The Christmas Outfit
This is a difficult hub for me to write. I've spent the past few days trying to come up with some other topic for a Christmas hub...any other topic for a hub, but this one. It's like a broken tooth though. Despite my attempts to avoid thinking about it, my mental tongue continues to explore the damage, running it's sinuous form over the jagged edges, testing for any painful reaction. There's a dull ache...it never goes completely away...but most days, it has receded to a point where I can tolerate it. Just as long as I don't explore it too deeply. When I do...I have this tendency to lose sleep. It's my fault. My mother always said picking at a wound will prevent it from healing. It's just that sometimes I have an issue with following my mother's good advice and I scrape off the scab to see if the injury still runs as deep.
I never wanted children of my own. It was my own private joke, shared with those close to me that I I'd been born without a biological clock. While my friends and siblings were procreating like mad, I remained aloof. When their children were born, I would stand off to the side and gaze upon their wrinkly little infants with a horrified look on my face and thank god that my life did not involve these alien creatures.
Oddly enough, I love children and by some strange twist of the absurd, they love me back. This love of children does not start until the kid has reached one year of age though. Before that, in my opinion they weren't quite "done" yet...and to the amusement of their mothers, I would cringe when offered their baby to hold. My sisters would laugh when I told them that my nieces and nephews were still in what I called "the larval stage" and that I'd be more than happy to hold them once they had more control over their enormous heads.
It was all a show of course. The truth was that I was very simply afraid. It's not what you think though. Pregnancy and childbirth? A snap. So I'd be in agonizing pain for days trying to force a cantelope through uh....something not used to dealing with things the size of a cantelope. No sweat...what's a little physical suffering? So, no...that's not what I was afraid of...
I had read somewhere that children raised in emotionally, physically or sexually abusive environments have a tendency to take this baggage with them as adults. My father had been horrifically tortured by his mother and he brought those demons to our family. I forgave my father years ago for what he did and we are actually good friends now, on my terms. I'm not a saint for this...nor am I a fool for building a relationship with this man despite what he did. I did it for me.
It has taken most of my life to undo what was done to me as a child. For the most part I've succeeded and you'd never know. It isn't too difficult, since that's what I've been doing my entire life. I put on my "normal person" face and I step out into the world. But on the journey to being this person, I discovered one very big truth. Everyone puts on the same face every day and my story, although personally horrifying, is not unusual. In fact...sometimes my experiences sounded like a pathetic whine against some inconsequential act when compared to some of the stories told to me by other abuse survivors. So who am I to complain?
I Don'T Want To Live On The Moon
Baby of Mine (Allison Kraus Version)
It was important to get past what happened to me, turn on the light, flush it out of the closet and decide how to deal with it. I chose a two prong attack. First, I would make my own peace with it...and then I would make sure that this particular family inheritance ended with me. I knew I had my father's violent temper. When I'm angry, rationality takes a vacation and because it doesn't want to bear witness either, my logical mind blocks it out and occasionally I have no memory of what I may have done. Over time, I've managed to control my anger by removing myself from the source...even placing barriers between me and the person or thing that has driven me to this point. But the anger is still there, simmering like a rancid pool waiting for a reason to overflow its banks.
It's not as big as it once was. But in my teens and twenties...I saw it as a vast ocean of fury, drowning everything within its grasp, eroding the shores, consuming me slowly. It didn't need any more fuel to feed it...and that is why I forgave my father and decided that I had more important things to do in my life than play judge and jury to his crime. If there is a heaven and hell, if there is an accounting for your deeds in an afterlife, let him be judged then.
There are just some things you don't risk. With the danger of becoming as abusive as my parent seen as a viable threat, the very thought of having a child of my own paralyzed me with fear. What if despite all of the best intentions, I lose my temper with this small innocent being? No, it wasn't fair...but it was the safest choice. No kids. And over time I had myself convinced that I wasn't missing anything.
