June 13, The Day Your Dad Almost Died

Every day, you are guaranteed a sunrise and a sunset, but you are not guaranteed every day. Recently someone posted something to Facebook about the novelty of the daily sunrise and sunset noting that we get so many but stop to appreciate so few, and let’s be honest…the few we stop to appreciate, at least pursuant to my generation, are often appreciated for posterity. We stop and soak in the sunset over the beach, the forest, the desert, the lake, the pool, the mountain, the ice-cream cone, the top of our daughter’s pigtailed head, so we can take a picture and upload it to Instagram. Look at this moment that I captured without living in it.

It’s dusk right now, and I’ve missed the sunset. I unintentionally missed my daily moment to sit outside and to watch the sun wash the sky with fiery pink and orange, signaling the resignation of the day’s intense heat, as the orb itself vanishes behind the trees in its rote descent toward the nadir.

On Wednesday, June 12, I was only vaguely aware of the celestial display happening outside of Sean’s hospital room in the progressive care unit. A liter and a half of fluid had been aspirated off of his lungs, and he was enviably doped up on what the nurse downstairs described as “liquid Xanax”. It had been a half hour after his oncologist, Dr. Butler, and his nurse, Blair, left when Sean started to run fever. His mouth was so dry, they had to take it under his armpit to register it—102.1. His cheeks were mottled and his skin felt like it was boiling. Tylenol and fluid were ordered, and Sean settled down. Uneasy, I left my phone number with the nurse. “Call me if anything changes.”

His parents visited, and in the time between my return to the house and getting the children to bed and them coming back, I’d already made up my mind. I was going back to the hospital. I hastily packed the small suitcase with wheels, gears whirring in my head, words thumping against each other. I opened a blank Word document on my laptop and emptied everything, what was happening and what I sensed was coming, onto the page.

By the time I’d uploaded the story, Sean’s parents were home and in agreement that someone should stay with him. It was after ten, well after sunset, when I checked back in at the hospital for what would end up being a week-long stay.

I hadn’t planned to be awake before dawn on June 13, but at 4:30 that morning, Sean’s cheeks were once again mottled. The nurse gave him two Percocet and more fluids to lower his fever. His heart rate was in the 160s. They put him on oxygen, and a respiratory specialist was called in. At 5:54 AM, I fired off the first text to Dr. Butler.

At 5:57, a response. “Worried about fever…could be tumor or infection. Highly complex situation. Glad he did not go home. He is very, very sick, but I think you are aware of this. We are trying our best.”

5:58 AM: I know. I’ve been praying over him and you all as well.

At 5:59, I put my hands around Sean’s and pressed my cheek to them, praying. Outside, beams of white light glinted off the spire of a distant church, off the treetops, and off the little brick Forensics building across the street as the sun rose to claim the day. This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made….

I felt rueful. I did already know that my husband was “very, very sick”. I knew from the moment that we got the refractory ALK+ ALCL diagnosis on June 4 that time, however much of it there was, was an even more precious commodity, that statistics were no longer as friendly as they were with the advanced stage Hodgkin’s disease, that science simply had yet to unmask all nuances of this rare and aggressive cancer…to undress it and to understand it intimately enough to know how it might respond and to unearth what would tame it.

Still, I thought we’d have more time to at least try. Doctors came and went, attentive, lips pressed into thoughtful lines.

The lead internist comes in. I’m told he’ll be moved to the ICU but that the ICU team will come by first. They might have to intubate him, the way he’s breathing. The internist squeezes my shoulder, and pauses making long, meaningful eye contact. I follow her into the hallway. “Do I need to call his parents?”

“If they can come….”

“They can.”

“Yes. You need to call his parents.”

I nod and slide back into the room. Tremulous. My body betrays my deliberation as I shake. I pace the ancillary room behind the curtain, trying to stop the tremors. Tiny little earthquakes violate me from the inside out. I walk to the bed. “Hey,” the swells of fear break the dam, tears pool and my throat tightens, so my voice is thick. “I’m going to call your parents, okay?”

Sean’s voice cracks, “Am I dying?”

“No,” I lie dabbing the sleeves of my sweatshirt to my eyelids, soaking up the unshed tears. “Of course not. I’m just scared. The ICU is a little scary. They said they might have to intubate you, put you on a breathing tube, and it might upset your parents if they have to see you like that without seeing you here first. No big deal.” The aftershocks reverberate, but I’m no longer lachrymose.

I call my mom first. My parents will need to head to the house to watch the children because I knew that once I call my mother-in-law, she’ll be beside herself to come. I’m worried she’ll panic when I call, but after a brief exchange with my efficient mother, I touch my mother-in-law’s name on my iPhone, and the thing rings. She answers quickly.

“You need to come to the hospital.” I measuredly explain that Sean will be going to the ICU and that they might have to intubate him. They feel it’s best if you see him before if they have to do that as they said it can be upsetting to family. My parents are on the way to relieve them. She understands and doesn’t sound alarmed. She also doesn’t ask questions. Good.

The oncologists, the internists, and the infectious disease team are at a critical crossroads.

It is very likely that he has an infection, so, the oncologist who rounds explains, to start chemo with an infection could be fatal as the chemotherapy lowers cell counts significantly. However, to not start chemo could also be a mistake. If there is no infection, then the cancer is what’s making him sick, and without chemotherapy, he will only get worse.

I watch his chest muscles work furtively as he breathes. His oxygen saturation is good, but why he’s struggling to breathe is confusing. It’s suggested the problem could be related to his cardiac function. An echocardiogram is ordered, and I’m ravenous for more information, for answers, for action.

One of my best friends, a nurse, someone who happened to be there the night we lost Jude, comes to visit. We stand in the hallway, and her face reads like an open book. Her clear, beautiful skin is tight and her bright eyes are wide. She understands the situation, and I understand her. She has the same expression she had four years, five months, and thirteen days earlier on the night Jude left us. Later, she tells me, when she has patients who present like Sean, they either crash or they recover. “He won’t be able to breathe like that—using just his chest muscles—for much longer.”

I’m anxious and relieved when we’re transported into the ICU. In quiet moments I pray. I pray specifically for the doctors and their choices. I ask Sean’s friends from his Monday night men’s prayer group to pray the same thing and to spread the word to our friends to pray, to pray for God’s agents on this earth, the doctors, whose choices would directly affect Sean’s life.

We’re not in the ICU long when the oncology team comes in. “We could keep poking and prodding him,” the lead on the team says from the head of Sean’s bed, “but we don’t think we will find anything. We will go ahead and start chemotherapy today.”

December 31, 2014 was a bright, blue, beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky. The high was about 55 degrees. We laid Jude to reset that day. Somewhere between the funeral parlor and sitting under a tent that crisp and chilly morning, the dove of peace dipped low in the sky and brushed against both Sean and me. It was an imperceptible moment, a passing from raw, scraped nerves to the understanding that we’d be okay. We weren’t sure how nor when nor why, but we both felt serenity.

It’s as if aloe has been smoothed over my burning fear. They’re starting chemo. Despite no medical knowledge whatsoever (I still say “boo-boo cream”), I know it’s the right choice. My bones stop shaking. All that stands in the way is the echocardiogram, one that after it’s conducted merits the ICU cardiologist to stop, turn to face me at the foot of Sean’s bed and say in his European accent, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news….”

Stop, I want to interrupt. I already know. There is no need for dramatic speeches, not now, not ever. Instead I stare up at him. Patient, unblinking. My mother in law’s form fills the doorway behind the doctors. “His life,” he pauses and holds up his finger, “is literally balancing on the tip of a pin. Any decision we make, even giving him a bag of fluid that he doesn’t need, could push him.” He gestured the pin tipping, the imaginary form on top, Sean’s life, toppling with it.

“I know,” I intone. “I understand. Thank you.”

I didn’t cry when they told me Jude had no heartbeat. In the flurry and fury of everything that happened that night and in the days after, I remember thinking when the doctor said there’s no heartbeat and my brain said to some part of me that could process information, “They are saying that your son has no heartbeat.” I thought very clearly, “What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to burst into tears?” I searched myself for the appropriate emotional response. For any emotional response. I was aware of myself, sitting in the hospital bed, doing nothing.

