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.