Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Being "Young"

"You're young.  You can try again," people say.  As if the fact that I am young makes the fact that my kid is dead acceptable.  Like he can be replaced, like a goldfish or something, like I can just get another one.  I know I'm young; If all goes according to plan and I live to be 100, that means at 30 years old I'm not even 1/3 of the way through.  I have 70 years, the rest of my life to miss my baby.

I come from a world where people marry their high school sweethearts.  I have friends my age who have been married for ten years, while I anticipate ringing in my third year of marriage with a divorce.  When I think about that, I feel old.

Sitting at Amestoys at one in the morning I feel both young and old.  I know that I'm walking that line between being a girl who likes to hang out in the bar, and just being a bar slag.  The clock is ticking. 

When Sean died, his mom invited me to "talk" with her, and our talk turned into an assault of accusations.  "Why didn't you guys just break up?  You were no good together."  "Why didn't you check on him?"  "Why didn't you see this coming?" I stood there and let her pelt me with her words, knowing my grief couldn't compare to hers as a mother.  Even then, before I'd ever experienced what it's like to carry a child, I knew her love for Sean was deeper than mine could ever be and I shuddered at the thought of ever having to lose a child.  I would be her battering-ram because it was all I could do, the only way I could say I was sorry.

It's no surprise that the most valued, most honest "I'm sorry" I ever received post-anencephaly diagnosis came from Sean's mom.  I know she never meant to blame me, she was just in pain.  And now I understand her pain.

Losing a child ages you.  You wear the grief like a coat you can't shrug.  At times it is a welcome disguise - you're just another person wearing bulk.  Other times you stand out in a crowd wearing it.  Anyone can see it on you. 

I am young.  But as Willie says, "45 will be here next week."  I suppose that's one of the downfalls of befriending brutally honest, elderly people.  The plus side is that they give me hope, that maybe. . . maybe my life isn't over after all. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Making It On My Own

The California Judicial Council has adopted a number of forms to be used for what is now called "form pleading."  The idea behind form pleading was to streamline the legal process for routine proceedings, and to make the judicial process easier and more accessible for lay people.  

Among the forms is FL-800, the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of Marriage, a perfect example of legal streamlining.  Summary dissolution is for couples who are prepared to both throw their hands up in the air and say, "I give up." Not every couple qualifies for summary dissolution, though.  To file the couple must have been married for less than five years, have no children, no joint real property, and a minimum amount of joint assets.  Qualifying couples file as co-petitioners, and check a series of boxes to form their declaration, for a total of two pages.  Six months later, they're divorced.

My life for the last few years has been reduced to two pages of Judicial Council forms, the abridged version of the Ben and Andrea Story.  The fact that we are co-petitioners implies a meeting of our minds, but doesn't begin to tell of the tug-and-pull that we'd been going through for more than a year before our filing date.  To say "Less than five years has passed since the date of our marriage and/or registration of our domestic partnership and the date of our separation" doesn't say just how much happened in those years, how we aged, how our love changed, or how much those years really mattered to us.

"There are no minor children that were born of our relationship before or during our marriage or domestic partnership or adopted by us during our marriage or domestic partnership.  Neither of us, to our knowledge, is pregnant," was the most painful statement of our form pleading.  It doesn't reflect that somewhere, in some greater sense, there are two children.  There were two positive pregnancy tests; two big announcements; one crushing miscarriage; one hopeful first trimester; one devastating word, "anencephaly," that changed the course of our lives and our marriage entirely; one big decision; two days of labor; one sweet little boy; ten miraculous days; a funeral; a lifetime of missing our son.  After Gabriel died there were months of looking for some signs of pregnancy; countless tears when the month went by and still there was no baby-to-be.  There was that first month when I didn't cry; there was that first month when I was relieved that I wasn't pregnant as I started to accept the inevitable - that our marriage was ending.

And then, the kicker:  "Irreconcilable differences have caused the irremediable breakdown of our marriage and/or domestic partnership."  So formal.  So legal.  Lawyer-talk for, "We tried; we just couldn't get our shit together."

The first month after we filed clicked by quickly but as we ease into the second month I feel loneliness creeping in.  I don't want to be lonely.  The answer seems simple enough - I should just surround myself with people.  But it's a loneliness that is there, and is somehow more intense even in a crowd.  It's a loneliness that I want to experience alone in my room where I'm free to not brush my hair for a day and not get dressed and eat cheese puffs.  I think I've eaten about 682 cheese puffs in the last week.

As my life veers off in this unplanned direction I've decided to finally start looking for legal work in an area outside of my anticipated area of practice.  I'm reluctant to do anything but criminal law, but I find that criminal law now is just too personal for me.  The clients are real people with names and families and faces, and I want clients who are nameless, faceless, impersonal corporations who just want me to crank out rote documents and get them the best deal.

The problem with the job hunt is that, though I was admitted to the state bar in 2009, my lack of experience makes me not much more than an entry level attorney.  I imagine an interview with a potential employer:

"You graduated three years ago ['Less than five years has passed since the date of our marriage. . .'] and were admitted to the state bar in 2009, but you haven't been practicing full-time.  Why not? "

"Well, I had an offer with the Public Defender's office but that fell through when the county issued a hiring freeze.  Then, I got married and we decided I would just do contract work from home so we could start building a family."

