Dear Alexander Joseph,
When I got pregnant with your brother, I don’t know that one person (besides your Aunt Ashley) said, “Congratulations.” Certainly it was a tumultuous time: I was twenty (not quite ready to be a parent but not so young that it was scandalous) , Ben’s father was less than kind to me, I was in college, and my life was, well, adrift. When I was 8 months pregnant, I waddled home, proverbial tail between my legs, to my parents who accepted my delicate condition. I find it hard to believe that anything that packs sixty pounds directly onto my ass is “delicate,” but alas, I digress.
While it was incredibly kind of your grandparents to take me in, it came with some fairly long, painful strings attached.
When your brother was born, I spent the better part of four years trying to make it right. The end goal was to have another baby the easy/ier way. A way that didn’t involve being undermined my parents. A way that didn’t involve being treated like I was, very possibly, the stupidest person on the planet. A way that allowed me to feel like I was, in fact, a parent.
Your brother, well, he’s different. He’s on the autistic spectrum somewhere, and as a baby, he wanted nothing to do with me. I was turning my life into something that could make him proud, and he’d barely allow me to hold him. It didn’t change much as he grew – he was aloof, distant, heartbreaking. They have therapies available for autistic children, but none for the parents; parents who crave such things as a display of love in a way that’s easily understood. It’s never been that your brother didn’t love me, it’s simply that he shows it in a much more different way.
Finally, after graduating nursing school, getting married and moving your brother, father and I into a real house with our name on it, it was time for me to finally try for my next goal: another baby. All of that time I spent in school, working full-time, running my ass around to get graduated, all I wanted was to have another baby.
Month after month we tried and tried. Month after month, my heart broke into a zillion tiny pieces as I stared at that pee-stick, willing it to show me something – an evaporation line, anything. And month after month, I wept as the lily white stick stared back at me, mocking me. Pregnant bellies began to make me furious as I looked into fertility treatments. I was beyond confused – I’d gotten pregnant with Ben while on the pill and barely having The Sex – certainly this was bound to be easier.
Eventually, one Friday night, I took a pregnancy test while drinking a tall vodka/Diet and chain-smoking cigarettes (not at the same time, I’m not that coordinated). I was hoping to get the disappointment out of the way so I could enjoy the rest of my weekend (read: cry like a weenie).
When the digital test I’d just bathed in my urine popped up a “PREGNANT,” I actually said to aloud, “No fucking way.” I brought it down to show your father, who had been waiting for me to return in hysterics, and we both stared at it, bewildered. We’d finally done it.
The very next day, your father drove to the hardware store and painted your bedroom a nice soft yellow – niftily covering the barfy pink walls. He was so very proud to be having a baby.
It was the next week when the panic began. I’d somehow managed to get everything in my life right: I had a five-year old who was happy and healthy, I had a husband who treated me with respect, I had my very own house, a degree – with honors – and a life. It seemed too good to be true.
So when I began to spot fairly heavily around week 7, I just knew that my luck had run out. I couldn’t be so lucky; I just couldn’t – hadn’t I learned that by now?
It was a subchorionic haematoma, the US tech said, my head turned away from the US screen as I awaited her words. Look, she said, as I saw the flickering of that strong heart on the screen, that’s your baby.
And it was.
On March 30, 2007, after months spent miserably on the couch (prepartum depression is an ASSHOLE), I was admitted to the hospital to have you. All I wanted, I confessed tearfully to your father, was a baby who loved me. And after a whopping three pushes, there you were. You opened your mouth and began to scream. I don’t think you stopped without a boob in your mouth for a solid year after that.
I couldn’t have been happier.
You showed me what unconditional love felt like. It was the first time I’d experienced that type of love, and it made me whole in ways I didn’t know were broken.
So to you, my second son, the one who has made me whole, I wish you the very happiest of happy birthdays.
I got an IM from my friend Kat yesterday. That, in and of itself isn’t particularly noteworthy – I get IM’s from such good, clean chaps and lasses as “bigdick764″ and “babiecherie73″ who are kind enough to direct me to their websites where I can “see more pictures.”
Kat, however, isn’t a spammer. Or, at least I don’t think she is. I mean, I went to Seattle or one of those other states that aren’t Chicago to visit her and her daughter and she didn’t LOOK like a spammer. But I guess she could’ve Sharpied my back while with a website name or something – I didn’t look.
Yesterday, her IM said something to the effect of, “OMG I MISSES OF YOU.” Which sounds like improper English, but compared to the shit I normally IM, it’s practically the Queen’s English. I responded in turn, I too, missed of her.
“Can you believe it?” She screeched through my computer.
“What?” I asked, clearly distracted by dancing kitty videos and the proper spelling of “Sharpie.”
“I’m thirty and I’m working as a photographer!” She announced.
“Can you believe it? We MADE it!” She continued.
I sat there, stunned.
I hadn’t thought about how far we’d come – I was too busy keeping up with the day-to-day life and dramaz of Your Aunt Becky.
I met Kat when our babies – who look shockingly like sisters – were very small. Out of the blue, she IM’d me to tell me that she’d caught a grammatical error on my recentest blog post. While I’m normally annoyed by that – I mean, you’ve only caught ONE error? – Kat was fairly charming.
We became fast friends during a time in my life that I’d never quite felt so alone; so worthless, so miserable. I’d created this life for myself – 3 kids, 2 dogs, a house, a husband, and I’d never been more alone. I’d always known I would “do something” after I popped out the kids, but the unexpected crush of PTSD following Mimi’s birth made seeing the world as it was almost impossible.
Birthing a sick baby is one of the most isolating experiences I’ve been through – and Kat understood it. Her Avi is mere days apart from my Mimi, and while Avi was not born ill, Kat understood why it was hard for me to even walk outside some days. Days like that, she prayed for me. I’ve never understood people who were offended by that sort of thing – when someone prays for me, I find it an unexpected kindness.
