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Tag: infertility

the saddest apology. though never too late….

teddy home umbrella

I still remember the phone call. I had a brand new baby, a baby whose birth had not been without one of those moments where the doctor calls you by first name, slaps you to attention, and with eyes darting between your unblinking gaze and the monitor measuring the baby’s dropping-down heart beat, she tells you this is what you’re going to do: You’re going to get that baby out in the very next push.

And you, knowing the vast canyon of cold chiseled truth nestled into that statement, knowing that she’s telling you you have a few breaths and one push to get this baby out whole and without harm, without your life’s dream whirling into the darkest abyss, you call on all the angels and saints and powers within and without, and you do just what she told you: You birth that baby in one triumphant, I’m-not-losing-him-now force beyond nature.

And then you wait. Wait through unbroken silence, seconds that feel like an hour, the quicksand of time. And then, from the shaft of light slicing through the darkness, his lungs fill with air and you hear him wheeze out a cry. A cry that deepens. A cry that says, without waver, “I am here.”

And from that blessed second on, you cradle that baby like nobody’s business. Not one ounce of his being here was ever expected, he is wholly a miracle.

But the voice on the phone that day, not long after you’d tumbled home from the hospital, she was shattered by your dream come true.

She, too, had wanted a baby. Wanted a baby more than anything. Had undergone more medical twists and turns than you ever thought a doctor would allow. She’d been poked and prodded and shot through with stimulators and repressors and countless variations thereof, all in the hopes of that one impossible moment where egg meets sperm and the dividing begins.

It hadn’t worked, not for her and not for her dream. Not in any of the last many, many, many rounds (I won’t say how many). She, like I, had one baby already. He was in second grade, as was my firstborn at the time and that’s how we met. It was the second baby she wanted. It was the second baby, with no medical wizardry, that I got. And not for one instant did that not feel anointed, feel blessed, feel beyond my grasp.

From the moment I realized there was a heartbeat pumping within, I was washed through with hushed holding my breath. The minute I called my doctor (at home on a Saturday afternoon) to tell her what the little pink stick from the home pregnancy test was telling me, she laid out the cold hard statistics for the “advanced maternal age” of 44 and counting: Odds of Down Syndrome, odds of miscarriage before the first trimester ended. Odds, odds, odds.

Not for a day, not for an hour, on the long road to delivery, did I forget those odds. Nor did I take one moment of any of it as a given.

But the voice on the other end of the phone could only see it through the pain of her bottomless wanting what I’d somehow gotten. And so, she told me, in bitterest words that she could never talk to me again. Never wanted to hear from me again.

I remember cradling the phone, feeling my knees about to give out. We’d not known each other for years and years, but she was big-hearted, huge-hearted, my friend. And we had found some solace in our shared hoping for one more round of mothering a baby. And, besides, she’d smothered my firstborn with her dollops and dollops of tender attentions — not to mention, killer matzah ball soup.

But the road forked — heartbreakingly so — when I found myself with child. I’d tried, oh I tried, to shield her from the pain that I knew would slice through her, in the quarter hour when I pulled her aside, held her hands tightly, and told her I could hardly believe it myself, didn’t know how long — or if — it would last, but my prayers seemed to have been answered.

In using those words, she would tell me in the bitterest phone call, I’d all but told her, she thought, that my prayers were heard, and hers were not, hers were not worthy, she construed it to mean.

From my end of the phone call, I said over and over how sorry I was. How I would give anything for her to have the baby she so deeply, desperately wanted. And I was so sorry the words I had carefully chosen had only made it more awful. She repeated, emphatically, that this would be our last conversation, that she never wanted to speak to me again.

Months earlier, when an adoption agency had called to ask for references, I told the questioner, with all my heart, that I knew my friend would be a magnificent mother, would wrap her very huge heart around anyone blessed to be slipped into her arms.

And once, years later, I wrote her a letter. Told her how many nights I lay there thinking of her, whispering prayers to stitch back together her shattered heart. Asked about her baby girl, the one who’d come — yes — from far, far away.

I never heard back. Never once heard her voice after the terrible, awful heartbreaking phone call.

