OCTOBER 3, 2017

EIGHTEEN months old

 

 If you are resisting something, you are feeding it. Any energy you fight, you are feeding. If you are pushing something away, you are inviting it to stay. 

-Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul 

 

I went to the mall a few days ago with Everett. He just sat in his stroller, snacking on food while I shopped at Forever 21, my for whatever reason, favorite store. I bought a new scarf, a few sweaters, and a surprisingly functional tote backpack. (I’ve come a long way since my black Gap jogger days.) 

On our way to leave the doors of the mall, I let him out of the stroller to run around–he must’ve thought he instantly became king. He trotted along a few feet away from me, looking over his shoulder to keep a watchful eye on his mama. 

 

Refusing to stop his fun and having time to waste, we stayed, and I took him on the clear glass elevator to get to the first floor. He had a face of astonishment as he watched the world around him go down down down, looking at me and pointing and saying, Ooooooo 

The elevator opens right up and onto the food court, and the smell of Chinese-style chicken wafted my nose, immediately making me think of you and all our times sitting there, eating after a shopping trip. I looked for our frequented spot, where the turquoise-topped chairs remained the same, while simultaneously searching for the sampling kung pao chicken lady.  

I can still see the orange fried chicken clumps, on top of fluffed white rice. I can still taste the extra packs of soy sauce we’d douse our meals with, remembering how you’d tear the corner of the plastic packet off with your teeth and still manage to look pretty while doing it. 

 

The last time I was at that food court, I was being interviewed for a clothing company called Buckle. It was the “cool” store during my senior year of high school, the place I bought all my Lucky Brand clothes in attempts of being a high maintenance hippie. 

My possible future manager asked me question after question, and in between trying to give the right answers, I just wanted to speak out and say, Are we done yet? I’ve got to get home. My mother is dying and I don’t have time. Am I hired or not? 

You were sick at home, and it was only a matter of time at that point, like we were all just waiting for it to happen. 

 

I never think about those last few weeks. I never really think of you being sick. It all happened so fast, that the small span of time can easily be swept into the back corners of my brain. 

But because I felt so mentally stuttered when getting off that elevator and smelling that damn chicken, I knew something inside me needed released. 

 So when we finally got home and Everett went down for his afternoon nap, I went and found the journal I was keeping around the time of that interview–around the time you died, wanting to face this possible resistance, and therefore, give it permission to leave. 

 

August 1, 2008 

Well, cheer camp is all over.  

I drove home with Stephanie and her parents, and while in the car, Nana called me to say the cancer had spread to Mom’s spinal cord and brain. That’s why she’s recently been acting mean and confused and upset.  

I hung up the phone, looked out the backseat driver window, and cried quietly. Steph’s mom reassured me that this would just be another treatment and that Mom would do great, just as she has been doing. I wanted to believe Janice. I wanted to believe Mom’s best friend. But I couldn’t.  

When I got home, Grandma was waiting for me. After I showered and ate some lunch, she took me to the hospital to see Mom and Dad. I will never forget exiting the elevator, turning the corner, and walking into the communal waiting room where Dad and Allison were already waiting. Mom’s room was twenty or so feet behind them and her door was open. All I could see were her legs, tucked tightly under a light pink hospital blanket.  

Just by looking at Daddy’s face, I knew something awful was happening. For a split second, before he said anything, I thought she had already died. I was so confused, I couldn’t think straight or crooked or in any way shape or form. 

I was so scared and felt like I couldn’t breathe. Dad talked me through it, and then sat Allison and I down, explaining to us that the cancer had spread. He told us the treatment options, something involving a box on her head and more needles and radiation and tests. And he said he had the option not to treat her any further.  

Somewhere in all that, I heard she’d only have months to live, regardless of treatment or no treatment.  

Even writing about all of this, days later in my journal, I still can’t comprehend it.  

Dad took Allison and I home from the hospital towards after dinnertime, and I’ll never forget the drive home on the Pittsburgh parkway. We were in the BMW, the car Mom always said she wanted when she’d turn forty years old. Dad bought it for her thirty-ninth birthday back in April, probably knowing waiting another year was of no point because by then, she may not be alive.

The convertible top was down, and the summer day air was fading away as it hit my face and blew my hair wildly in all directions. The sun was setting and the city looked so beautiful. It felt so wrong to be driving home without her, like we were leaving her behind for good. None of us talked, but you could feel how hurt the three of us felt. How confused, mad, sad, angry and awful we felt.  

I’m just in disbelief that my life has changed so fast. Prior to cheer camp, I thought the cancer was gone. I thought she was better, just meaner. Now she has limited months/weeks/days to live.  

 

August 3, 2008 

I heard noise down below from my attic bedroom and went to see what the commotion was about. Dad was giving Mom a bath at 11:30 at night. She has her days and nights mixed up. When he put her back in bed, she kept trying to get up, like a stubborn little child. Dad hasn’t slept for days and I feel so helpless. He looks like he could fall asleep standing up. I told him to rest and that I’d stay with Mom for a little. She fought me the entire time, relentlessly trying to sit up and out of bed.  