She and I were both miserably trying to eke out a life for ourselves – she as a photog and me as a writer. I was consumed with writing a book – it was the only way I could see lending some legitimacy to my life; something I desperately craved – while she worked tirelessly overnights and on weekends to beef up her portfolio.
The months blew by us, both working desperately to “make it” and prove our worth to the outside world. Life happened around us. The publishing market crashed. Kat got laid off from her day job. We both scuttled around to reform our plans.
While my daughter grew and thrived, kicking her diagnosis in the ass, as she met and surpassed her every milestone, Kat’s husband, the father of her child, who was 27 years old, had a stroke while they slept. As doctors searched high and low to try and understand what had happened and why, Kat spent her days and nights alongside her husband, guiding him through rehab and therapy. She slept at the hospital on one of those uncomfortable chairs with their daughter, Amelia’s clone, Avi.
The diagnosis was a long time coming – Alpha-One Antitrypsin Deficiency - and when it did, it wasn’t good. It’s a rare genetic condition that has no cure – only management of the symptoms.
As she reeled with this news, her husband had an incurable genetic condition, the bad news kept coming – her daughter, my Mimi’s clone, she had Alpha-One Antitrypsin Deficiency as well.
It was my turn to pray. And I haven’t stopped. Kat saw me through some of the worst times of my life, and now, I’ve done the same for her.
And somehow, through all the bullshit, all of the drama, all of the other shit, Kat and I have emerged on the other side. We’re not the same people we once were, but who is?
Kat’s a full-time photog now. And I’m, well, I’m a writer. It seemed only appropriate that I learned yesterday that the book I contributed an essay to is now available on pre-order. It’s not my book, but it’s a book. And my words are in it. More importantly than any vain book ideas, I founded an (almost) non-profit organization for other people to tell their stories. I’ve used my nursing degree to create resources to help people learn about the things they’ve been through.
We’ve both come so far.
I can barely wait to see where we’ll go next.
Last night, I dragged The Daver and The Guy on my Couch outside to play with the two smaller kids – the big one, Ben, was off doing his chores. While Daver hid out in the tree-house with Amelia, Alex and The Guy on my Couch began to play a rousing game Alex called “Goomba,” which was, to the best of my knowledge, Dodge Ball with a Mario theme.
I sat nearby, weeding my rose garden, cursing myself for spraying anti-fungal shit on it too soon in the season, listening to them play.
After a half an hour, my eldest, Ben, burst out of the back door of the house like he was being chased by a particularly vicious washcloth.
“Oh. Em. Gee.” he sputtered, punctuation clearly evident in his speech, “THERE you are.”
I laughed at his vehemence, “Where’d you think we were?”
“I. DON’T. KNOW.” He staccato-ed out.
“Did you think we’d been abducted by alien ghosts or something?” I asked playfully.
“Mom,” he looked at me, hand on his hip, dead serious. “I’m SO over ghosts.”
He went over and got on the swing-set as Daver took Amelia up to bed. (Big) Ben and Alex continued to play their bizarre game, giving each other 1-Up’s whenever they’d get hit with the ball. Dave soon joined me on the patio, my roses long weeded.
“I can’t believe you’re going to spoil my kids,” Ben semi-hollered from the swings.
Without missing a beat, I replied, “It’s called payback, my son.”
(He’s referring to a conversation I had with him threeish years ago wherein I told him how excited I was to spoil his kids when he got older. I listed out, in no particular order, all of the various ways I’d planned on spoiling his kids rotten. He finds it hilarious.)
(I’ve learned, for those of you playing along at home, that certain kids on the autistic spectrum will vividly remember conversations and events that occurred many years ago and bring them up in conversations as though they happened yesterday. I only wish he were so dedicated to remembering to wash his hands after cleaning up the cat boxes)
He hollered happily, “Oh MOM! You can’t give my kids candy all the time!”
“We won’t,” Daver teased. “We’ll do pizza too. Lots of pizza.”
“Oh DAD,” Ben giggled before he yelled, “YOU CAN’T DO THAT.”
“Uncle Ben will buy them tons of video games, too,” The Guy on my Couch chimed in. “Especially the kinds you don’t want them to play.”
“BIG BEN,” my son hollered, laughing so hard he nearly toppled off the swing, “NO! YOU CAN’T DO THAT.”
“Before you drop your kids off, I’ll buy them each a five pound bag of sugar and dump a can of Mountain Dew in it,” I contained. “I’ll give ‘em that to drink before you pick them up!”
“What if my wife doesn’t like that?” Ben giggled, still swinging.
“I will be the one choosing your wife for you, Ben,” I said, as sternly as I could. Dave and Big Ben burst out laughing, “THAT’S gonna go over well,” Daver said.
“Sorry I can’t date you,” Big Ben chimed in, “My Mom says your name is stupid – and I can’t date girls with stupid names.”
The laughter woke up the birds trying to sleep in the big pine tree in my backyard.
“Okay,” my son said, still laughing, “What if my wife doesn’t want kids?”
“That’s okay,” I reassured him. “You can BUY kids off eBay. Or the gypsies.”
He laughed and laughed and laughed.
“When I grow up, I’m going to work at Band Back Together dot Com with you guys. And then I’ll tell the REAL story,” my son countered.
“We got editors for that sorta thing, Boy,” The Guy On My Couch (Big Ben) bantered.
Back and forth we lobbed it until it grew dark and the wind began howling, indicating that it was, at long last, bedtime for kids.
“Alex,” my son said conspiratorially to his brother as they walked into the house together, “be careful. Mom might make you buy kids.”
“I want a Yoshi – not babies,” Alex replied.
Touche, my (second) son.