Sean started to speak first, asking what to do. I knew there was a procedure, but I’d never given birth naturally to Lillianne, so I insisted we do an emergency Cesarean. My body, my brain, my mouth could respond to action, to hope, to a plan, so I insisted. Furiously. Immediately. Yes, cut me open, cut me now. Get him out now. Try to save him. Yes, I swear I just felt him move, right after I got back in bed. Yes. Now. And then those inner quakes started, and they were so violent, my teeth chattered so hard, that I can hardly believe my heart didn’t explode. I internalize everything, and when I can’t contain all of the things, I tremble and shake as my body betrays my will for control.

On this day, I also don’t cry after the doctor’s speech. I wonder if he thinks that’s weird. There will be time to cry later. Tears come when they want to, not when they “should”. I’ve already been shocked today. But at the same time, I already know that no matter what happens, we are doing the exact and only thing we can to save his life. The doctors have made a choice and are relinquishing control back to the higher power.

Chemotherapy starts. All there is now, I think, is to watch and wait. We’ve done everything we can. That night, I’m curled up like a faithful cat in the sleeper chair next to Sean’s bed, holding his hand, when his vitals settle. His heart rate drops to below 100. His oxygen stabilizes. Before we’d settled to sleep, I’d texted my friend who visited earlier, that I prayed I’d be able to send her a miracle text…that he was okay, stable, doing well. She said she hoped so, too. And in the early morning, after he was awake and the sun warmed the sky, and I knew he was okay, I did text her…just that. Miracles do happen. And this was one of those times.

Days later, a friend from church would share that she thinks that Sean had more prayers than a congregation on a Sunday morning that June 13, and I would read it to him, and he would cry, and I’d cry a little, too, because we’d both know it’s true, and we’d both know that those urgent words to God uttered, whispered, and thought in unison made a lifetime, whatever the duration of that life is meant to be, of difference.


PS: I love you, my sweet four-and-a-half-year-old little miracle son. We don’t know the duration of life. In a million years, I’d never have known you’d only live to be thirty-three weeks or that I’d never get to experience you outside of my own body during that time, but what a life force you are. What a presence you are. How dear you are to me, and, oh my sweet boy, I hope you know how much you’ve transformed our lives here. 

“The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree are of equal duration.” –T.S. Eliot

Advertisements

Hey Jude – Unavoidable Fear

A month ago, three things happened at the same time: a girl I danced with as a kid lost her baby at just over a year. Her baby had been born with a rare form of Down’s Syndrome. Most babies with this condition do not live to birth. If they survive birth, they usually pass away early on. I believe I read about 5% of babies make it to a year. Few, very fear will live into their 20s. They will have multiple struggles and health issues. None the less, my friend had and loved her baby despite what I am sure were multiple fears.

A girl from my home town who is a few years young than I am published a piece in The Huffington Post with the polarizing headline that she wish she’d aborted her first child. The piece was well-composed and heartfelt. The author, a former cheerleader, was raped by someone she thought was a friend in her own home. Like many young girls, she kept the assault a secret. Her grades dropped. She lost weight. Her health suffered. When she did finally see a doctor, she learned that the worst had happened—she was also pregnant. She was halfway through the pregnancy, too far along, she notes, to do anything about it other than see it through. She knew the baby would be born with issues, and she was. The baby was born to the young mother. The baby had multiple health issues and had to be on several heavy drugs. She died of natural causes at just over a year, breaking her mother’s young heart.

The third thing, of course, was the law that was passed in New York, which caused uproar throughout the US. I am, for many reasons, religion being a major one, not supportive of terminating unborn babies. That does not mean that I don’t understand. I hate that we live in a world where pregnancy isn’t always a willful decision or where when pregnancy does happen that it isn’t always the right time or affordable. I know there are unimaginable circumstances, people who are afraid to have babies because of their governments or their resources or what-have-you that are so far beyond my little cultural bubble that I can’t even process that they exist.

One thing I have observed, and that I did observe in considering an unforgettable story I read about a woman who had an abortion somewhere in the third trimester, that these stories all have one theme in common: fear. The woman who had a late-term knew her baby wouldn’t live far past birth if he lived at all; if he did, he wouldn’t be able to breathe or eat on his own. She and her husband had wanted the baby, but the cost, financially and emotionally, were too great of burdens to bear. This was not a decision they made lightly.

They went to Colorado for the procedure. Things went wrong. Very wrong. There was no presentable body to bury. The mother suffered substantially after the procedure with bleeding and illnes

Of course, that is not the point. The point is that she and her husband were afraid…afraid of the disabled child. Afraid that their child would die out of their control. Afraid that their child would suffer a pain worse than their own if they did live. Afraid to watch that baby suffer. For many people, it is a greater sacrifice to not have a baby who will suffer than to have one that will.

Certainly, one of the few things that I am thankful for is that Jude never suffered, that he left this world peacefully and naturally. I will always wonder what would’ve happened if we’d have been with a more experienced team (the doctor on call was very new and misread the ultrasound, conveying to us that Jude was dangerously underdeveloped, which was inaccurate), if he’d have lived if he’d have been delivered, or if he would’ve had developmental issues.

I don’t write about this aspect of Jude’s loss often, but in the hours before he died when I was in the hospital on the monitor, believing he was in the lower 5th percentile and having read that meant he would likely be born with severe mental or physical problems—at best he would have Down’s, I was scared. Remaining calm was almost impossible, and yet I couldn’t stop reading. I kept looking for some kind of indication that my baby would be normal. Was there a chance that he’d be okay even if he was that underdeveloped?

Even now, I still feel the anxiety of that fear. The fear was very, very real. I had no control over what was happening. I cannot remember everything I prayed for. I prayed he’d be okay, of course. I prayed he’d be “healthy”. I envision that parents who believe that their child will be unwell or will suffer are gripped by a similar fear. Fear compels us to take action.

Generally speaking, most people are compassionate, and I believe that some people choose to avoid what they have been told by doctors will happen by avoiding it. This does not mean that they avoid pain, though. There is no way to avoid pain. There is no way to avoid grief, nor is there a way to avoid hardship. Choice does not grant that.

I’ve been teaching writing for over a decade. Roughly half of my students are victims of sexual abuse by family members, rape, drug exposure, or a combination of those things. Of those, several have had pregnancies that were unwanted. Different students handled them differently. One story that stands out is of a girl who, after having a difficult life, became pregnant as a teen. Her family threatened to abandon her if she didn’t end the pregnancy. She did and was never right again.

The reality is that when we are confronted by fear, we believe that we have no choice. I find it interesting that advocates for a woman’s right to choose cite choice. I cannot think of anyone who has made that choice because they felt they had a world of options. They felt like they had no choice. And the reality is that we don’t always have choices or control. And it’s not fair, and the pain is real, and it hurts. But it can’t be avoided. Not at all.

The only area where we have any power is in our ability to love. Losing Jude hurt. Last December on his fourth birthday, I visited his gravesite alone, knelt down, and cried. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I wept over and over, even as I had no idea what I was sorry for. I still don’t know. I’m sorry he died. I’m sorry I didn’t got to a different hospital. I’m sorry I’ll never know if it could have been avoided. I’m sorry for…all of it. And more. I’m sorry for being so happy when he’s not here. There is no rational reasoning in any of it. The pain is still there, but amidst the pain and swirling around it is love, so much love.

Jude humbled me. He opened my heart more widely than I ever could’ve imagined. He helped my marriage. He made me brave. He is a source of pure love for me, even though there is pain and sorrow. Unavoidable pain and sorrow. Even if Jude had been born with disabilities, I would have loved him. I imagine the pain and sorrow when he did pass would’ve been greater. I cannot imagine what his little life would’ve done for our family in that capacity, just as I cannot imagine what my friend’s baby did to and for her family.

I do know that when their baby passed, they were sad but also full of love. Swirling around their pain was a year of moments and memories that no doubt bonded their family closer and helped them grow in their faith, in the understanding that we don’t have control and we don’t have to. The pressure to have control, to always do the “best” or “most right” thing is crippling and is exhausting. I for one am thankful to realize that. It enables me to have peace, even in the face of difficulties, such as Sean’s cancer diagnosis.

