Everything is Relative

 

“Everything is relative in this world, where change alone endures.”

― Leon Trotsky

As a widow, one of my least favorite sayings is “you’re so strong.” I’ve heard it a lot since Randy died. It always confused me before it started to anger me. Strong? Because I can’t will myself to stop breathing? (Believe me, I tried—no luck.) Because there’s only so many days I can wear the same clothes before they crawl off to the washer, themselves? Because eventually I have to get out of bed to pee? Because once the fog cleared, I realized that the earth was still turning and my children were still here and that meant I still needed money and food and shelter and my job? I don’t consider that strong. I consider that life. You do what you gotta do.

I read something (on Facebook, surprisingly) about how people try to downplay their own pain, which hampers the grieving and the healing processes. It really spoke to me at that time, because I felt there were people in my family who didn’t quite get what it meant to be a widow and a mother, and expected far too much of me. Since I was raised to do what I should, it was hard to put my own needs in front of their expectations. While I may not have had the energy to live up to those expectations, I simply exchanged that for guilt at not being enough and anger at not being understood. Guilt and anger: what a lovely, isolating, self-destructive combination.

What I got from that article was this: everyone’s pain is relative, because everyone’s history is unique. What was my “worst” could pale in comparison to someone else’s “worst.” Conversely, someone else didn’t need to experience my “worst” to have their own version of “worst.” I have my unique moment that is the lowest point and others that represent the high end. It is my relative scale against which I gauge all other moments. It is ok for me to feel pain at my worst moments, even if I can objectively see that others have had moments that may be worse, because this is the bottom of MY scale. And it is ok for others to not quite get my own worst moment, because their scale may not go down that far. It doesn’t make their scale “less than” mine; it just means they have a different scope of experience.

I have always marginalized my own experiences. The bad is never as bad as others act like it is. I have the curious ability to pooh-pooh my own memories. I wouldn’t exactly call it sexual abuse by a neighbor’s son, but if it had happened to one of my kids, I’d be screaming sexual abuse. I definitely call it years of physical abuse from a sibling, but I survived it, so let’s move on. It’s an amusing story now about how I was left at a store when I was 4-5 years young as my parents continued with their Saturday errands and how I remember every second of searching the store and sitting in the window staring at the parking lot for an hour or two before their car raced back into view. I didn’t know it was ADD and just dealt with the “stop daydreaming” admonishments my entire life. I can laugh about being 6 or 7 and watching my dad steal a hubcap from a car in the bowling alley parking lot and then the harrowing ride home at speeds up to 70 mph on winding roads after a Friday night Men’s League (which meant lots of drinking on the Men’s part). I know I was leaning strongly towards alcoholism, myself, in college and have many, many things to regret there, but so do many others, right? That’s just college. And yes, I lived with an alcoholic for 7-8 years and dealt with car accidents and DUIs and screaming matches and separation and at least one incident I will never ever ever talk about, but he became a Recovered Alcoholic and things improved phenomenally for the next 13 years. He was everything I knew I would love about him after that and gave me a life & family I could only dream about before. So he started drinking right before he died, and we’d already had one major argument concerning the drinking, but I never got a chance to find out how that would play out because, well, he died suddenly. And yes, he and my heart died when he was 48 in the span of 3 days from leukemia. I’ve since met many widows/widowers with stories much sadder than mine. My experiences with childbirth may be others’ visions of hell, but they’re all I know about bringing my children into this world, and I wouldn’t begrudge their entrance for anything. My youngest may have spent 4 days in a psychiatric hospital and for years suffered from extreme anxiety and depression and bipolarism, but just look at her now. She’s healthy and happy and working full-time at a job she loves. And the oldest daughter distanced herself for over 10 years, just so I wouldn’t be able to see how her boyfriend/fiance/husband was whittling away her confidence and self-esteem. And I’ve had to watch her go through a divorce, a new romance with someone I really disliked, and then become a widow, herself, after less than a year of that marriage. And I had a ring-side seat as she descended into alcohol and depression and refused to let me be a parent again. And even though I jumped into that ring to battle it out more times than I can count, she has found her way back to life and love and I can breathe again. And yes, I packed up and moved across states to be closer to a family that never seemed to understand me, but I figured it out after 5 years and my mother’s death and moved back to my friends. And ok…it’s been 12 years and I have yet to work up the courage for even a first date in spite of the daily loneliness that permeates my life. I won’t even address the years of pain and “oh, you’re too young for that” related to arthritis and other health ailments, or the laundry list of surgeries to try to correct joint and stomach issues. Everyone’s life is tough. Suck it up and move on.

I don’t want people to think bad about people who I feel may have wronged me, because that’s just my opinion and I’m sure they had good reasons and I’m sure it’s not as bad as I remember and I’m sure I played a large part in what happened to me. Seriously, I am responsible for my own actions, and reactions, and the consequences of both.

