Two Years Ago

December 2012 155It was two years ago. In the same house with most of the same people. I felt anxious, exhausted, and so swollen. I had never taken my blood pressure at home. I had never needed to check my blood pressure at home, but as I was lying in the recliner wishing my feet weren’t so swollen, I suddenly knew I needed to check my blood pressure. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. On the outside, I looked fine. For the most part, my symptoms could be attributed to entering the third trimester of pregnancy. I don’t know why I suddenly had the epiphany that my swollen legs, my exhaustion, my irritability, and my flushed cheeks meant anything more, but I knew. And when we saw the astronomically high numbers and my mother-in-law calmly suggested we retake my blood pressure to make sure the machine wasn’t malfunctioning, I just knew the baby and I were in big trouble.

My mind keeps going back to the days that followed. I wonder if New Year’s Eve will always be about my almost New Year’s Eve baby, about preeclampsia, about terror and joy, all intertwined. Two years and counting now, and it’s all so fresh. If only I had been assured that this wild child would be mine, that M would not always be so skinny and fragile, that I would emerge on the other side with this infuriatingly independent, fierce, hot-headed, gleeful, mischievous magic child, I would have had some peace.

It’s funny how the most restless, energetic, ferocious, and un-peaceful being brings the most peace.

Christmas M

The Open Wound: Having More Children

Family Pic

In the months after J’s birth, I struggled with what had happened, how suddenly he had entered our lives. I felt paralyzing guilt that I, his safe keeper, had tossed him into the world so early. Before J, I had been the preemie in the family; born at 36 weeks and weighing 5.5 lbs, I had been the success story. It never dawned on me that in a family of healthy pregnancies and healthy babies, I could have a baby born 10 weeks earlier who was half my birth weight.

In the months after J came home, the isolation almost did me in. We had moved to a new city six weeks before J’s birth, and now the timing of it seems spectacularly orchestrated. But, in those lonely winter months, I felt used up, spent, hung-out-to-dry.

As one hard day slipped into another, my baby grew, and then he thrived. We thought it would be a good idea to try having a full-term baby. No one could say what would happen, and everyone said the next time would be different.

And she was.

Again, there was the shock and the disappointment, but this time there was fear not just for my baby but for myself. Preeclampsia is a killer, and anyone who has had it will tell you that it feels like a killer. In the hours before M’s birth, I felt my body coming apart, and because I was already J’s mother, I was terrified at the thought that I would lose the chance to mother him.

I’ve said before that having M freed me from guilt. What has happened defies all reason and is beyond all logic. It makes no sense. And after another NICU stay, I found myself remade. I let go of the doubt and guilt. In so many ways, M healed me.

Except for one: her birth made it clear that I had no business having more babies. It remains an open wound for my husband and me.

I always wanted to have children. I always envisioned being a mother. I always thought I’d have three kids, maybe four and at least two. So, here I sit the mother of these two lovely children, blessed in every way. The logical feeling would be peace; the obvious reaction would be acceptance. And I do have peace about how I had my babies. I cannot separate having preemies from being a mother because it is all intertwined in a lovely chaos. I’m usually a pretty clearheaded decision-maker, and obviously, I shouldn’t tempt fate by having a third biological child. My husband and I already made that decision, with very heavy hearts, last year. But, the truth? The truth is that I am not the least bit mollified by having a boy and a girl. Sure, life might be simpler with two children. I am plenty busy with a bright future ahead of me. I should put my baby-rearing days in the rearview mirror and be glad for it; after all, the last four years have been brutal.

The problem is that it doesn’t feel right. It’s been 19-months and counting, and I still have no peace. I do not feel complete. I’ve donated my baby clothes and consigned my baby toys. I’ve been praised for having the All-American family. But, it still feels like a knife in my heart when people tell me I’m lucky to be done with my childbearing. This decision was never of my own making, and in fact, my husband and I have already agreed that if the decision were ours to make, we would choose another baby.

So, I will say it. I will say the word. Adoption. I can’t say whether we’ll choose it, or whether it will choose us. I can’t say when or how. I don’t know. Maybe never. All I know is that I feel that there is much more to our story. I feel that there is room in our lives; maybe not now, with a wild toddler still dominating the show. But, there is a maybe. Most people with whom I’ve shared this sentiment don’t warn me away from adoption outright, but they don’t encourage it either. I assume they love us, and they’ve seen how we’ve struggled. I’m sure they think our lives will be simpler if we don’t choose such a complicated road. But, I am not the woman I was four years ago. I have changed. What once terrified me is now my normal, and I feel perfectly suited–and even called–to mother another preemie.

In fact, as I write this, I’m simultaneously dredging up difficult emotions and being entertained by a toddler trying on a red Thomas hat and squealing “PEE-PIE” as my eyes meet hers. I have come to see this messy life as such a treasure. Sure, traveling with little ones is trying, much of our house is infested with crumbs and goodness knows what else, and my husband and I don’t get many date nights. But, life is joyous and sticky and full of love. I am witness to miracles on a daily basis, and I’ve fallen in love with being a mother–which is the total opposite of my dark days as a new mother when I cried to my best friend that I didn’t know how I’d go on. Sometimes, you have to be torn apart and thrown asunder to be remade.

