The space between notes.

If Claude Debussy were still alive, he’d have turned 151 this week. I know because those clever cats over at the Google informed me with the likes of their own animated banner: “Google” beneath the light of a full moon and set to a backdrop of the melody I’ll never hear again without remembering the times Elbee and I spent in that rocking chair listening to a steady rotation of the “five timeless lullabies” spewing forth from the likes of her musical sound machine. It turns out that after six months of listening to the very same mix while rocking a baby through nap time, “Clair de Lune” was the only song on that prescribed playlist that I could still tolerate. (Apologies, Beethoven.)

Back before she toddled (strike that, walked! strike that, ran!), back before she identified your “ba-by” by name, waved hello to dogs and could pinpoint letters of the alphabet, back before she gestured “no” with a shake of a head and “yes” with a nod, she was, herself, a “ba-by.” I was, myself, tired. I was tired of rocking my way though nap time. And so I longed for the glorious day when she’d put herself down for a snooze while I washed some dishes and listened to unedited hip hop on our iHome.

The day came. I didn’t know it was the day. I just reveled in how comfortably she slept while I dusted the furniture and watched the news. And then it happened again the next day and the day after that. And so on and so on. And then I returned to work and Elbee went off to “school” (which might maybe be a euphemism for “daycare”), and somebody named “Miss Jen” (whose first name is “Miss” or, if she has a last name, I don’t know it), helped orchestrate nap time. I haven’t listened to “Clair de Lune” on that musical sound machine in a very long while. I never rocked my “ba-by” to sleep again.

Partly, I miss the quiet loveliness of the times we spent in that rocking chair, the afternoons my arms went numb for the dead weight of a sleeping child. I’m sorry I was almost too tired to appreciate, in those first days/weeks/months, that whereas arm-napping goes the way of crawling, and the life cycle of baby to toddler is seriously so short, I should wake up and pay attention. Partly, I’m sad I only get to do this once. Mostly I’d never have it any other way. The remainder, I’m grateful I got to do it at all.

It’s supposed to be like this. Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes.” Birth, death, the song in between. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. That sort of thing. In less than a handful of years, my kid’s going to go off to kindergarten. She’ll need me less than now but more than when she’s a teenager (or maybe she’ll just need me differently), and Debussy’s skeleton will celebrate its 155th birthday in Paris.

Until then, I’m counting on the ordinary stuff from today becoming the extraordinarily beautiful memories of tomorrow. Today, after work, we three went for a walk. I slipped out of my heels. I wore bedroom slippers with my dress clothes. My feet hurt. Elbee spent 15 minutes chasing stranger-babies in the park. Her park. (She has a park the way some kids have back yards.) And when she seemed ready, we turned in the direction of home. I asked her what sound a cow makes. She said moo. Her dad and I clapped emphatically. She clapped for herself. It was the first time she said moo. And I hoped that come the second or third or tenth time she said it, it’d still be so freaking awesome.

I figure someday she’ll say something more profound. Today, though…today, I’ll try not to rush it. To moo, baby girl!

Posted in Parenting/Toddler | 2 Comments

On having cake and eating it, too.

Two Saturdays ago, Elbee turned one to as much fanfare as any kid, who won’t remember a single thing that happened to her that day, can possibly imagine. We bought her a string of fine pearls: her first wedding present or, if she thinks marriage is shit for the birds, that fancy thing she wears because it’s Tuesday and she’s fabulous. We rented out an indoor play space. I crafted party decorations and made a carefully-organized playlist of songs I could hardly listen to for the way they took me back to driving home from the hospital or rocking a newborn or launching into spontaneous dance to quiet an impending crying jag. The Papa Progenitor hired a photographer I didn’t know about until we pulled into the parking lot and saw her standing there with a zoom lens. Elbee’s great-grandmothers (along with over 30 other people we genuinely like) showed up to help celebrate. And there was cake. Lots of it.

There was the cake we ordered for guests: a tallish rainbow confection topped with gum balls, that was met with the ooohs and ahhhs you’d expect when you pay someone to make cake fancy.

And then there was the other one: The one I made myself just for Elbee because we couldn’t identify a single baker in all of Boston whom we trusted well enough to cook sans our daughter’s allergens. So I took a stab at it, and my handiwork vaguely (or quite accurately) resembled unicorn poop crushed below the heel of a nasty-ass giant. It was a multi-colored caketastophe.

