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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Strange-rs.

Dear Josie,

The other night, I was catching up on one of my online support forums.  Actually, I prefer to call them lifelines. 

Maybe it's strange that I still frequent them more than any other site, that I feel more at home with those women than with anyone else, those amazing and inspiring and stronger than stone women.  My heroes. 

But if it's strange I don't really care.  I keep thinking of my favorite Doors song, "When you're strange, faces come out of the rain."  And that's what they did for me.  There was a storm and it was so dark for a time and then suddenly, there were faces. 

There was someone new.  There is always someone new.

And it always makes me angry.  And my stomach gets tight and my throat will constrict and I must curse the universe for a moment, because I don't have to read their words, because I already know them.  Lived them.  Live them. 

And it takes me back to that moment in your hospital room where I told your father I wanted to die.  And I'm angry that someone else lost their child.  I've never met her but I am her.  And I'm angry she wants to die. 

This woman who recently lost her son, her pain was so raw, so thorny.  And her words, they were sticking me.  Bleeding through my computer screen at 3am. 

She said she didn't feel like she could give anymore, to anyone.  Didn't know how to go on.  How does one continue?  Couldn't fathom going to the grocery store ever again. 

This wound, I could see it then.  Gaping and throbbing and red. 

And before they would scare me, these wounds.  How big they were, how they'd fester. How strange and out of place.   And I would run to the highest ledge and I'd watch the metastasis from afar, and how I thought I was safe. 

Only now I don't see wounds this way.  I see life in the pain.  I see love.  I see potential. 

So I told her, because I had to tell her.  Because she has to know that it doesn't ever get better, only she will.  She will get better.  She will be better than the person who existed before.

I told her that right now she doesn't have to care.  Cannot.  Possibly.  Care.  About anything else.  And I told her that's healthy.  I told her that's okay.  But there will come a time when she goes to the grocery store again. 

And maybe her feet are moving slower.  Perhaps she feels out of place, tossing frozen peas into the cart.  And maybe she leaves in hysterics, because what's her name from the TODAY show had her baby girl and she saw them on the cover of some magazine in the checkout line.  And she swears she'll never venture out again, only she does.  Two weeks after that.  And this time, she makes it through her list and back to the car. 

This pain, it never leaves me, because it's love.  It's the only love I get with you.  And it hurts in a way that doesn't translate because I'll never place a bow in your hair,  but my arms aren't as open without it. 

Don't give up, I told her.

Because one trip to the store becomes five.  And ten.  And then thirty. 

And one step begets a thousand more. 

One needle in one shaking hand guides the hundreds after.

Until the scar becomes the purpose. 

And the needle, the life.

Love,
Mom







Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dacryostenosis

Dear Josie,

Your brother's tear duct was clogged.

I guess to put it more accurately, it didn't open.

As it turns out, this is fairly common among newborns.  When he was three days old I noticed the slimy, clear-ish discharge gathering in the corners of his perfect eyes.  It bothered me.

The pediatrician assured me this was most likely the cause, to call back if I was having to clear the area increasingly, more than every two hours.  I never did, and it has (seemingly) resolved itself rather quickly.  Knock on wood.

I find it strange that after you died, I only had about five good cries.  The really ugly, gut-wrenching cries that last for awhile and make it hard to breathe.  The ones where you double over and need someone to help you up.  The cries that leave you exhausted the next day.

Don't get me wrong, I've cried much more than five times.  But not like that.

The past three weeks they've caught up with me, I guess.  Sixteen months' worth of knock you to your knees, hyperventilating, hide- from- your- five- year- old- in- the -back- room cries that seem to come out of nowhere.  Staring into the gaze of my precious newborn and I cannot breathe.  It's like some poison that I've saved.  Pent up and writhing inside me just below the surface.  Lately, I can't summon the strength to hold it in.

And I'm confused, because I've never been happier.  Never been more grateful.  Never slept better.

I think back to the times where I should have been on this ground, incapacitated.  Two weeks out. Two months out and returning to work. Six months.  A year.  All of the "milestones" that I lost with you that come and go in stride. I'm prepared for the letdown each time, perpetual tissues in my purse for the tears that never come.  And now I wonder if he's opened some gland within me too.

There are few images so imprinted in my memory that they affect my everyday.

Of course, there is you.  All beautiful and perfect, with your long toes and fingernails.  The lips that you share with your father and your brothers, and that full head of dark hair.  A puzzled, content look as you lie in my arms.  Almost like you understood what happened, like you'd accepted it long before your mother ever could.

There are your brothers.  The joy that I felt as they were first handed to me.  The same joy that tries to escape me on the hard days, only it never could.  This joy that is a part of me now.  In the flesh.

