I met Anita in the hallway of a Baptist church, waiting for my first born to finish up the fun and games I had enrolled him in Awana to enjoy. She had the cutest little baby face peeking out of a sling, which I had never seen before and was so friendly, I could help but get drawn into her. She was one of those people you knew right away would be a life-long friend. We chatted in the hallway for a couple weeks, her flirting with my little ones, me flirting with hers and after a few "getting to know you sessions" it became obvious something was missing. Her first three children had a typical spacing between them, but then there was a huge age gap between her second to youngest and her baby, so I asked about it. I am always curious when it comes to baby-making decisions, and so I commented that having a baby after having three children of an independent age (which I define as knowing how to use the restroom alone) has to be a weird experience. And then she opened up about her Elizabeth, that while not with her that day, was still a huge part of her mothering existence. Elizabeth was her second daughter, born still, after her husband had decided he did want another little one. It should have been a happy time. Another little girl, much wanted, and much waited for from a husband who thought three was plenty. The baby snuggled in her arms during this conversation was a cherubic little boy that came after his sister had passed away. I was confused. The ONE THING I always said would shake my juvenile faith was a child being taken from me. THAT I could not handle. I was sure of it. Little did I know.
Anita was over-joyed when I found out I was expecting my fourth and was so motherly the whole time he was growing. She provided encouragment, a slew of books about childbirth and mothering, and was my biggest cheerleader. Until the end, when I admitted I just wanted to stay home and have zero interaction with the outside world because I was totally over the experience of being pregnant. It was then she expressed worry, saying she felt the same way towards the end with Elizabeth. She willed it with her entire being that something like this not happen to anyone she knew. And Eli was fine, and I was fine, and we welcomed him with much fanfare and happiness. That kind of sadness, the kind that reaches into the core of your being and rips everything out and stomps all over it, hadn't touched me. Yet.
When I got my next positive pregnancy test, the timing was wonky. We had just recieved the date of arrival for my two nieces, who we had commited to fostering and eventually, adopting. I was so thankful we found out AFTER our intensive homestudy, as a fifth natural child might have tipped the scales in terms of our eligibility. They arrived when I was still sick, exhausted and overwhelmed by the idea of 6 children, let alone 7 but I survived. That's about all I did. I cleaned, and changed diapers, and taught reading to my oldest, and we watched a whole lot of Dora. 6 children 6 and under was a huge challenge, on top of Jamie starting back to school, but somehow we did it. I got through feeling like death, but by the end of the day I was so completely exhausted I could barely move.
This pregnancy was so much different. I was sick longer, and with more intensity. I hadn't really gotten used to the idea of a baby. With Elijah, the nesting instinct was strong and I was blissed out buying little baby things, making a quilt for him, catching up on the others' scrapbooks so that I could get started on his when we brought him home. And for this baby, nothing. My bestie said I was just too busy, too stressed and too tapped out to think about that which wasn't right in front of me, needing immediate attention. It would come, she said. I just needed to meet the baby and everything would fall into place.
But it hurt. I mean, it physically HURT around my abdomen. Pregnancy is always uncomfortable for me, but I wouldn't have ever described it as painful. The top part of my fundus burned with any activity I tried to accomplish. Vacuuming, picking up toys, picking up babies....all hurt. I was so incredibly huge.
At my 30 week check-up, my midwife noticed I was a bit bigger than I should be, and the baby was breech. She said I could get an ultrasound, just to rule out twins, but she only heard one heartbeat and really felt there was only one baby in there. It was something we'd keep a good eye on, she said. In the end, I decided to call the ultrasound place and just have a looksee. I mean, here I was with 6 little children and I had a desperate need to know if I was going to be adding two more to this mix, becuase in my mind, that was just crazy.
The day was typical. I had to get all the kids ready. I had to get myself ready. Jamie came home early for our appointment and brought in the mail. We had a late notice for our rent, and I had to call and figure out how we were late when we sent our check off over a week ago. I remember ironing a piece of fabric for a quilt while waiting for Jamie to finish getting ready and then piling all the children into our two vehicles because we didn't all fit in our mini-van. We made the long trek to the ultrasound place, after stopping to get cash from the ATM to pay for it, and the only thing on my mind was keeping my children in line and quiet during the appointment. We had no one we knew well enough to watch them, so they went everywhere we did. My focus was entirely on them and what they were doing, so much so that I didn't notice how long the ultrasound tech was taking. And she wasn't talking....It was a very long time and then the dreaded words came "Well, we need to call your midwife. We are seeing some issues with the baby." I know more words were said. Something about his heart and inadequate growth. I was just in a daze. Jamie was crying. I didn't understand enough of what was happening TO cry. I was too busy trying to tell him it would be okay and get several children into a bathroom because they all needed to go. I talked to my midwife on the phone and she was going to set us up with specialists to get a better picture of what was going on and we had to book it home, because we had a home visit scheduled with our social worker. We had to drive home separately and I remember having to concentrate on driving because I was shaking. The kids were asking questions and I remember feeling like I had to protect them from the reality that this baby may not be okay, and feeling as though I had completely failed them. That this reality was way harsher than any I wanted them exposed to at such a young age. Was this really happening? TO ME?? This is my "ONE THING..." Is this happening? Seriously?