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I might have appreciated the shear irony of the whole situation a little sooner if I could have stopped myself from wondering, even for a moment, how something that was supposed to go so very right could possibly go so totally wrong.

Instead, I thought to last July 11. That was the Wednesday after the Sunday we noticed a not-insignificant amount of blood in Elbee’s poo, the Wednesday after the Monday Baby-Daddy returned to work, the Wednesday after the Tuesday on which Elbee was diagnosed with food allergies and allergic colitis, the Wednesday Elbee choked on her own vomit and I joined the ranks of parents who get to save their kids’ lives. (To be clear, giving back-pats to an actual baby is nothing like the synthetic one on which you practice to get that wallet card that says you’re CPR-certified.) And that was only the beginning.

Elbee cried often, laughed rarely and hurt much. We learned she suffered from serious GERD. Nearly once a day for the next couple of months and a few times a week after that until she was no less than seven months old, and despite an aggressive regimen of grown-up medicines and consults with some of the best doctors in the world (literally), our kid projectile vomited whole meals, gagged on purees and puffs, developed texture aversion and, finally had the good sense to reject all but a bottle of a hypoallergenic, pre-digested formula which is, largely, still as much as she eats. At 10 months old, she was enrolled in a clinic for children with feeding disorders. She doesn’t self-feed bottles or sippie cups. She refuses most food offered to her by her parents. (She associates us with meal-time trauma because we had the misfortune of being with her when she experienced it. It might have been a daycare worker or a grandparent, but it wasn’t. It was us. And, to be fair, mostly it was me. Post-Traumatic Feeding Disorder is a thing. A real thing.) Elbee’s never tasted a baby biscuit or a bit of mac-n-cheese, never picked at a piece of toast or enjoyed an ice cream cone. And then there’s this: Docs suspect so much stomach acid may have deadened her taste buds so she may not even be able to taste (and therefore, can’t really enjoy) what she’s eating. “Yummy” ain’t no thang.

The cake – despite all this – was supposed to be wonderful. It was supposed to be the sort of confection fit for a kid who would eat it, even though we suspected she wouldn’t. (We didn’t care.) There had to be a cake. It had to be awesome. And making it was supposed to restore a little normalcy to the lives of folks for whom the word “normal” was maybe a little like, well… “yummy.”

Ingredients: Heaps of love, loads of heart, a dash of a hope. Blend. Set oven to, “F— off, universe.” Yield: Catharsis.

This one time, we took our kid to back-up care. We warned all of the teachers there that, though our child was seemingly plenty old enough to feed herself and wildly intelligent, and though she possessed superior fine motor skills, she was unable to handle her own bottle. Later, one of them laughed as she recounted the way Elbee sat across from her on the floor, mouth open to indicate it was time to eat. She likened our daughter to a “baby goat.” She was unthinking. (That’s euphemistic for “dumb ass.”) She was like lots of people. Enter the laundry list of folks who, though with the purest of intentions, and, sometimes, even when they know better, or even when they know nothing, reassure us our daughter will – without question – be well. Usually, their kids were “picky eaters,” too. And usually, by repositioning a spoon or heating food to the right temperature or carefully-timing meals, they developed voracious appetites. They “just grew out of it.”

But dollars to donuts their children – who, while they may have consumed nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a whole week that once when they were little –  never formed a spontaneous play group in  the waiting room of a feeding clinic, sharing a sensory table with their best new friends: a couple of bitchin’ cool kids with high-functioning autism and GI tubes. We’re not somehow worse off. We’re just different. And, hell, maybe those peanut butter and jelly kids are in a bad way. Maybe they’re boring.

“Normal” ain’t no thang.

The more I stared at that cake, the more I knew it was true. It looked like shit. And worse, it didn’t even taste that good. So I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I laughed like someone crazy. Like someone on the brink. I laughed because it was funny and because I couldn’t believe my eyes. I laughed because I could. I laughed because it was the night before the party and much, much too late to do anything about it save embrace my reality. Surely a photo of this confection-passed-through-the-ass-of-a-unicorn would go absolutely viral on Cake Wrecks! I’d be so proud. Or, if not proud, I’d have a good story.

The next day, we bequeathed to our daughter a string of fine pearls. We jazzed up the likes of that indoor play space with the crafts I made myself. We switched on the playlist of special songs (Dylan’s “Forever Young,” Tom Petty’s “Wild Flowers,” a disco remix of “‘C’ is for Cookie,” the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Damn straight, Mick Jagger.) The incomparable Nitya Rao took photographs. Elbee’s great-grandmother delighted in the spectacle. (Elbee really learned to walk that morning!) And, at last, it was time.

