Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Adventures of Gideon & Noelle

"While you were gone, your dogs went swimming in your neighbor's pool."

Let's back up here.

I was on my way to Phoenix for a my friend Clint's wedding. In the eight years that I had known him, he'd always wanted to find a good woman, and I'd always wanted him to find a good woman, and I couldn't be happier that he was starting a new life with someone, even while my former life with someone was ending.

It was the first time I had ever flown alone. Per Murphy's Law, my connecting flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix was cancelled. The airline switched me to a different flight, which was in another terminal in the small city known as LAX. I ran to the re-assigned terminal, was delayed while going through security again, cursed the overbearing rules of flying in this 'free' country, and ran to my gate, only to find that I was too late to catch my flight. Convinced that the Powers that Be were trying to tell me I should just head home, so I hopped a shuttle bus to one of the rental car depots and planned to just drive back to Bakersfield. That is, until I discovered that my ID had been lost somewhere in the airport. I used the remainder of my phone battery to call my parents, who drove down to LA to pick me up. I was slumped in the backseat of their car when my dad made the announcement.

"While you were gone, your dogs went swimming in your neighbor's pool."

"They went swimming? Wait. . . They what?"

"Boyd and Mary found them in their pool. Gideon was starting to go under. They had to get him out, but they were afraid to because he always barks at them. But, he let them, and they got him."

Based on the statements of neighborhood witnesses, this is what we were able to piece together: Missing planks from the fence in my backyard that border the alley indicated that Gideon and Noelle escaped through that opening. A neighbor from across the street, a detective with the Bakersfield Police Department, spotted them at the west end of the alley. When he tried to approach, they turned and headed eastbound. The detective gave up pursuit and instead contacted my dad to retrieve them. After evading the police and passing by the opening to their own yard once again, Gideon and Noelle made their way to the front of the street. Boyd and Mary were working in their garage, the door open. They slipped past them undetected and entered the pool. When they were discovered, Noelle was paddling happily, but Gideon had made his way to the deep end and couldn't figure out how to get out of the water. He allowed Boyd and Mary to assist him, albeit, skeptically. Mary opened the adjoining gate from their yard to mine, and Gideon and Noelle electively passed through.

"He was really struggling," Boyd said when I obtained his statement. "I think that's why he let me help him. We really didn't know how he would react." It's true that I've seen Gideon take a treat directly from someone's hand, swallow the treat, then bark aggressively at the offeror. I couldn't really predict how he might react to someone saving his life.

"If we hadn't found them when we did, I don't think he would have made it." And the statement was like the crack of the bat that in a home run hit. The words struck me with force. Suddenly being stuck in LA seemed like such a small thing. That night rather than getting scolded, the dogs received love and relieved hugs.

Sometime later Gideon had a maintenance surgery on his hip. His immediate recovery didn't go well, and one morning when his incision was oozing I panicked and called the vet's office. They were able to sneak me in later in the morning, but I would have to go to work in the interim. I made arrangements with Brian, the dogs' best friend and walker, to pick up Gideon and meet me at the vet's office. When I arrived, suited up for a morning hearing, Brian already had Gideon in the waiting room.

Despite his oozing wound Gideon jumped up to greet me. I squatted in my pencil skirt to hug and kiss him, and looked up at Brian.

"Thank you so much for doing this. This thing with Gideon is the most stressful thing I have ever been through."

"You've never had kids, have you?" intoned a woman across the waiting room. Clinging to the fur around Gideon's neck I turned to her briefly and said, "I have a son. He died when he was ten days old." I looked back at Brian for a moment, then at Gideon. The unspoken words hung heavily in the air: "If something happens to Gideon, I'll have nothing left."

In the moment, the panic and fear were very real, but I've since made amendments to my reality. I would be devastated if something were to happen to Gideon, but I would have to find a way to keep it together to look after Noelle. I've since added Marcos and the four-legged Zeke to the mix, now residents in the Yellow House. Rocco, of course, remains rather unobtrusive as of yet, but will be adding to the chaos shortly. My life is in fact quite full, and more meaningful than I used to believe.