I couldn’t control losing Jude. I couldn’t control the pain of losing him. As much as it hurt and as traumatic as the experience was, I’m thankful to have seen him, all 4 lbs and 2 oz, to have seen his face, to have photos, to have been able to bury him, and to celebrate his short, magnificent life. I feel fortunate that fear didn’t rob me of those small-yet-precious gifts.

So, as I reflect on the three things that happened last month and on the stories of others, I feel a great sense of sympathy for people. Fear and pain are unavoidable. Life will carry on somehow regardless. Your heart will pump and bleed no matter what. The tears will flow, hot and fast. You won’t be able to breathe for grief and fear. But that’s what happens. You don’t get to choose how you feel. You cannot choose it, and you cannot hide from it. Choice that might somehow make an agonizing decision or situation better is an illusion. Don’t be disillusioned by it. Instead, look for the love and fall into it.

Hey Jude — Not My Son

In loving memory of my sweet bright-smiling misfit and absolute delight Andrew King and to the kind and all-around lovely Bobby Harper. I love you both.

Hey Jude – Not My Son

What person, upon finding out that they’re going to be a parent, doesn’t consciously or subconsciously negotiate with God? Not my baby. Not my baby to leave my body before I meet him. Not my baby to be born sick and suffering. Not my baby to get sick later. Not my baby to be hurt physically or emotionally by life’s harsh winds, perpetually whipping around the world. Not my baby to be psychologically damaged. Not my baby to suffer from addiction. Not my baby to be unloved. Not my baby to have any more heartache than one must. Not my baby to make my mistakes. Not my baby to leave this place, for whatever reason, ahead of me.

A short lifetime ago, I spent much of my free time during undergraduate school working with my mom’s 5th grade students. I remember being surprised¾and “feeling old”–when I was working at USA and was getting a coffee from the student center and a freshman recognized me. He was one of the “kids” in 5th grade my freshman year of college.

Working with the fifth graders was fun. It was their last year of elementary school and in many ways, a last year of innocence. Certainly, that was the case for me. Socially, I struggled to navigate middle school, a reality that wasn’t helped by my appearances¾braces and glasses¾or by my predilection for smiley faces (the ‘60s were very trendy). Those smiley face keychains clinking off of my backpack were bullseyes for bullies and mean kids, and while I didn’t suffer the same as two other incredibly socially isolated children (one of whom, looking back, most likely had autism), after three years, I was damaged.

And so it was bittersweet, being with classes of little 10 and 11-year-olds in the days before they “graduated”, crying and singing along to Vitamin C’s “Graduation” song, assigning special significance when one of their names appeared in the song. I only ever hoped the best for these innocent little people.

While love is in many ways the greatest gift we have as humans and sharing and giving it freely can do powerful things, love cannot prevent loss.

This morning, I learned that for the second time within the past year, one of those precious children passed away. I laid awake in bed in the wee hours of the morning thinking of his younger brother and of his mother who now consciously or subconsciously asking God, why my son?

Between shockwaves, the black hole of loss feels all encompassing. The ever-widening chasm as the reality and finality of this thing too unfathomable to fully comprehend, engulfs her. Breathing is painful. The all-consuming and single thought is that surely, this is a nightmare. But night falls and morning comes as time cruelly persists. Anger at time, at its coldness, at its deliberate insistence on moving forward instead of backward, the way it should, the way it must, so that whatever circumstances led to that which cannot be undone, can be changed.

Because, as we all do, those parents among us whose children left too soon, we will rethink how things could’ve gone, should’ve gone, over and over and over, and for a while, we will be dizzy with confusion as to how things occurred the way that they did and not some other way.

Next, we will look for someone, anyone to blame. Whose fault was this, and how can I make them pay? As soon as this thought occurs comes the reality that there is nothing in this world that could make it okay. No amount of money. No quantity of tears of apology.

Instead, we realize that there’s nothing that we wouldn’t give. No amount of money or comfort or warmth or luxury or nourishment that we wouldn’t immediately purge just to have our baby back. Why had no one thought to ask if we were willing to trade before they made the choice to take our baby?

These thoughts don’t all come at once. They come over the course of days and weeks. In the meanwhile, the gaping wound left by unanaesthetized amputation of your soul starts to scar.

I’ve learned to live with the fact that my little Jude isn’t here, the step between Lillianne and Eilie, who I never even got to meet. I often wonder about my little boy, what he’d be like, what he’d like, how he’d play with his sisters. I don’t dream in detail. I don’t have any memories other than those of his loss and a few sensory memories of how he moved when he was alive that are so faded, they’re nearly invisible.

To that end, I don’t suppose to understand how the mothers of these boys, who weren’t even and who were just barely 30-years-old, feel. I don’t suppose to understand how the mothers of others who I know feel. Nor do I suppose to suggest our losses are the same. All tragic losses are unique as is all grief; however, there is a shared component.

The amputation of something essential is the same for all of us, and so this terrible thing has the power to unite us, to enable us to help one another, to pray for each other.

There is no purpose in asking why or in pleading not my. Every day is a gift, one we take for granted, and one that lately, with Sean’s illness, that I am forcibly reminded of (and of how often I take it for granted). While we are all imperfect people living imperfect lives, this, this life, is all we have.

I haven’t always taken lemons and made lemonade. I cannot be unaffected by the past. I recognize the many occasions in life that have stunted me, and despite my age and my experiences, in some ways, I still feel like a little girl. Perhaps that’s because I crave security, certainty, something most children possess. I go back to a time when I was 10-years-old, and like those little fifth graders at E.R. Dickson, where they live in my mind, everything was as it should be.

Hey Jude — In Our Boats

You’re standing on the edge of a low stone precipice overlooking a raging sea of brackish brine. To live, you must go forward, to step off the cliff and trust that the boat will break your fall; however, you are terrified of this ocean. In fact, entering this ocean in any capacity is one of your lifelong fears. You look around hoping for ideas on how to avoid it. Behind you, the landscape is being drained of color as the clouds of time roll ever onward. This is the past. It has no future, no vitality. To return to it means no oxygen and death within minutes. Going left or right is an option, but ultimately, the past will catch up and destroy you for remaining in a present that will become your past.

Of course, you consider, there is a caveat to moving forward. The boat. Someone–you can’t remember who, said there’d be a boat; however, the boat only exists if you believe it exists. If you stop believing the boat exists, it will cease to carry your weight, and you will plummet into the tumult. If you resume believing in the boat, it will appear, and you will be rescued. If you cannot, you will drown or will have to swim to safety; though, your chances of making it and of still being a whole person are not in your favor.

I believe there is a boat. Three years and 10 months ago, I was in that boat. At this exact time, which would be nearly 24 hours after Jude left us, that boat was literally a hospital bed, and there were only two people in the world on it—Sean and me. We spent night after night together in that tiny hospital bed so close in our grief that it seemed there was room to spare.

Jude’s funeral was on New Year’s Eve, and recently, Sean reminded me of our earthly goodbye to Jude. Our minds are repositories for memories. To get to certain memories, I have to deliberately open a door and walk through it. Then, I go to a shelf, take a box off the shelf, and open it. Like Harry Potter entering a pensive, I can relive vivid memories if I allow myself to. I almost cried remembering the funeral parlor that day.

Rather than perpetually replaying the fine details of Jude’s goodbye, I instead remember the feeling of the moment I stepped off the cliff and landed in the boat. Because at some point that day, I stopped feeling like the ocean would or could devour me. Instead, I felt oddly placid. It was the first time I realized the power of faith.

Losing Jude was one of two things I said I could never survive. The other was my husband leaving me. Now, when I said that, I meant it in the way that my husband meets someone with a much better personality and temperament, possibly someone who knows how to clean and who is just tickled pink to do laundry and to potter around the house dusting things in high heels. I’m kidding. He’s not that shallow. He just would prefer I ask him to listen to fewer audiobooks.

At any rate, I know I have a husband who values the institution of marriage and whose proclivities don’t lean toward infidelity. I still let him know that I would react like a proper crazy person if anything ever did happen because…insurance. More kidding. I didn’t consider the possibility that there even could be a possibility that he might leave in some other way.

This past week, Sean had a biopsy on a mass in the mediastinum to look for whatever was causing his now 4+ weeks of ill health. The doctor, a straight-shooter and a smart man, said he suspected lymphoma; however, he was optimistic that lymphoma was very treatable. Ever since Sean’s biopsy on the 12th when they said, “You know what this (needing to biopsy) means, right?” that they were looking for cancer. I am optimistic about whatever is to come, but before I stepped into the boat, I toed the water in the ocean.

