Sunday, November 22, 2015

Silver Threads and Colored Dreams

I scroll through my phone, looking for my favorite picture of Eden, and when I find it I show it to him.

"She's beautiful."

"She really is," I have to concur.  "They both are.  They're so beautiful."  I look at Sean, who is nodding in agreement.  We're seated at the bar and around us, Friday night activity buzzes about at rapid speed, but we are standing still in the moment. My eyes wander to the shelf above the register where Gabriel's photo sits.  Sean puts his hand on mind for comfort, and the tears immediately well in my eyes.  "What is he like?"

"You.  He's like you, and Ben too, but mostly you.  He's got the best of both of you."  I smile as the tears spill.

"Does he miss me?"

"It's not like that.  He talks about you and he follows you and helps where he can.  But he doesn't understand what it means to miss someone.  I don't either, anymore.  It's different there."

I pull my eyes from Gabriel's photo to look at Sean again, knowing this moment won't last long.  He reaches for the top of my head, grabs a strand of hair, and without looking I know what he's got.  "I found it a couple of months ago.  I think there's another, I think there's two now, that I've found."

"Are you going to color it?"

"I don't know.  I'm really lazy about stuff like that.  I don't really take care of myself at all anymore."

"You earned this."  He pulls the strand, then lets it fall from his hand.  "Do what you want.  Color it, or don't.  But you've put in your time."  I stare at him, and he stares back, the unspoken words between us confirming that he is one of the reasons for the lines on my face, the grey in my hair, the sadness in my eyes that never really seems to disappear completely.  He blinks, as if to say he's sorry.

Sean starts to stand, and I start to panic.  The time always goes by so quickly.  I rush to stand, to stop him.  "I have to go to the bathroom.  I'll be right back."  His voice is unconvincing.  "Wait right here.  I'll be right back."

I want to follow, but my feet weight me down and I sink back onto the barstool and wait.  He disappears into the bathroom and I wait for the sound, but there is none.  Time ticks by, I'm not sure how much, because while everyone around me is moving quickly, I am standing still, until I will myself to walk to the door.  I lean against it, knocking softly.


Someone passes by me. "Lady, that's the men's. . ."

"Shut the fuck up," I snap, and he walks away with a drunken shrug.  "Sean?" I say, as I push the door open, knowing.  And there he is, his legs sticking out of the stall, stiff and unmoving.  Next to them is the gun.  The room is spinning around me and all I can do is fall into the whirl of it all, my black hair whipping about and woven with a strand of silver.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

And Then There Was Me

There was me, a me that didn't have to look over her shoulder, or grow tense when she found herself alone in an elevator or stairwell with a strange man.  Then two men pinned her to a couch and now there is me, a me that trusts only a paranoid instinct.

There was me, a me swept up in the co-dependent romance of loving a depressed alcoholic. Then she saw that romance pushed to its extreme end in the form of Sean's lifeless body, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot, and now there is me, a me that worries every great love will end with great loss.

There was me, a me that couldn't remember a time when she didn't want to be a mother.  Then she became a mother, with a positive pregnancy test, and her heart broke the day that the pregnancy failed and now there is me, a me that will be alarmed by every pain in every first trimester of every pregnancy she has and will experience since that day.

There was me, a me that was mended by the promise of another positive pregnancy test and a Kenny Loggins song.  Then those words "incompatible with life" tested that promise and shattered her world and now there is me, a me that won't believe doctors, ultrasounds, or prenatal testing until she sees and touches her child's fully-formed skull.

There was me, a me that was broken and weak and living with only an ember of hope in her heart.  And she felt abandoned - by an alcoholic that would rather kill himself than live here with her, by an another alcoholic who would rather uproot his whole life than stay here with her, by a God that seemed to keep sending her grief.  Her hope was fading to only an ember that threatened to extinguish, but she tended to its fading glow, fueled it, willed it to keep burning.

There was me, a me who took a step towards the unfamiliar and allowed herself to fall in love with someone who didn't need her, who wouldn't enable her, who would be her partner rather than her co-dependent.  A me who was afraid to believe, and who wouldn't believe, that he wouldn't leave her.  And along came two little girls, healthy and whole and full of promise. They couldn't heal the scars, they could only help me to see that all of this makes me, me. They are the colors of my world.

Now there is me, simply complicated by the peaks and valleys of the road I've traveled.  Some days, I think I've got me all figured out.  Other days, I have no idea who I am anymore.  This is me.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What She Does to Me

I breathed in relief as I realized my baby had pushed its way safely into the world.  "It's a little girl," Marcos smiled, and I smiled too.  After a long, emotionally and physically draining pregnancy, Delilah Danielle Lopez would soon be placed in my arms.  I heard her healthy cries as they took her weight and measurements while I lay patiently in the hospital bed for my long-awaited chance to hold her, a peaceful bliss filling me.

There's a new layer to the rhythm of the Lopez home.  In the last ten days we've gone from a household of three with an only child, to a household of 4 with an infant.  We move to a different beat, yet somehow it feels as though it's always been this way. In just ten days we've come to accept this new way of life.  It only took ten days for our whole world to change.

Marcos asked me recently if, during Gabriel's ten days on earth, I ever imagined that he would be one of those outlying cases of babies who lived for months, even years.  Every day of his life, I imagined we could be that family.  Every day that Gabriel was here, a part of me thought about keeping him.  It only took ten days for him to change my world, to become a part of my rhythm, for me to move to a new and different beat.  When he died, so did the song that we we had been dancing to.  When he died, the life I knew and the life that I had dreamed of came to a halt.  The world that took ten days to build simply ended.

Just a few days before Delilah's birth I was walking through JC Penny to the children's department, and found myself passing the portrait studio.  A woman with four children sat in the lobby, brushing the hair of one of her daughters.  I found myself drawn to the girl, who immediately appeared to me to have a cephalic defect.  My legs absently walked me in her direction and I heard the words coming from my mouth almost without consciousness.

"Excuse me, can I ask you something?"

She looked up at me.  "Yes."

"I had a little boy with anencephaly.  I notice your daughter has a similar facial appearance.  May I ask about her condition?"

"She has microcephaly.  Anencephaly?  That's where the skull. . ." Her voice trailed.

"He was missing portions of his skull.  His brain was exposed.  He passed away.  What's her name?"


"She's beautiful.  How old is she?"

"Four."  The same age Gabriel would have been.  "She's very small." Indeed she was.  She could be no taller than Eden, and she was clearly handicapped.  I stared at her with tears in my eyes.

"She is small.  But she's very beautiful."  I looked up at the woman to find tears in her eyes too.  I knew that she was imagining a life  without Ambriel, just as I was imaging what the last four years would have been like with a severely restricted, special needs Gabriel.  Nothing about her life appeared easy or simple yet I longed to stand in her shoes because I know that nothing about my life has been easy or simple since Gabriel's been gone.

"I'm sorry about your son."  The exchange could have lasted no more than five minutes, but those five minutes were full, bursting with what might have been.

When Delilah was born a few days later, I felt an easy peace, a completeness I hadn't felt in so long.  After four pregnancies, I have two little girls to hold and raise and love here on earth.  And those two girls, my sweet Eden and my dear Delilah, can not replace the loss.  They fill my heart in their own way, they complete me on their own.  They each make me whole.  Gabriel was the love of my life and I didn't know if I would love after him, but Eden brought the color back into my world by showing me that I could, and I would.

And Delilah.  Delilah gave me balance.  She's added to my new song, our song, the song that guides my feet in this dance with my husband, Eden, and now Delilah.

Her name is Biblical, but Delilah isn't the most favored woman in the Bible.  She's often seen as the temptress, the woman responsible for Samson's downfall.  I don't see Delilah that way.  I see her as persistent and diligent, like Delilah's persistent, diligent, and predictable movement while I was carrying her.  I read one explanation for her name which referred to Delilah as "One who weakens."  It's what she does to me.  She softens me, shows me that my hardened heart can grow and make room for this tiny little girl who is so much bigger than she appears.  I find myself caring for her with a tenderness that I was reluctant to show Eden when she was a newborn.  I realize that I'm more willing now to believe that she and Eden are both here to stay.  In ten days she's changed our home, changed our life, and as her song says, "by the time that we get through the world will never ever be the same. "  In just ten days, it's what she does to me.  It's what she does to us.

Happy 11 Day, Delilah.  I can't wait to see what you do today.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

All Belly

I didn't even realize that I was staring at the two young girls in bikinis on Ventura Beach until Marcos' voice broke me from my trance.

"Stop staring at those girls, you're gonna make me jealous."

"I can't help it," I whimpered.  "I know I'll never wear another bikini again."

