assignment entirely.  Still, we were required to be present in the classroom when everyone else was hacking up their mammal, and the sight of one of my classmates draping pig intenstines around her neck like jewelry is forever imprinted in my mind.  Since then, I've developed a distaste for eating pork in particular.

But, I married a chef.  A chef whose favorite animal to eat and cook with was the pig.  Just about every part of a pig is edible.  "Everything but the oink," Willie says.  No matter how much I disliked seeing carcus in my kitchen, it came with the marriage territory and most frequently, it was a pig.  Ben always said that cooking pork was a special skill.  He said it was one of the most versatile sources of meat, but also the easiest to mess up and overcook.

So, when I volunteered to host a holiday dinner party at my house this December it seemed only right that I should be in charge of the main dish, a roasted stuff pork loin.  In the wake of my newfound cooking independence, this dish and this party would be my crowning achievement. 

In the process of marriage and cooking, I learned a few lessons:

1.  Explore your local produce section. 

Don't be afraid of vegetables.  If you poke around a little you'll find there's much more to experience than you ever realized.  I elected to roast my little piggy on a bed of root vegetables including onions, carrots, parsnips, and rutabagas.  Not so very long ago I didn't even know what a parsnip was.  I don't feel so bad now, knowing that the grocery clerk didn't either.  Most of us don't know what's out there.  Most of us would just eat carrots.  But I have learned the joys of seeking adventure. 

That's a life rule, not to be limited to the grocery store.  As I find myself traveling in this new job I'm discovering more and more how afraid I am to lose my way, and how much I rely on my directions to keep me on the beaten path.  I'm terrified of getting lost.  But if you don't get lost once in a while, I suppose you won't find anything that doesn't find its way to you.  Taking risks, taking the road less traveled, if you will, can lead to unexpected delight. 

Upon a diagnosis like the one we received for Gabriel, over 90% of parents let their fear of the unknown guide them.  They let their fear of not being able to love their child despite his foreign  appearance convince them to do the irreversible.  If I could speak to a parent standing where I stood nearly two years ago, I would tell them, "This journey is worth the risk. "

Take a chance. 

2.  Don't be afraid of butter, salt, or most of what people tell you that you can't handle.

The thing is, you're probably going to end up trying it anyway.  No one knows what's good for you like you do.  You know what's right.  So trust what you know.

For many years I was taught to stifle my feelings.  Play hard to get.  Honesty = desparation = losing.  But I can say with all honesty now that the old cliche is true:  It's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.  I can say that I've taken chances and sometimes they've been unrequited, but it can't really be said that I've let an opportunity for something I really wanted pass me by.  When I want something - salt, butter, someone, my son - I go for it.  I'm not afraid to say anymore that I want love, and that I will go in search of it no matter what threatens me.

3.  Don't buy rosemary in the store.

If you just take a minute to look around, rosemary is probably right there in front of you, in that little planter in the parking lot.  I snagged some from the Foods Co parking lot yesterday, having noted that it was nearly $2 for a bunch of it in the store.  If you take it from the planter, it's fresher, more potent, and it'll grow back in a blink. 

When you take the time to look around, you'll probably notice that much of what you're searching for is right in front of you. 

4.  Food is meant to be shared with friends and family.

It's hard to make friends as an adult.  When we're kids, we're forced into these situations where we meet new people and for the sake of survival, must make friends.  As adults, we're so busy with our own lives and less and less compelled to be friends with the people we interact with, that making friends becomes much harder, but also much more rewarding.  We choose our friends as adults, and that makes our friendships that much more meaningful. 

Elise, Lindsey and Blake are the best things to come out of my divorce.  Until my holiday dinner party, I hadn't had so many people in my house since Gabriel's funeral.  But because my new friends, all of whom I knew before my divorce but all of whom also have become my shoulders to lean on, my true friends, since my split, my house was filled once again with life and laughter. 