So, back to my point. I guess I’m surprised by the reaction, by the stigma against adoption. Just like I always planned to be a mother, I always considered adoption. I discussed it with my husband before we were married. Though we’ve arrived in this place from a journey we never expected, the possibility of adoption isn’t really a radical idea for us.

Maybe more time will bring more peace. Maybe we will feel our family is complete in another year or two. Certainly, our lives are full, and adventuring down an unknown road is frightening. But, when did anything in life become certain? All I want is the freedom to consider the future of our family. Whatever decision we make will be mulled, as we generally mull all of our major decisions, certainly ones of such magnitude. Sometimes, it feels like because we had sick babies who survived, we’re supposed to accept our fate and not want anything more. I think that’s a universal preemie parent frustration, the sentiment that we’ve already challenged fate and won. I would never turn to a family with several healthy, full-term children and tell them to quit while they’re ahead.

The worst decisions I’ve ever made have been fear-based, not doing something because I was too afraid. The best decisions? The ones that involved me jumping off metaphorical cliffs and hoping for water down below. I refuse to live my life scared, not in spite of the last four years but because of them. We were spared nearly everything I wasted my time fearing, and all the things that happened were outside of my realm of possibilities. That will teach you to stop living scared.

So, all I’m saying is the your-family-is-complete topic is extraordinarily painful. So many wounds surrounding our preemies have healed, or at least have begun to heal. But, that one, the one about the size of our family? It is still an open wound.

And nothing about the size of our family has been decided, yet.

Gone Is The Long Babyhood

J LaughingRecently, J has taken ownership over his role as Big Brother. It used to be that M was crawling in all the wrong places (usually through J’s toys) and throwing all the wrong things (like J’s toys) and generally making a mess of things. But, as M has started walking more and crawling less, it’s as if her brother sees her differently. She’s no longer the baby who needs protection and redirection; she’s the little sister who is playing on J’s team. They run through the house and push toys all over the place. They squabble and squawk and giggle from one end of the house to the other. J’s imagination is on fire these days, and he thinks of all sorts of creative activities for them to do, which generally involve imagining that they’re repair people of some sort in large trucks. As hard-headed and opinionated as M is, she must not fully realize that J is organizing her play; she’s just glad to be allowed on his team.

What made me notice how much the play around here has changed is how J talks. Everything is “we” now. (We’re hungry. We want to go for a walk. We like peaches! We do not like to clean. We love dogs, Mama. We want more apples, please.) All this “we” business is adorable.

But, J also speaks for M about how she’s feeling or what she needs, which I actually find extraordinarily helpful. I can’t always see her signing or hear her babbling, so she’d developed a habit of just screaming until I came running. Now, J translates what she wants and yells it in my direction (usually in the kitchen). “MA-MA! M says she wants more blueberries, please!” I also find his translations sweet because he sees her pointing to her blueberries and signing more and he thinks to add the please part.

As with everything preemie-related, I catch myself watching them and traveling back in time. Two years ago, I couldn’t get much of a word out of J, and now he’s not only expressing his own needs in long sentences and paragraphs but he’s also expressing his sister’s needs. What happened to my tiny babies?

That long Preemie Babyhood that consumed the better part of four years is officially over.

The Phoenix

© fotographic1980/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

© fotographic1980/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When J was born, I lost the girl I was.

The weight of the world was on our shoulders.

It’s sad to think about the very moment you lost energy, freedom, and naiveté to be replaced by responsibility and fear and exhaustion. That pivotal moment marked my entry into true adulthood, where every battle was about the life of someone else that represented the ultimate responsibility.

M brought me healing in so many ways. I let go of some of my grief and anger, because there was no room for it any more. In her dramatic fashion, she showed me that all my questions about J’s delivery were pointless. I couldn’t have gone to the hospital earlier or asked more questions or rested more or walked less and carried him full term. The current of a preterm delivery was going to carry J and me to that operating room, and no amount of questioning after the fact would change that fact. Besides, with M I could have died. And she could have died. So, as if I didn’t learn the lesson well enough the first time, life itself became so beautiful.

One of my favorite bloggers Beth Woolsey just wrote a piece about the process of rising from the ashes, and it dawned on me that the phoenix is the perfect way to describe the way I feel about being a Preemie Mama. I will never be the same. Life will never look the same. But, I was remade better than I was before. More fierce. More determined. More grateful. More flexible. More sympathetic. More patient. More purposeful. More flexible. And most of all, more resilient.

My favorite part of what Beth said is that it’s our job as the survivors, as the remade people, to reach our hands back into the fire for those coming behind us. And I can’t think of a better explanation of what this blog is for me.

If you’d like to read her entire post, here it is at bethwoolsey.com.