"Oh.  So. . .?"

"So. . . what?  Oh.  How did that turn out?  Well, I'm divorced, with a dead baby.  But, I can definitely come in early and stay after hours," I'll say with that perfectly straight face that freaks people out sometimes, and I imagine that my deadpan sense of humor will either make or break me.

"We'll get back to you," they'll say, and I'll go home and step out of my heels and wash off my make-up and put on something sloppy and lay around replaying the interview in my head while "Reba" re-runs play in the background. Maybe I'll eat more cheese puffs.  Because that's what I do.  I eat cheese puffs, and I think too much.

"Do you ever stop and think, 'How did I get here?'" I asked Ben, once the executive chef of the largest venue in Bakersfield, this morning.  But I already knew that he does.  It's nice to not have to hate him; I suppose, really, I never had to hate him.  I hated him of my own volition, and sometimes I still do - never more than when I crawled around the bedroom floor on my hands and knees, waxing the hardwood floors that still never shine like they did when he was here.

It's all part of the process, I guess.  I'd always heard people talk about what divorce was like, but they were most right when they said it's something that can't be understood without experiencing it.  There are moments when the freedom is fun and hopeful but there are still times when I long for the stability of even an unstable marriage.  That's not to say I want to reunify.  I'm not even sure I would ever want to see Ben again, though I'm still angry at him that he made the decision to leave so that I likely never will.  I don't even know what I want or expect from him.  I know that, if I am to believe Tammy Wynette, the feeling of wanting or needing anything from Ben will subside eventually. And since most of my best counseling comes from country music these days, I'll just have to trust her.

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Monday, July 23, 2012


It started not long after the miscarriage.  Occassionally my mom would sit me down and say to me, "There's something I need to tell you" and I'd start thinking, "Oh God, she and Daddy are splitting up," or "One of them has cancer," or something to that effect.  Then she would put me out of my misery and tell me the news: "So-and-so is going to have a baby." And a wretched feeling of relief, mixed with frustration, mixed with anger, mixed with guilt would flood me.

I could never really figure out if it was the news or the build-up that weighed on me.

When I learned - confirmed my belief, really - that I was pregnant with Gabriel there was a brief reprieve from that feeling and I could finally share in the joy with the friends and family around me having babies too.  The joy was short-lived though, when the world came crumbling down around me with three words, "incompatible with life." All of those babies-on-the-way were no longer my child's built-in playmates, but now were reminders of all I was going to miss.  With every tooth they cut or new word they learn I can't help but miss Gabriel.

In the recent months I have had to resign myself to the understanding that maybe I wasn't meant to have more children.  I still hope that's not the case, but when Ben and I separated that dream at least had to be placed on the back-burner and when the separation became an actual split I took the dream off the table entirely, at least for now.  It's one of those things that hurts too much to hope for.

But the tip-toeing continues.  I know it's done out of kindness.  A few months ago I noticed several missed phone calls from a friend who had never called before.  When I didn't return the call I finally got a text message saying "I didn't want you to hear this from anyone but me; I'm pregnant, due in September."  That mixed feeling came over me again, just like it did when my best friend from high school and I met for a lunch date back in March.  "Can we have lunch next week?  There's something I need to talk to you about." Assuming she had legal questions I agreed and told her there was something I had to tell her too.  I went first.  "Ben and I are separated.  He's moving out." She looked shocked.  She'd hoped that I wanted to tell her the same thing she wanted to tell me; she was pregnant, and hoping we would be sharing pregnancies.  Two days ago I got a text message from her: "Your baby shower invitation is in the mail.  If you feel like you can't go I understand, but just know you are wanted and welcome." My best friend, a bridesmaid in my wedding just as I was one in hers, was giving me a pass from her baby shower because she wasn't sure I could handle it.

The truth is, I'm not sure I can.  I go back and forth on these things.  I've been to a couple of baby showers since Gabriel passed and each one of them was difficult.  Some days I am willing and happy to be around children.  Some days I feel myself shaking at their presence.  Little by little I've unloaded the disposable diaper stash I had started to accumulate before Gabriel's diagnosis.  I wonder how much longer I should give myself before I start to give away the clothes and blankets and baby book and crib that I've collected.  I know that there's one item, a little girl's onsie with a red cherry print, that I can never give away - it's my favorite, and it's also somehow more bearable to hang on to my dying hope that I'll have a child again someday when I imagine she is a she.

I recently shared with Natalie, my co-worker, that everyone lately seems concerned with my ability to handle change and/or adverse news.  "I think that's insulting to you Dre, that after all you've been through people think you can't handle things that are so unimportant." On the one hand, I'm offended too.  She's right, isn't she?  I've weathered quite a storm.  At the same time I do wonder if it will be a little thing to send me over the edge.

Last night someone asked if I would feel comfortable defending the man accused of the recent shooting in the Colorado movie theater.  "Yes," I answered swiftly. "How?" he asked.  "What's wrong with you, Blake?  What do you think, the Fifth Amendment is just a cute little suggestion by our founding fathers?  Is this America, or not?  Ever heard of the U.S. Constitution?????"  Someone later described me as "obviously confrontational," which surprised me.  Criminal procedure and the protection of rights under criminal proceedings are things I'm passionate about, the very things that led me to law school.  I'll happily argue them, in any situation.  But I've become so DISpassionate lately, so focused on keeping myself together, that maybe people around me have been led to forget that I'm still very human, very sensitive, and full of feelings that I'm sometimes not sure what to do with.