I guess I was spoiled.  During my pregnancy with Gabriel I only gained 13 pounds.  After he was born, and then died, the differences in my body were subtle and undetectable to anyone but me.  At the time, I figured it was the least God could do for me - My heart was irreparably broken when I lost my son, but at least the rest of my body stayed relatively in tact, giving me a fighting chance at roping another husband someday.

True to ironic form, the defining characteristic of my relationship with God, my second-worst fear, that I would never have another child after Gabriel, was put to rest on May 3, 2014, when my beautiful Eden was born a healthy 9 pounds, 11 ounces.  Through the duration of my pregnancy I received unwelcome comments about my size, questions about how many babies I was carrying and whether I was sure and inquiries about whether I was going to "pop" any day.  When Eden was born the doctor immediately asked whether I was diabetic during the pregnancy, and she was pricked to have her blood sugar levels checked three times before they would discharge us from the hospital.  She was healthy as could be.  She was perfect.

I knew that being "all belly" while carrying a nearly 10 pound baby would take it's toll on my body.  I just didn't know people would be so forthright in pointing it out.  When, at about 7 months postpartum someone told me that I was "too pretty to not do something about that baby weight," I was crushed.  I could probably lose the weight, but the shape of my body would never be the same.  That's just life for many women after having a baby.

I'd finally made a decision to buckle down.  One night, or perhaps I should say early morning, at the Grenadier, drowning in shots of tequila and a bag of Cheetos, I decided the combination self-loathing/inaction would end that night.  The next day I started a change in my food habits that would change my life.  Then three days after that, I learned I was pregnant again.

I was able to keep up with the food changes for a time but it wasn't long before my fourth pregnancy began to show itself, as fourth pregnancies tend to do.  Of course, people had already been asking me for months if I was pregnant again, so at least when I actually was, I had an excuse.

Just two days ago the nurse practitioner congratulated me on my very moderate weight gain this pregnancy - only 20 pounds overall.  "You've done a great job."

"I don't feel like I've done a great job."

"The numbers say otherwise."

I know I haven't handled the visibility of pregnancy very well.  I'm short or non-responsive to the people who dare to comment - There's a surprising number of people, a surprising number of strangers, who will dare to comment.  I avoid the mirror after a shower until I've had a chance to get dressed.  I marvel at the distinctive presentation of limbs, hands, and feet that I am able to see with this baby's activity, and know that I couldn't see with such definition if I hadn't maitained a fairly healthy body fat contact.  But I'm quickly saddened by the knowledge that when the baby is born, I'll be left with the deflated abdomen that was troubling me.

"You'll have a healthy body that was able to give life to two healthy babies," people will say.  "Your belly, your body, every mark, is something to take pride in."  But I don't, and I'm not ever going to be that mom that does.   My body still failed two babies.  If something were to happen to Eden, or Rocco, or if Marcos were to leave, I'd be left an older, more stretched out, more emotionally damaged version of the woman I was when I first set out to re-build my life in the aftermath of Gabriel's death and the divorce. I'd be completely unmarketable.  And I'm not yet certain enough to believe I won't ever have to market myself again.  

Maybe Marcos will be disgusted with me, realizing I look nothing like the woman he started dating.  Or maybe Eden will be ashamed by my appearance, asking me not to attend events with her so her friends won't see me and prospective boyfriends won't think she's going to end up like me.  Maybe - definitely - I worry too much about these things, but vanity doesn't die easily, any more than the simple remedy, "Just work out a little," provides an answer as easily as it is spoken.

A pregnant woman's body goes through very significant changes in a very short amount of time, in a presentation that is very public and apparent and seemingly interpreted as a pass for anyone to say any number of things about our bodies.  We're just supposed to roll with it, or endure accusations that we are just ungracious or hormonal, overly sensitive.

I love my children, and I love that I was blessed with the opportunity to carry them and grow them for the time that I did and have.  I wouldn't give back the experience, but it's come with its own price.

$6,000.00 for a tummy tuck and belly button reconstruction.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Worth All The While

My escape from the office was later than I planned and I would be late to the last day of mock trial auditions.  Still, Rocco was restless and as I am Rocco's puppet these days, almost unwillingly my car turned into the Jack in the Box drive-thru to order a milkshake to Rocco through the afternoon.  Within seconds, my mind flashed back through another occasion that I found myself in the same drive-thru, ten years ago

It was a Wednesday afternoon.  The phone rang, and those days everyone just answered, even if they were driving.  I recognized the number - Frito Lay.  Sean was calling me on his lunch break, which was unusual.  I stuffed the phone to my ear, holding it in place with my shoulder while I drove my stick-shift through the drive-thru to collect my food. 

"How was your final?"  I answered that I felt good about the exam in Irish history, for which he'd helped me study.  The last few weeks between us had been very rocky, but on Super Bowl Sunday, just a few days prior, there seemed to be some sort of shift.  Sean was different, seemingly free from whatever had been troubling him. Since Sunday he had been relaxed and comfortable.  Happy.  I thought.  

For those reasons I was surprised when we argued that Wednesday night, and crushed by some of the awful things he said to me.  When his words prompted my tears I ran to the bathroom at the Grenadier, taking one last look behind me to see the back of his head. 

We had been so up and down.  HE had been so up and down.  When he didn't answer my calls the following day, I wasn't surprised, and decided that he needed a few days to himself.  Monday was Valentine's Day, and we could talk then.  I had no reason to suspect that by Thursday morning, he would have killed himself.   

Though he crosses my mind every day, there are times in my life when I think about Sean more than others.  In my mind we went through a break-up facilitated by his death, a period of mourning the relationship as I mourned his death, and arrived at a point where I miss the best friend that I had in him.  His death taught me that I want to live; his angst taught me that I want to be happy; his points of weakness taught me to try to overcome my own; his absence has taught me that he was not just a moment in time.  He was my dear friend and kindred spirit, and I love him.  With my first law school acceptance letter, at graduation, even when Ben proposed to me, I wished I could pick up the phone and call my best friend.

Perhaps the recent Facebook campaign for suicide awareness week has brought Sean once again to the front of my brain.  Or maybe it's the recent surge of suicide and other senseless deaths among those around me in the last several months. Maybe it's the ways I see that my best friend is still effected by her father's death many years ago.  Maybe it's because death, especially shocking, premature death, holds a special place in my broken heart while others are so afraid to look at death and say its name.

Sean's own death sent a ripple through my life.  Not long after Sean killed himself, another regular from the bar, Scotty, shot and killed himself too.  And a year or so after that he was followed by James.  Another two years later, Nick was dead of an overdose.  All of them were 25 or 26 years old.  When I reflect back on each of their lives I can identify a moment when I saw that desperation in them, never imagining that it could lead to the end that it did.  After the string of deaths of friends from the bar that followed Sean's, and after my bar exam study partner also killed herself, I began to think of myself as cursed.  Looking back, that seems rather vain.  I don't really blame myself anymore, but instead have learned to see that I was a friend to them, maybe even kept them around a bit longer than they might have stayed if not for me, and others who crossed their path in their last days and weeks and months.

I'm not angry at Sean, though people say I should be.  They would have me believe that he was selfish when I know he was really just very troubled, and very drunk.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of point in being angry at a dead man.  Besides, I don't really want to be angry at him.  I miss him, and I'm sorry that he felt like his friends and family will be better off without him.  I can guarantee that not one of his friends and not one member of his family has been better since he's been gone.  I'm one of several people who still misses him every day.  I wish I could tell that to him.  I wish I could say to him the words I quoted in his eulogy, "For what it's worth, it was worth all the while."

While at lunch today Marcos rattled off some surprising statistics related to suicide.  It's prevalent and pervasive, and though I choose not to be angry about it, the suicide of those around me has plagued me in all of the years that I've spent living since they chose to die.  Of course, the problem is that after it happens it's easy to look back and see the signs, but when you're in those last moments with someone you really have no idea that it's coming.  We can't live with the assumption that our friends are going to kill themselves.  However, we can be the friend that we would want if we were in need.  We can reach out when we're feeling alone and desperate ourselves.  We can live life like it's short and hard and beautiful and wonderful because it is each of these things at some point and I want every single day of it that belongs to me, and I want everyone in my life to be there for those days too.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Space In Between Then and Now

The sight of the young boy sitting on the curb by the street sign right outside of my front door caught me off guard.  He turned, saw Eden, and released a warm and sincere smile.  The corners of his mouth tugged at my heart, prompting the morning's first tears.  The young boy was older than Gabriel would be, and the first of several kids that would gather outside of my front door, a designated neighborhood bus stop.  This morning is the first day of school for Bakersfield City and Kern High School Districts, and in just one more year, Gabriel would have been among those students, but as life would have it, he'll never sit outside of our front door waiting for his bus.