And then in 2001, I became pregnant. My boyfriend, who later became my husband (although not because I was pregnant), didn't want it. He had two daughters from his previous marriage...why couldn't I be satisfied with having them every other weekend? I couldn't think of a single reason not to. I was thirty-nine years old, in a stable relationship that I was sure would lead eventually to a "we may as well be married" type of future. I had a great job with fabulous benefits. So...I pointed Ed to the door and told him that he didn't have to stay if he didn't want to. He chose to stay.
Ed made my life hell for the first few months, playing the sulky boy that did not get his way. But when the ultrasound showed us an amazing picture of our little boy, yawning right into the camera before rolling over and mooning us...Ed fell apart and broke into tears of joy. His son. I was going to give him the son he had always wanted.
I called him Michael "Moo" which stood for "My One and Only." That entire summer and fall, I built my world around him. I stitched pillows, decorations and stuffed animals for his room. I downloaded from Napster all sorts of songs that I thought a child would like and I burned a CD for him. My favorites were Ernie singing "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" and "Baby of Mine" from the movie "Dumbo". Besides that, I began to fill a binder with stories for him...about his family, his pets and the things I wanted him to know about. I told him I was writing it so that he would never doubt for a moment how much he was loved. If he was ever blue, all he would have to do was open that binder and read.
The doctor and midwives teased me mercilessly about my constantly cheerful disposition. They all wondered when I'd start behaving like a cranky woman, complaining about how difficult being pregnant was. It never was though. Michael was...easy to be with. He kept me company 24/7 and listened to me when I felt like talking. Toward the end of the pregnancy, he decided I was working too hard and with a swift kick would send my keyboard flying back beneath the desk when he'd had enough. Every moment, every experience of that pregnancy was looked at with wonder. It was a new experience and one I probably wouldn't have again.
But the most amazing thing about the experience was the purity of love that I felt for this person that I hadn't even met yet. I knew that no matter what, I would always love him. I'd never felt that before and even now, as I ransack my memory trying to recapture the essence of that emotion, it eludes me. Just as I get my fingers around the edge of the memory and try to tug it closer, the fabric of it unravels and I can only get a sense of it. It was big...and it consumed me much the same as anger had once upon a time. But instead of trying to remove myself from it, placing barricades between myself and the overwhelming force of it....I ran to it and embraced it with every particle of my being. It filled me up completely and chased the darkness from my soul. I knew that it would be impossible for me to harm something so precious to me and that knowledge gave me peace. Well, the heartburn wasn't a hell of a lot of fun...but I wasn't about to complain about something so trivial.
Michael's due date was December 25th, 2002. I had already written in his book that when he was older, he could choose any day of the year to celebrate his birthday because I knew it would kind of suck to have a birthday fall on Christmas. See what a cool Mom I was already? Some of the gifts that we received were of a holiday nature. Ed's mother had sent me an adorable Christmas outfit that was red and white and had "Baby's 1st Christmas" embroidered on it in gold thread. The only question remained was how close to Christmas would Michael arrive?
Two weeks before his birth date, I had a dream. I was in a beautiful city of white marble, being given a tour by a rather tall young man who had a cheerful face and a friendly smile. He slipped his hand into mine and introduced me to everyone. I was a bit embarrassed and my first thought was, "Damn...I'm old enough to be his mother!" I looked into his eyes, noticing how they sparkled merrily as if he was enjoying a very good secret. They looked so familiar to me...somehow...those eyes. It was a happy group, chattering about all the wonderful things they had seen, eagerly anticipating lunch. They seemed like really nice people and they looked up to this young man seated by my side. As I gazed at him again, I noticed that he had a serious expression. "What is it?" I asked with a sinking feeling in my stomach. He took my hand again and gave it a tender squeeze.
"I wish I could have stayed," he said. "I really think it would have been wonderful. I love you, Mom..."
And then I awoke, my heart beating fast...my hand lying protectively over my belly. It was just a dream I told myself. Pregnant women always have crazy dreams...don't they? It's just my subconscious trying to cause trouble and invent problems where none exist.
