Love In Many Forms

My son and his wife of seven days (typing that just seems amazing) are somewhere in Jerusalem right now.  In Israel.  Yes, the one that is seven hours time difference from where they live in Alexandria, VA and where I live in Connecticut. I was pondering that the other day.  For my honeymoon, my husband and I went on a Carnival cruise.  We went to Grand Cayman, Cozumel and New Orleans.  It was the first time I’d been outside of the US save for Canada (because every good Detroiter has gone drinking in Canada).   My son has been now to Spain, to Croatia, and to Israel.  He’s passed through France for connecting flights, twice.  What a different life has than I did.

What a different life he has than I ever imagined for him.

At my son’s wedding last week, after he and I shared our emotional mother/son dance, I walked him back to his new wife and hugged her hard.  Then I went back to sit at my table, with my husband and our two much younger children.  Within a minute, there was my father, red in the face and clearly just as emotional as me.

Maybe more so.

“I remember the day he was born,” he struggled to tell me, tears flowing from the corners of his eyes.   And he was right.  Of the hundred or so people standing in this room with us, there were only three of us who were there the day Zach was born.  My sister, myself and my father.  My brother was in the Navy in basic training at the time, and met him about a month or so after he was born.  Everyone else in the room met him sometime later in his life.

It was hard, at that moment in time, staring at my son and his lovely wife in this gorgeous hotel ballroom, with everyone dressed in their finery, to imagine what those days were like.  My father had literally been there since the moment this boy was born; he’d been my Lamaze coach.  He’d watched this young man come into the world, take his first breaths.  He’d been ultimately supportive after his initial skepticism  regarding my “situation”.  I was 18 and alone when this little baby came into all of our lives, and life could have turned out very, very different than the moment we were all experiencing together.

But what was overwhelming all of us, as my sister had now come to join my father and I, both redfaced in the front of the room together, was my mother’s absence.  “She should have been here,” my father said next, putting his head in his hand.  “She would have been so proud of him.”

Seeing my father cry about my mother is truly a humbling experience for me. While my father has been with his partner since before my parents’ marriage ended, it’s clear to me that he truly did love my mother.  While the demise of their marriage was fraught with difficulty, fighting and anger, eventually everything settled in to the way things were supposed to be.  In fact, I always kind of thought that my pregnancy at 18 and my parents banding together to support me and my child truly was the last step of pulling them back together as a family unit, if not a married one.  And when my mother passed, my father was there to hold her hand along with us kids.  It was my father who helped us eulogize her at her memorial.  They had a clear and deep connection, and it is easy for me to forget that on a day to day basis.  I suppose I deal with my grief often about my mother, but my father likely doesn’t.  So it is in these family moments where it comes roaring to the surface for him, still raw and harsh, even twenty years later.

In some sort of awful way, it made me feel good to see him that affected by her absence.  That while his life is very different now, the affection he had for her was real and true and honest. I held him and told him about the wedding song, and how sure I was that she had a role to play there.  That I was sure she was watching all of us here, this night and smiling from wherever she was, happy to see her beloved first grandchild so successful, so sure of himself, so clearly in love.  “She loved him so much,” I said to my father and my sister, which gave them both a fresh set of tears, but gave me a strength and surety that stopped my own.

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Visiting Hours

He looks like him.

That was the first thing I thought of when I looked at my son.  He had Joe’s coloring, his hair color.  His eyes were dark, dark blue, which everyone told me meant his eyes would turn brown within the first year of life.  Everything about him, including his sex, was more Joe than me.  The only thing I felt I could definitively say was that he had my nose.  Joe’s nose was a long, pointed, ski slope of a nose; even before we’d broken up I’d joked with him that I hoped the baby got my nose.  The tiny, rounded snub on my son’s face was the only thing that I found of my own DNA in him.

One by one, all of my friends came to visit us in the hospital.  My friend Karen, who’d been there with me since the beginning.  My college dorm roommate Lori came.  Dean, who’d helped organize the baby shower for my friends, came.  My sister’s friend B, pregnant with a baby of her own and married now, came.  Ana, another of my sister’s friends, also married, came.  Randy, another of Joe’s good friends and part of our group in high school, came.  Mike, another friend of Joe’s who lived near me in our townhome development, came.  My friends Dawn and Lauri couldn’t make it; Dawn was away at school at Michigan State, and Lauri was in the Air Force in basic training.  My mother, my father, my sister, they all came and snapped photos.  My mother’s friend Marilyn, who we always spent holidays with, came.  My room was a constant hub of activity during visiting hours.

