Last year, this week, we had our first ultrasound. Because of our infertility I had an elevated sense of fear that we would lose our baby to miscarriage. I wasn’t fully celebrating pregnancy because I was so convinced it would end tragically. This first ultrasound would be the point I could finally let myself take a breath. The appointment went well, the ultrasound tech was really positive and we left with the first sense of relief we had felt for a long time. A few hours later on our way to my in-law’s we got a call from our doctor with the news of Colette’s omphalocele.
With it came a risk of genetic abnormalities, congenital heart disease and underdeveloped lungs. I was sitting at the table for Christmas dinner while holding my phone under the table and spiraling down into the google pit of information. I was a wax figure that night, forming my face up into a smile and hoping it would hold. I held it together until we got in the car, and then I cried, a loud animal cry that I couldn’t control. I remember lying in bed that night and becoming so overwhelmed that I thought I would be sick, so I focused completely on breathing in and out. With each breath I remember praying, “I need you,” until I finally fell asleep.
We went to the mountains the weekend after for Christmas with my family. We were all trying to be positive but the fear was saturating everything. I remember my laugh even sounded fake and felt separate from me. Internally I was spinning in chaos. I wasn’t present in any experience because I was processing worse case scenario and begging God for mercy. At our new years party I was pasting on smiles and having pleasant conversation while my mind was living in really deep grief and fear. Not many people knew yet so everyone was celebrating our pregnancy, while its very existence was my nightmare. Each mention of it and congratulatory hug was a reminder. It was the deepest loss looming over so recent a blossom of love.
Even thinking back on it I feel sick to my stomach. The fear is still palatable. Anniversaries of experiences might be the way I’m forced to process this last year. Bit by bit I’ll feel the darkness of that particular moment again, remember the pain, grieve what was lost, review how it changed me, and maybe learn to accept it all. This day a year ago I remember feeling half alive, both numb and painfully awake.
Now looking back a year later, it was all so much harder than I could have imagined at the time. The fear, the pamphlet the genetic counselor gave me, the encouragement to terminate, the heart diagnosis, months of begging for a miracle, watching her go after delivery, months in the hospital, x-rays, infections, kissing her goodby in the O.R., breathing machines, doctor’s worried faces, medications, the recovery, the love, the fear.
Colette is in her room sleeping right now. She has her chubby arm draped over her chubby cheek. It was so hard because she was so worth it.
A year ago my perfect plans for life were shattered. I’ll never regain the blissful ignorance that life will go as planned. I think about the future differently, I live today differently, I’m darker and deeper and brighter all the same. 2017 was the worst and best year of my life. I’m writing this when I should be packing for the mountains for Christmas with my family. Colette will stare at all her cousins being crazy and loud as my family has always been. I’ll genuinely smile. My laugh will be mine. I’ll be present to the moment. And by the grace of God, Colette will be there with me.
So cheers to 2018
Here’s to hoping for better days ahead, to letting fear go, to celebrating each moment in the moment, and in spite of the loss that defines this life, to loving.