There was no time to dwell on the matter.  I'd hardly had a chance to stand still all morning.  My arm compulsively hit snooze on my alarm at 5:40 AM, but my mind was dragged to consciousness as I remembered that I would have to leave early to see Victoria off for the first day of her last year of high school.

I remember the first day of my own senior year so clearly.  For the first time in four summers, I hadn't taken a class to get ahead during the school year.  Instead, I'd chosen to stay home for the summer to take care of a then-3 month old Victoria.  My duties included waking every morning when she woke, tending to her while my mom got ready for work and all throughout the day, maintaining the schedule my parents had developed for her, and presenting a well-adjusted baby for the whole family to enjoy in the evenings.  When it came time to select a daycare provider in anticipation of the start of the school year, I went to every interview with my parents.  My mom suggested that Victoria start part time during the last two weeks of the summer, to get her and I used to the separation.

"No, please. I only have two more weeks with her.  Just let her stay."  My mom agreed, and so the first day of my senior year would also be Victoria's first day of "stranger" daycare.  She was being bathed at the sink when I left.  As I told her good-bye my eyes began to water.  "I can't believe you're sending her off to some stranger that she hasn't even spent any time with, and you're going to leave her there all day."  During this, her fourth go-around at raising a child, the process had become just a part of life for my mom, but I struggled to let go of that little girl, the first baby I'd bonded to so closely.

Fast forward to the days Eden and Gabriel were born.  The earth didn't move.  I didn't feel a change within me, or overcome with a love that I'd never known.  I'd first learned how deeply love can run when Victoria came around.

I burst through the living room door, Eden confused in my arms, my face already streaked with tears.

"Did I make it?"  The 5'10" teenage girl that I'd once held and cared for as a 3 month old baby stood for inspection before our mother, making wardrobe adjustments, her backpack already strapped to her.  There was laughter at my unusually open display of emotion before I found myself sandwhiched in a hug between my "baby" sister, and my own baby girl.

Even as a high school student, I knew this time flies by.  That's what led to my decision to stay home with her that summer, and the professionally challenging choice to take an extra 6 weeks off for maternity leave when Eden was born.  It's only a matter of time before Eden is stepping out of the front door to join the other students at the bus stop, and not long after that, she'll be a senior in high school.  The boys, who already smile at her almost involuntarily, charmed by the pretty baby, will be calling her for dates before very long.  One day I'll see her standing at the top of the staircase, dressed for her senior prom, just as I envisioned the day we first set foot in what would become our home.  And I know that in that time Gabriel will always be missing, from the moments that I'll never have with him to the moments with Eden that he won't be there to witness.  He won't go to the senior prom; he won't be there to hassle Eden's date as he waits for her to get ready for hers.  They'll never walk out to that bus stop together.

There's a space between each of these moments that will always bear Gabriel's absence, though the moments are so full these days with the joy that my little girl brings.  Today she's just my little girl, 15 months old, learning in leaps and bounds, unaware that the days are fleeting and that not one of them is promised to us.  And here I am, knowledgeable of how swiftly the days can turn into months that turn into years, all of which can be taken from us instantly.  I'll blink, and Victoria's graduation day will be here.  I can't slow down time, but I can enjoy the space in between.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Matter of Days and Dreams

The clothes in the baby aisles call to me in their soft blues and pinks and I ask myself if this one particular sleeper is cute enough to buy, even though I might not use it.  Even after momentary consideration this pregnancy, I've decided not to learn this baby's gender until birth.

I maintain my obvious reasons.  After hearing at 21 weeks the most devastating news a parent could hear about their child, that he would die not long after birth, things like whether the unborn baby I am carrying is a boy or a girl just don't seem to matter much.  What matters is that his or her head is whole and round, and he or she appears healthy.  That is all I can ask for after Gabriel.

Not knowing the baby's gender is also an economically efficient decision.  I lovingly stroke the set of onesies with the fireman print, telling myself if she's a girl I can just put a red bow in her hair, but ultimately leaving them on the shelf.  Cute baby clothes will still be there when Part 2 is born.  He or she doesn't need frilly pink or bold blue sleepers; Eden's yellow and green hand-me-downs will serve just fine until inevitably, a few gifts start rolling in, or we have an opportunity to do some shopping.  We have a bassinet, a car seat, a stroller, a crib, and an initial stash of diapers. . . A baby starter kit.  We have a house full of love that is prepared to welcome our new baby, even if my nesting instincts remind me daily of one more thing I'd like to have done before Part 2 arrives.

But the core reason that I've chosen not to learn this baby's gender until birth is simply for one more day to dream.  I've seen this baby in my mind, a little boy playing in the mud; a little girl learning to ride a bicycle; my son on his first day of kindergarten; my daughter and I picking out her first tube of mascara; a young man pitching in Major League Baseball; a young woman arguing before the Supreme Court.  I've seen him, I've seen her and I love this child, no matter who he or she is, but I want one more day for him or her to be anything.

From the minute my heart told me that Gabriel was the boy I had been anticipating for so long, my mind began crafting dreams for him.  He might be President, cure cancer, run a world famous restaurant, or become an Olympic Gold Medalist.  Those dreams were brought to a sudden, screaming halt by a doctor who wouldn't know me if she saw me on the street, but whose face is burned into my brain as the face of the woman who destroyed my world, and my dreams.  Gabriel would never be President, never cure cancer, and would never win an Olympic Gold Medal.  I would probably never bring him home from the hospital.  There was a significant chance he wouldn't even be born alive.

Gabriel was born alive.  The minutes and the hours ticked by, and then the days.  I did take him home from the hospital.  The dreams that I had re-shaped for him - dreams of a live birth, some hair on the parts of his head that did form, a Catholic baptism, a chance to bring him home to the yellow house - came to fruition.

I know that I got more than the mother of an anencephalic can ask for, and I am thankful.  Then ten days that Gabriel lived will carry me for the rest of my life.  I know that I've been blessed but I also know that there are children born the same day as Gabriel, and today they're four years old, and my son is dead, and that's a pain that can't always be assauged. I was given an opportunity to come to terms with the fact that my son would die moments after he was born, and he lived for much more than moments, but that doesn't fill the hole that was left when he died ten days after birth.  I have those ten days to cling to, but I'd rather be holding my son.  I want to be a mother who doesn't have to measure the time she had with her son in days.

The day that the doctor showed me Part 2's beautiful round skull, my guarded heart began to relax.  Once you're naivete has been broken by the words "incompatible with life," you know that life is the only thing that really matters.  Maybe Part 2 won't be a world-renowned scientist, or Grammy Award Winning singer, or even very good at tee-ball.  But my dreams live on another day in the tiny life, whoever he or she is and will be, that grows inside of me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

So Now What?

I paused at the residential blind intersection to allow two stray pit bulls to pass.  My eyes bounced back and forth between the two nearly identical brown and white dogs with synchronized gait, and my feverish Eden in the back seat of the car who was kicking her foot in time with the music, surprisingly content even in her illness.

When the dogs had passed we proceeded for half a block where I left Eden with her Grandpa for daycare.  I was anxious to drop her off, because I was anxious to get to my hearing, because I was anxious to be done with my courtroom obligations so that if she needed me, I would be able to leave.  She'd had a wavering fever for nearly two days and though she seemed to be improving, I wanted to be available for her.

As I climbed back into my car the phone rang over the speakers, notifying me that Marcos was calling.  We were discussing Eden's health as I turned right and headed to Panorama, one of the main streets on my way to my office.  At the stop sign, I froze.

One of the brown and white pit bulls lay dead in the busy road, right in front of my dutifully stopped car.  A small piece of tire was strewn at his head, indicating that perhaps the driver that struck him had attempted to brake and was somewhere around the bend in a location blinded from my point of view.  Over the speakers, Marcos continued his discussion regarding the plan for Eden if her fever rose again.

I stared at the dead dog, rattled by his large, still body.  My eyes searched frantically for his partner, wondering how he had survived when the two were trotting side by side when I saw them.

In a quick instant my mind reviewed the unpreserved dead bodies that I had witnessed in my life.  First Sean, six feet tall, stiff and unmoving despite my urgent pleas.  Then Gabriel, tiny and delicate, his life slipping and giving way to rigor mortis within my hands.  There are worse things than a dead dog but as he lie there in front of me this dog's death seemed like the most tragic thing in the world.

Somewhere his twin was wandering alone, or perhaps in his grief and disarray he too had been struck, or soon would be.  What would he do, all by himself?  How would he get by on his own?  How was he supposed to go on without his other half?  I imagined him huddled out of sight, whimpering, perhaps injured himself, surely heartbroken.