Everyone came, but one.

Joe never came.  I asked his friends if he knew that Zachary was here, that the birth had happened.  They told me that they’d told him, but that he wasn’t coming.  I thought, well, maybe it would be intimidating to be around all of my family and friends, most of whom were taking a very dark view of the fact that Joe hadn’t come around during the rest of my pregnancy. Maybe he’d call, I thought, and made sure all of Joe’s friends had the number to my hospital room.

But it didn’t matter.  He didn’t come, and he didn’t call. After all this time, all of how I thought it would go, all of the dreams I’d had where all of the anger, and fear, and cross words and stupid decisions would just melt away once the news of the baby came.  That after everything, our love would rise up in his head and remind him who we both really were, and what we’d meant to each other, and that the proof of that was right here, right now, in the perfectly healthy, robust baby boy that everyone oohed and ahhed over.

I held my baby boy close.  “We’re a team, you and I,” I told him.  “We’ll get through this, together.”

He nuzzled softly into my chest and breathed in and out.  If I said it, I’d believe it.

It’s Time

I hadn’t slept all night.  The insomnia thing, it was amazing to me.  I’d never had trouble sleeping, ever.  I was the kid who never fought to stay up late; I put myself to bed when I was tired.  I loved my sleep.

But nine days after my due date, with my belly riddled with stretch marks and protruding in ways that alternately fascinated and scared me, my discomfort was extreme.  I needed sleep.  I wanted sleep.  But it was two in the morning and I was going into the second night in a row of sleeplessness.

Contractions were waking me up.   I’d feel myself in the fuzzy haze of near sleep, only to feel my stomach tighten and press inward, pulling me up and out of the haze and into the sharp edges of pain.  I’d already been to the hospital once for false labor, and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.  I’d been mortified as my father raced over to meet my mother and I in labor and delivery.  Of course I didn’t know what labor was like.  I was eighteen, I didn’t know what anything was like yet.

But by eleven in the morning, with the contractions still regular and intensifying, I decided that this might be it after all.  My mother and sister had already begged off of work at the news that I was having regular contractions that weren’t stopping.  At nine days post due date, it seemed like finally a new life was about to begin, for all of us.

The day progressed slowly.  My father arrived, rolled up his sleeves, ready to be the best labor partner in the history of the world.  My doctor pronounced my cervix “still closed” at around 2pm, but told me to stay put and prescribed pitocin to make my contractions more productive.  At 4pm, during Oprah, I remember thinking that the contractions were indeed different, more stronger than they had been, and that I might actually be having my baby soon.

My mother came in and out, relieving my father so that he could get food and drink for himself.  She panicked early in the evening when I started asking for medication to relieve the pain, asking the doctor how long my labor would be allowed to go on before he would call for a C section.  I remember watching George Bush talking about the War on Drugs, wishing for some of them.   Nurses came in and out to check on my progress, and as the evening wore on, my baby slowly moved downward.

The pain was like nothing I could have imagined.  I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t concentrate on anything but the white hot fingers of pain that crushed me for a minute before easing.  My father would coach me on my breathing, watching the fetal monitor as the hill rose towards a peak and then dwindled as the contraction eased.  He asked the nurses for more medication to relieve my pain until finally, finally, they informed me that I was fully dilated and would be moved to the delivery room.

I’d never had an ultrasound during my pregnancy (it was not something routinely done unless you were high risk in those days), so I had no idea what to expect.  Was my baby healthy?   Was it a boy or a girl?  The doctor had estimated the child was at least seven pounds based on palpating my abdomen.  Every time I pushed, I thought that I was that much closer to meeting the child I’d shared my body with for nine months, wondered about, cried about, changed everything for.  I knew this pain, so different from the pain of the contractions, was the last of what I would have to endure before my child would be born.  My father reported on the progress, first telling me that my child had dark hair, then that it had my nose, and then telling me in an awed voice that I had a son.

I had a son.  A son.  As they handed all eight pounds, ten ounces of him to me afterwards, I whispered his name in his ear.  I hadn’t known it, hadn’t decided it, until the moment I laid eyes on him.

Zachary.

Lamaze Partner

I was standing outside St. John’s Hospital, watching my father get interviewed on TV by a local news anchor.

His career had taken a definite upturn in the last few years, often getting interviewed on the news for his take on issues with this drug or that food emergency.  His position at the Food and Drug Administration downtown gave him a unique perspective on what the government was doing to protect our food supply and ensure drugs were moving through the bureaucracy at the right pace.  Too quickly and you approved a drug that later caused problems; not quick enough and you were denying sick people what they needed to survive.

