Monday, December 29, 2014

L6


I laid on the table in a hospital gown and a pair of knee high stilletto boots, trying not to breathe as I had been instructed.  There was a series of buzzes, and the x-rays were complete.

"Do you want to see them?" asked the tech. He is flirtatious, but I don't think he can help it and I think he is harmless and I think he is probably flirtatious with everyone, and besides, I'm married and look like I just gave birth to a 9 pound, 11 ounce baby so these things don't happen to me anymore, and so I said,

"Sure." I stood in front of the monitor, holding my hospital gown closed as he brought up the images.
"What do you think?  Do you have a slipped disc?"

"I don't know!  Do I?  I can't read this."

"I can't tell you."

"Because you're not the doctor."

"Right.  I'm not the doctor.  I can't tell you.  But I told you what to look for.  What do you see?"

"I don't know.  I can't tell."

"Well, here are your vertebrae and - Oh.  You have an extra vertebra!"

"No I don't."

"Yes you do.  Look.  One, two, three, four, five, six."

"You're teasing me."

"Hey," he motioned to another tech passing by.  "Count her lumbar vertebra."

"One, two, three, four, five, hey!  An L6.  That's why she's tall."

"She's not that tall.  Look at her shoes."  We all looked down at my boots.

"I'm 5'7"," I shot back defiantly.  "How do you know when to stop counting the lumbar vertebra?" For two and a half years I have been reading x-ray reports in workers' compensation cases, but still didn't know what to look for in the images.

"You stop at the rib cage.  See.  You have six between the sacrum and the ribs."  I tilted my head at the image in confusion.

"Am I done?"

"Yes.  You can get dressed.  And about the L6.  It's uncommon, but not that uncommon.  We usually see it in tall people - I mean, really tall, like over 6 feet.  It's just surprising."

As I drove home I chewed on the irony of it all.  Our spine develops from the neural tube, a flat piece of matter that develops very early after conception and becomes our spine, skull, and brain.  At some point in my fetal development, an L6 vertebra was created.  It's ironic, of course, because I now sit with the knowledge that I have this extra, useless bone, the product of the same part that failed to produce an entire skull in Gabriel.  An extra vertebra is to me like 10,000 spoons, when all I need is a knife.  I would like to sit down with God and say to Him, "Excuse me, but I don't actually need this L6.  Do You think I could instead get a skull cap for Gabriel?"  I suspect there's no real bargaining with God, though.  Even if there was, I'm not sure it would look like that.  Even if there was, it's too late now, isn't it?

The x-rays were over a week ago.  My doctor was on vacation, and we've had a holiday, and the long and short of it is, I still don't have an x-ray report.  To some degree, the findings stopped mattering to me.  A part of me stopped wanting relief from the complaints that brought me into the doctor's office that day.  A big part of me thinks I should suffer, because my son suffered, and there wasn't a damn thing his own mother could do to stop it.

Here I sit, held up by a frame that has more than I need, still missing the biggest part of me.  And isn't it ironic?


Our First Noel(le)




It's been three years since a stinky, 8 week old German Shepherd puppy came home to live with me.  When I picked her out of the litter a month before, I didn't think I would actually get to keep her.  I was surprised when, on Christmas Eve 2011, Ben said to me, "Come on.  Let's go pick up your puppy."  I named her Noelle Marie.  She was my little Christmas pup, the brightest part of a year marked by a deep, deep grief that came with Gabriel's diagnosis and death.

Turned out Noelle would have the responsibility of sustaining me through the dark, empty period that followed.  Ben packed up and moved out three months later.  The dream that our marriage would survive the worst was shattered, and so was the dream of another baby in the bleak near future.

Fastforword three years to Christmas 2014, and a morning spent with my beloved husband Marcos, watching our little girl open her Christmas gifts.  I can still see her, in her black sleeper with silver polka dots and red accents, with little interest in the packages around her.  Her primary focus these days is learning to crawl.  Although I see her every day, touch her soft hair, hold her tiny hands, kiss her sweet face, I still struggle sometimes to believe she is real.  She is just so unbelievable.  She is just so incredible.

Throughout Christmas day I caught myself noticing the empty spaces. On December 19th I quietly acknowledged what would have been Baby Cude's 4th birthday.  On Christmas Day I had to visit my son's ashes in a cemetary.  I wondered what Christmas would be like with a 4 year old Baby Cude, or a 3 year old Gabriel.  I know that the Christmas Day when I do not wonder about my missing children is a long way away.  I know that my beautiful girl, who sits at the top of the growth charts, can never be big enough to fill the empty spaces. It's not her job.  It was never Noelle's job.  It was an unfair responsibility that I placed on a puppy's shoulders, and I have to remind myself not to do the same to my daughter.

As I sat beside my husband, our daughter perched on his lap in her pretty holiday dress and my parents and siblings seated behind us at Mass on Christmas morning, I could feel the difference in this Christmas.  I could feel the lightness in my family's hearts.  I could see the glow that Eden has lit within us all.  I could tell that the clouds had parted from all of us and that the storm we had braved together had subsided.  Eden has colored our world with renewed joy and hope. Christmas will never be the same.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2 in 2,000

I picked up my phone one evening to find urgent message from an unusual source:  "Please contact my friend Missy.  Her baby was just diagnosed with anencephaly and she sees a specialist today to confirm," Josh pleaded with me through Facebook's instant messenger.  "You can find her on my Facebook friends list."

Immediately I found Missy's Facebook profile and contacted her, knowing she would soon be asked to make a decision as to whether to carry to term.  She had already decided that she was going to continue the pregnancy with her daughter, due in March.  She'd already found great peace, and seemed to be coasting along.  After sighing a prayer of relief I took a step back and recognized Missy from an anencephaly support site.  She'd already been doing her research and found the same group that I'd found three years ago.

From there I scoured her Facebook profile, beginning with our surprisingly long list of mutual friends located in our "small" town of 365,000.  My mind started to stretch as I realized Missy and I must have gone to high school together at some point.  I wandered through my memories, trying to recall her.  I pulled my stack of yearbooks from a bookshelf and flipped through the pages, still uncertain of Missy's maiden name, hoping that I would find a clue, all the while remembering the hope and promise that filled the high school version of me that had never heard of anencephaly.

I sent Missy a friend request, and sat back and waited.  Finally one day a post from one of her family members pulled the trigger, when Missy's maiden name, the name by which I would have known her, was revealed to me. As far as I knew, she was Melissa back then, but then again, I didn't know her at all.  We shared friends, and she had a unique name, but she and I had never had much interaction that I could recall.

Still, I started to see the pieces come together.  "Andrea, have you met Missy?" our friend Justin tagged us both one day.  Her interactions with our mutual friends began to pop up on my news feed - her interactions with my good friends, her interactions with my mere acquaintances, the interactions that told me we must have run in the same circles and still, our paths had never quite crossed until now. How had we missed each other those nearly 20 years ago?  What kind of God had brought us together in 2014 through the shared adverse diagnosis of our children?  He must be the same God that whispered to our hearts the words we needed to continue to foster the sweet lives within us, when so many others feel it is a cross they cannot bear.

So here we are:  I am three years post-Gabriel; Missy is three months 'til Imogen.  It doesn't seem fair, really, that we once shared a school, teachers, friends, perhaps even the stage in the auditorium, or a bench at a football game - And now we must share this.  Only 1 in 1,000 women will walk in our shoes, so how did we become 2 in 2,000?  I wish that no one ever had to share this experience. But here we are.

Yes, here we are.  And what a pleasure it has been to get to know this woman, so strong, so full of faith, so in love with her little girl.  And I know THAT'S what unites us.  Our love for our children, no matter what they look like, no matter how brief their lives may be, no matter how afraid we may have been or may be of what it means to love a child that cannot stay.  The world is full of uncertainty and things to fear, but thankfully it's still a small world, and it's still filled with love.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

From Gabriel to Eden

Yesterday Catholics across the world gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, acknowledging our belief that Mary, Mother of Jesus, was born without original sin.  Mary and Jesus are the only people we acknowledge as having been born without sin, so born, of course, due to the roles that they were to play in our salvation.

The readings for yesterday's liturgy began with a reading from Genesis, wherein Adam and Eve are hiding in the Garden of Eden, having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, knowing they are about to face God's consequences.  The event is widely known among Christians to be the Fall of Man.

The Gospel reading for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception comes from Luke, and recounts the revelation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel that she will conceive and bear a son who will be the Savior of the World.  Christians believe that this is not a responsibility that was forced on Mary; rather, she chose to accept this responsibility out of her great and pure love and obedience for God.  Because of her role in our salvation, Mary is often considered by Catholics to be the new Eve, the woman whose choice lifted us from the choices that caused our fall.

