Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Somewhere in the World it's Night

Eden has a book - "Animals Around the World."  It opens, "Somewhere in the world it's night.  Somewhere else it's day.  Animals around the world are waking up to play."  To Eden, the book is about ducks, rabbits, hippos, giraffes, pigs, chicks and another handful of animals, and how they spend their days and nights.  To me, it's about perspective.  As deeply entrenched as we are in the moments of our own lives, somewhere out there, someone else is living in theirs, and the difference may be night and day.

About this time four years ago, a specialist confirmed that Fetus Eden did not have anencephaly, and the sunlight poured into my world, bathing me in its warmth after an emotional winter that had lasted years.  And about this same time, also four years ago, on the other side of the country, the Morales family would learn the devastating news that their daughter Angela, due in March 2014, was diagnosed with the same terminal birth defect that had claimed my son's life.  Their winter was just beginning.

The diagnosis led Angela's mother, Sonia, to join a support group of families of children diagnosed with anencephaly, to which I continue to belong.

I don't remember much about Sonia from the months leading up to Angela's birth.  I wasn't very active in the group at that time, as I was expecting my rainbow baby and felt guilty in my happiness among the grief that permeates our group.  Though the members are always happy for each other's rainbows, there's a sadness that always sort of hangs there.

Angela was born March 23, 2014.  It was not until Eden was born about 6 weeks later that I really noticed that Angela had already defied the odds significantly.  Her parents were reaching out to the community for advice, seeking medical treatment in a world that traditionally resists treating children like ours.  Little by little the collective anencephaly community began to realize that Angela was going to be our next star.  She was going to be one of those anomolies, one of those rare cases of children diagnosed in utero with anencephaly who was going to live months - maybe years.

After her birth and through the course of her treatment, Angela's diagnosis was converted, as anencephaly no longer seemed to fit.  Sonia and the Morales family became targets of harassment, receiving messages from people accusing them of lying about Angela's condition for attention and misleading people into believing that Angela had anencephaly.

Just like any other family in our community, the Morales family was told their daughter wasn't going to live.  They were given the option to terminate their pregnancy, to kill their daughter and sister, because she was going to die anyway.  Armed with a faith that is unlike any I have ever seen, obedient to God in a way that I could only pray to be, well-versed and strong in their Catholic Faith, the Morales family did not make a choice to continue the pregnancy - They simply followed God's will for them.  They only did what was right.

The anencephaly community, as always, came to the defense of our sister in grief.  Through Sonia and the Morales family, and above all through Angela, we were living.  Angela was "ours."  Through Sonia's arms we held our children once again.  Through every one of Angela's achievements, our babies accomplished something too.  Before our children were born we each had hopes and dreams for them, and all of us had our hopes and dreams crushed. But hope was built anew through a little girl in Rhode Island with thick, dark hair and an infectious smile.  The kinds of things people take for granted - sending their children to school - we will never get to do with our babies.  It was with beaming pride that we "watched" Angela attend her first day of schoo. 

Somewhere in the world it's night.  Somewhere else it's day.  While Angela flourished on the East Coast I was in California, staring at my rainbow baby wondering why I still felt so sad.   Everything I could want, I had, but something was still missing.  I was suffering from deep postpartum depression, still suffering from aggravated post traumatic stress.  I would look at my newborn daughter and wonder what I ever did to deserve her, when I couldn't save my son.  I couldn't understand why I had a right to my next breath, when my son would never breathe again.

"Look at her hair," I would tell my husband, showing him pictures of newborn Angela.  "She has twice as much hair as Eden."  As Angela's story unfolded for me and the rest of the world, I took comfort in her triumphs.  My own friends and family began to follow Angela's story, also seeing Gabriel in Angela.

Through the course of her life, which was much shorter than the average person's, but which was tremendous and practically unheard of among those familiar with anencephaly, Angela experienced periods of illness that had the world waiting with bated breath for the outcome.  Would Angela survive this time?  Time and again, she did.

Through all of this, Sonia managed to care for her daughter Elizabeth, who had developed a saintly love for her baby sister. Sonia struggled through a subsequent pregnangy while also suffering from hyperemesis gravidum.  As she carried her son Alejandro, gravely ill for much of the pregnancy, she also waited each day not knowing if Angela's health would take a turn and if she would be saying goodbye to one child even while saying hello to another, and trusting all the while that whatever happened, it was all part of God's great plan.

