Love Will Guide Me

On my nightstand is a book describing the benefits of giving baby massages. Supposedly, my gentle touches on her skin would be like tender words spoken into her ears. The cover is soft pink and gray, and the baby on it has bright blue eyes and a rosebud for lips. I also have a book describing optimal feeding and sleep patterns. The author of it stresses the importance of play time preceding sleep time. And I have a book explaining signs of illnesses for which I should seek immediate help.

In addition to reading books, Danith and I attended an infant CPR class and a Baby Basics class, where we, with seven other couples, practiced changing a diaper and bathing a life-size baby doll. (I was relieved to learn that a newborn does not require a bath daily.) At night, when I can’t fall asleep, I quietly (so not to wake Danith) shop on-line for organic swaddles on clearance. Since the human race hasn’t decreased in population, I surmise that the chemicals in our clothes and in our food can’t be that harmful, but a part of me still doesn’t want to chance the risks. So, organic onesies and burp cloths for the baby it is! I also check in with friends, asking for recommendations for items such as baby tubs and co-sleepers. I received many different suggestions on both, which resulted in several weeks of deliberation before I was able to make my decisions.

I understand that many correct and right ways exist for caring for a baby. When I was about five years old, I saw a mother turn the top drawer of her dresser into a “crib” for her newborn. As a teenager, I babysat for a couple who fed their three sons formula straight from the refrigerator. As an adult, I knew a mother who gave her daughter a “rub down” after each bath, which was comprised of a generous slather of lotion and gentle massages. I also know of mothers who are adamant about feeding their children only breast milk. All of these babies thrived. I believe their mothers, although different in their care methods, loved and cherished them wholly. I’ve been imagining these days of preparing for our living baby for so long, maybe even by the hour in the last three years. But after months of preparation and pep talks from my friends, and of knowing what I know about the multitude of right ways for caring for a new life, I’m still worried. Do I feed our daughter warm formula or room-temperature formula? What if I try all the formulas on the shelves and on-line and she refuses them all? What if I misinterpret a GI issue for colic? What if I allow her to sleep for too long? And what do I say to her about Daffy and Kiri?

Until the last couple of months, I hadn’t considered having to explain Daffy and Kiri to our living baby. Danith and I still have a few years to work on this, but the desire to do it right from the beginning is constantly in the back of my mind. What is the right way? What does it look like…sound like? Few books on this topic exist. I can’t imagine hiding Daffy and Kiri from our new baby, so how can we help to weave them into her life without scaring or scarring her? I am worried that she might become afraid of death and that the quality of her life might suffer because of that fear. Also, I am worried about her feeling as though we are forcing her passed siblings on her, thrusting them at her, pushing them down her throat. I am afraid this might cause her to question her place in our lives or feel that she is living in their shadow. So how many framed pictures of Daffy and Kiri may we or should we leave up, and how many times in a day may we or should we say their names?

I go through most days apprehensive about how I will care for our new daughter. I see myself fumbling with the bottles and struggling with the car seat. I see myself staying up in the middle of the night to check on her breathing. I see myself second-guessing putting up Daffy’s and Kiri’s Christmas ornaments. Many mothers have walked on this path that I’m about to embark, and they triumphed. What did they have in their arsenal of methods and techniques for help? What is the common denominator among these successful mothers? It’s got to be love, right? That innate and instinctive love. I will remind myself that most mothers — especially the ones who walked the earth before the existence of books and classes and the Internet — prevailed in caring for their babies due to their love for their babies. Thus, love will guide me. I will have to rely on that — the love I have for our baby — to guide me in finding the right ways to care for her.

A Dose of Joy

At my first surgery about 12 years ago, I informed my doctor and then, later, the anesthesiologist, that I was afraid of anesthesia awareness.  (I had watched an old Oprah episode about this, where one of the guests described feeling the hot blade of a knife cutting into her abdomen during her surgery.)  The anesthesiologist knew I was going into my first operation, so in his attempt to comfort me, he said something like, “It will be okay.”  I wasn’t satisfied with his fleeting attempt.  When the anesthetist visited me next, I confided that I didn’t think her boss had taken my concern seriously.  A few minutes later, the anesthesiologist reappeared and reassured me that he would give me an extra dose of anesthesia as a precaution.  My fear of possible pain slowly subsided, albeit not completely.  True to his word, though, I did not remember (or feel) the operation; the only recollection I have is of me laughing while they wheeled me away through a set of double doors.

Today, twelve years later, and after many operations later, the nurses are prepping me for another surgery, this one having to do with a dislocated disc at my jawline that prevents me from opening my mouth fully.  The last time I was lying on a hospital bed was after I had delivered Kiri prematurely.  During the couple of days following the surgery, Danith stayed with me in the hospital room for as long as he could, but on one morning he had to return to campus to teach his class.  While alone, I turned on my side and pushed my knees up, and I held our son’s body in the crook of my left arm.  I pretended that he was alive, and then I pretended that I had passed with him.  No nurse came to check on me while I cried, and I did not blame them.  Our assigned nurse was attentive, but I think she knew that there was nothing she could do for me.  I continued to cry for our son, wishing that our reality would be different.  I wanted so much to know how it would feel to walk away from the hospital with a baby in my arms.  I considered the many women down the hall who would soon make their exits from the hospital with their living babies.  I smelled Kiri and kissed his head.