And then there is Dewey.  Looking back, it seems like he was some sort of sign.

I adopted Dewey in the summer of 2008, as my college graduation present to myself.  He was the cutest, dark brown Australian shepherd mix I had ever seen.  I picked him out one week on a whim  and brought him home the following Saturday.   The shelter worker told me he had recently been neutered.  She showed me the bandage and assured me the bleeding would stop, only it never did.   Late that afternoon I got worried and took him to the university animal hospital.  They said Dewey likely had a clotting disorder.  It was the opposite of mine actually, in that his blood refused to clot.  There was an additional stitch or two and another bandage. They told me he should see his vet on Monday.

Dewey and I spent the day together.  I showed him off to all my friends.  We visited the pet store and bought all kinds of puppy toys.   I remember getting out of my car to pay for gas that day and returning five minutes later, my stomach dropping when I noticed the empty back seat.  Only he wasn't gone.  I found him cuddling the pedal.

I went to dinner that night and asked my neighbor friend to check on him while I was gone.  He called to tell me that something was wrong.  I left immediately.

In the two hours I'd been gone, Dewey had bled through his little blue bandage.  I picked him up and we returned to the animal hospital around midnight.  I remember him chewing on my shirt, running in circles on the carpet as I started the car.

We rang the after hours bell and the lady took him back.  I fell asleep on the waiting room chair, confident he needed another stitch or two and then we'd be back home.   When she returned her eyes were soft.  I remember her words, telling me how "he'd lost too much blood" and how "his heart had slowed" and then she said "he's ready to go."

I couldn't believe it.

She asked if I'd like to be in the room, and I thought I owed him as much.

"How long have you had him?"  she asked me.  I was hysterical.

"One day," I managed.

It was nearly three in the morning when I held him in my arms.  The first injection was to flush the line, she said.  It must have been cold because he jerked looking up at me, and I'll never forget that look.  The second and he was gone.  So peacefully and so finally, alone in my arms.

She asked what I'd like to do with him, with his remains.  He could be cremated there or I could take him home with me.  I couldn't bear the thought of driving up Rock Quarry Road with him, past the gas station we had been together hours before, carrying him inside and burying him with the sunrise.  I chose the former.

"Okay sweetie,"  she patted my shoulder. "There is a $225.00 fee."

And so, this broke college graduate drove home at five am, in hysterics, with the tiniest little casket in her passenger seat.

I remember thinking it was so unfair, how something so perfect and innocent and small was granted such a hand.  I remember thinking that it was my fault, how I had been so happy and excited just hours before at the adoption shelter, how I hadn't seen it coming.  I remember thinking that it was the most traumatic experience of my life.  And I would be right, for six more years anyway.

This grief is complicated.  I'm not sure I do it justice by stating that I'm happy or that I'm sad.  I'm not sure any words could explain how holding a newborn in your arms evokes thoughts of death, images of still lips and chaplains and a failed responsibility.  Long drives with caskets up twisty roads in the fall.  How a presence can conjure such an absence. 

The other day I was driving with your brothers.  Our first outing together, the three of us alone to an oil change of all places.  One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands from high school came on the radio.  "Wish you were here", by Incubus.   I hadn't heard it in years.

Of course the Pink Floyd song of the same title is much better than this one, (this is true of any Pink Floyd song and any other song, really) but I digress.

I have always liked this song.  And it's not because of the huge crush I had on Brandon Boyd.  Turns out, it's much simpler than that.

"I dig my toes into the sand.
The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds, strewn across a blue blanket.
I lean against the wind, pretend that I am weightless.
And in this moment I am happy.
I wish you were here."

And I had to pull over for a moment, to stare at my beautiful boys in the back.
And to recognize your absence, and I always will.
Perhaps it isn't so complex.  This juxtaposition.  This future without you.
Perhaps it's incredibly simple to explain.
Today and fifty years from now, my life in those twelve words.

In this moment I am happy.
I'm happy and I wish you were here.

Love,
Mom




Saturday, June 6, 2015

De-Jamming.

Dear Josie,

You're a big sister!

I can't even believe what I'm typing.  Honestly, I had prepared myself for every single scenario...except for the one that happened.

Your little brother's name is Dominic Joseph.  He was born on May 27th at exactly 12:30 pm. Six pounds and one ounce of tiny, adorable, squishy-ness.   And he looks like you too.

I could tell you about the anxiety, about all the normal things that happened the night before while we waited for the call.  How we ordered pizza for dinner. How I addressed your brother's birthday party invitations.  Put a load of whites in the dryer.  Fed the dog. 

I could explain how in nine months, I never once pictured holding a baby in my arms. Driving to the hospital I wasn't convinced. 