During Angela's most recent illness, Sonia made it clear to the world that this time, she wouldn't recover.  The world carried Angela and the Morales family in prayer while Sonia, Rony, Elizabeth and Alejandro comforted and loved that precious little girl even as their hearts were breaking.

At approximately 2:45 PM pacific time on saturday December 16, 2017, I laid down to watch a movie and perhaps take a nap while my (now) two beautiful, whole and healthy daughters slept down the hall.  While scrolling through Facebook I came across a particularly poignant post from Sonia, a picture of Angela and her Daddy, who was reading to her for the last time.  I turned off the movie and put down my phone, and prayed.  I never do things like that anymore - I never pray like I should, and most of the time I feel I don't have a prayer left in me.  My mind drifted back to that June day in 2011 that I last held my son while he took his last breath.  Through Angela and her family, I held him once again.  I comforted him once again.  I told him I loved him one last time and I gave him over to the only care better than mine.  I later learned that shortly after, on the other side of the country, Angela took her last breath on earth, and was welcomed in to Heaven.

Somewhere in the world it's night.  Somewhere else it's day. . . .

If you've never been with someone in their hour of dying, you can't imagine what a bittersweet privilege it is.  You see, it is our basest human instinct to cling to life.  The urge to keep breathing and keep our hearts beating and thereby keep living and loving is what we know.  That is why murder, abortion, and suicide are so disordered - It is natural to want to live.  Yet, death is natural too.  And to be with someone as they are both clinging to life, but ready to die, is beautiful.  To be among the last faces someone sees before they see the face of God is an honor. To hold one hand, while God holds the other, is for some parents all we can offer our children, but to that child, it is the world.

The world heaved a collective cry of grief when Sonia announced Angela's passing to the world the following day.  I sobbed and choked with tears flowing when I read the news, and ran to my rainbow baby, my Eden, my piece of paradise, and held her close to me.  Covered in syrup from her pancake breakfast and surprised by my aggressive show of affection, and alarmed by my fears, she said, "Momma, I'm all sticky."  I kissed her forehead and rubbed her beautiful fully formed skull.  Her Daddy, my husband, looked on as I set Eden back in her seat and hugged our youngest daughter, Delilah.  As I took in the picture I noticed, as I frequently do, the face of the 6 year old little boy that was missing from our table, and the empty chair at the breakfast table somewhere in Rhode Island.

Backing out of my driveway to take the girls to Mass that morning, my heart still heavy with the news, the striking lyrics came from the radio speaker, "Every storm runs out of rain, just like every dark night turns into day."

Somewhere in the world it's night.  Somewhere else it's day.  There is a time for looking back, and there is a time for looking ahead, and there are times that we just have to live in the moment.  For the 3 years, 8 months and 23 days, Angela and the Morales family lived deep in the moment, for one moment later, everything could change.  They loved, and they laughed, and they cried, and they suffered.  They lived.  Life isn't always kind or easy, but it is always a gift.  It is always a gift and it should be lived to its fullest.

They have been shining examples of Faith, walking the path that God placed them on in an unconditional display of obedience, prostrate to His Will.  Someday, words like "anencephaly," "incompatible with life," "terminal," and "She's gone" will mean nothing.  All that will matter are the words we should all long to hear:  "Well done, my good and faithful servants."  We are in the throes of night - This world, in all its beauty, can still be a dark place, made brighter by the shining stars among us, but still a fallen world.  But Somewhere Else, it's Day.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Through My Daughter's Eyes

By 5:30 AM last Monday morning, I had already dropped Eden and Delilah off with my parents for the day and was on my way to San Luis Obispo for an 8:30 hearing.   Such mornings are a mixed bag; I enjoy the break in work week monotony and the "alone time" that driving 6 hours in one day affords me, but I miss my hectic, nonstop, tiresome, and beloved morning with my little girls.

The whole world's changed since they were born.  I'd made the trek from Bakersfield to San Luis Obispo dozens of times before May 3, 2014, but now I see everything so differently.   Driving through the city in the early morning hours I could still hear Eden's voice, asking me about the traffic signals.

"Why did we stop?"

"You know why we stopped."

"Red light!"

As I proceeded to the freeway, I imagined her asking, "Which way are we going?"

"North.  We're going north, and then we'll go west."

Contrails of white exhaust streaked the sky, evidence of the planes passing too far away for us to see.

"Airplane!  Momma, I see an airplane!  Do you see it?"  Imagine being so full of wonder that every plane is still so exciting.

Oil derrick pumps pepper the fields of Lost Hills, a small, aptly named town lying between Bakersfield and my destination that day.