I know what my worst moment is, and I can rate all the moments from that point up. It’s amazing how the “best” is not one single moment. “Best” appears to be relative, also, within my own experiences. There are moments that are “best” as a child, and “best” as a sibling, and “best” as a wife, and “best” as a mother of this child and then mother of that child, and “best” as a professional, and “best” as a friend. This scale appears to be an inverted triangle, with many points along the top of the scale whittling down to one single point at the bottom. I’m going to assume that means I have had more happiness than sadness, and so it is harder to pinpoint one single moment of extreme happiness.

I don’t consider myself stronger than the next person. I don’t consider myself weaker than another person. I only know that I have catalogued my worst moments and my best moments. As long as I’m breathing, I’m hoping the upper end of that inverted triangle continues to expand faster than the lower. I’m not strong. I’m just balancing as best I can, just like anyone else. After all, everything is relative, including triangles.

 

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I am still learning. -Michelangelo, age 87

In the 59 years I’ve been on this Earth, I’ve lived by myself for maybe almost a year, broken into two segments; nine months here, 3 months there. I went from home to college to marriage to children and finally, to widowhood…still with children.  At the end of this month, I will be on my own.

My youngest has been with me consistently, except for those two solo periods, which is when she moved out for college. She moved back in fairly quickly each time, and I didn’t object. She has had some mental health issues and I have had some personal issues and some maternal issues and neither of us has minded the company. My oldest moved out for college and never came back.

I watched my youngest go from an exuberant, engaging, extroverted little pixie to a withdrawn, fearful, frozen young woman. When she was young, she never knew a stranger, which was sometimes frightening. She talked to anyone and everyone, sang when she wasn’t talking, never stopped moving, and grabbed the world around her with both hands. She bounced and sashayed and hugged and rambled and you could almost see the energy just pouring out of her. Then, one day in middle school, she walked into her bedroom and never came out.

The change was jarring. She stopped making eye contact, and it was maddening to watch her eyes flit to every object behind me, instead of actually TO  me.  She developed a giggle that served as a buffer between asking her a question and having her actually answer it. She slumped. She slunk. She turned away or hid behind me. She let clothes and books and drawings and pencils pile up in her room so she had somewhere to burrow. Shrugging became her main communication tool. Where my daughter had once stood now stood her shadow.

I tried to attribute it to adolescence and hormones. The oldest had gotten moodier around this age, too.  The oldest hadn’t disappeared inside herself, though, and I knew it. I come from a long line of treating depression and any other mental health issue with a firm “snap out of it.” I knew there was more to it than that, as I was already on anti-depressants. I had been given them when I was in my forties, when I was sent to the doctor to figure out why I was so angry all the time. The doctor asked why I was there.

“Because I think people are so incredibly stupid and why they’re breathing my air is beyond me.” She nodded, made a note, and asked how long I’d been depressed.

“I’m not depressed. I’m pissed.” She explained how depression manifests in different symptoms with different people and handed me a prescription. “Fill it on your way home,” she insisted. I huffed my way out of her office, through the drug store, and all the way home. In a couple of weeks, I emerged from my pit of rage, and realized how far down the hole I’d fallen. I spent a while apologizing to people, especially my family.

So why didn’t I see that Hayley was suffering not from puberty, but from something much more serious? I know there’s a part of me that did see, but didn’t want to admit it. She had just started weaning down from her suitcase of allergy and asthma medications. We opted out of ADHD medications because if we had to choose between her breathing or her energy level, we chose oxygen each and every time. I didn’t want her to face a lifetime of SSRI medication and their side effects and the haughty looks from the “snap out of it” people. I’m amazed at the number of people who think people should just “stop being sad.” No one batted an eye when I started medication; maybe they were tired of the duck-and-cover routine they had to do whenever I approached. I can guarantee not one single person told me to “snap out of it” when I was on a rampage. They were too busy trying to save their own ass. 

When she hit high school, she started questioning her sexuality a little more blatantly. I suspected her truth and her dad turned a blind eye.  (I silently supported whatever she decided, while he was figuring out how to support his daughter when he didn’t exactly support her new category. He could be Catholic at the most inopportune times.) I assigned this traumatic, personal examination as the source of more of her moods. She was no longer extroverted, but who wouldn’t be introspective if they were juggling these types of questions?

I cringe when I think of how much I turned into my “just snap out of it” mother during some of her most trying moments. She was  as smart as her father, but couldn’t present her work in class without becoming physically ill. We spent many nights at the kitchen table or in the living room, her in tears and me in frustration because she KNEW this stuff forwards and backwards and why was this so hard?? I conveniently forgot how I went through freshman speech class in college with a script for Valium firmly in my hand. I forgot how I knew all the answers in high school but rarely raised my hand and spent most of my class time silently praying “please don’t call on me; please don’t call on me.” I forgot how I spoke to few people outside my inside circle of friends, at least until I discovered my first Happy Hour at the bar that allowed 18 year olds to buy alcohol. I forgot a lot of things because I didn’t want her to go through all those terrible memories. And so, I let her go through a lot of her own terrible memories because I just wanted both of us to “snap out of it.”

