Willow turned five in February, but her due date was just last week (April 15th). My friend was asking me if it’s hard for me when her birthday rolls around given how rough her start was in the world.
So, I was asking myself that. I think that the answer is really complicated and it depends on the day. Mostly, though, I’m just incredibly grateful, so much so that the really terrible moments of her birth (and the worst christmas I’ve ever had) are fine, really. They don’t matter. Of course, I’m finding those links and reading them has me crying at my desk, so I guess it is still hard to think about. Blogging during that time helped.
Dr. Cohen is telling me about the two small holes in my daughter’s
heart. She’s asleep on a warming bed in the neonatal ICU, one day old,
seven weeks early and perfect. He says the fibers that make up the
heart muscle are long strands that cross over one another. Willow’s
heart has two spots where the fibers have somehow missed each other
leaving two small spaces where the blood seeps through. They are inside
her heart. She won’t need surgery; the holes should close on their own
within three months. I wonder if she’d have survived if the holes were
on an outer wall, and again count our blessings even though I’m not
feeling all that blessed.
The days pass unnoticed by me. I make trips down a cavernous long
hall lined with windows. At first someone pushes me in a wheelchair,
but as I gain strength and my c-section incision heals, I make the
journey on foot. I notice the sunshine, the rain, the thinnest crescent
moon over the mountains at sunrise, as I make my way from my room to my
daughter’s every three hours. My feelings are so raw that everything
looks more beautiful somehow.
At every visit I scrub my arms and hands, clean my fingernails, put
on a sterile gown. I find the door to her room and as I push down on
the handle and swing it open things are okay again. She’s connected to
all sorts of machinery. Her father and I hold her all wrapped up in
blankets and try not to get tangled in the cords that monitor her. Her
connection to us doesn’t trail from the bottom of her blankets, but it
is there and more real. My love for her is the most tender I can
imagine. She is strong and completely vulnerable. Leaving her at the
hospital after five days is hell.
I’m driving home alone on the night I was discharged after going
back for a visit. I’m thinking about Willow’s heart, and suddenly I
picture mine, unraveling from the bottom up, leaving a thin strand
floating behind me above the road. The end of it is connected to her,
tangled in the bottom of her blanket, looped around the IV tubing. I’m
crying so hard that I turn on a cd and try to make myself sing along so
I can focus. I need to drive and I can’t see or breathe. I drive and
move my mouth to the song, but only hoarse sobs will come. I reach my
driveway exhausted. As I drive back the next morning I gather up the
strand and reweave my heart, finishing as I hold her again, knowing
that the holes there won’t close until she comes home with us. . .
Now, though, she’s this little freckled girl with purple glasses.
I can say that no one has ever taught me more about what it means to love, or how scary it can be, or how much beauty there is in a life. So, while I do get emotional around her due date, [and also, while thinking about it now, dude, pass the goddamned tissues] it’s not so much because she had such trauma as a newborn and one-year-old, or because she wasn’t born at home, quietly, like I’d planned, into a quiet room of hushed voices like her sister was. I’m just so grateful. Not too long ago, I overheard someone my mother hadn’t seen in many years ask her how things were. She said, My life is an embarrassment of riches.
I think that even when I am thinking otherwise and throwing one of my oh-poor-me tantrums, I know that mine is, too. And I am grateful.