"I see oil pumps! They suck the oil out of the ground like this:  *slurp*!  And then we turn the oil into gas to be fuel for our car so we can go."  Alone in my car, I smiled with pride at my little girl's capacity to learn and retain information.

I switched the Sirius XM station to Channel 18, currently hosting a Beatles Channel for the summer.  Thanks to one of her favorite children's shows, Beat Bugs, Eden can be heard singing along with no less than 10 Beatles songs, each hits long before she was born.  "Good day Sunshine!"

Trucks and cars and motorcycles and I passed each other, and I snickered as I thought of Eden's characterization of every pickup truck as a "monster truck."  She thinks "monster trucks" are beautiful.

On the side of the road I spotted five or six cows huddled under a lone tree.  I wish Eden were really there with me to see them.

These days - travel days - are some of my longest.  With the open road laid out before me, the whole world waits for me at home.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When The Stars Go Blue

There are these moments that are so perfect.  The girls fit perfectly in the bend of my elbow, one perfectly seated on each leg.  Delilah turns the pages of the board book with perfect timing, while Eden "reads" along with perfect memorization.  Everything is perfect.

That's when I feel it the most.  That's when Gabriel's absence comes crashing back to me. That's when I am slapped in the face with loneliness that I shouldn't feel, surrounded by the love of my girls, and guilt for feeling lonely when each of them are the world.  I'm filled with regret for not being able to do the impossible, for not being able to heal Gabriel so that he could be here, wrecking these moments with his pleadings to not read any more 'baby' books.

Delilah turns the page.  I can't look.  I suddenly can't stand it.  It's all so beautiful, but the truth is something hideous.  The truth is there is a little boy that will always be missing from these scenes.

I can't look at the stars.  They stand between me and the little boy that I'd longed for all of my life.  Like a beautiful, tangled net, they hold him in the Heavens and all I can do is dream of who waits beyond those stars.  So I can't look at the stars.

Where do you go, when the stars go blue?  What am I supposed to do when no matter where I turn, I'm facing an empty space?

Not so long ago, under those stars at 2:25 AM, a little girl was born who looks so much like her big brother that sometimes I have to look twice.  A little girl with dark, sparkling eyes and a hint of a dimple in her left cheek and a toothy smile that will leave you victim to her charm.  A little girl who still nuzzles her head under my chin, against my neck, unknowingly filling the cracks in my broken heart.  My little star.  "Gabe," she attempts to say, as she tugs at his picture hanging next to the stairs.  I can't look at the stars, but I can't look away, either.

Nearby another not-so-little girl runs and jumps and spins and dances, curly hair flouncing, long limbs bending and flapping.  A not-so-little girl with a not-so-little personality and a not-so-little vocabulary that will lash you with its wit one minute then warm your heart with its sweetness the next.  My piece of paradise.

Outside a pot containing the famous blueberry bush still sits, waiting, hoping against the odds for another sprout of green, another sign of life in defiance of expectations.  I may never see another leaf or blossom or berry.  Maybe all you see when you look at that plant is a bunch of dead branches.  But I see what could have been.  I see what could still be.

Hope is a strange thing.  Hope can break our hearts and let us down and fail us.  Hope hurts.  Hope takes guts.  Hope requires love.  Hope keeps me hanging on, even when the stars are blue.

Gabriel, "I lit a fire with the love you left behind.  And it burned wild."  I miss you.  With every breath, with every beat of my heart, I miss you.  I always will. I'll always see the empty space.  But I'll always be thankful for 10 days that changed the world.  You changed my world.

*Credit to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' song "Stars" and Ryan Adams' song "When the Stars Go Blue" for inspiration.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Double Take

The head of the woman in line in front of me whipped back and forth between me and her twin boys, as our six eyes remained locked in a stare.  I finally broke away to see her smiling at me.

"They're killing me.  I really want another."

She laughed.  "Take them for a few hours.  You'll change your mind."

"How old are they?"

"They'll be two in August."

"They're precious."

As she unloaded her things I looked at my own Costco cart, full of things that I am able to buy because I "only" have two children, including a new outfit for both Eden and Delilah.  If we were to add another to the mix, I couldn't spontaneously make these purchases.  But as it stands, buying things for the two girls that I love so much is one of the little pleasures in my life.

I'm fortunate that putting the girls in a new dress, or a new bow in their hair, can still make me smile.  Just an hour before my Costco run, I had taken my pre-session survey to gauge my depression and anxiety levels.  Survey says I've lost interest in things that used to interest me, and I find little pleasure in life right now.