Today, after the nurse prepares the port on the back of my right hand for the IV, she tells me that it won’t be much longer.  I thank her, and when she walks away I curl up on my left side.  I am no longer afraid of anesthesia awareness; additionally, I am not afraid of blood draws or IV ports.  But my fear of possible pain persists, and I’ve learned that there is no doctor to mitigate this fear with an extra dose of anesthesia.  I wish I were a strong person who mightily declares that a life without pain is a life without happiness; that to know one, she must know the other.  So bring it on!

Being a petite woman, there remains a lot of room on my hospital bed.  While I lie alone, I let a screen slide across my mind.  Sitting in bed with me are our children: Daffy, Kiri, and the baby.  Daffy is wearing a simple white dress, her hair brushed down to her chin.  Kiri might be wearing blue pants, but I’m not sure because the colors are a bit hazy.  He remains a doting little brother.  And Baby Girl–she must not be too small since she is able to sit up with her sister and brother.  My babies are piled on the bed with me, and they are whispering among themselves, once in a while peering at me with concerned eyes.  I tell them that I am okay and for them not to worry about me.  Once they are satisfied with my answer, they return to their playing.  Even though the colors are subdued, the picture before me is clear, and I could watch it for hours.  I think about the words I exchanged with Danith earlier, when I said that I had told the nurse about our baby.  His immediate response was, “Which of the babies?”

Quietly, I profess that knowing pain has allowed me to feel the joy that comes from seeing our children play together, albeit the scene is only in my head.

Today’s Plan

I’ve reorganized the nursery closet three times already in the last two months. This afternoon, I transferred the clothes from the right end back to the left end. I think it is better to keep the baby’s onesies, dresses, socks, and swaddle blankets on the left side of the closet and to reserve the right side for storing bulky items like play mats and play gyms and surplus boxes of diapers.

I am pleased with the garments I have carefully selected for the baby. Sassy iron-on phrases and glitter not being my style, I am delighted with the simple pants and billowy dresses hanging from the rod above the dresser. One particular favorite pair of pants that is white with pink hearts is in a newborn size, which is only about the length of one of my petite hands. It is hard to fathom our daughter’s bum and legs fitting into something so tiny, but it is precisely that reason that I swoon over these pants. I also adore the red patent Mary Janes that is a size 5 — I’m not sure at what age a baby or a toddler can fit into size 5 shoes, but they were on sale, and I had to buy them.

Suddenly my heart pounds in my ear and my chest hardens as I admire the modest wardrobe and the nook of the nursery that will eventually be transformed into a reading area. My heart pitter-patters as fear and worry begin to slink across my mind. I have to purposely practice mindfulness in order to steady my breathing. I know I am dispensing too much effort into organizing this space that is our unborn child’s. I have heard words of wisdom: a baby doesn’t need much, just love. I know. For a long time, I think, I have known this. My love for our baby is a given, though, a result of no effort.

It is my Achilles heel that I am able to envision my idea of perfection and to strive for it. Thus, it is in my nature to create a plan for execution so that the vision could unfold into reality. And that is why, I am almost certain, that my heart pounds and pitter-patters. I have learned that a good plan doesn’t guarantee a good outcome. As I picture the future, I sort the bags of muslin swaddles and organic kimono tops, I realign the picture frames, I patch holes and repaint the polka dots on the wall, and I tuck and pull the linen on the guest bed that is intended to complement the crib. I do all of this while fully aware that my dream of our baby occupying this space one day very soon could still not be realized.

The solid concrete on which my feet touched as a child is no longer in existence. Instead, I am walking on a tightrope. I wobble on it every day. The air below me is drafty. I feel that I ought to focus on my goal, but seeing the distance between there and here heightens my fear of falling. So, I will try not to look too far ahead. Rather, I will focus on the now, and I will allow myself the exhilaration and the elation that come from playing with our daughter’s apparel, like her soon-to-be-worn coming home outfit and her pink receiving blanket with a scalloped edge.

Regardless of Age or Stage

On Sunday morning Danith visited Daffy and Kiri at the river without me. I hadn’t known about the trip until he texted me with pictures.

Danith and I experienced our first loss about eight years ago. We had gone in for several ultrasounds when the prognosis was not promising. The night before the final ultrasound, I lit the candles my friend gave me, and I prayed. I fervently prayed to God for a miracle. My body shook as I cried and prayed for this baby that my husband and I wanted. Danith found me in the room and sat on the floor with me, the candles before us on the table. I asked if he would pray with me. Surprisingly, he kept his eyes closed, while I continued to ask God for help.

The next morning our doctor told us with absolute positivity that, at about seven weeks along, we had no baby. There was no fetal pole, even after they had already given it ample time to form.  On our drive home, I was at peace. I felt that we had done all that we could for this baby — we had prayed to God. Our baby at that time was just not meant to be. Danith, however, was solemn. For the next few weeks and even once in a while in the years that followed, he spoke about that baby.