My continuing friendship with Ben, who lives across the country, who I havent seen in nearly six months, with whom I share no living children and who I have few reasons to speak to now, is also voluntary.  I choose to keep talking to him, because I choose to recognize that for all that went wrong, Ben has contributed largely to the person I am today.  He made me a mother.  He made me a wife.  He made me a divorcee.  And he made me the kind of girl who shops for parsnips.  He broke what was left of my heart after Gabriel died but he confirmed for me what my broken heart already knew - Vegetables, and life, are worth taking chances on.  They may hurt going down, but they are worth the risk. 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Come Hold My Son"

"When are you going to get your ass to Confession?" my mom asked in a way that only mothers can, over taco salads on our lunch hour one afternoon.

"When I'm sorry." 

Pride and anger, those dangerous, deadly sins, keep me from appearing before Christ's earthly agent and asking for forgiveness.  The anger and pride stem from a deep pain that has begun to rival my deep faith.  So with sad eyes I watch as our congretation files past me to receive Communion, wondering if the small neighborly gathering wonders about my story and why I've benched myself from the mst direct route to Salvation. 

I kneel while the people pass me by, sometimes with my head bowed in a combination of reverence and shame, sometimes with prying eyes that speculate about those in line to receive, frequently with my hymnal open but only interested in the hymn about half the time.  Last week in an interesting and welcome reprieve from our usual cantor, I watched as a man set up his mic stand and acoustic guitar.  I listened as he told Mary's story, and in his story telling I found my own story:

A cold night in Bethlehem
No fire to warm her hands
She gives birth to the Word Made Flesh
The Bread of Life she lays in a manger
She won't understand
Why they come to adore him
But she says "Come hold my son.  Come hold my son." 

At the temple she holds him.
His eyes have seen his salvation
Two turtle doves behold him
And she pesents him to the world
She won't understand
Why a sword will pierce her hear
But she'll say "Come hold my son.  Come hold my son.

Come hold Jesus
Come hold Jesus"

In the streets of Jerusalem
She cries out loud "Where is my boy?"
He's gone to serve His Father now
His Father's house is where He dwells
She won't understand His Father's standing next to Him
But she'll say, "Come hold my son.  Come hold my son."

In the streets of Cavlvary,
"Woman behold your son."
She watches him nailed to a tree
The child she bore grasps for air
A loud cry and her heart is pierced
The child she held has gone from here
They lay Him in His mother's arms
They lay Him in her arms
She won't understand why her son had to die
But she'll say "Come hold my son.  Come hold my son."

Even I am struck that I view Mary's story, and now my own, as beginning and ending with the birth and death of our children.  Did we not exist before, and did we not continue to live even after them?  But I think Mary would agree when I say that for each of us, for all of our accomplishments, the greatest thing we ever did was serve as mother to our children.  I recall when Gabriel was born not understanding, being awestruck, by the friends and family and hospital staff that filed into our room to see my strange, strong, curious little boy.  I remember presenting his pictures to the world on the internet and not understanding how Gabriel's story had grownn and inspired and touched so many so quickly.  I recall the way he hardly opened his eyes, but when he did it always seemed that he was looking at someone I couldn't see -Was God standing right there with us?  I recall watching the child I bore gasp for air.  I remember what it meant to me to witness so many people come hold my son and still, I don't understand why my son had to die.

In the last week since first hearing The Thirsting's "Come Hold My Son," I've thought a lot about the prophecy for Mary recorded in Luke, that a sword would pierce her hear.  I've thought about the admonition I received from Laura that like Our Lady my heart would be pierced too.  No phrase could better describe the stabbing, constant grief of a mother who loses her child.

But I am no Mary.  Where Mary was chosen because she was pure, I think I knew that what would happen with Gabriel was in large part my penance for all that I had done wrong leading up to that point in my life.  I welcomed what would happen, the suffering, because I thought it was my chance to be a part of something great, despite all that I had done wrong. I welcomed the suffering because I thought that when it was all over, God and I could start over again with a clean slate, that maybe He would even give me a leg up. 

In recent months I have found it much easier to view God as a "He," rather than the androgenous "God."  Interpret away.