It’s scary to think of what will happen in the near future. I could never have imagined any of this happening; not even the cancer, but just how it’s all ending–her not being able to talk to us, Dad having to feed and wash her. She can’t really even walk anymore and I’m not sure she knows who everyone is. 

Her and I sat together at the kitchen island today while I ate an apricot cookie. She’d always buy them from Giant Eagle and she stared at me while I ate it, telling me “I was silly,” in broken up syllables. I gave her one, and we each ate them together with glasses of milk. 

Dad took her to Dairy Queen in her convertible and when they pulled into the garage, she had thrown up ice cream everywhere. I helped give her a bath afterwards. It’s like she’s crumbling apart, and we have to watch it because we love her and there’s nothing else we can do.  

On a happier note, I interviewed for Buckle today and got the job. I have tried to just keep doing normal things, like seeing my friends etc.  

 

August 14, 2008 

Mom is doing really bad, not talking or eating or moving. Family has been visiting again, and it feels sickening to know they’re all here to say their last goodbyes as she sits in the same upright position in bed. Cole and Tatum are in Harrisburg with Aunt Katie and Uncle Ryan; Dad didn’t want them here for what we think are the final few days. 

 

 And that’s it for those entries. That night, on the 14th, you left our world, and never since then, have I stopped searching for you. 

 

MAY 4, 2017

THIRTEEN months old

 

You are Eternal Beings. And when you re-emerge into Non-Physical, you do not become less-than. You don’t become nebulous, unfocused energy that just swirls around in nothingness. You assume that perspective of All-Knowingness. You remember all that you are, not just the personality that you were.
But when your daughter, or someone who loves you, recalls that which you were and approaches it from a positive vibrational standpoint, you can reconstitute that energy and be, for a moment in time, that focused energy.  

-Abraham Hicks 

 

When I have a little girl, I want to decorate her room in mermaids. 

Random, I know. But I was scrolling through bed sheets on Target’s website and stumbled upon a mermaid set, thinking how cute it’d be to have a little Maine themed room, with seagulls and sand dollars and white clouds pouted on the walls. I can picture it all perfectly. 

And speaking of Maine, we have our dates set aside for this October. Instead of waiting for Chris to say yes, I simply took the initiative and started small steps, like saving my yoga money in a stashed envelope, booking our hotel, and gathering enough gumption to ask Papap, the vetted pilot, to fly us there in his airplane–which will be an experience all together on its own. 

 

Everett is walking now. He hasn’t completely committed to two feet, but he’s been successfully taking steps and strides across the room. I’d say in a month, he’ll be running around the yard, chasing after Clifford. 

People keep saying, “Good luck once he’s walking!” But I’m glad he’s so close; I honestly cannot carry him everywhere anymore. My back and spine have several muscled knots, caused from heaving around my cute twenty-seven-pound ball of chunk. 

I seem to be having more and more fun with him, the older he gets. Every time he learns something new or makes a first face or tries a new sound, it’s exciting. I know and understand why mothers get upset thinking of their babies growing up, but they’re supposed to evolve forward. For some reason, my baby growing just makes me proud, not sad. If he was my last, I think I’d feel differently, but the plan is that eventually, there will be several more children to follow. 

We’ve been playing outside on our porch a lot. Chris just painted its wooden floor, and I purchased an outdoor table, along with a new three-wick candle to top its center. Maybe tonight we’ll eat dinner out there, call it a romantic date. We’re having pork chops and Caesar salad, tossed with Fodder’s dressing recipe. I love making it and thinking of your Dad, the two of you together, wherever you are now. 

 

Yesterday, Everett and I spent the day out at Nana’s. She took us to a local greenhouse, where we picked out perennials in the welcome-back warmth of the sun. Nana bought me a lavender plant, and another little one called a “creeping jenny.” I had to have it because of my middle name, and it’s now snuggled in the spring dirt outside my house, ready to creep, I guess. 

We then went to Home Goods and shopped for stuff we didn’t need, but I enjoyed browsing the store while Everett sat in the cart, snacking on crackers and making eye contact with everyone who passed. He loves going places, observing and interacting with willing strangers who always ooooo and ahhhh over his blonde twirly curls. 

Chris was already home when I returned, so I was able to swiftly leave for yoga while he handled Everett. I was grateful to go. I hadn’t practiced for two weeks.  

During my commute, I asked aloud if you’d be in class with me…I asked for some kind of awareness of your presence. Because sometimes when I practice, when both my mind and body are still and unified, I feel you. I swear I sometimes even hear you, like this flowing voice coming through me without a hinge of pause, and you completely fill me up. 

And minutes later, when I walked into the studio, sitting on the check-in desk were lily of the valley flowers, set in a little Dixie cup. You might as well have been standing there saying, Now how much more obvious do I have to be? Because I know when those lilies show, it’s you. 

 

At the end of this yoga class, during the final resting period, I laid on my back with my arms draped up and over my head, physically exhausted, with my mind completely turned off. I was so relaxed, I wasn’t even aware of my body. I was just being, temporarily existing in what felt like a balloon of bliss that was impossible to puncture. It was incredible.  

