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.