I gave my child back to God like I thought He wanted me to.  When he was born I made baptizing him my priority. I said, "Here God, he's Yours" and I trusted Him.  I cared for my lent child on borrowed time as best I could certain, CERTAIN that God wouldn't let me down, remembering how the mother of God had been assumed from her pain into Heaven. Remembering how even the Son of God couldn't deny His mother's wish.  And here I wait, aching, my mother's heart broken.

Mary is sometimes considered the new Eve, Jesus the new Adam.  They form the covenant of our salvation.  And it only makes sense.  There is no love like that between a mother and her son, a mother and her child.  It is a love that is deep and pure. It is the kind of love that can save the world.  For Mary, for a mother who has lost her child, I am sorry and I am full of regret.  For her I am sorry for any of my actions that don't honor her child's death.  For Mary and for my mom I hope one day soon I'll be the kind of daughter that I know I should be. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012


When I learned that Gideon's parents had another litter of puppies and asked Ben if I could have one for Christmas, I didn't expect that he would concede.  After all, I had been asking to have another baby since June 21, 2011, the day after Gabriel died.  When I saw the puppies and set my heart on the one that was most affectionate towards me, the one with the darkest fur and the fewest markings, I assumed I wouldn't see her again because she would probably be going to a new home soon.  So, when on Christmas Eve last year Ben said to me, "We can go any time today to pick up your new puppy," I was shocked.  Noelle Marie joined our family that afternoon.

I later learned that Noelle had been given to me with a purpose:  To distract me from wanting another baby.  She was given to me in part to silence me.  She is my little hush puppy.

For a while, she served her intended purpose.  She was difficult to potty train, she was a bossy little dictator and a bit of a bully.  She wouldn't use her own bed and would either force Gideon from his, or would push her way onto it next to him.  She was unruly, independent, and refused to take the most basic commands that Gideon had responded to almost from the time we brought him home.  She's still unruly, independent, disobedient. . . And loving, sweet, and affectionate.

But she is not a child.

This month as I prepare to celebrate one year with my hush puppy, I also mourn the loss of my first child, Baby Cude, who was due to be born on December 19, 2010 before spontaneous and unexplained miscarriage ended my baby's life.


We're not supposed to talk about these things.

If talking about Gabriel makes people visibly uncomfortable, talking about Baby Cude and the miscarriage is even harder to do - Not because it's awkward, but because people seem to respond as though, especially after having lost my born son, that the miscarriage just isn't that big of a deal.  It's nature, right?  It's just one of those things that happens.  And it does just happen.  But it happened to my child.  Baby Cude was real, and alive, and we had dreams for him or her, and I longed for him or her, and I miss that child.

A day doesn't go by that I don't miss both of my children.When someone asks if I have children I routinely answer "I have a little boy, Gabriel," but the sentence doesn't escape my lips without me also thinking of the baby that I miscarried, who I know so little about.  Gabriel was supposed to be our rainbow, our sign after the storm of the miscarriage that God hadn't abandoned us and that God would never send such a storm again.  And in God's defense, I guess He hasn't; this storm, this grief I am experiencing now is like nothing I have ever known.

As mother after mother  in the anencephaly community announces the birth or impending birth of her rainbow baby or babies, I can't help but feel abandoned.  I can't help but feel angry.  I can't help but to recall that when Gabriel's diagnosis was confirmed I did not ask God to keep him, I did not get angry and demand that Gabriel should be mine after losing Baby Cude.  Instead, I tried to carry Gabriel with as much grace as I could muster, trusting that God would hold me close even after He took my son Home and that He would shortly grant me what I longed for most.  "They" say God never turns His back on us, but I can't help but wonder with human vanity if maybe I am the one person in the history of the world that God has left hanging out to dry.  I feel empty.  And when I try to heed the advice of my fellow Faithful and trust that God is there I feel even more hollow because I just don't believe that He's listening to me anymore.  I just don't believe He cares.  I think I'm on my own.

My hush puppy has grown into a beautiful adolescent dog.  Noelle and Gideon keep me busy and frustrated.  They help to fill some of the silence in my lonely home.  But they haven't been enough to silence the burning desire in my heart to fill my home with children of my own again someday.