02 August 2012


My mind keeps going back to that night I was in labor with him.

Contractions were picking up and it wasn't long before I wasn't able to joke through them anymore. I closed my eyes, breathing through them hard, rocking my hips through the pain that mounted mounted mounted, and then dissolved. I went back and forth between lying down, sitting on the birthing ball, walking the halls. When I walked, a contraction would come and I would lean against the cool white wall, pressing my forehead against my folded arms while James rubbed my low back, diligently applying pressure where it hurt.

processed_ewans birth
17 September 2010
(I'm sure there are women who look positively adorable while laboring in hospital gowns. I am not one of them.)

Once, while wandering over the white linoleum tiles through bare hospital hallways, past the rooms of other laboring women, we passed the nurses station. Three or four of the maternity ward nurses were huddled around a computer screen, clicking on links, mumbling the words they read on the screen. Looking at diagrams. My eyes couldn't help but note the search results on the Google page. And I had seen plenty of those diagrams over the last several months.

"Tetralogy of Fallot"

Penciled pictures of little hearts, arteries too narrow, blood cells lining up single file to get through. Holes where they shouldn't be, plumbing out of place.

One of the nurses had told me earlier that she remembered it being covered briefly in her nursing training, but couldn't remember the specifics. We've never had a Tetralogy of Fallot baby here before, she told me.

His name is Ewan, I thought. And he is more than his heart defect.

I suddenly felt like I was at the center of a circus sideshow. Instead of the bearded lady or the man who swallowed swords, come see the baby who, from the moment he leaves the womb, will need to fight for his life. Come take a look at the mother who will hand her newborn over to strange arms that take him away to be poked, bagged, tubed. Come see the father who won't hold his son until he's about to slip away.

I had months of practice carrying the diagnosis around like a heavy iron ball, and I hadn't quite become accustomed to its weight. Truth is, it's just as awkward nearly two yeas later.

Before the diagnosis, I took for granted that I would be just like every other pregnant lady I knew: a healthy, normal babe -- one with all his limbs and phalanges, everything in good working order. Leaving the sonographer's office with a beaming face, first fuzzy black-and-white baby pictures proudly in hand, setting about to buy appropriately-colored clothing and planning the nursery decor. I didn't want to be different -- at least not like this, when "different" meant life-threatening. When different was a liability.

To some degree for most of my life, I've struggled to balance the tension between standing out and fitting in. Like just about anyone, I imagine, I wanted to stand out and be unique but at the same time, feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. Wandering those halls, I felt like I was in limbo, a no-man's-land hanging precariously high over a bottomless cavern between the two. Everything had already changed, and it was about to change some more, regardless of whether or not everything would come out the way we hoped it would.

I'm still wandering those halls, feeling that unwelcome and sometimes menacing sense of different. This time I carry Austen in my arms. I smile at her and I'm asked again if she's my first. No, I say. She's our second. 

And almost no one asks about him. If I say nothing, they see me just like any other mother of two who brought both her babies home, tra la la la. If I say that he was born and that he died, I'm in that hallway again, my difference on display behind glass, lights in motion around the perimeter of the viewing window. The latter is awkward and painful. But the former simply isn't true. Perhaps in that moment before I say the truth out loud, I sense the chance to grab at that moment of possibility in the mind of the other person -- that moment where everything could be normal, that moment before everything changed.

I shift my weight on my feet, ungainly at first. I say his name out loud to remember he is real, and I keep on moving.