Spoken Words

A couple of months ago a friend emailed me for help. She had gone in for blood work and was now waiting for the result of it. Understandably, she was anxious and scared. A part of her email read, “I know you are not a praying person. So please do whatever you believe works to send all the positive vibes my way tomorrow.”

Even though distance remains between God and me, I can easily recall the time when He occupied every one of my day. I would thank Him for sparing my life when I accidentally ran through a STOP sign. I would pray to Him to grant me grace and patience when I was about to embark on a momentous work assignment. I took God everywhere with me. He was only a breath away. Thank God didn’t just spill from my mouth. I spoke those words in reverie — in the second it took to speak them I would pause, as though I were honoring Him with a moment of silence. I even exchanged dialogues about Him. Many years ago, at the start of when Danith and I realized that we would need assistance to construct our family, I sat across a table from a doctor. Grateful that help existed for us, I was in high spirits. The doctor was tall and thin and youngish, with well kept dark brown hair. He and I were reviewing my medical history in a small unassuming room, and after one question led to another, I said to him, “God is sending me a sign.” I sensed immediately that I had taken the youngish doctor, who had been chatting chummily with me, off guard. He parted his lips, possibly to deliver his response, but then he let them rest. Instead he nodded a nod that said, “Sure. If that is what you believe.” His head-nod surprised me because I had just assumed that he would concur that, yes, God had a plan for me. Simultaneously, though, I found it comical that I had put a grown man in discomfort by just talking about God. Later that evening, I called my closest friend and described to her the visit with that doctor, and we broke out into a hearty laugh together.

These days, Nora occupies me. She turns six months old today, and among her small group of friends, she weighs the most at 19 lbs and 8 oz. Anyone who takes notice of her remarks first on her chubby cheeks and second on her warm dark eyes. Almost like what our dog Pluto used to do, she greets me in the morning with a genuine “glad to see you” smile. She is able to sit unassisted for several seconds. She chews on books that I try to read to her, and she jumps up and down when I hold her up. She practices her vocal cord by babbling, and screeching like a pterosaur. She chuckles when I screech back. She enjoys the outdoors and being partly submerged in water. She started eating rice porridge almost two months ago, and because I want to make solids fun for her, I feed the porridge to her while she stands in her play station. After she bites on the white purée she would excitedly stomp her feet, roll her head, and bang on the toys around her. It awes me that my simple act of feeding her could give her that much pleasure. Sometimes, my heart is pumping so fast at the sight of her that I have to stop what I am doing and text Danith to tell him that I love her. My most favorite time with her remains the same: middle of the night. She fills my arms both in weight and length. When I hold her in the glider, she can’t stretch out as straight as she used to, so she fidgets in an attempt to make herself more comfortable. After she finally settles down, I stare at her quiet face — at her closed eyes, her closed mouth (whose bottom lip sometimes twitches), and the roundness of her cheeks. I would let my mind return to those fleeting minutes I had spent holding her sister and brother in a similar way, especially remembering how I wished I could keep each of them in my arms forever. A few weeks ago, as I cradled Nora after a feeding, I marveled at her ability to breathe in my arms. She was sleeping and breathing — I would get to begin the day all over again with her the next morning. “Thank you, God,” I uttered, and jerked up in the glider. I had startled myself. I hadn’t spoken those words in so, so long that the voice in my head that formed them sounded unfamiliar. I panicked, wanting to take them back. How could I be thanking Him? I struggled, having liked how the words reverberated in my head. I missed them. I squeezed Nora more tightly, and I eased myself back into the glider. Then, maybe about a minute later, I lifted one of Nora’s hands to my face, and I pressed my lips into it. And I allowed the truth to prevail: it is okay, speaking those words again.

I still do not believe that prayers influence an outcome, but it is hard to deny what God has given me. I am thankful for both the gifts and for my ability to be thankful for them. As for my friend’s request for help, I sent her hope. Fortunately, the blood work result came back in her favor, for which I am, of course, thankful.