When I think of my life and the choices I have made in its course, I can hardly consider myself Marian.  I'm sinful and selfish, just like the rest of us.  Still, I know that one unique choice does set me apart from most of the world, while it brings me a bit closer to Our Lady.  THe decision to carry my son to term in spite of his diagnosis is a decision that only 1 in 1,000 American women will have to make, and one that only 2% to 8% of that 1 in 1,000 will choose.  Those are just the facts.  And the fact is, I made the choice to carry my son out of obedience to God's will for me to put my money where my pro-life mouth was and walk the walk that I'd been talking of.  I made the choice out of fear of Hell.  But above all, the fact remains that I made my choice for one very selfish reason, and that is I loved and wanted my son so much that I couldn't just let him go.  I wanted him to stay, and so I would keep him as long as I was permitted.

I named my son Gabriel.  I was confident that he was bringing a message to this earth, that he would change the world, just as the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel the Messenger changed the course of our lives after death.  I named my son Gabriel because the name means "Hero of God," and "God is my strength," and to me our time together epitomized both phrases.  As I leaned on God in the weeks that followed Gabriel's diagnosis and 10 days that followed his birth, I knew that my son was doing great things, heroic things.  I was just the vehicle, along for the ride.

Gabriel passed, and I knew the piercing pain that the sword of her child's death brings to a mother's heart.

Then one day, I was holding my precious daughter Eden in my arms, after a brief but painful labor.  Somehow, I had gone backwards. I had gone from the promise I felt when Gabriel was conceived, to the crushing blow of his diagnosis, to the stabbing pain of his death, to the skepticism of a subsequent pregnancy, to the joy of Paradise. I've gone from Gabriel to Eden

Occasionally discussion arises among Christians:  Was the Fall of Man not necessary, in order for Christ to rise?  If not for a flawed world, would we ever appreciate paradise?

I'd like to think that we would, but I don't know.  This is the only life we know.  This is the only world we know.  Likewise, I only know a world marred by the death of my son, made bright again by my daughter's sweet face.  I only know the road from Gabriel to Eden.

Friday, December 5, 2014

One O'Clock

"I think your window is over there.  Wait here while I check."

I turned to look at the 16 year old girl behind me.  "You're here for your driver's test?"  She smiled, revealing a row of braces laid across her upper teeth, and nodded.  Her excitement shone and I envied her love of life in that very moment.  Her mother flagged her to Window 20, where she stood in line for her appointment, and I turned to Window 1 in front of me, where I was to check in for my own appointment.  "One o'clock," I answered the woman behind the window.

"Fill out this application.  Do you have evidence of your new name?"  I produced my marriage license from the manila envelope in my hand.  "Good.  They'll want to see that at the next window.  Here's your number.  Wait to be called."  I took a seat and could see the young girl exit the building with the examiner, her mother looking on with pride.  I looked at the application before me and carefully filled in the boxes:

A N D R E A
L Y N E T T E
L O P E Z

I considered for a moment the tremendous piece of myself that I was about to release.  I thought about my accomplishments as Andrea L. Hernandez - A bachelor's degree, law school, admission to the State Bar, even Eden.  I thought about last time I changed my maiden name, to Cude, my Gabriel's last name, only to change it back three years later, the man who gave me that name still unaware of the pain of having merged my identity with his just to ultimately be betrayed.

I thought about the bond I feel with my new husband, the deep, abiding love that I know is pulling us together.  It's a love that's already been tested when my fears and insecurities are hard at work pushing me away from him, my memories of the pain of my heartbreak leading me.  I thought about the courage that it's taken to love again, and the warmth that I have been rewarded with for giving love another try.

With a trusting plunge, I signed away my name and became Andrea Lynette Lopez.

As I exited the building I saw the mother of the 16 year old girl waiting on a bench outside for her daughter to return from the test.

"I think I'll wait with you."  For 20 minutes I stayed with her, until their white Tahoe pulled in behind the back of the building.

The woman looked at me nervously.  "I'd better go see if she passed."  I watched her walk through the building toward her daughter and I felt a surge through my chest as I realized this moment is one I'll someday share with my daughter, but will never share with my son.  A beaming smile stretched across the young girl's face and I could see her nodding, her mother hugging her.  Her mother took her by the shoulders, and I saw her point back at me and momentarily, they both turned and signaled to me with a thumbs up.  I smiled, waved, and headed back to work.  I had just witnessed the opening of a whole new world, a brand new stage of life.

As I walked back to my office I looked at the temporary paper license in my hand, with my brand new name, part of my whole new world. It's a world that feels  like it's where I was always supposed to be and sometimes I wonder what took so long to get there.  I've traveled a bittersweet road. Still, I think it's been more sweet than anything, and it gets sweeter every day.

Marcos Lopez, I, Andrea Lynette Lopez, love you so much.  Thank you for making me your wife.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

"Isn't it beautiful?" Sean asked.  "It's like he's saying goodbye to the world."

We were laying on our backs in his studio apartment, all of the lights off, with just slits of sun shinning through the blinds and a candle burning.  He said that was the only way to listen to Johnny Cash's last recording, "When The Man Comes Around," a perfectly selected combination of one new song, a handful of personal hits, and a few covers.  My favorite Johnny Cash performance can be found on that album, his late recording of "Give My Love to Rose."

Though wise men at their end know dark is right. . .

Even when imagining the darkness, I can still see in my mind the layout of the apartment, the location of the bare furnishings, the book of Dylan Thomas Poetry on the TV stand.  The box of his own poetry, open on the day I discovered his body to a poem he'd written years back - His goodbye.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. . . 

The two years after Sean's suicide when he was just 26 years old were followed by a cluster effect of regulars from Charly's who, one way or another, brought about their own end.  First Scotty, 25, who shot himself; then James, 25, who also shot himself; then Nick, the first guy I dated after Sean, also dead at 25 from a fatal heroin overdose.  After law school my bar exam study partner and Trial Advocacy teammate, Crystal, also shot and killed herself just weeks before sitting for the bar exam a second time.

The ten years since Sean's suicide have left me wondering every day how life would have been different if he had just stayed.

Do not go gentle into that good night. . . 

New attention has been brought to physician-assisted suicide with the very public terminal illness and suicide of Brittany Maynard.  The debate has been framed as though she is somehow different, somehow some exception to what it means to kill yourself.  She's some sort of martyr because she allegedly had all of her mental facilities when she made the decision to end her own life.

I can't accept that framework.  I can't accept that the same world that has been telling me for years that Sean was selfish, now finds Brittany Maynard's decision to check out on her family some fort of selfless act of love.  Maybe it's not the hip thing to say, but Brittany Maynard was a coward.  Brittany Maynard had the gall to go to her parents and say, "I'm going to do this.  I'm going to kill myself.  And I hope you'll stand by me.  And I'm doing this for you."  What is a parent to say to that?  What would I say?  I hope that I would put my every effort into changing her mind.  I hope that I would take her hand, and say to her, "You are not a burden to me.  You could never be a burden to me.  I love you, and I will care for you, always."

"But it's not that simple," the world says.  "She was terminally ill," we maintain, as though that is some excuse for cutting our numbered days short.  "She was dying anyway."  Well so are you, and so am I, because we're human, and that's what we do.  But until we're dead, we're also living.  So where does the line begin and end? It's been dangerously blurred.

She was dying anyway.  Gabriel was dying anyway.  Yet every day that he was here on this earth was another day that he got to feel the Bakersfield June heat on his skin, the warmth of his mother's arms, the strength of his father's hands, the care in his grandparents' embrace.  Every day was filled with love.   Brittany Maynard's life was filled with love, and loved ones.  And she turned her back on them.  She robbed them of the opportunity to care for her, nurture her, look after her in her time of need.  She robbed them of the opportunity to do the things a mother and father sometimes must do for their child.  She stole from her husband the chance to be there, even in sickness.  She stole herself from them.

I resent that Oregon calls its physician-assisted suicide laws the "Death With Dignity Act."  The name implies that to die any other way is to die without dignity.  To die old, or sick, or requiring care makes you an undignified burden on those around you.  Where is the dignity in shirking our responsibility to the ailing?  Where is the dignity in bringing your own curtain down?  Where is the dignity in asking your friends and family to stand by while you kill yourself, purporting that you are doing this both for them, but also to die on your own terms.  Just yours.

She was dying anyway.  He was dying anyway.  And that's supposed to provide us with an excuse to kill.  The willful, deliberate taking of someone's life is no more than killing.  Life is not ours to end at our human whim.  Not yours, nor anyone else's.