I changed the subject whenever Danith brought up the first miscarriage. It puzzled me that our embryo that couldn’t survive beyond seven weeks impacted him more strongly than it impacted me. He was a person of science — he must have understood that cells often stop dividing and multiplying or break down.  The body malfunctions, and life ends — the earlier, the better, the less suffering.

I would not share in his understanding until many years later, when Daffy and Kiri entered our lives to explain that life — no matter the age or stage — matters. In addition to the miscarriage from eight years ago and Daffy and Kiri, we experienced another loss. Similarly, at around seven weeks, our embryo that had come before Daffy, lost its heartbeat. A nurse later told me that the embryo was a “healthy male.” I make sure to remember this little boy and his possibilities.

Amidst the haziness of loss, Danith is still able to provide levity and laughter. He sometimes reminds me that I am no spring chicken, that we are, in fact, old fogeys with too many children to count.

In the text he wrote me on Sunday, Danith instructed me to look at the upper right corner of the second photo, where the sun was fighting through the clouds. Later he explained that the area was difficult to maneuver because of the thick fog and the river that had risen very high from the melting snow, muddying the boardwalk and especially our special spot. Even his shoes and pants were dirtied by the flood. The entire area had been completely foggy, but then the light suddenly emerged.

Reality in Beautiful Pieces

My friend is sitting at the end of the table across from the chair I am sitting in. The purplish long-sleeve cotton T-shirt she is wearing hugs her body and is radiant against her cream skin. The purple is nearing a deep blue shade, like a jewel. The new necklace hanging down her chest is also striking. I tell her that she looks beautiful. She thanks me but shrugs off the compliment with the rolling of her eyes.

We are waiting in a tight room at the doctor’s office, here for a routine check-up, listening for our doctor’s footsteps out in the hallway. On the walls around us are flyers about flu-shots and notices about insurance. Propped up on a work bench is a flip chart with a diagram of a uterus.

I am comfortable enough with my friend that I don’t consider myself to be staring at her, even when I might be, in fact, staring at her. I sense that she feels the same way about me. So, my eyes trail down to her round belly, where my husband’s and my baby is growing. I am watching for any twitches from underneath her jewel-tone shirt. My friend’s belly remains unperturbed.

About every few nights, I would text my friend and ask about our daughter. “Has she been moving?” Whenever Danith is curious and anxious himself, he tells me to ask her the same question but not to say that the question is from him. I don’t listen because I find his shyness to be funny. Whenever my friend receives such a text, she would write back, “Baby girl was moving earlier. And Danith can ask me anything! LOL!” My friend, who is carrying and caring for our baby, is beautiful in that way. When we first talked about the possibility of her becoming our gestational carrier, some of her early words were, “I want this to be your pregnancy.”

And it really has been my pregnancy — minus the nausea, the food aversion, the fatigue, and the sleep-position difficulty. I get to see our baby on the ultrasound machine and hear her heartbeat via a Doppler at the appointments. I even saw her when she was merely five days along: a wisp, a speck, actually smaller than a speck. I saw when the nubs of her arms and legs began to burgeon. My friend craves ice when pregnant; I crave ice in most of my drinks and always ask for extra. She is the only person I know who is an ice connoisseur like I am. We prefer for our ice to have texture and dimension to it — no slushy ice for us, thank you — we are fans of the cubes with the hole in the center because they allow for our teeth to crunch down on them while giving us a bit of resistance. One time my friend sent me a short video of her round belly. Our growing daughter was very active that evening and some of her movements were strong enough to be seen from the outside, so my friend recorded the short jam session and sent it to me. I had to watch the clip on my phone carefully, though, following my friend’s finger that was pointing to the bottom right corner of her roundness, but I finally saw my daughter’s jabs — I saw the quickness with which my friend’s stomach rose and dropped. Quivering, that was what it was. I saw my friend’s belly quiver because my baby within it was tumbling. That is why I am staring at my friend’s belly now, in case I might glimpse a movement of my daughter.

I tell my friend that I like the pendant she is wearing. It is a silver ball hanging from a long chain, the pendant resting at the top of her belly that protrudes beyond her breasts. Her voice lifts in volume as she looks up from the ball. “This? Did I not tell you about this?” I shake my head. And so she tells me. If she recalls correctly, the pendant is a Mayan harmony ball. A pregnant woman wears it, and as she moves, the ball rings softy like a chime, soothing and calming the baby. After the birth, a mother would continue to wear the necklace (the ball chiming away with her movements), and the belief is that the baby would recognize the comforting sound and associate it with her mother. “I am giving this to you after the delivery,” my friend says.

As a little girl who yearned for a storybook family or even as a young adult woman who was ready to start her family, I never imagined that my living baby — hopefully, my living baby — would come into this world with the help of another woman. That was never a piece of my reality. I don’t think it is any young girl’s. But with the help of my beautiful friend, it will finally be a piece of mine.