I imagined the worst as our psyches tend to force us to do. Would our daughters remember their daddy? I pictured Eilie waking up at night crying for a daddy who’d never come. I pictured Lucia not being able to remember a daddy who loved her so much. I pictured Lillianne angry, broken, and sulky. I’d have to take them to therapy. But how does one do the job of both? How does one love enough for two? I pictured, too, living the rest of my life being the only other person who cared about and loved Jude the way that we did.

And then, I stopped. Sometimes when he took his motorcycle to work and it was rainy, or just because I knew he sometimes drove a little too fast, I would lay there and scare the stew out of myself with the picture reel of “what-ifs”.

Instead of torturing myself with a deluge of “what-if” scenarios, I’m choosing to get on the boat. Because of Jude, I know it exists. I know it will carry us. When I said the other day in my ask for prayers prior to Sean’s biopsy, I know God has a plan. I don’t know what it is, but I know that if Sean hadn’t gotten sick when our rascals got RSV, then it’s hard to say when we’d have found this thing, whatever it is—whether it’s cancer or something else—and who knows if then it’d be too late? God always has a plan. As much I have expressed that Jude’s passing could possibly have been prevented, I also believe that God had a plan for Jude whether his life was lived physically or metaphysically. Jude’s life has impacted mine and Sean’s in ways there’s no way it would have had he been our normal little boy and had we been normal, happy (albeit, stressed) parents with no experience navigating the rough waters in our little boats.

Hey Jude — Raising Your Siblings

Dear Jude,

I can only assume you’re here and you see it all. In fact, I saw a cardinal today. It flew across the road as I was about to make a right turn into the cul de sac, and I immediately thought Jude bird. I simultaneously recognized the absurdity in believing that every male cardinal that crosses my path is you sending a message or watching over me while also feeling comforted by the notion and assured in the belief that –yes, it was you.

Anyway, as you also know, Lillianne has been carrying Jude Bear around with her for over a month now. Not the white one-and-only Jude Bear I got at the hospital, the one that realistically, some emotional employee pulled from the gift-shop shelves and pulled a wooden stick that held a tiny mylar balloon with the hopeful “Congratulations” message on out of his neck (there’s always been a hole in my Jude Bear’s neck, and this is why I think it’s there). Then, they carted the white bear upstairs to become part of the hospital’s bereavement kit. Something to give me as an agonizing consolation for the fact that you weren’t there. That you couldn’t be there. That no amount of drug-induced sleep would lead to me waking up and finding that it had indeed all been a bad dream and that you could and would open your eyes and suck air into your lungs. In moments like this, when I remember, the pain of it is overwhelming, and I’m paralyzed by the unfairness of not having you here.

I digress, lest I get lost in memory. The bear Lillianne carries is the birthday gift I got for myself last year. With a handy donation, I was able to procure a Molly Bear. I placed the order on my birthday, the day I turned 35, the day I felt sure would lead to a (somehow) better, more successful me. This Jude Bear weighs exactly 4.2 lbs, the same weight you were when your soul left this earth, darling. I cried the first time I held him because it was like holding you again. It was so bittersweet. Too soon, that Jude Bear came to rest on a shelf until recently when Lillianne started to cry about you.

I’m not sure what has provoked your very dramatic sister’s emotional torrent as it pertains to you. She is conflicted about life and heaven and all of the things that must have transpired for you to be there and not here. I assure her your leaving us was peaceful, as peaceful a death can be. I assure her that you’re with her–I know you are, darling, I know you are, and I assure her that one day, she’ll see you. I promise her that you wouldn’t want her to be sad. Life is for the present, not the past nor the future. We live now.

I sometimes wonder what I should do differently or better to help your sisters accept and understand our unique family dynamic; however, I can think of nothing better than the truth. No sugar-coating. No needless sensation. Just…the truth, which is that for some reason, you are there and we are here, but despite that, we are together. I think it sends a beautiful message that there is wonder and greatness just beyond the veil fo what we can see and experience in this life. These sufferings give us strength to help others. That we are in it together means that we can grow and learn together, and one day, as we each go through the veil in our own time, those who remain can be at peace knowing that in that moment, all is right and as it should be, even as we weep and even as we mourn what we must ultimately wait for.


I love you, sweetheart. Thank you for this understanding and growth and experience. I’m selfish, and I’d rather have you here in a literal way. But, I live now, not then nor in what has yet to come, so all I know is my love and gratitude for you the way you are to me. My perfect, beautiful boy. I miss you, Jude.

Until forever,

Mom

Hey Jude — Making the Most of This Life

Dear Jude,

Hey you. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. Sometimes, I try too hard to think of what to say or of saying it the right way when what I should do is just talk to you, the way I talk to your sisters. In fact, I should probably think before I speak with them…some of the time, anyway.

In four months, you’ll be four-years-old. I’ve been looking at our friend’s children who are turning four and thinking, “Oh wow, he’d be such a little person right now.” Specifically, I watched little Catherine at her birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese as she wandered around seemingly lost but also quite self-assured in the way that only preschoolers can be. She was wearing a Bat Girl costume just ‘cause. What would you like? Dinosaurs? Trucks? Space? Bugs? Balls? Cars? Costumes? I told Sean that I bet you’d love to watch the Earth program on Netflix that he likes to turn on and watch with the girls in the evenings.

What would you like to eat? I’d like to think you’d be somewhere between Lillianne and Eilie…a little finicky but not so much that your entire diet is comprised of goldfish crackers and organic milk (like Eilie’s does).

I imagine you playing with the gusto of a little boy. You were by far the busiest baby. Your movements had no rhyme or reason—you just wanted to be on the go.

As I visualize the happier aspects of what your life would be like, I neglect to imagine the challenges, like getting you to listen. Would you be a good listener? I kind of feel like you’d be Lillianne made over and maybe a little wilder…less imagination, but more action-packed. I really would give anything to be able to fuss at you when you’re naughty or when you wake the baby or fight with your sisters over toys. I’d give anything to be able to feel like I was suffering from simultaneous rage strokes and heart-attacks because I’m so overwhelmed.

I’m sure every parent who lost a baby before she ever met them feels this way just like I’m sure every parent who lost a baby after meeting them—and perhaps fussing at them or feeling frustrated because of lack of time or sleep or whatever felt ashamed and possibly tortured with guilt.

IMG_5775

The emotions that come from losing a baby or a child at any age are so nuanced they defy logic. The perspective, too, shifts paradigms.

To begin, you realize how unimportant everything else is compared to those little lives. Money. Work. Legacy. House. Status…whatever, is completely irrelevant. You’d give it all away and never ask to have it back just to have that person back. The irony is that no one is standing around wheeling and dealing and willing to make that offer.

Then, you learn to live with what happened, with the pain of the loss or the grief. I won’t speak for everyone, but I know that in our / my case, the faith that I didn’t even realize I had enabled me to grow in ways that I never imagined. While I wouldn’t wish our loss on anyone, I also wouldn’t begrudge anyone experiencing the absolute love and comfort and peace that we were given after losing Jude…in the weeks, months, and years.

To begin, Jude helped me realize one of the hardest lessons of all, which is that we are not in control. I still struggle with that one, to be honest, but I also know that the things that make me hit the emergency brake on my brain—like when I imagine a freak-accident, our child running across someone’s driveway as they’re backing out, a car wreck, choking on a grape—are things I can’t control just as are the medical maladies that paralyze me with fear.

Last week, a little girl who suddenly developed a deadly brain tumor lost her life.  I look at my vibrant and healthy little girls and take it for granted. I take for granted that none of my children were born with some other kind of cancer or allergy or genetic disorder that at any moment could cause them to cross beyond the veil; however, I have friends who have babies with these problems, and I’m perpetually awed by their faith and resilience. I know that it’s ironic given what happened with Jude, but I can’t imagine.

But then I realize that the fear isn’t what God want us to feel. These challenges, these terrifying, awful, challenges have purpose if we allow them to, and they can transform us in ways that we never realized.