A few months ago, as would occasionally happen, I started to think of her. Wondered how she was faring, she and her two boys (husband and son), and her beautiful girl, now 12 or 13.

I googled her. I found one of those pages for someone who’s sick, very sick, and is seeking donations. I gasped for breath and clicked “Donate.” Didn’t know if she’d return the donation. Didn’t know. Couldn’t believe.

She was too sick to write but her husband, the gentlest man, wrote a very sweet note. He said thank you.

I knew from one more blast email he’d sent that, by the end of June, she was back in the hospital, back in therapy to try to relieve the slicing-through pain that comes with late-stage cancer. They were hoping, he wrote, that once the pain subsided, once “the numbers” improved, she would begin a science-bending assault on the cancer.

And then I heard nothing. Not till yesterday afternoon, when I clicked on my email, and there was her name, first and last. I opened the email, and I started to read, the words tumbling one on top of the other, not making clear sense.

Here’s what I read:

“I know it has been a very long time and many years needlessly gone by.  I am reaching out to you…I hope you don’t think it presumptuous of me to contact you at this late date, but I have spent a good part of the last three months reaching out…Trying to mend fences where possible, with the hope of finding some type of closure for everyone involved.  I don’t have any answers as to what happened, nor any great insight. I do know that what transpired was wrong, you were wronged and that I was unable to effect the out come.”

I wrote back:

“i am breathless. i always loved [her]. she was so hurt by the way i told her i was pregnant with T. i only MEANT to shield her from the pain i feared the news would bring. and clearly i bungled it horribly…….and i have been so sorry for so many years. for years i would lay awake at night wondering if i could yet write to her…..”

And then I googled her once again. Up popped her name, first and last, with the final addendum: “obituary.” She had died, back in the summer. I don’t know the date, don’t know the details.

All I know is what came in the last email from her gentle-hearted husband:

“She passed away peacefully in my arms after staring down cancer for seven and a half years. She had been through a heavy ordeal, seven chemo therapies, three major surgeries and two clinical trials.…We were waiting to start [a newfangled] vaccine when she passed unexpectedly, we both thought she had another year or two. We were a couple at the end, I made sure she was not in any pain. She asked me before she passed, what happens now? what happens next? I told her, I don’t know baby, but what ever it is we are going to face it together and then she smiled and closed her eyes. She was not afraid at the end and neither was I as we were together. I have to stop writing now as i cant see through the tears.”

And I sat there, staring and shaking, shaking and staring. All I could think was that it was the saddest apology I’d ever read, the one that wasn’t too late, not at all. Not one minute too late.

I wrote back: “[she] was pure love. she died with me loving her. and i will pray that she knew that…..”

And I will pray. And I do believe that she knew that. And that she knew that I knew she was sorry. And I was, too. I was, I am, so sorry.

For those friendships that shatter. For words never spoken again. For years lived with distance, with silence. For sparks that don’t get to fly between eyes, between hearts.

For all of it, for my dear blessed friend who never met my miracle boy, nor I her miracle girl.

It is the sorriest saddest apology. And it might have come late, but I am so deeply grateful it came.

Rest gently, dear friend. All is at peace where our hearts beat as one.

because this one made me nervous, because i wasn’t quite sure how i could say it and protect my friend, i typed it first in draft form. thus, today’s rare capital letters throughout. it still scares me a bit to write this. but the point is it’s a meditation on forgiveness, on friendship, on heartbreak and stitching those hearts together again. it breaks my heart that as i type this my friend isn’t here to read it, to see it, to know that the love never died. it breaks my heart that all those years, i never heard her voice again. i think i called once and left a message, so she heard mine. the aching all those years. the bittersweet whole truth of life: in my arms, i cradled pure joy. yet it cost me a friend. that’s a steep price. an equation i’d not weigh in a balance. instead, i am offering up all my sadness, my heart, to the friend whom i pray has found, at long last, the peace she so deeply deserves. 

are there apologies in your life that you would wish would be spoken while there is time to stitch together the brokenness?

mama altar

it started as i drove home from the grocery, my eyes stinging with tears.