The next day, something wasn't right. I'm not sure when I knew but I remember pulling over to the side of the dark, snowy road on the way home from work and running my hand over my rounded belly crying over and over again, "Don't go. Don't leave me." The next day, the doctor confirmed that Michael had basically pulled the plug by tearing the umbilical cord. It was just something that happened...and nothing I could have prevented.
On a freakishly warm Saturday in December, while the heavens opened up and poured water from the sky by the bucketful, I gave birth to Michael. It was something I was committed to doing even though I knew it would be hard. It's difficult enough to go through labor and childbirth when you anticipate a happy ending...but when you know the outcome is an exercise in futility, it takes sheer determination to see it through. I was fortunate. My midwife was a dear friend and my younger sister was an obstetrical nurse at this hospital. But just for sanity, I also had my youngest sister present. When I need strength, I look to her.
I did this for Michael. And when I held him for the first time, admiring all of his perfect little fingers and toes, noticing the fit of his tiny bottom into the palm of my hand and I touched his fragile cheek with a gentle caress from my clumsy finger for the first time...I realized that this changed nothing. I still loved him. Even more, I was so proud of him. The only thing that would honor him would be to make him proud of me too.
While others were quietly and not so quietly crying in the same room...I was smiling. No, I wasn't unhinged by grief although it was probably padded by a few pain killing drugs...it was genuine. Finally, I could put a face to the person I loved most in all the world.
It was the most depressing Christmas I have ever known. But if you asked me for details, they are wrapped in fuzzy gauze and my mind has decided to preserve itself by refusing to recall it with complete clarity. I can best describe myself as numb...and none of it caused by alcohol or drugs. It was a natural numbness.
The only times I can remember completely are those that involve doing something because I felt compelled to do it in memory of my son. I baked Christmas cookies for the staff that had been working the night I was in the hospital. They had been so caring, even going so far as to draw the curtains in the nursery every time I escaped my room. They left me to grieve in my own way without intruding, but accompanied me graciously on my walks around the hospital.
There remained just one thing I wanted to do...or rather, that I had a strong feeling Michael wanted me to do. I stood there in Michael's room, caressing the tiny Christmas outfit while a small voice whispered, "Give it away...as a gift...from me."
I explained my idea to my sister, the nurse, and she took my idea to the staff of doctors to see if my request would be considered proper. None of them saw anything odd with my request, but my doctor asked if he could be given the honor of being the one to do it. I agreed.
On Christmas day a baby was born...just one, a little girl. While her parents were marveling over their new daughter, my doctor politely knocked on the door and asked if he could have a moment. He took a seat and told them the story of Michael and asked if they would be willing to accept a gift from him for their daughter, who was born on Christmas day.
A month or two later, I received a letter along with a picture of the most beautiful baby girl wallowing in a Christmas suit with gold embroidering that said "Baby's 1st Christmas." The young couple thanked me for Michael's thoughtful gift and explained how much it meant to them to one day be able to tell this story to their little girl. I was thrilled that not only had the gift been accepted, but that it had been accepted in the spirit with which it was given.
Sometimes the grief of it all is still there, especially at Christmas. Sometimes it's just awkward. When people ask me if I have children...do I say yes, do I say no...I don't want to have to explain all the time. The same thing happens when I encounter happy expectant couples or parents that foist their children on me with a thoughtless remark like, "you wouldn't be so thrilled to spend time with them if you were a parent." It's not their fault. They don't realize they are wielding a knife that cuts deeply and wounds. And again...I don't want to have to explain. It's just easier to absorb the unintentional gouging of the blade and the pain it causes rather than enlighten them and make them feel horrible.
So that's my Christmas story...and now you know something about me that I don't often share. Every year on December 14th, I buy a half dozen helium filled balloons and release them to heaven with a happy birthday wish. On my Christmas tree hangs an angel ornament with Michael's name and it is a tradition to place it on the highest bough where it is easily seen.
I am sad for all the possibilities that will never be realized, but if I focused only on my loss, I would miss everything that I gained in the short time I shared my life with Michael. He taught me about love...and how if you can find the courage to embrace it with your entire being, there is no room for anger, hatred or fear.
I wish all of you a Merry Christmas filled with that type of love.