Story Time

Bouncing, bouncing on my knees

Bouncing, bouncing on my knees

Bouncing, bouncing on my knees

Just baby and me

I’ll swing you high

I’ll swing you low

I’ll hold you tight

And I won’t let go

Bouncing, bouncing…

At the library’s story time on Tuesdays, Nora has a friend.  He and his mom usually sit beside us on the rug with blocks of primary colors.  When Aiden sees Nora sitting on my lap, he extends his arm, and his fingers wiggle for her.  Sometimes, she returns the friendly affection, and sometimes she remains too caught up in searching the sparse activity room with her wandering eyes.  She seems to forget that he was the one who taught her not to fear tummy time.

I like Aiden, a slender and lengthy boy who is calm but eager (he will probably grow up to be a gentle man of few words), and who frequently shares his confident smile.  But maybe, secretly, I like him because he is partial to my daughter.

Ms. Patsy begins the morning by coming up to each child in the circle with a soft ball; when she approaches us next, I set Nora’s curled tiny palms on the ball and proudly say her name for everyone to hear.  After all the moms and grandmothers introduce their babies, we go into singing.  The wheels on the bus…  Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes…  Then Ms. Patsy announces the special book for the week, reading the few words on each page and holding up the colorful illustrations for us to see (the babies and young toddlers don’t seem to appreciate this as much as the parents do).  When Ms. Patsy finally plays my favorite song, my stomach pitter-patters as though I’m about to embark on a carousel ride.  Aiden’s mom likes the same song — we exchanged this tidbit a few weeks back.  She and I plant our babies on our knees, and the woman’s voice on the CD begins singing…bouncing, bouncing on my knees…  I sing along with her and the rest of the parents, but inside my head, I feel delirious and am screaming the lyrics.  When it is time, I lift Nora high so that her stomach dangles in my face and then dip her low in between my knees, and then I bring her to my chest and press her into me…and I won’t let go.  I squeeze her with my arms, resting my chin on her shoulder, and inside my head, I am about to cry with gratitude.  I am slightly aware of our surrounding, and a part of me is curious if any of the parents are watching me keenly, wondering why.  What is her story?

Sometimes, after Nora has fallen asleep, Danith and I would turn on our phones and go to our photos.  Our fingertips would slowly scroll through our personal photo collection that chronicles Nora’s first five months.  Rarely does either of us forget when a picture was taken.  When we come upon an especially notable one, we would hold up the screen to the other person.  Look at this.  Do you remember when…?  And look at this.  Her eyes, her brows.  Her lips.  Isn’t she magical?  Danith would laugh at what we are doing.  “She is sleeping right there,” he would say, as he grabs my phone to send missing pictures of her to himself.  It is not lost on me what we are doing.  Danith tells me that Daffy’s and Kiri’s passings have helped us to appreciate Nora more, thus, to be better parents.  I am not sure if this is true.  I would like to think that I would savor Nora’s early morning giggles, and hungrily nibble on her fingers while she is sleeping regardless.  But I do know this: her sister’s and brother’s stories started hers.

Bouncing, bouncing…  Nora finally turns her eyes up at Aiden, but she doesn’t smile.  She offers him her hand, though, and he tries to grab it as he flies up and down on his mother’s knees.  His mother is deliriously grateful, too.  I know this because she has shared with me her story.  Oftentimes, when I am strolling down a trail or waiting in a checkout line at the grocery store and a parent and her child appear, I can’t help but wonder.  What is her story?  This woman in the black yoga pants, whose toes are painted a bright red and whose son is dosing off in the shopping cart, is more than this moment that she, and I, occupy.  What brought her to this place in her life?  I take my eyes off Nora and her friend and allow them to brush around the circle, and the many books that this room holds.

A Happy Moment

One night two weeks ago Danith asked if I was happy.  We were sitting in a corner of our bedroom, with Nora sleeping in her bassinet several feet away. To keep the room dark for her, as recommended by the articles I had read, we left on only a light from the adjoining bathroom. Through the ease with which Danith had asked me his question, it was undeniable that he was filled with this emotion. I paused, considering how honest I should be with him.