I don't want people, especially friends and family, to tip-toe around me.  I don't want them to feel they can't share their joy with me.  It's true; every pregnancy announcement, every photo of every newborn, all of those things inevitably lead me to think about what I don't have, and may not have.  I'm still pretty fortunate to have friends who care so much about how I will feel.  It's not a fair thing to ask of my friends, though.  Real friends celebrate with each other just like they grieve with each other.

I don't want to go to Babies R' Us and shop for a gift for Amanda's baby - Not because it's Amanda's baby, but because Babies R'Us is a special kind of torture for a woman after pregnancy and infant loss.  But sending my mom to pick something out for me to take will be easy enough.  I'm afraid of going to Amanda's baby shower - Also, not because it's Amanda, but because I worry about breaking down and crying when I see that look in people's eyes when I make my pitiful appearance.  Of course, Amanda probably didn't want to go to her best friend's child's funeral and she did.  And anyway, isn't this Amanda's moment?  She and her husband have waited for and earned this baby and all of the happiness that comes with him or her.

Birth and death are a part of life.  At times I've had to tip-toe around the subject of my own child's birth and death because he and I make people uncomfortable.  It's an awful feeling, the feeling that I have to hold back my love and passion for my own child because other people can't handle it.  I don't want to ever be the cause of someone else feeling that same way.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ten Days And Counting

One evening last winter as I was driving down my street, I saw a teenage girl in a long dress walking towards one of the neighbor's doors, closely followed by her mother who was holding a camera.  It occurred to me that the girl was the neighbor boy's date; they were on their way to the winter formal.  And I cried.  Because in that same moment it occurred to me that my son Gabriel will never go to the winter formal.

It's very easy, some days, to think about what I won't get to do with Gabriel, and if it's all I ever thought about I would quickly lose my mind.  I let myself slip sometimes and think about what could have been but I try to stay focused on what really is.  My son Gabriel lived for ten days, and in that ten days he changed the world.  He continues to change the world daily.

The following are letters from people who have become familiar with Gabriel's story through various avenues.  Some letters are in response to a blog I posted in January seeking stories about the ways Gabriel has changed lives.  The final letter surprised me in my e-mail inbox just this morning, after an angsty last couple of days, and brought me comfort just when I was starting to feel really sorry for myself.  Gabriel has a way of touching my life right when I need it.

Some of the letters are lengthy and I considered editing them, however I don't usually edit myself much in my writing and I thought it was only fair to leave others' thoughts uncensored too.  Besides, I've received so many letters and since this is only a sampling, publishing them in their entirety seemed right.  Only the names of people's children have been redacted to protect their privacy.

*From a CM friend

I've had the intention of writing to you for too long now.  I have gone over in my head the things I wanted to say and somehow couldn't quit capture words.  When you wrote the blog asking for people to share their Gabriel story, I knew it was my cue.

When you shared with us last year that the doctors had determined it likely that your baby would be born with anencephaly, and gave you the option to terminate the pregnancy, I was incredulous.  Of course, I believed your words, but something in me kept thinking that God was so great and could work any miracle, that He would just show those doctors they were wrong and your baby would be healthy and live a long life.  ***** and I prayed every morning for your little pumpkin and you, and I just kept thinking that it would be fine.  Everything will be fine. 

One day as I was headed to the nearby Courthouse to file a Complaint, I was listening to the radio in Spanish -- Radio Guadalupe.  As I parked, I began to listen to testimony from the announcer who was reading letters from parents of anencephalic babies.  She explained the illness and described how each one of these babies was so special.  One of the babies she talked about was named Gabriel by his parents and he had only lived a few hours.  At that moment, I realized what you had shared really meant.  I understood what you and your family were facing, and my prayers continued, but bgan to change to praying more for God's will in your life. 

When you later told us that you had decided to name the baby Gabriel, it made me cry.  What were the odds that the same name I had heard on the radio, would be the name you would choose.  I felt God was definitely giving me signs that this baby was special and that the mission you were given was special.  There was not one day that ***** and I prayed that we didn't pray for you, Gabriel and all unborn babies.  

Gabriel came.  He blessed so many in the short days he was here.  I followed his story with so many others -- crying at the miracle and greatness of God, and crying as a mother who was blessed with a healthy baby and not even remotely being able to imagine what you were going through those days.  Part of me knew that God's will would be done, but the other part still fought against it -- still hoping for some unnamed miracle that would keep Gabriel here until old age.  

Gabriel went home.  And my heart broke for you.  I had no words.  I didn't know what to say to you.  I didn't want to just say empty words or pretend like I knew what you were feeling because I didn't.  I didn't want to say to you that it would be ok because I did't truly know how things would turn out.  I didn't want to take away from the graces he left you with by adding my flawed human thoughts to your experience.  So I prayed. 

