Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Momma Bird

I've never been an especially patient person. I have always been OK with that because that means I am excited about fun times, reasonably nervous about things on the horizon, in motion, going places; doing things, growing and being a more successful me. As a young mother of two beautiful healthy boys it never occurred to me that anything idle could be worthwhile. The very essence of two young boys is constant motion. I was master of my high energy domain. I was content with my life as a stay at home mom, and my tight little world of 148 Dials Drive.

My third pregnancy quite honestly didn't scare me, but the prospect of adding another creature that needed food, shelter, and attention sure did. The boys were so young and only 15 months apart. How would I care for three? My husband had just been promoted and was now beginning to travel. I was on my own with them most of the time while he worked, and very overwhelmed by the idea. As the trimesters expired we learned that we were expecting a girl this time around, and I was of course very excited, as was everyone around us. I was seasoned at this pregnancy stuff and I had it relatively easy. My biggest worry was where to find poodles to decorate her walls. I laughed and smiled and planned with my girlfriends, as she was the first baby girl in a while..we were all caught up in a wave of toile and tiny pink Adidas shoes. It was one of the happiest times in my life, oozing with love and a righteous, naive happiness.

I had a history of big babies, so I was set to be induced two weeks before my due date. My prenatal visits were quiet and uneventful. I did not ask many questions, because I already knew what to expect. I checked into labor and delivery on the big day with my hair neatly styled, light makeup and pearls. It was a day of celebration because me and my husband, and my mother, and my two best girlfriends were welcoming my baby girl into the world. We talked and laughed all day as the pitocin dripped and the epidural numbed any and all contractions. I labored peacefully and watched the girls play poker. Bill read the paper. I watched TV. We joked with our labor and delivery nurse and with each other about how shy I was about anyone seeing my nether regions, still hung up on that even the third time around. When it was time to push none of us ever thought to be scared, we were all just excited to see this baby girl we had talked so much about.

I only remember a moment of the pushing, and hearing "She's almost here Melissa"....and then there was just silence. Every one's faces went gray, and no one would look at me. The doctor removed her and placed her pink little body on mine, loosely wrapped in blue medical dressing, and my hand went straight around her wet little abdomen. The nurse asked the doctor if this was anticipated...was what anticipated?.....I laid eyes on my newborn baby girl, and through my unprepared perception, half of her face was missing. She had only half a nose, and half a lip..and a hole right where the other half of her nose and lip should be. She wasn't crying, and no one would say anything. I simply began to say "no"....just "no" over and over again.


The nurse grabbed my arm firmly and expressed to me that it was only cosmetic, easily fixed by the wonders of modern plastic surgery, everything would be just fine. She still wasn't crying. My family and friends stood there in silence until she finally began to sputter and cry. I don't remember how it sounded now. I wish I had the presence of mind to have been in the moment, but I was in shock. Finally she was handed to me for a moment, and I wrapped her tiny fingers around mine. She had my grandmothers hands. I told everyone to start taking pictures, and to be happy. I certainly didn't want her to think we weren't happy to have her. We snapped a few smiling shots before she was whisked away to the NICU. Bill of course went with her. All the ladies excused themselves because the confusion and despair was unbearable. The bustle of childbirth subsided, and the room cleared of hospital personnel.

I was alone and crying for what seemed like an eternity in that hospital room. I cried for all the things Sara had taken away from her already. For the cruelty she would face for being different. For the ridiculous superficial hopes and dreams I had unfairly projected on her, and for all the lazy but sincere assumptions that she would be perfectly healthy....I cried over my body failing her despite what anyone tried to explain to me to the contrary and for her brothers that would surely be shocked and scared and upset, and for the desperate fruitless inner search for ways to protect her from all the pain that she was guaranteed in countless forms, and for the shock and awe of this first time in my adult life that I felt completely, and utterly helpless.