To begin, one of the most remarkable things I learned when I realized how little control I had was that…that’s actually quite okay. Someone else is in control, and I can only do my very best.

Another thing is that one of the most beautiful aspects of tragedy is when you’re able to use what happened to you to help others. This, too, is a Biblical precept as Paul advised in his letters for people to take their struggles and to help those who struggle similarly. Sometimes, I allow myself to revisit Jude’s funeral in my mind, and the people who stand out the most are the ones who came because they’d also lost children or suffered a traumatic loss.

Finally, I understand why suffering is important. In nearly four years, I’ve grown so much emotionally and mentally. I’m more understanding, loving, and compassionate. I’m not perfect, but I want to do better all of the time for my family and my babies. In our Sunday School class a few weeks ago, we talked about why suffering is necessary or why God allows bad things to happen.

I think about things like that a lot because for people who find people like me, people who have faith, to be tedious is that we often can’t explain why suffering is allowed…natural disasters, pedophiles, hatred, evil, etc. I won’t go back to Genesis to explain that, but I will say I started to think of a story idea one day (a total non-starter) about a world where there was no pain, no suffering, no bad, etc. While I realize that Christians believe that is the very definition of heaven, I also cannot imagine being as grateful or as compassionate as I am now if not for suffering. I tried to picture what the conflict would be in this story, and there wouldn’t be. How would the characters grow? Without conflict, how would they evolve into a better version of themselves? So, I believe suffering is allowed in part because it allows us to behave in a way that shows our courage, our love, our compassion, our patience, and our forgiveness for our fellow man…all virtues that God shows to us on a regular basis.

As I look ahead, I know my future will include more suffering, more trials, more challenges to the aspects of my person that I am sometimes too afraid to relinquish. I don’t fear the unknown nor the unexpected. I don’t allow myself to worry about what may or may not happen. I don’t worry about what suffering life will bring. I believe in taking each day as it comes and in doing my best every day and in being kind to myself because sometimes, I think we forget to be kind to ourselves, especially when we are dealing with something that aggrieves us, when we think perhaps we could have done better or had we acted differently, things would have been different.

So, my Jude, thank you for all of that. I love to imagine what kind of little boy you’d be if you were here, but I know that’s only ever going to be fiction. The reality is that the little boy you are now is more than I ever could have conceived or hoped for.

One day, I’ll see you again. For now, you’re in my life, and you’re in my heart. You sweet, beautiful boy. Mommy misses you.

PS: I love that today was one of “your” days because I feel like you were there with our family and your dad this morning. Big hugs.

IMG_7870

Hey Jude — It’s Over

This is something I struggled to write one month after we had our last baby, Lucia, on 12/21/17. I couldn’t put my heart into words because I hadn’t arrived at the right understanding, and it’s possible that I still haven’t. Along the way, there have been many events that have forced me to reflect on my situation.

First, a little background. On 12/26/14, we lost our son Jude at 33 weeks. Jude’s heart stopped while he was on the monitor in the hospital. We don’t know what happened. After years of reading and investigation, I speculate that had Jude been delivered and cared for in the NICU, he might have lived; however, this is pure speculation, and I will literally never know. My burden to bear, right?

After Jude physically came into my life (i.e., was born sleeping), he did everything I’d hoped he would. As it turns out, life has a way of getting you down, of making you hard, and of making you bitter (worse than Alanis’ jagged little pill). I wasn’t in a happy place when I was expecting Jude (I will always wonder if my stress / discontentment didn’t contribute to his loss). Jude was my first choice for Jude’s name, and when I really listened to the lyrics of “Hey Jude” during a Beatles Tribute concert, all I could think about was how much I wanted the baby inside of me to help me feel and to be brazen, emotional, passionate…all of the things that I felt so distant from at that time. I felt like an emotional stone, and I didn’t like it, but I had no idea how to get back to feeling. And then, I lost my son.  I came out of anesthesia following an emergency C-section in which the baby could not be saved, and I started to feel again. And it hurt.  Jude brought me to life and took me to places I never knew were possible. I understood the depth of grief.  I looked over the precipice of the abyss of absolute devastation, and I—thankfully—didn’t topple over, but I could feel what it felt like to go in. It was wondrous and terrifying.

Just like that, Jude gave me the gift of empathy. Since then, he’s made me more compassionate.  I’ve cried for people I’ll never meet. His life has influenced mine so positively that it’s a little sad that I can’t hug him and tell him thank you.  Likewise, if not for Jude, his siblings wouldn’t be alive.

When we had our first “rainbow”—the baby after him, she was born via unscheduled Cesarean delivery because I was having contractions that I couldn’t feel and because I was dilated. I was almost 37 weeks—technically, she was preterm at the time. When they delivered they said I had a ‘window’, which meant two of the three layers of tissue that make up the uterus were ripped away; they could see the baby through the “window” in the thinned area of the lining. Had those phantom contractions continued and had we not had extra monitoring, it’s doubtful I would’ve made it to 39 weeks without rupturing, something likely fatal to the baby and potentially fatal to me. Instead, on January 27, 2016, I delivered my biggest baby, Eilie, at 7 lbs and 7 ½ ounces, and above all other consideration, she was alive and healthy.

Even before Eilie, we’d always talked about “one more”. We never tried for a boy (I’m not sure how you do that…do you do it standing up or eating beer cheese because I honestly don’t know); we just wanted one more. Actually, we were planning to wait a couple of more months when we found out we were pregnant with baby four, i.e., last baby.  I was beyond ready to end the anxiety of pregnancy. At Sean’s request, we chose to not find out the gender of baby four.  The baby, dubbed Mystery Baby, was scheduled for delivery at 37 weeks, which happened to be on a Saturday (12/23), and because no one does that kind of thing on a Saturday (hello, last minute gift shopping, people), we were scheduled for a Thursday delivery (ultimately) on 12/21.  The “window” from Eilie’s delivery was the reason for the preterm decision.

For the better part of eight months, I knew in my mom bones that Mystery Baby was a boy. The baby carried low. The baby’s heart rate during NSTs was in the 130s / 140s. I had these awful migraines like I did with Jude. Everyone in the City of Mobile except for one weird girl at the park was 100% convinced it was a boy. I waddled onto the elevator after one checkup to stand next to a venerable African-American woman who asked about the baby.  After she realized I didn’t know the gender, she said as confident as an ultrasound, “Oh, it’s a boy.  I can feel it it’s a boy,” as I made to assure her we’d be happy no matter what, she cut in, “That baby is a boy.”  Yes ma’am, I thought, smiling at her enthusiasm.  People are nuts, but yeah…I kind of think it’s a boy, too.

And then, there we were…the day of 12/21.

It was 5:00 a.m., and I hadn’t slept. No one sleeps when they know they’re going to have a baby the next day.  It’s impossible.  It’s like saying, “Just so you know, tomorrow, when you wake up, your life will change for ever. Get some rest.”

Instead, I woke up shortly after 2, finished some work, and then wrote a letter to Jude that really did need to be written. I’ll call it the ‘before’ because in it I had the conviction of a woman who was going to have a son and of who was getting her tubes tied and that was the absolute thing she wanted.

On the way to the hospital, I talked about how much I loved the name Maxim, the name I’d name my son.  Maxim Emil.  I was so excited to tell the story to the world about his name.  For one, I’d have a baby named after a literary character, Maxim DeWinter from Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, one of my favorite novels and movies of all time. (It was Hitchcock’s first film.) Maxim was also in honor of the great grandfather I never met, a man named Maximillian who lived in Germany during WWII and who was put into a camp for being outspoken against Hitler, refusing to salute Nazi generals, and for inciting a riot.  I said, “I want my son to have that kind of legacy…to have the courage to stand up against wrong regardless of consequence.”

We arrived at the hospital at 5:30, right on schedule.  I was vacillating between exhilarated awaked-ness and total and utter exhaustion.  I wanted to fall asleep, but then I couldn’t even as I settled into our room to await the start of the scheduled delivery–the first time we’d ever scheduled a delivery and it had gone according to plan.  My rest was disrupted by the disappointment Sean and I had after getting into a room was the realization that we weren’t going to be in the big rooms. Springhill Memorial Hospital has a fantastic maternity ward with glorious postpartum suites; however, C-sections, like me, were in super small rooms (though, the beds were fantastic, and it’s a shame my insurance wouldn’t let me take it home with me).  Sean was crushed.  He’d been gushing to our families about the big rooms and the USB plugins in the maternity wards for months. At least our toilet seat was heated.  That was pretty swanky.