I don't really have much to complain about.  I have a beautiful family, a good job that I love, everything I need and most of what I want.  But it all feels a bit meaningless these days.
As I leave the warehouse I encounter the woman again, the twin boys still sitting side by side in the shopping cart.  She sees my longing gaze and asks, "How many do you have?"


"And you want more?"  I smile.  She has no idea how loaded my answer really is.

Increasingly I find myself grieving the child that I miscarried.  This always comes and goes in waves, sometimes affecting me more than others.  This wave will pass, but not a day goes by that I don't think about who that child might have been today.  I know that in those two boys sitting side by side, I saw the two children that will never get to be 21 months old.  I saw the future I might never have, the children I still hope to have that may just never come.

In the car the tears stream down my face as Zac Brown sang, "My whole world, it begins and ends with you. . . "  I don't know anymore where the world begins and where it ends, I only know that I'm drowning in it, and there again, I don't know why.

At home I presented Eden with her new outfit.

"It's a beautiful dress!"  I promise her she can wear it tomorrow.  Upstairs, in addition to her closet full of clothes, there are boxes and tubs and cabinets brimming with clothes each girl has outgrown, loving folded in the hopes that I will get to use them again on a child of my own.  Other clothes remain still in their package, a fading ember of faith that one day, I'll have another little boy.  I tell myself that if that day comes I will pat myself on the back for being so prudent.  But day by day I feel a bit more like Ms. Haversham, clinging to a futile dream while the world goes on without me.

Marcos tells me the news, that a terrorist attack occurred at the Arianna Grande concert in England.  19 are dead, which seems comparatively less devastating.  He tells me that online people are commenting, "Too bad Arianna Grande wasn't one of them."  Fleetingly, I think, "Too bad I wasn't one of them."  Very young people attend her concerts, young people with a whole life ahead of them.  Young people who still love to wake up every morning.  Young people who don't have children that are destined to grow up with a chronically depressed mother who never seems satisfied.

I go through the motions of bedtime routine.  I'm in a low, right now, and I know it will pass.  We brush teeth, read stories, say prayers, tuck in stuffed animals, and the girls seem satisfied that I've given them my best, even though my best is far less than they deserve.

I trudge downstairs and between picking up toys and sippy cups and board books I fix myself a drink.  I see tiny shoes, and think about the shoes that are missing.  I sit down at the keyboard and pour out my heart, filling its place with a cocktail and look ahead to a time when the pendulum swings and the
survey says that I love life again.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Old Reliable

It's as constant as the rising sun.

My phone blinked with the alert and though I've promised I'll be better, I peek at my phone.

"Have you forgotten to enter your period?" my calendar reminds me.  Technology is amazing, but not as amazing as my own ability, after having lived in my body for the last 35 years.  I'm not late quite yet.  Still, I ignore the tell-tale signs.  Although I'm routinely asked, few people know how badly I want another baby.

With a subtle cramping in my abdomen, I make plans to set the pregnancy test out tonight, ready to take tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is a lucky number 7.  04-07-2017.  A good day to find out you're having another baby.  

Unsuspecting but for my suspicions, I go to use the restroom, and just like that the hopes and dreams fall down all around me.  The tears fall freely.  I can't stop them.  I'm not having another baby.

I'm reminded of the admonishments.  You're not ready.  You're so busy.  You're so overwhelmed by the girls already. You;ll never be able to afford to give them all what you want to give them.  You've got your two.  You'll always have your boy.  You have plenty of time.  Lots of people have babies much older than you.  High risk? Well, lots of women are doing it.  Just be happy with what God has already given you.

I am reminded of the regrets.  You shouldn't drink so much.  You should have taken better care of yourself.  Lose some weight first.  Space them out a bit more, you overwhelmed yourself the last time.  You've rushed into this. You're too eager.  You're always so scared that things aren't going to work out.

I am reminded of the dreams.  He would be another little boy.  Or maybe a third baby girl.  I'll call him this.  She'll look like that.  He;ll ride a red tricycle.  She'll cure cancer.  He'll be President.  She'll win a Grammy Award.  He'll learn to tie his shoes.  She'll live to be 11 days old.  My dreams are at once far fetched and starry eyed, and the things most of you take for granted.

A stained strip of toilet paper circles the bowl, then disappears.  A tear falls.  An ember of hope extinguishes.

Tomorrow someone will ask.  "When is your baby due."

"I'm not pregnant," I'll say.