That feeling of helplessness continued as she struggled to feed and had to rely on a nasal feeding tube to get all of her nourishment. Then she struggled to breathe, and to digest food properly. I was discharged before she was, and those first few weeks were the toughest of my entire life. I was pumping breast milk around the clock, both the boys came down with walking pneumonia, and we were traveling to and from the hospital several times a day for feedings and visits, and updates...and rides on the daily medical roller coaster with threats of open heart surgeries, terminal illnesses and lifelong disabilities. I was taught how to place an ng-tube down her nostril and past the back of her throat all the way down into her tummy...and how to run an enteral feeding pump, and how to prime an IV style feeding bag. I was assured this was all temporary until she picked up feeding a little better. She came home with a diagnosis of cleft lip and palate and severe GERD as the reason for her feeding issues. I was instructed to pump breast milk and feed it to her via this pump..and then sit and hold her upright and perfectly still for at least an hour after each feeding. Aside from the many doctors visits and time in the bathroom pumping breast milk, I sat in a rocking chair in our living room almost 18 hours a day, holding our precious baby girl perfectly still.

From the vantage point of my white glider rocker with custom black gingham cushions, meant to match Sara's black poodles, I could see only a few things; the street and trees outside, the corner of my front porch and the red geranium hanging from its awning, and the fact that my life would clearly never be the same.

The show had to go on, and so our mothers had stepped up to help with the boys. Bill's mother lived with us for the entire first month. Friends sent help, came over and cleaned my house, hired babysitters, housekeepers, cooked food, ran errands....all the while I sat. It was Spring and the Bradford Pears and Peach trees were in full bloom. The leaves were fresh and new and flowers were pushing up in my flowerbeds. The world was still turning even though mine had stopped, and sitting there while others did my laundry, and mothered my boys, and sifted through my filthy refrigerator was unbearable and completely against every grain in my body.

In the geranium hanging on the front porch a momma bird had built a nest shortly before Sara was born, for the second year in a row. I thought it was kind of cool but certainly didn't pay her much attention except to acknowledge that we had a bird nest in our plant as we came and went about our business. She was back this year, and her eggs had hatched sometime around the same time Sara was hatched. I could hear the baby birds yelling at momma bird for food. When I would go and look in at her nest she would fly away and yell at me from a nearby tree branch, while her babies open and closed their shaky little beaks..croaking and crying for her to hurry up and get more food. She flew tirelessly from the nest and then back to the nest with food for her funny little starving babies all day long. I imagine now that if momma bird and I could have talked we would have joked about needing a margarita..or maybe, where is daddy bird now? But I just continued to wake up everyday and do the best I could, and so did she.

Momma bird flew into the house one day and straight into the glass of our back door...knocked herself out cold. With the front door still open I could hear her babies screaming, and I panicked over the thought of them losing her now. I picked her up in a towel and laid her limp body back into her nest with her babies. They continued to scream for food, unaffected by their lifeless mother, and I began to cry. Several minutes later Momma bird woke, shook her little head straight and flew off to find more food as if nothing had ever happened. Babies still need food whether you have a concussion or not. I don't think Mother Nature could paint a more accurate portrait of motherhood than that.

Eventually the time came for Momma bird to kick her babies out of the nest. It took her one full day to do it. She had a couple of precocious little guys that flew right out from nest to rail post, then to the ground, then back to the rail post. All the while she stood in her tree branch and chirped encouragement to the meeker ones left behind. The last little bird enjoyed a chorus of enthusiasm from his brothers and sisters..and when it finally descended shakily to the rail post they all erupted in what I like to believe were cheers and laughter. I sat with my little boys in sheer joy and watched them all practice flying in little spurts from branch to branch. It got harder by the end of the day to tell Momma Bird from her babies, and eventually they were all just gone.

I am of course out of the rocking chair now. A geneticist lead us down the winding road of tests that gave Sara a more complete diagnosis of CHARGE syndrome. We bought a computer and through it I connected with other mothers and parents of CHARGErs, and they saved my weary spirit from despair, and literally Sara's life with advice for out of town referrals and care plans. That idle time that I so detested at first, gave way to many thoughts, that then gave way to many words that I couldn't help but express somewhere, and I began to write again. Writing has given me a sense of purpose that I didn't even know I needed until Sara came along and forced me to see who I really am. I didn't have the time to plant a new geranium the next Spring, so no Momma bird set up shop on our porch again. I am still supervising and encouraging the flying skills of my own baby birds. Sara had a bumpy road there at first with many surgeries and scares, but took her first steps shortly after her third birthday. She decides her own pace, and I follow her cues. Griffin learned that year that he can switch hit in baseball, and discovered his very own entrepreneurial instincts. Grant learned that he is custom made for football and received the principals award for goodwill and leadership that year at his kindergarten graduation. I learned that it is true that God never gives us more than we can handle, and I will always somehow find a way to shake my head straight.