Happiness is when the spirit lifts and the heart beats without fear or worries or yearning. I remember when my heart beat in such a manner. Once was during the summer before I became pregnant with Daffy, when Danith and I were vacationing on an island. A photo of us posing for the camera, with the pink and orange sunset behind us, portrays how innocent and maybe foolish we were. We were nearing 15 years of marriage, but we still felt young and protected from unrelenting pain. Another time was when I was pregnant with Daffy, when Danith asked me to dance with him, and I did, with our daughter snuggled in between us. I remember the maternity white shorts and red top I was wearing, so grateful that my bump was finally large enough for them. It was at about nine o’clock at night, and I was on my way to the almost-completed nursery to read to the growing baby inside me when Danith stopped me at the bedroom door and uncharacteristically asked me to slow dance with him. I gave him my hands, and we swayed to the music that played from his phone. On both occasions, there was no place I would have rather been, nothing I would have rather been doing. Believing that my life couldn’t fare any better, I wished for the moment to never end.

Finally, hesitantly, I answered Danith that I was.

But I still miss Daffy and Kiri, I said.

Of course, he said.

A few minutes later, we moved to our bed, staying above the covers, with Nora lying between us, still asleep. Danith’s legs were stretched out, his feet pointing at the draped windows. Mine pointed in the opposite direction at the door. He and I locked eyes before turning our gaze down at Nora, whose swaddled body I had gingerly lifted out of the bassinet and set on the down comforter. Her arms ran parallel on either side of her pudgy face, a formation I often jokingly called her surrender stance, as in, “I give up. No more crying. You’re right, I want sleep.” I inched my nose closer to her head and breathed her in, and then I planted butterfly kisses on her round, cabbage-like cheeks. Quietly Danith and I ran through the Nora List that we had unintentionally created, and had been repeating almost every night. We remarked on how much she had grown. We were proud of the amount of formula she was taking daily, of the number of diapers she was dirtying. We spoke about her mild and confident temperament, her cool attitude, and her brilliant smile, one we deemed to be more beautiful — with more depth and character — than most other babies’ (we were certain that we weren’t being biased). We were astonished at her level of curiosity already, which was clearly evident at the river earlier that evening, when of her own accord, at just two months old, she leaned forward from her grandmother’s hold to study the waddling ducks around us. Then we giggled at the chunkiness of her arms and legs. After I pointed out that her head was large enough for two babies, I had to order Danith to hush because he had been laughing a bit too loudly.

I always knew that I would never stop missing Daffy and Kiri, but I thought I would miss them less after Nora, I said.

You love them, Danith said.

Yes, I know, but I thought that, with Nora here, I would not miss them as much, you know?

I know, he said.

I set my arm across Nora’s tummy, scooting my body even closer to hers. I made sure not to press my arm down too hard on her abdomen. I do my best to follow safe sleep recommendations, so she has been sleeping separately from us. I crave falling asleep with her in my arms, though, and many times Danith has offered to stay up on watch duty so that my hunger could be fulfilled. I have been imagining Nora’s body folding into mine, of her warm bum being pushed into my stomach and her head being secured under my chin, but I don’t trust Danith not to accidentally fall asleep during such a proposed watch.

This is the best, Danith said under his breath. He was referring to us both lying on our bed watching our baby, her lips pursed and once in a while twitching. I unfolded Nora’s curled fingers and stroked each fragile one, tempted to place them in my mouth. She was just inches away from me, but she was still difficult to believe. I agreed with Danith — sharing that space with him and her was the best. What would I have rather been doing at that moment? Nothing.

I Have Not Forgotten

She breathes her warm, milky breath into the underside of my right cheek. In the past few minutes, she has been busy nudging her head on my shoulder a few centimeters to the left and then to the right. And then she starts the search all over again. Normally, she would push my head aside with a surprising force from her own crown. Tonight, though, her attempts at locating her sweet spot on me to rest herself is gentler.