Then her dad died, and I stopped being a mother. At that time, my world had imploded and I had nothing to stand on. I could barely take care of myself, much less anyone else. Oh, I covered the basics: I went to work, I paid bills, I made sure there was money. I did see when she was visibly upset and shaking and could help through those times. It was all the other times that she silently suffered that I glaringly missed.  I, myself, was severely depressed and there weren’t enough anti-depressants in the world to mask my symptoms. Since I didn’t manifest depression like most people, I managed to use my anger to keep many  people at bay….including my daughter.

She hit bottom about a year after he died, and luckily, we had people around us who recognized when she landed and got us the help she needed. After that, it was a long, hard, exhausting climb back from where she had spiraled. I was determined to be a better mom from this point on, but hit my own bottom with this one afternoon, sitting behind the broken dishwasher with Youtube and some wrenches. We had  moved recently, and she had yet to find a new therapist. As she frantically waved a red flag under my nose, I snapped.

“I can’t be your mom AND your counselor. I can’t give you advice and watch your health and do all of this objectively for your own benefit because I AM NOT objective. I am your mom. You have to find a new counselor.” Then I gathered all her medications and locked them away, turned on the computer, and started compiling a list of therapists in the area. We both knew, from experience, we had to shop for the right one, and we knew it would be a process, one we should have started even before we unloaded our furniture from the moving van. Better late than never, I guess.

Thank god, she found the right one. Then we found a really good physician’s assistant to a psychiatrist who actually knew her medicines, and the uphill climb became slightly less vertical. It took years….years….but she made it completely out of that hole. My effervescent toddler who turned into a shadow-person has finally found herself. She’s not done with the hole, by any means. She stands at the edge every single damn day. She lives with the constant reminder that one slip and whoosh! It starts all over again.

The good news is that she’s also learning how to cope with this constant threat. She’s learning that a slip can be just that, a slip, and not a slide, if she’s ready for it. She’s learning that EVERYONE slips and it’s ok to be mad and it’s ok to be sad and it’s especially ok to be happy. She’s learning how to balance on that edge and I’m so incredibly proud of her, because I know how many times I failed her as she was learning. Maybe I was learning too, but the mom in me won’t let me off that easy. I should have known. I should have done more. I should have listened harder. I should have…I just should have. It’s ok, though….because she’s learning anyway.

And at the end of the month, we start a whole new learning process. We start learning how to live apart. She’s ready. I’m ready. She’s more ready than I am. I need to be on my own again. I need to figure out how much of my life I’ve actually rebuilt and how much I’ve hidden behind the guise of parenting. Then, I need to fill in the holes I’ve let her cover for me. She needs to be on her own, too. She needs to know she can be on her own, and how much she’s already learned and how far she’s come and how far there is left for her to yet explore.

I will miss her, but I’m so excited for her. I’m proud of her.  While I’m rediscovering my life, I want to watch as she builds her own. I will always be there for her, but I know she needs me less and less. I hope I need her less, too. Regardless, it’s time.

I wonder what we’ll learn next.

The annual widda-bago

I just got back from my annual Widda-bago. Every year for the last 10 years or so, a group of widows/widowers have gotten together to hug, drink, cry, and grieve.  We met on an online young widows/widowers message board. We came from all over the world: Missouri, Idaho, New Jersey, Florida, Washington state, Canada-by-way-of Cayman, even Germany. It started with just 9 of us, drifting on rafts down some river in middle Missouri on a  hot August day that I thought would never end. I was sure when we finally climbed off our rafts, we’d be speaking Spanish down in the Gulf of Mexico. We were together for 2 days; four of the “originals” are still going strong each year.

After that first year, we opted for nicer accomodations at the Lake of the Ozarks and rented a couple of houses right on the lake. The number of people who attended each year grew quickly. One year, there were probably close to 50-60 people at the Lake. It was too much for me. I need more in common with friends than a dead spouse, and I needed some space when the grieving became too personal. I knew the Lake trip was coming to an end.

I wasn’t alone in how I felt. There were a  handful of people who quietly arranged for a different kind of ‘bago the following year. Now there are 8-10 of us who gather each June for a week at a beach…somewhere. The prerequisites for the spot include: ocean, sand, sun, enough bathrooms & bedrooms to accommodate this number of women, restaurants within walking distance, shopping within driving distance, and airports that are somewhat reasonable in service to the Caymans.

We started in Wrightsville Beach (North Carolina), then headed to Tybee Island (Georgia), off to Emerald Isle (NC), then Anna Marie Island (Florida), and this year—St. Augustine (Fl). Each June, it feels like coming home to see these people with the seabreeze in their hair, the week goes by too fast, and it’s hard to walk away again for another year. We pick up right where we left off, and then let the ends dangle in the waves until the next time we gather them up.

I have logged so many hours in the sunny sand, splashing carefully in waves that started somewhere in Europe, and lounging under beach umbrellas that may or may not cooperate by staying right-side-out. I have toured a battleship, walked a pub ghost tour, wandered into the ocean bed a half-mile or more as the tide went out, watched dolphins frolic and lizards mate, gathered shells of every shape and size, ridden in a trolley and in a horse-drawn carriage, peddled my way through Savannah while imbibing heartily, and sat in Atlanta’s airport for more than half a day waiting for my flight. I have laughed and cried and simmered and empathized and taken more pictures than my family and friends would EVER want to sift through, if they had a choice.