So we gathered around a long table to sing “Happy Birthday” to a kid who probably didn’t even realize the whole day was for her, and we went through the motions of presenting her with the shitty ass cake we didn’t expect her to touch but hoped she might.

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And then we watched, with bated breath, as this happened.

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And then this.

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And this.

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And this.

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Later that afternoon, she’d cry because I offered her some applesauce. It didn’t matter. I’d think back to that morning and the way that something that was supposed to go so very right really did. Even when it looked all wrong.

“Wrong” ain’t no thang.

Ingredients: Heaps of love, loads of heart, a dash of a hope. Blend. Set oven to, “F— off, universe.” Yield: Catharsis. 

Which looks like this: Unicorn poop crushed below the heel of a nasty-ass giant (or the palm of a small human).

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Nine turns one.

Dear Kid,

Last weekend, we put our memories to rest in a tupperware container tucked below a rock on a hillside in a nature preserve. Embryo 10 was among them in a metal-tipped catheter inscribed with our medical record number and the date it first entered storage: 08/06/2011. Embryo 10: The baby we only ever got to know in our imaginations.

Before we did, we let you hold it, and we told you the story of how the essence of you lived this once in a little blue straw, pinched at the end and marked with the number “9.” The reason some other kid wasn’t holding the memory of you that day had everything to do with natural selection and that scientist’s determination that embryonic you was of superior quality to “10″ and, therefore, would be more likely to result in a viable pregnancy.

I don’t know about that, but I got pregnant. And I was glad.

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Now you won’t remember our talk or the way I told you I was happy you were “9.” And maybe, someday, when I recollect for you that day in the forest, you’ll think it sounds kind of strange: burying memories the way some folks bury their dead. Mostly, though, I hope you find it sort of beautiful.

Created ritual.

We made a long paper chain and, on each link, penned the names of babies we’d lost or decided not to know because we were content with our family of three. On each end, we attached additional links to represent your dad and me. And then we counted to the middle and added a third for you. Whether by the hand of the Great and Powerful G-d or some cosmic coincidence or nothing of the sort, and without any forethought or advance planning, the middle link belonged to your one-time womb mate, “Zoe.” I might have been surprised. But I wasn’t. Not even a little.

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We said Mourner’s Kaddish and asked G-d to bring us peace from Heaven, but the truth is, kid, sometimes I think we make our own.  And that’s precisely what we did that day. We returned to a place of hopelessness and despair and chose to see it differently. It was different. Because we were.

This time, we were your parents.

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In parting, you babbled a string of consonants and vowels that might have been a beautiful eulogy or a lot of nonsense. And we waved “bye-bye” to Embryo 10 and that place and the box full of memories that first made us Mama, Papa and Elbee. And we wandered down that hillside, Dad and I wondering out loud how our mystery became a baby and then a toddler like you.

Probably, it had something to do with time. And long naps in a rocking chair. Midnight bottles. Lullabies. Diaper explosions. Sickness. Health. Trips to the beach. The best laid plans. Splishy-splash. Boynton books. “Soggy Froggy.” Tweet, tweet goes the birdie! Carriage rides. The Cookie Monster. First flights. Petting puppies. Dance parties. Day care. Swings. Slides. Swim class. Beebo. Nature. Maybe even your mom and dad.

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We did it, baby girl. And probably we’re just getting started.

Happy birthday, Elbee K.

Ever,

Mama

Posted in Infertility, Parenting/Toddler | 1 Comment

A letter to my Lorax on the first week of daycare.

Dear Kid,

On the day after my first Mother’s Day, I ended my nearly 11-month stint as your “stay-at-home” mama. (“Stay-at-home” because, if we’re being honest, I stayed at home rarely on account of you wouldn’t let me. The outside beckoned.) I returned to work on Monday because I had no choice. Also, I really, really wanted to.

Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t have relished a little more time together, just the two of us. We’d already had more than most people, and we’ll have more later, I know. It’ll just happen on the weekends. And, the thing is, even if we had the rest of our lives to play and laugh and cry and explore, it probably wouldn’t be enough. When it came time to say goodbye, I’d still miss you.

You won’t remember the last 11 months, and I won’t forget them.