Tears began to spill out from my closed eyes; I was overwhelmed at the feeling of feeling you, like your spirit had melted right into mine. You were real, simply having become focused energy, being called from my positive vibrational standpoint. 

 I suddenly understood that I chose you to be my mother, even though I always knew you’d have to leave me someday. It was as if something other than myself was funneling this thought into my brain for processing, and it pulsed through every fiber within me. 

And Mom, if I ever got the chance again, I’d still choose you. For reasons that may never make sense, I was supposed to only have seventeen physical years with you.  

No longer do I feel like my life was permanently ruined when you died. No longer do I feel like our family was cheated. No longer do I feel like it all isn’t fair. Because those mind-sets only leave me vibrating low and helpless, far far away from where you exist. 

 

I reason the weirdness this way: if my body could conceive and grow and birth a human, why is it so hard to believe that on some level, I can connect with your energy? 

Before Everett, I had limits as to what I believed to be possible. If I thought I felt you in yoga, after seventy-five minutes of moving meditation, I’d dismiss it and think that’s just my brain trying desperately to believe you were real for a moment. 

But my child is the perfect proof I’ve always needed to have a little more faith in the unknown–to have a little more trust in what I feel, rather than in what other people tell me, or in what I’ve always been taught. 

I look at Everett and still cannot comprehend that he was once never here. I cannot understand how he started as a tiny tadpole in my stomach, who grew to full baby size and then came out and literally through me, into this world. I have no words for it, but he’s simply my evidence of an unexplained miracle. Sure there’s science behind conception and birth but come on, really–how does that all happen and evolve and come to be? 

 

I’m sure there are some people who think I haven’t healed or moved on since you died. Because even after all this time, I still talk about your death and about missing you and wondering where you are. Maybe a few even worry if I’m doing “O.K.” And I get it, I understand their possible concern. 

But what kind of daughter would I be if I just accepted your death one way and one way only, never to think or ponder or question or strive to find more answers that continually bring peace to my heart? I may never stop all the wondering, all the searching. And that very statement, has come to identify the biggest parts of my person; I am who I am because of both your life and death. 

 

 

APRIL 15, 2017

ONE years old

 

I depart as air…I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags. 

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again, look for me under your boot soles. 

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fiber your blood. 

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you. 

 Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass 

 

My baby is officially one. 

I can specifically remember the morning of Everett’s birthday, because for once, he had slept past the sun. Its light filtered through my bedroom curtains, and when Chris and I opened our eyes, we were shocked to greet daylight. I stretched out under the covers, looked over at him and said, “Hug me,” in my cutest voice. It’s the one Chris loves. And we cuddled for a few moments, until he said, “It’s Snuggies’ birthday! Come on!” 

We went into Everett’s room, the video camera in Chris’s hand, and switched on the lights, saying, Happy birthday baby boy! in somewhat of a unison. Everett had a confused look on his face, but once his eyes adjusted, he stood up holding his blanket, smiling ear to ear because his Mom and Dad were both there to see him. He couldn’t have been happier. 

After breakfast, we opened his presents from the previous night’s party, hosted by my in-laws. 

The birthday food was excellent, the company was comfortable, and Everett was the center of all the love and attention he could stand.  

But I missed you the entire time. And it was difficult for Chris’ mom to continually remember why there were so many people in her house.  

 

I had a dream last night that Chris and I were at this huge outdoor party. I don’t know what people were doing there, but it seemed to be a concert-like setting, with lawn ticket seating. And amongst the tightly knitted crowd, I started calling for you, saying, “Mom….Mom….Mom…has anyone seen my mother?” I sounded like the little bird in that book I read to Everett, who leaves his nest too early. 

You were still alive in this dream; however, the party was just too big, and each face I looked at, wasn’t yours. I was scared, literally feeling this fear in my sleeping state. 

And sometimes I still feel scared about where you are. Sometimes I really want to ask people, Hey, do you know where Jenifer Norris went? She was that bubbly blonde with four kids–yea, that one–the one who died of breast cancer right before her baby started kindergarten 

But the reality is that no one truly knows, which is frustrating as all shit. 

 

There are days when I feel where you are, and I trust the certainty of your existence. 

There are days when I think it’s all a bunch of nonsense–that you really are just gone, unable to help me and unable to know Everett. 

There are days when I truly cannot fathom the fact that I haven’t seen your fading face for eight years.  

 

You never got to see me as a grown young woman. What would you think of me now?  I wonder if you’d be embarrassed that I wear flannel shirts and moccasins, not the tight tops and high heels you frequently flaunted. I wonder if you’d be proud of the fact that I’m a yoga teacher, that my hair is mermaid length, or whether or not you’d think I was beautiful.  

And you never got to meet Chris. That, almost above all else, breaks me the most, you know. For some reason, I sometimes picture how he’d look when saying, “You sound just like your mother,” as I pretend he knows the hidden parts of me that are comprised of you. 

 

But even though eight years feels equivalent to an eternity, in this first year of Everett’s life, I’ve learned to feel closer to you than ever, even in comparison to when you were alive. 