Our social worker never showed, which was fine with me. I made some phone calls. I called my best friend, who was also pregnant and I told her "Please...don't let this make you worry about your baby. Your baby is fine ok??" She was out somewhere and promised to call me back. Then I called my mom and it was then I lost it. When she asked if I was ok, I broke down and said "Something is really, really wrong with the baby." And she cried. And she told me she was so, so sorry and that I was such a good mom and everything would be okay. At this moment, she said all the right things even though it would be the last time during this momentous occasion this would be true.
The next few days were awful. We had to wait for answers and wait for an appointment. In the early morning hours, I woke up with terrible anxiety. I couldn't breathe. The amniotic fluid was building fast, as my baby didn't have the lungs to use it, and it was pushing up into my diaphram causing difficulty in taking normal, good, deep breaths. The day before I had sat in my big garden tub, praying, and ultimately, my heart and soul accepted that this baby wasn't going to be a little person hanging around our family. His form of dwarfism would take his life. I had no background or book knowledge of his condition, but I just knew, in the very depths of my being, his life would not be a long one. The second I understood this in my heart, a peace that I had never known before, took hold and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'd be okay. So when the appointment happened, it wasn't a big shock when we got the news of exactly what was happening within me and was the outcome would be. We had to make some decisions based on the rapid rate of uterine growth that was happening (thus the pain...) and we decided to have an induction. I was 32 weeks along. My buddy Anita was now chasing a crazy toddler who was born at 32 weeks. I had no thoughts of "taking his life" early, as he was at a perfectly viable age to survive this world if that was his destiny, but if I continued on this path for 8 more weeks and waited for that 40 week mark, I may not fare as well. This didn't bode well with my new friend, that had set me up with the mother's helper who was watching the children this very day. In her mind, I had just signed up for an abortion. This decision ended our friendship as I declined to speak to her pastor to get "permission" to go through with this induction. It was made by myself and my husband, our excellent doctors and after gut-wreching, heart-bleeding prayer. God was there, but apparently He wasn't enough. I needed one of his representaives to give me the go ahead.
Matthew was born and died within the hour. I held him and talked to him and told him about his brothers and sisters back at home, how much we loved him. He was held his entire life. He was sweet and tiny and peaceful. It was hard to understand. The littlest girl in my house was born addicted to heroin, and here I was, eating a bunch of green shit everyday, watching my diet, not taking Tylenol, doing everything right and my baby was taken. Was it "fair?" Not really. Nothing in life is. Did I feel robbed? No. His destiny played out exactly as it should have, whether I liked it or not. I, and no one, is owed any amount of days, or perfect experiences, or sublime joy, as we walk this planet. Did it shake my faith? In people? Absolutely!!! In God, not even a little. Because He met me. I had never experienced such a palpable faith as I experienced in these moments. I physically felt His prescence because I called on Him. It wasn't a Hallmark, feel good sort of thing. I physically felt HELD during all this. Many would say it's because my soul manifested a need and my mind filled it. That it was somehow ME creating what I needed. I find this ridiculous. I'm a woman who can freak out if shoes aren't perfectly organized and a paint color on a wall is a shade off from what I wanted. There is nothing peaceable in me. I'm a frazzled, stressed out mess pretty much all of the time. Relying on my own strength or ability to manifest some peace in this situation would have had me locked up in a mental ward somewhere. I didn't have it in me then and I still don't have it in me now.
The One Thing. There was ONE THING I said would shake my faith, long before it was even the hint of reality in my life. I could have asked where God was during all this. But I knew. I knew more then than I did before and to be honest, more than I know most days. But if I close my eyes and think back to that time, I feel it all over again. The physical presence of love that reaches beyond this human plane and gives such a hope that this isn't all there is, that the amount and strength of love we experience here is just the beginning of something much, much bigger.
And now the One Thing that cannot be taken from me, the One Thing that cannot be shaken, is my faith. Many have tried, through various means, and all have failed. I will hold onto this Thing until my dying day when I don't have to wonder about it's truth anymore because either all will be answered, or it will all go dark, and even if...even IF, I am totally wrong and it's all been a fallacy, I've still lived an excellent life, full of faith and love, with no regrets.
In short, I still win ;)