It was three days after Easter. I awoke with a slow bleed into consciousness. I know there are those dramatic shoot up from the pillow in the still of the night bursts – this was not that. But something was…..wrong, amiss somehow.
Am I in physical pain? No.
Do I have to go to the bathroom? No.
“What is it sweetie?” I inquired as a sense of urgency focused me in on my torso. From my heart to my belly button was bulging, taut, exploding but motionless.
And there it was, FEAR, the mother of all bullets, lodged in my midsection, sucking oxygen, compressing my organs and suffocating movement of any kind.
“Ok, breathe it through, breathe it through…” I instruct. As I start steadily moving my breath, I also respond to my own awe at the persistence of fear’s presence. I tell myself that of course I feel this way, look at all I went through, how could I not? I continue to coddle myself, I feel It’s important for us involuntarily childless infertility survivors to do so, otherwise, who else will? The outside world? I don’t think so. Not today anyway.
Breathing and self compassion invites dissolution, which invites movement, in tiny tiny increments, and it is only after I break the dam that I’m ready to call out.
“Hey Ben Ben, you awake?”
We had had a wonderful couple of days, goofing around, window shopping for gerbils, hamsters and other such rodents, jumping on trampolines, playing Frisbee, cracking jokes and doing all sorts of imitations as we’re both prone to do. It also turns out my ten year old nephew is an attentive shopping assistant, and with his help I went home with a new pair of cool sneakers I was assured were trending.
As sleeping space was tight at grandma and grandpa’s, I was treated to a hotel room for my last night there and got to bring my nephew along with me. We had slept in the same room the night prior, for the first time ever, and I found waking up whenever he did to be as innate and natural as breathing.
And so I somehow had arrived at the first night in my life solely responsible for a child also as a forty four year old survivor of one surgery, ten failed fertility treatments and as the bereft parent of twenty four beautiful embryos.
So easy to forget being caught up in the moment, the newness of it all not to mention the awesome prank/surprise he played on me, sneaking grandpa’s clothes (fodder for an extensive satirical post if there ever was one) into the room and emerging from the bathroom dressed in them at bedtime. It’s not that being with and taking care of one ten year old under normal average circumstances takes a genius, I can assure you it doesn’t. I laughed out loud at the reminder phone call I got from my Mom for him to take his ONE pill (count ‘em, wiya??) at 8:30, remembering my countless injections, suppositories and oral medications I juggled again and again and again while doing treatments. One pill? UH, YEAH. THINK I MIGHT BE OK WITH THAT. It’s that one of the residual symptoms from the perpetual trauma of four years of baby making and the subsequent loss of our children is that I fear, deeply, grippingly fear, that at some point, somewhere when I least expect it, because you never see these things coming of course, that a child will die on my watch.
“You ok?” I said, as casually as possible.
“Yeah” he answered.
I curse myself for forgetting to remind him that tonight the rules are different, that he can wake me at any time for any thing. I fortunately have a family who is courteous of my later to bed later to rise restaurant business sleeping hours. For his whole life he’s been encouraged NOT to wake me up early, to let me sleep, to “not bother” Aunty Sarah (and I secretly relish the fact that he cannot always abide with this and often jumps the gun by waking me up before I’m ready anyway). The night before he seemed apologetic when I was awake too, having no idea what SO NOT a bother it is to wake up in the middle of the night with a live kid actually in your room.
“Are you hot?” It was boiling in the room, I run cold, he tends to run hot, so I was betting he was sweltering.
“Yeah, it’s really hot in here.”
“I know – I’ll turn on the air and cool it down.”
Part of it stems from what I don’t know – that after trying and trying and trying to become a parent and then not being able to, something I don’t know will inadvertently do harm to a child. Not something profound or far reaching, because as I said it doesn’t really take a genius, but something that I don’t know simply as the result of me not doing this parent thing every day.
But much more colossal than my lack of parenting experience, because fortunately I have good common sense that pinch hits for that, is what I now do know. Repeated failed fertility treatments are one way to learn the potential endlessness of loss – that there is no cap on what can be taken from anyone in this life. I often wonder if the piece inside of me that is merely waiting for the other shoe to drop will fade, or if she is here to stay forever, a core component of who I am now. Either way I’ll make space and deal, but I do wonder. I know life to be absurd and non sensical and that cause and effect do not always couple up neatly. And I know that there is a lack of fairness and equilibrium in this existence – loss in one area doesn’t necessarily mean gain in another, there often isn’t a why, or one that could ever be good enough anyway, and some things are just irreplaceable and losing them changes you forever. So it wasn’t only the acknowledgement that I don’t have the power or knowledge to save him from every last thing that might happen, as I went through my check list of “bad-shit-that-could-happen-to-my-nephew-and-would-I-know-what-to-do” that night. It’s my knowledge of what lies on the other side of that powerlessness, should the worst happen and luck not save the day. It isn’t pretty. Not to mention the road back is both fragile and precarious.
“Hey Aunty Sarah, the air’s too loud.”
“I know, I’ll let the room cool a little more and then turn it off so we can sleep, ok?”
I wait a few minutes, turn off the fan that sounds like an industrial strength vacuum cleaner, and settle back into bed.
“I completely see why you feel this way,” I said to myself as I address the block of fear that was wedged in my body. “You’ve had enough, heck, MORE than enough loss for one person in one lifetime. Can you at least entertain, that, in spite of everything, the possibility that he might be ok? At least for tonight? And look at everything you’ve gone through – it has made you smart and capable in endless ways – there’s a lot of crisis you COULD handle, who knows, perhaps better than the average person, because of what you’ve experienced. Life IS fallible, but he’s in good hands, don’t you think?” And with this very thought, I slipped into sleep, real sleep this time.
He later reported to me that had woken up one more time that night, briefly. Notably, I hadn’t.