i’d gone in to grab some orange juice, a perennial thirst in this house. ran into my friend adreine, who runs the front end, who over the years, as she’s rung up my eggs, shoved my gallons of milk down the beltway, has filled me in on her longing, her longing to please grow a baby. all around her it seems, everyone else is getting good news, getting pregnant. not adreine. she, nearly 40, has had month after month of the no news that is very sad news in the baby department. as we talked, i wiped a tear from right by her eye, her beautiful, beautiful eye.

then i drove home, crying too.

i know what it is to bang on the locked gates of heaven and feel like nobody’s home, nobody’s listening. i know what it is to want, more than anything, the round lump of baby in your so-aching arms.

just a few days before the grocery i’d walked into a quite crowded room but could not miss the lightbeams shining from a friend. a friend who this time, for the first time, wore a billowy top that shouted, without hesitation, “i’m pregnant. i’m waiting.”

the beam on her face reminded me of ones i’d once worn. i couldn’t help–again–my own tear or two, moved by the joy of remembering. but as we talked i found out she too knew what it was to hold her deep breath. she’d lost one little girl, and she was scared, scared to trembling, that she could lose this one too. not that there was any reason she would. just because she’s a mama who’s been there. and once you’re there, it’s terribly hard to not think you’ll land there again.

i’ve been in that place myself. know what it is to wear a miracle ’round your middle. know what it is to hold your breath for nine very long months, so afraid that the miracle could so slip away. i too lost a little girl. once stared at the fuzzy gray lines of a baby stone still in my womb. looked into her face as she slipped through my fingers. left her behind in a little wood box, dug into the earth, on my papa’s own grave, in the drizzly cold of a cemetery, 12 years ago.

i know the dark and the light of fertility. i know its abyss and its mountaintop. i know the breathlessness of the ascent, and the gasping for air when you’re pushed off the trail.

i am forever a woman whose heart was seared by the loss and the triumph of childbirth.

i am, i’m afraid, a card-carrying member of the sisterhood for life.

and you do not abandon your sisters.

you build them an altar. you say a prayer, yes. but, even more, you build a prayer tableau and you take it to the next power.

you gather the makings of your prayerful intentions, the physical manifestation of what it is you are asking. it’s something that women, indigenous wise women, have been doing for ages. my friend mary ellen has taught me. my mother, who builds may altars, has too.

it’s there when you’re not. it’s there when you wander past, reminding. nudging: whisper a prayer. don’t forget. don’t leave those women alone. hold them close in your prayer.

and so, spurred by those faces, one in deep longing, the other in deep hope, i came home and started to gather.

i gathered talismans of hope and believing. of my own dreams that had finally come true. i pulled from my top drawer the little pregnancy test, the one that i’ve kept since the cold afternoon when the plus sign turned pink and my dream that would never come true, started to come. i reached in the drawer by my bed, lifted the armbands of delivery, one for mama, one for baby. i plucked the most blessed mother of all. and a gold-winged angel to boot. i snatched a few tulips from the kitchen, decided blood red was a color quite apt. i even remembered the tiniest prayer book, one that once was my mother’s. and then i laid them all on a rectangle of lace made by the grandma i never knew, the one who, at 40, gave birth to the man i called papa.

i made an altar for the mamas to be. the two that i know and the hundreds and thousands i don’t.

we are a sorority who share a particular pain, often unspoken. sometimes you haven’t a clue who your sisters are.

but once you’ve been where they are, you can never again look into the eyes of a woman afraid, a woman desperately longing for life, and not join her brigade.

you pray, and you pray mightily. you get down on your knees. you beg at the locked gate of heaven. you make deals, if you have to. and you pray to God that you do not hear only the echo of your deep incantation lost in the canyon of No.

you know what it is to hear the sound of your heart cracking. you do not leave a mama abandoned. you do not leave her to tremble, to quiver alone.

you muster the force deep inside you. you envision a babe, safe and asleep, in her arms. and you pray to God that someone is listening, someone comes through for those mamas.

if there is a sorority of promise, you are signed on. for ever, for life. and so i bow down at the altar.

please, whisper a prayer for the mamas. for adreine, for trish, and for all of the ones whose names we don’t even know.