What I didn't realize, and didn't realize until later I think, is that when we pray for miracles, they come in unexpected ways.  My blessing wasn't to be converted to be more pro-life, or closer to God as others experienced -- but my blessing was to not limit God to what I think is what needs to happen.  My blessing was to not box God into creating our miracles, but to trust that He can and does create His own -- much greater than we could have ever imagined or hoped for ourselves.  Gabriel gave so much in the ten days he was here and still continues giving.  God let us know him and understand that it is not about what happens here on Earth -- it is not the end all of things.  This is just a small taste of the wonder and beauty that will be there in Heaven.  And Gabriel allowed us to see that.  His smile is forever etched into my heart.  

I am grateful for your strength.  I am grateful for your faithfulness.  But most of all, I am grateful for your heart of a mother which allowed you to see Gabriel as your son from the beginning.  Thank you for sharing him with the world and allowing God to touch us all through him.  I know you are sad sometimes and miss Gabriel -- and I don't blame you.  But remember this whenever you feel down, you had a little piece of heaven here on earth.  You held him in your arms and will one day reunite with him.  Many will never know that joy. 

You continue to be in my prayers.  May God create many more miracles in your life. . . better and brighter than anything I can imagine or pray for.  

I'm sorry it took so long to write this, but i hope like everything else that is in God's time and that when you read it, it does not bring any sadness your way, but only helps to uplift you and make you smile. 


*From my "birthday twin" Angie, who calls me 'Pato' and still calls Gabriel 'Patito'


I remember sitting at the coffee shop, me, you and Karla, wondering what I was gonna hear.  When you told us, reading the letter I still have, I wondered how you didn't cry?  I wanted to.  I didn't know how you could be so strong telling us your baby's fate.  Answering questions - I didn't have any but figured I should ask one so it didn't seem like I didn't care.  I was heart broken.  I was in shock.  I realized I was thinking "me, me, me." I wasn't sure how you were doing it, til I realized you had inside you a little game changer, a hero.  He changed my life, my way of thinking and my way of loving.  I love stronger and harder now.  I don't waste a moment now.  In honor of our angel baby.  I didn't get to meet him but i miss him.  I'm glad he changed my life, I'm glad it was him who changed my life. 

*From a local stranger


My name is Angie.  I live in Bakersfield and was only aware of your blog after reading Gabriel's obituary in the Bakersfield Californian. 

I am the mom of two boys - one 8, the other almost 2.  Like you, it is my youngest son who is changing the world, and is proving to be an example of the sanctity of human life. 

Let me explain. . . My youngest son, ***, was born on 1/24/2010 - Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  He decided to make his entrance 15 days early, much to our surprise.  He also decided to surprise us with a little "something extra," a chromosome.  A 21st chromosome, to be exact.  He has Downs Syndrome.

It was until after his birth that we learned of his diagnosis.  We opted out of all prenatal testing during my pregnancy.  We knew our minds wouldn't have been swayed by something as tiny as one extra chromosome.  And yes, while it was a huge adjustment and caused more than  few tears on my part, having our *** in our lives has been such a huge blessing. 

Sadly, for every ***, there are 9 who will never get to greet the world.  They will never experience the warmth of the sun on their face.  They will never know the gentleness of their mother's arms.  They will not be rocked to sleep.  The statistics don't lie - 90% of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome will terminate their pregnancy. 

*** (whose name means "God is gracious") has saved a life in his 2 years.  A friend of mine on Facebook sent me a sweet message a few months back, telling me about a friend of hers, whose daughter was pregnant with a little boy.  That little boy has Down Syndrome.  The grandmother had seen some of my posts about *** on our friend's wall, and said she felt God telling her that her daughter had made the right choice to continue with the pregnancy.  

I don't know if the world we live in will ever truly value life.  It grieves me sometimes to see what *** can do, and to know that some woman - a stranger to me - would have missed out on all of this because she let fear of the unknown (about raising a child with a disability)take hold of her.  Moving foward, I will be helping my own church develop a Special Needs Ministry.  It will be a place where parents can bring their kids so that they can worship their Creator.  Without *** in my life, this would not have been a possibility -- something to bless other families. 


*From a sister anencephaly mommy

You ask the question how I came to know of your precious son, Gabriel. . . God brought us together by the same diagnoses of our children.  I remember those dark hours of when I first joined the anencephaly info support group.  You, Jenny, and Keri were my lights in those early dark days.  You all were farther down the line than I was with processing the news and were able to help me see the joy in the situation. . . it was joy I didn't know was there.  As the days crept closer to Gabriel's birth I got this feeling in me that he was going to do something very special for us all.  He had already touched my life and when he was born I felt like it was my sister that gave birth.  I was so excited at my first glimpses of pictures of him!!!  Every day I would hurry up and get on facebook to see if he had pulled through another day and another day and to hear about all the miraculous things he had done.  After being told that my baby would most likely not do anything a "normal" baby does I was so sad.  After watching Gabriel eat and drink and smile and do so many things that babies should do I had hope. . . that was something I hadn't had since Gracie's diagnosis! I prayed so hard for Gracie to do some of the things that Gabriel did. . . I asked God to give me some of those moments and he did.  Gabriel's 10 days on Earth impacted so many people.  When his time came where he left this Earth for his heavenly home I was so saddened but yet so overjoyed that you had such precious time with him and had so many pictures and memories.  Gabriel gave me hope for the first time in over three months and that was the best gift anyone could have given me.  God bless you Andrea in your journey of healing. :)


