Letting Go

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When E was born, she was difficult. No more difficult than the other unlucky babies with the run-of-the-mill yet debilitating issues like colic, reflux, or allergies, but still challenging. The type of challenging that brought forth a slew of late night google searches on topics we’d believed we had exhausted with our reflux-y colicky first born. But in spite of those issues, I always felt the warm fuzzies in the morning. I still felt the wisp of perspective nestled in my brain as I started each day on little to no sleep. Perspective that ran past me and bounded into the room in the shape of a talkative, ever changing, no longer a baby – little boy. Her older brother who now resembled a giant made her seem ever smaller, making me keenly aware that soon long limbs would sprout from her soft round midsection, and those completely curved feet would soon flatten and arch and be wearing shoes too big to be bronzed.

Children have a way of making you blissfully aware of your existence through witnessing theirs, turning negative thoughts into aspirationally positive ones, attempting to fix lifelong habits as you realize they’re watching you as well. And in those beautiful moments of quiet observation you’re sometimes the person you hope you to be for them. But in the more frequent moments you’re not, the darkness is blacker because you’re now failing several people instead of just yourself, left angry and resentful at these little beings that need so much, take so much, and who could be forever impacted by your inability to continually give them your best.

It comes out little by little, as I grit my teeth with happiness and receive the comments of others reminding me of my beautiful children and life (they are and it is). I’m finally spotting the signs of raggedness I’ve been trying so hard to hide. It’s there, in my bitten down nails and flaked cuticles, dry from the constant dish washing and laundry folding, bath giving and hand washing. Chewed to the quick while worrying about their lack of vegetable eating or too much screen watching. It’s there in the black semicircles under my eyes, that scream to be covered by a smear of concealer no matter what state of disarray or undress I choose to leave the house in the morning. It’s there in the way I lose my cool after a seemingly innocent refusal to brush teeth or drink milk. The way I feel nothing some days when I see the stream of tears down a chubby face or hear a soft whimper.

I love them so much but they make me hate myself sometimes. And every article written about the trials and tribulations of parenthood inevitably requires a very clear disclaimer: I love them, but. I’m so lucky, but. They are so unbelievably wonderful and magical and pure but. I miss myself sometimes, period. And that feels expressly forbidden. After a lot of beating myself up and wondering why I seemed to be struggling so much at this mothering thing, I came to realize that the two are not mutually exclusive: the unconditional love and the inexplicable yearning. It’s not so often expressed, that many of us function with both as our North Star. That some days we are parents and that’s enough. More than enough, some days it is just me and them and I’m complete. And other days it feels empty, and hard, and endless. Like I will never be good enough and they deserve better than what I’m able to give. But somehow, in the cross section of those two very opposite existences, you find a sliver of normalcy. Maybe one side of you cannot exist without the other. Maybe if you were completely satisfied with one, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate both. Maybe chasing balance shouldn’t be the goal; floating across and around and above and below it is just fine. Maybe you’re allowed to love your family and love yourself too. Maybe happiness is just letting go.

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Love Lost

maya

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.