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.