As I type Gideon, Noelle, and Zeke are outside enjoying some much-needed rain in our valley. Feeding them will be an ordeal tonight, and I'll have to leave them outside long enough to eat and then take care of business before bringing them in for shelter from what I anticipate will be an increasingly heavy rain. They will be muddy, and rowdy, and it's clean sheet night but I can rely on Noelle's muddy paw prints finding their way to my bed. They will make their way to their beds and then they will groan and snore and throughout the course of the night they will arrange themselves so that when I wake up to use the restroom, I will have to carefully pick my way over and between them and then Noelle will likely pace for quite a while before settling down again. In the morning at the first sight of either the daylight, or the whites of my eyes, she will spring to life and rouse Gideon and Zeke and they will wrestle their way out the back door and begin a chorus of barking that surely annoys the neighbors and we will begin another day of the Adventures of Gideon, Noelle & Zeke. And I don't want to live any other story than the one I've got going.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Am A Mom, Part 2

"You can be pregnant on Mother's Day and still celebrate as a mother," Suzanne advised me. Don't I know it. I thought back to Mother's Day 2010, still innocently blissful with the news of my first pregnancy. Just a few days later, the miscarriage began. The following year Mother's Day was a bittersweet event for me. I was pregnant with Gabriel, but still mourning the first pregnancy, and already mourning Gabriel's impending death.

The next two years were even more difficult, carrying two children in my heart, but neither of them in my arms. The feelings are further complicated by the two May anniversaries that surround Mother's Day: The miscarraige, which took place from May 14 to May 17, and the rape, which occurred nearly 13 years ago on May 7, 2001. Though the memory of the assault is much less pervasive all these years later, I still find it effects my life. Sometimes I feel the memories wash over me with the setting of the sun, as I recall the daylight fading from the apartment where I was violated years ago. The feeling is brief, and sometimes I'm not even aware of why I feel suddenly and irreparably upset until the moment has passed. Other times the effects are more obvious, such as my refusal to see a male Ob/Gyn. The typical response from the receptionist at the doctor's office is, "You know you may not get a female doctor at delivery, right?" My response is always the same. "Maybe at delivery, I won't care. But right now I'm not in labor, and I don't plan on being in labor at my next appointment. So right now, I care." There's no reason, really, for me to be so short with the receptionist who's just trying to schedule an appointment. Still, for reasons I can't seem to control, I resent her asking.

My therapist and I discussed both the subtle and blatant responses that I have to an event that I feel has for the most part, been resolved in my mind. I can say all the things I am supposed to be able to say at this stage, that it's not my fault, that the rape doesn't define me, that my body is mine to control, and that my body is in fact amazing in its ability to bring beautiful, innocent lives into this world. I am probably as well-adjusted to life as a rape victim-turned-survivor as I will ever be, but the fact remains that such a violent, violative event will probably always remain a stain on my brain that I'll sometimes encounter. It doesn't really go away. It just gets covered up by the other stuff. And for all of the sadness, the other stuff is mostly good. More good than bad, I think, and I think that's what's made me capable of moving on - The fact that overall, life has been pretty kind to me.

As I left my therapists office I did my typical once-over of the patients sitting in the lobby. I am assigned to a substance abuse specialist, and so is everyone waiting in that pod to see their counselor. I'm so assigned because I have not only a history of dating and enabling substance abusers, but there have been times in my life when I've bordered on substance abuse myself. The habit is probably most evident not in my actual drinking habits, but in my tendency to replace the drinking with food or baby clothes or whatever else I don't really need but find I HAVE to have. I have to scold myself after every session not to speculate as to these patients' lives. They could be just like me. They could have it much worse. None of it's really any of my damn business. But wondering what their substance of choice is, or who their co-dependent is, takes my mind off of my own flaws.

