It's been ten years since I pushed that little life into the world in an upstairs room of our old Victorian. I spend the night before alone in a bathtub, isolating myself and my baby, keeping this sacred experience our and ours alone.
I knew it was a girl and I also knew she was not right. An ultrasound at 30-weeks hinted that our baby had Trisomy 13--a chromosomal abnormality incompatible with life. That was the only doctors visit I had with this baby. There was no need to go back after that news. My health was monitored by my midwife, but I only remotely cared. I knew I was healthy and I knew my baby wasn't. I labored alone in that tiny bathroom with only one hope--please let her be born alive, please let me have some time with her.
The sun rose as if it were any other November day. My husband checked in on me and I send him away. Terrified, he packed up our other four children and left the house for the day. When all was quiet, I creaked open the bathroom door and got into bed in the room across the hall. Just me and my girl, alone.
When we got the diagnosis of Trisomy 13, we were stunned. After having two healthy boys, our third child surprised us with Down syndrome (a chromosomal abnormality of the 21st pair) and our fourth with congenital defect that needed immediate surgery and hospitalization. We felt like we had paid our dues and then some. Why another crisis? How could we endure it?
But that's what life does--hands out situations and we deal with them. Even when we think we can't, we do it anyway because there is no other choice. I brought that baby into the world and felt blessed that she was alive, even if it was for a short time. In times of intensity, you have to live in the moment because the future is too hard to bear. Breathe in, breathe out...one foot in front of the other--that's how you get through. Existence is reduced to its most basic state.
Now, ten years later, I sit on a peaceful morning and reflect back. Man, that was hard.
But it was also beautiful and full of grace. I not only birthed my second daughter on that day, I birthed a new version of myself. She changed me.
Oh, to the unknowing eye, everything looked the same--exuberant kids running through the house, laundry piling up, groceries waiting to transform--but it all looked different to me. The prism through which all things filtered shifted, and my perception of the whole world changed. There was a sacred bubble of time when almost everything I saw took on a mystical quality. I’d see a bird at the feeder and would need to stop and stare in awe (Look at that thing, will you? It’s miraculous!)
My raw and open wound made me more vulnerable to beauty. It flooded in and left me dazed.
I sit now and write about it and yearn for the intense wonder of it. But the true gift of that time is that my prism never completely shifted back. Ava allowed me to live in technicolor for a short time and I remember what that feels like.
Oh, it’s far too bright to live there forever, so time graciously dimmed things a bit for me. But life can still dazzle me when I decide to pay attention in a way that I didn’t have access to before. It feels kind of like a secret, wondrous room that only people who have suffered are allowed admission to, and if you haven’t experienced a certain level of despair, you can’t have the key. (Nor do you want it!)
But I cherish that key and take it everywhere I go.
And on the grayest days, I reach for it, and unlock the wonder of the world.
I saw grief drinking a cup of sorrow and called out, 'It tastes sweet, does it not?'
'You've caught me,' grief answered, 'and you've ruined my business. How can I sell sorrow, when you know it's a blessing?’ -Rumi