We started taking walks together when you were five days old. Through most of New England’s sweltering hot summer and breezy fall and icy winter and rainy spring, there were only a handful of days we missed. I watched as your sleepy eyes became more alert, staring inquisitively at the trees overhead, pointing at them, waving at them, talking to them in a language that sounded like celebration…happy because brown branches turned green, happy for their shade, happy for the birds, happy for nature’s mobile. You noticed things I failed to see, and you made me see them.

Once below a heavy, gray sky, I kept walking because you kept smiling until, a half-hour’s fast-paced run from our front door, it started to rain, pour, thunder. So I covered your carriage with a rain guard, and I ran. I ran and I ran and I ran. Screaming. Soaked to my underwear. And, because you had no choice, you ran with me. Laughing. Dry except, perhaps, for your diaper.

Another time, we came upon a Parks and Rec employee trimming back the branches of a low-hanging tree along our usual route. You burst into tears as if he’d nicked you with his gardening shears. Inconsolable. I knew you knew that tree. (Maybe you didn’t recognize it, per se, but you knew it like you knew all of them.) And so, without a second thought about how crazy I must have sounded, I was hollering for him to stop from 500 feet away. “Stop, stop! Wait! Don’t cut that tree!” To which he replied, in the native Boston accent that won’t sound like much of an accent to you, “Why not?” And I answered, running toward him, “Because it’s important!” To which he retorted, “Lady, it’s a f—in’ tree!” To which I responded, “It isn’t to her.” Which is when he really looked at you and put down his gardening shears. “Oh,” he said. He promised you he wouldn’t hurt the tree anymore and he gave you a piece of it to take with you. Your tears stopped like the flick of a switch as you stared at that big red leaf. As we walked on, I looked back now and again at the befuddled man who, hands on hips before the tree, found himself unable to continue his work…or the very decent man who waited until we were out of sight to do it. When we got home, I tucked the leaf away in the pages of a law school casebook where maybe one of us will wonder someday why we kept it. It won’t be me. I already know.

The thing that pained me most about our new reality was that feeling I knew was truth: You wouldn’t spend so much time outdoors. You’d miss the trees. And I’d miss you.

But if there’s one thing I learned over the course of our approximately 332 strolls together, it’s that, kiddo, the seasons (the ones that turn the leaves colors and the ones that see us grow up) turn, turn, turn. In this season, we learn to walk alone. Literally in the sense of first steps. Figuratively in the sense of spending so much time apart from that little/big person in whose face the sun rose and set every day since the day we met.

We’re just like the trees, honey child. We’re just like the trees. We keep right on growing, right on changing, right on weathering storms and being magnificent until the day we die. So, to this season and the next one and the one after that, I trust our little family will still be something to behold. And I trust we’re going be just fine.

Love,

Mama

Posted in Parenting/Toddler | 2 Comments

Good enough and best for me: This one time, I learned to compare my kid to herself.

I cross-checked my handiwork against yours. And by “cross-checked” I mean “compared.” By “handiwork” I mean my kid. By “yours,” I mean…well, yours: that small human who may have babbled first or crawled later or smiles less, who has more playdates or fewer playdates and never cries. Ever. And if you didn’t actually tell me any of this, don’t worry. I deduced it from those facebook pictures…a complete and accurate representation of your entire parenting experience. Also, I regret it.

I usually do.

Elbee’s not to thank for my neurosis diligence. No. It started a long, long time ago. Probably, my mother has everything something to do with it.

Once, I made the Honor Roll. Strike that. I always made the Honor Roll but this one time, I made second honors and my fifth grade bff made first. Of note, “She never makes first. You always make first. What happened?” (Long division, that’s what!) And whether for want of confidence in my number-crunching or honest-to-goodness lack of numerical aptitude but not because I didn’t try, I got a ‘B’ in the second quarter of fifth grade math. She got an ‘A.’ And nobody – not least of which a shamed and disappointed me – paid any regard to the fact that I still made the Honor Roll!  Or that I got a ‘B’ (a better than average mark) in a subject I found fundamentally challenging. As a result, I never congratulated my buddy for the way her extra studying paid off. I just quietly resented her. And she probably thought I was a bitch for failing to notice her accomplishment which, in lots of ways, was spot on. At best, I was a lousy friend.

Later I’d cross-check my college acceptance letters against everyone I knew (more competitive, less competitive), practicum placement, first job (in field, out of field, big city, small town), first apartment (one bedroom = not a studio = must be in better shape than…) and on. And on. And on.

