For Crys

I sat there, glued to the end of the couch, holding onto my new baby like she was a life vest, the light from the end table next to me bathing us in a soft, yellow hue. There were other people around, although it was late in the evening. My sister in law? My mother? I can’t remember.

My sons, too, were around. Perhaps it was just the big one. The small one, based upon my memory, should have been in bed, although perhaps he was not.

Softly, I rubbed the top of my new girl’s head, breathing in that new baby smell. Each time my hand brushed that bump on the back of her head, that hard, fluid bump, the tears formed, my eyelashes grew heavy and I began to moan. I wept into her, so scared of the future. We’d been discharged from the NICU with very little beyond a scary diagnosis and a follow-up card for a neurologist who didn’t take our insurance.

The diagnosis was new, and I refused to use Dr. Google to make myself feel worse. I knew what a “posterior encephalocele” was. I just didn’t know how dire a diagnosis that was. Until later. Much, much later.

I’d bought myself some books – pre-nightmare – to read during those boring hours I planned to nurse my new baby. Word searches, books, and a potential maid service – all things I’d busied myself thinking about, feeling they were very important, until the doctor had said the words that forever changed me – “Becky, there’s something wrong with your baby’s head.”

Now it all seemed so stupid. Who gives a shit about spot-free mirrors when you’re not sure if your new baby will be celebrating a birthday?

But I could not bring myself to talk, to open up, to any of those around me. I knew it would be in vain – if I opened my mouth, I’d just begin to cry those awful, gut-wracking sobs anyway. Lord knows I didn’t need to cry any more – I could barely see through my shiny, swollen eye sockets.

Instead, I reached down into my thoughtfully packed hospital bag and pulled out a book. I’d bought two – a luxury considering I was about to have two under two – The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and Revolutionary Road. I had no way of knowing that these were not books that someone with a medically fragile baby should be reading (one is about a mother who delivers two babies, one with Down Syndrome, who is taken by a nurse and raised separately from her brother and the other about an unhappy housewife in the 1950’s who dies after attempting to give herself an abortion).

I had no way of knowing how horrifying my choices of book were, but there I had them. And I read them both.

In the quiet of that cold February night, I read them both.

It was the beginning of what I called The Middling Place. The space between learning how quickly your world can be turned on it’s head and learning how to live sideways. The space between diagnosis and reality.

The place where you wait.

The place where, in those quiet moments, your heart feels heavy in your chest, the demons and monsters threatening your every move. The Fear a permanent resident in the back of your own skull.

The Middling Place is a lonely place – a secret place, a land of tears, inhabited by you and you alone. Other people may drift nearby, stuck in their own Middling Place, but yours is a solitary land. Some moments, they’re filled with the purest of joy. Others with an unending sorrow.

It’s not always a bad place, The Middling Place, but in those quiet moments, the voice in your head reminds you of how fucked up this really is, your skin crawls and your guts threaten to expel themselves any way they can. You’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole, Alice, and why yes, I’d like a cup of tea – two lumps, no milk, if you please.

And you wait.

22 thoughts on “The Middling Place

  1. Yes. I don’t know how I can possibly add anything else. Because this is exactly how it feels. The Middling Place is a place unlike any other… absolutely surreal.

    (also your book choices reminded me of the book we got from the oncologist the day after diagnosis — was so extremely depressing for the most part. Made the crying far worse. And yet, I

    Hugs to you. Now and always…

  2. It’s amazing how a certain type of book or movie seems to gravitate towards us in uncertain times — even though we don’t realize it. I read Revolutionary Road during a rough patch as well. Whoa. And somehow I thought it would be a good idea to watch “The Hours” while recovering from yet another miscarriage. Perhaps these books and films are merely vehicles for our tears, a way to cry for someone else, without admitting that the tears are for ourselves.

    Anyway, beautifully written piece, AB. I hope today finds you filled with much love and peace and far from your middling place.


  3. I’ve been there and have the scars from crawling back out to prove it. I have nothing but my shoulders for you to step on if you need them to get out. I’m hoping this finds you in a much better place.

  4. I too spent some time in the middling place, once for six months while pregnant with my second daughter- after age 35 and convinced by the amniocentisis that she had a severe form of down’s syndrome and trying to prepare for that. The second time, for thankfully only a week while I thought I was going to have to have brain surgery (and die on the table, because my imagination gets the best of me)! Turns out, it was a kind of calcified tumor that basically amounts to a rock in my head! But for one week, I was convinced that I’d be leaving my two precious daughters and I couldn’t stop crying. I can appreciate, but only imagine the horrible pain that you have survived. And you have survived – Yeayh you!!

  5. You are amazing…and if I had even the slightest doubt (which I didn’t) about where to send a friend who is hurting right now, I know to send her the link to this post. Thank you for you!

  6. Once again, you’ve put beautiful, descriptive words together to describe something heart wrenching. I don’t think you realize just what a talented writer you are, my friend. {{{Hugs}}} and I hope you never find yourself stuck in the middling place again.

  7. Becky, I loved your well written description of middling. I see you sitting by the muted light with baby held tightly. I feel your emptiness, uncertainty, hope. Keep writing my friend. Let it all out. Amen Amelia <3. Mommy loves you.

  8. Oh my! Kristin said it…… the ability to describe something heartwrenching with beautiful descriptive prose. That is what brings tears to my eyes. You are very talented mz becky! Burn rubber away from that middling place.

  9. I know this must have been a difficult piece to write, but you describe the Middling Place with such vivid, horrifying detail that it seems almost reachable to those who have never gone through a cold and lonely February night. With no answers and a lot of questions…fear becomes your friend. Beautifully written.

  10. I love that you’ve given a name to a place I’ve known all too well. I’m amazed at how you manage to describe perfectly things I can’t even begin to. Hang in there, sweetie. Hopefully that Middling Place will stay far, far away.

  11. Thank you Becky, for giving the space where I am currently living a name. It doesn’t matter that my son’s conditions aren’t as severe as your darling Amelia’s were, as a parent, I still reside in this place between diagnosis and reality…..

  12. You describe it spot on. The Middling Place. I don’t like it much there, but it makes you realize how fucking great it feels to be on the other side.


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