I'm not mad at Sean.  I've never thought he intended to be selfish.  I understand his desperation.  I'm just sorry I didn't hear his cries for help because if I had, I would have cared for him.  I would have begged him to fight.  I certainly wouldn't have pulled the trigger.  The doctor who prescribed lethal medication to Brittany Maynard to end her life simply pulled a trigger.

Sean was suffering.  Brittany was suffering.  You suffer.  I suffer.  Gabriel suffered.  THis life is not without its sufferings, and our suffering is not for nothing.  Our suffering is an opportunity to grow in strength.  The suffering of those around us is an opportunity to show compassion.  As a Catholic, I believe that the suffering we experience on earth helps to free the souls of those in Purgatory.  When I recall the suffering of my son during his last day on Earth, I pray that his soul helped set someone else's free.  Maybe even Sean's.

My son suffered.  He struggled for several hours, though he was medicated with compassionate care from our hospice providers to minimize his suffering.  I suffered.  I held him in my hands, as though I was holding my own beating heart, and I comforted him in his hour of dying.  His father and I held him tight and gave him the freedom to go, told him he had been stronger than we ever could have asked, and told him to take God's hand.  He stayed because he wanted to stay, because it's our basest human instinct to hold on to this life, because no matter what you believe happens on the other side of death, one thing is certain and that is that this life is only temporary.  Right here, right now, it's all we've got.

Death will take me kicking and screaming.  Death will take me from my bed only upon a fight, and I pray that's a fight that lasts 100 years and that at the end of that battle I am surrounded by love.  And as my body gives way to death I will pray that I have done enough in this life to see my son again and I will look forward to that moment when our eternity together begins, but still, I will fight for every last breath.  I will fight because Sean didn't.  I will fight because Gabriel did.

Do not go gentle into that goodnight,
Old age should rave at close of day;
Rage against the dying of the light.  



Rage.  Fight.  Live.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Braving Anencephaly





Dear Expectant Mom,

You're so scared.  Your doctor just forced you to consider the unimaginable:  The child you are carrying is not expected to live more than hours, perhaps days after his or her birth.  You are now living a mother's nightmare.

You were so excited.  You have already imagined your baby boy riding his first tricycle.  You have dreamed of him as a starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners.  You're mind has already seen your baby girl in her first dance recital.  You can already see her in her lab coat, curing cancer.  Your dreams have been stolen.  Your heart has been crushed.  You're not really sure how you're going to go on.  You're not even sure how your feet are still moving forward, how your lungs are still taking in air, how your mind was able to tell your fingers to type the word "anencephaly," but your brain is craving answers to your questions.  Your brain wants to know why your doctor has just told you that your child has no brain.

So here you are.  Reading the words of a woman who, nearly four years ago, stood where you now stand. And as you read, perhaps your baby is already moving inside of you.  And his kicks are so strong that you just can't believe what the doctors have told you, that he cannot survive.  One moment, you'll know loud and clear what he is trying to tell you: "I'm here now."

On January 31, 2011 my son Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly.  I didn't make a choice to carry him to term.  Gabriel is not a choice.  He's my son. I carried him for the next four and a half months because I had been charged with his care. I didn't know if he would get to feel the warmth of his mother's arms, the strength of his daddy's hands, the sun on his skin, the cool trickle of baptismal waters on his chest.  But I was going to do everything in my own power for him to have that opportunity.  I carried him, cherishing his precious kicks, his rhythmic hiccups, his growth.  I looked forward to meeting him and after a stubborn 54 hours of labor, he blessed me with ten of the best days of my life.  His brain, fully grown and sitting outside of his deformed skull, was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

You don't feel strong right now, and you don't feel brave, but you are.  You feel helpless, but you're not.  You're a mom.  You can do anything.

I wish I could tell you that if you just take this journey, everything will work out just fine.  A year after Gabriel's passing, almost to the day, his father and I permanently separated, and later divorced.  I looked for comfort in my son's memory, and he looked for it in the bottom of a bottle and the fissure in our relationship that began the day Gabriel was diagnosed, cracked and washed us over until we were drowning in anger and sadness and resentment.  Gabriel's father and I live on opposite sides of the country now.  He is sober.  We've both fallen in love with someone new.  He is remarried; I will be remarried soon.  Life's thrown us some curves. It always will, for him, for me, for you.  But we've braved them.  We're doin' alright.

I miss my son every day.  I feel his absence.  I feel it in my bones.  I feel it in my soul.  And my mind is full of what-ifs.  What if he were here today, 3 years old, with sticky hands and boundless energy?

I look at my 5 month old daughter, Eden.  Her name means Paradise, and she has been.  But even in paradise, something is missing.  Even as she's begun to join us at the table, eat solid food, I see the empty chair where her big brother would be and I ache.  I will ache until the day I die, and I can only pray that what I do on this earth will someday be enough to earn the opportunity to be reunited with my son.

You're scared, because you don't know how you're going to do this, or even if you want to do this.  And I'll I've done is tell you how hard it's going to be. I only told you the truth.

But consider this:  We are only promised life.  We are not promised years, or even days.  We are not promised that this life will be free from pain.  We're not promised life will be good, or easy.

If you're standing where I stood on January 31, 2011, I urge you to give your child what is promised to him.  Give him what only you can give.  Give him life.

And I promise you this:  Whether your child is stillborn, lives for minutes, hours, days, or even years with anencephaly, you will NEVER regret your decision to give him the time that is his.  You will never regret knowing your child, holding your child for as long as you can, giving him everything you can.  In this child that the doctors have told you is hopeless, you will find a great hope. You will find in this experience a strength you didn;'t know you have.  Take it.  It's yours.  You will find peace.  You will find the greatest love you've ever known.

Sincerely,
Andrea L. Hernandez
Mommy to Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude, June 10, 2011 to June 20, 2011 - Ten Days That Changed the World.




Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blip

Dear "Mom 2":

I remember when you first referred to yourself as "Mom 2," in a routine e-mail.  I was taken by surprise; you already thought of me as your daughter.  I was not prepared to think of you as my mom.  Nevertheless, I was warmed by the gesture.  I was going to marry your son.  We were going to be a family.

Somewhere along the way, you disowned me.  Was it when I made the decision that you wouldn't have made, to carry my precious son to term despite his prognosis?  Was it when I urged you to come out for Gabriel's birth, the birth of your first born, and thus far only born grandchild?  Was it when I brought him home and gave him a life and death with dignity, although it hurt to spend ten days wondering how much time was left?

You just don't know - you'll never know - what you missed when you chose to miss out on Gabriel.  You can't imagine the love the filled the room, along with Gabriel's two parents, his two grandfathers, and two of his three grandmothers - but not you.  You'll never know the peace that was given to us, despite our loss, when we had the opportunity to meet that little boy.  You'll never know the most incredible person your son and I have ever met.

I think of your beautiful Southern home that I loved so much to visit, and the pretty details of your decorating, and the fresh scent of your linens and towels, and the family photos that line the hallway.  And I know that mine is no longer hanging there.  And I know that your only grandson's never has.

I know what it is to be a mother.  I know what it is to love your children above anyone else, and desire their happiness above anything else.  But I don't know how you, or your son, turned your back on me so coldly.  You both turned your back on me when I had already lost the biggest part of my world.  He just stopped loving me, and if you ever loved me too, it seems you also just stopped.  I was just a blip in the timeline of your lives.  Blip. After you had the nerve to call me your daughter, to compare our relationship to that lifelong, inevitable bond. And then you turned your back.  Blip.

I recall, fondly, watching you and your son dance to "Simple Man" at our wedding.  Today, the song causes me to swell with mixed emotions as I think of the simple conversation I will never get to have with my baby boy.

You taught your son to tie his shoes.  You taught your son to cook.  You taught your son to respect his elders.

You love your son; and I love mine.  But somewhere along the way you failed to teach your son what I never had an opportunity to teach mine:  You don't leave.  You don't give up.  You don't love with conditions.  You don't run when times get hard.  You brace yourself to face them.  You love your wife, even when it's hard.  Your promise is everything, until it's broken, and then your promises never mean anything again.

You failed to tell him not to hurt your daughter. You failed to feel your daughter's pain.

You called me your daughter.  But you never called me to ask how I was doing.  You didn't offer your shoulder to me to cry on; instead you offered my partner an escape.  You offered him safe harbor to run to when he abandoned me.

You called me your daughter.  But I don't regret that I could never call you my mother.

Today I took the sapphire earrings that you gave to your son to present to me when he proposed.  I opened the velvet box and observed the untarnished glitter of the metal and stones.  I closed the box, and placed it next to me in the passenger seat of my car and as I drove to work, I rolled down the window and threw the box to the side of the road.  I hope someone finds them and hocks them and either has a warm meal or gets very drunk tonight - Whatever makes him or her happy.