And each time I think of you, it’s not so much in a sad way anymore, but in a my mother is here, kind of way. Because you don’t exist as a winged angel staring down on me from heaven–what I feel is much more than that; I feel you are here 

I don’t know what better word to use, but here. 

When I think of your face and your hair and your lipsticks and the way you smelled after applying suntan lotion, my heart aches. It makes me mourn to see you in person. Your physicality is what’s completely finite, and it always will be. 

But what’s not subjected to limitations is your soul…your spirit…your energy…your life force. Whatever anyone wants to call it, because it’s all the same thing. When we leave our physical bodies, our spirit—the very “thing” that cannot be pumped back into a body (as my yoga once teacher taught me)—returns to the greater energy it came from and continues to exist. It returns to the Source.  

 

A few days ago, I brought Everett to the cemetery for the first time, on what would’ve been your 48th birthday.  

I felt like I was somehow finally introducing my son to you, allowing him to share my secret place, where a realm of pleasant serenity always awaits my melancholy mind. 

We sat on your grave, while he kept pointing ahead at the lake, spotted with ducks swimming in repetitive circles. I’d watch when he swayed his feet in the grass, feeling the texture of it on his bare toes, as I myself have done many times before. It was hard to believe how close he was to you–like the earth underneath us was literally comprised of you. 

Look for me under your boot soles. Because you are now a part of the same force that grew the very grass under Everett’s exploring toes.  

 

He will never know your pretty face. He will never fully understand how fierce and funny and fun you were. He will never get to hug you, feeling the love his mother has for him immediately double, because you’re the only other woman on this planet who could come close to loving Everett the way I do.  

But you will be alive when I teach him your constant presence–how there is no this place or that place, no death do us part. And for anyone who has ever lost someone, it can be incredibly liberating to imagine there is no heaven, no hell, and above us only sky. Because with that understanding, the idea of permanently parting until death can reunite, is nothing more than a human illusion. 

With confidence, I can believe Everett will know you in a more special and profound way, than if you were still here to be in physical person when he blows out his birthday candles each year. And it will always be my responsibility to teach him just how close you really are–that we’re all laced together in such intricately detailed ways, there aren’t words to quite make sense of it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OCTOBER 4, 2016

SIX months old

 

And if you’ve had a bad week, 

Let me sing you to sleep. 

Oh and I’ll be there waiting when you get frustrated. 

I know things are changing but darling I’m saying, 

I’ve been here all along. 

Maggie Rogers, Dog Years 

 

I keep listening to that song. It’s been on continual repeat, reminding me of you each time; as if you’re somehow singing the beautiful words to me, Allison, Cole and Tatum–your four babies. 

On my routine walk this morning, it was playing through my earphones, and when the above portion of lyrics were sung, I imagined a time when you and I were still able to sit in bed together, watching HGTV at night and drinking Salada green tea in your big king-sized bed. The water mattress would mold to my body and I’d be covered with that fluffy down comforter, swallowed up and safe. I can still inhale the sheets and feathers and how Dad’s pillow always smelled different than yours.  

 

Everett is now six months old. He and I are having such great days together, and I could not be more satisfied with staying home. I absolutely love it. I love being the one to witness everything he does. I love being the face that makes him laugh and coo and smile. 

I never had a career–straight after college, I supported myself with teaching yoga and working retail at Anthropologie and babysitting. I hustled, refusing to take on debt for another degree, or work an office job that wasn’t fulfilling, because I had bigger plans: I wanted to be a mother. I wanted to be a mother who stayed at home, just like you did, and that’s the aspect of you I’m most glad I followed. 

Staying home allows for the simple moments, like eating lunch each afternoon with Everett, to become the precious pieces that make up my life. He’s becoming my buddy, and I know that I’m his too, just by the way he looks at me. No job or amount of money is worth missing that. 

Because when I sit on the couch and hold Everett up above me, getting him to laugh and in the process, getting giggles out of myself, I feel you. I remember you. And I’m so thankful for the way you and Dad raised us kids, happy and all together. 

You both prepared me for the beautiful life I have now. I got to grow up gently watching and learning the kind of existence I’m currently inhabiting 

 

It feels good and right to be back teaching yoga, and last week, I took a class where I was truly able to let go. I practiced how I used to practice, before being pregnant and before giving birth. Somewhere within pregnancy, I forgot that I alone have the power to tune my thoughts and worries and anxieties out, and I alone can breathe my way to feeling peace.  

On my mat, when I really tune my surroundings to silent, I forget everything. I can hear my breath flowing in and out of my body, and I can feel when it leaves, as it hollows the spaces where I’ve accumulated worry and clutter. It’s like I’m dancing through the combination of movements, music, and the teacher’s voice, simply able to be. 

In the year following your death, I started attending yoga once a week. I consistently went every Monday, to the same teacher–I was drawn to her beauty and insight and the natural way I truly became her student.  

My mind bloomed like a little lotus flower, each time I heard words about spirit and energy and connection. And as time went on, I could feel my beliefs about where you were, start to shake and shift and rearrange into new form. 