*From a local attorney, who read about Gabriel in the Kern County Bar Association's monthly magazine, Res Ipsa Loquitor


I am a father of seven children, one of whom had birth defects that were correctible.  As sorry as I was to read of Gabriel's death I really appreciated the depth of your love.  The love that we should have for all of our children but sometimes take for granted. We also take for granted the health that they have.  I look back and wish I had spent more time with each one of my children and I love to spend time with them and now they are grown and having children of their own.  I am grateful that you were able to share your love that was so personal.  Many do not share that and I am so glad that you did.  I hope you have more children, many more, you are the type of mother that the world needs and I look forward to hearing about the birth of your next child.  I can see why Gabriel was such a little fighter - It was love, his, yours and Ben's.  Love always will be what makes the difference in people's lives and you have much to share.  Your children will be blessed to have you as their mother, look at what it added to Gabriel's life! 

*From a stranger in another country

Dearest Andrea:

It is 5:00 p.m. in Mexico City.  Im sitting at my desk in my office and I can see a vast part from the city and the rain about to start. 

I am an architect, I'm 35 and a first time mommy of a 5 months old boy.

I got to your blog by accident, if there is such thing, I like Private Practice, actually I used to hate it because I don't like Addison.  When I went home for maternity leave, 2 weeks before my boy was born, I started watching it and got hooked with the whole Amelia situation.  I was kind of hoping for her to keep the baby and be happy after the boyfriends death.  

When I went back home after my baby`s birth and spending 3 weeks at my moms house, one night I was holding my boy and singing for him (I don't believe in all that CIO thing, I like holding him and feeling him fall asleep in my arms) and I found on tv Private Practice just starting. 

My husband was in the room with us playing with his phone and we slowly and silently got hooked up with the baby`s birth episode.  

We couldn't watch it til the end.

The next day I went online to check "anencephaly" and got to your blog. 

My husbands name is Gabriel, he is my own personal angel.  I have been reading your blog for the past 2 or 3 months and going over your pictures, wondering how Noelle and Gideon are doing, how the bar looks like, how you feel sometimes at night and if you would like to know that somewhere in another country there is a woman thinking of you at least once every day.  

I wanted you to know that Gabriel and you changed a lot my perspective of life, It's not that I didn't enjoy my boy before but now when he cries because I buckled him up in the car seat I just say to myself "hearing him cry is a blessing". . . changing diapers, washing little socks at 11:00 p.m., working hard all day in an office, going to a meeting with a bunch of idiots, the city traffic, the bad manicure, the hair loss, the in laws. . . everything makes sense now. 

You and Gabriel gave so much sense to everything around me. 

I don't fight for stupid things anymore, I don't complain when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to have a conversation with me (in his own language. . . :D), if there is no intimacy with my husband anymore because we are either too tired or too busy, every day, Dearest Andrea, every day I kiss my son specially for you and Gabriel.  

I don't know if it is alright for me to say these things to you, but I think it would be unfair not doing it and not leting you know that all your suffering, which I cannot start to imagine, all your words; every single one of them, all of your pictures (there is one that I simply adore, you holding him with a grey shirt and smiling in profile) made me a better person, a better mom and that is keeping us 3 together. 

Please forgive me if emailing you is incorrect, I mean no harm, I just wanted you to know that I got the message and I think beautiful things about you and Gabriel. 

You taught me how to thank for every day with its ups and downs.



Saturday, July 14, 2012

Learning to Move

Gabriel was always mine.  Ben loves him, without question.  Maybe it's not fair to say this, but he could never love Gabriel like I do - no one could. From the moment he was conceived, we were linked, and because most of Gabriel's life was spent so close to me, and most of my life was spent wishing for him, I think we were just meant for each other.

In what I hear is typical male fashion, Ben was very detached from my pregnancy even prediagnosis.  As it was all happening I was so wounded by his behavior.  The first time I heard Gabriel's heartbeat, he wasn't with me.  The first time I felt Gabriel kick I was up late watching TV while Ben slept, and when I woke him to tell him he couldn't have cared less.  When Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly, though he became even more alive to me, Ben grew even more distant from us both. So Gabriel and I spent much of the pregnancy hanging out, just the two of us.

I find myself getting angry sometimes at the kind of father Ben is.  I wanted him to be that dad that hung ultrasound pictures on the fridge and bragged to all of his friends and family that he was expecting and drove himself crazy trying to assemble a crib and poured over the names in the baby name book.  Now I realize that Ben and I just have different world views.  In his view babies, including fetuses, are for moms.  Ben was going to be in charge of making baby food, and teaching Gabriel how to ride a bike and how to change a car's oil.  Ben was doing the best he could with what he knew.

I guess the truth is, Ben's attitude is probably a prevailing one.  In most cases, our children will survive beyond ten days and fathers will have plenty of time to bond with their children.  I think I might have even taken things like a heartbeat for granted, if I hadn't miscarried before I could ever hear Baby Cude's. I have, since losing Gabriel, put unfair expectations on a lot of people.  Recently a friend let me change her son's diaper and I remember thinking, "She has no idea how lucky she is to change his diaper every day." As if mothers of living children don't have struggles and troubles too.  I think many moms who have lost infants probably feel the same way, especially if we have no living children to care for.  We unfairly think that if we still had our children with us, they would be perfect because we would be perfect parents to them.  One of my greatest pleasures in taking care of Gabriel was being able to wash his laundry - most moms like me never get that chance, and the clothes their child wore for their one day of life will never be washed to preserve their baby's smell.  I wonder how long that would have been a joy if he survived and at what point it would have become a chore.