I don't need your earrings.  I don't need your "mothering."  I don't need your conditional love and support on your terms.

You called me your daughter, but some "mother" you are.  I suppose, though, we all take lessons from even the worst of mothers.  Thank you, for giving your son somewhere to run when he abandoned me, so that today I could be free to love the people who are worthy of my love.  Thank you for cushioning his blow and leaving me to flail, so that I could grow stronger and love harder and live better.  Thank you, for teaching me the kind of woman I never want to be - It's made me the kind of woman I hope I'll always be.

Sincerely,
Andrea


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eden



Eden Capwell  was the blonde protagonist in the 1980s soap opera Santa Barbara.  And she was cool.   So when I was 13 years old I decided that when I had a daughter, I would name her Eden just like the character from the by-then-cancelled soap opera.

The name sorta stuck.  Every time I was pregnant, I considered it for the baby I was growing.  After the miscarriage and while carrying Gabriel, I stumbled across the name "Eliana," "The Lord answers our prayers."  It became Gabriel's selected middle name, in the event he were a girl and my Eden-to-be.  After Gabriel's diagnosis but before he was born, I began to sense that the next time around I would have a perfectly healthy baby girl, and she would be my Eden Eliana; my paradise, and the answer to my prayers.

But paradise was a long way away.  The life I knew was turned upside down before I could find myself living the life I dreamed of.

Although Eden's gender wasn't officially revealed until she was born, I knew in my heart she was a girl.  I was occasionally pricked with doubt as most people said I "looked" like I was carrying a boy.  But then one afternoon as I was walking down the hall from my office to the restroom, when two women, one with a little boy and a little girl in tow, stepped into the hall from another office.  The little boy looked at me and immediately ran to me.  He was probably about three.  He stayed with me even as I passed his mom, offering me the piece of chocolate in his hand, and never taking his eyes off of me.  That moment imprinted on me as the moment of greatest clarity that the baby I was carrying was indeed my sweet Eden.

Sometimes I look at Eden and I still can't believe she is real.  After all of the years, and the ups and the downs, and the hell that was this life without my son, my daughter came along and brought me Heaven on earth.  The baby girl I first imagined when I was 13 years old is here, and sometimes I still can't wrap my mind around her.

She is every bit my little girl - Stubborn, determined, at once independent and needy. I'm never quite sure what to do with her and most days I'm pretty sure I'm doing it all wrong. But until Eden, life never felt so right.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

On a Saturday Night. . .


We're in September, and the Major League Baseball Playoffs are right around the corner.  The Mariners are poised to take the wild card slot and compete in the playoffs for the first time since 2001. They've never been to a World Series, but this year devout fans believe that they might.

On a Saturday night Eden was curled up on the floor after a long day of outings.  She rolled over for me for the first time - She'd done it for her daddy more than a week ago and we've been waiting for a repeat since.  It was close to 9:00, past her usual bedtime, but she was content, staring at the TV and sucking her thumb.  The Mariners were playing the A's for a shot at usurping them as the #1 wildcard contender, with a 2-2 score going into the 9th inning, and for the first time, I was "watching" a game with my baby girl. We watched Fernando Riley throw a daring change-up pitch with a 3-2 count.  We watched the A's try to steal second base, only to get thrown out by the catcher in a play that was first called safe.  Lying next to her I muttered, "Don't make me become a supporter of instant replay."  Sure enough, thanks to instant replay, the runner was called out, ending the 9th inning and sending the game into extra innings.

On a Saturday night I laid next to my baby girl and enjoyed a moment that I have waited for.  In that moment, I felt the bitter, and I felt the sweet.  In that moment, I never missed my son more.

With every milestone, every laugh, every back-to-belly roll, my heart floods at once with thankfulness for my baby girl and longing for my 3 year-old baby boy. I lost my son, and that is a hurt that will never go away.  Never.

On a Saturday night I laid beside my baby girl, feeling the missing presence of Gabriel deep within me, but also feeling hope.  With Eden, the impossible feels possible.  Living without my son, which once felt impossible, now feels bearable.  With Eden, despite the Mariners' ultimate loss last night, the playoffs, the World Series even, still feels within reach.  With Eden, though California is suffering in the parched summer of what is allegedly the worst drought we've ever seen, it still feels possible that this winter Bakersfield may still see snow for the first time since 1999.  With Eden, falling in love again with her, with Marcos, doesn't feel like a risk.  It feels safe.  It feels inevitable.  It feels like anything is possible.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rollin'

It was the Sunday night before Labor Day, and I had unexpectedly been asked to work the closing shift at the bar. With the three day weekend I could sleep in the following day, so I agreed.  The night started out slow.  Jerry sat at one end of the bar and a few stragglers wandered in and out, but until about 8 o'clock business was only steady.

Around that time, my friends started to trickle in.  First Angie, then T.J., Troy, Lindsey, Blake, Shane and Chris.

"What are you smiling about?"  someone asked.

"I'm just so happy to have my friends here."

One day, you might wake up and find that everything has changed.  Your son is dead, and you're divorced, and you're re-building your life after it was blown apart shattered.  The friends who stood at your side on your wedding day are more like acquaintances now, not because of any sort of falling out, but simply because you're different people who live different lives - And because they aren't sure how to interact with you now that you've seen hell.

But there are a handful of friends who have walked with you through it all.  A couple of them, like Angie and T.J., were there when you did the unthinkable and buried your child.  A couple of them, like Troy and Shane, met you out for a drink when you just needed to escape.  They're the friends who knew they couldn't say anything to fix all that was wrong, but they stood there, holding you up when you wanted to fall.

And then there are the friends who chose to become your friends, even when you were at your worst.  Elise, who I'd known for years, but suddenly became one of the first people to whom I spilled the news of Gabriel's diagnosis.  Our friendship started when I thought the world was ending.  Or Lindsey, the friend who listens when I need her, but with whom I can sit in comfortable silence.  She's the friend that just shows up with an orchid on Gabriel's first birthday and makes blueberry lemon cupcakes on his second birthday and meets me for a drink and then comes out to a charity run at 7 on a Saturday on his third birthday.  Or Blake, who used to work with Ben; who had a front row seat as my marriage fell apart; who I got to keep in the divorce.

My life as I knew it disintegrated, but I was built back up again by people who make me better by showing me the kind of person I want to be.  They recognize my strengths.  They teach me how to improve where I am weak.  They do it all just by being there.  It feels weird at the age of almost-33 to say that I've got "new" best friends.  Best friends seem like something for kids.  They've become known to me simply as "the homies," and they're the best friends I've ever had.

They screened Marcos when he and I started dating.  He had to pass the homie test, and now he's been incorporated.  And when we announced that we were expecting our baby, we were greeted with sincere joy.

Friendships made as an adult require a lot more concentrated effort.  We're busy, and our lives are filled with major changes, and we don't see each other every day the way we might have as schoolchildren.  We're establishing careers, romantic relationships, families, homeownership - Grown up stuff. Sometimes, friendship means meeting at Eureka Burger on a Thursday night, and bringing your baby, and knowing you've only got a small window before you've got to get back home, but knowing the friends you will see are worth it.  With Marcos at my side, Eden in my lap, Elise, Lindsey, and later Tori sitting across from me, I knew my night would be stretched thin.  But I also know that no matter how busy life gets or how tired I am I never regret the time I spend just rollin' with my homies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why Should I Worry?



It was the summer of 1997 when the Hernandez Family, then a party of 5, traveled to the Rosedale area to answer an ad in the Bakersfield Californian for a free terrier dog.  We had recently lost our beloved German Shepherd Crystal, and had only just adopted Twink, a hodgepodge of working dog breeds.  We piled into the family car, a blue Subaru station wagon, to pick up Emily, whose family owned ranch property and horses but had to give Emily away because of her tendency to run between the horses' legs, nearly tripping them.  

Later that summer the station wagon was traded in for a new van when we learned that our family of 5, in addition to growing with the addition of Twink and Emily, would shortly be growing once again with the anticipated arrival of Victoria.  

And so we grew, and we watched Emily and Twink grow right alongside Victoria.  Emily became famous among us for two things: First, her tendency to shoot through a door or gate at any opportunity and run through the neighborhood without slowing down.  She usually had to be chased in a car and it took all available hands on deck to retrieve her.  Next, she was known for her wild fur.  No matter how often she was bathed, brushed or trimmed, she always had this orphaned look about her.  Her appearance reminded us of the character Rosco from Disney's Oliver and Company and when she looked especially scruffy to us, we'd affectionately sing to her "Why should I worry?  Why should I care?"  

