Thursday, May 25, 2006

One year ago today, I was in labor. I remember this day like it was yesterday; we spent the day at home together, waiting for the contractions to get closer. I was in a house-cleaning frenzy in anticipation of my parents' arrival. We stopped at the library to get books to bring to the hospital. We almost got into a car accident - the shock of almost crashing sent me into hysterical sobs that wouldn't stop. I got my bangs trimmed because they were falling in my eyes and I knew that would drive me crazy during labor.

Never once did we consider the possibility that things wouldn't go the way they were supposed to. I remember that late in the afternoon, we took a walk in the cemetery across the street to see if the contractions would continue or stop. I always read the headstones as we pass, and at one point I realized that we were passing a cluster of childrens' and babies' graves. Reading the heartbreakingly short date ranges on those headstones gave me a cold chill, and I had a moment of "what if that's bad luck...or a premonition?" but I put it out of my mind. After all, these things don't happen to people...do they.

I want to share something here that my husband wrote in his own blog today. I won't link it, because he doesn't know the URL of this blog, although he knows I keep it - we decided that it should be private. But he gave his permission for me to share this, because I thought parts of it might resonate with others.

"A year ago today, my wife began labor for the birth of our son, Joseph William. In the afternoon of the 26th of May 2005, he was born by caesarian section. His lungs had become filled with fluid during labor, and he was unable to breathe on his own.

The team of doctors worked frantically. They were preparing to move our son from the operating room to the neonatal intensive care unit when they called me over to see him. He was squirming and crying, but I wasn't able to hear the sound of it through the breathing mask that was over his face.

The time between that moment and when I learned that he had died has disappeared from my memory. In the days after his death, especially one long horrible day in the windowless recovery room where we stayed for some time, I became paranoid about the missing hour. I could remember phoning my mother, walking into the chapel and leaving because there was no one there. I must have wandered around the hospital; my wife's parents were there and I know I told them the baby had been taken away for help. Once I woke at night sure that someone had simply taken him, and that if I could understand where the hour had gone I would know where my son was.

It's been a year and that's still all I know. That story is sad, but I don't want to tell you a sad story.

The hour after my son's death was the greatest enlightenment of my life. Opaque memories from my youth revealed themselves with a terrifying clarity. The sound of my Aunt W.'s cries as my uncles bore my cousin J.'s casket to our family cemetery. The mother of my childhood friend hugging me at his funeral when I was 17. My own mother's story of her sister Gayle, my own sister's namesake, who died as a toddler. Every selfless act I had ever witnessed between a parent and a child.

All these moments suddenly had a meaning that was deeper than anything I had experienced before. We are being prepared our entire lives to feel the love I felt for that tiny baby, but life is also trying to teach us something else, something less obvious and frightening. Concealed in those memories is the knowledge that our children may not outlive us. We had only loved our son for 9 months; how could one survive a loss after twenty years?

There was a second, more staggering revelation. The people who had taught us had been right about it all. All our lives, all those who had loved us; they had been right.

They had been right to teach us to love those things small and helpless, but also to love ourselves such that when those things are taken from us, we may continue to live. They had been right to teach us integrity toward our friends, knowing that we would someday need them for more than moving a refrigerator. They had been right to teach us faith, as it is the sole thing that can guide us when life loses its meaning. They had been right to teach us dignity, because it is the true essence of strength and we may hold it even in times when our strength is taken from us. They had been right to teach us tolerance, because without it is impossible to accept forms of love and care that may seem wrong at the time. They had been right to teach forgiveness, as vengeance binds us to misery.

More than anything, they had been right in teaching us to persevere. When we were children and crying on the ground, they had been right to take us and stand us up, not to wipe our tears but to make us taste them and swallow them.

They had been right to make us optimistic fools. Without blind trust in life, how could we take this risk again? How could we tell each other that it would simply be fine, and believe it?

At many retirement parties, 60th birthdays, that manner of thing, I have heard men say: "My wife is amazing." It is written in book dedications, it is spoken in awkward moments in public ceremonies both in real life and fiction. I find these moments embarrassing cliches, but then I am a misanthrope and find a way to eliminate the joy from most things to avoid having Kodak Moments that women will make a fuss about later. So I will say it this way, instead: if you are a man and you are looking for the perfect woman, find a smart one and an honest one. But there is no virtue of a woman that you will ever find more moving than the strength of heart that my wife demonstrated to me one year ago. Its power is impossible to describe; its origins are a mystery to me. It is bottomless and eternal, but rare, and even where it exists it blooms rarely in a lifetime. It is why our species has existed for a hundred thousand years and will see a hundred thousand more.

These babies, to be sure, are flesh and blood. Their loss is an agony. But in reality, they are the flower that blooms of your value, your combined character. If they are lost, a part of you is lost, but the love that created them is not. If you hold fast to that, you will make it."

10 Comments:

At Thursday, May 25, 2006 1:27:00 PM, Blogger lauralu said...

damn.

 
At Thursday, May 25, 2006 2:57:00 PM, Blogger cat said...

Thank you to you and your husband for sharing that with us.

 
At Thursday, May 25, 2006 2:58:00 PM, Blogger sillyhummingbird said...

I am weeping like a fool. I simply don't have the words to comment. Simply beautiful.

 
At Thursday, May 25, 2006 4:19:00 PM, Blogger Sherry said...

You obviously have a wonderful husband and father to your children - and that is NOT an empty cliche. He's shown it so lovingly and honestly with what he wrote about you, Joseph and what he's realized since losing him ... thank you so much for sharing.

 
At Thursday, May 25, 2006 4:56:00 PM, Blogger NervousKitty said...

Aww, I'm glad you guys liked it as much as I did - I'm biased, of course. :)

 
At Thursday, May 25, 2006 7:00:00 PM, Blogger Julian's Mom said...

Your husband is amazing. You are both very lucky to have each other!

 
At Thursday, May 25, 2006 8:10:00 PM, Blogger Laura said...

Oh wow. That was so beautiful, but that last line -- that's going to be resonating in my head for a long time. Thank you so much for sharing that.

 
At Friday, May 26, 2006 8:01:00 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing.

 
At Friday, May 26, 2006 8:38:00 AM, Blogger Bronwyn said...

Your husband's words were so moving. You're both so lucky to have each other!

 
At Friday, May 26, 2006 11:26:00 AM, Blogger Josefina said...

That was really wonderful, it made me cry!!
I think you and your husband of course deserve each other!!

 

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