I’ll never forget her once explaining: if you took a dead body and filled the lungs with air, pumped the veins with blood, and somehow started the heart, that person would not come back to life because their soul has moved on. Their body is now just a body, an empty vessel, because the energy has left. 

From then on, I stopped imagining you as a spirit in the sky, displaced and far away from me; I was beginning to learn that your energy was everywhere.  

I just don’t know how to consistently reach that energy yet, but know it’s possible–like that night down by the ocean, when I was absolutely sure I felt you in the mixture of sand and breeze and water.  

 

Yoga gives me the permission to tend to myself, because even though I’m a mother now, I’m allowed to put my needs to nourish first. This is new news to me. 

I was always under the impression that when you have a child, you as a person are put aside. That your needs come second, you say goodbye to fun, and sacrifice becomes your new daily mantra.  

However, Im learning that these “facts” aren’t the truth–that you can be a mother and a woman, like two twined entities, gathered from the same string. 

I’m continually learning to mix old habits with new ones, rearranging my beliefs and routines and the daily ways I get things done around the house, because I now have a human to care for. But that doesn’t mean that I have to completely lose myself as an individual. 

 

Last week I went out to the bars downtown with my entire group of friends, the same girls who once called you Mrs. Norris at our middle school sleepovers. 

This was my first time “partying” since my wedding, so it’s safe to say I had the night of my life, dancing with both friends and strangers, drinking as much beer as my belly could hold. I was reminded of how young I am, and how much I deserve to have a social life, separate from my family one. There is nothing selfish about that, an ideal I’ve had to somewhat shatter since gaining the title of Mom. 

It’s hard to give myself permission to have that kind of fun because you never did. You never drank, not even so much as a glass of wine with dinner. You never left us kids and Dad and went out with just your girlfriends. All I remember was fancy couple dinner parties that the two of you would attend or host–which is fine and fun, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing. 

 

I think I’ve finally embraced being a mother. Most of the time, I feel like Im completely owning it. I’m confident with my son and feel familiar again in my skin and in my body. Bottles and empty breasts don’t feel shameful anymore, I don’t panic if Everett cries in public, and I simply know how he works now, like I finally found the magic manual. That’s all because I’ve learned to listen to myself, without doubt and without other people’s input.  

With this new little boost in confidence, I recently submitted an article I wrote to Mother.ly, a website entirely dedicated to motherhood. And they accepted it! I was beyond thrilled to be e-mailing back and forth with one of the site’s founders, sending her my little bio and a headshot I had Chris’ sister take with her photography camera.  

Because of this small success, I’m beginning to have faith in the blog I created and recently posted to social media, which openly exposed these private journal conversations between you and I. 

 

My writing might just take me somewhere. 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 9, 2016

FIVE months old

 

She liked being reminded of butterflies. She remembered being six or seven and crying over the fates of the butterflies in her yard after learning that they lived for only a few days. Her mother had comforted her and told her not to be sad for the butterflies–that just because their lives were short didn’t mean they were tragic.  

-Lisa Genova, Still Alice 

 

I feel so alone. 

Ever since you died, I always had that awareness of loneliness–you were no longer there to talk about the things that only a mother could care about. I lost the person whose opinion mattered, whose advice I’d adhere to. But now that I have Everett, I sometimes feel like he and I are the only two existing people, functioning in a world ruled by bottles and diapers and the scheduled clock–a world my husband and friends cannot understand, just as I cannot fathom how they go to work and make a paycheck and talk to other adults.  

It’s isolating as a stay at home mother, especially at twenty-five, when people my age are still partying and dating and finding themselves. And I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining, because I chose this life, and I truly can’t imagine it all any different. But I constantly think how different raising Everett would be, if only I had you…if only I had your company…if only my son had someone other than his parents, that was equally in love with him. 

 

I’ve been thinking of you constantly, as if you’ve become an invisible companion who sits on my shoulder, nudging your presence to be known during the ordinary every day moments–like while carrying laundry up the steps, or in the seconds my head hits the pillow at night–there you are. And my mind seems to dust around every seemingly vacant corner, constantly searching for a new but old memory of you I’ve yet to remember.  

Like when I was a little girl, maybe four or five years old, lying in bed with you at the old house. It was still morning; your hair was messy and your face hasn’t woke yet. I asked to put my legs “in the oven”, which meant in between your sideways legs because they’d always be warm. And I played with your long hair, holding up the strands and pretending they were long neck dinosaurs from The Land Before Time movie. 

Or the moment I saw Dad, sitting on the couch with his hands over his head, listening to your wedding song, For Your Precious Love. You only had a few more days to live, and it was like he was savoring something, trying to permanently squeeze the feeling of you forever in his head.  

Memories will always keep you alive within my body, and even though they sometimes sneak up and surprise and cause me to silently cry, I now understand the ability to remember as a privilege.   

 

I’ve never wanted to share the following with you, because part of me feels like it’s not my story to tell, but my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. She is sixty years old. And it is literally breaking my heart, watching the woman who should’ve been my second mother, whittle away before she and I really got the chance to know each other the way we’re supposed to. 