Emily was far from an orphan, though.  She was always loved, especially by Monica.  While I took to Twink that summer, Emily quickly became Monica's pet.  The relationship between Twink and Emily was also undeniable and the mix-matched pair of "sisters" brought joy and laughter to the family.  Years later when Twink was diagnosed with diabetes and the illness blinded her and began to effect her temperament, we were stunned to see Twink start to turn on Emily, especially with the introduction of Lola, our family German Shepherd who moved in in October 2007.  Eventually, Twink's illness shut down her internal organs and we had to put her to sleep nearly 5 years ago.  We hoped that with Twink's sad passing, Emily and Lola could live in harmony again.  After a very close-call, Emily, who had always been an outdoor dog, moved indoors. 

We weren't sure, at her advanced age and her propensity for bolting, how Emily would transition, but it was just a matter of time before Emily was very apparently enjoying the life of an only-indoor dog.  She laid where she wanted to, ate when she wanted to, and generally lived a life of luxury.  

Emily and Monica soon became a staple sight around the neighborhood.  Monica took Emily on three walks a day to make sure she had an opportunity to use the bathroom.  She came home on her lunch hour to walk Emily or let her outside.  Once a month she would travel to Fresno to visit with a cloister of nuns whose order she was discerning, but she would call or text reminders to take Emily outside.  Each of those weekends, Emily would wait by the front door, hoping that the next time it opened, Monica would walk through.  

They were to ladies, set in their ways, a stoic pair whose consistency you could always depend on.  When I moved in three doors down from my parents and Monica, I could see her walk by my front yard every evening.  Even when I wondered if my ex-husband would ever come home, I could be certain that Monica and Emily would traverse by at some point before and after the sun went down.  

Emily's walks started getting shorter and shorter.  She struggled to make it around the block, and so they would take a short-cut through the alley.  Then, she could only make it to the end of the block and back.  In recent weeks, Monica and Emily have only paced the yard.  Last night, Emily couldn't even do that much. Through it all she did not whimper, did not cry, did not howl.   

This morning at 7:40 I walked three houses over to say my good-byes to Emily before Monica wrapped her in a towel and carried her to the vet's office where Monica would say her own good-byes.  

I figure, if Emily was a year old when we got her in the summer of 1997, as her former family told us she was, she was about 18 years old when she went to her final rest this morning.  Not a bad run, for a scrappy little dog who tripped horses and battled German Shepherds.  No matter what she was going through, no matter how she looked, no matter her limitations, she just kept moving along as best she could.  And I like to believe that no matter how much she struggled her last few years and especially months and days on earth, today she's running free, her fur a tangled mess, her "sister" Twink alongside her restored to perfect health, singing "Why should I worry?  Why should I care?" 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nano, Nano

"He's gone.  He's been down a few days."

My face crumpled and my body convulsed as I absorbed the information, only confirmation of what I already knew.

"Do you want me to call someone?"  I stared at him.  "Do you have a religious affiliation?"

I nodded.

"What is your religious affiliation?"

"Catholic." More emergency vehicles rolled by, their sirens silenced by this point.  A car marked "Kern County Coroner" passed.

It was true.  Sean was dead.

Nearly 10 years later the memories are still fresh enough to come flooding back when the news of a celebrity suicide captures the headlines.

Robin Williams, 64 years old, was a beloved actor.  We felt like we knew him.  We knew his voice.  We knew the twinkle in his eyes.  But we didn't know the depth of his internal struggle.

I was closer to Sean than anyone in the world on the day that he died.  I knew things were bad. I've spent years putting away the guilt I felt for not stopping him from putting that gun to his mouth.  Some people say I should feel angry at him for leaving like he did.  They would say that I should be angry at him for being selfish.  But they didn't know his heart.

What I feel much more powerfully than any other emotion when I think of Sean is a simple sadness that he is dead.

I am sorry I ever had to call his dad and say, "Sean is gone."  I am sorry that his mother will never dance with her son at his wedding.  I am sorry that I have found my soulmate, and somewhere out there Sean's is looking for hers but he's not here to be found.  I am sorry that we never got to have a real break-up, a real good-bye.  I am sorry that his 36th birthday just passed, but the world will never know a 36 year old Sean.

I am sorry that his life was cut short at 26 years old. I am sorry that at 22 I had to find his dead body, call the police, answer investigative questions about his last days, go to his funeral, be the battering ram for his mother whose grief far surpassed mine and whom I was the obvious target.  I'm sorry for the way that he's haunted my past relationships, and now that the guilt has been shelved and my memories of the event are bearable I am sorry that I ever had to come to terms with the death of my young boyfriend and best friend.

As I mourn the death of Robin Williams with the rest of the world, I can't help but mourn Sean.  He was the Mork to my Mindy, my best friend, forever young, and out of this world.

Be Good to Your Daughters.


The day the nurses placed Eden on my chest following the grand announcement that she was a girl, I thought two things:  First, I touched her perfect, round, whole head and marveled that she was real and healthy and here.

Then it hit me - I had no idea what I was going to do with a daughter.

There were the obvious concerns.  I hardly know what to do with my own hair, let alone the hair of a little girl.  I have pitiful fashion sense and I'm pretty shitty at applying make-up.

But my broader fears, the fears that kept me hoping for a brood of boys, have been creeping up on me.  How do I teach her to be selfless, without giving herself away?  How do I teach her to love others, but not at the expense of not loving herself?  How do I teach her to have a heart open to love and romance, but not to be a fool?  Or let her know that she is beautiful, but that beauty isn't everything?  Or impress upon her that she can be anything, an engineer, a doctor, or even a hairdresser?  How do I give her everything I can while letting her know that everything means nothing without love, family, and God?  How do I strike the balance in guiding her to do what's right while loving her no matter what she does wrong?

Her daddy looks at her with an easy love, while I look at her with fear.  How do I keep from screwing her up?  How do I teach her to be stronger than me?

Most importantly, how do I let her know how much she has brightened my world, without condemning her to live in Gabriel's shadow?  How do I let her know that although I still think Gabriel hung the stars for me, she is my sunshine?  Eden is my Heaven on earth.

I find myself afraid, running from how much I love her.  Over the last three years longing for Gabriel has become the status quo.  It's not surprise to me anymore.  But sometimes I am sitting at my desk at work while Eden is at daycare, and I feel this surge through my body accompanied by an intense desire to hold her in my arms and I know that I am missing her. And I know that feeling is nothing less than unconditional love.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bases Loaded



Tuesday night I leaned on the bar, glued to the TV.  In Arlington, TX the bases were loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning, Yankees 12, Rangers 11.  The Mariners had already secured a win against Cleveland.  With a genuine shot at the playoffs this year while the Yankees scrape at their heels, every Mariners win matters, and so does every New York loss.  Besides, every time the Yankees lose, somewhere on the East Coast, Bar Crush cries.  Adrian Beltre was up to bat with a full count and a reckless, nervous swing.  It all came down to one pitch.

Beltre swung, sending a fly ball to left field, easily fielded for a Yankees win at the last possible moment.

My favorite part of baseball are those moments between that pitch that could make all the difference, and the hit that could make all the difference.  That face-off between the batter and the pitcher where all the tension lies is long and silent, and frequently what causes people to describe the American passtime as "boring," when I think it's about as exciting as life gets.

These days, my bases are loaded.  I returned to work this week.  Yesterday I woke up, gave Eden her bottle, got dressed for work, got her dressed for daycare, brushed against Marcos in our hurried passing, ate my breakfast pre-made on Sunday night, knocked back a cup of coffee, dropped Eden off at Grandpa's, went to the office for a second day of catch-up.  I spent the day trying to prioritize files that I hadn't touched for three months.  Somehow I found the time to e-mail the mock trial teacher coach that I work with; our season will be starting soon with a boot camp for hopeful new students.  Throughout the day I found myself longing for my daughter, and throughout every day I long for my son.

Sometime before 5 I left, grabbed a burger from a fast-food drive through, came home to feed my dogs and mix a batch of baby formula while I waited for Marcos to bring Eden home.  We had some quick cuddles, but she was already cranky, and I had to leave for my closing shift at the bar. There I relaxed into the routine of pouring and chatting and counting the weekly inventory, and watching a baseball game.  I was thankful to share those final moments of anticipation with T.J., a surprise visitor on my Tuesday night shift.

I'm overwhelmed.  Through a series of choices - good and bad - this is the life I've chosen for myself.

I'm up to bat, facing off with time.  My job, my friends, and my extracurricular commitments load the bases, and I love every step along the way.  I love my beautiful, tense, fruitful, stressful perfectly imperfect life. But at the end of the day, all I want to do is make it home.