God fills the void

When sara was born and we were just desperate for help, answers, extra hands to hold our children...anything really that was better than the helplessness of our babies' strife we found that many of our friends and even family did not have an extra hand, time, or even the right words in them to give. I thought at the time that I was let down by many of them. I was brought to my knees, violently humbled by the fact that I am not in control. I came to learn that just because you need something, those familiar to you may not have it to give. But somehow God fills the void. For every friend that was too busy to slow down and see our new life, or walk slowly next to me during the frustration and uncertainty of raising a special needs child , there was a new friend...excited to hold my baby girl and praise the good job I was doing getting through the day. For every moment that passed sitting in the rocking chair, tube feeding my sweet, gentle little creature..where I could see the rest of the world cruelly whiz by, continue to speak of trivial things...watch TV, eat dinners, paint nails, match their clothes, and even hug their other children..hell whatever little thing I took for granted before....God gave me admiration from others that had chosen to slow down and were able to see me in a new way I hadnt thought I would ever like. They reminded me that patience is a virtue, and my struggle to find it was not a burden, but rather an inspiration. And so I find that everytime I am hurting, and my heart is spewing at its jagged edges, laid out for everyone to see because I cant hide it very well...God fills the void with kindness and love. Just when I think I'm about to fall, I am caught and helped to my feet by the most unsuspecting fans. God fills my voids with new people when unhealthy ones exit. And those new people renew my faith in the prospect of goodness and humanity. I get back what I put out, one way or another..its never as I pictured it, but always enough.

The truth about a rough day

My family has suffered for close to five years now, with sporadic relief. I work very hard to find happiness through that suffering, to remain positive and optimistic, strong and steady. I do not have a perfect record, that’s for sure, but I try. When I fail I think it catches people around me off guard, and they of course, being kind and caring individuals want to comfort me. There is a breathless moment I sometimes encounter when someone offers a very simple, well meant, already exhausted solution to whatever issue might be bobbing in our family current. I begin to explain Sara’s rare conditions, which leads to more explanations about her other rare conditions…which then leads to me speaking rapidly trying to lay out our complicated roadmap of effort before this present turmoil….and sometimes..not always…my listener begins to drift away and probably count their own blessings, or just wish that they had never asked in the first place. I can’t say that I blame them. I have learned to just plug a cork in it, and keep my complaints and explanations short and sweet. Most people around me know that I am a single mom with three kids, and that I have an unusual daughter with special needs….but I don’t really talk about it at length with anyone except my parents, my ex husband, and my boyfriend. There is simply not enough time, and honestly not enough common knowledge of those sharp particulars and confusing details. I choose not to sacrifice even more precious time that CHARGE syndrome, and Eosiniphilic Esophagitis might threaten to unnecessarily take away from me, and my precious family that needs so much more than they are getting. On a page, it is easier for me to share, because frankly that breathless social moment is a polite formality that I detest. Perhaps by now I should have learned to handle myself with more grace and strength. I pray for both grace and strength, but at the same time I hope they fall in line behind Sara’s ability to breathe and understand, or rest for Griffin and Grant’s weary little spirits. I prioritize easily, even my hopes and emotions.