Look, over the years, I’d learn that decorum dictates even when you’re teeming with upset, it’s necessary to back-burner all of it or risk isolating people who are really far too important. Take, for example, those years we spent trying to get knocked up and watching piles of our nearest and dearest welcome first babies, first babies turned toddlers before our very eyes, and those toddlers the same age our kid would be right now had she happened when we intended. Usually, lots of times, I sucked it up and mustered a congratulations. Occasionally, I even meant it. Always I wished I did.

Then I had a kid, whose little life, by its very new nature, is punctuated by milestones of greater/lesser importance and which are accomplished on a timetable everything and nothing like other kids’. At once, my mother made an ounce of twisted sense. And like my mother, and doubtless hers before her, I clamored after best because anything else meant room for improvement meant not all right right now,  so I consulted the baby books (and your facebook feed) to determine how my kid stacked up against others’.

Which is when I learned that usually she had yours beat. Smiling at four weeks, sitting at four months, responding to her name at four-and-a-half, peek-a-booing at five, standing at six, clapping, crawling and cruising at seven, waving at eight, pointing at nine. She dances in step with music, crosses her arms in displeasure, understands a couple of handfuls of words and can’t keep her mouth shut. She anticipates her favorite parts in favorite books and manipulates big kid toys. She engages with complete strangers, calling to them from across crowded rooms and holding out her arms to be picked up. “Scary bright,” notes her pediatrician. “Baby genius bright.”

Except for this one time when she didn’t because she lagged far, far behind. When your kid was self-feeding pasta fasul, mine was consuming nearly 100 percent of her 26oz. daily intake of hypoallergenic formula through a rubber nipple, unable to tolerate even the most delicious purees, gagging on the tiniest morsels of whole foods and screaming in the face of spoons until, at long last, it was apparent that we hadn’t neglected to serve her favorite food or cock the utensil at an appropriate angle to make her comfy. It had nothing to do with us or something we hadn’t tried and we were tiring at the suggestion. It wasn’t a case of retrograde picky eating, either. It was a pediatric feeding disorder.

Which is when I learned that cross-checking my kid alongside some textbook kid, or a real life kid who isn’t her, is totally futile. With each meal, Elbee drove home the point: She isn’t like other kids. At least not entirely. She is like herself. She hates bananas and gags on “puffs.” And, with each meal, I cared less and less about what your baby had for lunch. I cared what Elbee didn’t.

Which is when I learned there’s a difference between “best” and “best for.”  Best is an ‘A’. It’s textbook perfect…achieving milestones prescribed by some expert somewhere who knows a lot about babies but never met my kid. Or yours. “Best for”  takes into account that no two people are alike. Some of them find math challenging. And some of them need medical intervention and occupational therapy to master mealtime.

Which is when I decided to be ok with good enough. Whether as a condition of those long-suffering early months plagued by GERD and allergic colitis, a stress response to the trauma of choking – like, actually choking – on her first foods, because of a physical obstruction, lately-contracted c-diff or because she’s wired as differently (wonderfully) as G-d intended, our yardstick for what constitutes a nice family meal is different now. (Sometimes it’s a battle-weary mom nibbling from a fruit cup in a hospital cafeteria while the baby on her lap sips fitfully from a bottle. Which isn’t an NG tube. Which thank you, G-d.  Seriously.) I absolve my kid (and, while we’re at it, her parents) of the pressure to be best, aspire to what’s best for and vow to be content with good enough.

“Good enough.” That’s today for “f’ing epic.”

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The blessing of a black eye.

If I’ve been a little quiet lately, it isn’t for lack of things to say. It’s instead for want of two free hands and tired arms regularly extended as if poised to play catch in a trust fall.  In one week’s time, Elbee has become a master of maneuverability: scooting, crawling, ducking, grabbing, cruising her way across every square inch of hardwood floor – little red knees and a dusty bottom to show for it.

Author, Wendy Mogel, prepared me for just such a scenario in her book, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” (Aside: Tremendous read and I somewhat suspect you don’t need to be a Jewish parent, or a parent at all, to appreciate it, but you tell me.) Anyway, the goal, she points out, is to raise the sort of kids who can function without you, who leave you someday feeling relatively ok about it and who ultimately trust themselves to do what’s right because you (and the mistakes you let them make) taught them invaluable life lessons. Also, our kids are on loan. Get ready. Get set.