I ride the wave of emotions fueled by pregnancy hormones and complicated by traumatic life experiences with shaky feet. I never know these days what's going to trigger a flashback, or a flash forward. I wonder if I'm really ready to give up the life I had before I became pregnant this time. I wonder if I'll be able to maintain the friendships that have come to mean so much to me, or if those friends will want to maintain friendships with me. I wonder if I can be a parent to multiple children, one living and two deceased. I wonder if I'll ever be the wife that Marcos deserves. I wonder if I know how to be a working mom. I hope that I'm not putting pressure on this new little baby to somehow make up for all that's gone wrong in the past. I wonder if I'm being fair to him or her. I wonder if I'm being fair to the dogs. I wonder all of the things that all new mothers worry about, and I worry about all of the things that grieving parents worry about, and it's a delicate balance.

One method of calculation says that I am 33 weeks pregnant today. My baby is due in seven weeks, on May 13th. I wonder what it would be like to have the baby on May 7, or May 14. I wonder what it would be like to be able to re-associate one of those days with a happy memory of giving birth to a health, whole, baby boy or girl. I have in my heart a wish, a deep longing for the baby to be born before Mother's Day. I have this dream of being able to walk into Mass on Mother's Day this year, having celebrated the holiday as a mother myself for the last four years, and this time carry a baby in my arms. I know I can be pregnant, or in mourning, and still celebrate as a mother. But this year, I want more. I want tangible proof. I want the evidence that things are going to be alright. I know it in my heart. I want to hold it in my hands.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Best

There's this perception out there that once you're pregnant, in particular when you're pregnant with your rainbow baby, you're supposed to be carefree and happy all of the time.  I'd say most of the time, I am happy - I am joyous, I am glowing, I am so happy that people should envy me.  Still, there is a part of me that is waiting, even in my joy, for that other shoe to drop.

Speaking of shoes, Noelle chewed the heel of one shoe belonging to one of only two pairs that I wear to the office these days.  I swatted her with the shoe and locked her in a bedroom before I swatted her again and until I regretted it.  I placed the shoe, and its mate, near the trash can to be thrown out tomorrow now that the one has been rendered unwearable.  I don't understand why she has to be so difficult and unruly, and why she can't be more like Gideon, whose disabilities have limited him and informed his temperament enough that I rarely get upset with him.

Someone told me recently, "I think you're angry at Rocco for surviving."  That's the stupidest fucking thing I ever heard.  I'm not angry at Rocco.  I just don't know how to believe, and how to accept, that Rocco will be okay.  I know how to deal with a terminally ill child, just like I know how to deal with a dog with hip dysplasia.  I am not quite sure how to deal with Rocco and Noelle, though I love them both deeply.  They need something completely different from me than either Gabriel or Gideon need.

I'll be the first to admit that I can be a rather noncompliant patient.  After a recent OB appointment I became frustrated with continually being addressed as high risk, when no one can tell me what I am at risk for, and frustrated with taking time out of my day for appointments that I feel are generally unproductive and where I am treated as just another patient.  I don't really understand how I can be at once high risk, and still just another uterus.  Although my doctor asked me to schedule my next appointment for two to three weeks from then, I pushed it out to three and a half, unwilling to go out of my way anymore to have my own concerns ignored while being scolded for things that I don't think I'm doing wrong.  When I went to what I thought was a safe place to vent, I was told, in addition to having been told that I am angry at Rocco for surviving, "As a woman struggling with infertility, I want to remind you how precious the life you are carrying really is."

What the fuck am I supposed to say to that?  "I'll see your infertility, and raise you two dead babies."  Grief isn't a competition, and I'm tired of being told how I am supposed to feel.  I am tired of being told that my feelings are just hormones.  I'm tired of being assessed as though I am a case study.  I feel the way I feel because it's the way I feel, and those feelings are the product of hormones and tragedy and happiness always tempered by the fear that at any moment the bottom could be pulled right out from under me and I might find myself falling and flailing once again.  I thank God I don't know the grief of infertility, I truly do.  Even upon Gabriel's diagnosis I was thankful to have him at all, even with anencephaly.  Still, my child that I was blessed to conceive and carry died in my arms as I watched helplessly, and that changed my whole world and I am constantly learning how to approach my world in the light of that experience.  Maybe I'm not doing what others think they would do, but I'm doing the best I can.