Monday, July 21, 2014

Remembering Amanda Zubia

Once, just once, in my life I wondered whether I had it in me to be a criminal defense attorney.  I must say "it," because I'm not quite sure how to explain the qualities of a criminal defense attorney.  I know that in large part being a criminal defense attorney is an innate part of one's character, in their heart probably before one realizes that is their calling.  So, of course, the case that called into question my capacity to pursue that calling was one that tugged at my heart and reached that innate part of me that I still can't put my finger on.

Ten years ago Amanda Zubia was 17 years old, and the mother of a toddler boy, when she was summoned to a home in East Bakersfield.  There, four young women including Amanda's cousin, and a young man were waiting for her.  Over the course of two days believed to be July 12 and July 13, 2004, in a display of complete depravity, Amanda was tortured and beaten by this group of perpetrators, a fact established by snapshots taken with a disposable camera and found at the home.  She was struck, burned with cigarettes, bound and gagged and thrown on the floor to be kicked, had chunks of her hair ripped out, and was taunted.

Amanda was kicked in the face, causing major crushing to her facial bones.  Her perpetrators believed that blow to be fatal so they folded her body into a suitcase, where she suffocated and died. She was then stuffed into a 55-gallon oil drum, which was filled halfway with cement, and stored in a garage in a home near East Bakersfield High School.  On July 19, 2004 when neighbors complained of the smell coming from the garage, her body was discovered by the police.

For the rest of that summer I was haunted by Amanda's story and the horror that must have been her final hours.  She was somebody's little girl.  She was somebody's mother.  Stuff like that just doesn't happen in Bakersfield.  I was especially bothered by the fact that four women were involved in her death.  Women just don't do stuff like that.  Yet, it didm and they did.  And they would need lawyers.  What would I do if any one of those were assigned to me for representation?  I didn't know, then, if I could do it.

All of Amanda's perpetrators were caught.  The defense tactic was an obvious one:  Everyone alleged they had the lesser role.  That defense was bolstered when the young man involved, Robert Vallejo, was killed in jail.  How easy it became to allege that Vallejo was the ringleader and the greatest aggressor, once he was unavailable to deny it.

I think of Amanda often.  By now, some of her perpetrators may have been released.  Over the years information about the case has become less available and I've been unable to look up articles today to confirm their sentences, but I remember clearly thinking that this girl died a horrible death, and within ten years more than one of these aggressors would be set free.  I remember at the time thinking about how unjust the punishments seemed given the depraved nature of the crimes.

I wish I could say that the lawyer in me now believes the punishments were acceptable, but I can't.  All I can do is hope for a conversion of the hearts of those women who participated in Amanda's killing.  Whether I like it or not, some of them may be walking the streets already.  I am, if nothing else, a firm believer that when we set a convicted person free we accept that they have done their time for their crimes and they should be able to carry on with their lives.  I hope they can find gainful employment, re-establish meaningful relationships and live fruitful lives.  God knows, the odds are stacked against them and they should have someone in their corner.  I hope for the best for them, because the worst has already happened to Amanda and there's no undoing it.

Her little boy will be a teenager soon, if he's not already. I pray that he's managed to have a peaceful life.

I pray for Amanda's mother's peace.  During those days when she was held captive Amanda called her mother, Blanca, and asked to be picked up from the house.  Not knowing what was about to happen, Blanca refused to go get Amanda.  I am sure she's wrestled with guilt over the years.

Now a mother myself to a little boy whose suffering and death I witnessed, and to a little girl whom I would lay down my life to protect, I still can't imagine what Blanca's life has been like since Amanda's been gone. I suspect that I am not the only local who still remembers Amanda's case and I hope her mother's heart can be warmed by the knowledge that though Amanda is gone, she is still remembered.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Crying It Out



For several weeks now my counselor has been urging me to consider the use of antidepressants.  And it's no wonder.  Several weeks ago when Eden wouldn't stop crying in the lobby of the doctor's office, I could have walked out of that lobby and left her behind, believing I would never look back.  Postpartum depression, unsurprisingly, hit me like a truck.  With my history of depression and emotional trauma, anyone could have seen it coming, and the recommendations to medicate myself began even before Eden was born, and have continued.

"No.  I'm just going to tough this out.  I'm going to cry this out."  I feel no sense of shame associated with the use of antidepressants.  I'm a believer in their effectiveness.  I accept the medical facts which indicate that some people will only have a normal life with the assistance of psychotropic medications.  I'm just not convinced I am one of those people.

As the weeks went by, I did cry.  I always had the sense to step back from the situation and cry, but I did cry.  Sometimes that meant that Eden had to cry too.  Sometimes we cried together.  Sometimes I cried as she fed contentedly, her primal need having been met and all of her newborn demands satisfied.

I'm certainly not the first mother to feel as I do.  I'm certainly not the first mother to wonder if I'm doing anything right at all.  "They" say that's how you know you are in fact doing something right, when you're assessing your actions.

The trick then becomes to find a balance that works for you.  Every parent wishes that their child never had to cry, experience pain, feel hunger.  But that's part of life.  When Eden made it to Day 11, when she was born healthy with a long life ahead of her, she was also on track to experience every one of those things.

I recognize my calloused nature as Eden cried herself to sleep in her bassinet today.  I've grown weary of her dependence on the swing to fall asleep during naptime and decided today, she was going to cry it out.  After rocking her to a light sleep, I placed her in her bassinet for her scheduled nap.  Now used to her routine, she'd already shown the signs of being tired and ready for that nap.  Having become reliant on the swing to rock her through her naptime, she cried as soon as I set her down, which is when I decided to test the recent bit of information I've read that the average baby her age will cry for 5 to 35 minutes before settling down to sleep.  I guess 42 minutes is close enough.  I should take pride in her strong-will and determination, really.

"They" also say that a baby's cry is irritating to an adult as nature's way of pushing us to soothe that baby.  It makes us want to fix whatever's wrong.  Perhaps I lack that instinct, because as Eden cried I was primarily annoyed that I couldn't hear the television.

That is not to say that listening to Eden "cry it out" was easy.  I forced myself to stay in the room with her, though I was occupied with other things, knowing if I was going to do this, I must not distance myself too much from the situation. I wondered what kind of damage I might be doing to her infant psyche, how this crying session will manifest itself when she is 13 years old.  Maybe now she'll be a sociopath.  I questioned what kind of mother straightens her hair and watches "Devious Maids" while her 2-month old baby cries.  I almost caved.  I have caved in these situations before.  I see nothing wrong with caving, and being that mother who picks her child up and soothes her after a given amount of time, or even with the mother who holds her child for the duration of her nap.  I just don't want to be that mother.  I want to be the mother who loves her baby enough to let her cry, because sometimes she's just gonna have to cry.  That's life.

In less than three weeks I have to return to work, and I won't be there to hold her through her naps.  I don't want to go - I have to go.  I simply can't hold her for the rest of my life, as much as I might want to.

There will be times when I won't be able to soothe the hurt or fix the wrong.  There will be times when all I have to offer is an embrace, a fruitless remedy done only for comfort.  There will be times when I won't even be able to give her that much.  I would love to create a world where Eden never has to hurt.  I just can't.

When Eden woke for her scheduled feeding with a whimper I took my time to respond to her as I finished preparing her bottle in the next room.  When I leaned over her bassinet she appeared relieved to see me, and I was relieved by her relief.  I thought she might be mad at me.  She looked into my eyes as she drank her bottle, and continued looking at me even when I took the empty bottle away.  She sat on my lap and cuddled with me for the duration of the hour, observing her microworld in the living room from the security of my arms, leaning against me knowing that I was there, even if she couldn't see me.  That's what I want for her.  I want her to be able to lean on me, even as she grows more and more independent.  I want her to know I am always there, even when she can't see me.  I want her to know that the adage is true:  It hurts me more than it hurts her, even when I don't show it.  And I will rarely show it.  I want her to know that I am doing the best I can, that I've given her all that I can.  Sometimes my all means that we both just have to cry it out.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Blessed Broken Road



Ten-plus years ago in San Diego, I lived with an ex-boyfriend named Luke.  Letting him move in with me was, to say the least, stupid.  He had a number of personal problems. I was bouncing back and forth between denying the rape, and feeling the burn of the memory while in a drunken stupor.  Unsurprisingly, we crashed and burned.  But I loved Luke, and I wondered about him for years.  I had a need to know that he was okay, and I had an abiding faith that God would place him in my path again when we were both happy and healthy.

About two years ago I looked him up on Facebook.  There he was.  I sent him a friend request.  He sent me a message.  "How are you?  I think of you often, and hope you are doing well."  He passed through town sometime that summer, and asked if he and his son could meet me for dinner, and I did.  I walked into that encounter with a hope, and I got what I'd hoped for:  Luke had a stable life, was working hard, had resolved many of his problems.  He thought of me over the years not because he thought we were meant to be or he wanted to get back together, but because we mattered to each other, and we mattered in the course of the other's life.  We took something from our experiences together, and that something informed who we had become.