There are moms who feel guilty when caring for their children feels like work, and there are moms who don't feel guilty at all for doing this most important job very poorly.  A mother who has lost her child has a different role, and with it comes a different kind of guilt.  I feel guilty that Gabriel isn't my first thought every morning or my last thought every night -- Is he supposed to be?  I feel guilty that I don't hear him crying in my sleep like Susan Sarandon does in that one movie.  I feel really bad when someone asks about Gabriel and cries, but I don't -- How cold and heartless must that appear?  I feel guilty when I realize that in fact, days have gone by and I haven't cried and I wonder what kind of woman can become numb to the fact that her child is dead.  I feel guilty when I am changing another child's diaper and I feel at once envious, and like I am betraying my own son.  I feel guilty when I am relieved that Gabriel is not here to be a factor for clinging to a failing marriage. I feel worse when people "okay" the divorce with phrases like, "Well, you two went through a lot with the baby," as though somehow it's Gabriel's fault that his parents couldn't get their crap together.  The feelings of a grieving mother are complex but can be reduced to one simple notion:  We miss our child constantly.

I imagine learning to live without my child is like learning to live with a handicap.  It's just a little less visible.  Gideon was born with hip dysplasia, and he learned to walk and move despite it.  He had surgery, and his fur grew back in to cover up the scar.  He had to learn to walk again and now he moves with much more agility, but he will always have hip dysplasia.  We got Noelle, and she keeps him moving and she gives him a reason to get up and go.  Every once in a while, the pain is really intense, especially when it's cold or when it rains, and he has a hard time standing up but he does.  The presence of the defect is constant too, and he's constantly learning to adjust.  Both of us -- all of us, I suppose -- are just learning to move forward the best we can with what we have.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Independence Day

"I'm a recovering housewife," Carlotta says of herself.  She is tall and statuesque, smokes Capris and drinks vodka martinis out of a pink and black tiger-striped glass.  Carlotta doesn't seem to care that slim cigarettes and martinis are dainty items to be held and enjoyed by dainty women.  Carlotta is a lady, and she drinks and smokes like one.  I want to be like Carlotta.

"It was on Fourth of July that I threw Steve out, you know," Carlotta tells me.  That bit of information is new to me, but in the years I've known Carlotta I've learned that she was married for over 20 years, that she raised two children in that time, and that when she divorced, she blossomed.  She is a favorite among the bartenders at the Wright Place.  It is impossible to not like Carlotta.  As I enter this Carlotta stage of my life, she inspires me.

Fourth of July, like other holidays, inevitably led me to think about what is glaringly missing.  In the world I imagined for myself, Gabriel would have been here for the holiday. He would spend the day munching on watermelon and hot dogs, I would be cleaning his sticky hands and face, chasing him while he toddled around on his newly discovered walking legs.  A one-year old Gabriel wouldn't want to be held by his mommy much anymore, but maybe the shrieking and booming of the fireworks would cause him to climb into my lap where I could wrap my arms protectively around him and be close to him again.  My heart aches knowing I couldn't protect him from the defect that claimed his life, that my body couldn't grow him "right."

When we moved into the house three doors down from my parents, I was secretly pregnant and imagining a life in the tight-knit neighborhood where Fourth of July block parties were once the norm.  I knew I couldn't handle a neighborhood celebration this year so I planned my day to be spent with friends and family away from the house.  Timothy organized a last-minute softball game in the morning, so I dragged myself from sleep to play.  It's been years since I played.  Honestly, I'm still a little afraid of the ball, but since I've faced my biggest fear, losing my child, the ball seems a little bit more manageable.  After the game Timothy asked me once again to join him and our sister Monica to play co-ed softball in the fall.  It's tempting.  I've envied that time they get to spend together, and told myself that if scheduling allows for it next season, I would play.

"If I'm going to play, I want to practice."  Tim nodded.  It's not true that I want to practice, though.  I hate practicing.  I just want the ball to be magnetically drawn to my glove, without having to practice.  I want every swing of the bat to make contact with the ball and it doesn't make sense to me that if they are both headed towards each other, they don't every time.  More than I hate practicing, though, I hate to do something poorly.  Before losing Gabriel, and then Ben, if I wasn't good at something I just wouldn't do it.  Now, my fear of missing out on things outweighs my fear of looking ridiculous.  Recently I noted to Jessica that my legs have more of a tan than they ever have, and she noted in response that she's seen me in shorts more than she ever has before.  In recent year's I've rarely showed my legs, once considered my greatest physical asset, because I decided I didn't like the way they looked anymore.  I trudged around Bakersfield in 100 degree heat in long jeans or mid-calf length sundresses because I didn't want anyone to see how much I had changed.  But I'm changing again.  And it's uncomfortable.  It's uncomfortable when someone says "Andrea, you have legs!" and it's embarrassing when I miss the throw and it's humiliating when someone asks about Ben and I have to say "I don't know.  We're getting a divorce."  The alternative, though, was to stand still, and never feel the sun on my skin and never play with my brother and sister, and to spend the rest of my life alone in a marriage.

