In Honor of a Father

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This past weekend was Father’s Day.  Celebration, reflection, and sometimes hard.  I cannot make it through Mother’s Day without thinking about the two babies that we lost.  How can I not, when their birthdays are tattooed on my back, an ever-present reminder that I have five children?  I need a day of distractions.

But I don’t want to project my own feelings onto Ger.  After breakfast at our favorite local place, he wanted to spend the day napping.  I don’t know if he thought about Nelle or Iris at all, and I didn’t ask – because it is his day.  People grieve and remember differently.  In the card I picked out, I put two tiny hearts next to the names of the living children, but I don’t know if he picked up on the significance.  For me – it was a way for them to be included on Father’s Day.

On Saturday, I took the big kids to see “The Incredibles 2” movie.  On the basic premise, Mom goes back to work, and Dad is responsible for all three kids: a teenage daughter with boy troubles, a grade-school son stuck on learning “new math” and a baby with newly discovered superpowers.  As I watched the Dad struggle, I anticipated that it was going to fall into a very stereotypical role, where Dad can’t handle the demands of home and falls flat on his face.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  Dad tried to help teenage daughter, stayed up late learning “new math” so he could help his son, and wrangled the baby.

I reflected this weekend on my own family, built up over 12 years of marriage and 17 years together with Ger.  From starting our marriage living in separate states, to multiple moves, to bringing the first baby home, to buying a home, to job changes, and financial decisions, and picking up the ashes of our daughters at a funeral home.  All of those life events as partners.

When I wrote recently about the challenges we are currently facing, with Ger having anxiety, which led to alcohol abuse, I felt an invisible judgment on our marriage.  I do not regret writing it, as it led to many people saying “Thank you for sharing – we have had struggles too” or “thank you for your honesty” I still wondered about what wasn’t being said aloud.  People who may have thought that we just “didn’t work hard enough” on our marriage, or thought “I would never let that happen to me.”

I saw all of the smiling faces as I scrolled through Facebook on Father’s Day, in praise of “the best dad ever!” or “the perfect husband and father.”  I admit envy of families and partnerships that have seen smooth sailing.  And also wondered what might lie beneath the surface, that I couldn’t see.

I saw a new individual therapist last week, since if we ever hope to return to the marriage therapist she cannot see us as a couple and also me individually.  The first session is always so much history and “how did you get here?”  As I started with losing Nelle in 2015 and narrated through where I am today with Ger, she pointed out so many positive things happening.  She also said “It sounds like you are committed to the marriage and working through the marriage.”  I nodded my affirmation, saying that I cannot imagine my days without him.  We are a partnership – a bond of love and respect, a foundation for our family, and companions on a journey.

For Better or Worse

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Before I was discharged from the hospital after delivering Iris, I asked the doctor to write me a prescription for an anti-depressant. I knew that losing two babies inside of six months could send me into a dark place. When placed on a six-month holding pattern before trying for a baby again, I became rigorous in my self-care. The medication, weekly therapy, yoga multiple times per week, baths, and natural beauty products became a ritual to stay afloat. I hear the words loud and clear from the grief community: take care of yourself, take care of yourself.

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That One Night

The kids have been in Arizona since Tuesday. At the time we planned for my parents to take them for a few days, it seemed like it would be a welcomed reprieve: late in pregnancy, days without early-morning wake-up calls, no swimming lessons or taekwondo, quiet evenings. Since they left mid-morning on the 4th of July, it gave me the rest of the day to myself.

It was then that I started to become unbalanced by the quiet. I lay in bed, hoping to sleep, but instead I started to shake. No interruptions allowed me to become lost in my “what-if” scenarios.  It felt like a ghost of the days after losing Nelle and Iris, when I could not even get out of bed. I realized that the kids have kept me tethered, in their never-ending demands for attention. The moments in which I can focus solely on my anxiety are only in between a myriad of activity. Without them, it was too much on “me.”