"I know it's upsetting but Eden's health is important."  Marcos tried to draw me back into the conversation, but I couldn't be pulled from the moment.  Eden had been sick for nearly two days and we didn't know why.  In the seat next to me a file that I had only glimpsed waited for handling at a hearing that I didn't want to attend.  My mind was fractured with my many obligations, my full-time career and the pending hearing, the other files begging for my attention, my part-time bartending gig that would occupy that evening, my meeting with the new mock trial teacher coach that had taken place the day before, the Magic Mullet Run donation requests that still needed follow-up, the baby growing inside of me, and the baby growing up before my very eyes who wasn't feeling very well.  Still, all I could think of in that moment was the dog.  Not the one who, based on the timeline of events, must have died instantly, but the one left to make his way all alone.  What was he going to do now?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Third Time's a Charm

The rumbling in my belly is familiar and welcome.  I've just finished lunch at Chef's Choice Noodle Bar.  As always, I ordered the Thai Basil and in a move a bit more extreme than usual, I nearly emptied the jar of chili paste on my table.  The little baby inside of me seems to love spicy food.

I didn't feel strange for eating alone.  Dining alone is one of life's pleasures for me, freeing me from the obligation to juggle scooping, chewing, swallowing, and conversing with a lunch date all in a time frame of less than an hour, to accommodate the drive time.  Besides, I haven't been alone since January.  Rocco Strikes Back comes with me everywhere I go.

I'm 30 weeks along, in the third trimester, for the third time.  When this pregnancy is done, I know I'll immediately miss the hiccups and kicks and strong, frequent movements of this baby.  I know that overall, pregnancy is quite kind to me, so I feel guilty for feeling so ready for it to be over. My weight gain this time has been nominal.  I've never, in four pregnancies, experienced morning sickness.  My Thai Basil garnished with mounds of chili paste went down easily and I can rest assured that I will not experience the heartburn that plagues many pregnant women.  When I stood to leave my booth I felt the strain on my tailbone from having been sitting with this concentrated mass of extra weight, but in the grand scheme of things the complaint is insignificant.  One night a week I stand up for several hours to tend bar, and one night a week I bowl three games for my league team, and every day I climb the stairs in my home over and over again.  I'm able-bodied, and life is good.

So, when the tears well up suddenly and surprisingly in my eyes I struggle to understand why.  I've gone through a pregnancy haunted by the knowledge that my son would be born with a fatal defect, and I shed fewer tears.  I carried my rainbow baby on a journey that brought about surprisingly mixed emotions as I struggled to believe that she was real, and that she would stay, and wrestled with the fact that she would be here while my son is not, a painful experience of its own.  Why, then, when my life is so stable and my future is so bright, should I cry as much as I do now?

The answer is so simple that it has become a default:  Pregnancy hormones.  Pregnant women cry because they are hormonal, so very hormonal that they can't control their responses.  It's an annoyingly referenced response, but I'm finding these days it's true.  For the first time in four pregnancies, three of which have/will make it to term, I am experiencing just that.  I cry because I just can't help it.

I must admit, it feels good to cry.  I've chosen two careers, law and bartending, which have required me to develop a thick skin.  I allowed fissures in my shell when Gabriel was diagnosed, when he was born and died, and again when Ben left.  My writing has chronicled the grief, but rarely did I let a tear fall in public.  Stifling the tears in public lead to an inability to cry alone.  Now, the well of tears that has fallen from my eyes in a seeming surplus since I've been pregnant with Rocco Strikes Back, just feels like years of dammed up pain finally being released in unexpected ways.

Marcos continues to prove time and again that he is more than I ever could have asked for and everything I could ever want.  He tolerates my tears and mood swings in good stride. In my dysfunction I don't know if I'll ever be able to demonstrate to him how very much I love him and how thankful I am that he's come along and filled my life with so much love.  For the third time, I'm bringing life into this world, but I've only got one life to live, and I love the way I'm living it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Feeding the Bear

Four years after I watched my son die, I find myself having to do the second hardest thing a mother can do, five days a week:  I drop my daughter off with her grandpa, my father, for daycare, and I walk through the door, allowing someone else to spend more waking hours with her that day than I will, essentially placing someone else in charge of raising her.  I depart for work knowing she is happy, healthy, and will be apart from me for at least the next eight hours.

I'm fortunate that I love my job, because I don't have much choice other than to do it every day.  I live in a trench of student debt that must somehow be repaid and not working is simply not an option.  I'm further fortunate that I have family to look after Eden - If she can't be with me or her daddy all day, who better than her grandpa?

Being a working parent comes with a great deal of internal conflict.  I'm not the employee or lawyer I could be if I didn't have a child at home.  I don't come in early, I state late only a few nights a week, I rarely come in on weekends.  I'm hard-pressed to be able to take on an extra shift at the bar on the rare occasion that Lynn needs me to do so.

I'm also not the mom I could be.  I come home tired. I skipped our evening walk and rushed through bath time last night because I was just so exhausted.  Still, that seems small in comparison to the fact that I just don't get to be with her for such a significant part of the week.

Perhaps the greatest struggle I face is that I haven't completely let go of the life I had before Eden or even Marcos came along.  When Gabriel died and Ben left I learned that I had to find my happiness outside of them, and I did.  I made friends, the best friends I've ever had, and we had fun, and with them by my side I re-built my life, from finally securing a position as an associate attorney to buying a new car, stabilizing events grown from the ashy remains of instability.  It is not with a natural selflessness that I decline invitations to join my friends at dinner, a trip to the beach, or an evening of drinks at the bar.  Rather, I turn down these opportunities out of pure obligation, knowing I have a brief window during which to shape what I hope will be the long life of my daughter, and that means many days and nights, I have to be home instead of with the homies.  These are choices that I make, and perhaps I even make the "correct" choice most of the time, but they are not choices that are easily made. I can never figure out if this makes me an outlier among mothers, or just honest.

The most liberating moment I've had during motherhood is also one of the saddest.  The day I told myself, "You're not going to force yourself to breastfeed anymore" was a milestone day.  I was sad not because I wouldn't be sharing that time with Eden anymore, but rather because I didn't feel sad that I wasn't going to share that time with Eden anymore.  I hated breastfeeding.  It was never the bonding, convenient experience that I was told it would be.  I felt vulnerable, exposed, and at risk every time I did it, remnants from a sexual assault that otherwise, interferes with my life very little at this point.  I felt chained to my house, refusing to make myself vulnerable in public, surely an even riskier experience.  I felt at odds with Eden, because many of the times she wanted to feed, I didn't want to have to feed her - And by "many of the times," I mean every time.  All of this felt very inconvenient. So when I resigned myself to the fact that my daughter would be formula fed, I felt free.

Still, my decision to attempt breastfeeding in the first place was born out of a love for my daughter and a desire to make the best possible decisions for her health.  She wouldn't rely on breastmilk or formula for long, in the grand scheme of things, so I turned my attention to a mission dedicated to feeding her only whole or minimally processed foods for the first year of her life (but for the formula, of course).  She skipped grains initially, such as rice cereal or oatmeal, as Marcos and I opted to start her on solid foods with vegetable purees, which I made myself.  Through this process we also introduced starches and grains such as potatoes and barley and rice.

Purees were as easy to bring along as a jar of processed baby food would be, but when she began eating pieces of meat, vegetables and fruit our outings required more planning.  Even sending her to daycare every day with the foods I want her to eat requires work, and a dedication that I was never willing to put into breastfeeding.  But with that dedication and Marcos' support and his own hard work, we met our goal, introducing Eden to refined sugar for the first time on her birthday, with her very own birthday cake.  Watching her eat her cake, slowly and skeptically at first but with a mounting joy that resulted in a messy but happy baby, was another sad moment for me.  The love of wholesome food that I had worked to establish in her had seemed to come undone with one cake.

But my fears were proven unnecessary and irrational when the next day, she went right back to her whole food regimen with no troubles.  We've since begun to incorporate more, but still minimally, processed foods into her diet, such as dairy, bread, and pasta.  Choosing her foods isn't a complicated process. For the most part I shop for groceries on the perimeter of the store where the produce, dairy and meat counters are located.  Weaving through the aisles becomes a matter of looking at a label and putting something back on the shelf when there are too many or unrecognizable ingredients, or worse, ingredients I've learned to recognize as artificial sugars.  At the end of a grocery run, most of my cart is filled with whole, label-less foods.  The effort has paid off.  She could take or leave pasta, really, preferring spaghetti squash and eggplant pizzas.  She is her mommy's girl, and has never met a cheese that she doesn't like.  She's still never had rice cereal, a teething biscuit, a Puff, or fruit juice.

Some nights dinner is a big production, an experiment with a fancy new recipe.  Other nights it's basic chicken and vegetables, the leftovers from which she might eat for the next two days.  Some recipes are a big hit, and others are a hideous miss.  Cooking for Eden has been one of the greatest parts of motherhood for me, and the 'why' bears some explaining.