My father’s anger and fear regarding my pregnancy had all but disappeared.  In fact, my mother would say later, it was my teenage pregnancy that finally pulled them back together as a parental unit, agreeing to put aside their past differences to figure out how best to help me do all that I wanted to:  have my child, take care of it, finish college and begin a career.  My goals were firm and concrete, and perhaps my determination to attain them regardless of the size of my belly persuaded my father that this might not be the end of the world.

When Joe told me he couldn’t attend Lamaze classes with me, I didn’t know what to do.  Everyone knew you needed a labor partner.  Who was I going to ask to be my support person?  The baby was due in late August, when most of my friends would be either back to college or busy going to their local schools.

It was my mother who actually suggested I ask my father to be my Lamaze partner.  She thought it would be helpful to him to be invested in the process, that it would help him start to view the pregnancy as his new grandchild as opposed to a problem that needed to be solved.  She knew she couldn’t stomach being there for the birth without wanting to get the doctors to knock me out and rid me of any pain, but she knew that my father had always wanted to be present at our births (mine was the only one that he had the chance to be at, but my mother crowned as he was signing insurance papers).  She thought he would form a special bond with my child having been there for the birth.

My father agreed, slowly warming to the idea that his youngest daughter was making him a grandfather before he turned fifty.  And that was how we happened to be in front of the hospital that evening.  My father had asked the reporter to meet him there that evening, because the half an hour before class was the only free time he had that day.  I was impressed that he didn’t ask me to hide in the lobby or the car as he did his interview; he proudly introduced me to the anchor and told her that he was here because he was going to be my labor coach.

We’d come a long way from the angry, stilted conversations held during family therapy.  We might still not be a normal family, but at least we were here for each other.

Showering Solo

I was home.  It was time to get ready for my first baby shower.

It was June, and I was staring at the laundry basket full of the recently moved clothes, desk supplies and newly purchased maternity clothes, wondering which outfit I should wear.

I left Michigan State University six months pregnant.  In the final weeks of school, my pregnancy went from a mystery to an obvious state.  I never mustered the courage to call Joe and tell him that I wanted to talk to him, even though I did want to talk to him.  I just couldn’t bear the thought of the exasperated sound of his voice as we yet again fought about who would do what and when and why.   I still had his phone number at his mother’s; maybe one of these days now that I wasn’t going to classes or studying or working, I would finally get past my fears and reach out.

I was caught between utter shame at going out in public and possibly running into someone I knew and flat out defiance that anyone would dare to think less of me because I had gotten pregnant less than a year out of high school.  I was sure that everyone I knew was gossiping about my fall from grace; alternatively, my circle of friends became so fiercely loyal and supportive that I felt that those who weren’t were just not worth my time anyway.

The baby shower was being held in my friend Dean’s basement, cohosted by my friends Karen and Dean.  I took this as a good sign.  Dean and Joe were best friends; in fact, it was in Dean’s basement where Joe and I had shared our first kiss.  For Dean to support something this forward thinking and planful I took as a sign that Joe’s anger had softened.  Maybe he was accepting that the baby was possibly a good thing, or at least not a horrible thing.  I let my mind wander, just a second, to the thought that Joe might actually show up.  It was probably too much to hope for, but maybe, maybe it would happen.

I drove over and lumbered down his basement stairs, decorated in streamers and helium balloons.  I looked around at the pile of diaper bags and wrapped gifts and smiling faces.

I swallowed as I noted which face was missing, put a smile on my face, and pretended that I hadn’t even expected it in the first place.  This was happening, with or without him.

Alone

I was laying on the bed, my top bunk in my dorm room, staring at my stomach.

It was growing, daily.  I was in awe of how it was expanding, the magic of how my body knew just what to do despite the ignorance of the girl inhabiting it.  No one living outside of my dorm room could really see it yet, but I was already outside of my comfortable jeans and into the elastic waistband pants my mother’s friend Janice loaned me from the early part of her pregnancy a few years back.  These clothes were just larger versions of regular clothes, not maternity ones, and coupled with big T shirts and sweaters on cooler days, I was getting along.