Ger slept, and I am glad that he has been able to sleep. I was finally able to crash and sleep soundly one night, only to be deeply disturbed by a dream. In it, the baby failed a non-stress test and I was being sent to the hospital immediately for delivery. I called Ger and his phone kept ringing; I couldn’t get through. I woke in a quicksand panic of feeling alone.

We had planned a single night getaway to downtown Chicago since no kids are around. We never did any kind of “babymoon” before Theo or Quentin arrived, but this time we had the opportunity so we took it. Boutique hotel, nice dinner. An evening of recognizing the good things in our lives: Ger’s upcoming birthday next week, selling our condo, and the end of this pregnancy. The restaurant even brought a cake with a candle for Ger’s birthday, making it feel like even more of a celebration.

While we were eating, I pointed out to Ger that pregnancy is 280 days, total. I have 31 days left, which is more than 10%. When looking at it that way, it still feels like a lot. And my pregnancy will be shortened by 2 weeks! He pointed out that we are counting down in days though, not weeks. Every day means chiseling away at what is left.

As we drove home this morning, I became distracted by not feeling much movement. All of the previous day’s celebration and normalcy melted away into my fear. I didn’t say anything to Ger though; there would be no point until I could get home and lie quietly and focus on kick counts. Of course, everything was fine once I was able to complete that exercise.

Thankful for the night away, a night to devote to just us. Now back to the endless attention to the remaining days of pregnancy.

What Could Go Right

Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being positive about what could go right.

Easier said than done.

Ger finally told me that he feels positive about the outcome of this pregnancy.  27 weeks, pretty good place to be.  I asked him if he thinks I will make it all the way to full term (because I don’t think I will) and he said yes, he does.

We seem to be clinging to each other more than ever as we head into these remaining 12 weeks.  More time spent talking, even if it isn’t about anything related to pregnancy or what has happened over the past few years.  More time spent being kind to each other.  Time and effort spent on other people was often a daunting task when I was often trying (and failing) to hold myself together, plus with an added task of taking care of the kids.  We could support each other in those heavy, dark, obvious moments but on a daily basis it was merely survival.  Now, breathing more easily, it feels like preparation: strengthening ourselves to become parents of a newborn again.  Or maybe strengthening ourselves in case we face another loss.  I always have to consider both outcomes; I’m incapable of not thinking that way.

After we tuck the kids in, we have been spending time just sitting and talking.  This was a habit we had many, many years ago, pre-kids.  Even when we had newborns, we would still sit and talk, with the baby between us on our bed, trying hard to keep that baby awake until 9:00 pm or 10:00 pm in hopes that would lend itself to a better stretch of sleep.  We fell away from that habit as the kids grew older and evenings (for me) turned into Bath and Netflix.  The other night, we talked from 7:30 until 8:30, at which point I said “Bedtime.”  He protested, asking for another 30 minutes together, to which I replied “Sorry, but from 7:30 – 9:30 is the only time I get to myself all day.  I gave you an hour.  Now I need an hour to myself to unwind.”  I felt a little guilty at telling him to go elsewhere and find something else to do (he goes to bed much later than me), but at the same time I need to take care of myself as much as I take care of my marriage and I need some time alone to decompress, write, or watch Netflix.

Even when we talk about the baby, I have noticed that we never say the name out loud.  With Theo and Quentin, we began calling them by their names as soon as we knew the gender and had finalized their names.  It made their presence real.  I remember about two weeks before my due date, Ger wanted to change Theo’s middle name to something else, and I said “We can’t.  That’s his name; we can’t change his name!”  This time, we have not yet formed that attachment of name to baby; still not making that connection of bringing a baby home.  I can now picture going into labor, going to the hospital, delivering via c-section.  Those events play out in my head.  But I still cannot picture bringing the baby home.

The other day, Quentin brought home a project from school: three flowers, formed from pieces of construction paper.  He told me that the flowers are “You, Daddy, and the BABY!”  He sees a new addition, so easily.