Cut to…the moment before the big cut.  Sean was had to clear the room while they did the spinal tap. I had a great moment where I got to clapback on the anesthesiologist who told me that my spinal headache after I’d had Eilie was “not really a thing”.  My throbbing brain from circa two years earlier begged to differ.

So, as he was going in to do the spinal tap, he said, “You’ve got a nice, thin back. I like a thin back,” and I quipped, “Hey, everybody’s got a thing,” which caused the OR staff and my OB to giggle.  I’m not sure if people laughing is the best for major surgery prep, but there we were…a room full of adults giggling over bony-back fetishes. (Note, he didn’t puncture my spine resulting in a spinal headache, so many thanks to him.)

Surgery was about to begin, and Sean came in.  He stood next to me behind a partition. I felt pushes and pulls.  It was announced that there was another window, or rather, the same window that had been there with Eilie was still there; it never healed.

“Thank God we decided to deliver early,” someone –probably my doctor—said. Push. Pull. Nudge.  Tug.  I felt a familiar wrenching, and then Sean said, “It’s a little girl.”

He didn’t say another, but in my mind, I feel like the word is there.  The partition dropped.  There it was, a baby body. She looked just like Eilie, arched, covered in white goo, and screaming.  Fwip. The partition was back up.  My body below the partition was tugged and pulled and vroooom, vacuumed. A baby wailed in the background.

At my encouragement, Sean rushed over to see the baby.  Our new baby girl.  I laid there alone with my mind, everything below the chest numb. Numbness trickled into my mind.  It’s overIt’s a girl.  It’s over. It’s a girl.  I cried. I shook as the doctor maneuvered. I felt nudges through the anesthesia.  It’s over.  It was over.  I wanted to scream, “Stop! Wait!” because I wasn’t ready for it to be over.  I’d been pregnant since September 2012. I was stopping something that had come so naturally to me, getting pregnant (something I never once took for granted). And it was over.  I cried.  Not crocodile tears…but dry, quaking sobs that come from the depths of being so fatigued and overwhelmed and so damn confused that the only recourse is ludicrous sobbing.

The baby, who we named Lucia Susanne, was 6lbs 7oz and perfect.  Thank God.

After we came home from the hospital, I looked around the corner and stole my only glimpse into postpartum depression.  I was in our bedroom and holding the baby.  The room spun.  Whose baby is this? This isn’t my baby. I haven’t had my baby yet.  I’m supposed to have a boy.  It’s all wrong. This is not my baby. Logical brain intervened. This is your baby. You had a little girl. You will never have a little boy.

And there it was. The thing that I really did come to terms with when we were expecting Eilie, the possibility that we might not ever have a son to raise on Earth.  Of course, when it’s a reality, it’s a whole different experience.

Jude turned three on 12/26/17, five days after we had Lucia.  I went into Hobby Lobby to get silk flowers for Jude’s gravesite. I’m buying flowers for my son’s third birthday instead of planning a party, I thought, selecting the hydrangeas. On the way to the register, I picked up a little stuffed turtle with big, shining brown eyes.  “How are you doing?” asked the cashier.  I shook my head and then I cried at Hobby Lobby.

Sean was waiting next to the truck when I got to the parking lot. I buried my head in his shoulder as he hugged me.  I wept.  “It just doesn’t get any easier.”

When we placed Jude’s flowers in his vase at the cemetery, Sean carefully put Jude’s turtle in the middle of the arrangement.  He looked into the eyes of the turtle and no doubt pictured the eyes of his son and the sweetness and excitement they would hold if we were giving him that turtle as a gift on this third birthday, and for the first time in almost three years that I’m aware of, he cried because it doesn’t get any easier.

Regarding my husband, there is something that I will never fully understand because I have daughters to raise. I have little girls, little people who are my gender, to share the things that are uniquely female with.  Respectfully, I’ve always said I wanted boys like Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, but I have girls, and I’m very thankful for them.  Sean, though, when we had Lucia and when my tubes were tied, lost something that cannot be replaced.  While he loves his little girl –all of his girls—there is a loss in realizing that he will never fulfill his boyhood dreams of teaching his son how to change the oil in a car or how to properly treat women.  The loss is something undefinable.  When you’ve envisioned the thing your entire life because that’s how things are supposed to be, it’s devastating.  I felt his pain.  One day, when we were getting ready and he was tying his tie, I started crying because I understood.  He will never teach his son to tie a tie.

The pain of this aspect of loss frustrated me because none of my babies were relegated to a gender.  I truly had always wanted boys. I’m not sorry I have girls. I wasn’t trying for a boy when we got pregnant with Lucia. We just wanted three babies. I don’t want to untie my tubes to have “another baby”.  Even if I’d had two boys after we lost Jude, I’d still feel the pain of his loss. I disliked feeling so confused.

I’ve finally reconciled that the immense pain. I felt was simply the agony of grief.  It was stronger than it had been in the past two years, and I wasn’t prepared.  It was also a period of massive change.  I had postpartum hormones at the time my only son would’ve turned three, and I’d made the (appropriate) decision to medically ensure I couldn’t have any more children. With two windows, this was the smartest and safest thing I could do. I don’t know how many times a woman’s body can endure pregnancy with a “window” and not experience a tragedy, but I think I was right to cash in my chips when I did. Also, I think I’d have been kind of a nut if I’d had more than the number of babies that I have.

After all, I love writing, and I love the idea of growing and moving forward with life—life post-pregnancy years.  I want to spend time with my career, that thing I’m so passionate about it sometimes takes my breath away. I want to have the ability to focus on my marriage, that thing I look at like a weird little pet as I try to understand all of its messes and wonders.  I want to be able to start making really fun memories with my children as we all experience things together—vacations, camping trips, summers, marathons, and whatever else we can get into.  For ages, we put the brakes on things like camping or just doing more because I was pregnant, or we had an infant. I’m sure that wasn’t necessary, but we did it.

At any rate, now, here we are. It’s over…and it’s also just beginning.

 

Dear Jude,

I’ll never not wonder ‘what if’. I’ll always miss you.  I’ll always think about what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. I’ll always appreciate what you do for me, and I’ll always be open to the ebb and flow of grief no matter how difficult it is.  This year was so hard, but I’m glad it was hard because it reminds me of how much I love you.  I hope heaven is lovely this time of year. You’ll have to tell me all about it someday.

 I love you forever,

your adoring mommy,

Me

 

 

Hey Jude — Changing Seasons

My dear, sweet boy,

In less than two hours, I’ll take your sisters to your Emie & Daddy Joe’s house and will drop them off and will head to the hospital to have your last little sibling who we still only know as Mystery Baby.

Today is December 21, 2017.  It’s the first day of winter.  It’s the start of a new season.  In 2012, I began my stumbling (and somewhat unsteady and unwilling, at least at first) foray into motherhood.  For the past five-and-a-half years, spare five months, I have been keeping another person alive with my own body; after today, I’ll have another year to go, God-willing.

I’m not complaining. God knows I’d give anything to have been able to be part of the group of women who–rightfully deserve to–complain about the challenges of motherhood and womanhood as they nurse, feed, love, cradle, coddle, and fret over their cherubic, growing babies.  I’d give anything to not know what it was like to have to say goodbye before I said hello.

But, here we are–there you are in heaven; here I am on Earth.  Losing you nearly three years ago (how are you only five days away from being three?) initiated a season within a season, one in which pregnancy and childbirth were characterized by fear and anxiety, but also one in which I–as a person and a woman, grew up immeasurably.  I didn’t realize how young I was until I lost you.  I also didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about peace and faith or myself.  I would rather have you here and have learned those lessons the hard way, but my goodness, you’ve done more for me than anyone has, and you do it unceasingly.

I’m a 34-year-old woman, getting ready to have her last C-section, her last baby.  I’m about to bid my childbearing years goodbye and to look ahead toward the future, a future in which I am a mother to four children, no matter whether I can only relate to them spiritually and emotionally or physically as well.  Today truly ends and begins a season of my life.