For most folks, it goes a little something like this.

One day, your kid will be desperate for you to chauffeur her from the nursery to the living room in your arms, delight at your dramatic recitation of Sandra Boynton’s Belly Button Book, clap for you while you play with her toys and cling to the 2013 version of your apron strings. (Probably, she wants to taste your iPhone.)  The next day, forget you. Just unleash her. She has an entertainment center to reorganize anyway. And, by “reorganize,” I really just mean mess that ish up. If you’re lucky, she’ll turn her head in your general direction because she recognizes the sound of that voice muttering the word she’s probably beginning to think is her first name: No. And if seeing her cruise the coffee table takes your breath away, tough. Someday she’s going to ask for your car keys.

Now consider the fact that when our Elbee was three weeks old and newly-diagnosed with the trifecta of food allergies/allergic colitis/GERD, she aspirated on some combination of fresh breast milk and her own vomit. I’m not talking about a little oops-it-went-down-the-wrong-pipe, cough-cough, all-better scenario either. I’m talking she couldn’t breathe. At all. She turned purple. And I actually got to use some of what I learned in that Infant/Child CPR class. It was an experience that served the twofold purpose of heightening my anxiety and driving home the feeling that every second we’re blessed with our children is precious. Whereas I know things can get much worse, if my kid is still breathing, I have to believe I’m in relatively good shape here. Better get to livin’, as my girl Dolly Parton says. Better indeed.

I don’t want to be to thank for an emotionally crippled, neurotic, needlessly dependent human, after all. I want her to explore her world and test her limits. And better still if she can do so sans blood loss. Also, I hate wimps.

With this in mind, I enrolled her in swim lessons though I’m quietly terrified of drowning. I encouraged her to fraternize with that kid blowing snot bubbles and tugging at his little ears at play group last week. And I let her attempt to stand on her own two feet this afternoon, clapping emphatically when she fell flat on her baby face.  She wears her first black eye like a badge of courage which, in many respects, it is.

Maybe I could have caught her. Maybe. And maybe she wouldn’t look like such the Million Dollar Baby if I had. The point is, I didn’t.

Because I hope she likes water. (And, if not, I hope she at least learns to swim.) I hope she never fails to overlook opportunities to meet people who might become her best friends even if they are oozing from their orifices. And I hope she fails a lot in her quest to stand on her own two feet (metaphorically, actually, whatever)  because this means she’ll have really tried something. Chances are pretty good, too, that, occasionally, she’ll find she’s not that bad at it.

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Posted in Humor, Parenting/Infant | 1 Comment

On Zoe: How a doll named after the memory of your ‘blastosib’ saved nap time.

Dear Kid,

Probably – and in no small part because your Dad and I thought this through carefully – you’re going to be an only child. If we do things just right, your being an “only” won’t mean you’re “alone” or “lonely,” either. It’ll just mean your folks were done growing the family. With you, we were complete. And the universe agreed.

You might have been a quindicaplet. You weren’t. You were, however, one of 15 distinct petri-dish possibilities and the only one that lived long enough to be our baby.

Someday you’ll ask me about the others, and this is what I’ll tell you.

Sometimes, possibilities aren’t. No matter how badly you want them or how hard you work toward your end goal or how much expert assistance you employ in your valiant attempt to make those big ideas reality, occasionally it won’t matter because they were always destined to amount to not much of anything. That was the case for the first 10 of your “blastosibs” who, too fragile to grow, didn’t. Or, later, the one too weak to survive “The Great Thaw.”

Sometimes possibilities are but just for a little while. That was “Maggie.” (Dad and I only assigned pet names to those embryos we encountered personally, by the way –  less to personify them because that wasn’t the goal and we never quite believed they were people in the same sense as you and me…more to assign an easy moniker to our memories like, say, “Dad’s thirtieth birthday” or “Roadtrip 2000.” Maggie.) She was the one we declined to confirm was miscarried. I took this gritty cell phone picture of a veritable heap of  blood and tissue to ask Dr. P- whether, when IVF doesn’t work, it’s supposed to “look like this.” He eyeballed the picture, answered my question with his eyes – no, probably not – and told us we could try again in a couple of months. We did. I’ll get to that.