The next day someone else will ask, "So, are you having more?"

"I guess we'll see," I'll answer.

I guess we'll see.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

D is for Diagnosis Day

D is for dream, like the one that filled my heart the day I learned you were on your way. The little dreams - You'd have my eyes, your daddy's nose.  The big dreams - Maybe someday you would cure cancer, pitch in the Major League, even be President.  September 28, 2010, with one positive test, the world opened wide.

D is for "Danny's Song," the lyrics that piped over the pumps at the Arco station where I stopped for gas that wonderful day, the words "Think I'm gonna have a son" and "Everything is gonna be alright" filling me with their promise.

D is for Doppler, that incredible machine by which I heard your heart beat for the very first time.  The tears poured from my eyes, streaking my face.  I'd never heard the heartbeat of your brother or sister before you, gone before we ever had the chance.  November 8, 2010, when everything was gonna be alright, because you had a heartbeat, and it was strong.

D is for December, a bittersweet month.  Your brother or sister was due that month, but nature had other plans and instead, I was three months along with you.  The holidays, the anticipation of the birth of the Christ child, took on new meaning as I spent the Advent season also planning your arrival.  It was the most wonderful time I would have for years.

D is for Diagnosis Day.  The words hit me like a spray of bullets, striking me with a force I had never felt, lodging in my chest, making it hard to breathe, hard to live.  "Incompatible with life". . . "Minutes, sometimes hours.  Sometimes days.". . . "No brain.". . . When I recall that day I can still feel it - The pull, drawing me into the whirlpool, forcing me under, drowning me in the greatest pain I had ever known, washing over and drenching me so completely that it will always be a part of me.

D is for drop, as my heart did, down to the pit of my stomach where it burned.

D is for destroyed, what happened to your father and me as we watched our dreams go up in flames one fateful morning.

D is for damned, the way I felt knowing my body had twice failed my children, unable to grow you each "correctly."

D is for decision.  You were my son, my baby boy, my Gabriel, my strength.  I'd waited my whole life for you.  The law makes you nothing more than a choice, but you were everything to me, so I chose you.  I'd chose you over and over and over again.

D is for drunk, the only way your father knew how to relieve his pain.  I resented him even while I envied him.  I longed to join him in a haze, forget it all.  There was so little I could do for you then.  Sobriety was one of the few parts of this journey that were within my control.

D is for Days - Ten of them.  I'd hoped you'd be that rare exception.  As we fed you, took you home from the hospital, bathed you, changed your diaper, I wondered how I got to be this mom that got to keep her child for 10 days, all the while knowing we were living on borrowed time.  You were not mine to keep. . .

D is for dead.  Dear.  He's dead.  My son is dead.  He died in my arms.  He died.  He's dead.  The words, the truth is so hideous that sometimes I still can't believe it.  I have to see the truth written out in front of me, my way of waking myself from this walking nightmare, only to discover this is no dream.  You're gone.  The pain is invisible, but runs so deep.  How can a stranger not see it in me?  It's settled in my bones, a part of every move I make.  It's pooled at the bottom of my fractured heart, which strains with every beat.  It weighs me down, making every step, every breath, every day a struggle.

D is for differences.  Over the course of the year following your death, your father and I learneed that the differences between us were insurmountable.

D is for divorce. People ask if it was because of you.  It wasn't.  You are just a tiny little baby, and it wasn't because of you.  Without you, though, there was no reason to stay together.

D is for dare. To get out of bed every day is daring.  To take each step is a risk.  To go on living, to go on loving was brave.  I idn't understand how life could go on without you, Gabriel, but I dared to go on with it.

D is for date.  One date with your stepfather Marcos led to another, then another, and the next thing I knew. . .

D was for daughter.  There she was.  My daughter.  Your little sister.  Eden.  Paradise.  Eden with her perfectly round skull.  Eden , nearly twice your size.  Eden, who could never replace you, who isn't here to take your place or fill my aching arms.  Eden, her own little person, her own little light in this world.

D is for Delilah, the "one who weakens," that precious little girl who's just stolen my heart away once again.  In her sweet face I see a perfect blend of her big sister and her big brother.

D is for the day that I hold you in my arms again.  I dream of that day you and I are united.  I pray that it's many years from now, that I have an opportunity to raise your sisters and watch them build families of their own.  But when death comes for me I will not be afraid.  I will face it with dignity, a lesson you taught me.  I will humble myself one last time, beg forgiveness for my sins, and pray that I have done enough with this life to spend eternity with you, my son.