Five days a week, I have to work.  Every day, I have to eat, and so does Eden.  Like many children of my generation, I grew up in a household courted and romanced by the makers of processed foods, marketed and aimed at working parents such as mine who wanted the swiftest dinner possible to maximize the free time they would get to spend with their kids.  My mom worked all day, came home to make dinner, fed us, bathed us, checked our homework, made our halloween costumes, hemmed our pants, shuttled us to softball or swim practice, and got up to do it all again the next day.  My dad worked nights, packed our lunches in the morning, drove us to school or the bus stop, and prepared a crock pot dinner for us once or twice a week, and after minimal sleep, woke up to pick us up from school and spend the evenings with us before heading to work the graveyard shift one more time.  For my family, boxed dinners were a convenience that enabled them to do ALL of the above.

Why, then, have I chosen to spend my evenings in the kitchen, with my toddler at my feet, wanting me to hold her?  With my husband having to distract her with their shared fun and games while I cook?  Why have I chosen to go to the grocery store two to three times a week for fresh produce when I could be on the floor with Eden reading board books and playing with Ice Bat?  There is the immediate reward, the smile on her face and the contented "Mmmmm" that she produces when I've given her something she really loves.  What I hope I will also see is the long-term effect that I strive for, a love of whole foods, a satisfaction with a peach over a cookie, a craving for a roasted vegetable over a French fry - All of the things I struggle to change in myself today, but never want her to struggle over.  I hope that someday we'll work side by side in the kitchen, feeding our bodies as we must by making choices that are right for them, making up for some of the time lost when I've been cooking while she plays.  For her birthday she got a play-house kitchen, and I watch with pride as she explores it, her synapses connecting as she begins to understand that it is a little replica of our kitchen, and that she can replicate my movements therein.

Ever haunted by my past, even my meals are influenced by my days with Gabriel and Ben.  I couldn't save my son from the fatal defect that claimed his life - But how could I ever forgive myself if I didn't do all that is within my power to minimize the risk to Eden posed by her prevalent family history of diabetes?  I want her life to be long, and I want her to keep all of her extremities for its duration.  I don't want her grandchildren to watch her lose her toes, her feet, her life, the way that I watched my grandmother lose hers.  I have more information available to me today than my grandparents or even my parents ever had - Shouldn't I use it?

I know I'm not a great cook, but I'm the cook that I am in large part because I was once married to a great chef.  He taught me my way around a kitchen, but what he could never convince me to do was to take a risk.  I never wanted to cook for him unless I could be sure of the outcome.  Otherwise, I deferred to him when it came to food.  I was afraid to fail, and especially afraid to fail in front of him.  Now, I live comfortably in a relationship free from co-dependence.  I have less fear of failure, and no fear of disappointing Marcos - I'm sure that he loves me even when I fail, and I know that I don't need his love, though I am better because I have it.  I am eager to please him, but confident that he'll love me one way or the other. Countless nights,  plates of slop have been placed in front of him, supported by the best of intentions but sabotaged by lack of skill, and he dutifully eats their contents and thanks me for dinner.

People often say that I'll grow soft and less diligent with another baby in the picture, but I'm not convinced this is true.  These are lifestyle changes I'm trying to make in myself, and a lifetime of health I am trying to provide for my children.  My goals and my actions are based on convictions that I don't see changing, even though I struggle to make the changes in myself. I've found parenting to be a beastly challenge, wrought with conflict, a constant series of choices to be made and commitments that I can only meet halfway.  When it comes to feeding my Bear, though, I'm prepared to go the distance.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Sapphire Kind of Love

Marcos had no easy task when he set out to select a wedding/engagement ring.  Insistent saleswomen presented him with glittering diamond rings from their exquisite engagement ring line and ask "Wouldn't she like something like this?"

"No."  He would find something in the display case more along the lines of my taste and watch their uncertain reactions and their certain response:  "That's not an engagement ring."  I've already heard the rhetoric - Conflict-free diamonds are out there and I can easily find something that is not the product of slave labor.  But my objection to the diamond is not obvious.  My objection is to the notion that love is proven by the size and the glitter and the expense of the diamond engagement ring that becomes the symbol of a couple's love.

Marcos has found himself in the unenviable position of falling in love with a woman who is severely damaged by her past, stubborn in her ways, and has rejected tradition.  I feel sorry for his plight, but I love him with all of my heart for stepping up to the challenge.  I love him in a way that can't be bought with diamonds, or bound by convention.  I love him with a sapphire kind of love.

In the grand scheme of my own tradition, love has been dependent and desperate, pathetic and harmful.  While I have loved truly and deeply in the past, it's never been a love that was matched by the receiving party.  My tradition has been one of co-dependency and as to be expected in those kinds of relationships, they've all ended badly.

For the past two years I have been in a loving relationship, based on mutual respect and an independent desire to commit to that relationship.  Marcos and I had a baby together because we love each other, we were married because we love each other, we are having another baby because we love each other, and we'll stay together because we love each other - Not because we NEED each other, or are dependent on each other, but simply because we find life is better together.

The man I married is the most loving, sincere, kind-hearted person I've ever known.  I admire his sense of obligation to his family and appreciate it even more now that I have also become a recipient of his loyalty.  I've learned there's not a thing we could do to make him turn his back on us.  I've unfairly put him to the test over and over again, an unfortunate side effect from history of abandonment, but he never lets me down.

He is intelligent, and amazes me almost daily with his ability to think critically and independently, his ability to simply figure things out.  His brain is an endlessly functional tool which can be used in solving technical problems, discussing the likely outcome of a political event, finding symbolism in a movie or television show, or answering the many questions that arise in our parenting adventure.

Every day he makes me laugh.  And I've learned that someone who makes me laugh is invaluable to getting through this life.

He is the best father I ever could have wished for my daughter.  Nothing makes me feel his love stronger than when I see him with our Eden.  By simply being himself, he is setting an example for her as to what a man should be, what she should expect from them, and what she herself deserves.  The love and dignity with which he treats her inspires me and makes me wish the same for every little girl.

And even beyond the love he shows for Eden, he continues to amaze me with the love he is able to show for a little boy he never even met.  He's never treated me like a childless woman, but has always acknowledged that I was a mother before our relationship began, that I have a son, Gabriel, and he is a part of me.  He is a part of our family, even if not physically present.  His memory is a part of the home we're building together.  That's something I didn't think I would find, but means more to me than I could ever say.

Today, my husband's 40th birthday, I find myself reaching into my memory to recall a time when he wasn't a part of my life, and a part of me.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that we've lived most of our adult lives without each other, we've fallen so quickly and comfortably into our life together.  I find myself wishing I could have skipped all of the bad-for-me moments and relationships and made my way straight to him.  I know, though, that I never would have appreciated the tremendous man I've married if I hadn't known tremendous heartbreak.  I would have kept seeking the glitter and sparkle of a manufactured diamond facade, perhaps never appreciating that I need a sapphire kind of love.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Rainbow Effect

It started during my senior year of high school.  My then-best friend Heather was rumored to be dating a junior girl, one of my neighbors who lived on the next block over.  She hadn't told me, but one day I saw them holding hands walking down my street.

I didn't say anything to Heather.  She clearly hadn't wanted me to know.  Finally, while we were hanging out one afternoon, she simply said, "I know you know."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I was afraid.  You're just so. . . Catholic."  At the time Heather and I were both in the unenviable position of being teenagers, struggling to find our place in the world.  Heather was coming to terms with being a lesbian in a world that was changing but still very unwelcoming to the gay population.  And for the first time, I was unclear about how I fit into the secular world as a Catholic.  For the first time, I was aware that the world was secular, while I was Catholic.

Over the next five years the remedy was simple, as I shunned my Faith when I decided I didn't want to follow its rules.  When I reverted to Catholicism I dedicated myself to finally understanding the Church's teachings that before, I just thought of as laws to regulate our behavior.

These efforts left me - leave me - in a limbo.  My generation has witnessed greater normalization of homosexuality, but the Catholic Church has never changed positions on the matter:  The inclination to be attracted to someone of the same sex itself is not a sin, but to linger on that attraction, to give in to lust in response to that attraction. and certainly to act on that attraction is the sin.  Contrary to what has become a popular belief, the average Catholic doesn't condemn homosexuality out of hate, but out of a deep love and desire to see all on this earth united again in Heaven.  Certainly, that is my goal.  If and when I find myself in Heaven someday, I want everyone that I love to be there too.  My drive has grown even stronger since the day I sent my son that way.