And I have done all of this because Randy died.

It is one of the oddest, most jarring feelings to realize that if he were still alive, I would not know any of these people. I would have none of these memories. I would have visited almost none of these places nor taken any of these pictures. I owe these vacations to the fact that I lost my husband so suddenly. How do I reconcile the wonderfulness of these places and people with the pain of losing the love of my life? Seriously…I’m asking, because I have absolutely no idea.

I can be sitting in one of the most breathtaking spots on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, laughing heartily with someone over something inane or insane, and it hits me right in my heart: if Randy were still here…  Everything stops for that brief moment in time–the waves, the wind, my laughter, my heartbeat. In the beginning, things wouldn’t start back up so easily. Many tears were shed. Many more were swallowed behind the facade of a smile. I often had to take a moment to grieve again for my loss, and could only come back to the present somewhat guiltily, feeling like I was betraying his death with my life. 

It doesn’t get easier, in much the same way I assume it doesn’t get easier once you’ve lost a limb. You cry. You curl into yourself and try to disappear. You scream. You throw things and break things. You adapt. You improvise. You eventually accept a new normal. The one thing you never do is forget what it was like “before.”

This widows group has been described as “the best group of people you wish you’d never met.”  As odd as it is, we are all in complete agreement that, given the choice, we’d trade each other in a heartbeat if it meant we got our spouse back. It’s not that we don’t like each other; in fact, there are several that I love as if they are family. I cannot imagine my life without them now. I would, without a second breath, assign them all to being nothing more than a bad dream if Randy were standing next to  me again. I’m not sure how I’d do that, wiping them from my memories when they’ve meant so much to me. I do know I’d find a way. I also know that not one of them would begrudge me that opportunity.

I also know, after 12 years, that Randy’s probably not coming back to me. He really is gone, and this really is my life, and I really do know and love these people. On one of my first widda-bago trips, there was a memorial service, complete with flowers that we tossed into the ocean at the end of the ceremony. I remember standing in that circle in the sand, looking at these people I had just met, people who knew this part of me better than even my daughters did, and realizing these people were Randy’s last gift to me.

They will never replace him. They will never fill the void that was created when he was taken from  my life. They will, however, give me one reason to live again. They will be there for me each year, for one week in June, to hug me and laugh with me and cry with me and understand that no matter how far I have come, it all started with the worst day of my life. They know that all of these memories are built solidly on my grief, sliding formlessly into the cracks and gaps left when my world shattered into infinite pieces and I began trying to put it back together again.

These people and these memories have given me so much beauty and vibrancy, all as part of his gift. While I wish I’d never had cause to meet them, I am oh-so-grateful for how they are intrinsic to the mosaic of my life. Thank you, Randy. I love you, forever and always.

From there to here and beyond

I met my husband the old-fashioned way—in a bar.  My best friend was interested in his best friend and we got thrown together by default. I wasn’t sure about this man in a softball uniform that looked like he’d rolled around in a pigpen recently. He wasn’t sure about this woman who pointed out the obvious. (“Did you know your emergency brake light is on?” “No….really?  And I’ve only been driving this car for how long…..?”)

I didn’t hear from him for about two weeks after that initial encounter. I’d written down my phone number, but not my name, just to see if he’d remember it. He said, later, that he’d immediately lost the number. He did remember, however, that my dad owned a bar, and so we managed to find each other again via the neon beacon. After our first date, we were pretty much inseparable. We spent that summer at his softball games, on the river in my dad’s boat, or in a tavern. I knew this was serious when, about three weeks into the relationship, he asked if I was hungry and instead of sweetly replying “Oh, if you’re not going to eat, neither am I,” I pointed to McDonald’s and said “Yes. Why do you NEVER eat? I’m starving. And I want fries with that.”

We started dating in July. We were engaged by October, and married by June. We spent our honeymoon first at Lake Shelbyville in my parents’ borrowed camper and then in St. Louis for Six Flags and a motorcycle race at Busch stadium. We almost lost the boat over the side of a hill when we were parking in the dark, and then our refrigerator failed to work because we hadn’t “leveled up.” We survived on fried bologna and eggs and an open window. We figured St. Louis would be smooth sailing after that, but….

First, someone died on the ride we had already decided we weren’t going on. She slipped out of the car somehow, and that was that. Back at our hotel, we got locked out of our room, got let into our room so we could go to the pool while the lock was fixed, and got locked out again until after 11:00 pm that night…in our swimsuits. Since we had spent a total of five minutes in the room all day and had had no dinner (or any other common courtesy you’d expect from a hotel in this situation), Randy refused to pay for the room. We ended up down the road somewhere, where they had working locks and a bar that was open until 2:00 am. I ate the cherries from my drink for dinner.