 It seems that recently, the sickness is slowly becoming more present, even though on the outside, her perfectly aged beauty remains unchanged. A passing stranger wouldn’t visibly know there are knots and tangles invading the intimate parts of her mind.  

Chris doesn’t say much about the disease, being the quiet man that he is. If I try to wedge some words out of his worrisome mind, he’ll tell me a few things about how she’s been or what medication she’s trying–things like that, but will never go into detail about how it’s emotionally affecting him. And that’s okay, because I’ve realized he needs the permission to grieve in his own way. 

I had to adjust quickly to the idea of losing you. The time between your diagnosis and death passed with the change of two seasons; however, my husband has to balance the evidential pieces that surface each time we visit his mother–a forgotten name, a repeated phrase, a sentence that doesn’t fit into conversation–all while knowing she is literally fading into her already forgotten memories. 

 

Alzheimer’s is different than cancer. When you first became sick, the entire family rallied together and planned and plotted and conversed about opinions and options. Your friends divided up help with dinners and taking care of the two youngest kids. And I can remember you and Dad going to several doctors and specialists, trying to figure out how to entirely extinguish stage 4 breast cancer.  

But for my mother-in-law, it could take years and years for this to progress, which is the most devastating part. No one knows how much memory she’ll have left in the upcoming years. There really aren’t options and there isn’t anything to figure out–there’s just time. 

 

Lately, as I’ve been particularly feeling alone, I think of not having you, of not having Chris’ mom, and not having the person I once always imagined being my mother-in-law, Mrs. Treml.  

When I got engaged, I completely cut off my relationship with her, in an absurd attempt to move forward from previously loving her son. He was my high school sweet heart, as they say. But she’s the woman who truly guided me back to the surface after your death–the one who took me prom dress shopping and out to dinners, and who I’d call just to chat. Having her friendship eased the transition away from you, and I will always love her for that. 

But this inability to have a maternal figure, leaves me feeling insufficient because I can’t give my child a grandmother. I know the factors are all out of my control, but that doesn’t seem to lessen the guilt. 

 

Chris grew up differently than me, with two working parents and only one sister. He never knew what a houseful of kids on a Saturday morning looked or sounded like, or that it was even possible to support a family off of one income. At twenty years old, only a year after we started dating, I explained to him that I wanted to stay home and raise a lot of children. Thankfully, my demands didn’t chase him off and now, I get to watch him father our son, knowing that I somehow nudged this gentle man into a life that can seem so scary until you’re simply living it. 

So while I don’t have any form of a mother and therefore not much help when it comes to Everett, I hope that these grievances will gradually force Chris and I to be united as communal leaders of a big, overgrown family. We will be our own help, dependent on each other. And we’ll raise children who will wholly understand the meaning and importance of togetherness, as we create those mundane memories they’ll always remember.  

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

MAY 1, 2016

(almost) ONE month old 

 

I say to my child, I will explain as much of life as I can, but you must remember that there is a part of life for which you are the explanation.

-Robert Brault

 

To commemorate successfully surviving the first month of motherhood, I’d like to tell you my birth story. I don’t want to write it down for the purpose of preserving details, because right now, I feel as if every moment of Everett’s delivery has been invisibly inked to my skin. Rather, I need to write to help me heal…to ensure that I don’t take that day and bury its scary memory, never allowing a necessary chance for release.  

 

I was asleep until around eleven o’clock in the evening, when I felt my very first contraction. Still thinking the sensation could be the regular cramps I’d been getting, I tried to resume sleep, but less than eight minutes later, another contraction came. And then another. I woke Chris and told him I was pretty sure labor had started.  

Since I was eleven days past my due date, all I’d been wanting were contractions. But when I realized they were real and there to stay, I couldn’t believe it was the actual start of meeting our baby. So to relax, I took a bath and shortly after, lost my mucus plug, feeling giddy to see a foreign glob in the toilet when I flushed. This is actually happening! 

Before the sun rose and the next morning officially began, we started to make our drive to The Midwife Center. My contractions were being timed roughly five minutes apart. 

We arrived, only to have the staff say we were early. I was still able to hold a conversation, a sign that told them I wasn’t into active labor yet. But we decided to stay anyways. Chris and I settled into our room (it was only one of three–The Midwife Center is comprised of a very small row house in the heart of Pittsburgh) and tried to take a short nap together on the full-sized bed I’d later deliver on. 

During each contraction, without intentionally trying, I began to visualize you and I together, standing towards one another. You’d gently blow what looked like glitter from the palm of your hand, and I’d breathe in the scattering golden specks. And then when I exhaled, green ivy-like leaves brushed down the sides of my stomach, taking the pain away. It seems so strange to picture, but somehow I felt like you were guiding my mind onto a straight plane of concentration. 

 

Twelve hours had now passed since labor initially started, but when my cervix was checked, I was still under 4 cm. I was encouraged over and over to take a long walk outside, so finally I obeyed, and once that was completed, I got into the big jacuzzi tub, where my contractions really started to intensify.  

