Saturday, November 29, 2014

Chapter 2 - Work the Problem

When facts smacked up against faith in the fight to create and then save Beth, we turned tail and abandoned the facts. Fact one is there was no chance we could conceive a baby. Fact two is there was no chance she could be saved after the tragedy which befell us in December 2005.

In our case, the facts didn’t match up with our view of what should be so we ignored the educated odds and facts offered by our doctors. Mike and I simply believed Beth was meant to be on earth for no better reason than we couldn’t imagine she never would. In this irrational denial we found hope so we clung to it through unimaginable suffering. We needed hope. We had to believe in something larger than ourselves, something intangible and unreasonable because if we had listened to doctors from the beginning, we would have given up long, long ago. What Mike and I experienced in the journey to save Beth was a fiery first-hand walk through impossibility to faith.

There was no medical protocol for preventing the tragedy we faced nor were there any guidelines about how to fix the situation. There was only the belief that a miracle would occur. A few doctors agreed with us and believed in miracles but not all of them. Not every doctor in the hospital agreed we should try to save our daughter—both of our daughters. But we simply couldn’t give up and we are thankful to have found one who would try something extraordinary.

“Work the problem, people. Work the problem!”

This is my favorite movie line in the whole world. It is delivered by Ed Harris in Apollo 13 when he dumps a box of rocket parts on a table and tells the engineers to quit pointing fingers and get down to business. The astronauts are going to suffocate if they can’t fix the filter and everyone on the team is so pissed off at everyone else they can’t get to work.

I love how Ed Harris distills the issue into simple words. The forceful way he strides into the room, how he looks at all those characters and pulls their attention back to what matters. It is difficult sometimes to sift out the insignificant details clouding our appreciation for life. These same details prevent miracles from happening.

In Apollo 13, the engineers needed to solve the air filter problem quickly with limited resources or the astronauts would suffocate. I’m drawn to the drama of the moment, how a team of intelligent people have to set aside differences and egos to complete a task. Really, they have no choice. They have to use every tool at their disposal or the astronauts will die. They didn’t plan this scenario, it just happened. What they did with that moment no doubt affected their lives forever.

It’s an odd coincidence I like this scene because Mike is an engineer, too. He wasn’t an engineer when I met him and he doesn’t design rocket ships but he does design and fix things. Perhaps I love him because I am infatuated with the logical mind that prefers finding solutions rather than avoiding the problem. Mike and I have encountered a lot of problems and having this particular tendency has deepened the admirable respect I have for him.

Even though Mike is an engineer, he isn’t as interested in Ed Harris’ perspicuity. Mike is more interested in character. Mike’s favorite movie scene is the iconic look of Clint Eastwood from his cheesy spaghetti westerns. He likes the one where Clint is macerating a cigar, his eyes baked by the desert sun and then the camera zooms in so close his face is framed only by the brim of his hat and a glimpse of cerulean sky. Clint glares with such intensity at the bad guy we are momentarily cowed by his presence. Mike loves that scene. He is the master at nonverbal cues. He can read a person in seconds and I’ve learned that if he senses something is amiss, pay attention.

Mike and I met at college. We were both in science programs: he in environmental toxicology and me, studying reproductive physiology (as if that wasn’t prescient). I haven’t used my science degree since graduating but Mike lives with science and engineering every day. Science can pit itself against, perhaps unnecessarily, faith in God. I don’t believe this either-or situation is necessary, especially after going through our journey with Beth. Mike and I used to rely more on facts to guide our decisions but we are different now. Now we know what a miracle is.

Our extraordinary story of miracles weaves itself through three years, the last few months of fighting to save Beth were the most dramatic. It all began a year after Elliott was born. We were trying to get pregnant again but something was wrong. My doctor, at the time, blamed the delay on everything except the fact there might be a major complication. After months of tests and research we discovered I had Asherman’s Syndrome—a relatively rare condition where scar tissue forms in the uterus because of some type of trauma like a D & C, which is shorthand for dilation and curettage. I had had two D & Cs: one immediately after delivering Elliott when my placenta wouldn’t release and a second one a few months later for tissue still embedded in the lining of my womb. According to the doctor, I was officially infertile because the scar tissue was everywhere.

I couldn’t accept the diagnosis. There was too much in my gut telling me a baby was waiting to join us. I could feel this presence working on me from the inside out. She wasn’t a vision or a voice booming from the sky. She was a subtle presence who appeared in dreams and meditations and prayers. She tapped away at me with such insistence I wanted to tell her to knock it off. With all the pushing and arguing with doctors about my condition, this tapping presence in my ribs made me crazy. And, yet, I needed to hear her, to sense her presence in order to keep going.

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