The motorcycle race was fun, but we were in a motel with practically everyone we knew from our hometown (for the same race), so we had to hide until everyone went to bed just to have some time alone. I was promised a do-over for our first anniversary, so naturally, we made reservations at a restaurant that closed the week before we arrived, without informing us, of course. Someone was testing us to make sure we REALLY wanted to be married.

And we did. In spite of his drinking and my stubbornness and our arguing, we loved the hell out of each other. I couldn’t cook and he couldn’t save money and we didn’t know how to discuss anything without yelling. We fought as much as we cuddled, and I thought that’s how every marriage went. We had seven years of a really volatile relationship, including a span of four months where we separated. We had our first daughter two years into the marriage, and then began trying for another a couple years after that. We moved three times (once when he wasn’t living with us) and he had two DUIs from two car accidents. After the birth of our second daughter and an unsuccessful period of trying to be a stay-at-home mom, I decided I was done. It was just too hard, and nothing ever changed. I couldn’t sit up every night, watching for his headlights and worrying about him in another car accident, wondering who would be hurt this next time.

He started noticing the signs as soon as I stopped screaming about them. He stopped drinking before I could find a lawyer, and we decided to stick it out one more time. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Our marriage was still somewhat volatile, because while he stopped drinking, I was still stubborn. Suddenly, I realized the arguments were half  my fault, and I was never good at apologizing. He started spending less time in the tavern and more time with me and the girls. We went places together. We tackled problems together. He read all the manuals and I figured out all the maps. We talked about what we wanted and what we liked and when the other person should really be listening and NOT talking. Most importantly, we remembered how much we liked each other. We remembered we were each other’s best friend and strongest supporter. We finally figured out how this marriage stuff was supposed to work, and we realized we were pretty good at it. 

He kept advancing through his job and we ended up in St. Louis. He traveled weekly and I worked full-time and took care of everything at home until the weekend. He finished the basement and washed all the cars and kept the yard looking like we had professional gardeners. He spent as much “daddy” time with the girls as he could and still kept up his passion for golf. We kept a camper at Kentucky Lake and went fishing and boating every chance we got. We took the girls to Disneyworld and Florida and Myrtle Beach. He finally felt like he had the time to get another motorcycle, and we would spend time every weekend with just the two of us, cruising along some back road or country highway for miles. We took our oldest to college and held hands on the way back. We took a road trip to Atlanta to see a NASCAR race in person and spent the entire 8 hours just talking about anything and everything. We started actively planning for retirement. We had it good.

Until we didn’t. One week in June, he said he wasn’t feeling very good. I knew I couldn’t push him into going to the doctor, so I just waited. On Saturday, he woke up but didn’t get out of bed right away. He went back to bed after drinking some coffee at the kitchen table. I went shopping for the daughter’s boyfriend’s 21st birthday. When I got back, he said he was ready to go see a doctor. The doctor at the urgent care sent us directly to the hospital. The hospital immediately began testing for diverticulitis and surgery. What they found was worse.

He had leukemia. Acute Myeloid Leukemia. He was bleeding internally because his white blood cell count was so low. He was transferred to Barnes hospital downtown on Sunday and was put into a drug-induced coma that evening, due to the incredible pain he was in. He was pronounced dead in the early hours between Monday night and Tuesday morning. He was 48.

There are bits and pieces of those three days that stick out in my mind. Most is a blur. I remember the feeling of “this is going to take some recuperating time; how will I keep in him one place” when they were talking surgery. I remember leaning over him, our foreheads touching, and whispering fiercely “don’t you DARE leave me” after the doctor walked out when he finished telling us “leukemia.” I remember standing at the window in his room all that first night, watching him sweat and sleep, and trying to get the electrodes to stick to his skin to stop the incessant alarms. I remember giving up and just waiting to see how long it would take the damn nurse to come in and see exactly why the alarm was going off in the first place. I remember my one and only ride in the back of an ambulance, holding his hand and watching him grimace at every bump in the road. I remember his stoicism to pretend everything was going to be ok while our families were in the room, and his inability to control the pain the moment they left. I remember sleeping in the waiting room on and off, and him squeezing my hand the next morning when I came to give him a kiss before they transferred him one more time, to the ICU. I remember having to buzz to get into his hall. I remember that no one answered my buzz one time, and I was just let in. I remember turning the corner and seeing all the staff in his room, frantically working over him. I remember his nurse turning to see me and yelling down the hall “Go back to the waiting room! I’ll come see you in a minute. Go now!” I remember walking back out to the waiting room and realizing that things weren’t going to be ok. I remember being told to call the family back, and then being led to his room by his nurse. I remember all the machines and the beeping and how his eyes weren’t closed all the way and how his fingernails were all blue and how kind the staff were to us. I remember waiting, hopelessly staring out the window at the stars, as they made a last ditch attempt to surgically stop the bleeding. I remember sitting at the u-shaped table in the family room as the staff told us that he didn’t make it. I remember putting my head down and ….that’s it.

Randy died on June 26, 2007. We had our 23rd wedding anniversary four days later,  on June 30th. We also had his funeral that same day. My mother asked why I’d do that to myself, have his funeral on the same day as our anniversary. I just shook my head.