Sometimes, possibilities aren’t possible for you personally. That’s the way it was with “Francetta,” the embryo we had in storage until we couldn’t afford to keep her in storage any longer and because the idea of this someday/maybe/never baby wasn’t what we had in mind. We were pregnant with you. And when we learned the stem cell research program we’d contacted would cease taking donations before Francie ever arrived at the Stanford lab, we elected to take her home. Her. We were, of course, never sure whether she would have amounted to girl or boy or anything much at all. So when Dr. G- pulled that little vial from the smoking vat of liquid nitrogen and told your Dad and me she’d let us “take a minute,” I couldn’t imagine why. I was surprised when, just as quickly, I could.   Francetta would be forever and ever the baby we’d only ever know in our imaginations. And so we mourned over mystery.

And then, sometimes, the possibilities are endless like when we “tried again” a couple of months later.

Enter you. Also, enter “Zoe.”

For a little while, you were Zoe’s twin sister.  (We called you “Iggy” and insisted – though we had no idea, really – that you were the blotchy little blob to the left of the picture we got and she the pomegranate-shaped pop on the right.) At only seven days post-blastocyst transfer, I took a pregnancy test on a whim and saw the bluest line one Aspiring Pregger could have hoped to have seen, especially one poised to have, that same day, the we’re-infertile-and-if-this-cycle-doesn’t-see-us-knocked-up-we’ve-decided-to-live-child-free talk with our family and friends.  We had a talk. It was different. It was the we’re-infertile-and-newly-pregnant-and-probably-it’s-twins talk. In the days and weeks to come, blood tests would reveal we were indeed pregnant with hormone counts at double or better the norm for one fetus, but when we got as far as the ultrasound, Zoe had already left us.

Too soon, some might say. I’m not so sure. She had just enough time to fulfill a purpose that, at present, appears threefold but is just as likely much more multifaceted…something to be revealed in due course. The possibilities are endless. First, in tripping that early pregnancy test early, she made it so we never had to have that dreadful talk. (Look, we might have gone on to live a really blissful, child-free existence but not without a lot of bullshit pity.) Second, she made room for you. (I’m glad.) Third, she inspired in our family the sort of introspection that leads to the realization that even when life’s a first-rate cluster, it’s as it should be. When I need to be reminded as much, I call upon her memory.

Which is exactly what I did when, at nearly six months old, you still hadn’t managed to take so much as one nap outside my arms. Every attempt to put you down to rest was futile. You forced open your heavy, heavy eyelids. You screamed. You cried. You never “cried it out.” Hours passed. Days. Unrelenting tears, hyperventilating sobs, a side of vomit. You weren’t having it. I didn’t now why, though I sensed it had something vaguely to do with being unprepared to go it alone. I needed divine, cosmic intervention to convince you of the truth: You weren’t.

Anyway, it was your first Hanukkah, and you got this doll whose perfectly-pressed pink dress was monogrammed with the name of your bygone blastosib: Zoe. The doll was black. Or Asian. Bi-racial. We’re uncertain.  (She reminded Dad and me of how we were never really sure our kid, if we ever had one, would even vaguely resemble either one of us, and we couldn’t care less. Unimportant. We’d think she was the most beautiful thing we’d ever seen, and we’d be right.) Zoe-Doll was lovely like you.

You liked her. You really liked her. You liked her like you knew what she meant. Case in point.

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So I went out on a limb. Come nap time, I tucked you into your crib and tucked the Pottery Barn plush Zoe under your flailing arms. “Look,” I said. “You’re not alone. She’s right here.” I was talking about the doll. I was talking about the memory of Zoe, your blastosib and the way, sometimes, our memories sustain us when we’re sad or scared or lonely.

In that instance, I hoped yours would. I hoped whatever beautiful memories you made in six months’ time (your mom’s funny faces, play time with Dad, sweet potatoes, swings!) would sustain you when you got anxious because I was downstairs making a cup of coffee and you couldn’t see me.  And I hoped they’d sustain you when, someday, you were feasting on cafeteria food, missing Dad’s cooking, falling asleep in a too-tiny dorm room bed and waking up to an alarm clock that wasn’t your mom. Or juggling a host of responsibilities which may or may not include parenting your own kid(s) and wishing, even if just for a second, that somebody would take care of you for a change, like, say your parents used to. Or missing us because we’re gone to wherever folks go when they’re through living. When such time comes, I hope your memories sustain you.

And I hope you always sleep easy.

Love,

Mama

Posted in Infertility, Parenting/Infant, Uncategorized | 4 Comments