The question for me then became a question of how I can lead those around me, especially when I have no idea what I'm doing myself most of the time.  When I think of the number of times I've screwed up, I'm reluctant to be bold in the teachings of my Faith.  I got divorced, I got knocked up, and I showed up to my second wedding with my six month old daughter.  I haven't been exemplary.

Interestingly, it's the divorce that led me to really understand why gay couples want to be married, why they can't be satisfied with civil unions and domestic partnerships.  Marriage is different.  It is real, and special, and changes the nature of a relationship.  If it weren't, the disintegration of my first marriage wouldn't have burned as it did/  If marriage weren't special, I wouldn't have bothered to give it a second chance.  Marcos and I lived together, had a baby together, and we could have just kept the status quo but it fell short of capturing what we have.  Whether one supports gay marriage or not, support of marriage means recognizing that marriage is not just a piece of paper.

I've also had to wonder how much I can accomplish by telling my gay friends, and I have many, that engaging in homosexuality is a sin.  Are they very likely to stop? I'm past an age and station in life when friends will lie to me to avoid the conflict between my Faith and their lifestyle. Friendships just seem to work better when nobody has to pretend like they're something they're not. When Proposition 8 came up on California ballots I put too much effort into lying, leading people to believe that my fully informed conscience would still permit me to vote "no." My Faith called me to vote "yes," ad when I returned to my faith I committed myself to letting my conscience lead me.

I don't pretend to be some free-thinking, cafeteria, pick-n-choose Catholic anymore.  Likewise, I don't pretend to be a Catholic who understands how this whole life thing, and the whole eternity thing, actually works.  It's all just sort of speculation., trial, and error.  My friends know where the Catholic Church stands on homosexuality, and they know I stand with my Church.  I make it clear that I bring my daughter to Mass every week. and that I wish for her to have a Catholic education.  I want her to know her Faith and I want to lead her to Heaven the best way I know how.

The best I've come up with so far is just to live as I know how, guided by my imperfect understanding of Church teachings, with my eyes ahead and on the prize.  I spend a great deal of time praying that when I stand before God, He will know my heart, and that I can honestly say that my heart is pure.

Heather stood by my side as my bridesmaid when I married Ben. but thereafter we drifted apart.  It had nothing to do with the fact that she's a great big lezzy, and everything to do with the fact that life just changes and leads us in different directions, and though we live in the same little. big town, the distance from one side of that town to the other makes keeping up certain friendships inconvenient.  I still love her, and I still want her to be happy.  She recently got engaged.  When she met Allison, it was pretty evident that they were both in it for the long haul.  She was happy. and that was undeniable, even if the right for her to marry Allison was denied.  It's been nearly 20 years since heather first came out as a lesbian and in that time I've watched her struggle to find her place in life.  After all this time, I think she's finally found it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shades of Blue

"Andrea Lopez."

I stood, a familiar fear coursing through my body.  Marcos rose with me and we proceeded to the door where we were stopped by the ultrasound tech.  "Just you for now.  We'll come back for him when the first half is done."

I froze and could feel Marcos' fingers gently prodding me forward.  "Please.  I have history of anencephaly.  I don't want to be alone."

She rolled her eyes with a microscopic movement, but relented.  "I'm behind anyway.  Come on in."

Four years, two last names, one yellow house and my son's lifetime had gone by since my world was rattled by the fatal diagnosis, anencephaly.  Still, the machine, the sterility of the room, the sterility of the staff brought it all back to me.  What would have been Gabriel's fourth birthday was less than a week away and somehow even in his absence, he occupied the front of my brain.  As I lay on the exam table for what is for most women a highly-anticipated moment I prepared to receive the bad news that I presumed she would be discovering, a defense-mechanism inevitably developed by members of the infant loss community.

The tech began to explain to Marcos that she would be taking many measurements and making quite a few notes during the first half of the exam.  They don't usually allow spouses or family or friends in during that time because they get nervous and start to think something is wrong when it all takes so long.  Her reasoning was lost on me - I had already received the worst news an expectant mother could get.  Besides, Marcos is unshakeable, and I was already rattled to my core.  When something went wrong, I would know right away.  She couldn't pull one over on me anyway.  I was on to her, from the first shift in her eyes.

She began to ask questions about Gabriel, though I noted that she never asked his name, likely presuming he didn't have one.  "How long did you carry your anencephalic baby?"

"40 weeks, 1 day."

"Oh."  Her face gave away her surprise.  "So you went all the way to term. How long was he with you?"

"Ten days. I guess that's pretty extraordinary."

"Oh.  Yes, that is unusual."  Somehow through the course of the forced conversation it was revealed that I brought Gabriel home from the hospital. "You brought him home?" Her incredulity shone.  Gabriel's story is remarkable, no doubt an anomaly in her anomalous experience with anencephaly.

Marcos was invited to stand next to me to view the images of our baby.  She showed us the heart, the different organs, the active hands.  "I can't tell you what you're seeing, but I can show you."  Her wand scanned over the bright, round skull.  I might never have known how perfect it is, if I had never been exposed to how perfectly its absence appears.  A few tears rolled down my face.  Until this baby is here, until I see and touch its head, I won't feel secure in its existence, but these images would carry me over the remainder of the pregnancy, at least.

The whirlwind that is the ten day long celebration of Gabriel's life followed in a flurry of cupcakes and Post-It Notes and a baseball game and Magic Mullet Run promotion. As seems to happen every year, it got both easier and more difficult than the years past.  Time allows me to feel some sense of security in the life ahead of me, but time also puts more distance between me and the physical presence of my son.  I would peak at the blueberry bush from my bedroom window, intent on spending some time with it to absorb its inspiration and prompt my annual blog about the plant.  But life seemed to keep getting in the way.  This year Eden demands my attention and was folded into the ten days of activities.  She has her own needs, and meeting them is part of what sustains me.  On the anniversary of Gabriel's passing Marcos and I took Eden to release balloons with our family and play at the park.  Things I will never get to do with Gabriel, I finally get to do with a child of my own.

In the days following, I finally took time to listen to my voicemail messages, which I tend to gather for a month before reviewing.  A call from Kaiser stopped me cold.  The genetic counselor needed me to return her call, and she would send me an e-mail with the same information.  In the e-mail she reported that a normal variant had been detected, an oxymoron when one considers normal means "regular" and "variant" means "exhibiting variety or diversity."  Doctors are so fucking stupid.

I called the genetic counseling department and was advised my particular counselor would be out for the day, but they would try to find someone to review my file and get back to me.  No one did.  I must have called eight times the following morning, this morning, but got the department's voicemail instead.  When my phone finally rang, I answered quickly.

"Is this Andrea Lopez?"


"This is Kristy with Kaiser.  You called."

"You called first."

"Yes.  I have your ultrasound results.  Kaiser requires us to go over even normal variants with our patients."  By that time I had Googled "normal variants" and knew that they were generally nothing of concern, but still, I needed a name for my child's particular variant.


"A choroid plexus cyst was detected. . ."

"Spell that."

"C-h-o-r-o-i-d new word p-l-. . ." by then the phrase had presented itself in my search bar, so I clicked the term and followed a link as she babbled.

"Why does it say here that the cyst is sometimes associated with Trisomy 18?"

"Well, I'm getting to that.  Sometimes it is.  In very few cases.  It's not a very high chance."

"There wasn't a very high likelihood of my child having anencephaly, but we were the one in one thousand."

"You refused any blood testing that would have told us sooner if Trisomy 18 were present," she said, with some bite to her tone.  I wondered if she always dealt with such delicate subjects so coarsely.  "When Trisomy 18 is present there are other indicators during the ultrasound, none of which were present in yours."  She could have led off with that. "Underdevelopment, a small baby, lack of fetal movement, especially hand movement."  My mind flicked back to the ultrasound in Urgent Care a few months ago, during which the baby had waved at us assuredly.  "Trisomy 18 is a chromosomal defect. It has no relation to anencephaly."  Again my mind wandered, this time to the genetic counselor I saw after Gabriel's diagnosis, who assured me that the anencephaly had nothing to do with the miscarriage.  The miscarriage was likely the result of a chromosomal defect.  As my brain raced I forced my eyes back to the page of information before me, soothing myself with the facts at hand.  Fetuses with Trisomy 18 almost always demonstrate abnormalities on ultrasound in addition to choroid plexus cysts.  The precise rate of risk is difficult to estimate and somewhat controversial as most doctors believe it is well under 1 percent 1 in 1,000 pregnancies result in anencephaly and a fetus with choroid plexus present but an otherwise normal ultrasound has a better than 99% chance of not having Trisomy 18.  I have every reason to believe there is no cause for alarm.

"No further treatment is indicated at this time.  In most cases the cyst resolves before delivery.  Even if it doesn't, it is benign."  I allowed reason to wash over me.  "You could have amniocentesis, but that carries risk.  I find that most women who reject early blood testing will almost certainly reject the amnio."

