Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Day Four: Realization(s)

I know this is supposed to be a photo-a-day challenge, but to be honest, I have no photos from the period of time I want to talk about today. I looked in Instagram, Facebook and in my phone's camera roll and in a time where something of every day is recorded for all posterity, it's as if I lost a chunk of my life. There's a blank for a few days from the day we got Johanna's diagnosis and my life got derailed.

We saw two doctors that day and both of them basically reiterated the same things: the baby has a complex heart defect, she may not live beyond childhood, any surgery is high risk and would continue for life, do you want to terminate the pregnancy? If you do, you have to decide soon, or it would be past the legal term of 24 weeks.

At first, it seemed like Ivan and I were at complete odds about what to do. I couldn't comprehend the thought of terminating the pregnancy, and while he agreed, his priority was the quality of her life and not subjecting the baby to a lifetime of surgeries and medications. That only left us with one solution: to have the baby and bring her home on comfort measures. But how many parents can sit back and watch their child die, knowing that something could be done, even if it would prolong her suffering?

I remember going to bed that night blanketed in grief. There were no more words to be said between Ivan and I and he held me and we cried and we prayed. I fancy myself a writer and a wordsmith, but that night I could barely find the vocabulary to say anything to God. I pleaded, and promised and committed my faith, but in my heart the only words I truly had were "God, why?" Long after Ivan fell asleep, I lay with my face pressed into a damp pillow, crying for the child we had not yet lost.

The next morning I woke up when the baby kicked, and for a few blessed seconds, with the sun shining into our room, I forgot about the nightmare that was the day before. Then reality set in and it was like a slap in the face. I remember that feeling--the roiling taste of fear and grief mixing into one overwhelming flavor of panic that blooms from the very center of your being and turns to ashes on your lips, leaving a tingly and numb sensation--clear as day, because I still taste it in my mouth whenever I imagine losing Johanna.

I went for an amniocentesis that day, a test that would show if the baby's heart defect was accompanied by any chromosomal abnormalities, like Downs Syndrome or worse, Trisonomy 13 or 18, death sentences. I had to be warded for the day after a sample of my amniotic fluid was taken (I have never seen a larger needle), and I was given a bed in the 6-bed maternity ward at Parkway East.

My mother had drawn the curtains around me, but not before I noticed the nurses wheeling in a newborn to the woman in the adjacent bed who had just given birth that morning. Anyway, even if I couldn't see her, I could hear the celebration going on, the endless stream of relatives cooing over the boy's full head of hair, his sparkling eyes that looked just like daddy's. And I thought, how could one flimsy curtain so decisively draw the line between joyous new life and the stink of fear and death? As much as I wanted to protect the daughter in my womb from the world, my mother was trying to protect me from the pain of watching others celebrate what I might not be able to. My mother was the first to break. She hugged me and cried and told me it was alright to cry.

I only had one visitor that day, one of my oldest friends, Germaine, who responded the way I really needed at that time. She didn't try to comfort me with Bible verses or trite consolations, nor offer me solutions to a problem that had none. She cried with me and told me honestly that she didn't know what to say. She showed up at the hospital and distracted me from wallowing in self pity.

In the days after that, we went for the mandatory abortion counseling. We met our church pastors. I was brought up in a strong Christian household and I knew in my mind that abortion was wrong. But when push came to shove, I wavered. I went so far as to imagine the whole process, and I asked if I would be allowed to see her and hold her once it was done.

I'd like to say there was one precise moment when I made a decision and pulled myself together and lived happily ever, but the truth is that realization, like grief, comes in stages. By that time, I had already begun feeling the butterfly movements of the baby, and I realized she was a fully formed being that I had no right to choose whether she should live or die. When the amnio results came back clean, I realized I would have kept her and loved her even if it didn't.

In my fear and uncertainty, I stopped planning for after the baby was born. No planning the nursery design, no shopping for clothes and things. But I came home one day and found a whole stack of the littlest baby clothes and mittens and booties, all freshly laundered by my mother, and I realized that it was okay to cheerfully anticipate the arrival of my baby.

The first Sunday after the diagnosis, I dreaded going to church. I was afraid of what people might ask, and I was also afraid of having to pretend like my world wasn't shattered. Most of all, I was afraid that I would be too angry with God and He would know. I always thought those people who still praised God in adversity and personal crises were so heroic, like the guy who wrote Amazing Grace after his whole family died, or the Hillsong worship leader who sang Desert Song after her miscarriage. But when it finally came my turn, I realized that it's not hard or heroic to turn to God when He is all the hope you have left. It's desperation and it leaves you broken and humble.

I still grapple with the whys and the unfairness of the whole situation, but as each realization before helped me grow and move past a certain stage of grief to acceptance, I know that there are many more realizations to come that will answer all the lingering questions I still have and maybe, just maybe, see God's greater purpose for it all.

Photos from my bump shoot with Zap! Photography



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