Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Choosing Hope

Am I allowed to say that I'm very glad the holidays are over? The Christmas season was hard for a number of reasons: Nate was gone on a two week TDY from which he didn't return till December 20, and I caught a bad cold and then was reinfected and so have been sick the past three weeks. And, of course, this is the Christmas that should-have-been Livia and Lucy's first Christmas. I woke up one morning in the middle of the month and lay in bed holding the girls' bears and crying for all the things the Christmas season wouldn't see– no wide-eyed squirming babies staring at the lights on the tree, batting at bits of tissue paper and ribbon. No sticking gift-wrap bows on their heads (would they have been bald as I was or curly haired as their daddy was, I wonder?) the way my family has done for decades. No dressing them in the most adorable and extravagant Christmas dresses I could find for Christmas pictures, and then having to change them fifteen minutes later because they spit up. No tandem nursing late at night listening to Christmas carols and munching on cookies. No driving around looking at Christmas lights with two car seats in the back holding slumbering occupants– staying out longer and longer because we're afraid they might wake up when we stop the car. No handmade stockings crafted in the style my mother designed for our whole family, with Livia and Lucy cross-stitched in holly-decorated font at the top. Those stockings in particular broke my heart. I still want to make them, hopefully this year– with our new baby's, so that next Christmas we will hang five stockings.

So I am glad Christmas is over. In fact I have been rather amazed at how moving into January, taking down the tree and the few decorations I did put up, and getting back to "normal", has lifted my spirits. I'm not much into New Year's resolutions and I don't believe there's anything particularly magical about January 1. And yet somehow being in this new year has made it, so far, a little bit easier to choose to live with hope.

I've had an uneasy relationship with hope ever since finding out that I was pregnant again with our third baby (whom, by the way, we have nicknamed "the Tadpole".) Expecting a rainbow baby is an emotionally complex process: the new pregnancy in no way "fixes" you. It doesn't end your grief or make you miss the baby (or babies) you lost any less. In fact there are times when knowing the Tadpole is growing inside me, squirming in the same space that his or her big sisters lived in less than a year ago, makes me long for Livia and Lucy all the more. This is my second pregnancy and the Tadpole is my third baby, yet at a casual glance, and in the eyes of many, I am a first-time mom. I have only gotten the dreaded question, "Is this your first baby?" once so far, but I know that it will come again, especially as my belly starts to bump.

The hardest thing about a rainbow pregnancy is the loss of innocence. The worst has already happened once before, and I know that there's no guarantee it won't happen again. Losing my twin girls is not an inoculation against losing another baby. And so a rainbow pregnancy is a constant battle against fear, or in my case, against a sort of apathetic cynicism. I think once I got into my first trimester nausea, I was too emotionally exhausted to really experience the fear that I felt for the first couple of weeks. Instead, I have lived in a sort of emotional grayness– not much clenching fear in the pit of my stomach, but little joy either. I say I'm excited, of course, because that's what you do when you're talking to people about a new baby, but the me that is excited is a distant, shadowy me, not the one I usually live with day-to-day. Talking about the Tadpole's arrival still feels similar to discussing a dream-vacation: it's fun to think about and to plan, but it's ten to one it will ever really happen.

Hope, I've realized, is something that doesn't necessarily come by itself, and it isn't something I will necessarily feel, even when it's there. Hope is something I have to choose, a lifeline I have to clutch with both hands in spite of my feelings. Usually this is accomplished in a tangible action– such as, when I sent out all our Christmas cards, I signed them Nate, Meredith, Livia, Lucy, and Baby Three. Our family. Our children– all three of them– all of them real, all of them important, all of them loved. Going to my prenatal appointments with our midwife is another act of hope– I felt queasy and stressed and uneasy in the drive up to Charlotte last time, even though my nausea has been much better and I usually don't feel sick until evening. I didn't realize what was wrong until, as we were driving home, Nate and I realized that it's because we haven't had much experience of "normal" prenatal appointments, where there's no bad news, no decisions to make. So just getting in the car and driving the two hours to the birth center is, in some small way, an act of defiance against fear and cynicism.

One thing we've done deliberately is buy baby clothes. I never bought any clothes for the girls– I was so sick for so long, and there always seemed to be plenty of time, and then it was too late. So the day after we found out about the Tadpole's existence, Nate and I went to the mall to purchase an outfit. Since then, I've picked up some things here and there– every outfit I bring home feels like throwing down the gauntlet against fear and apathy.

We have decided not to find out the Tadpole's gender, and so that means sorting through the racks trying to find outfits that can conceivably be termed "gender neutral" (hint: you can find some things for baby boys that could be put on a girl, but nothing labelled "girl's" is going to work for a boy.)

Today I got a much hoped-for text from a dear friend I've known most of my life, to let me know that she had given birth to her baby, a little girl, this morning. This friend and her husband lost their first baby early on in pregnancy almost exactly a year ago. Hearing about the safe arrival of this precious, much longed-for baby girl gave me hope in an emotional sense. For the first time I'm not having to clutch at hope as though it were a lifeline, for on reading the text I felt it waking up in my heart spontaneously, like a flower unfurling its petals towards the sunshine.

I had to go to T.J. Maxx this afternoon, and while I was there I went to their baby department and let myself sift through the racks of baby girl things, and for the first time I bought what I've really wanted to buy– something pink. Because I know that if the Tadpole is a girl, I'll want something pink to dress her in. Bringing home my darling, pink-and-white, butterfly-scattered baby dress was an act of hope that for the first time felt less like throwing down the gauntlet and more like joy.

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