I am tired of pretending like I am perfectly okay with sharing my body with a baby who may or may not be okay, and making decisions based on the assumption that child will be okay, when I know that even making the right decisions couldn't and didn't save my son.  Once a week, I leave the office at 5:00 pm to run home, change my clothes, pet the dogs, then head to the bar for my closing shift which begins at 6:00 pm.  Tuesdays are LONG days.  No one MAKES me work at the bar once a week, but I love it, and besides, I've been tucking my paychecks away for Rocco's education fund.  Giving up Tuesdays is not what I want to do right now.

And once a week, during that Tuesday closing shift, I have a Red Bull.  I think about that Red Bull all day on Tuesdays, until I can get to the bar to crack it open.  And more often than not, someone will have something to say about my choice.

"You shouldn't be drinking that in your condition."  Perhaps the admonition would carry more weight if it weren't being delivered by someone pickling their own liver.  Perhaps it would mean more if it were delivered by someone who's walked in my shoes.  Except the women who have walked in my shoes wouldn't say something like that, because they know my grief and they know my fear and they know my hope, and they know that I love my baby and care for my baby and will take care of my baby better than anyone else on this planet.  I am human, and I am traumatized, and I am terrified, but I am also brimming with love for my child.  Maybe I don't show it the way others expect me to.  I show it the way I know how.

Monday, March 10, 2014


It's hard to believe that it's been three years since I came "out" with Gabriel's diagnosis of anencephaly, but what's harder to believe is that I almost didn't. I didn't really know what to do. There's no instruction book on how to respond to the news that your child is going to die, at least not that I know of, though perhaps there should be. I thought I could carry the secret of Gabriel's condition until he was born and passed, until the day I didn't walk out of the hospital with him. Now, it's so hard to believe that I almost denied the people around me the opportunity to know my special little boy for as long as they could while he was here.  I almost denied them the blessing of his sweet life.

Nearly every moment since that fatal diagnosis has been a carefully crafted attempt to appear as though I am not flying by the seat of my pants, even while I continue to struggle to live in my new normal.  As many times as I've misstepped, I still can't help but feel that everything worked out just the way it was supposed to. Somehow, everything's been alright, and everything's going to be alright. I didn't know it would be, and I certainly didn't know what kind of reaction to expect the day I left a stack "coming out" letters at The Wright Place to be distributed, and posted the same letter on Facebook to circulate the shocking news that Gabriel, the child who at that point was known only as The Pumpkin, had anencephaly. How could I have known that I would be met with love and support beyond my wildest dreams? How could I have known that people all around me from all faiths and all walks of life across the country and all over the world would take this journey with me to give my son's life an even greater meaning that I ever could have wanted? My son has intrinsic value as a person, a child of God. The legacy he left behind in his passing, the legacy that continues to develop, is thanks to the network of support that he has inspired.

In the last week or so a Facebook article has been circulating, revived after more than a year, telling the story of a mother of an anencphalic baby, Grayson, whose photos of his exposed defect caused his mother and the photos to be banned by Facebook.  The photos must have been reported, presumably by someone within the family's network.  The story has been sent to me, posted on my wall, and posted by others with my name tagged numerous times over the last week.  When the story first came out I posted a photo of Gabriel uncapped in a show of solidarity with the Walker family.  My response then was the same as it is now:  As angry as I am that someone would report photos of an innocent child as offensive because he didn't look like everyone else, I am beyond grateful for the compassion that has been showed to my son.  When I made the decision to show photos of Gabriel with his defect exposed, I was met with the support that I have come to expect in the last three years.  No one ran.  No one shielded their eyes.  No one could see anything "wrong," all they could see was the infectious smile that Gabriel has become known for.  There are some pretty lousy human beings out there but they are far outnumbered by the incredible, kind, compassionate human beings.

How fortunate I am to have fallen in love with one of the latter.

When, after my child died and I became single again, I suspect few people looked at me as a single mother.  Although Gabriel was a part of my every day life, I also assumed that if and when I found someone again that part of my life would be private, mine, something I was expected to keep to myself.  So when I met a man who admired the mother that I am to my deceased son I was stunned.  When I met a man who considered Gabriel not only a part of me, but a part of me that he loves deeply and has loved about me from the beginning of our relationship, I thought he was too good to be true.  And when that man asked me to marry him, as he did this past weekend, I knew that I had to be the luckiest girl in the world.