The hot water felt incredible. When I’d get really sweaty after a contraction, Chris would pour cool water over my shoulders, and the simple act allowed us to feel like somewhat of a team. For all the hours before, I knew he was there, but part of a constant background I couldn’t plant my attention to. He felt helpless, stuck between wanting to give me space, wanting to help, and having no idea what to do. 

 

My doula told me she really thought I was close to 8 cm and I remember thinking, I can absolutely do this. Hours had passed, I had walked, I had relaxed in the tub; I was hopeful my next cervix check would reveal significant progress, but I’d only made it 2 cm further. 

I circled around that little confined room, cursing and in complete denial of my slow progress. I said I was done, that this was all so stupid and I could not make it to the end. If drugs were available, this is the point where I would have gladly taken them, despite how much I wanted a “natural” birth. 

My body felt comprised of jelly, and I knew the hardest part was yet to come–I still had to get this baby out. Active labor had really only just started and already, I was exhausted. By this point, it was probably around dinnertime. 

Wanting to rest and float without effort, I returned to the jacuzzi, beginning to become loud and audible. Noise seemed to be the only thing that helped. 

Chris was sitting on the side of the tub and I told him, “If I could survive losing my mom, I can do this.” I was staring straight ahead at the shower wall tile, with salty water swelling in my eyes.  

Your death and Everett’s birth, were the two hardest moments in my life thus far.  

 

After yet another chunk of amounted time (at this point I had been in labor for twenty-four hours), I stood up out of the jacuzzi, letting out the loudest scream yet. I could hear the nurses and midwife come rushing down the narrow hall towards my room. 

I felt so much pressure inside my groin, like a watermelon wanted through my body. And it didn’t just feel like a wide watermelon, but a very heavy one, too. For the first time I actually felt scared because I had absolutely no idea how this melon was going to safely escape my body. 

Within seconds of crawling onto the bed, I felt the urge to push. The sensation completely took over me. For months I wondered, How will I know when to push? And you just do. Your body knows.  

I’d crouch back into a child’s pose with each contraction when I pushed; this is what gave me the most strength. And I would cry out, literally sounding like a wounded lion. My doula softly tried telling me to save that vocal energy for the physical, and I ignored her comment completely, furiously shaking my head at her. Thankfully it was midnight and there weren’t women having their prenatal check-up appointments on the floor above. My noises alone would’ve scared them all away from having a drug-free birth. 

And then only a few moments later, the baby’s heartbeat slowed down. That’s when I heard the nurse tell me to slow my breath and, “Okay, Hayley. We need to get this baby out.” I had only been pushing for two minutes, and apparently, I only had minutes more.  

I was told to switch positions from my back, to my side, to all fours with pillows propped for support. I was flipping around like a pancake. To encourage me, the midwife had me reach down and feel my baby’s head when crowning–it felt like a soft, crinkled walnut.  

His head was now out, but the cord was tightly wrapped around his neck twice and he wasn’t breathing. I had no idea my baby was in danger, but Chris did.  And my lady parts literally felt as if I was hovering over a campfire, the flames touching and burning my skin with a constant heat.

 

I ended up on my back and was told to push towards the ceiling which helped immensely. The midwife was also holding a twisted sheet and I pulled on it like I was climbing a ladder, as she tugged back. I truly felt like I was fighting for my life and the life still inside me, and not a fragment of that statement is exaggerated. 

I was pushing with the power of my every cell, yet could not get the rest of his body out. To my later knowledge, he had shoulder dystocia, a positioning that caused him to be stuck behind my pelvic bone. That is why later, my eyes and face and chest would be dotted red from popped blood vessels. 

Panic started to fill the room, and for a moment, I honestly questioned if I was capable enough. And you know I’m tough. Everything was just so incredibly intense and nothing like I’d ever experienced before. But as soon as I had a fearful thought, it would immediately dissipate because I was as present and “in the moment” as a person could be. It was like my thoughts were on such fast-forward, the words in my mind blurred into a white noise of condensed static. 

 

They had to break his shoulder to get him through me, causing a small hairline fracture in his newly formed bones.  

I don’t remember feeling the baby slide out like I imagined I would’ve. But I could see my stomach flatten as his body came out of mine. The space he safely inhabited for nine months, seemed to immediately deflate. An entire day after I had started steady contractions in the comforts of my home bed, Everett came into this world. 

His cord was ripped in half and he lost all of his meconium from the stress of delivery. He was blue and still wasn’t properly breathing, if at all. 

I was still on my back, excessively bleeding and empty. They had him on the bed next to me, with oxygen up to his face. There were two nurses, my doula, and midwife around him, so I couldn’t see much.  

Chris was telling me, “It’s a boy, it’s a boy,” and I just cried, “My baby, my baby. It was equally terrifying and traumatic. I had no idea what was happening. Did I do something wrong? Was I not strong enough? 

I had oxygen up to my face, too. It was so hard to breathe and I had no idea why a mask was over my mouth as I was leaning across the bed, trying to get to my baby. It felt like a cumbersome disruption. 