“You think it’s not going to be painful if he’s buried that day or the day before or the day after? I may as well get it all out on one day. We began our life together on that day. We end our life together the same day. Until death do we part.”

It’s been almost 12 years now, since we were  parted. There’s a lot that’s happened in that decade-plus. There have been marriages and divorces and deaths and births and moves and old jobs and new jobs and joy and pain and tears and happiness. Life has continued, whether I wanted it to or not.

I miss him just as much today as I did the first day he was gone. I waited for 10 years for him to come back to me, because he always gave in when I really, really wanted something. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t give in on this, too. It took quite some time, but I have come to the understanding that I won’t see him on this plane again. (You’ll notice I didn’t say “acceptance.” I said “understanding.” I’m still stubborn.) I also know he’s moved on to wherever he’s supposed to be, because he always read the manual as soon as possible.

And I know he’ll be waiting for me when I finally arrive, exasperated because I got lost here or there. He’ll be standing with his hands on his hips, asking pointedly, “Why didn’t you just read the manual? That’s what they make it for, you know. I know, I know…you just expect ME to read it so I can tell you what it says. <sigh> Ok, here’s what it says…..” I really can’t wait to hear that again.

Becoming a Mother 2.0

I’d had a little trouble getting pregnant the first time. It only took two months of fertility medicine at the lowest dose, and voila! Welcome to the world, Meagan. I figured the second time would be about the same. I figured wrong.

About two years after Meagan was born, we decided to have another child. I started the medicine again and waited for the monthly cycle to end. It didn’t. The medicine began increasing in dosage, and in side effects. There were more doctor appointments and then specialist doctor appointments and then the real craziness began. I took my daily basal temperature each morning and recorded it faithfully each day until I no longer knew if it was Tuesday or Sunday, but I knew it was day 16 of my cycle. There were tests and more medicine and then, the shit hit the fan.

When I decide I want something, nothing gets in my way. If it does, I simply mow it down and keep going. I decided I wanted another child, and when that possibility remained elusive, I became slightly obsessive…or maybe a little  more than “slightly.” My marriage became even more tense than it was, and that was saying something. Randy and I were both strong personalities who were used to getting our own way. The main difference was he avoided conflict like the plague and I chased it. One night, he stopped running, I ran smack into him, and our relationship imploded. He moved out for four months.

I sold our main home and the rental we owned and bought a new, smaller house while he was living elsewhere. He showed up to sign papers, and that was all I saw of him. Needless to say, I accepted the fact that Meagan was going to be an only child. We reconciled about a month after moving to the new house, and a month after that, I was pregnant again. A previous test indicated my body was “allergic” to his sperm and I was actively destroying them faster than they could swim. When we were originally told this, Randy just shook his head and said, “It figures.” Yeah. I said things were tense.

I guess after four months of my body not making antibodies, he was able to ambush my egg before my body could counter-attack. Thus, Hayley came to be.

The first pregnancy was picture perfect and barely affected my life. Meagan was born on her due date, and although the delivery was slightly traumatic, everything worked out in the end.

For Hayley, I went into labor at six and a half months while at the library with my mother and Meagan. I was looking at reference books about how to perform a C-section because I’m a huge nerd and caution has never been in my vocabulary. My mother had to drive me and Meagan to the hospital through downtown traffic, and if you knew my mother, you’d know how much she loved me. She hated driving more than anything, and driving anywhere there was traffic was simply not done. She delivered a monologue all the way to the emergency room and I didn’t realize her chattiness was through sheer nerves because I was too busy willing this baby to stay put. After several hours, I was sent home with a prescription to stop contractions and an order for bed rest. The medicine worked, but also sent every nerve in my body into hyper-drive, so I literally hovered over the couch for the next month and a half.

When I had reached eight months, Meagan had her preschool graduation. I’d taken my last tablet of medicine that morning and was back in the hospital that evening. Labor didn’t really progress, even with Pitocin. The doctors agreed to let me try a vaginal birth until morning, and if I was still pregnant by then, I’d head in for C-section #2. They also decided I couldn’t have another epidural, since the first one worked SO well. That meant another delivery under general anesthesia. I wasn’t too upset, because this was all I knew. This was how Meagan entered the world. I already knew what to expect.

It was a quiet evening with me watching hospital TV and Randy sleeping in the recliner. First thing in the morning, the nurses came in to prep me for surgery. I actually walked into the delivery room. I was pretty happy at this point. I mean, it was a far cry from the panicked turmoil of Meagan’s delivery. That is, until they started administering the anesthesia. As I was beginning to drift away, I heard my doctor say, “So, we’re doing a tubal with this, right?”

I now began the familiar panicking. “No! No! No!” was all I could whisper as I fought the anesthesia. I wanted four children. This was only number two. This could not be happening.

The nurse nearest my head peered down at me. “Um…I think she’s trying to say ‘no,’ doc. Are you sure she’s a tubal?”