I'm coming out:  I have found in Marcos Lopez, everything I ever could have hoped for in my new normal, and everything I've searched for all my life.  He is going to be not only the kind of husband that I've dreamed of, but the stepfather to my son that I never dared to hope for, with a love for both of us that I didn't know could be.  He is already the greatest father that I could have asked for our unborn child.

I'm never going to "get over" my past.  I'm always going to carry with me the pain of some of its devastating events.  But I've met someone who loves me not in spite of that past, but because I've pushed my way through it.  I can't wait to walk with him, my hand in his, our baby in my arms, my son in our hearts, towards our future.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

From Ashes and Dust

Like any good Catholic, as I stood in line this Ash Wednesday morning to receive my ashes at Mass, I was thinking about the heap of files on my desk which were begging for my attention the moment I left church. I was lost in my to-do list when I felt someone from across the moving aisle touch my arm. I looked over to see a family friend look down at my belly, and back up at me with a smile. And suddenly, the day's list of things to do was forgotten.

Pregnant women have a glow. It's true. I find people whispering and pointing at me with smiles on their faces everywhere I go. I think pregnant women just make people happy. But I've found that this pregnancy makes people exceptionally happy. Blake told me that one night he got a call from Gail, a food server in the hotel where Blake bartends and Ben was formerly the executive chef but whom I hardly know, and she demanded to know if it was true that I was pregnant. She is alleged to have cried when Blake confirmed for her that I am. This pregnancy has done more than just bring me joy - This pregnancy has restored the faith of so many all around me. This pregnancy has been a sign for family, friends, and anonymous followers who have witnessed miracle as well as the grief and the pain of Gabriel's short life and subsequent death, that life can and does in fact go on. More than that, even through pain we can find triumph.

It's been difficult since Gabriel's diagnosis to know what could be the right thing to give up for Lent. I feel that I've already given everything. In fact, I think the Lenten season finds me a little angry at God - We make such a big deal of God having given His only son to die for our sins, and we talk about how great His love for us must be because of this sacrifice. But God didn't really do anything that He hasn't asked many parents on earth to do too. What makes God so big and bad? More importantly, if He knows that grief so well, why has He put other parents through it? I don't feel that bad for God, because He could have spared us all the pain.

Of course, that line of thinking doesn't take into consideration the good that God can bring from what seems so bad. Because Jesus died, we get to live forever. But even if you don't buy that, I can tell you that because my son died, I have lived every day for him, even when I didn't want to. I have lived because he can't. I fight, because he fought. I cherish Gabriel's new brother or sister not just because he or she is my child, but because I know that even loving and cherishing that child is not enough to change God's will for them, but love is what I have to give. I love Marcos because I know what it's like to endure heartbreak and I love that somewhere deep inside of me I know that I can trust that he will always take care of my heart. And maybe, maybe, I wouldn't know how to love Marcos or how to accept his love if I didn't also know how to hurt.

My hurt has been very public. Pregnancy, childbirth, the death of a child, and the death of a marriage can be very public things these days - almost unavoidably so. Rather than dodge the public eye, I've embraced it, and chosen to show the world that I am sensitive and vulnerable and susceptible to very raw, very human emotions. I think a lot of people have hurt right along with me, for me. I think a lot of people have learned to grapple their own ghosts and demons and emotions through my sharing. I think a lot of people genuinely share in my happiness now. I think a lot of people have found through my experience that faith and perserverence can pave the way to happiness. In our hearts, it's something we all want to believe.

"I'm so happy for you," people stop me to proclaim. And they glow. And I know that it is more than just happiness for me that causes them to beam. I know it is their renewed faith that lights them up inside.

On this day I as a Catholic am reminded that I came from dust, and to dust I shall return. It's a reminder not of my mortality, but of the mortality of the temporal life. I've of course made the great leap of faith to believe that there is life beyond the dust. And maybe there is and maybe there isn't but one way or another I guess I can't confirm it until I'm there. What I do know is that I've got one life to live here and during that life I don't just want to live, I want to rise from the dust in triumph.