Hello my heart. I find myself less than a week away from your second birthday, with a lot on my mind and difficulty articulating it (which is unusual for your mom). I wish I’d taken the time to write to … Continue reading
I adore you, little one. Every strand of your furry little head that tickles my nose as you sleep soundly on my chest, every sigh and whimper and grunt as you sleep not so soundly. Every soft sniffle that turns into a quiet cry into a loud wail until I gather you quickly into my arms, the way your cries die down into tired comforted breaths when you know I’ve given up on putting you back down.
I wanted a boy. That was what I told people when we didn’t know what you would be. I wanted a boy because boys were familiar to me. Your brother broke me in as a mommy and as hard as that was, nothing scared me more than the unknown: what our relationship would be, what missteps I’d take, and the pain of you pushing me away one day. But I was scared mostly for you – the challenges you’d face and the things I wanted so desperately to protect you from.
As close as I am with your grandmother now, we didn’t always get along and I wasn’t always the best daughter. She was a wonderful mom and we still grew apart; I had an idyllic childhood and still managed to find reasons to be upset at the world and at her, and as you’ll learn much later when you’re old enough to read this, karma is a b- ….will come back to teach you a lesson.
But you ended up being a girl, and I was surprised and scared and so overjoyed at the same time. I don’t think I knew how badly I wanted you until you became real. I relished in designing your nursery, and made your dad promise that I would get full decorative reign. I avoided buying you dresses and bows and little shoes as long as I could because I knew once those floodgates opened there was no turning back. I struggled with what to name you because as much as I thought it should be classic and feminine, I decided you needed a name that would stand out like I knew you would.
When you were born I felt different. We had known each other a matter of minutes but I could already see how different and special you were, how much I wanted to tell you things that I knew you wouldn’t understand until you have children of your own. I have so much to give you – as your mom and as a woman and as a once little girl and once very sad and very lost young woman.
You’re already showing how strong you are. You look at me knowingly and when I talk to you and explain things I see you listening intently. But you’re also vulnerable in a way your older brother wasn’t – you’re easily startled and you pout your lower lip at the smallest sign of fear or discomfort. You’ve learned that the little lip elicits instant results when you need saving.
I hope I can teach you to be strong, and that being a girl doesn’t always mean pink and doesn’t always mean weak. You can have your Disney princesses with a side of superheroes, you can wear dresses and still play in the dirt, you can cry and still find strength in your tears. I want you to always feel beautiful and know that beauty is inside not out. I want you to question and wonder and run fast and laugh hard and never be scared and never think you can’t. I want you to never need a boy or feel like you should change for a boy, because I promise you there will be no shortage of them. And the best boy for you will be the one you meet when you’re the best girl for yourself. I love you so much my sweet girl, I hope you’ll always remember that.
I awoke in the recovery wing of the hospital, surrounded by dim light and machines and the quiet flurry of nurses tending to other patients in the room. The male nurse taking care of me was a short, stocky man with dark hair and a wide nose. I watched through blurry eyes as he checked my machines and scribbled notes onto a file at the end of my bed. He saw that I was awake and asked how I was doing. “Great,” I muttered back. I was still high on anesthesia and wrapped like a burrito in hospital blankets – I tried to remember a time when I had felt more comfortable and safe. I had no thoughts besides the ones that spontaneously sparked like fireflies; no interruptions from past or future – just the fuzzy warm comfort as I shut my eyes and drifted back to sleep.
I woke again to the nurse offering me a spoonful of ice chips – I chewed on them absentmindedly, with each cold crunch clearing the haze like windshield wipers. The numbness was fading away as I wiggled my toes and removed my arm from the safety of the blanket womb to scratch a sudden sharp itch on my nose. The clock to the left of the bed came into focus – I had been staring at it for the past hour – looking at the short hand and long hand and circular string of numbers but not really understanding their significance until now. It was two-thirty. Two hours since the nurses had first wheeled me from the holding area to the operating room.
The past week had been a collage of painful moments, most that I had successfully been able to stop thinking about but none that had lost the sting of their first occurrence. A trail of moments that meant nothing at the time but now served as clues – God’s way of preparing me for the final blow – but none that I picked up on until it was too late. There was the pregnancy test that kept getting false negatives, the first appointment where the sonogram technician disputed my calculation of being eight weeks along – when the baby’s growth looked more in line with five. The call from the doctor saying my progesterone levels were low and that I should start taking a hormone supplement “just to be safe”. Then the visit last Friday, when I was finally able to see my little baby bean in the sonogram and had my happiness swiftly stamped out by the utterance of three word phrases – “there’s no heartbeat”, and then, “I’m so sorry”. And then vague echoes of a busy doctor’s office continuing business as usual around me, pregnant women at various stages milling around me like a joy of life parade while I held back tears. I clasped my hands as I waited for the surgery scheduler to assign my time, trying hard not to think about the baby still inside of me.