Your father fell asleep that night, but I couldn't.  I grabbed the Doppler from the nightstand and I headed for the couch, listened to his heartbeat  for ninety minutes straight and I thought of something your brother said to me several months back.  He had entered my room and asked to hear the baby, so we listened together.  As he waited for me to turn it off he asked what I was listening for.  "Mommy, are you waiting for it to stop?"

At some point I fell asleep, waking with a jolt at 12:41 am and  noting the missed call from the hospital.  It was our turn.  It was time. 

As we pulled into the parking space I pulled it out one last time.  I always listened for his heartbeat in the parking lots, before every doctor's appointment, every NST, every scan, every labor and delivery visit.  Once a very busy nurse practitioner couldn't get to me fast enough.  She entered the room while I was mid-doppler, in tears.  "I can do that for you?"  She offered, confused.  It's not that I felt his life was ever something I could control, I just didn't want any surprises.  Couldn't stand to watch them search ever again.  If his heart were to stop, his mother should know.  I had to know first. 

So we entered the room.  The room where we were to deliver a living baby.  Or so they assured me.  And once the monitor was placed on my stomach I felt a weight lift ever so slightly.  Someone else was in charge now.  Someone else was watching.  I could close my eyes for a moment. 

Labor went smoothly, albeit painful.  Strange how a body remembers, though.  It was never unbearable.  The whole time I was thinking, I've felt worse. 

In less than twelve hours he was in my arms, crying before I laid eyes on him.

And I think I was in shock.  Not the same shock as when I held you.  This was a happier, less stubborn shock.  I accepted that it was real.  This was happening, but I couldn't actually believe it.  I think that's the first thing I said when they handed him to me, all pink and crying and magnificent.  As your father cried on my shoulder, I looked to the nurse and I told her "I didn't think this would happen."

And everything went quickly, smoothly after that.  We held him for as long as we wanted.  No one asked for him back.  No one took him to a room to keep his body cool.  No one asked about our burial plans, our funeral home preferences.  There was no sign on our door alerting the hospital staff to our tragedy.  A baby was born.  Perfectly healthy.  People came bearing gifts, and two days later we got to take him home.

Lately, my time is spent in awe.  I stare a lot.  Mostly in disbelief.  I stare at his big, blue eyes, not yet able to focus on the mother who hovers just above their gaze. I stare at his tiny feet and I think about all the times they kicked me, all the momentary relief they provided from within.  I think about the person he has made of me, about the person I would be without him.  Without you. I think about all the blood thinners and scans and interventions and people who got him here safely.   I think about what your father said to me in the hospital after you died.  How you have a purpose, how it wasn't what we had planned.  How it's a purpose just the same.

This morning I broke the printer.  Your brother asked me to print something, and something was jammed, so I attempted to un-jam...and now it's broken.  When he left the room  I started to cry.  I cry a lot these days.  For random things.  But I think it's mostly because of the big thing we don't really talk about.  I think it's mostly because of you.

This baby is amazing.  I cannot believe how mellow he is.  He eats and sleeps, and I'm not used to it.  I'm used to your brother.  A year of sleepless, colicky nights.  Constant motion. I'm quite surprised that, remarkably, thus far, none of my pregnancy-induced neuroses have permeated this little one's  temperament.  He is angelic.  Perfection.  In every sense of the word. 

And no one is happier to have him here than me.  I watch him sleep and I savor every whimper and I carry him into every room.  Even with the night feedings, I haven't slept so good in over a year.  The ability to  LOOK at him provides a euphoria I cannot describe.  So why the tears?

I guess it's because I'm now realizing the gravity of what we lost.  All of the things we will never get to do with you.  How I never knew what your cry sounded like.  How a piece of paper told me your eye color.  How I could live fifty more years having never seen your smile. 

And I feel so conflicted, being this happy.  Because if you were here, he wouldn't be.  How does a parent resolve something like that?  How does life make sense after that sentence?

So I cry.  Over spilled milk (literally) and broken printers and traffic jams because they remind me that all too often, things don't work how they're supposed to.  It makes me sad, and it makes me angry.  And I say I'm sorry out loud to no one.

Your father entered the room and asked why I was crying.  I pointed to the printer and he chuckled. Then he closed the door and placed the baby on my lap, and he told me to look.

"Look at him," he said. 

"You did this," he said. 

"You took all of your fear, every reservation, and you turned it into that.  What are you crying about again?"

And I guess that's the real truth.  He is here and you are not.  He is here because of something you taught me, how to suffer through something that seems impossible.   In that sense, he isn't here instead of you.  He's here because of you. 

So instead of I'm sorry, I will say something else.  Every moment.  Every single day until I die.

Thank you, my love. 

Thank you so very much.

Love,
Mom