"It won't matter what an amnio might tell me."  It wouldn't.  I've already fallen in love with this baby, even if it is a guarded, cautious love, it is relentless and unconditional at the same time.  That is my nature, in the aftermath of the storm that was Gabriel, and really, always.  I love with a careful abandon, knowing it might hurt, but knowing I'm going to do it anyway and face the consequences if and when they arise.  I live in shades of blue, bright and bold like the sky, dark and dreary like the storm, soft and soothing like the baby blue of Gabriel's blankets and clothes, deep and true like the promise represented in my sapphire wedding ring.  But always, always blue.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Celebrating 10 Days that Changed the World With Love

It's June 1, and what would be Gabriel's 4th birthday is fast approaching.  This year is different than any other.  This year my life and my heart and my arms are so full that I long to share the joy I've found.  Again, I'll be doing 10 days of activities that honor my sweet Gabriel's life, and I invite you to participate in these personal and community events, to share the color that can come from gay skies, and the brightness that can come from even the darkest of times.

1.     Day 1, Wednesday June 10, 2015:  Happy 4th Birthday Gabriel!  In honor of Gabriel’s birthday, do something to spread awareness of anencephaly. Check out the website for stories about babies born with anencephaly, or look into the lives of some of the exceptional cases of anencephaly in which the children have or are currently thriving and have/did for years, such as Pierce, Vitoria de Cristo, Nicholas, Katie, Angela, or Elijah. 

2.       Day 2, Thursday June 11, 2015:  Cupcake Day!  As has become an annual tradition with friends and family, enjoy a cupcake today as we celebrate Gabriel having beaten the odds when he lived to see 24 hours on earth.

3.       Day 3, Friday June 12, 2015:  Four Year Old Fun.  In honor of what would have been Gabriel’s 4th birthday, look into donating toys or other much needed items for a local preschool or Head Start Program.

4.       Day 4, Saturday June 13, 2015:  Blazing Trails.  Over the next few days I will be selling tickets for the Bakersfield Blaze game on Saturday June 13, 2015 at 7:45 pm against Modesto.  Tickets are $8, and 50% of the sales from tickets I sell will go to Duke University Molecular Physiology Institute.  This year, the Bakersfield Blaze are an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.  My dreams of Gabriel pitching for the Mariners were halted when he was diagnosed with anencephaly, but through the continued efforts towards research, my dream that his life will change the future lives on.

5.       Day 5, Sunday June 14, 2015:  Folic Acid Foods.  We still don’t know what causes anencephaly, but we know that the surest way to reduce the risk of its occurrence is to take folic acid during the early stages of pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant.  While supplements are the best way to insure that we receive the recommended amount, there are a number of foods that can help give us a boost.  Today, enjoy a few of the most rich in folic acid, including dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, citrus fruit, beans, peas or lentils, okra, avocado, Brussel sprouts, seeds or nuts, cauliflower, beets, corn, carrots and squash.  Take your pick!  And I guarantee, I won’t be picking beets! 

6.       Day 6, Monday June 15, 2015:  A Bag of Blessings. Join me in creating a paper bag of blessings to give to a local person in need.  It doesn’t have to be much – Maybe a tube of toothpaste, a water bottle, a granola bar, a stick of deodorant, or a pair of socks placed in a paper bag, or a few paper bags, to give to someone you might encounter who may be in need.  You can give them to your local shelter, or be prepared to hand one to that needy soul you see in the same place every day on your way to work. 

7.       Day 7 Tuesday June 16, 2015:  Sing a song.  One of my favorite memories from the 10-Day Celebration of 2013 was the group “sing-along” of “Danny’s Song on my Facebook page.  On Tuesday June 16, 2015, I’ll be posting the opening line to “Danny’s Song” once again, and I invite you to add a line and sing “along” with me. 

8.       Day 8, Wednesday June 17, 2015:  Post It.  Inspired by Cak Alvastad’s celebration for Andrew, take a Post-It note and write something inspiring, then leave that note on a mirror in a public restroom to warm a heart, or several.

9.       Day 9, Thursday June 18, 2015:  Magic Mullet Brigade Day.  Help me advertise this year’s Magic Mullet Run for Anencephaly Awareness by sharing the link to the run, taking a stack of fliers to a local business to disperse, or signing yourself up for this year’s run. 

1.   Day 10, Friday June 19, 2015:  A Boy and His Dog.  It’s no secret that I love my boy, and I love my dog.  The love I can’t share with Gabriel often gets transferred to Gideon.  On this day, do a little something special for your four-legged comrade who’s seen you through hard times. 

ANGELVERSARY!  Saturday June 20, 2015:   It’s the Feast of St. Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude.  As has become an annual custom, I will be releasing balloons in celebration of the day my sweet boy’s soul was lifted to Heaven.  Join me at University Park in East Bakersfield, or release one on your own.  After the balloon release, stick around to enjoy some park time with my little rainbow, Eden.  Timing and final location to be announced. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Leanne Longcrier: Diamond in the Rough

The news engulfed us, like the fire that consumed her car.  In the early hours of Sunday May 3, 2015, Leanne's car had crossed the median divider and gone off the road.  My first thoughts were of her burning to death as she thought of the two young children she would leave parentless.  Later, when news reports indicated that she had struck two trees before wrapping the car around a third, causing the car to burst into flames, I reasoned that she must have died on impact.

Information came to me in bits over the course of Eden's first birthday party.  First, a message from Lynn:  "Call me if you can."  A few moments later, one from Chris:  "I heard about Leanne.  Wow. :-(" The ominous tone of the messages caused a shudder down my spine, but I convinced myself that they must be benign.  "She finally did it," I thought.  "That prude finally cut loose and she must have got drunk before her shift.  Lynn needs me to come in to work, but I can't."

Then, another message, this time from Shane: "Happy birthday to Eden.  I'm sorry it's such a sad day also." Something was wrong. I urgently Lynn, who must have been fielding a number of urgent phone calls that she wishes she'd never had to take or make.  When she didn't answer, I called Shane. As the phone rang, as Shane answered, as he began to preface the news, I looked at Timothy, sitting on the couch, the only adult in the room, and I knew that he knew that whatever Shane was about to tell me was terribly, horribly bad.

"The car went off the road, and I guess she didn't make it."  The words hung in the air. I looked at the knowing look in Timothy's eyes.

"I have to go."

"Are you okay?"

"I - Yes.  I have to go."  As a matter of formality, Timothy asked "What happened?"

"Leanne's dead."

Over the course of the next couple of hours, with our party guests chattering and munching on the last bits of food, I learned that Leanne's body had been mangled and burned beyond recognition.  Her medical records would need to be obtained the following day to confirm her identity.  Later reports revealed that the police could not even confirm that there were no other occupants in the car, it had been crushed so severely.  Friends told me they had driven by the accident site that morning, unaware that it was Leanne's car that had been split like a banana by the tree, causing them to lift up a prayer that the driver had at least gone quickly.

For three days now Leanne's friends and co-workers from The Wright Place have been wrestling with the news.  The glaring, unspoken lamentation of an outsider looking in might be the tragedy of a woman who was so beautiful having been so disfigured in her death.  The lack of information as to whether alcohol was involved in the accident which occurred at approximately 1:30 AM has caused ignorant speculation as to what kind of mother this dead woman must be.

I'll tell you what kind of mother Leanne Longcrier was.  She was the kind of mother who left at just after 5 AM, five mornings a week, to report to a company where she'd worked for over ten years, because the job provided health benefits to her children.  She is the kind of mother who, two years ago, took on a job working an additional two shifts a week to give her daughter and her son, whose father had passed away when they were both quite young, a good life. If you knew Leanne for ten minutes, you knew that she had two kids, a boy and a girl. If you spoke with her even a minute longer you knew that her son Michael wanted to go into the military, but a part of her hoped he would get over it because she didn't want to lose him, and her daughter Gabi wasn't sure but she maybe wanted to be a lawyer, but in any case, both kids were going to college, because that's why she was working so hard.

Rick and Lynn had to have been slightly out of their minds when they hired her, undoubtedly.  She is the kind of woman who never made sense as a bartender.  She didn't drink, she didn't swear, and the dirty jokes told by the dirty old patrons and the dirty hardened bartenders all went over her head.  She stuck out like a sore thumb around there, just as her absence does today.

"Leanne, you need to do some things for yourself," I would often tell her.  "Your kids are growing up.  They don't need you around as much anymore.  You need to get your own life."  She'd smile and look at me with doe-eyes and it was plain on her face that she disagreed.  How I regret those words now, even while I thank God that on this occasion, she had left her children at home.

