Thursday, January 30, 2014

Just For One Day

Looking back, maybe it was a mistake for Ben and I to choose David Bowie's "Heroes" as the entrance song to our wedding reception. We like David Bowie, and "Heroes" is twistedly romantic in its own way, a tale of a self-destructive couple who peaked, crashed, and burned.

I don't like to be called a hero. But Ben and I, we were heroes. We were heroes, just for one day.

One day a doctor told us if our child were born alive, he or she would die shortly thereafter. That was three years ago, January 31, 2011. Those words devastated us, terrified us. They changed everything about us. They set us on an irreversible track. But with those words we learned something else: There wasn't a thing any doctor could tell us that could make us stop loving our baby.

One day we sat in Mass and listened to Deacon Dan's homily on late term abortion, an option that we had been offered. Deacon Dan described the procedure wherein a solution is injected into the unborn fetus' heart to stop its beating, and then the forceps are used to remove the baby from its mother, possibly limb by limb. Ben leaned over and said to me, "We are not doing that to our baby." Because there was nothing anyone could tell us to make us hurt our child.

We saw an expert and she confirmed the worst news we'd ever received. We went for another very special ultrasound and learned that our child was our very special baby boy. We named him, and we shared his story with the world.

One day we walked into a hospital to induce labor and welcome Gabriel into the world, knowing our "hello" would soon lead to "goodbye." One day, against the odds, we took our son from that hospital knowing he would die in our home. One day we made a decision to share Gabriel's photographs, even those where his defect was apparent, because there wasn't a thing anyone could say to make us ashamed of our son.

One day we watched our son seize and suffer for five hours. We told him how much we love him. We told him he didn't have to be strong anymore. We told him it was okay to leave us. There was nothing on this earth, not even our own grief, that was worth our son's suffering.

We held him as he took his last breath, we prepared his tiny body for cremation, we announced his passing to our family and friends, and we planned his funeral. One day, one moment at a time.

A hero isn't a hero for simply doing what is right. That's all we did: The right thing. We're heroes because these days, not enough people do the right thing. 92 to 98% of mothers like me elect to terminate their pregnancies on diagnosis. 92 to 98% of families allow the fear to take over and they forget that they, too, love their child more than they fear any diagnosis, more than they want relief from their grief, more than they dread watching their child suffer. They all have it in them to do what Ben and I did. We're not special. We just listened to our hearts above all else.

We're not unshakeable. The choices we made after Gabriel's death are proof. True to the song's protagonists, I was mean and he drank all the time, and sometimes I drank all the time too. We said cruel things. We grew cold. We allowed ourselves to grow apart. We peaked with Gabriel, and then we crashed and burned and ended in a divorce just short of two years after receiving our devastating news.

We live separate lives now, on separate ends of the country, sharing only our experience with Gabriel. But even after it all, we can still say that were heroes. Just for one day.

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