I have mastered the short run. I have surprised myself time and again with my capacity to bend the path of where I thought I was going, what I thought I needed, and certainly what I wanted. I have recited the serenity prayer to accept the illness I cannot change, the healthcare policies I cannot change, and for the courage to change my outlook, so often crowded by seemingly insurmountable tasks from downright bleak to one of hope, and to never stop searching for any little part of this daily battle that I CAN change. I don’t know that praying for the wisdom to know the difference has really worked yet…. That’s all great, but I am really ready for whatever lesson it is that I am missing to master the long run. I am praying now to learn: How do I keep this pace forever? What am I doing wrong, because I am running out of steam and I sure do have a long way to go. I don’t feel as if I can’t do it. I know I can, I just don’t know how.
Having written all of that, I will wake up tomorrow morning, and after a strong cup of coffee move through the motions of my day. I will sincerely believe in my heart that there will be more happy minutes than any other kind of minutes. Just as sincerely as I hurt and obsess over my long run, I will sincerely smile and laugh with those around me. The very act of leaving the painful truths behind on a page somewhere, makes those minutes of happiness feel genuine, and they are. I surrender to this evening; this day that brought me to my knees,it is ready to pass…..
This morning I stood in the window of a public service agency and cried tears of joy that a medical expense of $1170 per month will not be squeezed from the dry rock of my family budget. The state employee that pulled up Sara’s file cried too, and so did her co workers. That is a sharp and welcomed contrast to Nancy, the intake coordinator at Apria healthcare that has been the bearer of bad news and bad attitude for the last 7 days. We have been given several months to rearrange her care plan. I must admit, my pumpkin spice latte’ tastes much sweeter this morning. Once again God has filled the void.

Perpetual Bachelor

There is a great division out there in the single life. I got married waayyyy too young, oddly I was more independant and more sure of exactly what I wanted when I was 20 years old than I am now approaching my mid thirties, and I can say that I know exactly what I want and mean it, but back then it was instinctual. No second guessing. I knew that I was ready to commit to one person. And even though we eventually crumbled to dust, I can say that I was devoted and meant that commitment up until the very bitter end when it was irretrievably broken. Coming out of a decade long commitment into the single life, it was hard for me to even concieve of dating and what it was supposed to be like, what lied ahead for me. I had a serious relationship almost immediately after my separation, fresh off the turnip truck, with a horrible person, deep down in his soul...a swine. It seemed like a bad ending at the time, but looking back it is just laughable now. The whole thing ridiculous, especially when I read old blogs about us. I was definitely still in the mode of playing house...because that's all I knew.

Then I played the field for a while, had fun dating. It was a thrill for me to meet new people, get cheap attention, validation that I was desirable after so many years of feeling invisible and insignificant. Completely absorbed in the raising of my young children, unaware of what was cool, out of touch, awkward socially outside of my circle of moms. A whole new world opened up for me on every other weekend off duty and out on the town. I guess every divorced woman goes through that to some extent. Drunk on freedom, absurd compliments about how intriguing I was and many many cocktails sent my way. All of that was perfectly natural. Things began to take a different tone when I took a part time job at a bar.

I had never spent much time in bars prior to this. I mean I guess I went out and had fun, never felt like I was missing out on anything...I was just never really interested in sitting on barstools for any length of time. I had other things filling my time; three children, friends scattered all over the place, a million sparks in my interest; multiple projects gestating, practices and progress. Roots in many things, all of which I loved. I just needed to make some money. Nights were my best option, so a bar seemed like the perfect fit. There are choices in life that are benign, and some that suprise you with infinite joy...and others that infect you like a cancer and break you one cell and one moment at a time. Bar life is full of many pleasures, and void of any substance...but the pleasure can be blindingly delicious, and once you get a taste of it, you forget why you worked so hard for the substance that slips away one night of revelry at a time. Drinking to celebrate now and then in my former life was replaced with drinking to take the edge off of lonely nights, boring nights, long days, and to bond with other drinkers who were lonely, bored and having long days too. The more drinkers you bond with, the bigger your network of drinking buddies becomes. Their birthdays become a reason to drink, their break ups become a reason to drink, their job loss becomes a reason to drink, the newest sports season, the next great live show, the next holiday youre trying to forget or celebrate, or simply beginning of a new week, or the end of a shift. The more nights you have bonding over the spirits; dancing, and laughing, and sharing your stories the bigger your web of social connections grows, and before you know it you have a reason to libate 7 days a week if you want to. And all the people are genuinely interesting, and unique, and intelligent and witty and funny;good people with good intentions and high hopes. And they get you through, and you get them through and you make a million epic stories to tell...it's an overwhelming siren call of fun. But it comes at a price, because all that pleasure fills you up at the expense of all the real things in life that were missing in the first place.

This is where the perpetual bachelorhood comes from. Bars. When you have an extensive social network like that to maintain, it doesnt jive with someone