For the two years that Leanne worked at The Wright Place, she never quite fit in.  She didn't change, as so many of the bartenders that I've seen come and go over the years, and even as I have.  She was the same woman the last time she walked out of that door as she had been the day she walked in.   I think that's got to be why we all came to love her so much.  I know that's why her death has rattled our community so.  We had all known a lot of somebodies, but we had never met anyone like Leanne, a sparkling jewel among the rough.

Just days before her death, unknowing that we wouldn't see her again, someone summed up her place in the bar: "She can't poor a drink for shit, but you just don't care."  You can find booze just about anywhere.  There was only one Leanne.

A Go Fund Me Account has been established to raise funds for Leanne's burial:

Her children are young, ages 12 and 13, and have requested a traditional casket and burial for their mother. Any funds that can be raised for this burial will enable the family to reserve the funds from Leanne's life insurance policy to be held in trust for the children as they grow up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From the Iris

"I think it's a weed."

"I think so too," I agreed, scowling as I stared up at the near 6 foot tall stalks growing in my new-to-me garden.  "I'll never be able to get those out of here without leaving a big hole."

"I'll remove them," Marcos assured me, "but first I want to see what happens when they bloom."  There were multiple buds at the top of the stalks, ready to burst.  Sure enough, the next day the scarlet blossoms had emerged to be admired.  I sent a picture to Marcos, who did a google search for the name of the plant.  "They're called hollyhocks," he later informed me.

"And it's a weed?"

"No.  People buy them and grow them.  Those other stalks over there," he said, pointing to another bunch of five stalks at the south end of the yard, "those might even bloom in a different color.  They come in lots of colors."  A week later I was still surprised by the large pink blossoms presented by the hollyhocks.

We've been in our new house for two months now, and surprises in the garden await us at every turn.  It's a veritable paradise in continuous bloom.  The snapdragons, a favorite of mine, have withered away in the dry Bakersfield warmth of April, with a promise to return again when the weather is more favorable.  In their place some of the more drought-resistant, heat tolerant shrubs and plants have begun to flower.  Tufts of lavender grow fuller and more purple every day.  The three bougainvillea climb their trellises, their pink petals reaching for the sun, falling and carpeting the ground to make way for fresh new petals.  A cluster of fortnight lilies have made their appearance.  There are more varieties than I can identify, with new ones cropping up with routine.  Though our grass has struggled with the local watering restrictions, the flowering plants have remained resilient.

With the blooms have come the humbingbirds and the bees, peppering the space around the plants. Hummingbirds hover in the air, saturated by the possibilities. Honeybees and bumblebees dance among the blossoms. I was recently stung for the first time in my life, and Marcos was stung the very same day, leading us both to worry about Eden.  We'll have to instruct her soon that though the garden is beautiful and appealing and even tempting, it presents a certain danger when we're not careful, a lesson I suppose that will require a lifetime of reminders.

Longing for a touch of the yellow house, I bought a couple of irises.  The irises, which first bloomed for me in my third spring at the yellow house, came to symbolize for me a sense of surprise and newness as I found my post-baby loss, post-divorce self.  Their bold purple evoked a hope in me that had been smothered to but an ember among the ashes of the life I've left behind.

My thumbs are anything but green and I don't find much promise in the new irises.  The irises in the yellow house would have bloomed by this point. . . Except that they haven't.  When I make my weekday drive by the yellow house as I take Eden to daycare, I stretch my neck for signs of the irises, but even their proud stalks appear wilted this spring. Perhaps they've left with me.

Maybe my new irises will bloom, and maybe they won't.  I hold out a tentative hope, but have learned that they do best when I just stand back and let them grow as they will.  With or without the irises, all around me a lush Eden grows, bright and fresh and continuously changing, seeking a delicate balance of love and support without overbearing.  The garden is a gift I hadn't anticipated and I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibility.  I know that maintaining its beauty will require a series of trial and error, learning when to plant an a perennial and when to give up on an annual and where the sun hits and when and constant lessons in how to keep the bursts of color reappearing year after year.

Trial and error don't seem like the best ways to manage the care of the gifts that I've been charged with, but they are the tools that I have. While I don't like to be unsure, and I don't like to lack a book to consult for a guaranteed answer, I know that I love the hope that bursts from the promise of the flower's bud.  I love every stage of growing, from the first appearance of the tender green sprout to the stretching of the stalk to the forming of the bud to the unveiling of the petals. Even with its dangers and uncertainty I'm enjoying every day of my Eden with a heart that sprung anew from the iris.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Heartbeat Song

I watched the blank screen with still breath, waiting for the signs of life. 

"There's no sack.  There's no heartbeat."  I looked at Ben with horror, searching him for a different answer, as though he could right this hideous wrong.  "These things just happen."  I recall that the doctor had more to say, but every word was cold, her lack of compassion chilling.  

My first child was gone.  I would never hold him or her, never see his or her face, never even hear his heartbeat, silenced on this earth. 

The absence of that first child remains the greatest absence in my life.  The unanswered questions fill my days and have left me with an ever-present longing.  I suppose it was because of the miscarriage that one of the most vivid memories of my pregnancy with Gabriel continues to be November 8, 2010.  That was the day I went for my first pre-natal visit.  I was surprised that they would be able to pick up a heartbeat then, and the nurse practitioner warned me that at that early stage, I should not be disappointed if they could not.  When the Doppler quickly picked up its sound, and its sound filled the room, the tears spilled uncontrollably from my eyes.  That sound was the answer to a prayer.  That memory could never be taken from me.  Not even anencephaly could rob me of that moment.  When I think of that pregnancy, its ups, its downs, its heartache, my mind always comes back to that day when I heard my son's heart beat for the very first time.

Tears of joy have been forced from my eyes with the sound of Eden's heartbeat too, and last Monday, when I heard a heartbeat for the first time this pregnancy.  There's nothing in this world like that moment.  There is nothing like that sound.

Looking back, I suppose I overreacted when, last Tuesday while at work at the bar, I saw the blood.  My mind flashed back to that day back in May 2010, when the miscaige began.  With barely a word I gathered my purse, murmured to the day shift girl that I had to leave, and walked out of the door.  I'd never done that before and my mind felt conflicted, even as I drove across town with the aching in my abdomen, wondering if I should turn back and finish my shift.  If my fears were being realized again, there was probably nothing that a doctor could do.  But I had to know, and I had to know that night, so I kept driving and checked in at the Urgent Care center where I was immediately triaged, then informed I was likely looking at a three hour wait.

I was joined shortly by Marcos, and together we waited until we were among the last three patients to be called.  My mind knew why - All the doctor could do was check for status, but he couldn't "fix" anything.  Even while my heart pled with God, my brain began preparing for the loss and planning what unpregnant Andrea would do with her weekend, defending me from another hurt that might just shatter me.

We were called back to a room sometime around midnight, and were immediately told by the doctor that in 50% of cases where there is bleeding during the pregnancy, the result is miscarriage.  The odds did not seem to favor me, but even when they have, I have a history of ending up on the wrong side of them anyway.  I began saying my goodbyes to my unborn child.

He did a Doppler scan.  Nothing.

"We'll do an ultrasound."   Marcos and I were led to another, brightly lit room.  I was given a hot sheet by a sympathetic male nurse who said, "I know it's cold."  I thought back to the cold of the room five years ago, and the empty screen, as they seated me for the ultrasound.

The doctor began opening drawers and cabinets.  "I can't find the gel," he muttered, presumably to himself.  "Where's the gel?"  He looked out into the hallway, my anxiety growing with every second, and called, "Where's the gel?"  The male nurse returned and located it for him.  I could feel my body shaking under the hot sheet as he squeezed the warm gel across my belly and applied the ultrasound wand.

Immediately, I could recognized the shape of the tiny baby that I had seen for the first time just the day before.  "We have cardiac activity."  The doctor pointed at the screen at a pulsating blur.  At almost the same time, the tiny stump of an arm moved.  I could see the skull, bright, white, with some dark shading where the baby's soft spot will be until sometime after its born.  My body relaxed with relief, tears falling and sobs coming uncontrollably from my mouth.

The bleeding, never as severe as what I experienced during miscarriage, stopped the following day.  The abdominal cramping, never anything more than what I have experienced with every pregnancy, no longer triggers alarm.  I followed up with my nurse practitioner the following day, and she seems to think everything is fine. At 12 weeks, I have begun to feel the earliest flutterings of fetal movement.  We seem to be over last week's hurdle.  I've told my parents, close friends, a couple of co-workers, but have otherwise wanted to gloss over the moment until now, when I feel safe.

It is one of the earliest signs of life, one of the things that makes us alive.  My heart beat for 28 years but I never had a heartbeat song until the day someone else's heart beat inside of me.  This is my heartbeat song.