With just about everyone, I pretended that nothing was different.  I never talked about my pregnancy with those people I knew casually from my teaching classes.  My friend Karen knew, of course.  Now that Joe wasn’t speaking to me, she was the only person I had left to confide in about my hopes and fears for the next few months of my life.   She reported to me that her parents thought I was crazy and that I was going to ruin my life by having and keeping my child, though, so I held back the most secret of my thoughts to play only inside my head.

But here, alone, in my room with no one around to see my face and read my thoughts, I felt like I could let my mind go where it rarely did.  I put my hands on my belly and felt the hardness.  I pulled up my shirt so that I could see the slight rise of the skin where it had been flat before.  I wondered about the baby inside; would it look like me or Joe?  Would it have my nose, his eyes, his hair color, my short stature?  Was it a boy or girl?

I fantasized about the day it would be born, in the late summer, just before school went back in.  I hoped by then Joe and I would be reconciled again.  So far, though, his promise was holding up; he’d seen me going up to the cafeteria the other day and walked right past me without a word.  I couldn’t muster the courage to pick up the phone and dial his room; I didn’t know what to say.  But I was sure that Joe was the kind of man who wouldn’t let his child be born without fixing us.  When I looked forward to that warm day in August, I saw him at my bedside, smiling at the child cradled in my arms, giving me a sweet kiss on the forehead and telling me that he loved us both.

All of a sudden, I felt movement underneath my hands.  The baby was moving inside of me.  I could feel it.  I could feel the baby.

And in my room, all alone on the top bunk in a college dorm room, I smiled.  How could I be this happy about something that was so completely messed up?  But I was.  I smiled, and told the unknown stranger sharing my space that I couldn’t wait for what came next.

On A Break

I was sitting across the table at a Big Boy restaurant from Mr. H.

I’d come home for my Spring Break, and called his home phone number to arrange the meeting.  He’d included it in the long letter he’d sent me a few weeks ago at school, in response to my cry for help sent a few weeks before that.  By now, everything was different than it had been when I’d first contacted him.  Worse.  Much worse.

Joe and I still lived in the same dorm, but we were finished with our winter term classes.  He wouldn’t look at me for the last few weeks after our disastrous breakup at the concert.  I pretended he wasn’t there, sitting far away from me in the lecture halls or across the room in the tiny room we shared for Honors English.  I’d played the ultimate game of running off to see if the guy would come after me, and so far, he hadn’t.  He wasn’t rethinking his anger, and I was far too proud to go crawling back to see if he’d renege on his promise to never see me (and our child growing quickly in my belly) again.

We still had spring term ahead of us.  I was hoping by June, when it would be obvious to the world what I’d hidden all winter, Joe and I would figure out some sort of way to work it all out and not throw away our nearly year long relationship.

These were the kinds of things I told Mr. H as I ordered a hamburger and fries, filling up my always ravenous appetite.   I wondered aloud, told him of the few plans I already had in place, and he looked warmly and sadly at me with the eyes of an older person who sees a younger person making a very big mistake.

“Don’t rule anything out yet, Amy.  I really think that you need to think about the long term here; I know someone who was where you are now.  I asked her about it after I got your letter.   She would like to meet with you if you want.  You know her.”

“I do?”   I racked my brains; he had to be talking about a teacher.  Which teacher had I had at school that had a kid that was impossibly old for how old the teacher was?  I couldn’t place it.

“Yes, you do.  And she told me that if she had to go back and do it all again, as awful as it sounds, she would not have the baby.  Or she would have it and adopt it out. ”

Ah, adults.  You could always count on them to see the negative, I thought.  I kept trying to look like I was at least open to his words.  “Why did she say that?”  I offered.

“Because it was hard.  And eventually, she didn’t want to be a single mother alone, so she got married.  The guy she married was not the right guy; she only married him because she was tired of being a single mother all by herself, and thought getting married would make everything easier.  And for a while it did.  But then, as it usually does, the fact that they weren’t right for each other started making everything much harder and they fought all of the time.  But by then she now has another child with this guy, and she now has lost ten more years of her life not having a real relationship with a partner who she truly loves.”

Ouch.  OK, I needed to listen to this.  But I couldn’t imagine making the same stupid choice.  I was independent, I was going to school, I wasn’t going to *need* a man to help me get through my chosen path.  I’d only choose the right man to do so, I was sure of it.

“Well, that might not be the case here.   Joe and I might work this all out and get back together.  You never know,” I sidestepped.

“You really think that is going to happen?”

I sighed.  He knew me too well.  No, I didn’t.  If I did, I wouldn’t be here now, sharing my fears with my former teacher.  I’d be sitting with Joe, figuring out what came next.

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