My hands and legs were shaking like I had uncontrollable shivers. I was pricked with Pitocin in order to stop hemorrhaging, while they were still trying to get my baby to breathe. I was so scared and spent and felt lifeless: I honestly thought if I closed my eyes, I’d go to wherever it is you are. 

 

They took Everett to a table and were rubbing him for stimulation. His color was still very pale, but he was now breathing. I could see, even from feet away, that his eyes were wide open and he looked so curious. My doula was talking to him, greeting him into life, and I said aloud, “His name is Everett,” so everyone could hear.  

The women were all talking with each other about transferring him to the hospital, telling different people to call different places, but they all stayed calm and collected.  

 

For a brief moment, Everett was laid on my chest. I couldn’t really see his face from how he was positioned, but held his little bum and caught glimpses of his eyes. He was still looking all around, trying to hold his head up. Chris was leaning right over us, and he and I were crying with joy and relief and some magic wondered emotion that I have no word or name for.  

Our son was stable, but my midwife wanted to transfer him to the hospital because of his coloring. It was simply a precaution. So Chris rode in the ambulance with Everett, and I tried not to feel powerless when the two paramedic men held my baby and took him away from me. The need to protect my child surged through my body, and it took my entire reasoning mind to keep me still and steady on the bed, even though by then I was naked and bleeding and crying, only covered with a white bed sheet. 

 

After a surprisingly few amount stitches and delivering the placenta, I was able to be somewhat cleaned up and clothed and refuel with some food. One of the nurses made me an English muffin with egg and cheese and coffee, and it felt like a victory meal, even though my hard-earned prize was nowhere in sight. 

I had to stay for at least four hours before leaving to be with Chris and Everett, so I had Allison come to The Midwife Center; it was a relief to see my sister walk through the door and straight onto my bed. And Chris was continually keeping me posted with updates and pictures from the hospital–Everett was thriving. 

 

When I was able to be discharged, Chris came back to help with the process. And ever so slowly, like a deteriorating old woman, I got in and out of our SUV for the hospital drive, feeling blood rush out with every small exertion, like standing. But it didn’t matter. I just wanted Everett 

We entered the NICU and I cried seeing him hooked up to cords and monitors. I held his little hand and everything I had just been through disappeared. I got to breastfeed him right away.  

His nurse had good news each time she talked with us. Every test they did on Everett, he passed with flying colors, so we knew early on that indeed our baby was fine. He just had a really scary start 

 

We stayed overnight in what felt like the hospital’s version of a motel. Up on the top floor, there were a few rooms dedicated to outpatients, decorated with two twin beds, a basic television, and a small adjoined bathroom. Every hour I’d wake up soaked in sweat that for some odd reason, smelled like celery, with water in my eyes, remembering the birth and wanting Everett. I felt detached, unable to properly adjust to no longer being pregnant without the evidence of my child.  

Chris would guide me into a wheelchair and take us both down the elevator to Everett’s floor. I’d nurse him and feel a little better, and we’d go back up to our room, only for the whole process to happen again and again. 

Thankfully, Everett was discharged the next morning, on Chris’ birthday. When we got home, I went upstairs, got undressed, and snuggled in bed with my baby boy. It felt so good to have him home. All finally felt right in the world. 

 

I feel like I can do absolutely anything after Everett’s birth, and I’d say that kind of confidence gives me a wonderful boosting start into motherhood.  

I’m learning that nothing is how I expected it to be, but must trust that everything is how it’s supposed to be. 

 

 

 

APRIL 4, 2016  

TWO days old

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging… 
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass–innocent, golden, calm 
as the dawn, 
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face. 

-Walt Whitman  

 

 

Everett Jay Pearlman. Born April 2, 12:40 a.m. Weighed 8.56 ounces, 20.5 inches long.  

I have never been so in love with anyone or so unaware of myself. It’s like I’m changing every minute, molding into my baby’s mother: sometimes that feels terrifying and other times, I feel as if I have finally arrived to where I’ve always wanted to be, home with a husband and baby.  

I was just soaking in the bath, my tub filled with dried herbs that are supposed to heal my sore and aching body, and I kept crying as the warm flowing water covered and comforted what feels like post-birth blues.  

Cradling my cheeks in the support of my hands, I hung my head limped and somewhat lifeless, wondering why you aren’t here to meet Everett…why you cannot witness me as a newly born mother. Where will I tell him you’ve gone? How will I explain why you are not here? Because I myself cant even answer those tormenting questions. 

This should be the most thrilling time of my life. And yet, I haven’t missed you this much since the initial loss. 

But I can already feel my baby’s love starting to heal my still broken pieces. Every space in my body and mind is continually filling with the thought and smell and feeling of my child. Life prior to him already feels impossible trying to imagine, like there’s a permanently marked “before” and “after” Everett rift in my years, and suddenly, I know nothing about my person will ever be the same. 

 

I’ve already taken too much time to write—Everett is sleeping downstairs in Nana’s arms and I want to rest while I have the opportunity. I just felt like I needed to talk, even if writing to you in a journal is somewhat make-believe. 

I’m so glad he’s a boy (and all that time I was so convinced of a girl). He is perfectabsolutely perfect.