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.