I didn’t know how to mourn for someone I had never met, that was not even really a someone yet but more of a something – without a heartbeat and without a gender – but so much more than a something. My only memory was a black and white amorphous shape vaguely resembling a baby, but still my baby – for whom I had lived and dreamed, twenty four hours a day for sixty three days. What I was told was a “chromosomal abnormality” (in layman’s terms a spontaneous act of biology and nature) could only be translated in my head as personal responsibility. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something I could have done. And had I done it, had there been no abnormality – would I still have my baby? Thoughts flashed of the life that could have been – who would they have grown up to be? What would their mark on our family, and the world, have been? What and who had I truly lost? I clung to the blame because if there was a reason, I could hope to find some semblance of closure. Helpless, blameless pain haunts you like a faint whistling of the wind indoors on a still summer day. Clear and succinct, invading your head but escaping logic – you listen for it again but it hides, waiting to reappear when you’ve begun to believe again that you’re happy and sane.
The tears came fast in torrential pours, then would dry up again as fast as they came. I cried for the loss of my son’s only sibling, for the love I already had for our child, for the shortcomings that ended the life of my child before it could even begin. I cried because I had seen a photo of our baby who was no longer living but still a physical part of me. And I cried for no reason at all.
Our bed has become a chalkboard of sorts. If you could peek into our bedroom in the wee hours of the morning, an aerial view would reveal a different letter formation every night. Last night, and most nights, you’d see a bold Helvetica H. Steven and I forming the parallel lines, and little Beckett completing the character with his perpendicular line across the middle, his head resting squarely on my stomach and his feet across Steven’s lower abdomen. After a few hours the letter changes. Now, an N as he rolls to his side, his face nuzzled against the top of my thigh and his feet searching for their favorite ottoman – Steven’s eyes, nose, or mouth. My half-dreams flip through their nightly rotations, always staying within the same themes: struggle under an unmoving object (rock, bus, building), or being on the losing end of a fight, many times ending with a roundhouse to the face K.O. by my opponent. On the rare occasion that our chalkboard forms a roman numeral III, I’m flying through unfettered blue skies, wind in my hair and clean air rushing through my lungs. Then, as backwards N takes formation, the storms roll in and I’m struck down by lightning, my nose cracked awake by the back of an oscillating head.
It’s not an ideal sleeping situation, and we didn’t start out this way. Like any good first-time parents, we brought our perfectly swaddled bundle of joy home armed with a plan. Brains full of strategy, we tag teamed on baby books and had schedules typed out like we were training a Navy Seal instead of a newborn baby. And like every first-time parent, we were humbled by how utterly unprepared we actually were. We had read the books, but our baby hadn’t. He laughed (vomited or pooed) in the face of our schedules (our actual faces), covered our plans in tears and snot, and guzzled our last shreds of dignity down with my breast milk. A baby cannot be conditioned like a Pavlovian dog – you cannot teach something to respond to a bell when the bell makes them cry and gives them gas.
In spite of our crippling failure, we received our gold stars for each of the lessons learned in year one –let go of control, do your best, it will get better, it is totally and most definitely worth it. And the biggest gold star of all – he at least still sleeps in his crib. We reached the top of the parenting mountain, we stood our ground, and as a reward we got to keep one last souvenir from our old life – our marital bed! Until we didn’t. Somehow, in the midst of teething, sickness, not eating, not sleeping – we cried uncle. A friend once told me that “parenting is just various levels of giving up” – you have to pick your battles. For us, the battle we chose to lose/win was sleep. The only way to make it through those endless days of work, tantrums and aggressive games of food airplane (OPEN YOUR MOUTH DAMMIT!) was to get a good night’s rest. And the only way we were getting a good night’s rest was with a toddler between us.
It started out slowly, which allowed us to continue our denial – he spent half the night in his crib, and the other half with us when he’d wake up around three am crying for mama. Then three am became two am. Two am turned into ten pm. Half the night in his crib became the whole night in our bed. I laid awake many nights, with his fingers up my nose or nails digging into my belly button, wondering where we went wrong. I grimaced thinking about how painful a ten-year-old’s kick to the face would be; I sighed imagining the hieroglyphics four kids in a California King would create. But then the positions became more bearable. I’d wake up to his head resting on my chest, his hand cradling my cheek. In the middle of the night he finds me to snuggle, sometimes wrapping his warm body around me and sometimes smashing his soft lips into my cheek or eyelids. And in the morning when he blinks groggily awake, he smiles at me and says “mama”, taking my face into his little palms. It is magical. And though I’m fully aware that I’m sliding down a slippery slope (on skis), I no longer think about sleep training, or books, or rules. I think about the little boy that will one day wipe my kisses from his face in front of his friends, who will no longer want me to walk him to the bus stop, who will eventually go off to college. Though I have so much of his life left to experience, there are still those fleeting moments that I’ll never get to experience with him again. So for now, we’ll continue our letter formations, and I’ll savor the tangled sleep with my baby.