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.