Luke and I said good-bye with a friendly hug.  We remain friends on Facebook.  My last message from him was a kind congratulations on Eden's birth, sent on Mother's Day.

Despite my fervent wishes, Ben has never really had it in him to wish me a happy Mother's Day.  I've always wondered why, and think it cruel that he can't muster those three words, but I guess the real question is why I want to hear or read those words from him so badly.  I've put my finger on the answer:  I want to know that I mattered to him.  He mattered to me.  I want to know that our child was the product of mutual love and respect.  I want a reason to believe that our son was not broken because we were broken.  I want to know that I was special enough that ten-plus years down the road he'll still think of me and our son, and our brief moment in time.

Last night as I ran a knife through leaves of basil in a chiffonade, creating ribbons of green, I recalled my cooking lessons with Ben and learning classic knife cuts.  I thought of the words incorporated into my vocabulary and the songs in my library and the tools in my kitchen which are the result of my relationship with Ben. His influence and his memory peppers my life.

He is one of the dips in my broken road, ranking the most noteable because of the level of our commitment.  We stood before God and promised each other our lives, and now our vows have made a liar of me and I have become a promise-breaker.  My words don't seem to mean much anymore.

As I stand on the precipice of making that same commitment to Marcos, I wonder if I am to be believed.  I wonder if I can believe in him.  I wonder if I've finally come to the end of the broken road.

Over the duration of my maternity leave I have been watching the television series "How I Met Your Mother," the 9-season story of one man's quest for love.  Ted Mosby is perhaps the most relateable character I have ever encountered on TV.  A man after my own heart, he has searched high and low for love, allowing himself to fall deeply and sometimes carelessly.  Every time he was in love, it was genuine, even if it wasn't meant to be.  I am approaching the final two seasons, and as I do I know that they will result in Ted finding his future wife under a yellow umbrella.

How fitting that Ted, my television parallel, would find love under an umbrella, with rain pouring down around the two of them.  Won't there always be rain?  And wouldn't it be so much more bearable to have someone to face the rain with?

Marcos must be what waits for me under the umbrella, but I find myself more guarded with him than I have ever been in my own search for love.  He is probably the least-risky investment my heart has ever had to make.  The same is true of Eden.  But I am callused from having loved and lost and I am still scarred by the depth of those losses which have me questioning who I am, whether I am worthy of love, and whether I have it in me to return that love.

I think of our close encounter, the night we met at Charly's 8 years ago, and what has filled those interim years, and I wonder why that couldn't have been our beginning.  Why couldn't we start right then? It's not fair.  Life's not fair.

I am sometimes ashamed of the extent of my past, of the number of dysfunctional relationships and the number of times I have permitted my heart to be broken.  I feel that each of those events have stripped the woman that Marcos deserves.  Still, he seems to love me anyway.  He seems to be unafraid of my scars. He seems to be willing to stay.  It seems I matter to him now, and I will always matter to him, which leads me to believe that maybe God has indeed blessed the broken road that led me straight to Marcos Lopez.


Friday, June 13, 2014

No Footprint So Small



"How long ago was this?" the man next to me at the bar asked about Gabriel's birth and death.
  I was at Amestoy's to speak with the bartender, Jessica, about advertising Gabriel's Magic Mullet Run.  The fundraiser will benefit Duke University Molecular Physiology Institute's research study of anencephaly.

"He would be three in June."

"And you're still on this?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're still working on this condition?"  He kept looking at the wallet-sized picture of Gabriel that accompanied the sponsor request letter.

I find that people are frequently in awe of my efforts towards research.  It's a feeling that you have to experience to understand, but it's an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone, which is exactly why I continue raising funds to find a cause, and perhaps someday a remedy or at least something beyond palliative care for babies with anencephaly.  Until you've lost your child to the condition, you can't understand the burning desire to protect even one more family from that grief.  Until your child dies before he can walk, talk, run, or write you can't understand the fervent hope that he will be remembered although his time on earth was short.
There is no footprint so small that it cannot make an imprint in this world.

I'd heard the above platitude many times before it applied to my son Gabriel.  It was nothing more than a platitude until my son started leaving his footprint all over the world.

The motivation to honor his memory, broaden awareness, and promote research isn't just something that lives in me.  I've been inspired by the women who have shared this experience with me.  Missy Axt, after the birth and death of her daughter Grace Mary, makes items for NICU babies and does presentations about anencephaly.  Jenny Lees, Palmer Joseph's mother, knits caps for NICU babies, and promotes organ donor awareness.  Bethany Conkel, mother to Amalya Nathaniel, is also tireless in her efforts to raise awareness of infant organ donation.  Amy Hale creates memorial memes for other anencephaly moms, after her daughter Makenna was born with anencephaly.  And Kelly Alvstad,  whose son Andrew Layne also lived for ten days, does fundraising for the March of Dimes.

Each of us have been inspired by the woman who has done the greatest amount of work towards anencephaly awareness and support for families who carry to term, Monika Jaquier.  Monika's daughter Anouk was born with anencephaly nearly 14 years ago.  Monika lives in Switzerland, and when Anouk wa diagnosed Monika learned there was very little support for families who carry to term, and a tremendous push to terminate the pregnancy.

Monika Jaquier created the network of support that led Missy, Jenny, Kelly, Amy, Bethany and I together through the adverse diagnosis of our children.  These women met their adversity head-on.  I want to be like these women when I grow up.

My motivations are also slightly selfish.  This time of year surrounding Gabriel's birth and death can be very bittersweet.  The stillness can bring out the bitterness.  It helps to have something to focus on, something to work towards, something that makes me feel like I'm fixing things because I couldn't fix my little boy.

Tomorrow is Gabriel's Magic Mullet Run.  The mullet theme was inspired by the movie "Joe Dirt," about a man born with a piece of his skull missing.  Joe was given a mullet wig, which fused to his head and protected his brain.

I wish it were that simple.  I wish Gabriel could be here with me now, rockin' a mullet.  But since he can't be, I've done my best to get as many people as I can to rock that mullet for him, in hopes that one day we can find the real-life remedy.

Tomorrow friends, family, and local runners will leave footprints in the trails at Rio Bravo Ranch in Bakersfield, because a little boy was born with anencephaly and left his footprints in this world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Color Blue


I haven't woken to anything but the sounds of Eden since May 3, 2014, the day she was born.  Still, the first thought to cross my mind was that today is June 10, 2014, Gabriel's 3rd birthday. At this time three years ago I was floating on an epidural cloud, knowing my son would be born that day, anxious to see the face of the boy that won my heart the moment I learned that he was on his way.  I'd waited my whole life for that day.  I was made for that day.

The course had been set, and I'm not sure when.  Maybe it was that day that Ben sat down next to me at Shooters, or maybe it was the day Gabriel's neural tube failed to close.  But I think I had been on this path for a long time, since I was a kid watching that "Not my Richie!" scene in "La Bamba" and tears would sting my young eyes as though I knew that someday I would experience that grief.

Now here I am, a grieving mother, learning every day how to live when my baby boy does not.  It's a daily struggle that never really becomes easier, just more familiar.

My life right now is perfect.  It's perfect, even though Eden frustrates me and Marcos drives me crazy and Gideon busted out of the yard last night and made me chase him down the street.  My life is perfect, and full of color.  I'm living in a rainbow.

When I pull into my driveway, the blueberry bush from three years ago greets me.  The bush was purchased during my pregnancy with Gabriel, and I had given up on the brown, dried out plant when my sister discovered a green shoot at the bottom.  I decided to give the bush a chance.  I trimmed back its dead leaves and watered it and fed it Miracle Gro.  And now, I have blueberries.

In the last few years there were so many times when I could have given up and changed the course that had been set for me.  I could have terminated my pregnancy with Gabriel.  I could have walked away from my marriage the moment Ben walked away from me, or maybe I even could have just listened to my instincts which gave me hesitation before I got married in the first place.  Then maybe I would have shared my experience with Gabriel with someone who would still be around to share it with me today.  Or maybe I never would have had Gabriel at all.

I could have ignored that first e-mail in my Match.com inbox, the one from Marcos that changed both our lives.  But then what would I be missing.

The journey that has brought me to this point in my life has been bittersweet, but when I look around there's really nothing more that I could ask for.  I could say that I wish my son were here now, but such a wish is fruitless.  He's not here.  He can't be here.  No amount of wishing can bring him back to me, can undo our path and make him whole.  Gabriel is who he is, was what he was, is and was everything he was supposed to be.