“Oh, right. That’s the next one, not this one,” he noted as he checked the paperwork. I let go finally and hoped like hell I heard him right. I woke up considerably easier this time around, as I hadn’t had the physical exertion of hard labor and felt pretty rested, actually. I was even ready to see my baby.

Nope.

I didn’t see her in person for just over 24 hours. It took half a day before someone thought to take a picture of her and bring it down to me. While she was not necessarily a “preemie,” I was running a slight fever at the time of her birth. Randy had thought he was a pro at this waiting-outside-the-operating-room thing. After all, they’d brought Meagan right out to him. Not this time. He stood there with his arms out as the doors swung open, and watched as the nursing staff sprinted past him, down the hall and around the corner with what he thought was a baby. Naturally, he sprinted after them. He stood outside the nursery and watched as they poked her and prodded her and generally gave him a heart attack while he was trying to figure out what had gone wrong this time. I never actually got a good answer to that question, not even after I went home after 4 days and she didn’t get to leave until day 6.

I remember trying so hard not to cry when I was pushed out to the car when it was time for me to leave, Meagan holding my hand and Randy pushing the cart full of flowers. It was a very young, male volunteer who was steering the wheelchair. He looked at the cart of flowers and balloons, then at me and foolishly asked, “So…did you have a baby?” I started sobbing; Randy was ready to launch himself at the poor kid. I bet it was the first and last time he ever asked that particular question. 

For two days, I swallowed a pain pill and caught a ride back to the hospital early in the morning. The first day, my mom took me and Meagan up. Meagan was quickly bored, and I was refusing to leave. Mom had a great time between the two of us. The next day, Randy dropped me off on his way to work while mom stayed home with Meagan.  I took 2 pain pills. When Randy was done with work, he met me back at the hospital. He never put in less than a 10 hour day, so the hospital staff got pretty used to me. They even gave me an empty patient room so I could watch TV and feed Hayley privately. I kept asking when she’d get to go home. No one could give me an answer. “The doctor hasn’t released her” was all I got.

About 6:00 pm or so, a nurse came in to see what was going on. When she got the story, she just shook her head and marched back out the door. Not long after, she was back, informing me that we would ALL be going home within the next hour. It seems there was no real reason for keeping Hayley; it was just that no one was able to pin the doctor down on whether or not she could be released. This nurse tracked him down at a dinner and forced a decision from him. I wish I’d gotten her name, but the pain pills had worn off long ago and I was too thrilled to be leaving with my baby.

Randy and I were now the parents of two beautiful little girls. I was still adamant about wanting at least one more child. My mother, however, had other ideas. It seems the stress I was put under during both pregnancies had pushed her over the edge of what she could handle as a parent. She threatened Randy with a homemade vasectomy if he didn’t make his own arrangements, since I couldn’t seem to get the hang of a simple delivery. She was terrified that the next time, one of us simply wouldn’t make it. I just laughed it off; after all, these experiences were all I knew of having a baby. I didn’t know there was any other way or that my way wasn’t sort of typical. Randy, much to my dismay, agreed completely with my mother. Two beautiful girls were enough for him, and he didn’t want me (or himself, for that matter) going through this again.

I stayed angry at him for several weeks when he told me he’d made an appointment. He’d just look at Meagan, then look at Hayley, then look at me and say, “We’re good.”

I looked at my beautiful blond daughter, and my beautiful brunette daughter, and sighed. How could I argue with that?

 

Becoming a Mother 1.0

In honor of Mother’s Day, I have decided to regale you with what it felt like to become a mother. You’re welcome. We’ll start with the oldest.

The first time was August 1986. I didn’t realize I was having labor pains until that damn back ache was coming every 10 minutes. It was the night before the baby’s due date. Randy and I had gone through Lemaze classes and thought we were ready to have a civilized, laid-back, open birthing experience.

Nope.

From the moment I was put into bed, I was instructed to lay flat on my back. No walking around; no side-lying; no sympathetic nurse following me around to check in-between contractions. Flat on my back with monitors everywhere. I asked for, and got, the epidural right on schedule, and then was absolutely flummoxed when only one side of my body went numb. The other side more than made up for what one side could no longer feel. It was decided my body needed a little help along the way, so here came the Pitocin. Holy crap. Yeah, it “helped,” alright; it helped increase the pain, and the contractions, substantially on that one stupidly aware side. The nurse was constantly telling me to lie still, as I kept trying to turn on my side so I could  tell Randy over and over “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I have no idea what I was sorry about. He didn’t either, and kept telling me so.

Everything goes kind of blurry after that. I asked later about the three guys sitting on the couch at one point, just watching. Who the hell let in the studio audience? Randy said I’d agreed to let some residents watch because of the “learning experience.” I remember being told to push, and grabbing one leg while the other totally numb one was being pushed up into my chest, and “pushing” with all my might, only to stop in the middle and ask tearily “am I doing this right” because I had absolutely no desire to push. I remember crying into Randy’s neck when it was decided at last to go with a Cesarean section and I was finally allowed to move. Randy instructed the nurse not to let me know he wasn’t coming into the delivery room, because I had to go under general anesthesia and he didn’t want to be there just to see me cut open. So naturally, the nurse told me. I was panicking as they wheeled me away; he was crying and glaring at the nurse.