Immediately after we were married I recall feeling lonely and missing my single life.  Ben worked a lot, and in addition to that, he seemed to want to spend his down time either without me, or with me on the condition that we were doing things he wanted to do.  I felt compelled to wait at home for him, so when he got there we could spend time together. I think of all the time I've spent waiting in the last couple of years, and I don't want to wait anymore.  Life is short and I want to spend it enjoying all it has to offer.

I was fascinated to find how much, once Ben left, I still enjoyed the alone time in the house.  I thought the memories of our marriage and the thoughts about what could have been with Gabriel would lead me hate being there.  On the contrary, I find myself looking forward to the times I come home to find my roommate is not there, and I can spend hours alone playing with the dogs, reading, doing chores, getting lost in a Lifetime movie, or thinking.

The thinking is the hardest part.  It seems like my brain doesn't turn off these days and I crave distraction.  There's been no better distraction than my friends.  I have never in my life needed my friends like I do now.  After investing so much energy in building an intimate relationship with one person that I hoped would be unbreakable, only to have it crumble, I am grateful for the relationships I have that are easy and fun and rewarding.

Lindsey just might be my favorite new friend.  Although we've known each other for a while now, our friendship has really developed in the last few months.  I was thankful for her invitation to watch the fireworks together to celebrate her birthday, which for her has commonly been swept up into Fourth of July celebrations.  We perched ourselves in our lawn chairs on top of one of the foothills, beers in hand, to enjoy a unique view of the city from which we could see many of the fireworks displays around town.  From our hill I could see how much the area has changed.  I remember when the city first started developing housing in the foothill area, and I wondered where all the high school kids would go to get stoned and screw.  I suppose now they just have to go a little farther out but in any case, looking out over Bakersfield from the foothills has always made me grateful to live in this little, big town. I'm glad I got Bakersfield in the divorce settlement.

I sat in easy silence with Lindsey because that's the thing about our friendship - we can talk, or we can be silent.  We can go to lunch or dinner together, but neither of us minds going to lunch or dinner alone.  We communicate almost every day but it's because we want to.  We're just friends. We both drink beer, not martinis, and neither of us smokes cigarettes.  But if we did, we would smoke Capris, just like Carlotta.

It was my privilege to participate in the surprise party that Elise put together for Lindsey at the bar yesterday.  Elise came to me with the idea a few weeks ago, concerned that our good friend would get overlooked on her birthday because of the holiday.  After the fireworks show I left Lindsey quickly, telling her I would feed the dogs and meet her at the bar later.  When Lindsey walked into the bar she was surprised to find Elise holding a birthday cake lit with a sparkler, birthday decorations scattered across the bar, and a collection of food and gifts waiting for her.  Lindsey was all smiles all evening, clearly happy with the party.  I can't thank her enough for being the kind of friend that I want to do these things with and for, for being an unexpected friend in an unexpected time who I might be very lost without.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

"What do you like doing more, bartending or practicing law?" my counselor asked a couple of months ago at my intake session.  It was one of two questions that stood out to me that day.

"Bartending." I answered quickly.  

"I had a feeling you would say that."  

Truthfully, the answer isn't that simple.  Bartending is what I've been doing for nearly ten years.  I was just 22 years old when I first walked into Charly's and submitted my job application.  I had just walked out on a job as a cocktail waitress - the only job I've ever just walked out on - when the managers asked me to pay for a ticket for a couple of dine and dashers.  "Wait!  They were just kidding!  You don't have to pay for the ticket, just come back!" the bartender, Schmitty, called after me as he chased me to the parking lot.  I wasn't turning around though.  I never liked cocktail waitressing.  I didn't like the access the customers had to me, I preferred the security of standing behind the bar over weaving in and out of tables.  I also didn't like playing second fiddle to Schmitty or any of the other guys.  I wanted my own show, and I could have it at Charly's.  Cindy, the bar manager, called me back right away.  I never even met Charlie until my first day of work.  

Jed was my trainer.  He was about my age and a complete wreck - both of us were back then.  We were allowed to drink on shift and Jed regularly got drunk and told customers what he thought of them.  Jed was orphaned when his dad shot Jed's mother and then himself, and Jed had been raised by his grandmother, Sue, also a regular at the bar, and Sue commonly bore the brunt of Jed's anger.  But when Sue wasn't there, anyone would do.  Jed got fired not long after I started, and Charlie cut my hours too to hire Cindy's son.  When Tony didn't work out, I was bumped up to five nights a week and quickly sucked into bar life.  

There's just something about a neighborhood bar.  Friends are made easily there, and Sean and I clicked right away.  "I bet you don't know who wrote this song," he challenged me one evening. "Robert Zimmerman, better known to most of us as Bob Dylan." Sean was in the death throws of a four year relationship with his live-in girlfriend Autumn.  A few months later, Sean and I were dating.  Sean didn't seem to mind that I was a bit of a mess.  He was a mess himself, and we were messy together.  The afternoon that I found Sean, everything happened so quickly.  The ambulance and the police and the coroner, the questioning, the phone calls, the priest called to the scene to comfort me. . . it kinda felt like I was walking in a movie, like it couldn't be real.  I wasn't scheduled to work that night, but I felt like I had to tell Cindy right away.  I called her into the office and she could tell I was upset.  I hadn't cried, I couldn't cry because I couldn't believe it, but as Cindy teetered behind me on her characteristic heels that were much too young for her, as I poured the story out to her and as she hugged me to her fake breasts and for once I didn't resist her, it became very real. I left the office and headed for the door, feeling the eyes of concern on me, and I remember Bob grabbing me by the arm and saying, "I don't know what's wrong, but it's going to be okay."  

