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.

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Hey Jude – Coping with Loss

Dear readers…this piece was difficult for me to decide to share. Please understand that I am not making a political statement nor am I making light of anyone’s feelings. I am expressing a genuine concern for the generation that walks behind me. Following the presidential election, which was easily the most polarizing election of my lifetime, I heard and witnessed (via Internet) instances where young people were unable to cope. I heard a video where a girl (20-something, maybe?) wept that someone needed to “fix this” (election results) or she was going to kill herself. I heard that young people were given coloring books and puppies by major universities to “cope” with their disappointment and loss.

 

While I respectfully understand the soothing and meditative merits of coloring (and other artistic pursuits), I am also very concerned with the frailty of this generation, and so, as is the nature of my second year of writing my Letters to Jude, I must say this, and I implore you to listen with an open mind and an open soul because I want you, person who feels damaged and destroyed right now (regardless as to why), to feel my strength and resilience and to take what I have and to make it your own and to let it give you the confidence that I have, which is that there is nothing that I cannot accomplish and that there is nothing that will destroy or defeat me.

 

Suicide…

 

The world was distorted as I drove down Cottage Hill Road. A poppy ‘80s tune pulsed on the radio as I rolled to a stop at a looming red light. The air was stiff and stifled as if I was a one-woman dirge. Who are these other people, going about their normal day, as if the universe hadn’t just shifted? How can this song be on? This isn’t appropriate. This song should not be on. This shouldn’t be happening. He would’ve heard this song as a kid. He would’ve known this song. Possibly danced around to it. I replayed the events over and over in my mind. He left his home at some point in the day with his gun. He was off on his ATV. They found him at around 2 a.m. The police found him. The aftermath was and is irreversible. The last time I saw him was a year ago. Should I have helped? Yes. Would anything be different. No idea…I’ll never know if even the slightest effort could’ve helped a kind-hearted family member avoid the irreversible. I wish I’d tried. And thus, disappointment doesn’t cover this…the devastation, the trauma.

 

There were no puppies or coloring books to make it all better.

 

9/11…

 

In 2001, the Top ’40 station, WABB, was filled with static and talking and news as I drove the negligible distance from my cultural anthropology class to my art history II class..  I changed the station. More news. I listened for a minute and tried to understand what in the world was going on.

 

World Trade Center.

Pentagon.

Hit by an airplane?

 

I got out of my car disgusted with myself. I was 115 lbs that morning. Did you get that? One hundred. And fifteen. Fat. Disgusting. Pounds. My pants, size zero, mind you, weren’t even loose anymore. I couldn’t grab at the sagging fabric at the back of my thighs. My XS Banana Republic tie-dye tank…practically clingy at the bodice. Pathetic. I took a seat in my freshman art history class and quickly journaled about what I heard on the radio (though, I had no sense of what it meant); then class started, and I was swept a the world of Byzantine art..

 

Dr. Seuss canceled psychology that day, which really wasn’t that uncommon. He canceled class roughly 50% of the time, so, woo hoo! I went to Mom’s school up the road to see her. The kids would be at recess. Mrs. Christopher was in tears. Ten year olds, who would now be 26 year-olds (dear Lord), were playing on the playground so innocently oblivious to what would ultimately be the new world order. Mom explained that what I thought was a tragic accident was no accident. Someone or many some ones had intentionally flown 747s into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon and killed people. A lot of people.

 

My fifth class of the day started at 3:15 p.m. Mr. Monotone made our test optional, but I took it anyway. I was so far removed from reality. I was this twerpy narcissistic kid who literally mostly remembered my weight from 9/11. I was 115 lbs. Oh, and 9/11 happened, and I was 18 years old.
That night, I started to hear new words. Terrorism. Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden.