With her body lying on mine and her feet tucked within my arms, I rock Nora in the glider that Danith and I purchased three years ago. As I sway our one-month-old daughter to sleep I look out across the dark room, through the opened blinds, and at the night beyond it. Our home is situated on a hill, so I can see the lights in the valley. I know what this chair signifies. I know, too, what the crib that it sits beside signifies. It has been a long 14-year path, and I am fortunate to finally be sitting down.

But I have not forgotten. A late night such as this used to be deafening lonely, the silence of it speaking of no hope. I would listen to the humming of the air conditioner and the oncoming train on the tracks three miles away, and the world couldn’t have been emptier. But even though I felt alone, I knew that I wasn’t. I was not alone in my aloneness, unfortunately. As I am cuddling Nora I let my mind find the friends whom I made after the passing of Daffy and then Kiri. Through written words only, we shared our hearts with no shame or regret. At the beginning, we regularly spoke about the unfairness of it all; then we seldomly brought up that word again. Fair? Trying to make sense of that idea became trite and infuriating, so I refrained from speaking it. But I have been thinking about that word lately. When I stay up late to listen to Nora purr in her sleep or when I watch her gazing at me in the morning, possibly negotiating in her budding mind who I am, I think about fair.

Nora has grown unsatisfied with her position. She lets out a soft yelp. Even in the darkness of the nursery, I can make out her features. Right now she is pursing her lips, exhaling a milky breath, and is pushing on my head as though it is a nuisance. I don’t make a sound, and allow my body to go limp, letting her use me as she sees fit. She wriggles herself down my chest and slides her head off my shoulder and south to my collarbones. She scrunches herself into a fetal position, her torso in the shape of a C. I picture her this way before she came into this world to me. As I am beginning to caress her back, I am melting. I am filled with so much gratitude that I am aching. I want to cry out. I press my hand into her purple pajamas with the white bunnies, feeling the tenderness and warmth of her skin underneath. I run my fingers in a circle on the back of her head. I squeeze each of her feet, imagining sucking on each one. I smell her face, the milky breath now reminiscent of a boxed cake mix. I want to hold my daughter, and this moment, forever. I know I am lucky. I know I am fortunate. But for a fleeting moment, my mind wanders back to my friends who are still trying and friends who have valiantly surrendered, and I want to tell them that I have not forgotten: it is not fair at all.

She Is Here

She is here. Routinely I smoothe her fine black hair that is already thick and long, suck on her chubby fingers that we used to see only in ultrasound pictures, kiss the bottom of her soft pink feet, and lift her tiny bum to my face. Still, these moments feel unreal. After we reaffirm for each other that our dream is finally a reality, Danith and I mumble these words: our living baby is here. As a confirmation.

Nora is her own individual self. I see this in how she uses her right hand to prop up her chin or cheek. In how she quietly smiles with her eyes closed, as though she is privy to a secret. In how she purses her lips in an O after a feeding. I don’t think about Daffy or Kiri at those times. But. But I do see her sister and brother in her. I saw it later on the night she entered our world, when I cradled her and admired her. The oversized cheeks are her brother’s. The pouty upper lip is her sister’s. A part of me questions my motive for bringing Daffy and Kiri into her. This is Nora — can’t she be separate from her passed siblings? Of course. But. But how could I remain silent about who she is? Those beautiful parts — and all the rest — make up her splendid self.

A voice whispers to me. It is light and constant, veiled in white, leaning over my shoulders, reassuring me. Loving Nora more than I could possibly love any of my children is okay. Loving her in abundance is quite all right. Loving her this way does not diminish my love for Daffy or Kiri. Loving her this way only allows me to love them even more. I think the quiet voice is my biological mother’s.

Nora, I am watching you nap. Your eyes are twitching to open. Your lips are dancing in twists and turns. Soon, I will lift you, tucking the crown of your head under my chin. And I will have to ask myself again if this is reality.