Haunted at Christmas

We have been celebrating Christmas for the last two weeks with our family scattered around the region. No matter how much fun we’re having, it’s never far from my mind what we were doing last Christmas. I was sleeping propped up, because I’d never been 7 months pregnant before and I thought nothing of being so uncomfortable that I couldn’t sleep flat. (This is the same line of thinking that allowed me only to notice I was having contractions with J once they were five minutes apart. Either I have a high pain tolerance or a high denial threshold…)

I was feeling bloated and tired last Christmas, but I was loving my big belly. I reveled in being pregnant, because, after all, everything was going well. There were no signs of early labor at my weekly high-risk appointments. Of course, no one was taking my blood pressure or checking for protein in my urine, both of which would have signaled the coming storm.

Instead, Christmas was a quiet day spent with family. J loved opening presents. My parents and sister were staying with us. It was a happy time. It was just a few days after Christmas that everything started falling apart.

I was a basket case in the month around J’s first birthday. So much pain came to the surface, along with a crippling gratefulness. I almost couldn’t get past what had happened and what could have happened. How were we so lucky? J was so tiny, so fragile, so delicate. He was born at a cutoff. Had he been any earlier, such a healthy toddler would have been impossible. And for him to come home without oxygen, for his heart condition to prove to be insignificant, for his whole body to overcome the start my body gave him. Miraculous.

M’s health wasn’t quite so desperate, but I was so sick. My body turned on us both. I had stroke-level blood pressure, blood blasting through my veins. My organs were beginning to fail me, and fluid so inundated my abdomen that breathing was painful.

For the last few weeks, my mind has been going back there. I feel the pain. I feel the fear. First birthdays with preemies aren’t just about the joy of having a baby; they’re about suffering too, the baby’s suffering and yours. I was so burdened with emotion with J that I could hardly appreciate the joy of the day. His second birthday was much more joyous. I thought maybe it was because J was my first baby and my tiny preemie, but I feel it all coming back again with M. It’s a beautiful time of year, and I am happy. But, I’m also a little haunted too. And history tells me it probably won’t subside until after M’s birthday.

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