I only came to the realization of the parallel between the actually day–December 21–and the symbolism last night, but before that, something else that represents the way life comes full circle happened.

We’d walked to your Emie & Daddy Joe’s house yesterday evening. We stood at the end of the long driveway, and I asked my dad if I could take one of his oranges.  He grows a huge variety of citrus in the front and back yards. He consented and led me toward the backyard.  I followed, surprised and a little confused that he didn’t want to give me one of the sweet oranges that were hanging on the tree nearest to us.

As I waddled down the driveway, I thought about December 2014.  I thought about Dad’s grapefruits. He has a mammoth and prolific tree in his backyard that for years has produced hundreds–hundreds–of grapefruit.  After I lost you, when I was numb and had no taste or zest for life whatsoever, Dad kept bringing me grapefruit from his tree. He brought grapefruits to me in the hospital.  Other people brought food, and usually, by the time a visitor left or I’d stopped crying, the food was spoiled, and so when I could and would eat, I would peel into a grapefruit and eat the juicy, tart-sweet spoils.  It was like comfort food from God.

Of course, in 2015, as I wrote about here, the tree sustained trauma due to a bitterly cold frost that early winter.  The tree barely produced.  It was a metaphor for me…for what I’d gone through, for what I was going through.

The following season, the tree produced again; though, its nature had changed.  This year, I couldn’t recall if the tree was producing a single fruit.  A downed branch earlier in the summer and some other issues led me to believe that the special tree might not live much longer…let along produce fruit.

Dad opened the metal gate leading to the pool area behind which stands the tree.  He reached into the tree and pulled a large, low-hanging grapefruit from the branches.  “Oh wow, Dad. This means so much,” I said, hugging him.

“I grew that one especially for you.  I thought that one’s for my Amy,” he replied as we turned to go.

I don’t believe in luck or charming one’s fate with rituals, but the simplicity behind my dad’s thoughtfulness and the timing of the situation, could not have been more profound for me in that moment or more comforting.  I realized, too, that my dad’s gesture symbolized something else, the ability to overcome a past.

Growing up, Dad and I weren’t particularly close. Too similar, we clashed. I was emotional and high strung; he was pragmatic yet high strung in his own ways. Both of us were intense and clever and determinedly right.  It was really stressful for both of us.  In my teens and 20s, I was bothered by the reality that if something were to happen to my dad, he’d have been a person I loved but never knew.

After I grew up some more, got married, and learned a thing or two about life, Dad and I started talking more and more and more.  I don’t know his whole story; he still surprises me with aspects of his past that I am intrigued and entertained by.  I do know, though, the story he and I share, and the fact that we have that shows me how much it’s possible to grow and to blossom even after the hardest of seasons.

My darling Jude.  I should probably go start getting ready.  It’s almost time.  No matter what happens today, you, your sisters, and this last little baby are all my darlings.  I’m thankful for the past five-and-a-half years.  They made me who I am, but I’m also thankful to turn the page and to look toward a future shaped by my past but not ruled by it.

 

As always, I love you forever, I like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.

Love,

Mommy

FullSizeRender-23

Hey Jude – Why the Truth Matters

Dear Jude,

In one month, you’ll turn three. Three-years-old. I remember Lillianne’s third birthday party. It was at the park, on the playground. Eilie was only just four-months-old and just hung on to whoever was holding her like a sweet little koala nugget. Lillianne was so cute. She wore a blue dress with white polka dots and her little yellow “heeled” sandals. We set up tables and even though it was 9:00 that June morning, it was swelteringly hot. Lillianne laughed and ran around, sliding and swinging. She didn’t even care that her friends weren’t there yet; if you’d have been there, you’d have been a year and a half and no doubt, hot on her heels, sliding and swinging a few steps behind her with shouts of, “Yee-yan,” because you couldn’t say Lillianne.

By now, those wobbly steps and funny baby talks would’ve turned into running at full tilt and chattering in full sentences…we’d know what your favorite foods and colors and characters are. We’d have fussed at you for rule-breaking, worried if we were raising you “okay”, thought about your future…all of the things parents do. I’d be planning your birthday party, of course, and, of course, complaining about how “hard” it is to do things during the holidays.

 

The reality is that I’m doing none of those things. I’m expecting your baby brother or sister to be delivered at 36 weeks and 5 days in three weeks and three days (but who’s counting?) on December 21. I’m anxiously anticipating the arrival of your last sibling five days before your birthday.

The day before yesterday, Mystery Baby turned 33 weeks; for you, 33 weeks was the last day of your life with us. We only had you with us for 33 weeks. If I’d known I had to form a lifetime of memories in 33 weeks, I wonder how much I’d have done differently?

 

Yesterday, you’d have been 35 months. We went to Atlanta over the holiday weekend to get Mystery Baby’s little animal from the Georgia Aquarium, an accidental tradition that now means so much. Your Jude Whale, by the way, is much loved and is passed around by your sisters. We got your last little sibling a Harbor Seal. I meant to get a sea lion, but oh well. It’s a cute and soft little thing, and I think Mystery Baby will like it. You’d have loved Jude Whale. It’s kind of ironic that your little whale was pure white, completely innocent and angelic, like you. I always think of you when I see the belugas now. They’re so docile and gentle and ethereal, like you.

I digress. Saturday night, I had a hard time going to sleep. I felt unwell. It was probably fatigue or just un-actualized anxiety. Thirty-three weeks. I had a few cramps and mentally plotted exactly what we’d do if I went into labor or if there was an emergency. Thankfully, there wasn’t.

I woke up at 4 a.m. and thought about the night we lost you. I thought about the things that happened and about how recently, I’ve read about other moms whose babies were having decels and other issues like you were. Those babies were delivered, and those babies lived. Your dad and I have assuaged our grief over and over by telling ourselves that something else might have been wrong. I’ve consoled myself with the idea that you at least were in a safe, warm place full of love when your life left this Earth. But I do wonder…and wonder…and wonder…time and time again, for nearly three years now, what if. If they’d have delivered you, would you have lived? There are plenty of pre-term babies born every day who are sustained in NICUs and who live as perfectly healthy and happy children.

Being the skeptic that I am, I wonder and continue to wonder if someone really knows what happened or who has an idea of what happened, and they’re not saying because they’d rather protect people within the institution (Providence Hospital in Mobile, AL) or the institution itself. The thing is, I’m well outside the statute of limitations for any legal action, and honestly, I don’t want anyone’s money. There is on amount of money on this Earth that can possibly make up for you not being here.

The reality is that I just want to know everything. I want to know why if there’s a why. I want to know how if someone knows how. I want to know if someone made a mistake. I want to hear, “I’m sorry,” if they did. I want to know that because of you, someone has changed everything about the way they practice medicine and has made the right decision and has saved so many baby’s lives. I’d like to know that. I just want to know the truth, whatever it is, because I’d like to think it would take some of the burden from my grief.

 

Yesterday, one month before you turned three, we drove home from Atlanta. Having slept poorly, I was tired and uncharacteristically emotional. Irrationally, I engaged your dad in a lengthy conversation about past pains that really don’t impact our marriage now. After all, when better to trap someone in an emotional argument about the past than on a four-and-a-half hour car ride.

I cried three times yesterday. Once was in a Hardee’s bathroom (we’ll call this a “low point”), once at home while I was unpacking. We’ll call this a “revelation moment” because it was when I took my Jude Bear (the one I got at the hospital nearly three years ago when I lost you) out of my suitcase that I started crying all over again. It’s also when it became clear that the real reason I was upset was because of you. It’s because I miss you. I love you so much, and I miss you, and I really just want some kind of closure. I just want to know the truth about what happened. I realize no one can assure me that your outcome would or wouldn’t have been different had the doctor read the ultrasound correctly; had she decided to deliver; had they rushed us straight to the Children’s & Women’s hospital with the NICU, etc. However, I feel someone can tell us if—in hindsight, they made a mistake. They made a bad call. They weren’t as attentive as they should have been. I have no idea. Did they do everything correctly?

I don’t want someone to blame because that won’t change anything. I just want closure. Is that too much to ask? There’s that line that goes, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” I can handle the truth. I don’t think it’s fair for me to have anything but the truth.