My connection to that place was really sealed that day.  I could have quit, I guess, and everyone would have understood, but I wanted to be there because my memories of Sean were there.  After that, I saw the bar through a lot of changes and they saw me through changes too.  Patrons have come and gone, moving in, moving out, getting sober, passing away. I was accepted into law school and proudly passed the letter around the bar.  Charlie died and the bar was sold.  Rick and Lynn took over and Cindy quit.  The 6 AM shift was dropped so Charlotte moved on too, and before long Cheri was gone too.  I was used to being the baby of the bar, Charlotte, Cheri and Cindy each at least 20 years my senior, but Lynn brought in younger girls to revive the place.  That's when they hired Lisa and Elise.  

I didn't like either of them at first.  I couldn't understand why they were so full of energy.  This was an old man bar, and they were loud and bouncy.  It's not until now, 6 years later, that I realize how much they breathed new life into me too. I hadn't realized how much I was becoming an old man myself, how bitter I was becoming.  Elise and Lisa had been dealt a rough hand too -- it seems to be a running theme among bartenders -- but they weren't soured.  They, along with Jessica and Natalie, have become some of my closest friends.  It's funny to me now to hear them tell me I am strong.  I'm strong in large part because of them.  I also swear a lot more. 

You learn a lot about yourself working in a bar.  I've learned that for a woman, the odds are in her favor.  If a girl wants to feel pretty, she should go to a bar alone.  Men will clamor to buy her drinks and tell her she's beautiful.  When she's the bartender and the center of attention they will do so even more.  But when I opened up, when I let people into my life and I shared my troubles with them and more importantly, listened with honest interest to their troubles, I found that I was much more satisfied.  I was useful, and needed, and genuinely appreciated and it changed the way I carried myself and that changed the way people saw me.  I didn't need to dress like I did when I first started.  The patrons liked me for the person I am and it was a wild revelation, and one of the best things to happen to me.  When I graduated from law school and passed the bar, celebrating the occasion at Charly's - now called The Wright Place, I felt even more valued by the patrons.  Lawyer after law firm after government organization dismissed my qualifications, but every time a customer walks in and says, "I'm glad you're here, I have a question for you" I know that I'm still doing something productive with my life.  

I've learned that I don't have to put up with crap.  One night years ago, after breaking up a fight between two girls I tried to return to behind the bar when a guy I'd never seen before tried to cut me off by holding a pocket knife in my face.  "What are you going to do?  Stab me?  Get the fuck out of my way, I'm calling the police." He moved, ran out the back door, and I followed him with the phone in my hand and the 911 operator on the line.  I don't know where that came from.  I suspect the courage came from the heat of the moment.  But what a rush. 

I've learned that sometimes, you do have to put up with crap.  Sometimes, everything in your life is falling apart but to the person in front of you asking for a drink, everything in their life may be falling apart too and to them that's the most important thing.  For more than a month after Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly, we kept his condition quiet.  Many nights patrons would come in complaining about things that seemed so petty and it took all I had not to come unglued.  But it was good practice.  Because for the last year - more than a year - I've wanted to come unglued but I can't and I won't.  The world doesn't stop spinning just because you've got a problem.  Everyone's got problems.  If no one had problems, I wouldn't have a job.  My job, both of them, is to fix problems.  And I can't fix problems if I come unglued.  And if I can't fix problems anymore, I will lose a big part of what keeps me happy.  

More than 8 years after I first walked into the bar, I feel like we are experiencing the greatest changes yet.  Jess, Lisa and I got married. I'm getting divorced.  Jess, Lisa, Natalie and I all had babies. We're over 30 or pushing 30, a general expiration date for bartenders.  I guess that's why Lisa never came back after maternity leave, why Jess is cutting her hours dramatically and why Elise is quitting to go to school full-time.  Even Jed got married to one of the girls later hired by Rick and Lynn.  She had three daughters already, one of them a teenager, but they clicked, and now they've got a family together.  The last time I talked to Jed, he told me he was sober now, and getting baptized soon.

I wonder where that leaves me.  The hand therapist asked me if I have thought about what I am going to do with my life, hinting that I can't keep up bartending forever.  I looked at her curiously.  I guess there's always that lawyer thing, it's got the potential to be a pretty solid back-up plan. I feel like I've got a good grip on who I am, but if I stopped bartending it would strip away a big part of who I am.  I know I may have fallen into a trap, allowing what I do to become such a definitive part of my identity.  

Sometimes I hear patrons talking about the way the bar looks, about the wood paneling that hasn't been updated in years or about the old bartop that was brought over from Freddy's Top of the Hill.  I always think the outdated appearance is part of the bar's charm.  If they only knew how much HAD changed since the bar was established over 20 years ago.  If they only knew how much I had changed right along with it.