My son had anencephaly.  He lived for ten days, against all odds.  He died in my arms and I miss him dearly every day of my life and I feel it in the deepest part of myself.  Still my life is perfect, and I might never have known that it is perfect if I had never known the color blue.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

MILFFin' It


There are a few things that I have learned since Eden was born:  First, Target brand diapers are my favorite.  Second, I can in fact still get to my destinations on time, but I will very likely have forgotten something in order to get there.  Third, I am even more vain than I ever realized.

It was my vanity that motivated me to continue breastfeeding Eden the first few days after birth.  I realized right away that I hated it.  My first indication that I would hate it was in the hospital, when I learned that every time I tried to nurse Eden, I felt exposed and vulnerable.  The feelings were likely remnants from a sexual assault that took place 13 years ago, an experience that has mostly been dealt with but still makes its occurrence known in these types of situations.  I refused to nurse Eden anywhere but home, which kept me tethered to my house and unable to escape for more than two hours at a time.  Even then, I couldn't enjoy a feeling of closeness to my daughter because I was so overwhelmed by the feeling of vulnerability, and the paranoid concern that someone could attack Eden or me at any moment, and I would be exposed an unable to protect us.

Still, I pressed on, proud that my daughter had never ingested a formed product, because I knew that breastfeeding was the swiftest way to lose my baby weight.  As my belly, stretched by the weight of carrying a 9 pound, 11 ounce child, shrunk dramatically nearly day by day, I had all the incentive I needed to continue.  After a couple of weeks, I began pumping in order to build up a surplus so that I could leave with Eden without worrying about getting back in time for her feedings.  I was thus introduced to new horrors, strapped to a milking machine like a dairy cow.  I hid from view, never permitting anyone but my unknowing infant to see me using the breast pump.

Then one day I realized that I couldn't hold my daughter without her wanting to nurse from me.  She wouldn't cuddle without being fed first.  She go from peaceful sleep in a strangers arms to a screaming fit when she was transferred to me, clearly wanting to nurse even if only for comfort.  I'd wanted, during pregnancy, to be a MILF when it was all over, but I'd become a MILFF, a mom I'd like to feed from.  I was just a human buffet.

I developed an aversion to breastfeeding, particularly at night.  I grew agitated with Eden's feedings, and the more agitated I got, the longer she wanted to feed, probably because the more stressed out I got, the harder it was for her to get milk from me.  I began to consider discontinuing with nursing and using formula.  The idea would cross my mind frequently but waqs always dismissed.  I was physically able to breastfeed, and I couldn't come up with a "good" reason to stop, especially knowing how many women struggle to breastfeed.

We'd had a box of prepared formula in our cabinets since before Eden was born, in case she or I couldn't nurse.  I could see the box every time I opened the cabinet and would think about how easy it would be to just give her the formula.  But I was stubborn, and proud.  And suffering emotionally at nearly every feeding.

Last night, when Eden was 5 weeks old, I relented.  I simply said to Marcos, "Let's try the formula."  Marcos fixed a bottle for her, and I watched with tears in my eyes as he sat down to feed her.  After having had only breastmilk for the first 5 weeks of her life, my baby was drinking formula, and I was sad and relieved at the same time. I couldn't watch for long, and went outside with my dogs, who still needed me.

There's a big cultural push these days for women to exclusively breastfeed, but I didn't continue to nurse Eden because of that cultural push.  There's also a push to wear skinny jeans, drive a hybrid car, and abort anencephalic babies, and I don't do any of those things.  I think I kept up nursing out of stubborn pride.  I have always asserted that I can do anything for my babies, so I should be able to do this too.  It finally occurred to me that stubborn pride isn't a very good reason to make myself miserable.

Today we have alternated between breastmilk and formula at every other feeding.  I've missed our quiet moments, but I've enjoyed having her look me in the eye during her bottle feedings as opposed to having her face pressed against me in hungry indifference.  I've been able to enjoy watching Marcos feed our daughter several times today, and I've enjoyed the freedom that has come with not being saddled by the obligation to nurse.

I love my daughter deeply, and have loved her since long before she was born or even conceived. I wanted to be able to give her the world.  I'm going to have to settle for giving her my love, and hope that will be enough.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Be Not Afraid


"You'll outgrow it," my mom used to say of my crippling and irrational fear of the dark.  By now we both know that's simply not true.  I'm 32 years old, and still sleep with a nightlight.

As the words to "Be Not Afraid," one of the hymns played at Gabriel's funeral, were sung at Mass during Communion yesterday, the tears flowed from my eyes as I recalled my little boy who knew no fear.  Cynics might say he was a baby, that he didn't know fear or any emotions, really, because his mind wasn't developed and in particular, Gabriel's anencephalic mind had sustained developmental failure and he was incapable of ever feeling any emotions.  But, you only had to be around Gabriel in those final hours to know that he was fearless.  There was just something about him that told you that he was not afraid.

My son was the bravest person I ever knew, and so I feel so inadequate now, an adult with a fear of the dark.  Thanks to Eden's arrival I find myself in at least semi-darkness more thank I ever have, lest too much lighting wake her and also keep me from coveted sleep.

Eden has been, to say the least, a challenge.  Most of the challenges were expected, and no different than what most parents face.  Interrupted sleep, crying for unknown reasons, and other newborn struggles were anticipated.  What I didn't expect was the difficulty I've had connecting with Eden.

Throughout my pregnancy with Eden, I never felt connected to her the way I did with Gabriel, a connection he and I shared from the moment I learned I was pregnant.  I suspected the distance was my way of defending myself against my fears that I would lose her too.  The trouble, now, is that I am still not completely convinced that she is here to stay.  I find myself just shutting down , especially when someone else is around to handle her.  I sense that she sees me as nothing more than her personal buffet, and it hurts.  With my defenses on red alert, and her carnal survival mode switch turned on, we are living in nothing more than a parasatic relationship, and I crave more.  Ironically, it is that nursing relationship, the one that is supposed to bond us, which seems to make it impossible for her to find comfort with me any other way.

This became quite evident when I went for my post-partum exam, Eden in tow.  She started crying in her carseat and I worried that we would have to excuse ourselves from the appointment, knowing that she refuses to be comforted simply by my arms.  The medical assistant offered to hold her during the exam, but I warned that her crying would quickly escalate to screaming and advised that it was best if we left.  When I agreed to give the assistant's plan a chance, I nearly cried when she was able to comfort Eden to sleep.  The assistant looked at me helplessly.  "I think she was just already tired."  She seemed to want to convey to me that I am not a bad mother.  Still, the thought crossed my mind, not for the first time, that I could walk out of that office and never see her again, and she would never miss me.  Anyone could replace me.

When the exam was complete the nurse practitioner said to me, "As a first time mother it can be overwhelming.  I see that you're feeling that way."

"I have a son."

"You. . .?"

"I have a son.  He had anencephaly."

"You have a son.  But he didn't make it.  So as a first time mother. . ."

I never see myself as a first time mother, I guess because I'm not.  I'm overwhelmed, yes.  I'm hormonal, too.  I'm also extremely conflicted, because people do shit like explicitly ignore my assertions that I was a mother to my son, who was real and alive too, and he's gone from this earth but not gone from my heart.  I know that people mean well when they tell me that Eden is here now, that this is my life now and she is its center, but the notion has not been so easy for me to adopt.  He should be here, an almost-three-year-old pain in my ass.  Gabriel should be clinging to the hem of my skirt, begging for attention when I am feeding Eden, poking at her just when I've calmed her, waking her from sleep with his noise.  His absence is felt just as his presence would be.

Everything about Eden seems so contrary to Gabriel. Her cries are a stark contrast to his silence.  Her eyes, with their surprising alertness, take me back to Gabriel's blank, blind stare.  Even her dark hair, covering her complete skull, remind me of the absence of Gabriel's skull, which was circled with blond hair.  And my inability to comfort Eden, and the fact that I am replaceable for her, reminds me of how Gabriel and I simply seemed meant to be.  He needed me, not quite as much as I needed him.  Together, we were fearless.

Eden doesn't need me.  That scares me.  That scares me more than Gabriel's impending death ever did.  I see in her my own strong will and determination, even now when she is only one month old.  I don't know how to love this independent reflection of myself, because I am so afraid of yet another unrequited love. As much as she resists me, I am still deeply in love with her, and I'm afraid she will never love me back.  I'm afraid she will break my heart.

I, ever the romantic cynic, remain dedicated to trying to earn her favor.  I continue to nurse her, although I hate it and don't want to. It's the only thing I can do for her that makes me special to her.

I continue to walk through the darkness for Eden, uncertain of what might be out there, even in my own living room.  I continue to hope that someday she'll appreciate the fears I had to face to carry and raise her, and I will be special to her.  I continue to hope that she'll learn to love me in return.