I think that’s true for all moms who’ve suffered a loss. We deserve the truth. After all, I had a healthy pregnancy with Lillianne. I had a healthy pregnancy with Eilie. Mystery Baby is thus far very healthy. In these final three and a half weeks of me ever being pregnant again, I’m absolutely gripped with anxiety and paranoia because I don’t know what happened or if your passing was ultimately the result of human error (i.e., the choice of inaction) or if it was truly something completely mysterious. Is it normal for babies with decelerations, severe tachycardia and bradycardia to not be delivered immediately? Or rather, more importantly, how much of the heartbeats being read were mine, and how many were yours? What happened?

 

Most days, I’m not a crazy person. Most days, I don’t cry. Most days, I don’t rehash painful topics with your father. Yesterday just wasn’t most days. I’m sorry for days like that, that I have to have days like that. I’m sorry that I hate being pregnant because of the constant anxiety. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was never a fan of being pregnant, but after losing to “causes unknown”, pregnancy is terrorizing. I’ve visited the hospital three times during this pregnancy for legitimate concerns (of course, everything is fine; everything is always fine) for $125 a pop (shout out to my sponsor, Visa). I’m more afraid of getting a steroid shot and of Mystery Baby needing NICU time than I am excited to meet Mystery Baby in three weeks. Your dad cannot stand when I’m pregnant because I’m so high strung. It’s truly unfortunate. I feel so alone so often because being the one who’s pregnant, I’m literally the only one who can determine if there’s a problem or whatever. I’ve spent six months wondering if this weird little pain in my leg is a blood clot; it’s been checked twice. It’s not. It keeps getting worse, like the anxiety.

 

I wish above all things that I could hug you and tell you in your sweet ear the story about what happened. Instead, I’ll spend the rest of my life wishing. Wishing I knew. Wishing I could hug you. Wishing that I didn’t have two potential realities: the one where you live and the one where we have Eilie because I know that had life not taken the course it did, we wouldn’t have Eilie. The little seeds that made her wouldn’t have been there when and if we ever made baby three. It would be different seeds, a different life. A different kid. A different everything.

But, alas, that’s not this reality. In this reality, you are with me in spirit. I cannot hug you or hold you. We have Eilie, who is so sweet and fun and funny, and we have Mystery Baby, who I hope we get to raise on Earth. I guess we’ll see. As the weeks, days, and hours crawl by, I become more and more anxious and despondent. I lessen my grip on hope just in case it happens again. I do this because I don’t know what happened. That’s the price of not knowing the whole and absolute truth.

I love you and miss you, sweet boy. In my heart, I’m always hugging you and smiling at your laughing eyes. 

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude — Ending a Chapter

Today, Jude is two years and 10 months old. In exactly eight weeks, we’ll (okay, I’ll because let’s be honest about who’s doing the ‘heavy lifting’ here) hopefully deliver our fourth and final baby via scheduled C-section on December 21 at approximately 37 weeks.

I don’t know if it’s the sleep deprivation that’s –this time—come from excess work or the reality that this is it, but I’ve been so much more emotional in the past few months than I have been in the past year when I think about and talk about my Jude.

If you’ve ever lost someone, first, I’m very sorry. Second, you know that most of the time…you’re okay. You mourn privately and usually on anniversary days, perhaps their birthday or the day they passed away, but otherwise, you don’t walk around with your emotions bubbling below the surface (that’s not to say you’re not always thinking about your that you don’t still love the person you lost, of course).

I’ll admit that I thought I was past the point of spontaneous tears, but it seems I’m not. Because we don’t know the gender of this “mystery baby”, I ordered a very cute “Baby’s First Christmas” outfit in the newborn size. As soon as I did, I thought about the what ifs…a great thing for when I’m writing fiction; not so much for when I’m thinking about what could happen between now and December 21 and even afterward (I’m very anxious about delivering at 37ish weeks and about possibly having to have a steroid shot to develop the baby’s lungs prior to; I’m also anxious about the baby having medical complications due to being delivered so early.).

But, the what ifs…they come whether you want them to or not. Before I could hit stop and eject on the thought process, my mind was at Jude’s funeral, and I was standing in front of that little teeny satin box, and his teeny body was in it and dressed in his little blue outfit, and he was there, but he wasn’t, and …just thinking about it, it makes me cry. I miss him so much. I’m so afraid of going through that again. The thing is, it’s okay that no one can say anything to make it ‘okay’ because it’s just not okay.

There are some things, some circumstances in life that are too complicated for words to make right. I think about my friend who brought coffee the next day at like, 6:00 in the morning before her shift at the hospital. It was coffee. That stuff most of us drink every day so our facial muscles function properly (I might be over-sharing here.) But, you know, it was so much more than coffee. It was just…showing up and wanting to help and bringing that one little comfort that I couldn’t get. It was her tact in not trying to say the “right” thing because there really is no right thing you can say.

I’ve observed more and more people put their foot in it trying to say the right thing instead of just keeping their mouth shut. I’m still a member of the Pregnancy after Loss group, and what some of these women endure is surreal. One pregnant “friend” asked a mom two months after her loss if she could buy or have her baby things since she wouldn’t need them. Other times, people suggest that the women can always have more babies, or they suggest that if they already have one child, “At least you have (first child / children).” They don’t understand why the women don’t celebrate when and if they can / do get pregnant again.

I know I’m not as sensitive to some stimuli as other PALs, but I get being pregnant again not necessarily being a cause to celebrate. It’s like walking across one of those broken wooden rope bridges in an Indiana Jones film. Maybe you’ve made it once, maybe you haven’t, but there was that one time where the board beneath your feet broke and you fell. You almost died, and it took every ounce of hope and humanity that you possessed to get up and to climb back to the top of the cliff and to start walking again. The walk is never the same. Every step, every board looks nefarious. It doesn’t matter that a team of engineers are encouraging you and assuring you that everything looks great with this bridge. There’s no reason for you to not make it to the other side. You want to believe them. You want to enjoy the scenery on the walk, but there’s no foregoing the trauma from “the fall.”

Eight weeks, especially the last eight weeks are the most treacherous part of my pregnancy journey. I’m trying really hard to hold it together as I cross the bridge, but I’m scared of heights, and I don’t like pain if I can avoid it.

I don’t want to fall again. I want to make it to the other side just one more time because this is the last time. No matter what happens on this journey, this is it. It’s not that I couldn’t try “one more time” if the unthinkable what if happens. It’s just…I don’t want to. It’s too much on me and on Sean and on our family. Being able to have children is and has been a blessing to us, but the emotional and physical burden isn’t healthy.

At the same time, closing this door somehow causes me to feel like I’ll lose a little piece of Jude. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt kicks or had headaches or experienced some other nuance that reminded me of Jude’s pregnancy. I’m going to miss that. I don’t want to let go of feelings that make me feel more connected to him, even if those are the same feelings that make me cry uncontrollably when I hear about someone else’s trauma or when I think about the “what ifs”.

Like all endings, this will be bittersweet. Right now, the hope of just having a healthy baby in eight weeks fully overshadows the gravity of this life transition, but I know that once it sinks in, I’ll (hopefully) be complete in a sense and can celebrate starting a new chapter while reflecting more meaningfully on the one that I’m about to turn the page on.

***

Dear Jude,

I don’t know what to say other than I love you, and I miss you. I wish I could remember you better. A PAL was asking if other moms looked at their baby’s tummy or patted their little bottoms, the kinds of things that moms do when their baby is alive. I’m sorry that I never saw what color eyes you had or changed your little diaper or gave you a bath. I remember your feet and hands; I love your feet and hands. I love the way it kind of felt like you held our hands. There’s a part of me that’s not in this world because you’re not here. I appreciate that you make me a stronger, better person in so many ways. I wouldn’t be who or where I am if not for you, and that’s not something I can necessarily say to your sisters or to mystery baby, so you’re very special to me. I just miss you, and there’s a selfish part of me who wishes she could have you here. I wish I was planning a little third birthday party right now and perhaps complaining about how hard it is to plan a birthday party at Christmas time and just be completely unaware of how nice it is to have that problem. I don’t mean that people who have that take their precious babies for granted because I know that they don’t, but I just wish…that was the most of my problems.

Anyway, I love you so much my beautiful boy. I’ll see you one day –sooner than later in the grand scheme of things.

You’re in my heart.

Love,
Mommy