 

Guess what? No one gave me a therapy puppy or a coloring book to make it all better for me. Come to think of it, no one gave me that crap for my eating disorder either. I never thought I needed nor deserved them; though, I will say, there were times, when I truly thought I would die from my eating disorder that I prayed. Hard. I prayed that I would wake up the next day. I prayed that I wouldn’t die…that I wouldn’t be found dead on the bathroom floor in the wake of my shame. I faced my fear, and I fought it…and eight years later, I won.

 

My Jude…

 

And then, on December 26, 2014…I grew up. Like really, grew up. I lost my son. He was fine all day on Christmas Eve. I noticed he wasn’t moving as much late Christmas Day. On December 26, we checked in to the doctor’s office. The baby had a heartbeat. We were put on the monitor at the hospital and within hours, he was gone.

 

“There’s no heartbeat.”

 

He’d just moved…literally just moved…and so we rushed into an emergency C-section. When I came out, I asked my husband, “How’s my baby?” and I knew from the look on his face.

 

“I named him Jude. Jude David. Is that okay?” he said brokenly.

 

“Yeah. Hey Jude…” I started to sing in a still medically-induced state, and Sean took up the chorus.

 

We were rolled back toward my room, and like a manifestation from God, our Priest was standing there. Father David accompanied us to our room, and prayed with us. As he started to leave, I, still in a pitiable state between life and anesthesia, began to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” and Father David turned around and returned to my bedside, and Sean joined him in sacred prayer. Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….. My speech was slurred, and I stumbled over words. I’ve never felt so empty or broken than in the days where my healing and my life truly began.

 

No one brought me a puppy or a coloring book, and in those frail, fragile moments that severed my ties between adolescence and reality, I didn’t care. Those things wouldn’t have made it all better. You know what did make it better? God.

 

At some point during Jude’s funeral, I found peace. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t seeking it. I was open to a grief journey. I was open to having a bottomless hole of pain and loss and suffering in my life, but God fill the void with something intangible yet so real I could almost touch it.

 

It was faith. Faith. I can’t describe how much my son and the agony of losing him transformed me.

 

To those who think that their latest devastation is the end of the world…it’s not unless you choose to let it be. I could’ve gone off of a ledge and died inside and out at many points in my life. I could’ve never said to my eating disorder, “I will not let you kill me,” and then called on God for help. I could’ve never done the thing I said I couldn’t do, which is lose a child and live, if not for God.

 

What I’m saying is life is challenging, hard, sometimes unfair, and sometimes unbearable. You will bleed. You will break. You will be decimated at times. And then…you can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can get stronger and smarter and better and wiser and assert yourself.

 

For those who don’t believe in God, let me tell you, God is real. My faith is real. If all you have are coloring books and puppies and free passes, I feel sorry for you. You can literally destroy my body, but you won’t kill me. I mean that. I’m not afraid of losing or disappointment or tragedy or devastation. I don’t welcome it, but it cannot and will not break me because of my God. I encourage you to have what I’m having.

 

Afterthought: Dear readers…I am not trying to force my faith on you, but I am trying to implore you to recognize that life will never get easier. It’s the trials and how we handle them that define us. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to cry, but we must all always reassemble ourselves and find strength through tragedy and adversity. There are many worse things to happen than losing a political election (or other things). Losing hope and losing faith are two of those things.

 

You cannot rely on superficial crutches to get you through the things that will challenge your hope and faith. If you do, then you will surely lose them. Instead, find something within yourself that is there and that has always been there that is truly worth fighting for and that imbues you with an unbreakable fortitude (for believers, that is God, and truly, it is the valuable quality one could possess).

 

I pray for you, gentle reader, whoever you are and whatever you’re fighting with and for. I pray you rely on the right things.

 

 

ASIDE

 

For Dear America:

 

I pray for this country. I pray for our leader to seek wisdom and guidance from God and that regardless of our leadership, that God intercede through that leader to guide us all to greater glory. Remember that there is always light in darkness if we look to it, gentle reader. The light is always there, and it is in times in which we seek light during periods of darkness that we are most brave and most faithful.