Sunday, October 6, 2013
The morning was running smoothly, right on schedule. I was set for a deposition and already knew what I was going to wear. The dogs went outside with little fuss. I'd completed the test, and as I brushed my teeth all I had to do was wait for the Clear Blue response. Only problem, as I brushed, unmarried, reflecting on my two-month long relationship with Marcos, I wasn't sure what I wanted the answer to be.
Soon, there was no reason to think about what I wanted. The truth blinked across the digital screen: "Pregnant 2-3," indicating that a 2 to 3 week old baby was growing inside of me. I spit. I rinsed. I cried. I prayed. I thanked. I begged. I went about my day.
When I presented the news to Marcos that evening, he smiled, hugged and kissed me, and said teasingly, "I guess we're not going out tonight."
"Yes! I still want to go to karaoke!" So we did, and I drank club soda with a lime out of a silly hurricane glass and sang a couple of songs and the night was full of promise and hope.
But by the next day, I resumed my self-admonishment. I had compromised my principles. I'd given up and given in to the grief that I'd long been suffering. I'd stopped binding myself by rules and conviction. My arms had been empty for too long. My heart had been broken for too long. The rules no longer seemed to apply.
Maybe it seems like I took the easy way out of grief. I can promise that the physical part of this process has been the only thing that's been easy. True to form and now at nearly nine weeks, I've yet to experience any symptoms beyond fatigue. It's only the fear and anxiety that handicap me.
Two years of gathering information about anencephaly have informed me that 1 in 1,000 pregnancies will result in an anencephalic baby. Among us 1 in 1,000 women, 4 in 100 of us will experience a recurrence. As I swallow my handful of folic acid tablets I remind myself daily that I'm reducing even further that already slight risk of experiencing that rare defect again.
So when I first consulted with the nurse, when I first heard the words "high risk" fall out of her mouth, I was stunned. I had never considered myself high risk. Miscarriages happen, they're common, even. Anencephaly just happens. Sometimes it just happens. And I'd been reassuring myself, soothing my irrational fears, only to have this nameless nurse resurrect them again.
"Ordinarily, you'd meet with a nurse practitioner for most of your visits, but the doctor may want to see you personally throughout. You know, because of your history. We have a perinatologist come down a couple of times a month, and they'll probably want him to scan you. Also, you'll be getting a call from the genetic counselor."
"Because of your history." I scowled. I hated her. I hated her for reading some segment of some chapter in some nursing school textbook, and thinking she could talk to me like she had a clue. I guarantee I know more about anencephaly than she does.
I recalled briefly flipping through the pages of my barely-used copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting" at 22 weeks pregnant with Gabriel. I had stopped referring to the book when I found that I just didn't need its assistance. But in the bleak, grey wake of Gabriel's earth-shattering diagnosis, hungry for information, I demanded to know what kind of heads-up this pregnancy bible would have given me and I found only a small gray box with general information on birth defects. I learned only that anencephaly was a defect that resulted when the neural tube fails to close completely, resulting in developmental failure of the skull and brain. My doctor would give me the option to terminate my pregnancy. I learned from other sources that carrying an anencephalic infant posed no more risk to the mother than any other pregnancy. I learned that anencephalic babies could live for days, weeks, months - I met mothers whose babies had lived for years. I learned that if I continued the pregnancy, I could plan to participate in Duke's study to learn the causes of anencephaly.
I learned that my baby was a boy. He was strong-willed and brave. He's not just history. He has a name, Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude, and he lived for ten days, and he changed the world. He is deeply, constantly missed, by many.
And he is going to be a big brother.
Every once in a while, the weight of the experience really comes crashing down on me. As I sat one evening watching the season finale of "So You Think You Can Dance" with my family, the announcement of beloved contestant Fikshun as America's favorite male dancer brought me to tears. Gabriel would never win "So You Think You Can Dance." He'd never sit on the Supreme Court, or play in the World Series, or learn the alphabet or to count to ten, or to sit or crawl or walk. And I don't have the nerve to dream that the baby I am carrying, already affectionately nicknamed "Rocco," will do any of the above. I can only dream of a round, whole skull, a fully developed brain, a first breath, a first loud cry, a glimpse and a touch of the rainbow I've waited so long and endured so much to see. Every day without Gabriel has been a challenge. Every day until I hold Rocco in my arms will bring its own challenges.
My rainbow is on its way. And the troubles haven't melted like lemon drops. This yellow-brick road that I must travel to get to the other side of the rainbow has already been harder than I ever anticipated. Still, it's the road I want to be on, with all of its challenges, with all of my fears. For the first time in such a very long time, I can finally see in color.