Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chapter 1: Mickey Mouse vs. SpongeBob

Beth is two yelps away from a screaming fit because I won’t let her watch SpongeBob. It’s not that I have anything against SpongeBob. I can appreciate the humor in a scuba-clad squirrel engaged in a karate fight with a sponge. I’m secretly hoping, however, she might learn how to choose the right tool from Mickey Mouse’s bag of “Toodles” on the Disney Channel rather than laughing at animated sea creatures in an undersea town called Bikini Bottom.

My son, Elliott, had been happily engaged in something relatively worthwhile on the computer until he saw the flash of SpongeBob when I accidentally pressed the wrong number on the remote control. Now he is whining along with Beth hoping that by adding to my annoyance, they will get what they want.

Then the phone rings and I jump because I’m in the middle of trying to reason with both kids—which is exercise in futility. I normally wouldn’t take a call at seven in the morning but I know this one is important because it is from a colleague who needs to talk business. So I answer the phone and immediately know I shouldn’t have: the kids are clearly not mollified by Mickey Mouse.

SpongeBob wins.

I brought this upon myself. I could have made things a little easier but at some point while recovering from everything that happened, I started working again. I thought a little work would keep my mind occupied and away from the memories I would rather forget. It is tough to balance kids and working at home but I’m better off this way. As long as my clients don’t mind a kid wailing in the background then I’m good with that. I am a little fixated on my kids, especially Beth.

Beth can throw a terrific tantrum. Whenever my husband, Mike, and I witness these impressive events we are satisfied she is here to actually throw a tantrum. We are astounded she is breathing on her own and can walk and is doing what most toddlers do. She could have ended up needing a machine to breathe or she could have had any number of disabilities. A lot of babies born as early as her don’t survive and if they do, well, it is best said life is never the same.

We were fortunate in this one regard. Beth emerged from the entire ordeal completely unscathed except for the three-inch scar under her shoulder blade that bugs the heck out of me because it reminds me about what didn’t turn out alright.

She got the scar on the third day of her life when she weighed less than a good book. A heart surgeon opened her up to tie off a tiny vein by her heart. After she survived that procedure, we sat by her side for three months watching her turn blue at the slightest provocation. This journey by itself was a miracle to witness, how the doctors, nurses and countless specialists saved her life on more than one occasion. But this was the third miracle in our trek. That Beth made it to 26 weeks of gestation where she had a fighting chance is the most amazing part and frankly, God made it happen. Our doctor says he can find only a handful of cases where a baby like Beth survived the five-month ordeal endangering both of our lives and cruelly took her sister’s.

Mike and I only wanted a normal miracle: the amazing process of cell division to create two unique sets of DNA, then the fun part of bringing the two cells together and then the amazing physiological process of how one single sperm in the millions finds the egg and is admitted into the Promised Land. One sperm is allowed entrance. If that isn’t divine then I feel sorry for those who have lost sight of the wonder surrounding us. We wanted the sort of miracle where parents get to say “Oh, babies are such miracles,” with blithe ignorance to what real complications can be.

When this miracle happens naturally, a mother can be pregnant for months and not actually know a tiny life is steadily dividing and differentiating inside of her. That is, of course, unless she is an infertile mother like I was. Couples who deal with infertility live on an entirely different plane of existence. We know every single detail of this process because we have measured, counted, cooked and prayed our way into parenthood.

Mike and I weren’t always infertile. Elliott, now seven, was a holy-cow-how-did-that-happen baby. We didn’t even have to practice much to create him—as long as you don’t count eleven years of marriage as practice. Elliott was conceived near the first day of the year when we decided to try getting pregnant. And I mean, on the first of the year when we decided to try. It was either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day or somewhere about there. We discovered this happens a lot when Elliott got to kindergarten and half of his class had birthdays between September and October. “New Year’s babies” we parents chuckled and winked at each other as we made the rounds to all of their birthday parties.

Elliott was conceived, born and raised without a hiccup or glitch. He took his own sweet time getting here. “This will speed things along,” the nurse said when she hung the IV bag of oxytocin alongside me. Aside from that, he was about as easy as it gets. Mike and I were old parents by the time he was born. I was 37 and Mike who trails me by a few months was 36.

Pregnancy was so easy for me. I rode my bike 1400 miles during the nine months between conception and the few weeks before his birth until I thought I would fall over because my belly stuck out front like the hood of a Mack truck. At the time, the doctor said I was of advanced maternal age and she feared I would give birth to a child with genetic defects or have difficulties in labor. But none of that happened. It wasn’t until she had to go inside and do a little post-delivery cleaning out that the complications happened.

None of what occurred afterward is her fault. There really is no one to blame for what transpired in the three years between Elliott and Beth. There was a chain of events that started the train down the wrong track and then we couldn’t back it up to get going down the right track where babies are typically created and born without problem. The interesting thing is the complications before my pregnancy with Beth are also not where the big miracle happened. It was the part in between when she had been conceived and when she was born that Mike, Elliott and I witnessed a miracle that will forever alter our lives and remind us the kicking and screaming three-year-old before us was touched by the hand of God who declared she was meant to live—attitude and all.

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