Once in the delivery room, I was again strapped flat on my back, only this time, my arms were strapped down, away from my body, and an oxygen mask was applied. I was left to lay there, feeling the almost continuous contractions while not being able to move an inch. My doctor had lost a patient due to incompetence on the anesthesiologist’s part, and was waiting for one of the only three he would allow in his delivery room. In the meantime, I was not as “sorry” as I had been with Randy.

First, I ripped an arm out of the restraints to pull the oxygen mask off, because I was hyperventilating. The nurses immediately tried to replace it, and all I could do was growl, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! You’re trying to kill me! You just want to SHUT ME UP.” They strapped the arm back down, replaced the mask, and went back to business. Next, I looked up and saw the IV bag hanging there, with a syringe sticking out of the tubing. I (correctly) assumed this was the stuff that would make all this go away. So, once again ripping my arm out of the restraints, I reached for the syringe. If no one else was going to, I was determined to push that sucker and put an end to my suffering, one way or the other. I remember hearing a voice frantically shout “Grab her arm! Grab her arm!” All I could say was “Push it! Push it! Push it!” as they once again strapped me down. Someone immediately sat down next to me. I now had my own “arm guard.”

Eventually, I was given the sedative and went blissfully to sleep, much to everyone’s relief. I was woken briefly in the recovery room as the nurse was checking vitals and asked, “Hello there. Would you like to see your baby?”

“Nope.” I closed my eyes again. The next time she came to check vitals, we went through the same routine.

“Would you like to see your baby now?”

“Nope.” Hey, I’m gonna pay for the anesthetic, I’m gonna USE the anesthetic.

Randy was finally allowed into the recovery room. The nurse immediately ratted me out.

“She doesn’t want to see her baby,” she said disdainfully.

“Oh yes, she does. Just bring her in,” Randy told her as he sat down next to me and picked up my hand. I wisely kept my mouth shut. There’s a first time for everything.

When they brought the baby in and gave her to Randy, he held her out and said with a huge smile, “Here she is, mom.” I opened one eye, gave her a cursory once-over, and said “ok.” I closed that eye and went back to sleep.

Once I was in my own room, Randy went home to sleep or celebrate, I’m not sure which, and at the time, I didn’t care as long as he let me sleep. The nurses would wake me up frequently to take vitals. They would always ask “Would you like me to bring your baby in?”

I was so tired and still so susceptible to the anesthesia, I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open and would just mutter, “No, thanks.” As the day went on, the nurses’ question became just another rote part of the whole vital-checking procedure. They were used to my negative responses and were no longer batting an eye. I saw the nurse’s startled response when I finally responded with a “Yes, please.”

I was so nervous when she brought in this tiny, swaddled bundle of blankets and placed her gingerly in my arms. The nurse turned immediately towards the door.

“Don’t leave!” I practically yelled. “I just want to check something.” I unbundled the blankets, checked all the fingers and toes and turned-up nose and round head, then put the blankets back in place and held the baby out.

“Here. You can take her back. But I want her brought back as soon as my husband gets here, please.” The nurse just stared at me with an open mouth, gingerly took the baby, and walked back out the door. They stopped asking if I wanted to see her.

Randy got there in the early evening, bearing a dozen roses from “Daddy and Meagan.” The nurse popped her head in the door and asked, “Now?”

“Now, please.”  When she came back with the baby, she knew better than to try to leave. She just waited patiently by the door. I unwrapped the baby one more time and then turned to Randy.

“Is this one ours? Are you sure this one is ours?” I questioned him anxiously. He just gaped at me.

“Of course, she’s ours! What the hell!?” He just stood there staring at me, wide-eyed. I stubbornly kept the baby towards him and wouldn’t look at her yet.

(Now, a side note. It had just been in the news the week before that a hospital had mixed up a set of babies. Two babies were given to the wrong families, and it wasn’t discovered until the girls were in elementary school when some medical testing brought the mistake to light. It was an appalling, emotional mess. And it was NOT going to happen to me.)

“You saw her when she was first born. I’ve never seen this baby before. If I look at her and hold her, she’s going to be MINE. I don’t care if they’ve made a mistake or not. If this isn’t my baby, she will be as soon as I look at her. And if they HAVE made a mistake, not only will THIS baby be mine, but so will the right baby. They will BOTH be mine. So answer me….IS THIS OUR BABY??”

Understanding finally dawned on him; I had been pretty vocal at home about how heart-breaking I found the whole situation in the news.  He put his hand on her head and smiled at me.

“Yes, this is our baby. I promise. This is the same one they put in my arms minutes after she was born. I’d recognize her anywhere.” I immediately started crying and hugged the baby to my chest. I had my answer. I had my baby. They weren’t getting her back now. She was mine.

Little did I know this would actually be a cakewalk compared to the second time I became a mom. But that’s a story for another day.